Forest Glade pdf
I wake up confused. It was still light when I went to sleep—maybe 5pm—and now the digital clock reads a blood-red 18:02—ugh: still so early. I feel like I’ve been asleep for hours. I rub my eyes, mourning the fresh passing of sleep, killed in its prime.
I’m hungry, so decide to head out and remedy this. As I leave the hotel I’m greeted by the sound of Frank Sinatra singing “I did it myyy way.” A tubby-looking man in an apron impersonating him, at least, stood in the doorway to a taco restaurant, microphone in one hand, a car load of people outside clapping and singing along. Taco-Karaoke?
I turn the corner and a minute later find myself in the restaurant I’d met the girls in earlier. Well, they’d said it was cheap and tasty: why look further?
It’s not on the menu, but I ask for a half-vegetarian, half-chicken burrito. It takes a little explaining, but with the right hand gestures, indicating all mixed together (“todo junto”) and half and half (“mitad-mitad”), I reckon the waitress gets it. She seems to scribble an awful lot on her little pad, however. I wonder for a moment if she’s an artist, esteemed at express mini-portraits, and will slip me one for a small tip. Wouldn’t that be great!
My table is one of three set against a low wall running beside the pot-holed pavement. A car pulls up, and a Mexican family spills out. There’s some debate as whether to leave the baby in the car or not, but in the end they do the right thing. They struggle getting the pram out of the boot and setting it up, so that was obviously the issue. The daughter, perhaps 15, is short and tubby, with huge breasts she’s making no effort to hide. She’s the spitting image of her mother but with no wrinkles, a fairer complexion, and if I’m not mistaken, more folds of fat (perhaps she drinks Cola for breakfast).
My food arrives as two separate burritos, one slightly bigger than the other. Oh well, that’ll do. I’ll alternate between the two. But first there’s a dead fly to deal with, stuck to the end of one of them. I quarantine the infected end by slicing off a good inch and sliding it to the edge of my plastic plate. There I extract the offending Drosophila. Noticing a leg twitch as I do so, my stomach follows suit. I repress the gag reflex, however, take a breath, and remind myself I’m in Mexico, and I love Mexico.
There’s a large, round bowl of burrito accoutrements in the middle of my table. Once I’ve added sauces and garnishing to my plate—checking for dead flies—I’m ready to go.
I spit out the occasional battery-chicken gristle, and occasionally pay my respects to the mother-daughter cleavage ensemble a table away. It would be rude not to. Why else would they wear such low-cut, mostly-unbuttoned, day-glo blouses (the mother’s orange, the daughter’s pink)? And no, that is not the same as a rapist saying the woman’s clothing was to blame for his wicked actions (as was reported to be the accused’s defence in that India rape case I’d read about).
A man arrives with a meat delivery: a plastic shopping bag full of shiny pink and purple lumps. He chats, or haggles, with the chef a minute; the bag is then exchanged for a few notes. I hope he knows the guy, and he’s not just some random meat peddler off the street. At least it’s not Vietnam, and I don’t have to worry about it being dog meat. Or do I?
By the time I finish, it’s about 7pm. I still have ages till my rendezvous with the girls at Fat Squids, and decide to head back to the hotel and chill, read, maybe even sleep.
When I pass the taco restaurant, the same chap is singing the same Sinatra song, to customers inside, this time. I’m not sure if it’s his restaurant, or he’s just employed to entertain guests. Either way, he appears to only have the one rendition.
I return to find my room unlocked. Naturally this concerns me, till I check inside and nothing seems to be missing—in particular, the passport and wad of money nestled under the mattress. There is an intruder, however: a little gecko on the wall. Gossamer ash-grey skin, beady black eyes. Hello, my friend. I haven't seen the likes of you since… (nostalgia bubbles up a moment)
Borneo. I’d lived there for six months on a gap year when I was 18. Geckos were a common sight in the stilted, wooden house that was ‘home’. Especially with each spring tide, when the whole village would flood. They clung to the walls with their tiny suction-pump appendages, motionless, or quickly scuttling about: nothing in between. I missed tucking my mosquito net under my thin floor mattress each night, and listening to the geckos “chirp chirp chirp”, accompanied by pulsing, green luminescence of fireflies signalling in the dark. The latter, I always imagined, were dreams, waiting to slip into my consciousness as I slept. I missed many things about my simple life in Borneo, like washing each morning with a beaker from a barrel of cold water. Reading each night—so many books: the first time I’d really read in all my life. Teaching English to the jungle children. Tearing down a narrow forest trail on an old Vespa, narrowly missing a low-hanging tree branch each time, remembering to duck at the very last moment (almost forgetting to tell my gap-partner Jon to do the same, once when he was riding pillion).
It wasn’t all idyllic and blissful there, however. Spiders as big as as two hands would sometimes venture into the house (the geckos did little to intervene). The local priest tried to molest me. And two of the children I taught were eaten by a crocodile. Newspapers are graphic out there. The local one printed a picture of the murderous croc a day later, it’s belly sliced open, an arm and a leg being pulled from it. I never did swim in the river.
I inspect the lock, and find it’s very easy to think you’ve locked it, but haven’t. The catch sticks and needs an oil. I eventually find a technique to make sure it is locked—useful knowledge for any guest staying in that particular room—and go and inform the manager.
“Do you want to change to another room?” is her incurious and only reply.
I tell her I’ll be fine, and about turn. I commence to curse under my breath, but stop myself before completing the rhymes-with-witch expletive. You never know someone’s story, a voice reminds me. Seemed I was hearing this calmer, kinder, more level-headed voice more of late.
Back in my room, the gecko hasn’t moved. He licks his right eye as I peer at him. A gesture of affection, I’m sure (and something far more kinky in Japan, I hear). I read a little of my Spanish book, underlining words I don’t know and will look up later, then decide to lie down again. Not to sleep, though: I don’t have an alarm and can’t risk sleeping straight through my date now, can I. No, just to reenergise. With luck it will be a long and strenuous night ahead (Oh, if only: even if the chance came, alas, I don’t think I’d have the stamina and libido to deliver. The fantasy is better. A bit like when it comes to orgies: being an observer is often better than participating. So I hear).
