Renowned holistic guide, Rupert Alves is currently hosting The SandPaper. He feels it is best read in chronological order, beginning January 2015. If you’d like to respond to any issues raised in any of the monthly issues, or read other readers’ protests, here is a link to the GuestBook
In my dream I imagine how to get out of a strait jacket. The trick is to make yourself huge when they put it on, which gives you the slack to get your arm over your head, undo the buckles and wriggle out, when they’ve gone. Then, when the guard returns, use the strait jacket to bind him up and, wearing his clothes, escape. In my dream I taste freedom. It’s like a biblical revelation. But, as I wake, I hear voices, see faces. I’m in a ward with others. I’ve been moved. I’m not even in a strait jacket. Bang goes that plan.
I explore my surroundings. A huge screen loops continuous cartoons. A clock in a mirror ticks backwards. Shuffling about in my slippers, I chat with others, including a man who tells me that aliens are sending messages through his teeth. There’s one door out but only staff have the code. Between Looney Toons and loony inmates, there’s no context for sanity and no escape. And why escape? In the babbling groaning snoring night, I remember what Michelle told me in our truth session. All those boyfriends, lovers, stacks of them. I counted twenty-three but she didn’t mention them all. It’s gone, hasn’t it, all that love. Or what I thought was love. No point in anything. Whoosh. Anyway, Michelle is one of them now, a Controller. After all, I saw the Lala file on the dining table. And she told me that what she was involved in was hush hush, that she was working for “quiet people in high places”. Yet she said nothing when they denied it. And she put me in here.
An attractive woman in her forties sashays around, bossing everyone about. When she orders me to do what she says, I accuse her of being a Controller. “That’s what I’m here to do” she says brusquely. I realise there would be Controller spies everywhere. It dawns on me that that’s why Michelle and her cronies put me in here. I start studying people, to work out who the spies are, so as to evade their scrutiny. The more I consider what’s been done to me, the angrier I get. I’ll trick them. I’ll escape. But how? I could get out through the windows. I peruse the windows. A long window in the corner opens. Surreptitiously I check it out. It only opens six inches. I’m thin but not that thin. I could lose weight, not eat anything, just pretend. But I’d have to be skeletal to get through that gap and probably too weak to clamber to my freedom. Furthermore, looking down, I realise I’m on the umpteenth floor. If I did manage to slide through, I’d plummet to my death. That’d show them. I imagine it but realise that, being dead, I’d be unable to experience my victory.
I hover by the door, hoping to discover the four digit code that opens it. But they tap it in so fast. And I wouldn’t get very far in my pajamas. Where are my clothes? The jolly black man, who has taken over from the attractive matron, says that, on arrival, my clothes were soiled, so my wife took them back to clean. She said she’d drop fresh clothes by, but she hasn’t been in yet. The jolly male matron jokes and winks with me, as if we share a bond. But he does that with everyone. All I can think is, Michelle’s left me here to rot. Feeling hopeless, I spy a laundry trolley and, quick as a flash, dive into it, covering myself in dirty linen.
I almost dare not breathe, in case it wobbles the canvas sides. I’m shunted here and there, more sheets thrown on top. Good. Two muffled female voices, one Asian, one African, come and go, talking to patients and each other, as they change the nutters’ bedding. When I get shunted, I grip my knees and hands to the steel tubes of the trolley beneath the canvas bag that cradles me. Clutching the base, trying not to move as I’m pushed and pulled, I hear the African voice above me saying “this is heavy” and the Asian voice saying “the wheels may be stiff”. I realise that the acoustics have changed, the sounds of the madhouse have disappeared. We’re in a lift, going down. We land with such a bump, I can’t help going “Ooof”. “What was that?” asks the Asian voice. “I don’t know” replies the African voice, alarmed.
There’s a silence, during which I become several years older. Finally the lift doors open and I’m being shunted again. Thrust through a door, I come to a halt. However muffled, the acoustics are more open again. Again the two voices come and go. I wait for them to echo away into infinity, so I can get out. I may have to tip the trolley over. What if I’m locked in some subterranean laundry room? What if some giant mechanical device lifts me up and plunges me into some vast washing machine and puts me onto fast spin? Suddenly, with horror, I realise the women are right above me, pulling out sheets. I cling onto the bedding above, to shield me. Hands grab it. I resist. It’s a tug of war. Two female faces are staring down at me. “Hi” I say, with a friendly wave.
