Stories to Stir your Soul...

A Close Encounter - Vijay Ch.

( Vijayender Ch, Vijay or simply Vj for short, is a B.Tech Work who has worked with Orient Longman Limited, The Times of India and Deloitte Consulting and presently working with Oracle. His interests include Books, Music, Traveling, Movies, Web Designing, Short-film making,Fellowship in Philosophy. He is at present working on a book .
Web Site: http://www.geocities.com/vjwpf2/home.html


Doubt is his default position in life. Conclusion looks a mission impossible to him. And when someone comes along and says, "Hey! you just missed an opportunity buddy!" he looks bewildered and wonders how the other person can be so certain that it was verily an opportunity. He's wholly destitute of the ability (if it can be considered so) to spot that precise moment when a potential opportunity becomes a certain one. This is commonly called dumbness. You need to have opinions and conclusions to achieve anything in this world; doubt won't do. To heck with it, nothing of that makes any sense to him. If one zooms out and pans across life, everything goes easy and everything looks equally important. Zooming in is fuss.

Anything beyond assumptions that yield to common-sense approach and anything more than the necessary practical confidence principle look vague and unnecessary to him.

If being a sceptic has invaluable rewards for the individual, it puts him in interesting spots in relation to the world; those moments when the world becomes a stage and he appears to have donned the role of Hamlet. When everyone is happy or sad depending on the result of the throw of a dice, he is still engrossed with the laws of probability. When everyone believes life can be compiled, it appears to him that it is strictly an interpreter-based program.

So, when this girl - who was a friend of a girl he knew for some time - called up and introduced herself in a most impressive manner, he sensed everything wasn't normal. There was an air of difference - that difference that any other guy would have spotted. Yet, he was not quite convinced. "Maybe it is just the way she is", he told himself and deftly calmed down. She is studying speech therapy. He studied engineering. She is still in college, he is just out of college and is working as the Editor in a reputed publishing firm.

Fifteen minutes into the discussion, she asked him out, for a treat. "Boy, this is it!" his friend yelled. But he was nowhere near such certainty. "What exactly does he mean by 'it'!? And how can he be so sure!?" he thought.

But life isn't that easy, damn it! He felt life had suddenly become a jet plane and was about to take off. Only, he wasn't sure. Is there really an it in it? Or, is it all just in the mind? Anything can happen; how can only it happen? He wished he could exchange his mind with his friend's and see what he really meant by it. But then, is it not better to be ready for any turn of events than expect only one? Why are people so obsessed with destinations? Why can't one just enjoy a free ride? His friend was beaming up with envy but he just managed to give a matter-of-fact '"Let's see" smile. Meanwhile, life was speeding ...

He readily agreed for the treat. "Where?" she asked. Yes, fixing a place is still there on the agenda. Contemplation - or its pretension - over, he said, "Pick'n'Move?" Done. He dwelled on the two words pick and move for some time, and left it there.


She would reach Pick'n'Move in twenty minutes. Take-off. No seat belt, nay, he doesn't have one, he is on a “Splendor”. Riding a “Splendor” at 70 or more is bliss. He loves speed. He loves the amazing control over the machine. He never had sex, but he feels it cannot be any more exciting than a ride or a drive. Statistics support, you see - a ride or a drive can last much longer than 'eleven minutes', the world average for the 'act'.

The act, yes - this is what holds the world together. This is the damned shit around which all the fucking vocabulary of love, relationships, family and society revolves. It's never about love, it's always about this. Take away this from relationships and all families in this world will crumble. Love is just the sacrificial utility that is butchered at the altar of the bedroom... or a car... or the park... or whatever. Love is just the path, the act is the destination. See, it's all about the destination. It's all a game of instincts; all else is simple balderdash. Some chemistry, more biology, and then mathematics - that's our life. Animals do it simple and straight. We just complicate it. The signal turned red. Stop. Freud said it all, why does he need to repeat again?

He looked aside. A guy and his girl, on his bike. With her hand firmly wrapped around his belly, her chin resting on his shoulder, she said, or whispered, or whatever, something in his ear. She giggled. He laughed. A typical programmed behavior. A for loop, that must have run a million times now for millions of guy-and-girl pairs across the world, across centuries. As it appears, and by convention, it is love. But what's the real story? What's on the guy's mind? What's on the girl's mind? Is this that it that his friend referred to?

He wondered what was on his friend's mind right now. But how does that matter? More important to know was what's on that girl's mind - the girl who would reach Pick'n'Move in another four or five minutes. Yellow turned to Green. Time to shift gears. The guy and his girl, with her chin still resting on his shoulder, went the other way.

