The Seychelles Islands: A Glimpse of Mysterion

I was born and spent the first few years of my life in the Seychelles. It’s easy to say those words, but the reality behind them is far more than I can hope to capture in syllables and sentences. All I can do is share a few images, and hope they convey something of the land of my birth.

Lush, abundant vegetation—fruit trees laden with fruit. The world of my childhood was full of growing things. I remember forests so green that many years later, the words of the Spanish poet Frederico Garcia—“Green, oh how I love you, Green!”—immediately reminded me of what I felt seeing those forests.

Many of the trees were fruit-bearing: mangoes, bananas, coconuts, jack fruit, breadfruit. And their boughs were never bare. They continued to bear month in and month out—there is no harvest season on the equator—and if you didn’t pick the fruit, it just fell off and rotted on the ground.

Clear, pure oceans teeming with countless fish. I went swimming in the ocean almost every day, for hours at a time. I remember once spending the entire day in the water, even when it rained. I never got cold, but water was almost blood-warm and the rain was too.

Inside the reef, the water was shallow, the bottom flat and white sand as far as the eye, with the occasional dark patch of seaweed. When I went out along a headland to look down into the ocean beyond the reef, I could see all the way to the bottom through a thick, shifting curtain of fish—tuna, Red Snapper, mackerel, angelfish, parrotfish.

Granite mountain peaks wreathed in clouds. The island where I grew up—Mahé—is one of three granitic islands in the Seychelles. The mountains that run down its length like a spine rise almost a thousand feet into the air. The three highest peaks are named, “Three Sisters,” and I remember looking up their flat, grey, weather-beaten faces and thinking that they looked as if they were mourning for something.

Clouds and sky. Over my childhood days unfolded a drama of light, wind and water. The great cumulonimbus clouds rushed overhead, and a brief but torrential downpour followed—I played happily in the warm rain. When the clouds broke or cleared, the sky was almost navy blue, so solid you felt you could touch it. Dawns and sunsets were an extravagant display of gold and red, like God showing off.

When I conceived Mysterion as a place where we would see the world clearly, the Seychelles offered themselves to me as inspiration. Above all, clarity and beauty sum up my memories of the place, and that was what I wanted Mysterion to be. The Seychelles represent for me a vision of the world seen clearly. That vision was imperfect now—in The Hidden Island, Jonah sees clearly his father’s failings, and they are ugly to behold—but in the end, it will be a vision of beauty, wiped clean all the filth of lies, division, and hatred that would ruin the childlike joy for which we were made.

How Mysterion was Conceived

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I was playing in the back yard of our family home in Nairobi, Kenya, when I heard the car start up around the front of the house. My father was at work, so I knew my mother was going somewhere.

I ran around to the front of the house, and sure enough, she was pulling out of the driveway. I ran up to her window. “Where are you going, Mum?”

She didn’t look happy to see me. There was a sadness about her that she covered with irritation. “I am just going to shop,” she said. “I’ll be back soon.” And she kept on backing out, leaving my sister and me in the care of our servants.

(P.S. Hiring servants is not odd in a country where the average wage is $76 a month.)

Later that afternoon, my father returned home. Darkness fell abruptly, as it does in Africa, and still, my mother did not return. My sister discovered that Mum had taken all her clothes out of her closet. She was really gone.

I recall standing at my bedroom window for the rest of the evening, looking out for her. I have returned to that moment often in my memory. It was where Mysterion was conceived.

20 years later, a story idea occurred to me: what if there a was a boy who discovered that his father (whom he loved to the point of idolizing him) had betrayed him? Could he learn to love his father despite knowing the terrible truth about him?

The heart of the story was about coming of age, moving from a love that idealizes to a love that sees the worst in the other, and loves anyway. The hero, who I named ‘Jonah,’ would learn that real love is self-sacrificial–emptying your expectations for the sake of someone else, even if that someone else is definitely not worthy.

To learn this lesson, Jonah had to go on a journey. He had to journey from an ideal view of his father to a real view, from a narrow, inaccurate vision to a clear and true vision.

So, I imagined that there is a world one in which we can see things as they truly are, in all their dimensions, and that what we call ‘the real world’ is just our limited, narrow, and ultimately inaccurate way of conceiving that true world.

Jonah’s journey would take him from his limited way of seeing (which I called Lethes, from the Greek word meaning “forget”) to the world as really is (which I called Mysterion, from the Greek word meaning “that which is hidden”). To redeem his father, Jonah would have to overcome his own expectations, idealizations, and illusions.

In the end, though, the story was not rooted in my interests in philosophy or spirituality. It was rooted in that day around 1980 or 1981, when my mother lied to me, and left, and did not come back. The Hidden Island was about me wanting to understand why she left, and why she lied. More than that, I wanted to learn how to love her despite all of that.

I’m not sure why I made it so that Jonah is searching for his father in The Hidden Island, and not his mother. Perhaps it had to do with my love of Michael Ende’s great book, The Neverending Story, which is about Bastian’s broken relationship with his dad. Whatever the case, it seemed right at the time and still does.

But in the end, the book is about and for my mother, my way of saying that I love her, not just as an ideal, but as a real person in all her dimensions.

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