If you asked me, if you really pushed me for an answer, I’d have to admit that I’m unsure as to the exact moment. That first step. The starting point of this quest. All I know is that my search has stretched across long and empty years. However, if I were to say it started a full, fat lifetime ago, that would also ring true.
It was my epic pursuit. My folly. The wide, wise and unwise world over, inbred town to smoky dirt streaked city, far flung country to verdant counties; both landlocked and sandy coastal, balmy and frosty hunts that spanned countless and seemingly infinite footfalls. A billion searching steps to save it. To save him.
And here it is, a mere handful of stumbling strides from my beaten track; quietly lying upon a filthy forest floor, causing my heart to spike and fall as I gaze down upon it. The whale sized shadows of scudding clouds flash moonlight and the image of branches' claws intermittently on it, a giant strobe light freeze framing it over and over as if it were a scene from a bygone age. Silver and ink. Light and dark. Then. Now.
And such a sorry and desolate sight. Just a tiny husk of papery skin over bloodless brittle bones, desiccated and forlorn as if a wind of change could scatter its remains throughout the lands. It is enveloped in a smudge of cloud, one that clings to its contours. It was something that had grown with importance; had taken on a gigantic image in my mind’s eye, only to seem pathetic now found. An errant shadow, a mistimed blink, and it could have remained undiscovered. Lost forever to rot and disappear from the memory of man and time, eaten by an animal from the shade.
Gently, with trembling fingers, I pluck aside the faded streamers that crisscross its sad shape and swipe away the red smudged corks, patina bottle tops and cigarette butts that frame it. I ease my hands softly beneath it and grit my pulsing breath before lifting it into my arms in a cloud of sour scent. Detritus flakes fall from the underside of the cadaver, shrivelled skin, sealable baggies smeared with white fingerprints, faded and perfumed letter scraps and faded sparkles. Barely registering as weight, the shell is cradled to my chest as I move my ear to its torso, daring to hope my quest was not fruitless.
A faint ticking in the ribcage informs me a life force still holds fort. Shocked, yet hopeful, my thoughts race away from me. It isn’t too late. I might still save this sad creature. Tentatively, I carry my delicate cargo to safety, out of the gloomy, night clad trees, to sunnier worlds and eras. The warmth of sunlight and sounds of nature stirs in this creature the briefest of movements. And then, I watch agape as eyes tremble away a surrendering layer of skin that open, slowly, to reveal blank, blind eyes peering through the smirch that still contains it. It shudders as if filled with fear, yet remains in my hold.
Unseeing, the eyes fall away from me as a black tear wells up in the corners of each dry orb, only to moisten upon a few slow blinks. They swivel round and now have a pupil that I watch focus upon me.
‘Who are you?’ I implore. My reply, simply more blinks, sharpening the gaze that holds me.
Cracked and dusty lips open as if for the first time in all eternity and its dry mouth gulps greedy air, like a free diver emerging from hunting pearls. Nourishing air is taken in, plumping its emaciated chest and expanding its form. It breaths out dirt into my wincing face, the odour of its lungs tacky with tar and dust. Seemingly cleansed, the breathing continues and settles to a deeply rhythmic tempo.
I repeat: ‘Who are you?’
A fleeting smile, and its tentative voice appears in my head without the need to move its lips.
I am just finding out. Feed me. Please.
I take my refugee home, for that is what I have decided he is, and place him on a blanket from my childhood. I set to building him a shelter made of books set upon each other. Heavy tomes interlink with frivolous novellas that in turn lock into novels. I use song and poetry to bond the papery bricks and complete the roof with the words of wise men and women; alongside articles and reports from free thinking publications. He grows inside, jitters give way to the occasional sigh of contentment as he feeds.
The walls of this house I adorn with images of my family and friends, past and present. With a pen passed down through generations, I write upon spaces between the pictures the stories of those shown in these portraits. With each adage and every yarn, the cloudy shroud dims a little more and the dark casing of this husk grows warmer in hue, fatter in form.
‘Who are you?’
Soon, we will know.
And so growth can be seen with each addition. I enrich his life with animals and fauna, sunrises and sea salt, salt tears and releasing smiles, with knowledge and culture. Loved ones stop by, placing caring hands on the den, pushing positive energy through to the timorous tenant inside. As each day passes, nerves give way to quiet confidence as he absorbs all that I thrust upon his person.
Politics, and facts fill him, healthy food and minerals nourish him. I carpet his home with maps of adventures and morsels of delicacies from around the globe. Trinkets and coins are hidden in cupboards, locked up with the snarling fiends that want to reach him, to sink their teeth into his rounding flesh. That which sucks of his life is set apart, so that he may focus on that which is before him. And what now lays before him is the world without the shallow glitter, the clutter and the shit outside of the fusty gutter.
The time is upon us. Quest's end.
So today, I watch proudly as he rises calmly on his two sturdy pink limbs and emerges from his house of empowerment. He is grown. Gone is the dark shroud that held him, and sloughed off is the flake of rot that covered him. Weightless shoulders squared and sturdy, head high. A toothy grin mirrors mine and eyes sparkle with life and humour. He is older, but exudes wisdom borne of the earth.
‘What is your name?’
You still don’t know?
‘Yes. Yes, I think I do’ I beam, hairs on end as I see this repaired being for what he is.
Measured and understanding, open minded and grounded. Hidden are the negatives and dark driving forces; to be replaced with that which counts and a level-headed outlook on life. An acceptance of faults of himself and of others. There is still fragility, but it is embraced and held aloft as a mace to ward off black beasts and gloomy worlds.
Eyes, open, he freely sheds joyful tears as he stands before me. Face to face.
And without another word, he climbs inside of me, and we become the same. History and present face the future. The mended fused to the man that was broken, now the mender.