It was a number of years ago that I was walking through the streets of the city at night, when quite by chance I happened across the Museum of Lost Souls. The sky, which had been overcast for sometime, had begun to disgorge heavy rain, which fell like shards onto the pavement. I dodged into a side street intending to take shelter in the doorway of a narrow red brick building until the shower had passed. Leading up against the wooden door, I felt it give behind my back and realised it was ajar. I turned and read the plaque on the door:
THE MUSEUM OF LOST SOULS. FREE ENTRY. ALL WELCOME.
Intrigued, I stepped inside and was at once glad that I had. It was cool in the building, but warmer than outside, and I thought that I might perhaps spend an hour wandering around until the weather broke and I could continue my journey home.
I was met at the foot of the stairs by The Curator, a man who seemed to be of infinite age and patience. He told me that he worked alone, moving through this place of many corridors and rooms.
‘How many rooms are there?’ I asked him
‘I do not know, precisely,’ he answered. ‘But there are enough.’
‘The building did not seem too big,’ I remarked.
‘Souls are not that big.’ was his only reply.
Each floor was arranged in a circle, like a star or a prison. The circular landing allowing many corridors to lead off it, each of which had rooms on either side to house its treasures.
As we walked around the first floor the mouth of each corridor lit up as we passed it, displaying the doorways. Each corridor looked alike to my eyes but the sounds were very different.
‘What is that noise?’ I asked
‘There are many sounds at the museum,’ the curator explained. ‘Each room of souls has its own sound which represents those that are contained within.’
‘I am surprised that all those sounds together don’t make the most frightful din,’ I said.
As if by way of an explanation, he pointed to a platform in the centre of the circle, which could be accessed by a bridge.
‘If you stand there for long enough,’ he said, ‘you will see. But first let me show you some of the exhibits.’
He led me through a number of rooms. Each one had a number of shelves that appeared to be empty, but whose contents were clearly labelled by way of designation.
The first room contained a series of soft sighs.
‘This room,’ explained The Curator, lowering his voice somewhat, ‘contains the Souls of the Dearly Departed.’
‘Aren’t they all dearly departed? I asked.
The Curator smiled, ‘Taxonomy is a tricky business,’ he said, ‘It depends on the approach.’
We came to one room of murmurs.
I looked at the label: Souls of Those Who Had Fifteen Minutes of Fame.
‘They do not sound very happy,’ I said.
‘Perhaps they wanted more,’ he replied, ‘or less’
One of the rooms was silent.
‘Ah, this one is for Souls of the Oppressors’ explained The Curator, ‘The bullies and the wife beaters, the Internet Trolls.’
‘I did not expect them to be quiet,’ I admitted.
‘They have nothing to say,’ he replied, ‘or to be more precise, nobody to say it to anymore.’
‘Tell me what you think of this one,’ he said as we stopped in front of another room.
‘It’s odd. I can’t pin it down.’ I admitted. ‘It sounds like nothing I have heard before. It sounds like how longing might feel.’
He nodded, ‘Yes. These are the souls of the humanitarians. They spend all their lives selflessly giving to others and really find themselves at a loose end when they come here,’ he said. ‘No causes, you see.’
One of the last rooms we came to had a happy sound.
‘It sounds like children playing,’ I said. ‘What room is this?’
‘This room,’ he said, ‘is for the Souls of Those Who Do Not Know. Their lives ended when they least expected it. They were neither ill nor old. They were alive one minute and with us the next.’
‘It sounds like a good room to be in,’ I said.
‘Yes, said the curator, ‘but there has to be balance and that is why this other room is so sad.’ He pointed to the next door. ‘It is the room of Souls who loved the Souls who do not know. They carry the grief for both.’
Finally, we stood once again on the circular landing surrounding the platform.
‘Follow me,’ he said with a smile.
He led me to the platform and indicated that I should stand upon it. A wall of sound hit me. It seemed that every noise from every room arrived at this point. I could feel the vibrations passing through my chest. There was no sense to the sound, no syntax, no vocabulary that I could grasp. It was a cacophony. At first I thought it bearable, then it began to overwhelm me, to flood my brain and threaten to overtake my mind. I went to move from the platform, but The Curator held up his hand as if bidding me to wait a moment longer. The noise was insane, laughter and wailing, singing and shouting coming in waves and seeming to get longer and louder. Just as I thought I would go mad, it suddenly resolved itself and found a harmony.
I can not describe the sound that I heard. It was neither song, nor music but was the sweetest and most pure thing I had experienced. I felt as though I may have entered a rapture.
‘Is this the music of the spheres?’ I asked.
The Curator smiled, ‘No, not at all. It is just that from time to time the soundwaves, which are all moving independently, come together briefly before they drift apart. It is not unlike when you are behind someone in a car and you watch their indicator light blinking on and off. Gradually it seems that your own indicator falls into time with the other car’s, and then slowly drifts out of synchronisation again.’
‘It was so beautiful,’ I said, saddened that we had now moved away.
‘It is just physics,’ he replied.
By the time I was ready to leave the museum a number of hours had passed. I thanked The Curator for the tour and resolved to visit it again before I left the city.
‘You are welcome,’ he said. Then with a smile added, ‘We never close.’
But I did not go back. Time got in the way and I had work to complete. Of course, I never made a note of exactly where I had found the building and despite a number of attempts to find it on Google Earth, I have not been able to find it since. I sometimes question whether the whole thing actually did happen.
Every now and again, though, when I am sitting in my car, I watch the indicator of the car infront of me, and slowly follow its blinking pattern as it gradually falls into sync with my own. It is then that I remember the music that I heard that night on the platform and remind myself that on a rainy night many years ago, I really did visit The Museum of Lost Souls.