A Gift From God
Lenny was a fisherman from Waldmeer. Several generations of his family had lived in the little coastal village. One of his past relatives was a logger in the forest like many men at that time. He had emigrated from Germany. The logging settlement was the spectacular meeting point of forest and stunning coastline. It was he who first referred to the early town as Waldmeer. It means forest-sea in German. The name stuck and the locals called it that ever since.
Lenny was seventeen when he built the small, fibro cottage that he and his wife had lived in ever since. It was simple but well cared for and had a lovely, unpretentious garden around the house. It also had an orchard with enough fruit trees for making jam. The bottom of the orchard was home to several hens which provided eggs. Next to the orchard was a large vegetable patch which had fed the family for a few decades. The house was a few streets away from Farkas, although, they had not crossed paths. All in all, Lenny and his wife had a relatively smooth life avoiding many of the difficulties of their neighbours, probably, because of their unambitious and genuine approach to everyday life. However, all of this changed a few days ago.
They were now sitting in the country hospital, anxious and weary with nerves on edge, waiting to see what would happen to Maria, their sixteen-year-old daughter. She had been in intensive care for three days. The unthinkable had happened and Maria was hit by the school bus on its daily trek along the long, winding coastal road. Her parent’s only consolation was that Maria had become immediately unconscious and so they felt she was not in pain.
Many years ago, they had been told that they would not be able to have children. Maria was a wonderful surprise after fifteen years of marriage. They said she was a gift from God when they would allow themselves such sentimentalities. As if to confirm the hypothesis, Maria was an unusually sweet child with not a mean bone in her body. Her goals in life were simple and she was more than happy to go to school and help her mother in the small cafe her mother managed in Waldmeer. Always pleasant to the customers, perhaps, dreamy at times but, nevertheless, delightful. Maria was a genuine asset to the business. She used her earnings to buy little presents for her friends and she saved for her future life. Now it looked like she was not going to have a future life.
“I am so sorry.” The doctor-in-charge summoned all his professional training as he came into the hospital room, “I do not think Maria will live past this evening. It is probably best to say your goodbyes.”
Maria had almost completely transitioned to the Homeland. As her parents had hoped, she felt no pain at all. In fact, she was quite at peace and her only concern was the thought that her parents might not be as excited about her leaving as she was.
“Don’t worry about your parents, Maria. It has all been taken care of,” her guardian assured her.
For some reason, as yet unclear, Amira had been given access to this whole drama unfolding. She even saw the accident and watched Maria’s guardians look after her as she moved out of her body. They talked to Maria calmly and there was little stress in the situation for her, in spite of there being a great deal of stress in the human world around these same events.
Milyaket, Keeper of the Forest, approached Amira. “We have been so enjoying having you back in the Homeland,” said Milyaket, “but, like all of us, you know that in helping others, you find greater happiness yourself.” Amira nodded. She had learned that lesson a long time ago. In the Homeland, where there are many advanced beings, Amira was frequently reminded of how much she still had to learn. “The Advisors would like to ask you if you are willing to return to Earth in the body of young Maria,” Milyaket continued. “She is a suitable match for you and you will not find her past life or tendencies too grating.”
“Of course,” Amira said knowing that whatever the Advisors suggested was always in one’s best interest.
“There is one more thing that you must know,” Milyaket added. “Once you have entered Maria’s body, you will not be able to recall your life as you know it now. You will remember Maria’s life as if it were your own. Gradually, Maria’s memory and demeanour will be transformed into your own Amira-consciousness. In this way, both you and Maria’s parents will adjust to the change. The timing of this is undecided at this point.”
Lenny and his wife could not believe their blessed, good fortune when in the early evening Maria started to move her arms and open her eyes. She was returning to them.
“Tomorrow, I would like to go to the chapel for a little while,” Lenny said for the first and only time ever.
Waldmeer Corner Store and Cafe
Maria’s progress was rapid and unhampered. Everyone in Waldmeer and the surrounding towns knew of the accident and the girl’s unexpected recovery. She was soon well enough to do short shifts in the cafe her mother managed, Waldmeer Corner Store and Cafe. It was generally agreed that it would be best for her to do her remaining year of schooling from home. The town folk did not speak of the accident to Maria, herself, in case it drew attention to something which might pull her backwards. Instead, they spoke in hushed tones to Maria’s mother. They need not have worried. It was only going in one direction.
