I left the school but not the kid.
As we began to climb the steep hill, a gentle breeze embraced us softly. The trees around us danced delicately. I wished they could belly dance. But alas! they were all congenitally disabled to do that. We stopped at the village school. I met the children and made them laugh. I asked them what they wanted to be. A teacher, an engineer, a lawyer, a cricketer, a farmer, or a doctor? Only one, someone from the last row, answered, “I wanna be a doctor.” His friends giggled. I waved my hand to call him, but he didn’t get up. “He is a spastic child, sir,” interrupted the teacher. “Oh! But he is not a tree. He will walk. I know how to mend his legs, surgically. He will sure be a doctor like me, one day.”
I left the school but not the kid.
Mr. Manoj Mishra, an Indian expatriate in US was planning a visit to his motherland, after a long period of absence. While arranging the trip, he would decide to break his journey in Israel for a visit to the ancient city of Jerusalem, a holy place to the followers of Jewish, Islamic and Christian faiths. He also planned to visit nearby Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Mr. Mishra, however, was well aware of the ongoing conflict in that part of the world between the followers of the first two faiths.
On his arrival at Tel Aviv airport, he was picked up by Mr. Moshe Rabin, a prearranged tour guide. While driving towards Jerusalem, they started to familiarize. Mr. Rabin mentioned that he was about eighty years old (though he appeared to be fifty years old). He was a member of the early batch of immigrants to the country, after its creation at the end of World War II. While building a new nation, their main form of entertainment was enjoying the black and white Hindi films coming out of Bombay (now called Mumbai), India, especially the ones starring famous Late Raj Kapoor and Late Geetabali. Then to Mr. Mishra’s surprise, Mr. Rabin hummed a complete Hindi song “Ichik dana, bichik dana, danar upaor dana...”, a classic one from Raj Kapoor-era. Mr. Mishra, in turn, informed Mr. Rabin that in recent years the Bombay movie industry grew bigger and due to recent phenomenon of globalization, has assumed a new identity of “Bollywood”, competing with Hollywood in US.
Over next few days, Mr. Rabin accompanied Mr. Mishra to various places of interests in Jerusalem. Then he broke a bad news: “As an Israeli Jew, by law I am barred to enter Bethlehem, controlled by the Palestinian Authority.” However, he assured that he already had a solution to Mr. Mishra’s visit there.
Next morning, Mr. Rabin drove Mr. Mishra to the city-boundary of Bethlehem, parked his car and made a phone-call. Soon, a green Toyota appeared on the other side and two young Palestinian youths came out of the car. They introduced themselves as Saif and Salman, exchanged pleasantries and instructed Mr. Mishra to board their car for a visit to the city.
Soon, the youths turned on the car-radio blaring Hindi music from a recent Bollywood blockbuster. Mr. Mishra remembered that the actress in the movie was none other than current heartthrob glamorous Karina Kapoor, the granddaughter of Late Raj Kapoor. Like a little child with curiosity, Salman even asked Mr. Mishra whether he had ever met Ms. Kapoor in person. Then, over next few hours, the youths led Mr. Mishra visiting the Church of Naivety and the Manger Square, subsequently bringing him back to Mr. Rabin.
That night, Mr. Mishra dreamed of a film festival taking place at the border of Bethlehem showing all the classics of Raj Kapoor along with the recent blockbusters of Ms. Karina Kapoor, while Mr. Rabin, Saif and Salman taking the front row seats
I never thought I was very smart. When it came to gray matter I always felt that I was rather deficient. In addition to that sense of deficiency, I believed that there’s the ratio of diminishing returns.
Intelligence is like energy. I once knew someone who believed that we’re all given a certain amount of energy at birth. How we apportion that energy is up to us. If we squander it during our youth, running around and doing all sorts of energy-consuming things, then, by the time we reach old age, we have none left to do anything but sit and stare into space – which may be tied into intelligence, but more shortly. On the other hand, if we apportion our energy, spreading it out over our lifetime, then we should have enough to last.
Maybe intelligence is like energy – we’re born with a certain amount and, as previously stated, there’s the ratio of diminishing returns. Perhaps if we squander our gray matter early on in advanced courses and theoretical thinking in our youth, then, by the end of our life, we can barely balance our checkbook.
And then there’s the mush factor. Once again, when we’re born, we’re born with a certain consistency to our brain. As we age, the brain gradually gets mushier and mushier and thereby the natural effects of thinking get harder and harder, like walking through deeper and deeper pools of mud until, finally, it’s like trying to walk through quick-sand.
And once our brains get mushy enough they start to leak. This is when sleeping becomes important because when the brain gets mushy enough; all that mush has to go somewhere so it starts leaking out of our ear – usually only one. That’s where sleeping counts. If you sleep with the leaky ear up from the pillow gravity plays its role and stops the mush from leaking out. On the other hand, if you sleep with the leaky ear on the pillow the mush seeps out throughout the night and, in the morning, you’ve got that much less gray matter and less intelligence, in direct proportion to the amount of leaking during the night. It’s much like a car engine that leaks oil, eventually the engine simply stops working.
