Once upon a time there was a young man who was living in a small village, up in the high hills. He was a gentle, pleasant young man, with a loving heart. And since he came to the world in a golden autumn morning, they called him Sanjiv.
Sanjiv grew to be a dreamer. With his heart filled with love, his easily flying spirit and keen eyes for beauty, he soon started to turn his dreams into words, then he turned those words into verses. Each day when he finished his daily chores around the house, he would go to sit under the old fig tree in the yard and write another poem on a smooth leaf or on a silky petal of a flower. He then would read these poems to his friends, his family, the people passing by, or simply to the singing birds sitting in the tree above him.
People were listening to him, the return to their work or to their home, shaking their head and smiling.
-Hear, hear!-the y exclaimed. What a poem has our Sanjiv written again! This boy is such a poet!
But the young man with sparkling eyes and hazelnut hair didn’t mind them laughing at him. He kept weaving his poems of morning dew and warming sunshine, of seas of grass and boisterous winds in the hills. Birds and butterflies followed him in the meadows and stars were springing from his footsteps in the night.
One day, love knocked on the door of his heart. On his way to the river that was flowing outside the village, he saw a beautiful girl sitting on the riverbank, braiding flowers in her long, night- black hair. She was so delicate and graceful that for a moment the young man was left breathless. If he was to describe her, all the words coming to his mind would’ve sounded hollow and senseless. He stepped back, not to frighten her and returned home with an aching heart.
This encounter took place many times in the following days, and slowly, the two of them started to talk like good friends. Amrita enjoyed Sanjiv’s poems and she smiled a lot, listening to them. After awhile it became obvious to everyone that they have fallen in love with each other. But when the young man was asking the girl where did she live, she just smiled, pointing somewhere up the highest hill. Oh, the young poet didn’t care much about that! All he needed was to see her day by day. He could barely sleep at night, waiting for the dawn to lit up the skies. He finished his house chores at high speed and filling his pocket with a handful of poetry written on rose petals, he hurried to the river to meet Amrita.
Then once, when he overslept a bit after a hard work’s day, he arrived at their usual meeting place and didn’t find her. He desperately looked around, then up in the sky and he saw a dark cloud carrying away his beloved. She called his name and he ran over hills and meadows and ravines, calling her name but the cloud was faster and disappeared in the skies, leaving Sanjiv alone and heartbroken.
-How can I live without her?-he cried out desperately. I see no beauty anymore and my poems have dried out. I must find her! I must find her!
With the blessing and wishes of good luck from his family, friends and neighbors, Sanjiv began his quest for Amrita. He walked a long way ahead, up and down the hills, the mountains and valleys, he passed through villages and cities, day and night, asking everyone about her. But no one could help him because they didn’t know where she was taken. That dark cloud has seemingly vanished into nothingness. Many days had passed this way, perhaps even a year, when he arrived at the entrance of a dark forest that encircled the feet of the highest mountain ever seen.
Sarat boldly took the narrow pathway leading through the massive columns of the trees and by evening he reached a small clearing with à tidy little house in its center. There was light inside, so he knocked on the door. The door opened and an elderly woman stood before him, looking at him questioningly.
-Good evening, venerable mother-said the young man with a bow. Could you please help me? I need some guidance in this place.
She smiled at him and she opened wide the door of the house, gesturing to let him in.
-Good evening, my son. Come inside and have some rest. Your clothes carry the dust of many long roads and your shoes are worn out. It’s been awhile since I had company, so while we eat dinner, you can tell me your story. Then we’ll see what can be done.
The dinner was delicious and Sanjiv told his host all about his quest for Amrita. The elderly lady listened carefully, then she said.
-I know your beloved, my son and you are in the right place. But first of all, you need à good sleep. Then in the morning, I’ll give you the necessary advice to find her.
