A frail man with a shock of hair and transparent skin shuffles across a red stone courtyard in the heart of Andalusia. Amidst a cluster of buildings, he knows he must find the Citadel, and is drawn right, right, and then left. A Nasrid archway crowned with an arabesque leads to a long, dimly lit corridor, ending at a wooden door strapped with iron. As he lifts his fist to knock, rusted hinges chirp, and he enters an impossibly tall cylindrical room lined with shelves overflowing with parchments and books. As he slowly scans the rows of writing, a soft swirling sound fills the room, a deep song of distant voices that covers his skin, enters his body, spirals within, and finally fills his heart. At that moment the light switches in a pulse-beat to a hot white.
Now visible is a wiry younger man rising from a chair. His piercing obsidian eyes smile gently: Ahlan wa sahlan, Mahmoud. As the frail man replies Muchas Gracias he is surprised to speak in a tongue he does not know.
You look like . . .
Yes, jameel sha’er. I am Federico.
But you were executed decades ago, yes?
Naam, I was. Shot in the heart. Then my duende brought me here, to this place of death and words.
Federico stands very still and chants softly, not Spanish or Arabic, but ancient syllabic sounds, low and counterpointing the room’s choral song. After some time – either very short or very long – he speaks.
Mahmoud, your duende, your dark djinni, knew the third time surgeon’s steel pierced your heart would be the last. In the guise of a hoopoe she guided you here to the home of the hopes of your tribe. She knew that when the deep song of this room filled your heart, it would stop.
And it did.
Chant with me.
Mahmoud now begins to chant, a slower rhythm and a microtone lower than Federico. A glow the color of the desert moves from his feet, up through his torso, and out his back. There the light becomes hoopoe wings, which free themselves and swoop up and down the room’s cylinder. Federico offers him clear water from the Fountain of the Lions, and gestures for him to select something to read. Mahmoud finds an ancient leather-bound volume, sits, and gently opens it. As he blows the dust off, the printed words separate from the page and begin to fly, over his head, over Federico’s, up and around the room, like hundreds of tiny hoopoes.
– Kim Peter Kovac