He looked at the watch again. He is almost there, and well on time. Will she be there waiting? Ah! wishful thinking? May not be; maybe she really will be there waiting for him? Or, will she come late - as they say, like most girls do? Or, will she not come at all? Was she just playing a prank? Nothing mattered now, he was game for anything. If she comes, he will have a good time, and interesting at that. If she doesn't, he will have a good time anyway. He parked the bike, took off the dark glasses and looked around for the girl wearing red. No, she's not there. Not just yet. He went inside Pick'n'Move and checked the location. "Nice", he said to himself.

Confidence dwindled and doubt took over. Doubt about what? Sometimes, it's about nothing. It's just doubt. A mystical vagueness. He had been out with girls before and had had his times and moments. But this time, it just doesn't seem to fit in the scheme. The sheer blinding pace toppled him. He does fine at 100 on a bike or a car. Shifting gears and accelerating doesn't come easy for him in life.
He came out to check again, and the girl wearing red was just parking her two-wheeler, blue in color. Looked like Kinetic, but he couldn't make out from that distance. He took three steps forward and strained his eyes. Yes, Kinetic Honda. The girl locked it and walked towards him. Silky hair, neatly arranged in a ponytail. Svelte figure and firm gait. It occurred to him that he would not have just a good time; he would have a great time! Formal, appropriate opening sentences over, they settled for a place to sit.

He wanted to say, "You are amazing. I mean... you call me up for the first time, and fifteen minutes into it you ask me out. It needs either an uncommon confidence or a firm intent, or an optimal mix of both. Besides, you look gorgeous! I believe I am in for something exciting. What exactly is on your mind?" But no, he couldn't utter a single word about that. You cannot be so direct in life until you cross a particular line. Till that moment, one has to deal with life in an indirect fashion. She lead the conversation. You know, ever since the jet took off he had been behind in pace. He is now just making a desperate bid to catch up.

Predictably - yes, most of it is predictable; a simple while loop - the discussion turned to books. Even for other reasons, it was an inevitable turn, given that both of them loved reading books and, important, he was into publishing. Presently, the waiter brought her drink. She felt the glass . Cold it was, and she made that "Ooooh, so cold!" gesture. Suddenly, his mind switched frames. The focus turned to the superficials, and he hardly followed her words. The fragrance in the air - no, he doesn't know the name of even a single perfume that girls use, so it was just fragrance for him - the swift play of her silky hair against her shoulder, that sly glance in her round and beautiful eyes, the brisk movement of her lips, her slender fingers resting just a touch away from his - made him at once at ease and uneasy . He wanted his friend to be here and just watch how he handles this moment. Would he have made the move X or move Y? Unmoved, he still focused on the superficials.

"So which book are you reading these days?" he asked between the sips. She held the glass a while longer to her lips, took a long sip, looked straight into his eye, and said, "The Art of Making Out". Making out? Same as figuring out, just as he figured out the name of the two-wheeler when she parked it? It perplexed him that someone thought it was an art and wrote a book about it too! However, it didn't convince him. Maybe, it occurred to him, it is different from what he knows. Maybe her 'making out' is different from his 'making out'? Maybe it is about logic? Fresh out of college and into publishing he could not admit ignorance. He managed to package ignorance as curiosity and dared, "What is making out?" Giving that you-don't-know-even-this! look, she said, "Making love". Sex, buddy. He gulped the drink but pretended to be easy. "Oh O.K. !" he said.

He still felt he was behind in pace. Should he make the move? But which move? Any move can be tried in any situation, he felt. Gut feeling suggested he could ask the girl out again and she would agree. Three or four outings more and he can attempt to cross one or two lines of intimacy. But what if gut feeling is wrong? Nothing is absolutely reliable in life. There are always exceptions, and what if she is an exception? Maybe she doesn't have any intent at all? Maybe she just wanted to have some nice time and didn't find any guy else for that? And everything else may be just his interpretation? But, then, yes, it's only a maybe.

Time to move. Not really, but he wanted time to think. And he never asked what exactly was on her mind. And whatever his mind suggested as were her intentions, he brushed them off as simple, but probably true, conjectures. As they moved out, he executed the last statement in the while loop - he asked her if she was busy next weekend. Every statement in this while loop is an if-else condition, in turn. If she says yes, plan A. Else, plan B. She didn't disappoint him. "Call me a little earlier so we can plan for a movie", she said. "O.K great, it is working", he said to himself. Was this 'it' that his friend talked about two hours ago? As she was about to push up the accelerator and join the traffic to head for home, she said, "Call me up when you reach home. Bye!" And she left. He believed every moment of parting needs a tune, but no music played in the background. Traffic moved ahead, and the jet landed.

