Saturday, 30 March 2013

The Missing Heart

The Missing Heart - Image courtesy of Andrew Moore

The King woke up one morning to find his heart had gone missing. 

It had sprung from his chest at night, noiselessly in the din of his snores, snuck down his bed and across the thickly carpeted floor like a thief, jumped out the window throwing caution to the wind, and scuttered into the woods as if running for dear life.

That was the version of events that the king shared with the royal court that morning (leaving out the bit on snoring). Truth be told, he simply did not know when and how and to where his heart had fled. But he could not bring himself to admit his baffled ignorance to his subjects, and so it was a concocted little tale that he shared instead.

Mortified that his heart had skedaddled, he called upon his commander-in-chief to lead a fourth of the royal troops into the forest at once. “Bring me back the traitor,” he bellowed. “He can’t have gone very far, the little imbecile.”

Days went by without any word from his men. After what seemed like aeons only a handful of soldiers returned empty-handed and addle-brained, muttering incoherently of terrible loss and unspeakable danger in the woods. “Off with their heads,” hollered the heartless king and sent them marching to the guillotine.

He then commanded a third of his remaining troops to comb through the kingdom. “Leave no house unsearched, no corner unexamined,” he thundered.

The soldiers rummaged through homes and shops, markets and fields, gardens and streets. Walls were broken down, roofs were torn apart, the earth was dug into, birds’ nests were ripped apart, wine barrels were struck open, crops were pulled out by the roots. 

When the heart made no appearance, what began as a hunt soon devolved into plunder and pillage. For fear of losing their heads, the king’s men sacked the city and made off with their loot to the neighbouring kingdom. Infuriated, the monarch sent half of his remaining troops in pursuit of the defectors. 

The rest of the king’s soldiers remained in position, awaiting his orders, when one of them, a young pursuivant, piped up, “Has it crossed anyone’s mind at all that the king’s castle ought to be searched too?”
His comrades quickly shushed him. 
“Have you taken leave of your senses, young man?”
“But think about it. This is the only place left untouched in the entire kingdom.”
“You may be right, my man. But what if you are caught? Do you want your head to roll off that guillotine like a pebble down the hill?”
“If the heart is not found, we will all meet that fate sooner or later,” the pursuivant sighed. “What kind of a heart is it that does not want to live with its master?” he mused.
“Perhaps it was a good heart.” 
“Too good for His Majesty.”

Before long, the soldiers had made up their minds to sneak into the palace and look for the heart every night. They searched room after room painstakingly, taking care to put everything back in its place lest any suspicions should be aroused. But their quest was in  vain. A search of the queen’s chamber too failed to yield the heart. “Pity, he had never really given her his heart,” someone observed.

On the last night of the search, when His Majesty had joined his wife in her room, the pursuivant made his way to the king’s chamber. Moonlight bathed the room in eerie silver. His heart thumped with misgiving and he could swear he was being watched by unseen eyes crouching in the shadows. He took a deep breath, and ploughed on, first checking under the bed, then in the drapes of the curtains, and in the motes of dust that floated in the moonlight. 

Once more his search proved futile and he slumped out of the chamber, head hanging low, now mulling the possibility of handing over his heart to the king if only to save his compatriots from the guillotine. Lost in thoughts, he ran into a wall. He backed a little and turned left to look for a way out and found himself facing the king.

“Your Majesty,” shrieked the pursuivant, and jumped back in fright. So did the king. 
The officer quickly bowed and let loose a profusion of apologies. The king responded with silence. The officer finally mustered enough courage to look up, and saw the king staring back, bent in a half bow.
Our little spy slowly straightened himself and stood hesitantly. His hand crept to his chest and patted his thumping heart, wondering what to do next.
The king stood up too, hand on chest, lost in thoughts.
Was this some kind of joke, the officer wondered, but the king remained where he was.
That is when the pursuivant noticed the king was dressed in a tabard in faded red emblazoned on the front with the royal coat of arms, not unlike his own outfit.
A thought took seed in his mind. He stepped forward. When he was close enough, he held out his hand, palm facing the king’s. Their fingertips touched each other’s through the wall of glass. The officer then smashed his fist through the glass and retrieved the king’s heart from the mirror. 

