This is incredible.
To his left was Earth. It had a shimmering cerulean glow about it which starkly contrasted its pitch-black cosmic backdrop. Henu couldn’t see even a single star, standing in front of the Gate, and that sent a chill down his spine. His home, which was immense and humbling, could now fit in his hand. Henu wondered if he crushed it would he rid them of their suffering.
He stood transfixed by the beauty of his world for a long time. With time comes perception, and with perception comes the truth. Henu squinted when he saw an orange tint in the cerulean. The Soma. He was reminded of the truth of what he was seeing. That orange tint was the mark of the hallucinogen he had ingested to become aware of the Gate. He couldn’t crush Earth, after all, for crushing something was a bodily act, and his body was back in the realm of the living, under a tree, meditating. Another truth dawned on him then. The mind truly is greater than the world.
“Do not gratify yourself with what you know,” Master Kaira said. Had she not spoken he wouldn’t have remembered she was there with him, at all. “Turn around and face the unknown.”
Henu hesitated. For the last five years, he had studied under the guidance of Master Kaira. He had spent days without food, or water, meditating. He had banished all the questions one thought of when one didn’t think of anything. He had poured drops of burning hot wax on his palms to stay awake while he read through the hundreds of ancient texts, he found in Kanyaklesh’s library. All of it he had done for this moment. To face God, and ask, Why?
Master Kaira was the toughest woman he knew. Her creaseless face always possessed an expression of indifference, as if life was merely an inconvenience for her, as if she couldn’t wait to melt back into the noise of the Universe. Before she accepted Henu under her tutelage she had warned him about her methods. “I will break you,” she had said. “I will break you because only the broken deserve to witness God’s glory.” He hadn’t protested when she made herself true to her word. It was painful, yes, but he was already broken.
Looking at his Master now, he wondered how the realm of Earth must present itself to her. She crossed realms like one crossed a meadow. Over the years, Henu had seen her slip out of Earth countless times but never had he seen her drink the Soma. Master Kaira put her hands on his shoulders and turned him toward the Gate.
The Gate was unlike any he had seen before. He wasn’t even sure if it was solid, because it was transparent and flickered like water rippled when one dropped stones into it. And beyond the Gate was the realm of Eternity. It was the Universe, raw and naked. It was God Itself. Looking through the Gate, Henu saw streaks of every color imaginable swirling together. Colors chasing colors chasing colors, pregnant with power potent enough to birth, and demolish entire worlds. Yet when he looked at it directly, all he could see was a seemingly silent purple cloud. Henu could still hear the rumble within, though. An internal war of creation.
“God is Eternity itself,” Master Kaira said, breaking Henu’s reverie. “God is everything and is in everything. Every feature of the Universe, and every creature in it—”
“Is a figment of God’s imagination,” Henu said, looking up at his master. “Time resides within God; Life extends from It; Death recedes into It.”
Master Kaira smiled. Henu had long learned to interpret it as the greatest compliment he was ever going to get from her.
“Master, how did you learn to enter the realm of Eternity without consuming any hallucinogens?”
Master Kaira turned toward the Gate. “In time, you’ll learn many things. And with time,” she said, looking down at him. “You’ll learn many more.”
Henu wondered when would Master Kaira learn to give straightforward answers.
“Ah,” she said. “Speaking of time.”
Henu followed her gaze to the Gate. It was no longer flickering. Its edges softly settled into place, transmogrifying it into a door, as if before this moment it couldn’t decide what it wanted to look like. With a satisfying swoosh, the newly formed door swiveled, opening the Gate to the realm of Eternity.
Through the Gate, walking away from a brilliant light, Henu saw a tall silhouette advance toward them. The silhouette stepped through and the door closed behind it. Henu gasped and stepped back. In front of him, on humanlike feet, stood a snake twice his height. The Naga had puissant parakeet-green eyes. Its crimson skin was covered in large mahogany dragon scales. It stopped in front of them. Henu couldn’t tear his gaze away from its magnificent scales. He felt someone place their hand on his back. He noticed that he was being shaken. He thought he heard his name being shouted, and whispered at once.
“Henu!” Master Kaira shook him out of his trance.
Henu found himself standing only a breath away from the Naga. He scampered away from it.
“This is no way to behave in front of Lord Time!” his master chided.
