Short story: The Cathedral

Sunlight made its way through rainbow colored panels and rested on ornate ceilings of the Cathedral sprouting in thousand different colors. The woman with long dark hair kept on looking at colorful ceilings till the sun went down. The effect was extremely stark. There were no more colors on ceilings. It was ornate, sombre and peaceful, but not colorful. The playful Cathedral now became foreboding and immense. There was a particular window which burst forth with colors when sunlight was available. She looked at it now and it looked like any other stained glass window. She sat looking at it while twirling her fingers around the purple purse strings which had an ethnic design. She started walking toward the door when she heard, ‘Excuse me…’ She turned to see a young man of about 25-30 years. He was dark-skinned with a far away accent. She could not place his country of origin. He smiled at her and asked, ‘Are you a Christian?’

‘No, I am a Jew’, she said it as comfortably as he had asked her. There was no sense of unfamiliarity between them. He had been sitting behind her and yet she did not notice him earlier. She sensed him, she thought. He walked towards her with a friendly smile. She did not smile in return.Somewhere in the distance a bell made its presence apparent. 

‘I have been in this city for two weeks. I suddenly felt like an urge to talk to you. I am from Colombo. Are you from here?’

‘Yes..’, she corrected herself, ‘ I have been living here from past few years.’

‘I am an atheist. It sounds so conceited, the statement. Maybe I have always sneered at authority. Why should I believe in God?’The woman stood transfixed. She was not religious herself. Not religious in the way society expects it or a religion expects its followers to be. She called herself a Jew, but she could easily be a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or a Hindu. She liked knowing about all religions and every one of them seem to have the same essence. She could adapt to any religion. It just happened that she was born a Jew, just like she was born a female.

‘So did you come to this Cathedral to mock at it?’

The man looked up at high ceilings and gave a wide smile. He felt like a winner in a battle. At last he had a worthy opponent. At last someone could stand up to him and question his choices rather withdrawing in silence with a meek smile or a murmur.

‘No, I came to look at its architecture. You know, suddenly you are making me feel so small by your question. I always feel special everytime I claim to be an atheist. It makes me feel powerful.’

‘Then feel powerful, but without these externals of labels,’ she said somewhat unconvincingly. She was a middle-aged beautiful woman but sounded more like a confused schoolgirl trying to impress the boy she had a crush on. It was hard to understand what was happening between these strangers. Neither of them were trying to judge each other. It looked like plain old curiosity. 

After a silent minute she smiled and left the church. The bus to her village came every two hours and she did not want to miss the next one. The bus ride was an hour long. She listened to Mozart on her iPod. She always liked listening to Mozart after her church visits. The music made it glorious. She had a mysterious smile on her face. During some other time she would have made love to the stranger. They would have travelled to other far off places together.

She opened the door to her house. Her husband greeted her in the drawing room with a smile. He had made some tea for both of them. He was a businessman and owned a clothing store in the city. ‘I did not get mutton today. The butcher’s shop was closed. Did you buy the coat?’, she said looking at his all too familiar decent face. There was nothing distinguishable about him. He was a decent man and they had been married for over ten years. It was a decent marriage without any fights or controversies. 

‘Hmm. We can order in some Chinese if you want. No, I did not buy the coat. Just came home directly,’ he said with a voice that sounded manicured.

She looked around their bedroom. She could see the tiny garden from the bedroom window. She had recently planted chilli, basil and tomatoes. The stranger must also have retired to his hotel or wherever he had decided to stay. She was not really concerned about him. Nor was she looking forward to such a meeting again. She was only interested in coming across that certain spark again in herself where she felt like a stranger to herself. It was as if she were an actress playing an interesting role of a mysterious beautiful Jewish woman who led a very interesting life. Lately, she had been contemplating a lot about herself. She had grown into one of those innumerable women she read about in novels and saw among her family. Women who lost themselves in the humdrum of mundane life and forgot that they were goddesses within.What would she like to do with her vast life? 

The next morning she again went to the Cathedral. Right before entering it, she remembered a bookshop she always felt curious to go to. She turned around and headed for the quaint bookstore with dark glass windows and doors. The owner was a woman of her age and yet not at all similar in demeanor. She headed straight to one of the racks that had ‘Philosophy’ written in bold letters. She randomly felt books with her long fingers. She looked around and saw the owner looking at her curiously but with a friendly smile. ‘Oh, might as well talk to her,’ she thought and walked towards the owner with a lazy smile.

‘Are you a writer? the bookshop owner asked simply.

‘No. Do I look like one?

‘Yes, you do actually. Has no one before asked you that?’

‘Ok, truth be told. I am a writer, but I don’t really like to talk about it. If you are interested in knowing then am currently writing a historical fiction set in Shakespearean England,’ she said it smoothly. Who was this woman within her that came up with these words that were actually hidden desires? No, it was no time to think, but to play the part she always wanted to play. She was not sure if in her normal life she a housewife would/could have handled the creative burden of writing, fascinating as it seemed, but it was appealing in her imagination. Before she got caught, she walked back to the rack, gave it pondering look for about a minute and left the store without acknowledging the owner and pretending to be deep into thoughts. 

The house was peaceful and quiet. For a moment she was not sure if it was her house. She closed the door and started undressing right there. After taking a deep breathe she walked to a wall sized mirror in her bedroom. She looked at herself and thought, ‘I can be anything I want to be.’ She thought of the encounter at Cathedral. She had woken up the previous morning without expecting to feel anything unusual throughout the day. But that short conversation even if for few minutes made her feel different, that she could be anyone she wanted if she allowed herself. 

Maybe she would get bored of trying to make herself interesting for herself, but she didn’t want to think about it. She would find another way of making peace with herself then. For now, she was wondering what would it feel like to be a dancer. 




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