(Story begins here) “But, why are you showing me this?” asked Pete, perplexed, “it seems thoroughly unpleasant all round.”
“Remember Peter,” said Valmiki solemnly, “this is about deeper meaning. What do you know of Sita?”
“Well, she represents the soul.”
“And Rama, her husband?”
“Good Peter, so Ravana represents…”
“Well, he’s from below, trying to drag Sita away from God, so…so…”
“Oh… Pete!” chided Diotima, “isn’t it obvious?”
“Um, well not really.”
“It is alright Peter,” interjected Valmiki, “Ravana is… the material world.”
“It’s why in the Old Testament, God punishing sinners unto the third generation isn’t about spite or meanness, it just means that if you’re unable to resist demons carrying your soul away, the consequences on your family can be long-term.”
“You see Pete, said Diotima, pointing to the characters frozen before them in the hut. The soul longs for God even if it brings physical hardship like it has for Sita. Yet the soul must exist in a world of material temptations actively trying to carry it away from Him.”
“But she seems to be resisting,” said Pete pointing at the defiant look on Sita’s face.
“Let’s see some more,” said Valmiki as the characters reanimated. Enraged by the pain, Ravana lunged forwards, grabbed Sita in his many arms and strode out of the hut, banging her head remorselessly on the top of the crude doorway as he did so. Sita barely noticed, being entirely focused on struggle.
“But, that’s not fair,” said Pete, appalled, “she resisted the material world with all her strength but it still got her.”
“It happens,” said Valmiki sadly, “let me show you.” The scene faded and Pete flinched at the piecing shrieks of several hundred malnourished Laotian children who materialised around him, playing raucously in a cracked-up playground beneath the scorching sun. A man in his early twenties sporting a long but straggly blonde beard was smiling, watching them. A young east Asian lady approached him. “You are sure about this, Steven?” she asked shyly. The young man turned and looked fondly at his new companion.
“Completely sure Pany, I feel my skills are making such a difference at the orphanage and it makes me happy to see the kids improving.” The man hesitated awkwardly and the lady looked away with a half-smile anticipating his next words. “But, not as happy as being with you makes me.”
“You know the life which we would have with the combined income of what this place can pay us?”
“Yes, but we would have true wealth.” The couple’s loving smile at each other was interrupted by a phone notification.
“What is it Steven?” The man’s eyes were set a little harder having read the message.
“Oh nothing, just something about a job back in the UK, but it’s not important.” The characters froze.
“Well, this all seems nice,” beamed Pete, “nobody getting carried off by demons here.”
“Oh… Pete!” castigated Diotima, “can’t you see where this is going?” Pete squinted, suddenly the three were in a small dark room. In a rusty single bed lay a young couple. Pany stroked Steven’s chest contentedly.
“What just happened, you know in my culture it should only happen when there are certain… intentions, so I am glad that we spoke earlier.” She looked up in alarm feeling Steven’s entire body go rigid. There was a pause punctuated only by the young man’s nervous swallow.
“That… job that came through earlier…” Pany stopped stroking Steven’s chest, “it was for a very, very well paid political lobbying job.”
“But I thought your degree lead you to disillusionment with politics?”
“It did and this job isn’t even for a very nice cause, but… but the money… Come with me Pany, we could have such a nice life in the UK. Even retire early.” Pany was genuinely baffled.
“Leave… the children?” she asked, unsure that she could have heard correctly. Peter began sobbing into his hands.
“I’m sorry, I applied long before I came out here, before I met you. I tried so, so hard to just delete the email and forget about it, but I just couldn’t turn it down.”
“There is only one child whom I wish to leave,” said Pany with hurt dignity as she dressed before cautiously letting herself out into the orphanage corridor.
“A young man’s soul, his Sita, carried off by demons, against his consent,” said Diotima disapprovingly, “so many people just can’t help themselves, their souls are just too young.”
“Sita is carried away all around us,” said Valmiki, ushering Pete into the corridor. An older Laotian man was mopping the floor. In the dark, deserted corridor, whistling casually. But then his face changed, frozen and firm.
