He was in limbo. He stood balanced precariously on a narrow ledge at the very edge of a rocky cliff. Above his head, the sky was shrouded in dark clouds. At his feet yawned a vast dark abyss. Wreaths of smoky vapour coiling out from it enveloped everything and obscured his vision. A huge wind shrieked all around him threatening to sweep his feet off the ledge and plunge him into a seemingly bottomless pit. In sheer terror, he pressed back hard on the rocky wall behind him, flattening his palms out on either side of his quivering body, so that he lay spread-eagled on the sheer rock of that precipice.
"Save me, O Lord! Save me!" he screamed again and again in his fear. There was no response. He shouted himself hoarse while the wind grew stronger, ballooned out his thin cambric shirt and whipped his long hair all over his face. He almost gave up hope and abandoned himself to a headlong plunge into the chasm before him.
Suddenly, the black clouds above him were riven apart by a blinding flash of lightning. Loosening his grip on the rock behind him, he threw his left hand over his face to shield his eyes from the glare. When he dared to take a peek from underneath his arm, he saw to his astonishment a luminous figure with bright outstretched wings suspended in the air in front of him. "An angel!" he thought to himself confusedly, while his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth in dread.
"Do not be afraid, my child!" said a gentle voice out of the light.
With a desperate effort, he found his tongue again. "Is this hell?" he gasped. "Why am I being punished?"
"No, this is not hell," the voice replied. "You are not being punished. You are in a situation of your own making."
"But I am Christopher Columbus, voyageur extraordinary," he proclaimed, a trifle emboldened by the fact that he was not yet in hell. "How could I who sailed the high seas so often in all kinds of weather and found a western route to the Indies find myself in this predicament?"
"Because the time has come for you to face up to what has undone you and all those who followed in your footsteps," said the voice sternly.
"What is it that I have in common with those who followed my lead? What is it that I must confront?" The questions came tumbling out of a bewildered Columbus.
"Pride," came the swift uncompromising answer.
"But I suffered and fought and toiled to benefit humankind. No one appreciated me in my lifetime. They even laughed at me and robbed me of the wealth and praise that was my due. And now, You, an angel of God, accuse me of being proud. I am being unjustly persecuted," sobbed Columbus, his slight frame now shaking with uncontrolled anguish and fury.
"Hush, my child!" murmured the mysterious being. "See for yourself!
Suddenly, the entire gloomy scene before his eyes vanished, as if a painted tapestry had been whisked away from his sight. Columbus saw the menacing black clouds sweep away to reveal a sparkling blue sky brightened by the golden glow of the sun setting gloriously in the west. He saw the fathomless dark pit replaced by the rolling waves of the blue Atlantic. He saw the rocky ledge beneath his feet transformed into the swaying deck of the ship of his destiny, Santa Maria. He turned round and saw that the steep wall of the precipice had given way to the open ocean on which, a little distance behind his own vessel, floated the Pinta and the Nina, the two other ships under his command.
As he paced the deck of the Santa Maria, Columbus relived his odyssey in quest of a western route to the aromatic spices of the famed Indies in every vivid detail of meticulous planning, courageous undertaking and tireless execution. And he experienced anew the heady excitement of the discovery of a land he believed to be the Indies in the west as well as the profound gloom of frustration when his finding was repeatedly scorned and ridiculed.
He recalled the stifling poverty of his childhood as a weaver's son in Genoa as well as the passionate love of the sea which he developed in his youth. Signing on at the age of nineteen as a foremost hand, he undertook several voyages in the Mediterranean before he was shipwrecked off the coast of Portugal and finally arrived at Lisbon, alone, penniless and footsore. He was twenty-five.
Lisbon in 1476 could offer Columbus a deep water sailing experience which no other place in Europe could match. Since the beginning of the century the Portuguese had been scouring the Atlantic for islands and exploring the uncharted western coastline of Africa in order to exploit its potential for trade. By 1481, the Portuguese were undisputed masters of the Gold Coast of west Africa and had monopolized the profitable trade. Casting greedy eyes on the lucrative spice trade of the Indian Ocean, they were trying to round the Cape of Africa to land on the west coast of India.
"I did seize the opportunity fate had thrown in my way," he mused, coming to a momentary stop on the deck of the Santa Maria and balancing himself instinctively against the roll of the sea by planting his feet firmly wide apart. As he resumed his restless pacing, his reflections continued.
