My eyes widened with the jolt of the sudden screech of Blue Jays resting on my forehead. I quickly got up and adjust my eyes to the blinding ray of the sunlight. I did not recall ever sleeping in the middle of a meadow like this, nor drink a few pints of beer for the matter.
I let the situation sink in for a while before I lost the rest of the little sanity left in my brain. I laid my head back to the stump as I scan into my surroundings. Surely I have not been here before, yet something in the back of my mind recognize this place; the soft grass, the subtle wind blowing in my hair and the smell of orchids filling in my nostrils. I can’t remember the last time I was at this much peace, especially with the hectic life I’ve adapted for the past 20 years.
I decided to take a stroll into the meadow, the breeze carried different scents of different flowers with it and I couldn’t help but being mesmerized deeper into the field. Laid upon me were massive patches of garden of flowers of different colors with a chain of mountains on the other end of the horizon. I stared in awe as the sun sets as if the mountains gulped down the ball of fire and with that, every edge of my eyes dimmed and slowly emerging was the darkness.
I guessed working non-stop may have taken away my common sense and along with it, my sanity. My mind wondered why wasn’t I questioning the fact that I woke up in an outlandish vicinity in my first few minutes here, but if this means I can get a few extra hours to rest, I’m willing to do the latter. Representing the people was just a mere title, the position I’m handling wasn’t even close to the noble meaning it was once intended. A governmental position may promise you a pedigree, fame and fortune, never had I complained about this fact, yet politics could be cruel and unforgiving, burying injustice along with its suffering subjects.
I shifted my view and snapped back into reality when a small yet bright sparkling light caught the corner of my eye. I heard a faint sound of laughter and music, which I knew would have been way louder if I was closer. Somehow the sound of laughter struck the back of my mind, it was something I haven’t heard in a long while, and it sounded genuine, different from the ones I used to hear in the boardroom. Filled with curiosity, I unconsciously stepped closer to the source of light and music, heading way to the south to the fringe of the base of the mountains.
As I stepped into the outskirts of the town, what I saw before me was a crowd of people dancing to the rhythm of an upbeat country song; children, men, women, dressed in 40s fashion, swiftly putting their hands on their waist and their feet to the air. The street was paved with grey cinder blocks creating circular patterns with Yellow Ice Plants decorating the edges. On my left and right were shops that I personally think were too ancient to exist in this era; tailors with suits displayed on the front window, thrifted book shops, top hats and classic nightgowns retails deck up the ambience with string lights illuminating this small but pleasant town. It was so vivid that I couldn’t help but looked up to the glimmering night sky, and to my surprise, it wasn’t the streetlights or the excessive decorative string lights. It was the moon —or moons, to be specific, eight of them in different phases, together in a single sky. I couldn’t comprehend the chances of a prodigy as peculiar as this to ever cross my 20 years of existence.
I guess it took me a few moments to fathom the situation I am in now that I couldn’t feel the slight tap in my shoulder. It was the second tap with stronger force that I finally noticed the woman behind me.
“What are you so sulky for? We’re in Laimingas!” she exclaimed with excitement.
“Yes, Laimingas,” she answered as she pointed to a big flickering sign written ‘Welcome to Laimingas.’
“What is this place?” I asked
“Oh, honey, you don’t need to know that. Not yet, anyway,” she replied with a suspicious smile before disappearing into the crowd.
I roamed my way to the center of the town, where people crowded a circular water fountain with a copper horseman statue sitting at the center. All kinds of musicians were playing and symphonizing; sounds from tambourines, trumpets, guitars and saxophones harmonized together creating a single melody. I can’t explain how blithe the situation is, a straight face was never in sight, only smiles as big as the feast I saw on the eastern part of the town. People were dancing like they had no burden to bear on their shoulders. Although there’s a spark of jealousy within me, I realized I’m grateful to find myself lost in a place so wonderful
Amidst the crowd and the loud music, my eyes were drawn to the horseman statue— he had a curious expression yet it felt all too familiar. He had this smile which curved to the side of his cheeks, yet if you look closely, his eyes showed remorse, like a regret of the past. I felt sorry for him for a moment but I quickly shrugged it off; it might have been just a poor sculptor tired of his everyday job. Besides, how can anyone be sad when everyone is dancing and singing to the rhythm of the beating drum?
I head over to the eastern side of the town, where the large feast was held. I made my way into the dessert table and got myself my favorite chocolate fondue with strawberries. I don’t know if it was because I was hungry or if the festivity vibe that has gotten into me, but it was probably the best fondue I’ve ever tasted. I wanted to continue to the main course, but the open bar on the northern part of the town intrigued me too much.
