Elegant Union (John Clark Smith) - 7

John Clark Smith
A Novel by John Clark Smith


 

IV

 

17

 

Karna and Titus went to the building on 252 Adelaide Street East. The doors were locked. Karna pointed to a security camera above the door. Titus knocked. They waited. In a minute there was an unlocking sound. Titus opened the door.

The outer building retained the outlines of the time of its construction, the 1820’s to the 1840’s, but when they entered the inside, they viewed a room from a much older era in which everything was in gold, marble, and precious inlaid stones. There was no resemblance to the gym atmosphere Titus had entered when seeking Oriana. Instead, he found himself in one large octagonal room with its ceiling several stories up. The marble floor had a complex group of interlocking concentric circles. At the center of the floor was an inlaid image that seemed to Titus like an ocean. Each side of the octagon, on every story, had a large and thick arch covered in marble, decorated with mosaics, gilded statues, and intricate geometric designs in previous stones. Every other space in the room was in gold.

Each of the floors was also a gallery with balconies so that a visitor could walk around and peer down. Surrounding and supporting these floors, galleries, and arches were the most detailed and decorative Corinthian columns. On each column a story was carved. Every floor had its own aesthetic, with a different group of figures and type of mosaics. The light for this room came from the ceiling, where there were eight windows. No other sign of lighting was seen. The room would be lit on a clear night by the moon.

Music was coming from beyond the room: Verdi’s opera La Traviata, alternating with sitar and tabla music, and then gamelan music.

Titus and Karna were so overwhelmed by this sight and sounds that they stood in one place for several minutes without noticing Ratanna sitting in the single chair directly facing them in one of the areas under the arches. Ratanna wore a long gold robe and golden slippers. The features of her face were badly scarred, as if she had a mask. Under her bloodshot eyes were dark circles.

Ratanna did not speak but fixed her gaze upon them. Titus and Karna remained silent and motionless.

“Others have come,” she finally began, “and they talk and talk. Sometimes they tell me about their glorious achievements and wars, about their amazing inventions and science, and their diverse pleasures. Sometimes they only talk of their shoes or their championships. They say words, but they never speak beyond the word. Oh, on occasion they are in awe of this room and its art, but their stories are about their pleasures and the surface, like the story of Violetta in La Traviata, but they wait too long to see beyond them.”

Again Titus and Karna did not speak, but stood in the middle of the room, over the ocean-filled circle at its heart and the mammoth windows three stories above them.

“At night,” Ratanna said, “when this room is black because the clouds block the moon, I sit here and wait and wonder. Imagine. The cold emptiness inside the fire of this splendid room. The word is right before their eyes. It rests over the entrance to this building. Of course, I must be fair. It’s not a word, is it? But then no word is just a word.”

Titus and Karna sat down on the floor and crossed their legs.

“You wonder what my word is. It’s Ratanna. That’s not a word or a name, but that’s the word of me. But you probably knew that. Of course, you did. And you knew there is no such word, just as there’s no word to explain ‘pamoghenan’ that is carved at the entrance. How could a word explain a word? But it’s not so strange. After all, no words truly exist. We give them existence. We invent them. I have no name. There’s no word for me. Yet I have being. Do you really think your names are your names? Being is nameless. ‘Pamoghenan’ has being. But talk doesn’t give anyone existence. And they talk and they talk and they talk.”

As Ratanna spoke, Titus was thinking of Ratanna’s appearance as the gym owner. The scars, the dark under the eyes, and the bloodshot eyes were once again present, though the clothes were different. Titus looked around to detect any signs of the gym to determine whether the gym or the octagonal palatial room was primary. No sign was visible.

“I’ve been here in darkness for a long time, but not long enough,” Ratanna continued. “I’ve seen nothing new before I came and nothing new since I came. I’m getting younger.”

There was a knock on the door. Two people could be heard talking outside the door.

“What are they offering?” the one person said.

“One point two,” answered the other.

“I’d hold out. It’s not a great market right now.”

“Did you invest in Viper?”

“They just let go their Director of Finance. I’d wait.”

Admission was not granted by Ratanna.