There’s a relaxation technique I do sometimes when I feel the need for an energy boost and have somewhere private to lie down. I don’t think I learned it anywhere; I just followed my intuition one time, experimented, and liked the results. The body knows—even the mind knows—if you get out the way and let it show you. I lie down, legs uncrossed, arms by my side, and imagine a light at the end of my toes. It’s blue this time, and shimmers like heat rising from a desert. When I’m ready, I let it begin to travel up my body. Slowly. The slower the better. I need patience and a gentle guiding concentration. Several times I’m distracted by some thought, get lost in a day dream, quite forgetting the important work I was doing. Gently, I bring myself back to my body each time. The light is at the point I left it, purring like an engine left on idle—no nasty fumes, mind: this is a futuristic engine, with a psychedelic hyperdrive. When I finally let the blue light reach the top of my head, after ten or twenty or however many minutes it takes, it vanishes, and my whole body tingles and rushes with calm, cleansing waves of energy. As I connect to some ecstatic, revitalising source, I feel the tiredness leave me: stale, icky, stuck energy swept away in a flow of well-being. Ah bliss: there you are. That reassuring root of reality. It may only be a few spine-tingling seconds I return there, but what sweet relief.
My breathing has slowed; I assume my heartbeat, also. I’m simply lying, being, feeling empty, yet whole.
Behind closed eyelids, somewhere in a quivering tangle of neurones, a lone and empty house appears. Shutters closed. Door locked. The grass is long and lush in the surrounding prairie, swaying in a warm, late afternoon breeze. There’s no one about, but there is life. It hums, chatters, and sings. Grasshoppers, birds, and who knows what other delightful tiny creatures stir out of sight. My viewpoint, though shifting, is from ground level. But the sound of leaves rustling in the trees is oddly pronounced, as if little microphones line each branch.
I sink deeper and deeper into the bed, my fossilised frame immobile.
The shutters and windows of the house open, and the curtains wave welcome to the fresh air that flows in. No one’s lived here a while, but it doesn’t feel entirely empty, or forgotten. It’s of a sturdy build and smells sweetly of worked wood and safe shelter. The air circulates from room to room, drawing dust from dark, forgotten corners and long-since trodden floorboards, to drift and dance on sunbeams out into the open. Where light penetrates, and newly polished walls and floors glow treacle brown, like petrified tree sap. Is time in reverse? Or are invisible hands giving the house a thorough spring cleaning? Either way, like outdoors was, it’s bright and warm inside now.
I’m facing the front door, still within the house. A light, silken breeze works its way around me, lifting, coaxing, cleansing. Again I hear the sound of the rustling leaves, as if the walls are not there at all. Louder still. Grasshoppers and birdsong, too. The door opens and…
All falls still and quiet. So quiet. Even the wind through the leaves has stopped. Before me, a forest glade. Still as a photograph, but there. Right there.
I hesitate, then step through the door.
I know where I am. It’s Wales, three months earlier. I’m at a music festival I took my eldest brother to, shortly before I left the UK for Canada. It’s a scene I’d recalled several times since then, in various day dreams, wondering what it was about, how it might have been different, and who was leading who.
We’re walking along a winding woodland path when, noticing an area off to the right that looks different somehow—sharper, otherworldy light—I stop. I know it’s a special place, sacred. A portal where the ethereal veil between material and non-physical realms is much diminished. I know these things because of the magic mushrooms I’d taken which had altered, heightened, and no, not addled, my perception. That, and I was open to seeing it.
We must tread mindfully here, I think, as I step slowly into the clearing. My brother waits on the path.
“What are you doing?” he asks.
There’s something here to see, brother, I think, but do not say. There’s not much I feel I can say; it would all somehow sound so crass.
My brother looks at me, looking increasingly bewildered. I hope he shares this moment with me, I think. I hope he doesn’t run away. I know all about running away.
It’s only a few small steps from the path—but don’t be fooled, the distance is far. This glade is the open heart of something, I sense it. Fragile and tender. So very tender. But full of power.
The risk of feeling deeply. Or feeling something raw, and real, at least. Not next week, or tomorrow, but right now. That takes a certain kind of courage, no?
“Come,” I half-whisper, with a conspiratorial wave of the hand.
“I wasn’t sure if this was a moment you wanted to yourself, or not,” he says. On the contrary, I’m eager to share it, and I encourage him to follow. He does so, tentatively, looking about at first: checking to see if there are others coming along the path that might see us. No one is, and it doesn’t matter.
“Just as long as you don’t start talking to trees again,” he says, breaking a smile.
He’d been most embarrassed a short while earlier, when I’d stopped to embrace a great old oak—gnarled and broad—like it was a beloved old friend or former mentor. And earlier still, bent down to admire some brilliant (truly brilliant!) purple flowers for a while. For quite a while, apparently. He’d been waiting on the path just ahead, getting agitated. I’d noticed his pacing up and down; him even apologising “for the antics of my younger brother” to some passersby. I took none of it personally. I was just observing, registering information. His reaction, his discomfort, spoke volumes about his relationship to his reality. It had nothing to do with me or my behaviour. Not stopping to give my full attention to the majestic oak or the purple petal pageant would have been… insanity!
The flowers, set against the backdrop of nothingness and void, of early Universe and outer space, and ultimately: death (as part of my consciousness seems to always peer into), how improbable and miraculous these bursts of colour were, rocking gently on the little humus stage they’d burst forth onto. What sheer delight! What intricate detail! What a merry tune they sang! How happy they were!
Forget I’m your little brother, I think again. You can cherish your ideas about how the world and reality is for the rest of your life. But now, just for a few minutes, can you try this? Stand here with me. Really stand…
I don’t say anything like this, of course. Silence fits better. It’s a full silence. I do say, however, “Just for a minute, be here, with me,” and to his credit he nods and steps closer.