He looked back at Pick'n'Move once and left. Those were not the days of SMS and e-mails. Despite his friend's reminders and his own ideas, he didn't call her up. The next day, he had to leave for Mumbai. She tried his number but nobody answered. He played with the idea of calling her at times from Mumbai but dropped it. "Later" is the easiest excuse in life. Not that he was lazy, but that he didn't see any point.

A year later he returned. On a lazy day, he tried her number. Promptly, the voice said that number did not exist any more. He looked at the receiver for a while, and it appeared as if he was holding life in his hand and wondering what to do with it.


They were driving past Pick'n'Move - he and his friend. His friend pointed at a girl and said, "Look at her yaar! Sexy naa?" As he shifted his focus from Pick'n'Move and tried to look at her, the smiling face of the girl wearing red flit past him. The girl who still was a part of a close and unforgettable encounter, the fastest of its kind for him- it was an encounter that promised it, but whose options were all closed now.
" ”It” could've gone anywhere. There are n number of roads in life, and every road leads to somewhere, what's the fuss?", he thought. The signal turned yellow. And he was all set to move ahead.

- Vijay Ch.

Orchids - rhea daniel

She looked at the rich upholstered furniture around her. The carpet that covered the floor was rather old and moth-eaten. The chair that she sat on had almost swallowed her in. The teacup and saucer trembled in her hand.

“Careful, that’s Italian silk. Rubelli,” said a raspy voice.

She jumped and snapped her head around like a frightened bird.

“Who--?” she faltered.

“Here,” the voice sounded tired. An ancient, worn tiredness. It seemed to be coming from the table in front of where she was sitting.

The table seemed to have come straight out of a grotesque painting by Grünewald. The surface was made of intertwined slender branches supported by four human arms. The muscles on the arms were clearly defined as if they were truly straining from the weight of the branches above them. Each claw-like hand rested on a smooth wooden ball.


“Yes, me, table,” it addressed her.

“Ok,” she frowned, perplexed, and shifted uncomfortably.

“Not often we get company,” the table said conversationally.

“I’m…just passing through,” she mumbled into her teacup.

The table laughed, a low laugh of an old man with weak lungs.

“Yes, yes, well aware.”

Then the table actually coughed, and hunching, raised one hand in a gesture typical of a human covering his mouth. The intertwining branches creaked with each movement.

“Oh dear.”

The ball that the hand was resting on had rolled away and clicked the tip of her high-heeled shoe.

“My dear, would you--?”

“Oh, yes, of course.”

She got up hurriedly and rolled the ball towards the table with her hand, thinking it would be impolite to do it with her foot.

The arm reached blindly for the ball so she grabbed it by the wrist and guided it. There was nothing remotely human about what she felt under her fingers. It was made of smooth polished wood. The table creaked and groaned as it regained its balance.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

She sat down primly on the silk upholstered chair again and regarded the whole room with a serious stare. The wallpaper was a dark, swirly damask. The light shades on the walls were supported on the backs of tiny men. They did not talk. The only picture in the room was a framed collection of fish fossils, skeletal remains of some extinct species, their names marked on parchment. They all, however, had beady glass eyes. They blinked wanly at her, and she quickly looked away.

The trick was not to look at anything for too long, So she let her eyes roam all over the room until she was dizzy.

“Are you quite finished, madam?”

Her eyes took sometime to focus on whom the voice came from. A tall old man in a waistcoat and a polka-dotted bow tie stood in front of her, cane in hand.

“Mr. Crosby,” she jumped up hurriedly, and put out her hand.

“Sit down.”
She did.

“Miss Wheaton, isn’t it?”


He turned around slowly as he spoke, and began to walk around the room tapping his cane to the ground.

“I presume you are here to, ah, apologize.”

“Yes, I’m very very sorry…”

“Do you know how much effort it takes to grow an orchid, Miss Wheaton?” he interrupted

“Yes I’m very very…”

“The right type of soil, the weather conditions, the fertilizer….hm?” he stopped in front of her and knocked his heels together.

“And most of all, Miss Wheaton! MOST of all---!!!” his voice rose and stopped.

“Ummm..” she ventured.


“Love,” she echoed.

“Do you see these, Miss Wheaton?” he held up three photographs of some rather obscenely shaped plants.

“This is Oliver, this is Jennifer and this, madam, the youngest and the most promising, Kenny,” he put down the photographs on her lap and whispered, “All gone.”

She looked at the plants for what she hoped was a polite amount of time.

“I realize my brother…”

“Your brother, madam, your brother ---!!” he stopped again and his whole body seemed to shake with rage, “Ate them.”

“Ate them?”

“Ate. Them.”

“Well, he did have a tummy-ache after....”

“And what do you plan to do about it?”

“Er..I’m very very sorry ..”

“Oh come on Mac, let the old girl go, what’s done is done.” It was the table’s voice.

