Book One of The Seal of Time
Joshua Omenga and Donald Penprince
The earth swung around her in one swift movement and the world became blank, and in that blankness, she could only see Suraj, tied to a stake like a criminal, his eyes looking lost as if he was already dead. When he saw her his face became calm and seemed to shine.
He looked unearthly, lovely and frightening. The darkness gradually dissipated and she saw people already armed with stones and about to start pelting them. In one animal surge, she freed herself from the people holding her and ran to the stake and wrapped her arms around Suraj. Life seemed to return to his face and he smiled. He struggled as if to hold her but his hands were securely tied. He looked into her eyes and whispered aloud – ‘You are beautiful. You are exceedingly beautiful today.’
She nodded as the tears continued flowing down her cheeks. She opened her mouth several times and closed it, for words refused to come. What could she begin to tell him? There were so many things she wanted to say – how she had enjoyed his companionship, his gentle voice, his fatherly admonitions, his patient teachings, his manly protection, his unexpressed but immeasurable love. No, there was no beginning to recounting his goodness to her, no words to qualify his exceeding loveliness. She could not even think of losing him. There was no world without him there, no life without him. If he was leaving the world, so was she. She clung tightly to him and their tears flowed freely, with no shame and heed.
The chief came to drag her away. She insisted with all her might but he overpowered her. Whimpering, she shouted to Suraj and to all the world – ‘I love you’, and he echoed it – ‘I love you too.’ Witnesses to the event would later swear that their two voices hung for a long time in the air and echoed and re-echoed afterwards; some even asserted that in the quiet hours of the night, one could still hear their voices in that very spot where they had said the words, hers coming after his, plaintive and everlasting.
As she was being dragged away, she heard Suraj saying – ‘Be strong for me Nafisa. We shall see again in the next life.’ She tried to turn back or reply his words, but they would not let her. She could only hear the sound of stones landing on the stake and on their flesh and, she thought, on their skulls. He gave an agonising cry which pierced into every soul and nothing was heard of him again. That was the last sound that Nafisa heard from her Suraj and the world, their world, was lost and irrecoverable.
He died and she lived but her life was death: it was devoid of all meanings. She went for days without food, shut herself up and brooded silently. Entreaties to get her to eat fell on deaf ears; no amount of persuasion could prise her mouth open. The door had to be broken into. The robust and cheerful Nafisa was gone and perhaps gone forever, replaced by an ever-brooding, cheerless girl. When she broke out of her hermitage, she refused to talk to anybody; and when she talked at all, she talked in monosyllables, saying only her most basic needs.
Months passed, years passed; she became more reclusive and shunned everybody. She hated her father and said so openly. A rumour had gone round that the execution was planned and executed by a chief who had land dispute with Suraj’s father and had found the trial an effective way of teaching him a lesson, and that the king did not really have a hand in it. He was compelled to do what he did. But this did not absolve her father before her in any way. He was the king and his authority was final. Whoever had a hand in the death of Suraj was accursed and would be her enemy forever – yes, for her Suraj was gone forever.
Forever. Sometimes she sat under the tree and thought of the enormity of that word, in a stream of troubled consciousness.
This is the heart of all calamities, the moment when we cease to exist. We try to imagine it – the feel of inexistence, of nothingness, of incorporeality. We cannot comprehend it. How does man think of the vast eternity when he shall not be, when all things else forget the memory of his existence? The ants will moil and the crickets chirp and the butterflies limp from flower to flower, and every little thing will be alive in earth’s unending bowel, but we shall not be. The rituals of the universe continue unhindered, the moon will show its pretty face in the night that has ceased for us, the sun will bath its rays on the earth that we have ceased to know, the rain will splash its cold fingers on our empty graves where the soil has taken possession of our crumbled bones. Years and years will pass; nature’s course will continue unhindered – and we shall not be there, O little one!
O, this impalpable death whose mystery eludes us, its dark secrets trouble our meditation. When it comes, dear little one, our voices shall cease in its million echoes. New generations shall rise and trample on our graves and none shall talk of us. None of them shall remember the many tears that we have shed on this earth, the many joys we have experienced, the many heartaches we have endured for love – O love! You were alone in your comfort of us in the many moments of our depression, but how it all dies! Your warm hands and kisses shall cease for us in the grave, and you too shall abandon us. All our achievements shall rust in the little coffin of our parting farewell, where we find our everlasting confinement.
And yet in this life, while we have it, we seek perfection. We seek to find the unfindable, the undiscovered elixir of life; we toil from sunrise to sunset – for the perfection that we shall never attain, for the joy that will cease in our mouth at its peak, for the achievement that will only find passage into history, while the earth’s unhonouring bowels consume us. And what though is fame if we shall never know it? What matters the praise that we shall never hear, the glory we shall never experience?
We have heard, but we do not believe, the tiny voice which comes to us in the darkest corner, telling us that our soul lives even when we die. It is a comforting voice, but we know the truth, and the truth is no comfort. And what if our soul lives? Is it the soul we are afraid to lose, or the sensate body? What good is the disembodied soul of our lover, when his hands cease to be there, when his little lips will not whisper sweet nothingness into our ears, when his arms will not hold us in embrace?
Ah, my love, shall I never see you again, hold you in embrace, walk arm in arm with you into the depths of the forest to pick pink flowers, to listen to the birds’ impassioned songs? Is there no space for you in this wide world? Will you be gone forever and will the earth’s million noises not wake you from your everlasting slumber? It is cold here, where you are not; and colder still where you are.