“Hate you too,” I spat and banged down the phone, ending yet another useless relationship.
I flung a pencil on the bed; it bounced a few times before crashing down on the floor in a dead heap. Much like my life. It started out great, but then it sped downhill like a car without brakes. In the last few years, I had had umpteen ill-fated affairs, failed degrees, and a massive pile of job rejections. I had a reverse Midas touch; everything turned to ashes at my touch.
People washed their hands off me once they realized I was a sackload of shit!
My sullen face gawped back at me from the mirror, the creases and folds, the dark, broody eyes looking like her. I turned on my heels; how I hated my face.
The lamp played tricks on the windowpanes.
From one edge peeped the oldies of my small town—tsking, tsking… from another emerged my schoolmates sneering and scoffing. The shadows of strangers pointing, pitying, and whispering followed soon after.
“Yeah! I’m a loser!” I screamed and threw my shoe at them.
Maybe I needed help! I reflected, my eyes scanning a psychiatrist’s advertisement on the crumpled yellow newspaper wrapped around the booze.
Nah! I snorted, fished out the cheap vodka, took a long swig, plugged my air pods, and staggered to the washroom, sidestepping the rows of empty beer bottles.
Plonking myself on the throne (Yeah… that’s what my folks called WC), I toggled to Spotify and set the bottle down.
What the heck! Why would Spotify switch to Greek Podcasts?
I jabbed at the screen of my phone; the app refused to budge. And soon, the touch screen stopped responding.
Tears pricked my eyes as self-pity swelled inside me. Why did shit happen to me? Why couldn’t things happen my way?
I kicked my feet in frustration; a footstool toppled, sending the vodka skittering down the bathroom floor.
“Holy shit,” I roared.
As I watched my weekend plans drain away to the last drop, a wave of sadness suffocated me, dragging me under, engulfing me whole. Hot tears dribbled down my cheeks; I plowed my knuckles into my eyes as sobs ripped from my throat.
“The esteemed members are requested to maintain decorum.” A velvety voice melted into my ears. “You have been elected as a jury representative after a multistep inspection of your attributes and past history. By squatting on the teleporter and enunciating the password—you’ve sworn in and registered your consent. The proceedings will cascade into your consciousness like a stream of thoughts. Hello, I am Ay-igh; I will be your guide.”
I squinted in the blinding light.
I had finally gone bonkers. Or had I died, poisoned by the cheap alcohol, and was on my way to heaven? Or was it hell?
Was I supposed to greet everyone plunked on a godforsaken WC with cracked rim and peeling enamel and my underpants bunched around my knees? Talk about awkward entries!
Right then, some futuristic-looking specs glided with the phrase— ‘wear me’ blinking on its arm. Just what I needed!
The glasses cut the glare, allowing me to see through.
Holy moly! Guacamole!
I had suffered enough mythological serials in my time (of course, with Granny) to not recognize the spectacle before me as Svarga Loka. How could the TV producers get it so perfect?
Groves of trees, interspersed by gurgling brooks teeming with blossoming lotuses, sprawled around me. Gandharvas, the cosmic musicians, played sweet melodies, to which Apsaras swayed for the sensual pleasures of all and sundry.
Indra, chief of all the devas, sat stashed behind sheets of pearly clouds that changed, conferring his many moods. A retinue of devas was nestled by his side. I could spot Agni deva, Varun deva, Pawan deva, and lord Vishwakarma at first glimpse—what can I say? They looked exactly like their TV counterparts.
However, I was stumped by their name flickering over their head in neon-blue letters… it read as Zeus (for Indra), Poseidon (for Varuna), Hestia (for Agni), and Hephaestus (for lord Vishwakarma).
Weren’t they the names of Greek Gods?
Even the mountain behind Indra was marked as Olympus. Wasn’t Indra’s abode called Mount Meru, or was it Sumeru? I couldn’t be sure; that sort of detail (gathered from Granny’s stories and Amar Chitra Katha comics) was a bit muddled.
