Done or Different
Amira was carrying the last of the art supplies from Gabriel’s car down the winding track to the bungalow. Gabriel had been driving to Waldmeer for the previous few weekends as he was keen to fix up the bungalow as a country studio.
“Thanks a lot, Maria,” said Gabriel. “Anywhere on the floor is fine.”
“Okay,” said Amira. “I’ll leave you to it. I’m sure you have lots to do.”
She turned for the door which was only two steps away. The entire length of the bungalow was no more than ten steps, probably eight of Gabriel’s. It was just enough room for a bed and a small kitchen table. One single cupboard and sink made up the kitchen. Next door was a tiny room with an old but adequate bathroom. Running along one entire wall was Gabriel’s art and sculpting equipment. As the floor was uneven, he had bits of wood underneath everything. It was a constant reshuffle of the wood to try and get the structures stable.
Amira looked back as she closed the bungalow door expecting Gabriel to be staring at his works of art, all at various stages of completion. She was surprised to see that he was, instead, staring at her.
She stopped walking and asked, “How’s it all going? Are you happy with what you are making?”
“Truth be told, I’m not. I don’t know what’s wrong exactly but I’m not happy with any of it,” said Gabriel.
Amira took a step back into the room and touched some of the clay. It was harder than she expected. He must not have been working with it for some time.
“I feel that most of my best work was done a few years ago at Charlie’s property,” continued Gabriel. “Maybe, I’m done.” He sat on the bed in exasperation and, for added effect, threw his arms in the air and his body back onto the bed. “Maybe all the art in me is used up. I better think of another job fairly soon or I might have to live in this little bungalow permanently.”
Amira laughed and said, “Don’t worry. I’m sure you won’t have to live here like the local fringe dweller.”
She walked over to the window. The wood around the frame was very worn and rough but it was serviceable. In the distance, she could see the ocean between the trees. It looked still and calm from up here.
“Perhaps, you are not ‘done’ but different,” she said. “You are not the same man that you were a few years back. Maybe, you just need to find out who you are now.”
“That could take a long time,” said Gabriel.
“What is the problem, exactly?” asked Amira. “Is it that you can’t think of what you want to create or you don’t like anything you make?”
Gabriel pulled himself up off the bed. “If I start working on a piece the way I used to, before long, I feel as if it’s…” he paused as he searched for the right word. “I don’t know, Maria. You know I’m not good with words.” He slumped back on the bed.
“Your words are fine. Reach for what it is you want to say,” said Amira.
After a moment, Gabriel said, “Empty,” with the irritation of someone who had discovered an unwelcome visitor living in his house.
“Empty?” said Amira.
“Not enough,” said Gabriel, still annoyed at his discovery. “What once seemed enough doesn’t seem enough anymore.”
“That’s because you are older and you have more to offer now,” said Amira. “What was satisfying to you, a few years ago, is no longer satisfying. You have more to give, more depth, and you won’t feel happy unless you find it in yourself and then find a way to express it.”
“How do I do that?” asked Gabriel. “I’ve tried, but I seem to get nowhere.”
“Be braver. Be more honest,” said Amira. “Don’t hold onto what you knew in the past. Artists are meant to express what other people cannot. That is why an artist, of any type, is given a privileged position in society. They are meant to inspire and we, as people, are very reliant on inspiration to help us in our lives. You cannot inspire if you are not honest. What is honest for you now will take more courage to carry and hold than it did in the past.”
Who Are You?
The next day, Amira was packing up to go back to Eraldus. Gabriel walked up the hill from the shops and sat on the grass next to her car.
“Are you also leaving this afternoon?’ asked Amira.
“No, I’m going to stay a few more days. I need some more time alone,” said Gabriel.
“I wish I could stay here in Waldmeer too,” said Amira. “These days, I feel so at peace here that I have to make a big effort to go back to the city.”
