Atlas works deep in the heart of impassable mountains, where souls with wits dare not to venture and only he is privy to its whereabouts. Calypso treks in large footprints imprinted on volcanic soil as he walks, catching a stray giggle in her hands and he does not turn back.
Father’s latest invention is a secret, a work in progress as advertised by the wildfire rumours, and Calypso wants nothing more than to steal a glimpse.
She creeps on the balls of her feet, caution in her muscles as she draws closer to his work station. Calypso conceals herself behind the narrow sinter rocks, wearing none of the pretty things that a girl should wear; there is practicality in mud, sand, peat and pitch.
His prized creation remains obscured from her view.
“Come here, child.”
Her father’s voice is booming, deep as the ground beneath her feet quakes but there is no anger in the vibrations. Simply the timpani of a tired parent, both amused and forbearance.
“Are you mad?” Calypso squeaks, half-debating the merits of rushing to him clumsily, or staying put and polished regret onto her grimace.
“No,” Atlas replies softly as feathers fluttering after winged falcons take flight. He rubs his snow-flecked beard, rubicund lips pursed in musing. “You are certainly most peculiar, and I have yet to decide if it is a compliment or a matter of worry.”
“What is that?” She is closer, sees a ball-shaped glass engulfed by rings of blue flames. It is strangely mesmerising, and she does not blink.
“A celestial orb or sphere.”
Her father spreads the celestial sphere flat beneath his big-boned palms. His thick fingers, calloused and sable-stained, deftly spread iridescent stars and colourful marbled planets all over his map.
“What it is use for?”
“So that your mother can sail during nights without fear for the loss of direction.”
She gazes up to the man, imposingly towering, and her question is uttered with reverence reserved for sagacious oracles and incredulity of a doubter, “Will it work?”
He shrugs broad shoulders. “Sail with your mother, and we will find out.”
Pleione raps sand-dusted fingers against the galley’s hull, rose-tinted lips pressed into a flat line and flaxen brows drawn together. Calypso knocks her childish knuckles on the dried reeds, hears nothing.
“Can we sail yet?” Calypso asks, hopeful as the fresh dew morn.
The corners of her lips curl into a charmed grin, and she pats the hull affectionally as she would a child; her mother offers a slender hand and Calypso inelegantly intertwines her plump fingers around her lithe ones and Pleione guides them back into the forest. “It will have to wait, for the hull will fall apart as soon it touches the waters.”
Her mother hews the galley to perfection, reinforcing the hull, testing the draft; Calypso fights the fatigue laying claim on her eyelids, and losses.
It is hours later, when she brushes the sleep from her lashes and yes, Calypso mumbles, “Now?”
Pleione chuckles, airy delight. “If you so kindly be a dear and share your sisters’ inclination to lend a hand, we would sail soon.”
Calypso cannot hold her sigh back from escaping. “But it looks finished.”
Pleione clucks her disapproving tongue, flits a soft gaze at Calypso. “Looks are deceiving in nature, my child. A raft must be able to handle the harshest punishment doled by the sea, withstand the unpredictability of the winds. A Titan may control the elements, but the elements dictate our essence. We embody the best and worst of the elements.”
Calypso pouts, surely convinced her mother is half-lost to the ocean ahead and their true purpose for today’s sail forgotten. “But when can we test father’s celestial sphere?”
“My, you are an impatient little one,” Pleione says, ruffling Calypso’s loosen braids into tousled mess. “Soon, daughter. Now we need more food.”
They set sail to the thick, grey blue gloaming over the sun’s after-tails and the bright occidental stars gleaming glass-like overhead. Pleione is different at sea than on shore; her bounded golden curls are swept free by the winds, the curve of her lips is ferally libertine than demure and azure ocean veins strike contrast against her gypsum skin.
Her mother is a dazzling creature of the ocean, and Calypso knows this is the woman Atlas gone great lengths to fashion tools to let his wife spread her nautical wings further.
Pleione smirks, perfect teeth shining in the dark and sea-green eyes sparkling waywardly. “Now let us see if your father is a visionary or a fool disguised as one.”
Already Calypso could feel the salt dancing on her tongue, gentle and treacherous. The dusking breeze billowing against her skin with playful chilling teeth. The raft skips over the crested waves merrily, like rabbits bouncing in a meadow of dandelions.
“So is father a fool or a visionary?” Calypso questions, squinting at the sultry yellowing moon.
Her mother joins her at the bow, long-nailed fingers trace swirls in the calm waters. “What do you think, dearest?”
Calypso mulls her answer for a beat, but there is no conviction in her words, posits another inquiry against Pleione’s, “A visionary.”
“Then he is.”
(Her first taste of the sea is sweet, with Pleione’s merry laughter thrown carelessly into the night and Atlas’ celestial sphere paves the way to benign seafaring.)
Calypso is the youngest, a mewling babe, among Atlas and Pleione’s broods and they treat her as such.
The lines dividing her siblings are fractal, almost tribal. That does not stop Calypso from intruding, dipping her toes into their sisterly affairs.
Hyas is a youth on the cusp of manhood, with Pleione’s sun-lit curls and the squared jaws of Atlas. Her mother thinks he is a fine man, but Calypso sticks her tongue out as he bends down, runs his tickling fingers over her belly until she giggles and pleads for him to stop. Sometimes he is generous enough to let Calypso fiddle with his bow. His arrows are off-limits, but Calypso is content.
Phasyle, Coronis and Eudora, closest to Hyas in age, are his playmates. They would dance at his success, his hunting closed by a ceremony of torrential crystals and the petrichor that rises after. Sometimes they let Calypso spins in tropical hail and their laughter blend effortlessly with the steady beating of rain.
Clear-voiced Aegle, Erytheia, Hesperia and Arethusa tend the garden of golden apples. Calypso slips into their chorus, as they sing and little sister gyrates as she’d seen the muse Terpischore once danced. Hesperia serenades a poplar, Erytheia twirls an elm around the garden, Aegle strings a willow’s sacred trunk and Arethusa takes Calypso by the hands and lifts her up, laughing.
