A Fool’s Paradise

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Miriam

It was a dark corridor, no, it wasn’t a corridor, it had walls, but no ceiling, there was a weak light at the end of it. Alex had hurried towards it, took a left and came to a slightly wider space. There were two passageways, one to the right and one to the left. He went right and carried on. It was extremely hot. The air was suffocating.

Alex kept on walking, or more like gliding until he came to a large room. It had golden walls, the floor was burgundy red, and there was a long buffet table in the middle. Luxuriously dressed people were standing around the table, talking fervently. Suddenly they all went quiet, as if on someone’s order. They all turned and peered at Alex. Motionless, they looked somewhat deranged. They had a gleam in their eyes that meant nothing good. Instinctively Alex stepped towards the table as if pulled by an invisible hand. He blinked, and the table was gone, and so were the people.

He heard horrific screams of agony and pain in the distant left corner of the room. He followed it hurriedly. It was a woman’s voice, coloured with grief. He needed to help her. On the floor, he noticed trails of something bright red, flowing towards him. It was blood, infused with flecks of emerald green. Now he ran, he was late, the screams kept persisting, ever louder, ever more vicious, he can’t let the woman die, he must save her!

Alex woke up suddenly. He was sweating profusely, breathing deeply, confused and distraught. His bed was soaked, his face pale and his eyes showed terror. He let out a chuckle, relief spreading over him. It was just a nightmare, after all, everything was fine. He went out to the terrace to get some fresh air. He needed a drink too. The night was silent, there was no wind, and the moon was full. He closed his eyes, the woman’s screams still agonising him. The voice was strangely familiar, but he couldn’t recognise it.

Alex found it impossible to fall asleep again after this episode, so he devoted himself to his favourite pastime activity, reading. Pouring over copious amounts of books was his adorned hobby. He regarded it as essential, not only to garner success, but also to achieve the highest possible level of human awareness. A self-development junkie, he would stop at nothing to continue progressing. After speed-reading through 75 pages of the Human Manifestation, he put the book aside and looked towards the table in the kitchen, where he found the note from Dr Albus Holstein a few weeks back. In wonderment, he thought and debated and argued in his mind. His curiosity was piqued. He couldn’t ignore it any longer. It was time to find out more, to scratch the itch, otherwise, he’d be bothered with it for the rest of his life.

“Am I worthy? What should I be worthy of?” he thought aloud. “Waiting my arrival . . . where, what to?” He came up with nothing. But a wonderful idea had entered his mind. He knew what he needed to do. He needed to see her. If anyone can help in this quest, she could.

Driving up to Miriam, he realised the lateness of the hour. What’s more, he realised the ridiculousness of the situation. What exactly can she do to help him? He hasn’t got anything more to go on but that note. But even though his brain was resisting, his gut feel told him otherwise. He knew he had to see her tonight.

Miriam lived in an old mansion upstate New York. She was an eerie kind of woman. An oddball one might say, with a talent for peering through a person’s identity and get to the hidden truths buried deep inside a person’s psychological makeup. In other words, she would have been certified insane if it wasn’t for her wealthy parents, who have kept her away from society ever since she was a child. One time she had told Alex about an incident when she was just six years old. Her uncle, Harry, came to visit her parents one weekend. Miriam was not at all fond of him. He was a rough type of fellow. And she disliked him instinctively. The first night he slept over Miriam visited dear Uncle Harry in his bedroom. Waking up, he saw Miriam staring at him, mumbling. All of a sudden, she started uttering words that were as strange to her as socks to a homeless person. But they were words Uncle Harry had recognised immediately as his wife’s, who has passed away some years before this event. As one would expect Uncle Harry was frightened beyond belief, and he’d never visit them again. That was the first of Miriam’s strange occurrences. Many would follow. Thus, her parents opted to keep her closed off from society, residing mainly within the compounds of their large estate.

Since Miriam wasn’t too keen on staying locked in the mansion like a prisoner, she secretly escaped whenever she felt like, and her parents were none the wiser. The mansion was enormous after all, and with her magical ways, one could say, she found her ways of getting out unnoticed, even if her parents locked the bedroom from the outside. She frequented underground parties where her curious personality fit perfectly and went unnoticed. Nobody questioned her sanity there. She was safe. A particular underground party brought Miriam and Alex together. Not in a romantic sense of the word, but through a coincidence involving a pair of strange women in the lady’s room. The rest of the story has been largely forgotten. Wiped from memory, because certain things are better kept locked. Even Miriam agrees on that.

