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Week #16
Prophecy - Part 1​​

Can I tell you a story?

It’s about a girl who believed in magic but lived a mundane life. There’s really little drama in her story. You might even get bored reading it. Can I still tell you her story?

She had lived in two countries by the time she turned five. Before turning six, she was then sent to a boarding school, which turned out to be almost another country compared to the two she had lived in before. Like most other five-year-old children she was scared of the dark but the boarding school matron had no time to sit with her till she fell asleep or even to tuck her in. Lights off was just a bell to obey. Over the next three years she became fiercely independent and completely self-sufficient. She weaved a hard mask to wear and learned the art of using it like armor to both deflect and hide behind.  

I looked up from my writing, annoyed, when a shadow fell across the page.

“Hello, we meet again.” The tall stranger from the morning tour group stood next to the bench I was sitting. “Will it be a bother if I sit on this corner of the bench? I just wanted to watch the sunset across the lake but I didn’t quite appreciate how warm it is here in the evenings. Now I’m completely drenched in sweat and need a place to rest.”

I could relate. Seventy-five degrees at six on a February evening took some getting used to, especially when you are on vacation in a luxury resort. 

“You are in paradise. Stop complaining” I smiled as I nodded for him to sit. He felt vaguely familiar and completely charming. A decade ago, I would’ve fallen hard for him.

“There’s so much natural beauty here, I can see why people call Sri Lanka paradise.” He agreed as he folded his long legs and took a seat.

I wanted to go back to writing but it felt rude to ignore him. Plus, this was as good a time as any to get the apology out of the way.

“By the way, I’m terribly sorry about this morning. The front desk didn’t tell me my tour time was moved to the afternoon. I was going by the original itinerary they gave me. I really didn’t mean to crash your party. I had no idea the morning tour was a private one.”

“Don’t worry about it. We always do the tours by ourselves. That’s why the guys were surprised. But it was fine. You knew more about Sigiriya and its history than the tour guide, so we all got more out of it having you there with us.” He smiled, turning his head to face me for a moment before turning back to stare at the horizon.

“It’s one of the more intriguing places I found while I was researching.” I mumbled. I've always been a nerd and I was generally comfortable with the label but it's not something I advertised. At least not when I'm interacting with anyone outside of work.

“Which part?”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“You said Sigiriya was intriguing. I was wondering what caught your interest about it?”

“Well, the engineering it took to get water some 650 feet up in the air to the top of the rock was no small feat. The fact that it was done in the 5th century before the western world even had running water was the real marvel. Can you imagine what the civilization that lived here then must’ve been like? We use the word innovation like it’s something new and we theorize how to get it into corporate DNA to be more competitive. But some fourteen hundred years ago, in a tiny island with a tinier population they figured out how to create reservoirs that went across hundreds of acres of land and held enough water to farm and feed the entire kingdom, round the clock. We never appreciate or even talk about this old world.”

“So, are you a civil engineer or some kind of an engineer? Is that why the irrigation system in Sigiriya interested you?” He turned to face me again and tilted his head sideways in contemplation.

“No. My work is in behavioral economics and innovation. Sigiriya doesn’t really have to do with work per se. I came across it when I was making my bucket list of places to visit. It’s called the 8th wonder of the old world because of the engineering marvel it is, but then you get to the history of why it became the king’s seat and what the frescos represent… and I was just hooked…”

 

“Hmm? I think you lost me there...”

“You see… we’ve come up with all kinds of trappings to show we are civilized today but when you look across time, the motivations that drove king Kashyapa a millennia ago is no different from what drives society today. The thread of human behavior is constant and lacks true evolution... we are still greedy, still insecure, and still selfish... same as always.”

“That sounds rather bitter and jaded.” His quiet observation snapped me out of my monologue. I hadn’t intended to open up that much. I didn’t understand why he felt so familiar. He made me feel at ease in a way no one else had in a long time.

“I know. It’s just a bad habit I've developed lately.”

“I wasn’t being critical. It was just an observation.” He smiled to soften his words.

I smiled back and nodded to show my appreciation for his thoughtfulness. We both felt silent after that. He kept watching the sunset in silence and I went back to my writing.

It was around the time she turned twelve that she realized how lonely she felt. She was never alone. Her parents, siblings, school mates and a thousand other people were always around. But she couldn’t relate to them and they couldn’t relate to her. She wasn’t socially awkward. In fact, she was perfectly adjusted. A natural born leader, everyone claimed. But something was always missing to her. Like she spoke in a frequency that was too low for anyone around her to clearly receive. Everyone respected her and looked up to her for her intelligence but no one understood her or truly cared to try. 

“What are you writing?” His words snapped me out of my story again.