The seven sisters before her, are her mother’s aides and her father’s supporters. Maia, the oldest, plays the shepherdess and corrals the sisters into make-believe stars and winds. Electra starts the lullabies, Taygete weaves the words, Alycone strums the Aulos and Celaeno sways, imitating the nimble footwork of a swan and Sterope matches the act of a besotted fool for Merope’s elegant seafarer. Calypso claps, sings and screams, ‘encore’.
Peace is a fragile thread, harried and tugged impossibly apart by younger Titans, now denouncing their heritage for clean future and carving out a legacy to last an eternity.
For ten years, Titans clashed and Olympians roared.
The existent hierarchy is toppled, and the punishments are mercilessly issued on the war’s failures and defeats. The parade of victors is bathed in glorious wreaths and burnished weapons, but they cannot scrub the ivory-clay off from their skins. The hallmarks of a Titan.
Atlas, by the virtue of siding with their brethren, is punished, and Calypso does not see her father again.
Pleione seeks solace in sailing, off she goes to Boeotia. Her seven daughters in tow, in a galley she raised with magic and sweat. Calypso pleads for a space among the rowed seats; Pleione placatingly whispers, “not this voyage, child.” Calypso remembers the pointed look her mother cast at Orion.
With her husband condemned to hold the celestial heavens, a disproportionate retribution for Titans fighting for their given birth rights, even lowly giant huntsman bids for a chance, a violation eager to bloom.
The war ends, immediate and the fortunes for Atlas and his kin unravels like the stray linen of a ragged chiton.
Hyas falls first. His playmates, her sisters, weep and sorrowing hysterical grief burns acid onto their tears and chapped hearts.
Her gardening sisters, with honey in their songs, are destined to tend the orchards of the newly crowned Queen, and neither one nor four are allowed to pick the fruits, for the ever-watchful immortal dragon Ladon and his hundred heads is there to report the slightest blip.
Her seafaring sisters are lost to the seas first, then to the skies. Pleione is missing, and Calypso takes to the waters, in a raft she assembles through memories haphazardly stitched together over panic-led fingertips.
Weeks of aimless sailing, and Pleione’s scent tastes more imaginary than the inquisitive seagulls overhead, Calypso anchors her battered raft on to the palm-fringed shores.
She longs for the cooling strokes of freshwater dripping down her fishbone-spine. High grass, coarse beneath her bare feet. Imagines the pretty flowers and their petals artfully splayed around her peplos as she drinks splendid wine out from silvered chalice.
Her idyllic fancies cut short by the rabid begging of a beleaguered maiden to be hidden, “Please, he’s coming for me. Don’t let him hurt me.” Calypso imagines this could—must—be Merope’s last words before the huntsman defiled her body, caring not for if he has her sister’s consent.
She offers Calypso her name, Maera, and the power over her to the Titaness, through trembling hand over Calypso’s freckled knee and the other bloodied hand clinging to her face. The bond forged an instant and the mortal must be spared from Merope’s fate.
There is not much time for grandiose illusions. “Speak no words, make no movements,” Calypso instructs, untangling her himation, drapes it all over the ox-haired Maera.
The ‘him’ the maiden dreads until glistening tears spill down her bruised cheek, is a minor godling, born from the union of a Titan and an Olympian, tucks his bronzed sickle into his belt. “My maid has slipped away,” he says, affably polite in his greeting, “is there by any chance, you’d seen her?”
“I am afraid I have not come across any maiden along the shores. My luck is not so fortune.”
He laughs, it is a hollow, ugly thing. “You can lie, but I can smell her.”
“You can believe all you want, but I must be on my way,” she says, curt and flippant.
“I do not think you know who you are dealing with, little girl,” he hisses, pleasant face contorting into a wicked sneer.
“I am neither little nor a girl,” Calypso says, drawing the bow of her fallen brother, the arrowhead aimed above his breast, where his heart races despite the calm etched on his face.
“You cannot kill me. And first lesson, you are too close to pierce my heart.”
“Perhaps a mortal could not. The daughter of Atlas might, and this is no ordinary bow, for it belonged to my archer brother and his father Atlas created them for him.”
The realisation drains his sun-tanned face of it colour to pallid fright, and Calypso smirks, complacent. “I believe you and I are thoroughly finished with our dealings. Perhaps you will catch your maid elsewhere.”
The mortal’s wounds, of blue-black eyes, ruined nose, bruised cheek, split lips and the list continues, is a disturbing record, marked on her flesh, a humiliation of sorts. All that Calypso could repair, return Maera to the unsullied maiden she was, a carefree delight at the foothills of pasturing Lampsakos.
But Calypso cannot heal her, for the fear subsists, lurking beneath indebted eyes of roasted nuts and Maera flinches at the merest sound made by hooved feet, the slash of iron scythe on grown stalk. Her supplicant is a pitiful child; the notion stirs sympathy, breeds ever-present, unshakable apprehension and the demand to be heedful.
“I want to flee, I am not safe here though my father and brothers are vigilant men. They are weeds he could cut down with his sickle and cruel laugh,” she bawls, bunching Calypso’s chiton in frenetic grip. “My lady, I pledged to you, let me be of use. Please conceal me from these lust-driven scums.”
Calypso relents. She has never been adept at refusing.
Maera bids her father farewell and kisses Korrina, her mother, a snivelling goodbye, while her brothers, strapping men honed by labours under the sun, embrace her in weepy arms. Hours later, Maera rows the oar unasked, with the vigour of a determined wolf and Calypso is almost certain her oceanic voyage is sacrificial and it must be done.
Let it be told, Maera, daughter of Eusebios, is raised on the stories of gods and goddesses as heroic beings, and the mighty Titans are the vilest critters to ever govern their world.
She’s prayed in the altars of splendid Olympians, more than she’s count the goats in her family’s flock. Yet neither any rush to rescue her—though the priest once warned the whims of gods and goddesses are mysterious and mortals are insignificant. The implication is there, ripped for young Maera to pick apart with questing teeth.
