The morning was fine, and it was a Sunday too. As occasionally happened with him during fine Sundays, he found himself confined in the hold of indolence. He couldn’t give up his cot and blanket. He wondered on this strange self conscious numbness. He never liked being overslept. He would jump up the moment he opened his eyes. But that day it was different. There was a reason why it was different, he thought. He slept late the previous night, waiting for the late night news bulletin. Three Christians were murdered by some anti-social people or gangsters that day, and media was extensively covering the issue. He was worried about his family; they were Christians. He remembered he had to go to church, as promised to God the previous night to bless him with a good sleep and enough support for the coming days. He knew he had things to wait, a job for example. He was jobless, a graduate just passed out from the University.
The promise to God had to be kept. He remembered kingdoms, peoples and civilizations that had met with their doom after breaking their covenant with God. The kingdoms, the peoples, and the civilizations though perished, their memories, signs and references still exist, rendering the significance of eternal covenant with God and man. Was he doing the right thing by avoiding church that day? He was trapped in the dialectic of existence; in a society, which by placing the image of God in an unquestionable distance, often believes it to be a flicker of imagination and nothing more.
Not that he was a firm believer and felt unease in not going to church. He went to church whenever he felt like. It need not be Sundays alone. It is his enthusiasm that took him to church usually; the thing that he lacked that day. His brain was spurred by some distant memory of a sentence he had read somewhere. The sentence said “your destiny is manifested through your enthusiasm.” He proudly believed that he never gave space for self doubt to overcome his trust in his own decisions. He trusted in intuitions and believed that God manifested His commands through signs that he could understand whenever they occurred in his life.
But the promise he had made the other day shook his complacent bondage with intuitions. Or is his laziness a sign from God? Or is his predetermination interference from God who doesn’t want him in church that day? He knew that Satan is an unavoidable possibility in a man’s journey for knowledge, as self doubt, confusion, and perhaps as pride. He wanted a job, but jobs in Kerala, his part of the world, were a rare thing. There were not many opportunities for a fresher in Kerala. So if he wanted a good job he should go out of state. And he was immensely home sick, to move out. His family could look after him, but not for too long.
He was confused.
In a place, where people are rationally enlightened—his society—he found himself as someone odd, strange. Someone with a heart always was. He thought of ringing one of his teachers, university professors, to ask for help, to resolve the problem; for advice. But he was afraid. He couldn’t locate a question to explain his confusion. He could only think of failure in the attempt of ringing a teacher up without an apt question in mind. In the lack of an apt question, the lack of a language that could communicate his worries to his companions, everything has transformed into a predicament that mutated the questions and the doubts into a different form of psychological order—fear: fear for landing out of place in a world where everything follows a scientific order, reason and a logical pattern.
There was another reason for his fear: one of his childhood experiences as a pupil of third standard. One day he decided to practice something that his parents persisted for his improvement in studies: asking questions to the teacher in the class. It was in the Mathematics class that he ventured this academic stupidity for the first time. He had heard of languages like Sanskrit and Chinese, and he knew that he could not understand these languages if some one to speak one of them in front of him. And for that mater he knew only three languages: Malayalam, English and Hindi. Learning Mathematics was like listening to any one of those unknown languages for him, almost like an unintelligible wild mantra or magical chant.
The teacher had explained a problem on the black board. Then she asked the usual question: “Does anybody have any doubts?” No one said anything. That was the ritual. But that day, he raised his hand. He had a question. He couldn’t understand what the mysterious signs on the black board meant. The teacher called him near. She asked him didn’t he understand what she had taught. He said no. She smiled. He saw something vicious in that smile. It failed words.
She groped up two sticks together, which were on the table near her. Corporal punishment was common in Kerala society, a society that boasts of enlightened rationality and dialectic materialism. It was completely logical, beating a student. If a whip can show a pack of buffaloes, the way to the butcher’s, why couldn’t the same method work with this boy who could not understand what the benevolent teacher had so kindly explained.
The two poles together found their place on both his lower thighs, together. He couldn’t cry, for the whole class was staring at the teacher’s ‘supreme’ justice on the boy who was so indignant to ask the teacher to repeat what she had already taught: ‘one should not question the teacher’. The teacher stopped after four or five flogging and threatened him that she would inform his father that he was a bully in the class, which paradoxically he never was. On the contrary, he was a quiet student in the class, and he ended that year in the third standard as the topper, which he would confidently consider as a result entirely outside the influence of the dedicated teacher’s flogging. Instead that incident contributed to one thing: his fear in asking questions.
He gave up the thought of asking suggestions.
His mother called him out from the kitchen and asked if he was going to church. He said yes.
He immediately thanked God for giving that word to mouth, for it solved the whole confusion he had since he woke up that day; or at least resolved for the moment. It was an instinctual reply. There he felt a kind and extraordinary power in him, which told him where to set foot in a scene of complexities: a helping presence that he felt in many a difficult times before.
