GOB!G Quote of the Day

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Chapter One: The Half Prince of Timbuktu

Chapter One

Beat the path of your heart

If a heart could implode from within a human body, then today was the perfect day for the prince’s body to succumb. Many would say that he died of a heart attack, for when a heart suddenly stops, it has been attacked, they say. Without doubt, it would be a shame in all of this kind of region for the most powerful son of the soil, the most revered warrior, to die of his own failure to command the armies inside his own body. More than a heart racing feeling, a contrast of thoughts of shame and honour invaded his mind with ease as he paced in circles in the silent room. The only sound was the unrhythmic pound of his footsteps.

“If I may suggest, my prince, it aggravates your mood that you pace about so violently around that thing. Such is only the reflection of what is happening inside you. Calm yourself down,” said a hoarse voice.

“Yes, please Khalifah, you need to try and relax your body and mind. For your body and mind to listen to your heart’s whisper, you need to be at peace,” a sweet voice sang with plea.

Khalifah Mohammed did not understand what the two voices were saying. But as if his heart heard their plea, he started to gradually slow down his circling of the sculpture of The Elder at the centre of the room. He sat dwarfed below the royal statue. The four had gathered abruptly after the prince had sent for them to “attend to an urgent matter that could not wait”, said the note from the messenger.

“‘You are neither to make mention of the contents of my visit nor where you will be during the time of the conference,’” he would conclude the Prince’s words before quickly disappearing without waiting for any question.

His eldest sister, Shipa, was first at the room they were to meet. As she walked through the doors of the imperial chambers, she wondered in fruitless effort what the urgent matter that could not wait for Monday was about. What awed her though, was why meet in the chambers – a sacred place reserved for when the top members of the imperial G’bara or Great Assembly met to pass or reject an often controversial life altering law.

She saw her brother was standing by the statue looking restless.

“In my life, my short life, I have never been fazed in this manner by an issue, regardless of its significance. Like a warrior that I grew to become, I controlled my thoughts as my father and my numerous mentors had taught me over the years,” said Khalifah with a near-cry in his voice. He stood to walk towards the window, his piercing eyes racing through endless white sand and he could almost hear a call from the distant dunes.

“What I’m about to confide you with, must stay in the most trusted corners of yours hearts – unless at my wish, you may not share it.”

The four that gathered in the chambers with Khalifah have been his closest allies since he had ascended officially to take up his royal duties. Abubakar, a top member of the G’bara, ever wise and charming in his wise words, is, in fact, the Emperor’s confidante. Khalifah was not sure about involving him in this pertinent matter, but on Abubakar’s dazed arrival at the chambers, Khalifah apologized exclaiming that he had no choice as this could make or break stability in the city and therefore, one of the wisest heads in the city could be of absolute assistance.

Abubakar at that moment, after Khalifah said that he would understand better once everyone had arrived, knew in his heart that the chambers were the only place he had to be at that very hour.

Another important person in the prince’s life, in fact, his heart, is the priest. In his early 50s, the priest had advised the royal family on difficult matters even before Khalifah became a formal member of the family. In fact, the priest, more than anyone else, could be ascribed to be single handedly responsible for Khalifah’s royal fate – he was central to his adoption into the first family.

The physician, the best at Sankore University won the prince’s admiration and confidence when he saved the Emperor’s life by bringing him back from the dead – as the prince would put it. Although the prince had once had nothing but mistrust for a man who attended to his father’s health, including being first to treat the prince from dehydration on his first day at the palace, they since became close allies with the prince consulting him often.

“Shipa, I love you no more than all my sisters. I love you all equally. But I have you here today because you argue well with your heart and always have the courage of following it,” he said.

Khalifah has always had the weakness of most people of going with reason in every issue. He admired his sister for getting it right for he also felt it is important although he did not think it necessary for him until his meditations. His father and the priest have labored for years to mould him to hear the song in his heart, something he never got right, and to the priest’s much surprise, that was about to change.

His back now against the fateful desert and after gaining their confidence of secrecy, his voice went deep as he continued to explain the cause of the meeting.

“My heart cries for its freedom. The freedom to achieve what it most desired for years. I discretly meditated for over half a year to arrive at this point where I think I have the solution to the cry of my heart. I am leaving the palace to seek the joy of my heart. I am headed to wander the desert in a week's time,” he said to faces that now swelled with different emotions.

“This cannot be. This is not to be,” said Abubakar with sharpness in his voice, cane crushing to the tiled floor.

Shipa leaped out of her chair to race toward the prince. “Brother, what is it that you speak of. Please allow us to convince you otherwise. I find that there is a lot of happiness in the palace for all of us to share. For you. Please, you need to reverse your decision at once before reigniting father’s lifetime grief,” she said as she held Khalifah’s hands. Her eyes became watery when she mentioned her father’s grieve, a pain that ended twenty five years ago with the fortunate arrival of a son ‘granted by the gods’, the Emperor would often say.

