Ms. Jewel’s Story
The interior of Ms. Jewel’s office carried the same notes as the remainder of the building, dark floors and walls and an extremely bright ceiling. The over scaled furniture was scattered in the expansive space following an erratic pattern. Her desk was facing a large glass wall. With the city dwarfed behind her the building was clear from here. I was able to see it from the top for the first time. It was two squares with two large covered courtyards in the middle. Both squares connected at one corner, and the other six corners had stairs. The stairs rose in concrete towers with sharp peaks, it looked sinister. From the top of a skyscraper, it feels as if we’re looking at a diorama in a museum; not an actual building occupied by actual humans.
Ms. Jewel sat in her oversized black leather chair with her back turned away from me. From the side of the back of the chair I could see her grey hair styled in a perfect bun. She was looking down at the building, lost in thought. I looked back, expecting the man to introduce me. He simply nodded at one of the chairs and closed the door. I did as instructed and sat on the chair. The chair was five to six meters away from the desk, I felt awkward. As if I was a spectator in a theatre, distant from the stage that is Ms. Jewel’s desk. We remained in silence for what seemed to be an eternity. Me swallowing the saliva accumulating in my agape mouth and Ms. Jewel staring down at the building. I started to worry about my hour of time fleeting away, I was about to introduce myself but Ms. Jewel broke the silence first.
“I remember it like it was yesterday… The buzz, the craze. Everyone wanted to get rich, I mean why wouldn’t they? So many people became millionaires in the matter of months. Everyone was talking about the merchant. We didn’t know where he came from or how long he was planning on staying. Every day was a thrill, a risk…” She did not waste anytime on pleasantries and delivered exactly what I came here for. She stopped talking for a while, gaze still fixated on the concrete block three hundred meters below us.
Ms. Jewel looked nothing like I anticipated… she looked… ordinary? Her face lacked any distinct features, if someone would ask me how she looked like in a day or two I would have trouble recognizing her in a crowded room. She wore an expensive looking suit, tailored to fit her thin body. Her lips remained in a pout, barely moving as she spoke animating her speech.
“I, like almost everyone else, heard of this and decided to try my luck…” She paused to take in a breath, her lips slightly parting revealing the reason for her incessant pouting, a mouth ulcer. “I asked my father to drop me off on his way to work, I called in sick and went into the building… The cold exterior revealed nothing, nothing of what was happening beyond the glass doors. The interior was abuzz, chatter, laughter and even screams overtook each other. Everyone was walking towards one of the courtyards. I was fortunate enough, you see I was small… I managed to weasel my way through the throngs of the crowd to the centre of the hubbub. The merchant.”
“You see. The building was a famous market even before he came. People from the city and even surrounding cities used to come in selling all sorts of things. This merchant however did not come in to sell. They say that he walked in during a heated auction, I believe it was a Persian carpet they were selling. It was so big that it occupied the entire courtyard. The price for it quickly shot up to unattainable numbers, people chickened out of the auction with every raise all except two men. They kept outbidding each other, the price escalating into millions… The merchant walked in, and stood in between both men. He was accompanied with one of the tea boys. He rose his hand and said this…”
“Yes… What did he say.” It had just dawned on me that this is the first time I spoke since I walked into the office, both me and Ms. Jewel were taken aback by my interruption.
“I know… Isn’t it just so thrilling… I mean for a complete stranger to come in and interrupt such a heated auction. Well he tripled the last bid, and said that the tea boy standing next to him will pay for it. Everyone started laughing, even the poor tea boy. No one had such money, no merchant no prince let alone a mere servant. Well the merchant did not flinch, did not shy away. He spoke even louder, his voice thundering above all the laughs. He proclaimed that he has the power in making this man next to him the wealthiest man in this city in a matter of two days… Yes… Two days. He opened his coat revealing seven pockets, inside each pocket was a small leather pouch. He took out one of the pouches and handed it to the tea boy.” A buzzing sound from her tablet interrupted her, she glanced down at it, locked the screen and flipped it over.
“Now… You see… No one took him seriously, everyone thought he was insane. The auctioneer decided to entertain his proclamation and agreed to sell the carpet to the tea boy in two days time. The merchant nodded and walked out, leaving a sweaty tea boy behind. I think you already know what happened in two days… Yes, the tea boy drove in with a shiny new car, gold rings covering every finger and a black suitcase in hand. He managed to become a millionaire in the matter of two days, he bought the carpet with money to spare. No one believed what they witnessed, people interrogated the poor man questioning where he got the money from. He did not have any explanation, he said he opened the pouch and found a small mint inside it. Feeling dejected, he popped it in his mouth only to receive a call moments later that a distant relative he never heard off before had died and left him his entire inheritance.” The glass was raised again, meeting her pouty lips. That ulcer must have hurt, every word she spoke was slurred. Her lips never touching.
