The Spider's Web
All these thoughts had never occurred to him when he was in Europe, or on the ship. He could not imagine that he had been only one night on the Asian continent. He sensed a change in himself which made him more alive and aware of every detail and sensation. Every flower seemed to talk to him with its blooming fragrance and beauty. The new colors became a discovery as until then he had never thought of the existence of new colors. Just the beauty of an orchid awakened in him new feelings that he had never experienced before. He saw himself transplanted in a new world which he had only just begun to discover. The long journey by ship now became a dream of the past.
After the English breakfast, the three gentlemen set out on a walk. This time everyone was dressed colonial, with cork hats to protect them from the strong sunlight. Mr. Mershenson had a walking stick and walked ahead explaining everything in sight to his friend, Mr. de Montaigne.
Old habits die hard and soon their conversation had turned to business. Vincent was now bored by this discussion. He walked a few paces behind so that he would not overhear their conversation. He wondered how all these delightful discoveries were passing unnoticed by his father. They seemed to have time only to talk about business. He felt sorry for his father, at his inability to enjoy the landscape, the new sensations, and the beauty all around them.
This new land meant more to Vincent than business and wheat. For Vincent it signified revival, hope, new light, new colors, new people, a different air to breathe and saturate the lungs from the old air of Europe. Vincent enjoyed the walk. He was absorbed by the waving sheaves of wheat, rippling with every breeze like waves in a pond. The greens were a deeper, darker green than he had ever seen. The senior de Montaigne and his friend had gained distance and Vincent was now far behind. He enjoyed every step, drank in every sunbeam through his pores. His face and body radiated a new vigor. He wished this walk would last forever.
His pace gradually slowed down as he began watching strong, supple, bronze-skinned women. They were now busy harvesting the ripened grain, cutting off the sheaves with a sharp sickle in an age-old movement that he had never seen before. This skin tone was new to Vincent and held a special charm, quite different from the deliberately cultivated charm of European women. They worked silently like honey bees, each one adept in her place and action. They were busy, did not ask questions or talk to one another. They looked like they were part of the wheat field and merged right in with the scenery.
At a distance, he could see some women threshing the sheaves to separate them from the grain. They then poured the grain and husk into large woven straw baskets and flung them in the air to separate the grain from the chaff. Vincent marveled at all the work that was done manually but to these simple villagers it was the only way of life.
Here was a world entirely new, new people, new colors. And we believe that we know all colors in the world only to discover a new tint, a new shade. Vincent began to doubt about all the basic colors that he had learnt in school. He was now inclined to believe that our eyes have been adapted to seeing what we want them to see or what we are able to see. This ability was now slowly changing and letting him discover other ways, other colors. How many things had our eyes not yet discovered in life! The more educated and sophisticated we are, the more we believe that we know more than those who are not contaminated with civilization.
In reality we know too little about nature and about ourselves. Vincent had come all the way to Asia to discover new flowers, new colors, new skin tones and a brightness that his eyes had never before beheld. Now, Vincent began to look back in his mind. His studies, his school, his teacher, everyone and everything had been smart, but this new reality had completely overruled the past and opened the way to the future.
Vincent again thought about the dogs that hear sounds inaudible to human ears. He reasoned that what is not accessible to us does not necessarily not exist. This little example threw off balance all the old concepts that he had spent his entire youth learning. Vincent now began to think of other ways to see and understand life. The senior de Montaigne and Mr. Mershenson were almost forgotten as they moved in the distance like a pair of shadows.
Vincent stood looking at the two figures as they disappeared in the horizon. “It is funny,” he murmured to himself, “our eyes are losing the precision of sight with distance.” The two gentlemen had become almost insignificant. One could say they did not exist. Vincent knew for certain that his father and Mr. Mershenson were not visible to him, but that they existed. This thought confirmed to Vincent that our sight is relatively good but not perfect. One could say the same for our hearing. If Vincent did not already know that his dad and Mr. Mershenson were walking, he could have pretended that they did not exist.
Vincent had noticed from this little experience that it could be that we are not aware of all kinds of existence. What we do not see and do not hear may be nonexistent. This thought persisted. There must be other kinds of life that our eyes are not able to see, like physical forces, which though invisible, exist. He wished he had other senses or abilities which would enable him to see any other type of life, and be aware of other sounds or colors that share this planet with us. Vincent was quite convinced by these thoughts and by the disappearance of his dad and of Mr. Mershenson.
To appease himself, Vincent declared, “Even if other life does not exist, from now on, they will be alive to me.” If Vincent had said to anyone that far away there were two persons walking and conversing, he would have been considered a dreamer.
What was true for Vincent, couldn’t be true for anyone. What we know for certain and what we experience is true for us only, as we cannot experience what someone else feels in all aspects. Vincent was convinced by this analysis that everyone has the right to pretend what they want in their minds. This is also true for our senses and feelings. What one sees senses and feels is a unique experience no one can share. This new reality filled Vincent’s mind. Suddenly a feeling of doubt flickered in Vincent’s mind, confusing him. He thought it must be the hot Indian sun that was causing him to have these thoughts. He feared he must have a fever. He felt his forehead with his hand to see if he was dreaming and realized that he was sane and sound of mind.
