by Mehreen Ahmed
Her name was Andromeda. She swam on satin water. Lapped up in silk, her mind was restive. Her thoughts were agile but discrete and non-linear. Absorbed in her musings, her dreams were clear. She swam in them, out of her depths, just as well, they kept coming back. Braided in and out, oscillating and edgy, they chased her almost inconsequentially. In a way her swim impeded, these half-formed thoughts, writ on water’s hem.
In the aftermath of the war, random bodies floated. Down by the stream which eucalyptus skin coated. Covered by stringy barks, pale faces were spotted. The enemy gloated; bodies were quite bloated. Marked with agony, of the swollen bodies, some eyes shut, peculiarly, some were still open. Her focus turned in a moment.
She sat next to her mother. They chatted in an oval room, mother and daughter. Her mother looked fresh and young, way back, a maiden. Andromeda was born much later.
She asked, “Where have you been all this time?”
“I had been out to a conference,” her mother replied.
“How did it all go?”
Her mother answered, “Very good. All was good.”
“Ah, but I missed you. I really did.”
Her mother smiled. Father entered the room. His handsome face was radiant, the atmosphere lightened. Mother rose to offer him her chair. But father took a stool, sturdy and bare. Father died nearly a decade ago, Andromeda thought, in retrospect. The room darkened. Over the water, bold and low, fluttered a lorikeet, a flying rainbow. It seemed it was going to gouge her eyes. But the sprightly bird frolicked, passed her elbow.
The neighbour, who like a father, died indeed. She went to his funeral with a wreath. Then he dropped by to meet her that night, this reverie, held her chest tight. When she asked him, “Have you seen God?”
“No,” he replied. “This, a silent place. Where am I? This present moment. Vast and void, this light space offers no air. Did I die? Am I really dead?”
“No God, then?” she asked.
“Where is He? He hasn’t come to meet me, yet,” said the respondent.
“Do you miss us?” she had asked.
Tears in her dreams, she felt surreal.
“Yes, I miss your aunty,” he answered, then he vaporised like a collapsed star.
A fusion of elements, hydrogen and helium, led to the birth of a cosmic star. The helium ran out. Star collapsed. He collapsed. She saw the neighbour, driving his car; through the suburbs of his choice, with his wife, whom he referred to as aunty. The chemicals conferred. An accident occurred. He died. Of her dreams. Finite lives made of infinite gasses. Of the cosmos, of the elements, life perished. Andromeda contemplated, the stuff of life. This precious breath, did it not live outside the orbit of death? Helium and hydrogen, oxygen, iron, and zinc.
Mountain passes were rugged. She walked through the terrain. A storm picked up, she looked for a spot. She found a cave. In the dark shelter, she sat amidst litter. Lightning fell outside. That creepy light opened her mind to shadows below. She was not alone; somebody there. In a flash, the shadow disappeared. She was out of her wits. She tried to sleep. Just when she saw some cave paintings. On the wall, they looked ancient. And they were ancient. In a bit, she saw a little boy. A broken charcoal in his hand, he sketched stirring stories, like the fall of Troy. He lit a small fire. Lights emanating from the fire helped, this sentient boy, to see better. He drew stick figures of many shapes and sizes: tall, short, men, women, and children. It was almost dark, on the rugged wall, shape of the boy silhouetted in the moonlight. Floodlights in the dark cave, paintings of tall tales, some washed up partly in the rain. Segment of a story, like this painting of an alley, people walked through with missing hands or hair. Many even defaced, in the falling rain. Colours ran down the leaves of trees, and turned them into lighter shades of green. Pure paintings filled the dingy walls, and onto the floor, some scribbles crawled.
Gallows hung without much peruse. Kings devised a horrendous ruse. Spilled blood into the soil to infuse. Children sacrificed, for fertility of the soils, far better use. Heavy harvest at stake, people kept quiet, no one to refuse. Little boys to be taken, gods to be appeased. Tell-tale signs of ominous days. The King’s men marched, and dragged the boy away. Off to the gallows. Off with his head. The artist, little boy, torn to shreds. In white loincloth, wrapped around his waist, the boy’s gaping horror, clouded his face. His small hands trembled. She looked through a portal. Tears, and cries of the innocent sacrifice. No one took pity at the bloody altar. Wounds remained unaltered. Cosmic parameter, a stern factor.
Flashbacks played wistful memories. She lay on a beach, a mere bystander. A silent witness to the many silken dreams, lovers entwined a beautiful beginning. Sunken sands, in waxed moonlight. Of the mandala, an ephemera, imperfect finale of the drama; done and redone until time had spoken, given up on the beach, a part of resurrection. In the hours all became sand, quintessentially minuscule, and indestructible. In the heart of it, each wave flow, atom of H2O.
