Waiting At the Gates of Heaven

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Chapter 10

Have you ever felt time slipping like sand between your fingers? Every single moment, all memories, they all fade away…Nothing ever remains. I still remember the moment I met my Self, that special moment when I became conscious of myself, of who I was and of what I was to become. But nothing prepares you for meeting the Other. He or she is just a stranger you first see and smell, and then you touch him/her. But nothing compares with a soul touch, when you open the gates of a human soul through a smile or a kind word, or simply by holding the power of penetrating the dark chambers of the unknown other through the mechanism of love.

I still remember meeting him. My Perseus, my ragged boy slave, dirty and savage… He smelt of rotten cabbage, and he was covered in mud and dust. And yet, I was fascinated by his soul. He talked to me about his mother and about endurance. He had his music and he felt as rich and powerful as my own father, the king of Ethiopia. And how I admired him…and how I loved him…That memory has become my sacred haven, my most precious moment in time, and my refuge every time I close my eyes and meet myself again.

I was wrong. There is always something that remains, something that not even time can erase, and that is the memory of one’s love.

Have you ever felt the wind wrestling with your hair, unraveling each lock as if it were a mysterious scroll of a bygone age? I have. I feel the wind, billowing like a dark cape around my soul, coiling itself around my body. And I only think if he feels the wind, too.

Have you ever heard the uproar of eternity rushing to meet the fate of man? I have. I felt time passing by, like a stranger one sees for a moment before he disappears in the crowd, never to return, never to be found again. I am feeling it even now. I felt the wind, biting with its sharp teeth my flagged cheeks. The chillness of the evening is like a deadly kiss impressed upon the soul by the merciless lips of Mother Nature. All the cold evenings I have spent without him appear before my eyes in all their paleness and atrocity, benumbing my being, goading me to death. And I don’t want to die…Don’t they see I am so young, so full of life? Why have they decided to pour life out of me as if I were a broken vessel unworthy of holding in clear water? I want to live…I hear Keto, wailing at the shore, demanding my body and my soul. Who are they to decide that I am to be given to him? I should be the one to decide my own fate. Perhaps in another life, I will stand up for myself and face my parents. Please, my future self, remember this day, brand it in your memory and never let it happen again. Let this curse perish with me.

Keto is wailing louder and louder. I feel his hunger. And I hear eternity hissing like a serpent. It is trying to allure men towards their doom. It is trying to allure me. I hear everything as I cross the garden of orange trees. I hear the rustle of the blades, cutting in my soles. I hear the falling bodies of some shooting stars. And above all, I hear the sound of man’s soul, rattling inside his mortal frame, like a ravenous snake. I am surrounded by rattling sounds, by flickering eyeballs that creep from the grass. And the laugh…I can hear the laugh of the gods. Nothing is eternal on earth. But everything is eternal inside the soul. There are no boundaries within me, and I am one with the vastness, one with this treacherous world where loyalty and love grow like wild flowers on rocky paths and mountain summits.

Nothing can escape time, except the human soul. I know that for now. They may throw me to Keto, and still I shall rise again and tread on this earth of men, free like a bird who has at last found strong wings. Unfortunately, nothing can break the cycle of life. Nothing can escape death. Not even I who have once been a royal daughter, and now I am treading the earth in rags and fetters. Where are my beautiful garments? Why isn’t my hair combed? I want to look good even in the face of death. And yet, I don’t want to die. I want to live and laugh, and sing and dance, and play with time the masquerade of a woman lot. But there is no laughter left for me, and the time for singing and dancing has passed. And all because I have loved…all because I still love him…Where is he now? I don’t know. I lost him in the distant past and now I cannot reach him. Oh, let the masquerade begin. Strange…masquerade…Why am I using this word I don’t even know the meaning of? And yet, I know what it means…It is all very strange. It’s like, in the face of death, my present self meets my past and future selves. And in this triangle of time and space, my soul receives and shares all the knowledge of the universe. How beautiful all is…and how infinitely sad…

