Day Seventy-Six: “So that we may be satisfied…”: An Alternate Sindbad Journey to Serve as a Prologue
by Tom Noonan
Friends, of all the voyages I have spoke, of all the adventures I have admitted to and survived, of everything I have told you, there is one story that stands above all, as the most peculiar but wondrous of my life. I have spoken of my past of both ease and contentment, that of which I found at home, yet I have failed to mention to you the reason for my travels and restlessness in an otherwise state of prosperous comfort. In short, I have failed in relating to you my primary journey, that which took place before all of the other voyages I have chronicled for you.
It is this journey, one that was a stroke of luck rather than one sought out purposefully, that came about when I lived in a mercantile stasis. I have told you of my heedlessness and the excesses in which I was known to indulge. It was during this time, amidst the companionship of those I knew to be friends, that I found myself headed out to sea, talked into an excursion towards islands rumored to possess the most beautiful of women, the most elegant of clothes, the finest of foods, and the most delightful of drinks.
The ship was crewed by our ignorance, with our captain barely having a week at sea to his name. We traveled with the wind and had little say, as it was resolved, in where we headed. This is, of course, how we came to land on the island that possesses no name.
From a distance, the island seemed like calm horizon, unbroken by land or waves, not even a mirage was set against the harrowing sun. It was not until we were upon it, the hull of our ship scraping its jagged shores, that the island came into view. It was almost as if the dry land had risen from the sea to capture us and leave our boat crippled in its grasp. I was thrown from the deck and, upon meeting the ground with the corner of my crown, was left to drift off into a blank sleep for a few hours.
When I came back to life, I was being carried through a forest that held no sound besides our own and whose trees bore no fruit. I realized quickly that there were more in our group, who I assumed to be natives, and a quick glance at one face caused me to fall once again into the same blank sleep.
When I awoke once more, and for the last time on that island, I found myself in a clearing, one that was not built by men but occurred naturally, as if God had intended the forest only for protection from everything outside. Within the large clearing there sat hundreds of natives in the shade, all of them without clothing, softly meditating, their eyes closed, hiding all humanity behind tightly clenched eyelids. I was trying to make out what prayer they were whispering to themselves when a voice rose behind me. “You are awake?”
I turned to find in full view a standing native, fully clothed and eyes wide open. His skin, and I am assuming, of course, based on the authority in his voice, that this native was in fact a man, was transparent in the sunlight, displaying the red and blue streaks usually buried in secrecy. His face was without definition. Though he did possess eyes, a nose, a mouth, and ears, they did not sit in the same shapely form that regularly distinguishes men in appearance. To me, this native was a crudely rendered creation, something left unfinished by God, not meant to walk the earth yet. I said a silent prayer for him, though I was quick in doing so.
“I am,” I finally replied.
“You must come with me. It is to our great fortune that you and your friends have found us today. You must follow.” The native walked out of the sun and into the shade, his skin once again concealing what was underneath. As we walked through the jungle, neither of us spoke, though I suffered many questions. When we had walked for hours, seemingly on a winding, curved path, the native pointed to a crudely fashioned door sprouting from the dirt and proposed I open it.
“What lies behind it?” I questioned, unsure of his motives.
“You must open. I cannot speak it until you enter.”
I must admit, at this point in my life, I had yet to shed my naïve skin, like a young snake before it is blessed with fangs, so I opened the door and stepped through, the world tilting as I did so, causing me to stand parallel to the sky. As I entered, the room in front of me opened up into a massive library with each wall covered in books bound by gold. I will not lie here in saying that this was the most magnificent room I had ever set foot in, its plain setting sharply contrasted by the splendor of its contents. For the first time, I felt my heart trying to break free from my chest, to soak up all that lay in front of me. Further down the rows of book, I spotted my friends, standing with their own native guides and marveling at the wonderful sight.
“What is this?” I asked, walking towards the gathering of those as awestruck as I.
“It is our collection,” the native spoke clearer, though his voice remained without character. “This room holds the story of every man and woman who ever lived and will ever live. These pages hold wars, loves, deaths, betrayals, tragedies, triumphs, and what’s better is that they are all true, each of them happened at a certain time or place, and are still happening now.”
