Thomas was driving to the city for a meeting with fellow principals. However, he had another meeting which was of more importance to him. He had arranged to meet Kathleen at a riverside restaurant near her home. It’s not that he wasn’t interested in Teresa anymore but, a few days ago, he had called into the bookshop with an unexpected request.
“Teresa, I know that I have arranged to go out with you next week,” said Thomas, “but I was wondering if you would mind postponing it for the time being? I have some unfinished business to attend to in the city.”
“Of course, Thomas. Whatever suits you,” said Teresa who was rather surprised. Until now, everything had been heavily weighted by Thomas’s obvious interest in her and her yet-to-be-convinced response. Well, there you go, smiled Teresa when Thomas had gone. Life is full of surprises.
As Thomas drove along the country bends, he didn’t turn the radio on. Instead, he reflected on the course of his recent thoughts. He had become increasingly focused on Teresa. After discovering he had a rival in young Bryan, he, often, found himself lost in his plotting of how to win Teresa over. However, age and wisdom finally had a moment to speak as he was sitting on his balcony watching the Rosellas busy with their morning tasks.
“Haven’t you noticed how stressed you are getting?” said the voice.
“Now that you mention it, I am getting myself in a state,” said Thomas.
“And have you noticed that your physical health has been deteriorating lately?” said the voice.
“Yes, my energy levels have been diminishing and I don’t feel that well. I don’t want to get ill.”
“Do you have any idea what the problem might be?”
Thomas was about to say, no, when he decided to ask himself the question properly and listen for a proper answer. Suddenly, as if someone opened the curtain, he could see the problem. “Oh, I see,” said Thomas. “I am running away, aren’t I? I have given up on trying to heal anything with Kathleen and have made myself busy with a new story imagining it might be less painful and more rewarding.”
“Yes, you have told yourself that Teresa is a better story and have not, since its inception, given a second thought to why your relationship with Kathleen broke down and if those very same reasons might affect any future relationship.”
If Thomas was honest with himself – which he currently was being – all he had been thinking about was how to convince Teresa that he was better for her than Bryan. The underlying premise was, of course, that if he could win Teresa, he would be happy. He had become a captive, although, he was not entirely sure who was the captor. Teresa hadn’t forced him to think that way. Regardless, he had lost his peace of mind. It retrospect, it all seemed a little embarrassing. It wasn’t that the idea of Teresa was foolish but the way he had so easily let his imaginings grow unchecked. What was I thinking it was going to give me? After all this time, am I so easily fooled? he asked himself with an uneasy humility. Perhaps, it was shame more than humility. Either would do for now. The voice was gone, having done its job.
Two months had passed since Amira had last seen or spoken to Gabriel. She felt that as he was a newly-wed, she should leave him alone. We should respect other people’s decisions even if they seem bad ones, thought Amira. Perhaps, we are wrong. Perhaps, we are not wrong but the decision is necessary for the person’s growth. While Thomas was driving from Waldmeer to the city to see Kathleen, Amira was walking to her local cafe in Eraldus and happened to run into Gabriel.
“Hi Gabriel,” said Amira. Gabriel smiled but it was a little forced. Amira wondered if, maybe, he didn’t want to be friends anymore. She sat in her normal spot in the cafe and Gabriel went to the counter for takeaway. She put her head in the paper so that he couldn’t see her face. After a few minutes, she looked up and he caught her glance. He collected his coffee, came over to her, and sat down. Both were trying to salvage what had so quickly become a fragile relationship. That which holds us all together is so delicate, Amira thought.
“How are you?” said Gabriel.
“I’m fine. And you?” said Amira sounding a little more formal than she could help.
“Yep, great thanks,” said Gabriel. Amira looked down. She didn’t want to have a meaningless conversation with him. Gabriel looked at the door and seemed to be making an important decision. He visibly braced himself. “Actually, I’m not going that well,” he said as if the words had defeated him. Amira held her breath in case it made Gabriel stop talking. “I’m sorry I haven’t been in contact but I’ve been busy,” he said.
“It’s alright. You have work and now you have Paul to consider as well,” said Amira. Thinking it might be best to ask a few questions, she continued, “What have you decided to do about the share house? It’s only you and Paul there now. Charlie and Mary have bought their own place and…” She stopped short of saying, And you and Paul share the same bedroom, so you have two empty bedrooms.
“We only have one spare room, not two,” said Gabriel. “Paul and I are still in our own rooms. I told Paul that I like my own space.”
Amira thought for a moment and said, “We don’t all have to be on top of each other all the time.” She then realised that her phrase ‘on top of each other’ was conjuring up an image for both of them but the words had already come out.
“Yeah, we are on top of each other,” said Gabriel. In fact, the bedroom issue was a spikey one for Gabriel and Paul and had caused numerous arguments. Gabriel added suddenly, “We looked at houses to buy and signed a contract last week.”
