I can feel all the eyes in the room staring at me. I choose to walk away ignoring every single one of them. I have signed the documents, repaid every single debt my family had and now I want to get out and feel my freedom.
“Is it all about money?” my mind questions me and I tell myself for the millionth time, “No, it is not, but that was all it was for them.”
“But they loved you” the mind argues.
“May be or maybe not. But don’t forget that I loved them too. I let them take advantage of me every single time because I loved them.”
“If you are walking away now, then what happened to all that love?”
“Well, I have had enough, I cannot take it anymore. Maybe it is time to move on. I need to learn to stand up for myself and not let people take advantage of me too you see”
“Just shut up and listen to me, it is not too late, just go back, they are your family” my mind is not ready to let go.
I nearly listen to it when everything flashes into my mind as though it happened only yesterday. I remember everything, every single thing that has happened over the years. How they managed to slowly convince me that they did it all for my own good but that fateful day showed me who they were.
As I walk to the car that is parked outside the gate my mind races to that moment. I try hard to hold back the tears. What had I done to them to deserve that? I could always see how different I was treated compared to my other siblings. I would convince myself that there was nothing wrong and that I was imagining things.
All I can hear is laughter. It is coming from everywhere around me. Disoriented, I look up. My temple throbs from the excessive light and the deafening sounds of metals clashing. As my pupils constrict, I can understand that they are ridiculing me. After that fall. That terrible fall. Now, everything rushes back to me.
I was dueling with my brother. Being more muscular and taller than me, he would have the advantage. Unlucky as I was, he would always pick me as his fighting partner, a person against whom all his skills would be highlighted. I couldn’t back off; otherwise, I would be called a chicken. Now, he had hit me with his blade, and I had fallen down, unconscious. That was in the 15th century.
In the 16th century again, insulting and assaulting me was what my family knew best. By the end of 20th century, I had understood that I was doomed for eternity. Only if He had allowed me to forget! I could start it all over again. It was just not to be. Suffering had been etched into my forehead ever since I had first entered this world.
Jolting back to reality, I realize that I have already reached the car. The man looking back at me from the polished glass is someone with a long face and unkempt hair and beard. The eyes look as if they have witnessed ancient tragedies, which they actually have. Looking at those eyes, one could face their primitive fears and memories alike. And so I do it again. I get lost into the world where I had taken my first breath and heard my first song. The song of a kokilah.
I get into the car and drive the ten miles to the only friend that I have. Either side of the road that leads to Phil’s house is strewn with bushes, vines and tall trees. My vision gets blurred with it being so dark, and I am barely able to see the road ahead. There was an incessant sound of animals chattering and birds tweeting, and a hundred other sounds. Halfway down the road, I came to a stop, because ahead of me was something blocking the road.
I try to turn the car around, but there were just bushes and vines and trees all around. I get out of the car to see if I could move whatever is blocking the road.
“Stop and turn around.” I heard a loud gravelly voice behind me.
As the sunlight filtered through a break in the trees, I turned around and saw a giant of a man, with no hair, wearing a long scruffy, matted beard, and his face was brown with dirt. He had on a shirt that was two sizes too big and dirty blue pants that was two sizes too small. His legs and feet were caked in mud. He had a knife in his hand.
“Where are you going?” He growled.
I told him where I was headed, and he guffawed.
He hopped over to that something that was blocking the road, which turned out to be a tree trunk, and effortlessly hauled it out of the way.
“Ok, wimp, let’s go visit your friend.”
I drove my car slowly on the uneven path while the giant lumbered behind, his knife glinting in his hands. I nervously looked in my rearview mirror every few minutes hoping he would go away or put the knife in its sheath. No such luck. After a mile or so, I came to a stop in the circular driveway of Mike’s medieval castle. It was a little over the top to live in a castle in the 20th century but Mike was never the man to observe subtlety. The crushed granite of the driveway crunched beneath my sneakers as I walked to the ornate wooden gates. The giant had disappeared behind the castle, chuckling to himself. I banged on the giant brass knockers and hoped somebody inside would hear and answer the door. Somebody, anybody but the giant.
Shortly afterwards, the double doors opened with a creak. Mike stood in the doorway wearing a red velvet smoking jacket. His favorite whalebone pipe dangled from his lips. He was holding a cut-glass snifter of brandy in one hand. I checked my watch. It was just after noon.
“A little early for libation, Mike.” The truth was, after the day I’d had, I could’ve used some brandy myself.
