"For as long as the world shall endure, the honor and the glory of Mexico-Tenochtitlan must never be forgotten."

~ Chimalpahin Quauhtlehuanitzin

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Axolotl and the Emperor

You can also read this story on the Creative Cafe website:

The axolotl never failed to amaze Ce. He would often converse with the strange salamander-like creature from the swamps of Mexico for hours at a time. As it swam around in its tank, it seemed to have the enlightened expression of a wise, ancient sage. Ce observed it as it swam among the new aquarium decorations he bought, which were miniature Mexican pyramids.
“Do you like your new aquarium decorations, Cipactli? The one you’re investigating right now is supposed to look like the pyramid of Cholula. It has the greatest volume of any pyramid in the world” Ce told the creature.
The axolotl turned from its inspection of the ruin to face Ce. It seemed to give an enigmatic smile.
Ce sighed. “It’s really sad how the Spaniards built a church on top of it. Maybe I can get rid of the church when I’m crowned as huey tlatoani of All the Land Between the Waters today. Or maybe I should keep it as a holocaust museum to inform outsiders of what happened to our people. What do you think, Cipactli?”
Of course, the axolotl had no way of answering. The red fringes around its face fluttered as a guest made his way into Ce’s room.
“Ce! There you are! Stop talking to that creature and get ready. You’ll be late for the coronation ceremony. People are coming from all over the Land of the Eagle and the Land of the Condor.”
It was the silver-haired elder, Amoxtli. In his arms, the short man clutched several pages that had been folded up accordion style as well as vials of black and red ink to document the details of the upcoming event.
“This indolence can not be tolerated of an emperor! You know that, Ce.”
“I’ll be there in a second, Amoxtli. I just have to feed Cipactli an earthworm.” Ce said. As he opened the can of worms, the axolotl seemed to sense that it was feeding time. It joyfully darted to the surface.
Ce donned a majestic azure cloak with a crimson trim before he departed. It was decorated in parrot feathers and swept the ground. It matched the colour of his long, embroidered loincloth. He had a look at himself in his obsidian mirror and was pleased to see that his jade earrings looked magnificent. His colourful finery stood out on his cacao-coloured skin, and his long, glossy black hair was embellished with a turquoise pin in the shape of a two-headed serpent.
“Alright, I definitely look regal enough” he decided before setting out for the throne room of the palace of New Tenochtitlan, formerly Mexico City.
Amoxtli was already there, addressing an eclectic crowd made up of various indigenous groups. Even at his ancient age, he remained a charismatic orator.
“My people, we will rise again like a phoenix reborn from ashes! Our centuries of oppression under a foreign regime have come to an end. Emperor Ce will work tirelessly to restore order as he rules over All the Land between the Waters, the two subcontinents of the Western Hemisphere!”
A grand applause rose up from the crowd. Delegates had traveled from every corner of the land expecting Ce to extinguish their worries and to usher them into a Golden Age. They represented the various indigenous people of Ce’s dominion, from tiny nomadic tribes like the Guna people from the Amazon rainforest to the descendents of empires and nation-states such as the Aztecs, Mayans, Incas, and the mound-building cultures from along the Mississippi River. Everyone hoped their leader would bring them glory and spearhead the nation to the zenith of its influence. Ce could see all these expectations plainly on the faces of the diverse crowd. Everyone wore the same serious countenance, for although they all held the same unabashed adoration for Amoxtli the Elder, they let Ce know that even though he had been chosen he had yet to prove himself.
Ce twitched nervously on the dais as he stood in front of his people. He felt butterflies in his stomach like the restless souls of his dead warrior ancestors. He began to present his carefully rehearsed speech.
“My people,” he began his address, “allow me to elaborate on the greatness of our ancient civilizations and how far we’ve come since then. Our ancestors built great cities, like Tenochtitlan with all its canals and causeways, pyramids, palaces, and observatories. It was an island city in the middle of a glistening, blue lake and was the inspiration for this new city we are standing in right now, New Tenochtitlan.” It was the usual theme of many public speeches in the land, and no one in the room was surprised by it. Indeed, they had all heard similar descriptions so many times before that it wasn’t very hard for them to imagine the ancient cities he spoke of. “Or like Qosqo, a city built high in the Andes mountains, laid out in the shape of a crouching Mountain Lion and filled with gold-encrusted temples and palaces with jeweled walls. It had fine fortresses with impressive stonework and green terraces for farming and herding woolly llamas and alpacas.”
