How did it get like this? How did it all get so quiet? I walked along by the river again this morning and everything seems so lonely. Not me, I am not lonely, but the city, it is lonely. It has no people to keep it company. The big wheel is still and solitary and it is getting rusty. The ferries sit at the docks waiting for passengers that never come. The wind blows right through the riverside restaurants and bars that used to be filled with Friday night revellers. If I close my eyes, I can see them all there again. I can remember getting off the ferry all dressed up with my hair done and my makeup on ready for a night out with my friends, eager in anticipation of what the night might hold, the whole city bustling with life.
I remember sitting at a bench by the river looking over at the pier. It felt like I was watching a memory. It felt like the last time I would see it that way. I don’t think I will ever see it that way again.
Tables and chairs are knocked over now and no one has bothered to pick them up. Some of the windows are smashed and there is glass on the floor. That restaurant was where I had my leaving lunch with the people from my temp job.
I kissed a handsome Belgian boy over there with a French accent on my birthday. He was beautiful. Different thoughts were going through my head then. There was not this dull sadness that hangs over me now.
How busy we all were: working, running, cycling, eating, shopping, dancing, smoking, drinking, travelling and living.
We passed thousands of people every day that we did not notice. I loved people watching: standing in line for the ferry watching a young couple on a first date; overhearing another couple having a domestic dispute; teenagers messing around with each other, one quiet one paying attention to something else; men in suits, wondering what their jobs were – a banker, a lawyer, a salesman?
It is the simple things that you miss – the everyday things that you didn’t think about at the time: driving to work with my music on, singing along, the sun shining and the clouds rolling over the blue sky; that Friday feeling when work is over and you had enjoyable things planned like meeting friends and eating out; wandering around the shops looking at clothes you might never buy; sitting by the pool lost in a book, idling away time because there was all of the time in the world.
There is still time now, it does not run out, they were wrong when they said that. There is none of the other stuff though, the ordinary, everyday stuff, the stuff that I thought was so mundane; the living. I never thought I would ever be sad about it, but I am. It is the people I miss, the people getting on with their own lives without a thought for me – funny that I should miss them.
An excerpt from “After the Lights Went Out”. Verity talks to Jo.
The worst thing about it all was this kind of wave of hopeless despair took over the whole country. I have thought about this in some depth. I thought to myself, what if how you feel is not just something subjective? What if your feelings have a purpose other than to motivate you alone? What if how you feel is a frequency that you omit out into the universe that other people can feel? What if it can influence how other people feel?
Would that not explain why certain places have a feeling to them? Would it not explain why at places where something awful has happened like murder or suicide it feels eerie? Perhaps it is not ghosts. Perhaps you are feeling a frequency that was so strong and that unsettled that part of the universe so much that the feelings that resulted can still be felt years later?
I think first a wave of panic and chaos swept over the country and then a feeling of utter despair. People stopped hoping, they stopped believing in religion, they stopped believing in anything and a feeling of sheer hopelessness gripped everyone. No one knew what to do; we had collectively given up on our existence. It got to the point where everyone knew someone who had died; everyone had held someone dying in their arms; many people had lost their children, their parents, their sisters, their brothers, their lovers, their friends. The fires killed so much, so many people, so many animals. Many of the farmers were as devastated at the loss of their stock as they were of the people around them. Death seemed to be blowing over the country with the wind, leaving it in a dark shadow, the people left walking around like ghosts. Hope, Jo, is what keeps us surviving, hope and faith, without those we are a dying species. Oil doesn’t matter, electricity doesn’t matter, money doesn’t matter without hope. It is what made us the most progressive and wondrous of the creatures on earth. Without it we are left with empty buildings and deserted cities. We should have realised that we do not need the governments or wealth to survive and be happy. Money was an illusion. Money is actually worth nothing unless we all believe it means something. If we stop believing in money, we shatter the illusion and we put down the imaginary chains that we’re bound by. That is one thing I am not sorry for and I do not miss. Here we are surviving, living without money. We are finding food and shelter and existing, but we are dying out because we have lost hope. We have stopped reproducing because men and women have lost hope in the human race and there are no children. What a world without children. You, Jo, are among the youngest people in the country, trust me, we have looked and very soon you will be an adult. I do so hope that you get to hold a baby in your arms, to look at its face and see the beauty of human life in its simplest form, to hear children laughing and playing oblivious to everything except love and play.