“Now, now,” Time said complacently. Its voice reminded Henu of the waves that crashed into the stone walls below his quarters at Kanyaklesh. “It’s hard for mortals to focus when they see me for the first time.” It lowered itself to face Henu. “Especially for a youngling such as this one.”
Time ran its webbed fingers through Henu’s hair. Henu recoiled.
Time straightened itself. “Don’t be afraid, child. Everyone finds me alluring—sometimes hypnotizing. After all, I contain all you have ever experienced and all you could ever have.”
Henu looked at its scales again. Up close, he noticed that they were riddled with strange symbols. It reminded him of Baltyu’s A Meditation on Time.
Didn’t Baltyu say that all of history was written on Time?
“Now, what have you come to me for?” asked Time, stepping back.
Henu looked at Master Kaira, his gaze asking what to do next. Master Kaira ignored him and bowed before Time. Henu thought it best to follow suit.
“Most mighty Lord Time! I come to you with a pupil of mine. He is young and knows nothing. He wants to learn the truths of our world which you most graciously protect. He has some questions for you. If you would indulge his curiosity, we might help another soul see the beauty of God’s creation.”
Henu jerked his head up at Master Kaira. “What? You told me I would be talking to God.”
Master Kaira glowered at him. “Do you mean to say that you are above talking to Lord Time?”
“No,” he looked at Time; back at his master. “I don’t mean that. I just thought I would be talking to God.”
“Whatever it is you wanted to ask God,” said Time. “You can ask me. God, in Its unfathomable grace, shares with me all that It knows.”
Henu felt cheated. He had many questions; more than he had told his Master about. But he had those questions for God, not Time. He swallowed his anger. Time will have to do.
“Time—” he began.
“Lord Time!” his master chided.
“My apologies. Lord Time, as you rightly noted, I am a youngling. I don’t know much, but I intend to cure my ignorance. My question,” he said. There was no going back now. For the last ten years, he had wandered looking for some resemblance of an explanation. Master Kaira had made him swear to only ask esoteric questions about the human condition. But he couldn’t care less about the human condition. “My question is that why did my parents abandon me?”
Master Kaira whirled her head toward him. Even Time seemed surprised.
“Why,” Henu continued. “Did Leta die in that fire in our foster home, but the Patels and I survived?” He was crying now. “Why did Leta tell me that Mr. Patel’s touch made her uncomfortable?” He wanted to tear everything down. At the back of his mind, he knew that his spirit form could cause no physical harm but he didn’t care. He was angry enough to take on God Itself. “Why did I survive?”
Time stood tall and quiet for a long time. Master Kaira simply gaped at him. Wiping his tears away, Henu felt only relief.
Finally, Time moved toward him. Its steps reminded Henu of autumn, of the crunch of leaves under his feet.
“Child,” Time lowered itself again. “You came to me for such trivial questions?”
Henu couldn’t keep the venom out of his voice, “What do you mean, trivial? It’s what’s made me! It’s what broke me!”
“Yes, yes. But I am Time, you imbecile! I have seen kingdoms fall! I have written on me, histories of worlds that no longer exist! I know everything that ever was, and everything that ever will be! And you come to God with questions about one human life?”
Henu was too stunned to retort. What had he thought? Why would God care about his existence, when It was everything there was? He remembered the opening lines of Baltyu’s A Meditation On Time:
“God has always been, and always It will be. Countless human lives could blink out of the realm of the living, fading into the noise of the Universe, and God wouldn’t even notice.”
How had he been so foolish?
“Kaira, this pupil of yours isn’t ready yet,” Time said, turning toward her. “He sees little beyond his own self. You shouldn’t have brought him here.”
“I understand now, Lord Time. Please forgive him. He shall never be so selfish ever again. I will see to it.” Then, she said, “I will take him away from the border of our realms right away!”
“Wait,” said Time. “I sense that he has a few more questions left in him.”
Henu craned his head up at it.
“Go on, child. Ask.”
What do I have to lose? “Why does the world suffer? And, no, I don’t mean myself. But just… everyone. Why does suffering exist? What could possibly be the purpose behind putting humans through so much pain and sorrow?”
Time seemed pleased with that question. Walking about, it said, “Ah, now you’re out of yourself! You have a lot more to learn yet, but I am glad to see you’re not thinking only about yourself anymore.