I fix my gaze on a tree a few meters away, at a juncture of vines, moss, bark and leaves most pleasing to the eye. It’s not long before I see her reaching out with fractal tentacles through the stillness. The forest. Gaia. Radiating. Welcoming. It’s not long before I hear the faint, electric chatter of some other realm—whispering, inviting. Come. Come a little deeper.
But it takes a willingness. A focus of attention. A surrender of sorts. Yes, all three. And one must feel safe, and that it’s worth it. Not so much that there’s something to gain… more something worth losing.
Normally, I’d be stepping here alone, or with kindred spirits. With a brother, it’s unchartered territory. But here we are. And the sacrament has long since journeyed down the oesophageal road of no return.
Brother, there’s something more to experience here. Beyond what you think you know. I whisper it through the mind-field. There is a field of consciousness that unites us, isn’t there? Perhaps he hears. He’s still with me. He says something. It’s muffled. “Black,” I think it was, before he trailed off.
“What?” I ask.
He ignores my question, pretending instead to focus on the tree. On the tree?! Look at us here, staring at a tree; how charmingly ridiculous! Is that what he thinks? (minus the ‘charming’).
He’s looking about, restless. Fear of those ‘others’ again? I know all about that. Ironically, not presently; not when elfish psilocybin dances merrily through my veins and tickles reality shades of purple. No, just in normal, sober consciousness, when fear taints the moment. Why do I feel so right and safe and whole when… ‘out of my mind’, I wonder, and chuckle.
“There,” I say, and point, guiding him back in. “Just look at one place for a while.” The spot I indicate is rich with ivy and moss. It’s where faint cracking, whistling sounds emanate and echo, like pixies skipping cheerily through some autumn, leaf-littered undergrowth, entering a disused train tunnel.
I’m not sure he’s a willing travel companion. I can sense his discomfort. I doubt for a second if I should be guiding him down a path he does not want, or need, to go down.
Shh, we’re here, I ressaure myself. If it wasn’t meant to be, it wouldn’t be happening. I have a penchant for such fluffy (usually unhelpful) thinking; but on this occasion it works to quell my concern, and onward we venture towards never-never land.
If only he could 'let go'. Past the ‘comfort zone’, the discomfort, is something wonderful. Always. Always? Something, perversely, we’ve spent our entire lives avoiding, wasting so much energy on defence and distraction. Is there really anything to fear? If you’re mini-skirt-wearing girl in India, perhaps. Or a dolphin presently swimming off the coast of Japan.
“Leave behind thinking, and enter,” a voice whispers.
“Can you see it?” I ask, turning to my brother.
He’s silent a moment, then answers, “Something.”
It’s encouraging, but I can tell he’s not sure about the whole affair. To his credit, though, he’s trying. Doing what to him probably seems quite mad: stopping to just stare at a tree with his younger, possibly insane, brother. I remember his earlier muffled comment: “black”, and wonder what he’d wanted to say.
“Let it be, truth-seeker.”—that voice again. Truth seeker? Is it mocking me? There is no truth but our own, of course. Oh how I’d have argued with that as a teenager.
I sink back into the scintillating, prismatic greenery—a most enjoyable tumble.
My beautiful big brother, I do love you, I find myself thinking a minute or so later, when I turn my head to check on him. He was like a guardian or mentor when I was growing up, teaching me things about the world. Scientific things, mostly. I still remember the day he left home to go to University and the distraught, uncomprehending tears I cried. I must have been 9 or 10 years old at the time. Here we are as adults, journeying together. My kind of journey. I’d been on plenty of his kind growing up: hiking, cycle rides, sailing trips. Where he enjoyed physical, externally-stimulated adventures, I preferred off-roading through inner space. Well, isn’t that where it all happens? That mountain peak you reach, the whir of a bicycle wheel, the surf of waves: the sensation, the perception… is all inside your head.
Shafts of honey light drip from the sky-speckled canopy and coat the woodland in an incandescent glow. The air smells sweetly of moss, new shoots sprouting and plants respiring, tinged with the tang of rotting foliage. Passing clouds tweak the dimmer switch to Gaia’s numinous living room. Leaves tremble in delight, and tree roots thrum as they drink moist darkness. I feel it as a little tremor beneath my feet, as if the Earth’s own belly were rumbling after a hearty meal.
I look at my brother, looking at the tree. Noticing my attention, he turns and asks, “What?”
“Nothing,” I reply.
I’m thinking about how he loves to read, wondering if that’s where he indulges his imagination. And whether he gobbles up the author’s words to avoid digesting his own thoughts and feelings. And if so, so what? As I look at him now, he’s holding my eye contact. That’s impressive. My brother, who doesn’t like to hug. (My parents think it’s because they didn’t pick him up when he cried as a child; they’d read a book on parenting saying not to. Two years later, when my other brother was born, they’d read another book saying the opposite. Typical).
Perhaps it’ll be me who looks away first, feeling awkward. I can feel that possibility simmering up in me now. Yes, I look back at the spot on the tree briefly, then back again at my brother.
“You feel uncomfortable, don’t you,” I say.
A moment’s silence. “Yes.”
He is honest. It’s been a long time since I’ve shared something real and tender with my brother. Maybe this is the first time.
I bite my lip and look away, not really sure how far to take it. She’s still there, waiting, whispering—a woodland so alive. He is experiencing something; something different, but I don’t think he’s willing to go any further this time. Not that he needs to. Because deep down everybody knows, don’t they? That it’s just a game. That we are indeed players on a stage…
I turn back to my brother. He’s still there, and ready with eye contact, warm and stalwart. “Just for a minute, allow that feeling, ok?” I say. “Just a minute more here?”
