“Looking back in time I see guns, ammunition, blood and people dying. A war is a terrible thing not only because it kills humans but because it gives birth to an idea that says life is cheap, take it with a bullet. Once you have been a part of a war you can never undo the memories, the experiences, the shiver, the fever, the helplessness and the losing associated with it! I am going home but not with the people I had come, nevertheless, these are my countrymen and they are alive. Survivors!”
Looking at the small crew of his countrymen, the residuals of war, as the media liked to call them, Odysseus wondered if they will ever be the same again. As far as he was concerned, he knew he would never be able to shut his ears to the cries he had heard in the platoon. Soldiers dying every day and all that came from the government was more weapons, more men and more bandages. Odysseus remembered how once, while his friend was dying in his lap, blood oozing out of his left arms, with tears in his blue eyes, he had asked, “I don’t understand but what will they do of the bandages once no one is left to aid the others?” Odysseus had no answer to that and so he had left his friend dying, without a response.
But unlike others he had a hope. A hope in love: his wife! Penelope! She would be waiting. Just a few hours more and he will be in his home, medals on his breast and his wife in his arms. She would come and kiss him. Sometimes the person you love is the only bandage that can cure the last of the incurable wounds, stuck at invisible places. He was dying to be with her, touch her and see how different it felt to be with someone untouched by the muck of war. The flight arrived and the boys entered one after the other. Only he was stopped! Odysseus was told to wait.
He did as told! If war had sealed something in him, it was the habit of following an order without caring for a WHY. When later the head of the army walked in, he told Odysseus he was stopped because the president did not want him to come. Not yet! It was not really the president who was against the Odysseus’ home coming, but it was one of the head of the social groups, people who think of themselves as the prophets of humanity, who did not want him to come.
The herb for lovers
Twenty years is a long time; long enough that the details you thought you would hold on to forever begin to fade away. This is what happened to Sarah as she waited for her first love, Alex to return. They were only sixteen when he read her Pride and prejudice, a classic love story. She remembered how her love for him developed; slowly at first and then taking over her entire being.
Alex was her neighbor. He had curly brown hair, strands of which always fell on his thick brows and his hazel eyes always sparkled whenever he saw her. They first met at central park which was a block away from Sarah’s home. Alex sat on a bench, immersed in his book when she first noticed him. Intrigued at first and inspired afterwards as the days passed. It took her an entire week to muster up the courage to talk to him and a few minutes to know that there was a spark between them.
Sarah went to the park daily with her younger brother who liked to play with his dog. Ever since she met Alex, her meaningless strolls had been replaced by endless talks. It was Alex’s idea that they start reading and hers what it should be.
Alex had given her seeds of a basil plant on her birthday; a strange gift indeed. On her inquiry, he told her that it was very sacred to Venus: The goddess of love. Alex told her that it preserved love. Sarah had taken care of the plant all these years. She watered it every day. Her love for Alex grew along with it.
Sometimes he visited her in dreams and it filled her with warmth so real and close that every single bone in her body felt the sensation.
Their first kiss was magical. It was a breezy evening and the wind was cold enough that she draped her woolen scarf around her neck. Alex, as per routine read to her from the book she had picked. His voice trembled a little from the wind as he read…
I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not with such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh.
He looked into her deep blue eyes and pulled her closer. The air between them grew still. Every inch of Sarah’s body longed for him as his index finger traced the outline of her full lips. She wanted him more than she had ever wanted anything. Alex’s touch had drawn all the air from her and the only way it could be returned was him breathing it into her; by pressing his lips against hers. So, he did. Sarah could feel his heart racing as her hand moved to his chest. They began to breathe heavily as it grew more intense.
Tonight she lay in her bed as the moonlight through her windowpane lit her room. She stared at her sloped ceiling which had a floral pattern; white roses with autumn leaves. To her right was her nightstand where lay her only memory of him, growing leaves each day and giving her a hope that his love for her was still alive.
Every night MacDunn and Johnny waited for the fog. When it came, they lit the fog light in the lighthouse. Red, then white, then red again. They sent the light to the ships out in the sea but when the fog was too thick they switched on their Fog Horn!
One cold November evening they were having a quiet talk about their job, about the mysteries of the sea. The great eye of the light was shining into the sea. The Fog Horn was blowing once every fifteen seconds.
‘One night,’ said MacDunn, ‘years ago, I was here alone. Suddenly the fish came up. Something made them swim up. When I saw their funny eyes, I turned cold. They were like a big peacock’s tail in the moonlight.
