A Cup of Tea, or: Riding the Bicycle to Brahma While Bearing the Discomfort of Old White Skin

A Cup of Tea

Pictonaut challenge story for August 2013.

Rangana Darshan Madgulkar was white and he was old. Rangana Darshan Madgulkar was not happy being white and old.

“Why must I keep up this persona?” he asked Kabir. Kabir, lackadaisical and loafing on the stationary stallcart behind him, simply shrugged and answered, “do not question their wishes, friend. Accept the plan of the Superiors – all blessings be upon them – and just ride with it…”

Rangana looked down at the bicycle on which he was perched. “Ride with it, hey? Well, I’ve been riding with this a long time. Too long! Look at the state I’m in!” He swiftly turned to eyeball his companion. “I am a decrepit old white man!”

“Well, it is better than looking like a fish-man. Have you seen Paranjay, lately? Scales. Unsightly welts. He is permanently moist and appears almost as an animal. We have to make sacrifices, Rangana. Listen to me when I say it could be so much worse.”

Rangana bit his lips and nodded to acknowledge Kabir’s words. Paranjay now some kind of fish-man? How in heavens had that come about? How could that possibly be a part of the Superior’s plan? The mysteries came thickly in this vocation and, as experienced as he was, Rangana could never quite get his head around it all. Those obscure Superiors and their cosmic schemes: tremendously vexing but all they could do was accept and, yes, ride with it.

“It would just be nice if, occasionally, things weren’t so abstruse,” he remarked aloud before sighing forlornly. “It’d just be nice to know why I’m currently an old white man.”

“Let it ride, friend. Let it ride. Right, would you like a cup of tea?” Kabir deflected. “Maybe if you drank the brew and went on a jaunt you’d feel a little better and perhaps get closer to a fresh metamorphosis. The plan, after all, only happens if we progress it and fulfil our purpose…”

Shifting once more to look upon his colleague, Rangana smiled and nodded in agreement. “Alright. Make it so.”

The grey-headed opium addict on the cart put his fingers to his lips and blew three shrill whistles. “Janu! Bring Rangana the tea! And make it quick!”

The white man once again dropped his head with warmth and respect to Kabir. “Thank you, brother. Seriously, I mean it. I’m grateful to have you as a companion and friend in this life. If I was left to journey the splitstreams and different dimensions doing this work alone, I would surely have lost the will to live long ago.”

Kabir beamed and waved his hand dismissively. “Ah forget it, my sentimental friend. It is nothing. I simply serve the Superiors.” Then with a downbeat shrug, “it is just a shame that, for my sins, I am no longer allowed to take those rides like you.”

“Well, at least it saves you from the prospect of growing old and white!”

“This is very much true, though I would take the physical humiliation of being a Britisher grandpa over addiction every time. Anyway, on to your necessary vice: Janu! Where is that tea!”

Janu reappeared with a cup and closed the green doors behind him before passing the steaming beverage to Rangana. As the silent servant slipped back to take a seat in the doorway, the white man regarded the receptacle in his hands. Energy radiated from the cup. He could smell the mix of herbs and spices combined in the steaming brew. A hint of cardamom; something curiously like ginger; the unmistakable scent of the Kalki Lotus, cultivated in the who-knows-where beyond common knowledge.

As Kabir and Janu looked on, Rangana strained his entire body in anticipation of the ride to come. Then swiftly but appreciatively he downed the drink in one swallow.

The effect was instantaneous. His entire frame washed over with a certain intangible vitality. Invisible effervescence exploded from the tips of his toes to each individual split-end of his white beard. Beneath his white clothes, his cap and his albino skin the energies of the Universe coalesced and began to connect him to something vaster than the physical shell he inhabited and the back-alley courtyard he sat in.

Rangana flexed his legs and took position on his bicycle. Compelled, attuned to a higher form of energy and galvanised by the mystic brew he started to pedal. The surrounding yard, Kabir and Janu all faded as multicoloured orbs and whirls of light rose up out of the fragile facade of this reality. Diaphanous visions superimposed on top of each other and then fragmented, succeeded by other spatio-layers before being lost in the flow of the spacetime tunnel that Rangana was now cycling through at speed.

Blinding bolts of light. The Infinite beckoned and Rangana biked right into it.

***

Illumination, immense and overwhelming. Purity. The music of the spheres singing out. Golden strands flowing and glowing. Out of the haze, a colossal shape manifesting. The adamantine head of Brahma. Sonorous booming.

“So, you do not enjoy being an old white man…”

Crackles of electricity. Rising cobra heads. Aurous eyes of a tiger flashing out from a marvellous mazing stripes. Ornate peacock feathers. Gossamer lotus petals flowering from coagulating clouds of cosmic matter. Stars sparking into supernova in the great light everything.

“Do not forget that the form serves a purpose. It always serves a purpose. What is truly important is the purpose…”

Elephantine physiognomies in embrace with consort devas. Arrows of white-hot fire extinguishing the raining jewels of heaven. The harmonic siren songs of shapeshifting swans morphing into deer and then water, congealing into teardrops to be caught by the arching golden vines budding from the Brahma’s blossoming garden.

“It is well, though. Your current avatar is no longer necessary. The Gunderley woman suffered a miscarriage. Your work there is done. A new path awaits…”

An upsurge of relief at the prospect of a new mission. Glistening chariots speeding across rainbow rivers. A thousand fruits flourishing and bursting with a thousand flavours. Puddles of ruby levitating and shattering. The slight scent of cardamom amidst incense. Then with overriding power, radiance and pure white swallowing all. Burning wheels of flame circling into cognisance, dispersing the visions so that they may ebb away, engulfed in the blaze. Purity. The Infinite.

***

Rangana Darshan Madgulkar wheeled his way around the corner off the main thoroughfare and into one of the backstreets of Old Havana. He came to a sudden stop, looked over his shoulder to check he was alone and then dismounted, resting his bicycle against the wall. He looked at his tan-coloured hands and raised them to his clean-shaven face. This was a face that was surely no older than twenty-five. He smiled to himself and looked across the alley to an open courtyard just beyond.

A middle-aged man with middle-aged spread was stumbling around a deckchair. He looked drunk, unkempt, unshaven and aggrieved. He was thrashing his arms around, apparently engaged in a quarrel with a mosquito or some imagined tormentor. Slipping on a discarded beer bottle he gave in with a loud curse and retreated indoors, throwing aside a thick curtain to enter the grand antiquated residence that towered above.

Silently, Rangana thanked his Superiors. He could see that he would have little in the way of a struggle here. This man was weak, unaware and certainly accessible. Confidence and conviction rushed through his young bones and he felt a sense of reaffirmed faith in his purpose, the Superiors’ plan and the ride he was destined to ride.

He gripped his bicycle and started to roll it towards the opening. As Rangana moved he felt the rubbing bulk of something in the right-hand pocket of his chinos. He stopped for a moment, lifted the object out into the light and inspected it though he already knew what it was. Looking down at the package containing the specially-prepared tea, Rangana realised it wouldn’t be long before he’d be brewing it up, saddling the bicycle and returning to see Kabir again.

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