“Why here?” he asked.
“A vain man’s heart finds refuge in his mirror, the only place he cannot bring himself to destroy,” came the reply.

The following morning, the king was a changed man. Humble and noble, he set about restoring his kingdom, looking to his heart for counsel every now and then. 

As for the pursuivant, he was never to be seen again. Some claimed that he had to give himself up to the mirror. Some others swore they saw him at the break of dawn slinking out of the kingdom carrying two sackfuls of gold and a broken mirror.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

A Glimpse into the Future

A Glimpse into the Future - Image adapted from Mailbox App

Later today you will set aside a moment to begin taking stock of your life. All your pain, real and imagined. All your hopes, lost and never found. Relationships that strolled out the window and threw themselves over the edge. The troubling ones that lingered. 

No, say not to me you do not have your fair share of loss, else you wouldn’t be here now seeking a counsel and a cure.

This evening you will sever a relationship. Which one, I am unable to see, as you are yet to make up your mind. A walk in the moonlight will give you the courage you need tonight. 

Tomorrow, as you sip your morning tea, swirling it in your mouth, feeling and tasting the brew like you have never done before, daybreak will begin to dispel the illusions of the night. What seemed courageous at night will appear foolhardy in the morning. And the first strand of doubt will begin to creep into your mind. 

This weekend, you will go over the same ground several times. Did you or did you not do the right thing? The questions never changing even when phrased differently. The answers, always the same. 

But time tends to quell doubts, so by next week you will have convinced yourself this was how things were meant to be, and that you had no other choice.

In a month’s time you will have forgotten most things. About him. About yourself. Life will see to that.

Until someday you bump into each other again, perhaps on the sidewalk, or in a dream or a nightmare. Some scars run deep. And the memories will come flooding back. The crinkles around his eyes, the melody of his voice, his laughter, the way you twirled your fingers in his hair, how his breath mingled with yours to create a flurry of lovers’ air. 

And you will come back full circle, setting aside a moment to take stock of your life again. 

And the next time you seek a counsel and a cure, you will pick a better date to approach me. And I will foretell happier endings.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

All in a Year's Work

All in a Year's Work - Image courtesy of iCal

All months were born equal. The circle of the earth around the sun was divided into twelfths and each month received an equal slice. 

Until December stirred up a commotion one day when he declared he felt outdone by January because everyone spends most of December looking forward to the New Year. 

Poppycock, retorted January. This was utter nonsense, she remarked, and said that in fact people love December because he has Christmas and most of the year-end holidays all to himself - “He sits on the best days of the year like a fat broody hen” were the exact words she used - and that when she finally arrives on the scene, the celebrations have all but come to an end. 

“And since we are on the topic,” January continued, “I ought to remark that it is I who must feel threatened.” Not that she did, she hastened to add, but if any month could be permitted to feel woeful about his or her lot, it was her, she claimed. Everyone begins the year on a high note and it takes them only a single month, which regrettably is January, to fall back to reality with a thud, she said and banged her delicate fist on the table for effect. “Show me one person who has spoken a true word on the last night of December,” she challenged, as if it were all his fault that she started with a bang and ended with a whimper. 

She turned an oblong face towards February and pointed a slender manicured finger at him, demanding he put his pennyworth in. Now February was a lovely child and he preferred to steer clear of any conflicts that erupted among his clan. But he was especially fond of December, who resembled a pot-bellied pipe-smoking Santa himself, and equally intimidated by January who was still glaring at him through her lorgnette.

February cleared his throat and said, “I don’t quite see the point of your dispute. As for myself, I am perfectly content with the present state of affairs. With Cupid playing tricks, everyone seems to have a jolly good time.”

“Spoken so truly like someone in love, foolish and irrational,” dismissed January coolly.

“I think that’s true for me too,” piped up March. “Not the foolish bit but the happiness part of it. I put the spring in everyone’s step,” he said. Think of it, he went on, the world passes through an equipoise in March. “I tame the endless nights of winter to make way for the vernal freshness of April,” he puffed his chest.

“To be fair, March,” interrupted September, “That is not a specialty unique to you. That is precisely what I do when it is my turn in the bottom half of the world.”

