N. sits there, hunched as always, in an easy chair on the verandah of an ancient house. In that isolated corner in the city of Thiruvananthapuram, on the Arabian Sea coast, the house overlooks the green expanse of the Golf Links, the course used by the rich and retired.
N. is thinking about writing. “My will is broken, not in the service of God,” so goes a line in one of his poems. He is waiting for others like me to arrive.
One bleak Friday evening, I went walking to N.’s place. I was suffering from depression, nervous exhaustion and severe anxiety. I had just stopped my extended experiments with life-saving drugs. It was raining. The monsoon had come down hard. The roads turned into gushing streams, the mud tainting them with a bloody hue. Adamic, of the red earth, they twisted and turned, rushing and pulsing to the beat of the big, strong raindrops on the red-tiled roofs.
The treetops seemed possessed by a frenzy, lashing to and fro as if trying to pull themselves up by the root and pump their vitality into the womb of the grey-black sky across which agitated, grim clouds roll. There was a smell of woodsmoke corroding the scent of the new-washed grass and flowering plants.
The sky reminded me of a friend whose lover had betrayed her. Riding clouds of hurt, she flew at him, confronted him and extracted a confession. She told me later that she made love to him, with all the skills of vengeance at her command, five times within the span of a few hours. She left him lying in the bed, bruised, blissed out, unconscious.
“But it was all agony,” she said.
I sensed her rolling like the sky, locked in a death-struggle with her lover across the expanse of the bed, the floor, the dining tabletop, against the wall, the bathroom. She never saw him again.
Meeting N. always cheered me up. I wiped my head and face with a towel he handed me. I drank the hot cup of coffee P., his Woman Friday, brought. We began talking about literature and people, and people and literature.
Have you read Nin’s Diaries? N. asked.
I have not come across them, I replied.
I will get them for you from the Public Library, he said.
He was a member there. I frequented the British Council Library.
What is she like? I asked.
She has something to say, he replied.
We talked for many hours about many things. I walked back home through the pouring rain, the screaming wind and the dark night.
Nin walked with me.
She brought memories. The description of creation in the Hindu scriptures. Prajapati, the Lord of Hosts, who sits in the highest heavens, arises and stretches forth his penis to spew forth the seeds of life. His seed spurts across the universes. Scattered on the winds of space, it forms the clouds and spatters down upon the fecund earth, into her valleys, between the crevices.
He plunges deep into her, again and again. If she demurs, he woos her. Her resistance crumbles like the granite mountains. She becomes pliable as the sea. In her navel, he becomes a glacier. As he woos her, he thaws. His seed flows down under the archways of the mountain passes, towards the hills that rise up like breasts filled with milk for the suckling, onto the plains where the golden wheat erupts in fields to feed Purusha, his offspring, the composite matrix of all the children of men.
Nin walks with me.
I had an urge to find her picture, to look at her face, to decipher the lines there. I went to the library and began leafing through books and magazines for her photograph. What was her hair like? her lips? her eyes? Was there gentleness there or a blazing fire? What would her skin smell like, her mouth in the moment of her waking?
It came to me in a flash. She was veiled. I could lift the veil only in the nuptial tent, if I became one with her in the Gift.
I slammed shut the books I was referring to and went out into the night.
I drank myself silly. Under the full moon, I lifted a glass of wine to the sky and said: “Flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones!” I felt a great thirst. Getting up, I stumbled over a stone in my garden. A pain shot through my foot. A shooting star exploded in my face.
Someone was approaching.
“Is it really you?” I asked. “I was journeying towards you.”
The look on his face frightened me.
Come, I have work for you, he said.
His tone was merciless, without pity. I followed him into the darkness. He threw some sackcloth at me and steered me towards the fireplace in the corner of a room. The fire had died out.
It is a cold night and if you want to sleep well you must sleep upon the ashes. There will be some warmth. Wake up early, there is much to do, he said.
I laid the sackcloth upon the ashes and slept.
The sound of tinkling bells awoke me. I looked out, it was still dark but there was movement outside. Was I among gypsies, I wondered. I went outside. A peculiar light was filling the horizon. The hills throbbed with the coming of the dawn. In the slowly diffusing golden hues of the morning, I espied men in robes with shepherd’s staffs moving about, busy with their morning ablutions.