“Wow,” said Amira. “Congratulations.”
Gabriel looked straight at Amira and said, “Yesterday was the last day of the cooling-off period. I told Paul that I can’t go through with the contract and so we withdrew our offer.” After signing the buyer’s contract of sale, Gabriel had woken up every morning in a cold sweat. Finally, he realised that, for whatever reason, he couldn’t go through with it.
Buying a house, thought Amira, and committing to a big mortgage with Paul has had more of an effect on Gabriel than marrying him.
“I can’t buy a house with Paul,” said Gabriel, “because I can’t.” He snatched his coffee, stood up, and left.
Amira sat there for some time. It is the ongoing interplay between independence and intimacy, she thought. Push too far into independence and we disconnect and hurt each other. In a longing for togetherness, we seek each other out again; fumbling around for the warmth of the other. Push too far into intimacy and we get afraid of losing ourselves in it and head the other way. Thus the cycle perpetuates itself. That is what we humans do.
A customer broke her train of thought, “Excuse me, Miss. I notice you aren’t reading your paper. Would you mind if I take it?”
“Of course,” said Amira who realised that she had been hogging one of the two free cafe papers, although, it had laid on the table unread.
As she passed it to him, he smiled, “What a lovely morning. I hope you have a beautiful day!” He was a cheery fellow, full of joie de vie.
“And you too.”
Amira rarely spoke about her personal life. In fact, whenever people asked about her life, she had to think carefully to say something appropriate. However, Ide was a good soul; self-assured enough to not be jealous of others people’s happiness or happy at other people’s misery. That, in itself, made her uncommon. When Amira next saw Ide in Waldmeer, she confided in her about Gabriel.
“You know how Gabriel got married and hasn’t been to Waldmeer since?” said Amira.
“Yes?” replied Ide.
“I saw him in Eraldus during the week.”
“How is he going?”
“I have a feeling that things are not going that well with Paul.”
“Oh, that’s a shame,” said Ide. “Perhaps, they will work it out. Lots of couples have problems adjusting to each other in the beginning.”
“Perhaps,” said Amira. With that, Amira gave Ide a kiss on the cheek, “Goodbye, love, I’ll see you later.”
That afternoon, Ide knocked on the bungalow door. Normally, she didn’t go to the bungalow. She always let Farkas come to her if he wanted anything.
“I saw Amira at the shops and she told me that Gabriel and Paul aren’t doing very well,” said Ide.
“Of course, they aren’t,” said Farkas abruptly.
“What do you mean ‘of course’?” asked Ide. She was confused why Farkas would assume to know such a thing. “How do you know?” she repeated. Farkas wouldn’t reply and looked angry. Ide was startled. Farkas was never angry with her. She never gave him any reason to be.
The next morning when it was still dark, Farkas made his bed, gathered his things together, made sure the bungalow was neat and closed the door. He quietly opened Ide’s back door which he knew was always unlocked and left a note on the kitchen table.
I am going away for a little while. I left money on the bed. If I am gone longer than what the money covers then rent out the bungalow to someone else. Farkas
He knew Ide would be upset and Christopher too but he had unfinished business to attend to. He hadn’t slept much last night. Finally, at 3.00 a.m., he knew what to do. Go to the Laleks, cross Erdo’s old walking bridge, head for the North Country, and visit the wolf pack. The last time he had seen them was three winters ago. It was summer now and so the weather wouldn’t be a problem.
Farkas reached the bridge and felt Erdo’s eyes on him but he did not see him. He wondered if he would remember the way but, as is the case with all those who travel to the North Country, it is not the terrain that gets them there but the state of mind. Over a few days, the rhythmic nature of uninterrupted walking settled his mind and he found himself at the North Country pass. Somewhere along the pass, the wolves would meet him. That was what happened last time. He was confident of finding them. However, he got to the end of the pass and he had not seen or felt the slightest inkling of them. As he sat under the shade of a large overhanging rock, he recalled that, also, last time, he sat under a similar ledge in the middle of a ferocious storm and the Head Gardener of Garourinn appeared and saved him.
“You are wise to call me again,” said the familiar voice. He turned towards the Head Gardener, not sure that he had called him. “This time, you will not be with the wolf pack,” he said authoritatively. “You will be coming to Garourinn. Go straight ahead.” With that, he left.
Having come so far, Farkas decided to keep walking. Sure enough, after about an hour, his old friend, Milyaket, from the Homeland appeared by his side. Farkas was very fond of Milyaket. However, she was so ethereal that he mostly had no idea how to relate to her.
“Have you had a good journey?” said Milyaket.
Farkas always behaved around her. “Yes, thank you.”
“I will escort you to Garourinn. The Master wishes to see you,” said Milyaket.
“The Master?” asked Farkas.
“There is one above the Head Gardener. We call him the Master because he is.”
They soon passed through the gates of Garourinn. Farkas looked at the sweet cottages mixed amongst the green fields but sensed they were not for him.