“That hardly merits any argument,” huffed December. “It is not merely you September, we all lead dual lives. Shall we stick to our conventional roles for the sake of this discussion? When you think of Christmas, what comes to mind first - snow or beach weather?”

September acquiesced in silence. December gestured to April who then spoke up gently. “To be honest, I am often confused about my place in the scheme of things,” she said. “Am I spring or am I summer? Or am I to adapt myself to the whims and caprices of each year as it comes?”

A profound silence enveloped the room. December looked benevolently at dainty little April, her eyes blue as freshly laundered skies. Even January’s face softened a little but she caught herself lest the others should misconstrue her expression as a change of heart. “Are you unhappy with the situation, April?” she asked.

“Oh no no, January,” April laughed. “It was just a thought. And with March and May by my side, I am never lost. I turn to them whenever in doubt. And looking on the brighter side,” she continued, “I begin on a hilariously tricksy note, don’t I? Anyway, don’t you worry about me. I was merely taking stock of my life. Like all of us are doing.”

January remained quiet. 
December cleared his throat. 
Time halted for an indecipherable moment.

A wisp of doubt began to form in April’s mind. “That is what we are doing, aren’t we? Weighing up our lot in life?” she queried.

“Uh, yes-yes,” December said and with a hasty wave of his hand passed the oratorial baton to May. 

May dragged on her cigarette deeply and with a bored look on her face said, “You can call me spring, you can call me summer, you can call me whateva you like baby. All Aa know is this. Ma job is to let the su-uhn shine. You know what I’m sayin’?”

She drew on the white stick again, the mentholated flavour forming clouds of ice in her mouth which she puffed away in thick rings. “Some like it hot, some ain’t gonna like it hot,” she resumed. “So Aa let the sunny boy do as he pleases. If he’s gat bones to pick with someone, Aa say to him - Give it to ‘em baby. You know what I’m sayin’?” 

“Aa ain’t got no identity crisis and all like little April here,” she patted April on the head. “But Aa am touched by your loyalty, little sistah. Anytime you gat a problem, you come to me. Don’t you go running nowhere else. You know what I’m sayin’?”

January barged in on May’s monologue. “Yes, yes May, we know what you’re sayin’,” she said in mock imitation. May winked at April and retreated into the recesses of her mind, wearing a nonchalant look on her face and breathing out puffs of silvery smoke. 

The attention turned to June. “There is a reason I have the longest days in the year,” June said crisply. She took turns to look everyone in the eye as she spoke. “It is so that we have time to do more, accomplish more. Not sit around a table talking absolute, inconsequential drivel,” she snapped and glared straight into January’s eyes. 

July intervened almost immediately. “Dear folks, please allow me to apologise,” he began. “You must forgive my twin sister. She has had too much on her mind lately, what with people moping about in the realization that half the year has flown by, perhaps the best half of the year,” he said and immediately won a gracious smile from April and even January allowed herself a little blush that flamed her cheeks. August and September snorted, December narrowed his blue eyes under thick, busy eyebrows, which July ignored. The majority were swept up in his flamboyant charm. “As for myself,” he continued in a pretence of humility, “I am merely here to remind people not all is lost with the end of June. Come to July, is what I say.”

“Every court needs its jester,” December muttered to himself, then raised his tone before any eyebrows shot up. “Very well July. Now August, surely you will have more fascinating things to say. Some more fascinating things, I mean,” he added with a twinkle in his eyes.

“If you are referring to the multitude of personas I hide within myself, December, you will most certainly not be disappointed,” August said genially, and his smile crinkled his eyes. “There’s the sunshine and holidays in some parts of the world. Then there are the wet days in other parts. Having to wear many hats all at once, never knowing which one will come in use now. Unpredictable, like life itself.”

December clapped heartily. “It is obvious why you are called August,” he gushed. “Lofty in thought, regal in bearing,” he effused. 

A stony silence followed. 
“Is he queer or what?” someone whispered, deliberately audibly. 
“Ssshhh!” January hissed. “Let’s move on,” she commanded.