There were tents pitched outside the mud hut where I had lain. Behind them I beheld veiled women busy cooking the morning meal. Children cried. Young boys dashed out of tents yelling challenges to one another. The orb of the sun rocketed up and out from behind the hills on the horizon.
Laban appeared beside me.
“Your job is to tend my sheep. Feed my sheep,” he told me. He pointed towards the east of the camp. I saw a sheepfold.
“Count them, take them out and graze them. Keep them from the wolves. Bring them home safe. If you lose a single one, I will deduct its cost from your wages. Your wages are a kid every month. With your wages, you will be able to have your own flock, you will learn to stand on your own feet. But you must provide for your own sheep after you provide for mine. What is yours is yours, what is mine is mine. But as your uncle and employer, see that you pay me respect,” he said.
I went to the sheepfold. There were a hundred and fifty three sheep. Someone brought me a shawl and a staff, a piece of black bread and some cheese, a leathern pitcher of water.
The first thing to do was to let the sheep drink. I herded them out of the fold and prodded them towards the trough by the well. They walked docilely, as if practiced, towards the source of water. At the well were the women washing their earthen vessels, filling their pots. They wore long dresses and silver ornaments. I sat on the edge of the trough and observed them.
There, again, the musical sound of anklets. She walked up to the well and, instantly, I knew her. A wind blew in from the desert hills. It was a big gust. Her veil lifted for a moment. Her eyes looked straight into mine. They were blazing. My heart thudded. I went up to the well, took the rope with the bucket at its end, threw it into the water. I drew the bucket up and poured water into her pitcher.
“Now, give me to drink,” I said, stretching out my hands.
She was about to pour me some water when I heard Laban’s shout.
She faltered. I moved away.
That night, I supped with Laban.
“I want her for my wife,” I told him.
“It is not our custom to hand over the younger girl in marriage before her elder sister is married,” he said.
“I will wait for her,” I said.
“It will be seven long years of labour.” Laban warned. “I don’t intend to give my daughter to a man of no substance. You have to pay for her.” He laughed.
Another night, Laban came to me.
“I don’t know what to make of this. It is wrong for me to do this. But I would do anything for her. And it is she who asked me to give you this Gift,” he said embarassedly, even angrily.
He put a small pouch into my hands. In the firelight, I saw a symbol embossed on it. A figurine. A naked man and woman entwined. The woman had her arms around his neck and her lips were sucking on his. She had hoisted her legs to grip him hard around the waist, behind his buttocks. She was joined securely to him at the loins.
“What means this?” I asked.
“The pouch is from India. It came across the seas, from Khajuraho. She likes such trinkets.”
“But what does it signify?” I asked again.
“Virgins know not what it means, but they look forward to understanding in time,” he replied with a leer.
I opened the pouch when he left. Inside it was a mandrake root.
My uncle was a taskmaster. Whether it rained or snowed or the sun scorched like the fires of hell, this business of sheep-rearing was all he cared about. But as I walked the desert tracks grazing sheep, I learnt their language.
One day, in the heat of the afternoon, RAM appeared to me. He told me a story which appeared before my eyes as in a dream. I saw men laden with construction materials climbing up a winding, hewn path to the top of a tower. Its top would reach up to the heavens, King Nimrod had decreed.
The camera-eye panned upwards. Those going up the crude stone steps, I saw, could see the nakedness of the men going up before and above them under their skirts.
“An altar of earth you shall build to me and you shall not go up to it by steps lest your nakedness be exposed.”
RAM spoke: “Heaven imposed a penalty on us both in our labor and our pleasures. We became creatures with hardly any ability to express ourselves, creatures crowded into herds and able to copulate only by instinct and for procreation, not for pleasure, and not by free, individual choice. We now need shepherds and dogs to look out for our safety. We are creatures who have to snuffle at the ground to find our food and bow our necks to the butcher’s knife.”
He was a fine specimen. RAM. I watched him mount the females in the swollen strength of his maleness, red with the heat of lust. He always coupled in an intense silence, a savage silence, in the desert heat and spaces. None of the ewes resisted him. None tried to seduce him. They were his for the taking.
