Thursday, 5 January 2012

Still on Course

I was standing in front of the Rocket, just like twenty years ago. It welcomed me with its three vibrant colours - blue for the sky, yellow for the sun, and red, the meaning of which my friends and I pondered endlessly as children. Although as bright as I remember them, the paints were now cracked, sharing the limbs of the Rocket with rust, which took hold of the ladders and frames we used for swinging around in our imaginary starry space. A ray of sun sat on the spire and I peered up, shielding my eyes; the highest frame, that hosted the pilot’s cabin where a shy quiet girl used to sit for hours and gaze into the sky, was still red as flame.

    My old kindergarten in the sleepy neighbourhood of Riga was now completely silent. It was around midday - bedtime for the youngsters, and I thought I could hear the creamy walls and the playground outside them breathe peacefully, slumbering together with the kids. All around me were other climbing frames. Some looked like boats, painted in turquoise and gold, that could easily take ten of us on a voyage, perched on the metal mast and sails. Others were cars, with orange wheels and red roofs, that could carry five to ten kids, depending on whether you wanted to bring a cardboard suitcase along. Surrounding the middle of the yard were pits of coarse sand, which we loved to play in, especially after rain, when it would become much more malleable. I remember leaving a big blue bucket out to collect the rain water and afterwards mixing it with the sand. I would then streak the mixture onto the castles other kids built, decorating them with ornaments.

    Beyond the sandpit circle stood four wooden gazebos, each with three sturdy walls, that sheltered us in winter. There we would pretend to light a fire that a wilful Baltic blizzard couldn’t put out, and lay down plates of snowballs around it, imagining we were on a picnic thousands of miles away, in a land where winters were mellow and people spoke a strange language and drank lots of tea. At least that’s what I was thinking.

    On this warm spring day I felt at home in the kindergarten yard, among the oaks and chestnuts, now lush and green, whispering stories to each other in the warm breeze. My new yellow shoes, sprinkled with sand, jeans with batik patches and a pendant in the shape of a sun looked like they belonged in the same time and place as the bright cars and boats. It occurred to me that my love affair with vivid colours had probably started right here, when I was half as tall.

    Behind me the rusty gate creaked and an elderly woman in a brown woolen coat entered the playground. Behind her a slim boy in a black hoodie and torn jeans slid into the yard on a bumped and scratched skateboard, narrowly missing the heavy gate shutting in his face and having his board snapped in two. The old lady frowned at him:
    ‘Will you look where you’re going?!’
    The boy's lips tightened. He gently picked up the board, as though it was a kitten or a puppy, turned it horizontally and carrying it at his side, headed to the middle of the yard, keeping his head low. The silver-haired lady came up the steps and went into the quiet building without acknowledging me.

    The boy noticed me at the Rocket and stopped abruptly about five feet away. The board drifted from his hip to his stomach, its green wheels glaring at me. I smiled and raised a hand in a wave.
    ‘Hey there! Am I in your place?’
    He shifted, shoulders slightly raised, casting a glance to the top of the Rocket.
    ‘Umm no, it’s not exactly mine, I just like to sit on it.’
    The boy looked around the sleeping yard.
    ‘What are you doing here?’
    I sat down on the lower frame and bumped my feet together, shaking off the sand.
    ‘I came to visit an old friend.’
    ‘And you?’ I attempted a reassuring smile again. ‘You got any siblings here?’
    ‘Yeah, my sister. My Gran always comes early - her friend works here. They chat until pick-up time.’
    The noses of his black-and-red high top trainers started digging into the sand, excavating its cold layers, that the sun hadn’t touched. The boy looked determined to keep staring down.
    ‘My school starts in an hour and Gran won’t leave me alone at home. So I come with her and sit on the Rocket... Nice shoes.’
    ‘Thanks,’ I said, taking a step away, and motioned to the ladder. ‘Be my guest.’
    A nervous smile darted through the boy’s face as he started climbing, cradling the board with one hand. I followed and we were soon sitting together at the top of the red frame, on the pilot’s seat, holding onto the spire in the middle. Dangling my feet in the air, with the breeze ruffling my hair, I squinted through the midday sun.
    ‘What’s your name then?’
    ‘Jan.’ He finally looked me in the eye and his cheeks blushed, warming his pale face. I pulled out the biggest smile I could manage.
    ‘People here knew me as Julija.’
    Jan shifted a bit, keeping a grip on the red frame and the green board and looked around.
    ‘So... who did you come here to see?’
    My pendant caught a ray of sun and refracted a few colourful glimmers onto Jan’s ripped jeans.
    ‘Myself, twenty years ago.’
    Jan cocked his head, fluffy with chestnut curls. Smiling at the lights dancing on his lap, he stretched out the hand that rested on the spire and they jumped up on his palm, making him blink.
    ‘You went to this kindergarten?’
    I nodded, observing a seagull poking its head curiously through the half-open kitchen window, looking for scraps.
    ‘Why did you need to come back?..’

