Chapter Thirteen: Life in Paradise (part 2)
It was another amazing day and all the babies were together again. They were oblivious to the fact that their glows became even more luminous as they congregated.
Typical of Thabo, he fired off the first round of questions. “Where shall we go today? What should we go and see? What can we all do?”
The babies glanced up at their friend who was perched on a nearby tree, which had huge, sumptuous, purple leaves that resembled large, velvety cushions.
Just one leaf, was sturdy enough to balance a trio of toddlers on its surface. Thabo - who was languidly stretched out with his hands behind his head - had indulgently acquired one all to himself. Looking up dreamily at the sky he proceeded to list all the fun things they could get up to today.
“Wait! I’ve got an idea.” Mònica said cutting in “Why don’t we all go down to Colton’s River? I hear there are many weird and wonderful creatures moving about in the waters.”
“No. Not Colton’s River,” Li Wei groaned. It was a trait most of his friends had grown accustomed to as the time went by. “Didn’t we go there on our last visit?” He sprung to his feet. “What about the forest.”
“Which one?” Sidi and Nnenna spoke in unison. They both turned to each other laughing at their timely response.
“Which one do you think?” Li Wei rolled his eyes. “The Yellow one of course!”
“Yaaaaay! The yellow one!” Victoria cheered at the mentioning of the forest she loved so much. “I’ve only been there once but it is, without a doubt, one of my favourite places. The yellow forest is filled with so many magical things, such as; leaping trickeets, flying letters, musical treats and Neecons - big and little ones.” She said in a rush of excitement. “And there are creatures there that are so huge, they even blot out the seven suns. And what do you make of the giant sunflowers? Has anyone had the chance to talk to them? Aren’t they awesome?”
“Yes, they are.” Francisco instantly agreed. He was grinning from ear to ear. “But what are they exactly?” he frowned. “They don’t look like plants to me, they’re too huge and creature-like.”
“Make no mistake about it they are indeed flowers!” Victoria replied, “And they have names too, some of them even told me theirs,” she said with a smug smile. “I think they’re adorable.”
“Adorable!” Albert called out in disgust. He quickly made his way to where the group was gathered. While the others had been chatting away, he had been play-wrestling with a baby panda but the nimble bear had floored him at every turn.
“Those so-called sunflowers are anything but adorable.” He said panting as he approached them. “They’re cheeky tricksters - that’s what! Whenever you play hide and seek around them, they always give away your hiding position.”
“Yes they do,” he turned to answer Francisco. “They pretend they haven’t seen anything then suddenly you hear a; ‘psst’, ‘psst’, and then the sunflower points in the direction where a baby can be found.” Despite himself, Albert broke into a crafty laugh. “It’s actually quite funny really, but not so much when it’s you they are telling on.”
Nnenna looked indignant. “They’ve never done that to me before.” She said shaking her head. “Maybe it’s because you were heading somewhere you weren’t supposed go?”
“Or maybe,” Thabo weighed in with a pensive stare, “it’s payback for the times you’ve fobbed them off whenever they’ve tried to get you to dance with them.” He tilted his head to the side. “You do know how much they love to dance?” he laughed at his friend.
Monica sat down next to her buddy. “Knowing you Albert that’s probably it. They love it when you take a few moments to dance with them, even if it’s only for a short while.” And to demonstrate her point she sprang onto her feet and began dancing on the spot. She continued. “Every time I see them they teach me a different move - it’s so cool! Look what I’ve learnt so far,” she twirled, leapt and bopped to a beat that only the group could hear.
“Wait a minute! I do dance with them!” Albert said protesting his innocence. “It’s just that…I can’t keep up with them...And then…after a while I get so sleepy and need to take a long nap, and before you know it the day has gone and I didn’t get to do all the stuff I set out to do.” He paused “You do know we’re only here for a short while, and as fun as it is, I don’t want to spend the whole time dancing with the sunflowers. So I think it’s better I avoid it - them, altogether, if you know what I mean.”
