Monday, 30 March 2009

Thoughts On A Train Ride

3 hours 28 minutes.
That would be the time she was going to have totally to herself, the time the train was scheduled to take from T. to N.
Plenty of time to think, with no-one to interrupt but for the brief moment her ticket would be checked and perhaps someone with a trolley would pass, offering snacks and coffee.
And think she had to.
About the situation and about what she intended to do about it.

She knew it was not going to be easy, whichever direction she was going to take in the future.
A realistic assessment showed only two possible options: Stay or leave.
To stay was eventually going to become unbearable. Actually, it already was unbearable now.
To leave would take a lot of strength and courage, both of which she was not sure she possessed in a big enough measure.
Also, leaving would make her feel terribly guilty and ashamed, and most likely so for a long time.
It would mean to publicly admit failure for the second time in her life.
Whether "the public" was interested or not, was not the point.
But guilty and ashamed she already felt very often anyway, so that was not going to be much news in the emotional department, either.

The self-deceipt she had given up months ago.
Now it was time to stop deceiving others.
Today, she was going to start by telling those she was to meet in N. the truth, about herself and about the situation.
Although she had no idea of what was going to be the outcome of her revelations, she was determined now.

Looking at her watch, she found that there was only little more than half an hour left before the train was due to reach N.
She took her handbag and went to the toilet. Her reflection in the mirror showed an unsmiling face with skin that looked almost grey with exhaustion from lack of sleep and too many worrying thoughts. Briefly, she wondered whether E. and D. would notice how bad things really were from just looking at her, when they would meet her at the train station.

She shrugged at herself, then, as an afterthought, stuck out her tongue at the image of the exhausted face that suddenly showed a hint of the girl she once was, cheeky and fun-loving.
"Maybe we can make you come back," she muttered, closing the toilet door again.

Slowly, she went back to her seat. Some passengers were already getting their things together, forcing her to wait until they had lifted their luggage out of the rack above their heads.
For the last remaining twenty minutes, she leant back against the headrest, eyes closed.

The man in the seat opposite had to look twice over the rim of his magazine, but then he was quite sure: it was a tear that was winding its way down from the corner of her left eye to the delicate line of her jaw.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

A Picture Of A Boy

She walked home from work, determined to get the last bits of anger and frustration that had been building up over the weekend out of her system.
Exercise, even if it was just an hour's walk in the surprisingly mild October sun, always proved to be helpful.
It did not do anything about the situation, of course, but it made coping with it easier.
When she reached the place where two paths crossed, one leading up to the small foot bridge across the railway and the other one leading into town, she saw that someone was sat on the chunk of yellow rock that had been put on the patch of grass to stop cars from parking there.

Countless times she had passed this rock, but as far as she could remember, nobody had ever sat on it, although it was actually a pretty place for a rest, with an old apple tree spreading its crooked branches over it and one of the former duke's stables converted into modern living quarters visible behind the tree.
Slightly curious as to who was sitting there, she slowed down without really stopping.
First, she saw the dog.
It was a medium-sized dog with shaggy fur of almost the same colour as the rock, and it sat on top of the flattest bit, facing the direction she was coming from. Its posture was attentive but relaxed at the same time, and it did not turn its head or even twitch an ear when she came closer.

Then she saw the boy.
For someone like her, who did not have children, it was difficult to guess the boy's age, but he couldn't have been much older than maybe ten.
He sat on the sloping bit of the rock, his back turned towards her and towards the dog, who had clearly taken this position to guard over his human and protect him.
The boy was wearing ordinary clothes, a beige pair of corduroy trousers and a red knitted jumper.
He had sandy brown hair and a clear face, pretty in the way many children are, but not remarkable.
What she found remarkable though was that he was sat there like a man much older than him would sit, bent forward, one hand on his knee, the other hand at his ear.
Yes, she could see it now, he was talking into a mobile phone.

Nothing remarkable about a kid using a mobile phone, now, is there?
And yet, something about the manner of the boy struck her as unusual.
He spoke in a serious and quiet tone; not like a kid who plays at being Police Man and assumes what he thinks must be the serious, even pompous, tone of an officer.
But he spoke like an adult. Like someone who has serious things to deal with, and whose daily worries are not "what's for homework" or "shall we watch The Simpsons later".