He scanned the crowd for reactions and noticed that a high-cheek boned, queen-like woman from Qosqo smiled proudly. Her piercing obsidian eyes were bright and fierce. Ce observed that she wore a necklace with a chakana pendant. It was an ancient Inca symbol and everyone know that she was the descendant of a powerful people. She carried the rainbow banner of Qosqo and looked like some kind of goddess-like apparition.
Ce could hear cheers rise up all around the hall, including from the woman who had caught his eye. Everyone drank in the flowery words of the glorious, eloquent speech. The Elder Amoxtli looked up from his writing and smiled. It was time for him to present Ce with a headdress of quetzal plumes. Great elation stirred in the room.
Some of the last delegates that had arrived from the furthest regions of the empire now started to settle in. They brought their heraldry with them. Ce caught a glimpse of the purple flag of the Iroquois confederacy. Some of the very last people to arrive were from Nunavut, carrying flags baring its red inuksuk symbol. It was part of the Inuit’s vast Arctic homeland, the northernmost part of the new nation. Ce heard the stomping of large boots and knew it meant that the Aónikenk people had arrived from their even colder homelands in Patagonia, near in proximity to Antarctica. They were greeted warmly by the Inuit.
“I see some more people have arrived. Welcome, brothers and sisters!”
The Inuit and Patagonian groups were the last ones to arrive since they had to come to Ce’s capital of New Tenochtitlan from so far away, but their presence was of great symbolic importance, showing that the new confederacy of indigenous nations was united from north to south, from the Land of the Eagle to the Land of the Condor.
The Elder finally crowned Ce with the feathered headdress. Ce felt powerful knowing that the feathers towered above him and made him look tall and formidable. He was handed a golden chalice by Amoxtli. It had been carved with a design of two birds, the mighty eagle of the North and the condor of the South, the emblem of the new nation.
“When you indulge in the luxurious chocolate elixir that I have had handed you in that chalice and then proceed to sit on your extravagant throne, don’t be fooled. Beware! It will seem like the most comfortable chair in the world at first, but it is really a seat of pain. You were chosen by the people because they thought you would be strong enough to endure struggle throughout your reign.” The Elder declared.
Ce drank deeply from the golden chalice, taking care not to spill a drop of the frothy chocolate drink. It was sweet at first, but the aftertaste was bitter. Then Ce felt a burning sensation in his mouth, because it just wouldn’t be complete without added chilies and allspice. Every ingredient had been a metaphor, of course. Ce had to be careful not to let the childish thrill of being huey tlatoani consume him, just like he couldn’t expect the chocolate drink to be sugary and sweet throughout.
He could become corrupted with his power, and his subjects could end up feeling bitter towards him. Even though the Land of the Eagle and Condor had survived many hardships, it still had many dangerous and powerful enemies all over the world, but mostly in Europa and even some within its own borders.
Ce could never be sure of making it through the next day alive, as someone could easily slip poison into his food, as unexpected as chilies in a chocolate drink. It had happened to Tizoc, an ancient ruler of the old Tenochtitlan, so perhaps it could someday happen to a ruler of the new. His people would have no use for a dead huey tlatoani.
Ce’s paranoid thoughts were interrupted by the Elder declaring that a feast would commence in honor of the coronation. It was the most lavish and beautiful feast that you ever would have seen, and it was a miracle that such a young nation was able to provide so much food to its citizens. Almost every dish had used one of the Three Sisters or a healthy ancient grain like quinoa. There were smoked tamales and stuffed turkeys, slabs of pemmican with fresh Saskatoon berries, Navajo tacos on loaves of fry bread, pozole soup served in gourd bowls, duck nuggets, wild rice, and rabbit stew.
For dessert, the Inuit had brought something they called ice cream, or akutaq. They offered it to the huey tlatoani.
“I’m sorry but I don’t think I can have that. I’m lactose intolerant.” Ce said.