Sanjiv thanked her and for the first time after so much time, he went to sleep with new hope in his heart. The next morning, after a generous breakfast, he was drinking à tea with his venerable host when she took out à pair of new shoes and gave him, saying:
-Take these shoes, Sanjiv. They are magical and they will carry you further much easier. In the evening, you will reach the house of my younger sister. I wrote her a letter and she will help you on. Walk in peace, my son and don’t give up on your dream!
The young man thanked her and took again the narrow path. Just as he’s been told, another little house was standing before him and the lady inhabiting it was kind and generous too. She listened to his story, shaking her head thoughtfully and in the morning, she gave him a walking stick and a ball of silver thread.
-You will need this stick to climb the mountain. Take care of that ball of thread because you might need it once you arrive atop. Walk in peace and give my regards to our younger sister! She will be your host tonight.
Sanjiv walked with renewed hope in his heart and as the night was spreading its velvet wings upon the land, he was standing before the third sister. She was the youngest of all and she had some playful sparks in her dark brown eyes. She treated him well and she asked him to recite her some of his poems.
-You have embarked on a very difficult mission, young man. The girl you love is the daughter of the Spirit of the Mountain. She’s been engaged since her childhood to the King of the Clouds but she rebelled against the will of his father and ran away. The dark cloud was sent by her fiance to find her and it brought her back here. But she was adamant in refusing him. Now, her father locked Amrita in a floating tower up high, where no one can reach her. Knowing the Spirit of the Mountain, I would say that your attempt is futile. But listening to your poems, I see some hope. Now get some sleep and we’ll talk again in the morning.
When the morning broke, Sanjiv jumped to his feet, eager to get close to his lost love. After breakfast, the youngest sister gave him à rose and a pomegranate.
-Here, take these -she said. This rose has 100 petals and each of it can carry à poem without withering. The pomegranate will feed you all along your final quest. Good luck, young poet! Follow your heart!
Sanjiv thanked her, bowing respectfully and then took the pathway till he left the forest and found himself at the feet of the mountain. It was a sky high mountain of glass, steep and slippery, impossible to climb without the special shoes and the walking stick he got from the sisters. It took him 3 days and 3 night to reach the top but in the morning of the fourth day , he found himself standing on a large and empty plateau, covered by grass. He raised his head, looking for the tower. It was there, up high. The golden building reminded him of a golden cage built to hold captive a precious singing bird, a beautiful but sad place and a cruel endeavour.
Sanjiv sighed. How would he get up there? Suddenly, the ball of silver thread fell off his pocket. The young man took it and threw it up, towards the sky. The ball flew, unfolding its thread, until it reached the tower and fell inside an open window, sticking to the floor. A young girl peeked out that window, looking down where Sanjiv was standing.
-Who are you and what do you want? -she asked.
-I am Sanjiv, the poet and I am looking for my beloved Amrita. I came for her from faraway. Is she there with you, my lady?
-Hush, there, young man!-said the girl. If her father finds out about you, we will be all in grave danger. He has erased her memories, hoping that she will submit to his will but he did not succeed. I don’t think she knows who you are anymore. I’m sorry that you came so far, but…
-Stop! Listen to me! I’ll send you up a poem through this silver thread. Please, leave it next to Amrita’s bed.
Sanjiv took of a petal of the rose and wrote a poem upon it, the put it on the silver thread. The girl took up the petal and released the thread. She placed the red petal next to her mistress, without saying a word. When Amrita woke up, she found the petal and the poem written on it. She read it carefully and she smiled for the first time after so many days. The poem was beautiful and it was warming up her saddened heart. She placed the petal in a crystal jar, hiding it carefully.
Down on the plateau, Sanjiv took a seed of pomegranate and went to sleep, thinking about Amrita. He followed this ritual 99 days, sending up 99 red petals of poetry and love, recounting the story of love he and Amrita had shared at the river. Each day, the memories of the beautiful girl cleared and returned bit by bit. She could hardly believed her ears when her maiden told her about Sanjiv. On the hundredth day, she opened the window and looked down to the plateau. She saw Sarat tying up the last petal of the rose.