    A gust of wind from the sea tore through the yard, coming from the other side of town, where the River Daugava carried its waters out into the Baltic Sea. This salty wind, mixed with sun, whose touch I had all but forgotten, still carried something important I once entrusted to it. Ten years ago, on a warm summer night, lit by bonfires, my classmates and I were sitting by the sea, each with a small square of paper and a pencil. The last bell had rung out for us at school and we were about to go our separate ways in life, but before we did we were writing a note to ourselves in the future, the single most important thing to remember. When all the notes were collected, our Head of Class put them in a bottle and hurled it to the sea, saying:
    ‘Try to remember what you wrote and when you can’t, come back here. You may well find your dreams washing out of the sea, like amber.’

    ‘So why did you come back?’
    The wind died down and now I couldn’t smell the sea.
    ‘I came because I was beginning to forget some things that I want to remember.’
    ‘Like what?’
    ‘Like where I come from and where I’m going.’
    Jan clutched the board again, scanning the top floor of the Rocket for glimmers of the sun, which hid behind a lone fluffy cloud, nudging its way across the sky like a lost sheep.
    ‘I don’t understand.’
    I crossed my legs on the seat and lent back, feeling the cold frame digging into my back.
    ‘A lot of things happened since I sat here last and dreamed about what my life would be like, and not all of them were good.’ As I looked down I thought of the wedding rings Anthony and I left lying on the dining room table the morning I took the flight.
    Jan perked up his head and suddenly let go of the board, shuffling closer to me, his green eyes fixing on mine. He opened his mouth with an intention to share a thought, but then changed his mind and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. A nervous spasm ran through the young face, sending chills through my skin. I waited. Eventually he dragged out:
    ‘Two years ago my mum left us and then my dad gave us to Gran to look after. He’s a sailor.’
    I reached over the spire and squeezed his hand gently.
    ‘I am sorry for your loss. I remember it being hard when my dad died.’
    Jan’s face turned away from the sun, still shadowed by the wandering cloud.
    ‘She didn’t die. She went away.’
    He twitched lightly as the sentence escaped into the air between us, then cradled the board, crossed his legs and put his face on the flat side of it, his eyes pools of dark reeds. My hand reached out in his direction, but I pulled it back. He didn’t move, but kept staring down to the ground.
    ‘So it’s you, your sister and Gran.’
    ‘Yeah. And my board. I practice on it every day until it gets dark.’
    He patted the skate board so lovingly that for the first time I found myself looking intently at it, rather than the boy. The board had been used often - its lime green belly was so scratched that it was hard to make out the logo printed on it. The metal shafts, onto which the wheels were fixed, had been reshaped by numerous tricks. And at both ends, where you could see the four layers that the board was made up of, two had been eroded.