He decided to keep his thoughts to himself and await further experience before he could divulge his thoughts to anyone. He became aware of the danger of not being taken seriously. He remembered his father’s advising him,”Vincent, there are rules and regulations, there are laws and conventions. They are our guidelines”.
Vincent’s experiences on this first day were not in conformity with his father's advice, but he consoled himself that so long as he kept his experiences to himself and in his mind, he would not breach any convention or law.
Vincent’s life became more interesting, as he could play, talk, create and build what he wanted in his mind. He discovered that from now on he could be alone and not feel a sense of loneliness. Vincent no longer had to live with society, now he had his private retreat from the tumultuous world. He experienced the same inner sense of peace that he had sensed before his mother died. His happiness became his property. No one could penetrate his heart and mind.
This time Vincent was not prepared to share his experience with his dad. He knew that such reasoning were not in his dad’s line of thought. Why should he take the risk of annoying his dad? He knew little of his dad's thoughts. Just the evening stories. The sky changed its color. The bright gold reflecting from the wheat became almost silver. Vincent accelerated his pace to catch up with his father. He was tired but full of experiences and happiness, his face ruddy with color from the sun. He would have preferred to stay in the middle of the field. It was enough for the first day. He would have enough time to enjoy the landscape with its quaint charm and sense of peace.
He finally reached his father who was waiting for him. Mr. Mershenson, always well-organized had prepared a pleasant surprise for them. The butler was standing beside the coach, ready to serve lunch. This was turning into a real picnic. A dhurrie was spread out and Vincent sat down right away. This simplicity pleased Vincent but the butler disturbed the perfect harmony of the landscape. So also did the coach. Vincent wanted to cry aloud, “Don't spoil my view.” Mr. Mershenson smiled, thinking he had pleased Vincent with his surprise. Vincent, who did not share this view¬point however, said nothing, so as not to appear impolite. He said to himself, “After all, I shall see what I want”. The coach and the butler became nonexistent for Vincent.
He enjoyed his lunch for he was famished. After lunch, the butler served tea. This gave Mr. de Montaigne a good occasion to return the conversation to business. The fragrant aroma of the tea revived the color in his face. He looked as happy as a child. After all, it was tea that had brought him to India. So far he had not seen his friend's tea plantation. He did not want to appear too interested in tea. This was a good occasion. Maybe Mr. Mershenson would talk about his plantation. Just as he had assumed, Mr. Mershenson said, “This tea is from our plantation”.
He was proud of his product. He seemed to have been waiting for lunch to be over. The butler smiled discreetly. The senior de Montaigne had waited all morning to hear this remark and so as not to lose the moment he immediately asked, “So when are we going to visit your plantation?” Mr. Mershenson did not appear to have heard this question. He stood calmly, apparently deep in thought.
The senior de Montaigne did not wish to disturb his host and stood up, finished his glass of tea and was ready to resume his walk. The butler cleared up after them and returned to the coach and coachman. Vincent stood looking quietly, not interfering. He was also ready to continue his walk for which he had waited politely. Mr.Mershenson led the way and again, Vincent was soon far behind.
He knew that his father's remark had been a pretext to divert the conversation towards business. Vincent did not feel the tea was especially different. The aroma seemed the same. He had also not been entirely concentrating on tasting the tea. The senior de Montaigne was listening to his friend but his mind was occupied with tea export. He already calculated in his mind the number of tons he could sell. His fortune seemed on hand. He murmured softly, “My friend is for real. I have not wasted my time by coming here”. Mr. Mershenson had been asking him a very important question at the same time. The senior de Montaigne absorbed as he was in his thoughts had missed it.
Mr.Mershenson asked again, “My friend, so you believe you can sell thousands of tons of tea?” The senior Montaigne was moved by this question. He did not want to appear eager to do business with his friend. He replied hesitantly and quietly, “The first hundred tons are secured before I came here. Now I shall see what I can do”. Mershenson was pleased to see his friend anticipating the first hundred tons and answered like a gentleman, “I like this”. The senior de Montaigne stood taller than before. He felt like a millionaire. He slowed his pace and continued, “I have a friend who will arrive next week from England”. Mr. Mershenson reacted quickly, “The buyer?” “No,” answered Mr. de Montaigne, “He is captain of a merchant ship”. For the first time, both gentlemen appeared closer than ever. Mr. Mershenson placed his hand on the senior de Montaigne's shoulder, as a sign of great friendship. This gesture did not go unnoticed by the senior de Montaigne, who now changed his voice to assert his strength as a businessman.Vincent had missed this business scene. He might have laughed aloud at his dad's act.
Copyright Emile M. Tubiana 2009 all rights reserved