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Chapter- 5

Up And Down

Captain Kous-Kous has found an enemy in the Mullah. The Mayor puts in a word for the Captain and the Prince promotes him as his viceroy.

 

 

The Admiral was in a huff.

He called for Captain Kous-Kous to report to him. The old seadog thought all hell broke loose at that part where the fleet had moored. The Sleepy Heads were out two days in a row calling out for their presents. The sea dog had only one remedy. He instructed the captain to take a message to the mullah.

Mullah Murad was in his quarters. After the exchange of greetings the captain said, “ People out there want a gift. It is the express wish of the grand mufti that you speak to them.” Laying aside his books he said, “ Ah I knew it. It is willed that I make these infidels hear reason. Allah wills it.”

Turning to Captain Kous- Kous he said, “May Allah requite you for your pains. Carry this bundle. I may have to refer to it.”

But it is rather heavy O Wise One!”

Indeed. Wisdom indeed comes in thick volumes!”

The sight of mullah made the Sleepy Heads break the queue and surge towards him. “ Here comes my angel!” One said. Another said, “You are jumping the queue, he is mine!” There was a minor scuffle, which was only broken up by the captain who heaved his heavy sack wildly beating back the mob. The Sleepy Heads got the hint and they drew back. All agreed the angel was as dirty as a goats tail. One ventured to ask,‘If one got a personal angel as bad as this one, may be his gifts also bound to be as vile(as his figure). He bowed to the other, ”well Luke, you can have him. I shall wait my turn.”

Take care, my books!” mullah shouted. Next moment he pulled the captain by his sleeve, “Who is Santa Claus?” he whispered to the captain who was struggling to keep his balance. “ Santa Class? How do I know? You are supposed to know. You are the wise one.”

As mullah and the captain drew near one Sleepy Head asked, “ Santa supposedly come in a carriage with horse. Instead..”

Horse?” another cut in.

Instead he is bringing an ass!.”

The Sleepy Heads had no respect for persons. They would have once again broken the order but the appearance so many janissaries with drawn swords coming down the ships restrained them.

Murad Mahoud stood on a stool, which was brought by one of the slaves. “ Hear me well.” “ We are hard of hearing” one shouted, “ Give us our presents. It works like magic every time.” The mullah ignoring their comments took out a book to read. “ Watch him fellows. He does not know where the book begins or ends. And now he wants us to listen him well.” Some sniggered at which the crowd took up instantly. “We want gifts!” They chanted. What a din they created!

He talks just like our doctor. But our Jerry Can is full. This one is almost dry”. One Sleepy Head said. “ He smells even like him.” another Sleepy Head said. The former commented, “A street Arab he is under his burnoose! The other took up an old ditty, ”No noose is good noose/ under his burnoose”/Nothing is good under..!” The crowd of course sang out of tune but they were having a good time.

Why do you believe in Santa Claus? Because you are an infidel. Why are you called a Sleepy Head? Because you are a kaffir.” Mullah Murad shouted. At that point some one in the crowd threw a rotten egg at the speaker who got it right on the nose. “ He is also as impressionable as our doctor.” They laughed. The mullah screamed,” Guards, let them not get away.” One soldier managed to catch hold of one who tried to run. “ How dare you throw a rotten egg at our wise one?” “ What else is a rotten egg good for?” The Sleepy Heads were practical. They never allowed rotten eggs to pile up.

At another corner one soldier had managed to restrain a Sleepy Head who was running.“Hey you there,” he stood before the running man, “ Why are you in a haste? Some one in the crowd threw eggs, tomatoes and also pears.” “No, friend,” the Sleepy Head said, “I smell food around here. It makes me hungry.” After catching his breath he added, “Let me be. I must be home in time for my dinner.” Before a few soldiers could charge, he hollered at his wife to run faster. The Sleepy Heads made good of their escape.

The janissaries were distracted by a guard who came with a message from the grand mufti. Their superior who read the note from the prince waved his fellows to stop. Having read it loud he ordered the Sleepy Heads were to be let off from all harm. Meanwhile the captain escorted Murad Mahoud who was wiping the dripping egg from his face, “ The crowd made an impression on you. Didn’t they?” Kous- Kous asked. The mullah merely glared at him. Confidentially he spoke to Murad, “When you went there to address the crowd, you carried a particular smell.” “Must be my piety” the mullah felt somewhat easy,”I pray five times..”

May be it has its order but you also carry a certain odor which I cannot stand.” Murad felt anger rising in him. “But now,” Kous-Kous slapped on his back in good humour and said, “you come up smelling like roses!”

Mullah Murad Mahoud gathered his flowing cloak in tatters about him and walked into the safety of his ship. “ Infidels! How can they throw an egg at me?”

They showed they can, didn’t they?” Captain Kous-Kous akh al jaha’lah(* Brother of ignorance) said.

You are an ignoramus.” Replied Mullah angrily. Little did the captain realise that he had that evening made an enemy in Mullah Murad Mahoud.

2.

Next day. The mayor had come at the time previously agreed and the prince received him. Throughout dinner in which the prince made much of the mayor as if he owed his very life to him and passed on choicest pieces to him in the best traditions of a good host. While entertaining him he also thought the mayor was a scream. Mayor Calisthenics was natural and he carried his dignity as gingerly as a posy of violets in a hand. His dress was shabby with coat tails and a waistcoat which was one size smaller. Everything about him was so strange and the way he joked and said things the host had to remind himself not to laugh loud. ‘He must do his duties worthy of a prince.’he said to himself. Yet.

After dinner Calisthenics burped and the Turk smiled for he took it as a compliment. He had the satisfaction that he had pleased his guest.

Mayor Calisthenics had never eaten so grand a feast and he was full. The prince waited his turn while his guest washed his hands from a basin of water held by a liveried servant. Another held out towel for him to dry himself. The mayor was clumsy since he had no idea of their manners and custom. In the meantime the plates were cleared and bowls of fruits and glasses were brought in.

After the prince had washed himself dry he escorted his guest to the couch where they settled themselves to chat. Pointing to the glasses he asked his guest what he would like to drink.

Oh some wine.”

Wine!” The grand mufti was shocked. “ Wine ? It is forbidden for us. It is allowed to us only after this life.” “ On the other side uh?” A painful silence. He asked his guest, “ May I offer you some dates?” Calisthenics shook his head. He said,”Pass me some apricots please.” The prince obliged him.

The mayor without feeling embarrassed observed, “You do have strange customs and beliefs. You offer drinks before dinner whereas we never drink on empty stomach.”The prince immediately corrected, “What I offered before dinner was sherbet. No alcoholic drinks.”

I followed a custom what we are used to, O prince!”

No offence intended,”The host countered with a bow,” I followed the custom allowed by the prophet.”The mayor smiled. Al-Wa’sik explained, “Our prophet forbids wine in this waking life because it makes one lose one’s head. If one cannot judge what is right or wrong one is no better than a beast.”

Oh?” the mayor said.

Yes. Without judgment life is meaningless.” The grand mufti commented.

We drink wine only at times. Only when it is absolutely necessary” the mayor defended himself, “At other times, nothing, not even a drop enters our throat.” The Turk was impressed. “ As a matter of necessity. Did you say?”

Oh yes. When we are thirsty.”

Oh Grand Turk, I am thirsty now.” Calisthenics added. “Oh certainly,” The Turk said and he clapped his hands thrice. The wine steward came. “ Bring us some wine, immediately.”

Shall I pour it for you?” grand mufti asked his guest after the mayor made his choice. The steward who brought a cart full of wines took leave. “No thanks, I will drink it myself.”

It is not the custom in Turkey” replied the Turk. “ Who is thirsty? You or me?” The mayor wanted to know. The host held his silence. The mayor said,” Our custom any day is better than yours.”

What do you mean?”

When we are thirsty we do not pour. We drink to quench our thirst.” He gulped the bottle down in one stretch. He did not notice the eyes of the host growing wider. After the mayor had emptied his bottle he reached for another bottle. “Are you thirsty still?” the Turk’s jaw dropped.

No. But our custom dictates one good turn deserves another. Besides it is always nice to know how far I am tolerated by my esteemed host.” He finished his second and said. “My compliments for your excellent choice. My dear sire you have a good taste almost as mine.”

Almost! Almost did you say?” The Turk was red in the face, ”If you were not my guest I would have boxed your ears for impertinence.” The grand mufti said seriously. ”That speaks well of you O prince!”

Calisthenics said, ”You are perfect as a host. For you play it so well.” The grand mufti smiled. The mayor said,” If I did make mistakes as a guest I can get away with it. As a host you have not the same freedom.”

You have good choice of wines yet you do not drink them. Is that not a lack of taste? Is it not a serious error in judgment?” He asked his host.

If you had a taste like I have, why you would drink as I do.” He added. The wine made the mayor very playful and reckless too.

The host was now beaming like a cat who had its ear scratched. “What do you smile for?” He wagged his forefinger before his nose,” I drink to my fill and you smile as if you were the one who drank it.”

Al-Wa’sik could not help laughing as the mayor reached out for a few dates,” His waist-coat was so tight that a few buttons popped. “Even your waist-coat tells that you have had enough.” The Turk said, “ Is it a good custom to eat bellyful?”

We are not accustomed to luxury. But our life as it is lived, is luxurious which are not the same. Let that pass. If the host spreads a feast as rich as these, well we gobble it up. That is the truth.” Said the mayor seriously.” I shall tell something more. ”We don’t drink this kind of exquisite wine. We cannot afford it. So we have learnt to be content with what we drink. It is the truth,” The host was evidently embarrassed. “Even so our culture is better than yours.”

How can you say that you have a better culture than us?” “ We eat only to satisfy hunger.”

Ah, animals also do that.“ The mayor said shaking his head. “ We Sleepy Heads have a better culture. Isn’t it your culture which is linked to things than people?”

What do you mean?”

If a woman asked you to dine with her alone would you go?” The prince was horrified. Quickly he controlled himself and treated it as a joke.” I risk my reputation? Oh never!”

Would you go to dinner?”the prince asked somewhat diffidently. He was shocked.

Why not,” Calisthenics asked, “a Sleepy Head doesnot think on sex lines. One desires your company or seeks to know you better. Why a question of her sex should come in between?” The mayor asked,” Would you go to a party thrown by a peasant when there is also an invitation from another prince?” “Do I have to answer that?” “ O.K I shall qualify my question thus. The peasant is a model of prudence and full of wit. While the prince is a dreadful bore but of great lineage.” The prince looked at him searchingly. “Is n’t it obvious?”

Calisthenics shook his head.

What is wrong with wealth? Or keeping company of people of the same class and the means?” the prince asked, “Not so much as it gives one to despise another or judge another by the price of the dishes served. What matters in the end is being seen among your equals.”

So wealth makes that decision for you?”The grand mufti nodded. “Though reason tells you the sex and riches are besides the point. A woman who could give you far superior company is refused on account of her sex. The table of a man who is well accomplished is denied because of his low station. Is it wise to be known as civilized and yet must go against the obvious?”

Yes. We Turks live and show ourselves so, as best as money can provide.” the prince said,” so we may not be badly spoken of. Isn’t that our obligation to our society?”

Precisely,” the mayor said,” you make the society and yet you are slave to your own creation.” After a pause the mayor continued,” We live for the simple pleasures, which cost nothing. Our people get on each other’s nerves at times but they cannot live without sharing their pleasures. If we get a chance to sit at a feast or get a hand-out we take it but we are not overawed by it. We let society only as it should be,- at arm’s length.” The prince did not answer.

Our ways are better than that of yours,”the mayor said,”Can an ordinary Turk leave his home keeping the door open and be away for days without being burgled?”the mayor asked slightly heady with wine,”Here we can.”

Of course,”the grand mufti retorted,”theft is a serious offence.” “ Yes,”replied Calisthenics,” cut off the arm so says your law.” He added after a pause, “An eye for eye, a tooth for tooth.”

Yes. We have Laws. It stops thieves and burglars from breaking them.

True,”the guest chuckled,”In our case we have no Laws. As written down. Still our people would not think of stealing.”

They will not eh?”the prince asked in a fit,”We shall see. You had the other day asked freedom for your people. I shall offer freedom to you on that basis. We shall see whether you live up to your bragging.” It was late. The mayor would have risen but the host politely pressed him to give his company. He stayed for a short while and insisted he had to go home and catch up with his sleep.”I should not let Sandman wait!”he said with a smile.

Before he would let him off Al-Wa’sik wanted to know if he had any favors to ask.

Now that you have promised to grant us freedom I will ask a favor for one in your service.” The mayor mentioned the name of Captain Kous-Kous and his request. After hearing him the grand mufti said, “ You boast that your culture is better than ours. “ I shall appoint him my viceroy to the Garden of Neden. He shall live among the Sleepy Heads and learn. He shall acquaint himself with your ways and customs and shall report to me.”

Yes, let him see for himself.” The mayor said.

We shall see which of the culture is better. Yours or ours?” “What do you personally think, sire?” Calisthenics asked.” Prince Al-Wa’sik looked away and he said, ”Let me see what my viceroy will have to say from his experience.”

Agreed O Turk,” Calisthenics said.

Al- Wa’sik clapped his hands once and instantly came one of the guards. In low voice he spoke to him. Deeply bowing the guard withdrew and he brought the admiral along. The grand mufti picked a spear and tied a white banner at the tip and gave to him.

To hear is to obey” he said and went out.
”As I said I have made the captain of the
Golden Dawn my viceroy,” announced the Turk.

My grateful thanks.” Calisthenics said rising and he bowed. He took leave of the Turk. 

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Chapter- 4

The Mayor Parleys With The Grand Mufti-

The Mayor and Prince compare notes and Al-Wa’sik offers freedom on condition.

