There is immense quiet now. My eyes are closed, but my mind is filled with images, memories, vivid scenes from my short, meteoric life. I try to come back to reality, but I do not find anything to come back to. My memories seem to be my entirety. There is nothing outside of it.
I understand that I am dead. The fact that I am still thinking must mean that I currently exist in the form of a soul. Very well, that is one of my beliefs disproven already. It doesn’t matter anymore, really. I feel like I have just walked out of the examination hall. The only overpowering emotion I feel is relief.
I get back to concentrating on the memories playing out before me. I start analyzing them. There seem to be many of them playing at the same time. As is the human tendency, I immediately begin to search for a pattern to discern the manner in which they are categorized. It is then that I make my startling discovery.
I find that I exist within an enclosed space. And I am surrounded by memories on all sides. As far as I can tell, there is no escaping this enclosure, and it seems to exist solely to allow me to choose which set of memories I wish to view. But what strikes me as unnatural is the shape of the space. I assume I am somewhere near the center and I see two long corridors stretch out to my left and right, and I can see the faint glimmer of memories playing out where the corridor ends. Two similar corridors open out behind me, again to the left and the right, though broader in width and closer together. In between these two corridors there is a small enclosure, almost like a store room which contains its own set of memories. And right in front of me is a circular room that seems to have the most vivid and comprehensive collection of memories.
It is dark inside; the only source of light is the glow from the memories flashing before me in every direction. I try to glance down at myself, but find nothing tangible, no body enclosing my consciousness. I realize I cannot blink, I cannot breathe. I possess all my sensory faculties without possessing any sensory organs. Then it hits me. My body has been right before my eyes all this while. I am inside it. I seem to have withdrawn within myself post mortem. Ironically, self-exploration is to be my final act, having devoted most of my life directing my critical eye to the world around me.
I try to decide which set of memories to access first. The corridors I had listed out earlier I now understand to be my two arms, two legs, libido and brain respectively. I was sorely tempted to view the crystalline memories the brain possessed, but some vague premonitory feeling told me to leave that for last. I decided then to watch the memories stored in my left leg.
I step into the glow of the memories, unsure of how to go about it, but at once I find myself surrounded by light, blindingly white at first, until it slowly darkened into complete nothingness.
I waited in the darkness for a while for something to materialize, but nothing was forthcoming. And this darkness was neither disconcerting nor disturbing. On the contrary it seemed familiar, welcome. It was something I remembered from my life with fondness. It reminded me of the comfort of a cherished hideout when one wished to flee from the strains of living.
It was sleep.
I then realized I was back in the realms of reality, virtual reality at least. My memories would not play before me as on a cinema screen, I would relive them. I realize I was in the throes of darkness because my eyes are closed. I open them and immediately look down to inspect myself. I see my own body, but a younger version. I must have been ten or eleven at the time of this memory. It feels weird being back in a body. I feel trapped, restricted, human. My recent experience with out of body consciousness had given me a rare taste of freedom of movement which I had never experienced in life and which I would never have enough of. I yearned for these bodily fetters to be cast off once again. But presently the memory began to unfold before my eyes and disturbed my train of thought.
I saw before me an airport waiting room. My family and I were moving back to our native land, from the luxury of a metropolis to the suffocation of a small town. As a ten-year-old, I took the transition harder than most. Hiding my tears from my family, I hung about the waiting room, my mind swimming in the uncertain pools of conjecture, wondering how my life was going to change.
The memory dissolved into another one, this one took place later in my life, and my body grew accordingly. I saw myself saying goodbye to a dear friend nonchalantly, not knowing it was the last time I would ever speak to her. She was stolen away from me prematurely by the thankless hands of fate.
Similar scenes of departure and transitional phases from my life played out in an uncomfortable, unceasing flow. The sheer number of obstacles set in my path by life astounded me and compelled me to marvel at the fact that I had lived at all. Each of the experiences, I recognized, had had an irreversible effect on my personality and world view.
At length, after many tears and much self-pity, the train of memories exhausted itself and I found myself back in the darkness of the corridor, formless and free once again. The corridor was no longer lit by the luminescence of the memories. I understood now the purpose behind my existence in this purgatory. I was overwhelmed by curiosity, as all men are in life, of what was to come after. It was to be hoped that, like Dante, I had been through the Inferno in life, was now in Purgatory and would subsequently come to Paradise. But if life had taught me anything, it was never to harbor hopes.
Nevertheless, I willed myself on to the next corridor, that which constituted my right leg. Once again I was enveloped by the blinding light followed by the comforting darkness. Once again I opened my eyes to find myself in a virtual reality bound by the physical limitations of a bodily existence.
I found myself in my bedroom as a child, my sister carrying me in her lap, reading to me fantastic tales from children’s books, setting alight within me the first flames of desire for books and the wondrous world of literature.