Ratanna stood up suddenly and began screaming at the door:

“What’s wrong with you? Wake up! Haven’t you had enough time to learn how to use your powers? You have the gift of insight, of creativity, of empathy, of reason, and of innovation, but you do absolutely nothing to change your society or your character. You’ve been around for thousands of years and look at you! Still warring, still selfish, still petty, still unable to compromise, still worried about your manhood and womanhood, still vain, still prejudiced for your own kind, still dishonest, still loving your material things! What’s wrong with you? Why haven’t you made a community that cares for each other, for everyone? Don’t you get it? You created the borders. There are no real borders. And why are people starving, why so ignorant, why homeless, why can’t you all see beyond the surface, why must they migrate and become refugees? This earth is for everyone, you idiots! What’s wrong with you? Why do you kill because of some ideology? Why do you kill in the name of your religion? What kind of deity do you worship that tolerates killing? You’re a bunch of narrow-minded self-serving jerks who can’t see past your village or your nation or your world or your skin color or your constituencies or your ideology. Grow up! Wake up!”

He sat down again, exasperated by his own frustration, and let out a great sigh.

Not willing to interrupt his period of rest after that diatribe, Titus remained in silence until the day was losing its light and the room was slowly slipping into near darkness. The music now playing was the overture to Mozart’s Don Giovanni and after that, Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit.”

Another knock on the door.

“Can you imagine them expecting us to attend their party?” one of the visitors said on the other side of the door.

“I know. There’s so much wrong there.”

“Sometimes I can’t believe she’s our daughter, can you?”

“That’s what happens when you marry outside your kind.”

Admittance was refused.

Titus had many questions, but he resisted asking them. Only one gnawed away at him: the significance of ‘pamoghenan.’

“Day after day after day they come,” Ratanna said. “Spiritual pigmies, with no interest in the inner life, no desire to develop or improve themselves, racists, bigots, no pursuit of the big questions, no self-awareness, no interest in wisdom, they don’t contemplate or meditate or cogitate or take time to think about what they’re doing, but they do know how to buy, to make money, to dress, and eat and drink and cheat. I’m sick of it! No, you can’t come in! Go away! Oh, I’m so worn down by existence.”

For another hour, the three of them meditated. There was peace.

The music playing now was Berio’s “Sinfonia,” Takemitsu’s “Air” for flute, and Art Tatum’s “Blue Skies.”

“But before the light goes, I need to get some exercise.”

Ratanna went to the corner of her niche and pulled out a bicycle. She then rode around under the galleries, often humming along with whatever music was playing. Titus and Karna did not comment or move.

“Ratanna has seen too much?” Karna asked Titus.

‘No, she has resolved too little,” Titus answered. “History is painful rejection.”

After returning the bicycle, Ratanna laughed.

“So much fun!” she said. “I should show you my puzzle I’m working on. It’s of an old medieval chapel of Charlemagne. I love it. 1500 pieces.”

Then, with the clouds thick in the sky, the room turned black.

“In the darkness,” Ratanna said, “so many wonderful questions come, don’t they? I ask: How does the oak seed know to become an oak tree? How does it know to create that tree perfectly each time? There must a signal. But still. From a tiny seed a giant oak? How? And all of it, almost everything, happens in darkness. Ah, but that is just one enigma. The universe is filled with them. I sit here and wonder and try to expand my consciousness to enjoy the mysteries. Here in the blackness are the secrets. In this light, what is the meaning of existence? It’s so frustrating. Oh reality, have you blinded me to your artwork?”

At that moment, Titus pondered the word ‘pamoghenan’ and the secret came.

Titus stood up, Karna following, and walked through the thick darkness to the double doors.

“Behold,” Ratanna said, “on this day arose a god.”

“Behold,” Titus said, “on this day a god can finally rest.”

And Ratanna laughed again.

Titus turned around and said: “pamoghenan.”

Once outside and on the sidewalk, Titus looked back at the building and considered the lone one who sat within the splendid darkness with her music, her puzzle, and her bicycle in that magnificent space. Yet Titus knew well that Ratanna was more than Ratanna; she was full of worlds within. Is not space black and empty and yet hardly empty? It is only unknown and yet all.

On the way home a man walked with a cane in front of them. His balance was uncertain. On several occasions they thought he might fall. Finally, he began to lean too much and was falling. Titus ran up and caught him and helped him sit on a streetcar shelter bench.

