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The World Outside

To an untrained eye, my needlework matches the Pattern assigned by Mistress Gaia, but I spot the missed stitch just as the gong sounds for the day and my fingers draw the emerald green yarn into a knot. It is too late to correct my blunder.

Outside the window, the last batch of mortal tourists continues to peer into our small white room while a corpulent tour operator waves his arms to herd them back to their bus. That youth is there, too, still smiling at me while other mortals ogle the comely novices in the front row. But I do not smile back at the youth: one, it is not allowed; two, he is the reason I missed that stitch.

Mistress Gaia is with the first girl in the front row, the novice who replaced Mamori after Mamori used white yarn instead of black for a stitch. We in the back row watched the videorama of Mamori's mistake: a day that stretched for thirty-six hours on a small island in the Pacific. As daylight did not surrender to darkness, even after sunset, shrieks of disoriented animals filled the air. Crazed predators mauled and slaughtered without staying to eat the kill. Then the screen filled with the image of a shaman holding the severed head of a newborn like an offering; his wild eyes seemed to be fixed on us.

The novice cowers as Mistress Gaia shakes a twig-like finger in admonition. The videorama shows that her mistake is minor—uneven tension of stitches. As time runs faster than time, and sometimes slower, some students run out of it during exams, a businessman misses an appointment, a chicken is not roasted properly. Novices get simple Patterns, and while this novice has to improve her craft, the impact of her mistake is low—minor disruptions for a couple of hours in a few buildings.

My Pattern is very compact, rich in complexity, interwoven delicately with other Patterns. And my missed stitch means that America shall have no September this year.

I cannot picture those I have harmed—killed, maimed, bereaved—by the fractured year. How will America, with its missed month, synchronize with the rest of the world? Someone mid-flight on August 31 cannot land for there is no September. Where will he go? What of those who were to undergo surgery in September, who were to be born, who were about to.... No, something so large cannot be imagined, cannot be grieved for.

Instead, I look at the emptiness outside the window where snowflakes drift in frosty light.

There will be a penalty. But can I, who was never born, be killed? Will Mistress Gaia—our mother, benefactress, supervisor—intercede for leniency when the Robed Women arrive? And this Pattern that I have worked on without thinking since before time began: if it is already determined, how can we make mistakes? And if not, if something I do can change a Pattern, am I not greater than God himself, if God exists?

I have not pondered thus before and wonder whether Kari knows something. I whisper to her.

Kari turns. Her eyes slide over my work; her mouth forms an "o," and she withdraws as though my missed stitch will crawl along the hard wooden bench and climb on her silk. She whispers to Joli and Joli to Para, and the whispers run down the benches till Mistress Gaia raises her head. A quick long stride and she is peering at my work. And I learn that time can be fast and yet so slow that it never reaches the culmination; it just stretches and stretches.

And after an instant that is eternity, the Robed Women sink bony fingers deep into my forearms and yank me up. I know suddenly that I am to be plunged into the midst of the chaos of my making. It is only fair.

The world outside is much bigger than our small white room, and the mortals number far more than the thirty of us in this Celestial nunnery, but that world has the youth who smiled at me.

I smile as I am led out.

Copyright 2006 by Swapna Kishore

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Swapna Kishore

Swapna writes:
This piece grew from many things. Mainly from thoughts about destiny and determinism, and from Gaia and Fates, but also sweatshops a few centuries ago and the Lady of Shalott crying that the mirror had cracked from side to side, and a small square room I saw in my dreams. With such a jumble in my head, it was a relief to pour it out.

Swapna Kishore is a software consultant and lives in Bangalore, India. In addition to technical books and training material, she writes short stories and essays. She can be reached via email at swapna_kishore@vsnl.com.

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