“Well people were quick to assume that this was the doing of the wandering merchant. As soon as word got out of the tea boy’s story people started coming into the building daily. Expecting the merchant to show up again. The market remained the same for the following month or so, however a new player was in the mix, the tea boy. He was so elaborately rich, he kept on buying anything that he laid his eyes on. People that came to the market seeking the merchant ended up selling to the tea boy. He even tipped the servers and pepper boys that helped him with unfathomable amounts. The merchant was soon forgotten, a mirage disappearing in the shadow of this new wealthy maniac.”
“But the merchant showed up again… he showed up when no one expected it. Just like the first time he walked in the middle of an auction, this time over a Persian cat. Yes, a cat. He walked in with a young girl, and just like the time before he outbid everyone even the tea boy. He handed the girl the second pouch and disappeared. Surely two days later the girl came back, exchanging millions for the cat. With that the craze of the merchant began. People lined up in front of the building for days, camping out at the street waiting to get it. Some even impersonated the merchant. One unfortunate soul was trampled in the middle of a long line, that day was exceptionally hot and everyone was on edge. When one man shouted that he had found the merchant, in an instant this poor soul was covered with eager hands, feet and bodies. All trying to tear away at his clothes looking for a leather pouch. Well the poor man died, people stepped over his skull leaving it crushed against the pavement… It was awful.”
I was still overcome with what I’ve heard. I knew little about the building and the craze that surrounded it. The story itself seemed farfetched, almost fictional. But here I stand, in front of living proof that it did happen. This glass and steel abomination would not stand erect a few meters away from the building if it did not happen. Ms. Jewel won’t be as wealthy as she is now if not for the merchant. But what struck me the most, is not the story it self but what it must have felt like to live during that time. Listening to it I kept thinking should this happen today I would not fall for it. But would I not? Seeing people get rich in an instant. The crazy bids and auctions that go on in that building. If I do not buy into it I would at least be curious, I would march right into that building and soak in all the crazy.
…My feet sprang into a life of their own, neglecting any signals my brain sent. They took me directly to the building. Seeing it upfront like I am now, it looked even more sinister. It looked evil.
The first two floors were fully glazed, but also set in constant shade thanks to an abnormally wide colonnade that ran around the building. I could fit my entire two bedroom apartment in between two of the columns in the gargantuan archway that led to the front entrance. Above the two floors were four levels of parking, topped with one level with offices. I stood staring at the entrance for minutes, not a single person had walked in or out. Not a single car drove in or out of the parking lot. If one did not know of its history, one would think this building is a complete failure, an abandoned experiment of modernity. I mustered up the courage and finally regained command of my feet and walked in.
The automatic glass door opened with a hiss, a blast of air messing my hair and obscuring my vision. The interior of the building was dim, my eyes took sometime to adjust to the new settings. Details of the interior slowly manifested in front of me, like a paper towel sucking up ink. The interior was as bare as the building’s exterior. Nothing groundbreaking, all stores had glass doors and fronts, the ceiling was low and uninspiring. Blue tiles decorate the walls that weren’t occupied by any shops. The stores lined up before me, I could not see an end to them as they stretched and vanished beyond my vision. I decided to walk further in, seeing the building from above and hearing Ms. Jewel’s story I knew there was a courtyard somewhere in the middle of this block. The dingy interior felt claustrophobic, I could not imagine how it must have felt with hundreds of people filling up the now empty corridors. The now still interior belonged to a different reality, one that was not shared with the merchant and his millionaires.
The rows of stores kept winding, I wandered around aimlessly until the dark interiors were suddenly flooded with daylight. The courtyard was as gargantuan as the colonnade bringing in plenty of light. I opened one of the many glass doors and walked out. It was as if a giant square slice of the building was cut out. The four walls of the courtyard exposed the inner workings of the building, stores and restaurants lined the first two floors, the parking garage also looked into the open space. I was able to spot a few cars parked, at least there are other people in this building even if I haven’t seen any. The top floor had circular windows, a strange shape that does not fit with any of the remaining architecture. Those must be the offices. The windows were covered with dust and grime unlike the semi-clean ones of the shops around me. Maybe the offices are abandoned or whoever used them had gotten so used to the space that they do not bother cleaning them any more.
I stood in the middle of the courtyard, and looked all around me. I tried to position myself in the merchant’s point of view. I imagined hundreds if not thousands of people looking down at me, waiting for me to speak. What a theatrical setting, I imagined a younger Jewel standing in between the crowd, not expecting what is awaiting her. The tea boy and his giant carpet, I wonder what had become of him?