    I used to have things I adored this much as well; the yellow shoes I now wore were the second of their kind in my possession. I bought the first pair when I was seventeen, and they kept my feet on the ground throughout all my adventures. A smile banished the forming tears, as I remarked:
    ‘It’s a very good board. Where did you get it?’
    Jan sat up, holding the board length-ways against his chest.
    ‘Mum got it for my eighth birthday.’
    He looked remarkably like a boy soldier with a battered shield. I found his hands, wrapped around the board, and squeezed them gently.
    ‘How often do you see your dad?’
    ‘A few days every month. He cooks for us and even plaits Kira’s hair when he’s around. And he always brings something from the sea - last time he brought us this huge shell. I can always hear waves in it, really loud!’
    The wayward cloud finally drifted beyond the horizon, leaving the bright blue sky entirely to the sun.
    ‘I wonder if your dad found an old bottle filled with pieces of paper,’ I chuckled.
    ‘Because one of those pieces is a note I wrote to myself. I always wondered whether I’d see it again.’
    Jan’s grip on the board weakened for a moment and it fell down on the metal floor with a thud. He inquired, trying not to sound too eager:
    ‘What did the note say?’
    As I was about to respond, a flock of seagulls lifted up from beyond the tall rooftops. They flew over the yard in perfect formation and were carried off on the wind together with tiny sea salt crystals.
    ‘It said “Don’t settle for less than your dreams”.’
    Jan picked up the board and looked it over for new scratches.
    ‘Sounds like an easy thing to remember.’
    ‘Easy to remember, but not easy to do. You need to be brave.’
    Jan climbed to the very top of the spire and, looking down, announced:
    ‘Dad says that being brave isn’t the same as not being scared. He says you are brave if you do something, even if you are afraid of it.’
    ‘Your dad’s right,’ I answered, watching his feet balance on the thin frame, in case I needed to catch him. Throwing his head back proudly, Jan demanded:
    ‘Then what’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?’
    I didn’t have to think long.
    ‘I gave my wedding ring back to my husband.’
    ‘Why did you do that?’
    ‘Because I didn’t want to be with him anymore. But see, when he gave it to me seven years ago he also gave me a home, a child and everything else I had. So when I decided that my dream was elsewhere, I was scared that if I gave back the ring, he’d take everything else away too.’
    ‘Did he?’ Jan’s brows curled in a frown.
    ‘No,’ I smiled. ‘He was a perfect gentleman. Now, what’s your bravest deed?’
    With shoulders pulled back, leaning on the Rocket precariously, Jan declared:
    ‘I got Kira out of the river when she was drowning.’
    ‘You’re braver than me, then,’ I smiled.

    The bell rang inside the kindergarten and I heard the patter of bare feet, yelps and cheers behind the shut windows. Soon, the kids burst out of the doors. Paying no attention to us, they swarmed all over the Rocket, laughing and swinging off the wings. The cars vroomed and whooshed into a parallel reality, changing drivers whenever one child ran out of sound. The boats swung on the sandy waves, with pirates exchanging blows with cardboard swords across two yards of air. In the sandpits, castles and creatures were built, destroyed and made anew. The sun smiled and the wind was back from the sea. It caressed the kids’ heads, whispering dreams in their ears. And sitting atop the Rocket, I was glad the little girl that first thought that bravery was a good idea was still alive, right here. I thought she was proud of me.

    I climbed down after Jan, who let me carry down the board. We stopped at the gate and as I glanced back I saw a girl swinging in the air, long dark hair escaping from a loose ponytail. She waved in Jan’s direction from the spire of the Rocket.
    ‘Kira looks a lot like you,’ he said, standing up on the skate board.
    ‘So she does,’ I had to agree. ‘I hope one day she’ll discover why the spire is painted red.’
    ‘Why is that?’ Jan asked, balancing on the board that began drifting away, but then stopped abruptly and turned to me with a triumphant expression. ‘Wait, I know! It’s for being brave, isn’t it?’
    I nodded and ruffled his soft hair.
    ‘Goodbye, Jan,’ I said as he checked his watch, ’it was nice to meet you.’
    ‘And you. Bye.’
    I waved, watching him scoot off towards the school. When he disappeared behind the corner, I turned to go the opposite way. A great chestnut, guarding the entrance to the kindergarten, moved its great boughs in the breeze and dropped a jagged green leaf in front of me. I picked it up and folded it between the pages of my notebook; then I went back to my hotel to pack for the three hour flight back to London.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

When you go, go for good

I was sitting on a cold, black, granite bench in front of my father’s grave. It was a sunny April day and as I walked to the cemetery gate through the dark pine forest I saw green snowdrop stems burrowing through the grey remnants of snow, hardened into rock over the winter. Grandmother was cleaning graves on the Jewish side of the cemetery, leaving the Russian part of the family in my hands. I tried to work quickly under the unblinking gaze of the crows patrolling the cemetery wall like wardens clad in black with their hands tucked behind their backs.

