In the dream, I am working on the 35th or 37th floor of a building. My habit is to go up and smoke a cigarette on the roof. The building I work in is not the tallest in the vicinity, but its height sufficient that it be deemed a skyscraper. The view is exhilarating. This particular afternoon as I take a cigarette break, a shadow wafts over me. A helicopter, it lands on the opposite roof deck. Another shadow passes over — this time a huge black military helicopter— it lands on my side.
I tremble with the vibrations.
Men in black alight from the ‘copters, above the noise of the propellers they yell at those of us on the roof to get down, get off the roof, clear the space, et cetera… I don’t understand; I look to the sky, bright and intensely blue. Alien spacecrafts begin to uncloak before my eyes. The FBI men are yelling to get off the roof, I say:
Fuck you— You get off the roof,”
As if they really had any authority in this matter, or even posed the lure of security anymore. We’re all in this together. Or are we?
Looking to the skies, the spaceships have formed a sky roof of twinkling lights. I think to myself: this is a dream, this is a nightmare; this is the prototype of a really bad script or movie. I want to wake up. I cannot.
If this is a dream let me out.
The lights are still winking and the breeze stands still.
Let me out.
The spacecrafts hover above.
I want to wake up. This no dream, just as I had feared…
No no no this cannot be happening.
But it is.
Down below, the streets are distant and cloudy with smoke. I hear the faint sound of jingling and tiny lights blink through the fog. Jingle bells, elves sleighs— I remembered the Ancient world. In Antiquity, the captives drew the chariots of their triumphant captors through the streets. I look up: the threat of Alien captors. I would rather die than be a slave. I would rather die than live like that. I would rather die than live with this fear. I’d rather die, I’d rather die, I’d rather…
I willed myself to die.
Shortly, I found myself in Hell. This was a dream, certainly. I had merely escaped reality by entering a maze of dreams. Even so, I hoped I was under no obligation to wake up. In Hell we were being put into lead coffins/griddles and then fed into the fire, but first flattened through a press. My feet brittled at the first pressures of the press.
Looking up, I saw the Devil loom over me, fifteen feet tall. He wore a black leather s/m outfit that clad every inch of his skin. Or perhaps that was his skin, the ugly beast. He was finite and no less threatening than a trendy Soho-type artiste. This prompted me to rise out of my coffin and walk out of Hell —there was nothing the Devil could do about this.
I had not walked too far before I found myself in Heaven. It was Washington DC. Everything was white and at the Capitol I ran into a friend, together we went to get some soup. I told her what was happening on Earth. I told her that Hell was like Soho and Heaven, well what did it matter, the world was over anyway…
I wake up. It’s mid-afternoon; it was not the end of the world. I am feverish and unemployed and sleeping on a friend’s couch.
In my waking hours I experience no angst about aliens or millennial catastrophe, but what I felt in my dream was real. When I looked in the mirror that afternoon, a single white strand of hair had appeared.
Two weeks later I found a job at the World Financial Center— up on the 43rd floor. It occurred to me that the rooftop in the building would be similar to the one in my dream. I took the elevator up to the 51st floor. It was an executive level; The Concierge merely shook his head at my desire to go on the roof. I was informed there was no access to it. I seriously doubted this, how, I argued, would it be possible for the window cleaners to their job if there was no such access? And how about the Fire Warden? The Concierge shrugged; clearly he was indifferent to my cause.
Later in the evening I tried again, it was the same fellow at the desk. I told him I had hoped it would be someone else— the evening shift perhaps? Nothing had changed, he replied. It occurred to me that I might arouse some sort of serendipity, perhaps if I told him of my dream, it was probable, very probable in fact that he experienced the same dream himself or something similar. It turned out he had not— or if he had, he was largely unimpressed by the coincidence.
At the Cappuccino Bar down in the atrium, I overheard a woman tell the guy behind the counter about a dream she had. She was on the thirty-somethieth floor of a skyscraper, outside the windows were large flying saucers hovering. An alien floated close by the window, a patch of dry skin flaked of its face.