Calypso is a Titan, an enigma. Maera supposes it is a given fact meagrely afforded by the Titans, drowned in a narrative rewritten by the victors of the Titan War. Maera’s known many sailors, famed and unknown, all male but Calypso.
There is beauty in Calypso, that shines beneath the garish, lumbering sun, Maera finds. Her eyes are furious storm clouds, lament-drenched and unyielding. Her tapered fingers work expertly to draw the mast, and Maera could feel the persistent tickle of magic in the air, as the raft sails into the night.
Calypso calls herself daughter of Atlas. Maera knows Atlas does not have the ocean in his veins, not the way Calypso is at ease on the galley frisking on silver-crested waves, and thrives as the sea-salted gale whipping the woolly sailcloth.
Maera is the first, but not the last of the maidens hunted for petty reasons by desire-clouded men, be it mortal or immortal. Calypso ushers these maltreated women to her raft, and off they cruise to safety. Her compassion for women like Maera is perplexing, but she is grateful for Calypso, doesn’t question the Titaness, only to aid as her mortal self could proffer, welcoming her kin to the raft.
Surely the final island they moored to is an island of bountiful fruits, dark emerald trees gigantic and gnarled, vast mammoth caves sprawling with rich crystals and freshwater trickling from the sole mountain sprung from the inner island. All untouched by the hands of men. Perhaps waiting to be tended by the delicately sturdy hands of womenfolk.
Calypso motions for the women to construct shelters within the caves, to gather food and to seek water catchment. They leave her alone, but Maera stays by her mistress.
The island is a marvellous discovery, and her raft could no longer accepts the many terrified maidens as passengers, even if Calypso wishes to extend a temporary reprieve. Her galley is anchored to the serene shoreline, littered with fronds. She desires a private moment alone on the brilliantly white sands. These little girls obey her instructions, with the approbation of priestesses in busied pantheons around Olympus.
She’s not skilled in the art of plaiting enchantment into reality. Ignorant of the potency carried in a Titan’s willpower, in their blood. But she is a Titan. Some matters are inherently instinctual, like bird soaring to air.
Calypso summons the island’s mundane essence, shaped in vine-threaded pearls, binds the newly tangible crux to her titanic will, braids permanence and wrathful wishes into the pearls. Moulding pearls into ethereal veil is terribly easy, and she beseeches, let only the worthy weary a passage to this island, and the litanies made into fortified gates. Crimson-stained fingers scatter the misted ashes into the wind, shrouding the island from prying celestial eyes.
There is a shift in the air, waft of current winds dying out to a tranquil breeze, laden with a promising future. Calypso wonders if this is how the Pleiades felt, upon being shown the laughable mercy of Zeus.
(Years, and years, and many years, all of those years coalesced into a hazy line, Calypso knows she’s mistaken ‘haste’ for ‘well-thought’. But this is not the point of time, she’s come to this wounding revelation.)
Dusk settles on the island, snug like a quilt of gallant spring over the valley of Lampsakos. But the lush trees smell of smoke and scorched pine; an irregularity for pines are the skeleton of Grecian ship.
“What are you doing? Don’t stand there.” Maera dashes to the moonlit seaside, in time to catch the flames turn ardent, leaping for the skies, staining them with rust. “Kill the fire, don’t let it spread.”
Cleis spares her a quick glance, then turns on the ablazed raft. “Lady Calypso demands a fiery end to the galley, the ship’s service is not required now or ever.”
Maera has seen the Titaness shielding the raft, against weather, pirates and savage tentacled beasts, with the ferocity of a lioness over its cubs. The tender care she manages of the ship, when mortals sleep, when Calypso alone is awake, to stand guard. Calypso is not a woman to let her prized possession blistered to embers.
“What have you lost?” She intends not to raise her voice, but the shrill in her words could scratch glass. Maera winces at her own insolence.
Calypso smiles. The sort of smile that cracks if Maera examines it too close, and see it fissures to sorrow. “Nothing you should worry about.”
Diplomacy isn’t one of Maera’s best traits, and it shows.
“There is always a cost to great magic cast. What did it cost you, mistress?”
Calypso’s nonchalance is believable. If Maera hasn’t seen her mistress underneath the sweltering moonglow, commanding the ship’s oars embodying the grace of a sea nymph, she’d be disposed to believe it too.
(But of course, her sacrifice is made, and resignedly accepted. There will not be any voyages for Calypso—and Maera decides, that is the most noblest immolation she has the honour to witness.)
These women—always mortals—hunted by gods, Titans and men lusting pretty flesh and exquisite beauties, stumble upon Ogygia, in dilapidated watercrafts on the verge of unravelling, powered by sheer will and threadbare prayers. For a time, the tide comes with fresh faces—then the stream of fleeing maidens dwindle to a drop.
Still, Lady Calypso welcomes them all, the ever-benevolent Titaness.
In this secret island, Dione and her kin pledged to celibacy befitting for Artemis. It is their choice, and not Calypso’s place to forbid otherwise. Sometimes love blossoms between two souls linked by alike fates and Calypso extends her blessings to the loving doves.
They live long lives, yes. Dione is aware how none of her kin or her has aged since they fashioned a peaceable home in Calypso’s island, gobbled up the sanctuary Calypso offered. The Titaness herself is radiance that barely dim in the passing years.
Immortality is a gift, a blessing tied together with cursed strings. Mortals are never meant to outlive their natural lives. The news of a child-brother is now a grandfather of twenty, a village conquered four generations later, parents buried in earthen tombstones and the passage of time is never fair or kind. The burden of knowing weighs heavily on their spirits.
But Lady Calypso is understanding.
One by one, they cease to drink the ambrosia Calypso brewed. Springy skin turned lined, freckles sun-baked on unblemished limbs, and brittle bones ached. Dione has never seen so much last breaths in the span of several years—and she cannot stop her own wails from soaking her kolpos wet when her lover turns ashes.