I’m old now and I guess I didn’t apportion my gray matter well enough and didn’t sleep on the correct side because I feel like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz who thought – “If I only had a brain.”
So as I listen to the hollowness of my skull, I hear the few remaining thoughts bouncing around like the pinball machine of my mind.
Having exhausted himself playing with a string, a cat crawled into the cardboard box that it had previously tied up. The cat kneaded the bottom on the box with his claws, curled himself into a fetal position, wrapped his tail around his paws and fell asleep.
“Look, mommy, cat in a box,” his little boy said. The boy brought his mother over to gaze at the dozing cat, who had changed to a long stretch, paws against the edge of the box.
“Yes, honey, the cat is sleeping. Let’s not disturb him,” she told the boy. Blissfully unware of Schrodinger, the boy left the sixth wall of the box wide open. He stared at the cat for a few seconds, then moved on to his toys.
The cat never used his pet bed, preferring the box despite its lack of padding because he could use it to sharpen his claws. He took a nap in the box every afternoon for a week or so until its base was shredded thin.
When his mother recycled the box, the boy gave the cat a new one. The boy gleefully put the cat into the new box, watching the cat sniff and rub against it until it was his. The cycle continues.
“Who’s Murphy?” I asked the waiter.
“Who?” he responded.
“Murphy,” I answered. “It says Murphy’s Famous Clam Chowder on the menu. I just wondered who Murphy is.”
“I have no idea,” he answered, “but I’ll try to find out. Are you ready to order?”
I gave the waiter our order, including the corned beef sandwich and Murphy’s Famous Clam Chowder for me and clam chowder and a nova platter for my wife.
A few minutes later the manager, who we’d gotten to know from previous times at the restaurant, came over to greet us and tell us that he had no idea who Murphy is. I told him that I was very upset about not knowing who Murphy is and he promised to try to find out for us.
Shortly after he left the waiter came back with two cups of Murphy’s Famous Clam Chowder and the information that he’d asked everyone in the entire restaurant who Murphy is, but that nobody knew.
“I’ll keep asking,” he told us.
The clam chowder absolutely lived up to the reputation for being famous because it was wonderful and that only made me more anxious to know who Murphy is.
As we continued with our meal the manager returned and we chatted about a variety of things, but all he could tell us about the clam chowder was that they only had it in March for St. Patrick’s Day and that he didn’t understand that any more than we did.
On our next couple of visits to the restaurant the question about who Murphy is was the first topic of conversation and usually became a part of the greeting when we arrived. It seemed that now that the query was set in motion it had become pervasive and was being passed around the wait-staff and management, but no one was able to find out the answer.
As March continued we had a cup of Murphy’s Famous Clam Chowder each time we ate there, but once March was over so was the existence of this wonderful soup on the menu.
We still continued eating there, but meals were never the same without the prelude of clam chowder, even as we switched to the tomato soup which, while wonderful, could never match the perfection of Murphy’s Famous Clam Chowder.
He was sitting at the bar. One of those small, dingy hole-in-the-wall ones where you could conceal yourself from the world. We were the only ones there. Not even a bartender. Was he the bartender?
I realized I was heavily inebriated. Fear rushed through my body. I anxiously scanned the place for signs of others. But there was only him. And then, our eyes crossed. It seemed almost magical, and somehow, he put me at ease.
Relax. I won’t hurt you.
He smiled and tapped the high stool next to him, summoning me to join him. I obeyed, as if in a trance. I moved closer towards him, my heart beating louder with every step. At an arm’s length, I admired his deep blue eyes. His short hair was greased back to reveal a widow’s peak.
“J.A. Pleased to meet you. What’s yours?”
J.A.? As in the letters?
“Uh, hi. I’m Natasha.”
What followed was dancing and some words strung together. I’m not sure what we talked about but we hit it off. And we kept going until it was dawn, our feet hurt and we found ourselves asleep. After that first night, we met up a couple of times. But then, J.A. began to go off on longer travels, until I lost track of where he was, and he became a distant memory.
Fast forward two years later, it was Christmas Eve and he showed up at my apartment door. I was alone.
Don’t be lonely.
He felt my loneliness. I let him inside and he pressed me to the wall, caressing my neck. He gazed at me, seeking consent. I smiled. He kissed me, slowly unbuttoning my shirt until I remember him inside myself.
A storm swirled up later that night, and we curled up under the blanket, staring into one another’s eyes, our naked bodies caressing one another.
Where had you gone?
He smiled, and slipped his hand into mine.
Nowhere. In another world, we’ll be free of these limits of time.
I paused. And then it hit me. That J.A. had been there beside me. He’d spent an entire life with me. But where? Perhaps, the future? Perhaps another universe?
We stayed up in bed, warming one another, without speaking but knowing of the truth, thinking no more of where and when we would meet again. And somewhere in the night, we fell asleep in one another’s arms.
When I woke up, J.A. was gone. I had a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. Let him still be here. I searched the apartment, hoping he’d come out from the corner of the room and kiss me. But there was no sign of him. Was last night real or a dream?
Damn you, J.A. Stop fucking with me.
And then, I remembered something.
