As I stumbled forward, the heat smacked my face. It stung my eyes, burned my nose and I felt as if the little skin that wasn’t covered was already burnt toast. My lips, tongue, and throat were parched, and I’d only just arrived. I tilted my head back as I sipped from the camel skin canteen I carried. I wiped my lips with the back of my hand and replaced the cap.
When I’d stepped into the machine, trembling, it was late winter at home. I had been sweating, but that was from fear, not heat: Would it work? Would I actually travel through time? Had I and my new mentor eliminated all the flaws or would I be in my lab still? Again. Or worse, would I end up nowhere and merely cease to exist? I’d achieved some sort of success, it appeared, for here I was, melting in the sun. I smiled as I looked around. All I saw was sand, sky and sun. Not my lab, at least. In the distance, I could see something not sand, so I started walking towards it.
Fortunately, I had dressed with the hope that I would indeed arrive, and thus was covered from head to foot, a loose scarf and robe protecting me from the heat. The sandals I wore were comfortable although not quite of the period. I didn’t even know if they wore shoes 2000 some odd years ago, but barefoot on burning sand did not interest me at all.
As I walked, my heart began to pound – not from exertion, or fear, but rather, excitement. If I had calculated correctly, very shortly I would be meeting the man who had had such an influence on human history. A world religion and its many offshoots. I frowned as I thought, and an endless number of wars, the Inquisition, the beheadings of kings and queens, unremitting hypocrisy, pain and death. I wondered: If I tell him of the future, what will he think? What will he do? I was startled out of my reverie by a terrible sound.
“Get thee hence, Satan,” his voice reached me, loud and ominous: as clear as if he were at my side though he was still some distance in front of me. I looked around, but saw no one, nothing. No horned creatures, no snakes, not even what might be considered a fallen angel. My heart skipped a beat. Not even my machine. I wondered if it was no longer visible because it was no longer there. I shook my head and kept walking towards the man who I assumed was he whom I had crossed centuries to meet.
“Do you not hear me? I know you in all your forms, Satan,” he continued, loud, almost echoing, which was rather scary in the desert. I looked frantically everywhere as I approached and still saw no one.
“Stop right there. Your efforts are wasted here. You cannot touch me. I know what I must do,” he said firmly, grimly. I stopped as it dawned on me that he must be talking to me.
“Are you talking to me?” I questioned more than a little confused. I’d been called a lot of things, from brilliant to lunatic; Satan was not one of them. Not even witch.
“Don’t play with me. I know your tricks. Your guises. Should I think you an innocent woman alone in the desert who just happened upon me? Perhaps you’ve just come to wash me, feed me, care for this miserable body that has been burnt by the sun these last 40 days, without significant sustenance, nor the cooling, soothing touch of water…or woman?”
I shivered. “Well, uh, I really don’t know what to say except that I am not who you think I am. My name is…”
“I care not for what name you call yourself. I know who you really are,” he snarled, inches from my face.
“But, um, sir, really, I am just a woman who has always longed to meet you, talk to you.”
“Your first mistake, Satan. I am no one, unknown. How could an innocent, young woman know anything of me were she not in possession of your knowledge? Confess. You come to tempt me, to change me from the path, the path chosen by my father for me to follow, to save men, all mankind from eternal damnation, forever absent from my father’s presence. To save them from you,” he spat out the last words.
I leaned back though I didn’t move, afraid to show my fear. His eyes were wild and red. I could count his ribs; he wore only a loincloth and his skin was burnt by the sun and crusted with dirt. If I were home, I’d look down and hurry by, assuming a recent psychiatric hospital release. But I wasn’t home.
“I know this is going to sound really crazy,” I began, “but I know you because I come from,” I hesitated then continued in a rush,” well, the future and I made a machine that allowed me to come back in time so that I might meet you. And talk to you. I wanted to hear the truths you speak as you spoke them, but I also wanted to share with you some of what is going to happen in the future in the hopes that it might, I don’t know, encourage you to do things differently, maybe…if possible.” I stopped, thinking I sounded like a recent release from the psychiatric ward, too. What had I been thinking?
