Sera Grace John, I Year B.A. English
“Lysa, its reading time! Go read your lessons in the study.”
Mama’s words made her squeal in joy involuntarily. She jumped up from her couch and loped to the study. Lysa, a sun-beamy eight year old, was the daughter of Jacques Pitt, a magistrate at the Crown Court in Sheffield. Being the seed of strict, disciplinarian parents, Lysa was forced to adhere to a timetabled lifestyle. Reclusive and soft-spoken, she was a ‘sloth’ personified, slow and sly. The only time she accelerated her velocity was when it was reading time. That was the only part of the timetable she loved.
“Be back by eleven o’clock,” The tail of mama’s command brought a look of uncertainty to her face. But soon, with the ‘every moment counts’ realisation, she quickened her pace. She latched the door to the study with a sly smile and sniffed. Being a bibliomaniac, she enjoyed the smell of books so much that it broadened her straight angle smile to an arc.
The study was a planetarium of books. Books stacked in wooden racks; books of all kinds, books of all shades, books of all sizes. Every shelf had a metal plate with the name of the genre etched on it. Lysa knew very well to which part of the pentagonal paradise she had to go. She went to the House ‘Fairy Tales’ and high-fived at her kins, the books. She pulled out a tall, plump one named the ‘Book of the Untold, Unheard and Unseen.’ This book had been her new companion for quite some time.
She somehow managed to keep it upright on the floor and opened the bookmarked page. It read ‘The Land of Quilea.’ Lysa looked at the clock; it was five minutes past nine thirty. Then, she opened the book wide, crouched down to the floor, closed her eyes and crawled into the book. She was soon caught in a squall.
She jerked, her eardrums banged and her feet grew cold. After a minute or so, pristine silence followed. She opened her eyes to find herself squatted on a mow, hay all around.
“Hey! You’re on time. Come, let’s go!” A squeaky voice startled her.
There was Molly, a gay and loquacious girl with a cherubic grin on her face. Her charisma and the fact that her feet didn’t touch the ground made her seem ethereal. She pulled Lysa up and towed her outside. Hand-in-hand, they sojourned the errand. What they came upon first was a suntanned street, as busy as a bumble bee, with toting vendors, bargaining customers and tittering women. Lysa showed them friendly smiles but they sold her cold looks of suspicion. She observed that all people there had their feet off the ground and floated around like mystics. She was fascinated by the halos of different radius and radiance that encircled their visages.
As they neared the end of the street, Molly took her to a shack shaped like a barrel. The aroma of wine was suspended in its very ambience. Different varieties of wine, in different gradients and strengths, seated themselves at the counter. The creepiness augmented by the smell of saccharine wine reminded Lysa of a Yorkshire bar she had visited on a family trip. As she stood there intoxicating herself with every detail she saw, Molly fetched her wine in a mug made of camel skin. She sipped the wine slowly. Every drop seemed a century old and held a stir of strength within.
“This is the most exotic wine in our world,” Molly began.
“It’s called the ‘Wine of the Rhine.’ Made from the virgin water of the Rhine and sour, soaring grapes from the Alps in your land, it is never consumed in your land, and is made only for export. It is ferried by our serfs to our ports where we bury it for a century before using. It is an antidote even to the most lethal poison. Our history says that when your queen Cleopatra was stung by the Egyptian Cobra (The Aspis), a vial of this wine was blessed by our priest and sent to her. But unfortunately, her soul had made it to the Elysium by then. You are lucky enough to taste this which no human has ever tasted.”
Feeling proud to enjoy that privilege, she gulped the liquid heaven down in a jiffy!
They left the shack and moved on to explore the rest of Quilea. They passed on to a green, serene village strewn with thatched huts and bamboo boundaries. In an open ground near one of the houses, she saw a group of urchins sitting on the lemon-green grass and reading, or rather pretending to read from books made of banana leaves. A pot-bellied pedagogue with a panama on his bald head sat on a cactus stool reading a thick book made of reed. Its title was ‘The Book of Baelish.’ His eagle eyes and pointed nose reminded her of the notorious scientist Felonious Gru from Despicable Me. The funny face made her giggle.
“Funny? Come, there are more surprises to behold.”
They trotted along a long, muddy road with straw fields on either side. After about twenty steps, they came to a vast stretch of gleaming blue water with patches of pink and purple popping up here and there. Every time the chrome of the petals faded due to sunlight, they would plunge down into the water and resurface even more brighter.
“Wow!” Lysa’s subconscious mind spurted out the awe she felt.
“This is the ‘Marsh of the Mallow’. The mallows here are in eternal bloom, they never droop. They have no roots, thus people often allude them to independence. They say that one who has no roots and commitments are the most free and happiest! Every time the plant loses sheen, the thallus goes deep down into the water in order to rejuvenate itself.”
“We have no such wonder back in our world,” exclaimed an overwhelmed Lysa.
