Talking with spirits


It was a quiet sea resort with sunny beaches and tall palm trees, a tropical paradise where tourists come looking for quiet rest or exciting adventures. Warren Mauldin sought neither. He came to the Marble beach looking for his Muse. It had been a year since she left. Without her, Mauldin couldn’t write. Without being able to write, he couldn’t be happy. His friends had almost dragged the depressed writer here, absolutely sure the delightful mix of rest and adventure would help him, so there he was, under the sun, by the sea… was the eighth day of his vacation...

“He came again,” muttered the owner of the inn, a quiet old man with silvery-white hair and deep, otherworldly eyes always looking past you, somewhere far away. It was sometimes hard to tell whether he was talking to you or one of his imaginary friends. “He remembers me still. I can’t help thinking he’s going to take me with him soon.”
“What do you mean?” Mauldin asked, curious.
“I’ll gladly tell you my story,” the old man nodded. “It’d be a pity if I took such a wonder to my grave without telling anyone.”

They seated themselves in a bamboo pavilion overlooking the sea. The owner sent a servant to fetch them drinks. The nimble girl returned quickly with teacups and sweets on the tray she carried so carefully as she ran that not a single tinkling sound could be heard. In the cool evening air, the hot tea steamed in the cups, snaking its way up to the bright stars above.
The old man began his tale.

“When I was a little boy I had a friend at school. His name was Santer. I loved him like a brother. We were brothers, in a way, sworn brothers, through the ritual we invented ourselves. We mixed our blood on the tip of a penknife and drank soda from one paper cup. How old were we back then? Eight, nine? All I remember is that it did matter.

That year my parents sent me to a summer camp for all the holidays to finally have some peace and quiet together. I hadn’t seen my friend for three months and missed him dearly. I couldn’t wait for the holidays to end and the school to start. Not because I liked school - I didn’t - but because I wanted to be with my sworn brother again. I remember being so happy to see him that it took me a long time to realize that something was wrong.

The other kids didn’t notice Santer. They greeted me when they passed by but never him. They shook my hand but never his. They didn’t even look his way. I thought I had missed some big quarrel while I was at the summer camp. I didn’t think much of it and decided to ask Santer about it later.

We shared a desk at the classroom, as usual. Left side, front row, as I clearly remember. The class fell silent as the teacher entered the room: she was crying.

“Children,” she said, “your friend and classmate, Santer Ewin, has died. He was hit by a car on his way to school. There will be no classes today. You may go home.”

Everyone left the room, only I couldn’t. I kept looking at Santer. I even touched his hand: he seemed as real as I was. I wanted to scream: “Look! He’s right here!” but choked on my own words…

Nobody else saw Santer. Everyone saw an empty chair and offered their condolences to me as they passed by. I couldn’t leave. I stared at him, terrified, frozen. He looked back at me, sad and silent.

I thought it was a restless ghost that would go away after nine days, forty days, a year… Yet Santer stayed by my side. We played tic-tac-toe during boring classes, we talked, we roamed the countryside together. I kept hanging out with my friend but everyone else thought I had lost my mind after my friend’s death.

Santer didn’t grow up. Ten years later, he still was the same little boy he had been the day he died. The busier my life became the less time I had for Santer. We grew apart.

With me being the only person who could see him, my friend felt so alone when I was busy... I saw him take bus rides, watch movies, visit all kind of public places. Unseen, unheard, unnoticed, Santer still wanted to be around people.

Even as a child with lots of energy and free time I couldn’t fill that void. Having a job and a family of my own left me even less time for my childhood friend. What could I do? I didn’t know.

One evening, when I fell asleep at my table, among the blueprints and worksheets, Santer visited me for the last time. My cat woke me up. She had always hissed and growled when he was nearby. I was glad she did. At least I had a chance to say goodbye. My friend told me he was going away, to the north, where lived a tribe that still remembered how to talk to spirits. Santer wished me good luck and walked away.

I hadn’t seen him for fifty years, until yesterday. Yesterday he came back. He is still a little boy even though we are of the same age and I’m an old man. If he asks me to join him, I’ll go…”

The next day he died.
Mauldin sat alone in the bamboo pavilion and looked at the sea. He hadn’t even asked the old man’s name but he missed him now like a lost friend. Warren’s heart ached, burned, and wept the same way it did while his Muse still had been with him. Tears welled up in his eyes and rolled down his cheeks, as salty as the sea…

And when he could endure the torture no longer there came a consolation, a ray of hope from above, a vision as subtle as a daydream: over the endless snowy land they flew holding their hands, a young boy and an old man, the sworn brothers. Their eyes looked beyond the horizon, beyond the noisy civilization, there where the people who still talked to spirits lived.

(August 27, 2004)

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English is not my native language.
If you see an error or a typo, please, tell me. I will fix it.