I saw all of this happening before me. I could understand what was happening to the world. I am not sure why Jo, but I see things other people don’t see. There are moments when I feel like my awareness of my experience of life is slightly in front of the reality if it, like I am looking back and remembering it. Like I am dreaming, or reminiscing. It is like my mind is ahead of time itself and I am looking back as a third person – watching the story play out. I can also very succinctly feel what other people are feeling. I feel feelings from other people that they are not aware of themselves. So I could see all of this happening before me and while most people were terrified of their uncertain future, I could feel the hope, the human experience floating away up to the sky, drifting into the dark with the ashes from the fires. I have tried to capture that feeling of hope and faith and keep it here, but I am only one person and I find it difficult enough to convince myself sometimes, particularly when I realised that women had stopped becoming pregnant. That realization was aching to me, I felt afraid. I truly thought to myself that we were doomed. I knew and understood that this was happening because of the loss of hope but I could see no way to reverse that, because we had stopped believing in ourselves. I cried for a long time in a way I had not done in years. I felt so utterly alone. When I had cried all the tears I had, I lay down and slept and when I awoke I meditated for a long time and I accepted the situation. I was still alive and I was a part of a universe that I knew existed for its own purpose. I still believed that. I still believe that now. I had stopped believing in God in the Christian sense when I was 10 years old and although I had lived many years not believing in anything and living the way people do when they don’t believe in anything, I had learned another way to believe in God. I believe in something I call the universe and that there is a divinity in everything in that universe including myself. I believe we are all connected, every person, every animal, every plant, every particle of energy and that the universe exists in a perfect state of harmony. I still believe that and at that point I had to remind myself of it. Whatever was happening was happening to regain balance in the world. I do not believe that when a person dies that is the end of their energy or their spirit. I have a feeling that we are born again. I am not sure whether it is into this world or another one, but my brain cannot reason that the energy that comprises living creatures simply disappears and becomes nothing. I do not actually believe there is any such thing as nothing, even the air and the space in between is something, has gases and particles of energy. I believe that when we die we just become something else. I did not believe that it was possible for the earth to die. I reminded myself that there are things I have control over and things I do not and that I cannot worry about things I have no control over. If the earth was changing, I had no control over that, but I had control over my own thoughts and actions and I while I was alive I had to make sure that what I choose to think and do mattered in some way. I decided that more than ever I had to keep going with what I had started, I had to convince everyone around me that there was still hope. Then something happened.
We heard a story. It came as a kind of Chinese whisper, passed from person to person and I am sure it was being spread all over the country. There was talk of a child who was born the day the last light went out . They said that this girl was going to save us. They said that she was the last pure, good innocent thing left in the world and that she would return the lost children to the world. They said she was here in Australia and soon she would be coming to return our faith in ourselves. They said she was a child of divinity and that she had the power of the universe in her. People started writing things on the sides of buildings everywhere around the city. When I heard people talking about her I was inspired. When people asked if I had heard about her or if I knew anything about it, for a long time I simply smiled and walked away. You see Jo, people think I have some kind of special power, that I can see the future and see into human souls. I can’t see the future in the sense that people think I can, but I understand the nature of the universe and the way it works and I can guess what will happen a lot of the time. I cannot see through skin, but I do see who people really are because I truly understand myself and therefore most other people. The only people I cannot see are truly evil people, because my mind cannot comprehend that and I will tell you, I have only come across one such person in my lifetime, and you have seen him Jo; the cowboy but we have to leave that one for later.
I knew that people believed I had some kind of special powers, which I usually just laughed about and denied, but I had an idea. I thought that if I encourage people to believe in this girl, this “saviour” if they truly began to believe in her then people might begin to hope again and believe. I started to encourage the rumour. I have to admit Jo, I may have written some things on some walls myself. I may have even written some notes and put them in bottles. I may have asked someone to spread the rumour. Well, it grew arms and legs this rumour. People started to believe that this person actually existed and that she would save their souls and the earth. The people around me had a renewed energy. They started to progress in their projects. They were coming to me all the time with new ideas and they were getting things finished. They built a boat Jo, a solar powered boat. They sailed it to Sydney and brought more people back. They were coming to me with thoughts on where we should go, on where this girl might be and they travelled around Australia meeting all of the people who were left and asked about the girl and if the people hadn’t heard about the girl, they told them about it.