Calypso assembles little rafts from the finest cedars. Each one is an urn, their names etched lovingly on the hull, and Calypso sailed the urns back to their hometowns, for those that still exists and for some, sprinkled over the vast ocean.
“Maera wanted you to know that she felt responsible for imprisoning you to this island,” Dione stammers, and her eyes are moist despite the dry air. “And she was terribly sorry for setting you into a role you might not wanted.”
“Maera was a senile woman. Many ludicrous things has she mumbled in her twilight years,” Calypso grins, feigning annoyance with a roll of her eyes.
“We were—are thankful, and your sacrifices are the debts we bring to our graves,” Dione pauses, coughing into wrinkled fist, “On the behalf of the women that left before me and I, we apologise for leaving you alone, my lady.”
“Hush, you’ve spent far too much breath on that unnecessary speech.”
The Titaness and her glittering smile warms the ache in Dione’s feeble fingers.
“No more ramblings, Dione, enjoy the sunset.”
There is no place for guilt in her island, Ogygia, and Calypso will not accept sadness, or loneliness as residents.
She is never alone, Calypso insists.
All that is touched, cultured by the nurturing hands of the mortals, still grow, and thrive. They are with her, though their bodies are cinders in the wind.
It is rather quiet, she concedes. Only a little.
Twittering birds and singing crickets cannot replace the chatters of human tongue or the melodious glee of distracted maidens, lovers in giggling adoration; but Calypso masters the language of faunae.
She busies herself with the overflowing garden of perpetually springtide flowers, creeping vines over knobbly branches and eradicating the cobwebs adorning the granite-calloused walls.
The first man to drift ashore is a marooned sailor. An accident, Calypso decides.
The sailor reeks of succulent apricots in the awing noon, or coarse desiccated hay settling in the bottom of paddock, or even the dust of honeybee’s wings, garbled by a spark of divinity. A hero in the making, she thinks, and wonders if he’s aware of it.
He is a sodden man. Carved deep into his flesh, chipping bones into shards, are an assortment of gashes and welts. His saline breaths are faint, like the shrivelling pulse in his wrist—one sprained foot dangling in the phantom ferry of Charon’s.
The time to ponder anything further beyond the man’s state lasts a fraction of a blink. Calypso is not one to turn away the weary in need. Maera can—would attest to that.
Calypso slaves through the nights, concocting salves and healing potions, for the chance he would ease the restlessness stirring within her.
When his health returns, this sailor with scars too chasmic to heal, thanks Calypso for her soothing touch and fashions his escape to be on his merry way.
Crafting galleys and ships happens easily to Calypso as drinking rubied wine in midday rain, it seems. For this man, she wrings an admirable watercraft and wishes him the glory he desires.
Haggard men in flailing health and moth-eaten clothes, supplant the maids preyed by men of all forms once sought refuge in her island. Always shipwrecked. Only one survivor, clinging to a piece of peripatetic rotting wood and wounded.
(She is indifferent to this change.)
She provides these men with plentiful food, spiced wine and companionship in exchange for tales beyond her veiled island, however paltry they may be.
But never her bed.
For when their gazes fall upon her, it is not her face they see, but a beloved left at home. Sometimes, she weaves illusions to slake the misery in their loins and hearts.
Nonetheless, for the meagre few unattached, Calypso lends her bed—once—to be warmed by mauve nectar and starved lust.
With their thirst and curiosity satiated, they do not look at her like she’s the forbidden fruit. Only a forlorn woman, says a seaman gaunt and shrill-toned bluntly. That’s when they look somewhere, into the distance and the craving for homeland blooms.
Still, their stories slacken the ache swirling in her chest.
Melancholia twists solitude into contradictory yearning, Calypso painfully learns. Her wine-veined heart is forged out of malleable steel, so quick to love with vulnerable mind. Eros strings his bow, flies his arrows into her heart, as their eyes sparkle when they spill the secrets of the world she left.
Her love is merciless, for forcing her to fall deeply for these transient men. So thoughtlessly rude, having Calypso to plunge every first sight.
(She bites back all the love declarations so eager to leave her lips.)
It starts the same, all too swift and consuming.
(It ends the same.)
These great grand sweeping romances—mostly figments of her banal imaginings, she thinks—falter into a withering finale.
They look into the distance, at the shimmering gold on blue ocean and see things Calypso cannot. She’s lost their attention, slipping out from their minds, like glided sand eddying in the gust. So, she works on the ships, pours her fissuring heart, shards of her soul into each—and every one—of them.
Calypso kisses them tenderly.
And through the kiss, she pilfers a smidge of their memories—enough to taste the dish of Othrys on tongue, to feel the sweltering Cretan heat cling to her brow, to savour the fermented fig of a merchant’s cellar.
When they sail, with her already forgotten, Calypso stares as long as she could, until they fade into dotted shadows on the marigold-hued horizon.
She soothes the widening chasm in her chest, with white lies—it’s not them she’s in love with. It’s the possibilities they possessed, as they navigate the vast ocean, in search of a sundry of things.
Ogygia now is a reprieve for these seafaring mortals, destined heroes, in their arduous journeys to triumphant conquests mandated by the gods, by the Fates.
It’s not such a terrible reinvention for an island once harboured frightened damsels.
Eternity is not eternal, but a stretch of hazy lines between the setting sun and the rising moon before another seafarer cast ashore.
Calypso runs curious fingers on the scabbed, jagged white lines, the tolls of wars, on his impressive muscled torso and knows he’s a soldier of cunningness.
He coughs up salt from his lungs. His muddied curls tangled with seaweed. Penelope, he calls her, when he’s half-dazed by the garish noon shine, delirious with fever.
Like the men before him, she extends him with nourishing food and blithe rapport. Not her bed.
Odysseus has come to expect various unsavoury fates befallen on him. The war has left family shattered and souls torn from bodies in agony; fathers mourning for mutilated sons, lovers lost in inconsolable fury, incompleted brothers laid together and wailing wives on their knees.
