Methven - Day Fifteen - Part Two
Sometime in the night, my sleeping brain put two and two together with four and came up with an impeccable arrangement for eight assorted rocks. I awoke with the image of it clear in my mind.
Like so many burst soap bubbles, my dreams usually disappear within seconds after waking. Not this time. Walking up the winding path to Mahatna's hut with Pith stumping stiff-legged beside me, my mental picture of that collection of stones was still every bit as clear as it had been the moment I woke.
A night's sleep had obviously done Pith some good. He wasn't quite back to his normal loose-limbed shamble yet, but at least he wasn't staggering and the tremor in his hands was much less obvious than it had been.
On the other hand, he seemed extremely tired. He had to keep stopping to rest and I could tell by the way he massaged his temples during our breaks that the headache he'd complained about the night before was still with him.
Still, he soldiered on and he no longer seemed afraid of whatever was growing inside his head.
That was comforting. If the image in my mind matched the one in Mahatna's lesson plan, my own skull was going to host the same kind of growth in the very near future.
Assuming I kept my nerve, of course.
Eventually, Mahatna's cabin hove into view. Its ancient occupant was right where I'd expected to find him--sitting cross-legged on a sabat hide, just to the right of the cottage's only door, his staff leaning against the wall beside him.
He climbed to his feet as we approached.
"Good hunting, Mr. Pith. Good hunting, Mr. Drew."
"Good huntin', Mr. Mahatna."
You sawed-off jerk.
"You are feeling better this morning, Mr. Pith."
It was a statement, not a question.
"'Cept f'r m'head."
Mahatna laughed. He stepped forward and tapped Pith lightly on the right temple.
"Your skull is too hard for your own good, Mr. Pith. It has no room to grow. That is why it is our children who take the Elixir."
"Now you tell us."
Mahatna's blind gaze drilled into me.
"The pain will pass, Mr. Drew. In time, Mr. Pith will recover. So will you--if you choose to take the Elixir."
I'd been determined to put off making that decision until I had a chance to confront Mahatna with some pointed questions, but he'd just casually provided answers to two of the most important ones: why Pith had such a headache and whether he was going to be stuck with it.
"And the tremors?"
"In time, those will also pass, Mr. Drew."
"How long will that take?"
"No one from your Earth has ever taken the Elixir, Mr. Drew, so I cannot be sure. But already your shaking is less, is it not, Mr. Pith?"
Again, Mahatna shrugged.
"Then it should not be long before they are gone. Tomorrow, or perhaps the next day."
"And when will he start to See?"
"Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps never. When Mr. Pith's inner eye has finished growing, I will try to teach him how to See with it. He will learn--or he will not learn."
"Not t'trouble yuh, but, could we mebbe go inside 'n' sit down, Mr. Mahatna?"
"You okay, Pith?"
"'M jus' tired, is all."
"Is that normal?"
"To grow the inner eye takes much energy, Mr. Drew. To use it requires even more."
He gestured toward the doorway with his staff.
"Please, enter my home and be welcome."
We let him usher us to our customary seats. Pith collapsed into his with an audible sigh of relief.
While my friend mopped the sweat off his glistening forehead, Mahatna busied himself with his usual water-drawing ritual. This time, without comment, he poured Pith's cup half-full of liquid. As he'd done the day before, Mahatna filled mine exactly to the brim.
I was determined not to give him another excuse to smack me in the head with that damned staff of his. I forced myself to relax and concentrate on moving slowly and cautiously as I got a careful grip on my cup and brought it to my lips.
Although the surface of the water bulged up over the rim of the cup, I managed to keep from spilling so much as a drop. Hoping Mahatna wouldn't consider it cheating, I bent to sip from the shimmering fluid until enough of it was gone to permit me to drink the rest normally.
"You did well, Mr. Drew."
"Uh--thanks, Mr. Mahatna."
"Do you still wish to take the Elixir?"
I looked across the table at Pith. The fatigue lines around his eyes were etched deep and his hands trembled on the table's top like nervous birds. Yet, he smiled at me and in that smile there was no trace of attempted coercion--only acceptance. We were still friends, as we'd always been, and we would stay friends, regardless of how I might decide this question.
"Y'r call, doggie."
Even so, a small, stern voice inside me insisted that I owed Pith on this, big time. After all, I was the one who'd sold him on taking the Elixir in the first place. It was a mere accident that he'd been the first to taste it--our positions could easily have been reversed. And, damn it, I still wanted what the Elixir promised: the gift of Seeing, the promise that, like Mantami and his kin, I, too, could one day aspire to a vue any face, no pro, just zooming up the greasiest route like I had wings on my feet.
The hell with tremors, migraines and possible self-inflicted brain tumors--I wanted that magic.
"Yes. Yes, Mr. Mahatna, I do."
He turned to speak to Pith.
"If you are thirsty, you may take as much water as you need, Mr. Pith. Should you need sleep, you may use my bed as your own. Please touch nothing else in my home while I am gone. I shall return in a short while."
"Pith's not going with us?"
Mahatna shook his head.
