Since I spoke English and my asylum was still in limbo, I was told by one of the embassy workers that I had a very good chance of migrating to Australia. Yet it was going to be months before any official answer came through. Meanwhile, all my daily routines were changing. I couldn’t plan my day any more. Meeting people and talking to them, which used to be the bulk of my daily activity, was now on a great downward slope, for I no longer had the desire or the necessary skills to interact with people. Since many of my acquaintances knew where I lived and still came knocking on my door I changed my apartment. That, however, was only one reason to move. The other was the terrible things that happened in that place. I rented a room in a quaint and rather large house that belonged to an old man by the name of Ditra. Ditra was a retired public servant. He had worked in the first part of his career as a secretary for the South African embassy and the second half for the Zambian embassy. He wasn’t so much interested in the rent I was paying him but the feeling of security for having someone in the house. I found the place through Tom, my South African friend who used to find accommodation for his embassy staff. The room had a balcony that opened onto a nice, leafy, quite street. The flowerpots along the balcony contained delightful roses with their pink and white flowers in full bloom.
I stayed home during the day and mainly read. In reading I discovered I didn’t have to remember myself or try to make an impression. Never in my life had I read just for the sake of reading as I did then. It was always about passing an exam, getting a degree or a diploma. I was a very practical person and always had a goal in mind. Although the practicality of my nature in the last eighteen months rendered itself to much lewdness now it was somehow bridled, as if my face gave it all the impetus it needed.
There were also other changes that I noticed taking place in me. For example, I’d begun to experience time differently. Whenever I took a stroll in the park, which was more frequent than ever before, I would spend hours there without being aware of time passing. I was beginning to wonder if time had different qualities or duration but couldn’t explain it to myself. No longer, as before, was time a determining force in my life. I was no longer propelled by time to do something, achieve a goal or complete a task. Yet, I was quite aware that time was passing and I was getting older. The reality of time was slowly taking a different shape for me somehow. It didn’t just stretch forward but backward, and the present moment which held the two together wasn’t time itself. I couldn’t see where else this middle was welded together. Where else but in me did this connectedness find any meaning?
I used my camera on its tripod and photographed myself, both indoors and outdoors. Since I couldn’t remember myself I wanted to at least have some visual record of possibly my last months in Germany. When I looked at the developed photos I did recognize them, but again only in parts. In other word nothing had changed. My recording on the celluloid was becoming an obsession. I hoped that one day I would look at them and remember myself or at least have a physical record of my time from the period when I lost my face. When my face returned to me I’d look at the photos and link myself to them, so that there wouldn’t be a gap between us.
On several occasions, animals, mainly dogs and cats were noticing me, or let’s say we acknowledged each other. My relationship with animals was something that I had lost but now was returning to me. Whenever I stood next to a dog, it began to sniff me and a few even licked me to their owners’ surprise. I patted them and told their owners how beautiful their pets were. My observation of birds and their flight was becoming very acute and I began to predict their behavior, which direction they would fly, which ones would fly together and which one separate and so on so forth.
Since I had stopped smoking and drinking I no longer frequented the pub and had lost touch with most of my acquaintances. I only visited Rocky at the Sicilan Café in Köln once a week.
Prior to my move I had an unexpected call from Georgina, Jo’s mother, inviting me over for a drink and a chat. Jo had told her that I was still around and I wondered if she had told her anything else? I hadn’t forgotten about Georgina but in fact I had thought about her. I still would have declined her offer to meet up for the bizarre mental state that I was in. What compelled me to see her again, however, was hidden in the brevity of our two previous encounters when I felt very comfortable in her presence, which now I related to the domain of the heart.
I circled around the block, where her house was a couple of times before knocking on her door. It was a very warm day. For the last time I looked at my face in my small pocket mirror to refresh my memory of what I couldn’t remember any more. I cleared my throat, hoping my voice wouldn’t fade out as it frequently did. It was a weekday and John, her husband was at work, which I preferred. Not that I didn’t like John but I thought the conversation might stay with politics if he was around and that was something I didn’t want to talk about any more. I didn’t find politics to be applicable to my present situation. I was also finding it increasingly hard to speak to more than one person at a time. This was something that I was trying to understand, for I used to hold my ground in any size crowd but no longer was I capable of focusing on more than one person at a time. I knew it had something to do with the way I processed information in my mind. What my mind deemed as useless or irrelevant in the past, now deemed to have much more significance. I could no longer stay with the flow, and jump as freely from one topic to the next as people enjoyed in their social interactions. Many times I felt embarrassingly left out of discussions but I had to pretend that I was very much engaged and following what was being said. However, such social gatherings had become almost obsolete in my new lifestyle which was a big relief.