As I made my way there, I decided to take a glimpse of the band in the town square that was playing. As expected, people were singing along and enjoying themselves. I let out a little smile and found myself enjoying the music. As I was bopping to the rhythm, I saw a woman making her way towards me. She was lean with dark, long, braids and fair skin that accentuated her flushed, pink cheeks.
“Hey, are you new?” she chirped with a smile.
“Yea, how did you know?”
“I saw you by the fountain and you looked, how do I say this, troubled? So I thought you weren’t from around here.”
“And you know I’m not from around here because of my face?”
“Yes, you didn’t look happy.” I wondered how she could say that with such a gleeful tone.
“Am I obligated to be happy?”
“Oh yes, of course you are! No one here is ever ‘not happy’, everyone loves this place.”
“I am not interested in partaking your little gimmicks”
“But you will be—you have to be. Come.”
She didn’t give me a chance to reply and took my hand, dragging me along with her. She ran closer to the source of the music and when it was loud enough, she stopped before turning her back to face me. I realized the shift in genre, I heard neither more tambourine nor trumpets; instead replacing them was the sound of violin and bandoneons, rhythmically filling the air.
“I have learned this since I was five,” she said, “follow my lead.”
She raised her left hand and wrapped her right arm around me, placing her hand on my back. The frills on the end of her sleeves made her thin hand look so fragile, it almost scared me. She then guided my right hand to her waist and my left arm to her right hand. I could feel the heat turning my cheeks red.
“What’s this?” I asked with a flustered voice. It’s not everyday someone invades your personal space in the first ten minutes you’ve met them.
“Trust me,” she replied, reassuring me with smile.
As the dynamic of the music changed, I realized what it was.
“Tango,” I whispered underneath my breath, but it must’ve been louder than I thought, as the woman let out something that looked more like a smirk than a smile.
“Are you any good?” She asked.
“Let’s see.” I smiled. It must have been years since I last danced. Judgments from those who raised you are crucial when deciding the path of your life’s course, and apparently, “dancers” don’t make as much money as a magistrate or any other political position.
She took a step forward, then two steps back; I followed her lead until I found the right timing to take it. As she shifted her head backwards, she let her body confide to the strength of the tip of my fingers; it was then that I knew that was my chance. I strongly pulled her body back to my arms to let her spin, and she did so gracefully. Her movements made the welkin ring.
We unknowingly danced the night away, my body feeling as light as a feather and I was unable to contain the contentment I had. Not because I was an inch apart with this charismatic and captivating woman, but because I was able to do something I never thought I would do again, something I loved but was too scared to do; afraid to risk being judged by the callous society I was in.
I guess I got too lost in the moment that I didn’t notice the sun had woken up from its slumber. I carefully withdrew my hand to imply that I wanted to stop, she seemed surprised for a second, but then smiled and bowed. I returned her bow, but when I raised my head, like snowflakes on a spring day, she was already gone.
I looked around, trying to make way in the still-crowded town square, searching for her. She mustn’t have gone far, but still, she is nowhere in sight. It was protracted and rather difficult to finally accept the fact that she was gone, and with a heavy heart, I dragged my footsteps to whatever place it decided would be best.
I can’t believe I didn’t even get her name, I guess regret always does come last, although I’m surprised I haven’t gotten used to it yet, considering I have been taking everything in my life for granted, including those who mattered to me most. It reminded me how many things—things that I valued and loved—I have let go when I chased somebody else’s dream.
My footsteps stopped when it realized I bumped into something. It snapped me back from my musing when I realized it was a glass door. I pushed it with no hesitation. I looked around and saw bottles of liquor stacked neatly in a wooden rack, above it was wine glasses stored upside down from the ceiling. There was a typical countertop with at least eight bar stools, but not a single breath of life in sight.
“May I help you sir?” The sudden appearance of the voice made me flinch. A man, probably in his thirties a wearing a grey waistcoat on top of a white blouse with its sleeves rolled up, came to greet me. I also noticed his strong British accent when he talked.
“Oh, sorry, I think I’m just lost. I’ll get going now.”
“You’re new around here, aren’t you sir?”
“Yes, I am.” At this point, I wasn’t surprised anymore.
“Come, have a drink. It’s on the house, or should I say in the town?” He let out a small chuckle, finding his joke to be funny.