 

Prince Al- Wa’sik (meaning Terrible Eyes) was the grand mufti of the Turks. Never was he known to have laughed. He had always known that he was different from others. When he got angry he wore flaming red, which to any Turk meant bad news. It meant that some one would have to pay the price.

Head will roll!” It was the case so far. Because of it he was also called Kismet or Fate.

On that day in April he discovered he could laugh. It was priceless. The discovery made him very happy. It had taken some forty years and the prince could not believe it would have come as it did, far away from home and in one of the strangest places. Laughter was not what his father the most dazzling figure of his age could give him. Having learnt many things from the sultan, of which duty was preeminent, he had kept going never realizing he lost what was of necessity a precious gift.

 

As a young prince he did not laugh; neither did he let himself go. Why? He did not like being thought as irresponsible. He had cultivated gravity, which he had been told by the so called wise men of his age, as appropriate for the movers and shakers of the world.

His tutor let him mix with other children of princely blood. They helped him hone up his skills in hunting and riding. Laughter wasn’t one quality, which they cultivated. ( Isn’t laughter at the right time and in right places sure sign of humanity in its pure form? In that spontaneity it seems to tell all,’Here I am with all defenses down!) The princes took themselves seriously. So did Al-Wa’sik.

So seriously the prince took himself that others for fear of displeasure could not have done otherwise. Had anyone in his suite was in the middle of telling a joke he would have instantly killed it hearing his master’s foot steps. The prince allowed people come to him with their problems and they never laughed to show how he had relieved their distress. His seriousness must have given warning signal to all: “I am Terrible Eyes! Laugh at your own risk!”

In the process what had he become but a human machine to which men in fear paid their respects?

It took a scrappy but lively human being who was in no way his equal in form, advantages or in rank to undo the damage. That day he laughed hard before he could realize what had come over him. In the end he had to agree it was very pleasant.

So naturally he esteemed Calisthenics highly as someone special.

After having spent some time alone disposing of many supplicants and writing orders the prince whispered to his bodyguards to call the mayor. During their first round each wanted to know the other. So they chatted this and that. When it was time for his evening prayer he excused himself. Before parting the grand mufti asked,“ What makes a smile the same as a tear?” “ By facing up to it, of course.” the mayor replied with a laugh.

2.

The next day the prince received the mayor and he was seated in a princely tent erected on the beach. Above the tent flew the prince’s personal standard and around the tent were many janissaries who watched the crowd with suspicion. The grand mufti was still friendly and said,“ As a mayor what sort of problems do you face?”

People are fine O grand Turk. It is just what they have to put up with is the problem. We are called the Sleepy Heads. Do I look sleepy?” The mayor asked. “ No, not by any means.” The prince said with a polite emphasis. “Do you know another joke?” the host asked eagerly.

O Prince why does a peanut come in a pod?” The grand mufti thought for a while and gave up. “You tell me.” The mayor replied, ”Because there are too many nuts jumping the queue.” The Turk laughed. ‘You know what makes a Turk tick?’ the mayor asked. The prince waited eagerly for a surprise. ”Because he is Turkeyed up!”

In the meantime the admiral came in with letters of request from various officials.

The mayor took care not to distract Prince Al- Wa’sik while he worked. He could see so many people with different insignias were cooling their heels to have a moment to speak their cases. Having disposed of the letters the prince stroked his beard, which was neatly trimmed and he turned towards him. His face showed a touch of regret as if he could not call that moment as his own. The mayor was about to rise up and go but he restrained him. ‘This shalln’t take much time’, he seemed to say. He beckoned his personal secretary to let the people come one after the other. Calisthenics had a new respect at the way he disposed them. A look said volumes; a gesture in place of so many words saved him time and effort; it put one in a dither and another cheery eyed. Where comfort or encouragement merited the prince spoke softly and as the mayor could hear, his voice acquired a peculiar timbre. His authority expressed with his proud gaze combined with such clear-cut enunciation of syllables so softly spoken was unmistakable. In him was power and gentleness. Even while walking tightrope between duty and mercy neither did betray the other. He had learnt how to perform as a prince who must at all times be just.

Each went off kissing his hand as if he were a holy relic. After he had sent the last man he turned to his guest and the seriousness, which had made his sharp features points of steel gave way to ease. His eyes seemed to say,”Where were we?”

Mayor Calisthenics began. He spoke concisely the history and cultural traditions, which he said if he should write it all down it could be done in one sitting. ” But the Sleepy Heads are known for breaking all such classifications. We have a saying among us, which goes thus:’ In a world of right-handed traditions we are left handed.’ Even there they do not strictly adhere to the rule.”

Really?” the prince could not imagine such a lawless society did really exist.“ If the Sleepy Heads hate to work with me or my council it is the tradition of the ruling class to make the work simplified in a manner the people can understand.”

Must you descend to their level?”

Yes,” the mayor replied seriously,” I am sent to bring order among the Sleepy Heads. Imposing it from the top I think is not a permanent solution.”

The prince was sure an iron fist would make order among the lawless at which the mayor showed in mock-seriousness his agreement. “Only that my Venetian Masters themselves are losing their grip. What avails me then to mould the Sleepy Heads according to their ideals once power itself has changed hands?” After a pause he added,” People friendly that is how the ruling class should be.”

So easily you give in to the mob?”

No, not at all.”the mayor was sure,”I can only work as one who respect the people who are governed. I govern better, so it seems to me, O prince, by turning their natural inclinations into something worthwhile. A catalyst perhaps.”

He defended his people by saying they were yet to divide people according to haves and have-nots.”He paused and the prince was impassive. “Yes it would seem so, we are backward not to let the things rule us.” the mayor added.

So the Sleepy Heads do not put things above the people?” Calisthenics nodded and said,”People come first. Always!”

You rule and your power..”

The mayor replied,” Our power is good up to a point. With such power as I have to hurt, will the ruled trust me freely?”

But should you not correct those over whom you have authority by setting a good example?” “If I set an example to the one lower in rank all that benefits me would be his ill will. Who knows he may complain to the king that I am itching to stand in his shoes. Or some other report to damn me.” “Come, come you are being cynical!” the prince said. “I said from what human nature is capable of,”replied Calisthenics simply, ”I am only human, I am only a Sleepy Head’ as our prayer to the Great One goes.”

I can appreciate you to some extent. But being good… “ “Good in some parts and spoilt in some others ,sir. None of us are perfect. You shall not convince me, prince that you are perfect.”

The prince solemnly admitted he was far from perfect. ‘O Allah kerim!’ and he was quick to add, “ I will not think of using my power for any thing other than to correct…”

By correcting do we change their basic nature or by arm-twisting do we achieve lasting results?” replied the mayor. The prince was deep in thought. Calisthenics asked,” What makes you think you know better how a matter leads to? Did not your prophet, as you believe the truth is, speak the last word on the subject?”

Yes Truth,”the grand mufti said reverentially, ”Nabi-mursil (Prophet-apostle) spoke the truth.”

You revere his message. Don’t you? If that be the case why Shi’ites or Sunnis?” The prince suddenly stiffened. “ Surely we can keep the matters of religion out of our discussion?” The mayor bowed and he soft-pedaled to say, “Merely because I have the power, would it mean I can see the outcome of things better? Or what I say to be the truth will be the last word on it? You may win an argument at the sword point and make the ‘infidel’ retract his stand. He who so retracts does only because he sees some perceived advantages. He is only human.”

You may see it well, O prince,” the mayor explained, ”from the manner a thing is done.” The prince heard him seriously. “You may teach your camel to carry you but he must stop whenever he has come to end of his tether. No amount of your truth or words of wisdom shall suit him if his legs are too tired.”

So human weakness in the end dictate truth?”

Not really,”Calisthenics replied,”the one who dictate what is the truth is as human as the one who must show what it is to be true.”

Whom I rule have their own viewpoint as we who make rules,” the prince said,”is it what you wanted to say?” The mayor nodded and explained by letting the people decide how they wish to be led ‘makes my office easier and leaves me enough time for my own

things.’ The prince frowned at times but he listened to him without interruption.

Somewhere along the line the topic about the Great One came up. Immediately the face of the prince lit up,” We have something common there. Allah the compassionate, Merciful and Just!” The grand mufti spoke the name reverentially and with great wonder. “But I was given to understand we should keep religion out of our discussion?” Calisthenics asked with a mischievous glint in his eye. ”Yes,”the grand mufti said, “My fault. I forgot myself for a moment.” “No, “replied the mayor,”Belief is so essential part of our nature. As easy as we walk. Do we ever wonder if our legs are adequate enough? No, faith is sufficient. If we did not think our legs would hold up would we walk? It is faith.”It surprised the prince. “That faith which we possess sometimes makes us just as you admitted a moment ago, forget ourselves. We are, as I said earlier, humans and imperfect too.”

That is why Allah has kept the paradise for those who trust in his mercy and do good.” Al-Wa’sik declared. “Paradise is an idea.” The mayor replied,”We have to think of what is so basic, in

terms of ideas. Whereas my dog will approach the same differently.”

Why bring a dog into discussion?” the prince snapped with a frown,”so many other examples would have equally fitted.” Calisthenics excused and said he had a dog which he considered was his trustworthy companion. “I did not know it was a contemptible animal according to your beliefs.”

Where were we?”the mayor asked and he got back where he had been diverted,” We make sense of our world in terms of ideas. If I do hold an idea others will also be at liberty to hold their ideas and of course some may hedge it with some special meanings.”

Touché.” The prince said with a smile and added,

Yes we are ready to fight for our faith and guard it with our lives.” ”Yes, your standpoint is different from mine. As different as your paradise.” the mayor observed.

Still such a vast difference? How is that possible? ” Calisthenics had thought on such things and he explained, “If we believe we live on solid ground it shall lead us to an idea so we may make our house also permanent. Another who loves a life of the open spaces may only want to spend the night under a tree or snuggle into a cave and move on with the first light. My brother is a nomad whereas I love a laid-back and sheltered life style. If my brother cultivate a life devoid of all luxuries and I a sybarite, O prince our standpoint is yet again the cause. Each of us with each day, from cradle to grave, merely adds to that essential self. O prince!”

Do not feel shocked. O prince,” the mayor said.

God is in the laws of Nature and in everything which serve a purpose. As proper for imperfect beings we are, we see Him as some one to serve our purpose. The Great One!”

The grand mufti imperiously waved his hand to desist the mayor from saying something awful. The guest took the hint and said, “In our respect and our love for one another we may still prove all such ideas as coming from one source.”

The prince asked,” The Great One?” The mayor nodded,”Or Allah, since we are calling names!”

Love and other romantic notions serve for a brief wink of time,”the prince commented,”where shall you be hereafter?” “You talk of paradise as if it is not yet come. We believe in the present.”

We Sleepy Heads live for the day,”Calisthenics added,” and we fear neither man nor their rank. For all that we do not consider ourselves as perfect or good. They pray to The Great One. So what? They pray for gifts. I expect their asking for gifts is not for improving their lot but merely a childlike curiosity. They seem to tell the Great One, ’Surprise me!’ The gifts are for the present and not for hereafter as you believe.” Al-Wa’sik heard him out patiently.

 

They talked of this and that. Calisthenics explained they had come to adopt customs on from hearsay. The mayor spoke about Santa Claus and of Sandman who came nightly to give them sound sleep and the prince thought were old wives tales. The mayor quoted Doctor Jerry Can who the prince thought was a dunce beyond belief.

Dismissing what the mayor said as something of a joke he could not understand, he moved to other things. At the end of their meeting he asked the mayor, “You shall dine with me tomorrow?”

At this point the mayor could hear a low roar, which came in waves from outside. It sounded as if people were all shouting and screaming. The grand mufti heard it too. He clapped once. A guard came to whom he spoke in whispers. After a while the same guard returned and spoke in whispers.

After he was dismissed the Turk laughed. “ Do we look like angels sent by Santa Claus whoever he is?” Calisthenics explained, “ Pardon me. Santa Claus is what we call our Great One. It is what our Doctor Jerry Can swears by.”

Outside your people are getting very restless. They want gifts.” The grand mufti said. “If Santa is an angel and one of them happens to take your shape I could believe in Santa as I believe in you.” the mayor answered. “Funny you believe in angels bearing gifts? And you expect me to give them gifts!” The Turk exclaimed.

So what you propose to do?”

Calisthenics knew that the Turk had friendly feelings towards him. So he dared to ask him questions as if he were his equal. “ You, my friend tell me. What sort of gifts you want some cash, clothes or freedom?” “Freedom of course “ the mayor replied.

You made an excellent choice.” The Turk said,” But no one is going to hand it over to you in a platter.” The mayor nodded.

I shall make it easier for you. Prove me your way of life has something good.” “ That is easy.” Replied the mayor, “ There was nothing to laugh for with your way of life. Was there?” The prince gravely nodded. ” The fact that you could laugh now proves the point.” After a pause Al- Wa’sik said, “ Perhaps you are right. I shall make my intentions clear.”

Prince Terrible Eyes wrote an order and folded it many times till it was no wider than an inch. Having folded it crosswise he sealed where the edges met. While the red wax was hot he pressed his signet ring. He instantly brought his guard to whom he commanded,” Here take this to the admiral.” “Hearing and obeying!” the guard went off quickly. The prince had let word around that the Sleepy Heads were under his personal protection.

3.

That night the mayor on reaching home asked his son if he knew two boys of 14 with strange accents. “One is called Rufus and the other a twelve year old, Nevis is his name.” His son replied they were as mysterious as the west wind. After a pause Maxim who was his firstborn wanted to know what was the matter with them. The father with a chuckle answered,” My lips are sealed. Act of Official Secrets and all that.”

He knew his son knew much more than he was willing to tell. So he played dumb in his turn. Like son, like father.

