The Curse of the Red Rock

Once upon a time there was a man wandering through a desert on his camel. The sun was high in the sky, and he was on his way to a neighbouring town to run some errands. He chanced upon a large red rock rising out of the ground. It was about as tall as he was and about three times wider as well. Yes, it must have been.

He had never seen this rock before on any of his previous journeys. It must have been recently uncovered, or at least placed there by someone. Or something.

He motioned for his camel to bring him closer, but the damn creature wouldn’t budge. He whipped him and shouted fierce commands, but he stayed still on his original course. This was unusual. His camel always listened to him.

Never mind, he’ll do this by himself. Anchoring the camel to a rock, the man dismounted and approached the red rock by himself.

He noticed that there were inscriptions on the rock, telling the man a tale of the rocks origins. There was once a queen who devoted her entire life to the king, only to find him cheating on a mistress. Enraged, she took a dagger to his heart one night as he slept, and dug it out and ate it. She was executed immediately, with the heart still ingested within her.

It is rumoured that as she went to hell, she spat out the kings heart, which was too vile to enter the gates. She wrote the tale of revenge on the sides, before casting it to Earth. It thus rose from the ground in the form of this red rock.

This must be a joke, thought the man. But of course it did make for an interesting story. He walked around the rock. It did look incredibly red, almost bright crimson. There was an ethereal quality about it, the way it shimmered too brightly in the sun and looked too dense. He was unsure whether this was an accurate judgment of matters, especially after reading such an absurd story.

He walked back to his camel, and took a chisel with him, chipping off a small portion of the rock. He placed it in his satchel, and rode the remainder of the way to town.

I swear I saw the rock, he would later tell his friends over drinks. I was there, and the camel didn’t even budge. It was as if the thing was cursed. 

His friends laughed. We have travelled the same route for thirty years and have not seen a thing. Don’t trust your eyes all the time. Dehydration gets to you and you start seeing things. You need to rest. 

He wanted to argue back, but decided that he would just drink a little more instead. He didn’t even bother showing them the chiselled portion, just wanted to forget he ever saw the damn thing.

Just as he was about to leave, the bartender grabbed him by the arm, and pulled him over to a quiet corner of the bar.

I’ve heard about your rock before. You’d want to have nothing to do with it. Many travellers have come and gone through my bar. The ones that talk about the rock; they never return. 

At this point the man was dead drunk, and so the bartender’s words hardly registered. His friends pulled him back to supposed safety, and they left together, singing rowdily into the Arabian night.

Nothing happened over the next three days, and the man began to feel better about himself and his encounter with the rock. His friends were right, perhaps. It was just an illusion. At night his wife approached him with something in her hand.

I found this in your pocket as I was doing the laundry.

The man looked at her palm, and on it sat a small chipped off portion of the red rock. His heart sank. Yes, he had seen the red rock after all! He took it unsteadily from her hand, and placed it in his drawer.

It’s nothing, he told his wife.

Then you better have a damn good explanation for keeping it, she replied.

I’ll do the laundry next week, was all he could manage. They kissed each other goodnight and blew out the candles.

On the next morning he woke up to an empty bed. His wife was nowhere to be found. He thought that perhaps she had gone off early to the market, but by three in the afternoon she had not returned home. By dinnertime he finally made a report to the authorities, who mounted a citywide search. Through the outskirts of town to every last drain cover they searched. But by last light they had found nothing. She was gone, just like that.

The man was distraught. Wait no, he was worst than distraught. He was unsettled. He grieved without closure. It was the worst kind of grief. He didn’t know what to make of his wife’s disappearance. He had been a good husband to her, and nothing ever came between them. He had no explanations to give the search teams, and as a token of appreciation could only serve them copious amounts of chai every time they came to deliver news.

Three days passed and he began to fear the worst. He was unable to sleep properly, and his appetite decreased tremendously. He lost an indecent amount of weight and began to pray before he went to bed, though he was never the religious type.

It was in the most desperate hour before the sun rose that he suddenly remembered an admonition issued by the bartender. The ones that talk about the rock, they never return. 

He went over to the bar before it opened for that night, and asked the bartender what he meant. I’m not sure if I should tell you, said the Bartender. One of my customers told me; that the red rock only shows itself to people who are truly in love. It acts as a curse, for those that see it will lose the one they love; and subsequently be driven mad themselves, living out their lives in misery. The customers who have seen the rock have all met a similar fate as you. They have lost their loved ones in one way or another. 

But I don’t know if she’s dead or alive, remarked the man.

Ah, see. That’s the strange thing. The bartender was now deep in thought. Yours is the first of its case. Your wife merely disappeared without a trace. I’m not saying she’s still alive, but the rock usually doesn’t leave any space for ambiguities. Either you’re not in love and don’t see the rock, or you see the rock and your loved one dies. Having your wife disappear puts her in a precarious limbo. 

