James & The Book of Beginnings
Ch 1. Who was Mr Russell?
The happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything. As I was told by my father.
I am James Knight. I am 10 years old, I live in Harrow, London and study at Harrow School, its on the Hill.
I love school and my friends but above all, quite weirdly, I my passion is myths and legends from antiquity, you know the stories of Indian and Greek myths with legendary heroes such as the Olympiangods like Zeus and Perseus and even Indian gods like Krishna and Ram, warriors like Arjun and Bhim,the monkey-god Hanuman, demons like and monsters like the many Rakshas.Obviously I never took any of it seriously, I mean why would you? But I love the stories because they are just so exciting.
Of one of the thousands of stories that I dream about is that ofIcarus. This is a story from ancient Greece of the boy who flew too close to the sun. Using feathers and wax he had made the feathers into two pairs of wings. He fastened the larger pair to his arms, and began to flap them until his feet took off from the floor and he began to hover in mid air.
One morning Deadalus, father of Icarus said:
“Now Son, we are ready to leave this island for good. We shall fly home to Athens. But although you are now quite good at flying, you must not forget that it can be very dangerous. So listen to my instructions and be sure to follow then to the letter. At all times follow me, for I will find the way home to Athens. Do not veer off on a different flight path, or you will soon be lost. And do not fly too low, or your wings will fill with moisture from the waves and they will become too heavy you will sink down. Nor should you fly too high, or the sun will heat the wax and your wings will fall apart. Have you understood all that I have said?” Little Icarus nodded to show his father that he had understood. And then Daedalus led his son up onto the battlements of the tower, and like a bird leading her fledglings from the nest for the first time, he jumped into mid air and flapped his wings, and Icarus followed soon after. If a fisherman or a shepherd had looked up just then, he would have seen two very unusual birds hovering above the waves. No doubt he would have thought that they had caught sight of two winged gods : For who could have believed that a mortal father and son had mastered the art of flight?
Over the seas they sailed, and at first Icarus felt frightened for he had never ventured very far in his practice flights. But soon he found that he was really good at flying. In fact, it was the most tremendous fun you could ever have. He began to swoop up and down with the sea gulls. Wow! It was amazing ! His father turned round and called:
“Icraus, Take Care!” and for a while after that Icraus obeyed his father and flapped along behind him. But then his wings caught a warm air current, and he found that he could soar along and upwards almost without any effort. This was the life ! He was floating ever so high above the waves and the ships down below were like tiny little specks. His father called up to him “Icarus, remember what I told you. Come down right now!” But Icarus could not hear, and his father could not catch up with him. Icarus was way too close to the sun, and soon the wax that held the feathers together began to melt. Gradually his wings began to loose their shape, and some of the feathers even began to fall off. Icarus flapped his arms frantically, but it was too late. He had lost the power of flight and down he plunged into the sea.
This a classic greek myth and one I remember because it teaches me a lot about the perils of being over ambitious. The young boy flies too close to the Sun and his wings of wax melt, despite his fathers words of warning.
I guess it makes sense to listen to your father and mother, but not always…heheheh!
It was a usual Monday morning when things started getting really interesting, when year 7 took a field trip to Central London — thirty12 year old kids and two teachers on theLondon underground heading toTottenham Court Road to the British Museum to visitThe Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman.
I know—it sounds like torture. Most field trips are. I hoped the trip would be okay. At least, I hoped that for once I wouldn't get in trouble. This trip, I was determined to be good.
I knew something weird was going to happen since I had a dream the night before about a strange book. The book was written thousands of years ago in India but was lost and for some reason it had ended up in London. But no one knew where this book was and no one could read it since it was written in Sanskrit. Apparently Sanskrit is oldest language in the world and is the language of the Indian gods. I don’t remember much more of the dream other than waking up and feeling good that the dream was over. And I got on with brushing my teeth and thought of the field-trip to Museum because Mrs. Stone, our favorite history teacher, was leading this trip, so I had high hopes.
Good God, could I have been more wrong?
It started as we boarded the metropolitan line at Harrow-on-the-Hill. Can you imagine here we all are on the train with Radhey Patel, I know trouble will brew eventually, especially since he came and sat next to me. Mind you until last week he was my best friend and we watch Harry Potter at Harrow-on-the-Hill together, so I should not complain. I normally have lots of fun with Radhey, but lately had has been weird, so we are not best friends anymore.
All the way into the city, I had to put up with Radhey and his new best friend Laurence Price. They kept laughing at non-funny jokes like, How did the farmer fix his jeans? With a cabbage patch!
I ignored the joke and said to Mrs Stone: “How are ancient Greeks towels labeled? She said “I don’t know” So I said “His And Hercules.”
Everyone on the train started laughing and I could see Radhey and Laurence getting jealous.
Soon we reached the British Museum and Mrs Stone with the curator of The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, Mr Russell, led the tour.
The installation of was new works alongside objects made by unknown men and women throughout history from the British Museum’s collection.
Mr Russell said “This is a memorial to all the anonymous craftsmen that over the centuries have fashioned the manmade wonders of the world… The craftsman’s anonymity I find especially resonant in an age of the celebrity artist.”
"Boring" I mumbled.
"You're already on probation," Mrs Stone reminded me. "You know who'll get blamed if anything happens."
Mr Russell continued to guide us through the big echoey galleries, past marble statues and glass cases full of really old black-and-beige pottery.
There were vases covered in strange captions, elaborate tapestries and the centrepiece, a richly decorated cast iron coffin-ship, displayed alongside objects from the past five thousand years of culture and civilization.
It blew my mind that this stuff had survived for four thousand, five thousand years. Can you imagine. Is there a reason for this?
Mr Russell said “From the first great invention, the hand axe, to a Hello Kitty pilgrim hand-towel, you will discover a reality that is old and new, poetic and factual, and funny as well as grim.”