 (To Be Cont’d)

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Chapter- 3

Captain Kous- Kous Asks A Favor

Captain of the Golden Dawn gives a tip to the Mayor; he also wants the favor returned if he succeeds with the Grand Mufti.

 

It was the month of April.

When the Turkish fleet landed there was a great rejoicing among the Sleepy Heads who had never seen so many ships all together. The ships were moored in the open sea and the Turks came in so many boats to the Bay of Morphou. They awaited their grand mufti to make his entry.

The Sleepy Heads did not see Turks but as so many Santa Claus whom they had only heard of. If those Turks strutted and preened themselves, so much the better said they. They knew in that case their gifts would be handsome too. Being Sleepy Heads they were waiting to be surprised; and they wondered what kind of gifts would come their way. ’What did it matter? If only we got something free!’ Ask a Sleepy Head if Santa were rich he would say without batting his eyelid, “ Of course he is rich. If he is not, can he give gifts?” They were reasonable people.

 

From far and wide people came. The musicians brought their instruments to play loud. They played a cheerful melody and then another. The Sleepy Heads kept on playing their instruments while the crowd watched. They were all the time gawking at the great wealth and richness of their ships. Whereas they were dressed in coarse goatskins and wore clogs, the Turks were all dressed in muslin and calf leather. They were a sight to see. So many hours went by and still the Sleepy Heads kept playing. In the end captain of one of the ships motioned the mayor to come closer. He asked the mayor, “ Say fellow, are they musicians?” The mayor proudly answered “ Yes, they are. Every one of them!” He added, “ They belong to The Sleepy Heads’ Band.”

Captain Kous-Kous commanded the ship the ‘Golden Dawn’. He was a man of medium height and with pleasant features. He looked a little down in the mouth as if he was in pain. He wearily asked the mayor,“ What are they playing?” “ Deadbeat” replied the mayor with a flourish.

Yes, yes, if you say so” the Turkish captain said,“ but are they keeping time?” “ Sure. “ said the mayor airily. “ Watch how the second fiddle tries to catch up with the kettle drum? Normally the drummer wins hands down. Have no fear sire, the fiddler will get to finish it sooner or later.”

I wanted to speak to the mayor. Where is your leader?” “ I am the mayor,” Calisthenics bowed politely. The captain introduced himself.” Captain Kous-Kous at your service. The grand mufti wants to have a word with you.” The Turk said.

The mayor of the Sleepy Heads followed him to the boat and there they went together friendly and chattering of this and that. If two total strangers on their first meeting could so freely talk and put each other at ease any talk of war must seem incredible. Is it not? Why would a nice captain like Kous-Kous want to slash a jolly mayor with his scimitar? Or mayor stick the Turk with a stiletto, which he carried only as a part of his Mayoral office? Had any one asked either of them each would have answered, ’No way!’

The captain let himself easily into the ship and helped the mayor to come in. Before the mayor was let into the suite where the grand mufti sat the captain said to him in a whisper, “ Do not ever look at the turban of his Lordship”. The mayor looked at him somewhat confused.

Why then is he wearing one?”

I don’t know,” the Turk replied, “But I have seen many who have come to grief on account of his turban.”

Is it OK if I laugh to his jokes?” asked the mayor and the sea captain stopped in his stride, “laugh! Never!”

The Turk explained the prince had never laughed and death was to anyone who displeased him. He added, ”If he smiles you have nothing to fear. If he frowns of course it would not be the end. But if he is angry, brother I shall not be there to help you!” The captain seemed nervous as they approached the Hall, which led to the suite of the grand mufti.

Prince Al-Wa’sik was a prince by birth. The mere mention of his father would have made many breathless. His father was none other than Suleiman the magnificent and the present sultan had entrusted the entire operation to his half brother. Selim ‘the Sot’ knew the prince, truly enlightened and pious that he was, did not covet his throne. Still, he had in a matter of precaution given him charge over state affairs, which kept him away from the power center. Thus throughout the year he was fighting wars overseas or negotiating with powerful rulers for the weal of the empire. He had acquired sensitivity from his mother an Arabian princess who safely kept herself out of harms way while the sultana held sway. She had pulled her strings from long distance to preserve him as he rose steadily in his career. He rose in time to be recognized by his sire, who elevated him to the powerful rank of grand mufti. After the death of his father he had kept rising without attracting the envy of the powerful. He was given charge of the Operation Stymie. The captain who briefed the mayor as to the many qualities of prince cautioned him, ” Under pain of death do not make any comment about the shape of his head. Death is for any one who displeases him. Understand?” “What makes his head special?”The captain said,”His head is OK. But his turban. Ooh!” Without stopping in his stride he continued,”Don’t ever stare at the turban of his Lordship.You know what is an onion like. And I have seen many. But you take a look at his turban; what does it bring to your mind, but an oversized onion?”The mayor was impressed. “Oh, brother how terrible! A word like ‘onionhead’ can cost your life, He is all too powerful.”

The mayor nodded. “ Is there something which will please the grand mufti?” He asked feeling a little afraid. “ Oh yes,” said the captain with a knowing smile. “ Tulips are his passion. A mere word will make him break out in goose pimples.” The mayor rubbed his hands as if he knew he could get away. “ My neck is in no danger of being broken.” The mayor said with obvious relief. “ I know of a thing of two about tulips. I am a tulip fancier myself.” The captain felt somewhat relieved, “A tulip fancier ah! What do you know of tulips?”

You have lips. So have I. We have two lips” said Calisthenics grandly. “ That will do.” Kouskous for the first time smiled, “ I am impressed. “ Do you grow tulips around these parts?”

O Brother, Don’t you have eyes?,” the mayor asked, “Look at my lips. How well they fit. Can you imagine me without two lips. They grow well here.”

Before this information could sink in Calisthenics added, “We wet it with our wines and wipe it clean with bread.”

The captain sniffed and said, “ I guess you are right. But I thought tulips were something of a horticultural talking point?” “A point well taken!” the mayor said with a bow. Kous-Kous said, “Fancy meeting a tulip grower here. You have to make an impression on the grand mufti. That is what counts.”

Not my two lips?” The mayor played it up.

Captain Kous-Kous suddenly became nervous and he said, “ He in there,’ pointing to the Hall,’ is very dangerous. His name means Terrible Eyes. There is death in them eyes.” The captain stopped short and turned to the mayor, “Let us be positive. If he is happy with you, Ah, then your fortune is made.” The captain whispered, “ If every thing goes well you can do me a favor.”

Come, ask me?” Calisthenics asked. “Do not forget to say something good about me during the interview. I am waiting for a promotion which is long over due.” He added,“ I Captain Kous- Kous believes in returning the favor. Scratch me I shall scratch your back.”

Oh sure!” The mayor said, ” Consider it as done.”

Captain Kous- Kous was a sea captain and not one blessed with a bright mind. Just the same he had a mind always to help those who needed help. Kous- Kous walked over to the guards who stood before the anteroom. “ The mayor is here.” One of the guards went inside and after a while returned. The captain before he took leave said,” Put in a word for me. Captain Kous- Kous is the name. Remember, on pain of death no mention of the word, Onion Head. That is one word, which makes him mad. Understand?”

At his point the gong struck. Hearing the sudden sound the captain almost panicked. He just made off. The guard motioned the mayor to enter. Before he could recover from his daze he was in. He reeled to step on rich Persian carpets and the sight of the grand mufti made it still worse. He did not for a moment or two know whether he was going or coming. So confused he was. The figure who sat on the carpet at the far end of the suite, with his elbow leaning on a large cushion was fierce and he said, “Enter!” His heart sank a little to realize that he had forgotten that word which he was not supposed to say. It was a long walk and he was careful not to stumble. At every step he was searching his memory for that one word. “Bulkhead? Minion? Or is it Dome? He rattled many words and discarded them all. “Oh no. it may never come back. I lost it.” The grand mufti was fair of form except for his turban, which was unusually large. Quickly he noted that his turban gave his head the shape of an onion head. “ Ah I got it!” Calisthenics exclaimed, “ Onionhead ! That was the word I should not speak on pain of death. The captain said so.” All the way to the platform where the grand mufti sat he kept reminding himself, “I must not say Onionhead whatever happens. Onionhead is the word.”

The prince beckoned him to approach still closer. The mayor did. He bowed politely. The Turk asked him to sit. He introduced himself. “Who are you?” Mayor Onionhead, sire!” The hapless mayor realized his mistake only after the words flew out of his mouth. It was out. ‘Nothing can get it back. Awful.’ The mayor blanched. He dared not look at the eyes of his host. ‘They must be like daggers now!’ Calisthenics shuddered,“ But I am a tulip fancier.” He bellowed with all his might. He thought that by shouting the word ‘tulip’ he might drown the words he had mistakenly said. There fell a dead silence. Then the grand mufti laughed. He laughed so hard that the wooden beams of the hall echoed it. The guards peeped. So did the executioner who had a large broad sword. He was laughing which burst out all at once. A full blown laughter and it shook his lithe muscular princely frame. “ This is a scream,” The Turk said, “ You made me laugh for the first time!”

So this is what it is to laugh?” The Turk asked loud. Being unused to laughter he tried a few more times.” No it does not sound good.” Of course the prince felt laughing but laughing for nothing was not good. ‘Laughter and jokes go together; like horse and carriage!’ the grand mufti mused.

Go on tell me another and make me laugh!” the Turk urged the mayor. “What can an Onionhead do that a coat of paint cannot do? The mayor began.

You tell me, make me laugh, Go on.” The Turk interrupted waving his hand as if he could not wait. The mayor said,” A coat of paint you can peel but you try peeling an Onionhead,” Calisthenics took time out and added the punch line,” you are sure to lose your head.” Did that make the Turk laugh? Of course he laughed harder and he almost doubled with it till he thought his stomach would burst. He thought laughter was all the time hiding within. He thought it was not his fault he never could laugh. ‘Only if I had heard something funny before’. He was in a wonder.

The mayor was sure enjoying himself. “What is the difference between my bald spot and my arm?”

You tell me,” the prince said straightening up.

The mayor could see the prince was in a good mood looking forward to let himself go. Showing his crown Calisthenics said,” On my head there are no split ends but,” shaking his hand loosely he continued,” my arm has a split end!” he said. “Ho Ho your fingers!” The Turk got the joke. The mayor stopped. He thought too many jokes in one go were as a no go. So he waited now for the Turk to say something.

The grand mufti asked finally, ” Do you sleep with all these jokes?” “Who wants to go to bed with a bagful of jokes?” Calisthenics asked, “ Give me a good night’s sleep and it is in the bag!,” He said snapping his fingers “just like that!” The mayor thought it all a dream. He pinched himself to make sure. It was real. He made the grand mufti laugh for the first time. He could not believe it. “Onion head, uh,uh” The Turk rolled again in mirth. He said,” My physicians said it was impossible”. He excused himself to inform his wives who were in another part of the ship.

When the Turk had gone a fellow in dirty clothes and with a clean-shaven head adorned only by a felt cap peeped in. Looking around to see that the grand mufti was out he entered boldly and said, “Who are you?” “Mayor Calisthenics. And who are you?”

Mullah Murad Mahoud, “ said the stranger,” I wasn’t expecting interruption.”

That makes two of us.”

You know who I am?” he glared.” I can smell your presence.“ the mayor said under his breath. The newcomer asked,“ Where Grand Mufti Al- Wa’sik has gone to?” “I have no idea. He did not tell me.” Mayor Calisthenics replied.

Did he go in long strides or with short steps?”

With a laugh he went.” Calisthenics replied.

Laugh? Impossible!” Mullah Murad was sure, “ He has no use for laughter. He is a Turk!” The mullah was angry. “Laugh once, Allah hears you O stranger, But laugh twice, you are committing blasphemy. So watch out!” Hearing footsteps he hurriedly disappeared.

The fellow came second time leading a black bear and the mayor was taken aback at its size. “ The bear is under my care. I can make him do what I will!” He had never seen such a beast. “ Can you make the beast laugh, O mullah?” “ What for?” “So I may grin and bear it. Laughing is forbidden, no?”

At that point a rat gallivanted across the carpeted hall and the mayor thought it had no sense of respect; Mahoud saw him too and he said, ”Kill him!” The next moment the bear just reached out its muscular and hairy paw to dispatch the unfortunate rat to the next world. The mayor shuddered to confront the evil glint in the eye of the mullah. He said, ”All I need to give him a command and it is done!” The mayor knew it was a veiled threat. From that point Calisthenics ignored him.

To his relief the grand mufti came in and it surprised the guest to see the way the mullah changed over. The prince told him something and hastily he left the hall with the lumbering giant. Conversationally Al-Wa’sik said the bear was his pet. “I call him No Malice. You don’t care for pets?” “Of course I do.” Said the mayor with a serious face,” Except when I am in a pet.” His host laughed politely. The mayor did not mention about the little drama the animal played in his absence.

Quickly the two got to converse. The prince spoke about his tulips and the mayor was passionate about trekking. Calisthenics realized the prince was hard pressed for time. He was called up again by a guard, who came in and whispered something into his ears. The prince first frowned and smiled weakly to say,” This is a matter of compassion. Allah requite me kindly for this.” He got up and left.

After half an hour he came back. He had the look of a man who had earned his place among mankind by such deeds as worthy of a human being. He said,” Two young boys were almost at the point of drowning. One of my men saved them; and they are even now being attended to. By my personal physician.”

Calisthenics asked if they could speak. “At least their names?” The grand mufti replied,” I will lead you to them and you can satisfy yourself and may be your presence would be of comfort.” The mayor straightaway followed his host into the private chambers of the prince.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Sleepy Heads did not believe so much in guardian angels as much as what they could do on behalf of the Great One. Each Sleepy Head believed he or she had a personal Santa Claus. (No one has seen a guardian angel but does that stop us from believing in a personal angel?) There on that afternoon they were pouring out of a fleet of ships before their eyes. They imagined there they had in so many ships come to please them.