“Will you be OK?” Titus asked.

The man chuckled.

“Of course, old one,” he said. “Don’t worry. I fall all the time. Sometimes people help. But I fall and I get up again. No one can stop it. I expect to fall. I’m trying to learn how to walk again. I made it all the way from Adelaide to King without even tripping. I’m pretty proud of myself.”

“We could call for help,” Karna said.

“No, no. I must learn to walk and avoid falling. I must learn how to fall and hit my pads. I’ve been sick in bed for a while. If I take taxis, I will become weak. The streetcar is good. It takes me a few blocks from my home. I’ll be fine.”

The streetcar came. He struggled to stand and hobbled up into the streetcar. The driver patiently waited while he pulled himself up the steps of the back door. After swiping his pass, he turned back and smiled at Titus and Karna. Then he bowed. As he bowed, Titus saw in a flash his face change into another face. The doors shut.

“Perhaps one time he’ll fall and not get up,” Karna said.

“Or the earth will catch him and push him back up.”

They walked several blocks to University Avenue.

“Will you go back?” Karna asked.

“I must.”

“Ratanna will reject everyone,” Karna said.

“Yes. There’ll be no visitors there. After all, they all want the gym.”

“The gym?”

“Yes,” Titus said. “The gymnasium.”

It began to rain. They sought shelter in the Opera House on the corner of Queen and University. La Traviata was scheduled, but the opera had not begun. While waiting, ticket holders in medical masks sat on the steps of the large entrance hall six feet from each other and were listening to a recording of Pamela Z’s “Geekspeak” and “Number 3” and then a live performance of a section from the ninth piano sonata of Scriabin.

Titus and Karna stood in the ticket vestibule outside the hall. The rain made its own music striking the sidewalk outside the glass doors.

Ratanna buzzed around the entrance hall and then landed on the piano. As she did, she began to hum the theme of the sonata while at the same time dancing.

“Have we come too soon?” Karna asked. “Is this Ratanna’s space?”

“Because of Scriabin?” Titus asked. “Or Pamela Z?”

“Consider,” Karna said. “Look around you. If we stay, won’t there be violence and injury?”

Titus stared at the rain.

“Yes,” Titus said, “always. Ratanna is here. I am here. The rain can wash away homes and entire villages, but it can also be gentle and feed the earth for growth. When thirsty, we are desperate for it to fill our wells and cisterns, but if we receive too much, we drown. We can drown in our own water. We can drown in sewage. Or, like Ratanna, we can dance.”

They walked out of the Opera House. There was no rain, but there were flowers, grass, and forested land as far as they could see. No streets, sidewalks, or buildings. Toward the south they could see the lake. Toward the north was an uphill climb. The moon was now full and lit the landscape.

“Look, no chance for conflict,” Titus said.

“Ratanna did this?” Karna asked.

“No, of course not. She’s still dancing. Which is what she needs to do to heal.

“But if not her?”

“Come, let’s climb. Let’s listen to the crickets and the sound of wind. Peaceful, isn’t it?”

“Yes, very serene and sublime.”

“No man with cane, no students, no death of Lazan, no Charity Café.”

“Before?”

“You tell me,” Titus said. “Is there a difference between before and after?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let’s walk west. Do you see any difference?”

“None,” Karna said. “The flora looks the same.”

“North, south, east, west. The same. Before? After? Then? Now? The same.”

Titus started to walk much faster. As he did, the sun appeared. It was now afternoon.

“There are no people,” Karna said.

“People are everywhere.”

Titus stopped after they had hurried west.

“What’s wrong?” Titus asked. “You seem disappointed, even sad. Or do you recognize the terror of the status quo?”

Karna nodded. He was standing at the corner of King’s College Road and College Street. Now there were many people around him of all ages. Each had a covering, like a blindfold, over their eyes and were using white sticks.

“Should we remove their coverings?” Karna said.

“They’ll put on another. They may kill anyone who threatens to remove it.”

Titus and Karna walked up King’s College Road to the quad and then to the glass sculpture. A high platform stood near the sculpture.