“In your meditations and prayer, what guidance did the Almighty grant you my son?,” the priest asked.

Without immediately answering the priest and releasing his hands from her sister, Khalifah said, “if I do not do this, I will be of no good to the people of Timbuktu. My father always said, ‘a wise ruler has purity of heart. It is the peaceful voice and joy in his heart that help rule with love’ and my heart is wretched with confusion that had been growing before I saw a path to my solution.”

Cane still to the floor and unable to stand as if paralyzed by the news, Abubakar dipped his face in his wrinkled hands. He wanted to embrace the prince’s wish and assist him in proposing it to the Emperor. From spending time with the prince, even from a young age, he had learnt that he was a very stubborn youth although so with a cause.

*******

At a tender age of nine, the prince had an encounter with one of his many mothers. The royal family keeps special gowns besides their average royal gowns that are worn casually. The special gown, called a Purack, was to be worn only on two occasions: the Emperor’s valorous ascendancy to the throne some forty years ago, and the prince’s own fateful arrival at the palace whilst only seven months of age. During those two days, the city metamorphosed into a carnival with multiple celebrations staged at various points within it. Other royal families came to enjoy song and dance with Timbuktu for the enlightenment that befell it.

One of the prince’s mothers, following a day after the celebrations, commanded the prince to surrender back the special uniform to the royal keepers. The prince, in rascal-styled politeness, refused to comply. His reasons: “father said that the celebrations must stay in our hearts throughout the seasons…” he started as his mother interrupted him at which point he continued ignoring her, “…that we must never take a break from the joy such fateful days brought to the many hearts of Timbuktu,” he concluded, as he paced backwards from the approaching mother.

“So you want to tell me that you plan to wear that two-day-a-year Purack through the seasons?” she asked although not wishing for an answer, but instead suggesting that it come off immediately. Her instructive words mimicked an angry instructive voice.

“The uniform stays with me. Father insisted in his speech. It stays…” he turned his back to suggest that the Queen must chase her if she wanted it back. “Son, I’ll get your father here now if you don’t take off that uniform this very instant… KHALIFAHAAAAH!” she screamed to the four walls as he shot out like an arrow from the palace door. True to his stubborn nature, the boy religiously kept the gown on him for the next five days.

It was not until Abubakar, on the Emperor’s intervention, successfully, but with difficulty, negotiated him out of the Purack and to take his first bath in days. Khalifah only washed his body where he could reach without taking off the gown for fear of being surprised by a ganging entourage of Queens and Princesses who were now very angry with his “unlivable ways,” they would say during the fruitless daily screaming matches they had with him around the palace.

*******

With his wrinkled hands coming off his face, Abubakar sternly remarked, “you want to have us all in trouble. Your father will be disappointed in all of our presence here, for he will insist we are in concert with your unceremonious wish,” he continued as he found the courage to pick up his stick before standing.

“I say, again, this must not be and this meeting must be adjourned at once,” he now stood before the prince, holding his shoulder but looking away.

“My prince, Khalifah Mohammed, the words of the wise assure life and peace. I do not think Abubakar would have ill-interest in advising you to abandon this wish. This is to preserve you from thoughts that are extremely abrupt, if I may say,” pleaded the Physcian.

“Life and peace?” burst Khalifah’s voice. “You are right,” he continued. “I do have life and peace and such in abundance. But where is the joy of my heart? Is anyone here even listening to my heart’s cry?”

“Brother. Please. It is your heart that needs to listen to our hearts. Ours cry for yours to do the right thing,” cried Shipa.

“Perhaps I must be clear with all here that I did not necessarily summon you to counsel my heart. Instead, I meet with you here to assist me in finding a peaceful way of proposing this difficult news to my father. So I am not here to listen to your heart’s nor for mine to be counseled. As I said ealier, I asked the Almighty for guidance on this. And my priest..." he said staring "... the light that was shone on my heart during my meditations is that I must beat the path of my heart at once, and such a lone path will lead to joy. For it is only by such that my soul will grant me the joy that will ease the pain of seeking that confuses the peace of my heart,” he said with a voice so fragile everyone in the room was captivated by empathy.

Almost surrendering her fight, Shipa held his hands again trying to comfort his brother’s inner cry.

The priest had walked toward the prince. “My son, I suggest we have a conference with your father at the earliest possible. He may at least be compassionate toward your heart’s desire. I trust so. If a half-year consultation with your soul and the Almighty has in deed revealed a path to your purpose, no man, with as much power such as your father possesses, can stop you,” he could feel his throat wrestle to free or swallow his last words. “In fact,” he continued, “the entire energy of the universe will conspire to grant your wish because it is your heart’s true desire.”