I walked back to the bed and saw it. The heart-shaped photo necklace of us. And below it, in italicized writing, was an inscription.
At the diner, she always ordered the same thing - eggs benedict. She tried them for the first time the first time they had breakfast together, after the first night they slept together. They always sat on swivel stools, backs to the door, because she didn’t want to be seen in public. Social anxiety. He always brought the paper along, because something always happened. Sure enough, just as their plates arrived, she excused herself, and went outside for a smoke, sitting down on an iron bench, cigarette dangling, thumbs moving. He read the headlines.
Soon, she was back, sliding in behind the counter and whispering, “Sorry I had to run out. Got a lead on some DMT.” He nodded, stoic.
“I wish you’d do it with me at least one time,” she said, blue eyes flashing as she dabbed at her eggs with a fork. “The sex would be soooo great.”
The sex was already great, he thought. But, he didn’t say anything because they’d had this conversation before. LSD. DMT. MDMA. He wasn’t into drugs, never had been, it was just the way he was wired…or not. Every moment was a moment, just the way it was, and yeah, you could change it, but you could also accept it.
“You’re judging me with your silence,” she finally added.
“No, I’m not,” he replied quickly, making haste of his coffee, “you can do what you want on your own time, it’s just not my thing.” The check came and he paid.
“Exactly,” she said, sliding off the stool and walking ahead of him, with a nice rear view. “People are always afraid of something, I guess,” she muttered to the wind, just loud enough for him to hear.
Exactly, he thought.
A flurry of trumpets and clatter of drums sparked up in the corner, playful sounds of a fiesta whirling the kaleidoscopic blur of colours on the walls in a sensory celebration. Ever surface was covered in little trinkets and oddities from the days before she was here, when it was only the men. Outrageous chandeliers hung in random locations on the ceiling. The walls burned with bright orange and gold paper, and the stone floor glimmered. At the back of one shelf was a tiny duck rocking on a cracked lily pad, lost amongst china vases. Above the bar was a map annotated with faded pencil notes and tacked into peeling plaster. Imperceptible to many was the silver filigree butterfly brooch pinned to a worn cushion, delicately flecked with stiches forming the image of a woman dancing.
The colour of the dancer’s swirling skirt matched the eyes of the woman who rested her back against it whilst drinking her martini. Her brown hair was neatly combed back off her face into a bun leaving her bright eyes visible and searing in black kohl. Her tanned skin glowed with health and a thin veil of perspiration in the hot evening. Red lips stung with passion. Slender legs stretched out from her chair, ankles teasingly caressing one another as she looked out through the window and onto the street.
Despite the thick waves of cigar smoke in the air she was visible to all, her beauty cutting through the haze and her striking sensuality warming like the whisky in the men’s glasses. Everyone saw her and her beauty, but no one saw the man in his neatly buttoned blazer and sinister black moustache slip a little blue into her glass whilst he flattered her with dishonest charms, compliments rolling forth from his lips whilst dark thoughts whirred in his mind. The men watched him with mingling feelings of male camaraderie, avuncular protection and primal competition. All of them secretly smiled when they heard the heels of his black shoes walking away from her table and out the door.
They thought she had fallen asleep. They all said how calm she looked, how happy. Her fiery glow becoming a warm luminescence. Once they had wanted to kiss her, now they wanted to lay next to her, wrap her up in a content blanket of dreams.
Hours later, whisky drunk, games played and cigars smoked, they saw that the woman was still there. Still asleep. Elbows jostled, and eyes winked at one another. Finally, the youngest walked over to her. He rested his hand on her, to gently wake the beautiful woman. He imagined himself like her prince, waking her from a slumber.
She was cold. Dead cold.
The rain docked his pay, as he stood waiting for the word. He could manage a little time shutting down the bays and putting away the buckets, but within an hour or so from the first few drops, his boss expected him to be off the clock. That happened too often this month, and rent was going to be hard to make.
He tried explaining this to his boss.
“What do you want me to say, kid? You can’t wash cars in the rain.”
He punched his time card and hit the alleys. He’d found enough cans and scrap metal to get lunch before, and that was his best hope for a midday meal.
He walked the alleys confused and wet. The uneven cobble stones were lined with abandoned houses. The asbestos siding lying on the ground let him know it was vacant.
He thought about it, waiting for a word.
This alley had been picked clean of cans, no doubt by him. He saw something that may be the glimmer of a beer can in the mud behind one of the houses. The gate was broken, so he entered the yard. There were a number of items littering the back yard. Many of these items appeared to be made of metal, some of them may even be copper and the price for copper could be more than a few offerings from the dollar menu.
He could also see the rear door of the house was hanging loose from a single hinge. He approached it without fear, doubting any intruder was hanging around. When he reached the door, he could see a plethora of items inside. Many of them were made of metal – thick and cast. Some of the items could even be antiques worth a far more valuable sum in their present state, rather than crushed and melted down.
He waited for a word, and it came.
“The owner is dead,” the door said. “Come inside. Take what you need.”
“Isn’t that stealing?”
“What is it they say about possession and the law?” the door answered. “These things aren’t owned. The owner is dead. No heir has come forward. Why shouldn’t you inherit them?”
