Abeed Hossain

The Drift

Abeed Hossain

Humans build upon the works of their forerunners. We consolidate tribes, refine and enforce norms. We go forth and multiply. Enemies are dealt with; absorbed by the tribe, maintained as tributaries, or else destroyed entirely. Lands are settled and resources extracted. Resources deplete and expansion presses outward, towards a final, forbidding obstruction: the roaring river, the desert, the jungle, the mountain range, the sea.

And still we persevere, to please our gods or ourselves. The rivers are conquered, their waters redirected. Barren earth grows green. Dense jungle falls before the axe-blade and bulldozer. We shatter stone and jagged rock; taming altitudes, terraforming depths. Vast sea becomes a causeway to exploding heat, to turbines and steel.

This is our progress. Inexorably, unaccountably, we grow.

***

She said “Fend for yourself, you’re alone.”

The woman’s name is Elcin and she claims to possess the power of second sight. The power introduced itself to her in a dream she later understood to be a vision. In the vision there is a woman, scared and naked and engulfed in flames. The woman runs out of gray concrete building until a bullet explodes from the side of her head, leaving her body limp and crumpling.

“The woman had set herself on fire,” she explains to him. “She invoked Palden Lhamo but he did not grant her protection.”

Her apartment’s main sitting area, large for the City and brightly lit by Eastern sun, manifests as a shrine. A giant map of Tibet adorns the back wall. Situated just in front on the floor, a bronze statue of a lotus positioned Buddha. The statue is flanked on both sides by bookshelves filled with volumes devoted to Tibet and related subjects. He notices that some books appear multiple times in different editions or sometimes just duplicates of the same pressing: The Autobiography of the Dalai Llama, the Tibetan book of the Dying, etc.

“Love is not a visible sign which could help identify the dead,” she says, while thumbing through the pages of one of her Tibetan texts. It’s not clear whether she’s reading those words out of the book or not, but she seems to expect some kind of reaction from him.

Elcin gestures towards the door.

“I’m glad we got together,” she says, and it’s clear now that she means for him to leave.

The door closes behind him. Locks turn shut and a chain fastens; the rusty cables of an elevator, another glass door, and then a return to the street, to the void.

Here he found himself wrung from the depths of solitude not by a love for others, but by a hatred for them; he could no longer discern the people from smoke. He closed his eyes and blackness poured into him like quicksilver. He opened them and saw only human selfishness recurring as a twisted meme, a sort of wisdom gaining vogue in the culture. Accept the self as idol, the brutal truth of it, and be, if not free, at least ready for what is and what’s to come.