While this discussion was taking place Tobey was sat a little further away from the group. He was quietly smiling like a proud parent. He loved being back here, listening to his friends laugh and swap stories on their many adventures. He was sat on a nicely warmed tree stump overlooking the Amalfi blue sea, which was invitingly cool and, of course, predator-free.
He decided to give an answer to Albert’s supposed predicament. “Ok Albert, this time we’ll watch out for you – okay,” he called out, “one of us will step in before you spend all your time dancing the day away.” He laughed and looked at the others, “Are we all agreed?”
“Agreed,” they shouted back with great big smiles on their faces. It was still early on in the day but every one of them knew they were in for a good one. Especially, since today’s plan was to head to the Yellow Forest. It was the ultimate playground; there was no other woodland like it.
“Are we ready?” Tobey asked but he didn’t wait for an answer. “Let’s go!”
One by one they climbed - and occasionally flew - over the paradise’s many districts. They passed over multi-coloured rivers that were so translucent they looked like they were formed out of glass.
Then a little later, they came across a herd of barrel-chested horses grazing in one of the nearby meadows. Their silky, bright, coats were berry-red like the colour of autumn leaves. The horses kindly let the babies climb onto their backs and they galloped, as though they were gliding through air. The louder the babies screamed their appreciation, the faster the horses went.
And thus, the babies continued on with their journey until they arrived at their final destination...
In no time at all the babies were stood in front of a large cave. In order to get to the Yellow Forest the babies had to climb through this cave, which they all did in quick succession.
After a brief spell in the darkness, they emerged out on the other side full of joy and ready for an adventure. However, once outside it took a moment for their tiny eyes to adjust to the dazzling brightness. Indeed, they were back outside again, but it was very different from the paradise they had left behind. They were now in the Yellow Forest and in this particular wonderland, every living thing was tinted in various shades of yellow. The trees were yellow - including the bark - the grass was yellow, even the sky was a pale yellow. Likewise, the very air was a sweet kiss to their nasal senses. One could only assume that if yellow had a fragrance - then this was it, and the babies were blissfully breathing it in.
Tobey was the last one to climb out of the cave. It was Husna who helped him up.
“Every time I see you it looks like you’re getting bigger Tobey,” Husna keenly observed the figure in front of her. “You’re already 1 or 2 inches taller than the rest of us. Do you have any idea why this is happening to you?”
“No. I’m still none the wiser, Husna,” Tobey replied, taking hold of her hand. “I wish I could tell you more…but…”
“Oh - don’t worry about it!” she quickly answered, “I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough. And it’s probably not that big a deal or anything like that.” She was flippant but it did little to mask her obvious concern. Husna didn’t have to say anything more. Tobey knew that she - like the rest of the soul group - was a little apprehensive about what was happening to him, and quite rightly so. They were all members of the same soul group, physical bonds were no match for spiritual ties. It went without saying that Tobey needed to be alright for them all to feel alright…
Husna gave him a magnanimous hug. “Come on - let’s play hide and seek.”
Later in the day Tobey and Husna broke away from the rest of their group. They sat down at the edge of an expansive cobalt blue lake, where babies from other soul groups were nosily playing in the water. But the water in this part of the paradise was not wet. Instead it glistened like a large basin of royal blue jelly, and it appeared to be just a sprightly as the babies bounced across the surface, laughing gleefully at each other as they went by.
“I hear you had an Ancestor call today,” Husna remarked. She was sat crossed legged on the grass and was twisting a small clump of cloud around her wrist. She was attempting to tie it in a knot. But after some time she released it and watched it slowly glide upwards, to rejoin whatever puff of cloud it had come from.
“Yes I did,” Tobey smiled back. “It was really interesting. How about yourself?”
Husna was a true definition of a cherub. She had a potbelly and ruddy cheeks and when she smiled - as she was doing at that moment - two dimples the size of pennies appeared on either side of her face. “I had one too,” she laughed, “It was epic… But also very sad as well,” she hastily added.
