Ever since Farkas had stormed out of the cafe, not to return, Maria had felt ill. She was even finding some of the cafe customers annoying. Mrs. Reisenden was one of them. Maria’s mother liked her and enjoyed talking with her whenever she was visiting Waldmeer.
“You have returned,” said Maria’s mother with obvious delight. “Do tell me how life has been in the city since you have last been here on holidays.”
Mrs. Reisenden would often bring Maria’s mother a little present from the city and she would tell her all about the cultural events she had been attending.
“Maria, dear, please bring Verloren’s coffee over,” said Maria’s mother. “I will sit a while and chat with her as we haven’t had the pleasure of her company for a while.” She turned to Verloren. “This morning, I walked past the old cottage on the hill. I was recalling that several summers ago you did some gardening work there. They were so lucky to have you!”
“You are too kind,” said Verloren. Verloren had mixed memories of her time at the house but she could not recall why exactly. “Does it have a new person living there now? I must introduce myself to them,” she said.
Mrs. Reisenden must have been the gardener at Farkas’s house before he moved in, thought Maria.
“I enjoyed my time at that house,” said Verloren. “It was good to do some manual gardening again. We have to keep grounded, you know. We can’t be high and mighty.”
Maria gave Mrs. Reisenden her coffee. As she turned to walk away, she found herself rolling her eyes which was quite unlike her. Maria loved her mother but the difference in their tastes was becoming markedly wider. Perhaps, that was only obvious to Maria and not to her mother.
In the Leleks:
As Maria was still not feeling well, she decided to visit Erdo.
“Your body would not get sick if you held no thought of resentment. It is neither good nor bad of itself. If you use it to bless, it will not complain,” said Erdo like this was elementary knowledge. “If we hold anything against anyone, we will suffer ourselves.”
That is difficult but perhaps I could take that on board, thought Maria. At least, I wouldn’t feel sick anymore, so it’s probably worth it.
“More than this, Maria,” Erdo continued, “you are the very people that hurt you or you dislike.”
“I am not those people, Erdo,” said Maria. This was getting offensive. “I am not those people,” she repeated with a fire rising inside her. Erdo, who normally knew everything, was unexplainably mistaken in this instance. “I am not Farkas with his stupid, angry attitude pushing everyone away as if they all want to kill him. I am not that bare-boobed girl, Elise, running around town sleeping with anyone she thinks she can get something from. She must think she has nothing to offer but a body to be used and then discarded. I am not that woman from the city, Verloren Reisenden. She acts like she is so kind but she lies to her husband, chases good looking men, and spends her time shopping and talking to her friends about how badly life is treating her.”
Maria’s anger was replaced with a calmer, older Maria who spoke with authority, “Those women come together under the guise of love to gossip about innocent people who have what they do not; happiness. And if they cannot drag the person into their weak world of suffering, they will seek retribution. How little they realise that their great bond of love will so easily be turned against each other.”
Erdo was silent for some time and then spoke to the younger Maria, “You are all those people. If one is left behind, none of us gets there. No one can be forgotten. We are connected as one creation which has many interrelated parts. We are family. Whoever you hold accountable for their mistaken identity holds you in the dream.”
That’s too hard, thought Maria.
“If it was too hard, you would not be hearing this now,” said Erdo. “We hear what we are ready to hear. We draw into our life those who will help us to grow. Naturally, we will tend to have mixed feelings about those very people, but they are marked for us and we invited them into our house. We have forgotten that we wrote them an invitation some time ago. We look at them as if they are intruders when all along, they are guests.”
Maria bumped into Farkas a few days later while walking to the shops.
“Hello, Maria,” said Farkas and acted like there was no reason not to be friendly, although there seemed many.
Maybe, he wants something, thought Maria.
“I hear you are spending a lot of time in the hills with Charlie?” said Farkas.
“Yes,” said Maria. “I am with Gabriel as much as Charlie. Charlie and I talk about Erdo, the old man in the forest. Gabriel and I talk about life.” Maria was being far more generous with information about her private life then she felt she should be.
