In a shabby room of a rundown cottage atop a hillock, surrounded by clouds spiralling in the gentle wind, three old ladies sat in silence. They contemplated life, and things beyond, working on a spinning wheel between them.
“Have the children returned from the forest yet?” Clotho* asked Lachesis*.
“No, there is still time,” Atropos* retorted. Clotho was seated at the head, turning the wheel effortlessly, while Lachesis measured out the thread and Atropos cut it at the exact length.
“They have been out for too long, don’t you think?” Clotho inquired, trying to get the attention of her sisters. But neither of them lifted their grey and withered heads as they continued labouring.
After a while, Clotho became restless again, but before she could speak, Atropos said gruffly,
“There is work to do yet, Clotho. The bundles must be finished before darkness falls, let the children play till then.”
She wasn’t satisfied with the answer, but unable to speak against her elder sister, she focused on her task. Lachesis noticed her fretting, and since Atropos was not saying much, she appeased her by saying,
“If you are so worried, why don’t you look out the window and check on them?”
Delighted with the suggestion, she turned her chair slightly to look outside. There, in the near distance, she spotted the seven of them, each busy in their own game. They were walking among the trees, giggling and laughing, playing hide-and-seek. Afterwards, Casti* and Tempe*, being the elder ones, decided to rest and watched the others enjoying their frolic. Cari* and Indu* started digging a hole in the ground to plant a tree and allotted the work of finding a seed to Pati*, while Huma* and Humi* went to search for water. Clotho’s face creased further into a smile at this beautiful scene, and then immediately turned to worry. For as the swirls of clouds and fog that surrounded them parted, she looked upon a completely different spectacle.
She was faced with the harsh lights, deafening noises, reeking fumes and foul-tasting atmosphere of the unfortunate world below. Beyond the opaque screen, she saw a mass of hurtling bodies, all engrossed with a bent neck in a device of some kind, never bothered about their family or friends. While some gorged on the gifts of the land, some lay dying on the roads, hungry and naked. Conspiracy, crime and corruption had become part of their routine, while the rare who were righteous had sewn their mouths shut.
Clotho turned away from it all, stifling a tear. As they finished the bundles of the day, Atropos stood and called the children to the cottage. They came skipping towards her, and Lachesis handed each of them a bundle of fine yarn.
“The darkness* is going to be upon us soon”, she informed them, “And once more Mankind will need you. Your duty is to enable them to see the Light within themselves. Let them learn from their history, ask for forgiveness for their selfishness, and walk towards a better future filled with kindness and compassion. Too long have the forces of evil wreaked havoc on His creation. It is your mission to remind mortals where the real value lies, and where they can find peace and prosperity.”
And so the seven, hand in hand, began their trudge and grind towards the mires below. With nervousness in their hearts and invocations on their lips, they walked through dark paths and deep tunnels, a ray of hope visible in the far distance. Sometimes one slipped and fell, other times they lost sight of their goal and went astray, but they would assist each other and continue their journey. Through many trials and tribulations, through treacherous trails and thorny thickets, they finally made their way towards Planet Earth.
What a sight they saw! It was more chaotic than what they had been through. Everyone and everything was doused in confusion. People were in need of guidance and leadership, which none of the so-called Heads of State provided. Wherever they went, there was mistrust and disbelief. They could not understand what had caused all of civilization to be in a disarray.
“Shall we look for clues?” Pati asked.
“I don’t think we need to look further,” Casti pointed at a sign that read ‘The End Is Near’.
“Is that true?” Humi grew worried.
“It is not in our hands to question His ways. We have to focus on our task.” Tempe said.
“Look at these people. Do you think they are worth the effort?” Huma was sceptical.
“We have to try our best then, don’t we?” Indu tried to cheer everybody.
“Yes, we have to. There might be someone somewhere who is willing to find the Light inside them.” Cari assured everyone. And with this belief in their heart, they spread out in the land.
“This is not fun anymore!” Aliya said and flung her Xbox PlayStation on the floor. Her father, Liaqat, rolled his newspaper and glared at her.
“You are not making this easy for anyone, Aliya. I know it’s not fun. I am stuck here too. You have to make do!”
“But I don’t want to make do! I want to go out and play!”
“Out of the question. It’s too dangerous and you know it.”
“I don’t care! I want to go!” And she started stomping her feet on the floor.
For a second, Liaqat shut his eyes to control his anger. Then he opened his eyes and smiled.
“All right, you win. Run and get ready. There is something I want to show you.”
Aliya was delighted. They put on their masks and gloves and sat in their car. Liaqat kept driving until they were almost at the end of the city.
“Where are we going, Abba?”
“You will see,” he said.
They arrived at a cluster of dilapidated buildings, one of which declared ‘Asha Orphanage’.
“Watch carefully,” Liaqat encouraged.
They did not step inside, but they didn’t need to. The yard in front of the building was filled with children, emaciated and in various states of undress, but yet filled with joy. Some cleaned while others played with rags and broken toys. Some sang and some laughed. Aliya couldn’t believe her eyes. She held her father’s hand.