Back on the ward, I realise that, even if I were to get through the door, I’ve no idea of the layout of this nuthouse. However, it occurs to me that, if I can do so without causing suspicion among the Controller spies, I could use my astral navigation skills to case the joint. It’s dangerous to leave your body unattended, so I wait. Late in the evening, having only pretended to swallow my pills, I psychically explore the building. I am astonished to discover a huge temple, where vast walls shimmer with mosaics of precious jewels depicting vines entwined with fruits and blossoms. As I float from chamber to chamber, I’m overcome by a holy feeling. The more I gaze in awe, the more my energy is sucked away into the sheer awesomeness. When I come to, I realise I’ve cased the wrong joint. I’ve cased the Taj Mahal and I’ve been away for days. Reconnecting with my body, I discover I’m on a drip feed and everyone’s been very worried about me. They are pumping me full of nutrients and drugs. I feel weird, inflated but vacant, like a prize marrow. Sometimes I laugh for no reason. Sometimes, when I think of Michelle, I cry helplessly. Sometimes I’m surrounded by the cackling soundtrack of the cartoons, as if everyone is laughing at me but I don’t get the joke. Mostly there’s a muzzy beige blur in front of my eyes and nothing else.
In the wee small hours, a woman with a candle appears at my bedside. A sparkling yellow and green sari swathes her plump body. “We haven’t forgotten you Rupert” she says. Only slowly, gazing into her beautiful eyes, do I realise that she is my spiritual mentor, Maryam Mazari, and the candle not a candle but the glow of her psychic presence. “We will help you to escape in time for the Hallelujah Moment” she promises. “Look for signs” she whispers as her lovely face fades within her glow, which evaporates. I sit bolt upright. The Sharers haven’t forgotten me. They’re going to help me get out of here. The Hallelujah Moment is nigh. My faith is restored. I’m to look for signs. Whoosh. I’m back. Back with a vengeance.
I’m looking for signs. The attractive matron is obviously a spy, as is the man who tried to steal my breakfast. Others may be Sharers. But how can I be sure? How will I know a sign, even if it’s staring me in the face? A new patient, a spidery man with a shrunken head, is staring at me gormlessly. Is that a sign? At 7pm precisely, there’s a flash of lightning, a roll of thunder and the heavens open. Is that a sign? There are words on a cupboard door that reads ‘authorised personnel only’. Is that a sign? The jolly male matron winks at me. “You’re looking better today Rupert. Must be the weather.” He laughs as thunder crashes all around us. “Want to give me a hand?” “How?” I ask. “Just follow me.”
We hand out tiny paper platters of pills and drinks of drugs. A call comes in from his wife. He winks at me. He assures her, he’s on his way. I can hear her sharp tinny voice. Anger radiates from the phone. It controls him. I don’t know what pills to give the next patient but he’s so caught up in what his partner is saying, he ignores me. She wants him to pass by the supermarket. He says he’ll do that. I decide that the patient is very sick and could benefit from a load of the big ones. The jolly man’s wife wants bleach and not just any kind of bleach. I realise it’s not just my responsibility to pass out the pills and liquid concoctions, I’ve to make sure they take them. The jolly man winks at me, anxious to reassure me that he’s not peturbed by his wife’s rage. She wants twelve large free range eggs, balsamic vinegar, three large onions, frozen peas and sweetcorn. And don’t forget the extra thick lavatory bleach. Oh, and a cauliflower.
He winks at me, as if calling for help. I wink back. He tries to laugh, as he taps in the door code and I follow him out. I’m sure he knows I’m behind him but, as long as I don’t make a sound, he could say he didn’t know, so I don’t want to blow his alibi. Besides, his wife keeps listing things she wants and he keeps saying he can’t memorise them all, he’ll phone from the store. He’s getting upset. His bleeper bleeps. He says he’s got to go and, assuring her that he’s on his way, ends the call. But the colleague bleeping him says there’s a hiatus on the ward, patients vommitting, others running around bumping into things and Mr Bristow’s having a heart attack. The, by now not so jolly man says he’s due to clock off. Coming upon an open door, he peers in. “Okay” he barks. “You get in there and I’ll be back as soon as I can.” I know he’s speaking to his colleague, but I also know it is a sign, so I duck inside the room.