Farkas was one of the morning coffee visitors to the cafe. He always got takeaway as he didn’t want to be bothered with other people’s annoying civilities. He could barely remember Maria before the accident but even he was curious about the girl’s miraculous recovery. He looked at her closely to see if she really was okay. He was a little embarrassed to find that there was something interesting about the girl. Over the coming year, Farkas gradually started having his coffee at the cafe tables. He would read the paper and, sometimes, talk briefly with Maria’s mother who was not that much older than him. Maria would smile at him when she cleared his table, although, she was a bit nervous of the man who lived on the hill. No one in the village seemed to know anything about him; where he came from, how long he was there for, or even what work he did. Farkas certainly wasn’t telling anyone anything.
Occasionally, one of the hipster hill-dwellers would ask Maria directly if she could remember anything from when she was unconscious. Curious to know the answer but too conservative to ask, other people would stop talking and listen for the answer. Maria didn’t want to disappoint anyone but she could remember nothing at all.
“Happy birthday, Maria,” Farkas heard one of the cafe regulars say one morning.
“Is it your birthday? How old are you?” he asked when she brought his coffee over. The question sounded more important than he intended.
“Eighteen.” Something about that made Farkas happier than he felt it should have.
Maria was changing. Her parents noticed it and felt it must be as a result of the accident. They didn’t question her about it as they were grateful to have her with them in any form. Farkas noticed it too. She was beginning to look older. Perhaps, it was the normal change from girl to woman but it seemed more than that. Her eyes looked like they were searching for something. Previously, Maria never had that look on her face. It was not the normal restlessness of young adulthood which pushes the person from the safety of home out into the adventure of the world. If it was that, Maria would have been outgrowing the cafe and dreaming of the city. In fact, she was content in her work in Waldmeer Corner Store and Cafe. It was a different kind of restlessness. It was the restlessness which comes from inside when one can’t quite remember what one is supposed to do.
Farkas noticed that he was not the only person to have a growing interest in Maria. Charlie lived in the back hills of Waldmeer. More than ten years older than Maria and ten years younger than Farkas, her real name was Charmaine but no one called her that. She had very short, almost shaved, dark hair and large, dark eyes that were as intense as Farkas’s. She didn’t carry the angry or passive-aggressive demeanour that many gay women seem to have. She wasn’t masculine and nor was she feminine. She was androgynous and totally owning it. This woman knew what she was doing. She was an up and coming artist who already had works in some of the cities’ galleries. She was unpretentious and treated everyone the same, except for people who annoyed her. She seemed to sense something unusual in Maria, and Farkas could see that Charlie was nurturing it and her. This troubled him as he could not tell what Charlie wanted with Maria.
Farkas knew how to deal with men. You make them feel nervous to challenge you and then they will respect your territory. Women? You flirt with them just enough for them to think you may have an interest in them and then you leave them wanting more. What do you do with someone who thinks differently, who comes at things from a different angle and won’t engage in the conflict? Maria really liked Charlie. She felt that Charlie may have answers to questions that she couldn’t even form properly yet.
To add to Farkas’s perceived problem, Charlie often came into the cafe with one of her long-term friends, Gabriel. Gabriel was also an artist. He lived in the city and used Charlie’s house for sculpting at various times of the year. Charlie and Gabriel were well known and respected in Waldmeer which was no small achievement given the usual traditional nature of most small country towns. It was common knowledge that Gabriel had had both male and female partners in the past. Unlike Charlie, he was not androgynous. He was very much a man. Both Charlie and Gabriel had an emotional freedom and life courage which Maria was drawn to. In turn, they sensed the spirit in Maria. After all, they were both artists and artists see the invisible before anyone else.
Maria was spending a lot of time in the back hills of Waldmeer. She was visiting Charlie at her art studio and, also, Gabriel when he was there. Charlie knew a lot about life and people and was generous in sharing it.
“You are too young to know this,” Charlie said one afternoon, “but relationships are full of problems. We are drawn to them as if they are the great treasure of life, yet, once we are in them, we struggle. Those who say otherwise are lying.” She paused and said more kindly, “Not that it’s a bad lie, but it’s a lie.” As if to redirect her own train of thought, Charlie added, “Erdo says that we must try to tell ourselves whenever we feel distressed about our relationships, ‘There is another way of looking at this.’ What do you think Maria?”
“Who is Erdo?” Maria asked.
“Erdo Kapus. He is my teacher. He lives in the Leleks.”
“What sort of a teacher?”
“The only teacher that matters.”
“Who does he teach?”
“Anyone who looks for him.”
“In the forest?”
“Yes, the Leleks.”
“Does he have a family?”
“No, he is old. He lives alone. He says he has a sister, Milyaket, but I have never seen her.” Milyaket? A memory stirred but it was so far away Maria had no hope of gathering it.
