SHORT STORY SHARE
Welcome to the March Short Story Share.
This month's story is a bit of flash fiction with some history thrown in. Happy reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Death by Kahve
As soon as the peasant, Aristotle walked into the largest kahvehane, coffee house in Peloponnesus, his senses were immediately assaulted with the robust flavor. The aroma sailed through his nostrils, and the clamor of all the lively conversations pounded in his ears. He furtively glanced all around him looking for his party.
He sat down cautiously at one of the few empty tables. His hands were sticky, and he wiped them on his shirt. Then, he cupped the curb of his sabre. For what reason, he wasn’t even sure.
He wasn’t sure of much these days. He barely knew how he was keeping himself and his family alive. A sense of urgency bit into him like the Hydra, and when he tried to shake it off him, more urgency took its place. Underneath it all was a lingering anxiety about an uncertain future.
He wasn’t alone. Whenever he entered the kahvehane, the raucous conversations ricocheted between collective anxiety and unified, righteous indignation. Nobleman, peasant, and merchant alike anticipated the winds of change. They hoped the gods they no longer prayed to would harness those winds to the point that they became a typhoon.
Aristotle had no interest in anyone’s gods. Not the gods of the Greeks or the god of the Ottoman Turks. He believed in what he could touch with his hands, feel with his heart, and work through with his own brain. The illiterate peasant had a knack for astounding the illustrious noblemen with what he could concoct in his naturally adept mind.
Konstantinos, his unlikely ally, valued Aristotle’s facility with strategy, although he would never tell him so. The educated son of a merchant could recite the words of enlightened Frenchmen and speak eloquently of their overthrow of tyranny but had no real skill to navigate devious political minds. He needed Aristotle but would never admit to needing a peasant.
Their unexpected collaboration started when Aristotle sipped his kahve. He marveled at how richness, bitterness, and sweetness could exist in one place but still be enjoyable. In the middle of his musings, he heard Konstantinos spew discontent over the state of the Greeks. Another spoiled, educated brat who has no understanding of real suffering. He thought to himself.
At the same time, his intoxicating idealism drew in everyone near him. In spite of himself, it drew in Aristotle. Since a peasant has no choice but to be practical, he had to inject some realism into the conversation.
“And what would you have us do, boy?” he said.
Aristotle had no idea how his off-handed, irreverent challenge would alter the rest of his life and the lives of the other Greeks in the kavehane.
Here he was a year and a half later helping that same boy figure out what to do. Konstantinos never liked Aristotle calling him boy considering Aristotle wasn’t much older. He chuckled at the thought taking his sweaty hand off his sabre.
Konstantinos barreled through with a group of men that included 2 teachers, 4 priests, and 2 doctors. One of the priests went with Aristotle to the mountains to enlist the aid of the self-professed militia who some saw as common brigrands. He hugged him warmly. He gave a quick handshake to the others, including Konstantinos.
“Are you well Aristotle?” he said as he sat down.
“As well as these times will allow,” he replied as he waved a server to their table.
He flashed his rogue smile and asked for ten cups of kahve. He watched the server walk away and took in the whole kahvehane in one fell swoop.
“Did you secure the agreement of the Russians?” Aristotle whispered, unconsciously putting his hand back on his sabre.
“We did. I told you we would,” Konstantinos said.
“I never had a doubt.” The rogue smile made another appearance.
“Oh, but you did,” Konstantinos laughed, shaking his head.
“What word from Istanbul?” Aristotle asked one of the priests.
“Ready and waiting for word from us,” he said.
Aristotle paused as the server placed kahve in front of everyone.
“Do you think the Russians can be trusted, Aristotle?” one of the teachers asked nervously.
“Can we really trust anyone at this time? Why should the Russians be any different?”
“We can trust each other,” Konstantinos said.
Aristotle nodded and took a slow sip of kahve.
With flourish, Konstantinos gulped down most of his kahve.
“Is it time, Aristotle?” he blurted.
“It is time,” Aristotle said, as he took another slow sip of kahve.
Aristotle’s words rang true with their success in Kalamata. The spirit of Aries overtook the peninsula, and the Turks could not match it. Aristotle and Konstantinos shook off their titles of peasant and merchant’s son and embodied the title of warrior. When the battle was over, the two men parted ways after Konstantinos was appointed as one of the first senators of the Messenian Senate, and Aristotle joined the pursuit of the Turks to Tripolitsa.
He saw the young senator again when he came to Tripolitsa to congratulate Theodoros Kolokotronis on his victory. They saw it as only fitting to meet in a kahvehane since that’s where it all started.
This time, when Aristotle entered the establishment, the conversation that buzzed in his ears was filled with collective exhilaration at the possibilities of independence and the restoration of former glory. No one noticed him.
When Konstantinos arrived, cheers greeted him. He shook hands warmly and received the adulation, already playing the role of a politician. Aristotle shook his head.
“I hope the politicos don’t eat you alive,” he said, as he drank his kahve.
“You don’t think I can handle the snakes?” Konstantinos asked.
“Of course not. I never doubt you.”
“Oh, but you do.”
He laughed and took a deliberate sip of kahve.
Revolutions are born with kahve... And empires die with kahve.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
"Am I too much for the world, or is the world too much for me?" Kelli Jae Baeli, Too Much World“
I think we’ve all asked ourselves that question. Especially when we’ve been told not to be so sensitive. I’ve often thought how little sense it makes to say that to someone. When someone’s feelings are already hurt, are they automatically going to stop being sensitive? Many times, we’re made to feel like sensitivity is a bad thing. I happen to think that sensitivity is a wonderful thing that you can use to your advantage.
When you’re sensitive, you’re paying attention to details that matter. How someone feels matters. When you pick up on another’s feelings, you can, at least, understand them better. At best, you can help them. You can do the same with yourself. Being in tune with your emotions can help you navigate any situation.
