Copyright is held by the author.
HE GRABBED me with both hands and held me tight. I allowed him a minute of breathless pleasure as his lips claimed the young woman’s. but I tasted the sour tang of Pride and Triumph on his tongue, and quickly withdrew from his clutches. He was frowning when I retreated out an open window.
I rode a midnight breeze through the August air. I had no agenda or schedule, no place I had to be. I never took appointments or answered prayers. I only ever made surprise visits and even I didn’t know how long I would stay. I floated along, looking up at the few stars I could see through the city’s perpetual artificial glow. I smiled. How tenacious those stars were — sending out their signals millions of years ago for someone down here to notice.
Just then, Pain’s sharp scent distracted me. I followed my nose down a ventilation shaft into a room where a woman laboured. Pain, Fear and Hope enveloped her so tightly I could not see a way through. It was only after my sisters lessened their grip that I could cradle the woman in my arms. And as the new baby was brought to her, I pushed headlong inside them both. The baby’s hand touched her mother’s skin. The woman’s face lit up and her eyes began to leak. I lingered there, as the woman traced a soft fingertip over her child’s cheeks. I grew exponentially, spreading out to include others in our circle: the midwife, the nurses, the doctors, the orderlies, the spouse, the grandparents, the aunts and uncles, the sisters and brothers — not all there in the room, but connected nonetheless. I stayed in that warm comfort until Sleep claimed the woman and her child, and Worry settled on the spouse’s shoulders.
I drifted then under a door marked “Break Room”. There I found my brother Exhaustion playing garbage-pail basketball with three young doctors. Feeling like a wide-eyed child, I skipped forward to join them. Gleefully, we scrunched up scrap paper to make our basketballs. Grinning ear-to-ear, we challenged each other to perform impossible shots. And with a great release of laughter, we fell on the floor when we failed. But soon enough, Purpose and Adrenalin called them back with a “Code Blue” and they hauled themselves up and rushed out the door. Exhaustion trailed behind them.
I was deserted, but not for long. Soon I discovered a room where an old man danced with Memory. I fell into step with them, as they circled round visions of young naked bodies shivering on a midsummer’s night, of jumping off a dock, of breaking through the glassy surface of a dark lake, and re-emerging into the crisp air—hearts thrumming and giddy with the cold, watching the Milky Way’s zillions of stars float over their heads. I swathed the old man in those long-ago goosebumps and left.
Next door, Fantasy and Shame fought over a young girl who longed for another young girl. Fantasy pulled her close, filling her with tender words and touches. But Shame tugged her back, shouting in the voices of her disapproving parents. I butted in and elbowed Shame aside, so the girl could bask in the delightful possibilities of entwined limbs lying on a picnic blanket under a summer sun. But too soon, Shame bullied me out of the way, and had had the young girl’s ear again.
In the third room, Dream and I escorted a sick child to the world’s bestest bakery and candy shop. There we feasted on all the sweets the child lists under his breath when the nurses prick him with needles: nougat, licorice, caramel, toffee, sour apples, chocolate eclairs, lollypops, jujubes, strawberry tarts, bumbleberry pies, lava cakes, brownies, jelly doughnuts, meringue, pavlovas, puddings, mousses, butterscotch, peppermints, cream cheese frosting, banana splits, peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream and rainbow sprinkles.
But I was left wanting. Filtered through Memory, Fantasy and Dream, I cannot give myself fully to these souls. What they receive of me are merely whispers and echos. And even when a soul is wide awake and open, they are so often encumbered by my many siblings, I am lost on the periphery. Frustrated, I took my leave of Dream and wandered out of the building and into a quiet park. Here Self-Pity waited. “Who will notice me?” I wailed to them. “Where can I dwell for more than just a few minutes?” They had no real answer, but made a number of agreeable tut-tut-tutting sounds and gave me a hug.
Comforted by this, I let Self-Pity go on their way, and I moved alone along the still dark paths of the park. With each breath of the world, I began to notice the delicious scent of the flowers, the flickering shadows of moths, the sound of the cicadas, the rustling of leaves and grasses, and the caress of the wind. But mostly I felt the presence of the silent resilient trees. Buffeted by weather, peed on, carved into, eaten, lived in and crawled over by countless creatures, year after year after year, they remain.
Is that not miraculous? Distracted, I settled down on a nearby bench, only to find a dishevelled figure sitting beside me. As far as I could tell, this soul was mostly unencumbered — his only companion was Peace, who graciously invited me into their circle. For a very long time, we three sat, holding hands, contemplating the stalwart trees and listening to a chorus of song birds anticipating the dawn. Then, just as the last bit of night was leaving, the soul looked up and noticed those tenacious city stars and we smiled.