“Sad? What happened?”
“No! You tell me yours first”
“No! It’s okay, you go first” Tobey insisted, knowing Husna couldn’t wait to tell all. And just as he guessed, without missing a beat, Husna ploughed right in.
“When I arrive on earth I will be of Asian descent; the offspring of two Bangladeshi parents who are also from a long line of Bangladeshis,” she smiled. “However, the woman who came to see me today existed long before the birth of our nation…She was in fact the young daughter of the first Empire of Maurya, her name was Durdhara...”
According to Durdhara, she grew up surrounded by wealth, beauty and the respect of her loving subjects - she didn’t want for anything. How could she? Her father was Chandragupta Maurya, commander of the greatest battalion in the East, whose very name instilled terror amongst the armies of Alexander the Great.
Durdhara was often referred to as the Doel of the region as her hair was shiny and black like the ubiquitous silent bird that visited the area. In addition Durdhara had a beautiful singing voice and it was this special feature which lured one of the emperor’s loyal generals to the private garden where she sang.
The young general, General Sutta, hid amongst the trees listening to her ballads. He stood there with his head in the air and eyes closed, whilst Durdhara’s sweet sounding songs, gradually softened the man within…
A chanced meeting quickly evolved into a fevered affair. It was the kind of fierce passion that propelled the two of them to run away together. They crossed high mountains, brittle fields and icy terrains, to try and find a place they could both be safe to love. It took the emperor’s royal army; four months, two weeks and three days to find them.
She was eventually spotted bathing in the river. Mercifully, the soldiers’ shielded their eyes until she had finished. Then they came for them both.
The emperor’s daughter was surprisingly welcomed back into the Royal fold. She was with child, but it didn’t seem to matter. Of course neither Durdhara nor Sutta could ever be together again. Sutta took an oath and withdrew from public duties. He began a fast. It was a fast to the death...
“It wasn’t for nothing,” Husna said cheerfully, “he died without shame,” she added, fully acknowledging the ancient Jain ritual.
As for Durdhara, she too died shortly after childbirth. She had given the Maurya a male heir - just what the emperor had ardently prayed for.
Durdhara’s son was a natural born ruler. He later went on to have many daughters but no sons, each of them rebellious in their own way.
Husna grinned. “And…I don’t think it will stop with me either,” she said coyly before letting out a hearty laugh. “But jokes aside,” she was serious again. “The young children and babies of my Ancestors have had to deal with so much unnecessary loss, suffering and pain. And many times, it seems, they have gone without guidance.” Husna looked to Tobey. “I’ve decided, when I get to earth, and I grow up, I want to be able to help the young ones. I don’t know how? Or in what capacity exactly? But I do know I really want to be of help in this area…Maybe, I’ll teach or become a mentor of some kind. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than to look after, and nurture as many of my people as I can.”
“That sounds like a lovely ambition Husna.” Tobey said, sincerely admiring his friend’s compassion. “But…” he paused, “I wouldn’t want you as my teacher.”
Husna looked aghast. “Why not?”
“Because,” he said as he stealthily began to pull away from her “all you’ll do is tease and play tricks on the little ones until you’ll eventually drive them all craaaaaa…” Tobey didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence, Husna playfully lunged after him - just as he’d planned.
“Tobey!” she shrieked.
“Ha, ha, ha catch me if you can!” Tobey said. He scrambled, then hastily took flight to get away from Husna’s playful wrath.
And just like the babies they were, Husna and Tobey were back in play mode. Always play mode. This was paradise after all.
Some time had passed but as always Thabo was up for a little adventure.
“Come on guys let’s go see The Fears again,” he whispered rubbing his hands together. It made the babies laugh whenever he did this. He was of course projecting more bravado than he was actually feeling.
“What? Now?” Francisco responded, suddenly looking very uncomfortable.
“Why not?” Thabo replied with goading eyes. “Maybe something might happen.”
Victoria froze. “Happen? Wh-what do want to happen?” she said blinking back at them.
