Thursday, March 09, 2006

Run The River

This is a short-short story I wrote as part of the Inter-Hall Creative Writing event here at Kharagpur. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

Memory is a capricious mistress. Serving no one's cause but her own, she skillfully intertwines the affairs of men and gods. Of all the Olympian muses, she is the one to fear.
And yet, tragically, it is to her wiles and wicked mazes of the mind that I must submit. For, without the crutches of memory, a man must remain helpless.
I used to run the river those days. Times have changed; giants no longer roam on Earth, and the chimerae and unicorns have been relegated to the dusty decaying realms of myth. We live in a world where a miracle is butchered every day, where the wonders of science wound our highest flights of fancy.
I could tell you of the giants of industry I met, I could pour forth stories about Prometheus stealing the iron forges of the gods, I could whisper into your ear the infinite patience of Atlas. I could tell you of Rockefeller and Ford, of Gandhi and Lenin.
But I won't do that.
I could, but I won't.
For memory, that very infinitely capricious muse, gently nudges me towards a tale often told, a tale of heroism and love, sung aloud in campfire-induced drunkenness.
A tale which has never been told like this.

Running the river was a job which took away all your time, leaving you exhausted and spent. At the end of the day, all you could ever want was meat, bread, and a jug of ale. At least I did.
I used to frequent this restaurant, tucked away discreetly in Hell's Kitchen. A quiet place, kept that way by sensible management who knew exactly what a river-runner wanted. Peace, food and a bit of entertainment on the side. It was a perfect place to relax after a hard day's work. I knew the owner, a short chubby Greek going by the improbable name of Atlas Stephanopoulos, for the only thing I saw him lift was his finger, imperiously directing his workers.
Atlas was a smuggler.
He was many other things as well, but his reputation as a trustworthy human trafficker was firmly established eons before I knew him. If you wanted someone to come to America, Atlas was your man. Of course, it was always easier when the person in question himself wanted to come. In such cases, matters were generally handled with a ruthless efficiency that surprised nobody who knew Atlas.

It was a fine June afternoon. I had taken a day off, my first in years of service, and had decided to spend my time at Atlas's restaurant, drinking myself into a silly stupor.
I was halfway into my sixth cup of ale, and was desperately trying to convince my co-worker that the jug was the root of all evil, and should be smashed to the ground as a favour to society.
Someone snatched the jug away from me. I turned around, ready to square off for a bar-room brawl.
It was Atlas, and with him was a young man fresh out of tears, grim determination blazing through his still-damp eyes. I looked at Atlas, raised my eyebrows.
"He's my nephew, fresh from Crete."
The joys of a familial existence having always eluded me, I nodded out a lukewarm welcome and turned around to continue my intellectual banter.
Atlas sat down in front of me, with a soft satisfying plonk.
"I need a favour. And you will help me."
It was enough to make me laugh.
"I'm just a poor old river runner," I said, wiping tears of laughter from my eyes. "How could I possibly help the great Atlas? And why would I?"
Atlas stared at me, the way we stare at people talking loudly in restaurants. And then, glanced softly at his nephew.
"Sing," said Atlas.
And he sang.

And he sang then, oh yes he did, of longing and lament, a song which pierced the heart and cleared the mind. A song of love and innocence, of olives and plums and the smell of fresh Greek soil, of the hunt of the boar. He sang of sunshine and death, and the slices of life stolen away by Chronos.
He sang, and the afternoon melted away into the growing darkness of the night.
After a while, I sensed that he had come to a stop. I stared at Atlas.
"What do you want from me?"
"I want to meet the Boss," he said, and smiled, a slow secret smile.

Those days, I used to meet the Boss very infrequently. My sole job being running the river, my only meetings with him were during times of crises and flooding, when ferrying became the most important job in the world.
I met him in his lair, a high-rise Manhattan apartment. I told him of Atlas, told him about his nephew, told him everything.
His wife was intrigued (and, after all, who wouldn't be, at the thought of a soulful Greek singer).
They agreed to meet Atlas at his restaurant.

I shall never forget the day as long as I live.
For it was at Atlas's restaurant that I saw his nephew sing again.
I saw the effect on the Boss.
I saw his worries melt away.
I saw his wife crying openly, when he sang of unkept promises, and stare at her husband.

And when it was all over, and the Boss was pleased, he looked at the nephew of Atlas, and he asked unto him what he might desire.
And the lad replied.
"Hear me," he said. "I have just one favour to ask."
"And what, pray, is that, soulful Cretan?"
"I ask but this, mighty Hades, that Eurydice, my wife, be returned to my side. For I am Orpheus, son of the Lord of Dreams, and in this manner do I beg a favour of kin."

Hades smiled, looked at Persephone. I felt with naked fear the stab of pure evil in his glance.
"There will be some conditions," he said.

The rest is a tale oft told, by bards and sages.
But this was exactly how it happened, that fateful sultry June night.

And though the chasms of reality swallow my world day by day, though memory, Calliope, and the rest of the muses faintly shudder when Olympus slowly turns to sand, though Zeus and Poseidon still grieve over the fate of humanity, this story shall remain with me.
For the world has changed beyond recognition, and appearance imperceptibly blends into the shadows of thought.
I shall remember Hades, remember Persephone for ever.
I used to work for him once after all.
The Styx might have dried away and turned to vapour, but I shall always remain Charon.

And forever in my memories shall the Song of Orpheus and the roar of the river, the barking of Cerebrus and the deadly orders of Hades be preserved.


Gamesmaster G9 said...


sandeep said...

i had almost forgotten the story and how well you wrote...
memory truly is a capricious mistress...

keep writing

the_free_soul said...

beautiful language ...seems almost like a page from ulessys......though its not worth living in memories , the present is much more bful.

zonko said...

maybe I am a fool.
but I didn't get the story at all.

perhaps I should read up the Greek classics to understand.

the language is good, yes...

~Lord Anshul said...

OMG !!
i dont think i m smart enough to understand it :(
and you are so true about ur interests ;)

aditi said...

well , i would love to hear u explain it out to me .. with that clever smile on your face :D , like zonko , i need some background on these characters !

you wrote that for an EVENT ? in just two hours ?? amazing !

A.G.Sudarshan said...


*Clap clap*

Erythrocyte said...

glad to see you're still writing. Your freinds need a course in classical mytho, though.

Anonymous said...

Anshuman the great!!

Royal Stag said...

approaches excellence. reminds me of ulysses for sm reasn.
oblivious as u r of me, but i have closely followed ur skills, they deserve an ovation.

Anonymous said...

ur in bangalore...hope to meet u one head hangs low in ur presence..nothing else to say.