“We look into mirrors but we only see the effects of our times on us—not our effects on others.” – Pearl Bailey
In the Glade of the Souls, Shyamli was the feisty one. The older souls shook their heads in despair at her antics and admonished her for being so restless. “You will get into trouble, dear dark-haired one! One day the storms will blow you away if you do not embrace the silence around you. Don’t be so restive.”
Always questioning the mores of the spirit world, Shyamli was a rule breaker. A fire burned within her and the calmness of the white-robed souls evaded her. She oft ventured into the distant azure to play hide-and-seek at the horizon. Just a slip and a miss, and she could be burnt by the sun or frozen by the moon, but she was never bothered. Unafraid of the consequences, she sat on the banks of the river bringing in departed souls along with the requiem, which the liberated ones were forbidden to hear.
When nothing held her interest, she furtively lifted the veil that hid the Gallery of Mirrors and hovered in amazement around the million shades of brown lining the walls. Even though rules forbade her, she lingered in the gallery, her gossamer feet fleeting towards the mirrors of their own will. “Never walk into the back of the mirror that separates our spirit world from those of the humans.” These words from her lessons with the old souls aggravated her curiosity.
Several times the guardians of the gallery caught her strolling in the vicinity and brought her back to the glade. They cautioned her for cradling wishes that could ruin her peaceful sojourn in the spirit world. The more they reproached, she found it harder to ignore the lure of the world beyond the mirror.
She circled the bare brown backs of the million mirrors of a million shapes and sizes and floated right in front of the sleek form that always attracted her. She stood still for a moment and then gingerly placed a transparent foot into the brown board. She gasped as she felt a tug that instantly pulled in.
Shyamli stood in a room with mellow, orange light streaming from a Himalayan salt lamp. She realized she had crossed over into the world of the mortals. She shuddered and tried to get a grip over her bearing. The sound of the ticking clock was deafening in the silence.
Noor was fast asleep. Her breathing filled the room. Shyamli was spell-bound, taking in the sounds and smells of the human world. If she had a heartbeat, it would have echoed in the darkness. She gazed at Noor, wondering who she was. Rivetted, she slowly started soaking in the vibes. Then, the memories arrived.
Shyamli had stayed in this house in a past lifetime. The mirror was the passage between the soul world and the earthly domain. Now, she realized why she was always attracted to this particular mirror. Shyamli, instinctively, knew each part of the 3-bedroom apartment with a large hall, passageway, and kitchen. She was in the master bedroom but could picture every nook and corner as it flashed before her. She absorbed the energies of the house, even though many things had changed since she lived there.
Noor coughed and stirred in her sleep. Shyamli shuffled. She recalled what the older souls told the new arrivals. “Never go close to humans. They can sense us; many can see us, even though spirits should not be visible to human eyes. If there are too many sightings, the mortals will constantly contact and accost us back into the physical dimension from which we are now free. The delicate balance of the two worlds is disturbed when dwellers of the two realms meet!”
As the words came back to a thrilled but confused Shyamli, she swiftly moved back into the mirror while Noor twisted and turned in her sleep. Back in the glade, Shyamli glowed with a soft light of memories coming back to life. The older souls noticed the sparkle. She was called to the Council under the shade of the Red Gnarled Banyan and questioned.
“Have you been in the vicinity of an earthly being or something that belonged to a living human?” Their soft gaze held sadness and disbelief but could not reflect the sternness that their interrogation intended. Shyamli knew she could be banished from the glade for insolence and sent into the forest as a screaming banshee. She, however, pursed her glossy lips and maintained an indignant silence. The old souls let out a heavy sigh of disappointment, and the tree shed a few ruddy leaves under the weight of their collective worries.
