He sat huddled in his lonely, disheveled bed and paused for a moment before reaching to turn out the light on yet another empty day.
“I can’t do this anymore.” he sighed to himself, his breath expressing outward as if in a final statement of despair. “Tell me again why I bother doing this thing called life every day. Isn’t life supposed to involve living of some sort? Surely you can’t call what I do living?”
He paused, as if waiting for a response.
Well, that didn’t surprise him. It had been a long time since there’d been any answers in his life. Why should he expect it to be different now?
He looked across at the pen and notebook that sat beside the bottle of small white pills on the bedside table and decided this would probably be the right time. His thoughts seemed to be clearer now than they had been for so long and, who knows, maybe “somebody” would be interested in what “nobody” had to say on his final day. He wouldn’t spend too long on it though. A half page, maybe a little more if he could manage and then lights out, literally.
With pen and notebook in hand he pulled the rough, dirty blanket closer around him, settled his back into the worn old cushions he used as pillows and finally, still cold, but comfortable, he began to write.
A slight movement of the bed startled him into a tingling alertness.
“Huh? I must have dozed off,” he thought re-gathering himself.
“What have I written here so far?” He looked down for the notebook in his lap. “I must have dropped it when I dozed off.” He was feeling confused, slightly disoriented as he fumbled in the blanket for the notebook.
Another movement caused him to look toward the foot of the bed and directly into the eyes of a woman sitting cross legged just beyond the end of his bent legs.
He sat motionless, stopped breathing and stared.
“Why aren’t I scared?” His first question was to himself.
If ever there was a picture that could adequately describe ultimate peace and serenity you would be its centrepiece, he thought. But that doesn’t explain what you’re doing sitting on the end of my bed, especially not tonight.
He wondered what would happen if he spoke. Would it cause her to attack? If he were dreaming, it may wake him. That would be good.
He wondered if he could speak at all. He opened his mouth and whispered through dry lips.
“Who are you?”
“Yes”, she replied.
“Not exactly the response I was looking for,” he thought. “Maybe she’s a drug addict who somehow wandered in here off the street. Doesn’t look like a junkie though.”
“No, who are you?” His voice found a little more strength and confidence the second time.
Her smile seemed to be encouraging him.
“Yes. That is exactly the question you should be asking, but not of me.”
“Me? I should be asking myself who I am? I know who I am”.
“Do you? Look at what you’ve written”. She gestured towards the notebook that was now strangely back in his lap.
“Ah! There it is. Strange, I didn’t see it there before.” he thought to himself.
He looked down at the neatly written half page he had titled “A Few Last Words From Nobody” and shrugged.
“So, who were you when this was taken?” she asked, now gesturing toward the television set sitting on a chair in a corner of his room. As he followed her gaze the screen flickered momentarily and then came to life, although the image was unfamiliar. He looked, puzzled, and then realised he was watching what appeared to be an ultrasound image.
“Look, this is all too weird,” he began to protest, his confidence returning as he became more awake.
She turned toward him, her smile seemed filled with love, her eyes gentle and wise. Her left hand waved his attention back to the image on the screen. He looked again, and now he thought he understood.
“This is me, in my mother’s womb,” he said. It was as much a question as a statement.
“And who were you then?” she asked.
“Who was I? I wasn’t anybody,” he answered with a dismissive chuckle. “I didn’t even have a name then. I wasn’t anybody.”
“A name doesn’t define who you are. Think again. Remember who you were.”
He found his gaze drawn to her eyes again. Deep pools of wisdom. Gentle understanding and encouragement, and love, so much love. He felt tears welling, but not from his eyes, these tears seemed to be coming from somewhere deep inside him.
“Do souls cry?”
Had he spoken that or was it just a thought?
He looked back at the image, immersing himself into the tiny outline that was to become him.
“I was everything,” he finally answered, not knowing exactly where he had found the answer. “Nothing existed other than me. I was the universe, although I doubt I knew what a universe was.”