The physician, not wanting to let an important, but scary thought pass said “my prince, if I may, will not your actions bring about sorrow not only to your father, but the heart of Timbuktu itself? You have an important duty to the people of the city. They need a prince,” he said with a begging voice.

“Such will be sorrow in deed. But I cannot lead a city if I fail to have the courage to lead myself. I cannot listen to thousands of hearts if I turn a blind eye to the needs of mine. The sorrow,” he continued as his palm slowly caught water that met at his chin before wiping both his cheeks, “will be healed by the peace in my heart. I may be away when I feel such joy and peace, but the city will reap the spoils too.”

As he raised his face, Khalifah’s teary eyes met with Abubakar’s, which now displayed only understanding. Looking toward the distant decorated white ceiling, Abubakar exclaimed “ay ay ay Khalifah! My prince, my prince, my prince! Why do you always find a way of putting a frail old man such as myself – and I told you this before – in a situation where his heart has to race with his thoughts?” he wondered, his eyes still glued to the artfully engraved high ceiling, cane rhythmically crushing against the sparking black and gold trimmed tile. “Besides your joyful wish, is your dream to see me reduced to a pile with my weak heart surrendering?” he said with orchestrated annoyance in his voice before asking everyone to be seated.

“No man must be curtailed from beating the path of his heart, such will only hang their soul. Anyone of us has our purpose in this world, and extremely varying and unique they are. But they are all made common in that we must strive to fulfill them for the universe awaits us to support our individual causes ,” he said as he stood like a teacher in front of them. “As humans, we are cut from the cloth of many mystical energies that make up the universe, forces which will move mountains if we so wished. But it is conditioned restrain that reduced us, like the heart that keeps on failing me, to mediocrity,” he said, his hand feeling the heartbeat that had just normalized.

“Are you ok father,” Yelled Shipa in interruption as she stood to approach Abubakar.

“I am fine. In fact, my heart was feeling a settling dance of the joy of dreams,” he said as he signaled her down with his cane before looking at Khalifah.

“Khalifah, my son, man has become mediocre because of beating only the path of their mind and following the crowd. And they fear much to trust the call of their hearts. I cannot say I am proud as I stand here for your stubborn and abrupt decision, but I do feel joy in my heart that you have been careful enough to realize the importance of choosing your destiny to find joy. It still eludes the wise and wealthy of this world. The priest is right and with him, we shall prepare your father for your news,” he announced.

Abubakar asked Khalifah, without fishing for an answer or comment, “Have you ever heard the tale of the generous nature of the sun and its responsibility to multitudes of beings beyond itself?”

“You have always shown courage son and listened to nature’s guidance, but this, it pounced on my trained mind as it slept quietly,” he said as he concluded that his part in the chambers is adjourned.

As Abubakar showed them his back as he raised his cane waiving farewell to the emotional silent four, the priest followed suit after kissing Khalifah’s cheek. The physician waited to be released by Khalifah. “Thank you for your valued time physician. Know that your heart has good residence in mine at all times. I am indebted,” he said on releasing him. As he walked passed the prince, the physician halted to touch his shoulder as their eyes met. He nodded his head and started to disappear in the blinding light coming through the door that was left open.

“Did you tell her? She deserves to know, you know!”

“Sister, she will be buried in never ending sorrow if I did. I cannot tell her. Not a word to her. I suggest you also not make mention of this to her. It will bury her in sorrow.”

“It has been hard enough for her not having good access to you, but now you leave without informing her. And Khalifah, you speak of yourself and your joy, what about her dreams? This is not only about you. You have people attached in your life you know!”

“I saw her last night. I showed her a part of me so beautiful it could only be naturally displayed at that time and only to her. Her heart will understand why that moment was so intense and different. I cannot wretch up her heart with my words. Only in this regard, silence is golden.”

The look in her eyes did not agree with her brother’s last words as she went on to express her support.

“I hope you do understand that my heart is sympathetic to your cause. In fact, I am proud to have a brother as courageous and wise as you. Remember what father always said, ‘man seek happiness from finite material of this world, whilst it is infinite joy that they must seek within their hearts,’ so unbeknownst to him, he led your heart to this destiny. He may be furious with your abrupt departure, but his heart will be joyful,” said the princess as she pressed Khalifah close to her chest.

The two, reminiscing of events of their common stubborn nature whilst growing around lush gardens within a desert, started walking out of the chambers. The hot sun bathed their faces as their sight struggled, just coming from a hardly lit room, to appreciate a triplet of the gold statues in the courtyard which stood guard of the three royal meeting houses’ grand entrances.

*******
NB: Chapter Two is coming on 2 October 2007, probably with three other chapters.

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2 comments:

heartwarmer said...

hey, will comment on chapter as soon as I'm done reading it.
Read a few lines and its gripping stuff...but work I must. So will print it out and read it in bed.

As for coffee - let me know when you are free. Lets do it soon yeh.

send me your email addy.

Izz said...

Will do.