Who am I? I try to see my reflection in the cobble stones which are spread on my way, but my eyes see only him. His face, his soul, his entire being rises from the earth like a new sun born from the ashes of the real setting sun. And I become one with him, with the man who is now so far, and yet has never been closer. What kind of soul hides within the confinement of my mortal frame? Why does a soul have to be caged in a body? I wish I were a blue bird, forever soaring to the heights of the impossible where not even falcons dare to dart. But instead, here I am, standing in the crowd, guarded by soldiers as if I were a criminal, and not a woman in love. I am taken to my death. I am not afraid of dying. I am only afraid not to wake up in a place where I will not see his face. Where is he? Is he still alive? My eyes are searching for him among the throng of Ethiopians, lingering on every face I can find even the faintest trace of resemblance. Not even the stranger who has visited my dungeon appears in the crowd. Only the shadow he warned me about has come. It is here. I feel its coldness and hollowness.

No, I must not faint. I must be strong. What can a shadow do to me when the light of my love lives inside me, like another being which embraces the shadows of my soul up to the point that my whole body becomes an unseen sun, spreading its rays through my last night on earth. And everything reminds me of him. I am him right now. Just as he proudly stood straight as a child in the slave’s market, I am standing now. Although it was another time and space, I find him again in that dear memory of our meeting. Again and again…His face floats before me.

The soldiers push me and hurl insults in my ears. “Serpent! You’ve dishonoured your father.” “You’re no princess! You’re a whore!” “Death to the whore!”

“Death to the serpent!”

“She is even unworthy of being fed to Keto!” “Yes…Yes…She deserves worse.” “Death to the whore!”

“Death to the serpent!”

I try not to listen, although it is so hard not to bite and scratch while wolves are cornering you. And they call themselves “people”. I spit on their humanity, and I’d rather live among the beasts rather than among my fellow creatures. Even my own family is casting me wolfish glances. My father is watching the show and says nothing. Only my mother is suppressing a sob or two, but I see no tears, no cries. Had I been mother, I would have swept the face of the earth in my rage and fury if a child of mine had been wronged or hurt. But I am alone in my battle…And I am about to die, to leave this world where others will go on living and I will cease to exist. I wonder how this world will look like without me in it. Many people will come after me and they will not remember my name. Even I begin to forget the girl I used to be. I don’t remember myself. I only see him before my eyes. Is there anything that wouldn’t remind me of him? I never told him what I truly felt. Foolish girl, foolish girl…You even lied yourself…But now I know. Death makes everything clearer. I see the world in its true colours, and for the first time I can hear my soul. It is already flying. The shadow cannot touch me where I am going.

I am being tied to a rock, and my soul is flying. It is flying to him, answering his call from the abyss. I hear his soul. I have always heard his soul. I have been drawn to him by a mysterious power ever since I lay my eyes on him in the slave bazaar. A spit hits my face…On turning my head, I meet Cetus’s eyes. There is no mercy in them. And the cries of men unite in one anathema, against me who like them, I am too a daughter of this earth.

I close my eyes and go back…back to that moment in time where I feel safe, back to him.

I was a little girl, my father’s beloved child. I remember the sun burning my skin. It was so hot, I could hardly breathe. I was riding with my father in the royal chariot, and from time to time I would secretively throw him a glance. My father, the king of Ethiopia did not seem to suffer from the excessive heat. He kept his majestic appearance even during the hardest conditions. But soon even I forgot about the heat. There were people all around me, people alive, some in rags, others in clean robes; and their faces formed an interesting gallery of unique features. There were old faces, and still, there were also young heads and eyes, but they all bore the kiss of death. They were consumed by time, and some might not have even known it. But I knew. I had seen death before, the day my grandfather died and I saw his soul leaving his body as he was drawing his final breath. I was surrounded by dead people pretending to be alive, to laugh, and some even smiled to me as the chariot drove by. I smiled back and waved my hand. I was supposed to do that; they were expecting me to do that. It was everything they knew they would get from a royalty. Tired of waiting in vain for their life to improve, they had ceased asking. They simply went on living as best as they could. Women carrying heavy baskets of fruit and vegetables were swarming to and fro. There were dirty children and crippled men who were dragging their numbed muscles before everyone else. There were so many men whose body was covered in dirt and rags, and on whose face life had painted all the misery and degradation of suffering. The human show was horrific, unbearable. I felt like covering my eyes with my hands and hiding somewhere in the dark. Overwhelmed by all this, I tugged the sleeve of my father’s robe, forcing him to notice me and hear my words.

