Translated by Helen Wallimann
The government was once again selling land. There they all were, the round-faced, big-bellied estate agents, again and again raising a hand to bid, one card going up as another came down. But all this hand raising was too exhausting for words, and after so many rounds everyone was wiping away their sweat, the plump arms getting tireder and tireder. Finally, when the others couldn't keep it up any longer, one of them threw in a bid with an enormous number of noughts for a stretch of land on the Wula-Wula Coast.
The victorious estate agent got into a little car that looked like one of the baggage transport vehicles at airports and went on a tour of inspection of his newly acquired plot of land.
The sea breeze wafted up from the harbour, refreshing body and mind. After passing through a small wood filled with the fragrance of freshly unfurled leaves, he reached the shore of the tree-lined lake. Looking across the stretch of water he started to plan how he'd have it filled up and have high-rise blocks erected in its place.
The forest spirits sensed that the plans the stranger was harbouring boded no good. One of them appeared before him. He was a dwarf, no more than two foot tall, and with a very long white beard.
"Don't do it, you mustn't touch the lake. Its clear waters are a home to lively shrimps and fishes. Ducks and swans swim on it, children play and paddle their boats there. At the bottom of the lake live beautiful gentle mermaids who sing beautiful tender songs in nights when the moon is full, giving everyone peaceful sleep and sweet dreams."
The successful estate agent glanced at the lake, but all he saw was shining white silver, and nothing else. He flatly refused:
He made a big cross in the map he was holding in his hand and added the two words: "Fill up."
The water in the lake shivered slightly. It was like a sigh coming up from the depths.
The next time the successful estate agent came was several months later. Construction work had already begun. What had once been a beautiful natural landscape was now desolate wasteland. Many trees had been cut down, deep holes dug here and there in the ground, the extracted sand and mud dumped into the lake. Dead fish, white bellies upturned, lay at the muddied water's edge.
The reason he'd come was because some ancient relics had been discovered during excavations in another part of the plot: an enormous iron ring attached to an enormous iron gate. It seemed to be the doorway to a mysterious hidden world. The question was, should they dig down deeper to find it?
As he stood there, hesitating, another forest spirit appeared before him. From behind his white beard he said:
"A very long time ago this was a world of giants. They were much stronger and wiser than people today. This gate leads to the house of one of those men. If you go inside you'll understand the past better, you can study the worldly wisdom of the ancients and also understand the reasons why such a valiant race died out."
The estate agent shook his head. He felt it was too much trouble. All he was interested in was building more houses, more and more houses, on the plot in front of him.
From afar came a sound like the slamming of a door.
The next time the successful estate agent came on an inspection tour was quite a bit later. The small hill had already been levelled, the lake filled, the trees cut down, and in this bare setting about a dozen very tall, very slender rectangular boxes had been set up. Already people, antlike, were moving cases several times larger than themselves into their rabbit hutches in the blocks.
He'd come this time to see if he couldn't build another line of skyscrapers along the sea coast.
"If you build any more of those boxes, there'll be no space left to breathe." A third forest spirit, shimmering like the light of the few surviving fireflies, clearly understood the man's intent. "Such a dense screen of buildings will keep the wind out and the air won't be able to circulate. People will dry up and die like plants."
But the man wasn't listening. He was looking ahead, and didn't see those tiny creatures – which to him were about as important as crickets and ants. He was thinking that, as there were already so many reservations for the seaview apartments, he might as well build another line of buildings in front – blocks that were even higher, even more densely packed.
"Higher, and closer together!"
From afar came a sound like a suffocated sigh. It was like the flickering of a last firefly in the dark.
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