Just one spark starts a fire....you just have to find the spark in your heart.
|Darkness always terrified me (and I was scared of many other things too). Although, when I was little, my father tried everything to kill my fear, but without success. Being an only daughter my mother tried to protect me from his scolding but, now, I understand that he was right. He scolded me for my own good. I still muse over that important event that altered me, the biggest coward in the family, into a courageous woman.
Our village was located in a lush green valley, dotted with numerous springs. The Great River, wound through the mountains and roared past our village. It was the life and soul of the people. Each person had a special connection with it; he took his first bath in it, all his life drank from it and was washed with its water when he died. The river was like a brother, flowing since time immemorial.
I was born in to the Khan’s (chief’s) house and on my birth, my grandmother reminisces, that the village celebrated for a week with feasts, fireworks and dances. I remember that when winter came to settle down on our land, a flurry of activity could be sensed in the village. People rushed here and there, buying this and that. Later, my grandfather told me that as the leaves fall off the trees the time for a great event comes which has been a tradition in the village. People who pursued adventure got ready for the annual hike up the highest mountain, Mustagh. They would go in groups and the first to reach the top and back unscathed would be the winner. The inhabitants of our village loved adventure, hence the ascension competition. Rumors had often spread that on the mountain lived an old couple, who had abandoned worldly pleasures and sought God in solitude. The most popular rumor was that they possessed magical powers. Some claimed that they burned bones to read the future! The sensible dismissed it as rubbish but it sure did make a fun topic for gossip.
When I was 16, my father asked me to attend the trek with my brothers and cousins, including Tanya who looked a lot like me. She was my favorite cousin with rosy cheeks, vivid green eyes and long, brown hair. Even though I was frightened to death but I did not want to disobey my father, so I decided to go. The day arrived with the pale, wintry Sun showering us with its light and we left with other groups. The plan was to camp one night in the forest at the foothills as the hike wouldn’t officially start until tomorrow. Soon, night wrapped us in her velvety blackness and my trepidation returned. We were sitting on logs telling stories. The great bonfire crackled mightily, the mixture of dancing scarlet and gold flames, seemed to touch the ebony black sky. Soon, we started folk songs and a couple of hours after midnight, Tanya and I, decided to go to sleep. We wished everyone good night. In the tent, I recited my prayers, snuggled into my blanket and in a matter of seconds fell asleep.
We woke up near dawn and got to see the glorious Sun rising from behind the lofty mountains. The girls prepared breakfast while the boys went to find fresh water and fruit for the campers. The food brought from home was saved for later and anyway making breakfast in the forest was an adventure in itself.
Near 8 ‘o’ clock, group after group left for the mountain and soon I found myself ascending the mountain with my family too. A cool breeze blew in our faces and whipped through our hair. Jumping over countless rocks, skipping over streams and dodging the occasional tree, we climbed almost half the mountain. It was decided that we would erect our tents on the spot, the surface suitable. Soon night fell and after dinner all went to sleep. But I tossed around like an insomniac. Near midnight, I heard an owl hooting in the distance and the rustle of leaves in the night breeze. I clambered out of the tent. I made a huge, round boulder my seat, when I heard faint, very faint whisperings. At first I dismissed them as a product of my imagination, but the murmurs continued. I decided to walk around, stretch my legs, for a change but when I strolled towards the East, catching my foot in a stone, I stumbled downwards. Luckily, not far below, I fell onto a flat surface and there seemed to be an opening to a cave right in front of my eyes. Sheer terror engulfed me but curiosity got the best of me and I entered the cave. Groping in the dark, I managed to cover a few feet when I heard the voices again, this time louder and I saw the faint glow of a fire. Hiding behind a large rock protruding from the floor, I stared in bewilderment.
I was sure that this was not an illusion because I saw an elderly couple prostrating, with several books, a few rosaries and two woolen blankets stacked into a corner.
Silently, I stare at them and completely forgot that I had to find my way back to the tent. Perhaps after a minute or two, the old couple got up and picked up the rosaries. Entranced, I watched the red beads slip down the golden thread.