Like with anything else in life, there just has to be balance. You don’t let something bother you to the point where you’re on the floor. At the same time, you can be sensitive to and have empathy for the feelings of others. You can be sensitive to your own feelings, too.
Once, I had a student who looked sad and put on a lot of weight in a short amount of time. I asked her a simple question about her grades, and she burst into tears. I took her aside and made sure I talked to her one on one. The next time I saw her family, I told them what I observed of her. They were taken aback. I know they got involved because I noticed a change in her. She seemed happier. I saw her smiling again. Her grades got better. I’m glad I paid attention.
For myself, I pay attention to how I feel. I don’t just cast my feelings aside, anymore. Before I would talk myself out of what I was feeling. It was more important to keep getting things done than to pay attention to how I felt. That didn’t serve me because it just became a vicious cycle, and I would end up being in the uncomfortable place I started. Now, I’ve realized I have to allow myself to feel what I feel without judgment so I can move forward.
Non-judgment leading to elevation
Non-judgment is key. Too often, we judge ourselves about how we feel. Others judge us. That breeds negativity that doesn’t serve us. Our positive emotions can serve us well, especially our joy. Think about all the great achievements that have come from times where you just felt good. Has anything good come from when you’ve judged and come to an unfavorable conclusion?
Being aware and allowing whatever comes to come makes the journey easier for yourself and others. Being sensitive to others makes interactions go smoothly. Being sensitive to yourself can help you get through whatever you have going on or keep yourself in a great place. When your sensitive to others, you can elevate them and maybe, yourself in the process. Using your emotions for elevation is the best advantage to sensitivity that I can think of.
Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil...
Starting a new chapter in life is a daunting proposition. You go into the “what if” scenarios and everything that could possibly go wrong. The nerve-wracking questions come in. How will this play out? Will it work? Then, the make-or-break one: What if I fail? Questions like these make a challenging task even more difficult. To get you off to a promising start rather than a shaky one, I offer you 10 inspirational quotes to ease you into a new chapter.
1. “Every day I feel is a blessing from God. And I consider it a new beginning. Yeah, everything is beautiful.” - Prince.
2. “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” - Seneca
3. “Every moment is a fresh beginning,” - T.S. Eliot
4. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” - Lao Tzu
5. “Never underestimate the power you have to take your life in a new direction.” - Germany Kent
6. “It all begins when the soul would have its way with you.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
7. “No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.” - Buddha
8. “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” - Louis L’Amour
9. “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” Steve Jobs
10. “One day you will wake up, and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” - Paulo Coelho
Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil...
"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they life. - Lao Tzu
The process of change
Change isn’t always easy. Depending on whether or not we need to be hit on the head (like I, myself have needed on occasion) it can be downright painful. When we feel pain or discomfort, naturally, we resist it. We want it to stop. Sometimes, though, if we let change come when it starts and don’t force or mold something to what our preconceived notion was, to begin with, we can make the entire process easier on ourselves. If we embrace change the right away, we can reap the benefits a lot sooner and have it be soothing, rather than painful.
So many times, I had to be bopped on the head to understand what direction I needed to go in. I had to experience some of the most painful experiences of my life to get where I was supposed to be. I wouldn’t change any of it because it got me to where I needed to be. I am grateful for the lessons going through hell taught me, but I prefer not to do that again. Now, the way I learn my lessons is to embrace change. Embrace who I am, what I’m going through, even if it is not what I would choose at that moment.
Sometimes, change is easy, especially, if it’s what we envisioned for ourselves. Other times, change is hard, even brutal. Part of the reason it’s hard is that we hold on so tight to what we pictured, what we thought we wanted. When it doesn’t go that way, we fight and resist.
Instead of fighting and resisting, why not open ourselves to another perspective, another pathway? Even though our paths might divert from what we intended, maybe the new direction is leading to something better, so we should just allow it to unfold.
That can be hard to do. So many emotions can kick in. like fear, anger, confusion, or sadness. We can feel those emotions, but we have to let them go, not sit with them. When we hold on to them, we make it harder to get through whatever is happening.
Like the ocean waves, life really is ebb and flow. At any given point, the waves don’t resist any of it. The ocean continues to flow no matter what. And it’s still there.
As will you be, no matter what changes comes your way. Let it come, unfold, and understand you will continue to be through all of it.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
SHORT STORY SHARE
Welcome to the February installment of Short Story Share.
This month, in honor of Valentine's Day, I offer you an original love story. Enjoy!
Love in a Time of Chaos
In 1956 Nairobi, 13 year-old Mumtaz led an idyllic life. She played with dolls. She loved her frocks. Then, when she turned 12 and could no longer wear them, she loved the shalwar kameez pant suits the family tailor sewed for her. Her heart pounded when her mother’s sister, Nazneen took her and her 3 sisters, Malak, Sadia, and Safia on covert missions to movies because their religious father wouldn’t allow it. She still loved every second of it. She spent time with friends and her assorted relatives who seemed to comprise half of Nairobi. Her brothers Aftab, Ismail, Asim, Jalil, and Tameez contributed to all the commotion in the house with their running, their truck racing, and their G.I. Joes. Mumtaz was closest to Aftab because he was the oldest, and they read the same books. She relished spending afternoon tea conversing with him about a book. The rest of her brothers were younger than she and far less interesting. She still loved them, despite them being boring and silly.
Her family had wealth and the respect of the community. One day, it all came crashing down. Her father caught the flu. But then the flu wouldn’t go away. At one point, he couldn’t get out of bed. It seemed almost as soon as the doctors told them it was pneumonia it had taken him. The wealth and the respect they once had went with him. You see, contrary to the teachings of Islam, not many truly respect a widow, especially when that widow can’t read anything but the Quran. To some, the only thing worth reading for a woman. So, when people who she thought loved her family took whatever her father had left behind, Mumtaz’s mother could do nothing.