The sun had dipped below the water. But the sky was still lit up in the most vibrant pinks and oranges. It wasn’t time for twilight quite yet in this island paradise. His meditation seems to have ended with the sun.

“Hmm?... it’s nothing serious. I’m just doing a story. It’s one of my assignments.” I didn’t really want to explain. But I somehow couldn’t stop myself from answering him.

“An assignment? Like a news article for a paper or something?” I realized he has a habit of tilting his head to the side when he was trying to untangle a thought, as if the question was particularly interesting.

“No, nothing that exciting. I give myself assignments to write things so I can get things out of my system. You know, things that bother me. It’s sort of a cathartic exercise. If I can write all the ugliness and heartache out of my mind, I can make space for good new things.”

He continued to watch me for a few minutes. I felt like a specimen under a microscope.

“What?... I don’t like to talk so instead I write.” I knew my tone was a little harsh. But who wouldn’t snap when they feel judged…

“Really? You don’t like to talk?” The amusement in his smiling eyes was accentuated by the slight lift of his brow. It hit me again how familiar he looked.

“Have we met before? You look so familiar… maybe at a conference or a business meeting or something?” I was racking my brain but couldn’t place him.

“You and I are not in the same line of work and trust me, if I had met you before this I would remember.” The amusement had turned to mischief and a definite twinkle was in his eyes now. “Plus, like I said, you lost me at behavioral economics. I don’t even know what that is.”

“That part’s easy to explain. Behavioral economics is a discipline that intersects economics with psychology and sociology. Economics sets up this concept of a self-optimizing rational individual. But that’s a theoretical human. So you have to apply human behavior to actually be able to predict how people will make decisions in real world. This is what behavioral economics tries to do. Marry these well developed academic disciplines to bring something useful to human decision making.” I took a moment to breathe. “But… I swear I know you from some place.”

 

“Maybe… So, tell me, what’s the story about?”

“Well… it’s about a girl”

“Okay… so what’s special about the girl?”

“Nothing really”

“Then why are you writing a story about her?”

“You think stories should be written only about special people? We all have a story and most of us are not special. Does that mean the average person’s story isn’t worth writing?” I felt my temper rising. I knew exactly why.

“Hmm… I don’t think that’s what I meant. I was just trying to understand the gist of the story.” His calm voice didn’t waver. But his calmness only added fuel to my temper.

“Well, it doesn’t sound like it’s a story you’ll be interested in anyway. So, no need to waste your time talking about it.”

“I’m sorry if I offended you. I really didn’t mean to. You obviously don’t have to tell me the story at all. You said you are trying to write out the ugliness and heartache from your mind. I was just offering to listen, if helpful. I’m not trying to judge or put you in a box. We all need a friendly ear every once in a while and I’ve realized strangers are the best when you want a fresh perspective.”

I felt a helpless tear trickle down my cheek. His calm voice and the obvious attempt to be gentle was about to break the dam I had built around all my feelings since the separation. I needed a moment to catch my breath and find my mask again. I appreciated his silent patience as I pulled myself together.

“It really isn’t a unique story. Not in this day and age at least… It’s just about a girl who during her adolescent years thought she had figured out what she wanted in life and how she fit into this world. Based on that, she went after a career and a family. Now midway through that life she built she realized how unhappy she is and how she’s lost herself in trying to cater to all the expectations from people around her. She feels manipulated by the folks around her – loved ones, coworkers, even random strangers sometimes – because people always put their own agenda first. But she’s wired in a way that she doesn’t know how to say no to anyone who asks for anything. When she realizes how little time she has left to live happy she breaks down, unable to walk away from the life she had built but still miserable living it… That’s the gist of what I have for the story.”

 

I finished in a hurry, keeping my eyes focused squarely on my clasped hands. I could see the knuckles turning white as my own grip tightened to stop the hands from shaking.

“So… it’s a contemporary adult non-fiction genre then?” His twinkling eyes clearly communicated he was trying to lighten the mood.

My hands relaxed a fraction and I could feel the blood flow back into the fingers. I couldn’t stop myself from smiling either.

“Well, I pepper in a little bit of magic here and there. So not strictly contemporary or non-fiction, I suppose.”

“Good… now its even more interesting. What’s the magic there then?”

 

“It all starts when the girl had her fortune told, when she was about fourteen. The seer gave her a description of her spouse and children. The seer also told her about her career and how she’ll rise to the top. Last thing the seer predicted was her death. Everything the seer said has come true up to this point. Now the girl… well, woman at this point, only has 9 years left before she’s supposed to die but she's still lonely and still looking for happy.”

“So, the clock is running out for her? Did the seer tell her she will be happy?”

Without much thought, I turned my entire body completely to face him. I felt my jaw drop and couldn’t stop staring. He had gotten to the crux of the problem far quicker than I had.

