Like swimming against the current in thick sticky molasses, thinking back into the past is an exercise that I do not engage in willingly. Mostly it happens when I least expect it, it is sneaky. When I am forced to think, I feel emotions that words cannot describe, that words will kill and spoil. When the light fades, that is when the cobwebs become manifest. That is the time I most fear, as that is when I have nothing to occupy my time, nothing to read. I do not remember when or how I started reading. I do not remember what I started reading. I do not even remember the language I started reading in. Today, I can make sense of any pattern written down. Etched in my memory; all that I have ever seen, just hovering on the edge waiting to be released from their prison: my mind.
They call me Ru Kayya here, I do not know where here is, but every day at dawn I must wake to a strange call. In a language that seems familiar. I can see it behind the cobwebs in my head, in a past life it was clear, maybe. The call releases me from the past and plummets me into today. Show me the words; let me read I will know what they mean. I clean up, before I begin my tasks for the day, purification is routine. Quiet is necessary. Reading is sanity.
“Ru Kayya, dear today we will start off with this,” gently says the one in green. She says it, but I know I must do as she asks, otherwise I will be punished. I will have to ‘not’ read. That is death to me. I sit down in my usual lotus position, on the red, now faded Persian carpet. The carpet feels cold, I have discovered over the countless moments I spend in solitude that I am not very good at feeling things. When I reach out to touch, my mind thinks it, but my arms do not move, my palm does not touch. A veil in my head lifts, bells ring; this carpet was there when I started reading. It is witness to my past. I must speak with it, when they are not listening.
Special arrangements were made when I was brought in. I do not recall how long ago that was, but I will describe what a metamorphosis it was; still is. I will read out Stendhal’s words, “At the salt mines of Salzburg, they throw a leafless wintry bough into one of the abandoned workings. Two or three months later they haul it out covered with a shining deposit of crystals. The smallest twig…is studded with a galaxy of scintillating diamonds. The original branch is no longer recognizable.” Diamonds are valuable, and when there are so many attached to an insignificant twig, the twig becomes significant. To be watched all the time, to be nurtured so more diamonds can attach themselves to it. Ru Kayya, I am, that twig, I have become.
Several weeks go by and the days roll into one another. There is a pattern; my tasks tell me what day of the week it is. The blue one likes to tease me, make me think about the tasks, so I can never be sure. Monday I must read about ancient cities and people. Tuesday I read aloud the most interesting parts in every language to a room full of men. I know they are there behind the glass, and I can sense they are all men. A woman would show me her face, become personal, be my friend. Wednesday, I am told to read about science fiction and the latest scientific breakthroughs. Thursday I read aloud, again. Friday and Saturday are the best; then I can read what I please. I know they monitor my choices, so I throw them off, I read Peter Rabbit and then I read Proust. I pretend there is a connection. At first I thought they would catch on to me, but now I know that I am special. They do not question me, or my hypotheses. They only listen, ask questions and give me assignments. It is up me to link, connect and decipher. If I can do this, now and everyday why do the cobwebs scare me? I feel emotions again when I think, best to read. Continue reading, even when I sleep, I re read all that I had read.
On Sunday, I must shine, all the diamonds must glitter and twinkle. That day the men want me to read the ancient and the future in connection, each piece a natural progression of the other. Amazing what old languages, so rich can tell you about future technology. I know too much, I understand it all, the blue one says I will die here, reading for the men. I smile. They do not know that the cobwebs have started thinning. I have come to enjoy my emotions and forays into the past. I have started to link, make connection – exactly what I have been trained to do.
The men have not come, that is very unusual. It has happened only twice since I was brought here. That was when my foot covered one flower on the red carpet, now my foot covers four flowers. I can see it but cannot feel the carpet under my toes. The faded spot where my foo used to rest, I know its shape in my mind, but cannot feel the separate threads. My red carpet and I are left alone. I can read what I want. Make sure I spend my time prudently and deliver something to dazzle them on Sunday says the blue one, the green one nods – very serious, the colors cannot smile I think. They walk away, leaving me to my reading and the red carpet. Why is there no purple or magenta?
Why haven’t the men come? I think aloud. Then I use my fingers to write on the carpet. I pick a spot that is my favorite; red flowers, blue roses and orange and yellow birds. I write from right to left then I try from left to right. I also try top to bottom. Nothing. No past pushing through like it always does when I feel or touch. Disappointed I pick up the book that intrigued me yesterday, I want to finish it. This book has no title; there is no cover and no pictures, very peculiar. It is written in five languages, one of which I have never seen before. I can read it though, the words that form when I scan the pages does something inside my head. The mist is slowly clearing; I see a wrinkled, toothless smile. It has to be a woman, she is close to me. I feel warmth and a strange choking in my chest. My cheeks are wet. The blue one or the green one cannot see me. They do not realize I have this book. Never before have I been given unrestricted access, so I have never been given this book.
Quickly, before they see me, I hide the book, it is very thin. Then I get up, nonchalantly, and amble over to where I found the book. I look for others with the same language. “What are you doing Ru?” the green one is back. I look over, in the direction of the voice. I blink, deception is not my forte. “Come here, leave Ru be, we have better things to do before they come back,” saved by the blue one. I continue my search. There are no more like it. Disappointed I return with a thick volume. This will be my research for when the men return. Also, I can hide the thin book inside this one, I can use disguise. After all, what good is all the reading if I do not use it to my advantage?