‘Hi Fred. How lovely to see you. Please come in. I just had a letter from Jo. She sent her love to you. I’m glad you guys are keeping in touch. How nice to see you again.’ Georgina greets me with her kind American accent and her dark Indian features.
‘Somehow we never managed to sit down and talk did we?’ I said.
‘No. Well this is a good day for it. Nancy is off to Berlin with her boyfriend Jeff and John is at the embassy. I was just reading a book about Munich. Have you been there?’
‘Yes a few times.’
‘Are you growing a beard?’ She asked.
As soon as Georgina said that, I felt a surge of unprecedented fear spiraling in me as if my deepest secret was about to be revealed. She was talking about my face. I didn’t know till then how over sensitive and vulnerable I had become about my face. My face in some way had become the ‘Achilles’ heel’. There was a small pause. I regained my composure, reminding myself that no one knew about my face because I had not told anybody.
‘No. I’ve just been too lazy to shave for a few days. I don’t have to get up and go to work anymore. So I’ve lost that discipline of freshening up every morning.’
Silence reigned for some seconds. I excused myself and went to the bathroom. My heart was beating faster than usual again. I looked at myself in the mirror. I had learned not to think or try to recognize myself because I would get so disoriented and feelings of imprisonment, confusion and restlessness that would begin to inflame my whole being. So the picture I had to gradually cultivate of myself was one of a blind man. I kept telling myself that I was half blind for I could not see myself.
I splashed my face with some cold water and walked back in.
‘So what have you been doing Fred? Jo told me that the German immigration authorities haven’t decided on your political asylum yet?’
‘Yes that’s true. But I’m trying to migrate to Australia.’
‘Oh really, how wonderful. Does Jo know about it?
‘I haven’t told her yet.’ My mind was distracted. I wondered if Jo had told her mother about my recent ‘moral’ upheaval?
Georgina got up and went to the fridge.
‘Would you like a beer. We have a few German beers left in the fridge?’
‘No thanks I don’t drink anymore. I don’t smoke either. I’ll stick to your homemade lemon squash if you have any.’
‘Yes I have some. When did you stop drinking? I remember you drinking and smoking the last time you were here.’
‘Not long ago. I’m trying to live a healthy life.’
‘ You and Jo are so much alike. Since she’s been in India she told me she’s given up both drinking and smoking. I always believed in Jo. She’s always been very special to me. When she dropped out of high school John was very upset. She used to drink and smoke and didn’t listen to us. I told John that Jo might not know what she’s doing now but I have faith that things would work out in the long run for her. I guess she was going through her rebellious phase as all young people do. Even then she was a nice person, although she did things that worried us. I always knew her heart was in the right place.’
‘I did want her to get married though. When you came along I thought, maybe you would be the one, but then she took off to India, telling me she doesn’t want to marry at all now. I’m sure it wasn’t because of you,’ she laughs. ‘Ever since she became the follower of Meher Baba, she’s been trying to follow her guru. She’s very committed. It’s hard to find committed people these days. I have a lot of respect for her. Maybe one day she will change her mind and marry a man that she truly loves. I’m still having a hard time picturing her without a partner. It could be just a mother’s fantasy, but whatever makes her happy makes me happy too. She’s obviously following her heart. I think Nancy and Jeff will tie the knot soon. Hopefully, I’ll be blessed with gradchildren. I’d like to see now how far Jo goes with the Meher Baba thing. I can’t help being concerned about her though. She doesn’t have any university qualification. These days you can’t do much at all without them. Once again I believe in her. I have a strong feeling when she comes back from India she will know exactly which direction she’ll be heading. What about you Fred, what are your plans? Would you want to get married one day?’
‘I think I’d need to work on a few issues before even contemplating that.’
‘I understand. That’s wise. People these days want everything out of a relationship. They think a relationship can set them free, but usually it is the other way round. I mean you have to make the relationship work, otherwise it becomes part of your problem. With the divorce rate skyrocketing I think people should examine themselves first before making a commitment, which later they realize they can’t keep. I never thought I’d marry, let alone marry an Anglo, but I believe now that love has no boundaries. I rebuffed John so many times, but he persisted. Then one day I gave him a chance to talk to me and I began to like him. He spoke differently to any other man I knew. I’d already imagined a voice for him, a personality and judged him according to my own biases and insecurities, but he was nothing like that. I’m not saying he didn’t have his prejudices. Luckily we became aware of our emotional baggage soon enough which is always a good head-start. Things must be hard for you Fred. You lost your job. Can you go back home? I know the political situation is not very good, for one thing the war is still raging on. You don’t want to get involved in that war do you?’
‘No, it’s a stupid war. I’ll most definitely go back home one day, for a visit at least, if not to live. I miss it a lot. Even when I worked at the embassy I flew home twice a year. However, I know many things have changed, not for the better unfortunately. It’s not the same society as I knew it. There’s hardly any freedom.’