A big man grins at me. “Look!” he says. I look. The big man is standing on one leg. “Very good” I say. “What poise.” He beams. “Rupert” I say, introducing myself. “Rory” he says, shaking my hand so vigorously I find myself jumping up and down. “Pleased to make your acquaintance” he says, with a sweet Irish lilt. He has the round open face of a large child, topped off with masses of bouncy ginger hair. I ask him what he’s in for. He tells me he chooses to be here. He likes it. “That’s why I’m free to come and go as I please, unlike those poor mad wretches on the ward.” Rory can walk in the gardens, or go to the café, browse books and magazines in W. H. Smith’s, or treat himself to a pedicure, anything, the list is endless. “Might you fancy a walk in the garden now?” I ask. “I might” he says with a twinkle in his eye. “Would you care to join me?” “I would” I reply.
We are about to leave when he stops and stares at me. “You can’t go out wearing your pajamas” he exclaims “you’ll catch your death. Where are your clothes?” I explain that my wife has taken them away to wash. “You could wear some of mine” he suggests, timidly. “That’s so kind. Thank you” I gush. “Oh well” he says, abashed “share and share alike.” I stop in my tracks, one leg into a massive pair of trousers. He said “share”. He gave me the password. “Are you a Sharer?” I whisper. “Sure” he says. “So am I” I admit, hurriedly stuffing the trouser ends into oversized brogues, rolling up jacket sleeves. “Let’s go” I say, hanging onto the waistband, so my trousers don’t fall down. I’m desperate to get out of here, even though I know I’m bound to get caught because I look ridiculous.
Rory seems oblivious to the danger, waxing lyrical about the joys of sharing, as he saunters along the corridor. “After all, it makes you feel good and if you feel good, life is good.” I heartily agree, while looking nervously back in case anyone’s spotted us. “Can I hold your hand?” asks Rory. I let him. I’ve one hand holding my trousers up, the other wrapped in Rory’s hand. Thankfully the lift is empty. I free my hand from his to press the ground floor button. “Look!” says Rory. I look. He has both arms outstretched and is beaming. “Very good” I say, as the doors slide back, revealing a hoard of all nations pushing past us to get in. Taking my hand, Rory leads me through the milling throng, dragging me along as if I was his teddy bear. He grins at people we pass and they grin back. He’s so delightfully goonish, no one notices me. But when we come to the gardens, it’s pissing down and Rory seems doubtful.
I jump out into the rain and cry “Look!” He looks, laughs and jumps out too. We splosh about the muddy lawn going “Look!” Joining hands we dance round and round singing “ring a ring a roses”. When it comes to “all fall down” my trousers fall down, get twisted around my feet and I go splat in the mud. Rory roars. Wiping my eyes, I see an open gate which seems familiar. It’s the gate next to the steps where I waited for Aiden and Grace when Alf Winkley had done his back in. This is my local hospital. I can get home. The Sharers have got me out. I’m free. “Thanks” I say, as Rory hauls me up. “Look!” says the big man. I look. He’s got his fingers up his nose. “Very good” I say, making a dash for it.
It’s an ordinary night with ordinary people. I drink in the wonderful ordinariness, the ordinary rain, the ordinary cars, grass, trees twisting like flames in the storm. And, finally, my ordinary home, my sanctuary. Dripping outwardly with mud and inwardly relief, I scoot up the oak panelled staircase and plunge into the shower. How I love my shower, my bed, my home. I never knew how much I loved it. Towelling off, I hear a shriek below, run onto the landing and come upon my neighbour Magistrate Finch at the bottom of the stairs. She shrieks again at the sight of me and another witch appears, Megan, our housekeeper. “It’s him!” she screeches and they scuttle off. They’re phoning the police. The police will recapture me and send me back. I can’t go back there. I’ve got to escape again I’ve got to get to safety wherever they can’t find me. I may need my passport. I need to get dressed.