“So you are the writers? All your people, you travel and write these stories?”
“Of course not, have you noticed that we do not own ships or even paper? We own nothing. The island provides us with these stories, it holds onto them, and we are just its keepers…” I cut off the native to embrace my friends, all of us reveling in the majestic library.
“Let us find your stories,” one native hurried, his voice sounding identical to the one I had spoken with. All the others nodded in agreement.
“Sure,” our ship’s captain spoke, “if this place is what you say it is, then show us.”
“What are your names?” another native asked, his hand beginning to run along the spines of the varying sized books. Each of the men handed over their names without question, but I felt a curiosity over these exchanges, so I gave my father’s name instead, wondering what exactly the books would contain. After they received our names, the natives rushed off in different directions, attempting to locate each man’s individual collection of stories. The natives returned in varying speeds but refused to oblige us in opening the books until all had been found.
Once the group of natives finally converged, they approached each man whose book they held and began to read from it, starting with birth, and continuing on through every event that followed. As they told the stories, I found it peculiar that they spoke using “I” rather than “you”, and the story began to sound like their own.
The native who had located my father’s book spoke as my father, his voice beginning to resemble the one I recall from being a boy as the story progressed. Soon his face, the nothingness of it, began to re-form itself, taking on defined features that at first appeared as if through fog but soon became unmistakable. As the native reached the end of the story, after what felt like days of uninterrupted speech, though I never felt tired, I looked around the room, and saw the other natives molding themselves as well, scars appearing where there were none before, a life forming behind their eyes that each had never possessed before this moment. When the stories reached the current moment, the one we inhabited, my friends fell to the floor, their bodies pale and decaying, while the natives stood over them, identical in all ways to the men that lay at their feet.
The native holding my father’s book did not realize my deceit until he reached the end, and he came to rest as my father had, in my arms, only the body I held was further decayed than I had remembered. It looked as if I had pulled him directly from the ground, and I dropped the corpse in horror.
The rest of the room, the reflections of my friends, craned their necks to witness me standing in the wake of all the events. “He fell onto me,” I said nervously, their eyes piercing my cover.
“Don’t worry, you’ll forget this soon,” the native who had assumed the appearance of my captain spoke. “We all will. That’s how it works.”
“When will we forget?” I forced out, my throat tense.
“Once we depart from here, the island, once we’re headed to assume these lives, the ones that were not earned by the men at our feet, we will begin to forget, these images dissolving like sand in the ocean. Soon all our memories before this will only be dreams, nothing more. They won’t burden us in the light of day.”
I had caught onto the charade, but I wanted to know more, so I played on a lie, “I have already lost most of these memories,” I started. “What has happened to these men that lie dead?”
“We’ve eaten them,” the new captain said.
“Then how are they here still, in full form, without pieces missing from their bodies?”
“We haven’t eaten as they eat. We’ve eaten them as we must, the only way we can satisfy our hunger. Unlike them, for most of our lives, we are not guided by hunger. Instead, we live in calm prayer, allowing God His due, yet He instills in us, when He decides, a hunger that is unlike any human feeling. It is deeper, more invasive, and can torment us for years. But then God blesses us with those He feels don’t deserve their lives, who disrespect this hunger, and live in excess. So he sends them here, to this island, and we must become them, consume their stories, so that we may be satisfied.”
With that, we threw the bodies over our shoulders, and rushed from the library. Outside, the sun had not moved from the sky despite the days we had spent inside. We carried the bodies to the darkest corner of the forest, which was filled with the decaying corpses of thousands, and dropped them amongst the dead. At this point, I had accepted these natives as my friends, and we gathered to pray one final native prayer over the dead.
A man must labor hard to scale the heights,
And to seek greatness must spend sleepless nights,
And to find pearls must plunge into the sea
And so attains good fortune eminent be.
For he who seeks success without labor
Wastes all his life in a futile endeavor.
As we sailed across the sea, back towards my old home I would eventually struggle to recognize, the men no longer spoke as natives, but began to sing and be merry as the men I had left port with. Under my breath, I repeated the natives’ prayer. It would never leave my head.
 Haddawy, 6