They landed at the Bay of Morphou, which was clean and so broad for their purpose. Certainly the Turks looked very impressive even as they with one bound landed ashore. Each Sleepy Head saw how rich their dresses were. Every one of them had turbans of white muslin and red robes. They looked generous in their size and very friendly to wave towards them as if they had not forgotten them after all. Besides all those baggage which passed hands and laid in heaps before one who looked very authoritative, who instructed those two who knelt before him to make sure with the counting. ‘Bulging with goodies’ as one Sleepy Head remarked, “ which one shall be mine?”

The Sleepy Heads waved to them and they waved back. One Sleepy Head exclaimed, ‘I must be dreaming! There are thousands of them’. Another chimed, ‘Our angels have come! Which one is mine?’

There was a great commotion and Sleepy Heads ran pell-mell. “ Gifts! Millions are to be given away.. Oiiks! Free!” They all shouted. Boy, did they love getting presents! They mistook the Turks for Santa Claus of whom Doctor Jerry Can was often talking about.

One was doubtful. It was the month of April. Scrofulos said, “But did not the doctor say Santa pays visits only in the first month of the year?” Another one was too excited and he said, ”So what? The doctor also said the Sandman comes every night. Did he not tell so, otherwise we would have to count sheep?” The mayor who overheard them said with a gasp,” Here we see ships before our very eyes and you are talking of counting sheep. Fine state of affairs!”

To one who asked if Santa ever comes during the month of April the mayor said, “ The day Santa Claus comes with presents is the Day of Visitation. I shall pass an order to the effect if only you all would come to the Town Hall. Tomorrow?.” They just vanished.

The crowd was getting very restless and each one was jostling the other. The mayor said: “This is no way to greet Santa Claus. We will form a queue.” The Sleepy Heads thought it was a good idea. They formed themselves behind their mayor to welcome their angels, so many of them.

4.

Meanwhile the brouhaha on the land was not lost to those who were still in ships. The admiral of the fleet took one look at crowd and asked his captain, “ Why are we landing of all the places on this wild part? The town cannot even afford a decent name board.” Captain Kouskous said, “ May the sun ever shine on my master kindly. May his star rise steady to its bright destiny. What a far seeing vision master has, May that bright gaze remove my ignorance”.

Let us talk turkey, Captain Kouskous,” the admiral said firmly as he laid his telescope aside, “I asked you a question.” The captain kissed the hand of his master and said, “ We are landing here because it is the nearest point to us.” Feeling the anger of the admiral the captain lowered his gaze and said,” Blame it on geography, master. It is our kismet.”

Balderdash!” The admiral was angry.

The Turks meanwhile poured out of their ships and presented themselves to the crowd. It gave rise to a saying among the Cypriots, “When the enemy came the Sleepy Heads formed a queue to receive them.”

But at that moment the Sleepy Heads were all for collecting their gifts. They loved to be surprised.

What could be more surprising than receiving Santa Claus in the month of April?

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Chapter- 2

The Visitation

Turks land on the part of the Garden; the Sleepy Heads welcome them.

 

 

Süleyman the great is known as the conqueror of three continents. He raised the Ottoman Empire to a level, which his forefathers could never have dreamt of. He held his court in a domed council chamber deep inside the Topkapi Palace. From there he thought he could be the monarch of all he surveyed. So naturally he wanted more: besides continents there were islands to be had. Rhodes fell in 1522. He would have also plucked Cyprus had he but time. But no. Death came in the midst of his grandiose plans. Only after his death in 1566 the matter of Cyprus could be given its due attention. A decree was signed by his successor, Selim ‘the Sot’. It was rumored he speeded the Operation Stymie in order to seize the prized Cypriot wine for his personal use. Seraskersultan or the Commander in chief one morning summoned the head of the Department of War to receive his order. Only at that point the Council of Ministers knew they had a war on hand. Operation Stymie was at last in place.

 

The engagement would harm the interests of Venice, which pleased the war minister. The idea of swallowing the island of Cyprus in one fell swoop to spite the Christendom made the hawks in the Court of Topkapi think of the operation as a distraction. A war against the infidels gave them an excuse to paper over their own rotten governance. The sultan even went to the extent of deputing a mullah to arouse the fighting spirit of Prince Al-Wa’sik an half brother whom he did not particularly relish. Mullah Murad came thus to be part of his entourage. Of these two we shall hear more later on.

 

Finalization of war plans always had some festive air attached to it. The minister of war, a prince trusted by the sultan distributed a piece of meat, a rose and a few dinars as token of his favor to every member: from the lowest rank to the secretary who put the entire war plans into series of orders and sent them sealed to various admirals and field commanders got the same token. Such gifts made them believe the war must be really a delightful affair. They in turn praised the generosity of their master and averred the sultan was truly enlightened to have entrusted such an earthshaking operation to him. The prince was happy and his dependants were also on an upbeat mood at the turn of events.

 

Operation Stymie’ was beyond the point of recall.

 

2.

 

A month later.

 

It was a cloudy over cast day but it did not upset people from spreading out and thereby turning the rumor-mill. The Turks on the street asked one another, “ Why do we go to places so far from home?” We do not get to see our own friends enough.” They were friendly people. ” Why do we go places at all?” one wanted to know.

 

Didn’t our sultan set forth ‘Operation Stymie’?” another one was sure of his facts,” It means war. By Merciful and Compassionate Allah it will add to the glory of the sultan.” ( Of course no one wondered what one, so exalted as Süleyman the great could have a son whose nickname was not in the same class as of his father.) Yes, Selim the Sot could have done with much more glory than he had.

 

We ought to widen our horizon as our sultan never tired of telling us.” another said.

 

Yeah, “one who always was noted for his skepticism observed,” Every time it happens at a cost.”

 

How so?”

 

Those whom we conquer will have to narrow their horizon. Is it not?”

 

It is what we call Shock and Awe!” One who mentioned of the Operation Stymie declared with a smirk. He was one of the Turks who believed in the justness of their cause. He explained. ”Operation Stymie is meant to put a chicken in every Turkish cooking pot.”

 

An ordinary Turk no more cared for politics than a Cypriot. But seeing so many horses being led about by their trainers into ships and seamen taking their positions aboard so many warships festooned with flags and pennants of the Admiralty so many Turks felt somewhat grand. The man on the street was finally getting to see a series of vignettes,- all chaos and haste, as a result of preparations all planned and coordinated in high secrecy. What was hatched in the sultan’s war Council was as though being declared from roof tops. So obvious it was to all. ‘There is going to be a war!’

 

At the harbor overlooked by the pleasure palace of many princes and their harem, there was a milling crowd who had come to watch their fleet. The Turks had come to see their friends and relations who were in the many ships that were moored there. “I am off to war!”, said one as the Turkish ships got ready to set sail.” Bring something golden; something to remember you by!” another said. “Why can’t you then come along?” To which the other replied with a bashful smile,” I hate war! Dying before my time? Not for me!”

 

Those who had time on their hands shuffled their feet while the soldiers entered so many ships. They could not understand. ‘Why go to fight in foreign parts?’ They could see ‘Mullah’ Murad who had appointed himself as the ghazi(* the champion of the faith or the jihad the war against unbelievers.) They knew he was there in his official capacity. ‘He will explain to us’ they hoped.

 

Murad Mahoud held neither the position of ulema( *guardian of sacred law)or as a Kazi(judge). He was not a mullah in strict sense of the word but he nevertheless showed certain fanatical fervor to every opinion he expressed. He was a busybody who was also ‘an untested scholar’. What struck all was his snobbery. He was an outrageous namedropper. Having dropped his real name into oblivion he was all the time trying to salvage it by showing how well connected he was. He knew the sultan and also the princes. He was called behind his back another name, which expressed him pat. Sitting Dervish. While the traditional dervishes showed their spiritual fervor by whirling about, he just moved from one big name to another whenever was in company. All those who knew him treated Mullah Murad as a pest.

 

On that day he was there holding his head high and waving his hands about as if he had something important to remind those who milled about. Many more melted towards the speaker. Murad saw how big the crowd had become and he smiled. He was an avowed expansionist, he declared.’ Our solemn duty is to bring the Island of Cyprus under the heel of Turkey’. He had a few dog- eared books always at hand. Those ordinary folks saw him waving his books and they thought that he must be very learned. Yes indeed his learning came from books, which he shouted out to the hangers-on.

 

After quarter of an hour. Murad Mahoud had by then hit his stride and let his words come forth.

 

Oh mullah tell us,” asked some who were watching sailors busy in ships, “ Why do we go to Cyprus?”

 

Correction!” mullah said sternly. “ We do not go to Cyprus.” “We do not?” They were taken aback.

 

I go to Cyprus and you do not. So your usage in plural is wrong,“ They were impressed.

 

One asked, “ Why do you go to Cyprus, mullah?”

 

The mullah held up his hands to show his finger with a dirty nail. With a flourish he wagged his forefinger and then scratched his ear and said,” I do not scratch my ear with my foot. Observe the fact well.” “Why did I not scratch with my foot?” He asked drawing himself up as an orator would do to impress his audience.

 

One of his listeners asked, “ Because you’re knock-kneed?” “ Wrong,” replied mullah ignoring the insult, “ Because my finger can reach my ear closer than my foot can. That is why!”

 

What has it got to do with Cyprus?” One hamal (or porter) who carried heavy boxes at the harbor wanted to know. “ Cyprus is close to us.” replied Murad. They would have asked more questions had not a captain of one of the ships come toward the mullah and said,“ The wind is favorable and we are ready to sail.” “ What Cyprus has that we go in such large numbers?” the mullah asked as he followed the captain. ”Classified,” said the captain with a wink, ”mum is the word!”

 

Yes, there was only one topic, which Turks asked themselves in those days.

 

3.

 

The Sleepy Heads saw a fleet bearing towards them. They knew the Great One was behind its smooth sailing. One said,” He is the Lord of the four elements. He doesn’t wish his angels to soil their garments.” They had learnt a few things from the doctor though some of them were untutored in everything else. “We will put smile on Santa Claus’s face!’ they exclaimed. They knew how to do it. They will keep a proper decorum as they came in with gifts.

 

The Sleepy Heads did not believe so much in guardian angels as much as what they could do on behalf of the Great One. Each Sleepy Head believed he or she had a personal Santa Claus. (No one has seen a guardian angel but does that stop us from believing in a personal angel?) There on that afternoon they were pouring out of a fleet of ships before their eyes. They imagined there they had in so many ships come to please them.

 

 

(2 b cont’d)

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Chapter- 1

At Sixes And Sevens

Mayor Calisthenics takes office and for the Sleepy Heads it is business as usual; Dr.Jerry Can gives them an idea.

 

Some five years before the Turks landed on the island of Cyprus a new mayor had his first day in office.

 

In a town with the curious name “ The Garden of Neden” the townsmen were yet to come to grips with the day. While the sun steadily rose in the sky most people were still indoors. Each day was something special for them. They loved to sit around in their parlor, read, sew or chat. If they thought there was not much fun being indoors invariably they stayed in. They did not set their clocks according to the sun but according to their own convenience.

 

Neither did they plan their days for fear or favor.

 

The day the new mayor took office they definitely stayed put. They had certain misgivings of the new mayor who according to the reports was too clever for his own good. You see they saw nothing good in being present to cheer a mayor who may turn out to be dull or very officious. So they were content to remain indoors on the day Mayor Calisthenics took charge of them.

 

 

 

Mayor Calisthenics was average in height and a ripe pear fruit just described him. A pear fruit walking on two well-formed legs. The head was similarly matched but similarity ended there. His intelligence shone in his eyes and twinkle in his eyes seemed to say, ‘you get what you see here.’ He showed he meant what he said which all together in looks and deeds expressed him. He was endowed with many qualities all of which were set in place and given a polish by his sense of humor.

 

 

 

Before his arrival he had made enquiries and heard stories many of the people whom he was to govern and lead. He heard quite a few which were calculated even to discourage a Hercules from his labors. He shall however fulfill his office, he said to himself since it was expected of him. Besides he knew he could. Before he walked to his office that morning he assured himself thus: “I am here to represent the Sleepy Heads. So I would not burden myself with matters to which the Sleepy Heads have no sympathy.” And he had planned his moves very carefully.

 

There were a few handpicked representatives of King Nicias to formalize his assumption of office. His Master of Ceremonies, a Venetian count before parting took him aside and said, ”Failure is not an option.” With a wave he left.

 

After taking the seal of office the mayor came out of the Town Hall. It was time he put together his Council.

 

2.

 

The Town Hall an apology for a civic building stood on an elevated ground overlooking the Bay of Morphou. The new mayor came out of his office and stood at the porch. Like a dog sniffing the wind. He was before a public square to which three roads ran into. It took a while before a few here and there came into view. Mayor Calisthenics waited patiently. A Sleepy Head, who came closer was immediately buttonholed by him. Columbus would have liked to leave and he said he stepped out only out of curiosity. “You will do!” the slaphappy mayor said explaining such curiosity in civic matters showed he was ready.

 

Ready for what?” the Sleepy Head asked. “I hereby by the powers vested in me, appoint you as a councillor.” Columbus did not realize that assuming office could be so painless. Besides one who had the trappings of a mayor, the one who just had moved in on that part of the Garden was positively beaming at him. Columbus was too surprised for words. He could only stand and watch Calisthenics with pleasure as he rounded up another. He knew Lyckus who lived in the Lower Case. Before his very eyes the mayor was rubbing the glad oil of his charm all over the gasping fellow. Lychus was disoriented and he said he had only thought of taking a short cut and had no intention of startling his eminence. “ Oh no!” the mayor assured him smoothly, ”I, Calisthenics was in fact waiting for you.” He explained how often the efficiency of a mayor’s office was stalled by routine and minutiae. “If you are capable of taking short cuts well, you could as well save the daily grind of mayoral duties.” Without further ado he was inducted into his team. Before noon he had handpicked a team of ten councillors.