He doesn’t say anything, but gives an almost imperceptible nod and turns his stare towards the moss-daubed tree trunk I’d trained him on earlier…
But I know we won’t be venturing any further this time. I just know. With friends, this would be the point to dive down the leafy rabbit hole and giggle ourselves non-senseless. Where we journey through kaleidoscopic greenery and hear laughter ricocheting through star nurseries on the underbelly of some parallel Universe. Where we talk to the little people. Really.
But I’m here with my brother, bonded by blood, but not much else, it seems. I’m grateful for our exchange, however brief. It was authentic, new, and shared. There’s something stopping him, though. Perhaps being ‘in control’ is too precious for him. Or perhaps he just doesn’t need to go there. Whatever the case, I don’t want to push it, and having let his discomfort become my discomfort, it’s me that buckles first, a mere ten or so seconds into our ‘final minute’ there.
“Shall we get going, then?”
“Yes,” my brother replies, his relief palpable. Perhaps too, the faintest glimmer of humble acceptance in his eye that he doesn’t know it all, after all. That there’s something ‘other’ and ‘alien’ past the leafy veil, incomprehensible to the rational mind.
Or is that only the tart reflection of my arrogance for assuming he’d ever thought he knew it all in the first place? Most likely.
We walk on, my big brother leading the way. Another five minutes and we’ll be back in the open, back with the crowds. Although he’s just turned down the wrong path. I say nothing. I’m enjoying our scramble over tree roots and between boulders. The woodland is enjoying it too. This is precious time with my dear brother. And I’m high: there are no wrong paths.
A few minutes later, looking sheepish, he orders an about-turn.
“No problem,” I say, we’ve all the time in the world.
I let out a sigh. It had been a delicate situation to navigate, and I feel slightly disappointed. What had I hoped for? That he’d commune with Mother Nature. (Like, really speak to her). Experience the boundless love forming all matter, and the intelligence that imbues it with character. Explore dimensions of subtle being. Scale the parapet of certain defences, and yield to a little…vulnerability. That he’d see how, though he thinks he’s rational, he’s really quite emotional. That he doesn’t need to be in control all the time. That he's loved, unconditionally. That… am I merely projecting my own needs onto him? Was this journey into Gaia’s healing heart really all my own yearning? Fuck, perhaps.
My brother does pretty well for himself, by all outward, modern markers. He has a high-flying banking job (though one he never likes to talk about it), a house in London, a good wife, and two wonderful children. He must know his capacity to love and be loved far more than little single and searching me. But when did he last sit still and experience bliss, I wonder. And know it as the ground of his being. When did he last surrender his 'knowledge', speak to flowers and trees, tumble with chaos and find order there, or journey to the nebulae within? And did it matter? Perhaps I am insane, and the glade we’d ventured into was nothing more than carbon atoms, chlorophyll, and creepy crawlies. Perhaps there was nothing more but my own gaping void and yearning to fill it. Perhaps the magic he found in books was just as real, if not more. Yes, perhaps the nice, mild, slow-burning rapture that reading can bring, is far more valuable than the ecstasies I value. Perhaps his courage to live in the real world far exceeds mine.
We’re moving, just as he’d wished, heading to the festival area where the main stage is. I keep stopping to scribble down my thoughts, as I often do. It holds me together. I’d implode if I didn’t.
“What are you writing?” my brother asks, several times. I just smile at first, unsure how to respond. When he asks for the third time, frustration detectable, I say, “Oh, just a story.”
“It’s bizarre,” he says a minute later, as he turns to see me frantically scribbling on the festival guide I had, resting against a most accommodating tree trunk. “It’s manic!”
“A story—I told you!” I say when he asks a forth time. Adding, “Maybe, I’m writing about you, brother,” just to tease.
“I don’t understand you at all,” he says, marching off. Aha! my mind exclaims, somewhat triumphantly. But, brother, I understand you so much more now. Seeing the colour of another person’s fear does that.
“You’re fucking crazy,” my brothers says smiling when I catch up with him. We both laugh. He doesn’t ask me any more what I’m writing.
We’re on a gravel path now, not out of the proverbial or actual woods yet, though. Two little dance areas to pass. At the first, a Balkan Gypsy jazz band plays, and its hard to not smile and hop and skip a little as I pass (not that I’m resisting, for once). At the second, past a long lily-pad covered pond, electronica thumps and sparks: techno, tribal sounding—my favourite.
“Do you mind if we stay here for five minutes?” I ask. “Then it’s over to you: moving, crowds, main stage—we’re there.”
“Sure,” he says.
We’re standing on a soil slope just back from the main mass of a hundred or so shifting bodies. I want to join them, but first I want to know what my brother meant earlier with his ‘black’ comment.
“Nothing,” he says quickly, but with a gentle diffidence.
“Come on, John, tell me.”
He hesitates, then says, “I read somewhere that if you’re ever worried about losing control of your mind, you can draw a black box in your imagination and put part of yourself in it. It keeps you linked to something so you don’t lose yourself. That’s what I did earlier in the main arena.”
I stare at him, trying fathom what’s he’s just told me like he’d just spoken in tongues or something. I scramble to think. The main arena…? That was just after we’d taken the shrooms, I realise. Before we came to this forest area.
“I wasn’t sure how strong they would be,” he continues. “The box helps you maintain reason and control.”
Oh, no! I think as the metaphorical penny drops. More a paper-weight, really. Dropped from a crane. That’s the last thing you want to do!
His “black box” suddenly took on supreme significance. It’s symbolic of that metaphorical ‘box’ we all keep ourselves in, I think. But as tends to happen with me, this thought hits a domino stack of others; it sounds like the ratchet-like clack of a güiro in a samba band, though far less jolly. The ‘black box’ is the cause of our sense of separation: from each other and the Earth; therefore the reason for all the wars and violence in the world; it blocks our creativity, our compassion; it kills our forests and… and for once I recognise I’m getting carried away, and take a deep breath.
