I am drinking a strong black coffee with two sugars. Sitting in my usual spot on the Paseo. In front of the little park and playground. Absent-minded. Dreaming. Watching the world go by. Mothers and fathers, babies in prams, children and pets, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents, teenagers, middle aged men, young lovers, cyclists, dog walkers and their canine companions, street peddlers, delivery men, municipal workers, groups of friends, women bringing home their shopping from the market. A marching band is playing in the distance and small birds hop and flit between the tables in expectation of a free lunch or at least a few spare crumbs. I am wearing my bunnet and my three euro sunglasses which make me invisible to the passers by. I can see them but they cannot see me. That’s how it normally works. Or so I tell myself. And it’s what I choose to believe.
Time is fixed in the photograph which you remember so clearly as if it was yesterday. The photograph provides a window into the past. Opening a portal between now and then. Taking you back to previous lives and times. Like time travel on the cheap. Before time travel has been invented. Past and present are reunited, like long lost friends, as if there’s no barrier between them. And time collapses, as if it didn’t really exist at all. And yet, when you try to remember what happened immediately before or after the photograph was taken, your mind stutters and draws a blank. The exact details, if not forgotten, are hazy and indistinct. If forced to remember, you will find yourself inventing a storyline. Filling in the gaps. Because not knowing what really happened is shocking and offensive and too terrifying to admit. But the photograph itself leaves such a distinct impression on your mind. The impression of an abiding memory. The reality of the past at a fixed point in time. A life lived and a life remembered.
Where does that leave us? No further forward I’m afraid.
I met a praying mantis in the campo and stopped to say hello, kneeling carefully on the ground beside her. She tilted her triangular head towards me with a quizzical expression in her large bright eyes, as if trying to weigh up whether I would be better as a mate or a meal (possibly both if she plays her cards right). – I’m so sorry I can’t stay long. I have an appointment – I say coyly, knowing already that she is the most beautiful creature I will meet today. Perhaps just one dance before we go our separate ways.
It’s hard to part when you fall in love so quickly, but sometimes it’s for the best. Such dangerous liaisons are bound to end in disaster. They say that opposites attract, but sexual cannibalism isn’t the best foundation for building a long term relationship and it’s not something that I would normally sign up for. You would certainly need to keep your wits about you if you went on a dinner date. And besides, I prefer vegetarians.
12 January 2019
I cannot always talk directly to my wife. Or at least I cannot expect any definite answers. That’s where the mermaid comes in. Through her an entirely different kind of communication is possible. It’s a different kind of talking and a different kind of listening. Like poetry and myth making. It came to me first in a dream, not long after my wife died.
In my dream, an albatross has written a three-dimensional poem about my wife and I am jealous. Other people are heaping praise on the albatross for his clever construction and the profound truth that the poem conveys about its subject. I am completely out of my depth and cannot compete with this legendary seabird. There is a photograph of my wife that I’ve never seen before. She is swimming underwater. Down, down into the depths of the sea. Away from me and out of reach.
Buddhists believe in a never ending cycle of births and rebirths called saṃsāra. You can escape the cycle of rebirth by attaining Nirvana. But that’s something which requires a lot of effort, dedication and hard work and seems really rather difficult to achieve for most people, on account of their inherent laziness and fallibility.
I do not remember any previous lives. But you could remember your past lives in some detail, and talked about them often. You remembered being a boy in one life and dying young. In another life you lived in poverty and recalled the memory of hunger and starvation. Further back still you remembered living as a rich and powerful woman, a cruel aristocrat responsible for the death and suffering of others.
Some days start off this way. Perhaps after deep and unsettling dreams. Or after a night of heavy drinking, prescription painkillers or tranquillisers. It’s a familiar feeling but one which is always startling and profound. That moment when you first wake up and remember that you are alive, and that you are who you are, and exist in the world as a conscious being. And simultaneously, that one day you will no longer exist and will never wake again. In that fleeting moment of conscious awakening, the joy and the agony of life seem fused together in an indivisible unit, and we dimly recognise the mystery of existence and acknowledge the strange hinterland that we sometimes inhabit between being and nothingness.
What a beguiling spectacle to behold. Such precise and elaborate movements. The dance, not performed for an audience, but for it’s own sake, with dignity and with joy. The flexing of the wings. The stretching of the body. Up on the hind legs at full tilt. Cleaning the face with the front legs. A rite of purification before the dance begins. Then dancing in circles. First one way then the other, zigzagging across the plain. Life imitating art. Then suddenly an unexpected gust of wind whips the small body 50 feet, 100 feet, 1000 feet in the air and away for ever.
A stunned silence follows. Was it a dance of death or a dance of life? Do any of us know that this will be our last day? Our last hour? Our last minute on earth?
“You have to taint the dog.” The voice says. It is my own voice. I don’t know who I am speaking to or what the hell these words even mean.
I am being overtaken by a rising wave of panic. “Taint the dog. Taint the dog.”
Suddenly I realise that the person I am speaking to has a plastic dog stuffed in his mouth and his hands and feet are bound.
“Bad dog.” I say. “Bad dog.”
I can hardly move my tongue or formulate the words. They come out slurred and slowly, like a record being played at the wrong speed.
It’s too late. The incantation is failing. This dog is evil!
“FUCK OFF DOGGIE.” I shout, louder now, terror rising. “FUCK OFF.”
Someone has left their slippers neatly lined up under a tree by a low wall in the orange grove. As if they walked right out of one life in search of another and vanished without a trace. Not even a footprint or a forwarding address. Perhaps they are still out there somewhere in the surrounding fields, partially visible for an instant between the leaves and the branches. Trapped somewhere on the other side. Able to see us but unable to be seen. Except out of the corner of your eye, or under the silvery light of a sad moon.