 

He assured them to be at rest and he spoke of what he intended to do. He ended by asking them “Don’t you want to be known as the Founding fathers?” Calisthenics had a way of putting the weighty matters of local administration as if it were a child’s play. The newly inducted councillors thought it saved them time and bother to go along with the wily mayor than resist him. They held their silence.

 

The mayor knew he had won them over. With utmost solemnity he led his councillors inside. Having them seated around a large table he seated himself.

 

Henceforth this is where you call the shots. From here you shall make a difference to the lives of our people.” After their first sitting was concluded he asked, “ I would like to meet the worthy townsmen of Neden.” He was told that it was not possible.

 

Why not?”

 

They cannot reach here in time.” replied one.

 

Where are they?” the mayor asked one of his councilors who replied. “ They are busy.”

 

Busy of what?”

 

Wool gathering” replied his councilor.

 

The mayor was not surprised. In Venice it was said a Sleepy Head could only be impressed with a hit of shovel on his head or at gunpoint.

 

Mayor Calisthenics hated extreme measures.

 

3.

 

One day it brought home the reason why the Sleepy Heads were difficult. ‘If only I could think of a challenge something very vital to them!” If his councillors could be won over silently and so smoothly it was only a matter of time. He was happy at the way the weight of responsibilities carried with office had straightened out his councillors who in most cases shared his enthusiasm. Hardly the mayor had suggested the piteous condition of their Town Hall they knew the matter required their immediate attention. They had for months worked daily under the threat of a roof, which was almost coming apart. ‘Yes they would need a new Hall.’ The mayor knew if the Sleepy Heads took their part the new building would bond them for greater things.

 

To his dismay he found there was opposition.“ We must keep the great traditions of Neden,” said one townsman who said he was for conservation. “Yes,” said another,” No sooner we get a Town Hall than the talk will be to improve our lot. To which purpose the mayor has already drawn up a list of things to be done.” He was very sorry to change his very laid- back lifestyle. Doulos who was a conservative agreed. They went public haranguing to all and sundry about the need for keeping the status quo. Of course there were a few who stood for progress more out of a feeling for contrariness than of any deep conviction.

 

The mayor had learnt his lesson. Columbus one day asked,”We failed. Didn’t we?” The mayor shook his head.

 

Some who did not join with any faction said, ”Look at our Town Hall! It does not leak. It pours!” ”It is not bad if you plug the holes when it is n’t raining.” There was some talk of repairs and maintenance but nothing came of it.

 

If you had in those days walked to the Town Hall which stood on a rock jutting into the sea you could have seen the name in large red letters “The Garden of Nde”. The painters had not yet found time to complete the name board.

 

In some five years the town by the sea slowly became backward and run down. The Garden of Neden. It was a Garden, which was beginning to smell of weeds. The roads were paved with stones and broken tiles began disappearing. One day some wagons pulled by oxen were stuck in mud. The wagon drivers complained to the mayor.“ It is on account of rains,” one councillor said. The mayor agreed, “ Precisely!” From that time no wagons ever passed through the town.

 

Calisthenics said: “ The town has gone to the dogs!” at which some dogs took offence and some people who would have liked to see the town improve said:” It is a dog’s life.”( to be continued)

 

 

 

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The Garden of Neden

 

The Garden of Neden is a part of Cyprus but you shall not find it in any of the maps. It is something like what happened to Atlantis that overnight disappeared from view. The sea covers now where the mighty Atlantis once stood. The Garden of Neden suffered a similar fate.  So I will not go into that part and instead narrate a story that is very entertaining. The Island of Cyprus still rings from the events to which the Garden  had a part.

No mark for guessing the inhabitants of Island of Cyprus are called Cypriots. But those who lived in the Garden,-take my word for it, Sleepy Heads they were called. 

The garden of Neden in terms of geography lay facing Morphou Bay on the west; the thin strip of beach on the north ringed a promontory running to a foul smelling beach on the east. It was flat and mottled with patches of color resembling some leftover of a pancake. It was an eyesore. Once a well meaning Cypriot told a Sleepy Head, “Your beach smells dirty.” The Sleepy Head’s response was, “Don’t tell me you intend to do something about it?” Oh no the Cypriot didn’t want to do anything about it except make an observation. So the beach remained as it was.

 

The very nature of the people of the Garden was such they let Nature take care of herself. What we may call as laziness they termed as being natural. As a proof to this the word laziness never did figure in their dictionaries.

Yet they lived on the bounties of Nature as though their naturalness allowed her to keep on providing for their bellies. For a Sleepy Head eating his meal was the number one in his daily life. He would have eaten at all hours if he could but the question what not to eat made him miss his meals. Everyday was a feast day only that he never got to know where it was celebrated. He made to the nearest table to dine but found to his cost that one man’s meat was another man’s poison. He made no bones about his place at the dining table but just the same he always had a crow to pick with the cook.

The Sleepy Heads left things as they were. Hungry or not.

Their days were spent taking life as it came. Next to a good meal the Sleepy Heads loved to play. They made rules as they went on so the loser had something of an advantage. At least he thought he had. Anytime he had a lead he let it find it own level. Every Sleepy Head took his play seriously so much so to call it politics.

Advantages such as they got with the governments they chose, became a political system that the body of Sleepy Heads let it find its own level. Thus once they had kings to rule the Garden but they went on changing rules, it was more like musical chairs: kings ended up looking for a chair to hang their authority in while Sleepy Heads changed the tune.

Perhaps politics for them was more like a game and their naturalness was so pure they gave the loser a standing ovation while the winner was sent to walk hot coals. Sleepy Heads tried many models and found the games as with politics none ever lost. Their naturalness never suffered since spirit of the play was the thing.

A Sleepy Head played to lose. Since he made work his play he worked for no purpose. He gave tit for tat and pat came his retorts but none saw any difference in such give and take. He told tall stories but finished them short so whoever heard him thought he was only wasting his time.

A Sleepy Head took the easy way out even where it led nowhere. No wonder Cypriots took them to task but found it easier to make remarks that didn’t cut even an onion.

 

2.

An average Sleepy Head grew to a middling height and did not bow and scrape before titled heads.( His stature did not prevent him from calling a spade a spade as long as he was not asked to use one.) Judging by their mode of dress of course it was very plain and coarse; only a Robinson Crusoe could have chosen it as a last resort. In terms of technology of course they would have looked to the Flintstones with a touch of envy. The Sleepy Heads were by and large ingenious and they lived as best as any people could, mind you without a sweat, a proof of which may be gathered from the fact that no one ever died among them either of hunger or disease.

Since their recorded history is wiped clean we may assume they had to come to terms with events that overshadowed the fortunes of the Island of Cyprus. Since they were born to be happy no matter how the rest of the world convulsed over matters great and small they didn’t express any awe while mentioning the name of Suleiman the Great. He was to them the father of Selim the Sot. The King of Cypress who was noted for his gargantuan belly they described as the king behind His belly. The Sleepy Heads sure knew fellow with such a belly was no more to be revered than one however ‘great’ to raise a son who was a lush. By the same token whatever they did was only a hiccup in the even tenor of their lives.

If the conflict between the Turks and the Venetians kept an ordinary Cypriot awake the Sleepy Heads simply laughed it out.

3.

The Sleepy Heads with such ominous clouds in the offing could afford to be lackadaisical since they played politics. In that game of politics they let their Mayor do all their work. They made merry from sunrise till sundown and declared all was well. Besides there was a Scholar who did all the soul searching for them in matters of their faith and belief. Without them the story, which I narrate would be a non-starter.

It so happened that some three decades before our story begins one of the inhabitants was washed away by a swell; he was a young man who was a typical Sleepy Head in temperament and abilities. A Venetian who adopted him as his own son also taught him the way of the world. When he chose to return after many years he had acquired all the trappings of a scholar. Gervais the idler had become enlightened after breezing through so many universities and lecture halls in Europe to drop his rather boring name to Jerry. At Sorbonne he acquired a nickname in commensurate with his level of scholarship. Whatever manner in which his detractors may have pronounced it to annoy him Jerry Can believed he was a Full Can, which was not what any fool can. Dr. Jerry ‘Full’ Can set up his school in his native land and he avowed, ‘to drive some sense into his compatriots.’

While he was at Sorbonne he found out that the medieval unicorn was none other than a rhinoceros. It was a great letdown for many of his fellow scholars. He vowed that such an error should never occur to him. As an idler he was all for sweeping the old ideas of being natural and he knew he shall find one for his fellow men. After a dream he has had he found one more in the shape of the king, a man of gargantuan girth who gave gifts. He knew God had expressly shown it so he may make the Gift-giving day a day to remember him. The learned doctor knew God had a mission and he was his instrument. But after his stint in Sorbonne he knew he had to be a saint. By and by when he returned to the Garden he held a serious palaver with the new mayor and their talks got around to more serious things. The scholar wanted to know if the mayor believed in a higher Being who gave gifts. The wily Mayor Calisthenics put back the question to him. He said,’ Yes. Santa Claus is His name’. The mayor thought a saint who gave presents would bring the Sleepy Heads together as one. Next day he called for his Council and said, “ There is a Higher Being who gives according to what we put in. So we need to teach our people to work together for a better society.”

Why work against our naturalness?” one councilor asked and it caused such a controversy among the Sleepy Heads. In their eyes a Higher Being was OK even if he came by a strange name as Santa Claus. Dr Jerry also fuelled their expectations by saying that there was a Great One who bestowed riches and every good thing for the asking. The Sleepy Heads had considered themselves sufficient unto themselves till that time. How they took to Dr. Jerry ‘Full’ Can, showed the Sleepy Heads were like everybody else in some things.

They loved the learned doctor to lecture to them, especially the part where they were entitled to free gifts.

At a time Venice controlled the destiny of the island Mayor Calisthenics was sent to the Garden to give the king of the Sleepy Heads a lesson in good governance. In such a move Venice miscalculated since the Sleepy Heads never let either the king or any other run their lives for them. For all that Mayor Calisthenics made them change their ways. For better or worse I cannot tell but you may judge yourself from the story.

In 1570 the Ottomans took over the island state of Cyprus. Well almost. Except for a Garden, which had been elevated into a town. The Sleepy Heads remained free. How did it happen? 

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Chapter-1
Gampa Guru Writes His Masterpiece

It is customary, though not necessarily the rule, for a master of great learning to found a school of thought. But modesty forbids some, ventures of such vast scope. They are instead quite content with leaving a book or two for posterity. Thus it was with Gampa Guru.
His disciples rallied around him from the moment he casually expressed his idea. They grasped its significance and from that moment not a day passed without their anxiously prodding the master to be out with it. How long can a master put such zeal with a laconic answer,’I am thinking?’
Pedda put it succinctly on the seventieth day after Gamp Guru tried to palm off with the stock answer,’ What is there to think?’
Yes since he took to define a school of thought that was quite his own, thinking was like a bull peeing non stop! It took a while during which his modest mind showed signs of wilting. But his five disciples were right behind him, urging him to set it all down for all time.
Milecha saw the name of the master spreading all about. He could even smell of incense burning. He fought the urge to wrap it about him as his due, No his master was worthy of homage and they were merely his disciples. Others were also affected by it.
‘Like a wild fire sending ideas helter- skelter’Maddaya sensed the ruckus his master caused in him.
‘No it is like a weighty stone sinking into the pool of serene thought’ Mooda added.
The master must be pregnant with ideas, that is for sure!’Maddi threw in his opinion,’May it be quintuplets.’
Pedda pooh-poohed these to say the master’s book should be like a glorious cloud in the intellectual firmament as he could visualize it. Sure enough a sudden rain made the four disciples accept Pedda’s similie the closest to the master’s yet-unwritten magnum opus.
Under the rack of scholarly solicitude and plain nagging Gampa Guru finally called for his stylus and palm leaves that soon materialized before him. Gampa Guru let out a deep sigh and looked at the disciples whose combined bated breath sounded in his ears ominous: like a hard wind from five disciples about to be broken on his neck. He curtly asked them to make themselves scarce.
Instantly he was alone under the peepul tree.
He took his pen and said,’Ahem!’
After a fortnight the work was complete. The first leaf carried invocation to elephant-god and a superscription: The Truth about Nothing.’
The disciple in taking hold of the work felt they were like Truth seekers who were given a taste of Truth in its infinite simplicity. Each took it by turns and reverentially pressed it to his eyes.
‘Blessed are our eyes to see Truth in her inward beauty’.
They gathered around Milecha who could read somewhat but they need not have worried. The remaining leaves were blank.
There fell painful silence.
Pedda exclaimed,’Truth about Nothing!
Mooda said somewhat bravely,’ Our master is so brilliant he has taken Truth inside out!
Maddaya,’He breaks new ground in Thought.’
‘Nothing!’ they all exclaimed in unison.
They walked in circles while their master felt cramp down in his legs.
‘The title itself encapsulated the wisdom of our sages.’ they beamed towards their master in admiration.
They were of one accord that no amount of dissertations or theses would do justice as a simple comment from the author. So they beamed and asked,’Master, what you had in mind when you wrote it all down?’
‘What does it say?’
‘Nothing.’ blurted out Pedda
The other five in a shock leaned on him and he said guiltily,’I meant the title. But what of the rest?’
The incomparable master shook himself up and his painful legs had somewhat swollen. He walked unsteadily and said cryptically,’ Why don’t you read it yourself?’
‘Ah!’ they exclaimed as if all their doubts had vanished with the gentle nudge of the Master once and for all into the abyss.
They said,’It is about Nothing! The great Cosmic Void>!’
(note: excerpt taken from my first full length work. I wrote this humorous tale in the early 80s. b.)
benny