‘Once you go to Australia you’ll be even further from home. I believe Australia is a wonderful country. Sadly their history has a great deal in common with the history of the white settlement of my land. They both tried to eradicate the natives. I think Americans have had a lot more success than their Australian cousins.’
‘ What happened to the Cheyennes?’ I asked her.
‘Well, like all the other big tribes, they were given lots of promises, but in fact they were all lies. One Indian chief said that the only promise they kept was to kill us. Cheyennes were called the Beautiful People. We had everything that we wanted. We were prosperous. We had a great culture. We still do. We’re far more connected to the land than the whites. We had our sophisticated customs and tradition, but we made a big mistake. We trusted them. We paid a huge price for it. We were betrayed at the height of our trust, which says a lot about both us and them. We submitted to the authority, we called the American president the Great Father. My people knew his decision was final and we accepted it, but when they moved us from north to south, we discovered very quickly that there was nothing in the south. We began getting sick from diseases that we had no name for. Game was scarce for the men and there were not enough food rations for everybody as they had promised. Before moving south two of our chiefs, Dull Knife and Little Wolf had decided to send the kids to school and amalgamate them with the white’s kids. They knew that it was best for their future. You see we didn’t want to live separate from the whites. We wanted to keep our own way of life but at the same time learn from the whites. The Indians acknowledged the white had superior intelligence. Their skills in doing things were far more ingenious than ours. You see we were not barbaric, but intelligent enough to recognize what was good for our future generation. Isn’t this the best definition of intelligence, ability to learn and adapt? However, we were far less prejudiced than the whites, and that worked against us. We believed that it was just a matter of time before we could have lived side by side. If the whites gave us the chance. They really didn’t want to. In the south my people had to eat their dogs in order to survive.
Most of all, they missed their homeland, the Black Hills in the north. So we decided to move back north, but they said that we had to wait for the Great Father to make that decision. The Great Father simply didn’t give a damn about us. So the chiefs thought if they stayed in the south much longer they were all going to die and after a year when still there was no decision made by the Great Father, they decided to move back north. By that time many of them had already perished.’
‘Did the Indians ever predict what was going to happen to them?’ I asked
‘They had visions even before the white men came to their lands. Some Indians saw two parallel lines running across their lands. Of course my people didn’t know what locomotives were, but the lines told the whole story. They also saw the firing sticks, the guns, and tall trees connected to each other by their branches, the power lines.’
‘How did they get this vision?’
‘Indians believed in prophecy. We had prophets and seers. We also had gods, and we had helpers that we believed lived in us all. However not everybody had access to their helper inside them. Most people offered prayers to the gods and asked for health and food for themselves and their loved ones. Some had access to their helpers and asked for knowledge and information. The helper or the guide within always tells the truth it never lies. I personally believe this is an universal truth.’
‘What happens if you ignore the spirit within? I asked, wanting to know if my predicament had anything to do with that spirit within.
‘I think ignoring is still better than violating. You see the Indians don’t believe in the linear world. We believe in the circular world. Certain things, like time seem linear but inherently our existence in the spiritual world is circular. The spirit brings us back to exactly the same place where we left off from the wrong direction. Wrong direction is always a direction that takes us away from our soul and the soul of the universe. We need to go back in order to go forward, but ‘forward’ is also an inward journey. The spirit is a peaceful spirit. So when we kill one another, lie or cheat the spirit is not taking part in those acts, but only in healing and restoring.’
‘Does the spirit ever leave the person?’
‘It’s us who leave in the first place. The spirit never leaves us, unless we do something terrible, for which we usually pay the price.’
‘I feel the spirit has left me.’ Finally I focused squarely on myself.
‘Why do you say that? You don’t come across to me as someone whose spirit has left him. Then again you know best.’
‘I sometimes get a sense that I’m not all that connected.’
‘First of all I have to say that you and your spirit are more connected to where you were born. That’s when the spirit first enters us; the place we are born in. So it’s not unusual for any body who’s been displaced to feel disconnected. I miss home so terribly that I can’t wait until John’s term here is over. I don’t think Jo will stay in India forever either. She’d go back home one day. Our flesh- and-blood is from the soil of our birth place and naturally we would gravitate back toward it. The Cheynnes missed the Black Hills when they were moved to the south and their biggest desire, equal to their survival instinct, was to die where they were born.’
I tried to bring myself to tell her exactly what I was experiencing but I couldn’t. She continued.
‘You see we’re all connected. Although we’re not home at this minute, in the spirit world we are. When an Indian chief of another tribe heard that the Cheyennes were hungry, diseased and wandering, looking for a place to live or unite with others for food and shelter he said to them, ‘Our hearts are sore for you. Many of our blood are among your dead. This has made our hearts bad.’ When we hear of a misfortune of another person that we identify with, it affects us. The only way not to be affected is not to identify with others and that’s when we truly are disconnected. That’s when the spirit is no longer with us. This happened here right in this country not so long ago. When the Germans didn’t identify with the sufferings of so many people it gave their government a free hand in killing them.’