Yet, all that desolation cannot rival the wretchedness chiselled into her patrician features.
She presses a finger to silence his questions, and croons, “Rest, you weary one,” the way a mother would to a frilly child.
She’s a peculiar woman. Calypso requests nothing heavier than for him to deliver his military chronicles, by the hearth of burning cleft cedar and juniper as they dine. He is no poet, but dramatics form most of his actions—as Ithacans are wont to do in the company of mulled wine.
When she laughs, there is terpsichorean harmony in her tilting chuckles and Odysseus is utterly charmed. The nights are harsh on him, for he sleeps one eye tuned to impending danger. But there’s peace in long-winged birds nesting, perfumed cypress eases the tautness in his corded shoulders and several days turn weeks, Odysseus cannot find a single drop of longing within him.
It’s a dinner they have over many nights, perfectly innocent. He plays the storyteller, spinning gaudy tales no maid should hear—her cheeks tingle in crimson flush. Calypso implores him for more. The twinkle in his bolt-black eyes as he speaks, relieves the throbbing pain within her and she is glad.
There’s too much tension crackling in the air, flames licking snapped twigs—he is valiant in his clumsy attempts to emulate obliviousness; his unruly beard twitching, when his dark coal eyes remain on her lips and the brief breath held in.
They’re dancing at the edge of a poisoned feeling, Calypso muses, tiptoeing on coy smiles and low wit.
There are boundaries she will not trounce—not where the heart is concerned; a marked man is the poisonous fruitlet of all.
So, Calypso brushes a kiss on his bristled jaw, breathes him a silent goodnight. Downright harmless, she swears. As Pleione would have done to Hyas, before her mother’s koplos sashaying against the marbled floor, disappearing into the sea for another artless oceangoing.
He falters a moment’s blink, and she really should not linger. But it’s too late for her to stop, when he cups her head with his roughened hands and deepens the kiss, takes her the means a husband would to a wife he missed.
(In seven years, her bed welcomed Odysseus once. Only once.)
The tales of war and mayhem trickle into dried well, Penelope and Telemachus are his stories.
Calypso knows it’s an omen.
His love for her, however small it is, has run its course. She does not miss the faraway look in his eyes, as he tries to recall his beloved and comes empty. Or the muted horror at the realisation of his marital crime.
Odysseus wants to confess—the curve of her lips into a bushed smile quietens him.
She knows his reasons. He’s not the first man to drift into her island, world-weary and yearning for the quiet life only his homeland could give, or the excitement in unexplored lands.
(But he is her favourite. The only one to last in her company the longest too. The man who deals the harshest blow at her already-fragile heart.)
All the while the stiff shore breeze lugs his aggrieved sobs back to her, Calypso selects the most exceptional alders to craft the first galley her magic touches in years.
Hermes appears unbidden. He’s not alone, why not, since Ogygia is steeped with primodial influence brought on by a Titan’s blood and willpower, meant to ward gods like him. Owl’s wings bristling—Athena’s—trying to gain a foothold in the island. Lightning hisses and thunder roars, displeasure at the shield she’s erected and Zeus has theatrics that could rival the disposed Titan King.
“Calypso,” Hermes grits.
“You intruded my island for a waste,” she easily cuts him down with a glare, “His raft will be ready by the first ray of dawn and the mortal is not a hostage. He is a man with choices.”
“Do we have your word?”
“Was it a prayer that compels me to release him by the authority of Zeus?”
“I see,” she says. “Take leave for you are not welcome here.”
(Odysseus is a coward, she decides. He was always free to go.)
When she hands him the reins to the raft, he eagerly accepts with guilty eyes and Calypso already finds herself forgiving him. Odysseus tosses a final look over his broad shoulders. It’s a sad smile, she remembers, but a smile nonetheless.
She does not ask him to return, despite the craving of him hooks deep around her spine.
Calypso lets him go.
She hums to the lullaby Aegle sings for a bright-eyed Calypso in the grass of fallen tow-coloured apples, absentminded as idled hands weave the loom with golden shuttle.
A stray thought enters her, a musing; if she could rupture the veil—a curse, really—she casted, in haste, in the impulsivity of a frightful child and packs her belongings, then set to the sunrise she’d seen too many men head to.
Perhaps, she would feel the briny breeze on her hair, salt caressing her skin, the ever-changing stars shifting to a phantasmagoria of sparkling diamonds and the sight of seagull flying overhead again. She could almost smile at the thought.
But she is daughter of Atlas. Ἄτλας is durus. Hard, enduring. There will always be a drifter in need. And so, she culls the thought from her mind for all. Calypso waits.
The anticipation for maritime captains with sprightly lurid tales builds and builds and she receives more disappointments than Calypso likes. The men that came after Odysseus are passable storytellers. Not one comes close to seize the throne Odysseus paved with his sparkling eyes and uncouth-rimmed stories.
Still, Calypso persists.
(She is not alone, when she has this. Whatever this is and however small it is.)
Sometimes they’re fair, pale as the lily-whites of bleached bone and hair spun in gold, looped intro intricate roguish braids and eyes clear like the blue hail of the snow-flakes mountains.
Then there’s the men with desert heat on their skin, and dune grit clinging their eyelids, and lion pelts tied to their spider-slim waists.
Rarer even are the midnight-haired sailors, Calypso remembers the feel of black silk on her fingertips as she washes them, and their slanting eyes dark as soot.
The tongues they speak, are foreign to her ears, pluck from the various lands spread-eagled beyond her island. So as their clothes—none of the patterns, not a single fabric—spark no recognition within her.
But Calypso could taste the blessing of gods flowing in their veins, exotic divine essence that bears resemblance to the fleeting memories she pilfered from the many sailors before; Kermet fertile river, arid land of the Afri, the slit and bemired banks of Asia. And she welcomes these somnolent seamen all the same.