Her mother, Jia was a beautiful, angelic woman who rarely raised her voice. She didn’t have to. She was generally beloved so even the most hardened person would listen to what she had to say. Despite being a widow who was swindled out of her due, she had not much to say after her husband died. Her focus had to be on taking care of her children. The rest Allah would take care of because he sees everything, as she said often.
Allah saw many things during this time. He saw Mumtaz’s mother cry in her room at night after all her children had gone to bed. He saw her sigh and rest her chin in her hands the first time she rented out one of their rooms. He saw her put aside pieces of jewelry her late husband had given her for her daughters’ weddings but pick through what she needed to sell to feed her children. He heard her racing thoughts. Can I feed my children next month? Where will I get the money to fix the hole in the roof? How will I pay for the dowry for 4 daughters with no husband? Allah saw and heard all of these things, but Mumtaz and her siblings never did.
All Mumtaz and her older sister, Malak saw was her mother’s worn expression when they came home from school. Aftab, who was 18, worked so much in the local welding factory to help their mother that he didn’t have the energy to notice. As for her other brothers and sisters, the poor things barely grasped that their father was in heaven, and they couldn’t see him anymore. No one in that house fully understood the weight Jia carried in her heart. As for Mumtaz, she never asked her mother how she felt because she was sorting through her own emotions during this tumultuous time.
She knew she was no longer the daughter of a rich man. She now had to wait at the tailor’s instead of being ushered in before everyone. She had to recycle dresses for weddings, mehndis, and dinners now. She couldn’t have a new one for every occasion.
Neighbors inquiring after their well-being dwindled. Over time, where compassion existed, anxiety about whether or not the poor widow woman was going to ask for help crept in. Proud woman that she was, she never would ask anyone for anything , but they couldn’t be sure.
Mumtaz was already drawn to fashion and sewing. But the change in the family fortune gave her an extra spark to sew the clothes she wanted. As time went on, she grew to love it. She added delicate embroidery to her long shirts and scarves. When she cut blouses out of sari fabric, she would pattern it after the latest style she saw in Filmfare. The first time she made a sleeveless blouse, her mother almost had a meltdown. “Proper Muslim girls didn’t wear those”, she argued. Lucky for Mumtaz, Nazneen told her mother to pipe down because Allah had better things to worry about than women’s bare shoulders. By the time, she was 15, Mumtaz became the family tailor and sewed for a few select friends who she wanted to spend the precious time on. She couldn’t wait to get home from school to get to the sewing machine.
That changed when she turned 16, and Malak turned 17. Their mother looked a little more thoughtful as marriage proposals started flooding in. Jia had always said she didn’t want to marry them off too early. That was when her father was still alive. Like so many things in their lives, that changed too. Unknown to their mother, Mumtaz and Malak knew what was coming when they overheard a conversation between Jia and Nazneen.
“You have to start considering these proposals for Mumtaz, Jia. You’re lucky Malak is already taken care of with the promise you made to Shahnawaz to marry her to his oldest son. Marry them off together. You only have one son who works. Between him and your tenants, how much can you expect to provide for 9 children?”
“I want them to go to school like we always wanted. It’s 1960. Times are different. Girls can at least go to school before they get married. I wanted that for my girls.”
“That was an option when your husband was still alive. It’s easier to provide for 7 children instead of 9. They will be taken care of. We are a respectable family. We will get the best matches for Mumtaz.”
“Nazneen, no matter how much I struggle, I will not sell my daughters to the highest bidder. I will only agree to a proposal if I know they will be treated well.”
Mumtaz and Malak looked at each other. Malak beamed. Shahnawaz was the local shipping magnate and friend of the family. His son, Imtiaz was practically the prince of Nairobi and handsome, too. She was anxious to become a wife, especially the wife of Imtiaz . Mumtaz smiled faintly, happy for Malak.
Mumtaz became thoughtful before she went to bed. She never told her mother or even Malak of the waking dreams she had in the quiet of night. She imagined herself designing clothes for all the high society ladies of Nairobi and being known for her impeccable work.
Aware of the pressure her mother was under and always the “good” girl, she kept her grand notions to herself. When suitable matches would present themselves in their home, she and Malak dressed in their best clothes. Mumtaz looked like Saira Banu from "Junglee." She was a thin wisp of a girl who looked like a rough wind could sweep her away. She reminded people of a fairy which made them gravitate towards her. She was a gore-rang, fair-skinned. That made her top commodity in the marriage stock market.
Jia turned many proposals down for one reason or another. One was wealthy, but too short and fat. Mumtaz would have short and fat children. One wanted to take her to Tanzania. Too far. One sucked his fingers too much as he scooped up his masala with his naan bread. Inwardly, Mumtaz was relieved. She didn’t like any of these men.
Then, one of her school friends, Maliha told her about her cousin coming to visit from Uganda. Maliha was short and brown and much more attractive than she was given credit for. She had sharp features and amber-tinted eyes. Most people didn’t notice because her amber-tinted skin caused them to look past her. Their fair-complexion-obsessed community disregarded Malak due to her wheatish skin tone, too. They reserved their lavish praise for Mumtaz. These slights only emboldened both girls to say what was on their minds. It dawned on Maliha what a good match Mumtaz would be for her cousin, so she told her about him. Then, she gave her mother a nudge to approach Jia.
His name was Raja, and he was the manager of a textile company, which intrigued Mumtaz. Maliha and her mother brought him over for tea. Her first thoughts when she first saw him were not good ones. She had her own ideas, but she was still a product of her community. He’s dark. I don’t want to marry such a dark man. What will our children look like? Then, she sat down and kept her eyes to the ground. It wouldn’t have been proper for her to stare at him like she wanted to.