Mr. Russell kept talking about history, art and stuff…it went on and on and I had stopped paying attention by now.
Finally, Radhey asked something about the ancient Book of Beginnings, and I turned around and said, "Will you shut up?"
It came out louder than I meant it to.
The whole group laughed. Mr. Stone stopped his story.
"James" she said, rather angrily, "did you have a comment?"
My face was totally red. I said, "No, sir."
Mr. Russell pointed to the Book and said to me. "Perhaps you'll tell us what this Book represents?"
I looked at it, and felt a flush of relief, because I actually recognized it. "That's an old book written in Sanskrit, right?"
"Yes," Mr. Russell said. "And what else..."
"Well..." I racked my brain to remember. "It comes from India, and it about the history of gods and the beginnings of the world…"
"India? Gods?" Mr. Russell asked.
Some snickers from the group.Radhey has a grin on his face. It felt like the class versus me.
"Busted" Laurence muttered.
I was getting embarrassed. So I stepped closer to the book, giving the impression I knew more that they thought. Frankly I didn’t know anything about the book.
But as I touched it briefly I felt a spark, a little tingling in my fingers, which suddenly vibrated all the way to my heart and head. I was a little shaken and felt energized. It felt good but I can’t explain what happened, instead I said confidently
“This book was written by Ved Vyas. He is an immortal and he was born on an island in the river Yamuna over 5,000 years ago in India. He was a teacher of Vedic Sciences and wrote many books like the ancient Vedas, Purans and the Sutras. He had 4 famous sons”
And then I stopped. It blew my mind that this I said all this stuff.
I looked at the Mr Russell, and felt a flush of relief, as he said "That's absolutely correct, well done"
I racked my brain to remember more, but I just couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“No more” I said. Mr Russell shook his head and grinned. He knew something was up.
The class drifted off, the girls holding their stomachs, the guys pushing each other around and acting like doo-fuses.
As I was about to follow when Mrs. Stone said, "Mr. James Knight."
I knew that was coming.
Then I turned toward Mr. Stone. "Yes Maam?"
Mrs Stone had this look that wouldn't let you go— intense brown eyes that could've been a thousand years old and had seen everything.
"Will you please stop mumbling and pay attention" Mr. Stone told me. "Shall we say that is the last time we hear anything about the Gods and Demons from you?"
"What you learn and experience ," she said, "is vitally important. I expect you to treat it as such. I will accept only the best from you, James Knight."
I was totally confused. What was Mrs Stone taking about?
She told me to go with the class and eat my lunch.
The class gathered on the front steps of the museum, where we could watch the foot traffic along Great Russell Street.
Overhead, a huge storm was brewing, with clouds blacker than I'd ever seen over the city. I figured maybe it was global warming or something, because the weather all across London had been weird since the morning. We'd had massive snow storms, flooding, wildfires from lightning strikes. I wouldn't have been surprised if this was a hurricane blowing in. But how is this possible in the middle of May. I mean this is the summer.
Nobody else seemed to notice. Some of the guys were pelting pigeons with Lunchables crackers. Radhey and Laurence were trying to pickpocket something from a lady's purse, and, of course, Mrs. Stone wasn't seeing a thing.
I sat alone with Mr Russell near the fountain, away from the others.
Mr Russell didn't say anything for a while. Then, when I thought he was going to give me some deep philosophical comment to make me feel better, he said, "Can I have your apple?"
I didn't have much of an appetite, so I let him take it.
After lunch "Come with me," Mr Russell said.
I went blank. I have moments like that a lot, when my brain falls asleep or something, and the next thing I know I've missed something, as if a puzzle piece fell out of the universe and left me staring at the blank place behind it.
I went after Mr Russell.
I followed him deeper into the museum. When I finally caught up to him, we were somewhere in Greek and Indian section.
Except for us, the gallery was empty.
Mr Russell stood with his arms crossed in front of a big marble frieze of an Indian god with four hands and said “So what more do you know about this Book”
I kept quite and shrugged my shoulders and said “Nothing, why?”
“I’ve been looking for you” said Mr Russell. “Do you know who I am?”
He put his hand on my head. And mumbled something with his eyes closed. My hands were still trembling. I closed my eyes in fear. My lunch must've been contaminated with magic mushrooms or some-thing.
It had started to rain.
I was scared. And suddenly there was thunder outside. I opened my eyes.
Mr Russell had vanished. Had I imagined the whole thing?
I ran outside.
I asked Radhey where Mr Russell was.
He said, "Who?"
"The curator. Duh!"
But he paused first, and he wouldn't look at me, so I thought he was messing with me.
"Not funny, bro," I told him. "This is serious."
Lightning boomed overhead.
"Maam," I said, "where's Mr Russell?" Mrs Stone stared at me blankly. "Who?"
Mrs Stone frowned and sat forward, looking mildly concerned. "James, there is no Mr Russell at the museum. As far as I know, there is no Book of Beginnings at the Museum. Are you feeling all right?"
“And where the hell have you been?”
I was blank. I was scared.
But what scared me the most, and what stuck in my head,was the last thing of all, out of all he had said.
Mr Russell said,
“On your way home there are things you might hear, but there’s no need to worry—there’s nothing to fear. They’ll be out there for sure; there’s one way you can check; all the hair will stand up on the back of your neck. Now, there’s no need to panic—no cause for alarm; they just mean to scare you; they mean you no harm. But the Rakshas won’t rest ‘til their job is quite done; they will not rest at all ‘til you cry, scream, or run.No, the Raksha won’t stop ‘til they give you a fright, if it takes them all day, or it takes them all night.”
As I tucked in bed I wonder who was Mr Russell. And what the hell happened at the Museum.