“Maintain reason and control,” I repeat to myself dumbfounded. Fuck, why would you want to do that?! At a festival, of all places. The Mushroom can’t be controlled. And ‘reason’ doesn’t exist where she takes you. She’d baulk at such a thing. Perhaps that’s what happened…
I turn to my brother, really look at him, and say, “I invite you, just for today, to get rid that black box.”
“No way,” he says, freezing up, his rabbit eyes lit up like my words were oncoming headlamps.
He looks pale. I didn’t just ask him to strip naked and run around the festival, did I?
“Each to their own,” he says. I can’t argue with that. I’ve no right. But it strikes me as rather capitalist, individualist, and selfish, and that saddens me. But isn’t that just the modern way?! And he is a stockbroker, afterall, I remember.
I move closer to the music, he follows.
We’re in the toss of grooving bodies now. The DJ is spinning his records from within an old flower-power-painted caravan, with a mirror-ball spinning next to him. A girl beside us moves wildly to the music.
“I bet she doesn’t have a black box right now,” I say, teasingly.
“She’s not at all like me,” he says. “She’s a totally different person.”
Is she? I wonder, and sigh.
“I won’t enjoy it if I don’t have it,” he says, a minute later.
“How do you know?” I enquire, having to raise my voice a little to be heard over the throbbing bass.
“Just leave it,” he says.
Yes, perhaps I should. Earlier he’d told me about the only time he’d taken MDMA, in Australia for Mardi Gras; how he had to be carried out of some church he’d run into (presumably not naked.) Perhaps he was more fragile and prone to insanity than I knew, and his ‘black box’ was a wise measure indeed.
But he hadn’t given me a good reason yet, and like a stubborn child refusing to budge from the TV and go to bed, I wanted one.
“So… just to clarify, the worst that can happen if you erase the black box is you won’t enjoy yourself, correct?"
He says nothing, but nods.
“Well, whilst we’re in these woods, can’t you erase it? It’s just five minutes.”
His face tightens.
“Ok, one minute, even,” I say. “Just one minute of your weekend—of your entire life! And the worst that can happen, you don’t enjoy one minute of it...”
“I said, no,” he says, cutting me off.
Ok, don’t push it, Dom. Let him enjoy in his own way. Who the fuck am I to judge, anyway?
I look at the girl beside us, still flailing her limbs about wildly, a faint whiff of body odour emanating from her direction. Ok, maybe she was a little different.
“Ok. I’m sorry,” I say.
“We’re just different,” he says, again, softer.
I don’t agree, but I bite my lip.
I shuffle through a few people, and find the spot where the sound waves balance perfectly between speakers. My brother follows. He dances facing me, not the DJ or the speakers, slightly awkward in his movements. He’d said earlier he wanted to “move about”; obviously not quite like this. Is he actually enjoying himself? I wonder. Techno isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I remember. Yes, Dom, not everyone thinks like you. Do you still not get that you arrogant twerp?! I ignore the question and the insult, and focus on the music.
I’m facing the speakers, again. The source. The sound of God striking an anvil in the Universe’s fiery furnace, moulding matter at 140 beats per minute. Looking at my brother, I point at the speakers, as if to say, “It’s coming from there,” or, “That’s it.”
Life? Yes. It’s so simple in my mind. Ironic then, that I make life so complicated for myself.
“So what?” he says. I don’t reply. Isn’t it obvious? The God-point from which all being and non-being arises and falls away, harmonics on an undulating tapestry of time and space. Sounds waves showing, as Bill Hicks put it, how 'all matter is just energy condensed to a slow vibration'. And 'we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively'. And 'there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves'. That kind of thing.
Doesn’t this hard, throbbing, industrial dance tune (or it’s synthesis with our nervous system) say all those things? Isn’t it obvious from how I just stand here, barely moving. Eyes closed. Melting. Merging. There’s plenty of movement here, but it’s all inside. Hard to see, I guess.
I open my eyes. My brother continues to shift and bob awkwardly, and for a moment I feel horribly guilty for dragging him to the festival in the first place.
There’s this ripe, throbbing section that builds in the record the DJ’s playing that sends shivers down my spine. I smile, sink, and swim deep.
“Oh, I like that!” my brother says, just then. I open my eyes, emerging, filling my lungs. I’m thrilled he ‘gets it’, and is letting go and starting to feel… But I turn round and see him looking at someone on the path dressed as Ali G.
“Ok, let’s go,” I say, sighing. “Your turn.”
Back in the hotel room, I open my eyes, feeling light and tearful. Feeling an immense love for my brother, for life. My cheeks are aglow with the residual heat of the days’ sun. The bed supports my body from beneath, but in this moment it feels no different than if it were the entire planet supporting me. The entire Universe, even. How is it separate? I breathe. Or breathing happens. And for my place within the wholeness of all that is, I am grateful.
The girls aren’t there. I only wait a few minutes, telling myself, I’m not desperate. I think about going back to the cafe, but no; I’ve made my choice: like a portal closing, that world is closed-off from me now. Moreover, I spot another girl (here we go again…). She’s stunning (yawn). But just as I muster the courage needed to chat to her, she makes for the exit with her friends. I watch her go and… I kind of follow her. No, I do follow her, albeit discretely, at a distance, which kind of makes it worse. They walk outside, then the twenty or so meters to the next club, and enter. I hang about on the pavement for a few minutes, watching the bouncers, wondering if I’m smart enough for this other club that looks a little swanky. This isn’t New York, I remind myself, looking at the giant squid on the roof of the club I’d just departed. I suck it up—the fact I feel like a stalker; the fact I’m alone—and venture in.
I'm propping up the bar, taking an awfully long time to choose a drink, whilst keeping one eye out for the girl of course. First there’s the decision of whether to go for an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink. My energy feels good, clear—why do I want to sabotage that by drinking alcohol just because that’s what you do in a place like this? Once I succumb to the social pressure (which exists solely in my mind), there’s the task of choosing which poison. There are many beers to choose from, but none are the pale ales or strong Belgium types I like. Meanwhile, I spot the girl on the dance floor with her friends. I don’t really want her to see me yet, just in case she recognises me from the previous club and thinks, da da daa, stalker. God, why would she? On the contrary, she might think it sweet.
