The Quintet Is Ready
The Quintet Is Ready
The Quintet Is Ready
The Quintet Is Ready
by Maureen Bowden
The Quintet Is Ready
by Maureen Bowden
I have no name. I am an elder sibling of humankind. Human beings make a habit of getting themselves into trouble. It is a constant aggravation to me. In the twenty-first century they face their worst self-induced predicament yet. I am forbidden to get them out of it but permitted to help them to help themselves. With this in mind I searched through time for individuals capable of leading and inspiring them to sort out the mess before the cartoon pig grunts "That’s all folks” for the last time. I hope my efforts will have been sufficient.
* * *
Sixth-century B.C.; Lumbini (later known as Nepal)
I observed Prince Gautama Siddhartha, leaving his palace and his pampered life, to seek enlightenment in the real world by enduring suffering and deprivation. He was on the verge of starvation when a young girl, with common sense and compassion, took pity on him and offered him a bowl of rice.
Her action did not result in his immediate enlightenment, of course, but I saw a candle flicker in his brain. “Thank you, daughter,” he said. Somewhat condescending, perhaps, but I know he meant it humbly.
I sought her out. “What is your name, girl?”
She was well named. It means Light. “Do you know what you have done, Prakasa?” I said.
She glared at me. “Yes, I’ve given my dinner to a man who thinks he can’t be good and well-fed at the same time. Do you have a problem with that?”
I laughed. “Indeed not. You’ve turned him away from extremism, which I consider a dirty word, and onto the path of balance. He will call it The Middle Way and it will lead him to becoming the Buddha.”
She shrugged. “Good for him. Do you have any rice to spare? I’m hungry.”
“Come with me and you’ll never be hungry again.”
She backed away. “I too know a dirty word. My mother used it for people like you.”
I shook my head. “Not like me.” I allowed her to see my true face.
Her eyes grew wide. “You are a great one.”
“No greater than you. I wish to take you to a future time when the world will need your greatness. I will take care of you and enable you to achieve your destiny, if you and your family give me permission.”
“My family is dead. I give you permission. Let’s go.”
* * *
My name is Mary Sidney. I was a Lady-in-Waiting at Queen Elizabeth’s court. Her Majesty swore me to secrecy about certain events in the year 1575, when I was but fourteen years old. Richmond palace’s walls have not only ears, but noses to sniff out gossip. It is, therefore, no less than a miracle that those events remain unrevealed. I shall now reveal them.
The royal chambermaid whispered to me, “Mistress Sidney, Her Majesty is indisposed and has taken to her bed. She wishes to see you alone.”
I hurried to the royal apartment, curious but a little afraid. I loved good Queen Bess dearly, but her temper was unpredictable and she needed very little provocation to deliver a sharp slap.
I found her vomiting into a chamber pot. “Mary,” she said, “that clay-brained codpiece, your uncle Robin, has got me with child.”
Trying to ignore the picture that flashed into my mind I helped her back to bed. I was aware that my mother’s brother, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, had warmed the Queen’s bed for years. She took the usual precautions, involving a vinegar-soaked sponge, so how had this happened?
No doubt she read my thoughts in my face. “I should never have accepted his invitation to visit Kenilworth. We were in a holiday mood and Robin was irresponsible.”
I didn’t dare to point out that it takes two to gavotte. “How may I help, Your Majesty?”
“Find a discreet midwife who will deliver the child and place it in a good home but not reveal its parentage. I will reward her well, but if she loosens her tongue it will be cut out.”
“Six months. No hurry. In the meantime relax the laces on my corset, but not too much. No one must suspect. Go now. I wish to sleep.”
I knelt beside my bed that night, praying for a solution. Perhaps it was inappropriate to pray for help in concealing the Queen and my uncle’s sin, but I feared that if I failed her she’d cut off my head. Someone tapped on my door, and before I could respond a robed figure entered. It had a beautiful face that could have been either male or female. “Do not be afraid, Mary,” he or she said. “I will help you to solve the Queen’s dilemma.”
“Are you an angel?”
“Tis as good a title as any.”
His or her presence, and my instinct, reassured me and restored my courage. “What next? Will three wise men bearing gifts ride over the mountains?”
The angel laughed. “I doubt it. We both know that this is no virgin birth.”
I’m ashamed to say I giggled. “Will you find her a midwife?”
“No. I will deliver the child. It is a girl. I’ll take her into the future and prepare her to meet her destiny.” He or she raised me from my knees and sat beside me on the edge of my bed. “This child will have the blood of the Tudors, the Plantagenets, and the Normans in her veins. She will have the courage and leadership qualities of the Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, and Elizabeth herself. She’ll also have the tenacity and single-mindedness of Anne Boleyn.”
“What of the men?” I asked.
“The less said about them the better.”
“What shall I tell the Queen?”
“That it’s all arranged. She’ll ask no questions. I’ll see you in six months’ time.” The angel vanished.