Malak had no such compulsion. If some man was in her house wanting to take her sister away, she was going to look. Mumtaz kept her conversation between the ladies of the group which included her mother, her aunt, her four sisters, and her friend.
When she and Malak went into the kitchen to make chai, Malak grabbed her by the elbow.
“Did you see how smart he looked? He looks like Manoj Kumar!”
Mumtaz had a crush on Manoj Kumar.
“Really? He’s darker than him, though.”
“Are you serious, Mumtaz? He has an ascot and jacket on. His hair is just like Dev Anand’s. It’s perfect. If you weren’t so simple you would have looked at him a little longer.”
Mumtaz opened the kitchen door slightly. She saw what her sister was talking about. In the middle of her school girl reverie, Raja looked up at her. Her face matched the red in her kameez, her long shirt. She backed away from the door and helped Malak pour the chai.
“I told you,” Malak said with a laugh.
They brought the chai out. Mumtaz kept looking at Raja as she poured the tea. As he sipped it, he complimented it. She smiled and said thank you. It was the first time she spoke to him since he arrived.
“Do you like movies Mumtaz?”
“Yes. Very much.”
He looked over at Jia.
“Auntie, may I take Mumtaz and her sisters to see Mughal-E-Azam tomorrow?”
Malak almost jumped out of her chair. She loved Dilip Kumar. Mumtaz smiled shyly. She was glad Raja was so proper to offer to take her sisters. Jia told him if Mumtaz and her sisters wanted to go, he had her permission.
Mumtaz nodded. Her sisters, especially Malak let out a cry of “Yay!” together. Since Raja was due to return to Uganda in a few days, he arranged to take Mumtaz and her sisters to the movies the following day.
After he left, the house was abuzz with anticipation about the movie.
“I get to see Dilip Kumar play a prince!” Malak said.
“Maliha said it’s the best movie she’s ever seen!” Sadia said.
“Madubhala is my favorite heroine!” Safia said.
Mumtaz smiled as her sisters talked about the movie. She was thinking more about Raja than the movie. His hair really was like Dev Anand’s, and it was perfect. His eyes had an intensity to them that she had never seen. They were a beautiful chestnut, lighter than her dark brown eyes. They stood out against his darker skin, demanding attention. They made her anxious to know more about him. When she thought about looking in them for the rest of her life, she shuddered. No one noticed.
He arrived with Maliha in the early afternoon. Mumtaz, Safia, Malak, and Sadia practically ran out the door. Mumtaz said bye to her mother who was staring at Raja with her arms folded not saying anything. She did manage to respond to Mumtaz’s “Khuda Hafiz” and went right back to staring Raja down. Unaffected, he said, “As-salamu alaykum.” Jia returned his salaams and nodded.
Her sisters almost stopped breathing during the movie. It was the biggest spectacle they had ever seen. Madhubhala’s bold dance that defied an emperor during “Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya”, Why should we be afraid if we have loved? had them gasping. Prithviraj Kapoor’s commanding Emperor Akbar enthralled them. Dilip Kumar’s smoldering Prince Salim caused Malak to nearly choke on her popcorn more than once.
Mumtaz enjoyed the movie, too, but she kept shooting furtive glances at Raja who was doing the same. He asked her many times if she needed anything. She told him she was fine with her soda pop.
“You’re as beautiful as Madhubala,” he said.
She bit her lip and turned her head.
When they all came back at 5:00 pm, they found Jia waiting on the front porch like it was 3:00 am. Even though there were 4 other girls with Mumtaz, she was concerned with the one young man and the damage he could do to her daughter’s reputation. She had to be vigilant as all good Muslim mothers are.
She still had manners, though. She offered Raja and Maliha tea which Raja accepted without a second thought. Mumtaz and Malak made the tea and brought it out to everyone. Before they left, Raja told them his aunt had invited them to dinner the next evening. Jia saw Mumtaz’s eyes widen and her shoulders perk up. She understood her answer had to be yes.
At dinner, Mumtaz talked to him about his textile job, her love for sewing, movies, and many other topics until it was time to leave. They said good night but didn’t arrange another meeting to Mumtaz’s disappointment.
The next day Maliha walked Mumtaz home from school. They had biscuits and talked about the day until it was time for Maliha to leave. Before she did, she handed her a note. It was from Raja. It said:
Think of “m.”
Think of “e.”
Put them together,
You’ve got me.
Know that you have me always.
If we come to your mother with a proposal, will you say yes? Write your answer, and give the note back to Maliha.
She looked up at the sky and sighed. Before she wrote her answer, she thought about what marriage would mean. It meant no more school. No sewing college for her. No chance to be a top designer in Nairobi. No more late-night talks with Malak. No more making chai for Aftab when he came home from work. No more Nairobi. Marrying would mean moving to Kampala with Raja’s family. It also meant less worry for her mother. One less child to provide for.
She looked down at the note, wrote her answer, and folded it. She held it in her hand for a moment. She put it in her school bag and went back into the house.
The day before Raja returned to Kampala, he, his aunt, uncle, and Maliha brought sweets and a proposal. Jia said yes because she liked Raja, and she knew Mumtaz did, too. They decided Mumtaz would finish out the school term, and Raja would return to marry her.
As they made the wedding preparations, various relatives and neighbors gave gifts and invited them for dinners to celebrate the auspicious occasion. Raja’s aunt sent Mumtaz the most beautiful fabric for her wedding dress. Malak’s future mother-in-law, Mona insisted their family tailor make her wedding dress. She was already inwardly seething that her husband still honored the engagement even after Jia’s reversal of fortune. She would be damned if her future daughter-in-law would wear anything less than the best. Although it gave her piece of mind that her daughters were taken care of, Jia pursed her lips when she thought about how she couldn’t even afford her own daughters’ wedding dresses. She only commented on how generous Raja’s aunt and Mona were.