“Has Gabriel ever been to see Erdo?” Maria asked.
“No, but I often tell him the things that Erdo tells me. Gabriel and I have a joke when we think someone is being egotistical, ‘That’s ego, not Erdo.’ It’s a lame joke but, for some reason, we both find it funny. I don’t think that Gabriel always believes what I tell him but he always listens.”
“Can you take me to see Erdo?” Maria suddenly said bravely. “Will he see me?”
“I will take you but it’s not for me to say who he will see.”
“Will you tell him that I would like to come and ask if it is alright?”
“There is no need to tell him. He will know. He will either be there or not.”
The following week, Charlie drove Maria an hour into the Leleks, the large forested area behind Waldmeer. Erdo lived in a part of the forest which was not national park but which no one else seemed to own either. It was slow driving because the dirt track was bumpy and narrow, even though it really wasn’t that far. Charlie parked the car at the narrow walking bridge.
“Aren’t you coming?” Maria asked.
“No, he only likes one person to visit at a time. He says it’s less distracting for us. Walk over the hill. If he is coming, he will be there.” He wasn’t there. Maria sat on a log by the pond and listened to the birds.
“What would you like to ask?” said a voice behind Maria.
She turned to see who had spoken. He was supposedly old but he looked like he could be any age over forty. Suddenly, Maria could not think of one single question worthy of asking. Erdo was so still that there didn’t seem to be anything important enough to ask that would be worth breaking the silence for. It was Erdo, himself, who spoke in the manner of continuing a conversation which had started a long time ago.
“Everything that comes from this world is problematic, Maria. That is because this world is the upside down of the real world. It is a suffering one. I give you a choice, today. If you prefer, you can leave and go gently into the real world, and there you will be spared much suffering and you will only feel happiness. Think carefully. Your choice will determine your path.”
He left her at the pond and said he would return soon. The pond was idyllic. Everything was glowing with light and beauty and was so deeply peaceful that it was inconceivable that anything could take away from the gorgeous bliss that was present. Who would not want to be so beautifully happy and fulfilled? thought Maria. She became increasingly unaware of her own body and felt merged with all the living things around her. She was fast losing awareness of who she was in that other tiny, dysfunctional world of strange bodies fighting with themselves and each other. After some time, Maria looked across to see two spectacular, black swans land balletically on the pond and swim harmoniously together amongst the water lilies. They were not asking anything from each other, yet, they were together. People are so separate in that other, little world.
“Relationships are used by the darkness to keep people revolving around the ego’s demands.” Erdo had returned.
“If relationships cause people so much angst and heartbreak,” Maria asked, “wouldn’t it be better to forget about them and only think of the real world?”
“For a moment, people see the light of the divine in each other. They run to it and then quickly forget the light they once saw as their fears reclaim their consciousness. Thus begins the ongoing battle to protect one’s own ‘rights’, in case they be forgotten or betrayed. The tally of what is owed is counted, the guilt of perceived wrong doings is cast upon the other, one’s freedom must be paid as the price for ‘love’, and it is only in short periods of peace when all of this is forgotten. Those moments are the precious windows of the Soul.” Erdo cheerfully turned to Maria, “And what will it be? Are you staying or going?”
Maria couldn’t help feeling that Erdo knew what the answer would be but he was waiting for a reply. “Seeing as I am already here, I will stay. Maybe someone needs me.”
“Actually, Maria, many need you,” Erdo smiled warmly. “And you need them. We do not get to Heaven alone, my cherub. Charlie is waiting for you on the other side of the bridge. You have kept her waiting long enough. We don’t want her getting angry,” he added mischievously as if Charlie was a naughty puppy.
A few days later, in the cafe, Maria overheard two locals talking about the old man and recent sightings of him in the Leleks.
“Yeah, right, in ya’ dreams, mate,” both laughed with the good-natured superiority which keeps mates together ’cause they know better.
“Have you ever seen the old man who lives in the forest, Farkas?” Maria ventured.
“Yes, I have.” Maria was surprised. “I’ve seen him a few times when I’ve been near the old bridge,” Farkas added.
“Have you spoken to him?” Maria asked with enthusiasm.
“He gestured to me, both times I’ve seen him, to cross the bridge.”
“And did you?”
“Of course not. I don’t trust him,” Farkas snapped angrily. He pushed his chair out, almost knocking Maria over, and left abruptly. He looked as angry with Maria as he was about the old man.
Maria wanted to cry but she couldn’t because she was at work. Farkas does a lot of blaming and shaming, thought Maria. Those in pain give pain. As for Farkas, he stopped coming to the cafe.