“Everyone who has come to Earth,” he said, “has chosen the ego and must learn, quickly or slowly, its worthlessness and its venom.”
Chapter 16: Move
Michael, the shy sixteen-year-old boy that Malik was training, stood in the cafe line. A group of similar-aged boys came in. Michael averted his eyes and hunched his shoulders as if he was trying to hide inside himself.
“Move back, idiot,” said one of the boys. “We’re ahead of you.”
Michael was about to give his place to them when he noticed Malik sitting at a nearby table. Malik was watching intently. Michael didn’t know what to do. If he didn’t move, the boys would get angry. If he did move, he would have to face Malik next training session. The boys also noticed Malik and paused to see if the gritty, no-nonsense man was going to do anything. All he did was return to his phone so the boys returned to their former aggressive stance. Although the boys had turned their backs on Malik and could no longer see him, Michael could see him all too well.
Don’t you f***in’ move! the Warlord’s eyes said. Stand up straight. Have I wasted myself on you? Have some self-respect.
Michael looked away from Malik. He looked away from the boys. He stood there for a moment; gazing somewhere else entirely different; somewhere far away. In that faraway place, he caught a glimpse of himself that was older and stronger. It was calling to him. No, wait. Someone else was calling.
“Next,” said the staff member for the third time.
“Me,” said Michael. “It’s me. I’m next.”
The boys did nothing. They went back to their dull, ridiculous conversation and looked like there had never had been a problem. Malik put his phone in his pocket and stood up to leave. Michael caught the tail end of his expression. Satisfaction. He wouldn’t go so far as to think that the great Malik would be proud of someone like him, but he couldn’t help smiling.
Michael’s episode with the boys had been watched not only by Malik but also by another interested observer.
“Who’s that big dude that just left?” said Rachael to Dayne.
Rachael had noticed Malik before the Michael incident happened. It was rather difficult not to notice him. His masculine face, well-built body, and confident posture made him very visible, especially, to young women. Rachael was the talented weaver who worked in Handspun in Darnall. Her friend, Dayne, worked in its sister-shop in Waldmeer. Not quite as wet behind the ears as he had been when he first started working in the bookshop, Dayne was nevertheless the same polite, hard-working, and humble person. Last year, Amira had suggested that Dayne help out in the Darnall shop occasionally. She felt that Dayne and Rachael would be a good balance for each other and a good personal match. They were a good match and, indeed, a good balance for the other, but they had not moved beyond friendship even though Dayne pushed for it at regular intervals.
Somewhat put out by Rachael’s obvious and instantaneous interest in Malik, Dayne said offhandedly, “Oh, you know, that new guy at the Waldmeer Warriors. I don’t know where he’s from but who cares? He’s just a meathead.”
Rachael looked at Dayne. It wasn’t like him to speak about other people disparagingly, especially people he didn’t know. Not wanting to bring up the topic again, Rachael soon worked out another way of finding out more about Malik. A few mornings later, she turned up at the gym and asked for a personal training session. She pointed to the photo of Malik on the wall when the owner asked her who she wanted to book in with.
He rolled his eyes and said rather insultingly, “You girls are all the same.”
Rachael took offence. She was no pushover but decided to hold her tongue. Besides, it was partly true; but only partly. Rachael was too smart to chase after someone for their looks only. The main thing about Malik that caught her attention was his commanding presence. He had an unusual amount of self-assurance for someone his age. None of the boys she knew in Waldmeer were like that.
Malik had already noticed Rachael in the cafe. He was more than a little pleased to see her booked in with him this morning. With the great interpersonal wisdom one has at twenty-four, he decided to be super tough on her in the training session.
Eventually, when exhaustion had worn away all the outer layers, Rachael suddenly blurted out, “You may be tough on the outside, Malik, but you are still a baby on the inside.” Malik stood still. He looked shocked. Realising that she had overstepped the mark, Rachael backtracked and said, “Oh, don’t mind me. I’m delusional with tiredness.”
However, the words had already been said and they hung in the air with a stinging rawness. Malik wondered if he should get angry. He looked into Rachael’s eyes for longer than is appropriate for a client. They were strong and kind eyes. He knew that combination. He knew it in his mother. He knew it in his sister and grandmother and Nina. Even little Lentilly had some of it. Then he did the only thing that one can do in such situations. He fell in love.
