Gabriel had started dating again; male and female. He didn’t sleep with any of them. These days, he was too old to imagine that one can sleep with another person without paying the price. He wasn’t willing to pay that price; so he didn’t. Amira had explained to him about her upcoming trip to Los Angeles. In a week, it would be school holidays. She was going to take Marilyn and Bianca with her to the States so that they could see their father. Everything had been arranged.
“My Eraldus lease is coming up for renewal,” said Gabriel to Amira when next he was in Waldmeer. Since Paul moved out, there was only Gabriel in the house. “The house is way too expensive for me on my own but I don’t have any clear idea of where to go next.”
“The girls and I will be gone by next weekend and we’ll be away for a month. Why don’t you stay here for the month? You can take over the house with your work and we’ll sort it all out when we return.” With no better alternative, Gabriel agreed.
Other than to briefly tell Gabriel about the publishing contract and trip, Amira hadn’t mentioned anything else about it to him because he didn’t seem to want to discuss it. However, she felt that she should try to air the topic. She had purposely left her manuscript on the lounge room table so that he could look at it if he wanted to.
“Have you had a look at my book?” asked Amira.
“I hate reading. You know that,” said Gabriel. He did try to look at it several times. He tried reading the first chapter but didn’t even get to the bottom of the first page. Another day, he tried another chapter thinking he may have more success. He didn’t do much better. He only ever read it at night when everyone was asleep. He was a night person. Amira was a morning person. The girls, as they were children, were early risers. It gave Gabriel more space from them whenever he was there.
“I looked at it,” said Gabriel one morning not explaining what he had looked at. Amira knew what it was.
“And? Did you like it?” she asked.
“No. I don’t understand it. The words are too big.” He said it as if it was the fault of the words for being difficult to get along with. “And the ideas are too complicated.” Although Gabriel spoke dismissively because he wasn’t exactly thrilled about Amira’s new life direction, there was some truth in what he said about the book. Amira looked at her manuscript as one would look at a family member when incriminating information about them has been blurted out by another family member.
On the Line
A few weeks had passed of Gabriel living in Waldmeer. He had crossed paths with numerous people that he hadn’t seen for quite some time. This morning, he was standing behind Farkas on the line for bread at the bakers. They nodded to each other as men do. Ide and the baby had softened Farkas. He was more settled, although, settled and Farkas were not words that easily went together.
“You at Amira’s while she is in the States?” asked Farkas.
“Yep,” was the extent of Gabriel’s reply. Having second thoughts, Gabriel decided to pursue the conversation further. “What do you think about Amira’s book contract?”
Farkas looked surprised that his opinion was being sought and then answered, “She was, always, going to do well.”
“Yeah?” said Gabriel.
“I have known her for a long time,” said Farkas.
“How long?” asked Gabriel realising that he had no idea how Farkas and Amira first met.
Farkas paused, “Longer than I can remember.”
Thinking that wasn’t a very informative answer, Gabriel said, “I remember you knew her already when I first met her at Waldmeer Corner Store and Cafe.”
“Back then she was just a girl,” said Farkas. “Not anymore.” Farkas smiled and continued, “You have to be brave to take her on now.” Gabriel didn’t know how much of that was a joke. “I’m brave. Not that brave,” said Farkas. Gabriel still didn’t know.
“I don’t think so,” said Gabriel.
“Don’t think what? That I’m not that brave or that she is trouble?” said Farkas stirring him up. Gabriel didn’t reply. He didn’t want to enter either of those conversations. Farkas’s face relaxed. Perhaps, he sensed the struggle in Gabriel. “She is not the sort of person that can be controlled,” said Farkas. Gabriel shrugged as if it was of no relevance to him. “She doesn’t even control herself,” he continued by way of elaboration. That was the end of his advice. He glanced towards the counter to see how far the line had progressed.
“Oh my God,” said Gabriel. “This line is ridiculous. It hasn’t even moved.” With that, he left. There was only one person in front of Farkas.
A few days before Amira was due to return home from the States, she received a phone call from Marilyn and Bianca’s father, Peter. Amira thought he would be ringing to confirm where he would meet her at the airport so that she could collect the girls.
“Hi, Pete. How are you?” said Amira.
“We’re all good, thanks,” said Peter brightly. Amira surmised that his month with the girls must have gone well.
“I’m glad,” said Amira.
“Actually, I’m ringing to let you know that I will be returning home on the same flight as you,” said Peter.
Home? thought Amira. I thought here was his home now.
After a pause, Peter continued, “I might as well tell you because it will affect your life as well as ours that I’m going to try and work things out with Melissa.”