“You might’ve not realized this, but it’s morning already, it’s too early to have a drink.”
“Oh, but here in Laimingas, we don’t wait for the perfect moment to drink. Anything will do as long as it makes us happy.”
His statement made me raise one of my eyebrows, but after all I have been through, I guess a glass of beer wouldn’t hurt. I gave a weak nod and he proceeded to the back of the countertop.
“Brandy or scotch?”
“Whiskey, please, thank you.”
“Coming right up,” he replied with a large grin in his face.
“Where is everybody? Are they working right now?”
Curiosity sparked within me, it’s just funny how an open bar had almost no customers.
“No they’re not. Almost everybody doesn’t need to work here.”
“But here you are, serving me a cocktail.”
“That’s correct, but it’s from my own will. I like helping people forget about their problems, even if it’s just temporary or fictional.”
“Why doesn’t anyone come here? It’s not every day you see an open bar like this.”
“Because more often than not, people drink to forget about their stress and problems, to shed the inhibitions standing in their way. But here in Laimingas, almost everyone is happy, they haveno troubles or any burden to bear. They only eat, sing and dance every single day. The only few rare occasions they come here is to share a drink with their friends.”
I was still trying to absorb his words when he handed me my glass of Whiskey.
“There you go, sir, enjoy. Oh, and sir, if you still think that open bars don’t happen every day, you’re wrong. We actually do open every single day. You’re more than welcome to join us tomorrow if you’d like,” he added with a smile.
I can’t hold back the pent-up frustration-indulged curiosity within me.
“Don’t you find it weird that people don’t have jobs and only sing and dance the whole day? That they’re always smiling? Or the fact that they have open bars and buffets every single day without the need of someone stocking up?”
“I have to disagree, sir,” he calmly replied. “I personally think it’s an ideal way of life, having no worries with only glee and delight filling their system. There are no jobs here because everyone does things voluntarily, with their own will, and there’s no need to stock up the food or drinks or even the liquor you’re drinking right now, because they never actually run out.”
It took me a minute to swallow all the bizarre information shoved down in my throat. To think a place where food doesn’t run out or its people having no jobs appeared to be pretty impossible, yet here I am now, drinking a glass of whiskey from its never-ending bottle talking to a bartender whose smile seemed like he’s hiding a thousand secrets.
I gulped down my whiskey, one sip after another, one glass after another, that I lost count how much have alcohol had filled my system. I started to feel light-headed, as if my feet no longer touched the ground;I could feel my consciousness slipping away, and the next thing I knew, it was pitch black.
Lost and confused; I was in a dark and cold room, so dark that I couldn’t see my own hand even though I could sense lifting it up. Moments after finally adjusting to the dark, a warm ray of light flashed before me.
“Selene… Selene...” An all-too familiar voice echoed through my head, the name too, yet I couldn’t remember when or where I heard it.
“Yes, darling?” This time, it was soft, gentle and mellifluous.
It was then I saw the ray of light rush and fold around me. I squinted my eyes, trying to readjust to the light from the dark. I looked down, and saw a glowing pair of thin hands, it’s almost blinding, with soft and fair skin cradling my waist. They seem familiar. The mysterious deep voice didn’t reply, but what followed was something I never thought would hear.
“Laimingas was a land of cheer,
A safe haven for those in tears.
Not a frown you would find here,
A clandestine you would see.
What you find might be the key,
Eluding the life lived out of fear.”
Then there was a brief pause before the voice continued, “Remember this name: Selene, for she might have the answers you seek. Laimingas was not the place for you, it never was, and it never will be.” It let out a small breath, not in sight but aural, “good luck.” Although I couldn’t see her figure, I could sense her lips curved into a smile from the tone of her voice.
The bright light started flashing, getting quicker and quicker by the minute, before it finally exploded into tiny pieces of light fragments raining from the sky, and again, I wasn’t able to recall what happened next.
My eyes started to open little by little when I found myself back at the bar, with my head lying on the side of the countertop. An empty glass of whiskey blocked my view, though transparent, the refraction of the hexagonal-based-glass shifted the figures behind it. I could tell it was the bartender from the color of his outfit and his heavy British accent. He was talking to someone, his tone shows how austere and serious the conversation is, but I could tell from his pronunciation that he is still smiling.
“Are you sure you’re ready?”
I could tell he’s talking to a female from her high-pitched voice. I could see morsels of her figure: long, dark hair and fair skin… but I couldn’t care less. If there was one thing I should worry about, it’s about what the voice warned me about.
