“Carefully, painstakingly carefully place your left foot ahead, planting it with certainty on the uneven floor before you lift your right foot, creeping forward into a darkness which is total. A darkness not just of sight but of sound, smell, touch and taste. Where you don’t exist but at the same time you exist the most, because you are pure. A plight that most of us cannot even imagine. Yet I implore you to attempt it, for then we shall cry together upon perceiving ourselves for what we truly are. Therein lies an answer that though by no means solves your conundrum in its entirety but shall provide you that glimpse of hope you seek, that we all crave in the darkness that you blanket yourself in.
Now restore the painting to how it was the day you first walked in here. I want you to think about what changed. Unchange it.”
Berta soaked up her situation. The sage had taken her to a cave instead of the usual hut that she would find him at. The smell of bats engulfed her, the rhythmic dripping of water from the roof onto the floor hammered on her ears, the absolute darkness blinded her. She felt like her mouth wouldn’t open as she ground her teeth with a clenched jaw. She couldn’t just stay still, like she had for the last one hour, or was it a day? She had to do something. She couldn’t hear the sages voice anymore, which meant that she was all alone in the cave. She felt angry at herself for being in this pickle. She imagined that the sage and his disciples had by now made off with everything they could find in her room and without a doubt she would be seeing neither those ‘fuckers’ nor anything else she had collected as possessions. Strangely, the thought of not seeing those men again comforted her. Her mother had always warned her about this. Don’t let those smooth talking men bed you, she would say. You are too easy to manipulate Berta, you mustn’t trust people so easily, she added. And wasn’t she right?
She sat cross legged on the wet, slippery floor of the cave and started thinking how she felt stranded in a foreign country, taken for a ride by a spiritual guru, in bed with a smooth talker.
irate, annoyed, cross, vexed, irritated, exasperated, indignant, aggrieved, irked, piqued, displeased, provoked, galled, resentful, unintelligent, ignorant, dense, brainless, mindless, foolish, dull-witted, dull, slow-witted, witless, slow, dunce-like, simple-minded, empty-headed, vacuous, vapid, half-witted, idiotic, moronic, imbecilic, imbecile, obtuse, doltish
There is an eerie comfort in being truly alone, something that soothes and calms your inner turmoil, normalizing the aberrant emotions, thoughts and actions to create an almost perfect calm. That is how Berta found herself after what felt to her like a lifetime had passed. Blindness engulfed her. Restore the painting. She could faintly see the painting as she remembered it.
When she first laid her eyes upon the painting, the size of a wall calendar perhaps, she didn’t think much of it. She couldn’t even tell whether the ink on it had been laid by the persevering hands of a poor craftsman or by big machines that in unison create art by the thousands. It was an old woman carrying a earthen pot on her head. Over time she noticed the details, the wrinkles on the back of her hand, the visible nerves that began near her fingers and showed along her upper arm, the small toe ring she wore on her right toe, the deep green colour of her sari, tiny droplets of water leaking from the earthen pot and mixing with sweat, nestling in the frowns upon her forehead and her eyebrows. Yet there lingered a faint smile on her deeply cracked lips, like she knew she was being immortalized in paint. The next day she noticed the small mole on the woman’s neck. Later she saw that one of her fingernails was painted a dark shade of red. A week later she could feel the heat that burned the woman’s brow, smell the earthy smell – like the smell of imminent rain on dry clay, hear the faint breeze blow across the dusty terrain. She could feel her dry tongue and the movements it made inside her mouth gulping down saliva.
She began to go back in time as she sat in the cave, blind. She had, a long time ago, seen a collector taking layers off an old painting. He had multiple brushes and a a whole tray full of liquids with strong smells. He went about his business with patience and planning, almost unaware of anyone’s presence. She began to restore the painting in her minds eye. She removed the light brown stain where dust had settled on the frame. She got rid of little scratches near the edge where it lay against the wall. Layer by layer, she undressed the painting, moving back in time, one day at a time, determined to not stop until she had unchanged it. There might still be a lesson in this, she postulated. She spent countless hours repeating, refining her work, the bridge of the nose, the small hair on her chin, the uneven surface of the earthen pot, she adjusted the smell of the rain, the tongue became dryer and the lips brighter. It was all coming together for her, she was restoring the painting which had been muddied and adulterated by time, exactly what the sage had asked her to do. She lost track of time.
She stood up and in hypnosis, made her way outside the cave into the bright sunlight, past the giant banyan tree whose roots hid the entrance to the cave, skipped across the rice fields which due to the heat looked barren. She unlatched the door and stared at the painting that lay rested against the wall, in her own room, mocking her. Her knees gave in and in a fit of disgust and pity for herself, she went down on her knees and cried. He stood by her side and cried with her because that’s what he had promised her in the cave.
That night she made another diary entry
My time in the cave has taught me something, just like the sage had said it would. I perceived more than I ever have, yet at the same time I was blind to all my senses. I, saw, as myself; yet the painting, restored back in time by my inner eye, was but a ghost of the original. During the process, unknowingly I added one hair or forgot a few wrinkles or made the eyes browner, all in the likening of someone. The ears resembled my great grandmother’s when she lay on her death bed. The smell, a combination of the sage’s and my sister’s. I had personalized it, added elements that did not belong, feelings that were stolen from my past. Nothing, I realised, is pure. Why then shall I seek for a purity that cannot be perceived, other than by God? And who is to say what God does or doesnt perceive?
Everything touches everything else and that is the basis of creation. She was going to name the protagonist of her novella ‘Micheal’.