“Why don’t you command these people to be happy and clean? You have the power, father.”

“I cannot command over the fate of men.”

“Then, we must go to the temple and pray to the gods to alleviate the life of our subjects.”

“Listen, Andromeda, the gods have better things to do than taking care of these lice.”

A-ba, you shouldn’t talk like that. These “lice”, as you call them, are your children too, and I can’t stand to see my brothers and sisters suffering when we, father, have the power to help them.”

“My dear bat, they are too many. We can’t afford to look after all these beggars.”

“Yes, because we spend too much on ourselves.” The king frowned, annoyed by the course of our

discussion and ordered me not to say another word. I shut my mouth, although I was angry at him. After a few moments, I wanted to reprimand him again, but when I raised my eyes to his face, I realised that he wasn’t looking at me, although our eyes were connected. He didn’t see me for who I was. For him, I was a little girl whose mind was raw and unripe, when in fact my mind judged things in a logical manner. My father ruled the land; therefore he had both the ability and the possibility to assert welfare for each inhabitant of Ethiopia. Clearly, my father didn’t see things from that angle. He didn’t even bother to try to make a change. It was then when I first accused my father of being a tyrant. I had heard the word “tyrant” before, whispered in secrecy by a slave, and I knew it had to be something bad. And my father was then a tyrant. Nevertheless, I concealed my feelings and I did not give voice to my thoughts. Right then, I saw a wooden and very long plank, a scaffold more precisely. On it, a man holding a whip was shouting loudly to some dirty and skinny people. They were all in fetters. I screamed, and my cry made its way to my father, who then noticed me. I was convulsively shaking.

“Stop the chariot”, my father cried to the driver. The chariot stopped and my father stooped down

to me, analysing my sun burnt face.

“What is the matter, Meda? Why have you cried?” “That man,” I said pointing towards the man holding the whip, “is hurting innocent people. He must

be stopped.”

“Those people belong to him. He can do what he pleases about them. They are just like our slaves from the palace.”

Still I wasn’t satisfied with this answer. “But we don’t treat our slaves like this.”

The king said nothing, and I mistook his silence for a full agreement with my argument, whereas he did not know what to say as he also treated the royal slaves like that, something I would find out later. But then my attention was again distracted. I saw him. How savage his eyes were, and yet they were mesmerizing. Even from a considerable distance I could see their brightness, the unusual sapphire glitter, and their depth…He was only a little boy, very skinny, and dirty. Yet, there was something about him as if he were that mighty bird my father had shown me once and called it eagle when I demanded to know what it was. He was a young eagle amidst common chickens. I don’t know what had triggered my reaction, but before my father could have stopped me, I jumped from the chariot and ran to him. I passed by the slave owner who remained with his whip raised in his hand but dared not to let it fall, fearing he might have hurt me since he realized who I was. I hardly cared about that brute. I only saw him, the young eagle. When our eyes met and our faces stood close to each other, I felt the fire of his breath and all the anger he had stored inside. I couldn’t utter a word, not knowing what to say.

His long and bushy hair was half covering his face. I raised my hand to clear his face, but he gave a strange growl which stopped me half way. The slave owner rushed to hit him. It was then I first embraced him. I jumped and covered him with my body. I could hear my father shouting at me to let go of the slave, the slave owner’s utter cry of stupefaction, but I only acknowledged, his gentle grip as he took my hand and pressed it with his fingers. And we talked, but mostly our souls carried on the conversation. I asked him about his mother, about his music, about himself, unaware of no one and nothing except the two of us standing together in time and space. I didn’t let go of him until my father agreed to buy him. He was going to be my playmate and my companion. From that day on, he grew up at the royal palace. He was a slave, but he had always been free. He could ride like a wind and play the harp like a born musician.

