Remembering in Descent

Hands clasped around ashy silvers as she descended with desperation. 

Long days spent glued onto the egg-shaped chair with wooden legs, her focus shifting between screens and people. Trapped inside her head, enclosed within four walls painted in ‘Cloud White’, made it difficult to believe in anything. Strained, the veins in her temples felt as though they’ve been played tug-a-war with. Her feet on stilts on every embark towards the coffee station, barely ever in contact with the Earth under her.

In opposition to this, she now gradually sank, hypnotised by the scent of the freshly bathed Earth as her fingers dug into burrows emerging below her palms, pleading to be penetrated, asking to be whole again. Selfless. Balancing. Inviting. Inching away from grounds on which lay plastic wrappers, disposable cups and masks, away from the tainted surfaces that were unable to escape harm, and beyond the stenches of artificiality. 

She had come across this place as a child. A neglectful, neurotic caretaker and the fear of being indoors, in captivity, had often led to her wandering about and gallivanting in the vast expanse of the rural backyard of the foster homes - something she was often told off for, yet felt compelled, as if she needed to be outside, under the sky, her hands and feet feeling, treading the Earth. 

It wasn’t until she was six or so, that she’d been placed in a home on the outskirts of the city. The vast expanse making a better playmate than any toy or imaginary friend could; when on one of her countless adventures into the wilderness, away from assigned chores and the screaming, screeching of her brothers and sisters, she’d been led, by her intuition, to a cave. She was sure it hadn’t been there before, but she was a forgetful, wicked child, or at least she’d been told so. Never a fearful one, however, and upon approaching the entrance, she felt instinctually a sense of home. Whatever that had meant, a sense of belonging perhaps. 

Peering closer, she’d realised what she had thought to be a cave, descended abruptly into a hollow. Almost a vertical tunnel. A natural shaft. On the edge of which she sat, wondering what lay at the bottom. Inching closer and closer, as if to get a clearer idea of what was calling to her from inside. The roof of the cave had several openings, through which she could see the trees above, however, it was too late in the day and the sun didn’t shine through, unhelpful in her quest.

“Out again?! Dirty, uncivilised child. How many times must I tell you to walk on your legs, not on all fours! You aren’t an animal! Where are your manners? Look at how dirty your knees and hands are, what are you doing? Get back inside, now!”

Startled, she’d stood up on her feet abruptly. Dusting off the mud on her hands and making her way towards the carer. One glance back and there had been nothing. No cave, no hollow, no descent. 

Decades passed, now uprooting patience, she longed only for one thing. Nippy mist on her brows and the tip of her nose, like kisses from an invisible lover. Sedated by dimming light, she held her being close to the edges of the hollow. Her warm breath formed dew on raw stone and vines which mimicked veins. Sand, gravel and silt embed themselves into her, relieved at her touch, unwilling to let go again. She pressed herself, further into the walls of the hollow. Consolidating. Reassuring. She was here now. 

Her toes greeted the emerald moss, sending tingles up her legs. Life relinquishing in them, and generously returning to her the sensations she was deprived of in the constraints of the carpet-lined floors, faux leather stilettos and cotton socks. Unbothered by her person, rather yielding, the ground came alive, sculpting and enveloping her feet as if treating an abused animal. 

Grounded and sunken, she stood seduced by the silhouettes of trees that hung higher than ever. Closing her eyes, chin tilted toward the sky as if kissing the phantom of the heavens. She remained stagnant, basking in the moon’s generosity to glaze what it glanced. Regardless of how much time had passed, the sense of belonging she’s felt stumbling upon the hollow all those years ago, was still present. She could hear the soft whispers again, calling to her, enticing her. Sounds of relief emanated from roots and plants for she had found her way back.  

All those years that she’d spent amongst what was deemed a ‘civilised society’, having learnt to walk upright, shave, speak in words, follow rules, fit into the shape of a working human, had faded away and blurred instinctual desire. The civilised society especially loved the fact that she’d grown up with a not-so-great background, that she was different, yet had succumbed to, and become a successful independent individual. She had a desk job, an apartment, a car, what else could she ever want? What other life would she have rather chosen, especially for someone who had nothing, to begin with?

The years of moulding and shaping had attempted to obscure the truth, to detach her. But she had always had everything to begin with, it just didn’t align with what everyone else wanted for her, with what they thought was the only way to live. She was a child not born to be tamed, a soul so connected to the Earth, she didn’t need much else to live off. All are born this way. Pure forms. Another creation of the marvellous Earth, a gift in the form of life. A gift of experiencing emotions, of connecting and strengthening bonds. The gift of existing, inclusive of all needs, obtainable from the ground underneath, from other beings.

But most don’t. By the time humans are of age, they’re so far removed from their natural instincts, they don’t seek out other ways of being, the true way of being. They continue to live in sanctioned spaces, plots of land rented or bought, on artificially cultivated food barely holding true flavour or value, away from wild animals who don’t have the ability to understand economics or politics or write on paper and script ideas. They continue to live thinking they are above all other, that other is for their own benefit, that other has no value but to serve them.

However, some manage to slip through the cracks. Those whose upbringing diverts from the mainstream, leaving a gap somewhere in early development where they are left to their own devices, to form their own thoughts and let their instincts guide them. A case that had been for her. 

She’d been left on her own a lot, without much guidance, without much direction. It had led to her discovering the hollow, at a young age. A miracle she came across when she was closest to her form as an animal, when she was pure and unaware of what her kind was capable of. She hadn’t been taught to fear, she hadn’t been restricted, she hadn’t changed much since her birth. She had accepted the hollow until she was torn away from it abruptly, punished for lying about it and shunned for talking about it as if it were real. For years after, she shut out any thought of it.

