The Big Idea"The knowledge that I am listened to attentively works in a sort of virtuous cycle to improve the quality of what I say"- Achebe's 'A Man of The People'
That night, Denzia chose to walk home than take the train. Her mind was heavy with thought. She had felt invincible for the last ten years because she had a rare gift. She translated her power to protection, from the normal concerns of humanity, like death. Besides she’d always tapped her heart, and that had convinced her of life. But if her Mayan foretelling ancestors were right, then her heart beat revealed nothing. She felt powerless. As she walked through the narrow path that cut into her street, her eyes turned to focus on a poster that softly fluttered in the wind, but was still stuck against the wall. Its movements moved her. She was confronted by a sign. The poster was promoting a marathon to be held on the 21st of December 2012. The event was called “Running to the World’s End”, as the race was to close at the final transition between the 21st and the 22nd. Denzia mused at this. She had never run before, but this was such a beautiful idea. If the world was indeed going to end, then it would be a perfect way to go. Not running to the end, or away from it, but just alongside it, in the midst of her own achievement, until she would be swept up by the same grey cloud that would consume everyone. She also liked the idea of being normal, for a little while. Of running with thousands of people who were just as scared as her, and who she was now equal to in not knowing or seeing any more than what her eyes could show.
Over the following nights, Denzia left her door closed and her blinds shut. Even if her vision wasn’t grey, there would be nothing to tell her clients. It wouldn’t matter if they would be able to afford their dream house, or if the man would be chosen for that program. It was pathetic to think of what could have been, if the world decided to stand for a while longer. So she drained her room of that horrible incense smell, and went back to sleeping in her favourite position. Sleeping was all she chose to do, because her dreams were always in colour. They lured her to strange new worlds, and told her of life’s mysteries. She struggled to get up on the morning of the 21st. She thought how funny it would be if the world imploded even before she arrived at the race. It would be a waste, because the most dramatic moment for a mass exodus of life would be right on the cusp of a new day. It would be a time that teased with the hope of a future as everyone would begin to feel safe, and then brought forth the despair of finality. That would be the most appropriate, wicked way, because the end of the world was itself a wicked, wicked thing.
Denzia got ready, feeling that it would be the last time. The last time she could look in the mirror and smile at thoughts of being called “Denzia the Divine”; the last time she would behold her caftans neatly stacked in her wardrobe as a symbol of her craft. She would be free from being trapped in the untold futures of strangers, but she would be freed into something much less endearing. Inhaling deeply, she put on the most appropriate items that she owned, pushing her thick locks in a scarf. She picked the stress ball from her table and put it in her pocket. It was a memory of her former life, of the normalcy to which she was now returning. It also reminded her of a time that her visions came without a seeing thing. So it would spur her on to unexpected achievements, like running the race as well as she could. On the train to the field, Denzia felt the insecurity that normal people were prone to. She was surrounded by people who were dressed in the right running gear, with the right running shoes and clothes. But there Denzia sat, hair wrapped tightly in a scarf, in an old t-shirt and bell-bottomed trousers, wearing converses she had bought a decade ago when she was painting her store. It wasn’t such a divine sight. She was struck by just how many people were running this race. And then it made her realise how quietly her life had passed, as she discovered by accident what many had directed their thoughts towards for weeks.
As the train pulled up at the field, hundreds pushed their way out of the bustling energetic vehicle, into a field of grey. There stood thousands more: mothers, daughters, grandparents, all laughing or crying. But nothing in between. These moments that were left were made for strong emotions. Fathers mounted their young children affectionately on their shoulders, while mothers were swamped with the weight of their babies in slings. This race would not be one of blind competition, as they usually were. It was to make all these people feel that they were not alone in being afraid. And so they stood. Denzia among them, waiting in a line for the starting bell to go off, and hoping that they lived to hear the closing one. As it sounded, people started to run, in one great mass of movement. Some ran quicker than they could sustain to feel the breeze blow strongly against their faces, while some other just walked in hand with their families, savouring the moments of togetherness. Denzia was slower than most, as her body confronted her for this strange choice. While they ran, everyone seemed to keep alert for signs, or wonders, or sounds, that would usher in the end. So they moved, all in their own way. It was a long and hard race, and Denzia struggled to breathe. She was sweating through her scarf, and her thighs were throbbing. It also did not help that her converses were causing her blisters. Sometimes, she had to stop and tap her heart to be assured that she was fine. And she kept going. Time passed till it became the wicked time- the ten minutes before the crossover to the 22nd, where the hope and lightness was apparent. People were smiling around her, and some began to cry tears of joy, giving thanks to the universe for holding on to itself. Denzia was not convinced, and waited on the wickedness.
