Illusions

Look at her. What do you see?

‘A girl. A little short; a little round; hair that could do with a bit of a trim – at least it should be tied back – and eyes with dark circles she should probably cover over before she steps out of the house.’

What else?

‘Ragged nails…she chews them, I think. Clean enough…but shredded. Unhealthy. And fat knees; dry knees; her knees are sixty years old but she must be only twenty-four. She has a sharp look about her – as though she has to keep watch, like she expects someone to strike her for no reason. Sometimes that look mutates to a scowl, right before she drops her eyes. She isn’t pretty and she isn’t elegant…no one would look at her twice; or maybe they would; people might want to give her a wide berth if they passed her on the street. No man would want to catch her eye; wouldn’t want her to think he was attracted…to that…to her, I mean.’

Uh-huh. Look again.

‘I don’t want to…she’s repugnant. Why are you making such a fuss about a low-life chit on the bottom of the stairs. She should move; she’s scaring people.’

She doesn’t want to move. She sits there every day, you see…right there, at the entrance to the old flat she rents from the pimp upstairs.

‘Is she a …you know…is she?’

No, she isn’t. She has nowhere else to go, that’s all. Her papa beat her mama to a pulp years ago – she’s in an institution now – and her old man cleared out on her when she was just a kid. Thirteen years old and on the street. Someone had to take her in…perhaps the pimp has more heart than most.

I want you to close your eyes.

‘This is more like it…I don’t have to look at her anymore? I don’t understand what you’re doing this for. You’d better have a good reason.’

I do.

Listen.

What do you hear?

‘Not much. Traffic; heels on the street; a cat purring.’

Focus on the cat. It’s rhythm…loud, soft; loud, soft. Just focus on that. How does that make you feel?

‘Calm. Safe. Happy. I feel nurtured listening to the little beast.’

Why?

‘Well…I don’t know…because the cat is being nurtured itself I suppose. Cats purr when you stroke them, feed them, hold them. The effect is like a ripple in a pond…it spreads out…touches me; you; the people on the street.’

Keep your eyes closed. What else do you hear?

‘A woman is humming…no singing…softly. It’s a deep voice; low and lilting. I couldn’t say it was a beautiful voice, not in a conventional sense. But I like to hear it. It soothes me…perhaps it would lull me into a trance if I stood still and listened for long enough. Yes, I don’t expect to hear it out here in the midday rush. And yet…’

Ssshhhhh. Don’t you notice something else?

‘I hear nothing else.’

But what can you smell, child?

‘Is it homebaked bread? That warm, yeasty smell…like my grandmother’s kitchen…except I can’t hardly remember that. But it’s mixed with something else, more subtle…yet bracing…I can smell apples…baked apples perhaps. Or fresh apple pie! It’s making me hungry…so good…so wholesome. Can I open my eyes now? I want to see.’

Yes, open them. What do you see?

‘A kitten. At least I think that’s what it is. Has it been burnt? It seems all charred skin and chunks of matted fur…an ugly little beast to sound so happy. It likes to be stroked I suppose. What happened to it?’

She found it in a dumpster…the girl, that is. Tossed out like a piece of rubbish. She cried for days over it…cleaned it, kissed it. Stuck it all over with bandages and lanolin until it rallied. It’s still not tame…not really…but it comes to see her every day…right here on the bottom step. And she feeds it; strokes it; until it falls asleep beneath her hands.

‘Is that old woman beside her her grandmother?’

No. She’s just a beggar woman…she has a hunch on her back…people are afraid of her…call her cursed. She only has one eye and she spits all the time…can’t help it…she’s just a little…you know…

‘Who gave her the basket of food, friend?’

The girl. She brings it every day and waits…sometimes for hours…until the old lady finds her way here. Sometimes she wanders off and doesn’t find her way until sunset. But the girl just waits and then she feeds her…like the cat. Until the old woman starts to cry. She cries relentlessly, silently, sometimes for hours. The girl takes her hand and holds it, singing to her until the old woman’s shoulders heave and she shudders to a stop.

But no matter. She’s just a girl…an ugly, poor, pitiful thing. No one would want to look at her.

‘No! Stop!’

What’s the matter?

‘She isn’t that. She doesn’t look like that. You shouldn’t say that. I shouldn’t have said it…she’s different now.’

Then what does she look like now? Come…tell me. Who is she really?

‘She is an angel.’

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