He smiled an unfriendly smile that did not reach his eyes. “Is that not what you did yesterday, Satan? And all the days before? Show me with your words and pictures the wealth, the kingdoms you might offer me were I to prove myself to you, to follow you and not my father? ‘Turn this stone to bread.’ ‘Throw yourself from this height.’ ‘Kneel before me that I might give you all this, and you might be so great’,” he finished, sweeping his arms around as if presenting the desert to me.
I kept silent, thinking, well, I’m in the right time. He’s in the desert, apparently at the end of the 40 days and he probably hasn’t started seeking his disciples yet. Doesn’t quite look like what I’d expect but he probably cleans up pretty good. And anybody’d look and sound a little crazy after 40 days alone in this heat with no one around, and no food or water from what I could see. No one thinks about the details…
He laughed. “Have you given up so easily this time? I have worn you down, have I? I told you, you have no hope here. I know what I must do.” He turned from me and began to walk away.
“Wait, please! Where are you going?”
He stopped. “I don’t need to tell you. You already know.”
“May I follow you?”
He looked over his shoulder and down his nose at me. “As you wish,” he said sighing, his shoulders hunched forward. “What shall I call you, that I might not put fear in the hearts of men who hear me speak your name?
I smiled. “My name is,” I hesitated. Why had my mother been so unoriginal in naming me? At least he would not think me even more out of place. “Mary,” I finished.
He frowned, eyes hard. “So too is my mother called. You call yourself thus to soften my heart as I think tenderly upon her gentle hands and eyes. I will not kneel before you, you cannot weaken me. Leave me!”
“Please, don’t send me away. I don’t wish you to bow to me or deny your father, or your destiny, or whatever it is that is calling you. I just want to walk with you, know you. And maybe one day, tell you of what I have seen and known…if you’ll listen.
He looked at me, so intently I was sure his eyes could see my heart pounding, read my thoughts as I heard them in my head. “As you wish. It appears my father wishes to test me more. So be it.” He looked up. “As you wish,” he repeated, softly.
“Come, Mary, let us begin.”
As I drew close to him and we began to walk, I said, “If you prefer, you can call me Magdalena. It’s my middle name and that is what my mother always called me. Magda or Maggie for short.” In that instant, I sucked in my breath and covered my mouth. I turned around and knew the machine was invisible because it wasn’t there. My mentor’s name, Dr. Luciverio took on new significance as I guessed who he was and why he encouraged me so in my efforts. And why, in a way, this man before me was correct in his assumptions. What I didn’t know was what was going to happen next. That part of his story was never told, or at least it’s telling did not survive the centuries. Will it this time?
A curse passed down generations,
Through the sanctity of blood
Placed centuries ago,
A hex to last for eternity
A young girl of the family
Fated to live, and inevitably die again,
Horribly, without mercy
On a certain day,
Repeated over and over again,
Given another chance at life,
Allowed to experience its brilliance,
Only for a brief time
Suffering from the past mistakes
Of her own family,
The girl eventually fades,
Memories and love ripped away
The girl has lost count
Of all the times it's happened,
Her past lives converging
In a never-ending cycle of pain
Each time, she wonders
When will she truly
Be allowed to live
Regrets are a part of life. A life without them is impossible, let alone painful to live. Evading parts of life that are undesirable is a futile effort, and in the end, it’s not worth it.
Amma taught me that. She died young, with too many regrets to count. At least, that’s what she said.
My biggest regret, is that I never told her that I loved her. Granted, I was only 5 when her breaths faded, but old enough to say a few words. I wish I could have told her ”Amma, I love you.”
She told me so everyday, and she knew the feelings were mutual. But even then, that was something I wish I told her. She would have died in peace, knowing that she didn’t leave me alone and struggling.
And then my heartbeats waned too.
Now that we are both dead, I thought I would’ve gotten a chance to see her one more time. Maybe spend time with her. But it is not so. While I have graciously been granted another chance, she is nowhere to be seen. I will forget her once I am reborn, but I will spend every “waking” minute till then thinking about her.