She could see the finish line at a small distance. Most had already finished, and were just standing with their eyes closed and hands linked, waiting for the final bell to go. Denzia was in so much pain that her vision became blurry. The end of the world might bring her body comfort now. As she limped to the finish line, she heard the closing bell go with a greater conviction than any sound before it. The field was torn into a place of screams and laughter, and of even faster movements than during the race. The world had survived. Denzia tried to breathe but her lungs failed her. She tried to tap her heart to assure herself, but she felt the beat slow down. In the midst of the joy, she was dying. This was why she could only see grey, and Mother Divine had seen grey of her- because her part of the world was ending. Perhaps Mother Divine had known. Maybe that knowledge was what filled her many silences that night. Denzia fell to the ground with her finger lightly placed on her heart. She smiled faintly as she realised that she really wasn’t normal, as she never wanted to be. Normal would be living and dancing. Laying there surrounded by laughter and relief, her world went dim. The moment that she could not tap anymore was the moment her heart stopped beating. Such symmetry of time. The stress ball rolled from her pocket to the feet of a little boy who picked it and began to play. And the world went on around her, like she should have known it would.
The following week sent Denzia reeling into uncertainty. Her visions every night were either a thick cloud of deep grey, or a flash of patchy and incomprehensible images. She tried everything. She walked around the room with incense she’d found in a divination store that was supposed to clear up troublesome signals. She slept in a new position, laying on her back than on her side, because she read that her former position built stress. She even let herself channel her deepest and darkest memories as a catalyst, like her last days with her husband. But all that brought her were tears in her eyes, and customers who feared that their future were that horrid. She could no longer speak the words that confessed her unknowingness, so she would just shake her head in disappointment, and return the money. She felt so powerless. This was her craft, and she was losing it. Some of her clients would lose it too. One man got so angry at her inability to say whether his fiancée would cheat, that he slammed down one of her wooden chairs and sent splinters flying everywhere. So, she was left with a broken chair and a broken ego. She had to see Mother Divine.
Denzia wrapped herself warm in one of her caftans, and locked the shop doors. It was a cold night, but there was no coldness that could match that of her mind’s eye. She had not seen with it in so long, that she doubted whether it was still there. When she arrived at Mother Divine’s, she was sitting quietly in the back room, obviously done with customers for the day. Denzia hurried to her and sat by her leg. She had grown so close to her over the years, that she knew she would give her good insight. “Mother Divine, I feel lost”, she said as she held her hand. “What is the matter, my seeing daughter?” That shook Denzia. “It is that I can no longer see.” Denzia took her hands back and held them firmly together. “For a week, I have struggled with my seeing thing, but it has left me blind”. Mother Divine stayed quiet for a while. She was obviously deep in thought. “Do not be afraid, child. There is a reason for this.” Mother Divine got up slowly. “I will look into your future”. This scared Denzia. Tapping her heart had sustained her for a while, but she knew she wanted to see more. She was just afraid of what would be shown. Mother Divine led her to her divination area, and brought out her crystal ball while Denzia sat down. She was biting her lip and pulling at her hair. She laughed to herself as she realised that she was acting just like her own customers did. She was normal, like she used to be in that office. Mother Divine had different rituals than Denzia before she could see. She would touch the sides of her temple with the tip of her forefingers, and then she would feel the ball with those points, pressing it firmly and looking upwards. She was also deathly quiet, and it left the room feeling heavy. Denzia awaited her fate. As Mother Divine’s eyes met her’s, she knew she had seen something.
“Wh-what did you see?” Mother Divine did not break the stare. “Nothing, my child. Nothing but a grey cloud”. That was something indeed. “What does this mean, Mother Divine?” Mother Divine sat back as Denzia became filled with anxiety. “There is a reason”, Mother Divine spoke slowly. “Have you heard of our divining ancestors of Maya?” Denzia knew she should have bought that book in the divination store on the history of their craft. She felt embarrassed. “No I haven’t”. Mother Divine went silent again. “Well, have you heard about the 2012 apocalypse?” Denzia was embarrassed again. She shook her head slowly. She had not watched television in ten years, since she started divination. She felt like it did not work with her image, to have a device blaring a comedy show, and then turn it off to look into the depths of her clients’ futures. Obviously Mother Divine seemed to be very good at adapting to modernity. “Well, my child, I think this may explain why you can only see grey, and why I could only see grey of you.” Denzia was confused. “You mean our ancestors of Maya can?” “Yes Denzia. I believe so”. Mother Divine sat with Denzia and told her all about the Mayan civilisation, and how their chosen performed the craft of divination. “As our tool is the crystal ball, theirs was a calendar.” Mother Divine went silent again. “The time they plotted all those years ago, on their calendar, ends in 2 days.” Denzia felt shaky, like a child. “What does that mean Mother?” Mother Divine always took her time. “Many believe that this calendar is to warn mankind of the world’s end. You see, the Mayans were powerful in their craft. They were lucky to be in a time with very little distraction, from dangerous politics, and television.” Mother Divine laughed, the first time Denzia had experienced this. “So their mind’s eye was clear, and with it they drew this calendar.” Denzia was nervous. How could she have missed this? “So, do you think they are right, Mother Divine? Do you think the world ends in 2 days?” Mother Divine went quiet. “I think, my daughter, that with the greyness we both saw, they may very well be.”