When Queen Bess’s condition became difficult to hide she instructed me to spread the news that she was exhausted, and would spend some weeks in her bedchamber. Her physician called to see her, but she sent him away.
I slept on a couch at the foot of her bed, and when her labour began she howled at me to fetch the midwife. I fled from the room and sent a silent prayer to the angel. Before I could panic he or she appeared.
“I am afraid for her life,” I said. “She is in her middle years, and she has narrow hips.”
The angel smiled. “She’ll feel no pain and her body will be undamaged.
The Queen barely glanced at the robed figure who delivered her child. The only words she spoke before closing her eyes in sleep were, “You must call her Anne. It was my mother’s name.”
The angel instructed me on how to prepare a potion that would rid her of her milk and restore her vitality.
“Thank you,” I said. “May I tighten her corset?”
“Yes, after five days. The Virgin Queen’s waistline and reputation will be intact, although her hymen is not. And you are permitted to giggle, Mistress Sidney.”
He or she took the babe in his or her arms, and disappeared.
* * *
I am called Lowanna, beautiful woman, but not like my grandma, Truganni. Her soul shone like big moon. She was wise. When the Wadjela took our land and made us slaves, she yabbered no curse and threw no wobbler. She learned their ways. They respected her. They loved her. She made them see we are people, not mad beasts to be tamed or broken. Without her they would have killed us all.
After she joined the ancestors I saw her in Dreamtime. “There is big fella come for you, chook,” she said. “He boojery bloke and he need help.”
“No, grandma,” I said. “I stay here. Send him away.”
“Don’t go off like frog in a sock, Lowanna. He come from time where the world gone bugger-up. They got quondongs that murder people who walk different Dreamtime from them. You make them stop.”
“I don’t know how, Grandma.”
“You teach them stop hating, like I taught the Wadjela. It harder to murder someone you don’t hate.”
My belly fluttered with fear, but the ancestors see what is right. I trusted her. “If you want me to I’ll give it a burl.”
“Good onya. Go with the big fella. He show you how. No worries. You belong him now, and he belong you.”
I stepped out of Dreamtime and the big fella was waiting for me.
* * *
Nineteenth-century; South Dakota
My name’s Jane Canary: pronounced with the emphasis on “Can.” I can do and I can go where I like. I ain’t no caged bird. Most folks called me Calamity Jane. I didn’t care much what they called me. I strung along with Wild Bill Hickock for a time. I guess I tamed him some. Strung along with plenty of others, too. Some tolerable, some bad, some downright rotten, but I knew only one mighty fine man. I never shared his bed, but it don’t matter. Sioux injun, he was. Chief of the Oglala Lakota. Known as Crazy Horse, but I knew his true name, Cha-o-Ha. Means In the Wilderness. I guess he was. He taught me about loyalty and courage, and I’ll carry him in my heart till I die.
He fought for his land and his people until my people killed him. I helped his parents to move his coffin to a secret location and we mourned together as they called on the Great Spirit to take his soul.
I met his daughter at the graveside. Didn’t know he had a kid, but there was no mistakin’ that she was his. I saw him in her eyes.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Maka. It means Earth.”
“Good name for a child of the man in the wilderness. Can’t say he ever spoke of you.”
“He gave me to a servant of the Great Spirit when I was in my second summer. No words were needed then. Few are needed now.” She took my hand as we stood together beside her father’s grave. “I come today to say goodbye to him, but I belong in the future, where I must fight to save the Earth from destruction. The people of that time have forgotten how to care for her. I have her name and I must teach them.”
Sounded like a load of hokum, but I guess I’ve learned to know the truth when I hear it. She walked to her grandparents’ side and embraced them, then she held up her hand to me in farewell and she vanished.
* * *
Twentieth-century; South Africa
I will tell a secret, but not my name. In the apartheid years I was a member of the ANC and I loved Nelson Mandela. He loved me too, but briefly. We ran together for a while before he met his soulmate, Winnie Madikizela, and they took their journey to free our people. I didn’t let him know he’d left me with more than a memory. I didn’t let anyone know, because his enemies would have used our child to manipulate him.
I called her Lerato, which means love. It suited her. She shared her father’s great love of Africa and its people, and his love of freedom. That’s why the woman from the future took her.
I found them chatting together outside the school gates when I drove to meet her after classes one day. My little babblebekkie would share her heart with anyone. “Mallie,” she said, “this lady says I can make my ouballie proud.”
I pulled her away from the woman and stood between them. "I don’t know who you are, but you won’t lead my child into politics. I don’t want her dead.”
The woman’s gentle eyes made my anger fade. She took my hand. “Her ouballie’s fight will be won long before Lerato faces hers. I wish to take her to a future time when the world will have great need of her to inspire love and loyalty and help lost people to find their way. She will teach them patience and perseverance, and the graciousness to forgive their enemies and make allies of them. She inherited these gifts not only from her ouballie but also from you.”
“I must go, Mallie,” my child said.