“Oh, okay,” said Amira. “I hope it does work out.”
Peter and Melissa were sitting at an outside table at the Eraldus cafe. “It feels good to be back here,” said Peter. “Thanks for coming to talk with me. How are the girls after their long flight?”
“Exhausted,” said Melissa. “They are still asleep.” She looked at Peter who was fidgeting in an uncustomary fashion. He had, always, held most of the cards in their marriage. She added, “They said that they had a lovely time with you.”
Peter smiled and lightened a little. “I forgot about the incomprehensible and unpredictable weather we have here,” he said pulling up his collar. “Why, on earth, is it cold at this time of the year?”
“Well, you didn’t dress appropriately,” scolded Melissa in a good-natured way.
“Nonsense!” said Peter. “It’s the damn weather that is inappropriate, not me.” Melissa laughed and was happy to hear one of his old jokes. Somehow, it seemed funny again. Nothing he had said for the last year seemed even remotely funny. After their breakfast and a chat about incidental things, Melissa stood up. Peter watched her. He had not mentioned anything about his plan to return.
“Well, I think the girls will be awake by now,” said Melissa. “They have become so used to seeing you every day that you better walk home with me so that they can talk to you.”
After paying, they headed for home. Peter brushed a finger against Melissa’s hand. He was terrified that she would pull away. It was one of the most important and frightening moments of his life. She put her hand in his and said nothing. In fact, nothing was ever said about Peter’s time in the States, his relationship with the woman or his return to Melissa. It was not necessary.
Although Gabriel enjoyed having the house to himself and, also, enjoyed being in Waldmeer, he missed Amira. He missed her more because he didn’t know how much she would even be in Waldmeer going forward. He got a lot of work done without the distractions of the city. He was pleased with that. He was less pleased with himself. Reluctant to admit it, he was affected by his conversation with Farkas. Everything seems fine, thought Gabriel, and then things can start unravelling on their own for no rational reason. He decided to be more honest, after all, no one could hear him but himself. Who am I kidding? I push Amira away, myself. It’s easy to be nice to people who don’t mean that much to us. But if something matters to us, we will fight to make it work in our favour. Do we even know what is in our favour?
He walked outside and listened carefully for the faint sounds of the sea at the bottom of the hill. He watched the kookaburras eyeing him off for food. Yesterday, one of them had swooped down and grabbed a whole sandwich out of his hand. Their beaks are strong. He yelled out to the kookaburra, “You won’t get me again, you thief. You missed my face by one centimetre!”
“I have something for you, Gabriel,” said Amira the next evening. She had finished a quick unpack and took out, from her luggage, a pile of papers clipped together.
“Another book,” groaned Gabriel. “I don’t want it. I didn’t even like the first one.”
Undeterred by Gabriel’s off-hand manner, Amira said, “It’s not a book. It’s only two chapters.” She left it on the kitchen bench knowing that if he was going to read it, it would be late at night.
The next day, Amira said, “You haven’t asked me about my trip or the children. Haven’t you noticed they are not here?”
“Yes, of course, I noticed. I assumed they were still in the city.”
“Peter and Melissa are, most likely, reuniting and the children will be returning to their old Eraldus school. They won’t be here anymore,” said Amira.
Gabriel looked at Amira. She looked somewhat sad. He suddenly thought that she, probably, really liked having the girls because she didn’t have her own children. “Oh, I’m sorry. But it’s for the best. They need to be with their parents.”
“Yes,” said Amira always knowing that their stay was temporary.
“You still have me,” said Gabriel.
Amira smiled. “Bianca doesn’t need her room anymore so you are welcome to it for as long as you want.”
Gabriel stood up. “I’m going back to Eraldus this afternoon to deal with some work stuff. I’ll stay with a friend. I’ll be back in a few days.”
As he was leaving, he said, “Your new book is a story. I read it last night.”
“Yes, it is. Did you understand it better than my other book?” asked Amira.
“Yes, I did,” said Gabriel.
“It made me think but, at least, I knew what I was supposed to be thinking about,” said Gabriel.
“I’ve had a whole month of thinking, Amira. Way too much thinking for me.” Gabriel gave her a hug good-bye and said, “See you in two days.”
The forest was shining with soft, wavering light. It was a pristine, sacred morning. Perfect, thought Amira. Although she had seen Erdo a few times in town during the last two years, she had not driven out to see him in the Leleks since before her Eraldus days. Erdo was waiting on the other side of the old walking bridge. Amira saw two splendid, black swans on the lake and wondered if it was the same pair she, often, saw there years ago.
