Reggie woke with the sun soaking his tired legs and Mar had left a plate of toast with jam and a coffee urn on his bedside table. He sat up and crunched away, in an open delirium, staring out at the sky and only noticing the sound of people laughing and talking outside. Butter from the sweet toast dripped down the ginger tuft of fur on his chin. He let it sit there. He rose from the lumpy bamboo bed, showered and dressed, and walked through the rice paddies to the town.
The main street sloped up a hill and was lined with old tin shed shops bearing many handwritten and brightly lit signs, with brown faces staring from the windows or from under the canopy away from the blaring sun. One woman stood, a babe on hip, smiling widely at Reggie and bopping the babe in her arms. The baby smiled at Reggie and he smiled back. In the baby’s eyes, Reggie saw for a moment, a deep dark galaxy with stars shooting through it. In the background burned a big rock, it was blue and red and yellow and it turned slowly over and over again. From within the rock a long vine grew out, spreading the surface of the rock and producing leaves sporadically. It seemed not to wave around, it was quite stiff, like metal. The baby giggled bringing Reggie out of it and he smiled back, squeezed bub’s hand, then continued walking.
Reggie stepped in to a local shop, one that was dressed with plastic chairs and tables on its cement patio. An elderly man dressed in a patterned sarong and dress shirt, faux leather sandals and a small white hat approached Reggie, inviting him to sit at the table. Coffee was placed in front of the two of them by a beautiful light dotted with large brown eyes and plump, blemished cheeks. Reggie offered a seat to his companion and as the man sat down, Reggie realised that the whole ‘conversation’ had taken place between them without a word being passed.
“Hello young man, how are you?” His English was excellent and Reggie said hello in the man’s language, as a sign of respect. The man nodded, drew on his sweet smelling cigarette, and then continued in English again, knowing that it would be the most coherent way to communicate, but with full acknowledgment of Reggie’s attempt.
“I am an artist from this town. I like to paint pictures. Do you like art?”
“Yes, I like art. What sort of art do you paint?” The man nodded to acknowledge the question. His brown eyes grew large and round.
“I like to paint beautiful woman. I am good at painting everything else.” The man winked one of his brown buttons and Reggie laughed a little. Here was a man who wore traditional clothes and held a respectful pose and spoke like a wise god, but whose humour and maturity made him so human.
“Ah, young man, you wonder about my humour. I can see you want to laugh too. You must laugh. Here I am an old man in my traditional clothes lighting incense at temple’s and guiding the way. But if I did not acknowledge the beautiful women in the world, or laugh at a joke sometimes, I would be misrepresented or mistaken to be a god and I am not a god, I am a human man. My ego can not drive me up there. My instinct as a man, to be cheeky and honest is the rope that is tied to my back and looped around the pole in the ground that is my ego, and my soul is the kite attached to this rope that soars in the sky. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I think so. So are you saying that people who think that they are god, or whom say they have met god, have a big ego?”
“Yes and no. Me, I talk to many gods all of the time. But when I speak to the gods, whether it is the god of money, or health or success, this god, or goddess, reminds me that I am mortal, reminds me of my frailty on this earth. It is my soul that can fly free amongst the gods because that is how they know who I am. My ego, my person, is on par with everyone else.”
“So I am just the same as everyone else?”
“Yes and no.” The man relit the cigarette that had stilted while he spoke.
“Tell me the dream that you are thinking of which you had last night.”
Reggie’s eyes broke away from a crack in the cement patio and focused on this man’s intriguing button eyes.
“I had a dream that I had climbed in to a hot air balloon and floated around the world.”
“What do you think this means?” He asked
“I think it means that I want to travel and explore the world. Learn from the world. Learn from the people of the world. I want to be free to fly to where I like and to land where I wish, wherever the wind takes me.”
“Freedom, from responsibilities perhaps. I think you are right,” said the artist. “But do you know what the balloon itself represents?”
“The balloon is like a round bubble and it means that while you travel you must protect what is yours as you travel. What do you have to protect?”