“We became Legion, varied species of beasts, birds, reptiles, insects,” he told me. “We no longer understood one another, it was Babel. Some of us remember the ancient things, vaguely. The bolder ones, they would leave the flock and go to the mountains to work out their own salvation. Some say there are many such hiding in the mountains, biding their time and gathering strength, waiting for the work of the Tower to commence again. Dwarves, trolls. Some became the giant creatures of the deep living in the liquid, inky-black ocean. Others were exiled to the Black Holes. We all climb the crags whenever we can and look up into the sky. That was to be our inheritance. But we became nations of beasts, each species with its own territories, rights and rites. We no longer understood one another. As Legion, we were divided and scattered across the universe, the foxes to their holes, the lions to their dens, the birds to their nests, the insects to their crevices. Some were weaker than the rest; the stronger ones preyed on them. And all or us were given into the hands of men for the keeping. Men owned us, we who were once Titans.”
“Strange, but I have not known any man recently who could understand our language since the Fall. But you do, so I came to you and can tell you these tales. If we knew others like you and there were enough of us, Men and Titans, we could resume our work on the Tower?” RAM suggested.
“You call yourself Titans? Were there no women among the Titans? How did you procreate?” I asked.
“There were no women among us, only drones and warriors,” he replied.
He gave me a sly look and began to speak in another voice.
“There was a world called Androgyne. We fell to the earth. We are self-replicant.”
“How did men come to be? Were there men before the Titans built the Tower and were turned into beasts, your languages confused and descendants consigned to slavery and ruin?” I asked.
“There were two races,” he replied.
“Of one stock?”
He did not reply.
“Will I become a beast like you if I agree to rebuild the Tower?” I asked.
“You do not belong to those of the race of the Tower, you belong to another.”
“Are the races of the same stock? How is it you befriend me? Why do you want me for an ally?” I asked.
“Do I?” he asked.
There was a sudden flare-up in his eyes, a yellow glare.
Across the sky came speeding a dark mass, like a thick black cloud of mucus, or locusts, rolling and swirling. A stench went before it and up from it. It stopped some distance away from us and slowly turned on its axis. It settled into a Pentacle turning on its axis upon a point within a circle. A RAM’s head was embossed at its fiery center.
A flaming dart leapt at me. I cried out.
A feminine form came between the figure and me.
Back, she ordered.
“You have your kingdom and I have mine, he belongs to me,” she warned.
“And you belong to me,” said the Pentacle, turning steadily on its axis. From it emanated a strange perfume.
Slithering, crackling sounds came from the Pentacle as it rotated hypnotically. Shadowy, dancing figures appeared out of it and visions tumbled into my head.
A man with the body of Apollo, his penis wrapped around his neck like a serpent.
A blue-skinned creature dancing amidst women with long, black hair, all crying out to him for milk.
A silent skeletal figure brooding under a tree.
A woman of royalty undressing in a pool.
A Rishi watching her bathe.
Forest sprites perching, laughing on the branches of trees.
Goddesses, succubae, incubi…
The Pentacle kept rotating on its moving axis.
“We are separate kingdoms, I never submitted to you though you seduced me long ago,” she replied.
“Nor have you submitted to Heaven,” he said.
“Go your way,” she said firmly. “He is mine.”
“You owe me life. I will return for you. The Sons of God take the Daughters of Men for wives,” was the enigmatic reply from the Pentacle.
The strange being tilted to a side and spun off into the sky with a roar and a hiss leaving behind burnt ground, glass and a sulfurous odor.
I heard the sheep bleating. We were beside a pool. The sheep would not drink the water. It looked disturbed. It had turned orange in color and an oily film floated upon the surface of the pool. The water tasted salty. Dead fish floated on its surface. The air was still, as if nothing had happened.
And she was gone.
A few weeks later, I returned to the tents. The harvest festival was nigh. The camp was full of sheep, shepherds and armed men, a few horses and camels. Stray dogs, stray children, smell of smoke and cooking. I loved the camp, the tents and the buzz of humanity, my wages. Here, she was present, in flesh and blood. She would betray her presence suddenly, in the flash of an ankle, a heave of those small and taut breasts, the suggestive sway of those buttocks, like an adolescent boy’s, as she walked away from me. It was with great self-control that I avoided suggesting a secret rendezvous. To be found out would mean expulsion from the tribe, perhaps even death.