Long past the pair on the rock now, she could not stop thinking about them.
She didn't know whether she should be sad for the boy who was so un-childlike in his manner or have respect for him.
Her own childhood had, in retrospect, never been weighed down by adult problems like money, work or health issues.
All that came much later, and sometimes - like during the weekend that now lay behind her and was never to be repeated, just like her childhood could never be repeated - with such force she found it hard to struggle against.

The picture of the boy and the dog on their rock stuck with her.
She would conjure them up in her mind, and silently wonder what the conversation on the phone had been about.
Had she been an artist, she would have tried to turn her mind's picture into a tangible one.
But not being an artist, all she could do was think.

Again and again.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Moments of Clarity

We all have them from time to time, I assume. Some people call them Key Moments of Learning or Revelations or whatever else fits those moments of clarity best in their opinion; I call them Moments of Clarity.

Probably there are people on this planet who have them all the time, some may even live their whole lives in a continuous state of clarity, but to be honest, I think that would take a lot of life's charm off it. Just think what it would be like never to wonder about things again! It would be plain boring.

Where was I? Oh yes, my moments of clarity.

I am 41, which is quite a bit longer than the average human being used to live when my ancestors roamed the forests and savannahs in search of food, shelter and mates. So, in those 41 years, three moments of clarity do not seem much to boast. In fact, there were some more, but I am not going to write about these. Instead I want to write about the ones that did the most for me.


That was one big moment of clarity. I can't exactly remember how old I was, but I know I wasn't a child anymore; I think I already lived in my own flat when it struck me: I am not immortal, and my time has a limit.
When I was a kid, I remember my mum urging us to go out on a sunny day instead of playing indoors, because, as she said, you should make the most of the good weather while it lasts. Back then, it didn't make much sense to me. Surely there was an infinite number of sunny days coming my way? If I wasn't playing in the sun today, I was going to do so tomorrow; and if it was going to rain tomorrow, then I'd just wait for the next sunny day, and so on.

But then, one day, I suddenly understood that the number of sunny days (or rainy ones, or any other ones) was, in fact, NOT unlimited for me. That there was eventually and inevitably going to be an end to "my" days, at some stage.
It was the moment that, in hindsight, defined "growing up" for me.


Years before the above described moment of clarity, I rode my bike just for the fun of it, as I did so often (and still do, in summer). I even remember the exact spot of road where I suddenly looked at my hands resting on the handlebar of my bike, stretching my fingers, and thinking "This, right here at my fingertips, is where I as a person end, where my border is to the world around me. Beyond, there is everyone and everything else. Up to that point, there is me, just me and nobody and nothing else."
It was an intense moment of loneliness, like many more would follow, but it was not unpleasant.


Already in my mid-thirties, I was sent into rehab for my long-lasting and severe back problems (caused by scoliosis). For the first time in my adult life, all that was required from me was to look after myself and get better. And get better I did.

Very soon after I was back home, one morning I stood under the shower and had another moment of clarity. That's it, I thought, that's you, your body, the only one you have and the only one you will ever get. Once that one is ruined, there will be no replacement. So you better take good care of it.

Ever since, I have not stopped getting stronger and fitter. In fact, at 41, I feel better than I did at 30, and I am proud enough to say that I also look better.

So, these select few personal moments of clarity may seem silly to some of you. Laugh, then; you are welcome to it.

Lost & Found

She had been living on the street for as long as she could remember, being part of a more or less regular community of others, homeless like her.
Over time, she had become quite good at various methods about how to come by food, and she knew all the places where one could hide when the weather was wet and cold or when someone was after her.
In their loosely knit community, couples were never a permanent thing, and friendships were often ended by one of them moving to a different place or meeting a premature death due to the hardships of street life.
Just like the others, she had switched partners and friends several times, so when she ended up pregnant, she had no idea (nor did she care to find out) who the father of her unborn baby was.
With the added weight of her big belly to her otherwise slim body and the fatigue that came not only from being pregnant, but also from hardly ever having enough to eat, it was no surprise that one day she was picked up by the authorities and put into a home for the likes of her.

Lost one way of life, found another.