“Yes. Your friends and family can protect themselves just like you can protect yourself.”
“I don’t know how to protect myself. I don’t want to be a selfish person. I don’t want my ego to get in the way. It was hard to leave. But I had to.”
“You don’t have to be selfish. By protecting yourself and looking after number one, you will have the strength and wisdom to know how to protect others without them relying on you for protection.
“But my mother is ill in the head and my dad is gone. I feel selfish because I am not around to help my sister with mum. Even when I am home, I am useless, they always say I am dreaming.”
“Your mother is proud of you and she loves you, her heart is pure even if her mind is upset. Your dad was just like you for a long time but he stopped protecting himself so he no longer had the strength to protect his family anymore. And your sister will find her way – in her own time. They build strength.”
“But my friends must miss me and I miss them.”
“They love you and are proud of you. They are strong enough to protect themselves. It is time to let go.” The artist drew back on his sweet cigarette, smoke wafted between them as they both tasted their bitter coffees.
Reggie settled his coffee back down on to the table. “Do you believe in the afterlife?”
The man laughed with full heart. “Of course!”
“Do you believe that my grandparents and friends in the next life watch over me? Because it feels like they do.”
“Young man, listen to me. When lightning lights up the sky and I see silhouettes of palm trees as the rice paddies drink the rain, I know they are listening. They are always listening. Thunder rolls and the mountains rumble and I know they are speaking to me. They always speak to us. And the ghosts that live in the river swim with the rain in to the sky and swarm the heavens with stories that they hear during the day while they are hiding under the flowing rivers. And the stories they tell the angels are of love and hurt of pain and happiness. A drop of rain falls on my head and I see them. I hear them. I feel them. And it makes me cry. And teardrops fall to the ground and mix with the water and they run in to the river and the ghosts swim amongst them until it rains and overflows in to the rice paddies and when the rain stops and the river dries up, the sun punctures the river bed with her eyes and my teardrops turn in to soft particles which heat and rise up into the heavens and land on the eyelids of angels. This is how they hear us too.
I believe that they guide you but mostly they are a reflection of the strength you have in your self, not a weakness. Everything you have done, you have done on your own and you should be proud.”
“But what about all of the people who have helped me? I didn’t make me on my own. They are responsible for helping me. I owe them my life for helping me and I can’t stand the guilt. I am worried I might have unbalanced chemicals in my brain, unable to filter the static of voices from reality. I am worried I can’t trust anyone. I’m worried, no one can trust me.”
“Yes you did do it on your own, you made you because they didn’t give you anything without taking something from you. This is how the world works. We rely on each other. Don’t you understand?”
“Well when the bee takes the pollen from the flower, the bee is able to make honey. The honey tastes sweet and feeds the birds. The birds eat the honey and deposit the product in to the ground. This helps the grass and flowers grow. Do you understand now?”
“Yes, so everything comes and goes?”
“Yes, something like that.” The artist sat back in his plastic seat.
“Maybe that is how it works here.” Reggie stopped. The man’s silence and stillness gave him the confidence to go on. “I see your people living in families of all ages and sizes, living as one. In my country, there has been a great separation of the native people, their children were taken from their families. Ancestral lines were traumatised. They are disconnected. They don’t have a sense of belonging. Our country’s history is not representative of the truth. And, the west has lost its way. People let material possessions rule them. Ha! Maybe they are called possessions because they are possessed by them! I see people that care more about losing a mobile phone or a computer than a friend or family member. There has been a shift from what is important, the truth has been hidden, people have becomes distracted from the truth. When I came here I knew no one and I was instantly welcomed as part of Mar’s family. And now I want to work and help to pay my way, I want to return the favour. At home, everyone is so independent, individual and separated, alone, whereas here, everyone is connected and communal, it is very nurturing.”
“You are a wise man. Let me tell you that.”
“I feel like I don’t know what I’m saying most of the time.”
“Ah, but you are learning to trust yourself. Once you learn the art of trust you can find your purpose in life.”
