When it was my first day of school I was afraid to go because I had to take a long trip on the subway alone, and also I thought the teachers might be mean and the other children tease me. So my mother, who was a school teacher spoke to me as she walked me to Newkirk Avenue Station. Indian summer had folded and torn like a paper bag and it was cold in the morning, though I had eaten a bagel and drunk a cup of hot milk.
My mother told me about the three men from the East who had the mission to tame the beast called Manticora, that despoiled the land in the province of Yoo-Nan, and stalked a cave strewn with victim’s bones. And the three men had to meet the fell beast Manticora and had to say who or what it’s mate was.
The beast, my mother told me, had the body of a lion and the head of a man.
The first sage said manticora’s mate was lion, because who we are is who our body tells us, not what our head tells us, as our head can be fall of fancy and fantasy, but the body does not lie.
The second sage said the manticora’ s mate was a human being, because the mind is the body’s captain, and in fact the body of a human being is truly no different than the body of an ape, but man is not born to wed ape, but man.
The third sage said the manticora’s mate was any other fabulous monster composed of mismatched head and body, because the manticora’s essence was neither human nor lion, but the conjoining thereof.
Who was right, mother I said, as I waited for a moment before passing through the turn-style.
You didnt ask me about the three sages, said my mother smiling. There were three of them, but how many bodies did they have?
Three? I asked?
No, one, monkey-face. The three sages shared a single body.
They were a three-headed sage, mother?
For now, mother?
Their fourth head lived far away across the ocean in the palm-tree of a Crab Witch.
And is that head the true mate of the manticora, mother? I asked.
You tell me.
I never told my mother, and last July I lost her. But her story of the mate of manticora and the three wise men who shared a single body comforted me on my first day of school and in all my searching and longing since.