“You stay out of this,” snapped Crosby in the direction of the table.

“Aww, come on Mac, let her go!” a squeaky voice issued from one of the fish skeletons.

“Let her gooooo,” they all said together, their spines writhing.

“I will not let her ‘Go’, do you hear me? So shut it, the lot of you,” barked Crosby.

“Aww, crotchety old thing,” scolded one of the cherubs holding the lamp and tore off a piece of the wallpaper.

“Aaarghh,” the damask’s swirly faces frowned in irritation.

“There dear, blow yer nose with this,” the piece of wallpaper was handed down to the table who gave it to the girl in manner reflecting compassion, as much a wooden table could muster.

“Er.. I’m not. …er..thankyou,” she said graciously, and pretended to use the crumbly paper on her nose.

The dust from it made her sneeze.

“See, you made her ill.”

“Stay out of this!” yelled Crosby, his spine stretched backwards and his fists curled, “Or I’ll burn the lot of ya! Along with this Godforsaken hovel of a house!”

The house’s foundations shuddered in response to the threat.

“I mean it!” said Crosby, “I spent years preparing for them, and look what its come down to. My babies are crunched up by some brat!”

He glared at the inhabitants of the room.

“Don’t you belittle my pain!” His voice broke and he took a moment to control the sob that was rising. He took a deep breath.

“Confound it,” he whispered.

All this time Miss Wheaton had been thinking furiously about how to deal with the angry old man, she hadn’t expected it to be an emotional issue, merely a financial one. She also had not expected a talking house. Well she had done a bit of research before coming. Eccentric old man, old house, rich, loves plants. She just wondered how anyone could be interested in plants with names like Bladderwort and Wormwood. And then baptize them with Christian names.

One of the things she was no good at dealing with was people. Jimmy was better at charming; unfortunately he was the cause of the problem and having him meet the man whose prize orchids he destroyed would make matters worse. Compensation was not the answer either, as useless as an apology, for the old man did not seem short of material things, however decrepit and ..garrulous. A story she had read as a child emerged from a cloudy memory. A witch who turned people who could not repay their debts into amusing toys that filled her four-legged house. It was possible the Grünewald table had been an antique dealer who’s business had suffered bankruptcy, the three fish fossils were impoverished widows, all who had been unable to pay back loans, all trapped into the old man’s evil web of transmogrifications, permanently reduced into household curiosities. She imagined herself as a disused instrument, old and battered and forgotten in a corner. A violin perhaps, with a sad look of dejection and melancholy. Paying for her brothers’ misdeeds, as usual.

When she looked up Mr. Crosby was staring at her expectantly with a “Well?” expression on his face. Her silence only seemed to infuriate him further, so she opened and closed her mouth like a fish while he slowly turned purple with impatience. The house seemed to sense a gathering storm; an explosion of thunder seemed eminent. The explosion never came, for a fleeting thought interrupted, and his expression changed from rage to thoughtfulness to resignation within seconds. He turned, put both his hands over his face and sighed deeply.

“No…no,” he said staring out of the window, “None of this will bring back my babies. Why did he eat them though, Miss Wheaton, did you ever care to think? Did the he ever care to think of the completely unnecessary act of cruelty in biting their heads off? I saw teeth marks on their stems. Didn’t seem to be the act of a human.” He turned to her with one eyebrow raised.

She felt a tremendous surge of pity for the old man whose only solace in his old age was his odd little garden and the curiosities in his house. He sensed her pity and was embarrassed by it.

“Tell your brother not to set foot in my garden again,” he said, and turning, left the room.

She walked herself out of the house, many a “bye-bye!” and “do come again!” trailing behind her from the odd pieces of furniture.

She stopped to look at the garden on her way home. It had a wild look to it. Despite that, she could see it had been nurtured and cared for by the owner. Water hyacinths grew in a murky pond beside rose bushes and rubber plants, white lilies and geraniums. Some were grown in pots and others grew out of the ground. Pink rhododendrons and varieties of shrubs managed to find their space in the confused jungle of plants. The three beheaded orchids stood out, the damage glaringly obvious. She wondered how the old man looked after all these plants that seemed to bloom all at the same time. Then her eyes fell on the tiny goblin perched on the rim of the stone birdbath. He was about ten inches tall and precariously balanced on the rim. He was a marvelous piece of work in bronze. Her eyes searched the garden and found four more of these. Two seemed to have frozen in the act of chasing each other around the pond. Two sat on the branches of the rhododendrons, seemingly looking in the direction of the neighbour’s house. Her house.

She made her way home in a flurry of thought, going over what she had just seen and heard.