A precarious limbo indeed. The man did not know what to expect, but the bartender was right. Day by day he could feel himself going crazy. He needed to do something, even if it meant he might lose everything. He rode his camel back again, to the site where he saw the red rock.

Sure enough, it sat in the sand, clear as day. He thought of his missing wife, and his heart ached. He unmounted his donkey and walked. The rock glistened a brighter red than ever, much brighter than he last remembered.

the inscription was different this time.

You have injured me, and I need my piece back. Give that to me, and I will give you back your wife. 

The man chuckled in disbelief. The rock was trying to communicate with him.

Worst of all, he was paying attention. This was all he had to go by. He really missed her, everything about her. This he knew. She was someone that he couldn’t afford to lose, not in this life, not in the lives that followed. Walking back to his camel with his eyes full of tears, he understood what he had to do.

He came back on the next day, small red rock in hand. He had spent the entire night deliberating on what to do, and his steps were tired and draggy. His stomach growled from his self-willed hunger as he presented the small red rock to the larger red rock as he neared. So it has come to this; me offering something to a rock. He placed the rock on the portion that was chipped off. It should have been resolved.

But then something strange happened. The inscriptions of the red rock began to change.

What are you doing? It read. This is not what I want. 

Then is this what you want? Thought the man.

From behind his back he produced a sledgehammer that he tucked into his pants, and began hammering at the rock. It was wild and purposeless swings at first, but the strikes became more accurate, more purposeful. A huge storm cloud began to envelop him and the rock, tossing dust and sand all over the place, into his eyes, his clothes. The wind was so strong that it even started to meddle with his posture. He soon found it difficult to stand, and having to strike the rock became all the harder. His hammer merely made contact with the rock, not ever causing a dent. The sand then started producing shapes in the air. He saw an image of his wife appear in front of him, beautiful in youth, then suddenly turning older. Her eyes sank into their sockets in a matter of seconds and her skin sagged in huge wrinkly flaps. She began to defacate uncontrollably as she squatted on the ground. The sand made him see all this. She looked like a mess. He stopped hammering, and stared at the apparition. The skin started falling off his wife, and she motioned to him, pointing an accusing finger. Soon all that was left was a skeleton, frail and trembling before that, too, crumbled to the ground, blown away by the prevailing wind.

It was at that moment that he felt an ineffable warmth well up within, overflowing with an intensity that matched the sound of the wind. Despite all that he saw, he still wanted her to be safe and by his side, he decided. I still love her he said to himself. But he didn’t need to say this to know. To love is to believe, to stop hope from turning cruel. He felt this hope as he gripped the hammer tightly, and with a newfound strength went at the rock, screaming and hacking away at it.

He realised later that the rock was testing him, and he had passed the test. But then he knew that this was never about him. In the distance he could hear the sound of his camel screaming, calling out to be released but still he kept swinging, feeling larger pieces of the rock chipping off.

The storm ended as quickly as it started. The rock was completely destroyed by then. It laid crumbled and broken, beaten silly into the ground. The man was covered in dust, and almost completely floored. He was gasping for breath, and longed for a sip of water. But he was alive. And a part of him knew that she was, too. His love had outlasted the rock.

He took the camel back, and noticed that the town, too, was ravaged by the sandstorm. Some of the flimsier roofs had collapsed and the outdoor market was forced to close down. But other than that, everyone was safe. His house looked to be in good shape, and as he got home he heard a voice.

I just came from the market and you wouldn’t believe the size of the sandstorm that hit us.

He went up to his wife and held her lightly in his arms, as if making sure he wouldn’t be hugging thin air if he squeezed any harder.

What’s with this? She asked, kissing him on the cheek. what happened to you? You seem so much…skinnier. I don’t remember you like this.

Nothing, I’m just… glad. Glad you didn’t get swept away by the sandstorm. 

She laughed at him. Don’t be silly, no one gets swept away by a sandstorm. Oh my, will you stop fussing?

The man wiped his eyes and held her tight this time. We just don’t want to take things for granted, do we? 

I guess not, said the wife. By the way I’ve been meaning to ask since morning; where did you go, and what’s with that bucket of red paint you left in the room? 

Nothing much, he replied. Just had some errands to run. 

He felt his pocket for the real red rock, the one he had chipped off on that fateful day. He held it out to look at it against the sunlight spilling in from the windows. It glowed brighter than ever, a stark reminder of the love that had overcome.

 

 

Journey to the East and the Thought that Struck Me

Tonight is one of those nights where I flitted between two phases of my life, going back to my camp for a short while to check out the passing out parade of a junior batch. I followed a friend along on his journey to the east, down smooth train lines and colourful conversations.