Buried under learning social cues, how to do taxes, which lip colour suited her the best and how she could make the most money. Every year, she’d part more and more from what she had seen, from the feeling of belonging. She had made herself believe that it could be found in all these other things everyone else was always doing. She just had to be like them. She just had to fit in and then it’d all be okay. She learnt to speak properly enough to get by, to dress well enough to look presentable, work enough to survive and act normal enough to fit in. 

But as time went on, glimpses of the hollow and her encounter with it seeped back in. Every time she’d go on a walk, the urge to get on all fours was so strong. She felt she could speak to birds more fluently than she could with other humans. She believed what she’d seen, what she’d felt; and although for years she’d tried to see it from others’ perspective, to see things ‘logically’, she knew they were wrong. How could the cows, the lizards, foxes, whales, how could their presence be solely to live on instinct, to live off the Earth and pleasantly? How could they know their place, stick together and work whilst harming no other? What was so special, so different, about humans? Why did we have rules and expectations and milestones? Why did we think we were better than the other animals, to the point we kill them and destroy their homes? 

For several years after this, she had retreated, after acting ‘human’, to some bushland, under a tree in some forest, anywhere that didn’t feel fake. She’d been civilised, long enough to seem ‘sane’, act out her sanctioned duties as a part of society and then leave to be with the Earth alone. She would dig with her hands, burrows, pile up leaves for comfort, and feed off the plants around her. Until it was daylight, and time to act normal again. 

Unlike looming and never-ending worries about deadlines, due dates and to-dos, branches held on instinctually to their leaves, letting go of them when it was necessary. She had always envied this tradition of theirs, the culture of tress, their routine, their forgiveness and understanding. 

After another long day at work, she had wandered into the darkness of the forest that lay a few kilometres out of the city. Sniffing the ground, inhaling the perfumes of the Earth, letting the mud lodge between her nails. A slight hum had perked up her ears. Sounds of home, true belonging after years. It didn’t matter why it’d taken so long to reappear. It wasn’t her place to question the thing that’d given her birth. It was back, it’s all that held weight and she trusted it. 

She sat at the bottom of the hollow, focusing on the distant chirps of crickets that rested on grounds above her head, their faint yet consistent voice was soothing. At odds with the noises she heard all day, the click-clack-clacking keyboards, these chirp-chirp-chirps seemed to make more sense. Leaning against nested roots, her back slumped upon weed rendered walls. The unevenness against her spine, contrasted the fabricated smoothness of plastic chairs, reminding her she was real, capable of sensations garnered from non-human creation. 

Her eyes became heavy, gently shutting. A calmness overarching. With each exhale, she sensed her worries swell up and erupt into forms of figures, fragranced with ease. 

The wind swished through the hollow, carolling prayers in languages foreign to those above. Her head was lighter than ever as tranquillity settled and softly, roots of Neem trees confined and submerged in soil walls, unravelled, crept around and over her, braiding, gently caressing her hair, tucking strands behind her ears and guiding her off her feet, lowering her to the heart of the ground.

Her hands now on either side of her person, on the spongy, soft, slightly damp floor, hydrated her rough palms, washing away some mud and the blue inked notes she’d made. Her cheek rested to the side, meeting the moistened, cool wall which bled water that she drank, recognising it as Tulsi, its spicy and minty-sweetness seeping into and relinquishing her. A welcome, a token of celebration and auspicious return. 

Sunken now in the deep crevice she felt as if she were in a womb, lay huddled up, in the purest form. An escape, after hours under fluorescent lights and the mountainous desktop home screen, this was the only place she could imagine being. A vertical tunnel that formed so deep as if to get away from all ‘realities’. 

Untouched and unaltered by the human being, where reside scents devoid of kerosene, coffee beans or burning down trees. 

Laying encased in roots, close to the heart of the Earth, she could almost hear it beating. Mud and sediments lodged between her toes. Matching the tone of her skin and amongst the gentle drizzle, she began to weep. For she felt a freedom like never before. To water seeds of resentment that bloomed acceptance, to shed with the Earth, feverishly. To be one with another who had been hurting for as long as she could remember. To hold one another, away from all that kept selfishly wounding them both, breeding heathen and savagery, yet still expecting them to act sensibly.

Eye to eye, here, underneath the real, civilised world, she lay amongst the burrows of past lives. Adjacent to her body, feeling for the souls that rested. Souls of animals that had been removed from their homes, killed to accommodate human endeavours of road constructions and apartment buildings. Souls of animals like herself, who respected the Earth, lived harmoniously but were shunned for rejecting modernity. Souls of insects and bugs and all creatures that were considered pests, but kept the humans alive, and maintained, to the best of their ability the nature of things.

Sinking further into the ground, the roots and branches holding her dearly, rendering the concept of time obsolete and from within her skin emerged ferns and delicate petals. Her hair, slowly binding together, glistening a greenish hue and resembling vines. Her veins like soft stems, the tips of her fingers and toes sprouting fungi and emerging from her ears large leaves. 

The sun peeking through from above indicated it was time to be back. Time to return. Warm light hit her torso and she sighed with relief. The bark of her skin, rejuvenating, she’d never felt such a thing. Emanating from the pores of her skin, sprouts. From her mouth, on her tongue grew Tulsi buds. Lodging themselves between her teeth, creepers finding their way out and emerging from her nostrils, crimson and saffron bulbs.

She had never felt more alive. Never felt this connectedness. The soft whispers now resided within her, a soft hum that synced with her heartbeat, with the Earth and with which she could close her eyes one last time and simply be. 

Short story by Aastha/ Enchanted Club/ A2

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