“Do not worry, Revered Speaker,” an old Inuk said, with wrinkly skin much paler than Ce’s. He had long, straight hair the colour of dark chocolate, and laugh lines around his small, brown eyes with epicanthal folds that had evolved to guard against the cold, icy wind of his homeland. Ce recognized him as the man who had brought in the red inuksuk banner of Nunavut, and learned that he was named Atka after the midnight sun.
“Our akutaq just has caribou fat, cloudberries, seal oil and some tundra greens, all mixed in with snows from our Arctic homeland. None of it contains the white man’s dairy products.” He chuckled.
Ce smiled and tried some of the strange concoction, knowing that it would be rude if he didn’t and he didn’t have his lactose intolerance an excuse anymore.
As the feast progressed, Ce took some more time to make speeches.
“All of you have democratically elected delegates to represent you. These delegates will travel back to their sub-nations once the festivities that have commenced my reign have ended. I believe this system shall work to make sure all of the diverse cultures of this land are represented in some form or another. ”
Ce Tepuzmachiyopilcac ended up being the only one who dared to try the Inuit ice cream that night, along with the Inuit themselves and their new friends the Aónikenk of Patagonia, who thought the dish was a genius invention and wondered if penguin fat would work just as well as caribou.
The dessert for everyone else was squash smoothies with chia seeds, maple syrup candies, and of course liquid chocolate. Oceans of it.
“As our beloved elder has suggested, I’m also going to appoint two people who will help me rule and keep my power in check. One of these viziers will be from the Land of the Eagle, while the other will be from the Land of the Condor. But don’t worry, this won’t be some kind of dictatorial triumvirate.”
“Anything’s better than the white man’s way” Atka grumbled.
“You all have the right to rebel, for it is not the people who must fear their emperor but the emperor who must fear his people.”
And so the feasting and merriment continued throughout the evening, signalling the dawning of a new age for the people of All the Land between the Waters. In time Ce would learn that the revolution had been the easy part.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Never Alone: A Short Story

A/N: I originally wrote this for the Creative Cafe, a Medium publication. You can read it at its original source here: https://medium.com/@freya.abbas/never-alone-f9e2c21202f0

I was trying my hardest to fit in, though there was a caution in my step that the locals lacked. I entered the tattoo parlour after I had taken great care to ensure that it appeared to meet my sanitation standards. Instead of doing as the Romans did in Rome, I stood out like a Visigoth. There was a great barrier between these people and me, that of class. The struggle between classes is the driving force of history. That’s what Hegel and Marx would’ve said, right? Perhaps it would be wise if I just didn’t go on about things I don’t fully understand.
“Good morning” I mustered up the courage to say. “I believe I have an appointment with someone called…” I checked my pocket notepad “Antonio”.
There were many clients at the shop getting piercings and body art. A woman was getting a hummingbird on her leg. Nearby, a tough-looking man was getting Chinese characters all over his back. They all turned to stare at me, with heads of dyed hair in startling colours, some wearing baseball caps turned the wrong way.
“Oh, Tony! Ain’t nobody ink like him. Imma holla tell homey you bin waitin” chimed the friendly shopowner.
Ah, dialects. In some ways they are more valid than the standard English language, for it really didn’t matter here whether you’d studied Milton, because no one really talks like that. The native language in this quarter of Los Angeles appeared to be African American Vernacular English (AAVE), or Ebonics.
My English would be old-fashioned and anachronistic, a source of embarrassment to be ridiculed by all who heard it.
“Hello, Freya. I am Tony. What can I do for you today?”
It seemed that the owner of this place was African American, but the artists were Mexican and spoke a different dialect, borrowing a bit of slang from time to time.
“This design” I said, handing him a folded paper. “Exact size, on my wrist, please.”
Just then a regal-looking, cacao-skinned lady walked up to us. She stood very close to the artist and clung to his arm, allowing me to guess their relationship.
“What’s up, queen?”
“Bae, look at her. She must be a total fake. Ask her for her ID.”
“Are you eighteen?” Tony asked me suspiciously. Darn it!
“No” I admitted.
“Well kid, you got parental consent to this?”