Not that those minutes will last much longer.
This paper that I am writing upon, I hope it will be preserved for others to see. I don't want pity. I want them to know they are not alone. It is scary, leaving a whole life behind. But a new one stands before. And now, that must be my focus.
I am also hoping, with all my heart, Amma will see this someday.
I want you to know, Amma, I love you, and always will. I'm sorry I didn't tell you before.
I push myself
out of the thick seed.
It takes all my strength
but I am free.
Greener than spring grass
Fresher than morning dew
I am reborn
Rise, I hear the Sun say
Rise, my sapling.
"What do we all share?"
The dark room lit only by LED candles fell quiet.
"Memory." Came one voice.
"Life." Spoke another.
"Brotherhood!" Roared a woman.
The room erupted into a cheer as stomps nearly toppled the safe, flameless candles onto the carpeted floor.
At the center of the room a robed figure stood up, holding aloft a small Mag-light torch. With a tilt of the head, the hood fell back to reveal an Indian man with a sharply manscaped beard and mustache.
"Now, let us begin as one." With a clap, the lights came on to reveal a large living room and folding table covered in plastic and serving trays. The thirty men and women gathered around quickly rolled up their robe sleeves and began loading plates with food, chatting softly as they dug in.
"Special thanks to Epiktetos for the tamales tonight - excellent as always!" The leader called out over the horde as another cheer caused a middle-aged Latina woman sitting on the couch to blush modestly. Hungry hands quickly finished their gathering and the group quieted as they took their seats in the circle of assembled furniture.
"Now, first order of business - congratulations to our local bowling team for another victory in the regionals! At this rate I'm sure Atticus and Dareios will lead our boys to a national victory this year!" A quiet round of applause greeted this announcement. "Also, congratulations are in order for Timotheos, who expects her third child this year and has already saved enough money for her first born's college tuition - excellent work!" More woots and cheers all around.
"Moving on to new business." Adjusting his glasses, the leader read from his notes. "I understand the Lutheran Home Owners Association has resisted our advance on the dog breed ordinance for the third time." Quieting the jeers and boos, he continued. "We understand our canine companions should be judged by their actions, not their visage, yet these suburbanites continue to base their decisions on outdated stereotypes. Needless to say the Lutheran HOA is a key hurdle to our campaign to increase adoptions for Maximus's 'Pitty Party' organization."
A skinny black man in dark rimmed glasses raised his hand. The leader nodded back as he rose and replied, "Our Pitty Party no kill shelter has proven, time and again, that breed does not define the dog. We have a 100% record of safety with our rescues, and our rehabilitation team has successfully placed over 124 dogs this year alone. Our cause is just, and we will succeed." A roar of approval followed as he sat back down.
"Well spoken, Brother Maximus. What say we? Ideas on how to best this foe?"
A hand raised as a quiet Korean woman spoke up softly, "If it is a question of insurance, who represents their interests on this matter? I have a nephew at State Farm, perhaps he can provide guidance on a more lenient policy."
"I imagine the insurance excuses a darker prejudice," gruffed an older man seated in a recliner, his orthopedic shoes shining in the overhead fluorescence. "You know the HOA committee leader, Margaret, keeps only Labradoodles."
A murmur of agreement wafted through the crowd as the leader raised his arms up for quiet again. "Margaret Bennett, yes we know her. Who has a connection to this woman? Perhaps that should be our target."
A small, plump woman with curly grey hair raised an enthusiastic hand. "We have a quilting circle, where she is our co-chair. I would gladly lead a scout team, Leonidas and I both attend regularly." She fist bumped a fellow stout woman with dark skin and multi-colored extensions sitting next to her on fabric folding chairs.
"Excellent suggestion - might I recommend Leonidas' biscuits and your own home brew sweet tea as openers, Bartus? Report back next week on your progress, keep notes as well."
Leonidas piped up, "Wait, next week?"