The music was terrible and far too loud—the commercial club and pop type music they play in spin or aerobics classes, with a few classics thrown in, like Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. To be expected in a touristy place like this, I guess. I’m just about to go and stuff damp toilet tissue in my ears (no, really), when luck drops by: one of the girls’ friends comes to the bar and right next to me, orders a drink. Something pink, and strong by the smell of it, cloying vapours wafting my way.
“Hello,” I say, seizing my chance.
“Oh, you're British!”
I smile a yes, indeed; name’s Bond, James Bond type smile.
“Oh, I could listen to you speak all day,” she says, swooning, or, as I realise quickly, swaying with obscene drunkenness. “I’m American, forgive me—” oh good, she has a sense of humour “—from Kansas, originally—do you want to dance?” She slurs hers words, but I don’t notice any dribble yet. Before I have time to answer, she grabs my arm and drags me with her towards the dance floor. “Come and dance,” she coos.
She soon lets go. She has to concentrate on keeping her balance, navigating the maze of gyrating bodies, and not spilling her drink. I hold back, coolly taking a swig of the piss-beer I’d finally ordered (cheapest one on the menu) as I watch her zig zag precariously across the dance floor towards her flock. And what a pretty flock it is, I think, eying them like a jackal in the rushes, before slinking to join them. No, alas, I’m tamer than that, I think, half-way to my prey. I’m a cute, white, bunny rabbit, and they are little yellow chickadees that want to play. I arrive with an imperceptible hop in my step, ears bobbing, teeth grinding in a purr (yes, rabbits do purr).
“This is Dom, he’s British,” the girl from the bar says, introducing me to her friends. I kiss each on the cheek two times and forget their names almost instantly. Seems to happen all too often. Perhaps I’m too concerned with formulating my next response, or on how I’m coming across, and forget to actually listen. I do remember the name of the one I like, however: she’s called Sarah. They all live in Seattle, I learn, and live up to their reputation: Americans as terrible dancers, that is. Their movements are awkward-looking and bizarrely off-beat. I think of my brother at the festival.
The one I’d met at the bar grabs me again. Her lips are suddenly extremely close to mine, and her sweet, rum-infused breath fills my nostrils, but I realise she’s just leaning on me for balance. Her friends look on, amused. Sarah holds my gaze a moment; then it’s gone. I’d been trying to engage her with my tractor beam for a good few minutes by this point. The eye contact was brief, but it’s enough for me to think: perhaps she likes me.
“What brings you to America?” the girl still leaning on me asks.
I laugh and remind her we’re in Mexico, not America. I notice the lyrics to the song playing at this moment are “we rule the world”, fitting for the idea of American imperialism—not that a Brit could comment on such a thing, however long ago our glory days. I’m the fool, though, of course, for not knowing my geography: ‘America’ refers to the whole continent. Maybe I did know, but judgment comes easily to me, and finding excuses for it, are golden. And so, the girl, in her state of inebriation and mid-south American heritage (no, not Bolivia or thereabouts. Kansas. Confusing, isn’t it) clearly meant America, as in USA. I’d prefer it was her ignorance and not mine, we scorn.
“Oh,” she says, suddenly releasing her grip and wandering off.
“She’s probably gone to chase some girl that’s caught her eye,” Sarah informs me. “Chatting up girls is what she does when she’s drunk.”
“Is she a lesbian?” I ask.
“Definitely not,” she says.
“Bi-sexual, then?” No, not that either. Sure. I notice the gold cross hanging on a chain around Sarah’s neck, and wonder if this has anything to do with her stolid assurance with regard her friends sexuality.
I ask her my favourite question—the one about where she’s from, bloodlines and suchlike—and discover she’s part Indian, Filipino, Italian, and several other interesting ethnic blends. The result is quite stunning. Unfortunately, she seems a little wooden and uptight.
“I’m a small town gal, and a Christian,” she tells me.
I can discern from her body language that she either isn’t single or isn’t interested, but it’s nice to dance and chat. Nice to be within a few feet of her, to be honest, visually speaking. And these girls are ten times more fun than any Canadians I’d met so far. (Your testosterone spikes 14% just from speaking to a pretty girl, did you know that? It’s good for you ;)
“Would you mind rescuing my friend?” Sarah asks. I look across to where she’s pointing and see her friend attempting to pole dance with another girl.
“She looks fine to me,” I say.
Being the only sober one in a crowd is only so much fun and around midnight I decide it’s probably time to leave. Perhaps the girls from the beach have made it to the other club. Not wanting any false assumptions to rob me of an opportunity—as on countless times before they have—first I ask Sarah if she has a boyfriend.
“I do,” she says, smiling kindly, “but I’m flattered.”
Her friend is still grinding on the pole when I leave, now with two other girls. I wonder how the night will end. A naked all-girl wrestle and a puddle of vomit, I decide.
Sure enough, they’re there. The blond one (Liliana, wasn’t it?) looks stunning. The way she’s done her hair makes her look like Princess Leia. She seems pleased to see me—puts her arm around me a moment and wants to dance—but I can soon tell from her body language that it’s nothing more than forced pretence. What, am I the ‘body language expert’ now, or something?!
I decide I am.
I suggest we get a drink, mainly so I can get her away from the deafening dance floor and we can talk a little: so I can gauge whether it’s worth my while sticking around or not. Unfortunately, there’s another huge speaker right by the bar, and the only knowledge I glean is my wallet is a leaf lighter. That, and my Spanish really isn’t good enough to navigate such topics. My usual charm appears ineffectual. Smiles, eye contact and nods only get you so far. Beach-time caressing likewise, it seems.
I feel a bit like a mug buying her a beer, or a teenager. Teenage boys’ willingness to buy girls drinks—thinking that alone will get them somewhere—is something I remember teenage girls gladly taking advantage of. She is a teenage girl, I remind myself. Shit.