With a backpack stuffed with clothes, documents and toiletries, I run out the back. But where am I going? I can’t hide in my dome. That’d be too obvious. Dazzled by a large rectangle of light, I run into an obstacle as big as a cow, which tips over sending me sprawling. Clambering up, I realise it’s a motorbike and try to right it, but it’s got sucked into the mud. What am I going to do? Within the large rectangle of light, four people are staring at me. They have been dining. Cyril Shoebridge, our ancient gardener, has a fork of food hovering below his mouth. Ethel Shoebridge, his wife, holds a glass of wine. Aiden’s girlfriend Grace is rising from her chair. Aiden is striding over. “You alright?” he asks. The others gather as I blather on about how I’ve escaped and Megan’s phoning the police. Mr Shoebridge tutts. Grace puts her arm around me. “How can we help?” I say I need to get away to somewhere safe. Two breathless hags appear out of the gloom. “There he is!” screeches Magistrate Finch. Aiden revs his bike. Grace produces helmets. “Hop on” says Aiden. I hop on. “Stop him” shrieks Megan. Mr Shoebridge pokes her with his walking stick. Magistrate Finch leaps at me. Ethel Shoebridge pulls her off, saysing “you should be ashamed of yourself”. “Quick” says Mr Shoebridge slowly. Aiden throws the machine into gear and I’ve to hang on for dear life. “You’re cutting up the lawn” screams Megan, as Aiden swerves and slithers up to the road. “Where to?” he shouts. I can’t think. “Gatwick” I cry. He steps on the gas.
Gatwick is packed with people, milling, queueing, passing through. There are officials everywhere. Don’t run, don’t attract attention. My phone bleeps. It’s a text from Michelle telling me to make contact. I’m not falling for that. What’s the first flight out? Moscow, Nairobi, Athens. Moscow’s about to leave. Nairobi sounds a bit scary. What about Athens? Easyjet. I find the Easyjet counter. Yes there are still seats available. I’ll have to pay by card. The authorities will know where I’ve gone. But I’ve no alternative. Just have to go further, somewhere they can’t track me down. But don’t blow it now. They check my passport and look at me. Don’t act suspicious. I whistle as I pass through into the departure lounge.
Even on the plane, sitting in my seat, I can’t believe they’re going to let it take off. The Greek lady beside me is the largest person I’ve ever seen. She’s bought two seats because she is so big, she explains. The cabin crew even provide a special harness. Within mounds of dark wavy hair, lies a face with a mouth almost lost within waves of soft flesh and dark circles beneath big owl eyes. Her dark dress, with swirly autumnal patterns, billows before her, limited only by the seats in front. They’ve squashed some tray in, on the far side, with food from which she replenishes herself. When she smiles at me, I find myself saying “If you don’t mind me asking, what does it feel like to be so big?” “Wonderful” she says, in a warm thick voice, part Greek, part cultivated English. “Every moment is wonderful, a feeling of endless fulfillment. I have a philosophy.” “What is it?” I ask, anxious for enlightenment in my vulnerable state. “It is not the number of years you live that matters” she says “but the number of meals you eat.” I’m not absolutely convinced about the philosophy, but bowled over by her candour. She’s lovely, makes me feel safe. I’d like her to take me home with her. I might even let her eat me.
An evil looking woman stalks the aisle. Her face has been tightly stretched, given several coats of beige emulsion, had eyes and lips painted on and she’s reminding us that our phones must be switched off. She’s so frightening, my phone slips out of my hands like a bar of soap and I have to scramble to retrieve it. Don’t attract attention, I berate myself. “You have a phone?” asks the goddess beside me, as if it were unusual. “Yes” I say, switching it off and popping it back in my pocket. The plane starts to move. She admits that she’s frightened of planes, because “nothing is holding us up and if, God forbid, anything did happen, I would be unable to help myself.” “I’d help you” I say, unable to imagine how I could. The engine roars into life. We’re whizzing along. The bumping stops. Are we airborn? Yes. Low level buildings and aircrafts disappear and we’re shooting up through clouds to starlight above. All I can think is I’m escaping. Free as a bird. The quivering goddess beside me doesn’t feel free. Her hand has gripped onto mine and is clinging to it like a clam. Her breathing is fast. She’s trying to control it. Perhaps, if I engage her in conversation, she’ll relax.
