Reality and Illusion are intermixed in a World where time and space are not constant, a dimension where events overlap in the past, present and future. Can the creator manipulate events in many Worlds of the Universe?
It was a freezing cold morning in Buffalo City. Several inches of snow pounded the entire state of New York after an unusual storm the previous night. Cold winds from the Arctic conspired with a frigid Canadian storm to turn anything that stood straight on the streets into icy popsicles. Alfred Fickler just returned home from Boston. But, he had to drive soon again in the storm to the JFK airport.
Alfred enjoyed being single. At thirty, he was happily wedded to his profession, a not so ubiquitous one though. He was a “Fantasy Hunter”, a profession that ensured that no date of his ended on a serious note or molded into a meaningful relationship with women. Alfred was probably one among a few hundred in the World who managed to survive with an odd career. The few friends he had mockingly called him as the “Jobless Indiana Jones,” since the whip-wielding adventurer at least had a tenured job as a professor to support his flamboyance. For the average man, Alfred did not come through as a serious person in life, his last name not boosting his personal image either. He just took up an assignment for a new client, a wealthy Jewish Businessman based in New York City. The two met in Boston the previous day.
Alfred chased fantasies, but only the ones that had an aura of mystery surrounding them. He did not chase elves but did go unsuccessfully after Big Foot in the mountains of Colorado and Nepal. He scraped dirt for years in an Egyptian pyramid to find an elusive cat’s mummy buried next to a less famous Pharaoh, which boasted of supernatural powers to the possessor. He was unsuccessful then too as he ended up digging the wrong grave. Everything that Alfred did fit well for someone who lived in 18th century Europe or in a Hollywood movie, but not the modern 21st century. Yet, Alfred somehow found clients from some corner of the World, willing to pay for his travel, food, clothing and shelter to do exactly this in life!
His new client, a Mr. Soderberg, never addressed himself by his first name. He met Alfred at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library in Cambridge, in a silent corner less visited by even the most curious of bookworms. Mr. Soderberg wore an expensive suit with a distinctive red tie that had delicate patterns of the Hindu symbol, Om. He had a tan on his face, probably from exposure to the harsh Sun over the years, suggesting that he was a well-traveled man. He was old, with silver-white curly hair, a freckled face and big, brown eyes. Mr. Soderberg did not share details of his current or past profession, but Alfred could take a guess that he was an adventurer and a part of high society in New York City. Mr. Soderberg made an offer that Alfred could not refuse- a jaw-dropping ten million dollars to find a mysterious entity – “Bodhi.” Alfred was all ears when Mr. Soderberg spoke about Bodhi when they met in Boston-
“Alfred, there are very few people of your kind remaining in this World. I know how you circled the World to discover Tiwanaka, in the eastern extremity of Siberia, a remote lake mentioned in centuries’ old Gothic literature. You fetched the seeds of the Gorshova, a rare plant that only grows near this lake and can cure certain kinds of cancer, a secret long lost but for among a few tribes in Siberia. However, I am interested in something different and I want you to get it for me, for real, and in person.”
On hearing this, Alfred raised his eyebrows and straightened his back to pay keen attention.
“Years ago, I traveled on business to the island of Tinos in Greece. One day, at the famous Church of Miracles of Virgin Mary, I met a heretic priest named Andreas Clemens. We shared a passion for adventure. He had an energetic radiance on his face. This priest raved about meeting a certain “Bodhi”. Some of the supernatural powers that the priest attributed to Bodhi amazed me! Bodhi was capable of disappearing into thin air and materializing whenever and wherever needed. The priest received a fruit from Bodhi, eating which a person begins the journey into a different World, an alternate dimension, the details of which I will not trouble you with. You will know about it when the time is ripe! A few days back, and I do not know how, I received a mail from Andreas Clemens. He had handwritten the following- “Found peace in life…need to escape maaya. Come meet Bodhi! Visit Tinos at the earliest – Clemens”
Alfred stayed glued to his seat. The eerie silence of the library added to the excitement as it was recounted in the soft, raspy voice of Mr. Soderberg.
“Now, Alfred. I am not sure if you see where I am going with this. There is a reason why the priest wants me to meet Bodhi. I would not have cared about this message but for this “fruit” of Bodhi’s. This is bigger than Science! This is bigger than reality! This is fantasy embarrassed by its own illusion. This is the true reality; I want you to help me get Bodhi. I am too old to travel on my own. I want to nudge humanity to rediscover the World yet again, this time by fighting against nature, the ultimate battle, the David of life versus the Goliath of death! Alfred, go on my behalf and let us change this World forever…”
Alfred took the earliest flight from New York to Athens. Once in Greece, Alfred planned to call Mr. Soderberg the moment he came into acquaintance with the still mysterious Bodhi. After a long flight across the Atlantic, Alfred reached Athens and took the last ferry in the evening to Tinos. It was late in the night when the boat tugged along the port and anchored. It was unexpectedly cold in Tinos and there was a chilly breeze blowing from the Aegean Sea. However, it was much better than the cold beating he received in Buffalo. He retired for the night in a tiny inn overlooking the ocean. The hosts were kind enough to make a late night meal for him. After a sumptuous Mediterranean feast, he sank into his bed. The next day was a big day for Alfred. He was planning to meet Andreas Clemens and then Bodhi too. If all went well as per the plan, he planned to chill out in Athens for a few days before flying back home.