The guy at the Cappuccino Bar said:
“Perhaps a state of mistaken identity?”
Often, as Summer wound into Fall, I would look out from the 43rd floor and see a Goodyear Blip floating high above the Hudson horizon like a spaceship.
The guy at the Cappuccino Bar said:
“Sometimes the soul takes the shape of a separate entity; you recognize yourself as a reflection and thus become enlightened—”
I told him I would stick to espresso. I met Cylena at the Cappuccino Bar on a Winter afternoon during my lunch break. We fell into a conversation and after that I was quite committed to having lunch with her every other afternoon. We’d sit in the Winter Garden, or if it was warm enough, outside by the Marina. There were times when it felt like Spring was breaking in the midst of Winter.
Cylena, her name was like the moon, but her thoughts clear as chimes.
Five hundred different kinds of marble were used in building the World Financial Center, Cylena told me one afternoon as we sat outside facing the water, New Jersey and the Colgate clock on the other side. The building loomed pale and marble in the light brightness. I liked it because it jutted delicately into the sky, fading calmly into symmetrical lines—
“It’s just like Mesopotamia” I said, “Can you imagine being a slave girl in Ancient Babylon? Pretty much like this— grand palisades, arches, ziggurats, expansive walkways… all this to impose the grandeur of the empire on the humblest of its subjects, imagine the ecstasy it invoked —”
“I’d rather die than be a slave-girl,” Cylena said
“It wasn’t so bad you know. Babylonians were sort of expert at populace control, they wanted no revolts — you got a decent minimum wage, lived in a separate quarter of town with you family and fellow nationals— you could practice and religion or sexuality you wanted—”
“Sure you couldn’t own property— it’s not that different from our lives today—”
“Still I’d rather die than be thrown a bone. Maybe they did have some simulation of freedom— but imagine that you wanted to go elsewhere, act on your own initiative— they would deem it escape. That’s when the cruelty sets in. the cruelty sets in at the moment of realization. You see the vast framework of your prison. I’d rather die than live that way—”
“That’s too desperate—- there are various means and acts of subversion that might alleviate the burden—”
And there is hope, faith and perhaps delusion. It’s no wonder that the exiles gathered and wept by the river, remembering Zion. And what if you had no memories of Zion? It was by the river Ezekiel saw visions of a wheel within a wheel. A spacecraft shaped like revolving swastikas.
Once, I told the guy at the Cappuccino Bar about my dream of the rooftop and the aliens. He said:
“The true children of the age claim it as their own, thus they have no anxiety over it, they do not seek signs in the sky— nor hope for redemption. For them there is no redemption, this is it. Salvation from what? The Babylonians feasted using the sacred utensils from the temple; there was the writing on the wall, they didn’t even see it coming, the judgment:
—they continued to wine, dine and surfeit themselves, thinking merely— Après nous, le deluge.”
For a couple of weeks my work schedule became erratic and I was hardly there. When I returned to a regular pace, Cylena was strangely absent. I did not see her again for months. I hung out every afternoon in the atrium, at the Cappuccino Bar, outside by the Marina, waiting for her to surface. I never saw her again.
I figured out where it was that she worked. They said:
“Cylena has not been with us for months.”
No further information beyond that. The guy at the Cappuccino Bar said:
“Sometimes people appear in your life, they are angels, messengers. They deliver the message and leave”. After that, I never saw him again.
Often I thought of the slave-girl in Ancient Babylon walking through mammoth marble pillars, monstrous glades of magnificence, the teaming broadways, the vast inscrutability of a foreign land that has enslaved you and that moment of realization: A world beyond this, the force of will under cover under pain of death even if you so much as thought of revolt; dreamed of escape. In that moment of realization, I think— if I were a slave girl, I’d rather die: I’d rather let the vultures tear out my eyes, let them bleed me to death in the desert sun that would dry my flesh and bleach my bones; let hyenas feast upon my carcass; and the sand sculpt my skeletal remains, my skull become a cup of barren rains; my thoughts fast and furiously unfurling, fleeing in the desert wind; I would be free.
©1997, 2012 onome ekeh