She did it the same way as always. She would rub the round seeing thing from its sides into the middle. Then she would focus on the area that she had dented the time she was in the deepest throes of a vision. She would stroke it back and forth till the clear ball would begin to reveal a secret message that only she could see, first of thrashing colours, and then, telling images. Sometimes she would hum deeply, but this was just to focus when she was in the midst of anxious clients that were breathing too loudly. “Well, what do you see?” the fretful woman asked as she held on steadily to her husband’s hand. She looked older than her likely age, with soft wrinkles that would soon become aggressive, telling of her failed trials at conception and her last-resort desperation of coming to a fortune teller. Her anxiety was probably heightened by the pitch-blackness of the room, with only a glowing light shining mysteriously over Denzia’s face. But that mood-lighting was a staple of the trade. “Will we have a child?” Denzia hummed and rubbed, but nothing came. All she could see through the ball was a magnified picture of the couple’s scared grip. This had never happened to her before.
She remembered how, in a life that seemed so far away, she had a normal job, with files that littered her desk. She would sit in the room full of little cubicles with phones blaring off the hook, and her mind would constantly wander off into a place where all was quiet. Back then, she used to hold on to the stress ball that she’d found in a little trinket shop, and use it to keep her mind far away from this place that she despised. As other marketers ran around the room and made numerous calls, she could be found reclining in her chair with her eyes closed and the stress ball in her hand. She remembered the day her phone rang to tell of her husband’s demise. How she shocked the teller with her calmness. She had seen it coming already. It was a knowledge with a clarity that scared her, of the way and the when. So she had mourned silently before she was told, not understanding what she knew, but being convinced of its truth. She had to mourn because she knew intuitively of time and fate. So she loved him harshly and wholly in that last week, humming songs that they’d danced to back when they used to dance. That very day, with her stress ball in hand and a little glisten in her eye, she walked out of that space for the last time. She went straight to Mother Divine. She had heard stories about her from friends who had gone looking for answers and miracles. One day, she had actually received a flyer in her post, and mused about how, even these people that lived in thoughts of the future had to tolerate the commands of modernity and promotion.
Mother Divine had smiled at her so warmly when she arrived, as though she was not a stranger. This familiarity made Denzia quiver with an anxious excitement. She knew about her. Mother Divine sat her down that day, and explained the history of the world through the wonders of divination. To see greater than plain-eyed vision was a gift that only a few were given. It was a calling that Denzia had no choice but to respond to. It would be all that could ever fulfil her. Mother Divine told her of their future-seeing relatives around the world, and how the craft was defined by different tools in each culture. Some used cloths; others used animals or cards; and some others could just close their eyes and see. Those were the most powerful. Mother Divine explained that their clan used the clarity of a crystal ball. Denzia sniggered at the predictability of this, but stopped when she realised that Mother Divine was no longer smiling. Mother Divine explained how she was the caretaker of all the crystal balls that had the power to be seeing things. So she held Denzia by the hand, and took her to a back room where up to fifty balls were piled neatly on a shelf. She had to pick the one that would be her companion on her divination journey. So she chose her seeing thing. It saw her through opening “Denzia the Divine” on the boardwalk; it saw her through the laughter of her peers because she knew it would turn to fear; and it saw her through the lives and revelations of numerous clients. But her seeing thing could not see her through her present problems.
“Well”? The anxious wife inquired. Denzia furrowed her brows. “I’m afraid I can’t see anything”. She retreated from her ball as though it had burnt her. “Wh-what does that mean?” the man asked in a panic. “I really don’t know”. After she let out her disappointed customers, full refund in hand, Denzia closed the blinds and sat on the floor, worried about this happening. She had always thought that her only limitation in fortune-telling was that she could not see her own future. That was the same ailment that inflicted all diviners. It was a terrible thing to obsess over, that people who knew so greatly the value of seeing the future, could not see their own. But then again, the life of a fortune-teller was plagued with such utter simplicity, that one could safely assume a continuity of customers and their unending questions of whether they would succeed, or be promoted, or get married. As Denzia sat, she tapped softly against her heart. That was the only way she knew to look into her own future, by how steady her heart was beating. Its strength assured her of more time with more heart beats. That was enough.