The Angel Ryna, Heroine of a Forgotten Story
Whether you’re big or little, young or old, please excuse me, because what follows is not a mistake or limitation on my part, but arises directly from the angel Ryna’s orders.
This book’s table of contents considers itself “a good table of contents,” but if you happen to find yourself staring at a blank page, Ryna kindly asks you to draw a picture or write something on it. The main thing is not to leave a page blank, or it will feel bad. This is just a small request on her part. And if you should come across a printing error, a spot of black ink, for example, let me assure you, it’s not an exterminated word, but just a spot.
Oh, and one last thing. I ask you, no, I beg you, from now on, please caress this book’s cover before opening it, so you won’t surprise it. Otherwise, you’re the one who will be surprised!
The whole thing began when I heard this surprising question: “How would you react if someone threw you into the trash?”
Me: “Who, me?”
The strange voice: “Savage, criminal, murderer! The rose, the candle!”
Would you like to know whose voice that was and what connection I, Amir, could possibly have with a trashcan, a rose, and a candle?
Well, before I jump into that story, I’d better tell you a little about my life…
Mr. Amir’s Daily Life
“How about a new book, Amir?”
“Aren’t you going to take up writing again, Amir?”
Oh, my goodness! I started to hate my name and all these questions that made me jump like a snake striking its prey. I had stopped writing. I used to be an author of romance novels, but I confess my inspiration came from television programs and film plots. I would simply invent a new beginning and ending, or adapt certain formulas I saw here and there, changing or rearranging them to produce something that approximated a book, more or less.
Over time, I realized I’d gone down the wrong path. I felt like I was living a lie, like I was nothing but an intruder in the world of writing. I told myself I didn’t have what it takes to be an author; I wasn’t talented enough; I lacked that certain something it took to succeed. Had I mistaken my vocation? Or was it my dad’s fault? He was a well-known writer. Everyone liked him, and they tried to persuade me that I had inherited his talent. From the time I was a child, they were convinced I would become a writer like him. They wanted me to resemble him, at any cost. But no one ever asked me what I wanted to be!
I remember that whenever I pronounced his name, people showed respect for me even though I’d done nothing to earn it. But back at home, doubt took over again and my conscience pestered me with the old question, “Am I truly a writer?”
My wife was the only person who treated me honestly. She never stopped proclaiming, morning ‘til night, her regret at having married a man of letters, a writer who barely eked out enough to support his family. She was relentless.
Every day at breakfast she would pose those pointed, never-ending questions of hers, with every sip of coffee: “Any novels…any books? What are your children going to eat? Are the newspapers talking about you? Any messages of thanks or homage decorating the walls? Find another job, won’t you? There’s no interest in books…your writing is so boring…such lack of talent…”
She expressed her aversion for books and for my writing incessantly, to such a point that she contaminated me. I no longer wanted to hear anything about my work. And oddly enough, this gave me the courage to break down the grandiose monument I had erected. It collapsed like a house of cards at the first touch of my little finger. I felt calm then, and relieved. I was quite surprised by the joy that deliverance from writing had procured me, and I decided to leave the city. I took my wife and children and fled like a thief escaping from the courthouse.
My father had left me a house and a large property in the country, surrounded by high mountains whose peaks touch the heart of the clouds. The house is rustic, humble, its walls of stone and its roof of red tile. The waters stream down from the mountain heights through rocky valleys, and flow into a river crossing a field near the house. Hundreds of fruit trees grow there: apricot, olive and fig trees. Before my arrival, my sister and I had hired a farmer to take care of the property and the many trees. His tasks were arduous, but we had agreed he could keep three-fourths of the harvest, leaving a quarter for us. But over the years, he became insatiable and demanded always more, so it was better I care for the place myself.
