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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Solitude

I was once a princess, though seeing me now, you would never think it possible. The young girl who comes to help feed and clean me shows no signs of revulsion as she gently wipes my wrinkled face and toothless gums. The light that comes in through the tiny window is barely enough for her to see by, and yet she never misses a spot. Oh, to be young once more!
I doze as I wait for the next bowl of porridge...or my time to leave. The dark walls dissolve into a bright garden, radiant with greenery. I hear the voices of my companions urging me to come swing with them. A messenger appears. "Your mother the queen wants your presence in her chamber."
I was to be married to a great prince, I was informed. In a few months, I would lead the life that I had been prepared for ever since I had come of age. No more careless play and dolls. I would learn to be the queen that I had to become. What followed was an intensive instruction in all the arts and allurements that were deemed necessary.
My wedding came and went, with much fanfare. I was well pleased with my husband. He was a great prince, but a gentle and kind person, not encumbered with the arrogance and carelessness that I had seen in my brothers. We lived lives of luxury and happiness, blessed at the end of the first year with a beautiful son. What more could a princess want?
I did not see it coming, this darkening of my husband's mind to the little pleasures of our daily lives. He stopped listening as I told him of our son's latest exploits, or the lovely dress gifted to me by his sister, or the wonderful song I had heard yesterday. He wandered off moodily as I tried to draw him out about his day at court. Why was he shutting himself off to me, who had ever been his nearest and dearest for these two years?
One bright morning, after a moonless night, I woke up to find the place beside me empty, no mark of his leaving. He was gone. Where, I knew not. There was no word from him.  Days went by, weeks, months.
All in the palace shunned me and my son. They were afraid to meet my questions or my rants.
The years passed.  I grew silent, and my son went out to play, forgot that he ever had a father in his infancy. Every now and then he would come back to cry at some taunt from his playmates, as they called him 'The Fatherless One'.
I had nothing to say to him, just let the days go by one after the other, waiting. For what? For a word from he who left me. But no word ever came.
My son grew old enough to be married. Many asked me to pick out a suitable bride for him, but I resisted. What if he ran away like his father? It was bad enough that I faced all these years of loneliness, but what if I were condemning another young girl to the same fate?
My son stood before me, head bowed. " I must go to my father. Who is he?"
"In the grove outside the city, lives a large congregation of monks. Go there to the teacher who sits under the tree and ask him your question. He knows who your father is."
And so he walked away. The last I heard of him was through a messenger sent to convey to me that he had  decided to join the monks. He had found his answer, while I sat waiting for mine.
The years fly by again, and I sit every day in solitude, barring the visits of a few. I am grown too old to care for myself, and now  wait for a visitor other than he who left me so long ago. At length, I wake up from my nap to see a bright figure at the door way. I put my arms out toward Him, whom I have spent my life waiting for to come back to me. And as I totter and fall, the light fades away, but I have my answer at last.
Buddham sharanam gacchami.




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