“That makes sense.”
“And think about this,” the door said. “If you were to live here, you wouldn’t have to worry about rent. No more cleaning cars and looking for cans.”
“That would be nice,” he said and heard a little flurry of applause from the knickknacks and other porcelain things without a name.
The items danced on their tables and shelves, eager to be owned again and to have someone fawn over them. The rain picked up again. He steadied the broken door, having received the word. As the drops pelted his scalp, he forgot about his pay and entered into the treasures. Despite seeing the clocks all over the walls, he knew he was off of all of them.
Lt. Wesley Jones, one of a few surviving US Navy veteran from World War II, received a Facebook message from a fellow veteran, Lt. Michael Harris. The message included a link to tweet from Mr. Paul Allen, one of the co-founders, along with Mr. Bill Gates, of computer-behemoth Microsoft. Mr. Allen, long retired from the organization, has been busy in supporting various philanthropic as well as expeditionary causes with all the riches he accumulated from the success of the company. One of his long-term projects was to find the remnants of the US Navy Cruiser U.S.S. Indianapolis in the Pacific Ocean, sunk by the torpedoes from Japanese submarines near the end of the conflict. Mr. Allen’s tweet, accompanied by an underwater shot, announced that his team finally located the doomed vessel; the underwater shot displayed the vessel’s number “35” from its hull.
Lt. Jones memory immediately transported him to that fateful night of late July in 1945. Both Lt. Harris and Lt. Jones were onboard that night. They had completed a super-secret mission of delivering the parts for the nuclear bomb that would later be dropped on Hiroshima, for Japan’s continuing refusal to surrender to bring an end to the conflict. Now, they were on their way to Philippines, to be on alert for the final strike. In the dark of the night, Japanese submarines would spot them, firing a barrage of torpedoes. Two of them struck the vessel deep, knocking out the communication system completely, while the ship started to sink within minutes. Hundreds of sailors jumped into the water without knowing whether any distress signal went out. They immediately got covered and soon gulping leaking engine oil, eventually making them sick. At the end of a long night, the sun rose in the morning, but there was no sign of any rescue mission indicating no distress signal went out due to the knocking out of the communication system. Thus, began the days of survival on sea, baked by the sun during the day, while trying to remain awake in the dark of the night. But, then came a new enemy.
Lt. Jones closed his eyes. He could still see those steely eyes of the encircling sharks. The animals would attack the weak ones only in the calmness of the dusk. The scream of the unfortunate victims would pierce the surrounding tranquility. This was also the time when Lt. Jones remembered actor Robert Shaw’s fictional character Quint describing the experience to the crew members in the movie “Jaws”. Quint would finish uttering “But, we delivered the bomb.”
In reality, four days would pass by, before a low-flying bomber pilot, on a mission, would notice the oil sleek. He would alert the authority, thus initiating the rescue mission for the remaining lucky survivors including Lt. Jones and Lt. Harris.
Though finally located, the U.S.S. Indianapolis would remain at its resting place as a war memorial, as a testament to the sacrifice of the men and women in uniform.
"...And she will move mountains" they said. But not my baby, not my girl. Legs that won't bear weight, eyes that won't see the love swimming in mine. Lips that won't form the word i'm so desperate to hear, "mum".
"An angel" , they'll say now , "born too early , not meant for this earth". A piece of me goes with her, as a piece went with her brother before her. How many pieces can I lose before, I too, cease to be?
A hush surrounds me in a busy room. No one wants to ask. Loneliness compounds; hope fades and rises and falls again.
A sisters joy causes my heart to break anew. My window is passing with no sign of our longed for miracle. How long can I continue?
In the deepest darkness of this, our last season, something shifts, a fragile spark. A little heart begins to beat , each precious month to be treasured.
The day I fear most brings wind and rain and a pain unlike any other. A scream is torn from me and tears fall freely, I know this will be the last time. My strength is waning, but always, for you, I give a little more. As I bring you forth, the world falls silent. No wind, no rain , the eye of a perfect storm. A pause that lasts forever before the sweetest sound, pitches straight to my soul. You cry.
The world starts again, but not as it was before.
It was the first weekend of June in 1944. The President would decide to get away from the hustle and bustle of the capital to spend a quiet weekend in nearby Charlottesville, Virginia in the estate of one of his trusted aides. However, he also wanted to hear from his top military chief about the initiation of a top-secret military mission in the quietness of Charlottesville, a charming university town, the university being established by one of the original founders of the nation. The long-planned operation, code-named “Operation Neptune” was a part of the extended “Operation Overland” that was coordinated with allied countries. It was intended for a complete annihilation of the evil Nazi-machinery of the Third Reich of Germany. This particular mission was set to start in the very early morning of coming Monday by invading the beaches of Normandy in France. But, the weather in the area that day would not cooperate. Though dejected, he remained calm deciding to go back to the capital to carry on his other presidential duties. However, his military strategists, fearing any more loss of opportunity, decided to strike on very next day on June 6, now known as D-day. At the end, multitudes of patriots from various countries would sacrifice their lives to get rid of the Nazi-evilness from the face of this earth. But, the seeds of hateful Nazi-ideology along with its visual emblems remained rooted deep in many countries around the world to sprout out at different times and locations.