As with the maidens a milennia ago, even the men cease to land on her shoreline, salted water trapped in heaving lungs and spirit nearly broken. And the few that did, occurrences made by accidents. Divinity is absent in all of them.
Calypso does as she always have, sends them back home to weeping mothers, worrying fathers, anxious sisters, sleepless brothers and broken-hearted lovers.
(She never once invites them to her bed, even the men in thrall of her singing, beauty and lonesomeness. Not since Odysseus.)
The next castaway is so, so young. He’s rail-thin, stalk tall as wiry Ares. Pallid as wax papyrus, gashes and bruises inked in sordid places on his skin. Hair cropped close to his scalp prickling her inquiring fingers. Slick oil and gunpowder coat his badly chewed fingertips.
And—and—and he crackles of an Olympian’s spark. It is faint, but she knows of the spark shimmering underneath his skin. There is familiarity of this boy beckoning the corners of her long-winded memories. Calypso cannot place a reason behind this mystery.
Even so, Calypso moves with such urgency she hasn’t felt in years of thousands.
He asks the usual questions of a dazed sailor seeking answers, at the first drop of ambrosia quenching his lips and the great hearth prying chilled fingers from their bodies.
“Calypso,” she replies.
He blinks, forehead creasing into frowning lines. “Like the myth?”
Half of crow-winged brows rose, he bites his lower lip. The vowels of his words are awkwardly placed, but the syntax of his Greek is impressive, as he switches to the language she’s spoken all her life, “The lady who loved Odysseus, tried to make him into her husband and trapped him in her island.”
She is not one to be taken aback by this; to see their history distorted, painting Odysseus the heroic man. The fire of resentment for such things have been extinguished by her years on the island. Odysseus has always been gentle with her.
“What do you think of Calypso in that myth?”
He shrugs narrow shoulders. “She’s lonely. The loneliest people are the saddest, my giagiá used to say. And sad people do crazy things, you know.”
“That’s quite a wisdom your grandmother has.”
He sighs. “I wished my dad took cue when they named me.”
Calypso smiles, and asks, “How so?”
“I was named after him in a way, but really, it’s my military dad who loves some general with a unique name.” He snorts at the word ‘Ulysses’, and sheepishly adds, “It’s fallen out of popularity since the 1880s.”
He chuckles, holds his chest tenderly, and all Calypso could think of is flowers blooming out from frozen shells in the earliest of spring. This boy is quite an imaginative minstrel, she likes that quality—always have.
Later, as she ushers him to his room, once housed his namesake, her gaze lingers on him. He’s yet to move freely, free of the battered condition his body in. Calypso inspects the bandages she’s applied, stares into turquoise eyes that reminds her of the seaweed flowing with the current and measures the width of his embarrassed smile.
He is Odysseus, she knows.
The revelation begets sickening dread.
Every night, Calypso prods him over his history, almost fervently as the starved children searching scraps at the bottom of a dented food can. If she is who she implies herself to be, Nikos must be dreaming, still drifting across the ocean bathed in metal debris from torn apart copter.
Titans, Olympians and secret magical island are fiction, stories formed by ancient people to explain the natural world. Scholarly books labelled their existence as myths. Here, Nikos is eating the labours of a flower-adorned woman, dressed in alabaster chiton and vine sandals.
Everything about her seems to be lifted from a set of Clash of the Titans movie. A caricature. One of those cosplayers Nikos seen during comic convention.
She is—looks—young, Nikos guesses, a few years older than his eighteen years.
But then sometimes when he sneaks a fast peek, the moonglow glinting on her cheekbones and sees the gaze she flickers at the stars, it feels far older—antediluvian perhaps—than the twinkle in his grandmother’s eyes. Knows the loneliness imprinted on her delicate features intimately as Nikos knows isolation among classmates, neglectful parents caught in fury exchange. He cannot fathom how long she’d spent her years living here. Months, plausible but likely it is years.
Nikos finds her at her most elegant by the first hint of dawn and her song floats into his bed, cotton-candy sweet and carefree unbogged by the world he comes from. Funniest when she perches precariously over the fountain’s edge, futily trying to stop her flowers from falling off her basket.
(He wishes his handphone isn’t soaked with salty sea, or that he had artist’s hands, Nikos wants to capture all this. Not just her. The island too.)
She listens. To all the things he discloses, either ramblings muttered in the heat of nightmares, or the private conversations he has with chirping sea-crows by the beach.
He tells her, he’s a soldier on his way back to his country, in a metal bird capable of flying long distances, much like Hermes and his winged sandals. A platoon of fifteen men, armed with firearms—and she learns it’s a L-shaped machine that spits bullets and fire. Done his first tour; Ulysses is so, so, so proud. Eagerly hopeful for the war to end.
There is no Helen of Sparta in his tale. No Achilles or Hector. Paris is a city of love, if only they knew the consequences of his ill-conceived infatuation of another man’s wife. Only powers and greed driving the war, not kings and princes vying for glory.
This is Odysseus. But it’s not him.
The boy’s far too young, clean-shaven but his glistening black hair has grown into the dishevelment of dog’s coat and his eyes are the wrong shade—not the volcanic ashes that is Odysseus, but the swirling pool of rainwater after her brother’s hunt.
He is named after the King, remember that name—Ulysses.
The facts rears itself ugly in her head once again. His naivete is shining through the skin-and-bones of his tall frame. In her mind, it echoes a whisper; too pure, untouched, undefiled. He lacks the knowledge of pleasure—only courtyard kisses and platonic embraces.
It’s Odysseus looking back at Calypso in earnest.
The world beyond her veiled island has changed so much when she isn’t looking, the knowledge grates her briefly. Yet he still has the flickering of delight in his eyes, when he spins tales of his country, his family and his friends.
(Calypso has sisters once. A brother too. A mountainous father and a mother made of the ocean. But she cannot recall their faces anymore clearer than the many maids, the many sailors she’d received over the years.)
He is endearingly old-fashioned in values, and chivalric, saving himself for the one. He mumbles the name through his words, sharp cheeks flushed and Calypso cannot stop herself from replying, “Who is she? Tell me more.”