Picking on my confusion, Ay-igh responded. “Dear Jurors, after extensive mapping of your subconscious, repressed memories, and emotional wormholes, our software has identified unique similarities with personalities residing in your dormant mind with the characters in the trial. These have been seamlessly assimilated into the visual and auditory simulation to allow an immersive experience. Those are default settings; however, you are welcome to customize them.”
With that, an ultra-modern console with buttons, knobs, and dials appeared in midair. I opted for the Greek version, and the entire scene transformed. Instead of their ornate rhinestone studded regalia, the gods paraded in tunics and cloaks. Some bore the same weapons, too—like Indra, even as Zeus wielded a thunderbolt. I twirled the knob to the anime version—the demigods now had enormous eyes occupying half their faces, wild multicolored hair, and donned jazzy neo-Japanese gear.
Apart from Chinese, Egyptian, and Roman variants, there was a Grisham’s adaptation, too—gods spiffed in pinstripe Armani suits and Ferragamo loafers, looking like models in a glossy magazine.
Perhaps it was for the benefit of the diverse jury—of the twelve of us, one-third were whites, five Asians, one Hispanic, and two blacks; six men and six women of a range of ages.
I whirled the knobs many times, altering the gods’ appearances with the flick of my fingers.
Ha! This was a video game like no other… the gods were at my mercy.
Of course, Ay-igh interrupted the fun.
“Dear Jurors, you will be briefed about the case shortly. Pieces of evidence/ testimony of witnesses will be presented by the parties concerned. Jurors are advised to keep an open mind and apprise themselves of public and media sentiments. After all, the trait of keeping everyone happy, even at the cost of personal suffering, secures one a place in the Paradisial Jury. Isn’t it?” She chuckled.
“Light refreshments and alcoholic beverages are just a thought away. Here in this universe, we believe that a certain level of inebriation is necessary to see, hear, and speak the truth. However, juror’s discretion is advisable.” Ay-igh said, and a document with gilded edges flew at us.
Demeter v. Hades
Demeter, the goddess of nature, is the plaintiff (P) and Hades, the god of the Underworld, is the defendant (D).
Presumed facts (until proven as fibs or fiction)
One day, Persephone, Demeter’s only daughter, was picking flowers in the Nysian meadow with her friends. Apparently, she wandered too far, enchanted by an exquisite flower. To her surprise, the ground below her feet opened, and out surfaced Hades, the mighty King of the Underworld, mounted on his golden chariot. According to the plaintiff, not only did Hades drag a helpless Persephone to the Underworld, but he also bullied the girl into becoming his wife.
Demeter is disturbed to such a degree that she has spurned all her duties. Since she is the deity of harvest, akin to Mother Nature, the Earth is now barren, and people are dying.
Hades’ camp, however, claims Persephone trespassed on the dark lord’s property, and as an intruder, she has to suffer the repercussions. They proclaim that Zeus, Persephone’s father, had agreed to the match beforehand.
Oh! This was going to be juicy! I rubbed my hands. The royal bickering always qualified for national and international headlines.
We became acquainted with the public and media stance, tucking in our meal preferences with goblets of full-bodied Somrus (the celestial wine, for the uninitiated) emerging from the branches and saplings of a towering tree. I had it pegged as Kalpavriksha, the wish-fulfilling tree, but it turned out to be a cluster of dryads, the tree nymphs.
Indian folklore had some major overlapping crap going on with Greek mythos!
Zeus called matters to order and praised the jurors. I couldn’t hide that grin anymore!
He introduced the courthouse troop and instructed the plaintiff and defendant to take to the stands. I gawped at their backs as they proceeded to their places.
Draped in a sweeping garment the hue of ripe wheat, Demeter reminded me of the goddess Annapoorna from the ACK. Hades, dark-skinned and athletic, had a dhoti in shimmering black knotted around his lean midriff and a majestic helmet. He was accompanied by a three-headed dog. (I would have confused them with Yamraj and his dog Sharvara had I not read their name, Hades and Cerberus sparkling over their heads.)