More than seventy years later of that summer in 1944, it was another gorgeous summer weekend in 2017 in Charlottesville. Words spread through the social media that protesters would converge on this small town to protest the recent removal of statues of past confederate leaders from civil war era from various parts of the country. To the dismay and horror of local residents, on first night, hundreds of white youths and their leaders, belonging to various underground right wing extremist groups of neo-Nazi, with names like White Supremacy and KKK marched through the downtown carrying lighted torch as a show of intimidation, reminiscent of Nazi brown shirts. Next day, they appeared in bright daylight wearing swastika-emblazoned red armbands, while waving Nazi flags and chanting racist and xenophobic slogans. They carried arms that they used mercilessly on counter protesters preaching peace and harmony. While, the rest of the country shook in horror and revulsion, the thugs had a friend in a high place. Current strongman preached them bigotry well during his election campaign. Even now, he could not denounce their presence and violence unequivocally, always vacillating between his past and present statements.
While surviving veterans from the D-day invasion wonder “For which ideal we fought for?” the rest of the country takes a deep look into the mirror and it doesn’t like what it sees. While preaching others, this country lost its own moral compass.
The promises were all here for the same thing. They had gathered here from all over the country.
They had been well fed on the night of their arrival and then sent to bed. Pleasantries had been exchanged. There was some mumble about the weather and about how difficult it had become to drive in the big cities of their country. The term overpopulation had been used.
The next day, some creatures that the promises had never before met would test how well they'd fit inside a box. The same box, multiplied by the number of promises. The promises were doing this voluntarily. Money were involved. Prestige had also been promised to the promises.
The testing started in the early morning. The promises were tested in parallel on how well they could fit certain predefined aptitudes. Some promises were lucky and were able to show that they could really fit, over and over again, in the same kind of pre-sized box. Fitting repeatedly rather than only once was good.
The promises were given a break after a predefined number of hours, each of them receiving something to eat in its own box. The promises could not look at one another, nor did they have any desire to do so. Each of the promises ate alone in its box.
Inside the glass boxes it was rather hot, but the view was good. The view looked like the promise of freedom. In the distance, there was a river, flowing still among tall buildings.
The promises spent another hour inside their boxes, waiting for someone to come and tell them whether they’d be allowed to manifest their potential inside the same building on that day and for numerous days to come.
By 2 pm, their brains and killed potential were unpeeling in frothed layers. If only a human had passed by to witness it.
But regular humans had no access to the building, and the promises' brains were already fried.
At long last, he stood before her predatory gaze. Istaqa had walked through time and the dreams of men, straight to the end of her curse. It was the full length of her punishment completed, after the passage of centuries. It was a sentence that he’d doled out for her crimes and had come to finalize – an end to the cycle of suffering.
Yes, Istaqa stood before her. A powerful shaman in all his glory.
Catori watched him from the deepest, darkest shadows of her hovel. He moved nearer without fear, as she gnawed on a stripped femur bone.
That had been her curse, and it was now a silent whisper between them. That was what she’d been forced to become in body, and finally soul, over the painfully endured years.
But, Istaqa had come now to undo all of that, and to take her back to the time and place that had been… before…
But, the femur bone was picked absolutely clean, so Catori ate him, too.
Ms. Molly is a very gentle, caring, old soul going about her volunteer service for the last 32 years in the largest hospital in New York City. My assignment as an intern is to learn about her volunteer work and to help her in her elderly years to get around the hospital.
At one o’clock in the afternoon we arrived at the door of Randolph Geisner’s room, whose name I recognized immediately as the king of the murderous drug-lords in the American hemisphere. The two FBI agents at his door did not take notice of us as we walked into his room. Randolph Geisner was sitting up, his left wrist handcuffed to the bed railing, his right arm in a cast and sling. He turned his head and scowled at us. Ms. Molly raised her hand with her palm towards him.
Randolph Geisner opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out. He looked very perplexed and tried again -- nothing. Ms. Molly said, “Randolph Geisner, let me get right to the point. You have done many unforgivable, evil things in your life. We are here to tell you that your soul will die at 1:14 p.m. today.” Randolph Geisner’s eyes widened in surprise and then fear, he struggled mightily against the handcuffs in desperation of getting away from the two of us. His mouth was moving as if he were yelling at us, or for help.
Ms. Molly walked up beside his handcuffed wrist and lightly laid her feeble, arthritic left hand upon the hand that gripped the rail. He became very still. She looked him directly in the eye, and in a gentle, soft voice said, “You see, Randolph Geisner, there is only one punishment for an evil person like yourself, and that is the utter destruction of your soul; for a person is not truly dead until his soul no longer exists.” She paused for a moment, and then announced, “Randolph Geisner, I have come for YOU. I AM THE SOUL EATER! I BRING YOU THE FINAL DEATH.”
At 1:18 p.m. the FBI agent found Randolph Geisner dead in his bed, his face frozen in a tortured grimace, staring, with his mouth open as if he were screaming.