Over those swelling waves, she boarded a pirate ship. And saw a thousand vessels, a war imminent. On the horizon, a ship appeared like a phantom. A skeleton of a ship, spectacularly luminous, shone in the lantern. There was a gunshot fire. She was hit. Oh! It hurt! She was hurt. She felt the pain of the gunshot. But she lived. She saw ships pass by, while her own cruised towards the nearest beach; sea-gulls, scoured the skies. Sands, the most wondrous, where monks built palaces, and played Kings and Queens. Of a greater imagination, ruled by them, the three Moirae sisters. Monks made mandalas, painstakingly intricate, human history and destiny pleached. Giant pyramids erected with care, and the Taj-Mahal, the great Ozymandias. The King of Kings, his life-sized statue pitched on the beach. Immortalised in the scroll, the statue awash, the mandala destroyed, flattened to the ground.
The hollow sand; into the sand, she buried her legs deep to the waist. A hybrid formed of part sand and part flesh. At its best, a mermaid tail; she lay half covered under the clay. High on her imagination, her dreams displayed, decrepit old castles’, windows’ deep splays. Such was the beach, on the edge of which the tireless seas creased. Where romantics rode unicorns, nomads wild horses, Homer, churned verses, now deplete.
Time’s most valued gift offerings to gods, watched this once how their altars burnt? Stars burnt out. The sun burnt. This gleaming altar made out of gold; plush gold clouds, nestled the thrones. A toy boat marooned, on gold-plaited sheet, uncertain of directions, an aluminium plate; hot liquid gold, poured into the mould, this sea basin, replete to the brim. Gods’ own altar, never to erode, shimmering and sure, until pilgrims came home.
Andromeda swam, a big hand bagged a snake. There was a man though towards dawn. He told her this, expressed a wish that he wanted to leave, to be born again.
“Born again?” she asked.
“Yes, that is possible,” he said.
“Impossible. Because in order for you to remain what you are, you need genes from both parents.”
“It is possible, though,” the man said.
“What about your wife?”
“What about her?”
“Does she have a say in any of this?” she asked.
The wife loomed. But she didn’t seem to mind. She heard his desire. So, she did not hinder.
On a fevered night, in one short month, the man left for a forest, of illuminated fireflies. The blue forest sparkled, a pathway was strewn, with sprinklings of fire ubiquitously flown. Around tall trees and slim short bushes, he walked alone through a lucid forest. A forest transformed into a conduit, this hermit of a man, roamed its bended unit. Reincarnation on his mind, soul in another body, stars in the sky, twinkled a smile.
Here she was, with this lady in white, appeared in her dream, that’s how it transpired. Some syringes in her hand, wet lips in betel juices, glowing with health, she stood at her bed. Holding them out, those long syringes, she knocked into her some worldly senses.
“Your mother’s injections.”
The lady vanished. Her mother had run out of insulin, and was on the brink of a disaster. The lady had come to tell her this, to ask her if, she could get her some insulin. Andromeda’s grandmother, this dear lady, kind and Godly, rests now sadly. The silken waters blanketed her skin. Her swimming undeterred, held her by a spell. This undying chemical, once produced within her organ, the failing pancreas, now injected for survival.
“I’ve come to say goodbye,” it seemed he taunted. She looked at her brother, then understood his intent. Upon waking, she found to be true, that this saintly priest had passed away too. This dreamland, not entirely unreal, of sense perceptions, a world parallel. Sights sounds and smell, shaped up to be real, pain compounded a curious blend.
Disjointed thoughts came to pass. Mesmerising chimera seeped. Tantalising glimpse, of enormous replica, as shaded entity. Who’s to know, what’s with the truth, this wakeful life of actuality? A dream within a dream; doll within a doll, within a doll, the picture awry, always off limit. That cave painting in the rain, defaced people walked up the streets, the greens washed off. Water dribbled over, of a partial reality, conceived by this artist in utter antipathy.
Such fragmented cognisance, manifold layered dream, alluded to allegory of the cave theme. Half a dream, a broken thought, the unfinished story, manifested to Plato’s shadow reality. This palpable existence, transcended truth, hinged on puppeteers beyond familiar scope. Answered with certitude, flung within the stars, lay a larger image, the fate of the universe. The long and short of it, dismantle the stars, dismantle Leda, a sense of foreboding descended upon Andromeda. For, “It is the stars, the stars alone, that govern our condition,” Shakespeare foretold.
Mehreen Ahmed is an award-winning, internationally published, and critically acclaimed MBR author. She has written Novels, Novellas, Short Stories, Creative Non-fiction, Flash Fiction, Prose Poetry, Memoirs, Essays, and Academic and Journalistic Write-Ups. Her works have been podcast, anthologised, and translated in German, Greek, and Bengali. She has two masters’ degrees and a bachelor’s (Hon) in English Literature and Linguistics from the University of Queensland and Dhaka University. She was born and raised in Bangladesh. At the moment, she lives in Australia.