Mumtaz decided to sew her own wedding lehenga. The fabric was a brilliant red with light specks of mirror work. She added a delicate pearl border on the bottom of the kameez and on the sleeves. The dupatta veil was heavy with silver zari work with a silver tinsel border on the edges. She sewed the kameez so it hugged her figure slightly.
When she finished, she stepped back and admired her own work. Then, she paused and thought about what it would have been like to dress the fashionable ladies of Nairobi. She thought about seeing her creations in the Life and Style section of the Daily Nation. She knew she had talent and could really make a go of it. She smiled at the possibility. Now, the only possibility she had was being a good wife and mother. She shrugged her shoulders, hung up, her dress, and stared out the window.
Her wedding day started with a nikaah at her home and ended with a reception with only close friends and family at Bombay Palace, much to Mona’s chagrin. She wanted all of Nairobi there.
Both Mumtaz and Malak were relieved that all of Nairobi was not there. They only wanted to share their day with people they loved. As the elder sister, Malak came to her intended and his family first. When it was time for her to make her entrance, Mumtaz lowered her head under her dupatta. Aftab, Sadia, and Safia led her and Malak to the living room where Raja was sitting with his uncle, his aunt, Imtiaz, Malak, Shahnawaz, and Mona. She caught a glimpse of Raja beaming at her and the intense eyes that stared at her with intense love. In that moment, she knew she could look into those eyes for the rest of her life.
Like Madhubala said, “Why should we be afraid if we have loved?”
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
"Riches are not from an abundance of worldly goods but from a contented mind." - Prophet Muhammad
Wise words from an ascended master. Too many people think abundance only comes from wealth in dollars, property, jewels. Material goods give us physical comfort and that assists in easing our minds and spirits. But physical comfort shouldn’t be all we’re focused on. Mind and spirit have to be addressed.
Comfort of the mind
"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." - William Shakespeare
Thought becomes reality. If you give a thought enough of your focus and energy, you will make it come alive. Since that’s the case, why not think good thoughts? Think of things you want. Think of things that make you happy. Think of things that fill your heart. The best things that have come to me in my life came when my mind was at ease.
Comfort of the spirit
"Respond to every call that excites your spirit." - Rumi
I’ve built my life upon making my decisions from what felt best to me. Not what looked good on paper, what would add to my bank account, and damn sure not from what other people approved of. Before I became a teacher, an aunt tried to talk me out of it by saying teaching wasn’t very prestigious. I ignored that advice because the idea of being part of someone else’s learning process, helping them move forward moved my soul. Teaching moved my soul and laid the foundation for the rest of my life.
When teaching stopped moving my soul, I stopped doing it. I knew starting a new career from scratch would be uncomfortable. The uncertainty involved in taking a journey without a roadmap troubled my mind. Of course, the pay cut disrupted my physical comfort. Still, I would never change it. Becoming a full-time writer and artist soothes my spirit everyday.
"Doing what you love is the cornerstone to having abundance in your life." - Wayne Dyer
My spirit being moved every day from living my passion is my abundance. I am fulfilled everyday. I surround myself with the things that make me happiest. Music, nature, my dog. I find joy in all of that every day. That comforts my mind which leads to my physical comfort.
The comfort of the mind, body, and spirit is equally important. The cooperation of the brain and the heart with your spirit leading the way is the path to true abundance. When you pay attention to all of it equally, that’s when you see that true abundance is all around us.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
"Life is a balance between holding on and letting go." - Rumi
Life is a series of balancing acts. We balance home and work. We balance responsibility with self-care. When it comes to moving forward in our personal growth, the balance of holding on and letting go is key.
We hold on to so much in our lives. We hold on to people, situations, beliefs. Some of it serves us. Some of it doesn’t. It’s the same with letting go. We make these choices throughout our lives.
The waters get muddy when we navigate what to hold on to and what to let go of. We have the well-intentioned people around us with their advice. We have our own considerations in our heads. If I do this, will this happen? If I don’t do that, what will happen? We look behind. We look ahead.
Achieving the balance
Really, what we should be doing is deciding what something feels like and if it serves us. Does it feel good? Is it working for me?
That’s when another balance comes into play: the balance between mind and heart. Sometimes, we need to pause the clamor that goes on in our minds, and listen to what our hearts our telling us. What your believe in your heart never steers you wrong.
When we clear our minds of all the chatter, and listen to what our hearts our saying to us, we know what to let go of and what to hold on to.
"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." - Pablo Picasso
I love making things. I like taking something, putting it with something else, and making something new. If you put me in a room with paints and an easel, I will paint. I randomly make whatever comes into my head in the moment. I took my niece to Build-A-Bear once and made a bear that I still have. I made a heart-shaped lavender box with Tweety on it with decoupage. I love all forms of art. Of course, my favorite art to make is writing. I like taking words and putting them together in ways you wouldn’t think of to use them in stories that you didn’t know needed to be told. I’ll tell you why. Here are 3 reasons why I love being a creator.
1. I have to express myself creatively.
I like to put things out there that haven’t been there before. Making something out of nothing, almost. What’s the point of life if you’re just doing the same old thing?
2. I love to connect with other people with something I've created.
If something I’ve made makes you feel something: joy, amusement, happiness. That’s great. If it pisses you off or annoys you. That’s okay, too. The best outcome is to make you think. To put something out there that resonates with you or makes you think of something in a new way. That’s my job as an artist.
3. The world needs art.
People need to think beyond their survival or their place in an afterlife. The whole point
of life is to live it. Feel it. Taste it. Smell it. Art either directly helps us to do that or gives us a reminder. It makes you see the infinite possibilities that are out there. It dares you to be outside of your box. Or maybe just create a new one.