“Gabriel? The gay guy from the city?” asked Farkas.
“Yes,” said Maria. “Do you know him?”
Farkas nodded that he knew him but looked like he did not want to know him any more than he already did. There didn’t seem to be anything else that Maria could say that could redivert a conversation that was now headed nowhere good. Farkas had decided that the conversation was over. He turned to leave.
“By the way,” he added, “a lady called Verloren called to my house. She said she used to do gardening there before I moved in. She also said she would call again.”
Call again? Maria thought. It is surprising Farkas let her call once. “She comes to the cafe,” said Maria. “My mother likes her. Erdo says I must like her too.” She said this as if she was a child being corrected by a parent.
“Are you sure that’s what he meant?” Farkas asked with surprising wisdom. “The woman, Verloren, said that gardening was good for her because it made her forget about herself and her problems,” he added.
That was honest of Mrs. Reisenden, Maria thought. It’s rather strange of Farkas to have such a conversation with her. He hardly talks to anyone, let alone someone like that.
For a moment, Maria and Farkas looked at each other as if both were trying to recollect things that they could not recall; bonds that were invisible; a purpose that was unclear. As neither could remember, they went back into their normal demeanour and said goodbye.
Hold My Hand
In the back hills of Waldmeer:
Gabriel was a relatively free thinker. He wasn’t one of those gay guys that acts like a girl, and a stupid girl at that. Don’t we have enough stupid girls, Maria sometimes thought, without the gay guys adding to the population? Gabriel was also not on remote control of marriage, mortgage, and kids, hoping that the masses might know what they are doing. He might not have answers but he had questions. Perhaps, that was why he was an artist. He looked for answers in his art.
He mostly worked as a sculptor and so he was used to using his hands. They were interesting hands. Purposeful like a carpenter, but soft like a musician. Sometimes, he took hold of Maria’s hand when they walked around Merri Creek which ran through Charlie’s hillside property. As he was generally an affectionate person, it seemed natural enough and neither said anything about it. They just enjoyed it; walking together, next to the creek, listening to the wind, watching the water, calmly talking about life. It made Maria think about the body and the ways we connect with each other through our body.
“Oh, don’t ask me that,” said Charlie when Maria asked her what she thought was the best approach to sexual relationships. “I have had problems in all my relationships.”
Maria sensed that Charlie was about to go on a long elaboration of all those problems. “What does Erdo say?” she quickly asked.
Charlie turned her attention to Erdo. “He says that we use sex as a way of trying to complete ourselves because we are so fragmented.”
That doesn’t sound very encouraging, thought Maria.
“He also says that we are drawn to people who have something that we need,” said Charlie. “By uniting with them, we think that we will be able to gain the coveted thing.”
Oh, that sounds even worse, thought Maria. “Does he say anything good about it?” she asked.
“Yes, he does,” said Charlie. “He says that even though our most prized personal bondings are generally selfish and egocentric, they are also our saviour. Through them, we learn to see the essence of ourselves, the other, and life. Our relationships are transformed and so are we. ‘Offer your relationships to God and you will not be disappointed with what is made of them,’ he says.”
Maria pondered that most people simply wanted to use sex for their own purposes, not be used by it for a purpose other than the one they had in mind. Life is tricky, she thought. Maybe, it is not so much deceptive as it is wise and kind and knows how to get our attention. That thought satisfied Maria and she felt it was a direction to head towards.
One morning, Maria was walking with Gabriel as they had arranged to meet for coffee while he was in Waldmeer. They decided not to go to Maria’s workplace, Waldmeer Corner Store and Cafe. There was only one other decent cafe in town. As Farkas no longer went to the cafe Maria worked in, he got his coffee from the other cafe and was walking out the door as Gabriel and Maria were walking in.
“Hello, Farkas. You know Gabriel, of course,” said Maria cheerfully.