I tried to be his friend, but he always pushed me aside as if he was afraid of me. Although he was cold and aloof, he kept lingering by my side. He was always there, a constant presence, like a shadow, like my own silent being. He didn’t spoke too much, but he played his harp. His words were melodious and liquid, and warm, and always echoing wherever I went. He was with me always, watching over me as he pretended not to take notice of anything around him. I was playing with the other slave girls, and he stood there motionless, like a marble statue. Lilytha, my favourite slave friend, scorned him and laughed at him, and often she called him in jest “The

Shadow”. And yes, he was my shadow. He still is my shadow. I am about to die, but I feel the rush of his spirit passing along the row of rocks and stones. I feel his breath blowing like the wind as the crowd is gathering around the rock I am chained to. And I fear nothing except waking up to a reality where he is not…

Play for me, harpist…Play and laugh…I see him materializing before me, holding his harp in his arms, and soon I hear his song. He is again playing for me. He has only played for me. He never knew other songs. His lips are moving and the melodious sounds come floating out of his mouth.

“In the Valleys of Kings

Where springs run and run,

Like horses with wings

Soaring to the sun,

There is one flower

Which grows in the sky.

She is my freedom,

My rain when it’s dry,

My fire when it’s cold,

My beautiful Star of North.”

I would listen enraptured, trying to imagine the Valleys of Kings where springs run like horses, drowning the blades in their billows of foam and fire, but most of all I tried to picture the beautiful flower so much coveted by the harpist.

“Have you ever been to the Valley of Kings?” I asked him.

“Yes, I have,” he answered. “I was once there; before being a slave, my parents took me to the Valley of Kings.”

“Where is it? It sounds so lovely. I wish I were there. Please, take me there.”

He did not answer, infuriating me with his stubborn silence. I would get angry and I would pinch and hit him.

“I command you as the princess of Ethiopia. Lead my way to the Valley of Kings. I wish to see the mighty springs and the flower.”

“I forgot the way.”

This was his usual reply.

“You are lying. I know you are.”

“I promise I will remember the way, and one day I will take you there, but not as a princess…You’ll walk by my side as my equal.”

He never took me to the Valley of Kings, but he used to draw me the place. It was lovely and not dreadful like the image I spotted in the stranger’s eyes. He also made several drawings, they were weird figures. He told me he had learnt to draw them from some Egyptian scholars. I didn’t like those figures, and neither could I understand the human figures of a man and a woman descending a ladder of rays. They seemed so lonely and abandoned by all mankind, but he told me I was wrong. They were not lonely as they had each other.

Our views were different, and then I did not understand his soul, as I do now. The wonderful glen, where the essence of his being was running free, was clouded in mystery. And I did not know, I failed to see the spot where the flower of his heart was growing in the nurturing soil of his love for me.

Even now, he is singing to me, as the people of Ethiopia spit in my face and mock their fallen princess. Far away, the sun is setting, and I can hear the springs gurgling in the Valley of Kings and I know he is there waiting for me.

“I am coming,” I whisper, and a trail of blood splits my cheek, streaming down the crestfallen face. I feel no pain as I know that I am about to be reunited with him. “I’ll be there soon, my one and only love.”

The first stone had hit me in the face, the second drummed in my ear, almost deafening me. The crowd has ceased to be a crowd. It is now a monster, benumbing me, attacking hungrily for my blood. The king had ordered that I was subjected to the people’s punishment before my body was thrown to Keto, the killing whale.

What have I done to deserve this? I refused to marry Phineus, the king of Israel who would have brought more wealth to Ethiopia. Yes, I was guilty for not feeding the gluttony of the social monster. Moreover, I was guilty before myself for having thought I could love a man like Cetus.

Cetus….He was the first who hurried to tie my

hands and then, without even a word of comfort, he took me out of the dungeon, dragging me till here. He left without looking back. Loyal to my father, Cetus desired nothing but to show the king that a general obeys only the prerogatives of his ruler and not of his heart. He is now a distant memory, and I feel like laughing when I remember my foolish love for him. It was not real love, as real love is only met once and felt once, and there is no end to love.