Like a child with a long-desired new toy, Shyamli clung to the memories instigated by the visit beyond the mirror. The pull of the mirror grew intense and irresistible. Now, she did not even wait for darkness to befall in Noor’s world; she stepped into her house even in the daytime when Noor was away. Shyamli could not touch anything. However, she felt each object, sensed all smells and recognized modifications like the wallpaper, furniture, modern tiles, and fixtures. What remained unchanged were recollections from another time.
A girl in a blue dress did a series of somersaults. The echo of triumphant laughter filled the skies. That girl was Shyamli. She stood in the golden afternoon on the balcony looking at the new landscaping below. She saw herself running through the green grass, now replaced with concrete pathways and exercise machines. Every moment, filled with flashbacks, and the more she recalled, the more the vortex pulled her in. She was a victim of the calling of her past earthly existence.
Shyamli returned to the house every day, always careful to cross over to her spirit world before Noor returned. She quickly receded into the mirror, the days when Noor was in the house. Time and space had no meaning for Shyamli but Noor’s life was governed by rules laid out for humans. Shyamli had learned to tiptoe around these intricacies of human living.
The more she entered the earthly dimension, the more it grew on her. Deep reveries and unknown longings filled her visits to Noor’s house. The house was small and cozy; the reminiscences elaborate enough to fill up a mansion. That day she perched gingerly on the dining chair, her formless translucence soaking up the filtered rays from the flowing curtains. The tinkle of terracotta wind chimes spread a calmness.
An apparition rose, a spark of recollection, of a table filled with vanilla cinnamon pancakes and a glass of lemonade. Shyamli tried to remember the taste, the aroma. It evaded her. She concentrated on bringing to life a summer day right in front of her yet so distant.
A key turned in the lock on the front door. Noor walked in and kicked her shoes away. She threw her bag on the living room sofa, pondering for a minute as to why the room felt cooler despite the steady trickle of sun rays into every room. “Oh! Did I leave the air-conditioning on today!” She exclaimed and hurried towards her bedroom through the well-lit hallway.
The full-length mirror in her bedroom caught her reflection as she opened the door. She stood transfixed for a moment. She forgot why she had rushed into the room and hypnotically advanced towards the glass. The reflection from the mirror seemed to fill the bedroom. She lifted a finger to touch it. The instant her finger touched the cold glass, she fell on the floor with a thud.
A sudden gush of warm air had filled the room a few moments ago. Shyamli was floating like melting ice cubes in a lemonade jug when a subdued sound from within the house broke her reverie. She floated into the bedroom and saw Noor lying on the floor. She panicked and rushed in front of the mirror, dipping her foot into the glass exterior. The glass exterior shoved her away with force. She retried; the mirror refused to grant her entry.
Shyamli looked at everything around her in disbelief. Voices filled the room, jumbled, loud, a harsh laugh there, the crack of a whip here, and then the wails of a banshee. She flitted around the house passionately, opening every room, trying to step into every mirror. Other souls already occupied the mirrors. With each failed attempt, the keening grew louder.
Returning to the bedroom, Shyamli crouched close to Noor’s lifeless body. “Mirrors are the doorway between portals. Each mirror belongs to a soul. Once you have entered the glade, you must never return to the gallery of the mirrors. Only those who can resist the temptation of previous lifetimes guard the gallery.” She now heard voices of the old souls; lessons they repeated to her whenever they found her in the prohibited territory!
Shyamli had been careful never to enter the house when Noor was around. As she became more attached to her past life, she also became callous. She stopped paying heed to the tale of the mirror. She now heard every word of the story mocking her, “When a spirit opens the gateway and ventures into the human world, it can return only if the mirror does not capture the reflection of the human being, while the portal is open.”
A mirror without a soul on the other side can capture the soul from the reflection of a human! Shyamli was trapped in this world now. The glass door to the portal was closed to her. She tried to remember spells and incantations, prayers, and platitudes to re-enter the portal. The mirror did not relent. Shyamli hovered around a soul-less Noor huddled on the floor as dusk darkened the house. Alone and without a choice, Shyamli gently hugged Noor and entered her mortal frame.