Every heart has a story...
-by gasper crasto (13th February 2005)
“We spend our years as a tale that is told.” –Psalms 90:9
I was woken up by the incessant buzz of the cell-phone. I picked it up groggily and looked at the display screen. It was her home number.
“Hi... Nut-t-t..” Her voice - soft, low and gentle.
“..Hi...m-morning...” I said sleepily.
“..Meet me at the bus-stand....town... eight am... sharp...” She seemed in a hurry.
“Aren’t you working to..day....”
“...Be in time..Bye..” She stopped me in mid-sentence.
There was a click at the other end. I glanced at the clock. How in the world did she expect me to be up and moving within half an hour. Did she think I could fly?
I stretched out my left leg like taking a giant step on the moon. Then the right. I realized I had gone to sleep without having bothered to take off the jeans. Well, the denims were ‘missing’ now.
“Ma...” I thought, “Oh, she is good.” I tossed the covers, jumped out of bed, wrapped a towel and rushed to the bathroom.
“I told you hundred times to take off your pants before going to bed...” A familiar yell from the kitchen.
I shaved and showered in a flash.
“..There..., breakfast’s on the table.” Another yell, “Have you heard?...”
“What’s the big rush..!” She roared picking up the damp towel I’d dumped on the bed.
“Just remembered I have to...to...” I fumbled for words.
“Just remembered WHAT..!” A yell so loud, it could have cracked glass.
“..to... go... be... that... I am supposed to pick up a friend from the railway station... arriving from Bombay... by the morning train...Shh-h..!....I almost forgot...”
As she turned to go, I was praising my brains for passing a lie-detector test. The cell-phone buzzed again; she turned around to face me again, glaring.
I turned to look at the clock. 08.00 am.
“Hello-o..” I answered the phone, aware that x-ray eyes were studying my impatience.
“Where are you...” The voice - low and gentle.
“Y-yes.., welcome back.. welcome-welcome...how was the trip...”
“Trip?.. Where are you... Nut-t-t...It’s eight already.. Should I wait or...”
“Just take care of your luggage...i’ll be...”
“...What luggage! Are you all right?..”
“...Give me five minutes...i’ll be there...” I hanged up.
“Who is this friend..!” Yet another yell and I almost dropped the cell-phone.
It was only when we stopped at a petrol station that I remembered I had forgotten my wallet home.
I did not know what to do.
“What’s wrong? Hurry...” She was impatient.
Quietly, I turned the car away. “I think the car has enough juice to run a day.”
“Okay.. Then keep driving.. Take north..”
“Yes, north..! *Fair weather comes out of the north.”
“Where north..! North Pole?.. Hmm... great...It should be much cooler there..”
“.. You have some change I can borrow?” I couldn’t hold asking.
“How much?” She unzipped her bag.
“Well...five hundred bucks......if not more...”
She shut her bag without taking out anything, looked straight ahead and then
stared at me.
“Is that what you call... a ‘change’?” She frowned.
“Have you ever walked around with no money but a coin in your pockets? Have you ever done the walk of shame? If you say no, you’re lying... ...”
She looked at me, quizzical. I explained... She giggled... It was sunshine to the mind; it took my worry away.
“Anyway, you don’t need that much money, do you?”
“Well, I just can’t live on a glass of juice all day... like you...”
“Okay...okay... we’ll see...”
“I’d slept intermittently during the night...” I told her, “The texts... calls... whispers all night... and when I am about to catch sleep you box me again... Couldn’t you tell once you were taking ‘off’ today?... And tell me one thing, when do you ever sleep?.. That’s one reason you have headaches...”
“I am fine..” She breathed.
I put the car stereo and sang along. It was quite a song.
“Do you believe in stars?.” I asked, “Have you seen them from close quarters?”
“Well, we’ll both see some if my eyes shut for a second... Would you mind driving, I am feeling real dizzy...”
“Where are we going?”
“Let’s go see the lake... People say it’s beautiful there. They show it in movies, you know?...It’s the biggest fresh water lakes – the Ma...”
“...Is there enough petrol to go that far?” She asked excitedly.
We sat in an open-air restaurant overlooking the lake. Juice and local breakfast.
“Is this a lake or the sea route of Moses?” She seemed to be in good mood, “It’s dry to the bottom. Where’s all the water gone..?”
“Well, the only time I came here was perhaps.... not in summer, it was overflowing and beautiful then... I remember we rode on a boat... Anyway, the environment is so peaceful... and scenic, isn’t it?...It was my wish...in fact, a dream to bring you here.”
“You believe in your... dreams?”
“I believe in magic... and the best of it, the most true of it... is in the heart... I have been feeling this magic for years... but I am afraid to reveal it to anyone...”
“Not even me?”