Reggie stared for a moment, in to the crack in the cement that had so mesmerised him already. A small yellow flower with green limbs was reaching from within the crack.
“Before you go, I will tell you something.” Reggie’s companion crossed one leg over his thigh, and retrieved a packet of cigarettes from his breast pocket. “Be like the tree, with your branches reaching up to the sky, connecting, reaching out, but with your toes planted deep in the dirt.”
“Are you saying that I should not let myself wander alone? Should I ignore the dream? I’m so tired though. When I try to help my family, I keep getting hurt. The poison that eats away at them inflicts upon me. I want to protect myself. But they need help, they are their own worst enemy.”
“Yes of course young man, protect yourself. But don’t neglect your family and your country. And don’t look to the gods because you’ve given up on humans. You can wander and wonder all you like, but your feet are planted well on this earth.”
“What if I looked to myself instead?”
“Yes, and you will find balance.”
When Reggie returned home to his room, he sat on the big white tiles and scratched with an old pencil on to a scrap of paper whatever came to his mind. Once he had finished, he fell asleep in his lumpy bamboo bed.
Reggie woke to the sound of rain splotching against the thatched bamboo and red tiled roof on his veranda. He saw the scrap of paper with words squiggled upon it. He remembered the act of writing these words, but had no recollection of the words passing through his mind, filtering in between his ears and through his temple.
Said the gecko to the fly,
I’m sick of chasing you
I don’t want to die, said the fly
So I’ll stop running from you.
Said the cat to the gecko,
I’m sick of playing with you
I won’t hide anymore, said the gecko
If you call it quits then we’re through.
Said the dog to the cat,
I won’t chase you no more
I won’t tease you, said the cat
If you know you are sure.
Said the eagle to the dog,
I don’t want your eye
I won’t bark at you, said the dog
If you just fly on by.
Said the man to the eagle,
I won’t hunt and cage you no more
I will build my nest, said the eagle
And the man kept his hands on the floor.
Said the universe to the man,
I won’t pave a path for you to follow
I will guide myself, said the man
And he wandered on alone.
Said the stars to the universe,
We won’t shine for you
I’ll light the world with my own eyes, said the universe
And the stars asked, but how will you see?
The universe held out its hands and asked the man for a light
And the man asked the eagle to guide him
And the eagle asked the dog to bark when he was near danger
And the dog asked the cat to go first
And the cat told the gecko to crawl in to the tiny spots
And tell the fly to stay on the wall.
The words on the paper seemed difficult for Reggie to interpret. The only image he had was from the last paragraph; he saw a comic in mind of a god-like figure passing a blue lighter to a man so he could light his cigarette. Then he remembered the artist he met the day before. And he laughed out loud!
Reggie moved towards the intricately carved wooden doors that separated his sleeping space from the outside world. He pulled them open simultaneously and the world crashed down around him in a watery sphere. Hysterical laughter turned to tears flooding from his eyes. Pain shot through his heavy limbs as he stepped on to the cool, wet tiles on the veranda. He peered out and over the rice paddies at the volcanic mountain that lay still before the village and watched the image blur in the rain. He leaned on the wooden rail on the veranda’s edge. He had to steady himself for the rail was rickety, a large crack had perforated along it’s top side. His eyes followed the crack all the way to the veranda’s edge. It met a pylon at the side of the veranda. In the crux of the pylon and the crack was a small yellow flower with green limbs. It did not shelter itself from the rain. It stood tall and proud, happy to let the rain wash over it’s meagre being. He remembered what he saw in the babe’s galaxy eyes, and he felt the power of the rain helping him grow. Reggie laughed a humble laugh now as he watched the energy from his warm being cast itself over the small flower. Reggie thought he saw the flower lean towards him, reach for him.
“You’re doing good little flower.”
Reggie stood tall and still, letting the rain pour over himself too, washing away his insecurities, filtering out his worries, but mostly rinsing his tears so they flowed to the river and when the sun came out they could fly high in nature’s wonder, and he would be connected again.
(This is an excerpt from one of my unpublished novels)