“I won’t complain anymore. Let’s go home.”
Liaqat and Casti both smiled.
“We don’t need that,” Aashvik said.
Tara picked up another packet.
“Not that one too,” he said.
She put it down and reached for another.
“We don’t need that either,” Aashvik said again.
“Will you let me buy something?” Tara was frustrated.
“Why are we even here? We just bought everything we needed last week.”
“In this situation, we never know what is going to happen tomorrow. Might as well be prepared.”
They moved towards the next aisle.
“At what cost? It is not necessary to keep buying things we don’t need just to see them go to waste.”
“Waste? We really need these things!” Tara was getting impatient now.
“Oh really? So you didn’t throw away two packets of rice noodles and sweet corn two days back.”
“Only because you refused to eat my famous corn noodles.”
“You were making it for the fifth time. I couldn’t bear it anymore.”
They turned and entered the toiletries section.
“Look! There are only two rolls of toilet paper left. We have to get them.”
“No, we don’t. We have tons left to use!”
While the twins argued, someone interrupted them.
“Excuse me, if you don’t mind, could you please leave those rolls for me. I don’t have a single one left and I have five kids.”
Aashvik and Tempe both nodded in encouragement.
“I don’t understand why we keep doing this.”
Li Jing and Li Jun were preparing food for ten people. They had been doing this for the past week.
“I thought you wanted a child?” Li Jing looked at her husband.
“Yes, but how does feeding these hungry, miserable neighbours going to help us?” Li Jun was not happy with his task.
“Look around us, Jun. We have the biggest house in the neighbourhood. We have enough food and resources to last us a decade. What is the only thing we cannot buy?”
Jun was not convinced. He went back to chopping his lentils. After a while, he spoke again.
“What if it doesn’t work? I don’t trust the words of these clerics at all.”
“I don’t trust them either. But that is not why we are doing this. We have a responsibility towards others.”
“Why should we waste our money on others? We have worked hard for it. It’s not fair.”
Jing sighed and said, “What is happening right now is not fair on anyone, Jun. No one knows what will happen tomorrow. What will you do with all your wealth then?”
Jun didn’t talk anymore. They finished preparing and packing everything up and set out to distribute.
An old lady opened the door at the first house they knocked at.
“Oh, Jun it’s you! How kind of you to remember me.”
“Why would we forget you?” Jing said.
“No, no, nothing like that. I just thought you might not keep up with this.”
“We’re going to provide as long as we can.”
“How nice of you. I’ll pray that you get your child soon.”
Cari and Jing both folded their hands and said “Amen”.
“I cannot work like this anymore.”
Aradhya flung her papers on her makeshift workspace.
“Why? What’s wrong?” Mohini’s distorted voice came from the inside of the laptop.
Mohini and Aradhya had been working on this project all night. Aradhya’s eyes had started to water from staring at the screen.
“I just don’t have a good feeling about this. What if our hard work goes down the drain? What if our ideas are not approved?”
Mohini was much calmer than her.
“That does not mean we do not keep working. Why don’t you get yourself a glass of water first?”
Aradhya got up and went to her kitchen. She got a bottle from her fridge and took a swig. After a few more gulps, she came back to her desk.
“Better?” Mohini inquired.
“Yes, but I still can’t shake off this feeling. Oh wait, I’m receiving another call. It’s from Vrusha. Should I join her here?”
“Yes please, I want to talk to her too.”
“Hi,” Vrusha waved at them from her screen. “So how is everything going?”
“Well, I’m fine, but Aradhya here thinks this project is a waste of time. Will you please convince her that it’s not?”
Vrusha nodded her head.
“Do you want to know something? 50% of the staff from my company were laid off yesterday,” said Vrusha.
“What? Why?” Aradhya was shocked.
“Officially, they have said that the company doesn’t need them anymore, but I think it’s only because they want to make sure they keep their own pockets full.”
All three went silent for a while. Then Mohini said, “Do you want to get back to work?”
Aradhya agreed. So did Indu.
“Just one more spoon,” Anna tried to feed her son.
“No, I don’t want anymore. This is too bland and tasteless,” Roberto grumbled.
“Come on, just one more. You will feel better.”
“I said no! Why don’t you understand? I don’t want to eat anything!”
She put down the bowl angrily.
“I didn’t ask you to go out of the house and bring this curse here on us!”
Anna had had enough. For two weeks now, she had cared for her 28-year-old son, trying to nurse him back to health. This pandemic had taken a great toll on her, both physically and financially.
The hospitals were all full and the private ones were too expensive to get her son admitted. She had started feeling the effects on herself too.
“Mother, can you please come and sit by me? My chest aches.” Robert breathed heavily. Reluctantly, she moved towards the corner where he lay and sat down.
“I am so sorry, Mamma, to have troubled you so. I know I have never been a good son to you, I have never made you proud of me.” His eyes started to moisten.
“I am always proud of you, figlio.”