After ten minutes of occasionally close, but mainly distinctly separate dancing, I tell her I’m leaving. I mean it; not in any toys-out-the-pram type way, just because I’m tired and I’m clearly not the Skywalker she seeks. I’m Han Solo. Leia wants a younger man.
She acts disappointed, and urges me to stay, even says, “I like you.” I laugh, because I’m unsure who she’s trying to convince, me or her. I stay a few minutes more, just in case my good senses are deceiving me, and I do notice her make extra effort to dance a little closer. But it’s obvious her attention is elsewhere, and I’m bored. I kiss her on the cheek, ignore her feigned look of surprise as I tell her I’m off, and head upstairs.
I walk over to the person-fringed, oval-shaped banister that frames the downstairs dance floor, finding a space to nestle in. It doesn’t seem like a very sensible interior-design choice for a nightclub. Not only could someone fall, but a glass or bottle could easily be knocked off and crash onto someone’s head (a young Mexican princess-Leia lookalike, for instance). That scene in Trainspotting comes to mind where Bigby chucks his empty glass into a space much like this one, a woman screams and mayhem ensues.
I spot Leia Liliana down there. She’s chatting to a younger guy with a ponytail. He leads her to the bar and buys her a drink, which makes me chuckle. Suddenly, she looks really young and they seem a much better match. Her body language is warmer. She’s smiling, laughing. Good for him, I think: lucky boy. I decide to call it a night.
I leave the club reminding myself I’m not as young as I like to think I am, and regretting (my forte, remember) having been so naive and lacking in confidence when I was 19 and all the effort wasted pretending otherwise: all the energy expended on defence.
The karaoke taco guy is standing on the pavement outside his restaurant looking up at something. I say, “Hello,” as I pass and he returns the greeting. Several strides later I hear him call after me: “Can you help me with something?” I turn and without hesitation say a full, bright, “Yes.” No caveats. It feels novel and liberating to speak the word like that. A smaller, more cautious part of me would want to know what the task was before making any firm commitment. This time, that voice was absent. I was throwing myself at fate, and trusting the Universe: as long as it doesn’t harm anyone, I will do anything. Anything.
The task I’m assigned isn’t too taxing. He has me up a rickety wooden ladder to unhook two signs hanging from the awning he couldn’t reach. But it’s ok to start small, especially when it comes to generosity.
“Thank you very much,” he says, and I glide away, glowing inside like an iron rod pulled from a Blacksmith’s forge.
“No problem, dude,” I say over my shoulder. Life feels good. Life feels simple.
I find a little bar on a back street near the Internet cafe I’d visited in my earlier, panicked pursuit of the girls. It’s the kind of real, alive place I like. In this case, that means soft orange lighting; fairy lights wrapped around old tree branches of thin, flaking, silver bark; driftwood, worn and grey like pumice stone; a faded rug tapestry hanging from one wall; and numerous quirky items scavenged or gifted: an old typewriter, candlesticks, lanterns, pretty old glass bottles, even a doll house. Patterns against patterns: all very bohemian. The space gently radiates the love and creativity of whoever’s pride and passion it is. Profit isn’t the prime motivator.
Other than two girls chatting behind the counter, I have the place to myself: an introvert’s dream. I approach them, placing myself on one of four wicker-thatched bar stools. One of the girls makes herself busy, while the other beams a smile and hands me a menu.
I order an infusión de canela (cinnamon tea), the only tea they have, and not one I’d tried before. “Sin azucar, por favor (without sugar),” I add, then ask for some paper. A pencil I have (sharp); thoughts, too (dull, for the most part, but congealing, needing an outlet all the same.)
I scan the room for a spot to seat myself. I’m spoilt for choice, but for once I’m decisive. Some seats were made of old tyres and painted orange, others wooden and antique looking; my one however, is wide, sofa-like, woven from bamboo, and brimming with an eclectic array of plump cushions.
“Here you are,” the girl says, handing me a sheet of paper. “I’ll bring the tea right over.”
I thank her, slip off the bar stool, and go and make myself comfortable.
There’s a book case to my right; the Dali Lama is smiling at me, warm and wide, with knowing mischief and pure acceptance. Encouraged and feeling calm, I put pencil to paper and begin capturing various thoughts drifting through the stratosphere of my mellow mind.
The tea arrives in an elegant shot-type glass, delivered with a steady hand and pleasant smile. It sits on a white, porcelain saucer, a ring of small pink flowers around its perimeter. I thank the girl; she nods and returns to the bar.
After several minutes writing, I reach for the tea. I savour the warmth between thumb and forefinger and the delicious aroma, then gently blow across its golden, steaming surface. Tentatively, moving with savouring slowness, I take a tiny sip. It’s delicious and not too hot, but it’s incredibly sweet.
I catch the girls attention, which isn’t hard because she’s already looking my way. “Sin azucar?!” I ask, just to double check.
“Si, si—natural,” she says. A sweet, soft voice.
One of the unexpected benefits of giving up sugar was my taste buds adapting. Things that didn’t taste sweet before, now do. Like nuts, plain yoghurt, sugar-free cereal… and unsweetened cinnamon tea.
When another customer enters and sits down, the other girl behind the bar goes to join him. A friend, perhaps. A lover? He’s in his early twenties, has short black hair, and is wearing round, narrow-rimmed glasses, Harry Potter-esque. He slips off the brown leather bag he was shouldering, and puts it on the floor beside him. He places his hand on the girls’. I smile, and turn my attention to the girl still behind the bar, who’s now reading.
I put down my pencil, and sink back into my technicolor throne. It’s so comfy and I’m so relaxed, it might as well be an inflatable sofa, lined with cotton-wool, floating on a shallow pool. I think of the bars and pubs in Calgary for a moment, and how happy I am not to be in one of them. Not to be surrounded by huge plasma screens showing ice hockey.