   But now there was a new grave to look after, besides all my grandparents and extended family, and I thought I should take some time to get used to it. I shivered as I sat alone, listening to the gentle thuds of my heart, reminding me that at least on the inside there was life and warmth. The city of the dead was sleeping peacefully under the eaves of the mighty pines and chestnuts. My father’s grave was at the very edge of the cemetery and even from the bench I could see the grey porous wall covered in damp moss, submitting to decay. Occasionally I heard a train hurrying past the other side of it, carrying the living on their daily journeys; but here, in the twilight maintained by the mighty pines and oaks the movement was restricted to their branches and it never reached the ground.

   In the lifeless air uneven footsteps resounded from the ground with a crunching noise of dead leaves and the squelching of the moss. The Hermit stopped at the entrance to my father’s plot, so I nudged my way to one side of the granite bench, burying half of me in a tall bush that separated this plot from the next one.
   ‘Hello there. Have a seat.’
   ‘Hello, young lady. Much obliged’, he smiled, revealing the few grey teeth he’d got left and landed next to me, so that squished together on the little bench in our puffy coats we now looked like fat pigeons perched on a stile. He didn’t smell like the rest of the cemetery, of once living things decomposing - his hands were covered in fine stone dust and as I sniffed in the cold air I detected a whiff of metal. The coat smelled of chestnut bark, as if it had been hanging on a big branch for the last few hours.

   I knew I wasn’t supposed to talk to him. The Hermit was what Grandmother called him and she always pretended to be busy when he passed by. He did look somewhat scary at first, with his bent old back, the clothes to match the colour of the earth and the long grey hair on a wizened long face, that gave him an appearance of a raven, but I knew he wasn’t some ominous apparition. He’d helped me once when I tripped over a wet rock in the path and fell down, cutting my hand on the shears I’d dropped. Before he even looked at the cut I was reassured; a smile rearranged the wrinkled face to look like that of an ancient benevolent tree lord that I read about in a strange English book. He took me to a water pump, squinted at my hand and with one eye shut and the tip of his tongue stuck out in concentration removed all the bits of mud and blood, while I was squirming and twitching my nose. He wrapped a white, well-ironed handkerchief around my hand and never asked for it back, though he saw me plenty of times since.

   ‘Doing the Russian part today?’ he inquired rubbing his hands together in the misty air.
   ‘Yes, it’s faster that way. And there are more graves now, I’m sure you noticed.’ I pointed at my father’s black-and-white profile set in red stone.
   ‘I was here, dear. I helped dig every single grave in this cemetery in the last fifty years.’
   He smiled for a brief instant but his brows immediately curled in a frown.
   ‘Sorry, didn’t mean to bring up the funeral’.
   ‘That’s OK. What was it like? I wasn’t allowed, you see...’ The question fell to the ground and the Hermit looked at the same spot as me, as if picking it up from one of my fresh footprints.
   ‘It was OK, very decent as far as these things go. No wailing. He looked peaceful and, if you don’t mind me saying, happy.’
   I nodded and sniffed in reply and my long black hair fell out of the hood and covered my face.