Here, for the first time in her life, she had regular meals and slept comfortably. The surroundings were clean, and although most of the others here kept pretty much to themselves (because no-one thought they were going to stay here for long), she got along fairly well with them, and also with the people who gave them their meals and generally made sure they were lacking of nothing.
It was quite obvious from the start that she was pregnant, so she was given all the medical attention her condition commanded.
As far as she was concerned, things could have stayed that way for a little longer, but then her twins were born.

Lost one way of life, found another.

Being a mother was not difficult here, where she did not need to fight or steal for food and shelter. She enjoyed having her twins with her all the time, and was given some extra space so that she could take care of her babies without having to worry about anyone coming too close for comfort.
Looking at her twins made her proud and happy, and she did not once waste a thought for who possibly was their father - they both looked like her, and hers they were.
They became stronger and healthy and looked at the world with (in her opinion) very intelligent and curious eyes, and she shuddered when she thought about the life they would have probably had if she had given birth while still being homeless.

One evening, she was given another medical examination. Someone came up with a syringe. "Vaccination, nothing to worry about," she was told, just before she fell asleep.
When she woke up in a small room where she had never been before, she felt terrible.
Her abdomen hurt, and the twins were not there.
She had a headache and it took a while until she could open her eyes properly.
Now she could feel and see stitches across her belly.
What had they done to her? Where were her babies?
She cried for help, and it seemed ages until someone finally heard her and came in to look after her.
She demanded to know what was going on.
"Your babies have been adopted by a good family, they are far better off now," she was told.
And the stitches, the headache, the pain?
"You won't have any more trouble with babies, we've seen to that," they said.

Lost one life, found another.

At first, she thought she was going to go insane with the combined pain of her twins taken away from her and the aftermaths of the operation that had been forced upon her.
To top it all off, she lost a lot of her hair; no wonder with the hormonal changes her body had undergone so rapidly in the past weeks.

So, when she was transferred from the small single room back to where she had been when she had first arrived at the home, some of the others hardly recognized her.
At first, she was not interested in seeing anyone, although there were people coming to the home almost daily, looking at those of the group who were ready to be adopted.
Maybe her life on the street had made her more pragmatic than others; after a while, she resigned herself to the situation and gave up all hope of ever seeing her twins again. She even came to believe that it probably really was for the best that they had been adopted by a family. People she imagined wealthy, with a big house and nice garden for her children to play in.

One day, a couple came to the home.
She was being as nice and charming as she could, and in the end it was decided that she could go with them.

Lost one life, found another.

The couple were friendly and polite, giving her time and space to herself, something she had not had for a long time.
During the first weeks, she learnt what it is like to live permanently in a normal house, with furniture that belongs to you, a TV, and your own toilet.
Her hair grew back and she soon looked better than she ever had in her life.
If this was what her children had now, she could be happy, too.

So she curled up on her bed, purring loudly.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

My Friend

My friend and I go back a long, long way.
As far as my memory reaches, back into early childhood where things tend to get a bit blurred and only single objects, sounds, sights or scents stand out clearly against the backdrop of the first few years, we've always been friends.

While we grew up, naturally the pattern of our relationship underwent changes; some of them subtle, some less so, but our friendship never suffered.

With my friend, I have been able to open many doors to the inner realm of imagination and delight.
On the very rare occasion where the delight turns into fear, I never blame him, and those events never leave a scar on our friendship.
My friend puts me at ease when I am troubled, restores my energy when I am exhausted and offers a welcome refuge from the outside world when I feel I can not face it.

Some years ago, a change of circumstances, of work place, of where I live.

True friendship does not suffer from such changes; it may shift and be altered, but does not break or peter out.
So, of course, my friend and I remained as close as before.
Or so I thought.

Until I found myself spending less time with him.
The hours we spent together became more irregular, often interrupted.
Various factors that neither of us can control prevent us from being as close as we want to.
I miss him when he is not around.
My longing for him and the comfort he offers is intense, and when we do manage to be together, my appreciation for him is greater than before, when I sometimes took him for granted.

Tonight, I hope to be with him again, with all the self-abandonment of the past.
My friend!
Hopefully, he will never forsake me.
I, for sure, will always love him.

His name is Sleep.