Altar At The End
8a1 - Altar At The End
By Sadia Ghaffar

It was a sweet feeling I woke up with. A fragrance filled me in with every breath I took. The scent diffused through my blood, spreading to all parts of my body and evoking within me my first ever feeling; the feeling of being alive! I heard a slow, distant humming now rising and growing nearer. The humming turned into a sweet music, a melody that enraptured me. My soul was feeling light and free like a body falling through space. My eyes could no longer bear to remain behind the curtains. A seed of an unknown force had found a soft spot in my heart. It needed a fertile soil to nourish and sprout into its true form, a force even greater. And my young, yielding heart had all the blood to give.

All that was needed to be done was to open my eyes and see beyond the blinds. I saw a lovely sight and knew for the first time what beauty was. I saw bright golden light. At first, far and small like a flame of candle flickering in a stormy night. It was warm and welcoming. But unlike the candle which dies with the blowing wind, this light was growing with the wind. As if it was feeding on the air. It was growing and expanding in all directions, its many arms reaching out to all nooks and corners, eating through the darkness. I saw the sun rise from the horizon, ascending like a huge, shining bird unfolding its many wings.

Ecstasy ran through my veins like a wild galloping horse. I saw the world welcoming me, a debutante!

Until I had started to walk on the road towards the world and had reached the cross-roads, I used to sit and watch the world from a distance. I had come to know by then that there were many kinds of lives in the world. And one day I, too, would be walking towards the beautiful world to find a life for myself and live there forever till the end comes. Hence, I always knew there will be an end, but life in the world was so tempting that my thoughts were confined to the world only. I yearned for a life of my choice.
8b1 - Altar At The End

And while my thoughts were enslaving me, my heart was becoming a captive of that strong force whose seed had been sown in the bed of my heart earlier.

A small wish had grown into a strong Desire, its roots running deeper into my heart and its stems branching through the rest of my body. Desire was soon to become my Master.

The sweet aroma still surrounded me. The melody still played in my ears and the warm golden light enchanted me. But their sweetness and charm seemed less enthralling. My heart told me that there were more beautiful things in the world waiting to be sought by me. With my losing interest, the scent, the music and the light began fading. They never disappeared though, but grew hazier. My heart was set on the world. Time had come to find a life for myself. Thus I started on my journey towards the world. Now I wish I had taken my most precious things with me; the sweet fragrance, the melodious music and the warm golden light. But I only took their memory along, this memory I soon forgot!

After a long journey on a small road I reached the point of diversion. Two roads diverged from where I was standing. Both led to the world but only one could be taken on at a time. I looked on at the road to the right. It was a long, long road with many ups and downs making a difficult way through the world.

Nothing else could have looked less like a straight path. It was mostly abandoned. Only few people walked on it. I wondered why. I soon knew the reason. This road had huge obstacles and hurdles placed at many places. Large rocks and thorny bushes made it look uninviting. Though it passed through the heart of the world, this road had very few stops and that too at the plainest places ever.

I turned my head towards the road on the left. I had to hold my breath. The sight was splendid. This road passed through a lot of places that were beautiful and attractive. It had very few obstacles and hurdles and seemed an easy road after all. Unlike the other road, it was a crowded one. I had never seen so many people at one place at a time. This road was definitely tempting. Desire in my heart was roused. I wished for everything this road was offering me; riches, fame, beauty and love were only a few of my needs. Obedient to my master, Desire, I chose this road.

My journey, a life for the fulfillment of all my Desires, began on this road I took. I looked up at the sky. The sun was at its apogee, bright and almost furious. Life seemed easy in the beginning. My desires were small and accessible with little effort. I was contented to find to the smallest of joys, the meagre of all beauties. But Desire kept feeding on my heart and was growing each day. I wished for bigger things of joys, longer moment of happiness and the most beautiful of all the things. As my desires grew bigger the farther their fulfillment looked and the more restless I became. There was no sweet scent now but foul air. I heard no music but only noise. The warm golden light was replaced by angry, red flames trying to engulf me. The road was becoming difficult. Initially, I had some precious tools which I used to shield myself. These included jewels such as innocence, honesty, courage, faith, hope, peace and many more. Some of these were stolen from me, the others I lost.

Time was the biggest and most ruthless snatcher, forcing me to lose my most prized possessions. Empty handed, Desire for vengeance grew within me. I fought a nasty battle with Time and won Lies and Hypocrisy for myself for the long journey ahead. Time kept coming back, attacking me and giving me wounds. Sometimes it would heal the wounds it gave to me. At other times, my wounds turned into scars which never healed. Lies and Hypocrisy became my sword and shield. I had become a warrior; to live I had to fight. Hope was the last thing I lost to Time during the final miles of my journey.

I kept on walking on this road, changing my pace every now and then. I ran, I strode, I took on strolls but never did my legs cease; never did I stop, except only at the cross-road I faced at many places on this road. I had choices to make and decisions to take. Some of the paths could take me to the road I had left. Desire was still strong and breathing. So I never gave myself a chance to walk on that other, abandoned road.

