I wonder how many of us have experienced true darkness. We might think darkness is what we experience when all lights are switched off in the night. But you still have the moon and the star, the distance street lights, the light from the stabilizer etc. Real darkness is pure darkness, the darkness that engulfs the life of a blind man. Such was the darkness in the house of darkness. Different people fear different things. Some people fear wild animals, some fear insects, some fear snakes, some fear ghosts. The list can go on. There were not too many things that the Hunaphu brothers were afraid of. But the greatest fear is fear itself, an unknown, unnamed fear creeping up your spine. In utter darkness and silence, when all your senses are denied, you imagination springs into action to fill the gap. The brothers began to experience fear for the first time in their life. They realized it was matter of time before the fear overwhelmed them and drove them to madness. So they had to do something. So they lit up the torch to banish the darkness. With the coming of light, the fears just vanished.
Now that the fear was banished, they were feeling sleepy. They of course needed a good night’s sleep before the match. But there was a challenge. The house of darkness knew no day or night. It was dark all the time. So they would not know when morning came and it was time for the match. The last thing they wanted was to oversleep in the morning, forfeiting the match by default by failing to turn up on time. So they needed to keep awake. And what better than a good smoke to keep awake. So they lit the cigar and started smoking. Every half an hour, they peeped out to see if the day had broken. The guardians stood outside the door. They had seen the light of the torch and the smoke from the cigar. They had a smug satisfied smile on their faces. Their masters would be happy with them.
The torch and the cigar kept them company through the night. By the time they finally spent away, it was already morning and the brothers happy to have survived the night in the dreaded house of darkness, were all geared up to get ready for the match. To their surprise, the guardians came in to serve breakfast. The brother had never expected so much hospitality in the land of death. Probably their bad reputation was undeserved. After breakfast, the guardians prepared a bath for them and even gave them fresh clothes. As they were preparing to leave for the match, the guardians came up to them and spoke up,
“Anything else you need, Sirs?”
The brothers replied, “Thanks a lot for your hospitality. We are really overwhelmed.”
The guardians replied, “It’s our pleasure to serve, Sirs. Can we not have back our cigar and torch, please?”
The brothers were taken aback, “What cigar and torch. They got burnt away.”
The guardians replied calmly, “We had told you clearly that we want everything given to you returned in the same condition in the morning. This is a clear abuse of our hospitality.”
The brother tried to remonstrate, “But how can a cigar and torch be in the same condition after use?”
The guardians firmly shook their heads, “We don’t know all that. A rule is a rule and you have broken the rules. And you shall be punished. The Lords shall decide your fate”
So saying they bound their hands and feet and lead them to the Death Lords’ chambers.
Meantime let us see what is happening above the ground. A week had passed. The maize plant has remained as it was. The brothers’ mother Ixcumane watered the plant and took good care of it. But the plant did not flourish. But good thing was it did not wither either. But after a week the plant began to take a turn for the worse and began to show signs of withering. Within a month all that was left was one ear of corn, that still gave some hope to Ixcumane. The plant looked completely withered and likely to drop dead any moment. But months changed to years and years just rolled by. Still the brothers did not return. The one ear of corn still valiantly hung on over the years. But Ixcumane lost hope that her sons would ever return.
The only succor remaining for the bereaved old lady was her two grandchildren Chouen and Batz. She showered love and affection on them. She waited on them hands and feet. She encouraged them to develop their artistic abilities and did her best to take their mind away from the ball game as she had promised her sons. Initially the boys were very sad about the loss of their father. But with the time, the memories of their father faded and they became exemplary artists and musicians. They spent all the time painting and carving and playing music. They did not even think of moving a finger to help their old grandmother. The grandmother had to toil from dawn to dusk to tend the fields, cook the meals and keep the house clean. The boys stayed inside the house the whole day, resting on their backsides and enjoying their arts and crafts. Ixcumane was proud of their artistic prowess and doted over them. She was also happy that she was able to take the ball game away from their minds.
One fine evening, the grandmother was busy in her cleaning. Chouen was playing the flute. Batz was adding finishing touches to a small stone figurette. Suddenly there was a knock on the door. The two boys were too lazy to get up and see who was at the door. They just continued with their activities as if they had heard nothing. The old lady was surprised. No one had knocked at the door for years. She thought probably her ears were playing tricks on her and continued her work. The knock sounded again. This time it was unmistakable. She slowly got up and hobbled towards the door.
She opened the door and there stood a young woman. Not just any other woman! A woman of such grace and splendor never seen before! A beauty not of this world! While she stood there dazzled staring at her, she bowed down politely to Ixcumane and spoke up, “ I have so glad to have found you at last, mother. I am Xquic, your new daughter-in-law.”
In the next episode, we shall learn Xquic’s story and the fate of the two brothers in Xibalba..
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