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Mystery

Snowflakes were falling in cotton pieces. I kept gazing at them as I poured myself some freshly-made tea from a porcelain teapot with some green and purple floral decorations on it. I had recently bought it from a flea market in a neighbourhood nearby. I had had too much coffee the whole day already, and thus, I felt a few cups of tea would go much better with a night’s read. The cinnamon sticks in the bitter orange tea clinked softly as I put the teapot down. I took my cup to my library room where a book lay open on a comfortable mustard color armchair. I buried myself in this cozy setting with my tea and resumed my book from the last page I had read the previous night: The blonde lady with her white fur hat was about to board the train. The sharp smell of the orange and cinnamon blend rising above the surface of the tea crept through my nostrils, which tingled my ears instantly, as I took the cup to my lips and sipped a little. The flavory taste resting at the back of my throat for a while felt like my brain was going numb. I tried to stay focused on the line that described how sorrowfully the lady turned back to look at the city she had collected so many memories in for one last time. Two other trains were waiting there, ready to take their passengers to God knew where. I clutched her arm firmly:

“No, the blue one over there! Pick your suitcase and follow me!”

To my surprise, she did not hesitate even for a second and hurried after me. We stepped into the huge metallic blue train waiting at another platform and shining brightly under the station lamps. Soon, we heard the station attendant blow his whistle, and the train set off. During the journey, the lady and I did not exchange many words except for offering each other some brandy, cream biscuits, marshmellow, and prunes. We had seated ourselves in an empty compartment and relaxed our cold-bitten bodies on the soft bordeaux leather-upholstered couch. The sleet in the dark night hit the window hard, as if slashing it with a razor blade. We watched this happen in silence for some time with our minds engrossed in deep but seemingly vague thoughts. At some point, the lady took out from her bag a stack of cards.

“Would you like to play?”

I nodded with interest. She taught me how to play the game with quick instructions. We smiled at each other at intervals while enjoying the game. She told me her name was Dianne, and yet, she never asked mine. It did not matter though. We just went on taking delight in the journey that brought us together and the dream of the unknown final destination awaiting us somewhere in the distance. I was quite fascinated by the swiftness of her long delicate fingers in placing and picking the cards on and off the small table attached to the window. After a couple of games, however, her rapid movements gradually slowed down, and her enthusiasm was replaced by some sort of distress in her eyes. It was a saddening sight because the lady seemed to suffer at a spot in her abdominal region; she had gently placed her hand on her pelvis with her eyes closed.

“Are you in pain?”

“Yes. There is this short-termed but recurring ache in my womb.”

She revealed that she had performed an abortion just before she made her way to the train station. I could see the crushing despair unavoidably landing on her wet misty eyes as she went on explaining how her long-term lover ultimately turned his back on her. We sat in silence for a short while waiting for the temporary but assumably irritating pain to disappear. She then raised her voice again.

“Where is this train heading to?”

“Somewhere that will do us a heap of good, I believe.”

Nodding in affirmative, she put her head against the window and went into a deep sleep.

We got off the train in the terminal station. Looking up, I saw the sign “Iowa”. The freezing weather the night before had lost its severity, and now a cool wind was blowing with no snowfall in sight. We took the bus to Alvord, my late mother’s hometown which I had not seen for ages. The town that preserved my most valuable childhood memories in its every corner must surely have changed a lot over the years passed.

“Is your pain still in progress?”

“It has relieved greatly, thank you. Where are we going now?”

“To see a dear friend of mine whom I believe will be pleased to receive his uninvited guests.”

I could manage to find Mike’s two-storey house in the intricate streets of the town much more easily than I imagined. His uncle agreed to take him under his protection once he had been left an orphan. Years later, the news of his uncle’s handing over his residential property to his nephew and taking leave of the town for permanent settlement abroad reached my ears. My bosom friend had grown into a really good-looking tall well-built man. Following a minute’s bewilderment while we stood at his doorstep, a big sorrowful smile appeared on his handsome face. He greeted the lady as well with a friendly bow and showed us the way inside. I felt glad to see that he was fathering a cute 6-month-old baby boy but regretted to receive the news of his wife’s recent death. The unfortunate woman could not survive the fatal blow of liver cancer. Mike and I sat there silently looking at each other with our eyes wet while Dianne picked the baby, who was waving around his arms and legs in joy and excitement at the sight of her lovely smiling face approaching his own, up from where he lay. She played with him in pure contentment, her eyes sparkling to the full extent. This vivacious baby seemed to fill the shoes of her gone child and bless her with the sense of motherhood she had so unwillingly disassociated herself from.