I saw myself in bed while my father faithfully narrated tales of danger and adventure from his own life while I lay captivated and awestruck at these seemingly impossible episodes which were to sow the preliminary conceptions of bravery and nobility which I was to follow for the rest of my life.
I felt the clasp of my mother’s fingers around my adolescent hands. Her face was stony, she was holding back tears. She seemed to be guiding me away from some troublesome affair or the other. Her hand was the one that pulled me out of a current that threatened to pull me under. It was there that I learnt the meaning of loyalty.
I relived with relish the moments when I first encountered my best friends who were to remain unwavering in their support of my endeavors throughout my life and provided me with both the grounding and the confidence to strive for what I wished to achieve.
I was transported to the moments when I discovered the authors who would shatter the foundations of my existence, jar me out of my naïve reverie and initiate me into the harsh climes of reality.
In this way the every single moment in my life that had spurred me on to become who I had become, molded my identity, sculpted my personality, highlighted my qualities and carved out my peculiarities played out before my eyes.
At long last these, too, were exhausted. As the final glimmer faded into nothingness and I heaved a great sigh. All my contemplation previously had been for naught, for I realized that these exalted moments more than made up for all the trials and tribulations that I had endured. It did not matter how difficult one’s journey was as long as the destination rewarded one amply. And I was not so ungrateful as to deny my destination its worth.
I travelled back in a reflective mood. I now had a decision on my hands. The left side obviously contained memories of the negative nature of what the limb represented and the right one contained the positive. Which was I to view first?
Adhering to my life’s philosophy of hearing the bad news first and getting it over with, I made my way down my left arm and engulfed myself in its memories though I was consumed by no little amount of trepidation as to what I would encounter there.
I saw first the friends and loved ones I had wronged. I saw all my betrayals and hypocrisies displayed in uncensored, unforgiving clarity until I found myself bent over in disgust at myself and my behavior in life. It was astounding how many of these memories I had relegated to the furthest recesses of my mind when I was alive. To the end of my days I had viewed my own character with a certain amount of pride and complacence in comparison to others’. But this rerun of encounters from almost every phase of my life brought my perception of myself into stark contrast with what I really was. And what made it worse was that there was no one I could justify myself to. No one else was privy to this information. I was the only witness to my own pathetic state, and I was precisely the only person I could not lie to.
The vehicle of unpleasant remembrances now changed tracks. It displayed to me all the times I had been wronged by others or by fate. I saw true love being perverted by a malignant lie. I saw those who were expected to stick by me in times of duress instead turn out to be the ones who offered me up as a sacrificial lamb, I saw my only chance at happiness with a soulmate stolen from me by Fate, whose workings the mightiest of men cannot overcome.
I understood this set of memories to represent all the bonds of communication I had formed in life that had gone wrong whether the fault lay with me, someone else or with no one at all. The severed ties and painful separations that peppered my life were revisited in chronological order and the recollection of so many painful moments whether guilt-inducing or pity-inducing were too much for me to bear, and the end of the memories found me in a confounded daze.
If time still had any meaning, I suppose I must have floated around in that daze for many hours, if not days. But eventually, rousing myself to action, I willed myself to the right arm and comforted myself with the knowledge that this set would comprise of all the positive bonds I had formed in my lifetime.
Sure enough, I was inundated with memories of the most pleasurable moments of my life which invariably took place when I was surrounded by the handful of people I held dearer to me than life itself.
I saw the comfortable, disjointed kitchen in which my two friends cooked for me while I lounged nearby, reading a book, while the pangs of hunger gnawed at my insides.
I heard the voice of another friend through my telephone, with whom I shared many hours of misanthropic philosophizing though many miles and years separated us.
I was reminded of the people of genius that periodically graced my life through the glint of an inscribed golden ring that was gifted to me.
The pleasing nature of these memories had me in raptures of delight, but as is usually the case, they ended all too soon. As the memories extinguished, I felt as if all the pleasures of life had been stolen from me all over again. I raged at nothing or no one in particular, but with exceptional vigor.
With time, this wave of emotion too receded, and I found myself facing my libidinal memories, something I did not look forward to. The unapologetic frankness with which my memories had bared the most shameful sections of my life left me somewhat disconcerted as to what I would be reminded of in this section of reminiscences. But it was solely the curiosity of what my brain held, those most vivid memories that I had earlier espied, that spurred me on to remove these last of nagging chores from my path.
Trying to ignore the surreal nature of the fact that I was now entering my own libido, I submitted myself to the penultimate memory cluster.
Immediately, I found myself in a whirlwind of memories dating back to my infancy when I did not even possess the ability to form coherent sentences. These memories were unlike others in that they were characterized by little or no thought, merely pure, animalistic urges and instincts. Even when witnessing the moments in retrospect, I found myself completely at the mercy of those urges and whims and the section of my brain that was ruled by reason was conspicuous by its absence. Even actions that on the surface had no connection to my baser side were shown to me, forcing me to accept how many times I was unwittingly puppeteered by my libido to behave in uncharacteristic ways that defied any logic or thought process.