Between us, we sensed a heat more intense than that of any African sun. To want and not to touch, to see and not to devour, to have and not to hold, it is to be like a cloud without rain, an ear without corn.
The music had begun in the early evening. The women were swaying around the campfire, the minstrels thrumming their instruments amidst a murmur of conversation, sudden oaths and laughter. Singing and dancing, lamb’s meat a-roasting on spits and the men passing wine from hand to hand in leathern pitchers. They were busy with archery, haggling, drinking and quarrels.
Laban sprawled upon a rich carpet in his tent. The twilight was passing, fading into a bluish darkness emblazoned with purple pools of light and the blue-grey shadows of palm trees.
I watched her slip out from behind a tent. She moved off into the darkness. I followed her. The night came in as a blanket and I heard the whisper of the wind in the brush. The sound of her anklets had faded. Where was she? I moved forward on quiet feet, my heart quivering. There, suddenly, a figure, squatting on the ground, the robes hitched up, the fairness of her buttocks beckoning in the dark like a gentle beacon. She rose up suddenly, her nostrils flaring, the anger blazing in her eyes at my intrusion into her private moment, her private act.
“It’s me,” I whispered.
For a moment, she stood still. Then she was in my arms, a fire racing through our veins with a blast that paralysed us, possessing the senses with a mad rushing sound.
“Now,” I said.
“No,” said a firm voice beside us.
It was her sister, the elder one. We stared at her, anger in our eyes.
“Go. To the tent with you,” she ordered.
Then I was alone with her, the elder one. She moved closer to me. This one I had barely noticed. There was a powerful scent of sweat as she lifted her veil and drew right up to me. It went like an arrow through my nostrils and into my brain. Her hands came out of her robes, rough, strong hands. They traced the outline of my face, my neck, my chest and my stomach, brushed across the front of my loins. Then with a sudden intake of breath, her mouth latched onto mine and her arms were locked around my neck. She bit my lips, her tongue forcing its way between my teeth. Her hands took mine and laid them on her breasts. They were warm and firm.
“I watch over you. I have you,” she said.
Then she broke away with a deep sigh. She cocked her head sideways, like an animal listening, and with nimble footsteps disappeared into the darkness as invisibly as she’d arrived.
That night I tossed around upon my sackcloth laid upon the ashes. I saw myself moving through the desert. My sheep were scattering here and there. With my rod, I sought to discipline them into moving as a flock. But in vain. On a hillock to the right, a wolf howled.
Reveal yourself to me, I cried out under a deep-blue desert sky. Every star seemed to me the twinkling of her eyes behind the veil. Sometimes, I would see her breasts carved into a passing rock and embracing them find in the stone a softness not of flesh. A swirl of desert sand in the harsh wind would suggest to me that she had thrown away her heavy garments revealing to me, revealing … nothing.
Then it was the other one, laughing. She was on my bed, naked, with her powerful legs up in the air and holding me in a vice-like grip as she bucked under me. I found myself falling into the vortex of her desire and awoke with a scream, spurting sweat and panting.
I looked for the pouch with the dried mandrake root. It was missing. I could not sleep the rest of the night.
Early in the morning, I went to the well to wash my face at the trough beside it. She was there, the older one. She pushed aside her veil with a hand. Her hair was jet-black and long. Her breasts were larger than Nin’s, ripe for suckling children. Her hips were wider too. She would bear many children. Her buttocks were heavy.
She held out her hand to me. It held my pouch.
“I have bought you with this. Stolen bread is sweeter eaten. It’s yours if you will sleep with me. With this mandrake root, I thee wed,” she said.
“What of her?” I asked.
“She is barren. If you will be what you will be, if the story you are is to be told, you must lie with me,” she said.
She had strung a string to the pouch. She slung it over my neck and touched me on my forehead.
In a burst of white light, I hurtled into a vortex. In the center of her being, I beheld a date seed. It was spinning and sizzling all over with lights and the colors of the rainbow, turning into a human child before my eyes. Her right hand was upon my breast, just above my heart. She laughed and again I was travelling, deep into her mouth. I was falling past her pearly teeth, her scent drew me deeper and deeper into her core and then I saw myself bursting out of her navel, exultant and holding up a girl-child in my arms.