“Oh I don’t know,” Thabo said laughing at their facial expressions, “but we won’t know until we go and see. Oh come on guys you know you all want to.”
And he was right. They all did. The babies were well aware that The Fears were not a physical threat to anyone. However, this did little to quell the feeling of pure exhilaration, and stark dread that crept over them at the mentioning of the name.
Thabo didn’t have to spend much time convincing them though.
“Ok.” Victoria clapped her hands together. “If we’re going to do this we need to set off now. As it’s quite a far journey to the other side of the paradise, as you know, and there are lots of distractions along the way. But if we link our hands together.” She grabbed the ones nearest to her, “- and keep them linked,” she reiterated, “we’ll get there quicker.”
The babies did as instructed. “Ok. Are we all ready?” It was another rhetorical question. “Let’s go!”
By late afternoon the babies had arrived at Fears Bay. The landscape was visually stunning, everything sparkled. The only difference was that the sky was no longer blue, but the colour of molten silver. And the sweet fragrance in the air was so exhilarating, it was a chore to keep their hearts from leaping out of their bodies, to be at one with the scent in the sky.
In addition, on this particular stretch of land the babies were now able to partake in one of their all-time favourite past-times: Angel-Spotting. For just like rare, magnificent birds, angels tended only to be observed from afar. No one could get too close to them. With blazing wings of fire, they were either seen to be descending on certain parts of the paradise, or soaring to some far off place…
For the moment Sidi was chuffed to bits. He was currently in lead of the game having spotted more angels than everyone else in his group. “Yay! I’ve counted five so far,” he laughed. “And look over there! That one’s a seraphim - it has multiple wings.”
“Showoff!” Albert smirked and smiled. “Alright then! The first one to get to ten is the winner,” he said, suddenly changing the rules of the game.
A challenge had been set. At once, all the babies talked less and kept their eyes fully peeled, as they gradually made their way towards the edge of the paradise.
Later in the day they all stopped by a soft, grassy area referred to as Flurries Glen. There, they ate all the delicious food that had been beautifully laid out for them. After they had their fill - and of course a little nap - they went to seek out The Fears...
In all fairness it wasn’t much of a search, really, since The Fears were where they had always been stationed. In front of a large black hole in the atmosphere…
And suddenly there they were again: The Beast, The Skull and The Mask.
“Uh oh - I think they’ve seen us!”
Victoria ducked behind the hill where the rest of the group were hiding.
“Told you I should have gone to inspect,” said Albert. “I would have been more discreet.”
“It doesn’t matter who went first,” Sidi retorted, looking around his group. “No matter what we do, The Fears will always detect our presence. Their sense of awareness is higher than all of ours, can’t you see that?”
The babies all nodded. Sidi was right.
“What are they?” Li Wei asked. “And why do they guard that hole?”
Before anyone could think of an answer an eerie silence descended on the place. They all felt it at once.
“Look over there!” one of the babies cried.
They all saw a baby boy. He was slowly making his way towards the black hole - ergo - The Fears.
For the babies their first instinct would have been to call, shout out – anything, to try and arouse the poor baby from its stupor. But they had all become transfixed on the little boy’s appearance.
For you and I, glowing bodies are imaginings of a celestial kind - or at best - the stuff of fantasy fiction. In this paradise, however, every living thing - glowed. The Force, which resided in all things and gave it life, was on display for everyone to see. However the baby boy making his way towards The Fears had no radiance to speak of. His eyes were bleak as if something had crawled in to cage his warmth. It was unnatural. Unkind. A lot like death, I suppose.
Nnenna was the first to speak up. “We should do something,” she cried out. At once, they all started calling out to the baby.
“Don’t go there!”
“Where are you going?”
But as expected the baby took no notice of their commands. Instead he kept moving ever nearer towards the hole where three apparitions were swaying in the distance.