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One wintry evening in Ferrara Don Juan Belvidero was entertaining one of the princes of the House of Este. The sumptuousness of the banquet and the celebrated beauties who were present underscored the fabled wealth of the host. He could well afford to spend lavishly since his father who was old and decrepit could die any moment. His father had accumulated wealth wisely and let the only son of his late marriage live as grandly as his expectations warranted. The only trouble was that the old man was in no danger of dying. He lived in a wing of the palace alone as a recluse with only a dog for company. This indestructibility of his sire was well known and over the cups the guests could well tease Don Juan about his father.”Yes, when is that father of yours going to die?” asked one who was too lovely to offend any and the host somewhat drunk replied, ‘Oh! don’t talk about it,” cried Don Juan, the young and handsome giver of the banquet. “There is but one eternal father, and, as ill luck will have it, he is mine.”
At that moment the valet of his father rushed in horror writ large in his face. “My lord, your father is dying!” he said; and at those solemn words, uttered in hollow tones, a veil of crape seemed to be drawn over the
wild mirth.
Don Juan rose to his feet with a gesture to his guests that might be rendered by, “Excuse me; this kind of thing does not happen every day.”Don Juan closed the door of the banqueting-hall; and as he went down
the long gallery, through the cold and darkness, he strove to assume an
expression in keeping with the part he had to play. He became thoughtful, like a man involved
in a lawsuit on his way to the Court.
His father struggling to keep himself alive as though he had a matter of vital import to leave for his son fell back in his death bed somewhat relaxed.”Poor Juanino,” the dying man went on, in a smothered voice, “I have always been so kind to you, that you could not surely desire my death?” “Oh, if it were only possible to keep you here by giving up a part of my
own life!” cried Don Juan.
The thought had scarcely crossed his mind when the old poodle barked.
Don Juan shivered; the response was so intelligent that he fancied the
dog must have seen through his hypocrisy.
“I was sure that I could count upon you, my son!” cried the dying man.
“I shall live. So be it; you shall be satisfied. I shall live, but
without depriving you of a single day of your life.”

“He is raving,” thought Don Juan. Aloud he added, “Yes, dearest father,
yes; you shall live, of course, as long as I live, for your image will
be for ever in my heart.”

“It is not that kind of life that I mean,” said the old noble, summoning
all his strength to sit up in bed; for a thrill of doubt ran through
him, one of those suspicions that come into being under a dying man’s
pillow. “Listen, my son,” he went on, in a voice grown weak with that
last effort, “I have no more wish to give up life than you to give up
wine and mistresses, horses and hounds, and hawks and gold—-”

“I can well believe it,” thought the son; and he knelt down by the bed
and kissed Bartolommeo’s cold hands. “But, father, my dear father,” he
added aloud, “we must submit to the will of God.”

“I am God!” muttered the dying man.

“Do not blaspheme!” cried the other, as he saw the menacing expression
on his father’s face. “Beware what you say; you have received extreme
unction, and I should be inconsolable if you were to die before my eyes
in mortal sin.”

“Will you listen to me?” cried Bartolommeo, and his mouth twitched.

Don Juan held his peace; an ugly silence prevailed. Yet above the
muffled sound of the beating of the snow against the windows rose the
sounds of the beautiful voice and the viol in unison, far off and faint
as the dawn. The dying man smiled.

“Thank you,” he said, “for bringing those singing voices and the music,
a banquet, young and lovely women with fair faces and dark tresses, all
the pleasure of life! Bid them wait for me; for I am about to begin life
anew.”

“The delirium is at its height,” said Don Juan to himself.

“I have found out a way of coming to life again,” the speaker went on.
“There, just look in that table drawer, press the spring hidden by the
griffin, and it will fly open.”

“I have found it, father.”

“Well, then, now take out a little phial of rock crystal.”

“I have it.”

“I have spent twenty years in—-” but even as he spoke the old man felt
how very near the end had come, and summoned all his dying strength
to say, “As soon as the breath is out of me, rub me all over with that
liquid, and I shall come to life again.”

“There is very little of it,” his son remarked.

Though Bartolommeo could no longer speak, he could still hear and see.
When those words dropped from Don Juan, his head turned with appalling
quickness, his neck was twisted like the throat of some marble statue
which the sculptor had condemned to remain stretched out for ever, the
wide eyes had come to have a ghastly fixity.

He was dead, and in death he lost his last and sole illusion.

He had sought a shelter in his son’s heart, and it had proved to be a
sepulchre, a pit deeper than men dig for their dead. The hair on his
head had risen and stiffened with horror, his agonized glance still
spoke. He was a father rising in just anger from his tomb, to demand
vengeance at the throne of God.

“There! it is all over with the old man!” cried Don Juan.

He had been so interested in holding the mysterious phial to the lamp that he had
not seen his father’s eyes fade. The cowering poodle looked from his
master to the elixir, just as Don Juan himself glanced again and again
from his father to the flask. The lamplight flickered. There was a
deep silence; the viol was mute. Juan Belvidero thought that he saw his
father stir, and trembled. The changeless gaze of those accusing eyes
frightened him; he closed them hastily, as he would have closed a
loose shutter swayed by the wind of an autumn night. He stood there
motionless, lost in a world of thought. When he was sure his father was dead he knew what must be done. Don Juan the sceptic shut the flask again in the secret drawer in the
Gothic table–he meant to run no more risks of losing the mysterious
liquid.
Don Juan Belvidero was looked upon as a dutiful son. He reared a
white marble monument on his father’s tomb, and employed the greatest
sculptors of the time upon it.
With such fabled wealth he was beyond reproach and knew all those principles that made man obey the dictates of the society and adherance to religion, morals were not for him. Like his father he married late. But of set purpose he was neither a good husband nor a good father. Don Juan had learned wisdom
from the mistakes made by his father Bartolommeo; he determined that
the least details of his life in old age should be subordinated to one
object–the success of the drama which was to be played out upon his
death-bed.

For the same reason the largest part of his wealth was buried in the
cellars of his palace at Ferrara, whither he seldom went. As for the
rest of his fortune, it was invested in a life annuity, with a view to
give his wife and children an interest in keeping him alive; but this
Machiavellian piece of foresight was scarcely necessary. His son, young
Felipe Belvidero, grew up as a Spaniard as religiously conscientious
as his father was irreligious, in virtue, perhaps, of the old rule, “A
miser has a spendthrift son.”
It was on a beautiful summer evening that Don Juan felt the near
approach of death. The sky of Spain was serene and cloudless like the expression
of his son a dutiful and obedient son who sat there watching him with
loving and respectful eyes. Towards eleven o’clock he desired to be left
alone with this dutiful being.

“Felipe,” said the father, in tones so soft and affectionate that the
young man trembled, and tears of gladness came to his eyes; never had
that stern father spoken his name in such a tone. “Listen, my son,” the
dying man went on. “I am a great sinner. All my life long, however, I
have thought of my death. I was once the friend of the great Pope
Julius II.; and that illustrious Pontiff, fearing lest the excessive

excitability of my senses should entangle me in mortal sin between the
moment of my death and the time of my anointing with the holy oil, gave
me a flask that contains a little of the holy water that once issued
from the rock in the wilderness. I have kept the secret of this
squandering of a treasure belonging to Holy Church, but I am permitted
to reveal the mystery in articulo mortis to my son. You will find the
flask in a drawer in that Gothic table that always stands by the head
of the bed…. The precious little crystal flask may be of use yet again
for you, dearest Felipe. Will you swear to me, by your salvation, to
carry out my instructions faithfully?”

Felipe looked at his father, and Don Juan was too deeply learned in the
lore of the human countenance not to die in peace with that look as his
warrant, as his own father had died in despair at meeting the expression
in his son’s eyes.
“As soon as I have closed my eyes,” Don Juan went on, “and that may be
in a few minutes, you must take my body before it grows cold and lay it
on a table in this room. Then put out the lamp; the light of the stars
should be sufficient. Take off my clothes, reciting Aves and Paters the
while, raising your soul to God in prayer, and carefully anoint my
lips and eyes with this holy water; begin with the face, and proceed
successively to my limbs and the rest of my body; my dear son, the power
of God is so great that you must be astonished at nothing.”

Don Juan felt death so near, that he added in a terrible voice, “Be
careful not to drop the flask.”

Then he breathed his last gently in the arms of his son, and his son’s
tears fell fast over his sardonic, haggard features.

It was almost midnight when Don Felipe Belvidero laid his father’s body
upon the table. He kissed the sinister brow and the gray hair; then he
put out the lamp.

By the soft moonlight that lit strange gleams across the country
without, Felipe could dimly see his father’s body, a vague white thing
among the shadows. The dutiful son moistened a linen cloth with the
liquid, and, absorbed in prayer, he anointed the revered face. A deep
silence reigned. Felipe heard faint, indescribable rustlings; it was the
breeze in the tree-tops, he thought. But when he had moistened the right
arm, he felt himself caught by the throat, a young strong hand held him
in a tight grip–it was his father’s hand! He shrieked aloud; the flask
dropped from his hand and broke in pieces. The liquid evaporated; the
whole household hurried into the room, holding torches aloft. That
shriek had startled them, and the room was full of people, and a horror-stricken crowd beheld the
fainting Felipe upheld by the strong arm of his father, who clutched
him by the throat. They saw another thing, an unearthly spectacle–Don
Juan’s face grown young and beautiful once again.
An old servitor cried, “A miracle! a miracle!” and all the Spaniards
echoed, “A miracle! a miracle!”

Dona Elvira, too pious to attribute this to magic, sent for the Abbot of
San-Lucar; and the Prior beholding the miracle with his own eyes, being
a clever man knew how to turn this to profit. He immediately gave out
that Don Juan would certainly be canonized; he appointed a day for the
celebration of the apotheosis in his convent, which thenceforward, he
said, should be called the convent of San Juan of Lucar. At these words
a sufficiently facetious grimace passed over the features of the late
Duke.
On the day appointed the church was chokeful of people curious and deeply
reverential of the miracle. Above that blazing sea, rose the high altar like a splendid
dawn. All the glories of the golden lamps
and silver candlesticks, of banners and tassels, of the shrines of the
saints and votive offerings, paled before the gorgeous brightness of
the reliquary in which Don Juan lay. The blasphemer’s body sparkled with
gems, and flowers, and crystal, with diamonds and gold, and plumes white
as the wings of seraphim; they had set it up on the altar, where the
pictures of Christ had stood. All about him blazed a host of tall
candles; the air quivered in the radiant light. The worthy Abbot of
San-Lucar, in pontifical robes, with his mitre set with precious stones,
his rochet and golden crosier, sat enthroned in imperial state among his
clergy in the choir.
Te Deum laudamus!

The chant went up from the black masses of men and women kneeling in
the cathedral, like a sudden breaking out of light in darkness, and the
silence was shattered as by a peal of thunder. Even at the moment when
that music of love and thanksgiving soared up to the altar, Don Juan,
too well bred not to express his acknowledgments, too witty not
to understand how to take a jest, bridled up in his reliquary, and
responded with an appalling burst of laughter. Then the Devil having put
him in mind of the risk he was running of being taken for an ordinary
man, a saint, he interrupted the melody of love by a yell,
the thousand voices of hell joined in it.
Te Deum laudamus! cried the many voices.

“Go to the devil, brute beasts that you are! ” and a
torrent of blasphemies fell non-stop.

Deus Sabaoth!… Sabaoth!” cried the believers.

“You are insulting the majesty of Hell,” shouted Don Juan, gnashing his
teeth. In another moment the living arm struggled out of the reliquary,
and was brandished over the assembly in mockery and despair.

“The saint is blessing us,” cried the old women, children, lovers, and
the credulous among the crowd.

Just as the Abbot, prostrate before the altar, was chanting “Sancte
Johannes, ora pro noblis!” he heard a voice exclaim sufficiently
distinctly: “O coglione!

“What can be going on up there?” cried the Sub-prior, as he saw the
reliquary move.

“The saint is playing the devil,” replied the Abbot.

Even as he spoke the living head tore itself away from the lifeless
body, and dropped upon the sallow cranium of the officiating priest.

“Remember Dona Elvira!” cried the thing, with its teeth set fast in the
Abbot’s head.

The Abbot’s horror-stricken shriek disturbed the ceremony; all the
ecclesiastics hurried up and crowded about their chief.

“Idiot, tell us now if there is a God!” the voice cried, as the Abbot,
bitten through the brain, drew his last breath.
The end
Ack:based on the story by Balzac

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Life begins at Forty ©

Helmut Hoffman was a problem of his times.
He thought of becoming a surgeon because his father spent several years struggling with a compulsive disorder: he imagined he was Jack Ripper come back with a vengeance.  He could not bear the sight of a knife and he thought if he ever took one in his hands it would be the beginning of mayhem. A devout family man when not under the delusion, he let Helmut follow his own bent. Helmut had seen his father in his deep suffering and it made him decide use the scalpel in ways never used before. He began modestly enough: first two years he persevered that it occurred to him that he might be as well able to withstand the rigors of his chosen discipline; He plodded along. Somewhere along it became clear that he had a mission in life; he had found that focus which served as a counterweight to his gypsy-like existence, which followed in wake of death of father who could not bear the struggle and chose a rope to end his life. And then his mother followed her man of whom she had nothing but pity. Pity is not love and they had left its deep scars. That point where youthful dreams one by one went through some wringer marked the end of his fugitive years; instead came his future in some curious symbols which to his relief belonged to a dream state; he could on waking up dismiss those dreams played often against backdrops resembling more like an abattoir. It was his internship. The clarity of his precision cutting at the operating table apparent then somehow in dreams morphed into shambles: blood and gore of it wetted his dreams and its arousal served as a counterpoint to his missionary zeal. He had to acknowledge apart from his surgical skills, which were acquired by sheer drudgery, he was just like every one else. In the end he had come out as a surgeon overqualified and god-like. His problem had just begun.