“Verity, I am not a saviour or a daughter of god” Jo stated, worried she was going to let everyone down.
Verity smiled “Oh but you are both Jo, in the same sense that we all are. You are a human being who is not hopeless. You are not a daughter of God, you are life itself – we all are, but every now and again we humans need to be reminded of that. You are the light in the dark, the stars in the sky, the sunlight on the sea, sun in the sky, the rain in the air, the reason for existence. We all are. We were not created by a force that is separate from ourselves. We are life, we are creation, there is no difference. What we have lost is simply hope and whether you are real or a metaphor personified, you give us that. You have already given us that. Even just imagining that you exist gives everyone hope. Don’t you see that? Whatever you believe or know about yourself, the way I see it, we have two choices here, we either tell people that you are not the saviour and that in fact she does not exist and the hope dies and kills us all, or we let them believe that you are the saviour, because in a way, in the way that I am explaining to you, you are our saviour. You are youth, you are the future, what you decide to do will affect us all.
And Jo, there is something in the way this has all happened that is strange, don’t you think? I did not start the rumour about you, someone else did. I just ran with it. I did not expect that Tori would find you, but she did and don’t you see you are exactly the kind of person the story describes. Don’t you think there is something in that? You are good and loving and beautiful in the way every person should aspire to be. All you want is to be happy and for other people to be happy, that is all any of us should want. By being you, you inspire other people how to be, you inspire them to be better, to be more like you, because they can see that it is possible. Don’t you see? When you create a story, when you tell it to other people: that makes the story real, imaginations are spoken and let out into the world and come into existence. Don’t you see? People know what an angel is, they know what it looks like, they know its characteristics, not because they have ever seen one in real life, but because someone described it and wrote about it and then other people drew it and painted it and portrayed it and now everyone knows what it is and what it looks like and in that sense, it exists.
“But what will l do? Won’t they expect me to walk on water or turn water into wine or something? I can’t do anything like that. I can’t really do anything special”.
“You just have to be you Jo, you just have to smile and talk to people and make them feel loved and tell them what they need to hear. You will know what that is. I am not telling you to lie about anything. You don’t have to say “Yes I am the daughter of the universe” say what you believe, say what I have said, that we are all sons and daughters of the universe, that we are all divine. Say what you honestly believe, just don’t say all of the things that you are not. If you say you are not divine, you are lying anyway. How can you really know what you are and what you are not? How can you know any of this is what you think it is? This life, how do you know it is real? How do you know it is not a dream? How do you know you are human? There is no real way of knowing these things in this lifetime, so how can you say they are true or not true? Now, it won’t matter what you say. Everyone knows that I sent Tori to find you and that she has brought you here and now everyone believes that you are going to save us”.
“So what now? What do we do?”
“What is it that you want from your life?”
“I want to be happy”.
“And what do you think will make you happy?”
“Mmmm. I guess I want it all to be a big adventure”.
“How does sailing to the other side of the world sound for an adventure?”
Jo’s eyes lit up and widened. “Oooh. Yes please”.
“Let’s do it then”.
Flash fiction. You might know it by one of many other names, including sudden fiction, micro fiction, micro-story, short short, postcard fiction, or short short story. No matter which name you know it by, flash fiction is the ultimate challenge to writers everywhere — to tell a story in very few words.
A drum beats in the distance. Fires light the night sky, smoke obscures stars. Chanting chills from toes to hair. Tonight the earth will have him.
Jo sat down on a fallen tree. She had not had time to think since the journey over to Britain. So much had happened, so much excitement and drama. It was good to finally sit down and process it all. She had wanted an adventure well and she certainly got that. She laughed to herself. Never in her wildest dreams could she of imagined the journey that had led her to this moment. She thought about all the stories that Verity had told her on the boat. On nights when the sea was calm, they would sit together and Jo would ask Verity questions about how life was before.
She wondered what it must have been like then, when the world was full of people everywhere. Her mind could not quite fathom the sheer number of people that you would pass in a day and back then, people did not even take notice of each other, not in person, not unless it was someone they knew and even then Verity said unless it was someone you knew really well, people would often pretend they did not see each other to avoid having to make small talk.
