Four, Ace, Queen

Art by Elyssa Chou
Writing by Lebopo Sebusang

Battered and bruised a hand beckoned her forward. “So you have headed the call…” Unsure silence filled the room. Thomo rolled her umms and unconfident yes’s in her mouth, failing to spit them out fearing the potential offense that she would be charged with. And before she could finish measuring out her affirmation, the hand continued, “You are but one of many doe-eyed, fowl-puff chested heroes of the grove answering for the crimes of fallen generations, swallowed up by the land it persecuted. Foolish! Foolish creatures who forgot their roots, the source of their existence… their subsistence! And like chaff, they were scattered and perished.” 

Thomo felt herself shrinking as the voice began to rise above her, filling up creek and crevice in the cave, stripping her bare, cleaning away all superficial innocence off her. She found her heels inching towards the cave entrance and her heart nearly followed until home creeped into her mind. Her people were suffering. The land bore no fruit. The flock disappeared into the night with no sign of struggle. The rivers shrank year after year. The rains came but failed to quench the drought growing in and around them. Mother Earth had rejected them. Thomo had to save her people. She was the first child of the harvest to be born in a hundred years – the only one who could supplicate before Her on behalf on the dying multitudes. To ask Mother Earth to heal their land. 

“We failed!” cried Thomo. The Oracle stopped, stroke-struck silent at the interruption. “We failed the land. We failed its beasts. We failed the Mother. But we have learnt, and we are ready to fix it… I am ready to fix it.” Many a people had requested the Oracle provide a shorter pathway to Mother to ask Her to restore balance. This was the old way. The tried and tested way to fail, for you see, Mother had tired of feeding the ravenous ones, whose affections were to but themselves. Her children were crying in the orchards, by the brooks and in the groves, cut down by a Her most beloved creature, Man.

“Very well o wise one of the foolish. Hear clear and peer near. To see the path to be traversed, there’s three like Fates that must be grasped. Clotho. Lachesis. Atropos.  Beginning Middle End. Birth Life Death. That is to say, it was, it is, it will be.” the Oracle sung, as three cards materialised from their ashen hand. A four of hearts. An ace of spades. A queen of hearts. Shrouded by a blanket of darkness save for a single trembling flame dancing on a candlestick.

The first card, a four of hearts embellished with a capsule of snow. “Hearts ruby red enamoured with the freedom of the gliding jellyfish encapsulated in a snow globe. Alas this liberty was restricted by childlike innocence. O wise of the foolish ones, your people lived in harmony with the Mother and all Her subjects, unquestioning, unknowing, yet content.” the Oracle began.

“All this changed as Mother allowed you to grow in consciousness and understanding. You claimed to be sources of your own power and declared supremacy over all other creatures and creations. You spat in the face of the Mother, killing her children for sport, violating the lands with ores and gaping wounds and treating your fellow men like strangers.” The Oracle continued gingerly lifting up the ace of spades up into the air, then forcefully slammed it down. The flame was momentarily extinguished, only to light up, albeit, dimly. The card was illustrated with a melting candle in a shirt, extending into a wick carrying a dry branch. “Death? Death! Death. Great is the blood shed you and your forerunner have caused, even greater by the second, minute and hour. You believe you are enlightened, that you have rid yourselves of the limiting shackles of the Mother. You do not see that you are being consumed in the process. The wick of the candle does not last long; you will perish like the land you have cut down. However, like the stump of a seemingly dead tree, the land will recover. As for you, well, we do not see.”

“What do you mean you do not see me. I mean us.” Thomo asked speaking for the first time since her outburst.

“We cannot dictate how this is going to end. The Mother seems unsure of your intentions – there is a purity about you, however, we too have been hoodwinked before. We cannot tell whether you will rise with or fall from the land.” explained the Oracle. The Oracle lifted the queen of hearts, as the shadows of the candle hurriedly danced across the card’s regal face with a fish in a tank of limited life on a tank of violence and war. “What is sure is that the land which you have held captive for innumerable generations will fight back and be emancipated. The enslaved will be mobilised. The question they ask is which side will you stand on.”

“Will you rise with the land or fall from it?” With these words, the bruised and battered hand pinched the flame and the cave swallowed the Oracle back up. Then, there was silence, loud silence…