We are the mashup of all the things we let into our life.

We are the mashup of all the things we let into our life.
The music in my heart I bore, Long after it was heard no more ---William Wordsworth

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Contour of our Shadows

Paris, 1892

Damien always woke up just before the dawn, maybe because he never slept much, or maybe because the darkness somewhat soothed him. As per routine, he would gather his tools and head towards the graveyard with a lantern to check on the condition of graves, but on this day, he went towards a mound overlooking an old farm down the hill. He dropped his tools on the ground, put the lantern beside him, crouched and after mechanically selecting a tool, started digging. Although the light emanating from the lantern was little, it nonetheless illuminated his face and highlighted his strong cheek bones, finely chiseled creases on his forehead, deeply sunken eyes and wrinkles around the mouth. 

The time around dawn elapses very rapidly and so, a faint light from the sun escaped the clouds and slanting towards him, radiated his figure. He was a tall, thin, pallid man with an unkempt beard and shriveled hair and his mechanical digging in the earth showed his dedication to his work. He had laid aside his coat and waistcoat ; his shirt open at the throat, and from time to time wiped the beads of sweat accumulated on his forehead with the back of his hand. Suddenly a light passed on his face, a smile played round his set mouth, and his haggard eyes were fixed in thought. Lifting his eyes to the old farm down the hill, he heaved a sigh that was pregnant with emotions and sat beside the grave he had just dug up. 

His daily life was of a curious microscopic sort; his whole world being limited to a few feet from his person. His familiars were creeping and winged things, and they seemed to enroll him in their band. Bees hummed around his ears with an intimate air, and tugged at the flowers at his side in such numbers as to weigh them to the roots. The strange colored butterflies which this graveyard produced, and which were never seen elsewhere, quivered in the breath of his lips, alighted upon his bowed back, and revolved around him in a jovial sort of way. Tribes of emerald-green grasshoppers leaped over his feet, falling awkwardly on their backs, heads, or hips like unskillful acrobats; or engaged themselves in noisy flirtations under the fern-fronds with the silent ones. Huge flies, ignorant of wire-netting, and in a savage state, buzzed about him without knowing that he was a man. 

As the sun now showed itself in full splendor, small and large snakes glided in their most brilliant blue and yellow guise, it being season immediately following the shedding  of their old skins, when their colors are brightest. Litters of young rabbits came out of their forms and warmed themselves upon the hillocks, the hot beams blazing through their skin. None of them feared him.

The monotony of his occupation soothed him, and was in itself a pleasure. He stooped down and with his emaciated hands touched a cockroach on his back, which immediately stopped and listened intently,its antennas ever attentive. A faint chuckle escaped his lips and his eyes brimmed with tears.
"Hey there, little one. Want to hear story?" he said to the cockroach. 

Saying this, he propped himself against the stone wall of the ancient cemetery, closed his eyes and started his usual soliloquy. a faint smile still lingering on his lips.

Paris, 1772  

It was a time of turmoil and a time of joy. A time to make amends and a time to get punished for. A time when felicity and grief walked hand in hand and reigned in the streets of Paris. When thieves, beggars, vagabonds and drunkards lived like there was no tomorrow, laughing boisterously and dancing to a broken tune, their bodies gyrating in a disgusting manner. People roamed, or rather, crawled the streets day and night wearing rags and tatters, even the men of higher class had themselves drunk and roamed with the wild crowd. The whole city was overflowing with sewer and gutter refuse. It was altogether a shameful and disgraceful picture to look at, but well, that's how Paris suffered then. 

It was during this time that i arrived in Paris and was looking for a lodging for the night when i chanced upon a deserted street, and my intuition instantly told me that this was a bad sign. I immediately slipped into the darkness of an old tavern and waited for any signs of movement. I sniffed the wind and listened, but no avail. Quivering with fear, i came out of the darkness and had advanced only a few steps when the path became muddier and muddier. 

Now i observed something rather extraordinary; the street was not deserted. Here and there were to be seen creatures crawling in a certain, vague, shapeless mass, which moved towards a light flickering at the end of the street. It reminded me of those heavy insects which drag themselves along from one blade of grass to another, towards a shepherd's fire. I was mortified at this sight and darted in the opposite way only to hear them crawling towards me and joined by more cripples, paralytic and blind men swarming around me. Also one armed men, one-eyed men, and lepers with their open sores. They emerged from the houses, from the side streets, from the cellars, howling, bellowing and screaming- all running towards the big fire at the end of the streets and that's where they forcefully led me.

"Where am i?" i cried, with tears streaming down my face. 
They all answered with a burst of demonic laughter.

At last we came to the great fire and then, it came upon me, something of a revelation : the city of thieves, a hideous blot on the face of Paris. A sewer from where there escaped a monstrous horde of people every morning only to return to this grotesque place to celebrate. People of all religions covered with painted sores, beggars in daytime and robbers at night, enacting prostitution and murder on the streets of this once famed city. 

It was a vast square, irregular in shape, lined with crooked, hideous frames of old houses whose decayed, worm eaten walls presented an ungodly sight. Fires around which swarmed strange groups, roamed here and there. All was commotion, confusion and shouting. One heard shrieks of laughter, the wailing of children and the high pitched voices of women. The hands and heads of this crowd, silhouetted against the luminous background, made a thousand fantastic gestures on the wall behind. 

Beautiful. Nay, ghastly, i would say. As soon as i regained my senses and my bearing, i had a bottle of beer in my hand and some woman's bonnet on my head. This was ludicrous, i shouted indignantly, and throwing the bottle and bonnet, stormed out of the company of this vile crowd and  climbed the roof of an old shop, in order to have a clear view of the ceremony below and propping against the wall fell in contemplation.  These poor souls weren't celebrating life, they were celebrating death. And what was more terrifying about it was that they knew it. These people were cursed. Nay, this wasn't witchcraft. They were being dogged by death the day they were born in this vile city. It was death that roamed the streets of Paris at night time, and not these people. Or rather, it was death disguised in their shadows. 

"Any time now", was the sentence which lingered in their minds everyday, every night, every waking moment. Thus, it was for this sole, unwavering reason that these men, women and children, armed with daggers and pitchforks reigned the streets of Paris at night and celebrated death in this obnoxious and repugnant manner. 

Every night. These ceremonies were held every night for 17 years and more, till these souls finally succumbed to their shadows.

Paris, 1892

"....Since time immemorial, death has been crouching in our shadows, ever watchful, ever attentive, to feast on the next soul it decides upon."
He finally heaved a sigh and opening his eyes, turned towards the cockroach.

"Little one, do the dead ever dream?", he asked in a matter of fact way.
"I guess they do, they do dream. And a lot. Maybe, the dreams are the canvas on which the dead paint their sorrows. Eh? Let me know what you think."

And saying this, he picked the cockroach between his forefinger and thumb and turned it over on it's back. The vigorous, spasmodic kicking and flinging of it's arms and antennas gave him delight, and he burst in a fit of demonic laughter, rivulet of tears streaming down his face.

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