(A short story by Sidharth Vardhan
June 26, 2016)
For generations, we have lived in this jail, in this hole – so long that we might as well have imagined that this is the only world, had it not been for the stars, visible in the oval blanket over our head, which show us the glimpse of the unknown worlds. And stars are the hope, every child in this hole is taught to look up towards them and somehow they fill us with this hopeless hope that keeps the life going.
But why are they there? Forever there, filling us with temptations to make fruitless efforts to grab them. Are they just another addition to the suffering of this hole? Why were we given hope? Are there better worlds which hope teaches us to look forward to? Or is hope just another part of the punishment? Perhaps it is neither, rather it is the jailer who makes sure we don’t try run away from this hole. And it is successful, isn’t it? After all, how many of us ever try to escape? This hope keeps us from trying to escape.
I said punishment, but perhaps you don’t agree – you consider me a pessimist and perhaps I’m a pessimist but I believe very opposite is true – I’m an optimist. For what else, it could be? Aren’t we all prisoners to our ever loud existence? What are we doing here? What sentence are we supposed to serve in this hole? I don’t know. Although there are some obscure legends about it being the punishment given to our ancestors, who stole fruits, and inherited by us, but in the end, it is a mere legend, and truth remains we don’t have a clue.
For how long are we to be here? We don’t know that either. There are times when I have heard mothers crying for fate of their new-born children “but for how long? How long?” for how long will the little one have to suffer? Have you never seen such a thing? I’m not surprised – I admit I made the image up but it isn’t real only because of all of us, including mothers here in this hole, are too used to suffering to want to break away from it. The mothers I mentioned were still imagined were different only in that they hadn’t let themselves get used to the suffering and thus hadn’t learned to pretend that it doesn’t exist – like the rest of us. And yet, even these mothers would rather fight the Black Widow than let her take their children.
… Ah! I see I have ended touching the forbidden subject anyway – even though, like every prisoner here, I have tried hard to avoid mentioning it. Even though I just lied to avoid the subject but no, sooner or later, she must call attention to herself. And don’t lie. Didn’t you notice yourself when I lied about stars being the only thing that has us believe that there are worlds outside our own? Or that it is only in stars we find hope? And yet you didn’t correct me – for you see this hypocrisy, if you allow me to use the word, is shared throughout the hole. We, all of us, avoid mentioning her… that, that Black Widow.
And yet we know, we all know that she visits us here …. she pays us visit, there is no way to know when – no way to avoid it; but surely she will visit us – all of us, exactly one time to each person and when she visits someone, it means, so the theory goes, that his or her sentence, term of punishment, has ended or at least punishment has, for better or worse, acquired a new form away from this hole. But anything must be more comfortable than this hole.
I’m sorry, sir, if I make you uncomfortable, you, who are only trying to help me. And yet, I can’t avoid talking to her. she fascinates me. I first saw her in the last days of my aunt here in this hole. I tried to talk to her, the Widow, but as is well known in the Hole, she won’t ever talk to you or respond to you – unless perhaps when she wishes to take you away, in which case the communication between the two is in a language unknown to anyone in the Hole. That is another question that has kept me curious – how come the departing ones learn that strange language so quickly? How come once they start talking to her, they seem to suddenly forget rest of languages they have learned all their prison term?
All that others can do is stand by and greet her with respectful silence. Children are often taught to stay away from her – not to look at her, not to talk about her. In fact, parents are known to keep her presence secret from them – maybe that is why we avoid mentioning her, we are taught to do so since childhood.
Her ways are something that has long obsessed me. At times, her steps are sudden and silent, sometimes she is not seen by anyone except by the one whom she is visiting and at that only in very last moment. At other times, she lingers on for days – always seen sitting at the head of the bed of her host going without food for days as she waits, running her ugly white bony fingers on her host’s, mostly worried, forehead like a kind mother troubled by her child’s pain and singing lullabies in her horrible voice to host’s ears.