“Do you live in Athens?” I ask. “I come from a village beyond the city, Agrippalos.” She tells me stories, which I try to take in. “It is where Archimentos defeated the Seven Goitres of Phlemus, and from which Detritus travelled across the Sea of Dreams. Socrates himself, the father of philosophy, once sat in the market square, arguing that, rationally, democracy should be extended to include raptors and goats and other words of wisdom.” “Amazing” I say, noting that her breathing has calmed down. “Yes” she agrees. “The good folk of Agrippalos became so excited by the great man’s questions, probing the nature of nature when they had work to do, that they had him forcibly removed.” “Wow!” I say. “So you live in Agrippalos.” “No” she says. “I have lived many years in the UK, in Middlesbrough.” “Oh. So what do you do there” “I am a clairvoyant. I am Madame Gilda.” My heart stops. Does that mean she’s a Sharer? “Do you use an ouija board or tea leaves or what?” I ask. “I use anything. Really it is the person I connect with. It is their nature that tells me who they are, how they feel, what has happened, what may happen.” “So can you see the future?” I ask. “Not the future but the present, out of which the future is born” she explains. “However, I can see enough to know that my life will soon end. And so I have a powerful need to return to where I come from.”
I want to ask her how she knows but she changes the subject. “So what is your mission?” she asks and, looking into those deep owl eyes, I can’t help telling her. “I’m on the run, escaping powerful people, people who want to control us.” Madame Gilda knows all about them. “Look at what they are doing to Greece” she says. “There are Greek people now without food, without homes. Is it their fault that there are debts? Yet they are the ones to suffer. And what about the immigrants pouring in from the Middle East and North Africa? Alexis Tsipras is not just fighting for our economy, but for our soul, our spirit.” I’m roused by her fervour. “You will be safe in Athens?” she asks. “Probably not. I had to pay for my ticket with my card, so they’ll know where I’ve gone” I confess, panic rising in my voice. “Perhaps you should draw currency in Athens and travel on” she suggests, gently. I nod “Yes.” It’s on the tip of my tongue to ask if she’d take me home with her when, staring into the distance, she says “There is a ghost town in Mani, high on the rocks above the sea. Vathia. A scattering of stone towers, like broken teeth, where feuding families proudly kill each other. This is the birthplace of vendetta. This is ancient Sparta, the warrior nation. They fight and now there is no one left. I know. I saw it on a television program. Joanna Lumley went there.”
“And I should go there?” I ask. “First I think you must fly to Kalamata.” “Kalamata” I repeat. “Then Vathia.” “Vathia” I repeat. My mind keeps repeating Kalamata then Vathia and imagining how I’m going to get enough money to pay for everything forever so I don’t leave a trail of card transactions. And if there’s a plane to Kalamata and how I’ll get to Vathia. Could I hire a car? What if they don’t have cars yet? My thoughts circle, trying out different combinations, until the captain informs us of our descent. Madame Gilda grips my hand until the plane has stopped moving. Equally fearful, I imagine that they’re going to grab me, the moment I go through customs. Some people start standing up and grabbing their luggage even before they’re allowed to. As I unclick my safety belt and stand, I realise I can’t just leave the goddess sitting there. Instinctively I bow. “Can I help you?” I ask. “No” she says. “They’ll be along to help me once everyone is off.” “Oh” I say, wondering if they’ll have to dismantle the aircraft. “Perhaps you should get rid of your phone” she says. “My phone?” “It tracks where you go.” “Of course. Thanks.” “Good luck Rupert.” “Good luck Madame Gilda” I say. “And many more wonderful meals.”
Once I launch myself into the corridor, the throng carries me, through a series of tubes like alimentary canals, down to my destiny. As we shuffle forward, towards the officials diligently scanning identities, I start sweating and shaking. My skin is burning and I can’t stay still. When it’s my turn, I can’t help quacking like a duck. The man stares at me. I cluck softly. With a brusque nod he returns my passport. Someone pushes me. I’ve to move on. I’m through. But I’ve got to get to Kalamata. I’m directed to Aegean Airlines, who have a flight but it’s in the morning. I buy a ticket using my card. I’ve got to use it as long as possible. Meanwhile I’ve got to amass as much cash as I can. I spend the night drawing currency from holes in the wall until, back at the airport, I collapse on a row of seats and pray I wake in time.