(But it’s too late for Calypso to dig the hooks of his innocence into her being. And she can hear her crystal glass heart shattering again over his dreamy smile.)
Like Odysseus before, he is anxious.
She knows it’s time. The warning bells are toiling.
Calypso feels like it’s been a lifetime of giving, and this time, this time—she wants to be selfish. The night before she hands him the reins to the ship she finished. An echo of an action taken too many times in the past.
She beckons him into her bed, with batting eyelashes and the allure of a mythical story in pearl-white curves and pomegranate-lined lips. He succumbs easily to her summoning; hot-blooded youth he is and Calypso teaches him the ways of pleasuring a woman.
Odysseus takes her, with experience guiding his hands and kisses. Ulysses is pliant under her caresses, so quick to learn that boy and Calypso is hungry for more.
When she slips out from his bed, already she steals this night from his memories with a kiss to his forehead. Surely, he will forget his tutor as he sails away from Ogygia tomorrow, but those lessons learnt, over tumbling kisses and fingernails carved red lines on shoulder blades, are ingrained into his marrows.
“I don’t really know how to sail,” he admits, and his ears are almost the shade of bright red apples.
Calypso smiles. “The raft will do all that, you just need to picture that place and wish to go there.”
“Come with me,” he says.
“I cannot sail.”
“Then I’ll get a helicopter. You’ll fly.”
His determination and persistence are admirable. Adorable, even.
“No, my place is here. The island exists for all those weary. Who am I to deny the next sailor the same care I offered you in your hour of need, I must stay.”
He tugs the metallic chain around his neck, curling her fingers with his, over the square disc. “This is all I can give you,” he says, pressing the signaculum on her palm and lips flatten into a thin line; he flits a too sift gaze at his raft, and the frown lines sits above his brows.
Calypso is silent. Thumbs the imprinted letters and digits with utmost care—she cannot read them, for her magic only ensures her tongue speaks all languages and she understands them. Never the written words.
“I won’t forget you.”
That is what Odysseus promises, before he left. He is the only man to say those four little words among countless of men washed to her shoreline. Ulysses obeys the mould his predecessor set, crooning the words she cherished.
Her words die on the edge of her tongue and she thinks, it is for the best, as she swallows the words she awards to Odysseus before. Instead, Calypso kisses him, deeply, profoundly and commits his soft rose petal lips to her memory.
Ulysses never leaves his eyes—laden with adoration and worship, she thinks—from her, as his raft brings him closer to the dawn-rimmed horizon. Calypso wonders if he will continue to stare at her with the same starry eyes she’s come to love unabashedly, if he knows what she’d done.
Five millennia shifts the world into a shadow of itself, but to call Ogygia timeless is charitable at best. She groans, her Jimmy Choo’s stilettos dig into the gritty, stinging sand. The sea-salt humid already revel in glee, her newly blow-dried hair timidly frizzing.
She makes the trek to the cave, underneath the shade of a multi-coloured umbrella. Regret hangs over her like gravid rainclouds, the choice to wear crisp pinstriped pantsuit is a colossal fashion mistake.
She trades modern invention for bygone era; slipping into billowy silk chiton and leather strapped sandals. Her once russet, straight hair now bounded in wire meshes and elaborately-detailed hairpins, crowned by leaflet golden diadem.
Fingering the flower-adorned constellations dotting the cave’s entrance, she sighs, eyeing the décor disparagingly. “Flower cluster drapes were in season, perhaps,” she says, rolling her eyes, “about four thousand years ago. So are the weeds. All that time spent here and you could not be bothered to spice up this place.”
“Circe, you are most welcomed to return to your island,” Calypso hisses, and pauses to work on her embroidery, “oh, forgive my bluntness but between you and I, Ogygia is still here. Yours languished as you elected to discard your responsibilities and travelled.”
Ogygia is brimming with ancient magic, far greater than her own, and seeped so deep into the roots that make the island as a fortress for the weak and hunted. The Titaness is much stronger than Circe—even Calypso—gives credit for.
“I’ve been dead for years, and what’s remaining of Aeaea isn’t going to give me the welcoming I deserve.” Her red-glossed lips curve into a haughty grin. “Unlike you, my role in the grand scheme of things isn’t tied to any island. It’s to me. Sailors like Odysseus drift to where I am, from Greece to New York, anywhere in the world.”
Circe circles the fountains, letting her fingers run through the waterfall sprouting. Being here in Ogygia, feels almost like a dream—and if she closes her eyes for a flickering beat, she is back on Aeaea, with roaring lions and sniffing pigs for amusing company.
“Speaking of sailors, Odysseus has returned. Albeit in a different body,” Circe informs.
“I know,” she says, heavy and quiet.
Circe’s attention quickly slides to the honeyed curls of Calypso tumbling over her shoulders as she works on her loom. Astonishment paints her words in high octaves. “He’s already visited you?”
Calypso nods, terse. “Stayed here for seven months.”
“Not quite like the stupid epic,” she says, pitches her tone closer to fraying whispers, “They’ve been returning. All the heroes. Those half-bloods and their ilk. The pantheon is restless and prayers don’t come readily as before. All they have are the souls of heroes past tossed back into the adventures the men taken long in the crumbling poems.”
Circe’s admission piques curiosity in Calypso, neither the loom or the thread could temper it. “Have you meet them all?”
“No. These newer breeds don’t experience as the epics as written by Homer and his prosy poets. Sometimes the events don’t match up, all jumbled up in order. The spirit is there.”
“I see. Perhaps time has not changed, only repeated cycles.”
Circe plops herself gracefully next to Calypso, participates in the weaving. She left this antiquated habit at the first hint of modern industrialization. Now, her fingers reacquainted themselves with the silk yarn and she weaves in tandem with Calypso.
“Of all the heroes, reincarnated or not, the boy is by far the best. He’s my favourite Odysseus yet,” Circe coolly confesses, at ease with spilling secrets to a rival at best, a sister-in-arms at worst.