Verity had described how just before the lights went out, the media was such that things that happened in every country were broadcast everywhere across the world, how at any second in time, people could connect to the internet and talk to each other, even if they were millions of miles away from each other. People spoke to each other on video on the other side of the world. It took seconds to send an email full of words and pictures to anywhere in the world, travelling through the air. Jo tried to comprehend how that was even possible. What a strange concept. Where were these words and pictures in between leaving one computer and arriving at the next? Did they physically move all the way to the other side of the world, or were they copied and recreated at the other side? Verity said that these things became so every day that people stopped seeing the wonder in them.
Jo made Verity tell her about her day to day life before she was travelling. Verity described getting up, driving to the gym to exercise indoors every morning before driving to work. Verity described how she had always enjoyed driving in her car with her music on, thinking about things, or just driving singing along. Work was something that everyone did but few people enjoyed. Verity left because she found her job mundane, most people did, but most people did nothing about it except complain often, people found a comfort in complaining to each other about their boring jobs but kept doing them anyway. People were living these lives that they thought they had to, but a lot of the time they were not sure why.
At weekends Verity would visit family and friends, go for walks, go for lunch or dinner or shopping, she enjoyed going to the cinema, Jo would have loved to have done that, the clips from movies on her mother’s hard drive had entranced her. There was something magical about them. To think that people spent millions of pounds making a movie a couple of hours long where everything was make believe, where actors played parts as though it was their real lives, where they built sets and made costumes to recreate real life so that they could tell a story.
She loved hearing about concerts and music festivals, places where thousands of people went to hang out all weekend, camping in mud to listen to hundreds of bands playing music. Verity described the music festivals as one of her favourite places to be, because for two days, ordinary life did not exist there, all there was were your friends, the strangers who would be your friends for just one day, dancing and singing. Nothing else, no stress, no worry, no normality, everyone just did what they felt like doing. It sounded amazing. Verity had managed to get a guitar and had it on the boat with her, she used to get Sam to play it, it was so moving when they were all sitting there in the dark, the waves crashing all around them, the stars shining, the sky looming like an enormous silent crowd of people, everyone listening to Sam playing guitar and Verity singing softly. Jo loved music, she did not just hear it, she felt it, she could feel the fingers strumming the guitar strumming something inside of her, she felt the touch of the musician. It gave her such a familiar feeling when she heard a beautiful melody; it was like remembering a long forgotten childhood home. No matter what was happening and how scared she was, the sound of music comforted her, it made the world turn a pace or two more slowly.
Jo remembered when Tori had played the music in the bar that had been in a playlist called “hip hop music”. Now that was something else entirely. Jo could not help but bouncing to that music and it instantly made her smile and laugh. What a happy moment, dancing around that bar with Tori, feeling young and silly and suddenly not in the middle of life anymore, the worrying, the fear dispelled for a time, transported to another life, where everything was just simply sublime. If she could have watched it back, it would have been like a moment in one of those movies. To think that people could have done that at any time before, to think that people could go to clubs and dance all night, Jo wondered if there would ever come a time in her lifetime when that would be possible again. Perhaps somewhere in the world people were still doing that.
Jo felt a little melancholy about it all, a bit like the way she felt about her mother. She missed a time she had not experienced, how could that be? She saw how wearied everyone was by what had happened and by all the people they had lost and she wondered how everyone could have let it happen? Would it all have happened anyway? Verity had said and they now knew that the oil running out did not have to be the end of everything, there were many other sources of energy, but governments and corporations could just not seem to let go of using the oil. They fought wars over it; they spilled it in seas; fumes from using it killed people. Scientists and innovators and inventors and entreupeneurs had developed other energy sources that could have fuelled the whole world had they spent all the money they did on trying to covet the oil on developing these things and making them available for everyone to use. Verity had said it was all about money.
Money; another thing Jo just could not understand. Before the lights went out, most people thought it meant everything. They spent their whole lives trying to earn it so that they could spend it or keep it in a bank. It was just paper thought Jo, an illusion, how could people possibly need billions of pieces of paper, but then Verity had said in the end, it was not even on printed paper, it was in banks, and only there in computers, only really there in theory. The money that people owed, that countries owed did not really exist. It was all to do with credit and lending and interest. To be honest, Jo could not quite get her head round it. Every time someone tried to explain it to her, she got lost. She was never very good at that type of maths, the type where to Jo it all seemed imaginary. Jo could only really understand things that were actually there, not all this algebra and letters representing numbers and interest rates and all that. Jo liked to keep things simple. Except perhaps when it came to talking or thinking about the concept of the world and the universe and being alive; then she could go as deep and as complicated as anyone and that was why she loved talking to Verity so much.
