“You have a tumour,” the doctor stated gently.
A tumour? The word rang out, a familiar yet so unfamiliar word.
“Does that mean Cancer,” asked Bridget, incredulous, holding her breath.
“I’m afraid it does,” delicately telling the truth.
Her breath froze, the icy meaning penetrated in.
Slowly in and in.
A word that was to become too familiar, the only word in her head, the only word of those around her. It was terrifying, Cancer.
He had been with women. He liked their warmth, their softness, those curvy bodies that’d drive a man wild with testosterone. He loved sex, getting it up, getting it in, nipples standing, rump out, Oh! hands on, swoop into yummy carnality. Bliss! So blissful it counterbalanced any vestige of unmarried guilt. He always wore a condom, he protected himself, vigilantly. These women were out to snare a man, to get their tentacles in, to suck a man dry with their clinginess, their insipid chatter, their ready tears. All that fussiness in their outwardly trappings. They wouldn’t trap him, despite the ripple of their laughter and the shining of their eyes. No, he preferred his lone dignity, he a solid man of morals. So many sluts around, so much pornography and basic tastelessness. If only he could meet his ideal woman things would be different. Her, he’d shower with tenderness, dedicate his life to adoring, start a family. But all he got were these flawed, manipulating, spineless creatures.
Hassan Habib was born in a hilly peasant village in the West Bank of the River Jordan, outside Al Khalil, or Hebron to the infidel, born into a Palestinian family some 20 years previously. Not far, affluent Jews lived in modern settlements having bought or expropriated land and occupied it since the six-day war of 1967. This traditional Holy Land where Abraham had built an alter to the Lord, a communal heritage of Muslims, Jews and Christians, the Israelis controlled with guns and mortar, forever oppressing the Palestinian majority of this poor, rubbled region. Economic curbs, curfews, culls. Jewish homes were spacious, their demeanour superior, their cars flash. All Palestinian boys could do was to take vengeful pleasure in hurling stones when these imposing cars passed by.
And it was by the Bay of Bengal that Shandra was born, within that once majestic city of Calcutta, the celebrated jewel of poets and musicians. For this erstwhile imperial capital of India now represents the best and worst of Indian life, houses both its culture and squalor, literature and foulness. The young Shandra had the good fortune to be raised in its richer heritage, to be brought up in a home with hot water, servants and Bengali music. She danced all her life, from birth to death, this dance of the divine that was once danced as a religious rite by the handmaids of the temple until, that is, the British came and ousted out this caste, reducing them to the role of lay entertainers. Shandra had wanted to do nothing but dance, to lose herself under its spell. Alas, some dancers were rumoured to lead double lives—replacing the ancient poetic profession as a royal courtesan with that of a back street prostitute. So it was in acquiescing to her parent’s authoritarian wishes that Shandra abandoned the fantasy of attending the Kalakshetra school of dance, gave up on becoming a dance-bride of the Gods.
Is love at first sight about being struck by your destiny? Is it about sensing purity, somehow touching the subliminal? Is it deeper than the physical? Is it about finding your soulmate? One unsuspecting evening he found her, he found himself. The one he’d known in his subconscious always. He had found home. There she was in a beautiful white gypsy dress, all wispy, with little pink flowers on the belt. Her hair fell over one shoulder, landing in soft dark ringlets. Big, silver earrings dazzled as she spoke animatedly. Inspiring him, luring him. He stared at her, stared until she looked at his look of rapture. Her eyes lit up in response and a startled smile came to her lips, highlighting the whitest of teeth. Bruno didn’t know what he was going to say, all he knew was he had to get to her before the wolves pounced on her, swine before a pearl, for he knew what would be on their lecherous minds. The vision answered the magnetism of his eyes and lifted her hand to accept his, still some metres apart. They danced, they turned, they twirled. Sabrina was her name, from Mexico. Her entourage regarded the French monsieur suspiciously when Señorita Sabrina announced that she was walking back with him but witnessing just how dizzy they were with each other the clan surrendered resistance. People can’t help watching lovers.
Vicky felt deplete, an enormous sheet of melancholy descended over her. She was sure she had done something bad, that she had gone against Nature or whatever Powers there may be. Would there be repercussions? For the first time in her life the happy-go-lucky Vicky questioned was there a God? Her parents had written “Protestant” on registration forms whenever required but it was never quite clarified were they Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Unitarian or Baptist. In fact the subject of religion had never reared its head in her home. Somehow it had seemed irrelevant. Any childhood enquiries had been answered with a brush of the hand in the same vein as did monsters and fairies exist. Silly nonsense!
Evolution was what it was all about. Professor O’Sullivan was adamant that Man was master of his own destiny. All this religious crap about Heaven and praying to God was codswallop—for those who didn’t think—the sheep. It was only sheep who needed a shepherd, wasn’t it! He smirked to himself. He wasn’t lost. An atheist and a discerning man was he. Faith was for those too blind to see that the Church wasn’t able to explain its doctrines and therefore preached the merits of a childlike devotion. Like a belief in Santa Claus, this “Father” didn’t come up with the goodies. Why on earth did they go on wasting their time praying for peace in the world? Not that they could point a finger at anyone but themselves for causing war. He shook his head. Religious obsession was at the root of most world-scale bigotry he was sure. Religion was an evil force, he concluded more than once.
In the eternal scheme of things is our lifetime but an insignificant dot or is it a magnification of precious moments that hold true forever? Is life about experiences or preparations, about being or accomplishing? Should we invite religion to colour our life or death? Over to you the living… are you chasing after what it is that inspires you… have you discovered what your subconscious or spirituality is driving you to… can you ever fill that hole within… if you weren’t of your persuasion how else might you live… if the Other Side really does hold Eternal Bliss why do you cling on so desperately to this one… do you need to die to find expansiveness of the mind?
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