“Well that’s certainly a grand view to have of yourself. What happened?”
“What happened? I was born, I guess. I discovered there are other people in the world, that wasn't the universe.”
“And so you became less than you thought you were. Do you find that interesting?”
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on here or who you are or why you’re here. This is crazy. I was a baby, I probably didn’t think anything let alone find it interesting.”
“Well, let’s look at a different time.”
The calm of her voice seemed to wash over his confusion and anger and he looked again to the television as a new image flickered onto the screen. This time it was a young boy on a bicycle, racing down a steep dirt track, an old piece of bath towel pinned to his shoulders streamed behind him as he lowered his body over the handle bars and pedaled harder. His face grimaced in pleasure as his eyes squinted against the air rushing into them.
The wizened face in the bed showed a hint of its past youth as the vision of the downhill rider touched memories that rekindled distant sparkles in its hooded eyes, and rarely used muscles caused the corners of its lips to turn up in a long forgotten smile.
He looked again to the mysterious intruder at the foot of his bed, this time with the smile remaining on his lips and in his eyes.
“I used to play at being Superman. I’d race down that hill and pretend I was flying in from my secret fortress to save the world. You know,” he looked into her knowing eyes, a hint of remembered aliveness causing an unconscious flex in wasted muscles. “I wasn’t playing at being Superman, I was Superman. With the wind in my face and my cape flapping behind me I really believed I was flying. I was the Boy Of Steel and the only thing that could harm me was Kryptonite, and seeing as nobody had ever found any Kryptonite in our suburb, that made me pretty much invincible.”
A nod seeming to signify agreement was her only response as he turned his attention again to the exhilarated boy on the television screen.
Now, however, it was as though he could see past what was happening on the screen. The smile left his face and his body again tensed and shrank back into itself as he saw ahead to the patch of loose gravel that lay across the road just past the next bend.
He looked away again, needing to rationalise what was happening.
“I must be dead. I must have taken the pills and now I’m dead and re-living my life.”
He looked to the bedside table wanting to see the empty pill bottle. The bottle was full.
“Why do you need to cling so much to that reality? Let go of what you thought before and allow your awareness to just be.”
Her voice seemed to cut into his growing panic and he turned abruptly towards her, his fear now fuelling an anger that demanded expression.
“Look, I don’t know …” he began vehemently, as he raised his head to look directly at her, but once his eyes settled on the love and serenity in her expression his fear and its anger could not continue.
“I don’t understand this. What’s happening here? Am I dead? Is this all an illusion or a dream? Who are you?”
“No, you’re not dead and you do understand, but you have to allow yourself to know what you know. And this is no more an illusion than the illusion you choose to live everyday. Look with your heart and you’ll understand. Now, what happened after you fell.”
His thoughts returned to the boy on the bike, the broken arm and the grazed and bruised face and knees that came after the slide in the loose gravel. He thought of the long, painful walk home, dragging his twisted bike behind him. But more, he thought of the loss of confidence and how Superman never again came swooping from his mountain fortress. A tear began to form in his eye but he couldn’t distinguish whether it was a tear for what was or what might have been, and perhaps it was for both.
He looked again toward her, enquiringly this time, and as he looked into the smile that was her eyes a distant sense of understanding began to gnaw at the back of his consciousness. But understanding of what? Knowing of what?
He did not allow his frustration to grow this time. Instead, he took a deeper breath and allowed the feeling to flow out as he exhaled and turned again to the television to watch another episode in his life.
And so they continued, he watching, she simply sitting, settled in her serenity as the excerpts of his life flickered mutely across the dusty screen. Each scene of joy followed by its corresponding disappointment, love and heartbreak, celebration and despair, the ebb and flow of fortune, expansion and contraction of self.
The first hint of chill from the piccaninny dawn had just begun to make itself felt across the backs of his shoulders when the television gave a final flicker of light before resting into darkness. His attention remained on the black screen for several minutes as his mind wrestled with the waves of emotion and realisation that washed into his consciousness. He thought he at least had a sense of what was screaming inside him for release, but how would he know, what if he spoke it and it wasn’t? He bent over his knees, covering the back of his head with clasped hands to think, maybe to force some clarity of thought.