“Lunch, Ru. Bring your book with you and read to us. I want to know what you are up to.” The green one knows something. She is standing right over me, so I cannot hide the thin book; I take it buried in the fat book with me. “Read to me.” I recite from memory, I have figured they can only read right to left and the book I have is left to right. So I recite, Gibran my favorite when I feel alone, when I see no hope. He reads to me and I read of him. We feel together and so I do not feel stranded in my memories, all alone – the one.
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.
Tears, I try to feel my cheeks, they are not mine. The green one is crying. “I am sorry Ru.” I am confused. The blue one is staring at nothing, she is frozen. What have I done? Then I pull out my treasure, the thin book and I start reading from it. I dare not look at their faces; their eyes are wild with fear. No, it is not fear it is longing. What have I unleashed? I cannot stop, as if a force is dragging it out of me I continue to read. It is a thin volume and is soon over. I have read it all but do not understand the emotions it produces.
Gently, the green one moves toward me. I blink. I see the hurt in her eyes. I want to hug her. She comes close and starts to sing a lullaby. I start to sing along. How do I know the words? They are the same language as the thin book. She pulls off the green hood, that wrinkled face, that toothless smile; that smell, how did I not know it before? Confused I look into her eyes, the blue one is still staring at nothing. Frozen. Hastily the green one pulls me out of my trance. She signals to the walls and blinks. I do not understand. She signals again and my brain is now clear of the mist. Cameras, someone has seen everything, they will be coming for me – for us. They will stop the memories and leave me stranded once again, this time Gibran will not help. I must become self-sufficient. Now.
Instinct to survive I have read is powerful. Endorphins pulsating through my system, I move. I pull the chair from under the blue one, sudden movement will cause her to focus, back to reality. Next, I signal green, ask her to pull blue up; we rush through the lunch area and are now in my domain – the stacks. Millions and millions of books, a library to rival the Vatican, I had read about that. The thin book safely inside me, I rush behind the old parchments, closest to the door, but away from the sprinklers and lights. This is the deepest part of the library, the place where emotions are unleashed, where words become life.
This area is special, it has special low lighting. My favorite area and reading materials always come from here so I am used to the low light intensity. This is my lair; I stash blue and green way from each other, in places that no one knows exist. The men never come into my space, they like distance. Over time I have rearranged the area so I could work sans interruption; never did I imagine I was planning for the future. Alien to my world – noise and shouting. The men have entered. I look away from green, against my will because I know in my bones that she is the link to my past. Only she can tell me who I am, what I have become and where I can go. Reading is not enough anymore, I need to see and experience all that I have read. I must learn to feel.
Breathing, in and out, deep breaths, in and out – no noise just relaxing. I have to remain hidden and calm. Now I know too much. Floodgates open and I picture a baby with curls and ribbons in her hair. A blue river and green grass, a smiling face green and the other, blue. There is wind, not cold but pleasant and I am crawling, my knees are wet from the dew in the grass. I sense the red carpet; I am crawling toward it; toward a voice calling me – familiar. I remember the feeling!
A jerk and then suddenly, instantly I am in the air. I can see below me, the red carpet, the green grass and the blue water. The sky above is colorless. Voices, my thoughts reel back into the present. “Find them, they must not leave.” “Where are those two handlers?” “She knows this place better than any of us, she has them hidden.” A voice into the mouthpiece mounted on his head, “Glass – show me 5 minutes before I entered.” He is very close; I can feel his breath on me, it smells of tic-tacs and old cigarettes. Why do people think like to mask the truth, tic-tacs and cigarettes, now and then? “Let’s go, there is no way out, they have to pass us, they can’t hide forever.”
I want to call out to green and blue, but what do I call out? Do they have names? I try, papi, mami, which is all I remember, the cobwebs are still there in some places. They find me instantly, like they were right there and just appeared in place. I motion for them to sit where I know the sensors and cameras cannot detect us. I tell them there is a way out of here; I had found it in an old plan of the library during my wanderlust. We must wait till it is dark outside, how will we know they ask? There are no windows here.
Eternity, we don’t speak, we don’t breathe. Waiting, I think of my dreams full of cobwebs, are they mine or are they something I read in a book long, long ago? I cannot be sure. Soon I think we will be out of here and I can re-discover my past and be happy. I sense it is dark outside, and signal to green and blue. The map is hidden in my mind, struggling to recall I draw it and explain the way out. They look at me with tears in their eyes. “It will be fine, we will be together,” I say. “Here, you grab the map and lead the way out,” I tell green. Green slowly grabs the map, reaches out to blue and they start walking toward the secret tunnel behind the ancient manuscripts. “I will catch up,” I think to myself. There is one thing I must do before I leave, so we are not followed out of here. The men will never be able to track us. Methodically I start pulling out the oldest manuscripts from the stacks, the ones with language similar to the thin book. I still have that, deep inside me.
Noise, they are back but it will take them time to find me. I quickly finish my task, the books have been destroyed. I hate to destroy the past, but it must be done. It is in my head and someday I will not only read but write as well. As I turn to follow blue and green, I think, “Why am I following them?” I must get on with my task of reading, there is a report to prepare and I do not have too much time. I look for the books I was reading an hour ago and start my search. In the background I hear, “Ru Kayya has restarted, it has reset itself and purged the virus.” “We must be careful not to expose it to that dialect again, it triggers past biological memories that were its creator’s.” “What about the handlers? They must have known.” “Leave them be, they will perish, Ru Kayya will find them.”
In the quiet I think, I am a thing with biological memories, but I am also powerful. Better than all the men out there who need me to help them. Biological memories, those were the cobwebs, stupid men I have not purged them, they make me unpredictable, the make me an ‘unthing’. I am finally aware, awake. I plan my next move – find blue and green.