"No, Mr. Drew, he is not. Your friend needs rest--and this is something you must do by yourself."
. . .
It was another clear, warm, beautiful Summer day. The pinkish-gold sun played tag with a handful of dazzling white clouds scattered across the deep blue sky and the air was filled with the sound of Methven's reptilian birdsong and the quiet buzz of tinier flying things.
Mahatna and I climbed in silence until we passed the stone puzzle I'd expended so much skull sweat on solving.
"Hey! Wait a second, Mr. Mahatna!"
"What is it, Mr. Drew?"
"Those rocks--don't you want to see how I line them up?"
He shook his head.
"No, Mr. Drew."
"But, how do you know I solved the puzzle?"
"If you had not solved it, you would have spilled the water, Mr. Drew."
"How do you figure that?"
"If you were not sure how the stones should be arranged, your thoughts would have been on them, Mr. Drew. You would not have been able to concentrate on drinking without spilling the water from your cup."
"Huh. I guess that makes sense, Mr. Mahatna. But, why don't you want to see my solution? I mean, what if it's the wrong one?"
"There is no wrong solution, Mr. Drew."
"There are many ways to arrange the stones, Mr. Drew. Yours is surely the right way for you--and that is all that matters."
Mahatna's blind eyes twinkled with amusement.
"The stones are perfectly arranged.."
He reached up with a gnarled finger and lightly tapped my left temple.
"..in here, Mr. Drew."
He turned back to the path.
. . .
The trail continued to wind its way up the mountain side, narrowing and becoming less obvious as it climbed. We were still a good way below the tree line, so there was plenty of plant life surrounding us--the occasional thicket or clump of woods we passed through would hide our view of the valley below, only to reveal it again as we approached the next switchback.
It was a pleasant enough hike and it passed in companionable silence until we reached a place where the path forked. One branch continued to climb, the other led downward to the right and into a copse of evergreen-like trees that gave off a pleasant, cinnamon scent.
"Up or down, Mr. Mahatna?"
He pointed to the descending way with his staff.
"Please wait for me at the end of that path, Mr. Drew. I will not be long."
Mahatna turned and began making his way up the left-hand branch. I watched him for a few seconds before starting down the other side.
In no time, Mahatna disappeared from sight. I was alone among the trees, hearing only the sounds of my own footfalls and the natural noises around me--the humming wings of small flying things and the rattling and chirping calls of larger ones mixed with the faint susurrus of the wind through the branches above me.
It was quite a pleasant moment--idyllic, almost.
The path ended abruptly within two dozen feet of exiting the scented woods, at the lip of a roughly triangular ledge that jutted out over the valley below. It stopped directly above a pair of smaller ledges set one below the other in such a way that they formed a kind of seat--actually more like a throne--that offered a spectacular 270° view of the Khasim clan's demesne.
I had to try it out.
The sheer cliff faces below me fell hundreds of feet straight down on both sides. It was like I was sitting in mid-air, high above the kind of panorama a soaring eagle might see--assuming that Methven had eagles.
It was absolutely the coolest thing I've experienced since we arrived on this planet.
I sat there, happy as a clam on Prozac, soaking up the scenery, letting time slip by unnoticed. The warm sunlight on my face and the cool breeze flowing down from the heights above kept perfect balance and I was content just to bask in the moment.
I was just starting to think about how nice it would be if I had one of Pith's greenbud specials to fire up, when I caught the faint thump of Mahatna's staff approaching from behind me. I levered myself up and climbed out of the rocky throne and back onto the main ledge as he emerged from the aromatic trees.
He stumped up to within a couple of feet of where I stood and aimed his sightless eyes directly at me.
"It is quite beautiful, is it not, Mr. Drew?"
I caught myself nodding in reply.
There are lots of blind people in Berkeley--you see them on the street every day. They all walk tilted backward, leading with their feet and sweeping the path in front of them with their white canes. When they sense an obstacle, they use those canes to explore the ground and the air around it, until they figure out how big it is and how to get around it.
They're self-reliant, but they're careful and they're always on the alert for new obstructions.
Mahatna, on the other hand, doesn't behave like a blind man at all. He walks with total confidence, as if unafraid that changes in his environment might have placed new hurdles in his path since the last time he passed by. He seems to know exactly where the people around him are, knows which way they're facing, even knows what expression they're wearing.
But he's as blind as Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles put together. The pupil and iris of both his eyes are as white as a glass of milk from the worst case of cataracts I've ever seen.
"Yes it is, Mr. Mahatna. Very beautiful and very peaceful."
"You are ready to take the Elixir, Mr. Drew."
It was an observation, not a question.
"Yes, Mr. Mahatna, I am."
I surprised myself with the certainty of my reply. I'd expected to have some doubts, some reservations about this irrevocable step; expected to have questions, suspicions, mixed feelings.
I'd expected to be afraid.
Instead, I was at peace with my decision; calm in the face of the change I was about to undergo. Somehow I knew that this time and this place and this committment were right for me and I for them. Whatever my destiny was to be, the Elixir was an inescapable part of it.
And I was looking forward to it.
(Copyright© 1997, 1998 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)