The Big Calm
By Kala Seraphin
It was the dream about mangoes again. Every time I recalled falling asleep, I find myself sitting on a beach, watching the waves calmly rush to my feet. It’s warm and lacks an excruciating humidity. The sun wraps me in a blanket of heat, making my skin tingle. I’m always naked in these dreams, enjoying the faint breeze on my bare skin. It feels like a lover’s touch, someone I vaguely remember from my past. The mangoes are in a blue basket by my side. I reach in and I eat one, savoring the sweet pulp, letting the juices drip down my chin, chest and stomach. It feels so refreshing; I can’t be bothered to remember any decency.
I spend a whole day, simply eating mangoes, watching the waves and the sun. As I watch the sun set, I try to hang on to all the beautiful colors. I will my mind to burn the colors in my retina. It never works, however. I wake up, greeted by a barren ceiling. There are so many cracks that it starts to look like blood vessels bled dry.
That’s when I realize that I’m back to reality. The beach, the sun and the mangoes were all a dream.
The sound of a muffled voice can be heard. Mum is still in her room, sleepless, going on about something that no one knows. Four days ago, she dropped the book she was reading, looked blankly at everyone in the room then locked herself in her bedroom. She sound of her voice reassures us that she’s alive. She refuses to open the door so we know she hasn’t eaten or bathed in four days.
Mum wasn’t her real name. Nobody used their real names. We all forgot what we were called before the Big Calm settled in the land. To make communication easier, everyone in the house was given a new name. Like newborn babes, we would have someone else choose our new names.
Nam gave Mum her name because she would often be telling stories at night, doing amazing tricks with her voice and facial expressions. I vaguely remembered, before the Big Calm, how some people could make a living with that skill. I just can’t recall what we referred them as. Nam knew back then, yet to this day, he has forgotten.
I was the only one who could recall the inspiration of my name. They called me Mango because I would spend hours talking about my dreams. Only, I couldn’t remember who it was that gave me the name. Some days I was certain it was Fresh because we all associate him with food. Then again, it could have been Mum. Some days it felt like she was here the longest, that it was possible that she was my biological mother. Bow once said I was wrong because Mum looked too young. Or maybe she said I looked too old. Our conversations often got confused in my mind. I often forget how my mind is capable of tangling my fantasies and reality.
The sound of dishes being moved motivated me to get out of bed. My stomach made violent sounds and I wondered if I had eaten before going to sleep. Then again, it could be possible that I was sleeping for a very long time.
Coming into the kitchen, I was greeted by Fresh standing over the stove, keeping the flames low as he stirred our breakfast. Nam was sitting at the table, drinking a glass of freshly melted snow, our only source of water.
“Good morning sunshine!” Nam greeted me cheerfully. Since knowing him, I’ve always seen a smile on his face. However, I wasn’t certain if that was a day, a week, a month or a year. It was hard to keep track of time without any means to calculate it.
“How long was I sleeping?” I asked, sitting down next to Nam.
“Two days,” said Fresh.
“Two hours,” Name claimed at the same time. The skies were always covered with thick dark clouds, hiding the sun. Days and hours could easily be confused.
Lil’A and Lil’B came in, looking and smelling freshly washed. They’re body odor was a way for them to keep track of time.
“What’s for dinner?” Asked Lil’B. Lil’A punched him on the shoulder.
“Have you lost it too? It’s not dinner time! It’s breakfast!”
I always enjoyed their banter. Lil’A and Lil’B were assumed to be brothers because they both had almond shaped brown eyes, a flat nose and thick lips. When alone together, they use to speak a common language that was so strange to me.
Fresh placed a big iron pot on the table, revealing a thick white gruel with green pieces inside.
“Here you go, fresh from the kitchen.” He was so proud of his concoction. I scooped up some of the food, putting it in a dish that was in front of me. Everyone followed suit.
The smell attracted Rain and Bow to the kitchen. I watched them as they served themselves and sat down.
Bow was a beautiful blond woman who moved with such grace. Rain matched her in height but nothing else. His hair was to his shoulders, coarse and black. He was sparse with his movements, preferring to sit and contemplate the world outside. I never understood why. All one could see was snow on the ground, snow falling and dark grey clouds. This weather remained the same day in and day out…if there still were any days left
“Didn’t we just eat this?” Rain asked, sitting himself next to me
“No! We haven’t had this in such a long time.” Exclaimed Lil’A. He turned to Fresh and asked:
‘By the way, what is this?”
“Are you blind? It’s obviously gruel with…what are they again? Oh yes! Apples!” Fresh held up a spoonful of his creation, pointing at the green bits.
“Are you sure? These look like pieces of broccoli to me.” Bow mumbled, making a strange face.
“I think I remember the difference between apples and broccoli; especially since I’m the only one who ever makes anything to eat. If it wasn’t for me, you’d all die of hunger!” Fresh shot Bow a sour look.