“Selene...” I unconsciously and thoughtlessly murmured, wondering who she might be.
Never have I’ve been more alarmed than the reply of my own thoughtless wonder. I quickly lifted my head, but it must’ve been too quick as a headache started to pound as soon as it left the countertop. I tried adjusting my eye and focused on the owner of the voice. To my surprise, it was her; the girl who I was dancing with, but what’s peculiar was that she didn’t look as surprised as I was.
“Selene?” I asked again.
“Yes?” She replied with slight confusion tucked in her tone.
So it was her, the girl who reminded me of my long lost passion will be the person who helped me figure out what is going on in this place. There’s so much that I wanted to ask her, but as I was about to open my mouth, the bartender interrupted, “It’s time.”
She nodded weakly and gave me a hint of a smile before proceeding to a big wooden door. I was so dumbfounded that I lost the ability to speak for a second.
“Where is she going?” I asked the bartender.
This place really is crazy.
“Yes, she has offered herself to be the crescent’s penance.”
“And when will she come back?”
“Never,” He replied, a smile still embroidered in his face. I didn’t know if it’s his odd answers or how he kept that cursed smile while saying something so absurd that ignited the flames within me.
I slammed the table out of rage. “What do you mean she’ll never come back?” I shouted.“What is crescent’s penance?What is wrong with this place?”
The man’s smile twitched at my anger. “It’s the Parallel Lunar Jamboree. It has been going on ever since you’re here; I’m surprised you didn’t know. Every day, 8 women are handed over as a penance to the moon, thus the 8 moons you can see right up there.” He said calmly, still a smile on his face, his finger pointing upwards.
I quickly ran out of the bar and saw a crescent moon shining above the bar with seven more across the whole sky, with the full moon on the southern end of the city. The moons, including the crescent above, was so blindingly bright that looking at it made me feel inferior, all except one; the full moon. It was so dim; in fact, it felt like it was not shining at all, like something was missing. I went back into the bar with more questions than I had before.
“Tell me how to get her back,” I demanded.
“You can’t, she’s gone.”
“Nonsense! Why would she do that?”
“Don’t you know who puts the food at your table? Who provides the unlimited Whiskey you’re drinking? Or why everyone in this town is always dancing or singing?”
“But that’s so unfair! How could anyone dance on top of another’s misery?”
I was so dumbfounded by his answer that I didn’t realize I was yelling.
“That’s the way we live.The way you live.A small price to pay to serve a bigger purpose.”
I paused, not knowing what to say next.
“What exactly is this place?” I asked, shivers running down my spine.
“This place,” he paused for a moment to give me a disturbing smile, “is you. We’re all you. How could you not realize it? You think this system is cruel? This is the system you created.” As he was saying this, his lips don’t curve to the sides as it was before, but a deep and serious intensity filled his face.
“How can I get out of here?” I asked after I finally found the courage to open my mouth.
“I think you could decide that by yourself. Listen to the voice within you, or,” he paused,“you could just stay here. Isn’t Laimingas beautiful? Are you really happy with the life you’ve lived?”
“I guess not.”
“Then why not stay here? You can dance every day and night without conforming to the rules of the society. You’ll be a free man.”
“Nothing is ever free,” I countered with a smile in my face. I stayed here long enough to know this is just an enticement of something sinister. “How can I get out of here?” I repeated.
“You can’t, I told you. You see, the problem here is you. You’re not content with who you are, aren’t you? As long as you stay this way, there wouldn’t be any chance of you leaving.” He said coldly, but still, with a grin.
“Ludicrous!” I bolt out of the bar with no seconds to spare. Nothing but fear and frustration pent up within me, because deep down I knew, it was true. I escaped the fervor for dancing because I was a mere coward with insecurities of not fitting in, not knowing that the pain of being someone else is greater than not being accepted by those who barely care about you.
I walked with my head down, not knowing what to do. The fear of being confined in my own mind terrified me, but going back to who I was before scared me even more. The people dancing and singing no longer affect me, neither the chocolate fountain nor the acoustic band. I was lost in my own mind.
When the thought of giving up flashed into my mind, the full moon, the only phase of the moon that didn’t light up the last time I saw it, flickered for a few seconds before shining ever so brightly.
Curious, I followed the vivid reflection of the full moon, leading me to the entrance of Laimingas, the entrance of this crazy, wild journey I’ve gone through. Perfectly underneath the moon was a vintage book thrift shop which looked abandoned, as there was no trace of light spotted inside. I spent a good ten minutes contemplating whether going inside was the right choice. As my curiosity won over my common sense, I pushed the wooden-hinged glass door and went inside.
