Monday, December 08, 2003

Inta entered the yellow-green taxi at the Uqbar International Airport. She had just arrived, as one of the first travellers to this remote area of the TRU Corporation's newly acquired territories. On her way to Hotel Rio Grande do Sul, she reflected on the way the corporation had already made its marks on the Uqbar landscape. During the Take-Over, it had been speculated that Mickey's, a fast food chain controlled by TRU, would establish outlets across the new territories and gradually wrestle control of food provision from local vendors. As she glanced out the window of the taxi, Inta observed half a dosen Mickey's signs, the characteristic black oval ears, hovering above an emerging outlet.

The lobby of Hotel Rio Grande do Sul was as she expected, its old-world charm intact. Inta was chaperoned to her room on the second floor, with a view to the pool, by a hotel clerk who had the name "Felix" inscribed between the hotel's logo and the slogan "These are the MOST significant of all times" on his badge. As he put her suitcase down, she turned from the window, where she had contemplated the view.

"Felix," Inta said.

"Yes, Madam?"

"Could you do me a favor and bring me a cup of the local brew."

"Local brew?"

"Tea, I mean. The local tea."

"Certainly, Madam. Right away, Madam," Felix said and slunk out the door.

Inta had come to attend the Intra-Paracelcist biannual convention at the hotel. This year the proceeding would be devoted to the premise of "Deference, or a time not marked by prefiguration and fulfillment." She sat down by the small desk vis-a-vis the window, and leafed through the papers that had been left for idle guests. Between TRU Times, a short guide to local sites published by the Transverse Society, and the leaflet Night life in Uqbar, she found a sheet of paper, with the imprint "hlör u fang axaxaxas mlö." Underneath someone had written "Upward, behind the onstreaming it mooned. XS."

Felix arrived with the tea, and she paid him handsomely, watching his small buttocks are they wrestled beneath his white pants and made their way for the door. She turned to face the window, surprised that the moon was already up, shining almost as brightly as the sun had done a few minutes ago. Inta hadn't noticed the change, but now she realized that the moon gave a dark yellow gloss to the things it illuminated: the terrace and the swimming pool, the window frame and the curtains, the bed and her dress.

In the elevator, Inta was tapping her right index finger lightly on her purse, only to recognize the background music as one of the odes of "Crane Jackson's Fountain Street Theater," a copy of which she had acquired at a street sale in Toronto a few years previously. She decided not to allow it to collect dust. And, refreshed by the ambiguous muzak, she dived into the party of Paracelcists at Hotel Rio Grande do Sul in Uqbar.


The night was about to surrender to the inevitable day, and most of the conventioners had left the hotel bar for their respective lodgings, when Inta discovered a book that someone had left on a table in the far end of the room. Or, rather, a fragment of a book. Its cover lost, the pagination indicated that she had stumbled upon some ten pages of a larger volume. The first page of the fragment bore the title "Gift, time" and at the bottom of the page it was indicated that it was removed from a Volume X of A First Encyclopædia. It's author had subtitled the entry "Time of the Gift in Tlön," and was arguing against the notion of gift exchange propounded by the followers of one Diodorus, who had claimed that if it is true to say of a thing that it will be, then it must one day be true to say that it is, or, "Today is tomorrow, because yesterday tomorrow was today."

The author of the fragment claimed that the followers of Diodorus must be mistaken, since cycles of reciprocity are "not the irresistible gearing of obligatory practices." Gifts may suffer multiple faiths, and, because of it, can have no objective prediction. Rather, gifts receive their meanings from the responses they trigger. These responses may be deferred or instantaneous, legato or staccato, marked by delay or rush, but in either case, those who participate in the cycle must pretend that they do not possess full knowledge of the meanings of their exchange.

The first rule about counter-gifts, the author claimed, was that they should be deferred and different, or they could be taken as an insult. It mustn't be a return of the same kind of gift, that would be a refusal, or return, of the gift, and it must be preceded by an interval. The author quotes La Rochefoucauld in this regard: "Overmuch eagerness to discharge one's obligation is a form of ingratitude." It is a question of style, but in each case, and particularly with regard to their use of time, the participants must try to hide the truth of what they are doing from themselves and the others.

Inta shook her head with an astonished sense of dizziness. She took the pages from the table, and decided to bring them up to her room to study them further. She could tell the receptionist in the morning that she'd brought some papers to her room inadvertently, and that she'd like them to trace their owner. In the lobby she filled a glass with water from a bronze jar. It tasted peculiarly sweet.