“Can we please pray? I’m getting hungry,” exclaimed Nam. He was ever the peace keeper. Everyone settled down, lowering their gaze and clasping their hands in front of their chest. Then, I started the prayer:
“Iron pot, table, place mat, spoon, fork, bowled, glass, water, gruel and um…nourishing green energy.”
“Amends,” We all chimed together. As we started eating, Lil’B looked at me strangely.
“What?” I asked, trying to hide my discomfort by focusing on the food in front of me. His eyes spoke of annoyance.
“You said bowled. It’s not bowled, it’s bowl.”
“How are we supposed to remember the names of things around us if you distort the words?” He was yelling now. Whenever someone yelled at me, I tried to disappear. This time was no different as I sunk lower in my chair.
“Would you please leave the girl alone? It’s not that big a deal. It was a slip of the tongue.” Rain intervened, placing a soothing hand on my arm. Lil’B was not appeased.
“Just like that time everyone forgot the word for that thing on the wall?” He pointed to the wall at the back of the room and all eyes followed.
“What are you talking about? Didn’t we agree it was called a…what was it again? Numero-meter. Yeah, that was it. It’s a numero-meter,” said Nam, pointing to the round object on the wall.
“Actually, that’s the name we gave it because we forgot the old name,” corrected Fresh. We all fell silent with shame. Slowly, the gaps in our memories grew. To compensate, our minds filled in the gaps. Seven different people filling in gaps of memories created a chaotic mess that was getting harder to keep under control. While Nam, Fresh, Bow, Lil’A looked appeased by having to call the round object a numero-meter, Rain looked doubtful, Lil’B simmered in rage and I doubted my own thoughts. A part of me believed numero-meter was a word Nam just gave it now to keep the peace.
We continued our meal in silence. The sounds of spoons rubbing against bowls, glasses being put back on the table and of course, the numero-meter resonated throughout the house. When we stopped eating, Mum’s constant chanting mixed in with the rhythm of the numero-meter. Remembering her presence in the house brought mixed feelings. We wavered between discomfort, pity and fear. We all believed that there will be another one of us to lose our grasp on reality. The question was, who would it be?
“So, have you two figured out your connection yet? Lovers or brother and sister?” Lil’A diffused the mounting tension by turning our attention to Rain and Bow and their delicate predicament.
“What are you talking about? We don’t have a connection,” Bow quickly replied, avoiding Rain’s gaze.
“With names that go together, I do believe there’s a connection somewhere. My bet’s on lovers,” said Lil’A, propping up his elbows on the table.
Bow shook her head and rolled her eyes and replied:
“I feel nothing for him. So I guess we have no connection. Our names are just a coincidence.”
Lil’A chuckled as he finished his water. Bow looked very uncomfortable. She avoided the looks she was getting from the men at the table.
“Didn’t sound like nothing to me last night,” Lil’B muttered. That’s when the yelling and fighting exploded. Words were tossed carelessly as people accused or defended themselves. I slowly creeped out of the kitchen, feeling uncomfortable amongst so much pent up energy and animosity.
In the living room, I sat among a pile of cushions we kept in a corner, and looked out the window. For as far as I could see, there was only snow. For so long, all there has been outside was snow. I wondered how long it has been since we lived this monotonous existence. We had all woken up in the living room, not knowing each other or how we got to the house. Outside, there was a fresh layer of snow and more was falling from the grey skies.
I was wearing a white dress with lace and satin. It seemed to me an inappropriate outfit considering the weather. I also had a vague feeling that I should be somewhere else with someone that wasn’t in the room. The routine of survival quickly erased that feeling along with so much knowledge I thought was important.
I closed my eyes, giving myself a break from the snow. It was so dreary to spend a long time observing blankets upon blankets of white; always a white landscape, sometimes snow softly falling. That is how we came to call this period the Big Calm. Nam talked about a time where noise was constant. I think he made that up to comfort himself that this reality was not absolute.
Mum once asked why we were all here, in this deserted house. Nam pointed to the fact that when we woke up, our rooms had all the appropriate clothes for the cold weather and that there was an infinite amount of food in the basement.
“It’s just meant to be,” was his conclusion. That comment earned him a punch in the face from Lil’B.
Opening my eyes again, I let out a scream. Looking back at me was the frozen face of a child. Her blue eyes looking pleadingly at me, begging me for help. Tiny hands rested on the window, shaking. Her blue lips moved in a soundless plea. My screams attracted the attention of everyone in the household. They stumbled into the living room, curiosity, worry, anxiety, fear and other emotions mingled as they noticed the child in the window.
Nam was the one to gain sense of the situation. He opened the door and saved the child from the bitter cold.
We huddled around the small shape, bundled in a parka three sizes too big. Upon closer inspection, I noticed this child was a little girl. She had long curly lashed with ice clinging to the ends. Her skin was the color of mahogany, which only made her blue eyes shine brighter. She shivered violently despite being in the house.
Fresh brought warm water flavored with herbs from the kitchen. We struggled to help her drink some of the tea. Bow undressed the child and wrapped her in warm blankets; cradling her til she fell asleep, still shivering.