“Maria, you are peaceful whether you are here or in Eraldus,” said Gabriel, not entirely pleased with this observation. He frowned a little. “Do you even need anyone else in your life?”
“Is that why you won’t call me Amira? Because you think Amira doesn’t need anyone and Maria does?”
“Sometimes, Maria was strange,” said Gabriel unapologetically, “but I felt that she was, sort of, manageable. Now, I’m not sure I even know who you are.”
He looked down at the grass. He wondered if he would regret those words.
Amira did not want to dismiss his words lightly. They had a lot of truth in them. She was very different to the girl he first met years ago, and even very different to the prehospital-Homeland transition eight months ago. She wondered what she could say that would acknowledge his feeling but let him know that it was nothing to be concerned about. There was much she would love to tell him but she could not. He would not understand it. And far from reassuring him, it would scare him. Suddenly, the seriousness left her. She smiled and walked over to Gabriel and took his hand.
“We are both here, aren’t we?” said Amira.
Gabriel didn’t know what she meant or how that was supposed to make him feel better. Amira gave him a hug and got in the car. He didn’t hug her back because he already felt too vulnerable.
It was Wednesday night.
Three days on, thought Gabriel, and I haven’t thought of one single creative idea.
He turned off the light and lay in bed. He didn’t bother closing the curtain. No one could see in. He could, however, see out. His eyes slowly accustomed themselves to the dark. Through the open window, the mass of luminous stars started to make their presence known. The longer he looked at them, the more radiant they became.
I wonder how many more of them I could see if I keep looking? he thought. Before he closed his eyes, he almost involuntarily sent a request to those majestic stars. You light-bringers that give so much, why don’t you tell me what I should bring?
As he opened his eyes, Gabriel found himself in a glorious place; grand trees, luscious grass, dazzling water, sublime colours, and, above all, an intangible feeling of beauty, synchronicity, and happiness which he had never experienced before.
What is this place? he said to himself.
He was vaguely aware that he was in a dream, but it was so vivid and meaningful, he didn’t care what it was. He walked around for several hours, never once losing the feeling of wonder and satisfaction; a deep satisfaction that one does not usually experience on Earth for more than a fleeting moment, if one is lucky enough to experience it at all.
The last star was bidding its farewell as Gabriel looked through his bungalow window. It was morning. He was awake.
Wow, that was astonishing, he thought. I hope I don’t lose the memory of it.
Instinct told him to stay close to nature to hold onto it for longer. He walked down to the town and everything looked brighter. He passed several young boys, laughing and chasing each other with their skate boards. They seemed so full of joy. The shop keepers and customers all seemed to be happier than ever he had seen them before. The morning could not have been more perfect.
By late morning, he turned his mind to his work. Already, the effects of the previous night were starting to fade. He knew it was a temporary offering from the stars or the One behind the stars, yet, the dream still had such a palpable residue in him that he wondered if he had somehow misunderstood life for all his previous years. Perhaps, we are mistaken. We think our life is so concrete and real but I never felt anything to have more reality, vibrancy, and importance than I did last night. Instead of turning to his sculptures, Gabriel went to the cupboard and pulled out a canvas and oils. He had not painted for many years. He let the painting paint itself.
By Friday morning, Gabriel’s normal consciousness had, for the main part, returned. It was inevitable and he didn’t begrudge it. In one day, he had substantially completed the most impressive art work he had ever done. Even if no one else likes it, I know it’s good, he thought. As he was packing up to leave in the afternoon, a neighbour walked to the front gate.
“Hello,” said the woman. “You must be Gabriel. Amira told me you are in the bungalow. Is she back from the city yet? I want to let her know about the upcoming church fete.”
“Not yet,” said Gabriel. “She will probably be a few more hours. I will let her know that you called.”
Gabriel folded the note letting Amira know about the neighbour and started to write Maria on the outside. He remembered the dream, crossed out Maria, wrote Amira instead, slid it under her door, and headed back to the city.