Continuing from Pittown (Part 1), here is the first part of Silent Order (Part 2).
The silence is constant. The noise is temporary.
Chapter 18: The Dream and Dr. Apollo
A few months ago, when Edgars Lake had resigned itself to winter and the six cygnets had grown and flown, Merlyn had a lucid dream. It was as real as reality, at least, until normal life had a chance to claim the day. In the dream, Merlyn lived in a female hermitage. The inhabitants wore long gowns, although, clothes were neither here nor there because everyone was translucent and shining. Whatever needed communicating was done telepathically. Strange as it sounds, Merlyn spent nearly all her time in one room. Seven years passed in this way. One would assume that one would get very bored being stuck in a room with nothing to do for seven years. Yet, that was far from the case. It was exquisitely beautiful, but not in a way that can be explained in words. At the end of the dream, Merlyn was told that although there were no similar places on Earth, there were many watered-down versions taking numerous forms. The dream was not, could not be, forgotten.
Not long after it, Merlyn began calling into a cafe between Pittown and the city. It was on the ground level of Joe-Joe’s Apartments and bordered the National Botanic Gardens. It wasn’t the cafe that interested Merlyn. It was some of the people in it and, in particular, one man. He was about seventy; the sort of seventy that has benefited from seven decades. He looked normal enough; a bit balding, a little plump. His accent was European; maybe, Hungarian. His clothes were somewhat formal for ordinary daywear; perhaps, a remnant from a past profession. Merlyn heard one of the man’s companions call him Dr. Apollo. That explained the clothes. His eyes were exceptionally intelligent, kind, and joyful and his presence radiated a strong sense of peace and quiet power. He sometimes smiled at Merlyn from where he was sitting with his friends. For her part, Merlyn was irresistibly drawn to him. Students recognise their teachers. Teachers recognise their students.
One afternoon, Merlyn followed Dr. Apollo into the apartment lift. She was intending to pretend that she was visiting someone on one of the floors. The lift passed Level 1, Level 2, and then stopped at the top floor, Level 3. As the door opened, she saw a small, gold sign on the wall opposite saying, The Silent Order. Being the last floor, it looked silly to pretend she was going elsewhere. Resigning herself to the awkwardness of the situation, she took a step forward. One little step.
“Your floor is very quiet,” said Merlyn. It isn’t just lack of noise, she thought. It’s something positively present, not just the absence of something.
Following Dr. Apollo down the hallway to a common lounge room, she saw a panoramic view of the city from the full-length windows.
“Why does the sign say, The Silent Order?” asked Merlyn.
“We, on this floor,” said Dr. Apollo, “live here in order to develop our inner silence. Everyone is free to come and go. They go to work, activities, see friends and family. However, we all return to the silence. The silence is constant. The noise is temporary.”
Chapter 19: Goodbye
And so, after living in Pittown for a year, Merlyn moved into Level 3 of Joe-Joe’s Apartments. From her balcony, the city view was not as extensive as the view from the communal sitting room but, from her side of the building, she could see the Botanic Gardens. Of particular interest was a pathway leading to a large rock; perfect for sitting. A circular stone wall protected the area and it was roofed by rainforest canopy. Turning her attention to the city skyline, Merlyn’s eyes rested on The State Ballet building where Ben worked. She then thought about Tom’s cafe next door to it. Her last visit there was six months ago.
On entering the distinctive blue door of Tom & Hardy, on that last occasion, Merlyn noticed that Tom looked strained and withdrawn. He seemed to be avoiding her. However, he seemed to also be avoiding everyone while, nevertheless, carrying out his normal duties. Eventually, he had to serve her as no one else came. He tried to escape after Merlyn’s order was taken but she put her hand on his arm.
“Tom, wait,” said Merlyn. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing,” said Tom trying to wriggle away.
“Please,” said Merlyn, “talk to me.”
With resignation, Tom sat down and said quietly, “I’m leaving.”
“What do you mean ‘leaving’? Are you selling?” asked Merlyn.
“No,” said Tom. “I’m keeping the business but I’m not working in it anymore. I’ll manage it from a distance with short visits to keep it functioning properly. I’ll probably open some more places and do the same there.” He added even more quietly, “Don’t say anything. No one knows.”
Merlyn looked around the cafe. She wondered if this new direction would work from a business point of view but, then again, Tom was very experienced in hospitality and she knew nothing.