“You’re doing it again.”
The sound of her voice startled him. He had forgotten she was there, his attention so intently fixed on the television drama he had been watching, and in his own thoughts; or had she not been there at all?
“I’m doing what?” He asked, raising his head to look into her eyes, appealing for confidence, confirmation, a light to show he was on the right path. He thought he knew, but if she said it … if she said it, what would it mean, how would it make it different?
But she did not reply. Instead she held him in the powerful embrace of her eyes, flooding him with compassion and understanding, assuring him that whatever he said, whoever he was, there was a haven of love and care into which he could fall.
“I’m making myself small. I’m curling myself into a little ball and making myself small because it just seems too hard.” The words exploded out of him. He wasn’t sure if he had screamed them or if they just seemed so loud because of the explosion they caused deep inside him when they finally found their release.
“I’ve been doing it all my life. Every time something happens to me that causes me pain or disappointment I make myself smaller, I settle for a lesser view of who I am. I thought of it as losing confidence, but it’s more than that isn’t it? I’ve been losing myself, losing the essence of me.”
“No, not losing,” she replied, her tone seemed comforting and re-assuring. “Losing has a connotation of something leaving your possession without you knowing, and neither of those is true. You can’t lose the essence of who you are, you just restrict it or, as you say, make it smaller. You choose smallness over greatness. This is what causes you so much pain. Your being is too grand, too magnificent to be limited by small thinking and so it struggles to regain its rightful size and you fight to keep it small. This is what you choose, it’s how you choose to be.”
“How I choose? You mean I chose this, I chose for my life to end up in the mess it’s in now? No, the choices I made were to protect myself, to make sure I didn’t suffer the same pain twice. It wasn’t my choice to have my life come to this.”
“Then whose was it? What if Superman had chosen to go back onto his mountain after his arm had healed? What would have become of him? Would he have found higher mountains? And what of the young lover? What if he had chosen to love completely whenever he loved instead of fearing the pain of losing love, and not giving fully of himself? Would the joy of that experience have outweighed the pain of it ending? But always your decision has been to become less and offer less.”
He thought back over the scenes he had watched played out on the television during the night before answering.
“So you think I’ve made some wrong decisions in my life?”
“No,” she smiled, “You’ve only made decisions that have brought you to here, and you shouldn’t ponder too long on what was if your real vision is on what can be. I would only suggest that your decision should always be to expand and not contract. Your scientists will tell you the universe is expanding and, as part of that universe, your natural desire is to expand with it, to know yourself and your self in their fullness. You’ll find it written, ‘Love expands and fear contracts’, remember that when you’re in the world and allow your self to have its greatness.”
“You know I should write some of this down,” he said as he began rummaging for the notebook that must have slipped from his lap again. “I think I can see now where I may still have some time to grab one or two opportunities and maybe, just maybe, turn things around a little and from there …”
He sensed she had gone without needing to look, or had he just woken from a dream? He glanced down at the still full pill bottle and across the room to the television sitting, blank and dusty, on its chair in the corner. His eyes moved slowly around the small, untidy room halting occasionally on items that evoked particular memories. Everything was the same and yet, nothing was the same. The difference, he thought, was coming from inside as though with every breath some unseen force was pushing him outward, expanding his chest, straightening his shoulders.
He allowed the force to move him out of the bed and across the bare floor towards the morning light filtering through the dirt streaked window and frail, tattered curtain. He had tried to open the window once or twice before but the layers of grease and paint made it difficult and so it had remained closed while he had lived here. Today however it seemed to open without effort and, as the muted sounds of the world outside became louder and the cool morning air rushed in to brace him and re-acquaint his life with freshness, he felt that yearning part inside him also rush out to meet the world and announce its presence to the new day.
George M&S 1/05