“Don’t worry about it. I made them sign the form” I said, handing over another sliver of paper.
By this time I was aware of the laughter and whispers, feeling like all eyes were on me as Tony scrutinized the form.
“Come right this way” he instructed.
“How much will this hurt?” I asked.
Tony’s girlfriend laughed. “This skin on the wrist is thin, so probably a lot for you, kid”.
“Hey!” I cried indignantly. “I’m no kid.”
“Don’t worry” she told me with an enigmatic flash in her obsidian eyes. “We have ways of reducing the pain”.
“We can shove a block of softwood in your mouth so you can bite that instead of your tongue when the needle hits” Antonio suggested, chuckling.
“Yikes! I’m getting a tattoo, not a limb amputated!”
“I was just messin’ wid ya. We use a cream that causes temporary numbness.”
“I see.”
I followed him to a chair, where his girlfriend helped get his supplies ready as he unfolded the piece of paper I gave him that bared the design. I noticed the amiable shopkeeper, whose name tag said ‘Hatuey’, watching me with unabashed curiosity, as were some of the artists and clients.
Tony burst out laughing. “Is this all? It’s not very intricate.”
“It’s my favourite letter in the International Phonetic Alphabet!” I said defensively.
“Yeah, yeah. I know. The voiceless alveolar lateral affricate” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand.
I was astonished, for I did not know this fact to be common knowledge outside of people of my profession. I was even more surprised when he began to click his tongue as he worked, pronouncing the sound perfectly.
“ t͡ɬ, t͡ɬ, t͡ɬ…”
Hatuey had now moved a bit closer to us. “Check this yo, Q’orianka, she be trippin.”
“She does appear to be very anxious” Q’orianka said thoughtfully, noting my bewildered expression.
“He be done befo’ you know it” Hatuey tried comforting me.
“I don’t think that’s why she’s nervous. Tony, you’d better explain yourself to Freya.”
“Oh I see what the matter is! I studied Classical Nahuatl for eight years. I am a linguist, you see.” He smiled.
“A linguist! No way! I’m a linguist too.”
“Bet she thinks she’s a philosopher and historian as well” Q’orianka said skeptically, raising her eyebrow. Of course I was!
“You’ve really studied Classical Nahuatl? Amazing! So you’re aware of this letter, as it is in many Uto-Aztecan languages.”
“Yes. I focused on the dialect of Texcoco.”
“What?!” I struggled to contain my excitement and tried not to move as Tony worked.
“Dayum! Girl be thinkin’ you supafly now, Tony.”
“I know she thinks I’m really cool now. Clearly, she’s very into this stuff, and she probably realizes that Texcoco’s dialect was considered the purest and refined Nahuatl out of all the variations spoken throughout the Aztec city states”.
“It’s not just the language I find fascinating, but the culture. I have read the work of poets of the epoch such as Nezahualcoyotl, and it shows me there was so much more to their society than what you’d see at first glance. I want to help indigenous people by preserving their languages and fighting for their rights.” I explained.
“You’re woke fo shizzle. You no wanksta.” Hatuey commented.
“You’re more aware than most of our plight. You sound genuine.” Q’orianka noted.
Tony’s work soon came to an end, and Hatuey told me the whole thing would cost ‘fitty bucks’. I thought this was more than a little bit excessive but paid up anyway, even adding a generous tip.
“Hey if you got a sec, don’t go rollin’ out just yet.”
“Sure” I said “I have time”.
I watched as the three friends started huddling and whispering about me. I wondered what it was about me that made them so interested, other than my outlandish mannerisms. At last, Q’orianka told me what was going on.
“Freya, we’ve thought about it and we think it’s alright to tell you one of our secrets.” She said in a hushed whisper that drew me nearer. “Tony, Hatuey and I all have varying amounts of indigenous blood and we are actually all part of a resistance group”.
“Do you mean you all study history, linguistics, and decolonization theory together?”
“Nah we ain’t no book club.” Hatuey said.
“We do more than that. We attend public protests, sometimes ones that can get violent and dangerous and involve illegal activity, but it’s only so we can help oppressed people” Tony explained.
“I understand. Count me in.” I said.
