August 28, 2008

A Winter Walk

by Rudi Dornemann

When another hour passed without word, and the automatic voice that answered for his lawyer still repeated the generic message that meant it either didn't recognize the caller or it did, but didn't have any news he'd want to hear, Javad Azaizeh decided to go out for a walk. He wrapped the scarf around his neck, turned up the collar of his jacket, and pulled on his warmest hat. It would be ironic to have made it unscathed through half a Kharbarovsk winter only to catch a cold just when he might be back in front of crowds who wanted to hear his voice.

Javad's ears popped as he door of his building shut behind him. The light, filtered by the blue plastic of the snow tunnel walls, was twilight-colored and noon-bright.

A scrap of paper, scuttled along by the wind, stayed just ahead of his feet. Midway through the second block, words appeared, lines in Korean script. A menu, to judge by the pictures of bulgogi and bibimbap -- smart paper, a page set for a local frequency, that had come loose of wherever it had been posted originally. Another three steps, and the menu faded to a flyer for the jewelry store Javad was passing, then to a teaser for that day's Tikhookyeanskaya Zvyezda. For a few seconds, under the concrete arch of a bike lane, the scrap showed nothing but crawl-scrolling gray-pink snow.

He followed the page, even when the tunnel wind took it off his usual route. Flickering false-3D ads melted into handwritten daily special lists, which morphed into tables of apartment dwellers meant to accompany banks of buzzer-buttons. Javad forgot the courtroom in Brussels, the message he hadn't gotten. When he passed a school where a chorus must have been practicing, a few staves of whatever the folk song they sang sketched themselves across the wrinkled, dirt-smeared paper, and, before he could catch himself, he hummed the first notes.

He felt the vocal lock tighten in his throat. The lawyer must not have been successful; Javad still didn't own the performance copyright to his own voice.

Wincing with shame more than pain, he leaned against the wall, feeling the chill of hard-packed snow through the plastic. He took thin breaths and let the paper continue tumble and change without him.

There'd be a message now, one telling him about the fine he'd just incurred.

July 16, 2007

Evening in the Chess-Cafe Star

by Rudi Dornemann

That Tuesday evening, like every Tuesday for the last couple of months, Maxim Abromovich Klebanov went to the chess café on Zaparin street. Javad Azaizeh waited at the usual table by the window. Like a third of the tables in the café, instead of chess pieces, the table was set with a shallow bowl of glass beads beside the board on each side. A new fad, the game with glass beads was as rigorous as chess but more abstract.

They made the usual small talk as they played -- ostensibly, the older man was helping Max with his French, but they both enjoyed the challenges of the games, chess at first, this new game for the last few weeks. They placed the beads at the corners of squares or, when the rules allow, in the center. Javad jotted the score and corrected Max's accent; Max was distracted --

3: Akbal: climbing the steps to the sky: even with the green of the trees beyond the city

Max's peripheral mind read patterns in the bead arrangements as Mayan calendar glyphs and jaunted off on cross-reference tangents --

8: Lamat: topography in relief: overlays for infrastructure, political divisions, groundcover vs. cleared vs. paved : looped animations showing ebb and flow of cultivation over decades.

Max shook his head. His contract was very specific: the peri-brain implant was for work only. The company paid for the surgery and the monthly subscription. The connection should have ended when he left the building. He shook his head again. One idea opened into the next.

14: Ix: import export ratios for corn, beans, millet, rice: by district, by country, by continent: by month, by year, by rolling five-year interval: flurry of numbers: mob of colored charts

The clatter and conversation in the street, loud yet removed. Against the focused silence of chess club, the noise was like a pressure in the air.

Max had fallen silent, but Javad must have assumed his friend was concentrating on the game. The taste of dust from another continent, another century, was thick on Max's tongue. Amidst the random firings of the peri-brain, he glimpsed a story, a life. He moved his lips, couldn't find words.

20: Ahau: numbers flock and disperse: commodities markets, futures: a wind in the treetops: so many steps

The game was over. Javad stood, wrapped his scarf around his neck, said something. Reached out to shake Max's hand.

Behind Max's eyes, the cycle of days began again.

1: Imix: climbing still higher: above the trees now and nearer to the sun's heat

May 7, 2007

In the Night Market

by Rudi Dornemann

The autumn wind was coming down the valley from China, but, to Javad Azaizeh, it felt as chilly as if it were pouring south from Siberia. He should be inside on a night like this, but insomnia always left him feeling lonely, and Khabarovsk's night market seemed like the perfect remedy.

Vermillion in the shadows of the next row of kiosks caught his eye, and he walked closer. In the narrow aisle between a noodle stall and one that sold prepaid viewpads for the municipal space, a stocky man in an apron swept his bare forearm up and down, back and forth. Red flashed with every movement. The noodle-seller -- he hadn't even put down his long chopsticks -- paused, and the diodes in the skin of his forearm winked out. He was looking over Javad's head, and Javad turned.

Up on a rooftop overlooking the market square, a woman waved in response. Her arm, too, traced red on the night, a series of symbols that hung on the air through persistence of vision.

Javad smiled in recognition -- he knew those symbols. Forty years ago, touring with Cheba Alia's orchestra when he was just a city kid who'd never been more than ten kilometers out of Paris, he'd seen the same alphabet on hand-lettered signs in towns on the edge of the Sahara. They'd seemed then like the most exotic thing in the world. He'd never learned how to read them, and what a noodle-seller in a Korean market in a Russian city was using them to say, he couldn't guess.

Javad turned back to see the noodle-seller resume his side of the conversation, his arm a blur. There must be some sophisticated on-the-fly processing behind the simple arm-waving -- the quick-fading scarlet lines were crisp.

Javad's admiration was tempered by hunger -- the smell of fish and spices reminded him he hadn't eaten since midday.

"Pardon, but when you have a moment..." he said.

The noodle-seller's arm continued flaring letters on the twilight, his gaze remained fixed on his distant companion, and Javad had no idea if the man had even heard him.