After we’d been in the country a month, my sister Amira and her husband came to visit. She spent all her time talking about stories, books and novels that intrigued her, as was her habit. She spent the evenings poking through the bookshelves in the living room, reading the titles of all the dust-covered books while we had our coffee. She spoke of so-and-so’s novel or the collected essays of such-and-such, and several times a day, she asked me if I was writing again, or if the country air had invigorated me and inspired me to write a novella or a novel. And yet I had already insisted I had abandoned writing. That either went in one ear and out the other, or my words had no importance to her, for she pursued her questions and remarks tirelessly.
“You’re in the country now, in the middle of enchanting nature, surrounded by animals – surely that inspires you to write stories about animals. I feel like I’ve plunged into George Orwell’s book Animal Farm, isn’t that so, Amir? Doesn’t all this beauty move you?”
Anyway, one morning I got up early – I can’t really say I woke up early, because I’d hardly slept. My head ached atrociously, as if I’d spent the night on a ship out in a violent storm. I rushed from the house without even having my coffee, for fear my sister would wake up and start attacking me again with that forked tongue of hers. I felt completely lost, my thoughts confused, but like every time I went out the door, I forgot all my worries. The sight of the countryside with its lush fields, its warm, soothing sunshine, the murmur of running water in its streams, the singing of birds as they built their nests – this was paradise on Earth!
I sat on a big rock next to the house and watched the sun rise. I was king of the universe.
The sunshine out in the country is much more beautiful than in the city; its rays are not altered by tall buildings or factory smoke or noxious gases from exhaust pipes that obstruct its radiance and make it opaque.
“Oh, this magnificent view almost made me forget I need to bring water to the animals! But what’s this voice I hear? Who’s calling me?”
The strange voice: “Mean man! Murderer! Why did you kill the flower and the candle?”
Do you hear what I’m hearing?
I lifted my eyes to the immensity of the sky, then to the huge willow, whose shade covered part of the field. I turned to the right, then the left, and saw nobody. But the strange voice continued to buzz in my ears like a pesky fly.
The strange voice: “Criminal! I’m not afraid of you. Just dare to insult me!”
The voice was sweet yet shrill. I sighed deeply and concentrated on understanding what that voice was telling me. Maybe it was only the fruit of my imagination because I hadn’t slept that night, or because I hadn’t taken my usual dose of coffee.
But no – the voice started to shout: “Down here, murdering villain! Come on, face me!”
I had just brought water to the chickens, and I stared at them, saying, “Can they talk? Is it the end of the world?”
Suddenly I noticed something violet moving in the grass. Or I thought I did. I kneeled, then sat on the ground and lowered my head, peering around. An insect? A mouse? Bizarre, really bizarre! It was hard to locate the voice, and the chirping of birds and the many insect voices around me destabilized me and made it even more difficult. Everything around me started spinning: the trees, the house, the birds – a real whirlwind. I felt like I was about to faint. “
Ah, there! I found it! But what am I looking at?” My chest contracted so much I could no longer breathe. “Is it a
puppet? No, no, no! It’s a girl! No!”
A midget the size of my finger was glaring at me with her big eyes full of anger, stamping her feet on the ground, waving her arms and vociferating in a tinny voice. She looked like a ceramic puppet, with her radiant face and innocent features, her red cheeks and her violet hair was shaped like a round helmet. She wore a green skirt. What captivated me most about her was the color of her eyes, that switched from blue to green then to mauve. They had a touch of sadness I can’t describe. In an instant, I found myself transported to a different epoch, unable to distinguish the real from the imaginary; all I really knew was that this creature was angry with me and not very happy to see me. Her displeasure upset me, and my headache kicked into overdrive. I closed my eyes and shook my head to wake up.
But when I opened my eyes, what was my surprise to hear her yell at me, “Why did you kill my friends?”
My goodness, it was like I was floating in space.
“What?! Who – me? I killed who? I didn’t kill anyone!”
I certainly must have looked ridiculous stammering away like an idiot, not knowing what I was saying, but if you’d been in my place, you wouldn’t have felt like laughing. To see a tiny girl the size of your finger treating you as a criminal is not at all funny! Plus, I knew nothing about any crime, like she accused me of, but that didn’t stop her from keeping up her accusations.