The sun had started its descent. Shadows that had been keeping me company all along were beginning to lenghten. For the first time since I had started on this road, I was feeling perturbed by the thoughts of the invading darkness. I began reflecting on my life. It was like peering through a kaleidoscope. I saw beautiful, colourful and bright images that fascinated me. But these images were only reflections from broken pieces of mirror. None of these pieces could show a full face or a complete image. I got my first feeling that my life was incomplete. Something or maybe a lot was missing.

The sun was above the horizon, ready to drown any time now. A strong feeling of fear took over me. Desire was weak and feeble, living but morbid.
The Shadows had disappeared completely. New forms were rising from where darkness touched the dying Shadows. I saw shapes of demons and monsters rising from where once stood the Shadows. I screamed! It frightened me to see the true nature of my companions. Tongues had turned into long, hissing snakes and teeth into poisonous fangs. Eyes were balls of fire. Arms were swords. Hands that had patted me many times with pride had turned into knives ready to stab me at the back. I saw Love change into a monstrous dragon. It lurched towards me, making a lunge at me with its claws, throwing fire at me. I saw hunger in its blood filled eyes and before I could be its food I ran from there.

The sun had begun its dive. Grey light bathed my surroundings. I was running fast to find a safe place. I reached a large crowd ahead. Thousands of people were standing and talking to each other in loud, hoarse voices.

Upon seeing me a sudden silence fell on them. They stared at me and some of them started moving apart as if to make way for me. A strange thought occurred to me that may be they had been expecting me to come! But why? I slowed my pace, wanting to ask them what was happening there, why were they all gathered there. But their cold steel eyes staring hard at me, or maybe through me, forced me to stay quiet. I kept on walking forwards. The crowd behind me was getting restless and started pushing me. I sensed a sudden hostility in the air. I also started pushing forward through the crowd until I reached a clear space in front of me. I was puzzled to see that my path had started to rise higher than the ground on which stood the crowd. I had to escape the crowd so I continued climbing on that road. The crowd I left behind had once again started to talk. I ignored their noise and went on climbing. But the noise grew louder so I was forced to look back. I froze in my steps. They were all staring at me, jeering and pointing at me. I sensed apathy in some eyes, anger and loathing in the rest. There was malice in their talk. The sight filled me with a sudden nostalgia. I shut my eyes and memories long forgotten came back to me. A familiar fragrance filled in my nostrils. A sweet music played in my ears and a loving golden light hugged me. Like in a trance, I stood there for a long time. I woke from the dream only when Desire, near to its death now, took its last breath inside me and in my dream I uttered aloud "Mother!" It was the last time I had wished for anything. When I opened my moist eyes the crowd was there again. But now when I looked at it, I saw faces of fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, friends, foes, and lovers in the crowd.

The sun had drowned below the crown. It was having its last peep at the world; seeing me climb on the gradually rising road. I knew that the end had come. I felt pleased that I was prepared to meet my end as I took long confident steps towards my fate ahead. Soon the road stopped rising any higher and I found myself standing in front of an altar. My Altar! Nearby stood a dark figure, its head covered by a hood and an axe, shining and sharpened, in its hands; my Executioner! Below I could see the crowd, silent and still. "This is it", I thought. "Soon I'm going to be free!" I moved a little forward and reached the altar. I knelt on my knees and bowed my head ready to make an offer of my life. I waited for the Executioner to raise its axe above my head and bring it down on my neck.

But instead I heard it ask in an eerie voice: "Have you got anything with you?"

The question struck me very odd. I looked up to see its face, to ask it to justify the question. Here I was about to die, what could I have with me!
But I did not see its face. And I knew I must give an answer. But what should I say, I wondered. Have I got anything with me? I looked down at my hands. Empty. My heart sank with dismay. Then I closed my eyes and chose to take a peep inside me. What I saw jolted me. It was the ugliest sight I had ever seen. I saw my marred soul. It was torn at many places. Many pieces were missing from it. It was wounded where it was chained to my body. My soul screamed in pain and agony and called for death. Instantly I opened my eyes.

"No! No!" I heard my self screaming. "No, I don't have anything! I've lost everything. No, don't let me die now. I must go back to find whatever I've lost. I'm not ready to die yet! I must search for the missing pieces of my soul. I must go back to take the other road! I can't go from this world like this; without the things God gave me to keep safe with me! Now I have nothing with me. He'll be angry to see me without anything. And oh, He loved me so much! And oh….."

Hot tears fell on my empty hands. I heard my sobs in the silence. I saw the axe being raised. I knew there was no going back now. I had come a long way, the wrong way. The road had finally reached the altar at the end.
This road which I believed to take me towards my life was actually a road to perdition. While the road I had left would have led me to salvation…

Two roads diverged and I -
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference
– Robert Frost