-Sanjiv! My beloved Sanjiv! I’m here!-she exclaimed.
-Amrita!-shouted the young man from below. I finally found you!
But the Spirit of the Mountain heard them talking and came in a hurry, angered by the daring young man and his rebellious daughter.
-Who are you?!-boomed his voice-And how dare you trespass my land?! What do you want from my daughter, you Earthling?
But Sanjiv wasn’t easily scared. He bowed curtly and confronted the Spirit.
-Sire, I came here from far away because I love Amrita and I know that she loves me to. I might not be a prince or a king, but my heart is pure and my love sincere. So I ask you to let us fulfil our love and release your daughter from her prison!
-Hmmmm-growled the Spirit. You’re quite bold for an Earthling. If you want to free your beloved, so be it! But you have to build a ladder for her to come down! If you can’t do it, she’ll remain à prisoner and I will crush you like a vermin!
Hearing the sentence of her father, Amrita burst into tears. She feared for Sanjiv’s life. She pleaded with him to leave her and save his own life. But love is a powerful magic and in an instant, the young man found the solution.
-Amrita!-he shouted. Bring the rose petal poems and let them fly!
She rushed to her room, took the crystal jar and went to the window. She released the blazing red petals to the earth. Sanjiv tied the last petal to the silver thread and then, one after the other, the 99 petals stick together in a ladder connecting earth and sky. Each poem, each word connected in a strong rope and the young man stepped forward, holding it in place.
-Come, my love!-he shouted. You can descend now! I’m waiting for you!
The moment Amrita put her feet on the first step, the love connecting their hearts ran through the ladder of poems, making it even stronger. The girl descended safely, right in the arms of her loving poet.
It was the turn of the Spirit of the Mountain to recognize his defeat and to respect his promise. He gave his blessing to the love that has proved itself so powerful and from that day, Sanjiv and Amrita lived happily together in the little, peaceful village up in the hills. Their love is remembered till these days. The legend says that all the poets will find one day the love that will stay with them forever.
Before I could see who was speaking or even utter a sound, the alarm clock brought me back to reality, tearing off the veil of dreams. It was both frustrating and relieving. The strangeness of the dream left me with a slight unease. Even after I washed my face , I had a feeling that a piece of the dream was sticking to me like cobweb. I sipped my coffee slowly, trying to set my thoughts in a sort of an order, not sure of the outcome yet. Running through the list of my daily chores, several questions echoed back from my night.
Where did the little boy disappear? Who was he? And who was the one catching me from falling? And why, oh why did this pesky alarm ring in the most important moment of the dream?! Well, blaming the clock was futile; no matter how interesting the night might have been, I had to get back to reality prepare for work. I sipped my coffee and fled the house…or at least that was my intention.
The moment I started to descend the stairs,the space warped and I was facing a steep tunnel opening under my feet. Startled and dizzy, I staggered and stepped back till my vision cleared and reality fell back in place. Cautiously, I took again the stairs and left the building. It was getting awfully late.
Finding herself in front of the open gates, she stepped in without hesitation. It was still summer inside and the air smelled like sun. The grass under her feet swayed if the soft wind. She looked ahead, searching for the forest but this time, the scenery was different. She was in à deserted corner of a hill side and the meadow stopped at the feet of a high tower and a disheveled building that looked like an old mill. She walked towards it and soon she was in the front yard, where, not so surprisingly, a little boy was playing with his choo choo train on the ground.
He looked very much like the other child, just this time he was a bit older. Noticing her presence, he raised his head and looked at her cheerfully. He had a round little face with big,dark brown eyes, round little nose and a big smile. His silky hazelnut hair was cut short under the ears. He was wearing a white shirt and shorts, with a small bell attached to his belt.
-Hi!-he said with a clear voice. Do you want to play with me? Look, I have a choo choo train! Do you like it? My Dad gave it for my birthday!