Verity said Jo was a philosopher. They talked for hours and hours on the boat about everything – life, existence, religion. Religion – another thing that was beyond Jo’s comprehension. She could understand the concept of God and some kind of divine power or person that created and ruled everything. What she could not understand was why people thought that there could only be one understanding of it. How people could kill each other because they believed the version of one prophet or another. Often it seemed from what Verity said, they even believed in a lot of the same things, the same god perhaps, the same son of god, but they fought over the particulars, over which book that was written was the right version. It seemed to Jo that no one could really know what the right version was, therefore all versions could potentially be true, so why did everyone not just accept that and let people believe what they wanted to. Verity said, and Jo agreed, that it was no matter what religion people believed in, there were good forces and bad forces in the world and all that mattered was what people choose to focus on, whether people choose to fight for the good side of their souls or the bad side. What matters is not whether someone is a Muslim or a Christian, a Buddhist or a Hindu, a Jew or a Mormon. What matters is what you do, what you say, what you think. What matters is whether you are kind or cruel, whether you help or hinder, whether you love or hate. People of all religions do all of those things, people from all countries do all of those things.
It seemed to Jo like there was a kind of rivalry between the people of different countries and different religions. People thought that the colour of their skin, the country they were born in or the religion they followed defined them and gave them some kind of sense of righteousness over people from other countries, colours or religions. Jo thought that was very sad. Now there were so few people left in the world that every time more people appeared, it did not matter one bit where they were from or what they looked like, what mattered was that they were alive and that there might still be hope for us all.
Jo somehow wished that the people then could see how things were now. She wished they could know how much they were about to lose. She wished they could all know that in the end, when everything else is gone, when the earth is either flooding or burning, when people are dying in their thousands, when you are not sure whether you are going to live another day, when a great wave comes, all that matters is the people around you. The people you love, your children, your parents, your siblings, your friends, strangers, people who might help you, the people you choose to help or not. All that matters is whether they are alive and whether they are suffering.
Jo wished she could go back there and tell them what would really matter to them when all is lost, tell them to look around at what they have and appreciate it, because one day soon, everything would be different.
Jo looked around Verity’s office, there was a large shelf filled with books and many notebooks piled up on her desk.
“Wow, you have so many books, have you read them all?” asked Jo, squinting to try and read the spines of them.
“Ha. Yep I have read all of the ones that are there. Reading books makes me feel very peaceful, and it has always helped me to understand other people and how they experience things. It helps me to be more compassionate” answered Verity smiling.
“Yeah, we had some books, but not many, I read the same ones over and over again and then I used to make up my own stories, when I was sitting out at night looking at the stars” Jo said dreamily.
“Feel free to borrow any of them. I encourage everyone to read as much as possible. My only regret is that I will never be able to read all of the books I want to! What books did you read at home?” asked Verity.
“Mmmm. I read some Jane Austin books, The Secret Garden, a couple of Harry Potter books, the Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland, The Life of Pi”.
“Wait, wait, wait. You have read some Harry Potter books – not all of them?”
“No, we didn’t have all of them, I was so upset when I couldn’t find out what happened next!”
“Well Jo, I have them all here! Please read them, they get better and better towards the end”.
“Oh, my, that should good. Thank you, so much. I can’t wait. Did you read those when you were a young girl?”
“No, I was older when they came out, and I wasn’t in the right place in my mind to read stuff like that. We had to read some of them for a university class on children’s fiction and I didn’t like them then. They were too innocent and not realistic enough for me. I was into violent movies and angry music at that point. I was going through my dark adult period! I read them all again later, and I loved them. I wish you could have seen the films, they were so good, a whole new world was created in those films they were brilliant!”
“Oh I would so much love to see the films, but that’s not likely to be possible anytime soon is it? What was the first book you remember reading when you were little?”