Enrolling in the Portuguese merchant navy, Columbus sailed the Atlantic routes from Iceland in the north to Guinea in the south and soon became a captain. On his return to Portugal, he married a master mariner's daughter who died soon after his son, Diego, was born. Thereafter, his life became centred almost exclusively on the sea. By 1484, he had gained enough experience, knowledge and influence to put forward a serious proposal to King John II of Portugal. Give up the African expeditions, Columbus advised, and strike out west instead across the Atlantic to reach the eastern shores of the Indian sub-continent and garner the spices of the East.
The underlying concept was neither original nor controversial. Everyone accepted that the Earth was a globe and that it was theoretically possible to reach the East by sailing west. What was novel about his presentation was the arithmetic. He demonstrated, to his satisfaction at least, that the distance between Europe and Asia westward was not 16000 kilometres as everyone thought, but less than 2500. This meant, he argued, that it was perfectly feasible for a well-built ship to cross the Atlantic in about three weeks, to land on an island off the coast of India and establish a trading post there.
For the next four years, King John blew hot and cold on Columbus' plan till his frustration was at fever-pitch. In 1488, the matter took a turn for the worse when the intrepid Bartholomew Diaz sailed into Lisbon with the tremendously exciting news that he had found and rounded the easternmost tip of Africa. The eastern route to the Indies now lay open. Much to Columbus' chagrin, therefore, his scheme of discovering a western approach was decisively turned down by King John.
Columbus was too sure of himself and his ideas, however, to give up. He had his brother put forward the proposal to the monarchs of England and France. The King of England summarily rejected it, while the King of France did not even bother to reply. Dejected but not yet defeated, Columbus approached Queen Isabella of Castile in person. At first, she said no, and then, well, maybe. Perhaps Columbus could come back after she had won the war against the Moors of Granada. Two years crept by, while Columbus chafed. When Granada finally surrendered, Columbus was among the first to compliment the victorious Isabella and her husband Ferdinand of Aragon. He found Her Majesty still capricious. Isabella now said maybe, then no, and finally yes. Stuffing her commission, which was like water to his parched soul, into the pocket of his worn-out tunic, Columbus hurried off to find and equip his ships. It was May 1492.
Ten weeks later, his provisioning complete, Columbus sailed exultantly out of the harbour in a 100-ton Galician merchantman called the Santa Maria, with two 50-ton caravels, the Pinta and the Nina in tow, and set sail for the Canaries. After a brief stop there, he finally launched out on his grand voyage on 6th September 1492. Within three days, he saw the last of the islands of the Spanish Canaries vanish below the horizon. There was only the vast blue expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, which could hardly be told apart from the immense blue sky, all around his ships. The grand adventure that would make or break him had begun.
Since Columbus knew the way the winds blew over the Atlantic, he made a splendid start and reached what he imagined was the half-way point of his voyage in about ten days. His crew was disappointed that they could see no sign of the legendary island of Antilia which was rumoured to lie somewhere there. Apart from that, their only worry was that they might not be able to sail back home against the wind which had so far favoured them by pushing them constantly westward.
Four weeks arrived and departed. There was still no sign of land. If what Columbus said was true, they should have sighted the easternmost stretch of the Indies by now. The crew became visibly anxious and perturbed. They even began to show signs of mutiny. Columbus, however, maintained stubbornly that they still had a few hundred kilometres to go and declared pontifically that they would land on an easternmost island of Asia in three days.
On the third day, there was still no sign of land. However, flocks of birds were seen flying overhead in a southwesterly direction. Ardently welcoming this sign, Columbus changed tack to align the course of his ships with the flight of the birds. Three more days dragged themselves out in the empty sea.
Now, he faced imminent rebellion from his sailors. He did not know what to do. He felt helpless. Suddenly, he heard some of his crew in the stern yelling and pointing to something in the sea. He hurried forward and peered over the side. He saw fresh driftwood bobbing on the waves. He heaved an enormous sigh of relief.
He posted a special watch for the night and went down to his cabin. Unable to sleep, he tossed and turned for a while on his bed and then gave up. He knelt on the hard wooden floor of his cabin and prayed as he had never prayed before. At two in the morning, he heard an enormous shout somewhere above him. Someone pounded on his door. He hurried out on deck. The lookout high up in the rigging of the Pinta had spied land dead ahead. Columbus' joy knew no bounds. It was the twelfth of October, thirty-six days since he had set out on his voyage and risked all at sea.