Someone is tugging at my shoulder. My eyes blink open. Oh my God, it’s an official. I’ve been nabbed. He’s babbling something at me in Greek. I’m not allowed to lie down. I sit up. He indicates that he’s got his eye on me and passes on. I’m shaking like a leaf. What’s the time? Have I missed my flight? It’s 8:20. It’s gone. I’ve blown it. I rush to the Aegean desk. It’s alright. I got it wrong. There’s an hour yet. I walk about, perusing products in duty free, acting normal. Sometimes I break into skipping, to show that I’m unpeturbed. The moment the boarding sign flashes, I’m up the corridor and on the plane. No one can stop me sleeping now. Unfortunately, my neighbour turns out to be a Kalamatan with rumpled work clothes and a furrowed face, who can’t speak much English but is keen to try. When I say I’m going to Vathis, he shakes his head. I shouldn’t go. “Why?” I ask, raising my hands and eyebrows. He claps his arms about him and shudders. It’s cold. I shrug. He acts out people shooting each other. I shrug. My eyes close. I can’t help it. I sink into sleep and dream of being shot by desperados and entering a heavenly peace.
The Kalamatan labourer wants to get past. I grab my backpack. If they don’t get me now, I’m free. Not really free of course, until I’m out of Kalamata. The first thing I do is hire a car. Next, find a supermarket. These will be my last card transactions. Don’t forget to buy maps and guides. Coming out of the superstore loaded with food, drink, stove, tent, sleeping bag, blankets, cushions, tin opener, tins, everything you need for a month’s camping, I toss my mobile phone in a bin and head for the hills. Plotting the course by map, I take a long winding road south, through sparkling sunshine, with the Gulf of Messina to my right, the Taygetos mountains to my left. The air is sweet with wild sage, cyclamen sprouting between rocks, olive groves and hovering birds of prey. On every craggy ridge I seem to see silhouettes of bandits and envisage volleys of gunfire. Vegetation gets scarcer, olive trees are stunted and twisted into shapes of the wind. Cypresses stand, pencil thin, in fields of stone, below vast peaks, the colour of bone. The road is smooth and modern but the panorama is prehistoric. I’m hurtling into a land of no return, entering a sea of dreams.
Before you get to Vathia, the map indicates a series of sharp twists in the road. But, before I’ve started twisting down, I see it, high on a hill below. A cluster of fortified towers, lit by caramel sunlight. Gingerly, I steer down the loops and up to silent Vathia. Taking care to lock the car and zip up my pockets, I creep furtively along overgrown paths, between dozens of stone towers, three or four storeys high. Each step reveals fallen masonry, a hole or a bush made of tiny daggers. The unnerving stillness is punctuated by a sudden fierce rustling. Just some creature escaping my intrusion, but my heart stops. In one abandoned place I find a bed, a sturdy chair, a newspaper on a side table. But everything’s covered in layers of dust. Outside, the view of the sea is breathtaking, but it’s the total lack of peope that really takes my breath away. Soon the sun will set. What should I do? There’s no one to tell me.
I decide on the place with the bed, rather than pitching my tent. Even so, it’s twilight before I’ve dragged everything up from the car and there’s only just time to light candles to see by. Having prepared my pristine sleeping bag and cushions on the bed and organised my belongings temporarily, I settle back in the only chair. I’m here. I’m free. No one will find me. I can breathe. All I have to do is wait for the Hallelujah Moment, when everyone will psychically switch on and we will all be Sharers. I float in this dream until a gust of wind blows the candles out and I feel my way to bed.