The peculiarities of these memories were doubly enhanced by the fact that even now I was unable to pass judgments upon them. I did not feel disgust at the inappropriate nature of those thoughts, I did not feel indignation at their intensity, I merely felt desire. Every memory that flashed before me aroused in me the same latent craving that it had in its original form. The entire phenomena served no other purpose than to remind me of the beast that resided within me throughout my life no matter what sophisticated notion I held of myself. The beast may have been shackled, but it would never be tamed.
Disturbed and disoriented, I found myself reflecting upon how this most natural and deeply rooted of our instincts was portrayed to us as ugly and base, and to what extent we had deluded ourselves as to how much we controlled it as opposed to how much it controlled us. The very thing I spent all my life combating had just been found to insidiously influence every facet of my life.
To this inflamed state of mind came relief in the form of the memories awaiting me in the brain. Having exhausted all other memories, and having learnt the ugly lessons that introspection sought to teach me, I now relished the prospect of enmeshing myself in the intricacies of the very organ that had held me enthralled all my life.
The brilliant glare lured me, moth-like, and I trembled with anticipation, dissolving myself into this final frontier of memory-realms.
I was aware already of a key difference: I did not reside within a body as I did in each of my previous skirmishes. This, then, was not to be a straightforward recounting of mental endeavors.
I found myself travelling at an immense speed, hurtling through the air, formlessly whizzing past barren deserts and insignificant swamplands. I crossed stormy oceans and calm seas, frothing rivers and furious waterfalls, serene lakes and murky pools. I crossed lush grasslands and dense forests, sprawling plains and blooming gardens. I crossed bustling cities and ravaged villages. Each time a new feature presented itself on the horizon, my anticipation peaked, expecting it to be my destination, but on each occasion I merely flitted by it, not even bothering to slow down.
Finally, I saw a mountain range, vast beyond belief, with each hulk of landmass towering over me until I felt like a lowly rodent even as I flew effortlessly through the skies. As I neared them, I recognized in each peak a moment from my life when I had experienced a moment of elevated being.
I saw moments when a piece of music had transported me beyond ordinary pleasure into a nirvana-like state of mind.
I saw represented conversations in which I had happened upon an eternal truth, whether by blind luck, by conscientious research or whether with the help and guidance of those around me.
I saw the highest peak reflect those moments from my life when I brought the entirety of my life’s purpose into tangible existence by embodying it in art.
From these exalted heights I was immediately dragged down to the depths of the valleys where I was shown every flaw in my thinking with astonishing simplicity and clarity so that there was no urge to argue or even doubt their validity.
Every folly, forgivable or just plain embarrassing, was highlighted for me, and the mistaken leaps in logic that I had made were pointed out to me, not it a condescending or reproving manner, but in the unassuming manner in which Truth always conducts itself, never deigning to defend itself, comfortable in the knowledge that it is unchangeable and eternal and simply stating its case.
My whole life in thought, complete with its commendable qualities and its reprehensible flaws was decoded before my eyes. What struck me most of all was the inescapable duplicity in everything. How the same character was prone to both extremes of behavior under circumstances that he hardly ever had a say in. How I could hate hypocrisy all my life and yet be just as prone to it as the next person. How I could train one side of my mind to appreciate none but the most elevated forms of culture, and yet carry within me all those primal urges that dictate my actions solely based on instinct and completely contrary to reason. Conflict and harmony, love and hate, loyalty and betrayal, fear and courage, happiness and grief; all these opposites seemed to thrive off of each other, with the existence of one depending on the existence of the other and vice versa.
With this realization, I saw before me the lowest valleys and the highest peaks level each other out until I beheld nothing but an immense expanse of earth extending infinitely in every direction. I could sense I was almost done now, but one final question that had troubled me since the beginning finally made itself felt in earnest now that every other doubt and query had been answered satisfactorily.
I took flight, rising to the highest limits of existence and, on finding nothing to satisfy my doubts, plunged to the lowest depths as well. Still I remained answerless, and still I scoured the realms for signs, tangible or not, of the existence of the only thing which would render all the peaks of my life meaningless. When each boundary of my consciousness had been tested to my satisfaction without giving me any reason to change my opinions, I found myself flooded with a feeling of unrivalled tranquility. The universe around me shimmered and shivered into non existence and I found myself back in my body in complete darkness.
No longer unsure, I made my way back towards the center, from whence this cathartic experience had commenced. I found myself entering the heart. It held no memories, but lay instead congealed with cold blood and slime. Into this crimson grave I lowered myself at last and was consumed till I was no more.