Dedicated to Deepika Vaishnavi. You know why 🙂
WARNING: Strangeness lies ahead!
In the labyrinth under the far away forest, cut off from the desire and dreams of humanity, lived the ice cream men. It was hard work, mining ice cream. You see, the ice cream was all swirled in together, golden butterscotch spiraled around the luscious strawberry and the dark chocolate circled glistening blackcurrant. In the darkness, the ice cream would glow with a soft light all its own. Starting an hour before dawn, the ice cream men would carve each flavour out, chiseling out the little gems of frozen fruit and chocolate chips with delicately designed pick axes. Just before packing the ice cream in the little plastic boxes, they would add the secret ingredient – a drop from the Tiny Vial of Happieness. At night, as they neatly stacked the boxes inside the portable freezers, they would dream of the smiles and the warmth that their ice cream would bring the other world.
The ice cream men were perfectionists. They worked inch by inch, their minds wrapped within the bubble of their art. They were so engrossed in it, that they did not notice that the layers of ice cream coating the walls of the labyrinth were getting thinner and thinner… and beneath the last layer of raspberry sorbet hidden away in the last dead end of the labyrinth, there was nothing but rock. So it was with astonishment that they woke up one day to find that there was no more ice cream to mine. They looked at each other and shuffled their feet. They had been mining ice cream together for as long as they could remember. This was their world. And all of a sudden, it had come to a screeching halt. It had run itself out.
“So, what do we do now?” one of them asked uneasily.
Their eyes met for a brief instant, and they looked away hurriedly. They never really had to look at each other while at work. It was all very awkward and strange.
“It’s a pity we have so much Happieness left,” the other said, fiddling with the vial in his hand.
There was a long pause.
The roof of the labyrinth started to reverberate and clouds of dust fell like choice seasoning on the ice cream men. They looked upwards. It was the pick up truck that came every month to collect the packed ice cream and deliver fresh plastic boxes. They looked at each other, weighing their options. Being locked up with nothing to do was too terrifying. And all that they remembered of the outside world was the beaten track by which the pick up truck would arrive, the dappled sunlight on the forest floor, and the moist southern breeze. Nostalgia combined with the lack of better options made them curious, maybe even excited. They told each other that they had always yearned to explore the outside world, except that there was so much work to be done, they had always been putting it off, and they had never quite gotten around to doing it. They convinced each other so well, they almost believed it.
So they braved the dark journey up the steep, narrow staircase. They used a rudimentary mining lift for shifting the ice cream to the outer world, but this was the kind of solemn occasion that needed the use of a crumbling, ancient staircase. The key turned in the lock and the door to a brave, new world opened to them. Sunlight streamed onto their triumphant and caked-with-dirt faces. They felt invincible.
They loaded up the last shipment of ice cream and clambered onto the back of the truck. All they took from the ice cream mine was the Tiny Vial of Happieness that was stored away in the only soft pocket without a hole. They bounced along on the back of the truck, through the forest, across the green country side, and over the rocky hills. They watched pink stain the blue, blue sky as the sun sank low over the horizon and saw the eagles spinning high at dawn. For the first time they saw the starlit sky. They sang. They laughed at each other’s songs. They lay on their backs and watched the universe spin around them. They did not need language, listening to music of the wind and the sound of steady breathing was enough.
At last, they reached the city on the other side of the hills. They stood in round-eyed awe of the gray structures towering into the watery winter sky. The smoke filled, honking mess of the urban jungle terrified them. They were moved by its discordant harmony. They were impressed that nature could let just a ghastly thing exist. They saw and smelt things that at once terrified and thrilled. The other world swirled around them, drifting in and out of focus with every curiosity seen, a snippet of conversation heard. They were carried along the streams of humanity flowing along the pavement and found themselves deposited in strange places. They were shoved, touched, fondled, hated, pitied, ignored. They saw a girl sitting with her head in her hands, and knew that she was sad. They offered her a drop of the Tiny Vial of Happieness, but she just screamed something they did not understand and walked away, brushing the tears from her eyes. This new world seemed to have no place for them. They wandered down the narrow alleys, hand in hand, listening to each other’s heartbeats.
They came upon a park with an ancient tree in the centre. The tree reminded them of home – a left over relic of some distant cousin of their previous life. They sat on the little bench under those ancient branches and watched the children play. Laughter rang through the park, and the ice cream men smiled. Just then, a colourful truck pulled up, and all the kids started to run in its direction with shrieks of joy. The ice-cream men wandered over to the truck apprehensively. The screaming children frightened them a little. Their nervousness gave way to a particular strain of idiotic happieness when they saw the colourful spheres balanced on the biscuit cones. Here was the reality of all those dreams they had on those long, tired nights when they would imagine the joy their meticulous work would bring the world. They smiled in a friendly way at the children. They even offered to add extra drop of from the Tiny Vial of Happieness to each of their cones.
A little girl screamed.
The ice cream men smiled even broader.
More children started screaming.
“FREAK!” someone screamed.
It became like a horrible screeching anthem “Freak! Freak! Freak!” they chanted.
Big, round eyes narrowed and filled with tears. The petite bodies became rigid with hatred. Their mouth gaped open with screams. But beneath the hatred of the unknown, there lurked another darker animal instinct. They drooled. They looked more like a herd of demons than a group of little children. It was the stuff of nightmares. The ice cream men turned and fled.
They collapsed in a dark alley, breathless. The sun was sinking, and grey clouds gathered on the horizon. The ice cream men looked around in the darkness. A small distance away, a young man and a young woman were wrapped around each other. The light of the dying sun caught in their eyes and sparkled. Its warmth played across their skin. Sweet smiles splayed across their faces and their limbs were entwined. They seemed more alive than anything else the world had seen. They kissed softly, they needed no words. The universe swirled around them, it existed only for them. They did not care, they had each other, they asked for nothing more. Time waited for them. They were immortal in that moment.
The ice cream men were filled with a desperate yearning. A slow drizzle peppered the earth. Their eyes met. They realized that they were lying in a tangle of limbs, sweat stained their bodies. They smelt the fragrance of home on each other – the dizzying scent of all the different flavours whirled in together. Their yearning to go back joined in a frenzied dance with desire and hunger. Their hearts raced. Wave upon wave of sensation broke inside their minds. With excruciating slowness they explored through their fingertips – their hands wandered over hair, face, limbs. The hunger inside them strained against its leash. They let it loose. They kissed. Their senses exploded. They ravenously explored each other – pushing deeper and deeper with their tongues. They licked noses, fingertips, eyelashes. They began to bite, playfully, it tasted quite nice. They tore out great chunks from each other. They slurped and drooled until there was very little left.
The rain came down hard.
The Tiny Vial of Happieness rolled along the gutter and into an open drain.
A dog lapped up the small puddle of ice cream that was left.
This new world of desire and dreams seemed to have no place for them.