Beyond that horizon lies the true purpose of your life.”, he said.
I didn’t think much of it. To me, old Mr. Roy was just old and maybe a little crazy. The things he said were usually abnormal and somewhat twisted. His rather large and thick glasses resembled the bottom of one of my grandmother’s jam bottles. In fact, they looked so old and dusty even as he was wearing them that it seemed to me like he had just dug them out of some excavation site. They were just plainly obscure. But then, old Mr. Roy was an obscure old man. He wore an over-sized gray overcoat that neither matched his brown pleated pants or black laced shoes. He was holding a black hat that he carried everywhere but never actually wore. It seemed eternally fastened to his bony fingers.
I do not remember how we came to talk about love, life or purpose for that matter. I did not understand what Mr. Roy meant by the “horizon” . All I knew was he liked to talk of unfathomable things- things that would not make sense to any rational person. One might even say he had an illness that made him, and those who listened to him, go mad.
However, I still visited him every evening to listen to his stories. I knew that they were not true but he was an amusing person and I was somehow drawn to him. It wasn’t the strangeness of his demeanor that drew me to him but more so, his stories and his personality. After all, he was rather old, sometimes reminding me of a lost jelly fish drifting towards the shore. Maybe this was because his bald head looked soft and jelly like while the silver hair on his chin seemed to resemble the long tentacles of a jelly fish. He was so conscious of his beard that one might think he possessed great powers that like the strength of Samson would all disappear once the beard was cut off. His crooked teeth reminded me of pirates’ teeth I read about when I was young- yellow and never brushed. And even though he was wrinkled, old and odd in most ways, he had a certain glow that permeated exuberance and life.
As I got to know him more and more, I began to realize more than anything that one really couldn’t possibly judge a book by its cover. He always wanted to me to call him Roy but in our conservative culture, I could not possibly imagine addressing him as just that. To me, he was always Uncle. He really was a little peculiar; however, I began to realize that there was more to him than just the outward appearance of a silly and timeworn man. My grandmother said that he had seen things and done things one couldn’t possibly think was possible. She said he was a wicked old man who has strange powers bestowed upon him by the devil himself. Of course, I took no notice of what she said.
It was around six o’clock, the start of that dusky period where tired men and women start to drag themselves from unproductive workplaces to reach chaotic homes. As usual, I waited in his living room in an old Assam type house – the kind that once dotted the landscape of Shillong, the kind that is all but a rarity now. However, there was a mysterious feeling that came along in his house. I sometimes wondered if it was the antique furniture or that huge portrait of a white lady staring straight at me. I had once asked Uncle who she was. He had said that some questions were never meant to be answered. Nevertheless, I still wondered who she was and why her steel blue eyes seemed to penetrate my soul. That rainy evening, she was more intimidating than usual and somewhere in the back of my mind I doubted whether she really was just a lady in a picture. I brushed that thought aside and waited patiently for Uncle.
There was something about that house that made people lose track of time and space. I only realized that it was late when I caught myself yawning. I took out my phone to see the digital screen with the numbers 21:21 on it. To think that I had been sitting on my own in that lonely room for almost three and a half hours without noticing! I bewildered myself. Kongduh, the maid who had let me in seemed nowhere in sight. I decided to let myself out. As I was about to unlock the heavy door, I heard footsteps from the next room. My curiosity got the best of me and even though I knew I shouldn’t have, I went to to peep into the next room.
It was almost like an endless trance. I’m not even sure if it was real anymore. In that semi- lit room with its victorian-styled furniture, all nuances in this world seemed to fade and there I saw ( with my own naked eyes) the Taro.
Legend has it that some inexplicable wealthy families would keep them in their houses- those wicked spirits that breed on hatred and envy. They were the kind that had no true form but often appeared to the owners in forms of old, wrinkled and disgusting women-like creatures. It was said they never show themselves to common people but only to the ones they want to cling to. I had heard these stories too many times but not once had I ever believed they were true. And there I was, paralyzed with fear and numb with shock.
I can still remember how even the atmosphere felt oppressive and that puky feeling in my stomach. I can still feel how every ounce of energy in my body felt like it was slowly being drained out, like my blood was slowly freezing inside my arteries and I felt a sharp pain on the side of my waist almost like a spear ran though it. The Taro approached me. I do not remember when it saw me or how or why but I saw it coming.
She was the most wretched thing I had ever seen or ever will see. Her hair seemed like the end of an old broomstick and her hands yellow as a baby’s vomit. Her wrinkles so deep that you see through that thin layer of flaky skin right into a black hollow heart that seemed ready to suck every other heart it came across. She carried a huge bag, larger than any I had ever seen and more terrible than any to have ever been made for it was there she kept the souls of her victims. Soul sucker. That Taro. Her eyes called out to me saying “Cynthia, give it to me. Just give to me.” Her mouth opened and that drenched the air with an odour so strong and so sickeningly heinous, I thought I was going to die.
