by Shome Dasgupta
The last segment of The Ganges—Section 92—which ended in Sphere 14 of the Lower Terrain of Cajundia caused a disturbance—its mouth no longer flowed into Star Territory, now creating sucked lands—dried and barren, starved of nourishment. A hunger pervaded the lands, a conquering, giving rise to ancestral ghosts stirred from infinity, leading to turmoil among the infertile banks, spreading like a web of cracked glass pierced from a stray rock launched from a wandering rickshaw.
A world pieced and puzzled, the New Pangaea, stressed about the fall of Cajundia and worried about a new Theban tragedy, called upon Raj the Majesty to take action so that the mass continent would not be affected. It was too late. Like tributaries of The Ganges itself, the conglomerate of spheres felt the streaming consequences of the broken river—spreading and spreading.
“Aadya Augustin—what are your words?” Raj the Majesty said. “Speak.”
“Majesty, Raj,” Aadya Augustin said, “our inhabitants are dying. Children, too—infertile soils are leading to such travesties. Each Sphere crumbles to the scorn of The Ganges.”
“Cursed river,” Raj the Majesty said.
“Please—Majesty, Raj, Aadya Augustin replied. “The Ganges awakens the ghosts of yonder centuries—moaning with such force, our desolate dirt trembles. Let’s not cause any more reason for the river to spite us.”
Raj the Majesty traced his fingers upon a glass model of Cajundia—a colorful sphere which once represented riches abound, when Cajundia thrived with gourmet dining which even the shadows of the streets could taste—crawfish curry, jambiryani, aloo saag and gravy. He—in his fifth year of circulation, played a successful role in bringing Cajundia back into fruition with the help of willing inhabitants, who blended the line between the new territories. His beard now gray, never did Raj the Majesty expect such a catastrophic turn from The Ganges, placing trust into the river which had provided comfort since its cleansing—its ghosts, silent and satisfied, diffused into the silt. He looked into Star Territory and thought of prayer.
“Majesty, Raj,” Aadya Augustin answered, “a voyager has calculated a split in the river, causing the irrigations to fret. Meaning, Majesty, Raj, there’s a hole in The Ganges—this hole causes a redirection, as nature stabilizes itself and the crops wilt without leisure.”
“Then I must die, too,” Raj the Majesty commanded. “How can I live when Cajundia suffers?”
There were no tears—just silence, and in that silence, there was an echo—an echo which rang in Aadya Augustin’s head until he could think no longer.
“Majesty, Raj—there might be a reconciliation, if you will—to your anger, perhaps.”
Aadya Augustin stood straight and firm, though his words became a whisper.
“The threader—Majesty, Raj.”
Indeed, those words spoke to Raj the Majesty’s anger
“He is shunned,” Raj the Majesty said. “He is banned.”
“Majesty, Raj—I understand.”
Again, his voice in a whisper—he spoke.
“But Raja the Poor is the great threader. Only they possess the skills to knit the river together again and release our ancestral ghosts from their burdens.”
This, Raj the Majesty knew, as he gazed into a distant comet, leaving a fiery trail. He recalled a time when he and Raja the Poor played cricket on the streets of Kolkata—this was before the age of the New Pangea, during the time of sangeets and ragas, giving life to night skies—and how his friend took care of him when thieves arrived in search of mango skin and chingri mach.
“What happened to us?” Raj the Majesty, asked in a gentle voice.
Aadya Augustin was hesitant to answer, in fear.
“Majesty, Raj—I’d rather not say.”
“What are your words, Aadya Augustin? Speak.”
As Aadya Augustin recounted the tale, Raj the Majesty was brought back to a living world of a memory where he and Raja the Poor were in the middle of an argument. Raj the Majesty had been given the opportunity to leave the streets to embark on a path which would eventually lead to becoming the royalty of Cajundia, and he wanted Raja the Poor to venture by his side. But they refused—Raja the Poor refused to leave their home.
“Friend,” Raj the Majesty said, “why are you an imbecile? Why not leave for happiness.”
“Friend,” Raja the Poor replied, “I am happy. I’m afraid your lust for riches leads you in opposite sentiments. Stay here, with me—together, we’ll continue to throw rocks at broken windows.”
“Then it is done,” Raj the Majesty said. “Friends, no longer.”
As he walked away, Raja the Poor spat at his feet—their last words ever spoken.
Aadya Augustin’s voice emerged as Raj the Majesty broke from his memory.
“—it was a sad situation,” Aadya Augustin continued.
“Indeed,” Raj the Majesty replied. “Such fission.”
He scrunched his hands, as if he was holding rocks in them.
“Let it be,” Raj the Majesty said. “We must find the threader—where is Chamelia LaFleur—our voyager?”
“Majesty, Raj—she is at home tending to a broken garden—her farm, parched. Her aunt no longer lives.”
“I will go myself, then—set the rickshaw. It’s time for a journey home, my dirt streets where rust thrives on the souls of the infinite.”
So he traveled and so he arrived home—a place he had not visited since his childhood companion spat at his feet—since their split.