Persephone was cloaked in the psychedelic colors that altered every time she moved. But her robe looked pale, swirling like smoke at its edges as if robbed of its sheen. Blossoming florets slipped from her hair, withered, and turned to ashes as they slumped on the floor.
The applicants took seats and faced the crowd. A million cameras blinked at once, and the bystanders—lesser demigods and Apsaras glittering in silk brocades and glittering jewels, broke into a clamor.
What kind of vicious cosmic joke was that?
Buckling down to my knees, I gaped at their faces, forgetting to breathe.
The ache buried inside my core jolted alive, rippling like a wave of electricity; it threatened to burst through. However, a wail emanating from the adjoining seat put a lid on it.
The Japanese juror was bawling hard enough to rent his vocal cords. And then, like a falling row of dominoes, all the jury members snapped, sniveling like babies in the kindergarten.
We quickly understood that, as jurors, we were stuck in a warped prank with our worst tragedies playing before us.
Each juror had a family member, a loved one, or a close friend caught in similar events as the three key participants, Demeter, Persephone, and Hades, in their pasts!
Perhaps that was a qualifying measure for jury selection!
The callous software had taken the gag too far; it had recreated the three gods, rendering them the exact face, mannerisms, and attire as our concerned family members.
It was like being handed your worst nightmares, packed neatly with a bow!
For the aged Japanese on my right, Hades resembled his son, while the black woman in the back row could see herself in Demeter.
As for me, from that minute onwards, Persephone was my mother, Demeter, my granny, and Hades, the guy my mother had eloped with.
Yeah! There you have it; even my mother left me for someone else!
After years of pretending to be an ideal mother and a devoted daughter, she had taken the easy street with her lover. Not once bothering about our opinions.
Her boyfriend was loaded, and she enjoyed the high life while we, Granny and I, endured the burden of her choices. She had returned later, begging and apologizing, and shipped Granny along, but I could see through her pretense.
I was the unwanted lot.
As I saw Mother in the court, a maddening fury swaddled me, clinging and clawing into my flesh. Hadn’t she ruined me once and for all? All my failed relationships reflected the pattern—the blueprint she had set for me. Rejection. Resentments. Regrets.
Unaffected by the surging sentiments in the jury box, the trial persisted with the persecution and defense counsels calling the witnesses and cross-examining them. Lord Surya (only he was called Helios, here) with golden hair descended from his chariot, drawn by winged steeds, and took to the witness box. Athena (an apparition of goddess Saraswati) and Artemis (a watered-down version of goddess Durga) testified against Hades.
Hades’ camp called on a sweet-talking Hermes (a duplicate of Narada, if you ask me), sea nymphs, and naiads to prove Zeus’s scandalous involvement.
I stopped caring… I wanted neither this mythological BS nor any engagement in my mother’s affairs. The rest of the jury could deliberate; I would just slide in their slipstream.
The plan, however, went awry, and soon I found myself center stage.
“I already have the remaining votes; you must decide now.” Zeus urged, apparating before me a million times a day, his piercing hazel eyes peering into my soul and his seat of clouds roiling and rumbling. Impatient. Agitated.
In different circumstances, I would’ve enjoyed the authority over gods’ affairs. But with so much of my personal emotions invested in it, I loathed it with all my being.
Soon, screens erupted around me like a barrage of pimples bursting on one’s face at the stroke of puberty. Emaciated adults and starved children gawped from them, flapping posters, holding candles, and marching with banners to show solidarity with Demeter. Few young women stared into my eyes as they set themselves on fire, chanting, “Long Live Demeter! Free Persephone!”
The media, operating under Underworld’s official control, was not too far behind. Shades, the soulless deads, took to telecasting panel discussion from the gigantic screens funded by a flush underground economy, outlining Hades’ virtues. Zombies chittered gibberish, spewing venom, spinning conspiracy theories; Black overgrown demon dogs with fiery eyes and Wolf-News tags hung about—I was literally hounded by the press.