“And hello to you too.” He hadn’t lost his booming voice that contrasted sharply with his frail, six foot tall frame.
I went past Mike into the spacious entryway and waited for him to close the massive doors.
“You’re shivering, maybe first time jitters.” Mike said with no concern in his voice.
“Where am I? I can’t move.” There was no light at all in the cave but I could see Mike standing with his back to me, the smoke from his pipe filling up the whole place. I kept trying to move my legs and arms; each time it hurt so bad I could feel my eyes welling up, but there was no tear.
“Patience my love, it will get some getting used to. You will be fine.”
He was right; my body was starting to respond. I could see around the cave now. The walls were starting to get brighter; the cold damp feeling was starting to fade away.
“You didn’t answer my question Mike. What is this place! Last thing I remember I was in your castle. What did you do to me?” Mike was grinning ear to ear, as if he was enjoying the situation far too much.
“You were in an accident; rammed your car into a tree trunk. Fortunately for you, I am always listening to what goes on in my forest. Unfortunately for you, your body is broken and can’t contain your mind. So I had to separate the two. This is an alternate consciousness your mind made with the guidance of a machine I built.” Mike was still smiling as he took another deep puff and waited for my response.
‘Is this true? Mike is a lot of things but never a liar; but how can this be possible. Who was that giant? If my mind did this why can’t it remember anything? This cannot be happening.’ The thoughts kept on coming. I closed my eyes and prayed for everything to be normal, and when I opened I was sitting in my room. A slight drizzle fell outside, the wind was cool and soft. I looked out the window and saw my friends; it was so long since I talked to any of them. A small tear of happiness left my eye and fell onto a note in my hand. It read – Enjoy your stay, Mike.
Mr. Wallace was about to leave his office when he got a message in his private cell-phone.
‘We have her-Mike.’
It was difficult driving his car in through the rain, for Mr. Wallace felt more than a drizzle. He found memories raining all over him. All those centuries of contempt and humiliation. All those endless days of misery were about to come to an end, in through that note. That sweet, sweet note by his favorite friend, Mike.
He parked the car hurriedly in front of her house and got down, hoping that he wasn’t too late. Hoping that he would be able to reach there, before the alternate consciousness brought her there. He tried to sprint his way through and almost stumbled on the old man sitting on the pavement. Some gypsy folk singer in this foreign land. What do they call them here? A baul or perhaps, a kokilah.
Without paying much heed, he got inside and let a sigh of relief. She was yet to arrive.
I looked up from the note and for the first time noticed all my friends wore a single face. They were all Phil. My friend Phil Wallace.
“I’m losing my senses,” I mumbled.
“No, no. It’s just now that you’re coming to your senses, Percy.” All the voices spoke at once.
“Phil? Are you real? I thought – – “
“Phil Wallace was never real. Philomelos was. Just like your husband.”
“Yes, your husband, my brother. I’m sure Plutus, or what does he call himself now – Peter? Never told you about his brother.”
Phil – Peter’s brother? Fuzziness inside my head.
“Well, he will speak today. Mike and the fiends will bring him too, in through the alternate consciousness, along with your daughters and your brothers and sisters, my dear Persephone.”
Persephone. Where did I hear that name before?
“Plutus has to answer today in front of you all. Father and mother gave him all the powers of wealth when I was the one who deserved. I had been ploughing the lands, when he just squandered all that wealth, keeping all of you drugged all this while, so you could forget your origins and your gifts, your immense powers of fertility and harvesting, hidden away in this distant land, in this distant time. For him, it was always the money and never love. Never lives.”
Is it all about money? It was déjà vu.
The flashes in my mind, of centuries, the castles and the cars, the clashes and the loves – Are they all connected by a single thread? In a forgotten time, had I been the goddess of vegetation, the source of all lives? And love?
What answer awaits me today?
And suddenly, once again, in the breeze that blew in through my open windows, I heard the singing. The song of the kokilah. Songs of the fertile land.
“Keep your heart strong,” Phil interjected, “Plutus will be here soon, and he won’t quite be the husband you had known all this while.”
My mind wandered along the notes of the song.
I got pushed onto muddy ground. It was so bright; I had to shield my eyes with my hand. I was wearing heavily pleated fustanella with a skirt that barely came below my thighs. I had metal boots and shin guards on. The metal armor helmet had bruised my scalp. It was dark everywhere else. I was the only one in a bright spotlight; until my brother Enormius jumped in. He had the same warrior attire and a dagger with a shiny blade. My guardian, Auxilius, walked in from the dark. He appeared to be refereeing our dual. He was concerned about my safety.