Yes, I compared her to a mother – I see you are stressed by my calling her that; for we both know nothing, nothing, and not even stars make this hole endurable the way presence of a mother can. And yet, I see her – the Black Widow as having motherly compassion. Maybe I am wrong, of course, who here can ever claim to have talked to her. She always takes away those with whom she has ever talked to and yet, I don’t believe what some of us claim that she causes suffering to those she is about to take away. Rather I think suffering is in fact result of the hole itself and where some of us are unable to endure their quota of suffering, she takes him or her away earlier than she might otherwise have. Maybe I am wrong – I don’t claim to be right, I don’t know if she takes us to someplace worst still, but to me, being taken away by her after all this suffering looks like a child picked up and being taken back home by his mother after he has had a bad day. You see I’m optimist, not a pessimist, and it is with a positive mindset that I approach the bell. I want to be taken back, sir, I am tired and in intense pain, I can’t take it anymore, I too want to be picked up like a baby, taken back home and tucked in my bed, sung lullabies to, put to sleep in tranquility of lack of worries of childhood. Please sir, is it too much to wish for?
But you don’t agree – you have your own opinions as to where does she take us. But all we have on the subject are only rumors – some, like me, believe that it simply means the end of our punishment and that we are finally taken to a place of peace, even a place of bliss. There is a few even more optimist than I’m and they believe that she frees us from the prison of consciousness.
Others, like you, argue that this here is only a test – and it is only on the basis of how we perform here that our reward or punishment will be decided by the master of Black Widow or Black Widow herself. And how do we perform well? Again you only have guesses – whole books written on the subject of instructions supposedly given by masters of Black Widow, never two of them agreeing with each other.
But let us not quarrel. Whatever the theories might be – the only truth that we do know, that we ever knew for sure, that perhaps we ever will know, while we live in this hole is that, one day or other, we will be visited by Black Widow – some wait for the day eagerly – for each additional day in this hole seems to somehow add to suffering from the spirit. There are others who are scared and accept the inevitable with fear and trembling. There are some who aren’t so much scared to go but, and this is perhaps the biggest irony, have grown to be in love with this Hole. Then there are others who talk to her with a graceful smile – as if meeting an old friend. But howsoever they may feel, they all submit to Black Widow’s wishes – she doesn’t order, she just starts to leave and their hosts; laughing or crying, taking one last look of their loved ones’ teary eyes, silently rejecting their pleas to stay another moment, follow her submissively. There are a few who foolishly try to resist, a resistance that lasts only moments – and she could wait patiently until they give away to Hole’s suffering added to by her presence.
Look, although I tried not to talk about her, that is all I seem to have done. These meaningless efforts at ignoring her have become the fate of most of us in this den. We try to distract ourselves with all kind of things believing that in this way or that, by creating few things, or through, sex, circuses, art, children we overcome, or at least temporarily overcome, the shadow that haunts us.
Some of us are good at fooling ourselves with such notions, others are not.
For these later, all their lives have become one big preparation of rendezvous with her. They look at her from afar and romanticize, fantasize about her – something, an addiction that is seen as too dangerous and thus children are to be protected from it. Because, otherwise they too, like those romantics, might start thinking of ringing the bell. Perhaps it is we who are each other’s jailers. Whenever someone so much as approaches a bell someone else starts wanting to counsel him – no offense to you sir, I only question the general custom of looking down upon the use of the bell – the bell is, after all, there for a purpose.
Didn’t you just saw me stroking the bell and started this conversation to distract me … and I have noticed, when I said there is no way to know when she will pay the visit – you didn’t correct me by mentioning the bell. For while we can’t delay her visit, we can make her come sooner. Did you? you are wise in your omissions. But how could I not talk about the bell? You tell me, and be honest, haven’t you ever considered ringing it yourself? Haven’t you fantasized about it? Haven’t you noticed that grace – that motherly love in that ugly face of hers and wished to be comforted by it? Some people have called her cruel, some kind, some indifferent but how do we know. And when we are desperate, we look for rescue even in the most unlikely quarters. So tell me, haven’t you ever thought of ringing the bell – an act that, to me, is not unlike cry of a child who has had too much of the world and now wants to return to the comfort of her or his mother’s lap?
Won’t you answer that? As you wish. You are a good person doing, what you think is right for me, and I can’t thank you enough for that. Look, you have been successful – you have at least delayed my decision. I won’t ring the bell today, maybe tomorrow or the day after but not today – for although this still feels like strange country and I have no hope of it ever feeling at home here; the music is great, the stars hopeful, the dogs – the dogs! who would have imagined such wonderful creatures could be found in this hole; and of course there are people like you, who smile despite it all for themselves and for others and whose laughter can break the deadly silence that dwells in her shadow.
Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoy it, you can rate it on its Goodreads page. You may find more of my fiction here, particularly my book, you can download it for free, and some of my reviews here, though most of my reviews are only on my Goodreads profile.
Copyright – Sidharth Vardhan