An hour later, I was in Laban’s tent.
“I am leaving,” I told him.
“If you leave now, you get nothing,” he told me.
My right hand curled around the handle of the pearl-studded dagger I carried at my side.
He saw the move, sneered.
“A whelp that thinks he is a lion,” he spat.
“I need a mule,” I said.
“You have your feet,” he replied.
“Some food for the journey and a pitcher of water,” I pleaded.
He was unmoved.
“Don’t play games with me, boy. We had a deal. I knew your mother before she lay with your father. She wouldn’t have me although I offered her everything. May be I still care for her; may be she’s the only one I ever wanted for a lover. But she was too pure. I don’t know why I obliged her when she sent you to me with your brother hot on your trail to kill you for stealing the Gift,” he said.
The dagger was sliding out of its sheath.
“Don’t be silly. Women and apprentices, they can learn what they will from me and take what they need from me if they are willing to belong to me. But if they decide to leave and pursue their course, they get nothing from me,” he said.
She was there then, suddenly, the younger one. My fire.
“Let him go,” she said.
“Who is he to you? he asked.
“We are one Gift,” she said.
“That is why he will get nothing from me. If he has the Gift, let him prove it.”
“I will go with him,” she said.
“You will die the moment you step outside this tent with him. Leave us,” he commanded.
She looked at me as if wanting to say something. Her eyes went to the pouch around my neck. She seemed reassured and left.
He clapped his hands.
“Give him that old donkey we were going to leave for the vultures, some water and some bread,” he told the slave who appeared. “Do not return or you will die,” he said.
Several miles away from the camp, I abandoned the donkey and moved ahead on foot. Once I espied a caravan in the distance, but I dared not hail it. Perhaps they were slave-traders and I did not want any more trouble than I had on my hands. I had covered many miles when the night came tumbling down. My feet were blistered but I could manage. Three years as a shepherd had toughened up the soles. I decided to keep walking for an hour. I took a swig from the pitcher that was near empty. I would have to find a well or a pool tomorrow. There was a camp towards the east, my instincts told me. I ate my last piece of bread and moved on like an automaton.
There was a strange whirring sound above my head. A beam of light shot down. A voice shouted to me to climb up the rope ladder hanging down over my head. The sands whipped up by the whirring being blinded and choked me. I began coughing, long racking coughs.
Another noise broke in, the honking of the horns of thousands of strange chariots on desert highways, like the bellowing of a thousand buffaloes, harbingers of the netherworld. I saw long queues of chariots of different sizes like ants and maggots feeding off the entrails of a sprawling neon-lit megapolis. Two, three and four wheeled, the chariots were darting in and out of that intestinal maelstrom like quick-tongued serpents jabbing at enemies in a random manner. Flying machines were taking off and landing in huge spaces. Somewhere on the edge of the megapolis, bordering the desert, a giant penis was lifting off atop a roaring pillar of fire.
The flying being took off with a clattering sound and banked away towards the left, the west. So I was still on an easterly course, towards the sun, I thought. In the star-lit expanse, I saw some huge shapes looming ahead of me, rocks by the looks of it. They looked like the pillars of a roofless temple, arranged symmetrically, concentrically in the midst of nowhere. In a few minutes, I was there. This is where I will sleep, I decided as I slumped under and into the shadow of a towering pillar. Something scurried away in the sand. A kangaroo rat. I took a sip of the water and fell fast asleep.
I heard a ringing sound somewhere. Someone was talking over the line, many voices from many worlds. “Digital contains multitudes.” The thoughts became oppressive even in sleep, crowding into the mind and engulfing it like a shroud. The trees were dying. All was dying, everything was decay and death and it was all hidden from the eyes of men. I saw lips moving, my own lips moving, in prayers, in songs, in the recitation of poems, in the making of speeches, cooing and wooing even as the words disappeared, dying and hidden, from the dog, the cat, the presidents, the generals, the priests, the kings, the pests, from Laban. I heard myself recite an ancient poem, which I forgot a moment after the incantation was over. Something about Rahab, the prostitute, the old dragon. How she held a scarlet thread in her hands and it saved the life of others and her own life. Life, the eternal scarlet thread.