Thabo jumped out from behind the hill. He ran towards the boy. Tobey quickly followed. If they thought they could physically hold the boy back, they were sorely mistaken. This was not a physical world. The boy went right through them and continued on his way. Thabo and Tobey quickly raced ahead of him, but something soon stilled their motion. Both of the boys began to pour with sweat. It was so excessive it spewed out of them as though they were melting. They had never experienced anything like it before.
“What’s happening to us?” Tobey cried turning to Thabo, they were both still making a bee-line towards The Fears. But the boys no longer saw fear ahead of them, but felt it welling up like a miasma from within
It was coming from within!
And this distasteful sentiment was rather audacious, and far more despicable than the three phantoms that swayed in front of them. For it boldly said. ‘Do not come any nearer! Can you feel that? Good! I am sure you can. For I am the fear of abandonment, the fear of rejection, the fear of failure, the fear of pain…I am FAR worse than any FEAR you will ever SEE…’
And for Thabo and Tobey it was indeed a lot worse. For the nearer they drew towards The Fears, the more unbearable the sensation became. Eventually they came to a halt. Mental fear had, alas, brought them to a standstill.
In no time at all the little boy soon bypassed them, and stood in front of The Fears. It almost looked like the snarling beast was going to swallow him whole. But instead, a moment passed then The Fears stepped aside to let the baby boy through.
“No!” Thabo and Tobey cried. But it did no good. Just before the baby went through the hole, his little body crumbled and dissipated like powder in a wind, never to be seen again...
Long after the boy’s exit into the abyss, Tobey, Thabo, and the rest of the soul group hiding behind the hill, kept on staring at the hole and the three Fears that guarded it. Each going over what had just happened in front of their very eyes.
After some time had passed, little Albert was the first to speak up. “If we make a move now,” he said drawing on the last word, as he wasn’t quite sure it was the right time to speak, “we can catch a glimpse of the swirling night dragons before they begin the show.” His oddly-timed suggestion broke their temporary paralysis.
Tobey slowly nodded. “Come on guys,” he said quietly, “I think we’ve seen enough of The Fears for one visit.” He turned to smile at the rest, hoping to erase the look of uncertainty on some of their faces. It worked. Everyone began to relax. However, the repose was brief. Monica’s soft voice held little to no emotion when she said. “Tobey.” Her eyes were not focused on him. “Look over there.” He followed her gaze. There was a red oval-shaped dot floating high in the sky. It was a manifestation Tobey was all too familiar with, as were the rest of his soul group. The red oval-shaped dot in the sky was a sign for Tobey, and Tobey alone. It was a reminder that before the end of tomorrow he would have returned back to earth. That sign always appeared a day before he was due to return home.
At one time seeing it used to cause Tobey great distress, but now he welcomed it as it allowed him to emotionally prepare for his leaving.
“Oh well,” Albert said off the cuff, “at least you’ll get to see the Swirling Night Dragons this time…before you…you know.”
Some of the babies rolled their eyes. Albert’s timing was the stuff of legends. “Hey! What did I say?” he frowned. “What did I say?”
Although Tobey laughed with the others, his joy had diminished somewhat. But as always, he did his best not let it show.
“Come on. Let’s get off this bay,” he announced, “race you all to the waters.”
In this paradise full of babies, night time was even more exhilarating than the day, some would argue. The pale blue sky gradually became the colour of satin purple, and remained that way for the duration of the night. And baby Albert was right of course, the best part was the Swirling Night Dragons.
The sky which was laid out before them became a gaping, electrifying canvass, where hundreds of dancing dragons lit up the skyline. They came in every colour of the rainbow - and some - which did not feature on the human spectrum.
Meanwhile, whilst this parade was going on, the heavens above showered the inhabitants with the sweetest melodies ever heard by the living. Tobey just let it wash over him; the soft tingling of the harp, the joyful sounds of the flute and the heart-pumping call of the drums. It was sweet ambrosia to the ears: Surreal. Serene. Sublime. Nothing less than magical from the music made by angels.