For the rest of the day Ms. Molly and I continued to greet, console, pray with, and encourage our patients.
Money was tight one summer. A vacation was out of the question, so the parents tried to make every Friday night an event. Each week, they tried to do something new. One week, they drove two hours to one of the few Drive-In Theaters left. They got home at 3 a.m. that night. Another week, they had a picnic in the park. They tried outdoor movies, free concerts, zoo nights... One week, they built a fire pit in the back yard and told ghost stories while roasting marshmallows. That hit the spot. Each Friday for the rest of the summer, the kids invited friends over to compete for the scariest campfire story. The tradition continued nearly every week until after Halloween, when temperatures turned colder and video games beckoned. By that time, money tightness had passed … just in time for Christmas spending.
Paul Kamraj is a young Indian American. His both parents, belonging to Christian faith, hail from Kerala, a southern state in India. Kerala distinguishes itself for highest rate of literacy covering both genders, religious tolerance and progressive liberalism. His parents, after migrating to US, had earned degrees in different medical fields and landed positions in one of the renowned hospitals in the country. Here the couple first met, fell in love, and then got married. While growing up in west, Paul was equally exposed to eastern cultures and values. Every Friday, Paul’s parents would receive in mail a weekly newspaper, published in New York. It used to carry news items from various states in India, along with opinion pieces as well as stories on lifestyles and scandals involving movie stars of Bollywood.
However, to Paul, the most fascinating section was the matrimonial one, where Indian parents would place advertisements for their sons or daughters for prospective brides or grooms. As he was growing up, he started to notice that the languages in those advertisements were changing, especially in the requirements in the characteristics of a prospective bride. Different castes, different languages spoken at home, and either to be a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian were no longer barriers for a prospective match. But, one criteria still remained same: the match must be a young lady with “fair skin”.
After his graduation from college, Paul enrolled in a prestigious medical school for his MD degree. In his third year, he fell in love with one of his classmates Ms. Christiana McKinnon with Irish background, but same Christian religious faith. After their graduation in following year, the couple got married. For their honeymoon, Paul and Christiana then headed to India to visit famous Taj Mahal as well as taking part in a tiger safari in a national park. But, their first stop was the town in Kerala where his mother was born and grew up.
To Paul’s surprise, none of his many local relatives came to visit and greet the couple in first couple of days, except a young cousin Tony, close to Paul. From him, Paul heard that many of the relatives were still upset for his marrying to a non-Indian, even though the bride belonged to same religious faith and as educated as Paul. Paul introduced Tony to Christiana and all of them then went out to an eatery to check out a few local delicacies.
Overnight, the situation changed dramatically. Groups of relatives started to arrive to meet and greet the couple. They all heard from Tony that with her fair complexion, Christiana appeared like a white angel! Paul remembered the line from a past matrimonial: the match must be a young lady with “fair skin”.
Then came his epiphany: India became a nuclear nation, sent an unmanned mission to Mars, produced current CEO-s of both Microsoft and Google, but still remained stuck at “fair skin” of a prospective bride in a patriarchal society!
Leon was convinced that the only way he could save his company was to win the contract. For the past two years things had gone from bad to worse. He’d enlisted a variety of consultants and paid them when he could. Others he bartered with for product. The barter system itself was a form of research and development – if the consultant was willing to accept the product in exchange for their services, then he knew he had a success – if they refused, well…
Lately his R & D had sent him in only one direction, and the contract for that one item was his only hope.
And time was of the essence. If he missed it this year, who knew if there’d be another chance. Consumers were fickle. What was the latest item today could be forgotten tomorrow. Leon had proof of that; three years ago he’d been on the top of the world. Then a competitor came up with a simple variation, just different enough to avoid any legal recourse, but that simple variation proved to be enough.
Now he felt that he had the perfect item that could change everything. The prototype had passed all of the tests. The focus groups had all reacted exactly as he’d hoped.
It all depended on a single meeting and a single person who alone could give their stamp of approval. That approval would mean all sorts of wheels would be set in motion. And the meeting was now only two hours away.
Two hours for Leon to worry – to go over every detail.
Leon stared so hard that he could have bored a hole in anyone who happened by. He paced the floor. He looked out the window, watching and waiting. But none of it was going to make the one-hundred-twenty minutes go by any faster.
He finally sat down and promptly fell asleep – probably, he later thought, from the exhaustion of his own anxiety.
When he awoke the next morning his prototype was gone. The meeting was supposed to be at eight o’clock the night before, and it was now eight o’clock in the morning.
Leon looked everywhere for the prototype and finally found a single sheet of paper that had obviously fallen off the table and slid under the chair where he had slept.
Leon read the paper three times to be sure that he’d read it correctly. Then he read it out loud: “Well done, Leon. It will surely be a big hit. I’ll put it into production immediately at our usual rate. I expect world-wide distribution.”
Leon took a deep breath, realizing that he had succeeded and he’d won the contract that would save not only his company, but his faith in himself. But then the one person who could do so much for him always had faith in him. And as he read the signature on the bottom of the single sheet of paper he knew that his own faith had been rewarded by Santa Claus.
