New York, 2049
The wistful sounds of an alto saxophone must have attracted his attention. He flew through the window and into the room, landing softly on the furry yellow rug near the boy’s bed – a mysterious figure draped in a long black cloak that concealed his shape.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” the boy replied, clutching the saxophone tighter in his tiny hands and staring at the strange guest with his calm blue eyes.
“Do you know who I am?” the visitor asked.
The boy shook his head slowly.
“Aren’t you surprised that I can fly?” the guest continued.
The boy shook his head again.
The boy shrugged his shoulders.
“Not curious, eh?” the visitor muttered with satisfaction. “Oh, I like that in a man.”
Still clasping the saxophone with one hand, the boy started picking his nose.
The guest laughed heartily.
“You aren’t afraid of me, are you?” he asked.
The boy shook his head once more and frowned.
“Quite a little stoic you are,” the guest said, smiling cordially. “Is there anything at all that you are interested in?”
The boy removed his finger from the nostril and nodded energetically.
“Oh, is that so? And what would that be?” the visitor inquired.
The boy pointed at the saxophone.
“This? But you have one already. And you can play it, can’t you?”
“My fingers are too chubby,” the boy spoke in a husky voice, staring at the floor. “Mr. Jenkins says so. My teacher. He says I won’t be able to play like Charlie Parker. Like, never. Cause my fingers are too chubby.”
“I see,” the guest said. “And you do want to play like Charlie Parker, right?”
The boy nodded vehemently.
“More than anything else in the world?”
“And you’ll give me anything in exchange for that?” the visitor asked softly.
More vigorous nods.
The guest produced a broad grin.
“Why, what a nice boy,” he uttered. “What’s your name?”
“Archie,” the boy replied, raising his head. “What’s yours?”
“Mmm ... you can call me Sam,” the visitor said and unexpectedly wiggled his eyebrows. “Nice to meet you, Archie.”
“Nice to meet you, Sam.”
“It’s a deal, then,” the guest murmured affectionately. “You’ll be the greatest alto saxophone player of your generation. And in return...” he squatted in front of the boy and gently caressed his soft auburn hair. When he spoke again, the boy thought his words were echoing loudly inside his brain, bouncing off the inner sides of his skull.
“In return, you’ll give me the truth.”
An iDevice call woke me up.
“Bloedtraum,” I rasped.
“Oh my, oh my!” the voice on the other end seemed to be bursting with cheerful anticipation. “Long time no see! Sorry for waking you up.”
I opened my eyes. The iDevice hologram was only showing the usual advertisement for nano-powered sex toys, which meant that the caller had chosen to block live video feed.
“I wasn’t sleeping,” I lied.
“Of course. Of course. Do you remember me?”
“Sure,” I lied.
“Ooooh, Archie!” the stranger was apparently giggling with excitement. “You bad boy! Look at you, living in the capital city of jazz, playing all the lucrative gigs, producing bestselling records ... And yet – alas! – you don’t remember your best friend and benefactor...”
My heart started racing.
“I’m sorry, I don’t,” I lied.
He sighed loudly.
“Archie, Archie ... Now you’ve finally recognized me, please stop pretending. You can lie to the whole world, but not to me, my boy!”
I was silent for a few seconds.
“Sam?” I said finally, my voice trembling.
“The-ere you go!” he uttered in a happy singsong. “It’s me, indeed! Good old Sam, whom you owe your fame and riches ... Hehe. And now the time has come to return the favor. I want the truth, Archie! Just like you promised thirty years ago.”
I sat up on the bed. My hands were shaking badly.
“The truth?” I repeated.
“Yes, the truth!” he exclaimed. “No more lies! Speak from your heart! All those thoughts you were unable to freely express because of stupid man-made conventions, social prejudices, and so on – share them now! Stop pretending, be yourself! Make the world a better place! Save the world ... save humanity!”
“Wait a minute –” I stammered, just before realizing that he’d already hung up.
I stood up, walked over to the window, and opened it. My senses were assaulted by the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of Shanghai – the chaotic jittering of tricycle-riding peddlers and scurrying office workers donning identical white shirts; the cacophonous blaring of taxi horns mixed with ceaseless jabber of local housewives; the stench of brown tofu mingling with the arousing odor of hastily concocted fried rice noodles. I inhaled the polluted air and stood there for a while. I wasn’t thinking of anything in particular. I’d forgotten all about Sam’s visit thirty years ago. A few minutes later, I was ready to accept the fact that his present call had been a hallucination.
My iDevice vibrated. My sister’s freckled face appeared on the hologram. It was puffy and covered with melting makeup.
“Archie!” she wept. “He left me! That bastard, that f•©king bastard ... He left mee-eeee!!”
I was silent.
“Archie,” she said, sniffling loudly. “Can you hear me?”
“Then why don’t you say anything?”
I was about to answer with a usual platitude, but then I realized that I couldn’t. I had to speak the truth. There was no hesitation, no choice.
“Because no matter what I say now, you’ll barely listen and then you’ll keep making the same mistakes anyway,” I said.
“Archiiie!” she howled. “That was harsh!”
“Harsh but true,” I announced.
“What’s wrong with you today, Archie? You are not yourself. I need your help! Tell me honestly, why do men always leave me?” She sniffled again, louder than before. “Honestly, okay?”
“Okay,” I said. “Honestly, you aren’t very good-looking to begin with, so guys hook up with you mainly because they are attracted by the prospect of free sex you readily provide. Once they do enter a longer-lasting liaison – either out of fear, insecurity, or the aforementioned sexual gratification some wish to experience more than once – it’s largely a matter of your temper and mood swings, which are considered unbearable by the majority of your romantic partners. Furthermore, I hear that you generally fail to provide sexual stimulation and satisfaction desired by most males.”
Her screams were positively deafening.
“Hey, I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just that I have to tell the truth now, you see. It’s liberating, isn’t it? Have a great day.”
I hung up and went to the bathroom for a shave and a quick shower. I felt bad about upsetting my sister, but I knew she needed to find out the truth in order to become free. And without my assistance, where would she get the truth from? Everyone was lying to her. Everyone was lying to everyone else.
My business partner called me as I was climbing out of the shower cabin.
“Archie, so you’ll come to the office in the afternoon, right?” he said cheerfully.
“No,” I said.
“What do you mean, ‘no’?”
“I mean I have answered your question in the negative.”
“Are you being a smartass now?”
“Depends on the definition. Smart ass, literally, as in ‘intellectually adept buttocks’? Or in the metaphorical sense, designating a person whose behavior is considered irksome due to untimely display of erudition or mental aptitude?”
“Is there some sort of an emergency?” he asked in a concerned voice.
“Then why are you refusing to come?” he whispered.
“Because I’d rather stay at home and read short stories on Booksie before the night gig. Also, I don’t like you at all.”
That felt good. No more lies, no more pretense – just the ecstatic purity of genuine emotions and words coming from the heart! As I was hanging up, my wife entered the bedroom, playfully tiptoed her way through it, and kissed me on the mouth.
“Did you sleep well, honey mustard?” she asked, pinching my cheek.
“No,” I replied.
“Really?” she laughed. “That’s the first time I hear you say that.”
“That’s because I was lying all those other times,” I said.
She threw back her head and squinted at me.
“Archie, are you alright?” she asked.