"A child has beaten me in plainness of living." - Diogenes Laertius of Sinope
Little Sita walked to the edge of the sands slowly. She watched the ebb and swell of the cerulean waves in quiet melancholy. Everywhere she turned the ghostly outlines of beasts and brutes followed. She lingered in expectation, waiting, watching, as the sea-gulls dipped and soared in loud
symphony. Everywhere she looked, an unquiet greeted her for the search that would not end. The earth had offered up its wisdom to a child. But she had chosen the pocketbook world of painted apricots, instead of partaking of the real ones. It was not a fishing expedition. There was no enchantment left.
In her hands she held an old oil lamp. It was an earthly lamp. She carried it wherever she went. She had looked at it often. When lit, it glowed, with a flickering light of the rise and fall of blue embers, gauntly gashing. It was a leftover from a bygone past of a former Deepavali, oh-so-long-ago. An odd forgotten curio which she had retained, as a much wanted heirloom, one she could never let go.
Daily she nursed her treasure, lighting the lamp, as the apocryphal story had foretold, attributed oh-so-long-ago to Diogenes Laertius the Cynic. Everywhere he went, his prophetic lamp of ancient wisdom had accompanied him in his philosophical wanderings. Centuries past, when the
world was a place for fables and legends, a man of virtue leading a frugal life, had vainly roamed through the streets of Sinope, in search for an honest man, in search for the speaker of truth, a truth he would never find, even when the sun of burnished gold was brightly flaming, and the moon of
pearly silver was asleep. He poured scorn wherever he went. For who but a "mad dog" or a "wise fool" would light a lamp in broad daylight? The last laugh. Some odysseys would never find an end.
Through dim alleyways Sita crawled. She would wipe her lamp clean and polish it with an old rag, till it glowed brightly. But try as she might and however harder she scrubbed, she was compelled to accept with fine distinction, that no magic genie would mysteriously appear through the bowels of the lamp, spreading red sparkle and aura. Not as Aladdin's had illustrated, when summoned. Only some lamps were predestined to greater glories it seemed. Others were not inter-connected to higher reckonings.
One day a beautiful Goddess appeared, drenched in the mantle of the earth. She glowed in a brilliant green luminescence. Sita could not tear away her gaze, not having seen such a grand vision before. The specter shimmered in overlapping flux. The earth was alive! She stared strangely, overcome by
the mystical sight.
"Come little one, follow me if you seek the truth," the vision spoke to the little girl, taking her gently by the hand, "Nature is being conquered by concrete and asphalt."
Sita trembled in silent cry, filled with awe as she watched her thin and bony fingers protruding sharply, like broken cracked twigs, from under her thin translucent skin, being softly wrapped in the pale porcelain of the Goddess' delicate palm.
"Will you light my lamp?" Sita asked the strange lady, filled with trepidation at her bold request.
The Goddess did not reply. Infused instead with a comely grace, she led the quivering girl up the nearby mountain side, to the Tree of Resource and Research. It spread invitingly. Beckoning.
"Why do you deceive the child so?' mocked the Tree. 'What's the use of a lamp with no bearable planet to light? What's the use of a lamp when honesty as a paramount virtue is no longer the order of the day?"
"You lie!" replied the Goddess unafraid, "We must go to the land where the green grass grows. It is that abode we seek."
The sun had slid into the ocean waters leaving a slash of coral peach sky. Tepid twilight was descending. Sita curled herself on the cold pavement into a fetal position as she slept. The streets were her home. The plain speaking Diogenes who had met with philosophers and kings, had lived in a tub, a simple wooden barrel, on the bare pavements, surrounded by street dogs. He had taken pleasure in it, preferring his frugal lifestyle to one of artificiality and pretentious luxury, as depicted in the frescoes and art works of Waterhouse and Jean-Leon Gerome.
As she slept little Sita dreamt of her lamp extinguished. It was always the same dream. She would trade it for postage-stamps or quails' eggs. It was not for her corner of the earth.
Rekha Valliappan holds an M.A. in English Literature from Madras University and an LL.B. from the University of London. Her passion is fiction writing. Her prose works are more recently published or forthcoming in Indiana Voice Journal, Friday Flash Fiction, Third Flatiron, Scarlet Leaf Review, 100 Voices Anthology, Intellectual Refuge and Boston Accent Lit which adjudged her the 2nd Prize winner in their Annual Short Story Contest 2016. She is an avid reader of mysteries, fiction and literary classics. She lives in New York where she stays actively involved in community service. Born in Bombay she looks to Asia for inspiration. Https://silicasun.wordpress.com
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