This orange bar, in contrast, is hushed and tranquil. That suits me, following my journey from my hotel to the prairie house, the forest glade and back again. I look at the clock on the wall: 9:40. There’s no way I’m rushing anywhere. I pick up my pencil, tap the empty tea glass with it, raise my hand till one end rests in the corner of my mouth, bite gently on it once in a caricatured thinking fashion. Then, like a kamikaze pilot dive-bombing from the sun, finger on the trigger, I strike the page and expunge thought after thought: dagagagagaga.
Ten minutes later I lift up the paper by one corner between two fingers, as if raising a photo from a darkroom stop bath, and inspect both sides. It’s riddled with black scribble of ever-diminishing size and legibility. Victory.
I get up and return my empty glass and saucer to the bar, a careful guiding hand on each.
“Gracias, deliciosa!,” I say, to the clink of glass on porcelain on wood.
“I was hoping you might have some more paper for me,” I ask with my most charming smile.
“Sure,” she says, reaching under the bar. “Here you go.” She hands me two more A3 sheets. My ear drums still trembling in delight at her sweet Mexican-tinged English accent.
I stay there at the bar and we chat a while. It’s a good conversation—about art, and Shamanism, and traveling—with someone I’m sure is a good, open, honest person. A smile like hers can’t lie. Could I be that person also, I wonder. Good, open, honest? Of course! Why would I even question it?
“I look forward to the day I can converse in Spanish as well as you do now in English.”
“Agh, my English isn’t so good.” She reaches for something on the bar—a postcard, propped against a jar of dry flowers on the counter.
“Do you know who Frida Kahlo is?” she asks. The name is vaguely familiar, but I curl my lip and shake my head.
“Oh, you must, she’s wonderful. Here, take it,” she says, “for you.” I take the postcard and study it.
It’s a picture of a woman. She has a slight moustache, but I let that go, noticing next the thick black eyebrows—boyish, but beautiful, the hummingbird by her chest, looking up at her; the monkey to the left of her, tenderly contemplating its tiny, coupled hands; and to her right, a lemur-like creature. It’s delightful. A thin lattice of plant stems grows around her neck, like some organic necklace. Giant green leaves fan out behind her in the in the background. Oh, and two dragonflies, blood-red and gold!
“She’s best known for her self-portraits. Like this one.” She taps the card as I feast upon it. I’m trying not to over analyse the imagery, and just… enjoy it.
“She was ill with polio as a child. It left her deformed. And was in a bus crash as an adult. She was often in pain and couldn’t have children.” She pauses, as if contemplating life in Frida’s shoes. Perhaps she was eager to be a mother, or had children already. “She often put monkeys in her paintings,” she adds.
I smile wide at the thought of it. And at how sweet and contemplative the monkey looked in the portrait—a protective, friendly companion. I’d like a monkey friend like that. Not like the macaques in Borneo—vicious things they were.
“I’m Dom, by the way,” I say holding out my hand.
“Mucho gusto,” she says, ignoring my hand, instead leaning over the counter for a kiss on each cheek. “Soy Paola.”
I return to my seat with paper, Frida, and a pleasant feeling. Oh, how I’ve missed this warmth. People warmth.
Paola comes over a minute later, strikes a match, and lights the candle in the painted jam-jar on the little table. She lights six others about the room, then returns and sits down in the seat next to mine. She doesn’t feel the need to ask permission: I like that.
“So, what are you writing,” she asks, coloured light splashing about us. I decide that is something I can’t be ‘open and honest’ about, not entirely, at least. Aside from a diary of the day, I’d been philosophising about love: that perhaps it only ever happens in one person’s mind: a chemical reaction, a hormonal ‘state’. And that if two people happen to be ‘in love’, it isn’t because of some special force binding them (who said it was? Oh, countless Hollywood and Disney films I’d watched as a child), rather just the coincidence of two entirely separate people experiencing a similar attachment-forming emotion at the same time. One they simultaneously project onto the other, whilst believing it’s caused by the other (or created between them). Then again, perhaps most people don’t think that way at all when they’re in love. “No, not everyone thinks like you,” that voice says again.
Anyway, what am I to say to her? That I’m a fool who’s never experienced love, writing about love? I opt to keep it vague. “Oh, just a travel diary,” I say. Besides, it was a cynical view of love. And in general I’m not a cynic. I’m a dreamer.
I’m saved from further elaboration when another customer enters and Paola returns to the bar.
I consider staying in the cafe all night, where it feels good, calm and nourishing; rather than head off on some flight of fancy, which I suspect the rendezvous with the 19-year-old will be. Deep down I know it won’t bring any real fulfilment. Actually, I don’t have to dig too deep. So why leave my sanctuary? I’ve only been here half an hour. If I’m to believe the theory I’ve just jotted down, then the lovely connection I felt between the blond girl and myself as we lay on the beach, fingers interlacing, delicately tracing patterns on each other’s skin, well… it all happened in my head. And for all I know, she was somewhere else entirely. With her boyfriend, most likely. Yes, the right thing to do would be stay here, bathing in the nourishing, orange, bohemian hues.
Or at least not arrive dead on time at the agreed “fat squids, 10pm?”. What’s the rush? Play it cool, Dom. Play it cool. But no; even though it feels like ripping an old Elastoplast from a particularly hairy bit of skin, I remove myself from my comfy perch at exactly 10:05pm, and walk the two blocks to the club. I’m English: I can’t abide tardiness. That’s why I’m leaving, I think, attempting to fool myself. I stop a few times on the way to the club, leaning against a wall with pencil on paper, jotting down the latest thought-piddle, like a stray dog stopping to mark a lamppost. I write about my folly, observing myself, yet unable to change course, as if it’s all inevitable, and I’m merely a puppet to my demons.
Chapter one - continued
tags: festival, mushrooms, psychedelics, family, sharing, brothers, sanctuary, Mexico, squid, risk, Americans, nightclub