Find the artist you once were.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
SHORT STORY SHARE
Welcome to a new monthly installment: Short Story Share. Every month I will be sharing either my own original work or work that inspires me from other authors.
As my first offering, I give you "The Lament of the Reaper," a dark supernatural fantasy I wrote a few months back. This is a departure for me. It's dark, it's grim. I hope you enjoy it!
The Lament of the Reaper
“It was your fault. If you had seen the smoke sooner, your baby sister might still be here,” a sugary voice hissed.
Screams that sounded just like the poor soul’s sister pierced her ears like a high-pitched siren.
Finally, an anguished cry of “No. No.” permeated the oppressive air.
Then, an ever so soft, “I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.”
Octavia the demon sneered, “It’s not the Lord who will be the one taking your soul.”
Of course the soul who was the object of Octavia’s taunts for years couldn’t actually hear her. She felt her and heard Zahieel the reaper’s noises to mimic her sister’s cries, her mother’s wails at her sister’s funeral, and any other noises that would evoke her most painful memories. The fact that she couldn’t see where these sounds came from heightened her fear. Her old pain was reawakened to the point where every limb trembled, and her heart throbbed in torment, which was Octavia’s aim all along. She reveled in the hapless human’s pain.
Zahieel appeared to watch and participate in these scenes designed to engender madness with impassivity. Inwardly, he seethed. A reaper driving a person to madness was not part of the Natural Order he was created to maintain. Bound by his contract, he had no choice but to participate.
In hundreds of years as a reaper, Zahieel did his part in keeping the Natural Order intact. Until he didn’t. On the whole, he was neutral. He was neither demon nor angel. He guided newly departed souls to their contracted destination, heaven, hell, or purgatory. His job was to cut the silver cord that connected the soul to the body and deliver the soul to its final destination. Man, woman, child, he had no mercy. The Creator deliberately designed him and the other reapers without it, just like the Angel of Death, who was the source of all reapers and their master.
Zahieel had been assigned to collect thousands of souls. Some of those souls died whole and with light and others, in darkness. Neither of which was a concern of his. His job was to collect and deposit to the designated place at the designated time. None of which was ever a concern of his. Some of the dark souls he collected were dark as a result of intentional choices they made. They were murderers, rapists, or some other instrument of destruction. Others, had demons either in them or attached to them. Most dispersed at the sight of him. He found them vulgar for the most part and took very little note of them. However, when he encountered Octavia, she surprised him by standing her ground.
“Hello Zahieel,” she said in that sugary tone of hers.
He stopped, astonished at being addressed directly. Not only did Octavia stand her ground, she stood tall, contrary to the skulking, snivelling nature of most demons. Her form was a grotesque combination of sea creature, human, and horse. Her face resembled a human woman but the top of her head formed a webbed crown. She had webbed fingers and scaly wings jutting out from her arms. She had the torso of a woman and two legs that ended in hooves. Her skin was a deep, bluish green with texture like a snake. Only gifted humans could see her, and when they did many fell to their knees.
Zahieel, on the other hand, looked almost human, except he had a shadow of gloom hanging about him and his features were thin and almost blended into one another. His hair was long and tangled. The only thing that stood out about him was his pointed and stern chin, giving him a severe look, which worked to his advantage as a reaper. No human would ever think of negotiating with him or begging for his mercy.
“Who are you?” Reapers are cold and direct for the most part. Zahieel was no different.
“Octavia, a lieutenant of Lucifer.”
He stopped with his assigned soul at one of the gates of hell. The departed glanced at the scene in front of him, bewilderment etched in his face, as is common with most souls. The gate opened, and the soul entered, not looking back once. As Zahieel turned to go, Octavia barred his way.
“Octavia, lieutenant of Lucifer, what is it that you are trying to do?”
“Create a contract,” she said, matching his cool tone.
“This soul has already fulfilled his contract.”
“Do you fulfill your contracts, Zahieel?”
“I fulfill my contracts every day.”
“Good,” she said, arching an eyebrow and smirking.
Zahieel cocked his head to the side, bemused by Octavia’s statement. Each soul he brought to hell was another soldier in its army, which he was sure she delighted in. Zahieel had no interest in how she felt or what amused her, and he grew tired of her quickly.
“Is there anything else demon?” he said.
“You must make a contract with me, reaper,” she said, glancing at the ground by his feet.
Zahieel looked down. At first, all he noticed was the dark gravel he was used to seeing in his travels to this desolate place. Now, it glowed orange, illuminating a symbol. His mark resembled a triskelion: three spirals interconnected by leaves. He understood. She found a way to trap him with it.
“How did you find my symbol?”
“My tactics are no concern of yours. Your only concern from this moment forward is to do whatever it is I require of you.”
She extended her hand to seal their agreement. He shook it, and their pact was made. He said nothing else. He understood his precarious situation in an instant. Even though he was more powerful, her knowledge of his symbol made him powerless.
For the next few weeks, he helped Octavia torture various humans she entered into. She maintained her hold on each human through grief and rage. She was methodical, preying upon their worst memories to further their rage. Their inability to make peace with their past and still hold on to it was always their downfall. He had seen it thousands of times.
She allowed him to maintain his list of souls to collect. Even though he had a contract with her, it didn’t supersede his contract with the Creator. Nothing and no one can interfere with contracts to the Creator. They can only work around them, which Octavia did to great effect.
Zahieel bided his time and felt his way into the solution to free himself. He couldn’t sneak off to the Great Library to find clues as to how she could have procured his symbol. He knew the futility of trying when she knew who he was contracted to collect and when. An explicable absence had the potential to ruin him. She maintained a close watch on him whenever she knew he was going to heaven. She was no fool. Nor was she a lesser rival. She was far more cunning than Zahieel.