I felt a hand appear out of the darkness choking me. I felt chains around my feet but the worst, the most horrifying, the most terrible was when I felt her nails digging into my skin reaching for whatever soul I supposedly had. I screamed with all I had and yet I was screaming with no voice. She had stolen my voice!
It was then that I saw Mr Roy. Why????????????!!!!!!!! I tried to say but my voice was gone forever. The tears that rolled down my cheeks burned like acid rolling down. I saw him mouth the word, “ FIGHT “. How???????!!!!! I wanted to ask. The acid was burning even more and the hand was halfway into my chest. I was about to give up. Who wouldn’t?
I breathed my last mouthing the words, “You can take my soul but not my spirit. God is on my side.”
I feel warm in between white sheets or are these blankets? I am not sure. Is this heaven? My arm is as heavy as a block of granite and my body feels as weak an ant’s when it is crushed by fingers. There is a mental fog that blocks my brain. It is too hazy. Where is this light coming from? Do I still have a soul? I turn my head to the left and there I see another girl on another bed. Her face is half burnt and her hair white on one side, red on the other. She smiles at me. I am not sure whether she is also a victim like me or another form of the evil that lurks. Is she a person or a pretentious creature waiting for the opportunity to drag me to a hellish destiny? I turn away. The sight is disturbing. It feels like noonday for the heat is almost unbearable and the light is blinding. Everything is white.
I start to wonder if it was all just a bad dream- the usual nightmares I would have. I begin to think and hope so desperately that this whole thing is a dream. I tell myself I’ll wake up. I’m not dead. It’s just a bad dream, like the ones I had in my childhood when that man with long hair and burning eyes would come to murder me. It’s all just a dream. I woke up then. I will wake up now. But then I feel a smooth hand touch my shoulder and the hairs on my skin stand as if electricity had passed through my veins. I dare not look up. I know that I am in some sort of hellish purgatory not going to heaven of course. With what I went through, I am surely hell bound. I look up to see a smiling Mr Roy with his thick glasses and his mismatched clothes. I shudder knowing that he was the cause of my suffering. This evil man who breeds witches in his home. I hear him say, “ Cynthia, your mother is here.” What?! What is my mother doing here? How? What? Why?
“The angels came for my little baby.” she whispers.
So am I dead? Are they crying over my dead corpse? The questions seem unending whirling through my brain like a tornado in the making. Mr Roy speaks to my mother. His voice fades into some unending space of blackness. I see two lights appear from this limitless sky. Voices saying, “Fear not, your soul returns. Your spirit won. God did not forsake you.” They say the same thing unceasingly and then their voices and their light fade into that hollow black sky. Nothing makes sense.
I wake up to find my family and Mr Roy. He says, “Do you remember?”.
“What?!” I ask. My voice has come back. The Taro could not steal it forever but it feels like a voice dripping with a bitterness and anger I had never known before. How could he still talk to me after what he had put me through?
And then he began,
“I’ve done things I know I should not have. I’ve said things that are wrong. I’ve made mistakes I thought were impossible to reverse. But the worst thing I did was let greed take my soul. The hunger for money and temptation of power was too much for me to handle…………. I’m sorry………… what I mean is that you have a right to be angry for that evil that you saw was one I summoned in my past. I…I wanted unfair advantages so I sought black magic. I turned to divination. Forgive me…. for in my pride I called upon the Taro.
I went through troubles and I lost my wife and my children for greed’s sake. The darkness does not play fair. And she was no less. I’ve gone after priests and preachers, doctors and healers, everywhere, anywhere searching for my escape. Looking for freedom. And then I saw a dream where an angel told me that a young girl with purity of heart and love could lead me to deliverance. She would do that on, All Hallows Day. But only in her suffering could I find freedom.
Never did I think you would go through so much just to free me from my curse….. I ask… I… forgive me for not telling you. But you have a greater purpose, beyond anything you can ever imagine. Go beyond the horizon and find your greater purpose. This is only the beginning.”
I am barely sixteen and he was talking of a greater purpose. Could this really be a new start? What is the horizon for me? I don’t want to think and contemplate such things. I am too young. I deserve to be happy again. But then there is this creeping thought that haunts my mind, what if I really am meant for more than a life of ordinary non-events. Maybe I can be an instrument of redemption in this forlorn world. This is all so confusing.
I remember my daddy before he left me to face the world alone. He said he named me Cynthia because it means “love”. Maybe my purpose in life is just to keep on loving everyone and then eventually I’ll forget the bad stuff. Oh how I wish I had amnesia and then I’d never know the feeling of hopelessness I have felt. And then, the ones around this hospital bed all start talking again and I fade into blackness once more.