He won his acceptance from his fellow scholars and his peers alike despite a disability, which however did not affect his skill. He was a mute but his cutting hand spoke instead. He was a mute who made his scalpel speak all that needed to be said of the man. It spoke truth and did not mince words. The scalpel was the man. Technology empowered that scalpel and whether it was guided by laser or a cryogenic medium his cutting hand spoke for him. Only technology needed to show the solution and Hoffman could make it work for him. He still was in control.
The year was 2285. The Space Age For All brought wealth of other galaxies to man. Funding of health care bigger and better than before was not the problem. The problem was man. He was disaster prone and to Hoffman it occurred so early that with so many disasters which the space age had brought he was too qualified for hacking away in some quiet corner. He worked out his own schedule and performed where his terms were acceptable anywhere across the globe. His life’s mission had taken a world- view glancing over the imperfections of his times.

It was a time where technology was a solution looking for a problem too.
It was inevitable that Hoffman and technology would come together and redefine their roles. The man who held the scalpel wanted to protect his hard earned skills. He had latched on to technology with as much as ease as lichens could find its nutrients from the rock. If the rock and lichens could find its common ground so could he with technology. His insight into where he was heading for was best exemplified in that section of a rock fossil that he always carried along. It showed some lichens some 64 million years old. In that fossil what minerals which once made up the plant had made its impression; it was thus he wanted himself to remembered: In such a fusion of his soul with technology if any one attributed a selfish motive he would have been the most perplexed; In different times he took long and hard look at himself and he could have said with a clean conscience that no selfish considerations had entered in his calculations in wanting to serve his times. At least till love entered in his personal equations. Himself, technology and love.

1.
Ménage a Trois

Love came to Hoffman much late though he grew up in its midst. He fell in love with Mathilde, his guardian’s daughter on whom he at first had not entertained any notion of sharing his life let alone his innermost thoughts. As a medical student he would be at weekends a guest of his guardian, a banker. Sometimes he would be with the family at their vacation house in Cannes. He had from the beginning marked her as a hoyden and neck deep up to mischief. His attention of her, he could later recall with a smile, had begun on a curious disability of her, as the only one in his knowledge who never dreamt.
She was rather vain about it. Her governess did dream and so did all her friends and even the ones who disliked her in school had something nice to tell. She was 13 and she wanted to know if it was a medical condition. He thought she was putting him on so his opinion was merely dismissing such a state did not exist. He did not think it was necessary to give reasons for his conclusion. She laughed it off with a retort, ” Why you are only a tyro. I shall ask you the same question when you finish your college. Perhaps you may have another opinion.”
He shrugged his shoulders to reply, ”Perhaps? Who knows? You may even grow and recall your dreams.”
Somewhere along her adolescence she found his presence did much good to her. Her age seemed to bring out its inchoate creases as a matter of course. It was to Hoffman she could throw all doubts. He could distance himself to think from her angle. In matters of great or small he advised her as if it all came from her own. He could dissemble well that she only saw how easily he could think objectively. It was an effort for him. At her coming of age party it was his choice that made great impression on her. ‘You are so selfless!” she said hugging him and kissed him which took him by surprise at first. He had nothing against love but he hated being taken in surprise. When he saw her dressed as he had suggested he had to agree that she was right after all. He hated magenta but it did accentuate her skin its right tone. Why did he hate magenta? It was the color of the nylon rope that his father chose for his death. To comment upon that color without its painful associations required great effort. She asked her opinion and he just gave that. Not his opinion.
Matty was 19 when he had finished his college. There were so many days, weeks and months the happy pair spent together and her hoydenish hectoring did thaw his stiffness. He at first took it in good sport and thought she was very inventive and her smile and pranks all set her youth to advantage. Then it was love pure but not simple. He had to agree with Matty that in appearance they were a match and cut of the same clothe. Of medium height but able to carry himself well with aplomb that gave no hint of its depths; if their youthfulness were to be molded by a chisel, would have fitted the hands of Phidias but Rodin would have shown their inner life better.
At that time he had graduated from University of the Nations that sprawled along the Loire Valley where scholars came from Abidjan to Zagreb. Merit was only consideration. It had the pride of place among academic circles as the ultimate in two disciplines, – in particular of molecular biology and medicine. Hoffman entered its halls fully realizing that his life was in his control and he was on a quest, a scalpel that was his holy grail. When he graduated he was ready for his next phase in which marriage was not given a place. Hence at the time our story begins he still held his reservations, a priority. Matty found his excuses of profession having his priority hilarious. One day she with a laugh said that no man could have his whole life mapped out before he was ready to settle down. ” In fairness to the man he agreed that she had a point. Life is more than one man’s resolves for one’s future.
Ii
Jurgen Mannheim Griswold ran Griswold Conglomerates with ruthless efficiency to which his daughter had no partiality. He was widowed pretty early in life and he realized as soon as the period of mourning was over that he would not repeat his mistake ever again. He did love his wife too well; he came to observe that his investment in marriage was hardly secure with uncertainties of life that shredded emotions not to speak of time and his energy. So he remained a widower devoting more time for what he loved most. His business.
As soon as his only daughter came of age she took over the role of a hostess to lavish parties he gave at home and were well attended by every recipient of his invitations. These guests were gilt edges to his security as a banker and he loved to keep that image alive by bringing in interesting people from other walks of life. In such fusion the public relations man in Jurgen saw his daughter was an asset and his ward a rising star. They stood out. She was smart and chic. It was this image that Hoffman came to equate with Mathilde.
Hoffman was mute. He did not speak but he communicated through a microchip implanted under his arm which spelt out what he wanted to say through a monitor as large as a pocket book. That chip could send electrical impulses of his brain in a language that spoke as he did; technology had made it sound as masculine as she thought she could fall in love with the voice alone. That voice came to be a signature tune of a man whose strength she saw in his solidity. She could lean on that and feel his heart throbbing with life. She saw his life as twin aspect of her life. He called her butterfly and he could make technology speak caressingly or even in a matter-of-fact tone.
One evening coming from their usual walk from the woods he asked out of the blue, ”Do you still think you do not dream?”
“Of course I do not” she replied.
She had held her hand hooked to his and she gave a tug and said, ”No matter. You dream on my behalf. It is enough for me.”
He to his dismay realized that she was still intent on marriage.  What was more she was so besotted with him she wanted the same technology by which they could communicate in a higher plane as she put it. Beyond senses her love sought that mystery of his companionship. Which all nodes his past touched? Death of his parents and a few stray incidents of his pubescent years. Those scatological dreams blood and gore of it mere shadows of his aseptic life style? Did those light and shadow of his memory make her at one with his? She wondered. She well peeked into complexity of his mind and her love didn’t wince.
She desired him more than ever. Technology could translate language of senses in a way she could follow: how else could he have talked to her with his clear dark eyes and it said yes? Or with his smell?  Her eyes understood him as her smell found in his smell her soul’s delight. In implanting the same chip she thought it was like saying their mutual vows at the altar of Technology.
The banker had no inkling that his ward was the object of Mathilde’s affections and let him come often, which Hoffman could not always comply with owing to his other engagements. Mathilde was as necessary to him and served his needs as his work and even while he was deep in his tasks he was connected to her. The thought of technology playing cupid added a certain thrill. On her part, she glowed while he did surgery; she could sense as though the way his hands skillfully cut or torched and grafted organs to his patients it was as though she herself was present.
While Helmut stayed away from parties he could picture Matty just as well from where he labored, as a hostess at the mansion at Princehof Plaza Hamburg. It had no history but wealth had created its own which was clear from the moment one drove in and left one’s carriage into garage and let oneself led by the liveried servants into its primly pruned front garden enclosed by high walls. One may not more than cast a cursory look at the old fragments from ruins of other ends of the world and proceed to the portico that made its statement. Had one paused to look closely at the grey figures sprawling here and there one would have realized that a few of the victims of that volcanic eruption which devastated Pompeii have become objets d’art in Hamburg! Wealth of the banker had revised history of Pompeii to suit his own needs. If the grounds of his villa spoke of his interest in archaeology the house spoke of his indefatigable industry. What is kitsch to a serious art collector to the banker was something to take his mind from serious aspects of his profession. He let them merely to rest his weary eyes from looking no more than cursorily. For the very reason he shut his eyes from every impressionist or post impressionist painter of the nineteenth century. Wealth of Jurgen was hard won and in expending it over frivolities served its purpose. Marble and gold plated accessories all filled its occupant and master with a feeling that he had arrived.  If there were banquets and people wore formal and made small talk it was the hostess who made it all fit. Her down to earth liveliness and poise allowed the formal enjoy without letting their hair down.
iii
Did Helmut felt bound to marry and settle down for all that ? Well no! She brought some sort of purity in his life that his work could not provide. He had a goal of becoming freed from his past. In that age where nations had learned to think as one to which their Space Age For ALL was a case in point, his parents had funded Cybernetics Applied Industries and they left it to Jurgen. He wisely lent for expanding the business when at a time space programs had hit a bad patch.  He saw to CAIN had created robots with AI to assist them in their Interplanetary Research Programs. There were too many casualties and heavy loss in human lives. But accidents were beyond one Bank’s sole purview. It was then he had floated Space Age for All ( SAFA) for the public and was underwritten by all the nations to tap every interstellar galaxy for its mineral wealth that initially showed great promise.  Then crises one after the other at a point did unnerve Jurgen. If the Bank did not foreclose rather too soon CAIN could still be operative.  Perhaps not. Anyway it always hung like a bad cloud in his mind. He undertook custody of Hoffman and his career owed solely to his financial support. Hoffman felt no embarrassment in receiving aid from one who had killed his parent’s dream.  He considered that he was his own man only after he had carved a name for himself, He had money too he took possession of all those robots and other properties held in custody of the Bank. He had discharged outstanding arrears to the last cent and he got rid of all except those robots. They were part of his ménage in the house set in the new up market section of Pretzen Ober Rijn. It was large with rooms modestly furnished but with great subtlety to which he had only to thank Matty who had become his second best interest outside the aseptic surgical wards.
She was connected to him by her physical desires and by technology. Thereby she had cast out the parental hold over her. Only after he had come into his own and secured the dream child of his parents he started thinking of marriage seriously.
iv
One morning the divine surgeon to his shudder realized that he made a slip up at the operating table. The operation was what in other times he could have done blindfolded and his knot had slipped. In the next try he had got it right. None had noticed but it brought home on what uncertain ground he had his reputation built up. It took greater part of the day to leave its bruise from his mind. So when Mathilde suggested that evening he might as well make the robots earn their keep he looked at her wondering if she had sensed his near fall from grace.
“I had a difficult day,” he said as he flopped in his favorite chair. After some time he wanted to know what was about the robots that she found so remarkable.
“ These seven make me feel as if I am Snow White” she commented, ”don’t you think it is a good idea to make them specialize?”
Helmut knew she had caught up with him very fast. He asked her what she meant and she explained and said finally,” It shall not compete with you. Only you need map out different aspects of surgical procedures and guide them through a transponder. You are still the master.”
He just stared on. He had thought about it earlier and it was now coming back to him. He could not help smiling at her new found interest in a field, which was till now totally alien to her world. She had switched her position from that of a technophobe. Neither she nor he did go overboard except to squeeze as much out of technology for their main goal. She added,” If our chip implant is good for us it could be good for them too?” She was right.
One of the balmy days of spring Matty and Hoffman called on Elvirez Da Cunha who specialized in robots. He came around one day to take a look at the seven robots and he said that they could be restructured for their specific requirements. Elvirez worked out a detailed program and estimates that they agreed upon. Code Med was his solution. He said it worked in tandem as a system. Each unit had its own identity and receives its own signals to work independently or work as part of the herd in which each robot has specific scaled down function.
“ Each letter in Code Med stands for specific signals. It is a self-contained unit. C has its character as distinct and different from O and so on.” Elvirez said with emphasis.
“What of letters E and D which figure twice?” Hoffman cut in.
“E coded blue is the shepherd dog to the herd. It processes the signals from individual units and interfaces with D which is linked to your transponder.” Turning to Mathilde he added, ” The other D is what connects to you. You can scan from your notebook.”
“While I engage D suppose Mr. Hoffman wants to contact me will that be a problem?”
“No,” replied the expert,” The system will automatically transfer the call what E coded yellow, receive. One is for receiving and the other for sending signals which you both can clue in.” He added, “If needed it can be linked to a network for feedback if second opinion is required.”
He explained other essential features, which made the specific strength of one as the strength of all. Code Med he said has its abilities to convert non –verbal clues of its handlers, “in this case you both which derives from the common transponder.” He explained,” I can see you are wondering if it would not be an invasion of your privacy. Yes it is.” Elvirez paused to allow them to digest implications of what he had just said. He continued,” Your transponder is your world which is all the more indispensable because of Mr. Hoffman. If your transponder makes your interior world into a verbal mode Code Med taps it in order to perform as intended. One unit will always maintain its capacity to sense from signals of microchip implant and convert into a verbal mode.” The pair who listened intently their expressions ranging from surprise wonder had come to admire its immense potential. They looked at each other to say,” Our world is private and yet the outside world is only a signal away!”
Elvirez held his hands up to correct,“ Your private world will always remain inviolate.” He said with a chuckle, “You may want a second opinion but what leaves your work station is edited thoroughly, automatically of course.”
Hoffman wanted to know more about the manner Code Med perceived non- verbal cues. Elvirez explained once over and said, “What you might read from thought patterns of your wife has its particular fingerprint as she has her own value system. Code Med has to set down a coherent text, and right too for specific problems, considering value systems of each being different. These they do from data available from what is perceived for given time and context: each of you serves as database. Code Med will search and make sentences.” They heard Elvirez explaining working modalities in silence. Elvirez could realize the last bit was far out for them to take in. “I know you must be thinking that the machine has undue control over processing its data. No! We should always be in control. Shouldn’t we?” They nodded.
In the end he said with a chuckle. “I have provided a sting which the system cannot get at. “ He explained in so many words it considering they have gone farther than their level permitted. A few days later to a query that Matt asked on the sting system he said thus:” It is an active digitizer which retrieves the parameters it has employed in setting a text and scanning the worksheets we will know if Code Med has done a proper job or not. It cannot tamper with signals AD collates from it”
“Why such a precaution?”
“Code Med is an assembly of AI and its different facets. It can pose conundrums such as an independent mind can pose from so many alphabets to stump its handlers. But in keeping its transcript in its development we can trace the source and intents.”
“Then there is darker intents possible?” Hoffman asked curtly.
Human intelligence has its downside so will what is artificial given its state of the art.” Elvirez replied.
He produced a digital pen and he admitted that he had it assembled since their last session that he could understand had made them somewhat uneasy. He patiently explained. “Each of the signals, which Code Med sends in-house and for the network is recorded by it. What this scores over others is its leaving markers through their transcripts for a handler to draw his or her own conclusions.” In the end they were happy that they had a system which made their world dovetail into each other efficiently.
v
One morning the banker asked for an interview. He had found the time when Matty would not be around. She had that day left for Paris to shop around for her trousseau. Perhaps it were merely a casual meeting between two men who had nothing common except some mutual interests which an alliance would entail in some roundabout way. Helmut could guess what was in his mind and did not feel any perturbed. The banker made it understood that he was complete in agreement with his daughter’s wishes and came to the point.
After he defended his actions briefly which had killed the dream of his, he said the CAIN would not have survived long given the down turn of events. “IPR died its natural death and what I did was to soften the blow that hung over your parents’ dream.”
Hoffman well knew every argument even before it was laid out. He patiently heard him out.
Jurgen said: “ It was not any guilt that made me appoint myself as your guardian. I saw that you represented future. Investment in one who has a future always brings its returns. I believe it as a banker. I will swear by that. You are the future son.”
Hoffman replied that if he had any animosity to him he would have not let him take the role of his benefactor. “Besides hatred is a powerful emotion. As a surgeon I cannot afford its luxury.”
The banker understood him. He made it clear in so many indirect hints that Matty was his heir presumptive and her mother had left a sizeable fortune to her. Hoffman heard him out as he got through a painful interview with his customary good nature which left the older man realize that he was indeed superior to him.
Hoffman had pushed his work back of the mind as he discussed the coming wedding. The Banker wanted to give them as wedding present Code Med which as he facetitiously said, ‘was his contribution to the health care.’
It was thus while the wedding took place their nest was all in disarray with a family wing added to the existing which was to house Code Med.