“Destroy her”, said a voice from the dark.
‘It was surely not Plutus’, I thought to myself. Plutus. That’s what it is. My husband. I remember him now.
Enormius began to charge. His wide bulging eyes scared me. His face was devoid of any expression. He was like a dead man running towards me. Suddenly, a shield rolled in from the dark. I quickly picked it up and BANG! The sound of the dagger hitting the sturdy shield made of tortoise-back was deafening. I was pushed away.
I fell on a pink buff-colored fine grained sand-stone floor. In the mirror on the adjacent column, I noticed I was wearing a pink satin Ghagra and Choli. Nath in my nose had a beautiful blue diamond. My father-in-law was looking down at me, pointing towards the exit. He was a huge man with matted beard and a blank stare.
“Right move, Rajaji. Nikaal do!” said a voice behind him. I could not recognize the voice.
Not my husband Patr. Patr? Yeah. My husband. It is so weird. I can feel the same person but his name is different. It seems like I know him as my husband every time, in every life; but with a different name.
The old but strong king asked me to leave the house. My uncle, Aksh, came running and put his hand across the king’s chest. “Rajaji, she is like your daughter. She has done nothing wrong”. But the king raised his sword over my head. Suddenly, a warrior dove in. I could not see his face. He stood in between me and Rajaji with a sword in one hand and a shield in other. There was a loud sound of the swords clashing.
I woke up, startled.
“Where have you gone? I need you to concentrate.” Phil said holding my shoulders with his broad palms.
All my friends had already arrived. Norm, Peter, Mike, Alex. There were a lot of people in the room but I could see only these faces.
Wait! He was Norm. I just saw him. Enormius! Yeah. My brother. My eyes widened. ‘And…. And Rajaji too?’ I gaped at Norm and then at Phil, flabbergasted by my visions.
“You are seeing it right, Percy. This is the face of the person who exploited you over the generations.” Phil said pointing at Norm. “And this is the person who had drugged him to do it. All along.” Now Phil was pointing at Plutus. Err…. Patr. Peter. Peter, it is. My Peter.
My confusion was turning into anger for Norm and Peter.
“I loved you so much. In every life. You were my family. And you tore me apart. You ungrateful monsters!” My teeth pressing against each other, a tear fell out from my red eyes.
“No…… No Percy. Go back. See for yourself. See the whole thing. Go back.” Peter said. He waved at Alex who started playing a song on his phone. The song of the Kokilah.
The notes were putting me to sleep again. The tune of Auxilius. My guardian over the years. Aksh. Alex. Auxilius. Oh My! Too much for my brain to process.
I saw how Norm cleared the tree trunk from my way, earlier. I had failed to recognize the giant chasing me. He did not look like a zombie this time. Alex was with me all along. He has seen so many bad things happen to me. He never left my side.
I don’t know who is on my side.
“Noo…. Don’t sleep…. Wake up woman!!” Philomelos shouted. I shuddered; but the notes were putting me more and more in deep sleep.
I could feel the sandstone. The sparkle of the blue diamond opened my eyes. The swords clanged. The warrior picked me up. “No father. Not in this life. You have to go over my dead body to hurt her” said a poised familiar voice. It was Patr. He was protecting me. He was being my shield. I stood up and could see who was behind my father-in-law. It was Phil. What?? He was coaxing Rajaji to drive me out. That blank look. I could tell that he had drugged Rajaji. The swords clang again.
I woke up in the mud getting pushed backwards. Blood tickled from my bruised scalp.
“I said destroy her. You brainless creature.” I heard the angry voice of Philomelos who entered from the darkness.
I found the single thread connecting all the people. Plutus appeared with another tortoise-back shield. He took on my giant brother with no fear. He was trying to save my life.
I woke up. It was all white like mist everywhere. I was making a forest. Plutus was helping me. My wealth is for my subjects and he was making sure everyone gets it. He was distributing the greenery evenly. Tree by tree. The vegetation that I had produced was home to many. It gave life to many. It brought the place to life. Philomelos was ploughing and uprooting everything. He wanted all for himself. He always thought it was his sole right. It was all about money to him. Plutus and Philomelos stood there staring at each other.
I woke up. The tune of the Kokilah had stopped.