Thousands of years ago, she became another in the thousands of creations of Satan, almost his child. He infused his patience into her, his cunning, his quiet malice. She possessed a sophistication Zahieel had never seen in a demon. When she spoke, her words suffused her deliberation and calm while floating into the air, causing Zahieel to utterly underestimate her. His downfall.
One thing he knew he could count on was her greed. Most demons were rash and consumed by whatever insatiable desire they possessed at that moment. Not Octavia, she was patient and cunning, a true student of Satan. In spite of these strengths, she was still a demon, and her greed would surface at some point. When it did, it would give Zahieel the opportunity he needed. He just had to be patient. He had no choice. Twelve years into his contract, her greed finally surfaced.
Octavia coveted one human with a particular set of gifts, Kabira. She could move objects with her mind. She could harm just with a negative look or feeling. She was just beginning to understand her gifts and her power to harm. She had much darkness in her, deliberate black magic from family members who were threatened by her. Yet, the light that was in her from the moment she was born lingered, and she was naturally drawn to it. A true battle raged for her soul. It was a battle Octavia was determined to win. One way or another.
They came to Kabira when she attempted to meditate in her bedroom. The lights were off. As the room grew darker, the only light was the last rays of the setting sun seeping through the closed blinds on the windows. Since she lived by herself she had no one to immediately turn to when Octavia and Zahieel came to torture her. A steady stream of jabs over a period of years aimed right for her heart and mind. They went right to her sadness, which lingered at her core. It was the means in which Octavia came to inhabit her to begin with. The oppression in Kabira’s soul added to the darkness flooding in the room and Zahieel felt it. Octavia relished it. Zahieel observed the same human story that he had witnessed across time, across countries, across cultures. Parents who can’t handle their own lives can’t handle a child. Then, they leave that child either with others or to fend for themselves. Humans, ever inclined to place blame, often place blame on themselves. This was the case for Kabira. When they happened upon her, she was already in tears, which made their work easy for them.
“They didn’t love you because you weren’t worth loving,” Octavia hissed in her ear.
Kabira couldn’t see her, but her malice crept up her spine and weaved its way to the rest of her body, immobilizing her with fear. Each time it nearly suffocated her. It only exacerbated the pain in her heart, thrilling Octavia even more.
“I am a good person, whether they saw it or not,” Kabira said, through sobs.
“Are you? How many people have died from your very thoughts? Your curses?” Octavia said.
“I’ve never killed anyone!”
“Oh. But you have,” Octavia taunted.
Octavia showed Kabira a vision of herself. She was driving around her supermarket, angry. Some scruffy looking man saw her trying to park but took her spot anyway. She drove past him shooting her middle finger at him. Then, she said,”I hope his car gets fucked up.”
The next scene Octavia showed her was the man lying on the ground, blood on his clothes. His car tied to a tow truck totalled.
Then, she ran from her bed to the window. She put her hands along the sides, looking down, eyes closed, breathing very slowly. Both Zahieel and Octavia knew where her thoughts headed.
“You can end the pain, dear,” Octavia said in her softest most caring voice.
For the first time in his existence, Zahieel felt disgust. Feeling one way or another is understandable when you have the luxury of feeling anything. Pretending to feel something when you don’t is just reprehensible. Then, he remembered Octavia was a demon after all, a creature created to be reprehensible. His neutrality returned.
Kabira took a long breath and backed away from the window. Octavia became incensed. In a voice smoldering with hate and anger she said, “Push her Zahieel!”
“It’s not her time! I cannot!”
“You are bound, reaper!”
Although she heard the entire conversation, Kabira didn’t even turn around. She straightened herself. She understood her fate.
“May God forgive me,” she said, with all her heart.
Zahieel pushed her. As soon as her body hit the ground, he rushed to her soul and threw it to the reaper assigned to her. Her reaper, Arawn shot Zahieel a confused look and cut her silver cord. Then, they were gone.
“Follow them!” Octavia seethed.
Zahieel went to the gates of Heaven first. He saw Kabira.
“Thank you for giving me my freedom.” she said, bowing her head.
Zahieel turned away and sighed. He returned to Octavia.
“You cost me that soul!” she yelled.
“She was on Arawn’s list! She asked for forgiveness before her crossing! We are both powerless! You know this, Octavia!”
Her cry of rage shook the ethers. She grabbed him by his neck and threw him with such force that he landed in a dimension he didn’t recognize. He was alone in a vast, barren field. The star-plastered sky filled with varying hues of indigos and reds seemed to intertwine with several dimensions. He couldn’t tell where any of it began or ended. All of a sudden, he felt a presence. He rolled his eyes and turned around expecting more venom from Octavia. Instead of Octavia, his real master, the Angel of Death loomed before him.
“Zahieel, what have you done? You killed a human before their time! You know this is not our way!” The boom in his voice made the entire dimension shake and brought Zahieel to his knees.
“Master, Octavia has bound me by contract to do her bidding. How did you not know?”
“You fulfilled your duties. Your other activities with the exception of this infraction are no concern of mine.”
“Can you help me?”
“If she has bound you by contract, I cannot help you. I am not at liberty to break any contracts of any being, human or supernatural. Only an exorcist can free you.”
“Can’t you command an exorcist to free me?”
“No. The Natural Order must be maintained. If it is part of the Natural Order for you to be freed, you will be.”
And then he was gone. Zahieel, for the first time in centuries became angry. He cursed his fate, his master, and Octavia. Then, he cursed himself for being ensnared by her in the first place. After a short time, Octavia’s screeching voice penetrated the ethers, and she summoned him back.
“Enjoy your conversation with one of God’s lackeys?” she mocked.
“Our contract does not include disclosing what I discuss with my master.”
“You seem to forget that I am your master now.”
“And you seem to forget that my contract as a reaper forbids me to disclose anything I discuss with my master. Remember the limits, Octavia.”
“Remember yours, slave!”
Then, she knocked him to the ground. He bowed his head and said nothing.