"Correct," the leader paused and cleared his throat. "Which leads me to our other order of business - we have a serious matter to attend to, brothers." With a grave expression he held up a flyer.
Brightly colored words on a multi-colored background announced, "CITY COUNCIL ELECTIONS - VOTE LOCAL!"
A collective groan swept the room. Several objections rose and the leader had to hush the crowd. "I know none of us enjoy the political spotlight, but this is serious business. We've managed to hold a slim majority on the current council seats, but our grasp is tenuous at best. New residents from the city have attracted more attention with their urge to urbanize and add more farmer's markets."
"Organic food wastes precious land!" A middle-aged man with bright freckles and a crop of red hair shook his head, his curls bouncing like carrot shavings. "There's no proven benefit, this is fear mongering by elites who can afford to pay premiums for half-sized cucumbers!"
"Regardless, we must remain open to their concerns and try to compromise. If we are seen as outdated or overly conservative in any way our positions will be jeopardized. A few extra farmer's markets won't hurt, and we're still supporting local businesses."
"But at what cost to the environment, hmm?" Turning even redder, he threw his hands up in the air. "Or is that an issue for the cities to deal with?"
"One hurdle at a time, Marcus."
Marcus sat back down.
"Now, I need everyone running this year to submit their campaign platforms by next Friday. My son has graciously volunteered to update the local community center website with an elections page detailing each candidate and their positions. Remember to stick to brief bullet points, firm but bi-partisan. Does anyone need help with theirs this year?"
The responding wave of mutters suggested many did, but would rather not.
"Remember - retaining our control over Haven is paramount to our survival as a legion. For generations, this place has provided a beacon to our souls, drawing us together from all corners of the earth, so we may do battle once more. Shield to shield, sword to sword. Without continued acceptance, and access to this community's positions of power and influence, our ability to rejoin our brethren may be lost for all the ages."
The muttering died down as the importance of their mission lay plain.
The leader nodded. "Good. I know each of us has sacrificed much to this family. We have walked many paths, spoken many languages, and loved many sons and daughters. Yet the strongest bond we have is to each other. Remember," he caught the crowd's eyes "what do we share?"
"Memory." Came Marcus.
"Life." Spoke Maximus.
"Brotherhood!" Roared Leonidas and Bartus in unison.
The room cheered loudly, banging porcelain mugs and aluminum cans on any available end table. The din continued until a sudden rap on the wall.
In the doorway to the living room stood a tall teenage girl in short-shorts and a t-shirt. She stared at the room, her brows furrowed. "Dad?"
"Yes, sweetie?" Their leader's tone and accent suddenly changed, falling back into a more familiar timbre.
"What are you all doing?"
Everyone fell silent, stuffing food into their guilty mouths. Nonplussed, their leader walked over and put an arm around his daughter.
"Just a town hall meeting, honey. For the upcoming city council election. You know civic pride is important to me, yes?"
She eyed him suspiciously. "This is like...over the top, though."
He changed the subject, his tone growing more cool. "Don't you have a trig test tomorrow? Have you studied all the material? Last time you barely got a B-."
Scoffing, she rolled her eyes. "Dad, that test was rigged. Mr. Nichols grades on a bell curve, nobody even does that anymore. It's like, un-democratic."
A soft chuckle stirred the room, but then hushed. Their leader led his daughter to the stairs.
"We'll be done in a little bit. Go try another practice test and I'll come grade it later, okay?"
"Fine." The angry teenager trudged up the steps, still giving sidelong glances at the room full of people. They waited, quietly, until she departed. At last their leader let out a deep breath.
"Alright," he said, turning back to the room. "Now, who wants to share their platform?"
A collective groan filled the small space as the debate continued into the late Wednesday evening.
In one of my past lives, I was born in a small kingdom in Central Asia. Since then, the map has changed so much that it is not even realistic to try to connect that old kingdom to the current nation.