“As for your question. There is a reason behind all the suffering mortals go through.”
Henu expected Time to continue, but when it didn’t, he probed, “Well?”
“It’s not for mortals to understand,” Time smirked.
Henu’s anger engulfed him. Was that all Time had to say to him? Sure, he was a mortal but even mortals deserved better than such an answer! Did Master Kaira ever ask this question? If she did, had she repulsed at the indifference of God, as well?
“Surely, you can tell me more.” he sniped.
“Henu!” Master Kaira warned.
Time jumped and planted itself inches away from him as the purple cloud rumbled louder. Was that… anger? No, it couldn’t possibly be.
“Listen now, child. You do not question the answers God gives you through me. You accept what It tells you. When It tells you that you wouldn’t understand, that’s because It knows you wouldn’t. God. Knows. Everything.”
Henu found that final remark to be unnecessary. He hadn’t questioned God’s knowledge. Why, then, was Time so ardently reminding him of it? Something strange has been set in motion here. I cannot stop now.
Standing as tall as he physically could, Henu repeated, “Why?”
Time’s legs fused and grew into a tail so long that he couldn’t see where it ended. Standing on its tail, Time grew even taller. The cloud behind—God—rumbled menacingly loud.
“Because I said so! Because that’s what’s supposed to happen! You suffer because God wills it! God has a plan for you, you mindless fool! Had it not been for your pain, you wouldn’t have been standing here. Do you not see that? Are you so blind?”
Henu had a thought then. One that he had had many times before, but always thought it was preposterous. Now, it made more sense than ever.
Stepping back, Master Kaira pulled him behind. “Apologize now, Henu! Apologize and we might live another day.”
But he wouldn’t. You don’t stop at the precipice when you intend to fly. You jump.
“Lord Time,” Henu said, smiling. “One last question.”
“What the hell are you doing?” Master Kaira demanded.
“Make it count, child. If you intend to question my answers, I warn you against it. You are a novice. God is merciful, and so I hold my hand. But do not tempt me.”
“No, I promise I don’t wish to question your reasonings.”
Time lowered itself a little. The sound of its weaving tail reminded Henu of raindrops splattering against their room’s window as he played chess with Leta. “Ask.”
“Why is this?”
Time stood still. Master Kaira was just as perplexed. Time morphed back into his Naga form and met Henu’s gaze. “What do you mean?”
Henu smirked, knowing he knew. “Why does all of this exist? Why does God exist? God exists in me—in everything—but why? Why do you exist?”
Time stepped back. Not a proud, self-assured step. But an uncertain, scared one. Behind the Gate, God rumbled thunderously. Yes. Anger. That’s how it feels.
So many times, he had wondered about the point of it all. All those years at Kanyaklesh, rummaging through mountains of ancient literature, straining his mind and body to the point of self-flagellation, had brought him nothing. Now, standing before God was just as fruitless. Because Henu knew, now, something Master Kaira and others, had never even considered. Henu knew the extent of God’s knowledge.
Yes, God had made everything in the Universe. Yes, God wrote history upon Time. Yes, God was everything there was. But God didn’t know why.
God had no idea why It existed, or why It did the things It did. Sheltered by Its omniscience, revered by Its scholars, It sat protected from the one question It had no answer to.
Henu laughed. He laughed loudly. “Oh, this is marvelous, indeed!”
Time leaped at him as God roared behind them, the purple cloud turning crimson. Henu ducked out just in time and scurried away.
“Leave at once!” Time screamed. “You are forever banished from the realm of Eternity! You are forever confined to the realm of Earth! Leave!”
Master Kaira began chanting and a void opened up behind them. She had already jumped through, when Henu stepped into it and turned to face God for the last time. “Tell me,” Henu said to Time. “Does God ever get angry?” Before he could register Time’s reaction, he felt himself hurtling through the void back into his body.
He opened his eyes. Oh, my life. He never thought he’d be so ecstatic to be back within the confines of his body. He was back in the realm of the living, and he was done wandering through the others. He simply sat back in the shade of the mango tree, feeling his heart pump blood into his extremities, feeling human.
“What was that about?” asked Master Kaira, standing beside him.
“Oh, I just know why God exists,” Henu replied.
“Well? Why does God exist?” she asked.
He smiled up at her. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”