I bumped into an old friend the other day. I was walking slowly, troubling myself with the world’s great unfolding catastrophes, and she was dressed like a warm Spring. There was a flower in her hair, tucked behind her ear, and though the clouds were grey and gathering, I smelled pollen. She was like a colourful ghost.
We spoke for a while. She laughed twice a minute, and I thought of all the people who save their laughing for later, as though they are birds in cages, and a dust cloth has been thrown over their heads, and they will sing later, when their master gives them five minutes’ sun.
“So this is you now,” she said. And she was right. The years were well into their work upon me, scratching their worry and strain into my skin.
She said I looked tired. I said she looked awake.
She said I looked worried. I said she looked as though she had not worried for a minute in her life.
She said that every flower wilts in the end. Every tree falls. Every empire crumbles. What is born must one day die. Nothing lasts forever. A man’s life is long while he works, she said, so much burden does he weigh, but so short as he nears death that when he takes his final breath, he would give everything he has for one breath more, and that is when a man realises that life cannot be bought.
And then, as though the sky had opened up a well and weeping eye and begun pouring out its river, I remembered her.
“You never went to school, so you were never socialised into a system of bullies and uniforms. No teacher ever shouted at you in front of the whole class.
“You were always totally unproductive and no use to the government. You don’t fear terrorists and you don’t care about the economy. You don’t wave flags and you don’t watch TV. You never compare yourself with models, because you never see them. You don’t want money or trinkets. You don’t buy anything you don’t need. Whenever the news says anything, you assume deception. You always questioned everything, because you couldn’t bear to see life through someone else’s lens.”
“Yes!” she said. And she laughed.
“You treat the whole world like it’s a meadow, and you’re a grasshopper. You treat it like an instrument which you must learn to play. You play it when you speak and when you walk, and when you play it well — then you are singing and dancing.”
“Yes!” she laughed, and it was really raining, and electricity flashed in the clouds. “Every stone is worn smooth somehow! Every butterfly is captured in the end. Every rainbow lasts but minutes and is lost beyond a shroud. Everything that lives pretends it lives forever while the sun is out.”
She pirouetted in the downpour.
Was I talking to her, or dreaming? Was I staring into a storm, or was I dreaming the storm? Is the storm but static in the sleeping mind?
“There’s no real revolution but birth and death,” she said, smiling wide. “Life isn’t a conveyor belt from cradle to school to job to house to pension to grave! They’re always judging me and mimicking the crowd. People think I’m crazy because if I see sun and rain together, I dash outside and look for rainbows. I just think they must be dead inside.
“People think I’m crazy because my food goes stone cold while I’m talking. But I think they have nothing to say.”
“They think you’re like a child,” I said.
I shut my eyes and held them closed. Such people who pour water on their own fire and complain, so bitterly, that they are cold.
And I remembered why I hadn’t spoken to her in years. There was no storm. There was no work. All the things we do, we do them only because it would make no sense to us to stand still. We start playing games just as soon as we can walk, and the games just get more serious, more dense with rules, more fraught, and finally we forget that we’re playing. She knew she was playing, but she wasn’t even real. Just a colourful, laughing ghost.