Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I seem to recall thrashing on the ground, trying to desperately combat my foe. It had snuck up on me unawares. While imagining myself on a high brilliant snowy ridge, decked out in the rough earth colored wools of the native Sherpa, I had been dragged to the earth by my arch nemesis.

That is what you get for reaching toward the clouds! The rewards for lofty speculation is to be dragged back down, without ceremony, to the fecal plain. I thrashed about for a spell, and in my cataleptic fit can remember grasping ankles in abject desperation, (and it seemed like the ankles kicked to break free of my crushing grip…)

I woke up sometime later. There was a flash of white pulsing light dancing what seemed to be inches from my open eyes, and a sound, a horrible elongated whine, which sure enough was my own voice; it was not really a human sound, but a gasping cackle. Short, in drawn breaths followed by stretched whimpers, distorted like that curious mixture just before taffy hardens to the final form of candy, pliable, gooey, easily man handled and kneaded around a pole jutting from the confectioner’s bakery wall….

I realized, again to my surprise, that I was weeping --- the cry, so loud and fast moving that to my ears it seemed to produce a Doppler effect, the further away the sound traveled from gaping maw, the stumpier the wavelengths became, until they tapered to nothingness in the auditory funnel.

I heard voices.

“I have seen this before.” A sub-continent accent.

“Really, where, do tell, have you seen such a phenomenon before, Baba?” another South Asian.

“Yes, pray-tell,” perhaps Gavin’s fluttering English cadence.

“Well, Sahib, when I was a child in Gigantistan, there was a man who began to exhibit strange symptoms, symptoms that were commensurate with unnatural growth of his arms and legs and trunk. A growth which started a gap between body and the soul which inhabits it.”

“No, most assuredly not,” the other said, clicking his tongue in disapproval, “this is just Hindu superstition, no disrespect intended. I cannot believe that a man’s body would grow to the exclusion of his soul. So where is his soul, do tell?” he went on with obvious disdain, “we too have such erroneous folk-ways, and perhaps they are true,” he added illogically, “but why annex them onto this poor man?”

“Indeed,” it was Gavin’s breathless voice, “perhaps we should get a doctor up here. He’s prone to these spells, and it doesn’t appear that he’s going to gain consciousness.”

“You think he is possessed by a Jinn?” the room was settling into a granular focus. Gavin, Abdul and Ramjana appeared to be composed of insufficiently colored, rounded pixels, with disquieting gaps in their composition. Gavin was missing a neck; Abdul had only one arm, and Ramjana, unsettling enough, was completely bereft of legs.

“Oh, let me tell you Baba, we had a chap in the regiment once, a real Kashmiri village lad, a local product if there ever was one, a fierce fighter, but delusional, and subject to bizarre fits. I don’t know why we kept him.

One night, while on maneuvers in the mountains, he was supposed to stand guard. But when a corporal went to relieve him, he was not there. He came back the next day, bloodied, clothes torn, hair disheveled. He claimed a band of Jinns snuck up on him and subdued him in the dead of night. They bound him with golden cords and spirited him away to Jinnistan, of all places, and tried to wrench his soul from his body through the service of all sorts of infernal Jinn machines.

When it didn’t work, they marched him about to Kaf, the mystical emerald mountains that surround the earth, where the Jinn hold court, to break this village lad’s will and finally and irrevocably wrench his soul from his body!”

“Oh Baba, what a tale!”

“Tell me about it! What ideas this village lad had. As if Jinns would waste such precious time on his lowly little soul. You’d think they’d have more advanced mischief to plot.”


“What happened to him?” Gavin asked, his neck shifting from nothing to pixilation with a shimmering effect, like the distant view of a mirage on a desert highway.

“Oh,” Abdul cocked his head to the side, “he was discharged. Counter productive superstition is an impediment in our line of work, of course.”

“Well, I have an example that tops yours, most assuredly. As I was mentioning, in Gigantistan we had that chap who appeared to have some abnormality with growth. And he was subject to such unusual spells. He would just fall right in his tracks. Wherever he was, he would cascade to the ground. And he claimed, in the most demonstrable terms possible, that a dark creature was pursuing him, dimming his eyes. Unbelievable things.”



“Oh, I do not steer you wrong. So the village Pundit came, and he used all the standard possible remedies for possession: blowing cow dung smoke in his face, pressing rock salt in the creases between his fingers, burning pig excreta in the room….”

“Revolting,” Gavin gasped.

“…. pulling his hair, reciting prayers and invocations from the Gita, even trying to entice the spirit out with candies and sweetmeats but…”

“But?’ Abdul asked.

“Nothing.” Rama had regenerated his arm. He was rotating it in its socket, like one of those outlandish Hindu gods with an array of ambidextrous limbs. “I think he just wandered away and became a raving lunatic; he became a village idiot or vernacular prophet in some backwater Kashmiri town…”

“Possession is a serious topic. The shame of it is that it is usually dismissed as a madman’s state,” Rama said sonorously, “but it really admits to degrees, to shades of difference. I believe that the human soul is literally cluttered with a variety of divergent voices and in all but the most unlucky those voices are drowned out by a superior voice, the one that we recognize as the self.”

“The faith of Mohammad can not admit to such a concession. If the individual man has many souls and not one, unitary soul, then the entire edifice of faith collapses. The Holy Koran becomes a mockery, and its prophet Mohammad, peace on his soul, the most debased liar. There must be one soul that receives reward or retribution in this world and in the afterlife.”

I sat up abruptly in the hospital bed. A thick white curtain suspended by a collapsible metal rod gave me a modicum of privacy. A nurse, white stockinged with a red cross stitched to the skirt covering her ample hips and waist was shuffling across the linoleum floor with an IV bottle suspended from a wheeled metal pole.

I started to wrestle with the hand and leg restraints. I was manacled.

“Now, now Captain, be a good boy and just sit back and relax.”

“What happened?”

“Well, no one knows for sure. You had a little episode out in the street. The doctor thinks it is nervous exhaustion.”

“Impossible,” I sputtered, “I’m in perfect health.”

“I’m sure you are Captain. You just rest yourself now. There’s visitors comin’ up to see you. Some Major and a woman.”

As she pecked away like a fat hen, and was replaced by the gracefully gliding Gavin. He was smiling broadly, but with a noticeable trace of embarrassment etched on his soft, malleable features.

“Well, you certainly know how to tie up scarce medical resources, don’t you?”

“What happened to me?”

“I don’t really know. We were talking to those medical chaps and they don’t know for sure.”

“What about the Gurka? The Kashmiri?”

“The who?” Gavin looked at me with genuine concern.

“Is Clare with you?”

“Why yes. She didn’t come in right away because she wanted to see if you were up to it.”

“I’m not up to it.” I stared up at the cracked ceiling.

“Well, I’m so sorry. We all feel awfully bad about this. That things have come to this I mean…” he trailed off, tears seeming to whelm in his eyes.

“Its not your fault. She just shouldn’t come in,” I said feebly, feeling the firm resolve on things and had most of the time just slip away.

Gavin shook off his tears. He stood to rise up, fixing his short jacked over his tiny bird body. He nodded, and turned to leave.

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