A coughing bout seized him. Anna rushed to administer his cough medicine and rub his back. After a good while, he spoke again.
“Mamma,” he rasped, “you have been so good to me all these years, and I have done nothing but trouble you.”
“Don’t talk like you’re already dead.”
“But I am dying, Mamma,” he said, “you can do nothing to stop it.”
Anna held his hand.
“Shh, all this talk will hurt you more, take some rest.”
“No, Mamma, I have to get it out now. You always told me to get a job, settle down, but I kept up screwing around.”
Anna caressed his head.
“I am so sorry Mamma, I… am….. so….. sorry. I should have listened to you. I shouldn’t have gone out.”
Anna and Pati released a stream of tears.
“Is everyone ready?” Old Man Cyrus asked for the tenth time.
“Oh ho, Cyrus, don’t start again ha, please,” Mrs Wadia complained.
“Yes, we still have two hours to go. Please let us rest till then,” Mr Mehta took Mrs Wadia’s side.
“You folks do this every year. You always start late,” Cyrus was about to burst into hysterics.
“I don’t know why you have to make such a fuss every year. You’re 99. You’re going to be a hundred in a few hours. What’s the big deal?” Tata Sir said.
“We will get ready on time. Don’t fret and sit down,” Mr Daruwala stated in a tone that ended the argument.
He may have been vanquished, but Old Man Cyrus was not going to give up easily. To attract their attention, he began pacing the room, muttering to himself. Everybody tried to ignore him, but his voice was getting louder and louder with every turn.
“You will give yourself a heart attack if you keep this up. Do you want to die on your birthday?” Daruwala wagged his finger at Cyrus.
“To Hell with all of you. I am going up to my room. Call me whenever you’re done!” And Cyrus stormed off as fast as his crutches could carry him.
Tata Sir and Mr Daruwala knocked on his door. Cyrus did not want to open but finally relented.
“Don’t you want to meet your granddaughter?” Tata Sir said.
“How?” Cyrus was shocked. Every year on this day, Iraj would come to meet him and celebrate his birthday. This was the first time that they would be apart.
The recreation room had been decorated and everyone was well dressed. And there, waving from a corner, joining all the way from Russia, was Iraj.
“Happy Birthday, Dadu,” she said through the screen.
“I can see you!!” Cyrus was ecstatic.
Everybody along with Huma had a hearty laugh.
“Are you sure we’re in the right spot?”
Amare asked Imani.
“This is where I was yesterday when he came,” Imani answered.
The two men, clad in rags and patches, were waiting on the dusty road, trying to avoid the boiling sun with their cloaks.
“What exactly did he give you?” Amare asked again.
“Well, there was food, and there were soaps and masks, and other stuff.”
“I hope he does come. I have run out of money and I really need some stuff for the baby.”
“We have to take whatever he gives and be grateful. If we ask for more, he might not come again.”
“But the baby needs medicine. I have got to try and plead with him.”
They waited for an hour more and were about to give up when they saw a car approaching in the distance. A man stepped out, his face covered in a mask and shield, and began distributing packages to the beggars along the street. When he got to where Amare and Imani were sitting, he handed them a package each.
Amare quickly went through the items but found no medicine. He did not have the courage to go up to the man, but he somehow noticed Amare’s discomfort.
“Is there something wrong brother?” he asked.
“It’s my baby, Mister. She’s four months old and really sick. I have no money to buy anything.”
“Ah, damn,” the man said. “I don’t have much cash on me right now.”
Amare was dejected.
“Tell you what. Why don’t you tell me where you live, and I’ll make sure that you get whatever you need.”
“It’s not a good neighbourhood, Sir.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll come myself.”
Later that night, someone knocked on Amare’s hovel. It was the man himself.
“Here you go. The medicines and baby food. Will you be needing anything else?”
Amare was almost in tears.
“I can never repay your kindness. Please tell me your name so I can thank you properly.”
“There is no need for that. Tell me if you ever require help.”
And the richest man in the country drove off silently. Humi clapped her hands in joy.
One by one, the bundles of yarn grew smaller, and the weight of the seven gradually decreased. They were all happy with their work but knew there was more to be done. They were happy that they could touch the lives of so many, and lead them into the Light.
Far above, the three sisters watched proudly. The air had become clearer, and they could see animals roaming more freely. It did not stink and was starting to look a lot more beautiful, as it once used to be. The seed planted in the forest by the children before they left began to bloom into a beautiful flower. There was still hope.
- S. I have taken certain creative liberties with Christian philosophies and Greek mythology, and are not to be confused with any religious preaching.
Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos – The three sisters of time and destiny
Casti, Tempe, Cari, Indu, Pati, Huma and Humi- Representatives of the seven Holy virtues
Casti – Casitas Latin for Chastity
Tempe – Temperentia Latin for Temperance
Cari – Caritas Latin for Charity
Indu – Industria Latin for Diligence
Pati – Patientia Latin for Patience
Huma – Humanitus Latin for Kindness
Humi – Humilitius Latin for Humility
The darkness- The global pandemic