Bridging the Gap
by New Future Fantasy
Exiled for blasphemy, I was lucky to escape with my life. My aristocratic pedigree led to the death sentence being commuted to banishment, effective forthwith. I managed to collect my precious guitar and yoga mat, a bag of clothes, bedding, a few books and some money before being ejected from the sprawling capital.
The bridge lies about three days walk from the city. It spans a rocky ravine, at the bottom of which flows a narrow but treacherous river. It consists of a walkway of wooden planks with fences of vertical beams laced by a mesh of horizontal vines. The whole edifice is lashed with tough twine and fixed upon several adjacent tree trunks that have been tied together and laid across the gorge.
For the first few days I meandered about the countryside, eating and reposing at cheap inns. Everything looked different from my new freedom, no longer coddled by the indulged student life granted to the son of a senior minister. Now I saw the reality of most people’s existence, the drab, stoic toil of the peasants, the caution and suspicion of other travellers, the fragmented community built on utility rather than fellowship and an unforgiving world riven and ruled by discriminate entitlement and arbitrary authority.
Then one morning I awoke to find my purse stolen. None of the other occupants professed to know anything, eyeing my protestations with subtle disdain. The landlord resented my accusations, begrudging a promise to see what he could do. Of course, my funds were gone forever and soon I decided there was nothing left to do so I went on my way, the void in my pocket filling with despair and foreboding.
After several terrible nights of sleeping rough, surviving on a few torn crusts that a kind rustic shared, I arrived at the enchanted crossing. I was struck by the peculiar shed dominating its midpoint, positioned a man’s reach above the deck. It sat on four sturdy wooden braces attached to each corner. Its base was a reasonable room-sized square, its timber walls of a head above my height supporting a gabled roof that drained into the rapids below, topped by a cowled steel chimney. The two windows I could see showed no signs of activity.
As darkness was approaching and I was desperate for rest I determined to investigate whether I could find safe shelter there. Underneath the raised chalet I was amazed to find a small shrine situated in a recessed box mounted on the side of the bridge. This contained an immaculate bronze statue of the dancing Shiva, its dramatic pose exaggerated by the flickering chiaroscuro cast by a number of candle-flames that fluttered in the soft-whorling draughts. This captivating sculpture was surrounded by an array of fresh fruit that tempted my starved appetite.
Opposite this unexpected display was a solid ladder that led to a compact rectangular opening at the edge of the cabin’s floor. I sneaked up and peeked inside, finding the den empty. Coming back to the altar I paused, gazing at the death-dealing god. I felt serene, the cool air rising from the gushing stream counteracting the heavy heat of our tropical climate. Surely this was a holy site, protected by the Auspicious One. As I had nothing to lose, soon to collapse from hunger and exhaustion, I occupied the lodge, making several climbs to bring my luggage, the succulent produce and a couple of candles.
The inside was spotless, without a trace of dust or dirt. Settling myself and relishing the food I noticed how well the shack was constructed, each substantial wall containing a thick-framed casement and the sturdy roof attached to a rugged frame of rafters. The entry could be sealed by a hinged panel that closed flush. There was a metal stove in a corner, its tall flue exiting through the canopy, with a quaint stand upon which hung a poker, shovel, brush and tongs.
Pondering on the purpose of this construction I was soon overcome with fatigue and wrapped myself in a blanket, curling up in the corner for a deep, dreamless slumber.
I was awoken the next day by a singing voice, clearly audible through the unshut trap door. Collecting myself I remembered where I was and filled with fear at the detection of my trespass and theft of the offerings. But the eerie song carried on for a few minutes before its abrupt cessation. Then I heard footsteps and the rickety sound of a cart proceeding away.
The hut was now illuminated by sunlight spilling through its panes, showing the remains of yesterday’s fare. I slipped down the steps, afraid of being caught, intending to vacate the place and consider my next move. But I was surprised to find more donations before the revered figure, with the ripe citruses and pomes joined by a bowl of shelled nuts, a jar of cured olives and a bottle of water. As my survival instinct overrode my virtue, I gathered the provisions in my baggage and secreted myself in the nearby undergrowth, enjoying what was for me a feast.
From my hideout I watched a steady stream of serfs cross the canyon, most of them pushing handcarts. I figured they were going into the jungle to collect produce, as they came from the cultivated side with empty barrows and returned some hours later laden with all kinds of colourful eatables that were abundant in the dense tropical forest. Most of them stopped at the alter for a few minutes, although I could not see nor hear what they were doing from my distance.