Another stone falls at my feet. It was white when it had split the air, darting in my face, and now is purple. I never thought my blood could be that purple. I imagined it red like the juice de-juiced out of a cherry. But now it is purple, dark purple, shining under the dim light of the stars high above. It is purple against the rolling waves, against my body, against the will of gods.

The waves are beating against the shore where I once rode my Pegasus. I close my eyes and the mob disappears.

Where are you, faithful horse? Do you ever think of your mistress? I still remember the night I crept into the stable. During the day, I had heard that the mare Medusa is about to give birth and I wanted to see the colt. In the stable, the horseman held the mare by the hinds, helping her to deliver. Perseus was also there, caressing the suffering mare, and mumbling low tunes in its ears.

When the colt was born, Perseus kissed the mare and ran to see the tiny and feeble creature. At a first glance, I didn’t like the colt at all. It was all covered in blood, although the white of its fur was shinning dimly through the marks of labour.

“He shall be Pegasus”, said Perseus to the horseman as if the white horse belonged to him. Nevertheless, he couldn’t be more right. I myself knew that the colt must be named like this.

The horseman laughed, poking the boy with his


“He shall be named as the king decides. It’s his horse, not yours, slave. Do not forget your station.”

Perseus’ fists clenched tight, but he didn’t attack his superior. Silently, he began washing the young horse. His movements were slow and gentle. I could see from where I was standing unseen that he was fascinated by that animal. I knew what I had to do. Smiling, I whispered inaudibly:

“He shall be named Pegasus.”

On the following morning, I told my father that I must have Medusa’s young stallion. It would be perfect for my riding lessons. Of course, the king didn’t object and he instantly gratified my wish.

I ran to bring Perseus the big news. By the moment I reached him, I was almost without breath. Like usually, he was standing alone by the stable’s fence, looking wistfully at the white stallion.

“Guess what,” I shouted excited in his ears, startling him to the bone. “The stallion belongs to me. My father has just agreed to let me have it.”

He shrugged his shoulders and didn’t say anything.

“You can also ride it,” I continued with glee. “How would you like him to be called?”

I pretended not to have heard him last night because I did not wish to hurt his feelings.

“It’s up to you to decide”, he briefly and hastily answered when he decided at last to speak.

I was baffled and abated by his reaction. I could not believe my ears. How could he pretend to be so indifferent?

“I will name him Pegasus, like it or not.”

I shouted in his years and I was glad to see him reacting. All the colours had gone out of his cheeks, and if it hadn’t been for a tinge of red that spread over his neck, I would have guessed he had run out of blood. Yet, he kept silent.

“Do you like the name Pegasus?” I asked him again. I had disclosed the name he had given to Medusa’s colt, and still he did not even blink. I was furious. I am furious even now for not having understood him.

“I will name the crowd Cetus,” I uttered feebly under the shower of stones.

I felt I was losing consciousness, but before I closed my eyes I saw the shadow that had appeared before Lilytha bearing her the news about my love for Perseus. He was standing there in the crowd with a wide grin upon his face. He was ugly…ugly like a pestilential quagmire, spread across the split belly of a putrid earth. And his grin…I hated his grin.

You shall not win.

He flinched as if he had understood my thoughts and yet he remained there.

You shall not have this Andromeda.

His grin seemed to fade a little.

You shall not stain the love I have for Perseus.

The shadow stuttered, resembling a hunchback hit by a giant’s club.

I choose to stay alive, despite death and time. I choose my soul. I choose Life. I choose Perseus.

A piercing cry split the night, and Keto’s wails echoed the dissipation of the shadow into the darkness of the night.

I was no longer tied to a rock. I was heading myself towards the water. When the cold waves touched my feet, I stopped at the shores of time. Suddenly, Pegasus appears by my side, ready to dive with me, assuring me that he will never abandon me. I plunged myself into the waves, and fell deep. I closed my eyes and soon I fell into a strange but pleasant dream. What else but a dream could that be? I felt two arms embracing me, the same two arms that once brought harps to life, and I felt a body sheltering me under the wall of its flesh.

“Perseus…I….I have….to tell you something.

I’ve…a…l…ways loved you!”

“I know. I have always known it.”

And then everything went blank before my eyes, and I fell alone in the cold waves of a long and numb slumber.

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