A cosmic execution was taking place each moment, in each cell, in each curve of the mind, the moment of reckoning, the ever, the present, the now, the then.
A fetid breath was being drawn here; even the kangaroo rats that never drink water were scurrying around fearfully in the sand.
What about the Titans, I asked myself. And us?
In my wanderings, I veered left into an alley where the stench of piss and garbage assailed my nostrils. I badly wanted to empty my bladder. So I lifted my skirt, out with it and there went the laser-arc of hot liquid, out at the wall. It was amazing, such a good piss, in the midst of all this.
I saw her then, an old woman, five feet away to my right and squatting on her haunches, a tattered shawl around her shoulder.
The elder one, I thought. A bolt of fear and anxiety shook me.
Her skirts were hitched up. She was defecating.
She had her face turned to me. There was a smile of recognition, an I-am-not- ashamed look, a faint smile saying, “It will be like this when you have lived long enough with me. You will know everything about me, every pore of my skin, every orifice and what comes out of it, every whiff of body-gas and fluid, every crinkle and wrinkle, every grunt, every groan, every fart, the mewling of pleasure as you and I couple, the sobs and the curses when we’ve fought. And there will be those unutterable sounds and feelings when we pound into each other and eat one another. Out of that feast will come forth a child, a word-being, your offspring. You would have known me within and without but you will still not know me or read me in full.”
“Unto us a child is born, unto us a Daughter is given and her name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty Goddess, the Everlasting Queen, the Princess of Peace.”
It seemed to me that she turned her body towards me almost imperceptibly, that her body itself was calling out to me. It was pulsing with a writhing movement. I took a step towards her, watching her keenly, and felt a passion for her. She stood up now, her skirts hitched up, her face transformed into that of a schoolgirl’s, innocent, but suffused with an inexpressible longing, grey light across her still apart thighs, a dark shadow among darker shadows at the v-joint. She was two-faced.
“Aren’t you the keeper of the Little Bird,” she asked. “May I see it?”
“Yes, certainly. But it kept is in a corner of my bedroom,” I said.
She followed me to my apartment, walking up the stairway ahead of me. I followed her white virgin legs, the untouched thighs and the sway of her boyish buttocks swelling growing each moment into the bum of a full-grown woman. She went in, my two-faced one. The lovebirds were chirping away in their cage in the corner of my bedroom.
I had planned this scene a long while ago.
“Excuse me. I need to go to the bathroom to clean up but you play with the birds,” I said.
I went into the bathroom and stripped off my clothes. I took a quick shower, my heart fluttering like the hearts of the little birds. I came out of the bathroom wearing only a blue bath towel, my tumescence pushing past it, pushing out towards her. She took a look. A bright flash went through her eyes, as if she had seen something for the first time in her life. Then, as my towel fell apart, that look of enlightenment was replaced by horror. She flew out of the room.
“Stop,’ I cried.
There was only the sound of school-shoes thudding down the stairway and out into the street.
Then I was on my back, upon the sand. I looked and two stone pillars stretched out above me into the sky. A full moon, blazing with a silvery light, was perfectly framed between them. In the middle of that pool in the sky, I saw two forms entwined. The younger and older sister were naked and caressing one another.
“What is this?” I cried.
Nin drew her sister to her breasts. She laughed at me from within that mirror in the sky.
“Do you still possess the mandrake root? I was told you lost it. You gave my sister a promise. You agreed to pay her the price for getting it back,” she taunted me.
“I’d pay any price to get back the Gift,” I said
The other woman was cupping her breasts as the moon-bed revolved. I heard her small moans of pleasure.
I began tearing out my hair with loud cries.
“Look more closely,” she whispered in my ear, “pay attention.”
Relief flooded me. It was not her sister in her bed. It was another.
I heard a whirring sound behind me. The sky parted like a curtain before me and the images flowed across the gash in color. A globe appeared in the center of it. Lines were drawn upon it, vertically and horizontally.
“That is the Tropic of Cancer, up there, Daddy.”
It was a little girl’s voice.
