The Mildpowered Virgins of Novylion High
It was late evening by the time we reached the specified coordinates. The sun had been out until just a few minutes before but a sudden sandstorm blowing on the shore had coloured the sky a sickening orange and the early-risen moon a jaundiced yellow. Yet the water was completely still. Where we were, no wind was blowing.
The air was stagnant.
Except for the fading ripples made by our boat as it came to a stop, the sea looked like a sheet of glass.
In the morning, when I'd told my friends that I wouldn't say bad words anymore, all of them had laughed it off. All of them, except Ashukami.
‘Brother Puna,’ he said, ‘Have you heard about the three wise monkeys?’
‘No,’ I said.
‘It is a famous sculpture attributed to Saint Karamagōro, who was the leader of our sect a hundred years ago.’
‘I'll make the aliens bring him back to life and kill him all over again. He he hue hue,’ said Hagesh, in a fit of madness.
Ashukami was, uncharacteristically, unfazed. He continued: ‘The three wise monkeys are: Mizaru, who sees no evil; Kikazaru, who hears no evil and Iwazaru, who speaks no evil. If one instils the three wise monkeys inside oneself, one has followed the path of the big GnT to the T.’
‘I don't want any monkeys inside me,’ I said.
‘It's only a metaphor,’ Ashukami clarified.
‘How many monkeys do you have inside of you?’ I asked.
‘Alas, only one. In this school, I see too much evil and from you I hear too much evil.’
‘I never knew that I was keeping a monkey from getting inside you. I'm really sorry, Ashukami.’
‘Oh, but I'm elated that you want to make amends. All who accept the big GnT's teachings will be forgiven. I'll help you in any way I can in your pursuit of pure speech. You can get one monkey inside of you and I can get two monkeys inside of me.’
‘First Umito and now you two. I don't want to be the guy whose friends are all attracted to animals,’ said Hagesh.
‘But it's so difficult. Even if the speak-no-evil monkey enters me momentarily, I cannot make him stay,’ I said. ‘It’s not like I came to you guys immediately. I wanted to accomplish this on my own. I have tried and tried so many times and for so long. And I’ve failed so many times.’
‘How long have you been trying to do this?’ asked Hagesh.
‘Three days,’ I said.
‘That’s not that long,’ he said.
‘Imagine if you ate rice every day with every meal for all your life but then one day someone comes up to you and says, “No more rice for you form now on!” Will you be able to give up rice forever?’
‘I did used to eat rice with every single meal, every single day. But rice has too many carbs so I gave it up and now look at me. These bad boys can bench 200 pounds,’ said Hagesh, pointing to his triceps. ‘And it’s not that difficult. It’s only the first week that you feel strange. After that you don’t miss it.’
‘Who came up to you to say that you can’t swear?’ asked Tan Talaragi, the most talented singer in the country that no one wants to listen to because the songs he sings are so boring. But I admire the man immensely and I feel a sense of true kinship with him. Both of our guṇas help us excel at our respective fields of interest – me at badminton and him at singing. People assume that our achievements in our fields are solely due to our guṇas and that no skill or hard work was involved at all. This could not be further from the truth. My right wrist can rotate freely at any angle but I had to train incessantly to make it strong enough to deliver a smash. Tan’s voice has a superb range but he also had to train it to be able to capture the nuances of classical music. Moreover, adding to my sense of respect for the man, I suspect Tan is much smarter than he lets on and I’m not talking about his grades, which are great, by the way. Sometimes, he catches these little remarks in people’s sentences that anyone else might ignore. And often, they turn out to be the most important pieces of information in those sentences.
‘No. Nobody told me to not swear. I decided it myself,’ I said.
‘Truly wonderful, brother Puna,’ said Ashukami. ‘I think the voice of the big GnT might be reaching you but you can only hear whispers still. To help you listen to His entire symphony, I’ll do everything that is in my power. I’ll even make use of my siddhī if necessary.’
‘What? Really? Is that even legal?’
‘Do not fret. Our monastery has special permission to use my siddhī for religious purposes. It is so because what was a very dangerous power in the past has been tempered and tamed by the talented Talbot Corps. We might need brother Umito’s help and the deed will have to be done at dusk. We will take the approach suggested by brother Hagesh and, for now, aim to get you to stop uttering obscenities for a week and see if that brings about a more permanent change.’
There were three people other than me in the little motorboat we had rented from Mano-ji: Umito Dishahara, our boatman and good friend; Ashukami Momokani, who was going to use his siddhī on me and an elderly gentlemen, who refused to talk to us and was only described to us by Ashukami as ‘the demon’s handler’. The old man looked to be about seventy and was dressed in a faded blue hooded robe, which was plain save for a crest depicting a small, long-bodied hound embroidered on the back. He had a scruffy beard, buzz-cut hair and his eyes were pale blue. When we met him on the dock, he did not address us or even acknowledge our existence. Ashukami said there was nothing to worry about. He was also carrying a cloth knapsack and clung to it as if it contained his soul.
The moment we set out for our destination, Mr Handler (that’s what I decided to call him in my mind to make things easy) closed his eyes and started meditating. Ashukami told us not to disturb him and to limit our conversation to essential information. I took us ten minutes of adjustment to reach the exact spot where Ashukami wanted us to be. Umito had gotten us to the coordinates that Ashukami had written down on a small piece of paper fairly quickly but Ashukami said he was looking for a very specific location and he had to simply ‘feel it out’.
