Once upon a Time . . . the Rose City

The ruins of the city of Petra, Jordan

I suddenly felt the pressing need to sit down on the saline sand dunes. The rising sun was shooting its bright rays through the stone walls of the colossal city. They stretched before me and fell on the gleaming surfaces of some discarded bottles. As soon as I saw the dimensions of the upper part, I lost all hope of being able to traverse the whole city on foot—assisted only by my two spindly legs. My blond hair was falling on my shoulders.

As luck would have it, after attending a public auction, I had come into possession of some old manuscripts drafted by a certain Dewey in 1830. I felt compelled to check the veracity of what my eyes were showing my brain by perusing those yellowed manuscripts, which bore witness to the fact that, however miracolous, the Rose City not only existed but had been standing since the 4th century BC.

She wore a bold purple that made the remaining stars in the sky flush. With her unveiled charms she flaunted her beauty, which surpasses the beauty women of flesh and blood are endowed with. She dragged me to her chambers and made me confess my most zealously preserved secrets. In return, I asked that epitome of femininity who would, however, never let any mortal soul domesticate her for a peck on the cheek. For a second, I could have sworn she blushed.

Blinded by her beauty, the sun knelt down in front of her and dressed her in gold. I felt my ribs crack as I tried to stifle the desire that pulled me toward her. The picture conjured up in my mind from the stories I had heard about her did not do her justice. I walked past the three cubical rooms and across the valley of jinns. To my left I saw an obelisk dance in the distance to the beat of the high temperatures, while I tried to cling onto the map of the site I had assembled in my head based on the descriptions detailed in the manuscripts.

I started to feel dizzy from the damp smell emanating from the stagnant water in the nearby ditches. The liquid had started to evaporate with the heat. The subsequent mist smothered the face of the entire city and even stretched up to the long Siq. It shrouded the greenery planted in pink pots and spread its sweet aroma all over the place. I couldn’t refrain from raising my eyes heavenward. How many people had over the course of time confided in those steep walls, asking them to prevent their dark secrets from coming to light?

Although my neck was close to breaking, I was in seventh heaven. The stunning picture mounted by the mountainous landscape surrounding me spoke of the virtuosity that can only be attributed to a higher power. I myself wouldn’t have believed what the manuscripts had revealed to me had I not witnessed it with my own eyes. The sun was sculpting the stone structures. I was rooted to the spot in awe. As if blessed with the extraordinary gift to see the loose mane of an exceptionally beautiful woman, I wallowed in the purple light bathing the city. I took her up on the invitation she extended to me to behold the treasures she hoarded on the upper floor. The whole scenery breathed a magical air. I felt as if I had been reborn at the seven lakes that sprang up when Moses hit the ground with his cane. Her face glistened with holy water. Aaron’s tomb was not far away. But I could not smother my ardor, and any gap in space or time would have proven unendurable. The white clouds were outlined against the blue sky.

She twisted her body into the shape of mine. At one point, I could no longer recognize which body I was inhabiting. Our joint soul rose to the sky, where the Lord officiated the ceremony of our union. We skirted the houses that on paper had been built of stone. Meanwhile, I crooned the songs of my childhood. I remembered my father down by the banks of the Holy River. He had prayed, “Please, Lord, bless us. Please, Lord, bless us and lend us strength to overcome life’s hurdles.” His voice had had an unnerving edge to it. Regardless, the recollection warmed my heart and produced in me the sensation of ascending to the throne of the Holy City, which is carried by angels. However, I let the memory slip away, and it fell through a cleft in the ground.

Red or white, wine or juice, the divides suddenly started to blur. Different faces began to parade through my mind. I tried to link them to names but my murky past balked me. I had been injured and could not keep abreast of the new developments. Destiny had shelved me in the mists of time. I was doomed to spend the rest of my days alone. My love was being held captive in the gardens that lay in the world beyond. Right after being baptized with the holy water from Aaron’s tomb, we were ambushed. The clink of their spears and swords echoed around the place. They cuffed my hands and left me there as a hostage of the past, where I would be left to rot in the Rose City from once upon a time.


Written by Barakat Musa Ababneh.

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Choose your own adventure

Once upon a time, in cloud cuckoo land, the space-time continuum was

a) just a figure of speech and, as such, subject to a myriad of interpretations.

b) God’s mattress.