She had her eyes closed, her breasts surging into the air to receive the lips of her lover. In the sixth month, when it rains in India, the peacocks come out to dance. Her nipples were erect yet yielding to her lover’s tongue. I watched, fascinated. She moved her legs apart for her lover to touch her there. Somewhere, it was raining heavily. The peacocks had come out to dance. The peahens were wet, watching and waiting.
A door closed, opened. I was in a hall. Where were the pillars in the desert? The whirring sound continued. Was it the flying being?
A man had come in. He looked at the circular bed in the silver light at the centre of which the lovers moved to a primitive rhythm, rising up over the waves, eyes closed, their impassioned faces straining towards … the Tower.
The man stood there, a nervous tic on his cheek as the aroma of sex filled the room. He noticed me after a while sitting in the shadow of the giant screen.
“Welcome to virtual reality,’’ he said.
“It is, all of it?” I replied, not taking my eyes off the screen.
“I am writing a book. That is my wife. Nin, she is our friend. And she takes me and my wife to wife. Without Nin, I would not be what I am,” he said.
Nin was lolling languorously, slumped on the bed, tired after the lovemaking. Her lover looked distraught upon seeing her husband.
He impaled her with a look
“You know, the writer sees everything, watches everything. He is the eye of God. It is said that his eyes roam over all the earth. I write. And you?”
He turned to me, arched his eyebrows quizzically and put out his right hand.
Nin got up lazily from the bed, her nipples still erect. She had the look of a cat that had drunk her fill and yet given all she had. I wanted to put out my hand and touch her skin; its paleness fascinated me. The triangle below her navel drew me like a magnet.
“There, Daddy, below the Equator, is the Tropic of Capricorn,” said my daughter.
“Herein lies the secret of creation, re-creation and pro-creation,” Nin whispered.
The pillars in the desert, the space between them, the tunnel of darkness, the womb of light, the emergence out of the tunnel, it all made now-sense.
“Shall I bring to labor and not bring to birth? “Surely this is the dwelling-place of God”, I said to myself.
Something hard and cold was under my head, a stone.
I saw a Ladder. Its top reached to Heaven. There were angels of God ascending and descending upon it. At the top there was a marvelous light. Those who ascended and descended were beings of light. At the bottom of the Ladder was the darkness, the desert, the pillars of stone, the pillows of stone, Laban and his herds, the slaves and the cattle, the beasts, insects, fishes and reptiles, the teeming therein, the machines and quantum confusions, the geometers and the geophytes, the world and entropy. Every rung of the Ladder was an interplay of Light and Darkness and contained degrees of the Spectrum.
Outside and around the Ladder was open space, the sky and the birds of the air, and beyond the sky, the stellar spaces with secrets no eye had seen. There the Sun and the Moon had thrones of glory, but the glory of the one was lesser than the other because man had put his imprint upon its sand and stone, the print of a titanic foot.
I put one foot upon the first rung of the ladder.
I heard a voice as of thundering waters. Again the clouds came rolling in black and baleful. The Pentacle appeared, in its circle of flashing fire. RAM said: “Write and you will be damned! Your destiny is to be a builder with us, a maker of an edifice.”
The Pentacle said: “Write the vision!”
RAM appeared to dissolve and evolve in the shimmering air. One moment it was RAM. Then, a leopard turning into a bear and then, a man with a lion’s head. He spewed out blasphemies and curses.
“Wordsmith,” RAM cried.
Its face took on the features of Laban, flushed with the lust for money, flocks of sheep and herds of cattle and camels, slaves and rich carpets, heady wines, women, rich cloths, spices, elephants, peacocks and monkeys, emerald and diamonds, merchandise from the corners of the earth and power over men and women whose souls could be bought and sold, used and abused.
“With men such as you, we can rebuild the Tower,” RAM shouted in a voice of rolling thunder.
It was a Titan I faced. And we were two different races.
“Wordsmith, do you dare speak any word, these words?” came the challenge.
“Which words?” I asked.
“Yin. Yang.” I replied.
“Say the words. Cock. Cunt,” RAM shouted again, the anger showing in his scrambled voice.
“They are words. I accept them. They are of life, but they are not the Word of Life,” I replied.
“Say them aloud! Spell them. Invoke them with me. And you will be free.”