I was the only child. Following our family roots, I became a shepherd. As a young boy, I used to go around helping my father take care of the herd. When I was ten, he suddenly fell seriously ill. I assumed control of the herd and in an awkward way my family, too. My mother was very hard-working; she used to help me with my herd as much as she could. I was not very good at taking care of the newborns, so they were my mother’s responsibility. My mother took care of them as if they were human babies. She never short-changed them from their mothers’ milk.
While growing up, I really did not have any sense of rich and poor. The other families in our village were in a similar economic condition. We lived by trading our products. We got our food and clothing by trading our goat and sheep milk. The winter season was rough. The herd could not graze, so I had to go to a nearby village to get their special winter feed. We had a stream going through our village. Since we all drank the water from the stream, we were not allowed to bathe the herd there. During the grazing season, I took my herd to a small lake down the hill.
Our village was surrounded by beautiful rolling hills. Because of the low-rise soft green vegetation, we called them the Velvet Mountains. In late spring, they looked as if they were laden with real hand-crafted exotic velvets. We celebrated the advent of the spring with a gala festival. People from far and wide would come to the festival with colorful new commodities to trade. I used to wait all year long for the festival. It was a joyous moment for all of us.
I would take the herd up the hills in the morning, spend the day there and get back at dusk. That was my daily routine. Of course, I was aided by my two sheep dogs. They used to save me a lot of aggravation by running around and keeping the herd together. They were such a great help! They ate what I ate, so my mother packed enough food for all three of us. After lunch, they would run down to the stream for a drink of water and then immediately run back up the hills as if they were the flat lands. They knew they had their work cut out for them. They had no time to fool around with other neighborly dogs.
After my father got sick, he would stay home. He could not walk up the hills. He needed some special herbs and oils to treat his illness. Every now and then I would go to the village quack to trade milk for my father’s herbs and oils. The quack was mean and ugly, but we all needed him. My parents were very soft and kind people. I never saw them argue. In fact, my father accepted whatever my mother suggested. Our neighbors used to say that my parents’ match was made in heaven. Other villagers often came to my father to settle disputes. In return, they would later drop off some fresh produce. That came in handy during the winter. My mother would feed the excess produce to the herd. That saved me many trips around the village. I disliked unnecessarily running around in cold weather. Some winters were literally brutal. The trimmer would come in summer to trim the herd and bring back the wool in fall. My mother then made all kinds of colorful woolen outfits for us. She would also put something together for the little ones in the herd.
My best friend was Maher, the shepherd of another herd. In fact, she was my only friend. She was a fairy tale girl. She would go around and dance with her herd all day long. The dogs would follow her around as if they were also participating in her dance. She was very fond of the little ones in her herd. Sometimes she would round up all the little ones from both herds and teach them to dance along with her. The little ones would fall on each other, get up and again follow her around. It was a spectacular sight. She was never tired, never unhappy. I learned to compose songs and sing – perhaps that was the only talent God had given me. We gradually became very fond of each other. She loved to hear me sing. And I loved to see her dance. In the midst of our song and dance, the day would simply fly. We were the two happiest beings on earth.
I thought the mountains also loved having her. At dusk, while dancing down the narrow roads, she would zigzag from one edge to the other. Her hands would go up and down, hair bouncing and flora flapping all over her face. From the top of the mountains, she looked like an angel leading the way. After reaching the bottom of the mountains, she would look back at the mountains and throw her hands up to say ‘good night.’ At that very moment, even the mountains looked melancholic; as if they did not want their princess to leave.
One spring, we were getting ready to celebrate the annual festival. We all had to chip in to make it a success. My job was to get water from the stream. To keep the morning crowd happy, I had to fetch water at night too. Maher used to give me a hand in carrying the buckets up. It was a full-moon night. Maher and I were walking down the hills towards the stream. She looked as beautiful as ever. I asked her if I could hold her hand. She reacted, “You are not supposed to hold my hand. My mom said I am a grown up girl now.” I refrained.