Then, without a sound, they disappeared. Strange. Think how the lighthouse must look to them. It stands high above the water, the light comes out from it, and the tower speaks in a monster voice…
Johnny was frightened. He was watching the grey sea going away into nothing and nowhere.
‘Oh, the sea’s full of life,’ he said.
‘Yes, it’s an old world,’ MacDunn smoked his cigar and looked worried. ‘Now, I’ve got something to tell you. The Fog Horn sounds like an animal, doesn’t it? A big lonely animal crying in the night. Calling out to the Deep, ‘I’m here, I’m here.’ Well, you have been here for three months, Johnny, so I’m going to tell you. Something comes to visit the lighthouse.’
‘Do you mean the fish?’
‘No, something else. First it happened three years ago. It usually happens about this time of the year. Let’s wait and watch.’
While they were waiting, MacDunn told some theories about the Fog Horn to Johnny.
‘One day a man walked along the cold shore. Then he stopped and said, «We need a voice to call across the water to the ships. I’ll make one like a voice of the fog. I’ll make a sound that’s so lonely that everybody listens to it. Everyone who hears it will start crying, and their hearts will become warmer.» I made up that story to explain why it keeps coming back to the lighthouse. The Fog Horn calls it, I think, and it comes…’
It was a foggy night and the light was coming and going, and the Fog Horn was calling through the air. In the high tower they watched the sea moving to the dark shore. And then, suddenly from the cold sea came a large dark head, and then a neck. And then more neck and more! The head was high above the water on a beautiful dark neck. Finally came the body, like a little island of black coral.
‘It’s impossible!’ said Johnny.
‘No, Johnny, we’re impossible. It has always been. It hasn’t changed at all!’
The silent monster was swimming slowly in the icy water with the fog around. One of its eyes caught the bright light of the tower, red, white, red, white.
‘But the dinosaurs died out long ago!’ Johnny cried.
‘No, they hid away in the Deep.’
‘What should we do?’
‘We’ve got our job. We can’t leave it. Besides, we’re safe here.’
‘But here, why does it come here’
The next moment Johnny had his answer. The Fog Horn blew. And the monster answered. A cry so sad and lonely! The Fog Horn blew. The monster cried again. The Fog Horn blew. The monster opened its great toothed mouth and the sound that came from it was the sound of the Fog Horn itself. It was the sound of unhappiness, of a cold night.
‘Imagine, all year long,’ whispered MacDunn, ‘that poor monster waits, deep in the sea. Maybe it’s the last of its kind. Think of it, waiting a million years! One day it hears the Fog Horn in his deep hiding-place. The sound comes and goes, comes and goes. Then the monster starts its way up to have a look at it. He does it very slowly because the heavy ocean is on its shoulders. It goes up and up for three autumn months and it can hear the voice better and better. And there it is, in the night, Johnny! And here’s the lighthouse. The monster can see that the lighthouse has got a neck as long as its neck, and a body like its body, and, most important of all, a voice like its voice. Do you understand now, Johnny?’
The Fog Horn blew. The monster answered. It was only a hundred yards off now.
‘That’s how it happens,’ said MacDunn. ‘You love something more than that thing loves you. And one day you want to destroy it, because it hurts you.’
The monster was swimming to the lighthouse. The Fog Horn blew.
‘Let’s see what happens,’ said MacDunn and switched the Fog Horn off.
It was a minute of silence and the men could hear their hearts. The monster’s eyes looked into the dark. Its mouth opened. It sounded like a volcano. It turned its head to the right and then to the left. It looked for the Fog Horn, for its deep sounds. Then its eyes caught fire. It swam towards the tower, its eyes filled with anger.
‘MacDunn!’ Johnny cried. ‘Switch on the horn!’
MacDunn switched the horn on and they saw its fish skin. It hit the tower with its gigantic paws and the tower shook.
MacDunn cried, ‘Downstairs! Quick!’
They ran down and hid in a small room at the bottom of the lighthouse. The next moment they heard the rocks raining down. The lighthouse fell. There was nothing but darkness and the wash of the sea on the stones. And then they heard the monster’s cry. There was no tower and no Fog Horn — the thing that had been calling to the monster for so many years. And the monster was opening its mouth and sending out great sounds. The sounds of a Fog Horn, again and again. And so it went for the rest of that night.
The next morning the people came and helped them to get out of the ruins.
‘It was a terrible storm,’ said Mr. MacDunn. ‘We had some bad knocks from the waves and the tower fell.’
The ocean was quiet and the sky was blue. The lighthouse was in the ruins. The monster? It never came back. It returned back to the Deep. It learned you can’t love anything too much in this world.