“Hold on, it doesn’t work like that. First of all, you’re not even indigenous. That means you can’t join, sorry.” Q’orianka said. “We can’t dilute our movement with too many outsiders. I hope you understand.”
“I do. I’m not offended.”
“Also, you winced too much when you were getting the t͡ɬ. You probably won’t be strong enough, no offense.”
“No, it makes sense.” I said. “But I don’t understand why you’re telling me this.”
“Because we want you know that we stand with you. Decolonization is a struggle and we never want you to be alone it it.” Said Q’orianka.
“Aww, thanks guys. I am deeply humbled. All of you are so wise and I aspire to be like you someday.”
When I left the shop, I felt as if I was in some third world country as I walked the streets, filled with dire poverty. These were people who could never trust cops, whose history was not taught in schools and whose children were sometimes stolen from them, put into white foster homes. They were demonized, sometimes even by others of their own race who had managed to make it higher up the social ladder than them and in doing so forgot all about their roots and became sellouts. These were the native people of the land, quiet and forgotten. It was selfish of me to want to leave behind the legacy of a great activist, because the best I could do would really be to shut up and listen. I don’t belong to their land the way they do.
I’m just a foreign vistor.

Death Drive: A Short Story

A/N: I originally wrote this for a challenge run by the Creative Cafe, a Medium publication. Read this story at the original source here: https://thecreative.cafe/death-drive-711b9922dcfa

Clearly, I’m not the type that learns from their mistakes. As I stood underneath Heimdall Bridge in the middle of the night, wearing nothing but my pajamas and a hastily thrown-over cardigan, my first thought was “it’s June, but it feels so much like that cold December night long ago…” The circumstances were much the same as they had been the first time I got into serious trouble one night. Just like last time, I had sneaked away from home as my parents slept to meet a strange old man who had messaged me online, summoning me to this park. I know it sounds dangerous and stupid beyond all reason, but here I was anyway.
“So you actually came. Amazing. You may very well be the stupidest girl I’ve ever seen.”
He approached me from behind like a sneaky, hellish snake. At least this time I could run if I wanted to, I was only underneath a bridge, not being cornered against a wall like with the last man. His voice was so hoarse and inhuman that I nearly jumped out of my skin. If anything terrible happened now, it would be my fault alone. An instinctive fear paralyzed me the way it had last time, leaving me vulnerable so that he could’ve done anything he wanted with me. I waited for it to come, wincing in anticipation, but he just stood there and laughed at my pathetic condition.
“I understand that you are desperate and unloved, but I came here for a different reason. I have something to show you.”
I finally opened my eyes and turned to have a good look at him. I gasped, for he did not look like how one would imagine a monstrous antisocial creature governed by its baser instincts to appear. I know that looks can be deceiving, but he looked rather awe-inspiring and wise like an archetypal, enlightened sage. He didn’t have the corpse-like pale skin, soulless unblinking eyes, tattered clothing or crumbly-toothed wicked smile that the man who had been my captor for a night did. His countenance looked calm and peaceful, with an aura of contemplative, meditative silence. He had the longest, flowing white beard that wizards in legends do, and he wore red, silk robes. His skin was cacao-colored.
“You’re carrying a flaming torch.” I noted. The light from it was what had helped me observe his features. “That’s so old fashioned.”
“Well a flashlight just isn’t my style, but you look like someone who would be scared by a mere candle, maybe even by your own shadow.” I noticed that his voice seemed to come out normally this time and carried an alluring foreign accent. Something about him even reminded me of my own father, perhaps because everything he had said to me thus far contained some kind of insult in it and my father loves to remind me about how much of a disappointment I am to him.
“So why did you ask me to meet you here, in a park of all places?” I asked.
“Ask yourself, why this park in particular? What meaning does it have to you? You need to learn to search inside yourself for answers and not just rely on other people to tell them to you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, perplexed. Heimdall Park mainly just consisted of two hills for people to run around and walk their dogs on, or tobogganing down in the winter. Off to the side there were some swing sets and a jungle gym. The park was split in half by Heimdall Bridge, which the old man and I were standing under and which was part of a railroad.
“The train…” I muttered.