A water balloon hurled with precise aim at her face greeted her as she entered. It burst and drenched her with some vile smelling liquid. Jimmy could be heard snorting with laughter as he ran up the stairs to hide in his room. She stood stone still for a few seconds, then went straight to her room, stiff with anger.

“I don’t see why we had to apologise in the first place. Jimmy could have died eating those awful plants,” said her mother at dinnertime.

“It’s the polite thing to do, Maggie. What did he say, Libby?” asked her father.

“Oh…nothing. Just asked Jimmy not to set foot in his garden again,” answered Libby.

Libby saw her brothers’ eyes gleam as if this was an open invitation.

“Poor baby,” said her mother, running her hand through his golden curls, “Don’t go to that silly old man’s garden again, alright?”

“I won’t Mama,” said Jimmy in his angels’ voice.

Libby had been a happy twelve year old before Jimmy had been born. She was then demoted from daughter to nursemaid and her life was never the same again. Jimmy had looked harmless enough but Libby soon came to learn of his freakishly cruel secret adventures. Only Libby was aware of his Jekyll and Hyde act. She had seen him pull the legs of sparrows, crush garden caterpillars, tear the wings of butterflies and mercilessly kick or crush any living creature smaller than him that crossed his path. Oh, she had tried telling Mama and Papa but they couldn’t believe the angelic looking Jimmy was capable of hurting a fly. Her violin practice suffered, and one day she had come home to find her violin case tampered with, and the remains of it scattered in bits and pieces around the house. She showed her parents the broken bits and was about to explode in a fit of pent up rage, when Jimmy had emerged from behind the curtain, tears in his puppy blue eyes, apologizing profusely, saying he only tried to play it and dropped it from the landing when it slipped from his hands. He had tried to fix it and failed. The apology melted his parents and Libby grudgingly made her peace. The violin was too expensive to be replaced, and Jimmy's escapades seemed to worsen as time passed by.

Libby was woken up the next morning with a cry of “My azaleas!” followed by a moan that issued from the direction of Mr. Crosby’s house. She sighed and decided she wanted no part of it. She walked to school as usual, followed by Jimmy who passed by on his bicycle, splattering her with mud from a puddle, laughing uproariously at her annoyance. She happened to glance at Mr. Crosby’s house and saw him standing at the window, watching. The next day she heard a howl issue forth from the same direction, “My roses!”

It had been a year since Jimmy had gone missing. Libby felt her life had improved considerably since then. She did not miss him one bit. His absence was sorely felt by his parents, who had called the police when Jimmy was found missing from his bed one morning. The first suspect was the old neighbour, Mr. Crosby. His house and garden was meticulously searched for any signs of the missing boy. They found nothing but odd-looking furniture and plants. Mr. Crosby watched the whole search party impassively, allowed his fingerprints to be recorded and answered all the questions he was asked politely.

Libby used to walk back every day from school and peer into the garden, for the growth and variety had only intensified, and she wondered how such exotic plants grew there without being put in a hot house. Orchids grew uninterrupted. Today she felt a little bolder and walked further down the garden path. The five goblins were frozen in the middle of activities like running, jumping, pruning; their goblin grins gleeful and uninhibited.

Her eyes came to rest on the birdbath that had a new bronze addition to its center, a cherub with wavy curls and wings, balancing on one toe with a watering can in one chubby fist. Its expression however, despite its angelic attributes, was that of unmitigated fury.

- rhea daniel

Dark gift of the gods - Denis BonnerGC

(I was born in Australia but have spent almost half my working life outside Australia, mostly in Western Europe. My life has been interestingly varied - from selling smuggled Turkish puzzle rings in the Paris Flea Market, to a leather shop/workshop in a seventeenth century building in Troyes (France), to maitre d' and occasional flambe cook in Sydney, and teaching English in Italy. Now I have changed again and do accounting work - that is so exciting that I am spurred on to write a great deal in my spare time! The most exciting trip I made was from Australia to Europe overland - at a time when it was still safe (relatively) to visit all the countries on the way.Some years ago I decided the only real purpose I see for all this experience is writing, so I have been writing on and off over the past decade or so. Mostly it has been fantasy of one kind or another. - Dennis Bonner)


It was the last hour of the day, the sun slipping gently towards the sea, the sky already darkening. At the water's edge, three figures wearing flashing faceted sun-masks cavorted wildly around a bright fire on the sand, white robes flapping. Drums thudded a frenetic rhythm. This was the danse mukkubra - the dance of death. As they danced they chanted, staring out to sea, towards the setting sun. And the chant had for refrain but two words – monjer dum, Eater of Souls.

Further back on the beach among the palm trees, scarcely discernible in the gathering gloom, the dark skinned islanders stood in a huddle, wailing mournfully and beating their chests.