“Well I loved a writer called Roald Dahl, he had a lot of books for kids, one called the BFG and one I particularly loved, The Magic Finger. It was about this girl who had a magic finger that could make her fly at night time. I also loved nursery rhymes, we had this big heavy book filled with nursery rhymes that my mum used to read to us. She also used to read fairy stories to us and we had a big book about fairies and elves and pixies. I also loved a series of books called point horrors which were basically teenage ghost stories. Another author I liked was called Stephen King who had this book of short stories that were all quite weird and creepy – my gran bought me it for my birthday, I don’t think she knew how adult the book was, there was some things in it that I probably shouldn’t have been reading at such a young age.”
“Did you learn about books at school? What did schools make you read?”
“At school they made you read a lot yeah, especially secondary school. I read some Shakespeare plays, some poetry by Tennyson and Keats. I read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens which I adored, it was a love story, but also a story about class and how the people who come into your life can change it dramatically. Charles Dickens was a wonderful writer. He described characters so humorously. I remember him describing a man as having a mouth like a letterbox. I have some of his books up there too. We will be on the ship for a few months, so we can take them and you can read them and we can talk about them. I loved discussing them as much as reading them” Verity’s eyes had lit up, she was animated, clearly excited to talk to Jo about books.
“What are all those notebooks?” asked Jo.
“They are my journals and my writing” answered Verity.
“Wow, you write as well? Have you always done that?
“I started writing when I was about 10. I remember writing poems with my mum and writing a diary and some poems on my own. I distinctly remember lying in my bed one night looking at the moon out of my window and getting up because I had to write about it.”
“Do you show people your writing?”
“I used to have a blog and I was writing a book before the lights went out. I have been writing an account of everything that has happened since the lights went out, in case anyone needs it one day”.
“Is it all just a diary?”
“No, a lot of it is fiction as well, short stories, poems I write for people, thoughts I have about philosophies and theories and religion, anything that comes to me, I just write it down. I always carry a notebook around with me in case something comes to me. It’s so easy to forget all about it later”.
“So do you write every day at the same time, or just when you get an idea?”
“I try to write every day, the same way I try to meditate every day. I try to write something every day after dinner, just so that I am keeping up the practice, also so that I get better at just letting the thoughts come out onto the paper without too much disruption from my ego – it is more truthful that way”.
“Have you written your whole life then?”
Verity laughed, “Well, like I said, I started writing when I was very young, and then I stopped for a few years and I started again just before I came to Australia and I wrote because I really just felt like I had to and then every time I wrote, no matter what it was, it made me feel better. It felt like I was doing something right, things always happened when I wrote, things moved on in my life. It has now got to the point where, now, I have to write, I have to let the words come out, because there are too many to go wandering around and around in my head all of the time – it gets crowded in there and I need space to think of other things. It also makes time fly”.
“Did you want to be a writer?”
“I was a writer, I am a writer. I would have liked to have been able to write to make my living, and for that to have been my career, I was working on it, but then everything went wrong, and I got stuck here and the world went crazy and now I don’t know where everyone is and whether things will ever go back to the way they were. I think I will be long gone before they pay people to write books again. I am sure if we all survive though, some of the books written now will be profound and wonderful. I wish I could read them.”
“Your book might be one of them”.
“Well you never know Jo, you never know”.
Verity sat at her desk after Jo had left and looked around herself. She softly touched the rough surface of the wood. It was an old antique desk that she had discovered in a shop in the Valley. She loved old furniture and belongings. Before the lights went out, she had loved going round charity shops with her friend Dot. Verity was 40 years younger than Dot, but she was a dear friend who Verity felt understood her better than many people her own age and she had taught her a lot. They spent many days walking around the West End of Glasgow looking through charity shops and eating ice cream for dinner.