“Mine too.” Calypso counts. Mulls the silence for a second or two. “Did you?”
“Goddess, no. He’s a child disguised deceivingly as a youth. I like my men rugged and some well-defined muscles padded to their frames.” Circe shakes her head sideways, chuckling at the absurdity. “What about—”
Her eyes catches the bulge pooling at her belly, as Calypso opts to remain purely invested in weaving.
“Oh,” Circe says, weighs the new discovery in cherished sympathy and pats Calypso’s hand in briefest nods.
(This warrants another visit, Circe muses, and a house call service by Eileithyia. Tracking the rather forgettable daughter of Zeus and Hera would not be hard; after all the minor goddess cannot separate herself from midwifery, even in her most modern reinvention.)
“Now, we’re even.”
Circe smirks. Calypso smiles.
Catholic purgatory seems to resemble a lot like some fantasy land instead, Elias notes, rubbing his eyes. Even the solitary angel, in her Greek-inspired dress and plants-filled basket attached to her hip, misses the mark laid by the New Testament.
“Am I dead?” Elias questions, squinting at the blinding sun haloing her head.
“Far from it,” she supplies, beaming.
“Wait, you’re the Calypso, aren’t you? Your father sided with the losing side of war, then you were imprisoned by the Olympians to an island, forever condemn to fall in love with shipwrecked sailors and to send them away as punishment, right?”
He attempts to rise, but the pain shooting up from his ankle sends him crashing on the soft sands. Clutches his ankle with care, despite the smile on his face falters into a pained wince.
“I was never imprisoned. My father agreed to the punishment by Zeus in the ultimate promise that his children will be spared from any.” Calypso scoffs, slathering crushed herbs over his swollen ankle. “Where did you get such notion?”
“Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series,” he answers, waits for the identification.
She gazes at Elias, both brows dipping at her forehead. “Rick who? Is he a poet of Homeric class? Or Ovid’s student?”
Elias shakes his head, rubbing his chin. “Not a poem. He’s a famous novelist.”
“Whoever this Rick is, you have mistaken me from some sad caricature. This island is a sanctuary I’ve taken to perform as caretaker. Not a prison.” She holds his chin with two hands, turning it sideways like his mother would scrutinise his juvenile bruises on a punched face.
“You will not be able to walk on that ankle,” she diagnoses with maternal efficiency. Calypso calls to the shivering bushes, “You two will have to carry him. Be gentle and do not drop the man.”
Two little boys cavort from the greenery, identical from the sleep-tousled raven hair to their inquisitive eyes of familiar sea-green. Duly obeying Calypso’s instruction, they transport him on the gurney up to their humble abode, with sturdy hands even Elias cannot match.
The boys, confusingly named similar to each other, are intrigued by the Yoyo Elias plays with, almost unblinking as their sight move to match the Yoyo’s wild direction. One tried to mimic his movement, with a Yoyo cobbled up from metallic chain and a—dog tag.
The words etched on the dog tag is unmistakeably an American production. The information differs slightly, but written for a man Elias knows and is in the same platoon. Honestly, there is uncanniness the way both boys smile in delight to his commander.
In fractured Greek, he offers them his Yoyo for a posed picture of two grinning boys fascinated by a novelty of toy considered traditional. Hides his smartphone lightning swift at the sound of Calypso’s footsteps echoing in his chambers.
“Cute kids,” he compliments, “Rick Riordan wrote you as a teenager. I guess, he’s pretty off in his interpretation and probably missed out some of the greatest plot twists for your—her arc. So, which lucky man wins the spot as their father? Odysseus? Percy Jackson?”
“Just another soldier washed upon my shore long time ago,” Calypso replies cryptically.
There has not been a sense of living on borrowed time feeling utterly prominent than the now, she thinks. Her immortality is resignedly trifling, in light of her sons stretching their explorer’s wings—already they stare at the clear-cut blue horizon, and seaweed eyes ravenous for the unknown.
Still, Calypso does not ask for more than she has. The few years she’s afforded, is certainly more than the measly seven years Odysseus granted her. Small mercies to the slowed growth her children have, owed to the coupling of a Titaness and a mortal boy.
Of course, when the times comes for her onyx-haired sons, Calypso will fashion the galley as she did for the transient men, their father, from the best materials Ogygia will always have to offer.
“Mother, there is a man,” screams Nausithous, and she could imagine him prodding the aground hero with his staff, fearless at strange men.
She tells them she will be with them in moments, but for the meantime, commands her sons to drag him closer to shaded trees.
Nausinous pipes out, “He is on a boat,” more excitably than confusion.
Calypso hurries her steps, for there has never been a man who entered her island with a boat. So, it is a god, she decides, that wishes to trample on the peace and tranquility she pried off from elusive years of solitude and melancholy.
However, Hermes himself never required such a boat to invade Ogygia, and with him, he brought Athena’s judgement and the thundering support of Zeus. Perhaps, the boys mistake broken pieces of boat for raft.
Calypso grips her basket of healing herbs tighter, a patter of harried footsteps from the garden to the shore.
“You won’t be needing that this time,” chimes a voice, though it is slightly hoarse, Calypso knows she has heard—dreamt—it before.
The man in front of her, is tall and broad-shouldered, with sable hair trimmed short never lost the unkempt curls and crystalline gaze of the sea. The full beard could not hide the fine sun-lines at the corners of his eyes. Time erodes youth from his face—and still she knows him.
(She always like this Odysseus the best.)
“W-what are you—you can’t be here. This is a trick,” she says, teetering too close to the edge of blinking tears and vicious heartache.
“I’ve come to take you away,” he says, points a thumb at her sons, and stupidly grins with the charm of blazing optimism, “and them.”
Just like that, Ulysses steals her breath, her heart and renews a new hope, brand new ambition flaring within Calypso. It’s the first in the years she has, Calypso thinks of breaking—no wants to sever the enchantment she placed on Ogygia thousand years ago.