-It’s lovely!-said the girl, smiling at him. I love trains and I never had a choo choo train. So, what are we going to do with it? I see that there are lots of pebbles here on the ground. Would you like me to help you build a road for your train?
-Yes!Yes!-shouted the boy excitedly. Let’s do it!
He jumped to his feet and started to gather pebbles. The little bell attached to his belt was ringing at each move. He looked like an elven child in the meadows of the Sun. The girl stood up and picked pebbles and some scattered sticks, glancing from time to time to the little boy who was bouncing happily around. They soon had enough stuff to start building the path and they kneeled in the dirt, working together with the innocent carefree spirit of childhood.
-What is your name?-asked the girl, pressing a round white pebble in the ground.
-Jordan-replied the child. They call me Jordie at home.
-Jordie. What a lovely name. My name is Kai. Look, Jordie, we can make a bridge here for the train to cross the small trench. We could say that there’s river running under the bridge. You know, your name is the same with that of a mighty river!
-Yupiiii!-exclaimed the child. Let’s see how Choo Choo is going to cross the river!
At first he lead the train in the path of pebbles, giggling and shouting excitedly. Then somehow, the train sped up and burst forward off his little hands. We watched it rushing towards the bridge of sticks, crossing it, then heading towards the tower.
-Yay! He’s going into the tunnel!-yelped Jordie and we both jumped to our feet and started to run after the runaway train. I caught his hand and we ran breathlessly, while before our eyes, the tunnel opened wide its dark mouth to swallow up train, us and everything around. I wasn’t running anymore; it was the ground that was propelling us further! I took up Jordie and he held his arms around my neck, laughing happily. For him, it was just a funny game but I was deeply scared… For a fraction of a moment, the gates of darkness were towering before us….then silence engulfed our world….
When I finally opened my eyes, I couldn’t see anything in that black void surrounding me, except for the shimmering silhouette of warm, yellow light floating at a small distance. I was alone…again; Jordie had vanished from my arms…or not? Before I could answer my own question, the creature of light grabbed my hand and pulled me upward. We were probably flying to the top of the tower, because the small speck of glow I saw first was growing into a large circle. I landed on narrow terrace going around the top of….a lighthouse. The creature of light dissolved into the brightness , yet I could feel the presence of a childlike spirit embracing me.
The perspective opening from here was overwhelming. The blue-green sea was stretching to a horizon that was also the shore of the Universe. The wind whistling in my ears was carrying both the salty breath of the sea and the dust of the swirling star geysers. I stood there mesmerized, almost forgetting even to breathe…Here, at my feet, foam-tipped translucent waves were toying at the base of the lighthouse, rolling colorful shells up and down the soft sands. The continuous rippling of the sea was emulating the swaying of the ocean of stars. Day and night were sharing harmoniously the same dome of skies, the same scenery, the same moment. I could hear light seeping through the entwined layers of day and night, falling with the sound of windchimes…or maybe with the sound of a little bell sewn to the belt of that little boy bearing the name of a river.
Cling! Cling-cling! Cling-cling! Cling!
“Jordie! Where are you?!” -called the voice of a young man, half amused-half worried. “I can hear your bell, you cannot hide much! Come on, Jordie! It’s time to go home!”
Cling-cling! -ringed the bell and we all went home. I woke up in bed and this time I was sure that my little friend was safely home as well.
She woke up gasping for air, her face wet with tears. Leaving the embrace of this dream was becoming increasingly difficult. Each time she was stepping outside the gates, the call of the powerful emotions left behind was tearing into her heart.
She wiped off her tears with a sigh and jumped from the bed. It was getting late. She went to the bathroom and washed her face, then confronted the image in the mirror. Dark eyes, chestnut hair. The average face of an ordinary girl, living and happy, comfortable life. She had no reasons to complain. She had all the reasons to be cheerful and content about her life during the day. But her nights….