The musty smell of dustfilled up my nostril. It was so overwhelming that I had to constantly pinch my nose to avoid breathing in too much dust. I wandered off the narrow hallways until I found a set of stairs leading up to the second storey. The second storey was different from the first one, it had wider hallways; in fact, there were only eight aisles in an approximately fifty-two square meters area. I didn’t know what it was, but something pulled my desire to take a peek.
Starting from the first aisle, I glanced over the neatly stacked books. It was not long until I noticed that they were all baby albums. It was so magical if you think about it; each album held a different beginning of a human life, not one will ever be the same from the other. One, in particular, sparked my interest. I carefully removed it to avoid having the other albums tumbling down. I quickly scanned over the pages when I realized it was just a regular album, recording the developments of the baby, and along with it, how much their family changed in appearance, yet their warm embrace stayed the same throughout the album. I didn’t know why, but it felt warm, and it felt like home.
The second aisle contained children’s books, all kinds from nursery rhymes to bedtime stories. I was scanning each one, wondering if I could find my all-time favorite bedtime storybook, the one mom used to read every night before I went to bed. There it was, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Brown. I couldn’t express the satisfaction I had whilst re-reading my all-time favorite book. It reminded me of my childhood—those were the simpler days.
The next aisle was filled with coaching books, from reading, counting, and… dancing? There was a dancing guide book on the end of the shelf. I immediatelygrabbed the book and instantly recognized the cover. I used to love dancing so much that my parents gave me this for my sixth birthday, telling me I could be anything I wanted as long as I worked hard on it.
Moving on the fourth aisle, I found more albums, but this time, they were photo albums. My fingers lightly grazed the top of each of them, until one caught my attention. It felt familiar. I opened it and to my surprise, they were pictures of me. I could tell I was ten years old at most, because here, I was dancing. Mom stopped all of my dance lessons a day after my eleventh birthday, telling me I should focus on studying, not wasting time on something so useless.
The next two aisles were filled with thick and boring textbooks; from high school to university textbooks, from business, science to law, filled the two whole shelves. I had zero interest in these books that I quickly walked past it, not wanting to recall all of those sleep-deprived nights or the stressed induced trauma.
The second to the last shelve was particularly interesting. They were records of my past cases and laws while serving as a magistrate. I had lots of doubts before finally deciding to open one. Honestly, I was afraid; afraid the systems and outcomes I have been doing were reflected by the Laimingas society, a small price for a better system. I turned the pages and scanned each word carefully. One word at a time, turned to sentences, then paragraphs, then pages, then books. I couldn’t help to stop the tears from streaming down my face when I turned the last page of the last book. Had I given up something I loved by destroying others? Was I opposing to conform to a society I didn’t know I created? A multitude of emotions hit me. This was the final straw. I quit.
Afraid, but determined, I took the courage to go to the last aisle, the 8th. There was nothing there, no books, no files, nothing, only a full length mirror on the end of the hallway. I carefully made my way until I was standing right in front of the mirror. My reflection filled the whole mirror and for the first time, I could clearly comprehend myself. I have lived years of my life hiding a part of me to be accepted by a society I obliquely created, but now, I’ve found myself and I’m not planning to be afraid to show the world of what I really love and how it molded me to the person I am now.
“Just you wait,” I whispered as my finger brushed the mirror. A grin was plastered around my lips, because for the first time in a while, I was finally contented with being who I really am.
A sudden jolt of light was soon seen coming out of the mirror, and suddenly, it had a stronger gravitational pull. There stood the woman I have been searching for, the crescent’s penance, Selene. A mellifluous voice was soon heard, “Goddess of the Moon, heed my call,” and just like that, I was drawn inside the mirror.
My head spun for the third time. I slowly opened my eyelids and found myself in a hospital bed.
“Selene…” I murmured unconsciously.
“Yes, darling?” I shifted my gaze to the right, where I believed the owner of the voice was, and I was right—there stood a lean girl with dark, long braids and fair skin paired with her flushed, pink cheeks. Her thin arms folded into mine, constantly clicking the engagement rings. It was then I knew; I was home.
2 years later…
BREAKING NEWS: “A Magistrate-Turned-Dancer and His Wife Are Taking the World by Storm with Their Unique and Fresh Performance in the Clark Center Last Sunday!”
A smile full of satisfaction filled my face. Perhaps Laimingas wasn’t such a bad place after all.