Dawn confirmed the lookout's report. A small island lay windward. Columbus steered his tiny fleet past the southern point and through the reef on the western side of the island. With a hand-picked crew, he rowed ashore in a longboat, stepped out on to the sand and planted the royal flag of Castile. On either side of him, the captains of his caravels hoisted banners bearing the symbol of their expedition, a green cross with the letters F - for Ferdinand of Aragon - and Y - for Ysabella of Castile. Columbus fell on his knees and the others followed suit. In a voice choked with emotion, he thanked God for bringing their long journey to a safe conclusion and crowning their efforts with success.
Abruptly, he was back on the rocky ledge facing the awful abyss. On the miasma before him, he saw the rest of his life flash past like a dream.
After the crowning moment of triumph, everything else seemed an anti-climax. The next three months rushed by in a daze of wonder and delight. He and his crew were welcomed by friendly natives who escorted them in and around the islands. As the Santa Maria, Pinta and Nina threaded their way through the isles, it became obvious to a number of his crew that they were nowhere near Asia. But Columbus persisted in believing and even proclaiming that these must be the outlying islands of the famed Indies. He had no hesitation, therefore, in dubbing the natives Indians. Just a little further exploration, he was convinced, would bring them to the spice-laden Indies proper.
Flushed with victory, he even accepted the loss of the Santa Maria with equanimity. When she went gently aground off Hispaniola early on Christmas morning, without any damage to lives or goods, he dismissed it as no great tragedy. In fact, he wasted no time in using the timbers of the now useless ship to build a little fort - a miniature replica of El Mina, the Portuguese fort on the Gold Coast of west Africa -- and christened it grandiloquently the Villa de la Navidad. He had no trouble finding the 20-odd volunteers to man the fort. His crew vied with each other to stay back. They had discovered that the natives of Hispaniola were perfectly content to exchange gold ornaments for tinsel. And the flame of greed coursed hot and insatiable through their veins.
Columbus, however, was impatient to get back for he had a tale to tell. The return voyage of the Nina, captained by Columbus, and the Pinta to Spain was, as the crew had feared, rough and hazardous. They had to fight their way home through one of the worst storms in living memory.
Welcomed home as a great hero, Columbus was showered with titles and honours. Neither funds nor men were in short supply for his three subsequent voyages across the Atlantic. Relentlessly, however, his fortunes began to ebb. His reports of gold and spices turned out to be unrealistic. His geographical pronouncements were increasingly difficult to believe. As an administrator he was such a hopeless disaster that he had to be forcibly removed from office.
Understandably bitter, increasingly cranky, he spent his last years pursuing impossible claims for compensation. Few outside his immediate family attended his deathbed or his funeral in May 1506; there was none to represent the court at either.
"Rank injustice!" howled Columbus, foaming at his mouth and clawing the rock behind him in maniacal fury. "Fie on God that He should permit this! Fie on you, His Angel, for tormenting me with these scenes of humiliation."
"Hush, my child," admonished the gentle voice out of the light. "Do not blaspheme. Look at yourself before you dare to curse your Maker!"
"What did I do wrong?" asked Columbus in a voice shaking with anger. "Did I not usher in the Age of Discovery? Did not others like Vasco de Gama and Magellan follow my footsteps and set Europe's imagination afire? Isn't the most potent image of these stirring times THE SHIP with the great navigators on board? And who stands at the head of this illustrious band? Is it not I -- Columbus -- the man who sailed boldly over the ocean no one had dared cross before and found a new way to the Indies?"
"True," came the reply. "Your discovery did usher in the Renaissance. It spurred Europe to produce marvels of art and science that rivalled the glories of Greece and the grandeurs of Rome. In time, it gave birth to the Age of Reason that culminated in world-wide industrialization. Your intrepid spirit has even provided the impulse in the twentieth century for man to land on the moon, to sift the sands of Mars and to measure the rings of Saturn."
"I was a great mover of Mankind, then," cried Columbus triumphantly. "Why then was God unjust to me?"
Think!" urged the voice out of the light. "Did you not accept Marco Polo's erroneous location for Japan -- 2400 kilometres east of China? Did you not take as gospel Ptolemy's underestimation of the circumference of the earth and overestimation of the size of the Eurasian landmass? Did you not therefore come to wrong conclusions about how far you had to sail west to reach the Indies? Did you ever bother to check and double-check your figures with scholars? And did you not stubbornly stick to your conviction that you had reached the outlying islands of the Indies in the face of all evidence to the contrary? On your second and third voyages, you knew deep within you that neither the island of Cuba nor Paria an unknown continent were part of Asia. Nevertheless, you sought refuge from the consequences of failure by trying to mask the facts. In fact, the very fervour with which you insisted in your last years on your discovery of a western route to the Indies is proof that you had realised your monumental mistake. Do you realize, my child, that by your obstinacy, you have perpetuated the outrageous error of calling all the friendly natives of the islands you discovered and all the original inhabitants of the huge landmass of North and South America Indians? You have unwittingly imposed an ongoing identity crisis on all the natives of the New World of America as well as the Old World of India."