I kept munching from my plate; her plate was untouched.
“Tell me...” She said.
“Mmm...mmm...some other day..” I pushed the plate, humming the tune of one of my favorite songs that played on the car stereo.
“You know why bees hum?” She asked.
“Listen...! You save those riddles for the students...”
“Naah?...Let me tell you...”
Okay... Why?” I continued humming.
“Because they don’t know the words...” She giggled.
“Hmm...” I knew she was 'hinting' at me. I stopped humming and started the song, “*Would you know my name, if I saw you in heaven...Would it be the same...”
“The song has lovely lyrics...” She said at the end of the verse.
“...It reminds me so much of my Maggie..” I said.
“Who is Maggie?..” She looked towards me, nosily.
“Magdalene Rodriguez-e-Cardozo, Rodrigue-z with a ‘z’... my granny... Hmm....Let me tell you the story that was told to me by her, and to her
by her granny, and her by her granny... perhaps for as far back as anyone knows... for longer than time remembers...”
“I don’t want to hear grandmother tales...”
“This one’s very interesting.. and different... Too good to be a myth... I don’t remember any stories that I read or heard as a child.. and it seems to be having a spell on me... Haven’t come across such a story anywhere... Somehow, I am mesmerized by it. I’d first heard it from her when I was just a little kid...but a few years before she died – she died 86 years of age - I had to insist her to narrate the story again... and she had narrated with the same zest and an unchanged version as I had first heard it...”
I paused, noting the amused interest in her eyes. Then began, “There was a girl. She was of humble birth but a lady in her heart and manner. Her beauty was known throughout the land, and though she carried herself with pride, for she had a slim and pleasing form, she was a modest girl... She did as she was bid and what was expected by her parents, and was never heard to complain.”
She leaned forward, eyes awake.
“I can’t say what was in her heart.” I continued, “Perhaps this is something she didn’t know herself... Everyday as she was tending flowers in her garden, a prince of that place – what she thought was a man passed by her house... He was handsome... By her name he called her one day, and his voice was like music in her head and set her heart dancing... And in a flash like a lightning strike, they fell in love...”
“Love at first sight...” She interrupted, “It’s a device often used in fables.
What happened next?..”
“Well, it was not the simple matter of a girl and a boy taking hands and joining lives, for he was a prince – a fairy prince who lived in a silver palace... She doubted both his heart as well as her own... The more her heart yearned, more she doubted...”
My breath was rising and falling. I did not look at her. She did not look at me
either. That was good.
“One night, when the moon was ripe and full, the prince lured the girl from her house and onto his great winged horse to fly with her and show her the wonders he would give her if only she would pledge to him... All he had he would give her...”
“And it happened the girl’s father, wakeful with aches in his bones, saw his young girl swirl out of the sky on the white winged horse with the fairy prince... In his fear and lack of understanding, he forbade her to go out with the prince again, and to ensure her safety he engaged her to a steady young fisherman.... And the girl – with great respect for her father, dutifully tucked her heart away, ceased her life, and prepared to be wed as was bid her...”
I moved my eyes around at the same time she faced me. I kept my eyes on hers, immersed by what I saw in them. Dreams?.. Sadness?.. Wishes?.. Perhaps all.
“On first hearing, the prince gave way to a black temper and sent the lightning and thunder and wind to whip and crash over the hills and down to the sea... And the villagers, the farmers and fishermen trembled, but the girl sat quiet in her house and saw to her mending...”
“...He could have just taken her into with him,” I was interrupted again, “...and kept for a hundred years...”
“Hah-h... so you know how it’s done, hmm?.. True enough the prince could have snatched her away, but in his pride he wanted her to come to him willing...” I angled my head, studying her face, “Would you rather be snatched up and away without a choice or romanced and courted..?”
“Please continue...” She seemed eager. Her eyes, usually calm and quiet, were a bit wild.
“Alright, then, I’ll tell you... At dawn the prince mounted his winged horse and flew up to the sun. He gathered fire from it, formed dazzling diamonds from it, and put them in a silver sack... And these flaming jewels he brought to her house... When she went out to meet him, he spilled them at her feet, and said to her, ‘I’ve brought you jewels from the sun. These are my passion for you. Take them, and me, for I will give you all I have, and more.’ But she refused, telling him she was promised by her parents to another... Duty held her and pride him as they parted, leaving the jewels lying among the flowers... And so they became sunflowers.”
My hand was in hers. She chafed at the tips of my finger nails with hers that sent electrifying ripples inside me. I deliberately freed my hand and picked up the glass of juice, sipping slowly to soothe away the flutter in my throat.
Her eyes were far across the lake.
“You okay?” I asked, “Did you hear any version of this story before? Ever?..
From your mom, granny...”