“Will that work?” asked Merlyn. “Don’t people come here because of you?” Regardless of her lack of knowledge about hospitality, she knew, for sure, that Tom drew his customers by who he was. Even the staff were different people when he was around. Without him, the place had an emptiness which stodgily hung in the air.
“Of course, it will work,” said Tom confidently. “People do it all the time.”
“Oh,” said Merlyn. “Do they? Okay.”
Merlyn continued her thoughts, Tom already tends to be reclusive. If he manages his businesses from a distance, he could become so distanced from people that he would be a virtual hermit.
Interrupting her thoughts, Tom said, “I can’t stand it.”
“What can’t you stand?” asked Merlyn.
“People,” said Tom with barely concealed disgust.
Merlyn hoped that “people” didn’t include her. She didn’t think so. If one can stand aside and look at something then one is no longer submersed in that thing.
The conversation seemed far from over to Merlyn but Tom went back to serving. Presently, Merlyn stood up to leave. What was she going to say to him? She knew she wouldn’t see him again. Apart from work, he was basically noncontactable. He purposely wasn’t on social media. He didn’t give his number out. Merlyn recalled a conversation she overheard when he was doing a shift in Pittstop about nine months ago.
“Hey, Tom, you are here today,” said a youngish, outgoing woman in Pittstop. “I haven’t seen you for ages.” She hadn’t seen him for ages because, unknown to her, he was in the process of opening his own cafe, Tom & Hardy. She then added casually but with intent, “I was going to message you but realised I didn’t have your number.” She waited for his response and for the forthcoming number.
Merlyn half-smiled to herself and thought, Little do you realise (along with all the others) that you are as likely to get his number as a snowball’s chance in hell.
Tom laughed with the woman and then returned to the counter without further mention of his sought-after number.
Back in Tom & Hardy, as Merlyn walked towards the cash register, on that last day of seeing Tom, she saw him, out of the corner of her eye, disappear into the kitchen.
He doesn’t want to say goodbye, she thought sadly. Say it or not, it was still goodbye.
Chapter 20: Withdrawal
This evening, Merlyn went to her first community meeting of the Silent Order. She sat on one of the soft, spotlessly-white sofas lining the wall of the communal lounge room. The city lights shone through the dark glass. Merlyn recognised some of the eight people who were there from Joe-Joe’s cafe below. They weren’t like the ethereal people in her dream. They were a mixture of gender, race, appearance, personality, and, as it soon became obvious, spiritual development. Dr. Apollo loved them all equally as one would love one’s children, no matter who they were or how different they were. Everyone sat quietly with open eyes for about ten minutes and then Dr. Apollo spoke.
“As spiritual students,” said Dr. Apollo, “we cultivate inner stillness through the practice of contemplation or awareness. Behind the normal goings-on of everyday life, we try to have a consistent wakefulness. We learn to watch what we are thinking, what other people are thinking, and what is the spiritual truth of any given situation. We live in two realms. One is the visible human realm. The other is the invisible spiritual realm. This is not obvious to anyone except those who do the same thing. Then it is instantly recognisable.” He smiled at each of the members as if to acknowledge the spirit that he could so clearly see in his Silent Order people.
“Dr. Apollo,” asked one of the attendees, “is withdrawal from mainstream life a necessary choice on the spiritual path? Is it something that everyone should try to do at some point along the way?”
“Withdrawal is not really a choice,” said Dr. Apollo. “Nor is it something one should try to do. Some people will find that their attachment to the world has, without effort, diminished and they will crave solitude. They may withdraw from mainstream life in order to focus on their growth. Withdrawal can be deceptive in appearance. A person can live an apparently solitary lifestyle but their mind is full of noise. On the other hand, someone can have the appearance of a normal life but, unknown to others, be in a state of inner solitude.”
Everyone sat quietly for a further ten minutes. “Without silence,” Dr. Apollo concluded the evening, “we can neither know ourselves, another, or the depth of anything beautiful. Here, in the Silent Order, we learn how to take silence into the noise. Good evening, friends.”
Back in her own apartment, Merlyn’s thoughts returned to Tom. Perhaps, “withdrawal” is what Tom is doing but he can’t put it into those type of words. We are all different and conceptualise life differently but we are probably all seeking the same thing. Her worry about his well-being noticeably lessened and she felt assured that his path was being directed by the same force that nurtured her own.