This story is by Ana Avramovska and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
“Beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there!”.
The sound of verses spoken in Persian spun around Shams’s body as a thread of silver would in the hands of the Anatolian rug makers. It was the Mulberry tree that stood at the doorstep of Konya that made the dervish’s body shudder. He had seen it all in a dream, the already bare tree, the rooftops, the minarets all suspended in that sweet serenity at the edge of bewilderment he knew all too well.
He would soon lay eyes upon him. He had made it. It was time.
The people of Konya paid no heed as Shams moved up the narrow street that smelled of cardamom and chai. He had long abandoned the woollen garments of a dervish in exchange for a merchant’s robe. People were not so hospitable to dervishes, or worse they’d often try to bargain for more kismet or ask about their fortune as if visions and attainments were anyone’s free will.
The street opened to a bazaar where the smell of roasted chestnuts made Shams remember. He rarely welcomed the past. Memories, he believed, were bereft of true colours, constantly painted by the present, and if one was not careful, capable of tossing even the strongest of minds in places of seeming light and overwhelming darkness. The remembrance that came to him today was where it all began.
Shams was only a boy when he first heard verses recited by the same voice that to this day sent chills down his spine.
“Father!” he would call. “Can you hear father, there are songs in the air?”
But each time as his father’s face darkened with worry something inside him fell silent. It was not the words he said nor the fact that his son heard voices that scared his father the most but the spark in Shams’s eyes. However, instead of embracing Shams’s differences, his father chose to sit in his guilt and wonder how he had wronged the Jinnis to have a son that heard verses in the air, sat in silence for hours and talked to no one.
“Doesn’t he care for my honour?” his father would scream at his mother.
“How am I supposed to earn anything if everyone that passes our house spits on himself to ward of bad luck that has besieged this family?”
Shams could smell the aftertaste of shame and anger on his father’s breath. It smelled of chestnuts. A smell that brought his first vision in which his father’s thoughts were tied to one another like chains. He saw the destiny of a single man tied to a single thought tied to a million, each one predetermined by the former, a destiny so easy to foretell. Alterable if one would only let go.
Then and there it was made known to him that his presence would only deepen the suffering of his family. Burdened by that knowing and moved by a strange longing, Shams decided to follow the voice that spoke in verses out of his hometown of Tabriz, westward.
Day by day, verse by verse dozen universes unfolded in his heart. The voice taught Shams many things, but the greatest teachings was the one of love beyond distinction. The verses showed him a gap between thoughts, a gap where a world within a world awaited, a place of mind sweeter than sherbet. To find the source of it all became his life’s quest. A quest for a poet that wove verses in the air, a mirror that reflected reality, a true beloved whose veiled face awoke in him the sweetest yearning. One that led Shams, the dervish, in the city of Konya where he believed was the end of his journey.
The bazaar in Konya was unusually quiet that morning. Shams spotted an inn and decided to warm up his throat with tea and wait for a sign. It didn’t take long for the silence of the morning to evaporate. The inn soon filled up with new faces: philosophers, scholars, mullahs.
“Hey tea boy!”- Shams called. “Is there a reason the inn is so busy?”
“Haven’t you heard? Master Rumi held one of his sermons at the mosque today.”
On the mention of Rumi’s name, Shams’s forehead wrinkled in contemplation. He had first heard the name in Baghdad, on the banks of Tigris. A fellow dervish had told him of a scholar whose fame had spread throughout many faiths. He would have gone back to Aleppo but then the man had spoken a name “Rumi.” The sound of it felt like music to his ears and melted like sweet halva on his tongue. The longing in his heart squeezed his body in sweet pain. He knew. It was Rumi he had been searching for all along.
“So what brings you to town my friend.”- the innkeeper asked, after he noticed that a fellow merchant had also taken a keen interest in Shams.
“Rumi” Shams replied “I’m here to see if it is truly his lips that mingle truth with verses and then weave them on the winds for all of those willing to hear.”
The two man averted their gaze as Shams spoke, trying to hide their disappointment. “Another mad man.” they thought. There wouldn’t be any business as the merchant had hoped, and now the innkeeper was worried if Shams had any money to pay for his tea.
“So what did you think of Master Rumi’s sermon?” the innkeeper asked, continuing the conversation, trying to figure out if he should tell the tea boy to stop serving the old man.
“I didn’t go. My journey finished at the doorstep of Konya.” Shams replied “It is he who shall come to me. Now, I am the one waiting.”
“The scholar is not a friend with merchants, you cannot possible think you would be able to speak to him!” the merchant said. “Master Rumi would never mix with ordinary folk; it would be unfit for him to do so.”
On hearing this words, thoughts of doubt sprouted in his mind.
“Have I thought my self so awake to be blind of the ordinary truths of this life? A scholar would never listen to a wandering dervish; they ridicule us; they think we have strayed from the right path.”
“What of his poetry”- Shams asked, ignoring the fear that had now soiled his peace.
“Poetry?” – the inn keeper looked at him, his eyes closing in annoyance. “Rumi doesn’t write poetry, what blasphemy, listen to yourself, he is a scholar, not a madman!”
The dervish’s face darkened. “Why did fate bring me here?” The feeling that his whole life led to this point was fading away. The sound of all the different languages spoken around him was now maddening his ears. He left his table and started to walk aimlessly on the street questioning everything he had learned, seen, known. It was the last doubts.
As he stumbled on the dusty street, the inn keeper screaming after him as he had left without paying, Shams heard another verse: “What you seek is seeking you!”.
The sweet voice brought him back to the gap between worlds and there on the threshold of reality Shams lost himself. He saw his thoughts spin out of nothingness, scattered as stardust and let go. It was destiny that now flowed through him. He had made it. It was time.
Absorbed in his serenity, Shams didn’t notice the crowds coming towards him, an in the midst of it on a horse followed by his followers was the Master. Rumi. Their eyes met and destiny was freed. In those eyes, the colour of dates, Shams saw the same sweet longing that moved his every step. He saw that while he had wandered the east searching for those eyes that would mirror his soul, Rumi had been waiting, yearning for a reflection. The Master dismounted his horse and bowed to Shams.
“My Teacher, Master, my hearth yearns for what you know”-Rumi whispered, his lips quivering. “Outwardly the two of us might be different as night and day,” Shams replied “but to those who search for Truth the sunsets and dawns are the sweetest of times.”
In appearance, the collision of false perceived differences sent waves of disapproval and disarray amongst the crowds. The people around them could not see how they spoke through their gaze, in a language of divine love that used no words. It was as if two rivers flowing from the same source had finally met at the ocean. The innkeeper, the merchant, the disapproving crowd locked in their duality, blind to eternity, counted time in numbers that went only forward hence witnessed a meeting that lasted seconds. However, in accordance with that time and that time only, on that cold November day in the city of Konya, Shams realized. Rumi was not a poet. Not yet.
His journey had not finished; it had just begun.