For three more years, he did Octavia’s vile bidding. He tortured and killed. His rage tempered to sorrow. His role was to maintain the Natural Order, not to disrupt it, which he did over and over again. He rarely responded to Octavia, only enacted her commands.
Meanwhile, Octavia set her sights on another gifted human. David could tap into other dimensions easily. In his visions, her would see places that he knew he never saw before. These images confused him when he saw them. Sometimes, he saw a gray, empty expanse of barreness. He saw smatterings of colors but didn’t know where they came from. Other times, he saw a tan and yellowish scene folding in on itself. It looked like stairs vibrating and moving up and down, like an accordian endlessly moving. He never felt fear. He just didn’t know what he was seeing. Still, he knew something was out of place.
He was only just learning his power, but his trauma from suffering abuse from his father hindered him from realizing the extent of his gifts. It wasn’t physical abuse. It was mental. Even as a child, he was told he had to earn his food by completing household chores. When he became a successful, wealthy, adult who was a leader in business, his father still treated him coldly, not even offering one word of praise to him. Despite his father’s severity, David had an inner determination to prove him wrong. For all his success and gifts, David was already a tortured soul, making Octavia’s path to him easy
They enacted the hallmarks of their twisted partnership. Octavia’s menacing taunts combined with Zahieel’s physicality. Throwing objects. Making harsh noises. One day, David surprised them both. Zahieel tried to throw him, and David actually used his own will to throw him off. Zahieel had to steady himself, and his face contorted in confusion. Even Octavia was stunned, but she recovered quickly. She mimicked David’s father’s voice, which subdued him right away. Weeks later, they returned to David while he was in meditation. This time, Zahieel observed what was going on in David’s mind’s eye. He was looking at the Book of Solomon, at a page with a listing of the sacred symbols of other reapers. A smoldering calm overtook him. Now, he understood how Octavia retrieved his symbol. He broke David’s concentration before she could see what he was seeing. She looked at Zahieel suspiciously but said nothing. Zahieel’s quiet patience returned, but he still avoided interaction with Octavia if he could help it.
He continued to bide his time paying close attention to David, making sure he didn’t accidentally give Octavia anymore sacred symbols. He watched Octavia closely, too, making sure she didn’t procure any other symbols from elsewhere. But she trusted no one, especially not Zahieel, so he could never really be sure.
More weeks passed. Then, Zahieel witnessed a scene he never expected to see in his fifteen years with her. Octavia startled. They were in David’s home. It was beautiful with immaculately placed gray and black leather furniture against white walls. But always cold and with no emotion. Even the air was stifling and confining. On this night, the air was clear. First, Zahieel smelled sage. Then, frankincense. He heard Christian prayers. Next, he heard a voice commanding her to give him her name. She refused. At first, Zahieel only saw a human form, a young man with long hair and a booming voice. This presence confused him, and he didn’t know where his fate would lead him. When he looked deeper in the young man’s eyes, he saw compassion. Gazing deeper, he saw the man’s soul. Not an ordinary being, but an ancient. A soul similar in age to Octavia’s. One of the gatekeepers between worlds. Then, Zahieel realized this was the exorcist who would free him.
The gatekeeper commanded again and again in the name of many Gods. She went for his throat but he swatted her arms away like he was swatting a fly. She commanded Zahieel to attack. When he lunged at the gatekeeper, he didn’t even move. Zahieel bounced off of him like a ball. The exorcist’s spiritual power and will subdued her. She resisted but was overcome. Finally, she had no choice but to give him her name. He demanded that she leave David’s body. The battle was over. She had no choice but to comply. After that, the exorcist asked Zahieel what he was doing there. He told him of the contract. Then, the exorcist freed him. Zahieel bowed, said thank you, and disappeared into the reaper realm.
He summoned the other reapers. Millions assembled in the gray, desolate realm where nothing existed, only endless space. They were confused, at first because they rarely meet and converse. Zahieel told them of how he had been ensnared and to be on their guard. They bowed, nodded, and disappeared. Zahieel sighed deeply. His involuntary disruption of the Natural Order haunted him all the years of his contract with Octavia. Yet, with this act, he could help prevent others from disrupting it. Satisfied, he went back to work doing his part in maintaining the Natural Order.
After all, the Natural Order must always be maintained.
Until next time...look behind and beyond the veil...
"I dwell in possibility..." Emily Dickinson
We all have it in us to create magic in our lives every day. When we enjoy the sun in a blue sky. That’s magic. When we enjoy the laughter of our children. That’s magic. When we enjoy the possibility of what we can create, that’s the magic of life.
Possibility in the unknown
For a few months now, I have been talking about what it means to live in the unknown after completely changing my life around. I faced a lot of growing pains because there were times I was afraid. All kinds of questions swirled around my head. How is this going to work out? Shouldn’t I be moving faster? What steps should I take? Am I following the right steps?
These are questions anyone would have. That’s okay. But just focusing on those questions only leads to more uncertainty. Impossibility. When I focused on making a choice about what steps to take and then taking them, the possibility stayed. That’s when stepping into the unknown gets easier.
Belief in the impossible
Let’s go back to what’s impossible. We live with what’s impossible without a second thought. The sun is what keeps us alive, but if we get too close to it, it could kill us. How is it possible that a thing that could kill us is the primary reason we are alive? The planet and the creatures that comprise it are mostly water. We would die without it, but if we are surrounded by too much it could also kill us. It is gentle and strong at the same time. How is that possible? It just is. Although we don’t think about it all the time, we know it, and we continue living.
Proceeding with possibility and belief
That’s what I keep doing. I keep living. Whether I am certain about my next moves or not, I keep going. Now, I don’t need to see evidence that every move I am making is the right one. I know that I continue to create opportunity and possibility, and I go from there. That’s the magic I use in creating my world.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...