My eyes open on a woman in a doorway. I sit up, startled, which startles the woman who disappears. My eyes are glued to the spot, in case she reappears. Which she does. Her face slides into view, followed by her body. But she doesn’t enter. She just stares at me. Everything about her is ferral, clothes, hair, the look in the eye. Slowly, not to alarm her, I slip out of the sleeping bag, stand and walk towards her, holding out my hand to shake in friendship. “Inglis?” she asks. “Yes, English” I grin, as we shake hands. “Lummy!” she says. “Yes” I say “and Lord love a duck!” She shakes her head. No, it’s “Lummy!” “Lummy” I repeat. Yes, she nods vehemently. “Lummy Inglis.” She wiggles her hips and pouts her lips. A thought occurs to me. “You don’t mean Joanna Lumley?” Yes, she does mean Joanna Lumley and Joanna Lumley is English and I’m English, so I must be okay.
Taking my hand, she leads me out, beyond the broken village, to a field of rocky scree, where she starts picking shoots and showing me. Pick these, not these. I realise we are getting food but I can’t tell one plant from another and, when I show her, she knocks them all out of my hands. These, not those. I try to tell her I’ve got food but she only has one thought in her mind. Her moral pride insists that she must provide food for us both and I’ve to comply. There is no end to it. Pickings are slim and it’s backbreaking work.
Only on our return, can I show her my food. The hams, cheeses, succulent vegetables and fruits. The puddings, cakes, crunchy biscuits and mounds of chocolate bars. Delighting in my treasures, she immediately dumps her groceries in the corner and we chomp our way into the evening. As I pour myself another glass of wine, she skitters off into the darkness, returning with a drink she’d like me to try. It is good, she indicates. I will like it. It is so bitter I’ve to stop myself gagging, but I dutifully swig it back and assure her it tasted good, but no more for now, thanks. I sip wine to get rid of the taste. The wild woman does more impressions of Joanna Lumley. We laugh and, for the first time in I can’t remember how long, I am truly happy.
I awake. No wild woman is staring at me. Only rain pitter pattering outside. As I glance around the room, there’s nothing. It takes a minute of drowsy glancing to realise that there really is nothing. All my stuff is gone. As I run around the village like a headless chicken, desperately searching for my stuff, I realise my car is gone. On the top floor of a crumbling tower, I find the wild woman’s surprisingly tidy nest. I know it’s hers because of the signed photo of Joanna Lumley. The wild woman’s gone off with my car, thousands of pounds-worth of cash, my documents and all my food. All I have is my sleeping bag and a posh illustrated guidebook. What am I going to do?
Several of the towers have been done up recently but are locked. Using every last ounce of energy in me, I break into one after another, using stones to smash glass, break locks, in case there’s sugar or a mouldy biscuit, anything, before flopping down on my sleeping bag and passing out.
Days follow nights. I learn what plants I can and can’t eat, by being violently sick. I pray for the Hallelujah Moment but don’t seem to have the strength to send out a psychic SOS. The guidebook tells me where I am. It says I may see kestrals, sparrowhawks, buzzards, even golden eagles hovering. I may happen upon honeyguides, greenfinches, warblers, flocks of house martins, purple herons, yellow-legged gulls, terns, plovers, buntings and partridges. I may discover red-barked strawberry trees, Indian bead trees, yellow crown daisies, weasel’s snout, yellow horned poppies, mallow-leaved bindweeds, sun spurges, pink hawksbeards, tassel hyacinths, wild marigolds, blue woodruffs, white rock roses and groves of monkey orchids. But I wander about in a fog of light and shade. It’s only in dreams that great birds of prey hover above me, caves open within me, lizards with blue tails scuttle up and down my walls, vipers slither across my floors, armies of ants crawl all over me and women I’ve loved reach out to embrace me, yet I wake alone.
The weather turns. Rain is whistling into my room, as I sit in the doorway, catching water in bowls and cans I’ve found, which I drink to keep me alive. In the night I find myself outside, drenched to the skin, looking up at the lightning displays fizzing around me and laughing. It’s so funny, I can’t stop laughing. Every woman I’ve ever been attracted to has been a search for mother love. Even though I’m a therapist, I didn’t know this until now. But it’s true, whether it’s Katy with her freckly smile, the rustlings of Maryam Mazari’s sari, Rebecca’s beautiful breasts, even the enormous lady on the plane and especially my wife Michelle. And I know it’s because of my mother, Mary Briggs. Mum found love outside her marriage, because her husband Ted was a manic depressive and she couldn’t handle it. She did support us financially but had to have her own life. So the family home was cold, no mother love. And I realise now that that’s what Michelle did with me, provide financial security but follow her own path. And why did Michelle have to do this? Because I was broken, broken before I started, because I imprinted from my lovely dad Ted, who was broken. I did try to emulate strong men, like The Great Lorenz de Mille, but ultimately I couldn’t hack it. In fact, the reason I’m attracted to the Sharers is because they promise the warm embrace of humanity, a safe world where even a baby can survive. Which is what I am. I want my mummy. I want the impossible but I can’t seem to change my nature. Dad used to sing me a Paul Robeson lullaby.