The air was thickening quickly. After a tense hello on both sides, Farkas decided he was not quite finished with the conversation.
“How are things in the city with the boys?” Farkas asked Gabriel with obvious ill intent.
Gabriel raised his eyebrows slightly and spoke in a slow and deliberate voice. “Yeah, good thanks. How ’bout you, Farkas?” said Gabriel pronouncing Farkas as F**kass instead of Far-kus.
Oh my God, thought Maria. That’s a red flag to a bull. This is getting serious. She looked at both men, neither of whom were paying the slightest bit of attention to her. They were way too interested in insulting the other. Suddenly, it all seemed terribly funny. She couldn’t help but laugh. Both men were surprised and annoyed that she was interrupting them. They looked at her as if to say, Why are you even standing there? And, anyway, you’re really too weird, sometimes. Nevertheless, the tension had been broken.
“I don’t know why I was given such a ridiculous name,” Farkas suddenly said with a smile. “I have enough trouble in life without having to fight every Tom, Dick, and Harry for my dignity.”
Maria took the opportunity to leave her two friends. “I’ll catch you later, Gabriel,” said Maria. When she was half-way down the street, she glanced towards them and could see that they were tentatively chatting to each other. Perhaps, not best friends, she thought, but with the respect that is due.
In the Leleks:
It had been raining all week in Waldmeer. Some of the roads had closed due to landslides. There was mud everywhere. Maria had been having nightmares. On the way to see Erdo, she had a foreboding feeling which was made worse by him not being there when she arrived. She crossed the rampaging river and decided to walk up the hill which Erdo normally came from. The forest was getting darker. It must be going to rain again, thought Maria. The nightmare was creeping in. Sensing it, she walked more slowly until her footsteps were silent and carefully making their way through the trees, lest she offend the approaching enemy. She didn’t want to continue but going back seemed as daunting as going forward.
As soon as she reached the top of the hill, she stopped dead in her tracks. A dense and terrible power was coming up from the valley and deliberately moving towards her. The nightmare was back and far worse than before. This was out of her depth. It seemed all the evil in this world and more. She felt its intention was to sweep her up effortlessly with barely a glance, crush every bone in her body, and drop her to die painfully somewhere below. Terror immobilised both her body and her mind. Wake up, she heard herself say. This time there was no waking up because she wasn’t asleep. She was a tiny leaf, about to be brutally crushed. As the pressure from the monster was closing in on her, a distant memory called from deep within her.
Maria, it is I, said a female voice. I am with you. I never left you. I know this monster. It is defeatable. Listen carefully to me. You made the monster. Now, unmake it.
The voice was familiar, yet Maria didn’t know who it was. At this point, it didn’t matter.
“Unmake it? How? I am terrified and it is crushing me,” said Maria.
Stand your ground. Do not close your eyes. Look at it, said the voice.
Maria looked. It was horrible. Suffering and pain.
Look deeper, said the voice. It is the world that you and your brothers and sisters have created. It is but a nightmare.
As Maria looked more closely, her terror started to soften.
Let it be blown away as nothing. I am here waiting for you, said the voice.
“Let it be blown away as nothing. I am here waiting for you,” repeated Maria.
The darkness was breaking up. Maria’s body was no longer under pressure. The trees were becoming visible. The sun started to glisten on the wet leaves. There settled a sense of harmony, peace, and safety. Maria felt that it would be impossible for anything to ever hurt her again.
Erdo walked over the hill as if nothing had happened. “I am sorry that I am late, Maria. Did you need me?”
“I am fine, thanks, Erdo,” was all Maria could say. “I will be going home now.”
As Maria calmly and gratefully walked back to her car, she sensed that she was becoming a different person; that she had aged many years; perhaps, many lifetimes in those few moments. She had never felt so well, hopeful, and content.
“Well done, Amira,” Erdo called out to Maria as he waved from the top of the hill.
Amira? Maria thought. Erdo is old. Sometimes, he gets his students’ names muddled up.