The next day, it was a brisk and beautiful morning at Tinos. Alfred woke up early and prepared himself for the day. After having breakfast, he took a stroll along a narrow, rugged, stone lane on the Island on the way to the famous Church of Panagia Megalohari, the holy shrine of the Virgin Mary. This was Alfred’s rendezvous point with Andreas Clemens. It was the time of the year, when fewer tourists visited the shrine. Alfred reached the Church, walked around appreciating its architectural beauty, went in and approached a priest next to the altar.
“Sir, I am looking for a priest by the name, Andreas Clemens. Do you happen to know him?” Alfred asked.
“Well, yes, I am Father Clemens. Who are you? Do I know you by any chance?” The priest turned back and enquired.
Alfred beamed with joy in his face. He explained to Andreas as to how he came on Mr. Soderberg’s behalf to take Bodhi along with him. Andreas silently pointed towards a small garden outside the church and walked out with Alfred.
“Mr. Alfred, it is exciting that Mr. Soderberg sent you to Tinos! Bodhi gives only to a chosen few and they cannot share with others. I hope your mission is a success,” the priest said in a calm tone.
Alfred watched with a slight smile on his face as the priest continued.
“There is a reason why you were sent here…Nobody comes to this shrine without a reason…Bodhi told me to expect Mr. Soderberg soon. I am supposed to depart into my inner sanctuary, high up in mount Prophet Elias, far away from this maddening World! All I have to do is pass on Bodhi’s legacy to the next worthy contender.”
The priest had a broad smile on his face. It looked like he deduced in his mind the reason Alfred was here and felt at peace about it. But, Alfred knew he was just the delivery boy. He had nothing to do with Bodhi beyond the handover to Mr. Soderberg.
“I realized that you mentioned maaya in your letter to Mr. Soderberg. I simply could not contain my curiosity. What does it mean?” Alfred asked inquiringly.
“Ah, who can explain it better than Bodhi? Let us not waste time any more. We must get to Bodhi at the earliest. We shall start trekking the mountain of Prophet Elias the first thing tomorrow morning. Retire early and get some sleep tonight. Let us meet 5am sharp at the foot of the mountain,” the priest said before he gave a warm hug to Alfred and parted ways.
Alfred could not sleep the entire night. There was unabated excitement about the unknown and the unseen! He checked local maps identifying his destination and learned from the innkeeper that the mountain had a church of the prophet Elias that several tourists visited. Would it not be crowded? He wondered.
The next day, Alfred woke up early and headed towards the mountain. It was still dark and he stumbled on the loose rocks at the foothills. A faint voice in the distance called him. As he strained his eyes to look, he saw the priest waving his hand at a distance. He was wearing a white robe that showed in the surrounding darkness.
“If you trek east, you will arrive at the church where visitors crowd during the day. We will take the western route nearby. Watch your step for any snakes as this is not a path that many take. After all, this is called as the island of snakes, ophiusa! You tread the treacherous path overcoming enemies filled with venom to reach your goal…,” the priest explained as he pointed towards two adjoining mountains and paced his steps along a familiar path.
The Sun started rising across the Ocean behind them. The beauty of the black rocks glittering from the sun’s light amazed Alfred. The wind was crisp. They trekked the slippery slope for hours until Alfred grew tired. The mountain was decked with loose pebbles separated from ancient rocks, perhaps cut by the strong winds from the Sea. Alfred did not have anything for breakfast and he was famished. The priest looked at him with kindness in his eyes and handed over a small nut to munch on. It looked like a dried fruit, felt chewy, like a fig! Within moments of eating, Alfred felt a surge of energy in his body. They continued their trek and finally reached the mountaintop in the evening. The Sun started descending into the Ocean and it was becoming dark. All that Alfred could see was the faint light in the distance of the Prophet Elias church. There was a huge tree, alone on the mountain distinguished by miles and miles of dried mountain grass. Right next to the tree was a small shack built with the same grass that acted as a camouflage. Alfred believed the priest probably built it as his final resting place!
Alfred entered the shack and sat down with the priest. He wondered what Bodhi was doing in such a lonely place. He was not to be seen anywhere either.