There was often a shelf surrounded by all the old furniture, just a few rows of random ornaments and small decorative pieces like crystal whiskey decanters, figurines and tea sets. Verity loved this shelf. It had a presence. She wasn’t sure why but perhaps it reminded her of “Return to Oz” when all of Dorothy’s friend’s souls have been put into objects and she must guess which ones are her friends to set them free. There was a comfort in certain things. Not in the material sense. Verity had never had any interest in brand new 50 inch TV screens or fancy cars. To her, those objects had no energy. This desk however gave her a great comfort. It felt like she was sitting with an old friend. She looked around at the other things in the room, at some of the things she had managed to hold onto. She had saved the little Buddha figurines that had been a gift to her for her travels. She liked having them with her and often focused on them when she was meditating. She had not managed to save many other things and she had taken very little with her to Australia. She did have a little soft Santa toy that her mother had sent her for Christmas and her journals. She held the little Santa in her hands and stroked his beard. Verity had loved Christmas. Her mother knew how much and had given this to her before she left so that she would have a Christmas decoration. It looked quite worn now even though Verity had tried to keep it clean and safe. She felt a little worn herself. She thought about her mother and about how she still had so much she wanted to say to her, wanted to know from her. She hoped she was not suffering. She did not feel that she was gone, her mother was very strong and very adaptable, but she would be older now and it was possible she may be frail now. Verity felt like she was five again and she was at school and it was raining and she just wanted her mum to come and get her. She could feel that five year old feeling. She had to find out if she was ok, and her dad and her sister and everyone else she had left behind with her valuables.
She looked around again, shaking her head to avoid the tears, at all of the other little trinkets that she collected, tiny little keepsakes and gifts. She liked to think they had a feeling to them because people had bought them with a lot of love in their hearts. They bought these things for people because they wanted them to have something they could keep, a token of their fondness. Snow globes, glass globes with fairies inside, little signs with quotes on them, ornaments, miniature cottages. Her room actually looked a little bit like a charity store now with all of these little eccentricities lying around. She liked them being with her, it made her feel like she was never alone.
She wondered what had happened to all her belongings back home. She had thrown out a lot of things before going to Australia, but there were a lot of things that she had left with her sister that had sentimental value to her; her diaries from childhood, her favourite books, her photos, her letters, her drawings, her guitar, her DVDs, concert tickets, cinema tickets, her University work. Would it all be gone? That was a sad thought. All these traces of people’s lives, of their stories, and their families were being lost and that worried Verity. She did not want people to forget, she did not want it all to be lost because it made it feel like it was all a dream, like it never really happened.
She remembered walking around Brisbane before she went outback. She had felt at times then that she was looking at an experience that she would never have again. She had felt a sad fondness looking around her there, like she somehow knew that soon she would never see it the same way again. Never again would the same people be going about their daily lives, going to work on the ferry, the sun shining at 7am, the heat beginning to build already. She remembered looking at the buildings from across the water, the pretty restaurants. She had felt like she was already reminiscing about the time, as she was experiencing it as though her perception of her experience was a few seconds ahead instead of behind. She knew she would never again feel the peaceful happiness of living in another country with promise and hope and wealth and only all the wrong, silly insignificant things to worry about that seem so small now. If only we had known, known for sure what was about to happen – would anyone have believed it? Would anyone have done anything differently? Would Verity have done anything differently? She had at least acknowledged the happiness at the time, perhaps that is why she never felt truly sad.
They say that the main difference between animals and humans is that animals are not aware of themselves and are not aware that they will die. It is said that this is a great burden for human beings. This awareness means a life full of emotional suffering, psychological pain and fear of death. What if you choose not to see it that way, but to see it another way?
A sheep might run around a field in the middle of the countryside, but it cannot look around at the landscape and the sky and understand that it is beautiful. A bird may fly through the air with grace, but it cannot feel the excitement, the freedom and the sheer wonder of flying. It may sit in a tree, but it does not see how intricate and wonderful the tree is. The tree itself is life, but it does not look at its branches and feel proud of them, it cannot admire the colour of its leaves or feel the peace in its swaying branches.
A lion may run for miles at great speed, but it does not feel accomplishment in doing so. It does not feel a sense of achievement that it has provided food for itself and its children.
A seagull may fly continually over the ocean and dive into its waters for fish, but it does not notice how the sun makes the water glitter nor feel refreshed by the sea air. It does not look out at the sun setting into the sea and feel inspired.
A cat may purr and let you pet it, it may fall asleep in your lap, but it does not know that it loves you. A dog may wag its tail and give you attention when you return from work, but every day while you are away it does not know that you will return and it does not know that it can expect that happiness again.
Imagine not knowing that you were going to die, imagine believing that this existence will all there will ever be and that it will never end. How could you appreciate the life that you have, how could it feel special? How could you experience the wonder of being alive?
Imagine never looking around and noticing your surroundings and the beauty in them.
Imagine no thoughts or feelings, no narrative to understand life, no words and no stories. Imagine instead silence. It is dark is it not?