The City of Magic - Chapter 16
ophia had managed to rip off a sewer lid and pulled us into it. It all happened in the twinkling of an eye, and the barred lid was closed. We were curved now in a 4 feet deep gutter that had, by now, a foot of rain water gushing through. I held Inno in my lap so that she could sit straight and we kept our heads close to the lid. The light from the headlights grew near and then disappeared completely, leaving a fading trail of humdrum from the vehicles that eventually stopped. It was all dark again. I wondered that my life had all been underground. If hiding was all reality; then, the world did look like a cursed reality now. How long, I asked. What wretchedness, I thought. The sky still flashed and gurgled, spitting rain on the ground: it did look like spit on our faces looking up the barred lid above.
Sophia softly pushed the lid up and made sure that it was all fine. Then, she climbed up and pulled us back onto the road. I marveled at her agility, but was not afraid to follow her lead – she acted even before I could summon ideas for doing some proper thinking. Her action nailed me into submission; for they always seemed to be well calculated.
We moved swiftly and found an intersection. The trucks had come from the right. I looked towards the left. “Not that way,” said Sophia, “We’ll go the way that they’ve cleared.” We moved on. We slipped into a dark street, walked through few turns of various streets and found ourselves in a market place. The weather had become dry here and the heavens above were as dark as nothingness. The walk we were on opened onto a square where there were a number of people. The number of people did gradually rise through each street that drew close to the shopping area. Intriguingly, I noticed that the lamps here had a certain green shade. It also seemed that the people here were a bit obsessed with snakes; for these creatures, in their numerous varieties, served as the ground pattern for all commodities here: shoes, suits, and snacks alike.
Sophia slowed her pace, and I followed suit. From the distance, I could now notice that a number of policemen were stationed at the square. Two of them were approaching from in front of us. They wore dark green uniforms and had serpent badges on. “This is Invidia, the territory of Envy,” Sophia whispered. The two policemen were discussing something that seemed to be too important to them; they just passed by us without even throwing a glance. I felt relief.
We reached the square where a statue of the Lady Invidia stood. She was seated on a coiled green viper. A plank on the serpent had these words carved:
Venom of the Earth
Four lampposts stood on the four corners of the square, each bearing a serpent’s head with green light blazing from its eyes. The first was called Self-seeking; the second, Blindness; the third, Hatred; and the fourth, Rottenness. I had a severe desire to just get away from this appalling and disgustful sight. At that very moment, it seemed like the scene in front of me was torn apart like a canvas of painting, and a fiery dragon pierced through and leapt onto the middle of the square out of nowhere. Seated on it was Invidia. Her dazzling eyes spotted us and within moments we fell on the ground bound with strong twigs. I looked at Inno and saw that she was bound as well. Immediately, officers surrounded us and sprayed a green gas on our eyes. Then, everything was pitch darkness and I fell unconscious.
I thought it was rain, and then I realized that it was water being thrown on my face, and was puzzled that I hadn’t yet awakened from this dream, as it seemed. I looked up and saw that I was in some kind of a stony dungeon; some officers stood there smiling at me sarcastically. One of them looked at me with utter disgust. I looked and saw that Sophia and Inno were still tied; they were unconscious.
The disgustful looking officer pricked a baton under my cheek and asked, “Who else are with you?”
I answered nothing. My mind reeled with the nauseating stench around. The officer was disgusted. “Get that thing out!” he shouted. “Spit it out or you’ll be impaled on a pole with your friends before all eyes!” another one cried. They looked extremely violent and vulgar.
“Please leave me alone for some time,” I cried out loud. Inno and Sophia awoke with a startle. They officers looked stunned. “Let me deliberate a little; then, I’ll tell you what I wish to say.”
They looked at each other and nodded. “Think, then,” the officer said, “before your brains are spilled out!” He then moved out and the others followed suit one by one. I lowered my head in an utter sense of desperation.
“Don’t fret!” Sophia said, “It’s impossible for darkness to overcome light!”
“But, where light finds no way to enter, there darkness reigns. That is the kingdom of darkness!”
“If it were all dark, then why would I have a ray of hope?”
I found no answer. I felt just confused. I could think of no way out. For the first time I felt that evil had triumphed over man through the venomous sting of envy. At that instant, the only dim lights that lit our dungeon sizzled off and died, and it was all pitch dark. Inno cried with fear. “Don’t be afraid!” Sophia tried to strengthen her. I moved in every way possible to break off the strands; but they held me tight. I struggled and I felt Sophia struggling too. Suddenly, it seemed that somebody stood close to me.
“Who is it?” I cried.
There was pin drop silence. I could hear the panting of Sophia and the cries of Inno.
“Tell me, again, who is it?” I cried out.
There was again a deep silence. Then, something touched my strands and they broke off loose. The next instant, I sensed Sophia and Inno stand on their feet too.
“Run away!” a voice calmly said, “I’ve come to take your place.”
“Who is it?” I asked groping around with my hands.
“Get away from here and do not worry about my name; for, in a little while you shall see me again!”
“No, tell me your name?”
“They call me Stranger here. That’s all you need to know for the moment. Now, run!”
“Where do you live?”
“I have no home here.”
“What do you do?”
“Ask the ground beneath your feet what it does,
Ask the firmament above your head what it does,
Ask the daystar that fills the world with energy what it does,
(Now hidden from your view; yet, not annulled)
Ask the heart that beats within your breast what it does,
Ask the cold rain pouring from the fiery sky what it does;
Who has appointed it? What office does it hold?
Is it paid from the treasures of Hamartia?
Or does Sarx marshal it like he does the forces of wild Desire?
Then you shall know that my office is not from below;
Neither am I esteemed by this estranged world of woes.
Sin finds nothing in me, nothing worthwhile but profuse enmity!
Do not ask any further; for this is not the time to ask and answer;
Run! Run away from here! Stop not to look back,
Turn neither to the left nor to the right! Just run, run away from here!”
“Just run away! Away now!” he cried and his voice struck us like an electricity; in an instant we were jolted out of the dungeon and landed on a street.
The street was very dimly lit and littered with all kinds of refuse. There was a far heavier stench here than ever that we had to cover our olfactory senses. The houses were all dilapidated and on the verge of crumbling. People walked clumsily on the road; most just sat idle on the ground. A giant tower loomed at a little distance and upon it were inscribed the words,
Easy Come Easy Go
We three stood there marveling with our mouths parted wide. The walls of this part of the City, including the tower, were made of stones and resembled the back of a tortoise shell.
“This is Acedia, the province of Sloth,” muttered Sophia.
“What did Stranger mean when he said that he had come to take our place?” I asked.
“I don’t know. But, one thing I know: he had come to save us.”
“I hope Stranger is safe,” Inno spoke with a deep pity in her voice. I took her in my arms.
“Yes, he’ll be safe dear,” I said, “If he knew how to get in, he sure knows how to get out as well.”
But, who was this Stranger after all, I wondered to myself. Deep inside I had an assurance. Providence had not failed us one more time.
“If you promise to share with me some, I’ll show you the best liquor shop just a little away,” someone suggested from behind. I was about to turn back, but Sophia gripped my hand.