The girl watched the prets as their dance came to an end. The funeral boat was already prepared. Not one of the flimsy vessels the prets normally used, but the smallest of the lateen rigged outrigger canoes. The tiller lashed in position, the red painted sail full stretched, it bobbed and tugged at the fibre rope that held it anchored to the beach.

The decorated gourd of fresh water and the palm leaf wrapped packages of food were there. For the dead to eat during the journey to the Land of the Dead, the girl supposed. She looked around, taking in every detail of the scene. She was ten years old, so she had seen this ceremony often enough. Though she had never before found herself watching it with such intense personal interest.

The edge of the sun’s disc touched the horizon, the wailing of the watching islanders ceased, and the prets began their wind chant, the spell that called up the Vondwest – the wind that would blow the little vessel out to sea, into the sun.

Yes, the girl had seen this all before, but this time it was different – completely different. The difference was not only the boat. What made the event so frighteningly personal was that she was in the boat.

It all began with her birth. Over the years she had pieced together the facts from scraps of part-heard conversations; remarks the adults whispered, furtively, when they thought she wasn't about; the mutterings of her parents when she was presumed to be asleep.

When her mother knew her time was near she had sent for the midwife. Night time, the interior of the little hut lit dimly by a smoky cooking fire. The baby was small, the birthing easy. The midwife held the new-born out for the mother to take. Came a bright ruddy flash that momentarily illuminated every detail of the interior of the hut, followed almost immediately by the angry growl and rumble of the erupting volcano on the next island. Darkness again, and with it the fearsome whooshing of the wall of water that rushed across at their island, sweeping across the beach and foaming right up amongst the palm thatched huts, carrying with it the smallest of the outriggers beached on the shore. Dumping it right outside the hut where the new mother was now turning her head to get her first look at her child. Mother and midwife stared down into the baby girl's dark face at the same moment.

"Mbakara!" The mother drew back in sudden fright making the sign that wards against evil.

And so she was named.

It was a lonely childhood. Always little Mbakara was left to play alone. Often she was to be seen up on the wind blown cliff tops. She went there every day when the gull chicks were newly hatched, crouching among the seagulls' nests, staring at their young. Wishing that she too would one day be able to spread her wings and fly - away. The chicks screamed desperate defiance at her. Like the children, she thought. Screeching as they fled, hiding from her, shunning her.

It was hard when your very name meant 'demon'. But she never cried. She took a certain stubborn pride in that.

As she grew older she took to chasing the children. Eventually she caught one. One of the boys. Tussled him to the ground, demanded to know why they always ran. He twisted his face away, wouldn't look at her, whimpered "Because you can't see."

"Of course I can see," she said. Pudgy black finger prodding, "There, your knees." Poke. "There, your chest." Jab. "There, your silly woolly head." Tap tap. "Of course I can see."

"How?" he squealed. "You got no eyes! Demon!" wrenched from her grasp and fled blubbering.

For the first time in her life Mbakara consciously ran her hands over her face. Neat round ears, plump cheeks, full lips, straight nose and - where there should have been eyes...only empty sockets. But she could see!

No-one knew how to explain this mystery. No-one wanted to talk about it, certainly not her parents. So she found her own answer – not one the prets would have approved of. It was quite simply a gift of the gods, to be able to see without even having any eyes.

Then this morning the prets had come for her.


On the beach a final triumphant shout as the prets completed their spell. The boat was cast off – the Vondwest had been summoned. The red sail billowed, the small craft bobbed and raced across the bay, dancing through the gap in the reef, out to the open sea.

Mbakara stared back at the island as the prets' fire became an ever diminishing patch of shimmering brightness before winking out entirely. Good-bye, not'tair, land of my birth. Farewell jon d'tair, my people. But there was little regret. There had been no happiness, no love. No understanding. She turned her back on the island and faced the dying sun, saw how its light had turned the sea blood red. And now there was nothing but sea, whichever way she looked.

Then the unexpected. The enchanted wind dropped, the red sail hanging slack until banks of black clouds scudded across the horizon, blotting out the sun, bringing a premature night. The east wind swooped down on the outrigger which spun and flew back towards the islands it had so recently left. It sailed past them, or so Mbakara supposed, and on and on into the blackness of the night.

By morning the storm had blown itself out and she found herself sailing into the rising sun. The thought crossed Mbakara's mind that the Land of the Dead had rejected her because she was alive. But where she was going to end up now she couldn't begin to imagine.

The last crumb of food was gone, the final gulp of water done little more than moisten her parched throat, long before land appeared once more on the horizon. Before she realised what that distant line of darkness meant, Mbakara thought it was perhaps the edge of the world.

It was not. It was the great continent of Bimana, and she made landfall on the shores of the southernmost land, which is known as Eigne.

