Monthly Story, September 2022
Image → Ron Lach
Rasa → Bhayānakam (भयानकं): Horror, terror. Presiding deity: Yama. Colour: black, Adbhutam (अद्भुतं): Wonder, amazement. Presiding deity: Brahma. Colour: yellow
Archetype → Ruler
Mettānanda heard the eerie sound of the devil bird ringing from the forest as he walked down the monastery veranda bordering the lagoon; Villagers thought the cry of this particular owl—similar to the screams of a person getting strangled—as a sure omen of death. Mettānanda assumed charge of the monastery two days ago when the head monk Gunasāra went missing. He made his way to Gunasāra’s chamber to find the police superintendent's number from the old monk’s phone book.
A secret self inside Mettānanda tingled when entering Gunasāra’s chamber; It was a large space, split into an office, a sleeping area and a bathroom in the back. It was easily three times the size of other monastery chambers. Of course, Mettānanda had been there many times before. But, today it felt different; The air in the room itself felt light and vacant. Mettānanda’s calm and collected outer mind tried to quiet the tingling secret-self; But, as he circled the head monk's messy desk, the secret-self only seemed to draw a strange new charge.
He looked through the desk, eyes and hands peering through the scattered mess of newspapers, cheques, countless hospital bills, blood sugar reports and some foreign currency—probably from someone staying at one of the rentable meditation rooms at the monastery. Mettānanda felt his nerves throb as he started to comprehend the level of disorganization he’d have to untangle when he became the head monk. He cut that thought process short, in respect of the probably-departed.
Mettānanda found the battered phone book and started thumbing it for the Police superintendent’s number. He sat down on the deep black armchair and dialled the number; This was the same chair that Gunasāra got made in secret using the wood of the only ebony tree in the neighboring forest. Mettānanda marvelled at how comfortable it was. As he turned the electric fan on, Mettānanda’s side glance registered a new arrack bottle tucked away in one of the inner shelves of the desk. He didn’t have to hold back the smirk; It was no secret that Gunasāra drank.
Mettānanda drew a long breath to compose himself just in time as the Superintendent answered the phone. Mettānanda explained how the head monk had been missing. It took a lot of effort to maintain his usual calm and assuring voice. “Yes, yes. I’m the acting head monk of the monastery. Anyway, even when head monk Gunasāra was here, he was so busy with things that I took care of most things, no? So, we are okay but thank you Superintendent sir… Okay, see you in a short while. May the Triple Gem bless you,” Mettānanda finished the call.
Even after the superintendent had hung up, Mettānanda remained seated on the ebony chair. He drew another long breath; Another charge of energy crawled up his spine. It felt good to not have Gunasāra’s authority hanging over his head.
Mettānanda tried to arrange the mess on the desk, but inside, his secret self was vibrating with an intensity nearing levity. Realizing that his hands were shaking slightly, Mettānanda shrank at the thought of seeming listless when the superintendent arrived. He pointlessly squeezed his hands into fists. In a rush of desperation, Mettānanda reached for the arrack, cracked it open and drank a few sips. The arrack gave him a sharp and brief composure. Trying to take hold of himself, Mettānanda drank some more. The liquid burnt down his throat and simmered the secret-self awake a little bit more. As Mettānanda organized the head monk's desk to his liking—while sneaking in a few more sips in between—his secret self grew more and more comfortable in his skin.
By the time one of the novice monks had escorted the police superintendent to the office, Mettānanda had managed to finish half the bottle, arrange the desk neatly, and stuff Gunasāra’s hospital bills and reports into a plastic bag.
After a brief, friendly conversation with Mettānanda, the superintendent took the bag of documents and left without making any records, promising to return later with more police officers. He didn’t seem to care for the arrack smell floating in the air currents. But, the novice monk seemed visibly disturbed. He was one of the young ones who liked to follow Mettānanda around.
“What’s that smell?”, the novice asked.
“Don’t act like you don’t know Gunasāra’s drinking habit,” Mettānanda barked.
“But, he hasn't been here for almost two days,” retorted the young one.
Mettānanda considered the novice for a steely second. “Why don’t you come back here first thing tomorrow morning and mop up the floor then?”, he ordered rather than requesting.
The novice looked again at Mettānanda—it was the first time the young monk had glimpsed the thing lurking inside.
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The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.