   ‘I wondered what he looked like before they closed the... coffin.’
   The Hermit produced another handkerchief and thrust it in my palm, squeezing my fingers till the bones creaked.
   ‘You shouldn’t have to come here so often to do this. I never see your mother. Why doesn’t she come?’
   ‘Mum and Dad never got on too well.’
   He nodded, looking as if he just pricked his finger on a large pine needle.
   ‘And did you?’
   From beyond the stone wall a breath of air touched my face, ruffling the hair out of my face.
   ‘I don’t know. I don’t know how it should have been. Does it matter?’
   His lips started stretching into a smile but gave up half-way.
   ‘Not at all. That’s what I’m saying. That’s why she shouldn’t leave it up to you. What happens when your grandmother dies? Will you come here like she has done for forty years, on your own?’
   ‘Umm.. I never thought about it. To be honest, I doubt I will come at all. I want to live somewhere else, you see,’ I said, watching a tiny flicker of the sun passing between tree tops.
   ‘And so you should if that’s what you want. Don’t think they would mind.’
   I chuckled keeping my eyes under the hood.
   ‘If Grandmother heard you now, she’d grab her shovel and wallop you.’
   We burst out laughing but I immediately felt ashamed of placing myself out of the reach of the dead and fixed my eyes on the brown pile of leaves I’d made before.
   ‘It’s OK, it’s no disrespect to laugh in their presence,’ smiled the Hermit.
   I nodded again, sheepishly.
   He got up and my right side began to feel cold again.
   ‘Time to go, little lady. Nice to meet you.’
   ‘And you.’

   The Hermit walked softly out of Dad’s plot, but then turned, his eyes jumping from me to the pile of leaves to the gravestone.
   ‘Look, I am no usher of souls, but here’s what I know - the part of your family that’s gone, they aren’t here. They are in your memories and your feelings and maybe somewhere else. And your questions won’t be answered here either. Respect them, remember them, but do not tie yourself to the dead.’
   I slowly stood up with one hand in the air, aimed at him while my brain was giving shape to a suitable question, but the Hermit was already hobbling off, deftly avoiding odd tombstones protruding onto the path.
   ‘Wait! What’s your name?’ I shouted and my voice echoed off the wall behind me and darted past, catching the Hermit near the end of the lane. He half-turned in the shade of a great tombstone and crisply replied:
   ‘Call me Salem; it means Peace’.
   That was the last time I ever saw him and I’m glad I waved and smiled back.

   I polished the jagged red and black granite tombstone, which Mum said she’d picked to suit Dad’s edgy character, dusted off the the grave and put away the muddy tools under the bench. The teeth of the rake bit into the earth and dragged out onto the path leaves and mud, erasing my footprints inside the plot. I followed the familiar path leading to the three hundred year old chestnut in the middle of the cemetery, passing the big grave of the family killed in the Second World War during bombardment, whom I often thought about. The dead leaves made a heavy thud on the floor of an old metal bin and with my fingers covered in mud, pointing away from the sides of the coat I went to find water.

   Grandmother was standing by the tall, curved water pump complaining it was stuck. I tried it in the direction she pointed. It creaked and wobbled but did not produce a drop. Granny picked up her bags and went deeper into the cemetery, mumbling, to look for another pump, but I persisted for further five minutes. In the end I kicked the pump hard and as the last attempt twisted the round lock in the opposite way. The ice cold water burst out, drenching my coat and planting glistening drops on the nearby trees and a sudden gust of wind picked some of them up, carrying them over the wall together with fluffy golden pollen and earthy scent of chestnut. People passing by eyed me suspiciously as I was laughing out loud. With water running off my coat and boots I shook the drops off my hands and headed out through the gates, never to return.