September cleared his throat and said, “I stand on the fringes of summer and autumn. I have long days and short ones. Summer is bidding farewell, making room for a brief autumn before winter takes over. I reside on the threshold, in both places at the same time but also in neither entirely. I think it is important for me to remain where I am, in the midst of transition, embracing the change, and helping everyone through it.”

December clapped, and everyone joined in the applause this time. “Well put, September,” he cheered. “Bravo,” someone shouted and another whistled and yet another hooted.

When the applause faded, everyone turned to October. But his chair was empty.

“Where’s October?” January asked. 
When nobody responded, she repeated her question louder this time. “Where the hell is he?”

“You know the little devil,” July laughed. “He may have very well gone out for a quickie,” he guffawed.

“Shut up, July,” snapped June. “November, you might as well give your performance and then we could call it a day. I have plenty of matters needing my urgent attention,” she said.

An expletive was beginning to form on January’s lips when she spotted a dark, shapeless figure rise from behind September. The shadowy form billowed out and spread like a thick cloud of blue-black smoke over everyone’s heads. There was a distinct chill in the air, a harsh sting caught the months unawares. From the screen of smoke emanated images of streets ablaze in scarlet glory, trees in autumnal blossom, their colours reflected in the skies, bloodied by the setting sun. The ball of fire sank into the ocean and the room was plunged into opaque darkness.

From the night leapt a figure onto the table with a thud; a pink-faced clown dressed in suspenders so large it could have hidden a twin under its garments. A red bulbous nose protruded from its face, which was plastered with a smile so wide it reeked of evil. It held out a black, magician’s hat and shouted, “Trick or treat!”

January shrieked, February clapped, March stomped his foot in disgust, April swooned, May blew a ring of smoke towards the clown then splashed water on April’s face, June pursed her lips and hissed “Codswallop”, July remained frozen in his seat, jaw hitting the floor, all his charm now a stranger to himself, August let a knowing smile play on his lips, September shook his head in exasperation, October was still missing from his seat, November raised a middle finger towards the clown, and December chuckled at the expressions on everyone’s faces. 

“You trickster,” December cried, choking on his laughter as tears streamed down his cheeks. 

October bowed deeply, pleased with his performance. He reset the atmosphere and his clothes with a snap of his fingers and returned to his place beside November.

Words were conspicuous by their absence on the lips of everyone but August and December, who congratulated October on his fine act. 

It was a incensed November that rose from her seat to talk about her life. “Trust October to steal the show,” she bawled. “Sandwiched between two childish attention-seekers, I obviously am left with very little for myself, be it time or space or attention. What has the world come to? There’s talk of Halloween well after I have begun. Christmas trees spring up in November these days. New Year plans are made in November. It is as if I do not exist at all.”

She sniffed, then paused for a long moment, drew in a deep breath and, as if she had had some kind of epiphany after a long, trying day, shook her head and said, “I am sorry. I’d rather not ruin the valedictory.” 

November pulled a case from her purse, flipped it open, powdered her nose, coloured her lips, shut it close, and tucked it away. “Let’s begin again, shall we? And October, you better sit still this time,” she kicked his shin. “I do not have much to say but the thing I love most about being November is all the babies that are born in this month. Conceived by lovers under Cupid’s spell in February, the little ones come into the world in November. It does not matter that winter is lurking in the shadows, the days are growing shorter and the nights endless, that December is getting grumpier” - she winked at him cheerfully - “or even that the year is almost coming to an end. A new beginning can happen anywhere, anytime,” she said. When she sank back into her seat, she received a standing ovation.

And that it how it came to be that December and January each have their share of one and thirty days, because by the end of that evening, December had gotten to decide for himself and January had refused to settle for anything less than he had. 

March was granted more life; everyone needs more time to adapt to change, he had argued. By the same measure, September was accorded another day which he politely declined; I am only executing my duty, he said.

May gained an extra day too, which she promised to share with April should her little sistah ever need it. 

June, everyone concluded, was overworked and that it would be a shame to burden her more. But everyone could do with a little more charm, so July went one up on his sister on that count. 

August scored points for his regality, and October for his bold performance. November said she already had more life than she could ask for. 

