The Fourteenth Vision (12 April, 2024)

Featured & Cover The Fourteenth Vision (12 April 2024)

Set in Manalkadu, Sri Lanka

Mother is in the middle of a circle. It is a circle drawn by a stick, right in the mud outside of her bungalow. She is under rows of banana trees. The grass is a thatched green, dry. She hears a prancing in the distance, as if deer are dancing on the dirt road. She is smelling betel nut. How she wants to go dance with the deer, sing songs to them, decorate their bodies with curcuma.

She remembers she is not allowed to leave the circle, but she doesn’t remember why.

As a young girl, she was told the outside world was scary, and for good reason. People used to come trying to shoot them all down. Sri Lanka doesn’t belong just to the Sinhalese, just as it doesn’t belong just to the Tamils. It belongs to everyone. But everyone wanted to kill each other for years based on what language they spoke. It is only because of recent random economic dilemmas that people have been putting their anger aside and yelling at the government. The economy is getting better, though it was in shambles for years, and people are still trying to do their best not to starve. There isn’t violence today, but what if the people who have had enough decide to storm the streets and take their problems out on others?

What if once more the Sinhalese take out their frustrations out on the Tamils—hard-working and normal people like Mother?

There are so many strangers, so many people outside of the family who can cause harm—and for no reason other than they feel like doing so. And so, Mother is waiting waiting waiting in the confines of her circle. She is grateful to have it. It is charmed with a repulsive magic that will fling anyone who is not herself to the farthest corners of her universe. As long as Mother believes in the power of the circle, she will face no harm.

What would happen if she were to let a little bit of fear into her circle?

She would have her arms and legs and breasts cut off. That was what happened to other women who threw caution to the side and acted on impulse. Or she would be raped, she would be pulled from the back by wher hair, naked, as a throng of men cheer on, waiting for their turn. This was what happened to the women who thought they were strong enough to lead an army, but their army turned on them when they found out their fastidious leader was just a little girl.

The truth is that no one can be trusted. The outside world is a dangerous and deceptive place. People don’t need a reason to harm others.

Mother imagines a man with infinite heads and arms dragging her off as she kicks and screams. He holds her in his castle, passing each night violating her, all while she waits for her husband to rescue her.

Waiting waiting waiting. All these years. Not years, decades. Not decades, centuries. Not centuries, millennia. She has buried herself deep in the earth, letting herself be uprooted over and over in a new feminine shape to marry the same exact man. Her husband isn’t bad. He is actually quite kind, and he means well, and she really does love him, just as she loves the family they have.

It’s just that if she did not spend all of her time waiting in the circle, hiding, she would have a very different sort of life.

There was a man facing her some time back. He told her something, but she wasn’t really listening. She closed her eyes, and when she snapped them back open, he was gone. He had been telling her something about the difference between reality and unreality, the power of the dream. The truth is that even when she lives in reality, she is actually still in a dream. So, what is reality, and what is her imagination?

Realisation is the key, and awakening to the truth of the illusion is her ticket out of this muggy weather and mosquito water and dirt roads. All she has to do is truly open her eyes, and the illusion around her will dissipate.

At least that’s how things should be, according to that one particular man. Yet no matter how much Mother tries to blink her eyes, the home she built for herself in this farming village on the peninsula of Jaffna is the only place she awakens to.

There is another man coming. He is a wizened, shrivelled thing, clad in only lungi, walking up the dirt road with a cane. Mother tries to recollect if she knows this man, since she knows everyone in Manalkadu. But he is not a man she recognises. He looks like even the smallest of breezes will blow him down. He looks so beaten in the eyes, so ready to fold to the bullying of time and welcome the arrival of the end of his life. Things have been very hard economically in Sri Lanka. Mother isn’t surprised that there are many people like him, who were probably once well fed, but who now rely on charity to be able to afford their daily rice and fruits. Mother has her three meals a day and has steady support from her husband, and so whenever she sees others who are suffering, she feels the guilt that comes from being grateful of what she has, and wishing to share it with others.

But as the man comes closer, Mother realizes he is not the same man she saw walking towards her a few hundred metres back. This man is a stranger, a foreigner to this land, someone who looks like them but is not truly one of them. Something in her mind is telling her that if she wants to find freedom from this reality, he is the man she ought to talk to.

No, she answers immediately. The circle is there to protect her. She has survived over sixty years a civil war and an economic crisis for a reason. Mother knows when to stay put, when to keep herself out of a conversation.

And yet a deep voice vibrating from the insides of her third eye is telling her that she must talk to this man. It is what destiny has divined. It is the only way that she will progress to the next stage of her life.

But in order to talk to the man, Mother must break the circle.

She could get kidnapped by the men lurking behind the foliage. There could be a tenfold of men, sex traffickers, waiting for her to leave. This man himself could be working with them.

But if all of life is a dream, even if she is violently awakened from this one, what would be the worst that could happen?

When that voice came to Mother ages ago and told her to start dreaming, Mother promised herself that she would not live by the lines she had drawn around herself. She would take the steps to question the script society had given her, she would come to appreciate life on her own terms. Despite that, she has lived the preceding days in exactly the same way as before. And why is that?

When does Mother’s life cease being a script?

Without any prompting, Mother kicks her feet up. The dust from the chappal destroys the line of the circle. She jogs up the dirt road, not turning back. She flings the dust all around her, creating a filmy vapour across her gown and her body. She reaches the man.

She tells herself that she has something to say, and if she doesn’t say it now, she will never know if another time will come for her voice to ever be truly heard.

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