Saturday, 12 February 2011


Once home to me, this house is now forgotten
And silence echoes in the icy walls.
Winds walk unhurriedly on floors long rotten
And old paints cracking sound like anguished calls.
The walls are crowded with familiar faces -
The ghosts I never knew before by name
But carried in myself to far off places
Until my mind was sick and body lame.
Here's Pride, who had her face hung on the ceiling
Just to make sure she's higher than the rest.
She fed me with illusions till unfeeling
I stared through others' pain as empty jest.
Obedience, with tears and blood anointed,
Who followed me, a jailer with a stick,
And marked my back with red when disappointed -
Her portrait fell and sits on crumbling brick.
Rigidity stands stiff in eerie doorway,
The bones of cracked old frame supporting walls.
She waits, forever upright, for her pay day
When ceiling lapses and last curtain falls.
They scowl and scorn with timeless painted hatred
But I'm the one who in the end stands tall.
Today will see them all obliterated.
Today I come with burning wrecking ball.
I once escaped but now return much bolder
To lay to rest decrepit evil hags.
My soul grew young but eyes somehow grew older.
Their stately garments I now see as rags.
As beams crash down and bury musty pictures
I watch the blazes seize the shattered hall.
A cloud of dust explodes, the ceiling ruptures
And walls laid bare lament the castle's fall.
Flames lick the ruined ribcage of my prison
And purge the earth of shadows and grey stain.
A single tear that blurs the stark, grim vision
Falls down unnoticed in a sudden rain.
I turn away from death and desolation
And see a flower by my muddy feet,
Its healthy golden smile a confirmation
That courage, love and sun are all I need.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Red on Black

I found today in my old chest
A little metal hook.
I thought of time long laid to rest -
Blurred pages of my book.

A friend gave me a corset once
That she could not fit on.
I used to lace it up and dance
When I was home alone.

Bright red, with fancy black lace trim,
It looked like earth on fire.
The way it dazzled on pale skin
Was something to admire.

It didn't let me bend or slouch,
For which I was so thankful!
Instead of crying on the couch
I learned to do my handful.

Red satin boned by steel, it was
My female battle armour
Reminding me that I still had
A claim to charm and glamour.

It's been five years and now I have
A corset made to measure.
I have moved on but not forgot
My red-with-black-lace treasure.

A friend came crying to my door
And said her life was ruined.
I pulled the corset out the draw
And told her she could do it.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Ask And You Shall Receive

    The Angel led the way, treading softly on white fluffy clouds. I followed him, often losing sight of the glistening trail of star dust that his feet left in the air. I kept looking down at the bright lights of the houses far below, cheering each other up in the night, huddling together for warmth in the land bound by frost. The Angel would often stop to wait for me, looking over his shoulder, then moving on, but as he saw me deep in thought peering at a small house in the distance, he halted, turned to face me and the path under his weightless feet dropped into the starry abyss, as if by command.
    ‘It is time. Have you found what you were seeking?’
    The Angel’s gentle but firm voice stirred my thoughts away from the contemplation of the world beneath.
    ‘I have decided. I’d like to be born there.’ I pointed to where a solitary light flickered on the edge of a forest, as if the Angel needed my directions. He nodded with a hint of a smile.
    ‘Why there?’
    ‘Because the people are good. They are respected but they also go their own way in life.’
    ‘You have never made an easy choice.’
    ‘Will this one be right for me?’
    ‘This is a judgement only you can make.’
    I thought of the other place I had nearly chosen - a great castle, rich people with good manners, in want of an offspring to dote on. I would have everything I could possibly want and enough money to do anything I desired with my life. But would I learn to want the right things, ask the right questions?.. So I kept searching for a different home, another destiny, until my time ran out.
    ‘Remember - once reborn, you will have no memory of the choice you are making now.’
    ‘I know... but I want what is right. I don’t just want a comfortable existence, I want to make a difference in the world!’
    ‘You are not asked to choose between black and white...’
    ‘But I want white! I want to remember there is something perfect, which maybe I will never be but which can guide me. Look at the people down there. Most of them never allow themselves to be what they are. Should I not try something better?’
    ‘The price is always that which you could have chosen instead.’
    My courage was waning.
    ‘You’re giving me no answers. And don’t look at me like that. You know I’m scared.’
    ‘My purpose is to guide, not to illuminate that which you must uncover yourself. I will help you if you ask, but your life is given unto you for a reason.’
    The reason. I never doubted that there was one and yet, having gone through many a lifetime, I was none the wiser about my destiny. Floating on the bed of clouds, I could for this short time remember all of my lives, all trials endured, all lessons learned so far.