Looking at the curiosity in Alfred’s face, the priest explained, “It is night time…Bodhi is asleep now…We have to wait for Bodhi to wake up in the morning. You should also get some sleep. You have traveled far beyond time to reach here!”
Alfred and the priest rested in the shack. It was modest in set up. They had to sleep on an elevated mud platform that seemed suspended from the ground through some means along the two corners of the room. Alfred grew restless initially as he never embarked on such a journey in his life. But, there was something peaceful about the surroundings. While the full moon shone bright, the leaves of the giant tree outside made a pleasant musical sound as the calm wind blew from all sides. It made Alfred feel at peace with himself. In a few hours, it was time to meet Bodhi.
However, the night seemed unusually long. Alfred carefully rolled on the narrow platform bed every few minutes. Alfred was not feeling hungry since the time he had that little nut. He felt something weird as well as special about this place. As the night lingered on, he eventually caught up with some sleep.
A brisk shake of the body woke up Alfred from his slumber. Alfred opened his eyes and saw the priest silently point towards the window. The Sun had risen. The priest stepped out and stood in front of the giant tree, humbly folding his hands in obeisance. Alfred watched the priest and stared at the tree. As he was about to turn the other way and view the ocean, he heard a stranger speak.
“Welcome Alfred. I was waiting to see you for years. I am glad that you have come,” said a voice coming from the tree. Alfred looked at the priest in surprise and tried to peek behind the tree to see who was talking. Maybe it was Bodhi, he thought!
The priest saluted the tree with palms together. His cheeks were flushed with delight as he lifted his hands and touched a leaf from the overstretched branches of the tree.
“Who is talking to me? Is it Bodhi? Why can’t I see him,” Alfred asked the priest.
The priest looked at Alfred and laughed.
“Who do you think is talking with you? It is Bodhi indeed,” the priest said with a twinkle in his eyes.
“You mean the tree! I do not see anyone else here,” Alfred said with a stunned look on his face.
“Whom do you think I was talking about all along? Didn’t Mr. Soderberg tell you?” The priest asked.
Alfred opened the palms of his outstretched hands, shrugged his shoulders and nodded his head sideways.
“Why in the World would a tree talk? It is absolutely impossible!! What will I do with a tree? How can I take it to Mr. Soderberg?” Alfred whispered in a low voice to avoid being heard.
Alfred raised his eyebrows in a pensive mood as the tree started talking again.
“I am Bodhi. You came looking for me as much as I wanted to see you. I was never created in this World; I exist from a time beyond creation, a time with no beginning or end. I bear a special fruit once every century that only a few creatures get to benefit. I am the tree responsible for the creation of humanity through mutation of matter and energy in my nucleus. I am the agent who created knowledge of the scientific Universe, interpreted through Nature by all living beings. My roots control the Earth, my leaves control the Wind, my branches control the Ether, my radiance controls Fire, and my canopy controls Water. My flowers spread wisdom and my fruits aid in escaping maaya, the illusion I imparted to my creation to survive in this World. It is this illusion that makes Man think he is in control of his self, the World, the plants, the animals, the mountains and the space around him! Science, is a mere mirror I provide to the curious to identify my actions.
It was under me that the Buddha achieved enlightenment. I am here, I am there, and I am everywhere, wherever you want me to be. Man does not know me, as he never tries communicating with trees, the only beings and the true source of sustenance. Man’s five senses are limited in their capabilities. He only knows to use his limitations, not fathom the limitlessness of his opportunities. Alfred, you are ready to take my fruit as you chose to pursue it with all sincerity through ages of your soul’s existence. You led a selfless life over thousands of years in pursuit of me, the ultimate wisdom. The materialistic wealth you gained in this lifetime, you chose to relinquish. The power you earned, you chose to ignore, all for me… Instead, you pursued the ultimate truth- that the essence of all existence is non-existence; the body is just a cover around your soul. The body fools your soul to accept the unreal; you are now ready to be you, peeled away from your body, to unwrap the ultimate reality!”
Alfred blinked his eyes rapidly and stood dazed. Staring at a talking tree on a bright, sunny day on a lone mountain was surreal. He wondered what deeds he did in the World that made him the chosen one, and why not Mr. Soderberg, the man responsible for him coming here.
“Forgive my skepticism. I see no benefit in talking with trees to gather wisdom about an unknown life. I neither am aware of any acts of mine that deserve this special attention. Anything I receive should truly belong to Mr. Soderberg. The fruit you give shall be his,” Alfred said.
“You are a sum total of your collective actions beyond what your memories carry in this life. You did one thing that none does in this World, the act that separated you from the rest. You let go of your present, to go back to your past and relinquish this World for the future,” Bodhi explained.
Alfred could hardly comprehend what he heard. Something within his mind made him more eager to understand the depth of Bodhi’s message.