Well, that was an entirely different thing. Her nights were opening into another world and another life. It hadn’t been always like that. Her sleep used to be just as quiet and peaceful as were her days. Then everything changed. It happened one night, one particular night when the Moon knocked on her eyelids and she woke up, slightly confused and with an eerie feeling…
She was sitting on her bed, in full moonlight, shivering at the touch of a faint breeze. The walls of her room were gone and she has awaken in an unfamiliar milieu. Wrapping the blanket around her shoulders, she stepped down and walked into the surrounding light. This place was shrouded in a silence so deep that she could count her own heartbeats. She walked cautiously, trying to decipher some contours inside that glow. Emerging under the reign of the Moon, the space unfolding before her wasn’t entirely dark.
Only a few steps further, the night ended abruptly before the pair of round gates opening in an old wall of bricks. The landscape visible behind the intricate pattern of bars was in full daylight and she could see a grassy pathway curving into the patch of summer forest. The girl stopped at the gates and gingerly touched them. A strange current seeped through her fingers, running down her spine and shaking her confidence. It was a kind of warning and for a moment she felt like she was intruding in someone’s intimacy. She suddenly realised that this wasn’t her dream anymore. Somehow she has awaken in someone else’s one and the gates she was facing were guarding the entrance of another person’s soul.
The weight of the discovery was overwhelming and the girl turned back sharply, running to her bed left in the moonlight. She curled up under the sheets and closed her eyes. The wave of dreams washed over her, sending her back to the swirling river of fantasy. Hours later she woke up at home, carrying only a faint memory of her awkward trip.
But when her eyes popped up the following night, she knew exactly where she was. The gates were there, slightly cracked, inviting her. This time, she took the challenge and entered the realms of the opening land. The grass was soft under her feet and the air was warm and fragrant. The sound of the excited giggling of a small child reached her ears:
-Kittyyyy! Kitty-kit!! Wait for me!Kitty!! Where are you?!
A little boy, four or five years old perhaps, came running, chasing a small white cat that was escaping towards the forest. With a playful spring, the ball of fur disappeared in the greenery ahead, leaving the child baffled but determined to pursue his goal.
-I’ll catch you, kitty! I’ll catch you!
He ran into the woods with arms open, eyes shining in expectation. The girl looked around for a parent but she saw no one. Oh well, this was a dream and logic was the last thing you would expect….Still, she felt responsible for the child so she hurried to catch up with him. Under the canopy of the forest it was pleasantly warm and the light was playing in dots and shimmering patches around her. She caught a glimpse of the child’s white shirt and she sped in that direction. The kitten was nowhere to see…
-Kitty! Kitty?! Come back! Kitty…..
The small voice was turning upset and tearful.
-Hey!-shouted the girl. Hey, little one! Wait! Don’t go further! It might be dangerous!
But the child didn’t seem to hear her. His whole world was focused on his quest for the runaway kitten. Eyes glued on a moving spot of light, he jumped back to action shouting joyfully:
-Here you are! I saw you! I saw you, kitty! I’m coming!
The girl ran after him but despite her best efforts, the distance between her and the child wasn’t shortening. The pathway under her feet was propelling further the little boy, while somehow it was slowing her down. She fought the strange feeling and gathered all her strength to run faster. The contours of world washed into a blur and her vision tunneled towards a shadow-filled perspective, with its only bright spot the small, running silhouette of the boy. The fragments of giggling and laughter were bouncing in the air, disorienting the girl. But she kept running and finally she saw both the child and the kitten.
The cat was sitting in the middle of the path, teasingly moving its tail. There was a mischievous glint in the yellow eyes. With a victorious cry the boy jumped forward to catch him. All of a sudden,Time slowed down while the shape of the white cat broke up into a fistful of butterflies and a pit of darkness opened under the feet of the boy. The girl launched forward quickly to catch him before falling…The child vanished and she bumped into…someone. She almost fell but two strong hands held her up and she heard a voice questioning her:
-Do you always smash into people when you run?