Black. Sheer blackness. An utter void across all space and time. Or, is it void of time and space? Heaven? Hell? Nirvana possibly? Zahir could tell none of these things apart. These things didn’t exist here, wherever here was, if here were even here. Here has no top, no bottom; space is irrelevant. There is only himself, his hands before him as seen by the light of some invisible candle.
I am, Zahir says. ‘I am’ is all. Each step is futile. Is it a step forward? A step back? Stepping into the black brings nothing but more eternal darkness. So Zahir thinks less of the darkness and more of himself. Less about the external and more about the internal. He can feel something – dampness – plastered to the side of his head. Zahir touches it with his fingertips. The dampness is like glue, holding onto a state somewhere between liquid and solid. Without inspecting his fingers, he knows it is blood. But it is blood that isn’t liquid it seems. Nor has it dried and crusted. The blood is indeterminate like this un-place.
Calmer because he feels no pain from the injury (is it even his blood?) Zahir compares the blood to his whereabouts. I have space and I have time, Zahir acknowledges from the inside out. Space and time come from within. I am the place and time in a place without space or time, he now realizes.
Aware that he is in a place between worlds comes the gleaming of a distant star; faint but undeniable – like life? Zahir sets foot in direction of the white pinprick. It grows closer but not because it is there in this place of unplaces, but because his soul is getting clearer. Meanwhile his hands are getting fainter. Zahir understands it does not matter how long it takes to reach the star because ‘how long’ means nothing. With each small realization, the sparkling little light grows larger and comes into focus. Eventually it is understood that the star is not a star.
It is not a star but it is still a guide. It is a pale hairless man, beyond albino, set upon an invisible perch. The figure mimics Rodin’s The Thinker except that it is holding a small mirrored ball. No, Zahir sees, it is a snow globe of sorts. The snowflakes, the snowflakes, Zahir is mesmerized, they are the moments of my life. As if the bleached man heard his thoughts, the figure turns its head towards Zahir. It eyes pop open; they are oiled black. It gives a mischievous smile, turns the basket of its hand upside down and lets the ball go.
Zahir lunges forward with his disappearing hands in an effort to catch his life in a bottle. But a reach across timelessness is never quite quick enough. The glassy sphere strikes some unseen bulwark and gives. It shatters into a million irregular shards impossible to reassemble. When the echo of the globe’s crash meets Zahir’s infinite cry of protest, nowhere goes to light. The albino turns black. The man/demi-god points at the splinters.
“Choose.” It is not a request from the thing’s shaded lips.
This feels familiar to Zahir, but this is not the time or place for a mistake. “I don’t understand,” he says to the opaque-eyed stranger.
“Yes, you do.” The being stands up. It is three feet taller than Zahir before Zahir remembers such a thing is impossible right now. As Zahir thinks this, the stranger extends an arm and waves a hand over the small, sharpened remains that were once Zahir’s life. “Choose.”
“I’ve done this before?” Zahir asks but receives no answer. But he knows the answer, an answer he could only possibly know in this realm between realities. Again, this all feels familiar, the kind of familiar that comes with repetition. A lump forms in Zahir’s throat. “How many times?” he asks the tonsured black man anew to the previous effect.
He looks at each splinter. There he is as a young schoolboy who is letting his friends goad him into setting off a firework in the boy’s bathroom. He was reprimanded with five days of detention and not allowed to participate in the science fair he so badly wanted to win. At his feet is the time he was eleven and throwing such a fit that his father stops trying to teach his son to get over his fear of the water and swim. Zahir’s sister drowned later that summer when they were alone at the lake. Could he have saved her? Over there he is a teenager taking Dad’s car out by himself for the first time. Zahir and his girlfriend have unprotected sex in the backseat. The shard of glass immediately beside that one shows the couple arguing as they worry about a possible pregnancy. They fight so much they break up after they learn she’s not pregnant. Turning around, Zahir sees the instant he chose to go to college at Berkeley and not Stanford. The consequences are unknown to Zahir. Set in plain sight before him is the moment he gets into a bar fight, tired of being insulted for being Arab. He is struck with utter violence in the head with a pool stick.
“How many times?” Zahir asks once more, insistently.
“Many, many times,” comes a reply.
“Why must I choose?”
“This is the cycle of life, death and rebirth,” the figure explains in monotone.
Zahir looks at all the memories. What is the point of choosing one of these moments? He has done this before and this is still his life? There is no noticeable improvement in Zahir’s mind. It appears futile to re-experience the same life over and over again but with a subtle change here or there? Is this cycle never ending? It would be evil if forced to choose. It would take an infinite eternity to decide. Zahir does not want the choices before him.
“Choose,” the thing speaks again. This time it is the adversary who is insistent. “You cannot choose not to choose.”
Zahir’s hand is forced. How does one decide? What factors figure into making one choice any better than another? “I have chosen,” Zahir says after a thousand years.
The hairless black figure with white eyes recedes into the blankness that surrounds them. “Choose carefully.”
“I choose…I choose this,” Zahir says pointing to the fragment of glass that puts him in the bar fight and subsequently man-slaughtered.
“Wise,” an expressionless and ethereal voice utters. “The cycle is broken.”
Zahir feels himself pulled apart piece by piece, atom by atom. It is a painless process, or at least so much less painful than life. Once the last bit is gone – mind, body and soul completely erased – Zahir is reassembled not over the span of eons but as the span of eons. He is reassembled as a beacon, a light, a guide in the infinite and timeless blank and blackness of nothingness. Zahir is no longer happy or sad. He is free of such things. And so he waits for the next traveler, though waiting is not apt where ‘waiting’ has no meaning.
When discovered, Zahir fulfills his duty; put their life in a bottle, smash it and show them the remains. Tell them to choose. Perhaps someday they too will understand the cycle of life, death and rebirth.
Zahir is ready to guide. There is a wanderer lost in the void. He puts the beacon out. A fresh soul arrives, terrified. Taking their entire life in a capsule, there is a shattering. Zahir lays out the choices for the migrant.
“I’ve decided,” a young light-skinned man eventually says, shaking nervously. The man’s heart, if actually beating, would burst out of his chest. The man’s soul is new and naïve. This is an unfamiliar situation for the newcomer. He wants to live! That determination will influence his choice. “I’ve decided,” he says again. “This one, the moment I hit that man with the pool stick. I’m so sorry. So, so sorry. I want to make that choice over again.”
Zahir nods. It will be done. Fledgling souls make the most predictable choices.
All Rights Reserved © August 2016 John J Vinacci