It somehow felt both weird and peaceful when Mike served us some fragrant tea with bitter orange and cinnamon. The smell and taste of the tea matched perfectly well with the soft snowflakes that had just started to fall in silence from the pinkish gray sky, the somnific smoky odor spreading around the room out of the burning wood in the fireplace, and the familial vibes which had been so naturally animated by the presence of Dianne, Mike, and the baby at that moment. A faint smile perched on my lips upon the sensation brought alive in my soul due to this coherence. I finished my cup to the last drop and kindly requested from my childhood friend to be excused to leave. I asked Dianne if she would like to stay and be part of this humble family. She momentarily lifted her bright eyes up to those of Mike and gave a shy smile as her silent response visibly had its correspondence in his soft begging eyes flamed already with some love. I stood there for a moment wandering my gaze over each one of them successively to let my mind take a framed picture and keep it safe in my memory.

“You three will make a good happy family.”

Taking leave of them, I stepped into the white fluffy path outside, lying endless below the snowing clouds, and with the warm taste of the tea still resting in my throat. Strangely enough, however, I also experienced a sense of recovery from anesthesia at that very moment. A temporary feeling of nausea fell upon me as I tried my best to walk on, but then, I noticed an instance of ringing in my ears. I could no more feel the snow fall on my cheeks, nor could I have my legs move forward. I was now in my reading armchair, staring around the room like an owl in an ivy bush. My eyes dropped back on the book that lay open on my lap: He soaked up the warmth of the soft beach sands shining like gold crumbs under the late afternoon sun. Who was he? He seemed like bursting onto the scene as I definitely had no recollection of how the book’s plot had switched from Dianne’s story to that of this mysterious man; but truly there he was again in the following line, enjoying the sea scent on the bench he was sitting.

I carefully browsed back through the previous pages to spot the name Dianne. Indeed, her name appeared here and there in the former eighty pages, and yet in none of the pages could I manage to see Mike, the baby, or the train to Iowa being mentioned. Obviously I had kept reading for some time, and many events had befallen the blonde lady for sure; but whatever they were, my mind did not at all perceive any details in the flow of those events even if my eyes kept close track of them: My mind must have made up its own story in its own way! How come? Had I fallen asleep and dreamt? But then, how did the page from which I started reading onwards manage to bury itself under these eighty or so pages that flopped themselves onto it?

Come to think of it, I decided to fetch myself another cup of tea before I stormed my brain further to solve the existing mystery. I turned on the stove and put the kettle with some remaining water inside back on the fire. My porcelain teapot stood right there on the countertop. I lifted the pot lid to check if there was sufficient amount of tea left behind. Interestingly enough, the teapot did not have a single drop of tea in it, and the cinnamon sticks and the slices of bitter orange were gone too. I thought out loud.

“All right, I have changed my mind: I am not in the mood of getting to the bottom of all this mystery. I’ll just swim with the current and see what happens.”

My gut told me that some peppermint tea mixed with camomile would appeal to my taste buds better this time. I acted accordingly and waited as the ingredients floated on the boiled water I poured from the kettle into the teapot and turned themselves into deliciously brewed tea in a  few minutes. Back again to the library room, I resumed my place in the armchair and set the book again in my hands. Taking the cup to my lips in the aftermath of a moment of hesitation, I wholly inhaled the soft fragrant steam mounting on top of the yellow tea as if yielding to some anesthetic ether forced upon me. My eyes read, “Tiny sea waves were clutching their paws onto the shore with temporal movements …”, and then my head felt like turning around its own axis for a second. A gradual loss of sense took place in my temples and around my eyes in the final stage.

My sandals were buried deep in the sands at irregular angles with each step I took on the beach. Yet, I took pleasure in checking how well I could manage to refrain my body from falling down in this game of balance. The warm heat coming from the late afternoon summer sun, the joyful cries of the seagulls, the moss-scented breeze, and the splashing sound of the ocean were all in compliance. My stroll on the shore with most of, if not five, my senses in full reception of all these stimuli came to a pause when I noticed the old man sitting on the bench. A few seconds’ silent eye contact occured through the distance between us, which soon ended upon my realization of the man’s polite offer of a sitting space next to him with a hand’s movement. I paced towards his direction, expressed my thanks, and sat beside him. His slanted eyes quickly examined my facial features.