February lost many of his days to others, which goes to show that if you are satisfied with your lot and do not ask for more, you may end up with less than before. But all good deeds do not go unnoticed. To commemorate his sacrifices, he was rewarded with an extra day, but only once in four years. Being Cupid’s friend, he remains everyone’s favourite, which goes to show what matters in the end is not what you get, but what you give away fearlessly.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

To The Moon and Back

To The Moon and Back - Image courtesy of Abandoned Porn

When the amusement park project was abandoned for want of funds, the street urchins made it their joint, explains the stripling as he leads us through the grounds. He looks no more than fifteen or sixteen.

At first, they did nothing other than lying on the grass and smoking a reefer, convinced this was all there was to life, that they had seen it all, and that little else mattered. Until one of them suggested they take a go at the ferris wheel one misty evening, he says as a faraway look creeps into his eyes. 

He recounts how with what sounded like a melange of a groan and wail, the big wheel had started to turn and taken him and his friends on a trip more lucid than any they had been on.

As the big wheel turned, so had time. Moments had turned on their head and distended to eternity. Happiness had stretched over the boys’ faces like snug-fitting masks. Their breaths had hung in the misty air, forming steaming rings of white life around the revolving wheel. Time and space had mingled in unbridled harmony in their juvenile minds. The world was at peace at last, they had believed.

He then leads us to the carousel, a hum playing on his lips. Another misty evening they had mounted their noble steeds on the merry-go-round, he recalls. An invisible hand had started to play the music and, as if on cue, the animals had leapt into the air. Dragons and unicorns had galloped through the mist, flying their riders into the twilight.

They had raced with sunlight and shooting stars, soared past birds flying back to their nests, screamed in thrill when their steeds nosedived to kiss the ocean, and lain in carefree joy on their backs as night draped their world in a blanket of stars.

The roller-coaster is the trickiest of them all, he warns, and says it had taken them a long time to figure out how it works. Only one passenger is permitted to ride at a time. You mount the train and whisper your destination to the wind, and only then does the train start with a rumble, he explains. He has never ridden it before, he is not ready yet, he says, but he thinks he knows what lies in store.

At first, he says, the train creeps harmlessly uphill, inching ahead until you are able to kiss the clouds, and as you pause to take in the view from above, the train quietly slips from under you and gravity yanks you earthwards a split second later, and if you are very lucky you fall back into your seat right before the train arches backward into a vertical loop, then attempts another somersault and yet another, and just as you begin to think you could get used to the momentum the tracks disappear and the train freezes to a halt in the nick of time, and flings you out of your seat towards outer space, with a snort as if it were spitting phlegm from the back of its throat.

And where would we land, we ask.

On the moon, the lad says. Or among the stars if you miss it.

And how would we get back, we demand to know.

You don’t need to, he shrugs. When you are ready to leave, there is no coming back.

Saturday, 16 March 2013


Ghosts - Image courtesy of Amazing Facts

You know they exist. 

Soft footfalls on the stairs. A shuffling in the shadows. A scurrying in the attic. A knock on the door by an unseen hand. An unfriendly gust of wind that sweeps up your hair and chills your blood on a still summer night. The sweet smell of roses that ripples past you, and evanesces in a breath. 

Silvery streaks of light that whiz past the corner of your eye. There now, gone the next instant.

Little, floating orbs of light you see with eyes shut.

Fragrant fumes from an incense stick, twirling and vanishing in mid-air.

An empty glass of wine you are sure you washed and dried last night, now found lying in the sink laced with sanguine dregs.

The rocking chair, never still.

Love stains on the carpet. There now, gone tomorrow. 

Things you lose, things you find. A family heirloom that wriggles out of your fingers in your sleep, turns up on the kitchen countertop months later when you stop looking for it. Memory playing tricks with your mind. The little pranks they play on you.

Doppelgängers, the cleverest of them all. Gifted impressionists. You look in the mirror, you can’t believe what you see. A strand of grey hair, and another, yet another. Crow’s feet. Wrinkles around your mouth. You just can’t believe what you see. The brown eyes, your own, only older. They wink back at you. A figment of your imagination, you tell yourself.

The voices in your head. Louder and clearer than any you have ever heard. You think you are losing your mind.