“Well, I guess we may never agree on anything here. You may please give me the fruit. I shall take it to Mr. Soderberg and end my quest,” Alfred said in a delirious state of mind.
“Pick the fruit from the inner branches of my canopy. Eat, for it is “you,” who is destined to consume it. The fruit is the path to the other World you seek to travel. Your adventures in this World are now complete!” Bodhi explained.
Alfred picked a ripe purple colored fruit from the tree and bit into it. As he finished eating the tiny fruit, he suddenly remembered that the fruit was meant for Mr. Soderberg. He looked back at the tree and found there were no more fruits to pick!
“It is now time to say goodbye! You have accomplished what you came for,” Bodhi said.
It was getting dark. Bodhi went silent and Alfred got no further responses to his request for another fruit. Alfred wondered what he would tell Mr. Soderberg after going back. That he met a godlike tree and its name is Bodhi, a tree and not a real person! That he ate the fruit meant for Mr. Soderberg in a state of trance while conversing with a tree!
But, the fruit did seem to have mystical powers. Alfred had this strange feeling that he was now an accomplished person. He no longer saw anything as wanting in life. At a very young age, there were people who helped him travel the World, see things and do things that an ordinary mortal would have seen as sheer madness and avoided. He never hurt anyone, helped many people and never had any regrets. All he had to do now was to apologize to Mr. Soderberg for the failure of yet another mission.
Alfred suddenly noted that he forgot about the priest this entire time. He turned around and could see no one. The priest did mention that his mission was over once he handed over Alfred to Bodhi. Alfred called out the priest’s name but to no avail. The priest had disappeared. Alfred called aloud once more, much louder, until his sleep broke! He took a few moments to realize where he was. He was sitting in the same hut, but the priest was not there. As he stepped out, Alfred was almost blinded by the bright Sun. He could not see Bodhi, the tree, either. It was just plain, dry, brown grass all around the mountaintop. He again called out for the priest and only heard his voice echo. He strolled around the mountain unsuccessfully looking for the priest and then descended. Alfred had no idea what was real, what he had to believe and what he had to toss away as a fantasy!
Alfred finally reached the base of the Island and walked towards the Church. It was indeed a miraculous affair for him. Alfred entered the Church and enquired for Andreas Clemens, hoping that he may find the priest there. A Head priest and nun looked surprisingly back at him and said there was no one by that name ever in the history of the Church. Alfred’s repeated argument that he indeed met the priest and walked with him to the Mountain merely amused them. It was now late afternoon. Alfred walked back to the Inn and picked his phone to call Mr. Soderberg. The call repeatedly went to his voice mail. He tried again and received no response. As he sat in his room at the Inn wondering what next, he recognized that he had no other means of reaching Mr. Soderberg. They only met at the Theological Library in Cambridge and never exchanged any other information about their whereabouts. The next day, Alfred took his bags and flew back to the United States.
It was a very tiring yet adventurous week for Alfred. He stepped into his apartment and accidentally kicked an envelope placed at the entrance door. He tidied up his apartment, took a shower and walked towards his desk to open the envelope. It seemed strange; there was no postage stamp and no details of the sender. He tore open the cover and pulled out a banker’s check for ten million dollars in the name of “Alfred Fickler Soderberg”.
Alfred Fickler Soderberg was a wealthy New Yorker, an adventurer, a man who performed many great deeds in life with a selfless attitude. Mr. Soderberg learnt about Bodhi when he visited Tinos. The priest, Andreas Clemens, gave Mr. Soderberg a peek into the many Worlds that humans exist in, alternate dimensions of reality that do not connect with each other, blind to the other entity’s comprehension, but still interconnected through events happening at superluminal speeds. Andreas Clemens was merely a mental illusion of Mr. Soderberg’s own making to realize Bodhi’s existence.
Through a series of dreams, communicating with Bodhi through the priest, he realized the only path to catapult him into the other World, the one where illusions are no longer a reality, is if he could go back in time and sow the seeds of his future. Mr. Soderberg had to readjust time to get to Bodhi. He needed his younger self, Alfred Fickler, to venture into that dimension. His past and his present had to cross each other through maaya. Mr. Soderberg met his younger self and sent him off on the journey to Tinos. The young Alfred himself could only fathom the presence of Bodhi through the power of his dreams, initiated in the hut through the guidance of the priest. The illusionary priest, the guide to the miracle fruit, lived in Mr. Soderberg’s past and his present, eventually disappearing into the other World through Bodhi’s illusion. Alfred Fickler Soderberg entered his desired destiny in the present through the help of his own self in the past. All that the young Alfred had to do in the past was to add a new last name to his identity and enjoy the benefits of his materialistic wealth, in an unknown anticipation of his inimitable future!