One year our village went through a terrible ordeal. A severe stomach disease broke out and in matter of weeks it wiped out many people, of all ages. Our family was unaffected, but Maher got very sick. Her condition steadily deteriorated to a point when even the quack asked her mother to be ready for the inevitable. During that time I used to take care of her herd and visited her every evening. She looked increasingly pale. I tried to cheer her up, but she was way too weak to respond. I was frightened inside, but did not let her know. One morning I went to get her herd. Her mother came out and said to me, “She asked for some milk today.” After that, she gradually recovered. The quack called it a miracle.
Once she started to feel better, she came back with her herd. I could see the joy not only in the eyes of the herd, but it was as if the mountains, the trees, the birds and the beasts also rejoiced. Their princess was back. Perhaps I was the happiest of all. I was delighted to get back to our fairy tale life. When she was ill, I composed a couple of new songs for her. I was getting better at it too. She loved my new songs. She danced along. I could see, she had regained her glow, her spontaneity. I could not thank the Lord enough for sparing her life.
One morning, as I was getting ready to take the herd out my mother came out and asked me to sit down by her. I was a bit surprised. She started, “Son, Maher is not going to be out with her herd anymore. Please do not try to meet her.” I asked why. She continued, “The Prince from the Kingdom has decided to marry her.” I was stunned. “Did she agree to marry him too?” I asked. My mother stood up and said, “No. But that does not matter. Nobody disobeys the royal family. Again, please do not try to reach her. We will all be burnt alive. I understand your emotions, but you will get over. Time heals.” For a while, I felt numb. I was in a state of disbelief. Then I picked myself up and walked off with the herd.
As I was walking up the mountain roads, I could see her dancing, her hands going up and down, hair bouncing, and flora flapping all over her face. Upon reaching the top of the mountain, I sat down. I started to feel very lonely. I wondered if I would ever see her again. Suddenly, tears started to come out of my eyes like a fountain. My dogs were also very quiet. They knew something was terribly wrong with me. They started licking my face and neck to make me feel good. I hugged them and then broke down in tears. I felt as if the sky was coming down on me. The little ones were running all around. I knew they were looking for her. They kept coming back and staring at me. I tried to tell them that their princess was gone. Forever!
That evening when I returned home, my father called me in his room. He hugged me and said, “I know what you are going through. I deeply sympathize with you. But our hands are tied. I wish there was a way. None. Just none. Don’t do anything silly. They will hunt you down and they will kill us, too.” I accepted.
Soon they were married. She was not allowed to visit her parents. No one was ready to talk about her. I went on with my daily routine. I tried not to think about her.
A few years later, one morning there was loud knock on our front door. I saw two dressed up men. My father said they were the royal guards and they wanted to talk to me. I was scared to death. They asked me to come with them. I could not ask why. My parents stood still. I followed them into a carriage and the horses set out. After two days we reached the palace where the king and the queen lived. I felt completely out of place there. I had not seen anything like that before. All men were dressed up in funny clothes. The guards took me to a room inside the palace. Before leaving, they asked me to wear the new clothes kept on the bed. Someone brought some food for me. I was in no mood for food. I was thinking of my parents. I knew they would be worried to death, yet I had nobody to talk to.
The guards came back and asked me to follow them. We walked through a long hall and then crossed a vast courtyard. We finally arrived at the dome where the King spent the day. We all walked up to the King and saluted him. The King greeted us and then said to me, “I heard you are a great singer. Queen Maher wants to learn music from you.” In a trembling voice, I replied, “Your Majesty, I do not know anything about music. I just learned to sing some street songs. You must be thinking of some other person. I am totally unqualified.” The King remarked, “But Queen Maher has a very high opinion of your talent. You will be working with her every evening. She will tell you what she needs. You will be gainfully provided for. And your parents and the herd will also be taken care of.” The King left. I wanted to run back to my regular life, but there were guards all around.