The surf pushed the outrigger onto a gravelly beach and Mbakara tumbled out. She was too exhausted to even think of dragging the boat further from the water and as she lay there a larger wave caught it up and snatched it back into the sea.

"By Tiv and Catha, what's this then?" exclaimed a voice. Mbakara squinted up to see a blue-eyed sunshine-haired man with skin so pale she thought him a ghost. He looked into her face and said more unknown words before stooping and offering his hands to help her up.

A little way from the shore they came to his hut and from the nets strung outside she knew he was a fisherman.

The Eignish fisherman and his dark-eyed wife cared for Mbakara. Little by little she learnt the rudiments of their language. The fact that she could see although she had no visible eyes didn't seem to worry them. Speaking about her survival of the voyage from not'tair and the terrible storm, the woman said simply:

"Nortia protected you."

"Who is Nortia?" Mbakara asked.

In answer the fisherman's wife had led her to a nearby grove where there was a shrine studded with nails. "Nortia - the goddess of Destiny." She explained, "Nortia holds us all in her hands just as Turms always guides my husband back to shore with a good catch of fish."

Mbakara nodded, the jon d'tair too worshipped many gods. So she understood, though she did wonder which particular deity might be responsible for her miraculous sight.

It was two moons later by the girl's count that she felt it was time to move on. If the gods had indeed saved her from the sea and given her sight, it was not so she could sit around by the beach doing nothing.

The woman gave her one of her own hand-woven woollen kilts and a thick jerkin. The fisherman presented her with a staff and a strip of cloth long enough to bind over her eye-less sockets. Not everyone, he explained, would treat her with the same understanding.

Mbakara did not comprehend until she saw her first blind man. She felt such pity for him. Then she realised the fisherman and his wife were right: most people distrust what they don't understand. So it was as a blind beggar that she began her travels around Eigne.

Mbakara encountered the minstrel in a busy market, quite by chance. Though later in her life she refused to believe that there was any such thing as chance.

She was tap-tapping her way along a cobbled street when she heard the singing. She threaded her way through the stalls, following the sound of the voice. The song ended just as she arrived and there was silence as she approached the little crowd gathered around the man. Then he began to sing again, and the girl stopped, quite astonished: for not only was the singer black, she understood the words of his song. She also saw immediately that he was blind.

From time to time he turned his head in her direction as if aware of her presence, and when he had finished his song Mbakara asked immediately in her native tongue:

"How did you get here?"

"I walked." There was amusement in his voice.

"But that is impossible." Mbakara was confused. "You can't walk on water," she faltered, not sure what else she could say.

"But you come from an island, and I come from the woods of Vandemonie in the far north of Bimana," the singer explained, smiling broadly.

The girl approached. "Why the stick?" he asked, "when you can see?"

"How can you know? How can you tell where I come from and that I can see?" She was totally bewildered.

"I have good ears. You move with the assurance that only the sighted have. Also," he added, "you speak Vandee with the accent of the Western Isles." Then he stepped towards her, "If you will permit me...?" and he reached out and ran his hands over her face, mapping her features. When his fingers discovered her eye sockets, he said, awed, "This is the work of the gods." He took a step back. "You are alone?" He made it a statement.

Mbakara nodded, grinned to herself, said "Yes." Explained, "They sent me away."

"And you speak some Eignish?"

"A little bit," she replied in that language.

He stood, thoughtful, one hand resting on her shoulder. So young, so vulnerable, with this strange god-given ability. Wise indeed to cover her eye-less sockets. But how could she survive here, now her own people had cast her out? He made a sudden decision.

"If you sing a little, and can remember new words, I will teach you my trade."

So it was that the Vandean minstrel known throughout Bimana as Nessun de la Forray took the black islander Mbakara as his apprentice.

He taught, she learnt. They sang together, travelled together and laughed together. They were the happiest times Mbakara had ever known.

It all came to an end as she was approaching her eleventh year. One day as she and the minstrel stood on the banks of a river, Mbakara announced abruptly -

"Nessun, I must go north."

"Why? I thought we had decided to go south to the capital for the Harvest Festival of Furflun."

"I can't go. I don't know why. I know only that I must go north. Now." She looked at the minstrel miserably. "Something calls me. And I can no longer ignore it." She sighed. "You are my friend. The only friend I have ever had. I don't want to leave you."

"I think I understand." Nessun nodded slowly. "The gods ask you to pay the price of your gift."

"Perhaps this is so." She hugged him. "Dear Nessun," she said, "one day we will meet again."

"I cannot doubt it."


So Nessun travelled alone to the Festival of Furflun, and Mbakara went north following the river and her call.