The parade was great, I guess. Whatever I expected to happen, happened. But it hardly stirred me, or made me feel anything for who I was, or for my former self standing proudly on that same parade square two years ago. I felt nothing whatsoever; my heart somewhere very different, no longer confined by the (newly reconstructed) gates of a place I tried so hard to call home not so very long ago (but alas, failed).

A very strange thought developed on the way back, and not in the way film develops in slow progression shrouded in darkness. This thought developed instantaneously, like an instant bullseye on virgin dartboard. BAM, and it was there.

The thought went about like this; that religion and love are very similar ideas. (This is the first time I’m writing about religion on this space and I still don’t think I possess the maturity to do so but here is a shot at a larger picture).

Ok, so lets get some background. When you fall in love, two things are at play; the practical and the emotional aspect of this relationship you will embark on. Practical matters being that of compatibility, interests, age gap, potential future income, parents, beliefs, etc. We think about these things now and then, subconsciously or not. Then there’s the emotional aspect, where raw feelings are unearthed, and this, in a nutshell, is rather difficult to explain. I like to use verbal imagery to summarise this, and so yes, a lot of eye contact, heart rates, shifty feet and lightheadedness, tingling of the extremities and so on and so forth. If you can’t describe the wind, describe the slanted tree that it blows. But since we all want a more mature depiction, I’ll give it to you. So here we have an instance when a deeper love is being cast into question. A lot of time and energy must have been poured into this one, the poor miners getting covered in thick soot digging so deep. What we unearth will be feelings of assuredness, comfort, familiarity and every strange (sometimes negative) feeling that encompasses what we know as love. These are not so easy to imagine on a verbal plane, and are feelings we feel over time, rather than observe immediately.

And so we have religion, and to me religion and love share some parallels in the sense that there is also this element of practicality versus emotion. But from how I see it, the word “emotion” would have to be replaced by “faith”, for the latter encapsulates an aspect of blind allegiance. We simply cannot know of the entirety of the renewed paradigm religion casts us into, and so have to accept a few things through acts of faith. So here we go again. We have practical issues of family agreement, dining habits, institutional commitments and moral standards, a lot of it revolving around the utility to our lives.

Faith, on the other hand, deals with instances where we feel more than we know, and believe more than the physical evidence provides. Again, this is debatable. In a lot of testimonies I’ve sat through, a lot of what holds faith together does manifest physically; sometimes the sudden healing of an illness, or a recovered relationship with a loved one, or just stabilised sleeping habits. The result of overwhelming faith can be observed in numbed extremities, warm tears, unshakeable assuredness, a sense of direction and for many, a reinforcement of communal ties. However, physical manifestation or not, faith seems to revolve around interpretation, and in that sense, a single situation can be perceived in many ways, depending on individual faith, and the direction and extent it directs one. We have our own unique relationship with what we believe in, like it or not. Institutions can influence our beliefs, but each relationship is unique, and constitutes a huge part of us. In other words, I don’t have to worship an IKEA Scissors to be unique, my own reading of the holy bible constitutes a unique relationship with the religion.

The next thought that came was this: in the same way I didn’t want to get romantically involved with anyone whilst serving the nation, I didn’t want to go about defining my religious beliefs when times got tough. Think about it, it makes sense, and the whole army analogy must have come from the parade I watched.

The same way an army camp reduces prospects with the opposite sex (or any long-term involvement, at least), the trials in your life takes away any semblance of comfort and familiarity, one that religion promises to endow (or at least, do a better job of than your problem-ridden life).

So in the same way you feel a heightened desire for the opposite sex whilst in an army camp, you will feel a heightened desire to seek solace in religion during hardship. This, I always felt, turned notions of emotion and faith into something wholly illegitimate under the cloak of neediness and heightened dependency. It’s not too hard to imagine, is it? Or am I oversimplifying the matter?

I feel perfectly burdened because these assumptions don’t necessarily hold true. A choice made in your time of need isn’t necessarily a bad choice. Going down that line, your preferences during times of plenty won’t always have good outcomes, or be any more legitimate. An army boy can find love the same way a girl who has lost something dear to her can seek legitimate solace in religion, and do a good job of it as well. This is not so hard to imagine, and is well within the spectrum of possibilities.

So on my journey to the west, I made the realisation that we shouldn’t be burdened by our preconceptions. Possibilities abound and life awaits. Just because I’m busy with work doesn’t mean I cannot start writing a novel. Just because life feels empty doesn’t mean I cannot seek solace in religion. Just because I was never a “science kid” doesn’t mean I cannot pursue an elective in quantum mechanics. We don’t need common sense to feel happy, because happiness, as we know, is a complicated matter that pays little regard to logic. Hell, this entire post has been a complicated matter.

Finally, I take the lift up and sit in my room. What happens next? is the question that lingers on the peripheries. Unsurprisingly, the room is silent, as if telling me only you can answer that, so let’s get your act together. 

I sincerely hope I can.