“Little girl, there is no need to hide. Come here and talk to us”, came the lady’s voice and snapped me out of my reverie.
Visibly trembling from head to foot, my feet carried me to the two people and I sat down on the cold stone floor, a few feet away because despite the old lady’s soft voice, I couldn’t help feeling danger but as always, I was wrong.
“Sweet girl, we know you were about to come here, we were waiting, what too you so long?” the man asked.
Before, I could reply, he said, “Well, never mind, my dear. We have bee awaiting your arrival because of something important.”
“We know that you fear things. It is natural, daughter, but God has also blessed Man with a great virtue.”
A small part of my mind tried to figure out what he had said, but before I could think the words spilled out.
“How do you know I’m a coward?”
“Aaah, let us leave that, and let me continue. What I have been taught is that people are made of flesh and blood and a miracle fiber called courage. Everyone has the spark inside which just need to be ignited. You think you’re a coward? I think not, dear child.”
My heart racing, I listened to the man.
“Everyone is afraid of something; surely the greatest warriors may be scared of something too. Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something is more important than fear. Deep in your heart, I know you want to do something worthwhile, to make your father proud, just once and what I also know that you have the courage to do so. I can tell you the secret of bravery; do you want to hear it?”
I looked at the lady who smiled at me encouragingly, and I nodded my head.
“Do not be afraid before a danger for you will be called timid, do not be frightened during the time for you’ll be a coward. Only be scared afterwards and that is the trait of a courageous person. Bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid. Last but not the least, valor is not winning battles or conquering lands. Valor does not lie only in big feats. Courage does not always roar, but it may be the voice at the end of the day that says ‘I’ll try again tomorrow’. Remember, everyone has the lion within. And about you I can undoubtedly say: Leo suscitatio.”
With his last word, the smoldering fire completely died, the cave plunged into terrible darkness. I gritted my teeth to hold back an agonizing scream and tried to be brave, but without success. As my shrill screech pierced through the silent night, I felt my head spinning and then I was spiraling into a deep abyss.
When I opened my eyes, I found everything a little fuzzy but I could make out the shapes of a few people.
I blinked and found my family, huddled around me. A look of extreme relief washed over their features as they sighed. I tried to get up but my brother pushed me back and said,
“Lie still; you’ve hurt your head”
“How did I get back here?” I enquired and he replied,
“I woke up for a glass of water when I found your bed empty. I woke up the others to ask whether they knew where had you gone, but no one knew. So we searched outside the tent but when we couldn’t find you, we decided that you had gone back, too terrified to continue, and therefore we chose to descend the mountain because you couldn’t have gone far. Some time later, Tanya and her brother found you unconscious. They brought you back to the tent. You’ve been like this for a while. It’s about dawn. How did you fall down there?”
At first, I couldn’t remember anything but the memories flooded my mind. I remembered the old couple, the cave, the man’s sagacious words, everything. I wanted to tell them everything but quickly decided against it. I doubted the event was unreal, but there was a tiny possibility that it could have only been my imagination and the last thing I wanted was my brothers to make fun of me.
“I fancied a stroll, stumbled over a rock and the last thing I know I was falling down”, replied I.
After that, we went back to sleep and next morning; we continued to ascend the mountain. We were there first, I suppose, because there was only one flag fluttering at the crown of Mustagh: ours.
After a little rest, we started for home. With courage in every step I took, I was soon well ahead of the others and we reached home past dusk the next day.
The people had been waiting and the joy and the pride on my father’s face told me that we had won indeed. The village celebrated for days and a feast was thrown in our honor.
Now when I’m in a difficult situation and hesitate to take a step forward, the old man’s wise words reverberate in my mind and with great strength and bravery, I accomplish the task. At night, when I can’t sleep, I still ponder upon the identity of the mysterious man and woman and wish to find out who they were.
Deep in my heart is a fierce desire to find out the person, who single handedly ignited the spark of courage in my heart which is now a roaring fire.