“Yes, you! How can you live with such cruelty? You act friendly by giving water to the chickens and taking care of the flowers and the roses, but you kill them all! Why did you kill the candle? What are you, anyway? Don’t you have a heart? How would you feel if I threw you into the trash?”
Astonished, I interrupted her, “You are truly mistaken, Little One. I don’t know you and I didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t understand what you’re talking about. What are you? And what’s this story about the trash?”
“I’m the angel Ryna, and you’ve hurt me and destroyed all my hopes. You’re the reason I haven’t been able to find a home.”
“But I don’t know you, so how could I have offended you or hurt you when this is the first time I’ve ever seen you?”
We had a long talk then, after which I finally understood who she was. I’ll share her story with you here.
The Angel Ryna, Heroine of a Forgotten Story
This little being was neither a midget nor an insect, as I’d been thinking, but an angel from an imaginary world, heroine of an ancient legend. However, this legend had been forgotten over the course of time and there remained only the title, “The Little Angel Ryna,” followed by a two-line summary consisting of simple words you can find in a book called a “dictionary.” That’s all anyone knows about her; even she doesn’t know her story.
The angel Ryna was tired of being inside that dictionary, wandering here and there among those long lines and white pages with no friends to play with. No phrases, not even a word, had yet caught her attention. Her passion for colors intrigued the residents of the book, but they found her attitude bizarre. She was sure the dictionary wasn’t going to appease her passion for colors, as it mostly contained dull, obscure words, punctuation marks and numbers.
She spent all her time searching and exploring, hoping to find a colorful word somewhere and interrogating those she met along the way about her lost story. She was sure she was the heroine of a story, but which story? Had she gotten lost? How could she find her road again? All these questions and many others ceaselessly preoccupied her.
Ryna stuck to it, hopping here and there with her hands crossed behind her, admiring the white surfaces and the groups of black words. She hardly ever took a break. She was by far the most dynamic, quarrelsome, and provoking resident of the whole dictionary, and she made the others angry and irritated. She talked too much and asked questions all the time; she wanted to know everything! She was always insisting on things, as if she were purposely trying to goad the other residents. She was seeking something, but what that was she herself did not know. Haven’t we all done that at one time or another? We look for something eagerly, passionately, even though we don’t know its shape, color or name. All we know is we have to find it.
Anyway, Ryna told me – and this has to remain a secret between you and me – that she and her fellow residents, the words and phrases, punctuation marks and numbers, they go for walks and discuss things among themselves. It’s true! They move around and even fall asleep between the lines on the pages. If one of us ever saw them in that peculiar state, we would certainly be surprised, stupefied even. The sentences would hold no meaning for anyone trying to read them, for sentences break down into words and the words break down into letters and spread through the whole book in scattered groups or alone, out of any logical order. However, as soon as the hands of a person touch the book, all those letters and words quickly find their places and become silent and immobile once more. The title is the one who rings the alarm, being the first to see a reader approaching and picking the book up to read it.
The previous evening, my sister, the one with the forked tongue, had been talking at me in the library. She had picked up the dictionary, not to read it, as its title later explained, but just to shake off the fine dust covering it. She had considered this simple gesture harmless, but it caused a veritable tsunami inside the book, pure anarchy. When the title raised the alert, the words and numbers were seized with panic. They had spread far and wide over such a long period of time that it was in the midst of a general uproar that they started desperately looking for their places. They shouted and pushed at each other recklessly. They tripped and rolled over one another roughly, as if reeling in the waves of an earthquake. Even the words, who find their spots more easily, realized, once they were in place, that the phrases were missing certain words essential to logic. They had assembled any old way and had no meaning. These words had gotten lost as they hastened home in the universal panic that my sister had brought on by her mishandling of the poor book. It makes sense, considering no one had touched it for such a very long time, so long that the inhabitants had almost forgotten their place and their meaning and even the sound of the alarm itself.