As soon as Titus stepped upon the platform, the thousands who were in the quad stopped and turned as if someone was controlling and moving them together at the same time toward the platform. Thousands more who were in the vicinity also turned toward the quad. Others farther away began to walk as fast as they could with their white sticks toward the quad.

Titus waited for all to join him. Eventually he looked out upon a multitude. Karna stayed on the bench next to the glass sculpture.

Once the crowd joined Titus at the quad, a few pulled out rifles and handguns, pointed them to where they thought Titus stood and began to shoot. With their eyes covered, most of them missed their target. But two struck him and he fell on the platform. When the shooters heard he was struck, they stopped shooting, and rushed toward the platform and began to hit him with their white sticks.

Karna rushed up to the platform to block the attackers and care for Titus. The attackers then turned on Karna and began beating him.

“Wait,” Titus whispered to Karna from the floor of the platform.

Hundreds of others stumbled toward the platform, even though none of them could see what had happened. They still had not removed their blindfolds and haphazardly tried to hit with their white sticks.

Finally, Oriana, on her own, removed her covering, and climbed on to the platform.

“Remove your cloths,” she cried out to the crowd.

They moved away from the platform and stopped their attacks when they heard her voice.

“What do you mean?” they yelled back. “What cloths?”

Out of the thousands, several removed their coverings and came forward. One of them was a man who had experience in emergency care. Before he had a chance to examine Titus, Titus got to his feet, his arm and neck bleeding, and stood beside Oriana and the four others who had removed their coverings.

“They won’t do it,” Karna said. “They don’t want to see.”

“They will,” Titus said.

“Teach me,” Oriana said.

Titus sat down and crossed his legs to begin meditation. In his place, a single bee remained, yet he made no sound. After thirty seconds, Titus resumed his place. The bleeding stopped. Karna and Oriana copied the same position.

“They never wounded me,” Titus said. “They only believed they did.”

“We are a union,” the three said at the same time.

Thousands stood by and wondered what was happening on the platform.

“What are you?” Oriana asked Titus, in shock at seeing the bee and then how the bleeding stopped.

“Few can achieve sight alone,” Titus said. “They need another to remove the covering.”

“Let the rich go first,” the doctor said. “The rich can help the poor.”

“No,” another person with a covering said. “Let the poor help the poor, and the rich help the rich.”

“No,” another one said, “it should be decided on rank and education. The more educated and sophisticated should lead the way.”

“No,” said another. “It should be based on nationality or, if not, then use race. The more advanced races should go first and then…”

They began to squabble about how or who should remove coverings. Finally, they turned to Titus.

“There is neither rich nor poor,” Titus said. “Social positions, nobility, aristocracy, races, and spiritual hierarchy exist because we can’t see. Wake up! Open your eyes! Learn to see beyond the surface and the ideological. See beyond yourselves. See beyond what your society forces on you. You are all from one family.”

“But what else is there?” the doctor asked. “If we don’t have those qualities, what are we?”

Titus stared at the doctor, pondering how he would answer.

“Those qualities are what society or tradition or forces outside yourself thrust upon you,” Titus said. “Suppose those qualities are not what really defines you. Perhaps there are other dimensions of who you are that you’ve not discovered. Seek for those.”

Titus stepped off the platform and began walking through the crowds away from the quad toward College Street. Karna followed.

“There are several coverings, Karna. Some are disguises, some block the real from appearing. I hope one covering might start a process where others would begin to fall off.”

“You expect too much,” Karna said. “These are ignorant, vulnerable, and innocent creatures. Look at them. Listen to them. Ratanna understood. How could they possibly achieve what you’re saying? They would rather start a war.”

“Yes, they would,” a voice said from behind them.

It was Oriana.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said. “I knew you would come. Someone keeps telling me you’re the savior.”

“Don’t listen to such words,” Karna said to her, aware that Fischer influenced her. “Others may call him a savior. But he’s a god.”

Karna turned south on Huron Street one block east of Spadina.

“Where are you going?” Titus asked.

“To confront Fischer,” Karna said. “He’s interfering again with your work. I despise his path. Our family must triumph.”

“But why down this street?”

“I don’t know,” Karna said. “It just felt like the right way.”

Titus did not object but watched Karna walk away. Oriana and he continued to walk along College.

“You’re a god?” Oriana said.