Chapter 17: Mindset
On Wednesdays and Saturdays, for the past few weeks, Gabriel had been driving to Waldmeer to visit Faith and her family. Last night, it was only Faith, Gabriel, and Aristotle in the house because Malik was at Rachael’s. Gabriel decided to stay the night. He felt relaxed with Aristotle in the house because Aristotle viewed him as a pseudo-father. Malik, however, was a grown man and had prior rights; therefore it seemed only fair to respect them.
In the morning, Faith woke before dawn. She hadn’t slept well at all. She wanted to go for a walk because the fresh morning air would clear her mind. As it was still dark, she paced the house waiting for the first rays of light to reach over the horizon. A tinge of red light crept over the water and into the edges of the vast, inky sky. Pulling on her cardigan, she closed the front door quietly and took the road down to the shops. As she walked past the baker, she saw that the coffee machine was on.
“Can I be your first customer?” she smiled at the owner.
“It’s always a pleasure to serve you, my dear, first or last,” he replied.
Taking off her shoes on the beach, Faith could feel the soft, cool sand between her toes. The wind spiralled up and down the stretch of sand as if to have a final run before the day’s people arrived to claim the beach. Faith tried to sink into the problem that was bothering her. Even though she and Gabriel were very pleased and relieved to be together again, in actual fact, all the same issues were still there. The only issue that had been resolved was that Gabriel could now remember Faith was Amira, and he also had some concept of the other realms, in particular, the Borderfirma Mountains. No little achievement. However, other than that, he was his old self. Not that his old self was bad but his old self was in conflict with his newer expanding self. Feeling she needed to talk to someone, Faith thought of the Master from Tierramedio.
“Beautiful morning,” said a male voice behind her.
Faith jumped as there had been no one else on the beach, either way, for as far as she could see. On seeing it was the Master, she was first reassured then expectant. The Master seemed as comfortable as if he walked on the long beach of Waldmeer every morning. Faith breathed in deeply and prepared to listen to whatever the Master was going to tell her.
“Gabriel is very changeable, at this stage,” said the Master directly but compassionately. “His feeling for you does not change. That has remained constant because such things are not a deliberate choice that one can decide to un-choose. What changes is the mindset from which he is seeing life. Sometimes, it is higher. Sometimes, it is lower. When it is higher, he is more strongly confident in his attachment to you. When it is lower, he gets pulled by all the offerings of the ego and the people in his life who share those values with him. He doesn’t know that he is constantly gravitating between the two. Otherwise, it would be easy to fix, and it is not. One has to learn to recognise both mindsets and understand the consequences of each.” The Master looked at Faith with a twinkle in his eye and said, “He can’t walk a straight line yet.”
Faith laughed at the Master’s joke. “He may not want to walk a straight line,” said Faith.
The Master laughed. After they went a little further, the Master continued, “We have designed an aid in helping you all to learn how to distinguish between the ego way and the higher way. It is pain. The ego way inevitably leads to pain, even if it seems to temporarily satisfy. The higher way does not. It works. And it works harmoniously. It brings the sort of success that has no bitter after-taste. It is not manipulative. It doesn’t play one person against another. It doesn’t feed anyone’s fantasies. It is honest and it protects the good.” The Master watched the seagulls as they searched for breakfast in the water. They were constantly perched on the edge of battle if one of them found something interesting. “You are much more than the seagulls,” he said.
“When Gabriel listens to his lower voice,” said Faith, “it’s not just that he can end up hurting me but he can let other people hurt me who have been biting at the bit to do so. When it is Gabriel hurting me, at least, I can reason with him that he is damaging the relationship which, in his heart, he doesn’t want to do. But if it’s someone else, I have nothing!”
The Master nodded and said, “Those who view you as detrimental to their own causes will see you as an enemy, no matter what you think of them. Whatever damage they think they can get away with, they will do. The more the ego wants something, the more vicious it can become. If it is not vicious immediately, it will simply be biding time.” The Master looked towards the tops of the cypress trees which lined the beach track. The Kookaburras loudly contributed their laugh to the cacophony of morning bird calls. The expression on his face became radiant. “Everyone who has come to Earth,” he said, “has chosen the ego and must learn, quickly or slowly, its worthlessness and its venom.”
Stepping back to indicate he was about to leave, the Master said, “Don’t have a goal in mind when it comes to Gabriel. Your value is the love you share with the world. That love will always draw to you what you need. Remain faithful to the spirit you see in him and others and you will save them a thousand years of tears.”
When Faith got back home, Gabriel was dressed and ready to leave for Darnall. He looked as unsettled as she had felt earlier on.
“Keep going, love,” she said as Gabriel kissed her goodbye and walked to the door to go to work. “You’ve done well to survive as long as you have. It gets easier.”