Challenge: Can you decode the highlighted words?
My intention was to return to the park and get back the book from those men. So, I strode hastily through dim and brightly lit streets until I reached the vicinity of the park. I stopped at the other end of the road and was perplexed to see that the men weren’t there anymore. My first thought was to enter in and search, but my feelings didn’t allow. I decided to stand there and wait.
Presently, I spotted Epicure walking towards me from a distance with a lady by his side and his arm on her shoulder. They both were jesting and laughing aloud and acted like amorous lovers. I turned towards a shop and pretended to look in as he passed by me. He didn’t seem to see me because he passed by me without even raising a wink. I wondered if he saw anyone. I knew it was worthless trying to follow him. I looked at the park again and, now, saw something that I didn’t notice earlier. There was a board hanging above the benches with a quote that read: “He who has learnt the art of laughter has become free from the past and the hereafter.” Above the quote were the words: “The Critic’s Bench”. I turned and looked at my right above the sidewalk and saw another board with the words: “Walk with the crowd and you won’t be lost.” I read the name of the road: “Freemen’s way”. Now, without a map, without the book, and without a wallet I had no clue what to do and where to go. “I’ll look for Elymas,” I resolved, because I knew that the book was the only link between this world and the one to which I belonged. The words that I had read earlier before losing the book rang in my ears:
“Seek Wisdom like one searches for hidden treasure;
And till you find her, allow no game and no pleasure.
Seek her in the squares; seek her in the thoroughfares,
Seek her everywhere, but keep away from barren leisure.”
“I’ll go to the main square,” I thought, “there would be some clue; also, most feet are bound to pass that way, and Elymas might pass through it as well.” So, I began walking in the direction in which I first saw Epicure coming. Most of the people here looked happy and satisfied. Now and then I would observe one or two who looked sapless; but, such a person would soon be seen to stop by, pull out a small bottle of liquid, and sniff it hard. Then, immediately his or her face would beam and he or she would spring back into mad and wild laughter. I wondered what stuff that bottle contained. I saw one of such men suddenly turn towards me, point his finger at me, and laugh jeeringly so wild that his face became red, swollen, and tears fell from his eyes. He then settled down on a side bench and holding his stomach kept writhing in laughter. I quickly moved away from him.
I reached a turn and entered another street and noticed the square lit by bright lights at the far end. There seemed to be some monument in the middle of the square. The walk here was larger and tents were spread outside houses and shops where men and women sat and played games of various kinds. The people here sometimes looked happy and sometimes very unhappy. I noticed that the winners of the games would jump up, stamp the ground, stand up high and blow a trumpet. Others, most probably those who lost some game, would be pulling out fists of rage and yelling curses. There was one thing that I noted about these streets; I noticed that each of the streets had a stench of a different kind, and the stench grew pungently irritating to the nose as I drew closer to the square.
Things were getting strange in the city now, because by now a number of men dressed in black suits were beginning to be seen everywhere, walking with furtive glances at every man. Also, there were police cars and personnel stopping a number of men and checking their papers. But, they didn’t seem to care about the men who were playing the games. I noticed that there were also notices pasted on some walls with the picture of someone and the headline “Wanted!” I looked closer and was suddenly in a dread because the image that I saw was a pencil sketch of my face. I slowed my pace and ambled through the walk to avoid suspicion. But, it seemed useless because a policeman stopped me and demanded, “Your papers, sir!”
I noticed that there were also notices pasted on some walls with the picture of someone and the headline “Wanted!” I looked closer and was suddenly in a dread because the image that I saw was a pencil sketch of my face.
In an act of instinctive reflex, I pulled out the scroll tucked under my shirt and handed it over to him. My mind reeled with questions and my eyes looked quickly here and there trying to figure out which way to take in order to run. The policeman unpinned the seal and opened the scroll; glanced over it, then folded it back, and returned it to me again. At this moment, I noticed that the police badge bore the image of the head of a goat. He then walked away. I wondered what the scroll was all about. “May be some citizenship papers,” I thought. I unrolled it and saw that it was plain; there was nothing in it. The hairs on my hand stood up. I rolled it back and tucked it under my shirt.