    Suddenly I felt cold. A strong gust of wind blew past me and dispelled some of the clouds wrapped around the village under my ghostly feet. I saw a large lake frozen solid on the right side of the twinkling houses. Like a huge cold mirror it lay still, sending back the glow of the stars that longed to preen in it without letting the light warm it. I caught myself wondering whether if a spirit could cry and if my tears fell all the way to the ice, they would be hot enough to burrow through the frozen water to the living heart that the pool kept encased in winter’s chill. But the dark lake slept, lost in a dream of its own, and offered me no answer.

    I slumped at the Angel’s feet and stared into the whiteness that carried us. His presence made the cloud shine and sparkle, like fresh fallen snow. The other clouds that were drifting past seemed grey and lifeless in comparison, claimed by the shadows of the night. The Angel carried the light, the warmth, the clarity I needed but he guarded them faithfully until the time I was prepared to take and pass them on, and I didn’t know when that time would come. Over and over again I stood above the world choosing my next life, yet still I wasn’t satisfied, and every time the Angel was the same - calm, mysterious, distant.
    ‘I can’t do this on my own! I need help now, not when I have all the answers!’
    I sprung to my feet but in an instant the overwhelming anger pulled me down like a rock tied to my feet and I plummeted through the cloud towards the ground, a shooting star bent on solving the mystery of the dark lake before its fire was quenched.
    The Angel plunged into the black sky with his wings stretched out, blazing like a phoenix. I didn’t fall more than a few fathoms when his radiant arms pulled me back up to the cloud. A few seconds later I found myself curled up on his mighty chest, protectively shielded by the two magnificent wings folded so tightly around me that I could only see a tiny speck of the night.
    ‘Anger makes your heart heavy and every tear you shed goes not only through fire and ice but cuts through the very soul of the world. Rest a while. There is time.’
    The Angel’s hand remained on me for some time and as I felt currents of warmth pour into me I gradually drifted into peace. Pressed to his chest I could hear no heartbeat or movement of breath, but in every fibre of his glowing body I sensed the living force of which I was a part.
    ‘Didn’t you say the time was up?’
    ‘I did, but then you asked for help. You have tried to follow the path in your soul. This is the only thing that is ever asked of you and for as long as you walk with us, help will always come.’
    I turned away from the onyx sky which betrayed that the world outside the the Angel’s wings was real, and thought again.
    ‘You won’t give me answers and yet you give me more time. Does that mean I was asking the wrong questions?’
    ‘It does not. However, you searched for your answers in the wrong place.’
    I looked up at the Angel’s face and saw a smile that was brighter than the morning sun. Its light engulfed everything, bounced off from his eyes that looked like two deep wells of azure spring sky, and turned the silky threads of his long pale hair into liquid gold. A keeper of secrets he was, but he was also a messenger, a constant reminder that none of us are alone when we make our choices. The great wings parted slowly and I saw an orange flicker on the horizon.
    ‘The dawn!’ I gasped.
    ‘Worry not about time. Sit. Now I have questions to ask.’
    I climbed down, trying not to touch the wings, and the Angel laughed. I sat down and put my elbows on my knees, so my head rested in my hands. He landed on the edge of the cloud, the vast wings cutting through the white fluffy mist and his feet floating in the cold air beneath.
    ‘Answer me this - what have you learned from all your lives in this world?’  
    ‘That you can have whatever you ask for, but not necessarily in the form you’d hoped.’
    The Angel stirred, surveying the glow rising from the east.
    ‘Why do you think this is the case?’
    I turned on the cloud to face him and wrapped my pale hands around me. All of a sudden I had some explaining to do. The Angel waited with a serene look on his face, dangling his feet off the edge of the cloud and staring at the stars. He looked a lot more like a child amused at the wonders of Nature, not a stalwart guardian that dragged me out of a dark chasm of anger but a short while ago.
    ‘I think it’s because we only ever ask you for the kind of help that makes things easier and makes us happier. Take love, for instance. When I asked you to help me find love, you gave me a part of it as I imagined it would be - radiant, overpowering, but you also gave me sacrifice, fear and longing, though I never asked for that sort of education. Then I settled for a compromise because I found that in order to have something you must give something too.’
