Before & After by Subhadra Jayaraman

Disclaimer: This is a fictional story and resemblance to any known character is purely coincidental

The story begins in a mystical faraway kingdom. The Kingdom of Perpetus was a vibrant, flourishing empire where the subjects were happy, well-endowed with food and shelter and occupations, and had an abundance of entertainment and recreation. The King, Egale, was benevolent, kind, and intelligent. The Queen, Pulchra, was thoughtful, cheerful, and sensible. There was one unique characteristic of this kingdom, however. The concept of “time” did not exist here, at least not in the linear sense. But neither was time circular here. “Time” in the Kingdom followed a strange pattern of loops and double loops, and twists and turns. Events didn’t follow any order. There was no past, present, or future. Everything happened simultaneously and also never.

Given this concept of time, Kings in Perpetus did not die or grow old before handing the functions of the Kingdom down to their successors. In fact, there was no concept of succession there – Princes or Princesses took over the state gradually. Individuals only contained characteristics and professions, they did not age or wrinkle or deteriorate. If you visited Perpetus, you could spend 300 human years there and come back to Earth and find that no time has passed. Or you could pass through Perpetus during a layover for a couple of human hours and find that your 10-day vacation is already over when you reach the destination. Such was the mystery of time in Perpetus.

Egale and Pulchra had two children – twin boys, who were next in line (pun intended) for the throne. On the day of their inauguration and ascension to the throne, the entire realm was present in cheer and splendor. As a token of gratitude to Egale and Pulchra, the people wove exquisite handcrafted tapestries that depicted the King and the Queen’s lives, presented locally sourced honey that was sweeter than the nectar of the Gods, and sang enchanting poetry praising the couple and everything they have done for their people.

Two identical thrones sat on the top of an intricately carved dais and the twin boys took the thrones ceremoniously. The twins were called Bepho and Aphta – fascinating names that seemed simultaneously magical and meaningless. The citizens were overjoyed and celebrated with sumptuous food and rich wine. They could not wait to see the glorious boys reign over them as the Twin Kings of Perpetus and be the embodiment of their splendid father and the various other Kings before who were all present there raising their glasses of mead and wine as the crowd cheered.

Now, each individual in Perpetus was endowed with a characteristic that was specific to their personality – these characteristics decided their occupations, roles in society, and their worth as citizens of the Kingdom. Every now and then, there would be individuals that would be eliminated from the loops and double loops of time in Perpetus if their traits did not fit the model. While Egale was known for his democratic stronghold and his free faith in all his subjects and his pure unfettered belief in the power and abilities of his people, the King before him was known for his raging socialism and penchant for providing all his subjects with all amenities irrespective of occupation or wealth. There were some earlier Kings and Queens who were known for their aristocratic or anarchic tendencies. So, the subjects of Perpetus had seen it all, and lived in many different types of rules and governance.

The Twins, now, came to be known for their perfect balance in their traits. Bepho was the embodiment of forethought, all that was preparatory, and was blessed with the virtue of foresight. Aphta was the epitome of retrospection, of careful consideration and learning. In Perpetus, naturally there was no such thing as consequence for your actions since events could happen free of linearity. Gradually, Bepho and Aphta found that the Kingdom had no use for them. Their traits and actions were a waste of their energy and nothing significant seemed to happen when they wielded their endowments. The people of Perpetus also started noticing this and found that they were having less and less things to celebrate. They observed that Bepho and Aphta were constantly being careful and cautious and sat musing and reminiscing – about what they couldn’t understand! Unsurprisingly, the people wanted someone else at the head of the realm now and were forced to approach the Twin Kings to request them to step down. Being the children of Egale, the twins knew that the King does what the subjects want and stepped down obediently.

As the people of Perpetus went about selecting the next King and preparing to celebrate again, it dawned on the twins that they could not continue to live in the Kingdom even as subjects since their abilities and traits had no use for any occupation on the land. What would anyone in Perpetus do with forethought and retrospection? They decided to use their powers elsewhere and traveled to Earth. And were they accepted with great glory! The inculcation into the human society on Earth was exhilarating! When they descended into human minds, they found an immediate home, with a warm hearth and a comfortable space. There was a minor glitch where the humans seemed to think they were Before and After because they seemed to love pronouncing the “R”, but what’s in a name!

Before lived on in human minds sometimes as a memory, sometimes as a sadness, and sometimes as joy. He also helped humans consider everything prior to starting an activity or an endeavor. He gave humans the power of forethought and the thrill of anticipation. After lived in minds sometimes as an epiphany, sometimes as regret, and sometimes as confidence. He made humans learn from the past, from history. He gave humans the power of retrospection and the chance to improve. And to top it all, on Earth they could perennially be together – they found no meaning in living or working independently of each other. There was Before before every After and there was After after every Before. Oh! What joy the brothers found in the linear scale of time! Their names lived on not just in human minds, but also in movies, books, and even such comical indulgences as memes! And so, the story ends with Before and After living happily (ever after?) in the minds, thoughts, and everyday lives of humans.

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