I reached the square and stood at a corner. It was a busy place with people walking and strolling all around. In the middle of it was a great fountain lit with many colours in which stood a great stone statue of a lady sitting on a red horse, with a bow drawn in her hand and a quiver full of arrows on her back. There was the emblem of a goat’s head on the pedestal and under it the words:
Also Called LUST
Twice Victor over Truth and Time
I wondered what those words meant. The colours had an unnatural blend that attracted the eyes but caused such strain that I had to look away from the image. I also noticed that four huge statues of goats stood at each corner of the square. Each goat was of a different colour, and a different name visibly carved on its body. I noticed that each of the names was different. Also, a banner flew over them of the same colour with four words written on each. The red goat bore the name “Amour” on its body and its banner carried the words “Stolen Waters Are Sweet”. The lavender goat bore the name “Sodom” and its banner carried the words “All Pleasure is Natural”. The bluish-green goat bore the name “Sade” and its banner carried the words “Some Deserve Their Hurt”. The black goat bore the name “Zooerastia” and its banner carried the words “One With All Nature”. I felt nauseated by what I saw and read.
“Yea, the Lady is cautious and so has ordered her troops to brush through every house,” I overheard someone saying behind my back. I didn’t turn around and pretended not to hear anything.
“Is it true that she has ordered three sweeps of search?” another person asked.
“Yes, we’ve heard that. There have been reports that Law was sighted with a young man. The young man was caught later by one of the officer, but managed to escape. Luxuria was furious on hearing this and has ordered the entire force to filter through the division.”
“One little nuisance can spoil the texture of the entire region. He may have escaped to Ira or Acedia by now. I’m sure that the Lady’s fury will subside.
“I don’t believe that; Luxuria is never calm until she has obtained what she wants.”
“What about Elymas, the magician? I heard some rumours.”
My ears perked up.
“Oh yes, I forgot mentioning that. It is closely related to the case. Elymas was the one, it is said, who caught the young man and handed him over to the police. He had also taken away from him a certain book that he carried. It is said that Elymas, on hearing that the young man had connections with Law, immediately annunciated that he would demonstrate his greater powers of magic by burning the book in public. So, after he had gathered a number of people, he placed the book on a stone altar and cast fiery spells on it. But it seems he didn’t pronounce a spell rightly, because all of a sudden fire came out of the book and burnt his eyes, and he became blind.”
“He couldn’t heal himself?”
“No. He had cast the ultimate spell and it seems to have boomeranged on him. The Governess came to know this and confiscated the book. “Let Law come and take it from me,” she is said to have said.” They laughed.
“Where is Elymas now?”
“Oh let the officials do their job; there are more pleasant things for us to attend.” They left.
My mind was berserk with confusion knowing not what to do now. I knew that any attempt towards Luxuria in order to get the book was like putting the head in a guillotine. Elymas was not to be found here. What about Wisdom? Would she stand in the square of a world of shadows? I didn’t think it was possible. I doubted if I could ever find her; if there was any hope now, it relied on her finding me. But would she?
I decided to return to the old dilapidated building. “The police may come searching for me there,” I thought. “But,” I argued, “I must not get away too far from the possibility of securing the book.” Not being able to decide or compose myself as to my next step ahead, I turned back. A bit of me didn’t agree with my returning. But, that bit was overpowered by my confusion—I now had no idea where to go or what to do, and I abandoned the confusion and unknown to the familiar that I had known. Before me was a vast emptiness bereft of all answers, behind me was the only solid thing I now could return to. So, I returned, at each step strengthening my resolve with the hope that all will be fine in the end. I came close to the old building and saw that it stood there all the same—forsaken and worn. I walked close to it, all the while pretending not to be in an alarm while also looking from the corner of the eye and casually making sure that I was not being watched. The street seemed to be darker and the lamps dimmer, or perhaps I felt so. As I drew closer, I felt that a shadow was following me. I shirked it off as a mere mental rearrangement of unknowingly picked sense-signals. As soon as I was close to the door, I ambled in, sidled back near the desk and sat down in the dark. Then, suddenly, the lamp above me lit and I jumped back.