“Yes, it is,” said Erdo. For the same reason that Erdo knew she was coming unannounced, he knew her thoughts. “Swans mate for life, although, occasionally they get divorced if things don’t go well in nesting. Otherwise, they work with the bonding that they have made.”
Amira sat on a decaying tree truck and watched the lake which, always, seemed to have a special enchantment. After about ten minutes, she said, “I haven’t told anyone yet but I didn’t sign the book contract.” Erdo nodded. She wasn’t sure if he knew or not. “The first two weeks in the States were a whirlwind of meetings, interviews, bookstores, lawyers, and experts.” One of the swans suddenly departed but the mate stayed. Amira waited to see what would happen next. Nothing happened so she continued, “I hated it. I hated every minute of it.”
“Is that why you didn’t sign?” asked Erdo.
“I started to dream of Alamgir,” said Amira. “I kept expecting to see him but I never did. I would, certainly, know that dark malevolence anywhere. I was a little anxious that, maybe, I would see him here today as I did one other time.” Erdo put his hands in the air and pointed at the tranquil surroundings to indicate that he was not there. “They organised a whole month of engagements for me but after two weeks I had made my decision. I told them that I wasn’t their guru. They were rather stunned and tried to talk me out of it. When they couldn’t, they aborted mission, returned my manuscript, and that was the last I heard of them. After that, I spent a few days wandering the beaches and parks and meandering through the shopping centres and streets. I tried not to think about anything in particular. As it was a new and interesting environment, it wasn’t hard to do.” The swan returned and its mate swam over and circled it with effortless fluidity. It was all grace and poise. “And then,” said Amira, “I started to write something new; something different. So, I knew it was the right decision.”
“I’m an old hermit who lives away from the world. I know nothing of publishing,” said Erdo.
“Yes but you have sources;” said Amira, “inside information.”
“It was the right decision,” said Erdo more seriously. “The seduction of success and fame is great and treacherous.” Amira nodded. “Besides, the publishing industry is in the process of a massive dismantling,” continued Erdo. “Hope Publishing will have dissolved within the next ten years. Some of it will be caused by the nature of the world’s changing communication systems. Books will become a small part of the whole. There will be so many other ways to communicate freely, extensively, and creatively.”
Erdo wandered over to the edge of the lake and threw a stick into the middle of the water. He watched with satisfaction as wave-rings extended out from the landing spot to the lakes edge. “It is not all romance for the swans,” said Erdo. “The benefits of together-forever have a practical element. In raising clutch after clutch of cygnets, they learn from their successes and failures each time. The learning opportunities of togetherness are not only practical but precious for us all.”
He returned to his place next to Amira and continued his previous discussion. “Some of the Hope Publishing failure will be brought on by itself. It sells itself on the basis of its interest in the spiritual well-being of the world’s citizens. Although this has been true at various times in its history, of more recent years it has been primarily driven by the desire for financial rewards. We cannot have two masters. They will never agree.”
Amira had one last, pressing question, “But what of Alamgir? I still haven’t seen him and he, always, comes to me if I start dreaming of him.”
“Oh, you saw him,” said Erdo. “You saw him many times when you were away. You just didn’t recognise him.”
“I’m sorry that it didn’t work out how you wanted,” said Amira to Teresa. “It might be every author’s dream but I don’t dream about such things.”
“Do it your way,” said Teresa in a resigned manner. “However, I do wish we had something we could give to people. Right now, we have nothing.”
“We have hope,” said Amira. “A hope that will not delude or deceive and will include everyone and disadvantage no one.” Teresa nodded. “The world is changing rapidly,” continued Amira.
“Did Erdo tell you that when you saw him?” asked Teresa.
Amira didn’t answer Teresa’s question but said, “I may have no dreams of fame but I dream for the world. We will soon understand each other’s languages without having to learn them and we will then develop a universal language. Communication is everything. We will look into each other’s lives and see more of ourselves than we knew was possible. Never again will we have a major war, although, the minor ones will, unfortunately, persist for some time yet. People have much internal conflict to resolve.” Feeling a little out of her depth, Teresa ran her hand along one of the shelves as if trying to make something more concrete materialise in her safe, little corner of the world.
Amira touched Teresa’s hand and said, “And we have these.” She pulled five books out of her bag. In her last two weeks in the States, Amira had her manuscript made into some paperbacks without the help of the publishers. Given something more tangible, Teresa’s expression gladdened. She took the books and made a space on the shelf.
Looking up at Amira hopefully, Teresa said, “We have all come this far together. Together, we can go further.”