Visions tumbled out from within the revolving circle of the Pentacle. A giant penis spurting semen into the sky as a mushroom cloud. An un-nameable monster, its ancient flesh scarred with unreadable blue-black hieroglyphics, blue-veined, tattooed and branded with tantric images, prancing around in a black forest.
A keening sound issued from the center of the Pentacle and a long tongue flickered out, red, dripping with saliva and froth. More image-files opened up before me. A skull. A worm coming forth out of the black socket of an eye. Women crucified spread-eagled. Children begging on war-ravaged streets, fire, fire, fire… the bodies tumbling into mass graves and the gnashing of teeth and wailing. Barbed wire. Gas chambers. Smoke ascending from factory chimneys.
I heard music, familiar music. It was being played backwards. Then I heard a name broadcast amidst sounds of radio-static, the honking of horns, rock-and-roll and Gregorian chants rearranged to play by the laws of Chance. The air around me was once again filled with shadowy dancers, wretched in their nakedness, seductive in their sinuous sensuality. They whispered in both my ears “Cock, cunt, cock, cunt, cock, cunt… dare to speak the unspeakable, hear the impossible, record the Akashic, do what you will is the whole of the law,” they taunted. Between the taunts, amidst the cacophony, a name … broadcast.
“niN, niN, niN, niN, niN,…”
I heard myself screaming in the face of the audio-visual assault. The old anxieties and fears were rising to the surface within me. I closed my ears with my hands and ran towards the Pentacle, away from RAM. The dancers cleared a narrow pathway for me.
“Nin”. I shouted at RAM. “Nin. Whichever way you spell it, backwards or forwards, it is unchangeable. Eternal, it is of Heaven. I have the Name of God. I have the Word of God.”
There was a clap of thunder and the Pentacle disappeared, also RAM and his sulfurous hordes.
“Raise the powers from the anus to the lotus. Then there will be a covering for us, we who are the eyes of God,” she said sliding her tongue wet and warm into my ear.
I kissed her then. It was our first kiss, a long one, tongue upon tongue, testing the sweet softness of each other’s mouth. It was our last kiss. Understanding came with it.
Neither she nor I could be possessed by any, though we both would yield to many. Those who received us would find themselves.
Another sub-creator would be born.
“This is the true Chariot of Fire, whoever understands it is one Gift.”
I returned to Laban. I have laboured for him these past 18 years. I married his eldest daughter. She understood me. Laban told me Nin left him suddenly. There was a note of regret in his voice. As if he had realized that his wealth and power could not help him enter the House of Love. He searched far and wide for her. He could not find her. Once a mage led his caravan by our encampment. He claimed to have met her across the sea and to have read her writings.
“Did you really meet her?” I asked.
“Do you have any of her manuscripts with you?” her sister, who had condemned her for her barrenness, asked. She stood beside me, my ever-loving wife.
“A few pages from her diaries,” he replied.
He gave me those few pages to read. Nin had spent time with different doctors of the psyche. There was no mention of our meeting in N.’s house, about her being the daughter of Laban, about the mandrake root and our love for one another, RAM, our separation, the Pentacle, the Long Kiss. There was a mention of many other things, her circle of friends in Europe and America, her many affairs, her thoughts on what constitutes the Gift, her Art of Writing.
Poring over those pages, I saw that she had gained in skill and insight. She had re-phrased her life. When she wrote it all down, when I read it all, again and again, everything was always different. Re-reading her, it was as if one had misread her before. A moving mosaic.
The writer de-constructs, dis-integrates. The inner shards are organized afresh, the lens of the eye is cleansed, there is a re-integration, an individuation, a mingling of archetypes, a pre-occupation with the word, a shaping and a re-shaping or what one wanted to say in the first place and of what one has said many times. Did she write all that?
I wrote it in her diaries.
We are one Gift.
N. had turned 76 when I last visited him. P. was not there. I did not mention Nin. Nor did he. A few weeks earlier, I had dreamt that he died. I woke up weeping because in the dream it seemed I was not able to meet him before his death.
We spoke awhile about life and death. Some fear life, others fear death.
He told me he had stopped writing.
“The spirit is willing,” he said.
“I have begun writing again,” I said.
“What did you write?” he asked.
“A story. It’s called ‘I Met Nin in the House of Love’.”
“Ah!” said he.