“The conductor wouldn’t be able to stop it fast enough if there were a person on the tracks in front of it. The easiest suicide method around. It’s a shame you’re too cowardly to attempt it.”
“It may result in injury instead of death, which is what I’m afraid of. But I am not cowardly. I think my death drive would help me overcome any fear I may have.”
“Death drive?”
“Come on, don’t tell me you’ve never been tempted to jump on train tracks before. Everyone is attracted to the thrill of danger.”
The sage looked unimpressed by my pseudo-psychological theory.
“Do you think, girl” he began “that human beings are like animals, governed by their instincts?”
“Yes they are.” I said. “I mean, look at me, I know that it was dangerous to come here and meet you, but I did it any way because my desire to not be lonely overcame my reason. I don’t have control over my actions or desires, they control me. That’s really how it is for most humans.”
He seemed amused by this. “Here’s the reason why I specifically asked you to meet me under this bridge. Look at this.” He turned around, allowing the light from the torch to expose a whole mural of graffiti. It was all poorly done and rather sloppy looking, with swear words and other obscenities. It was not the sort of thing that everyone would consider art.
“I think this stands as a testament to my earlier comment. The vandals who did all this are clearly the scum of the street. No one chose to be like them. Why would they? They were doomed to their path by socioeconomic conditions and their instincts.”
“You are wrong. Everyone has control over how their fate is spun. You could be successful, if you actually chose to try hard in school.”
“I want to try hard in school but I can’t. There are always other things on my mind and I can never focus on studying. The words do not register in my brain as I read them. I’ve tried.”
There was a knowing, erudite flash in the old man’s dark, obsidian eyes that silenced me, for it made me remember that he was much more intelligent than I was.
“Are you sure that you really have no control over your life? Look at what a mess you are. I bet if you tried harder to maintain your appearance, and worked to quit some of your bad habits, it would make you more attractive to boys your age so you wouldn’t have to talk to older men online like me to seek external validation.”
“But I will never be able to force feelings of attraction from them. That’s what I mean. Even after I put in all that effort, there’s no guarantee they’ll like me more.” I pointed out sadly, staring down at my ugly, tattered shoes that were caked with mud. When I looked up, I noticed that the old man had thrust his torch closer to my face and I could feel the heat. I jolted back, alarmed. The man had assumed a stone faced silence. I stared into the dancing flame, mesmerized.
Suddenly I entered another realm as I was in that dazed hypnotic trance. I saw myself studying hard and miraculously gaining entrance into a health sciences undergraduate program at a prestigious university. I was in a lab, preparing slides to put under a microscope. I had white lab coat over my clothes. It fit me really well and made me look professional. I started to view the microscope slides and adjusting the focus when a classmate of mine approached me. She had goggles and a high pony tail.
“Hey I just wanted to say congratulations on getting into that orchestra. I knew you would, being so good at the violin and all. Your audition must have slayed them.”
“I have never played a musical instrument in my life.” I opened my mouth to say, but what came out in the reverie was simply “thank you, Aspen. By the way, I’m free during lunch if you would like me to help you with your math homework.”
Math? What was going on? I’ve almost failed it three years in a row!
Moving forward a few hours, the vision showed me sitting at a table in the university’s lounge eating the healthiest Mediterranean salad. I didn’t even have a cookie or a piece of chocolate on the side. Somehow, I had triumphed over the vice of gluttony. The eager Aspen approached me, and soon I was explaining concepts to her. I had this really weird experience of simultaneously understanding and not understanding something, for in the dream I knew the math concepts really well, but I was aware that what I was experiencing wasn’t real. Yet it seemed so real! I could smell the content’s of everyone’s lunch around me. As I graphed a function for Aspen, I heard the sage’s voice, which seemed to come out booming over the PA system. It was very loud, but of course I was the only one who heard it.
“What do you think?” it asked.
I only needed to think a thought to reply to his words.
“How did I end up like this?” I asked, astonished.
“You took control over your life. You stopped acting like a child and took responsibility for your actions.”
“I can do math? I can play the violin? I can abstain from eating unhealthy things?”
“Yes. You’re a professional athlete now too. Women’s lacrosse team. You have practice after school today.”
“But I am the laziest person in the world.”