That evening I made my way back to the lodge and found an even more bounteous sacrifice to the flame-framed Lord, with a tasteful arrangement of organic foods complimented by a flagon of pomegranate juice and a pile of coins. I took the comestibles and some candles up to the compartment, leaving the cash untouched, and ate my fill before a most comfortable and refreshing rest.
As this pattern continued, I began to feel more secure. I would leave the empty bottles at the reliquary for them to be replaced with the sweetest nectar and the usual water. I started to collect the coins, initially just taking a few, but as these were always replenished, I took them all.
Soon I would stay in the hut all day, practising yoga on its smooth, flat boards and listening to the peasants pass and the weird melodies they sung to the four-armed idol. Surely, they knew that I was here? But they seemed impervious to my residence.
On occasion I would meet one as I visited terra firma. But they would bow, embarrassed at our encounter, before hurrying on their way, never sojourning at the altar in my presence. I wondered if I should engage them in conversation. But I knew, from observing them in the downtown markets, that they spoke little of the patrician language, just enough for trading and common courtesy. They had their own vernacular which most of the highborn, including myself, did not bother to learn, their difficult tongue relying on subtle nuances of intonation and emphasis to express shades of meaning rather than the more extensive vocabulary of my scholarly speech.
So, I lived as a hermit, provided for by whom I was not sure, presumably one or more of the rustics. These mysterious supplies were supplemented with non-essential but thoughtful items such as bars of soap, items of crockery and cutlery, flint fire-starters, leather satchels, balls of string, shoe laces, scissors and various miscellaneous accoutrements.
Being undisturbed, with nothing else to do, I pursued the ancient disciplines of yoga with diligence, soon mastering the arduous sequences that I had struggled to learn at the university, gaining great power of concentration and flexible strength of body.
As a consequence of my spiritual development, accelerated by my raw diet and pristine lifestyle, my senses become acute in the extreme. I now had the ear to identify and analyse the pitches and architecture of the entrancing songs sung to the sanctuary, which I could recall with my now perfect memory, although the stanzas eluded me as they were in the pastoral lexicon.
These tunes started to fascinate me. They were built out of the most uncommon modes. Having studied music throughout my youth I had a good faculty for the established repertoire and idioms, which relied on standard tonalities. I had encountered the strange scales used by the peasants but only as theoretical constructs with no practical application. But these untutored bumpkins could create marvellous themes from these irregular arrangements of notes, refrains of exquisite beauty that lingered in the charged atmosphere. Remarkably all these complex pieces were extemporised, each prayer a set of novel variations on an original motif.
By intense observation and deep meditation, I discerned seven tone patterns. By marking the passage of time on a calendar I deduced that each scale was assigned to a day of the week. On a Monday the peasants improvised in the first mode, on a Tuesday the second and so on. I had never encountered this folk-wisdom in my studies and supposed that it was unknown in the metropolis.
Learning these fascinating lays inspired me to pick up my instrument. After a few days I was overjoyed to find that my once-average ability had improved and I had acquired the perception of absolute pitch, enabling me to tune my strings and voice with the utmost precision.
I started to chant the pastoral scales through vowel melismas while composing chordal accompaniments. These worked best by adjusting my guitar to what I called natural tunings. Instead of using the traditional intervals I would listen to the environmental ambience, the susurration of zephyrs in the trees and ripples of the river below, and pick out the salient notes across their range, transposing them to my six strings. I soon devised seven viable tunings, assigning them to each of the daily modes.
As the year wore on the stifling summer receded. The cabin had been a fine home thus far, the torrid heat cooled by opening the robust portals and letting the breeze that blew through the valley stream in. The secure building had withstood the worst monsoons, the tight glass whipped by the howling hail and the whole structure creaking in the vicious blasts but everything holding strong despite its exposed location.
As I had collected a significant amount of currency I decided go back to civilisation and purchase some supplies for the winter. So, leaving as I arrived, abandoning the sundry contributions of the locals, I trekked the long road back to the city, certain that no-one would recognise me in its stumbling clutter of streets with my overgrown hair, full beard and dirty clothes.
Once there I bought an axe, several packets of guitar strings, some tiny metal files to shape my right-hand fingernails as aids to my picking, pencils and paper, shaving equipment, some buckets, towels and flannels, a broom, warm winter clothes, boots and thick blankets. By serendipity I unearthed an old copy of a classic yoga manual hidden in a dusty corner of the general store which the owner let me have for free.
Despite my heavy load the return journey was easy, my yogic fitness giving me great stamina and resilience. As I again approached the bridge, I worried that another might be occupying my cherished dwelling. But to my relief all was as I’d left it and I re-established myself in my solo domain, my usual grant of fresh supplies awaiting my collection, now augmented with a modest bag of coal. I adapted to the milder season, the burner and frequently-given fuel providing more than enough heat for the cosy apartment.