Try to imagine the situation if my sister had opened the book to actually read it. She wouldn’t have understood anything! She would have encountered jumbled phrases and hastily formed paragraphs, letters and numbers upside down or scattered about. As you must know, the contents of a book always go in the direction of our movement: if we lean to the right, the letters and numbers shift to the right, and if we turn to the left, they follow, except for those that had time to get back to their true place – those won’t move, for they are correct.
That’s why, dear readers, it’s more judicious to give a book a little time before opening it after you pick it up, so all the residents can scurry back to the right place.
“Since when do words have the freedom to move around inside a book?” I asked Ryna once.
Her response sidelined me; I have to admit. You’re not going to believe what she said. It’s incredible! Unimaginable! You’ll see. I report her speech:
“They say that long ago, words and phrases did not talk among themselves, and never moved around, as is the case today, for books were frequently opened and consulted; they were rarely closed, and their pages didn’t know much about darkness. A reader’s kind behavior toward a book – picking it up gently and caressing it and reading it – was called ‘a nice tremor.’ The books liked it, and they shivered with joy. In the marveling eyes of readers, their words were like stars that shone in the heavens.
“These days, things have changed. Ever since television and computers came along, books have lost their place. Books have become orphans. No one consults them anymore, and their pages are always dark and sad. Sometimes, they’re even bought just for decoration, spending their days without life, without movement, hoping that someone would remember them and leaf through their pages. This situation eventually caused them so much pain, they let their anger loose and decided to strike. The pages began to agitate, to assert their rights and demand for solutions to their problem. This badly frightened the titles, for there was no worse danger to a book than a strike by its words, numbers and punctuation.”
Do you know how the strike turned out? Do you know what they threatened – those words, phrases, numbers and punctuation marks, like commas and exclamation points? If a strike like that were to happen in our time, you’d be quite surprised, my readers, to see incorrect phrases, mixed-up words, backwards punctuation marks and reversed numbers throughout the pages of your books. An unthinkable situation!
I started to imagine a renegade ensemble of punctuation marks, letters and numbers stuck one against another or thrown onto the page edges, and words thrown together without any logic. I admit the idea scared me. I wondered what my sister’s reaction would have been if she had opened the book and discovered that mess on its pages. She would certainly have wasted a lot of time trying to figure out what was happening.
This situation pushed the books’ top authorities, namely the titles, to call an emergency meeting. They issued a decree that none of the book’s residents expected, the first of its kind, whereby they were all accorded full liberty of movement on any page from cover to cover, on condition that everyone went back to their places as soon as the title rang the alarm.
But when my sister picked up the book, the title on the inside page became irate and terribly anxious too, because the words had been so lazy and so incapable of quickly getting back to their places. He called an urgent meeting, where he scolded them for their sloth and their flagrant lack of attention. Then he decided to run an experiment. They would perform emergency exercises, and take tests to evaluate how fast they could recover their places. He scared them by threatening that they would be burnt if they failed to position themselves correctly. He explained that if a reader opened the book and noticed that the words were arranged any which way, if the phrases made no sense, the book would be tossed into the fire. They were all afraid of fire, even if not one of them truly knew what fire was.
So the exercises began. The first time the title gave the alert, the words identified their respective places and scurried toward them; they all quickly regained their pages and their lines, for the title’s story about the fire had made them gnash their teeth. Only Ryna didn’t care much about the tests and dawdled the same as ever. Twice, she was the last to arrive.
The experimental competition left her lukewarm and the bonfire story didn’t scare her a bit, all of which earned her two warnings from the title.
Ryna continued her little walks through the book. As she tripped about, she pried and poked and constantly shot glances into the nooks and crannies of the white pages, where scattered groups of words, phrases and punctuation marks were in the habit of gathering. Some dozed while others discussed things, gesticulating. As Ryna moved from place to place, she kept her ears open, hoping to discover something new or meet someone who might know even a scrap of her own story.