I was able to have this conversation with the elder at the same time as I was talking to Aspen and helping her with math.
“Don’t look now” she told me “but I think that cute guy a few tables away is checking you out, the one with the guitar. Maybe you should go say hi. You can talk about music.”
“Alright” I said to the sage after I eyed the handsome musician “now this is getting way too unrealistic.” He had the most radiant smile.
“Look at his hair” I told Aspen “it’s dyed rainbow colors. He is probably a homosexual.”
“No, no. He just likes to stand out.” She said.
“Do you hate yourself?” came the sage’s voice.
“Not in this… simulation or whatever it is.” I said.
“But right now you do, which is understandable. Let me tell you what happened that put you down this successful path. You see, you turned your self-hatred into a quest for self-improvement and decided to change everything you were. You knew your strengths lay in areas such as history, philosophy, and literature, but you decided to abandon these pursuits, which you deemed as useless to humanity, in order to pursue a medical degree. In university you remade your image. No longer were you considered nonathletic, untalented, or bad at math.”
“Where did I go from there?”
“Would you like to see?” He asked.
The simulation flashed forward a few years and I gasped when I felt myself in a tight embrace. Only this was one I had willingly surrendered to. My amorous lover was kissing me enthusiastically, and it actually felt really good.
“Nestor, marrying you was the best decision of my life.” I said to him, running my fingers through rainbow colored hair. It was the student with the guitar!
“You are lying to him of course. The best decision of your life was to take control of it.” The sage said.
“Oh my gosh! Did you have to interrupt us?” I protested.
“It is important to snap you back to reality.”
“So he really wasn’t a homosexual.” I chuckled.
“No. Pansexual.”
“Oh. Did we have any children?”
“No. You told him you were against the idea of children. Nestor didn’t ask you for an explanation, but it was because you still had not completely conquered your self hatred, especially in matters of physical appearance, and you would probably have tried to murder your own children if they ever displayed any biological likeness to you.”
“My death drive would have projected outwards”. I agreed.
Suddenly the lovely vision gave way to a series of nightmares. I saw us arguing, yelling at each other, and spending the nights apart because we couldn’t stand each other anymore.
“This was definitely out of my control”.
“You are wrong, of course. After getting married, you reverted back to your old ways, believing that Nestor would still love you if you became a lazy, nagging wife who never helped around the house. You let yourself gain weight after quitting the healthy habits you worked so hard to establish before.”
“I’ve found someone else. They’re more honest and hardworking. I’m not going to continue dwelling on this mistake, even though it took up so much of my time.” Nestor said. He was referring to our thirty year marriage as a mistake.
When Nestor left me, I never found love again. The divorce process was stressful. One night, I had a heart attack and died in my sleep.
“Come on, tell me that the moral of that story was that I shouldn’t try to change myself. Instead I should try to accept myself for who I am.”
“That is not the only pathway of course.” The sage told me. “Look into the fire again.”
I obeyed, and found myself in a corporate environment, dressed in a black pencil skirt and white button down collared shirt.
“Really? I’m embracing who I am in these clothes?” I asked the wise man skeptically.
“That is just the dress code of your office. You work for the United Nations. You decided to follow your heart, which drew you to continuing to study more history and politics. You’ve always found other cultures very fascinating and alluring.”
I noticed that the mug I was holding did not contain coffee like I had expected, instead it was hot chocolate. I guess one thing I’ll never outgrow is my hatred of coffee.
“Look outside.” The elder instructed me.
A beautiful bronze statue of a man on a horse stood outside. It took my breath away. I had expected the building I was working in to be in New York city or some other drab American metropolis, but this was surely in one of those remote parts of the world that not many outsiders travel to. The city seemed to combine the ancient and the modern in its architecture.
“Any guesses for where you are?”
“The statue is of Genghis Khan. I must be in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.”
I noticed how ethnically diverse my colleagues all were. I guess that’s the benefit of working for an organization like the United Nations. A friendly coworker approached me. He looked Middle Eastern and was dark skinned with shiny black hair and a short, neatly trimmed bear.
“Forgive me father for my sins…” I muttered, hoping the sage would not hear me, but of course he did even though he was completely unseen in that simulation.