"What's in a name?" cried Columbus, his back to the wall. "Let them all be lumped together as Indians! It is simpler and easier then to deal with them."
"You're dead wrong, my child," said the voice sadly. "You are also insufferably arrogant, like many of your race who have followed in your footsteps, for not only do they persist in calling the natives of the American continent incorrectly Indians, but have also exterminated most of them. How would you like to be called Chris Top Her Colum Bus the Spaniard? What's in a name indeed?"
Totally abashed, Columbus kept quiet.
"How ironic," continued the voice, "that you should deny discovering a new continent, because you failed to reach an old one! You wanted to reaffirm your boast to Isabella on your triumphant return from your first voyage - 'When I set out upon this enterprise, they all said it was impossible'- even though you knew in your heart of hearts that they were right. Were you not guilty of pride? And has not your pride, my dear child, caused all your anguish?"
For a moment, Columbus hung his head in shame. Then, he flared up in protest. "But you yourself admitted," he cried, "that I have brought about the rebirth of curiosity and kindled the torch of exploration. You yourself said I am still inspiring men to go boldly where no one has gone before. Surely that means that the light of civilisation is spreading and dispelling all darkness? Am I not then a benefactor of mankind?"
"Even so did Prospero think," said a voice like a thunderclap at his right shoulder. Startled, Columbus turned his head and stared into the dark piercingly intelligent eyes of a noble-looking Englishman.
"Who are you?" he asked, annoyed at being interrupted.
"He is William Shakespeare," replied the voice out of the light. "He was born nearly fifty-four years after you at Stratford on Avon in England. He became famous as a playwright in his own lifetime. Within three hundred years of his death he has come to be known as perhaps the greatest English dramatist the world has ever known."
"So what?" snarled Columbus. "And who is Prospero anyway? What does he have to do with me?"
"Prospero is a character in The Tempest, my last play," said Shakespeare. "He is so involved in his study of white magic that he forgets his duties as a king and lets his younger brother Antonio usurp his throne. So he has to flee with his infant daughter Miranda to a far-away island among the very isles you, Columbus, discovered on your first voyage."
"Oh!" exclaimed Columbus, now interested in the story. "What happens?"
"Prospero's white magic is superior to the black magic of Sycorax who owns the island. He takes over the island after killing her. Her son Caliban -- an uncouth brutish-looking creature in Prospero's eyes -- becomes his slave. Prospero tries to win him over by teaching Caliban his civilized ways and even his language. But in vain, for Caliban proves an unruly servant. So Prospero has him tormented by Ariel, another creature of the island he has subdued successfully, till Caliban obeys him reluctantly. When Antonio gets ship-wrecked with his royal entourage and friends on the island by Prospero's magic, Caliban plots with the court clowns against his master and tries to seize his power. With the help of Ariel, however, Prospero outwits all his enemies, and wins back his kingdom. In the end, therefore, Caliban is forced to accept defeat and punishment."
"He gets what he deserves for his ingratitude," cried Columbus with a satisfied air. "Does not Prospero do the brute good by mending his uncivilized ways and even teaching him to speak and write?"
"So Prospero imagines," retorted Shakespeare, "in the arrogance born of his triumph, just as you fancy in your pride that you have greatly benefited humanity when, in fact, you have done incalculable harm."
"You too are jealous of my great achievement," screamed Columbus in a sudden access of fury. "I am not guilty of pride. And I still do not see why you are linking me with your Prospero."
Shakespeare did not get a chance to reply.
"Kindly allow me to explain," a gentle but firm voice intervened from behind Shakespeare. And even as Columbus stared in surprise, a most unusual man walked out of the shadows into the light to confront him. He was tall, lean and ascetic-looking. His brown torso had only a gleaming white cloth wrapped around the waist. His feet were clad in slippers and in one of his hands he held a thick bamboo staff to support himself. His head was completely bald. Behind a pair of eye-glasses, his dark eyes, twinkling with humour, mirrored a world of compassion for suffering fellow humans. Beneath his grey moustache, his mouth curved in an infinitely gentle smile.
