In the suburbs, on the outskirts of civilization lies an abandoned circus.Weeds and purple wild flowers, spring through the cracks to mar the broken carousel and faded paint. A gipsy camp had established there, not long ago. Though cut off from modern society, the gipsies had some means of livelihood. At night, the circus overflows with light and song. Not far from this was a small brick house.It was rundown, overrun with ivy and the meticulous paintwork was faded, chipping off in places.Yet, it resonated a surreal charm, radiated a warmth that every passerby could feel. Surrounded by acres of green and nothingness, the silence was broken only by a woman humming to herself, working the pottery wheel, breathing heavily.
There was a time when she was known as Sabrina Hamilton. Associate of the late Dr.Hamilton, archaeologist by profession, artist by passion. She had soon grown to love the man, and in the late spring six years ago, had married him under the stars and pyramids of Cairo. She still kept a picture of them that night, buried somewhere. Her russet hair and bronze skin, wrapped in swathes of dark silk, against her rugged husband, dressed in plain khaki, his blue eyes and golden hair shining in the dark, the desert behind them drenched in moonlight. How she had loved him.
Then he had died, after discovering those infernal pottery shards after the excavation of the Indus. Those simple engravings, etched in the mud. Lines and lines of poetry, flowing like a river, written in simple sanskrit on the artefacts. He had discovered the most priceless treasures of history. Death had discovered him.
After the denial, her refusal to believe that he could have died of cardiac arrest, after the tears, the screams, the nightmares and sleepless nights, she had picked up the pieces. She channelled her anguish into getting into the Literature course at Oxford. She never finished, dropped out mid-term, took an art class, incorporated herself into a band of gypsies, lived as them. Disappeared. Nobody even knew whether she was alive anymore.
She went by the name Aishe now. Just Aishe.
Some say, it was the pain of losing him that drove her to madness, but she knew otherwise. Losing him was only the trigger. The madness was within her all along. And yet, it elevated her mind. She nurtured the pain. She made a life out of her pain, knowing that it was not a cardiac arrest that had killed her husband, but those cursed pots. Lines and lines of maledictions woven into the earth. She made the pain her life. Wove her pain into poetry, wove her poetry into sun daubed earth, wove the earth into pieces of art. It was madness, but somehow, it worked.
Nobody pins a potter as paid assassin. Nobody knows words etched into mud can kill.
It didn’t begin that way though. When she first understood the effect her poetry had, she made little vases for the gipsies to take into town and sell. Vases, with silver engravings on the inside that could change and alter the atmosphere in a room. Little vases brimming with hope for the hospitals, pink ones exuding happiness for a fighting couple, tall blue ones radiating calm, for concert halls, churches and schools. Even ones painted gold, to give to the rich people, to instil in them, an inexplicable generosity. Each with their own engravings; little liquid lines of magic.
That was when Aishe was good. When she believed the human soul was worth saving.
It was when her husband’s university professor found her, that she changed.
Samwell Ranerrly visited her in the autumn, when the trees were washed in myriad hues of orange and the place was drowning in birdsong. He was neither surprised to see her alive, nor thrown by her decrepit allure. He was fidgety though, like he was in a hurry to get over with the visit.
“I have something to tell you.”
Aishe just smiled at him from under her flame hair.
Sitting in her brightly painted (but crumbling) living room, Professor Rannerly took a sip of mint tea from his cup, and noisily set the it back down on the wooden table.
“It’s about your husband.”
Aishe’s smile wavered for a moment. Only a moment.
He cleared his throat and continued.
“I have reason to believe that Dr. Hamilton may not have died of a heart attack.”
Aishe’s heart skipped a beat. “ You know of the pottery shards?” she murmured softly.
If he heard her, he made no motion. Instead he continued, “I think he may have been poisoned.”
“Nat Cheswick. He was your late husband’s best friend back in university. See, Cheswick was a bright young student, however, before he could finish his course, he visited a dig site in Mesopotamia. He found several vials of a compound containing arsenic. It was labelled as the find of the century. Suffice to say, Cheswick took a break from university and began his research on the strange properties of the chemical. You see,there is a an ongoing study on the following matter: arsenic, when mixed with a common form of plant fertilizer, can form a deadly compound, which on regular contact with human skin can form a poison which brings about cardiac arrest. I would have told you earlier, but I could not quite figure out why Cheswick would want to hurt your husband.”
At this point, the professor began to look quite uncomfortable. He took off his glasses and wiped the frames with his napkin. He put them back on again.
“Madame Dana, Cheswick’s wife was seeing your husband.”
Aishe took in a sharp breath.
“As I’ve been told, he was quite smitten with her, even after he married you. Even once it became clear, she only wanted him for his money. However once she found out that Dr. Hamilton was penniless, she wanted nothing more to do with him, and decided to punish him. I think its possible she may have introduced arsenic samples into pottery shards that he had unearthed at the Indus excavation. He did study them so often. I am sure Lady Cheswick had something to do with Dr. Hamilton’s demise.”
After that, the Professor could only watch as Aishe’s world began to crumble around her.
The next morning, as Professor Rannerly was setting off to return to the University, Aishe handed him a parcel. It contained a black pot with gold leaves painted onto the rim. Inside was a small poem written in silver.
“For Lady Cheswick,” she said.
Rannerly looked at her suspiciously.
Aishe smiled calmly. “My existence depends on the spirit of forgiveness. I cannot be free if the shackles of the past still bind me. I forgive my husband, and I forgive her”
Rannerly took the parcel, tipped his hat and began the journey home.
Twenty one days later, Lady Cheswick was institutionalized at St.Mercy’s Hospital For The Mentally Unstable.
The doctors found that her brain was undergoing rapid degeneration. Neural tissue was eating itself. In her home, they found a black pot, an inscription on the inside the literary equivalent of arsenic.
As a person lives, he finds comfort in the fact that there are no wrong decisions. The decisions that he makes, are always right by him.
And so was Aishe’s decision right by her, when she began to sell her services in exchange for information. Little rolls of papyrus stolen from a museum or maybe even stones covered with scrawls in a language so ancient, people had forgotten its existence.
Needless to say, Aishe had many benefactors.
She was a murderess by day, scholar by night. She made clay jewllery capable of putting an entire room to eternal sleep and then studied poetry and art and magic, under the moonlight.
It was not long before her sins caught up to her. Cheswick, who had now finished his study on the many alternative forms of arsenic poisoning, noticed a black pot in the corner of the room, reeking of arsenic. It didn’t take long for him to come looking for the artisan who had destroyed his wife.
Meanwhile, Aishe set out to write what would be her most grand poem of all. Imbibed with a thousand notes of songs and words from a thousand different cultures. This was the sum total of her existence.
Cheswick reached the brick house in the forest along with Professor Rannerly at twilight. Fireflies blinked in and out of the shelter. They entered the small structure to find a billion shards of pottery strewn across the room, as if a giant clay sculpture had exploded. Scattered between the pieces of clay were priceless artefacts; scrolls. stones and pillars.
As for Aishe, her soul was one with the wind. Poetry beat within every inch of her. She had finally realized. All the pitiable human souls thrown at her were meant to achieve one result and one result only. The power to give words their life rested only with her. As for the pottery shards. They had not caused her husband to die.Or maybe they did. Maybe it was the grand scheme of things. And she had finally understood what they meant.
“An instruction for the one trapped in clay.”
She did not know if the words were a blessing or a curse. But she knew they were meant for her.