For honey moon the couple went to Egypt. Sailing down the Nile they went back in time and thence to Aegean islands. Hoffman had a passion for rocks, which he collected and it was his way connecting with the past. He showed fossils of sea creatures that were ferreted from the rocky cliffs. Matty was a willing pupil as he was of her world. She looked at him in wonder that his mind had found a varied diet of natural world as stimulating as the sanctity of his theatre. They communicated still because of his disability but technology gave them much more nuances to it. Their personal digital window opened to soul of the other. In her notebook his thoughts were sentences and speech as virile as she had imagined of him to be. He could read between lines of her words her soul. She held nothing of her fathers home.
One week after returning from honeymoon it was like coming home. Pretzen villa was her own nest and even the strange places they traveled together at a leisurely pace did not remove altogether her tryst with domesticity. With love which each felt from pulse of other made its prosaic features more attractive with each day.
One month away from their villa was keenly felt since Mathilde could feel the need as much as her husband who had revised his busy schedule and could not stay away any further. She felt as if she were deprived from her own busy schedule.  Still fresh with glow of their honeymoon Hoffman wanted to know on the morning after the night if she did dream.” No, I didn’t.” He shot a searching look at her.” Is it possible?”
“ Why should I now bother with dreams? It is more likely that the robots may see dreams before I.”
“Would you mind?”
“Oh no.” was her answer.

2.
Conspiracy

Matty kept the house while Hoffman traveled distant places; wherever he went she traveled with him via the robot that he took along and he could assist in performing specific functions.  Where she was redundant her actual value derived from her surrogate whose AI made her role more than a homemaker. She was in a manner of speaking had become susceptance, the imaginary part of the complex surgical procedures which bound her husband to a robot.
Six months after they were married Hoffman had gone for three days on a case, which she knew was exacting and demanded much from him. Besides death anniversary of his father came in its middle. She was before her work- station catching up with the news. It was O who took her call and in an instant she was beside him. Her implanted chip made her scan his thoughts had she had to smile,” A case of burns. Trying out skin graft.” The essentials came out as if he dictated right then in the middle of it  “Be back on Friday. For funeral.”
Suddenly her expression froze. She knew somewhere an error had got in.
“What was the funeral you talked about?” she asked when he had come from his trip. He thought for a while and scowled. He could not remember of any funeral. It was while he checked his watch for their evening party with some of their friends he thought what it could be. Funeral of his father was on a grey November. The date was exactly 24 years ago. “What Code Med has to do with reminding funeral or any other engagements?” Hoffman was astonished. It was as if one intruded into their private space for no reason.
Hoffman later in the evening recalled all those painful recollections, which had attended his last rites. She pressed his arm as he fidgeted while they had a nightcap. “ You can talk to me about it if you want to.” She said. He merely shook his head and she understood from her notebook that he was a trifle irritated. “Let lying past alone. Love.” She knew that his parents were mere shadows and Code Med merely raked in dead ashes. Hoffman talked of his case at hand and O had interpreted wrongly. Their tragedy was merely dragged in by some strange malapropism.
Next day Mathilde referred into transcript. Hoffman had not logged in as yet. They brought fresh to her mind her conversation with her husband and it was exactly true.
Only one line seemed a mistake which after she had rearranged read as, “Helm/ hath/ no/ fury/ like/ a/ woman/ scorn’d/” This had crept in the text whose continuity could have been discernible only from the slight variation of its typeface from the rest. All those words when set in order were clear enough. The clue to its intention was clear from the usage of old English hath instead of ‘has’. That evening Matty had it before Hoffman and they had a laugh over the pun. Matty said, “I know the line is from Shakespeare, Bob,” he agreed. He commented, ”Code Med has an attitude.”
They dismissed outright as too ridiculous for notice.
For a week everything seemed working all right. Then came a series of errors, which warranted Elvirez to come in. He checked the whole system and found that AI had indeed its own fingerprint. “From the incident it may look as if the system recognizes the presence of our sting operation.” It was the way of Code Med to make outsider take a bum rap. They had ganged on the digitizer to make it seem redundant.”
He continued, “I could abort the sting operation if you want to.”
“Oh no,” Hoffman said as if it was a preposterous suggestion,” Active Digitizer is crucial to us as Code Med. We are not afraid of our own dreams or work of our hands. It shall remain at our control.”
“Do you think it can ever get out of hand?” Matty wondered when they were alone, “ Suppose it read our thoughts wrongly? She asked her husband. He hugged her and said, ”We think better than they. Do we not? Then what is the problem?”
Matty smiled and he said, ” They are not here to correct us but for our convenience.”

Two years of their marriage was idyllic and Matty could enjoy in her husband’s success as much as she were an associate who did equal contribution to Health Care. They bought a vacation villa on the isle of Elba. He was at the point was onto something big. He was day and night devising a sustainable recovery program for age related damages to the brain. As a surgeon he thought in terms of technique and background information, which he needed of neuronal dysfunctions he could tap from Code Med. He needed it for his development in research as Mathilde who smoothened every wrinkle of frustration. But for her constant encouragement he would have had left off half way. She was his ear to various schemes in its inception. She was also present as it evolved into a workable stage. If he scrapped it in the middle for being too complex to be of practical use she could understand that his reasons were right. She stood by inspiring him to give it another try and yet another. Code Med was part of their world in making their togetherness more rewarding than ever.
The first holiday was like going back in time. Their sailboat the Eight Bells carried them and their dreams. One week was all that they could take from their self- imposed research program. Two years he had allowed himself no break from his profession and he had said, ’my life really would begin at 40.’
Matty to her disappointment saw that her husband was more like a man possessed since it was clear to them that two years will not be sufficient for putting the research complete. Hoffman assured that it is but natural that much time spent in his research, from initial stage to a break- through would not show as worthwhile. “ Every day wasted over the preliminaries is absorbed in that final moment of breakthrough. So back to square one.” Matty could understand it was still gnawing his mind since his ability to make love had almost ceased. She knew him well and she knew that he would be all the more embarrassed to be confronted with it at that moment. She recalled those early days and he was as exciting and overpowering, which was as if his speech disability had sent every available resource as if in compensation to her fulfillment. She let herself carried along by his intense concentration that was infectious to say the least. Her husband’s mission had rubbed on to her.
One morning Hoffman logged in his notebook and he was mystified by what Code Med had transcribed from her conversation to him. She was away on a sailing holiday. She had been to their villa to check the ongoing renovation that the contractors had promised to finish in a month. In such a straightforward prosaic detail there were a few garbled information. Code Med was at it again. The pieces when put together made him wince. It was a bad joke. “Able/ was/ I/ ere/ I/ saw/ Elba/” Matty
Hoffman knew that Code Med had palmed off a corny palindrome in this case. In putting Matty’s name it merely showed its bad attitude. He in his reply casually mentioned to her that Code Med had slipped again.
What upset Matty was that she could not get out of these taunts of Code Med because it was too vital for Hoffman than for her. To expect him to work on without it was to undo all those years, which had made him an extension of it as she was. It was only in matter of degrees. Such unequal partnership to it made any suggestion for its removal as unfair.
Her mind was in turmoil and to her surprise while she was in the villa she saw a dream for the first time which she could recall after she awoke. She wrote it in essential details and sent it over to her husband. If he did not take it as unusual it was different for her. It was a dream. Nevertheless it was hers. She could not get rid of it and in its simplicity and surrealism she felt that she was as marked as by a brand of iron. She wanted to be near her husband. “Perhaps it will cease to be of any consequence with my love around.”
That noon she set sail to the mainland. Hoffman knew that she coming home and he had decided to take the day off.
He knew that she had cut short her vacation in haste. She needed him as much as he needed her. What he did not understand what set off a full-blown dream so late? Was it any premonition of sorts which he should take note of?
That night he went to bed early since he had to be at the airport to receive her.
Hardly he had drifted into sleep he awoke with a start. ”I saw a dream!” he said loud. It took a second too late to recognize that he could speak again. The gift of speech was not so fresh or meaningful as the sting of his dream. He shivered and blurted out, ” I saw her dead.”
He spoke the truth. News came to him that the Eight Bells was found drifting in the sea and Mathilde was dead when she was found. “Cause of death is unknown. No foul play is suspected.” It said.
“Is my speech as result of it, her gift?” Hoffman was too stunned to think of it further. He collapsed under shock.
3
The Orion

Hoffman did not realize, as one week after Mathilde’s funeral that she left a void which nothing could replace. Her death had connected to his own loss; and with his parents.  But it had not prepared him for what lay ahead. The living and his own dreams. His life and hers had touched much more than he had any inkling of. It still left him incomplete.
He was still connected to Code Med which merely brought fresh his past and it was intolerable. The first task, which signaled that his mourning was at an end, was when he asked Elvirez to check Code Med for worms. “It seems to me that it was not any virus but worms which gave its attitude.” The surgeon came straight to the point.
Elvirez stared at Hoffman as if he was incoherent. He asked, ”What makes you say as if it is a fact?”
Hoffman said, ”I had a dream.” The expert could not believe it.
One week later Elvirez came back to him to say he was right after all.
He explained that the culture of worms, which he said was hatched between the robots and had passed on between them to pass detection.
“Who could have thought you would see it in a dream!” The expert was dumbfounded,” it took me almost four days of sweat.”
Hoffman nodded to say, ‘yes it seems so.’ What Hoffman did not say was it was Mathilde who dreamt of the conspiracy of robots. It was all that one dream, which her life could hold on to. It must have affected her beyond belief that she cut short her vacation.  She had said, “I need a hug so bad that I can cry.” What it had lead to! Mathilde needed a window into her lover’s soul. She had wished for a dream. She had often told him in their most intimate moments that.
She had realized her dream. It was only that it was to Code Med that she opened her window instead. It made him shudder.
Elvirez asked a favor from him to report of the worms ‘Code Med’ in a scientific journal. He agreed.
In the end he instructed Elvirez to break up Code Med into individual units to serve him for surgery alone.
He said to the banker who had called on him to enquire that he was through with his research. “I shall stick to my profession and nothing more.” Before parting he asked him a personal question, which made the banker a shade embarrassed. ”Do you dream?” Hoffman asked him
“No,” the older man replied with a somber expression,” unfortunately no.” Then he was gone.
Later On his fortieth birthday he was invited to take up control of the Orion which he did. It was the answer to the accident-prone age of his. A ship of immense size and a law unto itself. It was entirely in his control. A floating Health care entirely manned by robots made sense to him. In the appointment order one line made him smile inwardly. ‘To one who dream this will come as no surprise.”
It was the Banker’s manner of apologizing for that curious disability which was somehow passed on to his daughter.
The End

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