The lights flutter in between the dancing trees, a stream flows through the musical notes, and I sit there watching, listening, analyzing, and above all waiting. I know I’m being watched before he even realizes he saw me. We both wait as the greenery, the lights and the grass all bow down, reading for their own exit, and we wait as on the opposite side of the room, another projector starts almost indescribable, reading itself for its moment of glory.
As the next short film starts, we move on to sit together and watch as the actors on screen contradict our actions, we sit in silence, watching the last short film. I could see him buying time, trying to allow me enjoyment of my last free moments before I plunge into yet another mission, but as the film draws to a close, he stops stalling, and slides my briefing pouch into my bag.
The last final film draws to a close, and he gets up, heading to the stairs, shoulders relaxing from the absent weight of carrying sensitive information, and I smile to myself as I realize that during this game of tag, my shoulders lost to his. I reach down to gather my bag, discreetly switching out the phone in my hand for the one in the pouch, and I stand up straight and tall, ready to embark on another mission.
The Caspian boasts about marvels contained
And revels in rain it brings to ancient remains
It feasts on the largest of its own everyday as the sun wanes.
Find the Caspian’s beauty, for it will erase all pains
The wind pays homage to Marilyn Monroe through my dress as I make my way outside the Yarat Art space. The air carries the smell of the sea that crashes in front of me, and I opt out of going back to my hotel for walking along the boulevard. Taking a mission abroad is nothing new to me, I’ve done it so often that I don’t have a place to call home anymore, but this is the first time I’m brought to Azerbaijan. The sea glitters in the bright sun, and I thank whoever is listening for the nice weather, I’ve come prepared for the stuffy weather, but welcomed the chill wafting through the air. I walk without purpose until I see a few benches covered enough by trees and sun glare from any intruding eyes and I sit down. I reach into my bag and smile as I my hands come across a thick booklet. I pull out my briefing, encased in a Baku: The City Guide book cover and start reading.
The Caspian hears stories in the sighs and the smiles
Of adventures lost and passed trials
It remembers the lost in time, and those time exiled
And remembers the story of that whom time idolized
Skating children paint the air with laughter and mischief as they weave through the boulevard. The sky clears and brightens to paint them a perfect backdrop. I try to pry my eyes away from the scenery in front of me to focus on my mission, but I find myself helpless in front of such beauty. My eyes sweep the scenery around me, trying to take it all in, but the agent part of my brain focuses on a plaque mounted along the boulevard. As my feet glide towards it, the words come into focus, and I suddenly find it much easier to concentrate on my mission. “Sabayil Castle, the Atlantis of the Caspian”. I take out my camera and in the guise of taking a picture of the breathtaking scenery, snap a picture of the plaque, after all, no mission is truly complete without me having to go diving through sunken relics in search of clues. I get back to my seat and start focusing on the booklet in my hand.
The master of time and protector of those who cower
He controlled a relic of hidden beauty and power
He borrowed it from Yggdrasil to return within an hour
His disappearance mystified even buildings and towers
“An art relic recently surfaced in the black market, with the sellers claiming it as the hidden artifact of the Caspian. The seller provides a video of the magical abilities of the art relic, claiming truth in the words of the verses describing the gem. Your mission is to verify and authenticate the truth behind the legend of the artifact before the seller’s private auction in 15 days.” I reread the short introduction at the start of my booklet a couple of times before leafing through the rest of it. The remaining pages contained more information about the Caspian’s verses, the city of Baku, and other clues and hints gathered by the intelligencers at the agency to make my mission easier for the next 15 days. I start cataloging information, already imagining the setup for map I still have barren at my hotel room and start heading there. As I get on the bus, I think let my mind wander to the verses mentioned in the briefing. As a field agent working in the Magical Arts and Artifacts division, I know this group of verse, and thousands more by heart, and so I start reciting it to myself. The Caspian boasts about marvels contained… The first verse clearly references Baku, as the biggest city on the Caspian as well as the only big capital to the west. I move onto the next couple of verses, wishing they were as easy as the first one, but alas, I would not be tasked with this job if they were. I reach my hotel, take a final breath of the fresh air, and head inside to set my plan for the next 15 days.
**author’s note: The events of this story were inspired by places discussed within. When you visit Baku, look through the folds for the hidden stories. **
Aya Harb, Egypt
18 July 2016