Reading his mind, Milyaket said, “You will be sleeping in the Master’s house.” Over the hill was a large but unpretentious group of buildings. On entering one of the buildings, Milyaket showed Farkas his room on the second floor. “The Master will see you when it is time,” said Milyaket.
Farkas ate with the other residents and was given various tasks in the house along with everyone else. The other residents were rather monk-like with simple clothes and gentle demeanours. They were slightly aloof from him as if it was not their place to engage with him too fully, although, they were always pleasant. The days glided by. Farkas wasn’t unhappy to be there. It wasn’t exciting but it wasn’t boring. Time was marked by meals, domestic tasks, being in the gardens, and exploring the many, different buildings. Next door was an extensive library. As there was no internet, television, or any other form of entertainment, he did occasionally go to the library and pick up random books. The books were not like ordinary books. They were alive with their own distinct personalities. He, often, passed the prayer hall which all of the monk-like residents attended several times a day. The stillness from the large hall was so powerful that it seemed a little scary.
One evening, he walked past the prayer hall and heard the unfamiliar sound of crying. Peeking through the door, he could see that one of the monks was distressed. Every single monk, male and female, stopped their own praying and surrounded the distressed monk. Some held hands. Others lifted their hands skywards. Others stood motionless. Little bits of light came from each monk and joined above the distressed monk. The light interweaved and formed a radiant ball of orange and white luminescence. It grew much bigger than the sum of the individual lights from all the monks. The monk stopped crying and sat with a transfixed look on his face. Farkas felt that some of the light had reached out a stray arm and touched him lightly on his arm. It felt incredibly, deliciously inviting. It feels so… so precious, thought Farkas, although ‘precious’ was not a word that he would normally use. Eventually, the group dispersed and Farkas returned to his room.
As Farkas was about to leave his room for breakfast, Milyaket knocked on the door. She always wore long, flowing gowns and so Farkas could never see her body. He had the impression that she was floating across the floor rather than walking. This morning, he saw a soft green and pink aura around her. He stared at it as it made her more beautiful than normal.
“Today will be your last day with us,” said Milyaket.
“Oh,” said Farkas who hadn’t thought about leaving for a while.
“The Master is ready to see you. I will take you to him.” Farkas followed her into a part of the building that he had never noticed before even though he had passed it many times. Milyaket stopped at a heavy, dark door and bowed to Farkas, “Until we meet again.” The door had no handle or lock. Farkas was about to call out to Milyaket and ask how to open it when it opened of its own accord. When he entered the room, he felt like his every movement was magnified. He tried to breathe quietly and walk even more quietly but he felt like an elephant.
“Sit next to me,” said a commanding but kind voice in the corner. As Farkas’s eyes adjusted to the light, he saw a man, perhaps, forty-years-old, sitting on a lounge, looking out over the surrounding mountains. Although Farkas felt he should be nervous at meeting the Master, he felt relaxed. Not relaxed like when we let ourselves deteriorate into lethargy but relaxed like when we feel we are loved without having to do anything or be anything.
“You have an unanswered question?” said the Master
“Yes. When I was with the wolf pack in the North Country,” said Farkas, “its leader, Galahad, told me that Maria was my ‘sister under a different name’.” He wondered if the issue needed more explanation and added, “Maria now calls herself Amira.” He then felt embarrassed at telling the Master something he, no doubt, already knew.
There was no judgement in the Master’s voice, one way or the other. “You and Amira have shared lives numerous times. Some have been on Earth but most were elsewhere. On some occasions, she was your sister. On others, she was your partner. Whenever she was your sister, things tended to go well. Whenever she was your partner, it ended badly or sadly. You decided after the last unhappy situation that you would not try again to have a love relationship with her.” Farkas did not feel better for the information. “The problem is not whether you have a sister or love relationship,” continued the Master. “The problem is your concept of love. You share the common human concept of love which eventually must be outgrown, or shall we say refined, by everyone. It is my task to help you with this. However, it is a collaborative venture. I cannot help you if you will not allow it.” The Master softly drew his calm hand over Farkas’s hair as if he was bonding with a young child and led him to the door which opened automatically. “Love is to free, not to imprison,” he said. Normally those were words Farkas wouldn’t even entertain for a passing moment but now they were embedded in his mind. That’s what happens when the Master speaks.
Ide heard a commotion outside. Christopher was calling out excitedly.
“He’s back, Mum,” yelled Christopher who was still young enough to blurt out uncensored what he really wanted to say.
Thank God, thought Ide. She saw Farkas and Christopher walking down to the bungalow laughing and joking. “We have some leftover dinner if you want Christopher to get you some,” she said.
“Thanks,” said Farkas pushing Christopher towards his mother. “Go get the plate from your mother,” said Farkas. “And do the washing up for her.” With that, he walked into the bungalow. One step at a time, he said to himself.
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