“It’s only a word,” he said. “No one can be defined.”

“Well, whatever you are, we’re better off than before,” Oriana said. “A few are at least free of their coverings. But what can we do to reach beyond the mind and body?”

Titus stopped.

“If you ask scientists your question,” Titus said, “they will say, there’s nothing beyond the mind and the body. People of faith will say: There’s nothing beyond the spirit. And some will say, even the mind and body are an illusion. But what none can deny—once they’ve removed the mask—is that they were wearing a covering. Is that the only covering? No. Removing a mask is only one layer.

“So here’s a question as an answer to your question: How does an oak tree grow from a tiny oak seed? If you open the seed, what do you find? Emptiness. Focus on the obvious and the inner mask will melt away because it’s the unseen, the emptiness, the hole within the wheel, that makes the universe turn.”

Gretchen met them. She was in an ecstatic mood.

The streets were empty of cars and the people wore masks due to Climate Change laws.

“I knew you would reveal yourself!” she said to Titus. “Now we must promote you. You must spread this spiritual truth throughout the world. We no longer need the phantoms and Wang.”

“What do you mean?” Titus said. “I’ve told you. I’ll remain a professor. Leave me alone.”

“Where’s Karna?” Gretchen asked.

“Karna seeks Fischer,” Titus said.

“But Oriana, you saw it all,” Gretchen said. “You were there. You removed the mask. You saw the shooting, you--”

“--please leave us alone,” Oriana said, grasping Titus’s arm and walking west on College to Spadina Avenue.

“Is he ill?” Gretchen asked her. “Don’t remind him he’s a college professor.”

“What does it matter what he calls himself?” Oriana asked. “He knows who he is, even if there’s no name for it.”

Gretchen searched into her purse and placed into Titus’s hand a gold disc.

Then Gretchen left them and walked up to the quad. It was empty except for a few students on their way to class.

When Titus and Oriana arrived home, Wang was waiting at his door.

“Are you satisfied?” Wang said to Oriana. “That wasn’t his individual spirit.”

They all walked into the apartment. As they did, Titus was staring at the gold disc.

“No,” she said to Wang, “of course I’m not satisfied. But you have this idea that things will just work out, leaving it in the hands of…what?”

“The individual,” Wang said. “There is only the self, the individual who’s ready. Isn’t that good enough? It was a foolish idea to bring him here.”

“We just encountered Gretchen,” Oriana said.

“Do you know she brought three phantoms here?” Wang said. “Zhuang Zi, Siddhartha and Mahavira.”

“They could have swayed me,” Oriana said.

Oriana went over to the couch where Titus was sitting and examining the disc with a magnifying glass.

“My name is there,” Titus said.

“It’s a trick,” Oriana said. “Gretchen’s trick. You don’t need a disc to know these things. She’s trying to confuse you. Isn’t she, Wang?”

Wang did not respond. Neither did Titus. They both knew that Gretchen never deceived. Her way was reality. He was not thinking about Gretchen. Oriana was on his mind. Her place in his life was so fluid, he was unsure which Oriana she was or what she knew.

“Savior of humanity?” Titus said. “Do they need a savior?”

“They need reality,” Oriana said.

Titus became tired and closed his eyes. It was time to work, time to see the goal again and what was possible. He sunk deep into his meditation.

 

18

 

“Welcome to Dalworth,” the speaker began, facing the great plateau. “That you all, the heart of our future, are here and have arrived safely, representing your communities, indicates we have found the key to how we will remake our world. I just came from Krasnoyarsk, Russia, the last bastion of revolt. The final conflict ended quickly and without bloodshed. The uprising is done. From that horrible time of the past, in the age of darkness, when we survived a time of infertility, to now, this age of light and calm, has been a long journey, during which so many have forgotten their humanity. But the signs of victory are everywhere. Look around. The ugliness of patriotism, nationalism, propaganda, racism, and sexism disgusts us, we no longer have a monetary system, we have ended starvation and thirst, we have stopped the destruction to our environment, our fellow creatures, and our climate, we have eliminated the ignorance that comes from lack of opportunity, we have let our weapons of war rust, we have learned well how to prevent conflict, we now fully appreciate the arts, and we recognize the ravages of greed, politics, and power.

