In The Land Of The Dead
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
the land of the dead, the world is a lifeless grey, and the sky is the colour
of tears, pricked out by the black points of the stars.
In the land of the dead, the grey mountains rise up to the
colourless sky from the endless plains, and the rivers wind sluggish and black
as night, from the beginning of eternity to its end. Wind does not blow, nor
does anything grow, in the land of the dead.
In the land of the dead, the ghosts stand, on every crag and
rock, unmoving. There is nothing to do, nowhere to go, except wait till the end
of time. And who knows what happens then? Not even the ghosts know.
I stood on my own crag, turning slowly under that lightless
sky, my anguish in me like a slow-burning fire, and yet I could do nothing to
quench it. If I’d still had a voice I would have screamed aloud, and if I’d
still had eyes I might have wept, but I was nothing but a wisp, one among
untold billions, without even a name.
I did not know how long it was since I’d been dead, or
whether I’d been here from the moment of my physical extinction – but I was
here now, and too full of sorrow not to despair.
I still remembered, faintly, the moment of my death, of the
heavy motorcycle between my legs leaning as I swept round the bend, and the car
coming, fast, too fast, on the wrong side of the road, too fast for me to do
anything, and the world swinging completely round once my head as I was flung
from the saddle. After that there was nothing – until now.
I could still see her face, though, could still feel the
pulling inside me, to be with her. We’d had troubles, bad troubles, the kind
that killed relationships and destroyed lives, but we’d healed them, we’d come
through, we’d had a fresh future together. And I’d been on my way to her, to
see her again, the joy of anticipation singing in my blood, when it had
happened. I could imagine her, waiting, impatience giving way to annoyance,
worry and then stark fear. She would still be waiting for me when the message
came. She would wait forever.
But we would never meet again, for there is no marker of
identity, no recognition, in the land of the dead.
Far in the distance, in whichever direction I looked, the
mountains rose in serried ranks, their slopes crowded with the ghosts, who
stood in such profusion on them that their outlines were blurred and misted.
And below my crag, the plain was cracked and fissured with aeons of drought,
and through it a broad black river flowed slowly. This, then, was what I would
know for the rest of eternity, in the land of the dead.
The anguish rose in me again, tearing me apart, and I could
tolerate it no longer. The pain folded me up and tumbled me off my crag. I
drifted like thistledown towards the distant plain, uncaring of what happened
to me. I wished I could feel physical pain, for that would have been a
blessing, a release. But there was nothing of that.
I came to rest on a ridge of rock by the river, where
another ghost stood, a wisp of a grey stain in the grey air. It twisted slowly
as I came down, and though it had no face, I felt its distant, disinterested
scrutiny. And, so faintly that I could hardly hear it, came a breath of a
"Despair and anguish – those are our constant companions,"
it said. "It would be better that you accepted it, for your own sake."
"Then is there no escape?" I asked. "Does the pain not grow
dimmer with the passage of time?"
For so long was the ghost silent that I thought it would no
longer speak. "There is no time here," it said at last. "No years, and no
seasons. Nothing passes by, and there is no dissolution. Nothing grows dimmer,
for there is no time to wash the pain away. Only the river flows, endlessly."
I looked down to the river, and its lifeless black depths,
which seemed to suck the grey out of the air and the darkness from the stars.
"Whence does the river flow," I asked, "and where does it go?"
"That is not something we know, or can tell," the ghost
whispered, its voice like the rubbing of desert sands. "The river comes out of
eternity and returns to it."
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