"And who are you?" queried Columbus gruffly.
"Ecce Homo! " exclaimed the voice out of the light in a solemn tone commanding respect. "Behold the man! Behold one who, in his own lifetime, came to be known all over the world as the Mahatma or the great soul for his steadfast adherence to Truth and Non-injury. Behold Mahatma Gandhi who drove the British out of India and gained her freedom from two hundred years of enslavement to the English through non-violent non-cooperation."
"But he is a half-naked Indian fakir," said Columbus scornfully. "What can he tell me that's important?"
"Hush, my child," admonished the voice out of the light.
"Others more powerful than you have said so and lived to regret it. Just pause and reflect. Was not our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, clad in the simple robes of a Jewish Rabbi? Did he not wander the length and breadth of Judaea in his sandals? Do you measure wisdom by the costliness of a man's apparel? Be quiet and hear this man's words with your soul."
"There is a powerful symbolism in The Tempest," said the Mahatma in a gentle voice. "Prospero, you see is the archetypal colonizer and Caliban is the classic symbol of the colonized and the enslaved. And since your time, all the white races of Europe have systematically colonized the rest of the world and enslaved all their fellow human beings who happened to be black, brown or yellow. The Spanish conquistadors like Cortes colonized Mexico, Central America and Peru and even destroyed the Mayan civilization completely. The Dutch, the Portuguese, the Germans, the French and the English were all drawn into this game of colonizing and enslaving Africa and India. It was the vilest scramble for loot in human history."
"The English," commented the Mahatma, "who came last were the worst, for they played this game for all it was worth. For 150 years, Bristol and Liverpool were at the apex of an infamous and ruthless trading triangle. British ships laden with cheap cotton goods, trinkets and Bibles sailed from Bristol and Liverpool for the west coast of Africa. They exchanged their cargo for a shipload of black slaves who were then packed like sardines on slave ships and transported on the notorious Middle Passage, the second leg of the journey, to the sugar-bowl of the Caribbean, where they were sold to plantation owners and set to work as house servants or in the fields. Meanwhile, the same ships, laden with sugar, rum and molasses, returned to their home ports, registering substantial profit for their merchant-owners. And when the slave trade was finally abolished in 1807, they continued the horrible exploitation of slavery under a different name -- indentured labour -- and brought in shiploads of hapless peasants from the distant sub-continent of India."
"And what did they do in India? They came as traders and established the East India Company in 1600. But they kept interfering in Indian politics by selling arms and military forces to warring princes and getting cash, credit or even land in return. By 1757, through a diligent practice of this heinous policy of divide and rule, Robert Clive gained control of India in the Battle of Plassey. In 1774, Warren Hastings became the first Governor-General of India and established an elaborate system of civil service to administer English law and rule in India. The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 --in reality, the First Struggle for for Independence in India -- was so forcefully crushed that it left wide-spread bitterness among the people. And so, under the guise of bringing justice to the Indians, the British Government took over the rule of India. In 1877, Queen Victoria declared herself the Empress of India and so India came to be regarded as the brightest jewel in the British Crown. It took another seventy years of heart-breaking struggle before India was finally granted its Freedom at midnight on the 15th of August 1947."
"By God's grace," murmured the Mahatma, his eyes misting over with memories, "I had my little share in this bid for Independence. How glad I am that I insisted on Truth and Non-violence! And how thankful I am to God that the Indian people -- all 300 million of them -- listened to me almost till the very end! But the British interfered again with their age-old policy of divide and rule and split the Hindus and the Muslims. It led to the blood-bath of the Partition of India and Pakistan. I did my best, I did my best, but in the end the tide of violence and evil overwhelmed the nation, embodied itself as Nathu Ram Gotse and killed me!"
"And the cruel irony," continued the old man, in a broken voice, his eyes overflowing with tears, "is that you white Europeans have done it all under the pretence of spreading the sweetness of Christianity and the light of western civilization to the darkest corners of the earth! All your greed and hypocrisy -- what are they but the outward symptoms of your terrible inner disease called pride? And how much violence you have perpetrated all over the world in the name of Christ, the Prince of Peace!"
"Are you then calling all of us white Europeans Prosperos who colonized and enslaved the black and brown Calibans of the world?" snapped Columbus. "Even if it were so, we were surely benefiting them, helping them evolve from their primitive state into the daylight of civilization. Why, we even gave them language!"
