The room was not too large, and yet, they had come from all over the land.  Magistrates and studious persons, and even gossipers had come.  As strange as it may seem, even the flies had come.   There had never been so many wise people gathered in so small a place.  Left behind the sage’s little town there was an emptiness of ignorance that increased as more and more people were drawn to hear the last statement from the dying man.

It was said that for the past seventy years he had been deciphering evil from good.  Some were certain that it was precisely this knowledge that was now killing the old sage.  There was nothing to do for him. He had to die.

When the Archbishop of France, Pierre Porte, approached the old, almost dilapidated building that had been offered by the town’s people to hold the last audience of the sage, the multitude parted as in ancient times had done the waters of the sea.

Pierre Porte was no young man himself, but even so, he had to hear with his own ears the final words.   He was wearing his most festive robe, the one adorned by three rows of rubies, forty per row, each ruby as big as a pigeon’s egg.  The stones were held in place by golden clasps that bit into the scarlet silk with the intensity of their glow.  The pope had advised him not to wear such an expensive attire, but he knew better:  Wisdom must not be received with humbleness as had been maintained by the current tradition, but with royal dress, for there is nothing as sublime on this earth.

John Cardinal Brown had come hours before.  Being a modest American he wore no jewelry.  Dressed in black satin, he had descended from his private three engine “whisper jet” with the dignity and portent of those chosen few that can eat daily the delights that the best New York dining establishments are known to deliver.

The Great Bishop of All the Russians, Alexei Tranispowski, had arrived several days earlier expecting that the dying man would speak to him, confiding only on him the unknown mystery, so that he and only he would know.  But the softness of the black mink of his vesture did not soften the marbled silence of the old, agonizing man.

Many others came, one by one, in their characteristic robes and suits.  I do not intend to turn this tale into a “Who’s Who” of our present aristocracy. Suffice it to say that during this time there was no religious ceremony held at any church or temple throughout the world.  Priests and preachers and rabbis, all had come.  For that matter, no classes were held, nor seminars offered, nor conferences given at any college or university anywhere. All had traveled to the little town of “Isola dei Pescatori” by  Lake Maggiore in the north of Italy.

When asked why had he chosen such a place to die, coming from so far, the sage had simply replied: “Its name fitted my senses”.  No one questioned his wish.

Isola dei Pescatori could not be larger than a New York City block.  Midsummer did not help the natural stench emanating from the archaic sewer system of the island, a stench supplemented by the many dead fish floating by its overbuilt shores.

The town covered the whole island.  It had been built six centuries before.  And now the sage occupied the largest building.  The rest of the houses crowded one next to the other in irregular rows that under a different set of circumstances one could call picturesque and most beautiful. Following a tradition of centuries of good taste, the town was painted in light grades of blue and ocher.  The narrow streets curved in soft waves around and up small hills.  They all were crowned with the clean wash of the town’s people dangling from house to house, barely letting the sun illuminate the dampened atmosphere.

From the island, one could normally see the splendor of the lake and the manorial serenity of the coastal villas.  However, this time, nature had been superseded.  No villager could recall having seen the waters covered by thousands upon thousands of persons, bouncing up and down on their little canoes enslaved by the gentle waves.  Their bodily heat contributed to the almost unbearable atmosphere.  Special rafts had been built hastily for the occasion.  The water level had risen nearly four feet and was invading the private sanctity of some of the coastal manors.  There was a constant rumbling fed by every movement, every breath, every whisper, but where the old man lay on his dead bed, there was the silence of an abandoned cave.  No one dared make a noise for fear of distracting the weakened sage from his last, most thunderous thoughts.

Newspaper, magazine and television editorials already had been speculating for days as to the would be contents of the final revelation.  Some argued he had the cure for cancer.  Others wrote concerning a possible solution for the origin of the universe, or the end of it.  Many suspected he would uncover the identity of God.  The most respectable ones offered that the old man would come up with the formula and design for the most destructive and powerful weapon that man could ever build, let alone be conceived by human brain.  The moment of death was approaching.

By noon of the Thursday following his arrival to the island, the sage had decreed that he would be no more by eleven o’clock of the following Wednesday.  The multitude took this with such severity that several hundreds among them died before their time.

This had not been an affair of the spur of the moment.  Places had been assigned according to rank, importance, or wealth.  Some places had even been saved for selected intellectuals, close to the dying one. The room had been prepared with a sophisticated electronic sound system, linked by satellite to the entire world.  Every one who wanted it was able to hear a whisper coming from that chamber.

Very few slept the night before.  Many were afraid not to wake in time to get a better seat (there were only ten thousand reserved spaces).  Many were just too worried, or too sad.  Others were kept awake simply by their eagerness to hear the final thoughts.

How could he have chosen the exact time to die?  No one knew.  No one doubted it.  The old sage was too saintly and too wise to be mistrusted.  All the medical devices monitoring the patient indicated stable vital signs.  At nine o’clock in the morning of the chosen day the world was deadlocked on the man’s mouth and nothing came.

At ten o’clock people were hoping for a one hour long revelation.  The hopes dwindled fifty-five minutes later.  If all were to happen according to schedule, there could be now only a five-minute speech.  The morning breeze had removed some of the thick vapor that was covering the island, and one could see in the distance the mighty Alps that separated Italy from its neighbor to the north.  High above the waters of the lake, solitary birds circled confused about their daily prey.

As the seconds wasted desperation grew.  What could the man say in just a couple of minutes?  And the heads of the multitude danced up and down the fatalistic rhythm of the waves.  And now it was no longer a matter of minutes, only seconds remained.

Suddenly he spoke in the soft voice that precedes death:

“The tower of Pisa has always been straight, it is us…”

It was now eleven o’clock.


The End