“Yes, that is the one.” The sage confirmed.
“He is so beautiful, much better than Nestor.”
“I don’t think someone like you can afford to be picky.”
I ignored his rude comment and focused only on the Middle Eastern man, who was approaching me.
“Hello. My name is Mohammad. I heard we got assigned to the same mission.” He greeted me.
“You’re going to Mali too?” I asked.
“Yes. I can’t wait to visit Timbuktu. It has always been a dream of mine as it was one of the sacred cities of Islam.”
I decided not to mention that my favorite aspect of Mali was the Dogon culture and that I admired them for fiercely resisting Arab slavers and avoiding conversion to Islam as they practiced their ancient animistic rituals. I wouldn’t want him to think me an infidel.
“Amazing.” I said.
“See you there.”
“Would you like me to flash forward to your trip to Mali?” the sage asked.
Well it turned out Timbuktu was magnificent. The mosque there was ancient and enigmatic. Mohammad and I went there together.
“I have to go now… UNESCO wants me to do some research at the archives.” He told me.
“When are we meeting again?” I asked.
“Tonight. I’ll send you the address of the hotel.” He said. As he parted, he winked in my direction.
“Oh my goodness!” I squealed.
“Don’t get too excited” said the sage.
“Oh, it can’t be as bad as what happened with Nestor?”
“I won’t spoil anything” he said “just watch. Now you’re walking through some bazaar in Mali, buying souvenir jewelry. See how you’re barely paying attention to your surroundings because all you can think of is Mohammad.”
Sure enough, I was at the stall of an old woman selling authentic Dogon necklaces.
“Are these from Bandiagara?” I asked her.
“Mali is one of the most dangerous countries in the world.” The sage reminded me ominously.
Sure enough, the whole area was blown up by a hidden terrorist bomb.
“Damn it!” I said. “The universe is cruel. It’s like it stole the man of my dreams away from me by killing me off just before I could get serious with him. Couldn’t it have waited a day or two longer?”
“That’s what you get for following the path of your heart and going off to a far away country.” The sage said. “Mohammad mourned your loss for a week, but then he moved on to another girl.”
“But I had no control over that terrorist bomb.”
“It was your choice to go to Mali, so your death was your own fault. Just like that incident with that messed up sadistic old man last winter.”
“There has to be something else.” I said, trying to change the topic from the mention of the unpleasant encounter.
“Of course there is. I’ve only shown you the two best case scenarios.”
“Best cases? Then what else is there?”
“For the last case I don’t need to tell you anything. It’s quite simple really, you don’t study, you don’t put it any effort for any kind of self-improvement, you don’t realize the importance of school…”
“But I do realize it! I just don’t have control over my focus or attention span. When the teacher lectures, everything just goes over my head!”
“You continue being stubborn like this, and then you return back a week later to this park, after you get the results of your final exam.”
As if on cue, the earth began to rumble and I heard what sounded like a stampede of a hundred wild horses.
“You jump in front of the train that is now passing above us.”
“What if I don’t want any of it? What if I escaped from all three scenarios? It can’t possibly be set in stone.”
“How will you escape?”
“I can’t fail my exams if I never write them. So… how about I go into town and get a job, make enough money to buy me a plane ticket, and then join a monastery in a far off remote land?”
“Coward! You can’t just run away from your problems like that.”
“Excuse me but who are you to call me a coward?” I asked him “who the hell are you anyway? I bet you’re some good for nothing, unemployed, homeless simpleton who is too lazy to try to find a job.” I mustered up all my courage and pointed at him defiantly. There was a fire in my eyes as rage took over me, but the fire was drenched by what followed.
“Joke’s on you, actually. I’m a professor of computer science because I took control of my fate. Now, choose wisely, what will your fate be?”
I looked around at the graffiti. Above us, the train was still passing by. I noticed that there was a can of spray paint on the ground, left over by some teenage street urchin. I picked it up and added to the graffiti. The professor watched me curiously. “What is that?” he asked.
“It says mea culpa. It’s Latin for ‘my fault’. I don’t know what I’ll do from now on, but what ever it is, it’ll be my fault and my fault alone.” I told him.
The End