Each set of pages was like a room with white walls, one succeeding another, and each room had two doors facing each other, thus allowing the book’s residents to move from one page to another. These doors came into existence the day the decree came into effect, so words could move around easily. Before that, the residents of different pages of a book never had a chance to get to know each other, but thanks to their demands and the strike, things had changed. The only place where the movement of words remained forbidden was in the public library, where the books are regularly consulted.
One strange and alarming thing was that the dictionary’s words and numbers were ignorant of the existence of other books, so the things they described were to them simply imaginary stories. Every word told a story, but none of the residents knew the origin of the stories, for like most books the dictionary was a closed universe, impassible, surrounded with the high walls of its covers, which render it immobile, even if they all joined forces to make it move. And through that wide façade a blinding light can surge, dissuading the residents to go outside the dictionary’s covers, upon pain of being burnt by the flames awaiting them there. This accounted for their fear of leaving. They believed they had no other world than that of their reader. This had become accepted over time and they remained inside, inactive and somnolent. As usual though, Ryna would not admit or accept this. She doubted everything she heard, and every time she found occasion to sit down with a group of words, she asked them odd questions about the world.
The most frequently recurring one – besides the one about her lost story – was, “Has anyone among you approached the great wall and seen the sparkling light over there?”
She always got the same answer, and she was never satisfied with it. One of the phrases answered her so unkindly that Ryna thought it was going to pounce at her.
“How can you ask us to confirm something that truly exists and that’s obvious to the eyes of all?” the phrase said.
“We don’t need to see it to be convinced. We’re not such idiots to put our lives in danger and we’re not such ingrates as to doubt our leaders.”
One of the words was just as vehement. It answered Ryna by saying, “Get away from us – we’ve heard enough from you and your stupid questions! Go away and leave us alone!”
Although this hurt her and made her very angry, Ryna responded politely, “But I only wanted to ask you a question about something that preoccupies me, that’s all!”
The words turned their backs on her and continued their discussion, ignoring her completely. Their attitude frustrated her, but she didn’t let it discourage her. She kept defending her idea and nobody could dissuade her or make her swerve from her quest, which was to understand that inexplicable something she knew absolutely nothing about.
All of her mornings of inspection and research were identical, and nothing “abnormal” transpired. Ryna felt she was reliving the same events day after day, always performing the same actions and encountering the same words, the same situations, the same stories. At times, she was so perplexed and destabilized she would have to stop and ask herself what day it was. But then she would realize it didn’t matter; it wasn’t at all important to know what day it was. Every day was the same.
But finally one day she met a strange-looking phrase whose words contrasted from what she was in the habit of seeing. Its letters were leaning over backward and dancing in a weird way, going up fast and coming down slowly and hitting the ground awkwardly.
She stopped in front of it, thinking, “This phrase is different from what I usually meet, so I’ll ask it a question. Maybe it’s worth the trouble this time, and I’ll get an answer!”
“Hello,” she said. “My name is Ryna. What’s your name? And what’s the secret to your dancing appearance?”
The phrase launched into a furious flood of speech, as if it had been voiceless for a long time and merely awaited a chance to talk again.
“My name is ‘The Belle of the Realm of Beauty’ and I’m the queen of the universe. I’m the most beautiful phrase in the world. My eyes are the most beautiful, my mouth is drawn in emerald, my cheeks are perfumed scarlet roses and my hair is shining silk. I live in an immense palace adorned with gardens, trees and flowers of unequaled beauty.”
Ryna bitterly regretted having asked that question. She suddenly felt terribly sleepy and her eyes started to close. With light, stealthy steps, she retreated, wanting to get away from the pretentious dancing phrase, but even after she had covered a good distance, the equivalent of four or five pages, the phrase continued to chatter away.
Ryna smiled mockingly and said, “It didn’t even notice that I left. It’ll probably keep talking the whole day long. I must be the only one who’s ever asked it about itself.
I hope no one ever asks me that question, because I don’t know much about myself, or perhaps it’s better I don’t know, otherwise I risk being like that one, endlessly blabbering. Hahaha!”