“Is it your first time in Indonesia?”

“Well, I suppose so. I mean, I thought I was just having one of my usual walks by the seaside in Oregon, my residential place; however, looking at the setting I remain in now, I can readily contradict myself.”

The elderly man, who looked in his seventies, smiled gently.

“Would you be interested in some public entertainment?”

“I guess I would.”

“Come then, son, let us move.”

The sandy ground beneath our feet was soon replaced by a cobblestone street on both sides of which stood colorfully-painted houses aligned side by side. I lifted my head: White, purple, and dark fuchsia hyacinths and paperflowers were hanging down some of the windows, spreading all around the street an adorably fresh sweet smell processed by the warm afternoon breeze into a mild aroma. After wandering through a variety of quiet backstreets, we ultimately ended up in a main street where some very delighting noises composed of joyful laughters, friendly chatters, playing instruments, singing voices, dancing heels, and tossing glasses all crowded the air. The street, which was turned into a fairground, was hosting musicians who exhilarated the folk and got them emotional in turn with their melodies, a wide range of food stalls that offered the common folk all kinds of savoury pancakes, desserts, wraps, syrup, and exotic juice, and merry people who definitely enjoyed every second of this entertaining occasion.

The old man and I gazed off into this cheerful view at a corner for a while, and then we proceeded to a cute tea garden covered by tree leaves which were interwoven up in the sky and seated ourselves at a table under the multicolored fairy lights decorating the branches above our heads. I truly got fascinated by the scene surrounding us at that exact spot. The exuberance, animateness, and noisiness went on close behind us while our front bodies faced the tranquility, stillness, and quietness of the turquoise ocean. I felt more than pleased to find myself filled with admiration, uplift, and liveliness upon what my eyes viewed and my ears heard at that moment.

“Thank you, Sir. You have made my day indeed.”

“Time to enjoy the cherry on the cake then, son.”

He called the waiter carrying his tea set tray here and there and had him fill our cups with some aromatic tea. Once the waiter was gone, I closed my eyes, sipped from my cup, gave a full focus to the taste that would touch my tongue, and finally gave a sigh of relief, satisfied with that familiar taste I had anticipated: Only the soothing but at the same time revitalizing taste and scent of a cup of peppermint and camomile tea would appropriately harmonize with the current setting and the related stimuli available inside. Only through that flavor and odor could I become one with the flowing moment. My whole body, soul, and mind could stay connected to the memory of that ambience only by holding onto the thread of that particular aroma and smell. I kept my eyes closed for a little more time, just like the following sips from the tea kept my entire consciousness attached to the spirit of my surroundings.

Somewhat later, those very familiar symptoms including the sense of coming out of anesthesia, momentary nausea, and ringing in both ears cut me loose from that scene, and my eyes opened to my book-scented library room inside which dead silence had long been prevailing and outside which soft snow went on falling in the dark night, which gave the impression of an animated wallpaper. The page before my eyes read The End. I did not bother to go back through the former pages this time to confirm that the story my mind recollected and the actual one in the book pages did not match.

Apparently, I had made up my own plot and developed full awareness of it in some way or other. My fingers had turned the pages one after another till I saw the end of the book; however, all along that phase, my consciousness had lost its ties with what my eyes read and had formed a link, instead, with what was invented in my mind. Besides, the same weird situation haunted me twice with only a short-term interruption between the two times I took the book in my hands and resumed my reading, and that was when I went to the kitchen to bring back more tea. Somehow it did not feel coincidental. It had something to do with the tea or that teapot for sure. Indeed, the natural flow of my mental process got interfered each time I drank the tea brewed in that mysterious teapot.

I could not tell exactly whether I merely dreamt having detached myself completely from the book content, or I imagined something else while I kept reading about an entirely different thing, or the sentences in the book really transformed themselves into the statements of the story created in my mind. What I could tell, however, was that the unique aromatic taste and scent of the different tea types stimulated my brain to create and stay connected to its own reality in the way to assign the most satisfactory meaning to the settings and happenings I was part of in accordance with my individual needs at that very moment. I felt that all those mental tricks were meant to help some peace, happiness, and a sense of being alive still survive inside me in this cruel world. No sooner had I remembered to examine the teapot more closely that night than I noticed that the inscription under the porcelain read “The script of how you wish to enjoy your life is yet to be written by you only.”

January 13, 2022 13:55

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