Fiction : Prologue to ‘The Last Scentsei’.


Itabashi Suburb, Tokyo, 2049.

The silk scarves they had used to construct the ceiling panels of their little makeshift tent were just translucent enough to allow someone to see the little lights affixed to the garland and which were hung from the ceiling of the room. The tent itself was a fairly simple construct consisting of different pieces of fabric which were suspended on a wire frame, fabricated from bits and pieces found in the nearby streets after the markets and shops closed down for the day. Colourful scraps of delicate tissue had been carefully sown together to increase the overall size of the canvas, and the ensemble looked like one of those paintings from the past made by a famous Dutch painter in which he had mixed all kinds of colourful blocks together. From inside the makeshift tent, the lights looked exactly as they were intended to : like the billions of stars that illuminated our skies in the galaxy. The improvised shelter was a little enclave of sorts, a hideaway they could get in to escape the world around them. Even though the canvas was paper-thin it shielded anyone inside from the would outside as if some kind of magic spell had been cast on it.

The little girl inside the tent, – she couldn’t have been a day older than seven -, was lying down on the floor mat, her head resting on the older woman’s stomach. The woman was slowly caressing the girl’s hair in a soothing, repetitive motion. The woman was in her late thirties but looked a lot younger. Her jet-black hair and delicate, pale complexion bestowed upon her an air of sophistication, refinement and intelligence. Her regal features where supplemented by a statuesque figure and sharp jawline, all of which only accentuated the most beautiful aspect of her face : her striking emerald blue eyes. If a thousand ships had launched for Helen as she had once read in a forbidden book, then there wouldn’t be enough wood in the world to build the necessary ships for her. The little girl resting her head in her lap was a miniature version of the woman, even slightly more beautiful if it were possible.
“Never forget, Kaori-ko,” the woman whispered while both were staring at the lustrous lights above them, “people will try and take a lot from you in this world. They can lock you away, burn down your house, cut down your trees, and so on, but there’s one thing they can never take from you.”
“What’s that?” the little girl asked.
“The stars in the skies. If you make them yours, if you declare that they belong to you, then nobody can take that away from you. Ever. They will always be there for you, waiting for you, watching you from above. They will guide you in the darkest of times, when you feel abandoned by everyone and everything the stars will be there for you and show you the way.”
The little girl reached her arm out towards the tingling little lights which reflected in her big, pearl-like blue uncharacteristic blue eyes.
“Never.” the woman reassured her while planting a kiss on the girl’s forehead.
“Because when we leave this earth after our time is up, that’s where we go. We become stars. Every person who has ever walked on this earth represents a little star like that.”
“So that we won’t forget them when they’re gone?”
“Exactly.” the mother smiled.
“And you’ll be here to protect me from all those things too, right?” the young girl asked meekly.
“Always. And if not in presence, then I’ll be looking out for you from above.”
“Like the stars?”
“Like the stars, Kaori-ko. They represent every generation that’s ever lived. If you ever feel lonely, look at the stars at night and remember that you are always surrounded by everyone who’s ever been here.” They laid there for what could have easily been an eternity until the sudden thudding of footsteps echoed throughout the stairwell adjacent to the room. A moment later, a man in his early forties entered the room with a look of panic across his face. He had handsome features, and the first signs of white whiskers near his temples. He was holding onto a box the size of a large book with his left hand, and once he was inside the room he carefully locked the door behind him.

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The Corona Diaries : Things to do while in Lockdown

This near-worldwide lockdown we’re experiencing for the moment in de midst of the Coronacrisis is a weird time. It’s a time for self-reflection among other things, but even that gets old after a while. For artists who suffer from a lack of inspiration, a mandatory lockdown can be a gift from heaven. The obligation to re-explore your work, past and present, can give way to insights previously thought out of reach. Isolation can also however provide newfound inspiration. Being stuck inside I’ve started browsing my 100+ collection of photo books. (Sidenote : the Japanese have a word specifically for this, the art of accumulating books that you haven’t yet read or might never endeavour to read : ‘Tsundoku’).

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Tram 7. First stop: the 7th circle of Hell

I’m starting to think that Dante and Rodin spent a lot of time hopping trams in Antwerp, because taking one of these on a daily basis is Divine Comedy in itself.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here

Anyone acquainted with Dante’s Inferno knows that this is the sign swaying over the entrance to hell in that story. Sadly, it’s also my exact thought every time I enter an overcrowded, jam-packed Tram 7 heading to work in the morning. Being a man of the people, I take the tram/subway to work quite often. It’s not always pleasant. Scratch that, it’s bearable. Sometimes. Not really. On one of the rare occasions during which I managed to grab hold of an actual seat, giving me the opportunity to sit like a decent human being instead of clinging to one of the bars on the ceiling and swinging upright like a drying carpet in that vertical sardine can, I remember catching a glimpse of my reflection in the condensated windows. I couldn’t help but notice the eerie resemblance between the pose I was in and the one Rodin’s Le Penseur is perpetuated in, perched on top of the doors representing Dante’s infamous Gates to Hell. The similarities between that rusty tramlike cage and the cavernous confines of hell didn’t stop there.

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One of my favorite quotes stems from renowned American novelist Jeffrey Eugenides and goes a little like this :

“Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.”

Ever noticed how almost everything you buy these days is preformatted in some way? Computers come with useless software bundles. Your phone comes with applications you’ll never use and can’t delete (hey Apple, thanks for making me delete precious photos and memories so that I can keep super-useful apps like ‘Game Center’ and ‘Compass’ installed) and your brand new microwave comes bundled with a dozen manuals you’ll never read in a plethora of languages you can’t even decipher. There’s no room for personal discovery anymore. There’s no room to wander anymore.

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Life Metaphors

Life hands you metaphors for the phases you’re going through in life at the weirdest times and in the weirdest forms. It’s usually a couple of times each year that you get one of these eye-opening moments. One of the greatest and most exciting things in life is the fact that you never know when life will impart you one of its next bits of wisdom. You’ll get these mini-epiphanies in the weirdest of places and in the aloofest of moments. Be it in a Chinese fortune cookie,  a poster above a strip-club urinal or on a hotelroom doorsign.

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A modernist reinterpretation of age-old classics, with a twist

The best piece of advice I ever got was the following : when you meet or are about to meet someone who is imposing, or important to you, and this makes you nervous, or unsettles you in any way, never forget that how big and mighty, how powerful and awe-inspiring that person may be, at one time or another in their life, that person was on his or her hands and knees with explosive diarrhea, praying to their God for a hasty end to aforementioned rear-pipe decompression. Visualising the subject of your idolation in a state of agonising flatulence will pretty much level the playing field you and that person. Gone is the anxiety.

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