They rise from the cracks in time. Like the second hand that falters ahead, a heartbeat too slow. The grandfather clock, whose pendulum swings a tad too fast.

They thrive on the fringes of reality. Like at the end of a dream. When you are about to fall into eternal sleep, they pull you back to safety. 

It’s a tightrope walk. One step in the future, one in the past. Imagination ceaselessly morphing into memory. Belonging to neither this world nor the other. 

They are not the bad sort, not really. They mostly like you. Amused by how you can see but not believe. Sometimes they take offence when you believe in things you cannot see - like God - but refuse to acknowledge their existence. 

The little clues they leave for you. The tinkle of wind-chimes, a rosebush that refuses to grow, a forgotten photograph in monochrome that falls in your lap, the letter that never arrives, the stranger who does you an unexpected good turn, the black cat that disappears into the night.

They don’t like to be ignored. But you pack up and leave, make your way to someplace less spooky. They are left behind, like jilted lovers. They roam the corridors, flit in and out of walls in their frantic search for you, for life. The house crumbles under the weight of their grief. Colours are washed away by their torment. Gardens wither. Sunshine is now a stranger in these parts. Grey and forbidding, haunted houses speak of joy that was once there, now long gone. 

But you know they still exist.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree

I don’t exactly remember when the Christmas tree had started to shrink but I suspect it was around the time both my Dad and I stopped believing in Santa Claus. It was the year Dad stopped decking out in Santa’s garb for his nocturnal prowls to make our Christmas presents appear mysteriously under the tree. It was also the last time I had stayed up all night waiting for a white-bearded plump old stranger to come sliding down the chimney, if that were even physically possible for him, with his stash of gifts for all of us.

No one knew why the tree had started to shrink. Dad theorized that it was all relative; I was growing taller and so the tree appeared to be growing smaller, he declared. What I didn’t have the heart to tell him was that I was growing up too quickly and that his explanations were no longer quixotic enough for me.

I turned to Mom who said the tree must feel weighed down by the frosted glass baubles of oversized wishes and hope that hung from its branches year after year. It’s a pity, she said, we can’t even drape tinsels and fairy lights around the little thing anymore.

Gran said we would now have to be careful what we wished for. It couldn’t be too large as it would no longer fit under the tree. It need not be too small but you have to make room for others’ wishes too, she said. I asked her what she wanted this year and she said that a fistful of happiness and good health was more than she could hope for.

Last year the tree was barely taller than our parlour palm houseplant. That year the boyfriend had sewn for me a soft toy, a little pup that held its heart in its mouth with the words puppy love stitched on it. This year I could do with an engagement ring, I thought.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

A Price to Pay

A Price to Pay - Image courtesy of Amusing Planet

Everybody had to pay a price to pass through the tunnel. Those who didn’t never found the light at the end of it, the tunnel spirits made sure. 

But it wasn’t dosh that exchanged hands. No. These were the times when people and all other beings took you at your word. A promise made was a promise kept. 

The crux of the matter was that you had to part with something you held very close to your heart. 

So when the little boy stood at the entrance to the tunnel, his heart tugging at him to skip down the green passage, he promised to give up candies and pastries for a week. When he emerged on the other side, beaming and glowing as if he had been kissed by a fairy, he said that the tunnel had appeared to him as a log of Swiss roll, green endlessly twirling in green.

When it was her turn, the young maiden clutched at her heart and promised to yield to the tunnel spirits the memories of a long lost love. On the other side of the passage, she found herself once again ready to love and be loved.

The young soldier gifted his longsword to the tunnel spirits and exited a free man, liberated from the battle scars on his heart.

Everyone had a price to pay. Some surrendered the hurt of forgotten friendships. Some others paid with their vices, and in some cases, their virtues. The cynic pledged to stop finding fault with others. The coward agreed to part with his fear. 

By the time I found myself at the mouth of the tunnel, I had made up my mind to hand over my soul. It was truly the thing closest to my heart, the only thing I had. But the tunnel spirits said they could not accept it. They did not take lives, they said.

Could you take my soul only for safekeeping, I asked. Take it and hide it somewhere deep within you where nothing and no one can find it, I pleaded, and some day we'd have fun looking for it in all the wrong places, I threw in for good measure. 

