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     Volume 6 Issue 43 | November 9, 2007 |

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A Roman Column


Neeman A Sobhan

Once there lived a man with two souls. With one he lived in peace and virtue within the mirror of his upright life, the reflection shiny as a polished shoe. But the other soul he locked up, because it asked too many questions, nagging him relentlessly about things irrelevant to his daily life.

One day, the man met a beautiful, wild-eyed woman who spoke in a gibberish tongue that he only barely understood but which sent ripples across his consciousness, set his pulse racing. She addressed him with precognition and spoke as if she saw into unlived lives and days long past or yet to be. At first, he laughed nervously at her incoherent declarations and tales. Then he resolutely pushed her away and moved on with his life. But from that day onwards, the locked soul fell quiet. The man was perturbed by this silence, resounding and thudding against his well-padded inner walls, a noiseless fist. So one day he opened the door a crack to see what the matter was. Out came a strange being, part human, part beast, part angel, part bird. It had hoofs and horns as well as a halo; it was birdlike, with claws and a pair of un-flapped wings; and his eyes were at once wild and shy like a deer. The creature's lips trembled as if on the brink of poetry and music; his skin shivered violently as if he felt both heat and cold at once. “What's happening to me?” He asked over and over again. The man, in a sudden moment of insight, decided against shutting him up. He thought, if this poor, raving creature could survive by himself he deserved his freedom, if not, then the problem would be resolved.

Straightaway, the chimera-self went looking for the wild-eyed woman. He found her sitting demurely braiding her wild hair with flowers and singing in a park. As long as she chattered and chanted in her strange lunar language of dreams, he felt his restlessness abate. But as soon as she stopped or asked him to tell his story, explain his feelings, he had the oddest sensation that he was fading away, vanishing. He realized that he had no separate reality and could only exist as long as she willed it. She was the one weaving him like a tapestry, embroidering him in a silken language whose sound he loved but which he did not want to understand, because understanding her meaning would bring reason and reality into the picture, unraveling the art, and thereby himself who was its prime motif. He lay down with his head in her lap and closed his eyes contentedly.

“The tapestry must have a name,” the woman suddenly announced one day. “I have woven it airily-fairly but you must name it, for without your lucid mind acknowledging it by calling it something it will have no earthly meaning and thus no existence.” And when the tapestry ceases to exist, so will I, he thought. He wanted desperately to exist within her weaving because it was a wonderful place to be. He loved the carpet of stories and melodies and sensations she had spread for him to walk on; he loved the flesh like flowers and wine-coloured fruits that sprouted around him; he loved being acted upon as a fantasy. It was like being inside a bubble of un-birth bursting to be born.

Fighting for time, he came away to a distant city surrounded by oceans of sand, where he would sit for hours under the self deceptive illusion of being unmoving even as the imperceptibly fleeting, gritty turf moved under him, contemplating the lushness of past actions and inactions, and pondered an appropriate name for the woven garden he had left behind. He knew that the wild woman would accept nothing but the truth, so he pondered long.

Meanwhile the man was getting anxious about his wandering soul. He wanted to know if it had ceased to be, and if not, in what condition it was. He sent his good soul searching for the lost one. The good soul tracked the other down, finding his chimera-like half in a state of confusion. Taking him firmly by the hand, good-soul explained to his distraught twin that if he wanted to exist, then he must live by the rules of the real world, and stop asking too many questions. Above everything, he must stop dabbling in the dangerous craft of dreaming and self-knowledge. By now the second soul was exhausted, the wild woman was fading from his mind and the comfort of his safe and narrow closet was calling to him. So he left with his wiser half and re-entered the cloister of the real world.

The woman waited faithfully for some communication from him. The years passed, and however much she tried on her own to keep it fresh and new, the tapestry started to fade. One day, she willed herself to appear to the Chimera in his dream. “Do you ever think of my tapestry and a name for it?” She asked simply. Startled, he blurted out the truth: “To be honest, not often.” The woman had always worshipped honesty, so she quietly retreated from his nocturnal screen.

Returning to her own world, she decided to take it upon herself to give the tapestry its name. So, she embroidered some words at the top of her tapestry, and then, having cut the thread with her teeth, she sat back to see how the fanciful cloth took the sharp, needle-point truth. Slowly the tapestry edges started to curl up in tiny flames. Soon the whole thing was ablaze, the ashes flying around. Suddenly, in a language neither wild nor incoherent she said out loud: “Chimera, I set you free.” And with that she too returned in peace to her other soul of which she had been the wandering, searching half.

Part II of 'In the Company of Women' will be published next week

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