The next evening the guards took me to an exquisite room in the garden. The room had a gorgeous dome of colorful glasses. I was asked to sit on a large cushion on the floor. It was so clean and beautiful that I was very uncomfortable to step in. Suddenly I heard a loud holler from outside, “Her Highness Queen Maher is here. All rise.” I stood up. Queen Maher walked in and sat in front of me. The guards closed the doors and stayed in by the doors. As I saluted her, she saluted me back saying, “Teacher, thank you for accepting my request. However, I apologize for the circumstances.” I was scared to look at her. I kept staring at the dome. She remarked, “I want to refine my dexterity in dancing. I will dance to your songs.” She asked the guards to leave the room. They left the room, but kept the doors wide open. She then asked me to sing one of the songs I composed for her during her illness. I had not sung in years. I was quite rusty. I knew I had no choice, so I started. In a little while, I regained my old momentum. She also looked stunningly beautiful in her regal outfit and striking ornaments. She danced around the room. She had not lost her old touch. It was a magnificent scene. We went on for a while when a young lady walked in and reminded the Queen that it was getting late and the King was waiting.
One night, in the middle of a song, the Queen suddenly stopped and sat down. She looked very tired. I wanted to call it a night and leave the room. She looked at me and said, “Can you please call me Maher? Just once. I will never ask you again.” I was terrified. She insisted. I kept ignoring. She lost control and raised her voice, “For old time’s sake, why can’t you please me once?” The guards rushed in. Someone hit me brutally on my head.
When I regained conscious, I found myself lying down on a pool of blood in a dark cell.
Days went by. I had no contact with the outside world. I did not see any sunlight. It felt like ages. My body was getting eaten up by the insects. I knew my days were numbered. One day two guards suddenly opened the cell door and ordered me out. I was too weak to act. They carried me out. I was not used to the sunlight, so my eyes were blinded. They put me on a horse cart and drove me to a playground. I was made to sit in front some wise-looking people. Behind them, the King and the Queen were sitting in a decorated podium. One of the wise-looking men pointed at me and yelled, “You prisoner, we are here to decide your fate. You have committed a crime against the King and the Kingdom. Above all, you have violated our beloved Queen. Do you understand?” I had nothing to say. I did not care to answer. Another man shouted, “Do you understand, prisoner?” As I was getting restless in pain, one of them again pointed at me and asked me to stand up. Then he said, “We have reached our verdict. Do you understand?” I nodded again. Then he read the verdict, “You will be stoned by the people until death.” I sat there like a stone. In fact, I was happy to get the death sentence. I was tired of rotting in that cell and getting eaten away by the insects. I just wished it was a little less violent and painful. “Do you have anything to say about our verdict?” asked one of them. In my weak voice I said, “Yes.” I then continued, “What is the crime?” I was immediately thrown back on the horse cart. A loud laughter followed.
I was waiting for my execution. Nobody was ready to talk to me. One day, after throwing the food on the floor, the guard told me that my death sentence was reduced to a life in the prison. I was very unhappy. I could not bear the suffering anymore. Time passed and I was getting weaker by the day. I slept most of the time. Even the guard’s presence hardly woke me up. I started vomiting blood frequently. I realized I was very close to death.
“His Majesty wants to see you,” the guard said. He then picked me up on his shoulder and took me inside the palace. He placed me by a bed. The King was lying down on the bed. The King then slowly held my hand and said, “My dear singer, please sing a song for me.” I realized he was in his death bed, too. So I did not want to deprive him of his last pleasure. I struggled for a while to get some air in my lungs. Then I started singing one of his very favorite songs. I saw a smile in his face. Half-way through the song, his hand separated. I also could not carry on any longer. My head dropped. My hands were laid still, circling his feet. I heard a whisper, “The King was slowly poisoned.” I could smell some fresh flowers. I tried to open my eyes bigger to see the Queen one last time. I could not.
Someone softly closed my eye-lids. Someone who perhaps cared…
Suddenly it was bright. Very bright. I could see everything clearly. I was sitting under a tree and singing on the Velvet Mountains. Maher was dancing to my songs. I kept staring at her. She was blushing. I could see some tears in her eyes. The little ones from our herds were chasing her. Her hands were going up and down, hair bouncing, and flora flapping all over her face. She started dancing down the mountain, leading the way like an angel.
Again, it turned dark. Very dark.