Arriving at the front gate of the mansion, Alex stopped to phone Miriam, “Hey Miriam, I know it’s late, did I wake you up?”

“I’m wide awake, as usual. What’s up?” Replied Miriam, her voice soft.

“Well, I’m in front of your house,” said Alex, letting out a nervous chuckle. “Look, I know it’s weird, but I need to talk with you.”

“Sure A., no problem. Let me buzz you in, just a minute. You know the procedure.”

Alex knew the procedure well. It meant he had to park the car outside, go through the front gate and walk somewhat silently to a backdoor where Miriam let him in.

“Hey,” said Alex upon seeing Miriam.

“Hey, yourself, come in,” she replied in a whisper.

Alex followed Miriam through a narrow passageway to a wooden spiral staircase leading up to the first floor of the mansion. He’s never been here during the daytime, so he didn’t know the contents of the mansion. A few lights shone here and there, but that wasn’t enough to reveal the inside of what must have been a beautiful house, judging by the paintings on the wall alongside the stairway to Miriam’s room, the art deco sculptures placed inside glass vitrines and the details of the stairwell. Miriam’s room was no friend to light either. Candles lit the room from all corners.

“I’ll be right back, you sit down and relax,” said Miriam, leaving Alex to his own devices.

Alex hasn’t been in Miriam’s room for years, but nothing had changed much since his last visit. The room looked like a scene from one of Indiana Jones movie. Objects with all sorts of fascinating and ancient symbols lay hither and thither. There were piles of drawings and paintings with scenes one could describe as other-worldly. A large stack of books lay in the far right corner of the room. Next to it was a glass vitrine containing phials filled with liquids of all colours. But what was most fascinating, and gruesome, was a large glass container preserving a whole snake, including the head, right next to Miriam’s bed. Alex had never managed to ask her about it, but he was sure that she could explain it just fine.

He sat on the floor on a particularly comfortable pillow next to a Japanese-style table laden with scribbled papers. One of them piqued his interest. It had a prominently written title, “A poem on madness”.

Break the rules.
Why not?
We made them up.
What are rules, anyway?
Self-imposed constraints.
Heavy as iron.
So break them.
Cast them off.

Ignore form.
Like this.
Or like this.
Don’t live by someone else’s recipe,
It’s impossible.
And rather mad.
Do stupid things.
What’s stupid, anyway?
Just follow your heart.
But first, free it.

Don’t be mad.
Seems like we’re all mad.
It’s mad not to love yourself,
It’s mad to hate,
It’s mad to be afraid,
It’s mad to do what you don’t like doing,
It’s mad to apologize for who you are,
It’s mad to feel guilty,
It’s mad to compare yourself to others,
It’s mad to walk the path of another,
It’s mad to be normal.

So don’t look around you,
Look within you.
There lies true beauty,
Heavenly beauty.
And you are it.
Always turn to yourself.
There isn’t anyone else.
No one can help you.
Because no one is you.
And you are no one, too.
That’s deep.
But not really.
We were just mislead.
By ourselves.
Made a grand illusion.
About something so simple,
So plain and clear.
Now that’s madness.

Be honest with yourself.
Do what you’ve always wanted.
Right now.
Stop reading this.
Stop it.
Get off your butt,
And do it.
Don’t wait any longer.
Don’t wait for a thumbs up.
Don’t think about the consequences.
Don’t think at all.
Feel.

Be your own hero.
Open your window,
And shout aloud,
I’m mad!
I’m mad!
I’m mad!
And I love it.
And I love.
I love.
Love.

The poem was strangely familiar and somewhat close to his heart. Alex couldn’t quite grasp why. He felt comforted by its words, as if they were enchanted, in a way. Reading the poem again, Alex lost all sense of time. It had felt like an eternity before Miriam had reentered the room, bringing with her a kettle filled with tea. She sat down and poured both of them a cup.

“What’s the matter, Alex, you look...” Miriam paused briefly, tilting her head sideways and inspecting Alex before continuing. “Sort of, lost.”