Before the Mahatma could reply, Shakespeare who was plucking his moustache impatiently, broke in.
"There is another side, my friend," he said in a tone dripping with sarcasm, "to The Tempest. Caliban, you see, is not quite the uncultured savage Prospero imagines him to be. He has his own culture -- one that is unfamiliar to Prospero. He is aware of this side of his being, but can only grasp it in images, not words, for he is imprisoned by Prospero's language and his own servile notion of himself. He does try desperately to express this side of his being by bursting into poetry at critical stages in my play."
"And if," Shakespeare continued, "Caliban gains freedom on his own initiative without the help of foreign clowns like Stephano and Trinculo, then he will have but a single source of strength -- the riches dropping upon him from his dream-clouds, which have really sustained him all along. In order to be free, he must value the thousand twangling instruments of his dreams as the music of his culture, a culture which is his birthright, inherited from his mother Sycorax who, though she was conquered by Prospero, yet controlled nature through her sorcery and possessed a culture of her own. In fact, the flawed education he has received from Prospero might help Caliban realize all the more vividly that his mother's magic powers, the voices, the instruments, the riches of his dreams, all form one unbroken chain of culture, vastly different from Prospero's imperialistic culture. It might even enable him to wrench his culture from dreams into reality, to embody it in words. And since his native powers of speech have been strangled by Prospero, he must borrow his master's tongue and adapt his speech to his own purpose, while re-educating his vocal cords to his native speech. Caliban becomes bilingual, therefore, and articulates his rediscovered culture in Prospero's language as well as his own. And, in the process, he transforms his acquired language, bestowing it with new meanings which Prospero never dreamt of, so that the language he shares with Prospero and the language he has created out of it are no longer identical."
After the convincing thunder of Shakespeare's words, there was a momentary silence. Then, the mysterious being spoke out of the light:
"This, my child, is precisely the situation today in the post-colonial societies of Africa, India and the West Indies. Even the ordinary citizen, let alone the creative writer, of these societies has long recognized that instead of using his inherited language merely to curse his oppressor, as Caliban is inclined to do in The Tempest, he must wield it with consummate mastery for creative self-expression. You see, in real life, Caliban has the task of not only breaking out of the prison of Prospero's language, but also of building a new mansion for himself. His struggle with words and meanings, in short, is never-ending; he must continually forge fresh images of his existence in the smithy of his soul. And what of Prospero the capitalist-politician and industrialist-entrepreneur who has followed your lead and piled up achievement after brilliant technical achievement in the wake of your triumphant discovery? He is more than outwitted, he is baffled, for while Caliban continues to understand the speech of his erstwhile master, Prospero cannot fully grasp what Caliban is saying; the subtle nuances and references in the speech of his former slave escape him, for they now relate to a different culture, of which he is ignorant. Prospero can either choose to remain ignorant and proud, or he can shed his colonial arrogance and prejudice, befriend Caliban as an equal and humbly learn the mysteries of his fresh-forged tongue; he has thus a great opportunity to drop his despotic role and become a human being. In liberating himself, Caliban has paved the way to Prospero's spiritual freedom."
The voice ceased. There was a profound silence which penetrated deeper and deeper into Columbus' heart. Slowly, he lifted his head that had almost sunk into his breast in shame and anguish. He saw that both Shakespeare and Gandhi had disappeared. He was alone with the light that seared his very soul.
"How can I undo all the evil I sowed by my pride?" he groaned. "Can I not at least shrive my soul of sin and save myself?"
"Yes, my child," replied the voice. "You can save your self." And even as he looked on, the light faded and he was utterly alone.
His first impulse was to scream aloud in terror. Then, he collected his faculties with a supreme effort and looked around. With a start, he realized he was no longer on a rocky ledge facing the abyss. He was back in the little port of Palos at night on the waterfront. It was empty of all life. On a wooden post near him burned a solitary firebrand, eerily lighting up the scene before his eyes.
Out on the water, he could see the Santa Maria, looming like a ghost ship out of the darkness. No longer did it represent courage and enterprise and achievement in Columbus'mind. It had now become a symbol of the overweening pride of his race -- a pride that had spawned greed, hypocrisy and violence for five hundred years all over the world.
With a firm step, he strode over to the wooden post, seized the firebrand, pried it loose and then hurled it with all his strength at the Santa Maria. The dry timbers caught fire at once. As he watched the roaring fire devour that colossal symbol of pride and reduce it to ashes, Columbus felt at last an immense peace stealing into his soul.
--Brought you by RK