AN ABUNDANCE OF YELLOW PAPER by TJ Benson
Wherever the man came from he didn’t stop running.
He made a turn at the end of Maikano Street, ran into a men’s wear boutique in a white jalabiya and ran out through the back in an ash three-piece suit, a brown leather suitcase in his right hand, red tie flapping over his shoulders as he ran. Even at cross-roads he didn’t stop to catch his breath, he only slowed into a jog after crossing, up the sloping crescent that led to the River View hotel.
The receptionist didn’t know what to make of him, this dapper-dressed stranger with full beard that concealed most of his face and sharpened his eyes; she didn’t know what to make of him at all. She wished him a happy stay and gave him the chip-key for Room 101, the penthouse apartment he requested. How he knew it was available was beyond her and she stared at him, at his brown leather briefcase until he disappeared into the elevator at the far end of the lounge. She turned to her desk to answer a call.
In the roof-top apartment of the hotel he sat on the lush four-poster bed and sighed. Beside him on the bed was the brown leather briefcase. All his running, all his life-savings had come to this. He ran a hand over its creased surface and thought of her. He thought to open it now but knew it was foolishness; there would be surveillance cameras in the room. He picked up the briefcase and walked out to the open air of the roof top. At the edge a table and chair overlooked the sun-dappled Victoria Island skyline without any parapet wall to keep from falling. He dropped the briefcase on the table and sat on the chair before these monsters of concrete and glass, his only spectators for now.
He opened the briefcase knowing what he would find but this knowing didn’t quell his thrill. When he saw what was promised a sense of sanctity overwhelmed him. He knew what he had to do but when he whipped out his ink pen he hesitated. It was a dangerous time to write poetry. Digital poems were traced back to their author’s IP addresses and the discovered poets were stalked and raped to death at first by fans and eventually assassinated when poet-homicide increased and their poems turned to the authorities all over the world. Poets were hunted down everywhere; they had become anathemas, a menace to the society with the rebellion and depravity they inspired. Courts never listened to their pleas for mercy, their cries of innocence, their complaints that their words of love had been misunderstood for lust, the individuality they inspired people to find for themselves had been misunderstood as summons to war. The last fled their adopted countries to the great cities of the world they had loved as women; Rome, Paris, Cairo, Amsterdam. He had come to Eko, not the sprawling Lagos mega city that drew energy from the sun, but the Island, the Queen’s Island his ancestors had in another time declared in the heat of passion will never die.
When few poets like he resorted to writing on paper which left no digital footprints, all physical books in the country were banned. Everything became electronic: learning, business, records, money, love… and now to be in the presence of the city he loved, a love passed through inheritance that was organic and so made somehow more real…took his breath away. His eyes moistened at the sight of yellow papers arranged in a neat stack, the bleached pages of a millennium old novel. It used to be the very first edition of George Orwell’s 1984, the dealer had said. That detail had been irrelevant then but now it was simply the most precious thing. What could he possibly write that would be worthy of these pages? In the underground saloons where artists had sought refuge before extermination he had grown up on a ration of five written words per day. And he had to share his paper with the others. He had seen a blank sheet of paper twice in his life; once when the UN had broadcasted the banning of its use worldwide and then once at fourteen when the miracle of starting a sheet before the others had happened to him. So to be chosen for these sheets now…it was unbelievable.
Wind from the sea brought her to him on the roof-top of the hotel, carrying her scent with it, the memory of how helpless he was when she walked into a room, the soft porousness of her upper lip… His pen hovered over the first page and he closed his eyes to take it all in with a smile.
When the elevator doors slid open to Room 101 there was no one in but out of the room, through a small door beside the wardrobe a figure was bent over a table littered with crumpled yellow paper, shoulders jerking as the hands worked furiously. One bullet was enough. But before the hole in the back could blossom into a crimson circle he fell forward, pushing the table down so that the few hundreds of crumpled paper became paper planes that unfurled their wings and took flight before they could be stopped into the red tinted sky.
No one could ignore the poetry raining from the sky that day, but no one paid it too much mind, they shook it off, swept it up and removed it out of their hair. But a boy picked one up just in front of River View hotel. He unfolded the plane as if from habit, before his horrified mother could stop him and was promptly surprised at the rawness of the words etched into physical paper. The one he picked was not much of a poem as a promise ‘We won’t fade into darkness.’