Using the public well a short walk along the main road I filled my pails to maintain a store of water, keeping myself and my attire groomed and clean. The instruction volume was a trove of specialist information that induced a sublime refinement of my regime. The number of commuters dropped with the weather but still my provisions were bestowed and I would hear the charming psalms sung to the terpsichorean deity, my keen hearing catching the dampened sound filtering through the shuttered ingress.
I sometimes wondered about the purpose of this queer erection. Talking to those I met in the hostels during my recent trip it seemed that few knew about it. The bridge was at the border of the civilised domains, the other side of the ravine being wilderness where the peasants would forage. However, the city dwellers avoided this area, fearful of the man-eating tigers, poisonous snakes and fatal diseases hidden in the tenebrous foliage. But as to the shed no-one was sure.
Some though it was a lookout built during the wars that ended just before I was born. I was not convinced because the view across the jungle, from which direction the enemy would have approached, was limited by the tall trees. The prospect both up and down the valley and across the fields was impressive but useless strategically. Some said that it represented a rural superstition that the pass had a guardian spirit that must be accommodated to ensure safe passage. But no-one gave it much thought, as this locale was of no interest to any of the merchants or other itinerants I encountered.
The chilly temperatures brought a pensive poignancy that focused my concentration, far from the indulgent depression that sucks energy from the spirit. This piquant wistfulness inspired me to write poetry. My language was abundant in literary tradition which had been inculcated in me from an early age, grammar and rhetoric deemed important subjects for the ruling classes. I drew on this rich heritage to articulate my feelings, giving formal expression to my musical rhapsodies.
Sunday’s soaring songs suited heroic paeans of freedom and liberation. Monday’s moody melodies weaved through arcane, veiled enigmas. Tuesday’s stately refrains sung of divine order and justice. Wednesday’s haunting hymns revealed ancient myth and allegory. Thursday’s strident strains told of war, the epic struggle of life. Friday’s florid ballads trilled the agonies and ecstasies of love, ardent odes to Venus. Saturday’s earnest measures were melancholy laments, reflective introspections of the soul.
By the time spring re-cast her primal promise of Dionysian re-birth I had an extensive repository of arias. The combination of bucolic tunes with urbane poetry was outstanding, creating a bardic art that was fresh yet noble, innocent yet enlightened and fluid yet rigorous. I performed each unique piece with a facile virtuosity nurtured by constant application, my flexible vocals projecting with mellifluous pellucidity and my dexterous fingerings carving intricate counterpoints and vibrant harmonisations from the resonant strings.
I noted that the peasants never interrupted my performances, always passing if I was in the middle of a song, so I would not commence unless the bridge was clear, not wishing to disturb their solemn worship.
Thus, I meditated on the paradoxes of my fate. Cast out for pronouncements on forbidden subjects I was now cast free to sing on bidden matters. Away from the rite of polite society I found the right of insightful solitude. I had been granted the wealth of health denied by the unhealthy wealth of privilege and position, now fulfilled by the privileged positions of yoga, guided and blessed by the supreme Lord of Yoga as I practised above His holy shrine.
By connecting the antithetical tendencies of society, utilising the culture of the cultured and the intuition of the intuitive, I had discovered the songs of song, the verses of verse, the true union of melody and word, the language of man entwined with the cadences of nature. Marrying the antinomies of the tame and the free, the known and the unknown, perched at a death-defying height above the rushing stream of life cut deep between the organised fields and the chaotic jungle I found the One Self, far from those detached selves of judgement and censure. Provided for by my aristocratic inheritance but left famished I was now provided for by my peasant dis-inheritance and left sated.
I often envisaged returning to my home, my family, my dear friends and loved ones. Somehow, I will bridge this gap, retaining the gifts of this blessed crossing while sacrificing myself to my duty, going back to share my knowledge with those who do not deserve it yet need it most. I shall teach the gentle rustic music to the rough gentry, thereby enriching our customs and linking the dichotomy between the disparate classes. I will take my position in the linage of yogis, being a guru to the ever-hungry youth and the yearning aged, linking the separation between ancient lore and modern law. I will find a beautiful wife and father my own new generation, sowing the furrow between consciousness and oblivion with my fair progeny. I will bind the difference between heaven and earth, finding again a way to live on the gross ground as now I live in the rarefied sky, once more just a man when once I was nearly a god. I will soon leave the ascetic hut for another to occupy and find what they are looking for as they satisfy the atavistic beliefs and customs of the simple peasants who traverse the chasm into that profound wilderness.
But for now, I sit atop, between two worlds, neither this nor that.