“Your world is blind to beauty! It fosters only worldly wonders. Well, shall we move on?”
They shuffled towards what seemed like a colosseum, but was actually a sanctuary for the senile. Seven scores of wrinkled faces walked wearily in the lawn that seemed like a carpet to the hospice. Lysa was stifled to see an antipodean to the ergo gay community. But she learned that it was a custom by which parents should depart from their dear ones when they cross the line of half a century and that the old there are never sad and lonely like those in the old age homes in her world. This gave her catharsis. As she observed, Lysa saw that a portion of the lawn was demarcated using white bricks and in it were poppies of different colours- white, yellow, pink, red, blue, purple and black.
Before she could ask what it was for, Molly sensed her thoughts and pointed to a flower.
“This is the Poppy of Hope. Every new member here is given a poppy seed which they must plant and nurture. The colour the flower would be was an indication of the personality they possessed. On the day an inmate dies, the respective plant droops and crumbles into the ground and will decay along with them.”
Albeit astounded at the whole setup, she was inspired by the grace of the grey folks. By now, the sun, having relished enough of the day, had begun his preparations to retire.
That’s when the duo made it to the seashore. In contrast to the rough seas in her world, Lysa found the seashore exemplarily serene. The tides were high and waves came up to her hips, making her squeal at the wetness and coldness. Every wave brought with it a dozen shells, scallops and oysters. Lysa had a queer fascination towards the sea because the rumbling of the sea made her feel she had someone to talk with, unlike her pensive, aristocratic parents.
”Lysa, collect the shells and open them”. Molly’s demand interrupted Lysa’s silent admiration.
“Open them? But they stink and there are organisms in it!”
“They stink and have life only in your world. Here facts are faceless. Everything is a fantasy, even you and I. Go on”.
Lysa loved fantasies and the fact that she was one filled her with elation. She picked up a brown scallop and opened it. There, to her surprise, she found the letter “Q” written with a gelatine-like substance. She stood and gaped.
“How can this be?” Lysa asked in awe.
“This place where you are is the ‘Littoral of Lits’”. Molly splashed a reply.
“Lore says that there was once, a beautiful mermaid who was very wise and witty. She used to come to the shore and share her knowledge with the folks. Once, an ogre was enticed by her charm and wanted to marry her albeit having a wife. The jealous ogress plotted a plan and befriended the underwater spirits who poisoned the mermaid. An anguished ogre then killed his wife and drowned her in the sea. Since then the mermaid’s spirit writes letters in shells and oysters and sends them up to the humans to educate them. It is also perceived to be epistles of love she sent to the bemoaning ogre”.
Enthralled by the mysterious episode of love, Lysa stared at the horizon where the sun was plunging in the water. She wondered if the sun, like the shells, had a secret message encoded on it by the sky to be sent to her love, the sea.
As dusk gave way to night, it dawned on her that she couldn’t revel in the ethereal bliss of Quilea forever. Every fantasy, howsoever appealing, would once be overshasowed by fact. She turned to Molly, whose halo shone like fire in the unsettling darkness. Molly opened her arms wide and smiled.
“Until we meet again, our facts will be your fantasy!”
“Your facts will be my fantasy!” Lysa replied as they exchanged a warm hug.
As she said those words, she closed her eyes and jumped. She jumped into nowhere. A gush of wind slapped against her as she fell into something which she didn’t know. The fall lasted for a few milliseconds and ‘thud’, she had a safe, rapid landing. She opened her eyes to see her sanctuary- the library. Lysa looked at the clock, ten forty. She chuckled to herself at the thought of how one eventful day in a fun-filled reverie was equal to one trivial, mundane study hour!
She gently pulled out a few souvenirs from the pocket of her peach pinafore. She then went to the edge of the room, removed a tile and pulled out a maroon diary. On it, was embossed in gold letters ‘Musings of a Mysterious Me.’ Three-fourth of the book had been scribbled in. Lysa opened it and turned to a fresh page. With a calligraphy pen, she wrote in big, bold letters ‘Quilea- A Land as Queer as its name!’ on the page on the left side. On the page on the right, she stuck the keepsakes one by one- a portion of wine-stained camel skin, a reed with Baelish’s quote, a purple mallow flower, a petal of the white poppy and a scallop with the letter ‘Q’ on it. Against each of those, she wrote their sources- The Wine of the Rhine, The Book of Baelish, The Marsh of Mallows, The Poppy of Hope and The Littoral of Lits.
The time was ten minutes to eleven by then, and she buried the book back in its bed and sealed the witness to her fantasies with the tile. ‘Phew! Back to normal’ she sighed to herself although she knew that it was just one among her many abnormal adventures!!
“Mama, until I wake up tomorrow, your story will be my dream!”
“My story will be your dream.” Lysa said, as she kissed her son goodnight after narrating to him his bedtime story. Still, her mind was stranded in the queer land of Quilea ; the land she explored with Molly twenty years back…