so lulla lulla lulla lulla by by
do you want the stars to play with
or the moon to run away with
they’ll come if you don’t cry
But I can’t stop crying. I can see it now, my own futility. Even this moment of clarity is self defeating. All the faces I’ve worn to protect me, peel away in the blinding rain. And beneath the cackling sky, my lullaby is just some crazy birdsong, not a plea for redemption but me letting go of myself.
so lulla lulla lulla lulla by by
in your mammy’s arms be creepin’
and soon you’ll be a’sleepin’
singing lulla lulla lulla lulla by
I am sitting crosslegged, a moment before sunrise, on the wet floor in my dirty clothes, sucking my thumb. The storm has passed. It’s crackling electricity has ceased, having burnt out my wiring. As the first ray of light shoots into my room and into my eyes, a voice calls to me. “Rupert” she calls and a dazzling woman appears, my mentor Maryam Mazari. My hand reaches out but I can’t touch her because she’s an astral projection. She simply smiles, whispers “Tonight” and is swallowed in the sunbeam. She means the Hallelujah Moment is tonight. I’m wildly excited, hopelessly hopeful. I run around the hillsides gathering tiny bulbs of white asparagus and popping them into my mouth. I must be strong when the blessed moment arrives. I knock back bowls of water I’ve saved. I must be at my best.
There is a church with a spire so, if God’s electric fingers reach out tonight, they’ll be attracted to it rather than to me. Also, it is God’s house and how appropriate to be here for this moment of moments, when all humankind, even Controllers, shall come together in psychic harmony? I could weep for joy. Standing out here, with the church behind me for protection, a darkening sea below, I imagine how it will be. Will there be angels? Will the sky glow with heavenly hues? I gaze out until the sun steals back its light, until a crescent moon rises and then? Nothing happens, not a breeze stirs. The starry sky floats by. I can feel the planet turning. Nothing happens and yet I know it is now. There is nowhere to go from now. It must be now, now. I hear a voice far away singing. As it comes closer, another voice joins, then another. From a few to a choir to a multitude. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” Even the earth beneath my feet begins to shake with the vibrations as the whole biosphere joins in, from humans to slime mold. Joyous water spurts from my eyes and I join in. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” In the midst of this ecstatic jubilation, my daughter Alicia comes to me. “Hallelujah dad” she whispers. “Hallelujah my darling” I murmur. We sing together. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah la la la. Hallelujah la la la la. La la la la la!” Something stops me. Isn’t ‘Lala’ the codename of the Controllers’ psychic implant, designed to render humanity mindlessly obedient? Alicia hisses at me. “You didn’t tell the Controllers about the Hallelujah Moment, did you dad?” “Of course not. Why?” I ask. “Well, if they knew it, they could use it to disseminate their Lala implant.” A memory flashes into my guilty mind. I’m saying “Soon the Hallelujah Moment will happen and we will all pulse together” and sir William Rosenthal saying “How very interesting”. Alicia has shared my thoughts. “Oh dad. You fool.” But her face turns from anger to bliss. “La la la” she coos. I haven’t heard that voice since she was a baby. I want to chastise myself for my foolishness, to apologise for condemning humankind to endless servitude, and yet everything seems so nice. And I realise that, really, there’s not much difference between sharing and servitude. Whichever way it is, we’re entangled in a web of duty and obedience. Whether it’s the safety of the flock or the safety of being controlled, the point is, it’s safety and it means I’m not responsible for myself, which is a load off my mind. Whoosh. I’m free to join in and, blessing my good luck, my voice rises up to join all the other voices.