“But we all know what torment and suffering it took to arrive here. The way here was not utopian. Now we the people rule technology, now technology and its advancements serve us without impunity and pollution, without the great enemies infertility and impotence, and without fear to our future. Technology is our friend, not our destroyer or what once defiled or misled us. I know because this being that stands before you, I myself, is a product of technology.

“But what is most important, and what I know you came to hear, is that we are no longer a planet of those who deceive and live selfish lives. We’re finally united in caring for all. We’re indeed a great global community of millions of interlinked villages. The revolution to feed, to house, to educate, to heal, to bolster creativity, to bring safe water and air, and to inspire each person on this planet is complete. Oh, we have many cultures and languages and traditions, and all of them are beautiful, but none of them will ever divide us again because first, absolutely first, we are one unified global family who puts the fundamental needs above anything else.”

The crowd went to its feet and roared its approval with great applause, then returned to their seats.

The speaker’s arms spread out wide, then stretched the arms straight up over the head, pointing to the sky. The audience did the same. They remained in such stillness with their arms stretched upward for two minutes.

Then they shouted in one voice, as if they had practiced it a hundred times:

“Titus Ketkar!”

Titus went to the podium. The speaker sat down with the audience.

“I welcome you,” Titus said.

They applauded again.

“Yes, one door of revolution opened, invited us in, and locked the door for a time, but another revolution arose, a revolution that is ongoing. Yes, over this long period we have accomplished much. Yes, the rebellions have ended. You—and I mean your ancestors also—you all should be proud. It was hard work for this and the many generations that preceded. It required immense patience and sacrifice.

“I once held a young man, Enrico Gonzalez, in my arms in Aragon, Spain, during the Spanish Civil War. He had participated in a horrible conflict, where neighbor betrayed neighbor, father betrayed son. His country had been invaded by its own people. Fascists, militarists, and haters of democracy, they were trying to topple the legitimate government. He was mortally wounded and fighting not only against fascism, but for something of great value, in fact what we have today. Dying from his wounds, barely able to speak, he said to me, “Don’t let our spirit die.” I promised him I would not. It has required many generations, but that spirit survives. To you, Enrico!”

The crowd responded: “To Enrico!”

“But now we must decide what’s next. It’s easy to cause a revolution, harder to make a revolution, but it is most difficult to keep a revolution. If we don’t keep it, history will repeat, and history loves to repeat. Not only must we maintain and continue the revolution; we must improve it. We have no models, no examples to help us. No one has ever done what we have achieved today. No one has come this far. For a time, I hoped that we might be helped from outside our planet, but that has not yet happened. Perhaps they think us unworthy. In truth, based on our cruel and bloody history, we are unworthy. If they helped us, it would be an act of pity. So here we stand, isolated in the universe. Few have made a revolution, but no one has continued long-term a revolution of transformation. Never has a revolution been maintained in the history of this world. So, yes, let us congratulate ourselves. We have made a revolution in which all benefit. We are thousands of individual communities mutually benefitting and sustaining each other. We have focused now on what is important and have shed the old nationalistic, chauvinistic, self-serving, materialistic, and plutocratic ways. The crippling effect of tyranny and centralization is done, for now.

“But let us not become lazy and forget how hard we have worked to bring about this great transformation. Freedom and empathy are daily responsibilities!”

“Titus Ketkar!” the crowd spontaneously burst out again.

“What is our ultimate goal?” he asked the crowd.

“Pamoghenan!” they said.

Titus spread his arms out as the previous speaker had done, and then slowly lifted them to the sky.

“Freedom! Empathy!” he said.

“Freedom! Empathy!” the crowd replied.

“Pamoghenan!” Titus and the audience roared together.

Then Fischer walked on to the podium. The crowd became quiet and stared at Fischer for a few minutes.

“Behold!” Titus said. “My brother.”

Unseen by the audience, Gretchen walked on to the podium. With her, a great gold medallion ten feet in diameter with a hole in its center was laid flat near her.

Oriana stepped into the center of the medallion. Titus and Fischer joined her.

The crowd together raised their arms up to the sky and quietly said, almost in a whisper, “pamoghenan.”

Fischer, Oriana, Titus, and Gretchen seemed to vanish.

   

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