“What?  Why are you staring like that? Did I say something wrong again?” The confusion in his eyes and the frown between his brows registered more than the words.

“No, the seer never said that. In fact, the seer said she’ll be rich but won’t have the comfort of a queen… it’s just that the girl interpreted the seer to mean, if she found this spouse and had these children and built that career then she would have fulfilled her purpose and that would bring happiness…” My voice dropped as I continued to reflect the repercussions of this revelation.

“So, what does it mean? Did she build the life prophesized because it was predicted or because it was her destiny?”

“Right, was it pre-destined and she really didn’t have a choice or is this a case of a self-fulfilling prophecy because she embraced the seer’s words...” I had to agree with him that was the billion dollar question.

We both stayed silent for a few minutes. I was still staring at him without actually seeing him. My mind churning. Had I really built a life based on someone’s fanciful imagination and made those words come true by my own action? But there are major events the seer predicted that couldn’t have been my own doing – like the chance meeting of my employer that defined my career path, the loss of a child during pregnancy – could I have made these happen by my own choices? I couldn’t clearly see anymore.

 

“Tell me,” His voice broke into my reverie. “What did the seer say about her spouse?”

 

“She said he is tall with long arms and has unusual brown eyes.” I left one fact out of the explanation, purely on instinct. 

“Well, that is not very helpful is it?” He laughed, a tinkling sound, clear and light, like a bubbling stream full of music. “Something like 80% of the world has brown eyes. Tall and long arms are subjective at best. I mean, for arguments sake, I meet that description. I’m tall with long arms and I have brown eyes. So what stops me from being the one the seer prophesized?” I felt confusion rising in me. I knew he was making a point but I didn’t like realizing how wrong I might have been. I could feel my house of cards wavering. 

“But in comparison to the population she interacted with daily those were completely valid indicators to interpret.”

“So, when she met her husband she used this checklist to make sure he's IT?”

“Well, that wasn’t it. I also thought he’s funny and likable and intelligent. Someone I could respect and love. Someone who would respect me back, understand me and treasure me.” My words were whispers, barely audible by the end.

 

The twinkle in his eyes vanished in that moment and he turned his body completely to face me on the other side of the bench. He gently reached out and took both my hands in his. It took me a second to realize, in my confusion I had changed my pronoun from she, referring to my character, to I, referring to myself.

 

“I don’t think her time will be up quite as fast as the seer said but even if it holds, she still has almost a decade left. Sounds like she may have used the prophecy like a safety net. I think she is in the right place in her life to define her own happiness now. This is the time to choose her own path and leap. I’m sure she already knows how to fly. She just has to give herself permission to try.” His brown eyes had a depth of kindness and understanding I hadn’t seen before. It felt like someone could hear me in my own frequency, finally. The strength and conviction with which this stranger offered his counsel made me want to believe it unquestioningly.

“I think I will give her your words as her new safety net. You can be the new magic in her life then.” I smiled, squeezing his hands holding mine.

The sun had completely set and twilight was fast turning into night. The chirps and whistles of the night creatures were adding depth to the music the waves made as they lapped the shore. Though I didn’t want to let his hands go, it was time to get back. I stared at him in the semi-darkness for one last second before letting his hands go to collect my book and pen.

 

We walked back side by side, generally towards the main building of the resort. 

"It must be dinner time. Bet your friends are waiting for you."

"Yeah, I told them I'll be back to do dinner with them." He said.

“Why do I still feel like I know you from somewhere…”

“Yeah?.. Figured out where yet?” He kept his eyes on the path.

“Let’s see... you travel in a pack. Given how your friends reacted when I got on the tour bus this morning it seemed like they were trying to protect you. Like they are your bodyguards or something… only celebrities, world leaders and mobsters have bodyguards, so are you one of those?”

“How many mobsters do you know intimately to recognize one easily then?”

“Right… so maybe not a mob boss. And the only world leaders that would match your age is from Finland and Austria. You are clearly not from either of those countries. So that leaves celebrity. Does that mean you are a celebrity then?”

“Maybe…” He continued to walk but I could see his lips twitch in a lop-sided smile.

“Well, too bad… The seer definitely didn’t say anything about the love of her life being famous... You clearly don't qualify anymore.”

He came to a halt so suddenly I didn’t realize I had left him behind until he reached out and took my hand to pull me back. In the moonlight, his face was a black and white charcoal art of light and shadow.  Standing next to him, trying to gaze into his eyes I realized he was at least a foot taller than me. A small voice in the back of my mind whispered, he certainly checks all the boxes. Even the one I hadn't told him.

“I thought we agreed she was going to throw away that prophecy and write her own story…”

​​

I’m sure the pleading in his calm, husky voice was just my imagination.

go to Prophecy - part 2

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