The tunnel spirits named their price in response. 
They asked me to stop seeking permission to be happy.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A Whole New World



                                     Images inspired by and adapted from Mailbox App

I never did trust the Pied Piper. His reputation preceded him, but not everyone wanted to see him for who he really was. He was a charmer, perhaps a descendant of the cunning folk. So when he arrived in town touting his promises of a whole new world and new beginnings and how everything would be transformed in the blink of an eye - “like magic”, he promised - most of the townspeople fell for it. 

It did not take long for the townsfolk to split themselves into two groups, those in favour of and those opposed to the piper’s promises.
“Out with the old, make way for the new,” the Piper’s supporters chanted. 
“Don’t get carried away, you fools!” cried the cynics. “The grass is always greener on the other side.”
“Frogs in the well, that’s what you will all remain,” mocked the champions of the piper’s cause.
“Better than the shallow roots you lay everywhere,” the opponents quipped. 

And so on and so forth the two groups quarrelled. The aficionados sought to induct more townspeople into their clan. Whether by persuasion or coercion was irrelevant. What mattered was an increasing number of supporters of their cause. Change or be changed, was their motto. 

Lovers were torn apart, families were in shreds, friends turned their backs on each other on differences of opinion. Old relationships were ruined, in their place newer ones were forged and linked tenuously by communal interest. 

The day the Piper played his pipe, his followers sang in merry voices. Your was the loudest and the happiest. His music and your song led the way. By the light of the setting sun, the ardent crowd of devotees coursed through the town in a trance, leaving broken hearts and deserted houses in their trail. A whole new world and new beginnings awaited us on the other side of midnight, the Piper promised.

It was quite poignant, you know, the way you all danced through the town. Drums beating, hearts thumping, feet tapping, voices chanting. Like a carnival that was about to swoop up and drag all the joy and life and magic out of the town in its bacchanalian departure. 

The euphoria was infectious. Our resistance weakened. Some of us joined you out of curiosity, some to partake in the festivities. But mostly none of us wanted to be left behind to clean up the lonely confetti of memories the next morning. 

You waved out to me, whether in beckoning or farewell I could not tell. I shrugged my shoulders and said to myself, “So what if we can’t see eye to eye, you and I can still be together.” And I joined the cavalcade.

So now there’s you and me. 
But also everyone else in between.
Only the lame one tottered behind me.

Saturday, 2 March 2013


Choices - Photo courtesy of Yngaren

The bottles came in a set of three. At first, I did not quite take to the one with the spray pump although I was besotted with its amethystine hue. But the salesgirl refused to sell the pieces individually; it would bring bad luck, she was adamant. She insisted I try on each one, perhaps that would change my mind.

My fingers first headed towards the russet-coloured one. I lifted the stopper and dabbed some perfume on the inside of my left wrist. 

At once I was enveloped in an odour of tea and earth and mint, spices wafting from my mother’s kitchen, baby shampoo and the delicate smell of my baby sister’s locks, Caramel panting in our backyard after a mad morning spent chasing his tail, a wintry nip in the air, the comfort of freshly laundered clothes, cotton candy and popsicles, the wonder of possibility. 

I next turned to the dainty one in purple and squeezed the spray pump. Soft white fumes as if from an incense stick drifted forth and snaked over me, in and out of my hair, garlanded my neck, twirled around my ankles and calves and over my heart and around my wrists and up my arms, and I was blinded as if by a thick fog that had rolled in from the seas. 

In my mind’s eye I found butterfly colours on my fingertips, fairy rain, a piece of blue sky here, a tuft of white cloud there, the cool touch of a silvery anklet on my skin, a lover’s heartbeat, happiness, sorrow, then happiness again, freedom, life, loss, a new lease of life, a new life, the smell of roses, poetry, longing, the ease of letting go. 

By now it was evident the third bottle held my future. I caressed the translucent green container in my hands and with more curiosity than trepidation I withdrew the stopper. I peered inside. It was empty. 

My disappointment must have shown on my face. The salesgirl quickly covered my hands in hers and said, “You are lucky,” she said. “You have the gift of choosing your future. Not all of us have that choice.”


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