Though the decision making was made, he was doubtful of reaching church on time. The Sunday mass would begin only one and half hour later. He had to go through all the morning rituals. It would take a half an hour journey to reach church from home. There was no choice other than becoming late—that was a kind of clairvoyance, every human being living in this society of reason and logic should possess in order to be one of them, and not to be a day dreamer and useless.
But certain clairvoyance in our life proves to us the existence of miracles, just like what happened that day. As the clairvoyance suggested, the time he reached church was about fifteen minutes late than the time of the mass. Yet, the mass was not begun. The mass was delayed that day, due to some reasons.
He kneeled down and raised his head. Jesus was looking down upon at him, from the wall over the sacristy. He prayed in his mind, prayers that no words can capture. It was when the mass began, he rose.
Everyone stood up, as an obedient army of God. It was a perfect order that prevailed.
It was then, an angelic form moved near him: a cute little girl. He couldn’t guess her age. She might be of three or four years. She started running along the pews with her stuttering steps and showed her wonder in seeing such an obedient order of people who did not show any sign of caring for her humble presence beside them, eyes closed and some looking down.
That little girl created a breach in the accepted form of order in that church hall. She ran among the people and enjoyed the church hall as if it were her play ground. She was as if someone special with an unwritten authority to break even the divine order.
Is she special? How? He could not clarify. His reason failed. But he realized that she taught him something special. The carelessness and thoughtless excitement in that child carried him into a different understanding. It gave an answer to the question he had asked himself in that morning: should he follow the promise made to God? The answer was: we needed not to be formal with our parents if we were in a good relationship and so it was with God too, for He is our heavenly father. It was that freedom that made the relationship remarkable.
He identified a second self in him. Of which one was the child and the other was an adult. The adult had all the freedom in the world, all the power, pleasure and knowledge, when he compared himself to the child. He was in the search for wisdom of a life time, which was a divine search and occurs in the lives of only a few people consciously, he was well aware of that. He knew how to use his body for pleasure purposes, and how to put himself first. He had achieved an unusual personal grace in appearance. He had victories to contemplate and failures to forget. He had a past with a present and a future full with hopes. He had prayers for success in the exams he had written, for courage to propose the girl whom he loved but never dared to confess, and for a clear thought, so that he could make a decision or two about his own life.
The adult in him had every thing, fear too. But the child was fearless; it had nothing else that in comparison with the adult could prove to be extremely valuable other than the fearlessness in front of God, its innocence. The little girl enjoyed the moment in the way she only can, with freedom, with smiles. Or was it a way of prayer, he wondered, as if a ritual or an embedded system of language only children possessed and in their journey to adulthood left somewhere behind and forgotten. He felt his agony leaving him, and he entered into a new world, which was safer, pure and affable.
After the mass he realized his thoughts becoming clearer: he dialed the number in his cell phone. The person on the other side sounded exactly the same way he wanted him to be; loving, empathetic and caring. It was his father.
“Dad…I want you to reserve the train ticket for Mumbai, for the next week.”
“But, son, it was you who told me yesterday that you do not want to go outside of Kerala.”
He had nothing more to tell his father. He realized the importance of taking decisions and of the child’s wisdom, which taught him that freedom exists beyond the borders of unheeded agonies. He made only a meaningless glottal noise, which he believed his father would interpret as his son’s caprice.
“Why are you discussing this now? Where are you right now?”-Asked his father.
“In church. I am in church.”
“Come back home and we will talk about it. There is a time for everything.”
When his father hung up he was walking down the road, which skirted the church yard.
He thought of the sentence just spoken by his father: “There is a time for every thing.” It was true. He felt his glottal sound to his father as an indication of the indignation he felt to express himself without any of the confinements of artificiality. The moment of clarity, wisdom and freedom he felt inside church had taken him into a different place of thought. He was struggling to associate his past naiveties with some sort of consoling explanations with the present learning, in order to justify the lack of ‘the wisdom of the child’ in his previous life. The glottal sound he made to his father was one of such failed attempts, he thought. Explanations were made but, their meaning was at stake.
The wisdom of the child could be considered as analogous to the primitive instincts of human beings. In the path walked by the human kind every one of the primitive possibilities were transformed into either symbols or rituals. Similarly, the wisdom of the child exists only in the form of a sweet nostalgia, and nothing more: such were the explanations he summoned for himself. But any of these explanations couldn’t explain, how did he realize exactly what the child had felt during the church, even though, his explanations were logical, realistic and scientific.
The sentence again sparked in his mind. “There is a time for every thing,” a season, which endows every one with infinite possibilities to negotiate with our fears and to peep beyond the unheeded agonies, when life attains its full meaning:
Anu Lal, a regular contributor for many web based journals and publications, is a Post Graduate from the Kannur University, Kerala, India, in English literature. He won world wide acclamations with his touching word art and compelling narrative style. A winner of many awards and honors in his University and other writing competitions, he is presently located in one of the most beautiful corners on the planet, Kerala, South India, with his parents. His writing is greatly influenced by the nature and mysteries of the land and its culture. His blog has been acclaimed as one of the most widely read blog pages, generating clicks from more than 120 countries around the world. You can contact Anu Lal at http://anu-lal.blogspot.com.
This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.