Nothing had changed in Inner Sphere 12 as Raj the Majesty and his runner surveyed the lands that were already dead long before the Ganges took its own course. Upon arrival—Raj the Majesty couldn’t help but to mouth the lyrics to “Ganga Behti Ho Kyun” in his Bengali tongue—a song that he and his friend would sing when they bathed in the river with petals stolen from past lives.
They passed the Great Banyan, and found Raja the Poor’s hut, still tilted, as if it had a sad story to tell. The keeper let him in, finding Raja the Poor in bed, frail—dying. Fish hung from a clothesline, slightly swaying.
“You’re here,” Raja the Poor said.
“Raj the Majesty, isn’t it. Your Royalty.”
“Cajundia is dying.”
“I understand its pain.”
“We need your skill, threader.”
“I’ve not used my thimble since I lost my voice,” they said.
“The River Ganges,” Raj the Majesty said. “It needs to be sewn—only you can do it.”
“What about your machines—your mechanical beings and flying metals?”
“They cannot do what you can do—they have not the tools that you possess.”
“Thimbles and thread.”
“Thimbles and thread—you are the Great Threader—the worlds know. The Cajundian terrains are in need of your meticulous and nimble fingers—your precise vision, that like no other. You have slept in the Ganges.”
“But I am dead.”
“One last deed.”
Raj the Majesty almost called them friend, but hesitated. Inside, he hurt to see his old companion on their way to their own end.
“So let it be,” Raja the Poor said, trying to lift themself off the bed.
Raj the Majesty softly held their arm in guidance.
“It is my time, and it is my time,” Raja the Poor said.
Raj the Majesty crouched down and put the sandals on their feet.
“You’ve still kept your humility,” Raja the Poor noticed. “This brings me joy.”
“There is no time in infinity,” Raj the Majesty replied. “The ghosts are living.”
They walked outside where the runner was waiting with the rickshaw, and Raja the Poor shook their head, holding the thimble in their hand—a spool thread tucked in their dhoti.
“For my last time, I need to take mine.”
He motioned to his own rickshaw, bent and ragged and broken.
The runner started to walk toward it, but Raja the Poor put their hand on her shoulder.
“I will run,” they said. “You will sit—please, by Raj.”
With those words, Raj the Majesty—Raj—found tears, tears he had forgotten he had possessed. There was silence.
“This is my lesson,” Raj the Majesty whispered. “I understand now. I am Raj the Poor—behold, Raja the Royalty.”
He set the rickshaw and fixed its tires, polished its rust and adjusted its bars, while Raja the Poor clenched and released their hands in preparation.
“Come,” Raj the Majesty said in a gentle voice—a voice of recognition and realization, an epiphany. “I will run. Rest in this seat, along with—along with—Josna Horace.”
This was the first time the runner heard her name being spoken by Raj the Majesty.
So they traveled, and so it was time as they entered Section 92 of Sphere 14, to where the Ganges had fractured. Raja the Poor grimaced as they saw the dying lands around them. The rushing sounds of the river falling appeared, and they knew that it was their time. They put one hand on Raj the Majesty’s shoulder and spat at their own feet.
“This is my apology.”
Using a branch snapped from the Great Banyan, Raja the Poor made their way to where the sound ended—hobbling, step by step, leaving their friend behind without looking back. Raj the Majesty lost sight of his childhood companion in the roar of the river.
As Raja the Poor reached the cleaved waters, their eyes—once weak and folding, became strong and powerful, piercing. With their last bit of thread—gleaming and shining, Raja the Poor knotted the Ganges and gave the last breath of their soul—a sigh which the ghosts of Cajundia heard and acknowledged, releasing the territories of its burdens.
A sudden silence—a quiet river, a sign for Raj the Majesty to understand that the great threader knitted the Ganges back together again—a sign for Raj the Majesty to understand that he lost his friend, and bowed his head.
Soon came the celebrations upon the first sprouts of green and yellow, and as Raj the Majesty looked upon the Lower Terrain of Cajundia through the frame of his vessel, floating in Star Territory, seeing its beings once again in joyous realms, he remained quiet amid the sounds of jubilation and sparks and closed his eyes as he pressed the petals of a marigold between his fingers and thought about the time he and Raja the Poor—when they were just Raj and Raja—fished upon the banks of the Ganges, whistling the tune of a song for the river, a river which once needed to be threaded.
Shome Dasgupta is the author of ten books, including The Seagull And The Urn (HarperCollins India), and most recently, Spectacles (Word West Press) and a poetry collection, Iron Oxide (Assure Press). Forthcoming novels include Cirrus Stratus (Spuyten Duyvil), Tentacles Numbing (Thirty West), and The Muu-Antiques (Malarkey Books). His writing has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, New Orleans Review, Hobart, American Book Review, Arkansas Review, X-R-A-Y, Magma Poetry, and elsewhere. He is the series editor of the Wigleaf Top 50. He lives in Lafayette, LA and can be found at www.shomedome.com and @laughingyeti.