I lay sleepless night after night, tossing and turning, not knowing what to do. Wasn’t this what I always wanted? To take center stage in my mother’s life and for her to seek my opinion… And now, when I had it, I couldn’t decide.
Was I approaching it all wrong?
It wasn’t about Mother or me, but about Persephone. I couldn’t let them misuse my bias.
As I peered into Persephone’s sad, imploring eyes day after day, something melted inside me. The only smile I saw on her tortured face was when Hades was around; no doubt they loved each other.
I knew what I had to do.
The out-of-court settlement provided us a respite. The atmosphere was vibrant; nymphs and maidens shimmied around, refilling our goblets.
I skimmed around, a secret smile slinking across my lips. They had no idea of the central role I had played!
My grin widened as I caught Zeus’s eye; his eyes sparkled. He knew.
A vision of a relieved Persephone flashed before me; I had handed her the pomegranate I had swiped from a zombie journalist’s bag. Persephone had eaten the seeds, knowing fully well that consuming something from the Underworld would bind her there. A settlement was proposed, and Hades and Demeter agreed that Persephone could divide her time between them.
“I couldn’t have done it without Zeus’ prodding. The pressure of being center-stage and the power to turn the tide in any direction compelled me to see everyone’s perspective rather than stick with my own.” The Jap juror said, half to himself.
What? Wasn’t I the pivot, the deciding factor?
“Seeing my son as Hades made me realize what he was going through. He was tormented by his love for the girl. His story was not about shaming, challenging, or ruining me. In fact, the trial made me see it wasn’t about me at all. And imagine I carried the grudge all my life. I released myself by giving Hades the idea of feeding his ladylove the pomegranate seeds. To think of it, things ended up exactly as they had in the past, but I feel lighter…” He continued.
A vortex of question churned my mind; I felt sick. Rushing to the bathroom, I grabbed the sink to steady myself, then sat on the toilet.
Had it been the same for all the jurors, including me? We all thought we were center-stage and the reason behind the truce…
Perhaps it was too easy to cast me in the central role in the story of my mother and make it all about me! Almost as easy as imagining her as the root of all my problems.
If I could give Persephone what she wanted, why was it so difficult to do the same for Mother? Wasn’t her predicament similar?
And what about the mythos twist? Was this tale supposed to end how it did with a dash of our personal stories? As humans, were we living some version of ancient stories, a sort of repetitive, senseless, purposeless cycle where the things were destined to end the same way every single time?
Did we, as jury members, feel empowered by rotating a joystick calibrated to move only in one direction?
“Holy shit!” I mumbled.
A cool breeze hit my sweaty face.
“Glad all twelve of you made it. Because of overlapping case histories, Dr. Devraj fixed all your consultations on the same day.” The now familiar voice of Ay-igh wafted in.
I blinked several times to take in the new surroundings.
I was now seated with my fellow jury members in the psychiatrist’s waiting room. I quickly checked my bottoms! Phew! Fully clad.
They had to stop with the cliched teleporters!
“Hi, I am Anna Iakovou, AI for short, and an assistant to Dr. Devraj. He is expected to take center-stage in the coming years in the field of neo-advanced technology to resolve deep-seated mind conflicts,” Ay-igh spoke again. Only this time, the voice belonged to a svelte young woman seated behind a desk. A low whirr of a Greek podcast from her computer spilled into the room.
“Machines have lesser problems. I’d rather be a machine.” An Andy Warhol poster hung on the back wall.
I stared at the hand-painted portrait of Dr. Devraj with hazel eyes and salt-and-pepper beard mounted on the wall. Did his beard move? Like gray clouds on a stormy day?
A mischievous twinkle glinted in his eyes. And then he winked.
“You are the main character in your life story, but other people are the main characters of their own lives. Sometimes healing is found by playing a supporting role in someone else’s experience.”
“You are the main character in your life story…” quote by ― Timothy Kurek, a Portland-based author, and speaker.
Picture credit- Egor Myznik(Unsplash)