I see him carrying a bottle of packed flavored milk, a newly bought paperback Pebbles of Wisdom, a smart phone with plugged in earphones, and an air of snobbish complacency. He sits on the chair just opposite ours at the airport. Still thirty minutes for boarding to begin. Enough time for me to enjoy watching that young man. The first thing he did was open the book. But I hated the way he did that. He twisted the cover page cruelly as if he were to throw away the Wisdom after use. The use and throw kind of thing, I mean. His cruelty hurt me. He turned over a few pages of the book casually and looked around with an air of superiority. Maybe he felt himself wiser than others. Then he put on the earphones and began to jerk his head rhythmically. Then he picked up the bottle that, I guess, would have cost him twenty times more than the city market and a threat to his health. He opened it by removing the plastic seal. He looked around, this time, to see if he was being noticed. And quickly he threw away the plastic seal on the right side of his chair. What an education!
Chapter one: Ignorance
Tim walked around. Both in space and time. He walked around happily, not thinking of me. That hurt. That hurt a lot. Tim lived happily ever after in Happiland. The land I created for him to enjoy. Tim walked around in his story. He walked around happily, even after the story ended. He didn’t miss me at all.
Chapter two: Revelation
“I’ll tell you a secret.”
“I’m all ears.”
“You don’t really exist.”
“Is it something you ate?”
“I’m telling the truth.”
“You are nothing but a figment of my imagination.”
“Right, there’s no Happiland.”
“Where are we now, then?”
“In Happiland, don’t be silly.”
“Which doesn’t exist.”
“It doesn’t. It only exists in my mind.”
“Do you realize you’re talking nonsense?”
“Do you realize you don’t exist?”
“How am I talking to you, if I don’t exist?”
“I’m making up the dialogue.”
“So, what I choose to say, you have thought it first.”
“You ego is out of control.”
“I’d rather you existed, but you don’t.”
“So, you can make me disappear anytime you want?”
“I guess so, although imagination can sometimes get uncontrollable.”
“You should know you disappear when I go to work.”
“You disappear too when I go to sleep.”
“It’s not the same.”
“Because I still exist when you go to sleep.”
“I also still exist when you go to work.”
Chapter three: Oblivion
I didn’t delete the whole story at once, although I could. I erased the words one by one, enjoying the agony in his eyes.
“Who am I?” Tim asked.
“You’ll soon be nobody,” I said. I missed him for a while. Until a new story started.
Who’s Tim anyway?
Lounging on his green lawn in a lazy summer evening, Mr. Ranjit Sen, a prominent immigrant scientist was drinking a cup of Darjeeling tea. He had brought back his favorite brand from a recent trip to motherland. A cool breeze was blowing, chirping birds were returning to their nests and a few fireflies were occasionally flickering at distant. Slowly, his mind drifted into a sea of memories.
After earning a PhD in chemical sciences three decades ago, he joined a start-up biotechnology company to discover new medicines for several life-threating diseases. Majority of the personnel then were top level scientists, highly spirited and motivated to their causes. But as their years of successful research efforts started to bear fruits and the organization began to expand, the mission of the place started to change. More monetary profit from innovative applications of past successes with less funding for new research, became the new mantra. And that’s when they hired Mr. John Wills, PhD, DSc, as the VP of Operation, all of his degrees being earned in prestigious overseas universities. One of his stated primary goals was to steer the organization towards this new direction.
Though his CV mentioned that he had retired from a similar role from a larger pharmaceutical company, words got around that Mr. Wills was forced to resign from his post. This was due to his dictatorial nature of leadership, arising from his narcissism as well as arrogance, being the only holder of two highest degrees in sciences within the organization, and thus making him smarter than anyone else. In addition, he instituted the destructive divide and rule policy along with personal attack in a very public humiliation fashion to anyone whoever opposed to his views.
Soon, he started to display the same qualities in Mr. Sen’s workplace, destroying the free-wheeling atmosphere and collegiality that existed there before. His immediate subordinates formed various subgroups to gain his favorable attraction. The practice of ground-breaking original research started to suffer, while top-notched scientists began to leave the organization disrupting ongoing research. A few good ones were forced out due to their scientific disagreement with Mr. Wills, while infighting among his henchmen escalated. The organization started to lose its scientific reputation along with its market value, eventually being forced to be taken over by a rival farm.
The last sip from his cup brought Mr. Sen back to present time and reflect on last few days’ developments. This nation’s top leader went to a boy scouts’ gathering and lectured them on political issues, while disparaging his opponents. The historians saw a frightening resemblance of Third Reich’s preaching to the brown shirts. In addition, he urged the military to lobby congress for more funding, thus dangerously politicizing that branch. The infighting among his henchmen exploded in public views with utterance of vulgarity and threatening words.
Then, Mr. Sen remembered a wry humorous quote from Late Yogi Berra, once country’s famous baseball player and coach: “It is déjà vu, all over again!”
Tears froze to his face as he rowed the boat out into the open water. The cold wind pierced through his multiple layers of clothes. He glanced back at the dock that was a quite a distance away.