Alex didn’t speak immediately. It appeared as if he was collecting his thoughts. “I do feel lost, to be frank. I’ve felt this way for a while now, but the past few weeks have been, well, just strange. I feel as if my life so far has been a charade of some sorts.”

“A charade?” echoed Miriam.

“Yes, an illusion–”

“–Maya”

“Maya, whaddya mean, Maya?”

“Maya is the word for illusion in Sanskrit.”

Not knowing what to do with this information, Alex continued. “Well, right, in any case here’s what’s happened to me in the past few weeks.”

Alex told Miriam the whole story, how he came back from Tokyo and found the note on the table. He told Miriam about his weird dream, too.

When he finished, Miriam remained silent, intently gazing at Alex, her fingers together, fiddling with her thumbs.

“Well, are you going to join them?” asked Miriam nonchalantly several minutes later.

Alex was rather abashed by Miram’s question. He was expecting a different response. But, this was Miriam, afterall. It’s not easy to shock her, even with a story such as this.

“I don’t know... join what, you know? Is it a book club, a secret society, or a warrior’s guild? It’s ridiculous,” said Alex blatantly.

“What do you feel?” Said Miriam completely unfazed by Alex’s answer.

“I feel confused, and have no idea what I’m doing, honestly. That’s why I said everything seems like a dream, an illusion, maya.”

“Life is a dream,” quickly added Miriam, both hands on her cup of tea, taking a sip, eyes half-closed.

“In what way?”

“Well, it’s nearly like a dream. Difficult to explain in words, one must experience it to understand it. Maybe a topic for next time you visit.”

“Maybe there won’t be a next time,” replied Alex in wonderment whilst looking at the ceiling.

Miriam didn’t answer. She poured Alex another cup of hot tea, and they sat in silence for a while.

“Who wrote that poem, the one on Madness?” asked Alex curiously.

“Oh, I don’t know, I found it in the attic, in a chest that must have belonged to one of the previous owners.”

“It had a strange effect on me, can’t explain.”

“I know what you mean. I was rather transfixed by it too. Been staring at it for the past week, trying to get to the deeper meaning of it.”

“Do you think there’s a deeper meaning to it?” Asked Alex.

“Oh, yes, there’s a deeper meaning to everything. You just have to look at it long enough and not be satisfied with the first layer. That’s only the surface.” She answered wisely.

“I get it; I think I get it–”

“– You’re thinking too much” interjected Miriam, grinning.

“You think?” replied Alex, chuckling. “Well, it’s time I get going, I guess. I don’t know what exactly transpired here, maybe it was your tea, but I feel better.”

“Know what you’re going to do?”

“No, no idea, but, maybe you’re right, maybe I should think less, and do what feels right”.

“Look for the deeper meaning of things, Alex, look at it attentively, with an open mind and an open heart. You’ll be surprised.”

“Thanks, Miriam, much appreciated.”

With that, Alex made his way through the mansion back to his car and drove off. Soon after leaving the premises his doubts and anxiety had returned as if the visit to Miriam’s hadn’t taken place. What was it about the note that had rattled him so much? Was he not satisfied with the life he had built himself with such painstaking care and attention to detail? Was it not enough that he was successful, good looking and respected by his peers and the larger community? There were no clear answers to his queries. Rather, they left an empty vacuum. But what could they offer that was different? Where was he invited to, anyway? Why him?

A strange pain had clenched Alex’s throat; he could hardly breathe. Feeling dizzy he stepped on the brakes hard, stopping the car in the middle of the road. Alex had both hands clenched on the steering wheel, eyes zooming in and out of focus, his heart pounding like an elephant’s angry tirade. He stepped out of the car, panting, his throat wheezing.

Alex got up slowly, trying to find balance. He tore open his T-shirt as if to help him breathe. He was still gasping for air when he heard the familiar screams filled with terror. Agony filled Alex’s heart for what seemed like an eternity. Then it was over. His throat let up, and he inhaled fresh air like it was his first time. Tears filled Alex’s eyes as he bellowed like a wild animal. Then suddenly, blinding lights were closing on him fast. Realising it was a car he swung himself full force to the left onto the side of the road, hit his head and knew no more.

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