Little Miss James looked the other way as soon as our eyes made contact. I reached my mind out to Charles’ and informed him that I wanted to speak to him. I called upon Azeez and Consuelo as well. Turning my back on the crowd and trudging to the other side of the hill, I found the trio already there, heads bowed in respect. I sighed, “For the umpteenth time, do not treat me like I’m some sort of Queen. This is embarrassing.”
“But we are not equals, Miss Helen,” Charles spoke up in his chivalrous manner.
“Perhaps, but neither am I your superior. Come now, we have much to discuss,” I replied as I quickly moved further downhill, away from hearing range. The moment I was comfortable enough I spun around, faced them and said, “David has been intercepted and captured by our enemies,” in a strained voice .
“Is he-” Azeez started.
“No, not yet. But he will be,” I paused and inhaled deeply. “We do not have much time left, they are getting stronger every passing day. We must prepare the mortals as quickly as possible. Gosh, this is the 15th century all over again.” I remarked painfully.
“Don’t worry Helen, we’ll fight with whatever we got. You have trained us well enough,” Consuelo interjected with fiery determination. It was what I liked most, her perseverance and sense of optimism. We could use some optimism.
“The things man get themselves into. What saddens me is that they never seem to learn their lesson, and we are supposed to be the ones to get them out of their mess,” I turned to Azeez, “Gather the crowd as close to each other as possible, I need to maintain a strong connection. I’ll be there in five minutes. The two of you, I need some space to prepare.” They slightly inclined their heads and went after Azeez. The best assistants I ever recruited, I thought with fondness.
I gently set myself down on the grass and crossed my legs. The slight breeze softly caressed my face as I proceeded to close my eyes and dive into the deepest recesses of my mind. Centuries upon centuries of pain had to be sifted through in order to reach my own memories from when I was still young and learning…
“There will come several occasions where you will begin to forget your purpose of this arduous mission, which tends to happen naturally after a long time of taking people’s pain. There will also be occasions where you will start to lose hope of ever changing the world because man’s problems seem to have become too big to solve. It has happened to me, it has happened to those before me and it will happen to you too, Helen,” Homer said in a grave voice as we sat around a fire we lighted deep in the forest, beyond the reach of anyone. The fire cast dancing shadows across his hulking frame, making him look more frightening than he already was. He took his big jug of ale and took a long sip from it, after which he smacked his lips in satisfaction.
“Now listen to me,” he began with a sense of urgency, his voice captivatingly low and deep, “You must always remember what I’m about to tell you, for the sake of your life and the rest of the world. Whether it’ll be a decade, a century or even an aeon from now you will experience despair. It’s part of the job. When you do start to feel it, threatening to consume your very existence, I want you to remember this moment, remember it as if it happened yesterday. Helen, you cannot, must not, despair. The entire human race needs your help. They aren’t perfect, far from it. They kill, destroy, betray one another. But deep down they are good. Otherwise they wouldn’t have known how to love, share, feel joy, create beautiful and wonderful things. And in the end, that’s what matters the most Helen. I need you to remember this, remember Helen, remember…”
“I remember, Homer,” I echoed as I opened my eyes, renewed hope filling my heart. Right then, I could hear the footsteps of Azeez approaching. I turned around, “Are you ready?”
“Yes, we’re just waiting for you now.”
“Very well then. Let us begin.”
Miss James sat on a bench overlooking the sea, whose waves were crashing against the sandy beach. So, this is what her happy place looks like, I mused as I was approaching where she was seated. Her left hand was busy sketching out images using a pencil. The sun was a dim orange as it sent out its last rays for the day. The sky was a mixture of purple, pink and a host of other colours, while seagulls cried as they were flying in circles, hunting fish.
She stopped sketching and looked up as soon as she sensed my presence. Her eyes slightly widened in surprise and said, “Hey, you’re that lady who was on the hill…” her voice trailed off when she realised something, “Wait a minute, wasn’t I there just a few minutes ago? With all those other people? Then how did I end up here? The last thing I remember is you telling us to close our eyes and think of the place that makes us the happiest.”
“That’s correct. This is just a simulation of the real thing. To put it bluntly, Miss James, we’re inside your head.”
She frowned, looked at her sketchpad and said, “That explains a lot.”
“Why do you say that?”
She then proceeded to show me what she was drawing. It was a bald man in a long, dark overcoat, wearing sunglasses with the words “free your mind” written next to him. “For some weird reason I had a strong compulsion to draw Morpheus from ‘The Matrix’. Now I know why.”
I smiled. “May I sit?”
She nodded. I sat next to her and stayed silent for a while, taking in the scenery. For some inexplicable reason it reminded me of my first meeting with Homer. Maybe it was the sound of the waves that triggered this memory. Or maybe it was the cries of the seagulls. Miss James resumed sketching the man named Morpheus. The god of dreams, why a man would be given such a name I cannot fathom.
“Miss James-” I began.
“Please, call me Latifa. Miss James is so formal. After all, we are friends right?”
I chuckled. “Yes that’s true. Now, Latifa, do you know why I’m here?”
“Not really, but I’m guessing you want something from me.”
“How perceptive of you. However, I don’t want something from you, I need it. I need your help.” I put emphasis on the word ‘need’ as I bore my eyes into hers, willing her to maintain contact. She neither flinched nor looked away.
“How can I help you?” She asked, her voice calm and steady.
“I need you to help me bring balance to the world again. Over the past century things have been getting out of hand. Humans are tending towards evil now more than ever, and it’s our job to pull them back a little, before they completely lose their way and never get back.”
I stopped to allow her to process what I just said. Then, “You talk about bringing back balance. From what I’ve read, the hero usually wants to get rid of evil in its entirety. Why don’t you do that?”
“My dear this isn’t a story whipped up from the imagination of a writer. As much as that would be ideal, it would not be realistic. The best thing to do is to employ pragmatism, and the most pragmatic approach to be adopted is…”
“To maintain the balance”
Here she paused for a minute to formulate a proper answer, after which she replied, “Because one cannot truly conquer evil. The best he can do is simply keep it at bay.”
“I couldn’t have put it better myself .”
“Yeah, I got that from a book,” she replied, trying hard not to blush.
My smile died as I remembered what I wanted to say next. I narrowed my eyes as I gazed into her soul. Nothing but love. She’s a special one. “Latifa, you must know that there are forces seeking to upset this balance. Their sole purpose is to create chaos just so they can witness the world burn. Man is a being that is inherently good, but their disposition is evil. Light covered in darkness.
“For now that is what you need to know. I will explain more in time, something we have precious little of. Are you with me?”
“Yes, but…you never told me your name.”
I tilted my head and made a half-smile.
“Helen. Call me Helen.”