Tobey could feel his body preparing to fall into a peaceful slumber. He absolutely adored this sensation; he wished he could sleep forever.
In a similar way the morning began as the night ended: delightful and tranquil. Tobey smiled and slowly opened his eyes. His soul group was all around him, or so it seemed at first. Tobey immediately felt discordance in his soul. It was as acute as a syringe puncturing the wrong vein (and boy did he know what that felt like!)
His soul group was gathered around him. But all were silent and looking at the same thing. They were looking at Husna, and with good reason. Poor Husna’s ever-present glow - had gone. And her eyes were muted; they communicated nothing.
They all knew what this meant.
Tobey didn’t get the chance to react. The red, oval-shaped dot hovering in the sky, chose this very opportune moment to claim him. It was time for Tobey to leave. Tobey was immediately engulfed by a rush of wind.
However, before Tobey, and any other visitor to the paradise goes back to the world, they are always given the opportunity to take a brief stop in the ether.
What is this ether? You ask.
The ether is an opening and Tobey was presented with two of them. One led back to his bed; his parents, and earth, which is usually the one he reluctantly went down. While the other led to The Corridor of Revelations...
When Tobey first started taking these ethereal trips back to earth, he was often advised to make a quick stop at The Corridor of Revelations.
“You never know what might be revealed to you,” a voice from the unknown once chimed, “bearing in mind you still remember what you’ve seen...”
Whether it was the combination of travelling between different realms, or the burden of the revelation, itself, many babies tended to forget what they had seen. Like a hazy dream, they only remembered snippets of what had been revealed to them.
However right now, Tobey desperately needed some answers. He decided to do something he hadn’t done before. He flew down the other opening; the one leading to The Corridor of Revelations.
Tobey stepped in, or he stepped out. He couldn’t explain what he did. All he knew was that he was now in a different place. It felt like he had entered a cool and vast amphitheatre, but displayed across the far-reaching walls was his earthly world in motion.
He saw his mother. She was talking to somebody on the phone. His father was in another room. He was washing his hands with lilac soap.
But wait! There was more…much more...What did he see?
He saw a man in a white coat. He knew who he was. It was Dr. Lawson. He wanted him dead.
But wait…There was more. The man in the white coat had a plan. A plan which would see the death of some of the members of his soul group, and many other innocents. He saw what the doctor had been doing all along.
And still…there was more...
There was a young woman - from the year of the flute. She was not like the others; her mind’s eye had been opened. She could see, hear, and feel the presence of others. Her name was Christine Shore. She was coming to the hospital. She was coming to see him.
Tobey realized he needed to return back to earth immediately, so that when this special lady arrived, he would tell her as much as he could. She was the only one who could stop this Dr. Lawson.
Tobey quickly headed towards the exit; swiftly leaving The Corridor of Revelations behind him.
As always, the journey back to the world was an excruciating one. First, the air he breathed in became thick and heavy and set his lungs on fire. It felt like he was inhaling harmful contaminants. Tobey was in fact taking in oxygen, one of the natural elements that surrounded the earth’s atmosphere.
Then, with a rude awakening, he became aware of his saliva. It tasted like he had been sucking on old pennies (not that Tobey knew what they were) all the same, it was nauseating but he found he was just too weak to vomit.
“Aaaarrrghhh!” Tobey groaned. It also felt like someone had crushed every bone in his body and left him for dead. There wasn’t a part of him that didn’t scream from the agony of it all. And, to add to matters, he was icy cold and hungry as well.
He could hear the periodic beeps of his ventilator machine and the all too real sound of silence.
He was back at the hospital.
His heart raced. He instantly recalled his visit to baby paradise. “Please. Nooooo…Not Husna!”
No longer was Tobey the energetic, able-bodied, baby, who, at a moment’s notice could take to the skies when he wanted to. Instead, he was now convalescing in a sterile room, waiting for help to arrive. Each breath was a fight to live, but at that moment, all he wanted to do was die. But he couldn’t do that either. He had to wait. He didn’t know which felt worse.