The woman cupped Lerato’s face in her hands. “Only if your mallie allows it.” She turned back to me. “She should not waste her powers.”
I knew she was right. I would weep for the loss of my daughter every day, but I was proud to let her go.
* * *
The human race stands on the brink of an abyss. Greed, megalomania, ignorance, and stupidity are threatening its survival. Wars and violent protest movements are increasing, disillusionment with political leaders is widespread, civilisations are self-destructing, and the planet herself, damaged by abuse and pollution, is becoming less able to sustain life.
I have brought help: not a conquering army to beat the fools into submission, but five women, one from each of Earth’s continents. From Asia I have brought Prakasa, who illuminated the Buddha’s path; from Europe I have brought Anne, Elizabeth I’s daughter; from Australia I have brought Lowanna, Truganni’s granddaughter; from America I have brought Maka, Crazy Horse’s daughter; from Africa I have brought Lerato, Nelson Mandela’s daughter. They are humanity’s best hope, but nothing is certain. I see two possible futures. One is an age of darkness and despair; the other is an age of philosophy and scientific discovery. It will be an even contest.
The quintet is ready. I will journey into the future to observe its progress. Let it begin.
* * *
The year 2125
Prakasa walked among the young people. She told them that the future is theirs. She showed them that although her path to awareness and truth may be different from that of others’ their differences need not divide them. I watched her on a television documentary. Her interviewers were curious. They questioned her. She said, “I offer no answers but possibilities. I see the young finding joy in human companionship, as we take our path together through life’s journey. They are turning away from petty divisions that breed fear and hatred. That’s no fun. Nothing wrong with fun.”
Anne led a peaceful demonstration confronting misogyny, homophobia, and hatred of sexual differences. Millions of voices from every gender identity joined her own. No longer would inequality be acceptable. No longer would sexual oppression or violence be tolerated. There were too many of them to be ignored. They said, “We stand together. We are all human, united in mutual respect. This will be a new day.”
Lowanna found fame on social media. Refusing to be intimidated by the trolls, she said, “Some no-mates throw shade at me, but no drama. Most find it hard to get cranky with me, and they take my hand in friendship. The rest fear me, but I won’t fear no fella. If they can’t stop hating they no-hopers.” Those in authority also feared her. She caused a disturbance in their well-ordered world by calling for education and equal opportunities for all. “That how to kick poverty up the jaxi,” she said. “Poverty come from greed. We watch out for each other, for those who are hungry, cold, or alone. Things gone bugger-up. We can put them right.”
Maka’s image was depicted on tee-shirts worn by campaigners to repair the damage done to the planet. The industrialists and land developers ridiculed her, calling her naïve. At an international political conference a sympathetic world leader gave her an opportunity to respond. She replied, “Those who are destroying the Earth wish to destroy me because I threaten their bank balances. They refuse to see that their wealth won’t save them from the rising ocean, and dollar notes won’t line their lungs against polluted air. My words have gone viral now. Millions have added their own voices, and it’s too late for us to be silenced. Earth is hitting back and there is nowhere to run. There are those who can help, but they must be allowed to do what needs to be done. We don’t have much time.”
Lerato reached out to the world with a song. It told of a Black woman who would be heard. It was a song for the Earth, for the future. It was for all people, for equality and compassion. It was a song for people who refused to be bullied, persecuted, and murdered because of who they are. She told the world, “Those that fear my song may take my life, but the song will still be sung. Sing it for each other. Sing it for your children, and for their children. Music is the language that unites us all.”
* * *
The year 2127
The forces of hatred and greed were afraid. They saw the end of their rule. They hit back. Prakasa and Lerato were imprisoned. Lerato believed she would die in captivity. I feared she was right.
* * *
The year 2130
Lerato’s jailers killed her. Her death was a catalyst. Her song was sung in every land. Millions mourned for her and demanded Prakasa’s release. Her oppressors relented and set her free. Lerato’s death bought Prakasa’s liberty. Religious leaders, previously reluctant to challenge authority, urged that there should be no more martyrs. Soldiers rebelled against military commanders. Despots were thrown from power, and more progressive political leaders promised change. Another young woman, a child of the twenty-first century, native of the Nordic countries, joined Maka in her fight for the planet. The quintet was again complete. The Scientific world pledged their support and applied their expertise to healing the damage done. Now we had a chance.
* * *
The quintet won the battle. People now live a simpler life, but they are happier. They have learned that if they nurture the Earth she will nurture them. If they endanger her they endanger themselves.
They are still learning to co-exist, if not in complete harmony, at least in acceptance that each individual has a right to their own beliefs as long as they don’t seek to harm or oppress anyone else. Ethnicity and gender identity are no longer a cause for conflict. Friendship has obliterated such boundaries.
* * *
In the land where Maka was born, a farmer stoops to examine a rocky outcrop on his homestead. I listen to his thoughts as he ponders what use he might find for the black sludge that oozes through a fissure in the barren rock. So it begins again.