He let go of the oars and slowly unwrapped the blanket from the urn. He picked up the urn, lifted the top off and slowly poured the ashes out into the water. Memories of her rapidly appeared before him. That sweet crisp smile, her soul-baring almond eyes, and her delicate way of speaking flooded his vision. He struggled to keep the urn lifted, as waves of emotions rocked him.
When the last of the ashes hit the water, he placed the urn back in the boat. The wind violently beat against him, but he barely noticed as he looked out at the water. His eyes watching the tiny specks of her float away.
On a summer Saturday, a father took his son to the local farmer's market. Street musicians serenaded patrons of an outdoor café. Vendors sold fashions, jewelry, potted plants and produce. Canvassers leafleted patrons on almost every corner in support of political causes.
A vendor was selling helium balloons, and the boy wanted a blue one. It was sky blue, and it bounced on a string as the boy and his father walked along, admiring the people and the vendors.
After they paused to admire the paintings and sculptures of various artists, a sudden wind caught the balloon, and the boy lost his grip. The balloon was swept above the roof of a building, and it disappeared from sight.
The boy was distraught. His father offered to buy another balloon, but the boy was heartbroken. He only wanted the blue balloon. Teary eyed, he said he wanted to go home, so the father and son strolled through the park toward their house.
"Maybe," his father said, "the blue balloon will land at somebody else's house and find a home." This made the boy feel better, so they talked about where the blue balloon might travel before it landed.
"Maybe to the sea," the boy told the father, and he was happy again.
When his mother opened the door, the boy announced that "the blue balloon went free." The boy proceeded to tell her how he was sad about losing the balloon, but that the balloon needed to go free and find a new home.
"Sometimes, you have to go free before you find your home," the father said. Then, they told the mother about all the adventures they had imagined that the balloon might have.
Sitting at the front counter of his neighborhood café, Jack Leif was drinking his morning coffee. The place has been popular for its fresh pastry, thus attracting visitors from surrounding communities too. As he put down his cup after a few sips, he sensed a tall and masculine gentleman was about to take seat next to him. Both extended their arms to introduce themselves and exchange pleasantries. Jack learned that the gentleman was none other than Mr. William Blake, the legendary top attorney of the nearby metropolis Atlanta. Born into a poor family from minority background, Mr. Blake motivated himself to get educated, eventually attending prestigious Harvard Law School. As a top government lawyer, he prosecuted several noteworthy criminals, both blue- and white- colored. As he won more sensational cases, his legend multiplied. But, Jack didn’t feel any sense of arrogance in Mr. Blake’s manners. He was there to try the famous pastry that he heard so much about, even in Atlanta.
That evening, returning from his regular job, Jack turned on his TV, set to an Atlanta station. Suddenly, there was a “Live Breaking News”. The reporter from the station, standing in front of the court house, was announcing that the local head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had just charged Mr. Blake committing several felonies over past ten years. And the occurrence of these misdeeds only came to light recently after several local investigative agencies banded together after getting anonymous tips. Next day, not only the local press, but the national newspapers also picked up the story, due to Mr. Blake’s prominence and his stated desire to enter national politics. While his critics lambasted him, his defenders brought up the issue of race, as the reason for falsely charging him.
It took several months for the case to go in front of a judge, while Mr. Blake remained free on bail, always insisting on his innocence. For first two days, federal attorneys described in details how over past several years, Mr. Blake had accepted expensive gifts, paid vacations for his entire family as well as backdoor favors that allowed his daughters to go to expensive summer camps in Europe. In return, he didn’t pursue several cases, while bringing lesser charges in many cases. On third day, Mr. Blake took his stand in front of the judge. With the entire nation watching the proceedings in live telecast and his aged mother sitting on the front row with tears flowing down from her eyes, Mr. Blake took responsibility in taking part in every charge that was levied against him. The judge in the case decided to lock him up immediately, while taking time to decide what should be the extent of his punishment, given his stature and breaking of public trust so blatantly.
Mr. Jack Leif who was attending the proceedings for all three days, came out of the court, murmuring to himself “At what point of his life, did Mr. Blake’s moral compass brake down completely?
Wally turned over and scratched. His aging mother was in the kitchen, praying her heart out again, speaking gibberish he couldn't understand. He got up, staggered into the kitchen.
Just a week out of prison, he often thought how lucky he was. Ma loved him, would do anything for him. Even let him stay with her while she cooked for him and washed his clothes--and asked nothing in return.
"It's outside," she said.
"Go find out, son."
In the back yard was a scraggly looking bush he'd never seen before. His mother prayed some more, and the bush burst into flame. The flame shot up and up, almost touching a low cloud.
"It's your Salvation, son. Bow down and worship."
"Damned if I will do any such a stupid thing!"
The bush began to grow, shooting up into the air as it threw off sparks of fire. Wally fell back, mouth agape. The bush burned up and up, and in the flames he could make out a dark figure, a something taller than buildings. The figure leaned down, extended unbelievably long arms, scooped Wally up and carried him into the dizzying heights.
Inside the house, Wally's mother, eyes closed, continued to pray, hoping that her prayers would soon be answered.