Lilia Ben Mansour | Kristy Lankford
It was hard not to experience joy in my hometown Downhill, Cyane, the islet in the North Atlantic. It was hard to resist the smile under its grey clouds and dry wind. It was hard to resist the salty air that wrapped my every bone. It was impossible to fight the ocean’s breeze that carried along tender specks of dust, those specks in my shoes, in my hair, my socks, and even under my fingernails. It was hard to feel anything but warmth. Yet, unusually, I did. I felt melancholy, sweet melancholy with a bitter aftertaste.
I remember that I once asked my parents why they had named me William, after my great-great-grandfather. My mother told me that it was a divine sign from the Heavens, that his portrait caught fire the day I was born and that she just knew. I guess that was my first encounter with Melancholy, for my mother’s words brought a strange sadness to my childish heart.
I recall clearly though, my second encounter with Melancholy, it was when I was only eleven and my mother had got pneumonia. I was so young and fragile, too young to meet Death for the first time. However, his constant presence in the house never bothered me. His shadow swinging the rocking-chair beside her as his white hand tapped on the chair’s arm. His sweet and calm lullaby sent me to sleep every night. Maybe he held her hand at some point and maybe she smiled at him. All I knew was that they had some sort of understanding that I could not comprehend.
It was my father that I could not bear. I hated his muddy boots, his snort every time he entered the house. I hated how he cracked his knuckles when he disliked the dinner, how he glared at my mother and how he never spoke to me. I guess what I hated most about him was that he never sat next to my mother when she was ill, that he just gave up and simply hung himself, one day in the living room.
I remember Melancholy being near the fireplace, we sat there for a while, we talked and I admired her sad blue eyes. I soon forgot my parents as though they have never existed.
When I got older, I learnt to cope with the lack of sunlight; I learnt to accept the misery that squeezed the Cyanese hearts. I understood that Cyane’s curse persists, and that it was a bad idea to name this land after her.
And so, I was soon selling liquor in the only bar in town. I had a strange admiration for my costumers; those who never left and those who never returned. In their drunken eyes, one could see a beam of hope, of lost dreams and perhaps some faith in a great future. Yet, their awful breath held the marks of an inglorious present.
One day, one of the few days that were important in Cyane, I felt an ache in my chest and a heavy head. I had never fallen sick. I knew it was terrible.
How? I have never counted my days, I didn’t even care what day it was and now I only have eight weeks left. What sort of irony was that? What sort of disease can play this game, the suspense, the wait, why not kill me now and get it over with?
I was not shocked and my doctor couldn’t care less. I always thought I would die young, a part of me was expecting this but eight weeks… only eight weeks. That was so damn young.
I went back to the liquor store, the wooden floor creaked with every step, and even breathing in my bar was loud and annoying. My customers were drunk and somehow managed to ask for another drink. I poured more and more and I even gave them each a bottle. “Everything is free today!”
“I’m dying.” I said. They were silent.
“Who will run the liquor store?” Asked a man from the back.
“I don’t know, I guess you’ll find someone else.”
“I’ll run it!” shrieked the same man.
“No I will!” Screamed another.
It was a rumble about my heir, they trashed the store, chairs were flying, bottles were smashed and nothing else mattered but who will pour the next drink. They never cared about anything else, not even themselves, especially not themselves. If it wasn’t liquor they would find some other drug, some opium or perhaps a spell that would wash away their brains. Anything that would make them insane was glorious and anything that would shorten their lives was heavenly.
It was dusk, and I grew tired of their mumbling and hand gestures, I didn’t want anyone spending the night ranting about his lost fantasies somewhere in the white sands of Cyane. So, diplomatically and with some curses, I kicked them all out and I poured myself a drink. It was disgusting, but who cares anyway and there was no time left to make new liquor, better liquor.
There was only enough time to clean the bar, to wash the wooden floor, to stop the creaking, to cure my disease and to get rid of the terrible liquor all at once. It was the first time I felt warmth in Cyane and the first time I saw its burning flames eat everything.
My bar was near the ocean, the ocean that I had spent my entire life loathing and never realized how enchanting and how hypnotizing its serenity was. I had never felt the salt water against my skin. It was as if a spell had fallen upon me and suddenly I could swim with the sirens. An eternal wave would engulf us if only I could breathe with them. I felt their hands pressing against my lips; I only had to hold on to that last breath and I will hear them sing to me. A hand touched mine, it was Melancholy and she swam with me, we swam forever. But this time she was different, she smiled.