‘What if one couldn’t identify with himself?’
She looked pondering. She was silent.
‘Let me tell you a story that might answer your question. It was a story that my mother told me and it’s a story that I used to tell Jo. There was once a young adult among the Cheyennes who fell in love with a beautiful woman, some years older than him. Everybody thought he was crazy, out of his mind, obsessed. So they laughed at him. To win her love and prove everybody wrong he began to behave like a fully grown up adult. He went hunting with men and became very good at it, impressing them with his creative skills in riding and hunting buffalos. He even took part in a few tribal warfare and scalped a few Indians and became the youngest warrior to ever kill the enemy. He became so popular among the men that they called him the Young Arrow. When he thought that he had grown up, if not in age but in stature, he thought it was time to ask for the hand of the woman he loved. The woman, however fell in love with another man and married him. Young Arrow became very depressed. He felt rejected. He stayed in his tent and refused to eat, or do anything. He became so scraggy that people thought he was going to die. One day he got on his pony and left the camp and decided not come back. He wandered the plains searching for the meaning of his life, which he thought he could have in that woman. Yet he couldn’t find any other meaning in life. So, he decided to drown himself in the lake. He suddenly saw two young Indian men of another tribe riding near the lake. He hid behind a half submerged rock. They got off their ponies and sat by the lake. An argument broke out between them over a woman they both liked. All of a sudden one of them attacked the other with a knife and killed him. Then he dragged his victim over his pony and rode away. Young Arrow followed him to see what he was going to do with his body. He reached his tribe and told their people that they were ambushed by their rival tribe, who were the Cheyennes by the way. People were furious asking their chief to let the warriors avenge his death.
Young Arrow bravely rode into their camp and told them what he saw by the lake. At first they wanted to kill him. There was a great commotion and they didn’t want to believe him for he was from the enemy tribe. There was a great council and finally the chiefs came to believe his version of events, as he had nothing to gain by lying. Why did he risk his life to enter into his enemy’s campsite one wise chief asked. They decided to execute the murder.
The murder pleaded with the elders and the chiefs to spare him and let him instead fight along side of the warriors in their next warfare. At first they refused him but then they accepted. Since he almost instigated a premature warfare that dozens of people were going to be killed they decided to spare him instead and let him fight and die in their next skirmish which was going to be with the Pawnees. Young Arrow was hoping that the Indian had a chance of redeeming himself if he fought well during the battle. And if he did fight the enemies bravely he might even be pardoned. But the young man snuck out one night and joined the Pawnees and told them about the plans to attack them. Not only that, he joined them in attacking his own tribe. A massive war broke out and Young Arrow who fought on the side of his host tribe managed to capture him during the battle. When the war was over people wanted to cut him to pieces for betraying their own people again. Young Arrow told them that he was his captive and he deserved the right to kill him. He then took him to the lake where he saw him and his murdered friend first and told him what was going through his mind as he discreetly watched them. All he could think of was himself, his own feelings of rejection and humiliation and purposelessness. Yet when he witnessed the unjust murder of that innocent young man something in him longed for justice although he was not related to him and in fact he was the enemy. He wanted to speak the truth one last time. By speaking the truth he realized that his life began to change and he found the meaning that he was searching for, which he never thought he would find outside of the material world. In a strange way he was indebted to him for transforming his life. For now he had a purpose, which was to return to his own people and become their chief. He decided not to kill his captor, even when he begged him to, for he had nowhere to go. He released him instead and he roamed the plains, homeless, for the rest of his miserable life. Young Arrow returned to his own tribe and in a short time proved himself to be worthy as their chieftain. He ruled with wisdom and compassion and was the most popular chief of the Cheyennes ever.
His life changed because he had a Buddha experience, as I call it now, witnessing the unjust murder of a stranger and having the courage to speak the truth. You see we all have spiritual experiences throughout our lives and they all enlighten us in different ways. It’s only a matter of time before we come to understand their significance. Sometimes our disconnection from family and our nation only later connect us deeper to something greater and that’s when our imagination soars like never before. This time for a purpose.’
* * *
If there was anything that I learned from that story it was to wait. One thing I was certain of was that in the last sixteen months I had been moving gradually away from the pain and suffering of people as if it didn’t exist until I experienced the pain and suffering in myself. I still wasn’t sure where I was heading and what my purpose in life was. I had to let go of these questions and simply hope that whatever my mission or purpose was on this earth it would all be revealed to me. My experience was the opposite of being enlightened, for enlightenment was about dwelling in the light. I was immersed in a strange kind of darkness instead.