At first it was strong but not insistent. The further north she travelled the louder in her mind, the more imperious on her will, became the summons. She travelled for days and still that mysterious something tugged unrelenting at her mind.

As she trudged along the banks of the broad river, she searched for a place to cross. Ahead she saw a hillside, bare and rocky, that she decided, despite her weariness, to climb. For she had not yet seen bridge or ford or ferry.

From the top of that rocky outcrop she looked out over all the surrounding countryside. The river swept around in a wide loop and directly below a boat was moored to a rough wooden jetty. On the far side of the river she could see a settlement - at that distance there was no mistaking it: this was the place that drew her.

She was gazing at this collection of huts - poor places, roughly thatched wattle and daub, most of them, and a smithy smoking by the riverbank - when her vision clouded and ... there was another township superimposed on that small settlement. An impossible bridge now spanned the river, and there were many more houses, such as she had never seen, with windows all aglitter, and a great stone building with a tower.

Before the ferryman saw her she knotted the fisherman's cloth securely over her eyes and once again used her staff as the blind do.

The ferryman helped her aboard and cast off. As he rowed Mbakara across the fast-flowing river in his flat-bottomed coble, she asked him the name of the place.

"They call it Coble Hill" he told her, grinning as he pulled strongly on his oars. "Nowhere else you can cross, by Alpan and Evan, upstream or downstream, not for a good many days' journey."

She stepped off the boat – stumbled, disoriented, crying out in shocked horror. For darkness had engulfed her and she was truly blind. The world about her had gone, vanished. Ghostly figures moved all around her, surrounded her, yet ignored her, could not see her.

She could not shut the visions out. "Help me!" her voice a croak.

A voice, faint. A touch. Reality. Friendly hands that took her hands, directed her, sat her down, gave her water to drink. She calmed. Looked around. Looked around? Gazed upon this dream world. Watched, listened. By all the gods, it was a world of sorcerers. Then she understood: this is what called me. Now I have to tell the people in Coble Hill what is happening here.

Faintly now she could hear the voices of the present time people surrounding her. She held onto that thought. I am here. I am Mbakara. Said - too loudly perhaps:

"I am Mbakara the singer, but today I sing you no songs. Today I have a story to tell... "

And now she had announced that she would tell the story, the place sucked her in, into a whirling, swirling tunnel...of time? - for it certainly didn't feel like now.

Scenes presented themselves to her, and she described them as best she could. It made no sense. Too much was happening. More, there was the shock of her blindness...of the real world vanishing...the fear of being trapped here, in this dream world...forever – and so much of what she saw she couldn't begin to understand.

Mbakara saw sights no-one had ever seen, tried to explain them: mighty magicians who killed with sound; who flew in the air inside stiff winged birds; who spoke to each other across immense distances; saw things that were happening far away...

Then, exhausted, she slept. Awake, she was unsurprised to find she was still there, continued her tale, voice hoarse, as the images flowed on unrelenting. Unseen hands fed her, reassured her.

Then at last the tale was done, and she found she could see the real world once again. Relieved beyond belief, exalted by her experience, she sang as she had never sung before. No words, just a song as joyous as the lilting warble of the first thrush of spring.

Coble Hill was in a hubbub. Never had there been such a story as this little blind black girl had told. And the villagers retold each other the parts they had liked the best. Some recounted the exploits of the Hero with his enchanted sword, who had put to flight entire armies. Others dwelt on the beauty of the disinherited princess, told each other angrily of the brutal slaying of her parents by the evil usurper. Still others spoke of the magical Necklet of power with which a person could rule over all of Eigne...

Village life resumed. The people of Coble Hill discovered that their storyteller was a minstrel of no little talent, and despite her blindness she was soon able to find her way about the village with awesome ease.

And Mbakara? Mbakara remembered when the story had released her, how briefly she had felt an awareness of all those stories out there, in so many places in Bimana. Stories of events that would happen. They were waiting for her. A sea of stories, a tidal wave of tales. And she imagined being led – forced? – from place to place to place, condemned to tell all those not-yet stories. Living her life with one foot in the real world and one foot in the future.

If this was, as Nessun had suggested, payment for her vision of the present, it was indeed a dark gift that the gods had given her.


The Continent of Bimana

Beauforton - capital of Vandemonia, heavily forested, in the north east;

Castle Crag - capital of Eigne, in the south; a rich farming land;

Limona - capital of Bezonia, an arid land in the south east;

Ormolu - capital of Zoloto, a desert land centre east;

Weltbrücke - capital of Peloria - which stretches from the North West (forested) to the northern boundary of Eigne (prairie);

Nepholia (the mountain plateau in the centre of the continent) has no designated capital.

Borders are not shown as they have altered over the centuries

Denis Bonner
318 Wilson Street
Darlington NSW 2008

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