Parvati is fifty years old.
She is an American citizen, of Indian descent, but she does not live in America now.
She lives in the temple.
She has lived there for almost two years. She has eaten nothing but leaves and air. She is very thin.
It is 1997. It is autumn. She lights a candle.
The halls are empty. The temple is a gaping void. Its walls are ruins. No one comes here any more. It has too many ants, too many spiders, too many ghosts. Once upon a time, it was a temple of Babylon.
“This is the myth,” she says.
She is speaking to the emptiness all around her. It presses in close.
“We are a civilized people now,” she says. “We are better than those who came before us. This is the Age of Truth, not the Kali Yuga.”
The candle flickers.
Parvati’s First Myth
A child lives in the land of childhood. This is a magical land full of blankets, candy, and naked greed. Eventually, children tire of that land. They move next door to teenland. Like L. Frank Baum’s Jinxland, this is an equally magical yet somehow second-rate fairy kingdom. It is full of soda, angst, and defiance.
There are seven gates from teenland to adulthood. Each has a monarch, and each its attendants. The third gate is sexuality. Attending its monarch are ministers of love, choice, happiness, maturity, and gentleness. When a girl or boy wishes to pass through that gate, each minister blesses them in turn.
Then they move on, to a wider and greater world.
“I expected those ministers,” Parvati says. “Dimly, dimly, but I expected them. I understood that innocence transforms into a deeper strength. I knew that creatures such as they were the mechanism for it. I could see it written on every adult face.”
A leaf skitters across the floor. She catches it. She chews on its edge.
“May a thousand people know such blessings; may ten thousand; may ten thousand thousand,” she says.
The candle fire rises. There is also a heat pouring from Parvati, generated by her spiritual strength and her austerities.
The dust of the temple floor ignites.
Parvati’s Second Myth
Some girls and boys, when they reach the gate, are singled out. “I’m sorry,” says the monarch. Its grey cloak is filled with darkness and the endless fluttering of black and orange wings. “Your course,” it says, “shall have no such blessings.”
“But why?” the child says.
“It is not a thing of reasons,” the monarch says.
Children have no power to decide who shall be their ministers at that gate. In that moment, the child understands this. The child watches as others go by and receive their blessings. And the myth is a dagger in the child’s heart.
There was no beauty or gentleness when Parvati passed through the gate. Nor, it should be said, is this uncommon.
“I have chosen a new myth,” Parvati says.
She is sweating in the fire. It is uncomfortable. But she makes no move to leave.
“I have chosen a new myth because I have that right,” she says.
The air is full of smoke. Her eyes sting. Her lungs hurt.
She sings her myth into the air.
Parvati’s Third Myth
“Perfection is virtuous,” says the monarch to the child. “To choose perfection, one must strive, and one must also hope that circumstances and others’ will will prove conducive to one’s aim. For example, to achieve the perfection of this gate, one must come here with a clear and virtuous mind. Then the ministers must decide to bless you. That is the way of perfection.”
“I have striven,” says the child, dirty and ragged from many trips through the gate. “But circumstances have not favored me.”
“Sometimes they do not,” the monarch agrees. “If you wish certainty in life, you cannot also have perfection. You must choose instead a hard and fallow path.”
Parvati goes to the center of the fire. She sits. And this is the story she has chosen:
She will sit.
She will wait.
And a foreigner will come to the temple and buy her with a silver coin.
It is a certain path. It is a hard and fallow one.
Someone will come for her. Someone will remember the old ways, and pay for her after the traditional fashion. She will sleep with them, and it will not bring her happiness, or choice, or love, or gentleness. But it will be hers, and sacred, and better than the beginning that she had before. Afterwards, she will find the first myth a thing to envy rather than to scorn.
And in Babylon, this thing is sacred.
In this temple, in Babylon, this thing she does is sacred, but even still it is a hard and fallow path, and even still it would be difficult under the best of circumstances.
These are not the best of circumstances.
The temple where she waits is abandoned, shunned, priestless, in ruins, and, at the moment, it is on fire.