The road was busy as usual; cars whizzed by, stopped in traffic jams, geared up again and disappeared out of sight. Unimpeded, life flew by for the pragmatic people in the vehicles - a life intricately designed to go from one meeting to the next- a constant gold rush. After all what was life worth if not for the luxuries; the wretched fantasised about it and the rich just wanted more.
The constant flow of time when viewed from above must have seemed held at an abeyance - nothing changed except the faces. The same condescending tones, the constant thought that you are not good enough and the ruling thought of how you needed more. In this immutable monochromatic fabric of reality - in an overlooked corner was a colourful hole - a delirious middle aged man. He had on a shabby, half torn overcoat - probably someone's concept of charity or left over from a time when he mattered. He had untamed hair and an unshaven face. One might think this unique piece of flesh would be conspicuous among the well groomed gentlemen in search of metal bliss. But amidst the equally forgotten red-leaved trees, streams of pure blue and calls of nameless birds - he was another inconsequential dent in the machine.
He had but one possession - a bamboo flute - and he could play. When the dry piece of wood touched his lips heavens were created, flowers bloomed into apples and trees metamorphosed into wood nymphs dancing along. But no one noticed and no one had to - in the forgotten corner of the world where resides the child's smile, the poet's words and the artist's palette, endless trees of red, blue and purple and everything else useless, he was one.
This ludicrous recluse among other insignificant things in life played tunes that defied everything. Notes blended into meaning with no purpose. And as I looked out from the window of my car at this delusional being - I saw around him my abandoned simplicity and naiveté - from a time when I didn't think it inappropriate to put on a towel for a cape and pretend to fly. The pang of the ephemeral, incorporeal tune seemed more tangible than the concrete feel of circular metal pieces. And yet I moved along, carried by the torrent of the majority into the constant search for more.
By Moyukh Mahtab
The King and His General
36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42…
When he first saw her at the head of the line in the castle courtyard armoured and armed, grey eyes cool and alert he was amused. When she knelt before him to introduce herself, and all the men standing behind followed her, he frowned. When he left while she resumed sparring, he contemptuously glanced back to watch her fall, but she didn't. It was then that his steps slowed.
She trained her men in the castle courtyard, and he could see from his office. It wasn't as though he was always watching, yet somehow every time she looked his way - she looked his way! grey eyes clashed with green. It was only when his advisor came in to collect the paperwork for the day that he'd discover he'd approved of building a library in the shape of a pig or a fountain in the shape of a cow. He couldn't fathom the reason he hadn't read a single paper.
It wasn't too hard to sneak out of his royal chambers, even easier finding hers in the soldiers' quarters. The first time he nearly barged in she greeted him with a sword at his throat and sleep-tousled auburn hair in his face. After removing the blade and offering a tremendously insincere apology with an equally brazen grin, she asked him to leave and shut the door in his face. He had never seen such atrocity.
It turned into a game the castle maids couldn't get enough of. The young King was there when the General entered the meeting-room with her lieutenants. He was there when she came out, wearied from the brainstorming and tactics. He was there when she unsheathed her sword in the courtyard and there again when she sheathed it hours later. Rumours had it that he visited her quarters every night, and although he had never once been inside, each time he'd stay a little longer before the door closed on him.
Sometimes, when he had too many papers to sign and too many meetings to chair, he would miss meeting her after training. It was those days that he'd come back to his chambers to find her leaning against the door, still wearing her mail and sword, waiting for him. Sometimes she would smirk at him, as brash as the first time, and wish him good night before walking away. Those nights he could fall asleep without worrying about tomorrow, dreaming of cool metal against his throat.
One of those nights she pressed a few thin, wrinkled sheets into his hands, smiling at his tired groan, and told him, “I will not leave the battlefield.”
The pages contained her family lineage, noble and ancient. He stayed up till dawn studying them. She had not said she refused to be queen.
It came too soon. There were more guards at the castle gates, refugees in the capital, and barely an hour of sleep at night. All the castle regiments were gone - including hers. He didn't even know her station.
The capital was under attack. Sacrificial pieces are a part of the game it was time to give up the queen to save the king. The king in this game was the country, and he'd do anything to protect it so he had signed the order. Yet as he watched seven birds take flight with the hopes of at least one reaching her, a traitorous part of him prayed none would make it.
The enemy retreated after the massive surprise attack, conducted by her with no intention of winning. The capital was saved. The war ended two months after the assault, one and a half years after it began. Three more months later, there was still no sign of the army to be titled heroes should they be found. Dead or captured. He refused to stop the search.
She was found nearly four months after the war, one of only eleven survivors of the kamikaze mission. The first time he ever entered her room was nearly ten hours after she reached the castle. One look told him everything. He was no fool. She was broken. The war had robbed her of what little innocence she had managed to save for so long. Bloodied and bruised, the scars told stories he didn't want to hear and she didn't want to share. But it was there. Every time.
She no longer objected to his showing up every night, didn't stop him from stepping over her threshold. The maids spoke of the sparkle in her mist-coloured eyes when he came that faded as he left. She lashed out at everyone who tried to calm her when the nightmares struck, but he only had to hold her to stop the screams. So he held her all night, every night.
He knew she was no longer fit to be his queen, and that his advisors were actively searching for a replacement. He also knew why they didn't stop him from seeing her. It was the same reason she didn't hold out on him anymore. Although the familiar smirks were more frequent now and the grey eyes brighter, her body was spent, her soul too worn. She would not survive.
Three years, six months, twenty-eight days and five hours he had known her. Three years, six months, twenty-one days and five hours he had loved her. Three years, six months, twenty-eight days and three hours since they met, she kissed him for the first time. Three years, six months, twenty-eight days and five hours since she knelt before her king and named herself Commander of the Eastern Barracks, she died in his arms.
The child looked like him. His no-longer-new Queen told him so. Even he could see it in the emerald eyes and hint of gold on top of its head, in the tiny nose and wrinkled brows. A girl. The future Queen. She was beautiful.
He thought his daughter would have looked just as beautiful with eyes like the mist and hair as red as the sunset.
He still counted the time. The clock had started ticking in his head from the moment he felt her heart stop, and it never ceased. Two years, ten months, nine days, 15 hours, 46 minutes, 54 seconds.
55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5……
By Professor Spork