March 27, 2005

The Harp–player

A piece that I have written as the starting point for my super-portfolio. Let me know what you think.

The Harp-player

Leila, upon the high cliff strums
The tale of her love; with each
Note, her heart strings murmur
With hopeless longing for him,
For he who left her:

I must go. You know I must. But I will be back; I will make my fortune and return a better man with enough money to marry you. I will make you the happiest wife a man could have. I love you, don’t forget it. I will return.

She looked into his large, sad eyes and saw her reflection in his watery pupils. Her distorted expression was strong, more so that she’d expected. She believed his true tone of voice, returned his promise of love and limply let him push the woven ring onto her finger. The blades of wheat stem were silky to stroke but rough against her finger, a constant reminder of the grating strain of love on her heart. It was a temporary token, to be replaced by a golden seal on their wedding day, that joyful day, a cloudy mirage of the future happiness that they would have.
The beach was crowded with village-folk who had come to bid the three young men farewell; the three sons of Ishtar, their village Chief. The oldest, Kamiar, was watched closely by Leila as he boarded the boat reluctantly, waving his hands at family and friends, speaking phrases of farewell. Tears were dabbed with handkerchiefs or wiped away by sleeves. Leila’s trickled freely down her pink, wind-bitten cheeks and dripped into the gusts of wind blowing about her as she stood on the cliff-top, looking down upon the farewell scene. Some of her tears carried as far as the boat and settled upon Kamiar’s head. He felt them and looked up, expecting to see rain clouds, but instead he saw his lover, perched high, plucking the strings of her harp. The doleful melody pierced him and left a mark on his breast; a perfect circle.
His last words to her made an imprint on Leila’s mind and her memory of everything else slowly faded: her family, her music and songs, all disintegrated gradually until they were nothing more than shadows, cowering in the dark corners of her mind. With his words, she composed a new scale of notes and a melody so melancholy that birds would drop out of the sky as they flew by her cliff-top perch, a gash in their breast from where their heart’s had exploded.
Each day was the same. A routine developed. She would rise from her bed, take up her harp and go to the cliff-top. The sky would clear around her and the birds would stop singing and retreat to happier parts of the countryside. The sea would dance and moan in pain as she plucked his words on the harp strings, her heart growing weaker with every vibrating note.

  • * *

The city was overwhelming. Kamiar had never seen people of so many creeds and fashions and stared in awe as they strode through the busy streets, each following their own purposeful path. Traders and sellers of many wares paraded the high street calling out advertisements about the quality of their goods; children played in gutters and mice ran between people's feet, narrowly dodging death; commercial buildings towered above the scurrying business professionals, and it was not long before Kamiar and his brothers were lured into a lifestyle of chance, success, money and women.
For the first few months, Kamiar would wake to the sound of Leila’s harp and, as she intended, he would be inspired to find decent work, always holding the dream of their wedding day in the front of his mind. As time went on, however, Kamiar began to notice other women: beautiful women, witty women, women who were skilled in conversation, languages, music and business. He began to forget his home and let the city life engulf his spirit, let the women seduce him, let the business preoccupy him. As the months turned into years, the memory of Leila and the haunting sound of her harp faded into the dusty files of his mind and the circular mark her music had left on his breast began to fade.

  • * *

The strings of Leila’s harp grew thin and tired, as did her aging fingers, but she played on. The ring Kamiar had made for her was disintegrating and rasped against her skin so furiously as she played that her finger had become callous. The salty sea air kept her body healthy and the wind had knotted her hair into a length of woven plaits. The birds had long deserted the cliff for fear of their lives. The village folk had abandoned any notion of helping Leila; they knew she could not be healed – her ever fibre was surviving on the dwindling hope of her lover’s return, but there had been no word from Kamiar for over ten years.

It was sunset, a summer evening, and Leila was coming to the end of her daily ode to Kamiar. Her fingers we running the last scale and just as she was about to strum the last chord, a string suddenly snapped. The finality of the snap shocked Leila and she realised that her love was lost to her, Kamiar had forgotten. Her heart gave in, and, choking on the years of accumulated sadness, she passed away as the strings of her harp snapped one after the other in a mass crescendo of painful relief. Her body slipped from its perch and fell; fell down past the deserted bird nests, past the weathered rock and into the rolling sea. The carcass of the harp, now devoid of musical ability was left to rot. The stony cliff accepted it, fused the wood to its rocky surface and gradually the harp became a part of the cliff’s architecture, an arched frame of remembrance for Leila’s perch.

  • * *

Kamiar’s life had been satisfactory. His printing business was doing very well and he had married a beautiful, successful woman who had borne him three healthy, handsome sons. Their house was modern and comfortably large, they had the best clothes and his sons were given the most comprehensive education available. Life was satisfactory, but Kamiar had lately begun to think of his origins again, his father, his relatives, his childhood home. He wanted his sons to see the home of their ancestors, the life he had left to provide for them, the place he had had to work up from to become the important man he was today. His wife thought it a nice idea. A trip to the countryside.

The boat rolled into the harbour and Kamiar felt rain drops on his head. He looked up to see rain clouds littering the sky and noticed the archway. It jogged a memory and the fuzzy outline of Leila’s face materialised in his imagination, but he said nothing and diverted his eyes to the shore where his family were waiting to greet him.
That night, they sat around a blazing fire in the village square, exchanging stories of the city and of the countryside. They discussed the farming, the price of paper and meat, the taste of ale and wine, the children’s education, the weave of cloth, the recipes of food. They reminisced about the old days and told tales to Kamiar’s wife and children of his mischievous youth. Leila had changed that though, brought him right back down to Earth. The mention of her name brought a misty silence upon the group and the fire shrank into remnant flames. “Where is Leila? I have been meaning to ask. Where is she, that dreamy harp-player I once loved?” Kamiar’s words seeped through the thick tension that had suddenly descended and everyone stared hard into the fire, avoiding his searching eyes. The fire flickered in the wind. Eventually, Ishtar raised his head and looked hard at his son. “She is dead. You broke her heart and it killed her.” Kamiar shook his head dismissingly and replied, “That is a great shame. How fleeting the heart can be. How was I to know she was so deeply infatuated? Poor girl; 'tis a shame, a great shame.”
That night, as Kamiar slept next to his wife on a simple straw mattress, a distant sound pervaded his dreams and grew louder very gradually. In his sleep, he rose from the bed to follow the urgently wistful call. Out of the house, through the village, past the village boundary, up towards to the cliff-tops he went, the sound of the sea swelling in his ears, mingling with the music to compose a salty lullaby to his fate. Kamiar did not stop at the cliff edge. He reached Leila’s perch and stood for a moment to absorb the night’s heavy burden before jumping, arms wide, into the frothing sea which embraced him with curling waves. The sea where his lost lover waited for him. Somewhere, Leila’s spirit sighed, curled up and closed its wings to rest in peace.

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Oooooh, very nice. Really, really liked this, it feels like a parable, myth or tribal story of some sort. The narrative progresses steadily and believably. It's fairly predictable, but this kind of story always is, and it is executed very well.

    I'd trim some adjectives and adverbs, particularly from the beginning, give it some speed, feels a little dense at the start. Apart from that, loved it. Good work.

    28 Mar 2005, 21:58

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