A quarter of my mind with Winifred HMensa: A Portrait of the Dark Side (IV)

A Quarter of Mind: The Night Niko Turned (Part III)
Winifred hMensa

Previously on A Portrait of the Dark Side, Aba had been thrown down the same well her mother had drowned in. She then reappeared at the other end of a vortex, was taken into a cave and shackled to the floor next to a mother.

“Ma!” I called, managing only a murmur.

Somehow, she heard me, lifted up her head again — a disappointed but unsurprised look on her face — and looked away crying. I kept calling her but the more I did, the mist separating us thickened and she disappeared behind it. The overwhelming anguish I felt within my 6-year-old frame was quieted only by the depressing hum that hovered over the cave. I gave up on trying to reach her and turned my attention elsewhere.

In the distance, something pulsated with a dull glow. It was a huge mystical mirror the width of the entire cave wall, and it served as the only source of light underground. It was on the other side of an abyss, guarded by two bulky creatures that shuffled from one end to another. One was armed with a spiked mace, the other with an axe — both weapons with unusually long shafts — and they both stood at about 8 feet tall. Curious, I stared at the Mirror. At first, the screen was murky, however, after maintaining my gaze a little longer, images started to appear — images of myself. Pictures of me living another life — one of colour and courage — shone through its perfectly smooth surface. I was vivacious, confident, and fully awakened to all the possibilities of me. No longer bound by the shadows that had towered over me all my life. My mother, alive and well, stood next to me, glowing with a brightness I’d never seen on her, proud of who I had become. As great as that was, it was also tormenting to watch. It was everything I’d dreamed of, but nothing I’d lived. I wanted to close my eyes and forget about it; pretend I’d never seen them because it all seemed impossible and completely unattainable. Discouraged, I drowned my eyes in tears.

From an obscure corner of the cave, a desperate soul made a run for the gulf, rousing me from the entrancing vision. He ran determinedly only to stop short in agonising fear of the gulf and be escorted dejectedly back into his cage by the cave warden. Over the period I was underground, I saw a few others manage to make the jump over the edge, only to plummet into the abyss midway. Their screams echoed darkly as they went down until they hit the stony crags below. A few more made it across the divide only to have their bravery rewarded by becoming food for the creatures that guarded the Mirror. Only five people made it all the way to the Mirror. I watched as they walked up to it and disappear through it to the other side. For each person that made it, I etched a line on my forearm with my nails.

I looked down at my fettered feet, shook the chain, and wondered how to get out of them. Time went by down there. I don’t know how long because there was no way of telling. Barred by the shadowy mist from communicating with my mother, the only thing left to do was to keep my gaze on the Mirror, taking in the possibilities. I had nothing else to lose, so for the first time in my life, I allowed myself to dream; to believe in the impossible even if it felt foolish and dangerous. As the truth of my potential sank in, hope sprouted where fear and doubt once lived — a radical hope that felt alien yet germane to my existence. With each passing moment, I grew furious, and inflamed, as I reflected on each cowardly decision I had made in life; becoming less and less of myself (a shadow) so I could fit in. From deep inside, a stirring began and developed into a muffled roar as I imagined myself on the other side of the gulf. Then an instinctual part of me came alive and colour returned to my body. I held the chains around my feet one more time, pulling vigorously on the metallic links to loosen the bonds. After yanking it every possible way, one of its links came loose, leaving only the cuff at my ankle intact. I got up and stomped my feet hard on the ground repeatedly until it came off. The cave warden was on the other end of the cave and didn’t see me. This was my chance. But before I dashed off, I turned to look at my mother one last time. Sadly, she was now completely concealed under the shadows.

Unfettered and free, I made my barefooted run for the Mirror. My feet had never tasted the thrill of such freedom before and yet, I felt selfish. Selfish that I was unable to help the hordes of captives who sadly, still remained cowering in fear and dejection. But at that time, my life was all the weight I could carry. So I kept running, swerving my way through the cave, jumping over stones and boulders so I could get to the Mirror. From the dark floors and walls of the cave, threatening shadows and silhouettes emerged and came at me at every turn. I did not give in to their distractions. I could not give in to their distractions as that would mean death. For the entire run, my gaze remained fixed on the images in the Mirror, feeding on the hope it gave me.

Somehow, I made it past my attackers to the banks of the gulf. Once my feet touched the edge of the ravine, they stopped pursuing me; watching to see what I would do next, almost certain I’d fall into it like others before me. Not wanting to meet their expectations, I decided to first study it, wondering why so many others had not made it across. I peered in. A dark mist overflowed the edges of the 20-some foot-wide trench. Its meandering path led miles down on either side and disappeared around a dark corner. I took a few steps backward, turning to look at what I had escaped. Whispers of fear from behind tempted me to return. I shut my eyes and willed myself away from their influence. Without another thought, I hurtled towards the abyss.



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