FROM THE DREAM JOURNALS
Last night the snake came to me.
I was surprised, though little surprises me nowadays.
He was more beautiful than I remembered. His plated green skin shone like rainwater on banana plants in the garden plot we used to tend behind the dream caves. But maybe as I grow older I begin to see beauty where I never expected it before.
I said, It's been a while, friend. But I don't blame you for that. Not anymore.
To show he bore me no ill will either, he widened his eyes. It was like a flash of sun on a sliver of mirror glass.
The last time he'd appeared was a time of great change in my life, a time first of possibility, then of darkness. He had not returned after that, though I'd cried and called on him until I had no voice left.
Why did he come now, when I was finally at peace with my losses, the bargains I'd made? When I'd opened my fists and let the things I longed for slip from them?
His body glowed with light. A clear, full light tinged with coastal purples, late afternoon in the cypresses along the Pacific. I watched for a while, and knew he had come to foretell another change.
But whose--and what?
Not a birth. Rakhi wouldn't do that to herself, single mother that she is already. Though all my life that child has done the unexpected.
A union, then? Rakhi returning to Sonny, as I still hoped? Or was a new man about to enter her life?
The snake grew dim until he was the color of weeds in water, a thin echo suspended in greenish silt.
It was a death he was foretelling.
My heart started pounding, slow, arrhythmic. An arthritic beat that echoed in each cavity of my body.
Don't let it be Rakhi, don't let it be Sonny or Jonaki. Don't let it be my husband, whom I've failed in so many ways.
The snake was almost invisible as he curled and uncurled. Hieroglyphs, knots, ravelings.
Will it hurt? I whispered. Will it hurt a great deal?
He lashed his tail. The air was the color of old telegraph wire.
Will it at least be quick?
His scales winked yes. From somewhere smoke rolled in to cover him. Or was the smoke part of what is to come?
Will it happen soon?
A small irritation in the glint from his eyes. In the world he inhabited, soon had little meaning. Once again I'd asked the wrong question.
He began to undulate away. His tongue was a thin pink whip. I had the absurd desire to touch it.
Wait! How can I prepare?
He swiveled the flat oval of his head toward me. I put out my hand. His tongue--why, it wasn't whiplike at all but soft and sorrowful, as though made from old silk.
I think he said, There is no preparation other than understanding.
What must I understand?
Death ends things, but it can be a beginning, too. A chance to gain back what you'd botched. Can you even remember what that was?
I tried to think backward. It was like peering through a frosted window. The sand-filled caves. The lessons. We novices were learning to read the dreams of beggars and kings and saints. Ravana, Tunga-dhwaja, Narad Muni--. But I'd given it up halfway.
He was fading. A thought flowed over my skin like a breath.
But only if you seize the moment. Only if--
Then he was gone.
My mother always slept alone.
Until I was about eight years old, I didn't give it much thought. It was merely a part of my nightly routine, where she would tuck me in and sit on the edge of my bed for a while, smoothing my hair with light fingers in the half dark, humming. The next part of our bedtime ritual consisted of storytelling. It was I who made up the stories. They were about Nina-Miki, a girl my age who lived on a planet named Agosolin III and led an amazingly adventurous life. I would have preferred the stories to have come from my mother, and to have been set in India, where she grew up, a land that seemed to me to be shaded with unending mystery. But my mother told me that she didn't know any good stories, and that India wasn't all that mysterious. It was just another place, not so different, in its essentials, from California. I wasn't convinced, but I didn't fret too much. Nina-Miki's adventures (if I say so myself) were quite enthralling. I was proud of being their creator, and of having my mother, who was a careful listener, as my audience.
Excerpted from Queen of Dreams by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, pages 1-9 of the hardcover edition. Copyright© 2004 by Chitra Divakaruni. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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