When there, Ashukami tapped Mr Handler’s shoulder and he slowly opened his eyes. He opened his knapsack and took out a thick rope that he proceeded to tie Ashukami up with.
‘What’s going on?’ said Umito.
‘It is a precaution. Our being out here on the open ocean is a precaution as well. I apologise for not informing you earlier, brother Umito and brother Puna, but I did not want to scare you. In truth, there are some spots in the city where we could have done this but none were unpopulated.’
‘What are we going to do that requires us to be away from people?’ I asked.
‘In the case that everything goes wrong, which is as likely as the heavens falling on our heads the very next moment, we wouldn’t want to give the demon any opportunities to hurt any innocent bystanders.’
‘Who is the demon?’ I asked.
‘You will meet him shortly. Now, I’m going to go unconscious for a few minutes. Do not get scared. The demon will latch onto fear. The handler is here to protect you and if the demon tries to do anything, simply stay away and let the handler… handle it. And brother Umito, since this concerns brother Puna, do not talk to the demon and do not make eye contact with him. The fewer variables we have to deal with, the easier this will be.’
‘…Promise,’ we both said, hesitantly.
Mr Handler had finished tying up Ashukami. The rope’s wrapped around his entire body from his neck to his feet. Mr Handler held the ends of the rope taut in his right hand like the reins of a horse. He took out a thin, ancient-looking leather-bound book from his knapsack and held it open in his left hand. Then he started reading its contents aloud. His voice was gravel being crunched by a heavy foot. The words were in a language that sounded more ancient than the sea itself. Its sounds were primitive and guttural.
Ashukami went into a trance. His head fell down and started shaking. His black silky hair started moving on its own. The boat started shaking violently and Umito and I had to hold on to the bow to not go overboard. Then everything calmed down again and Ashukami lifted his head. He was smiling. Ashukami rarely smiled. And never this wide.
‘Ashu—’ Umito started speaking but I put my finger on his lips. He turned his gaze down and slunk back to his seat.
‘Ashukami, are you alright?’ I asked. Mr Handler had finished reading and it was dead silent.
‘Ashukami… is… asleep,’ said a voice that sounded just like Ashukami’s and came out of Ashukami’s mouth but was much gentler and had a mellow quality to it.
‘Who are you? My name is Puna Maiwal.’ I glanced over to Mr Handler and he was staring intently at Ashukami – or whatever was inhabiting the body of Ashukami.
Ashukami’s throat was being cleared. ‘I know who you are, Puna. I’ve seen everything Ashukami has seen. Heard everything he has heard. I know everything he knows. For so long have I longed for all of you to know me too. For so long have I wanted to talk to someone – anyone. To have friends like you. Such wonderful friends like you. You ask who I am? I am nothing but a humble distant admirer. If I am worthy to be addressed by you, call me Shaikuma.’
‘Do not say its name!’ shouted Mr Handler. This was the first time I heard his voice directed towards me and his command was firm and electrifying. Like an experienced military commander’s.
‘I’ll call you Mr S. Is that fine?’
‘I do not deserve your respect. Simply call me S if you cannot find it in your heart to utter my name. Or do not call me anything. I am glad just to be here in front of you, being acknowledged by you.’
‘Alright. I’ll call you S.’ I looked over to Mr Handler and he gave me a slight nod.
‘Ah! Wonderful! Magnificent! All my dreams have been fulfilled.’ Tears were rolling down S’s cheeks. ‘Umito! If I may be a little greedy, I want you to know me too. Please, look at me at least.’
Umito had not raised his eyes this entire time and he didn’t look like he was going to any time soon either. He looked genuinely scared. In all the years I’ve known Umito, I’ve seen him express all kinds of emotions but fear was never one of them. Mr Handler shook his head and I nodded. S looked at Mr Handler for a moment with pure hatred. It’s the most disgusting expression I’ve ever seen. Then he turned back to me and put on his kind smile again.
‘S, Umito won’t talk to you. You’ll have to make do with me,’ I said. ‘I don’t know what your relationship is with Ashukami but he’s our friend. We don’t want to break a promise we made to him.’
‘Naturally. How selfish of me. I’m in awe of your sense of integrity. I would have expected nothing less. Promises are important. If you had broken your promise, you wouldn’t be such good friends after all. And I would be too heartbroken, seeing you fall from grace. There’s no telling what I’d do then.’
Mr Handler suddenly tightened the ropes around S and he writhed and screamed in pain. But he was laughing.
‘Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! It’s only a joke, you cur. It’s only jest. A slight amusement.’
Mr Handler increased the tension even more and now he was in too much pain to laugh. Even I wanted to stop him. It looked like one of S’s – and, by extension, Ashukami’s – ribs might break.
‘Unhand me, fiend! I swear on the Bear I will not hurt them!’ S shouted.
Hearing this, Mr Handler finally loosened his grip and S took a minute to regain his composure.
‘As I said before, I’d like you to know me, Puna. It has been almost a year since Ashukami has let me out. If you’ll allow me to be just a little more selfish, I want to take a bit of your time to speak before we move on to what we came here to do. I rarely get the chance to speak.’
‘That’s fine with me,’ I said.
‘I’d like you to know me too, Umito. I know you won’t talk to me or look at me but you can listen to me. Please, at least, listen to me.’
Umito nodded, still looking terrified.
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