    ‘Then why will you not take the compromise again, if you found it to be the true way of life?’
    We drifted into the shadow of a much larger cloud overhead, which dimmed all the colours and the shine of the Angel’s wings.
    ‘This is why! I don’t want the grey! I like white snow, golden sun, love without taint, power without greed! Not half-way, not just a little too short. I don’t want everything to be perfect, but I do want the things that are important to me to be pristine.’
    I was pacing there and back on the little cloud, kicking up puffs of white. My hands were flailing in the air as I tried to find the right words. The Angel did not move, but I felt his unrelenting gaze on me.
    ‘So if it is the case that you can be given whatever you ask for, what is it that you want?’
    ‘I want... I want to know exactly what I need and to choose again if I go wrong.’
    Could that have been it? To go through life at my own pace, learn what I truly need and then make it happen? To choose when I’m ready and not feel a destiny imposed on me.
    I stood now on the opposite end of the cloud from the Angel and saw the first long rays of the Sun tickling the sky. It was beautiful in the most natural way, like a perfect answer to a simple question. I felt the Angel’s hand on my shoulder.
    ‘Well then... what is it that you want?’  
    ‘I want to learn, with love, happiness and understanding. I want to look for my purpose in this life.’
    ‘A good answer.’ The Angel lifted me up onto his shoulder and stepped down from the cloud. He walked upon the morning air now speckled with gold, getting ever closer to the little cottage I had settled on. As his feet touched the snow, not a mark was left behind and when I stepped on the white brilliance that had covered the ground overnight, I felt neither cold, nor damp. A candle was burning bright in one of the windows and I tip-toed like a naughty child to the windowsill and tried to steal a glimpse of my new family without being caught.
    The Angel followed me and stood right in front of the window by my side.
    ‘They will not see you, but you can now make your decision complete.’
    Wide-eyed I looked at my mother and father-to-be, preparing for a long day’s work.They smiled at each other in a tender way and everything about them hinted at peace and clear conscience. Maybe I’d have to work hard for my choice but I didn’t mind. They had what I wanted - love, the perfection that keeps the world spinning, the one thing in the Universe you want to get right.
    I wanted to cry, I was happy. As I turned, the Angel was walking away on the soft bright snow.
    ‘It is time’, he called as he turned at the edge of the frozen lake.  
    ‘Wait!’ I shouted, running after him, worrying about my feet getting stuck in the snow, though of course they couldn’t. As I caught up with the Angel I saw  that the Sun was rising quickly now and the night was finally retreating. Like a young lady that stayed too late at a ball, she picked up her skirts of dark clouds and was running off until she was invited back to dance across the sky again a few hours later. I was wrong - she wasn’t jet black and menacing, a monster swallowing shooting stars, she only extinguished the sunlight so that when the morning came back it could be reborn even more radiant.
    The Angel took my hand and began to ascend towards the orange glow. For a moment I hesitated but then jumped in front of him and lunged at his chest with my arms spread out. He embraced me, folding his arms and wings around my spectral figure and lightly stroking my head.
    ‘I’m quite sure now.’  I pronounced and was immediately amazed at the confidence with which my voice rang in the crisp winter air. ‘I want to be born to these people. They’re the right ones. And thank you for being so patient with me.’
    ‘Patience is love. And I am Love’s messenger.’
    Now I could return the Angel’s brilliant smile. And as I did, I closed my eyes and turned to the Sun.
    ‘It is done then.’ The Angel stretched out his luminous hand and I felt my essence slowly dissolving into light.

Greetings to my most esteemed audience!

Hello there!

For those who know me already - a very warm welcome to you! I finally got round to doing this.

For those of you who stumbled on this blog unawares or decided to check it out after one of my friends recommended it, this is a place where I post my short and not-so-short writings. They'll vary quite a lot in form and content as I'm doing a creative writing course at the moment, which requires me to learn a lot of different writing skills. I hope that as my collection of scrolls gets bigger, everyone will find here something they'll like. The idea is to share my writing and get as many comments as possible, seeing that I'm trying to get to a stage where my writing would be good enough to be published.

Thanks for taking interest!