“Is it over?” She asked, somewhat anxious.
“There’s more yet...”
“Oh...” She made an effort to relax, “What happened next...”
“She married the fisherman and moved in with him. And.... their life... settled... into a contentment and order...”
When I paused, she frowned, “But that can’t be all...”
I smiled, happy I could use my grandmother’s ‘technique’ of changing rhythm to hold interest.
“Did I say it was? No, indeed, it’s not all... For you see, the prince could not forget her, he lost his joy in music and laughter... One night in great despair, he mounted his horse once again and flew up to the moon, gathering its light, which turned to pearls in his silver bag. Once more he went to her, and though she carried her first child in her womb, she slipped out of her husband’s bed to meet him...”
“‘These are tears of the moon,’ he told her. “ ‘They are my longing for you. Take them, and me, for I will give you all I have, and more.’ Again, though tears of her own spilled onto her cheeks, she refused him. For she belonged to another, had his child inside her, and would not betray her vow. Once more they parted, duty and pride, and the pearls that lay on the ground became flowers...”
I had to control my tone - to be me.
“So the years passed, with the prince grieving and the lady doing what was expected of her... She birthed her children, and took joy in them. She tended her flowers, and she remembered love.... For, though her husband was a good man, he had never touched her heart in its deepest chambers... And she grew old, her face and her body aging, while her heart stayed young with the wishful wishes and dreams...”
“One day the prince mounted his winged horse and flew out over the sea, and dived deep into it to find its heart. There, the pulse of the sea flowed into his silver bag and became sapphires... These he took to the lady - whose children had children now - whose hair had gone white and the eyes had grown dim... But all the prince saw was the girl he loved and longed for. At her feet, he spilled the sapphires. ‘These are the heart of the sea. They resemble the constancy of my heart. Take them, and me, for I will give you all I have, and more...’
“And this time, with the wisdom of age, she saw what she had done by turning away love for duty, for never once trusting her heart. And what he had done, by offering the gifts, not giving her the one thing that may have swayed her to him...”
I found my hand being gripped firm, perhaps she had gripped without realizing it, or so I thought as I continued...
“And so it was the words of love – rather than passion, rather than longing, even rather than constancy – she’d needed. But now she was old and bent, and she knew as the fairy prince couldn’t, that it was too late... She wept the bitter tears of an old woman and told him that her life was ended... And she said that if he had brought her love - rather than jewels, had spoken of love rather than passion and longing and constancy, her heart might have won over duty... He had been too proud, she said, and she too blind to see her heart’s desire.”
My voice was turning a bit choky. I coughed to clear my throat.
“Her words angered the prince, for he had brought her love, time and again, in the only way he knew. And this time before he walked away from her, he cast a spell.... She would wander and she would wait, as he had, year after year, alone and lonely, until true hearts met somewhere... He mounted and flew into the night, and the jewels at her feet again became flowers...”
I paused for a moment, then continued, “She died that very night, and on her grave, flowers sprang up season to season while the spirit of the woman, lovely as the young girl, waits and weeps for love lost...”
“...Why didn’t he take her away then, tell her it didn’t matter?” She asked, apparently with annoyance. I saw she was unsettled or too wrapped up in the tale.
“Well, that’s not the way it happened, that’s what my granny told me. The moral of the story is to trust your heart, and never turn away from love...”
“Of course, jewels weren’t the answer, however impressive. He should have looked back to see them turn into flowers – flowers she kept...”
“She was a simple woman with simple ways.” I said, “But there’s a bigger point to the tale.”
“Which would be?..” She looked at me curiously.
“Love..!” My eyes met hers, “Love... whatever the time, whatever the obstacles, lasts. They’re only waiting for the spell to run its course, then she’ll join him somewhere... some place...”
“Ha-ah...” She leaned back in her chair, “It is... but only a legend.”
I knew she had to pull herself out of the story and into the reasoning, smart as she was.
“Legends..” I said, “...often have strings attached. Quests... tasks.. provisions... The symbolism in this one is traditional... The prince on a white horse - every girl’s dream love, the one she sees in her heart... The use of the elements - sun, moon, sea... Little is said about the man she married, as he’s only a 'utensil' used to keep the lovers apart.”
She looked up at me, but her eyes were vacant. Thoughtful.
“Hey...” I held her by the shoulder and shook her, “Why are you so dreamy-eyed... as if the girl in the story...”
“...I wasn’t dreamy eyed...” She replied solemnly.
“Then..!” My hand closed over hers; her fingers clasped mine, “...Don’t you believe that heart recognizes heart?..”
I could see tears filmed her eyes as she looked across the lake and slowly nodded.
...and thereby hangs a tale
(chapter 3 of a 9 chapter e-novellete - 'Every heart has a story')