“What’s he doing?” asked Pete.
“Silently praying for strength,” said Valmiki.
“Oh… Pete!” said Diotima, “isn’t it obvious?”
“Well, not really.” As if in answer, the old man looked furtively around, before removing a bottle of rice whisky from his cleaning trolley. With a look of horror, as if it were the hands of another opening the bottle and putting it to his lips, the old man gulped down most of the contents. He staggered a few paces before collapsing on the floor. Pete’s hand flew to his mouth in consternation. “Will he lose his job for this?”
“Oh yes,” said Valmiki, “but it is not the last time that his family name will be known here.”
“They’ll give him his job back?” said Pete hopefully.
“No Pete, begging will stave off his starvation for a few months, but his children will be living here by Christmas,” said Valmiki sadly.
“It’s why in the Old Testament, God punishing sinners unto the third generation isn’t about spite or meanness,” said Diotima in her lecturer’s voice, “it just means that if you’re unable to resist demons carrying your soul away, the consequences on your family can be long-term.” Valmiki nodded sagely.
“Yes, this caretaker’s alcoholism began as a means of masking the psychological pain of physical abuse from his own father. Now that father’s grandchildren will end up here as a direct result. Punishment unto the third generation.”
“It all seems so hopeless,” said Peter sadly.
“Oh… Pete! No need to get so glum about it all, there is still more to the story.” Pete suddenly took a step back finding himself on the teetering edge of a castle rampart. Below in the courtyard were the shouts and sword striking of the final stage of battle. The surrounding countryside looked vaguely Indian but all the colours seemed to be slightly wrong.
“Where are we?” asked Pete.
“Oh… Pete! Isn’t it ob_”
“No Diotima, it really is not obvious!” said Pete firmly.
“This,” said Valmiki hurriedly, “is Lanka, the demonic realm of which Ravana is lord. We have missed out a section of the story longer than the bible, but ultimately, Rama has come to rescue Sita.” Pete saw the lithe blue figure advancing on the demon who despite holding more swords than Rama had hands was backing away in barely controlled panic.
“But Rama has no weapon,” murmured Pete.
“Watch,” smiled Valmiki. Rama glanced up and saw Sita at a window high up on a castle turret. Raising his empty hands in joy, he clasped a giant golden sword which materialised in his grasp. Squinting through the brightness of the beautiful light, he brought the weapon down on Ravana, splitting the demon entirely in two with a single stroke.
“What was that amazing sword?” breathed Pete.
“A gift from Brahma, or whatever you call the ultimate God” said Valmiki, “love. It is a gift that He will give anyone who asks for it with a pure heart.”
“Rama!” called Sita with delight, running down from the turret and embracing her husband. But the God received her coldly in his blue arms.
“Sita, you have lived with another man, for many years. How can I take you back now?” Sita’s jaw literally dropped.
“Rama my love, surely you are not serious? I never once…” But the God’s only response was to look her up and down suspiciously. “Make a fire,” she said equally coldly.
“How will that_”
“Make. A. Fire.” Shrugging, Rama waved an arm and a large bonfire sprang up. Pete could feel the heat even up on the battlements. Sita calmly walked into the fire and clambered up to the top.
“No!” yelled Pete, as the woman’s clothes caught fire as brighter flames within the flames. But Sita just stood calmly within the violence of the fire. As the embers burnt down, she walked out of the fire, all clothes completely gone. This time Rama embraced her warmly and tearfully.“
“You were faithful to me after all my love. I am so sorry that I ever doubted you.”
“What did that prove?” asked Pete staring very fixedly at Diotima to respect Sita’s modesty.
“All worldliness, all matter, anything that combusts is completely detached from her, hence the fire having no effect.” Rama wrapped Sita in a gown, helped her onto a fine horse and the couple rode off.
“Where are they going?” asked Pete.
“He’s taking her back to the kingdom,” said Diotima cryptically, “the true kingdom.” (to be continued)