I have been walking for a while now, but I see nothing and no one. Where I walk is completely deserted – not a sound to be heard, not a fly to be seen. To my right there is a river with not a ripple on it. It is daylight and the sky is quite clear, but there is no trace of the sun, nor do I cast a shadow on the ground. And I find it very strange that the sky should have a pinkish hue to it. I am very much troubled that I have no idea where this place is or how I got here.
As I continue my walk along the calm and deathly quiet river, suddenly I start hearing voices to my left. I turn my head around and to my relief I see a group of elderly people, sitting in clusters around white plastic tables, having tea and cake. I wonder to myself how they came to be here, since a moment ago there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. But I am so relieved by their presence that I give the matter no further thought. All I want to do now is to approach them and ask them where this place is.
‘Hello,’ comes a man’s voice.
Who said that? Startled, I look about me; then I see him. A very good-looking young man is making his way towards me. Maybe I should ask him where this place is.
‘Hi,’ I greet him shyly. ‘Perhaps you could help me.’
‘Ask and you shall receive.’
‘Where is this place?’
‘You don’t know?’ he asks with a thoughtful frown.
‘No, I don’t.’ My eyes flicker about anxiously. ‘I don’t know where this place is or how I got here. In fact, I don’t remember anything. I don’t even remember my own name. All I know is that I am twenty years old. I think I am suffering from amnesia and I think I should get myself to a hospital. Is there a hospital nearby?’
He looks at me in a curious sort of way and then says, ‘Your name is Sofia.’
‘You know me?’ I ask excitedly.
He nods. ‘You’ll be fine,’ he says calmly, placing a hand upon my arm. ‘Everything is all right or will be very soon.’
‘Who are you?’ I ask nervously.
‘My name is David.’
‘Do I know you?’
He doesn’t answer my question; instead, he invites me to sit down with him at a table. An elderly man from the next table smiles at us and gives us a pot of tea with two cups along with a piece of cake on a small plate. I frown. Aren’t there any waiters here? No! No waiters! This isn’t an outdoor cafe. Food appears as if by magic. I feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Well, I suppose, that’s a good sign. At least I remember the story.
An elderly woman comes to our table and very softly asks me if I’d like to stay with her.
I give her a bewildered look. What am I going to say to her? I don’t know her.
‘Yes, she’ll stay with you. Thank you, Mrs Smith,’ David answers for me.
I give a mental shrug. I suppose it’d be all right to stay with her. Where else am I going to stay, anyway! My memory has gone and I don’t know anyone. David helps me to my feet and we walk away from the Mad Hatter’s tea party to follow Mrs Smith.
Mrs Smith lives in a lovely little house just a short distance away. David doesn’t hang around too long, but he promises to return tomorrow morning to help me recover my memory.
Since I am not tired, I can only assume that I slept well last night, but I have no memory of either going to bed or falling asleep. Well, maybe this is all to do with my amnesia. Though I am not hungry, I do wonder briefly about breakfast, but just then David arrives and tells me that he is going to take me on a journey that will jog my memory. We thank Mrs Smith for having me stay with her, then wave our goodbyes and leave.
‘So where are we going?’ I ask.
I look up at the pink sky, thinking that the sky is supposed to be blue. Now, I am beginning to wonder if I am still on terra firma. ‘David, where is this place?’
‘You’ll soon know the answer to that. Now, are you ready?’
I blink in confusion. ‘Ready for what?’
‘The next step.’
‘The next step,’ I echo, not understanding what he means.
‘Here.’ He points to the ground.
I see a line – a broad blue line. ‘What is this line?’
‘Step over it and you’ll see.’
I do as he says. My eyes nearly pop out of their sockets at what I see. The sky is blue, the sun is up, and I can see the pale crescent moon in the daytime sky. ‘What happened?’ I gasp. ‘Where did the road go? Where did the river go?’
David doesn’t answer; he just smiles.
We are now on a street lined on each side with lush green trees. While the other place was void of life save for the elderly people, this place is teeming with life. It is filled with butterflies and birds. I can even see ants on the ground.
‘Where is this place? How did we get here?’
David smiles. ‘Shall we take a walk?’.
I nod, mystified though that I am.
There are some really grand houses here, with most of them being two-storeyed, and all of them having high brick fences, over which droop tree branches laden with pink and white flowers, though I have no idea of which kind. I recognize neither the trees nor the flowers. But the air is fragrant with their beautiful perfume.
‘Shall we go and knock on one of these doors?’ David suggests.
‘Do you know any of the people who live in these houses?’ I ask.
‘No, not personally, but I’m sure they’re friendly.’
‘Well, that’s no reason to go and knock on people’s doors. They could very well tell us to bugger off.’
Without taking any notice of my objection, David takes my hand and heads straight for one of the houses and knocks at the door. Within moments a raven-haired woman in a pink flowing chiffon dress opens the door. To my utter surprise, she cheerily greets us and introduces herself as Ella.
‘Nice to meet you, Ella. My name is David and this’—he turns to me—‘is my friend Sofia. She arrived just yesterday. We were just admiring the houses around here and thought to come and visit the owner of one.’
‘Of course,’ she says most agreeably with a rapid fluttering of her small but elegant hands. ‘Please, do come in. It’s always so nice to receive visitors.’
We enter her lovely courtyard, which is nothing short of an enchanted garden, and she takes us to her patio where we sit and sip iced tea. I wonder what she does for a living. Surely she must have a high-paying job to afford such a beautiful home, or it could be that she just married a rich guy.
‘So tell me, Sofia, how are you enjoying yourself since your arrival here?’ she asks.
I chew my upper lip for a moment, thinking that I have no idea how to answer the question, because I have no idea how I am feeling. ‘It’s a lot to take in,’ I say finally. Then my curiosity gets the better of me and I ask her what she does for a living.
‘I write children’s stories,’ she replies.
‘Ah!’ I smile brightly. ‘Like Alice in Wonderland?’
‘That’s a classic. Have you read it?’
I give a small shrug. ‘I know the story.’
‘So you haven’t read it?’
How can I answer this? I can’t remember a single darn thing about my past. To my relief, David rises to his feet, ready to leave. I get up too.
‘Thank you, Ella, but we must be on our way,’ David says politely.
Ella escorts us to the door and with a flurry of hand waving she bids us goodbye.
Once outside, David says, ‘Let’s pop into the next house.’
‘Seriously?’ I challenge.
‘What’s the problem?’
‘I don’t know these people,’ I say, throwing my hands up in the air. ‘Besides, I have no memory of anything to carry on a proper conversation. I want answers, not visiting strangers.’
David abides by my decision and we resume our walk beneath the shade of the trees, with butterflies fluttering all around us and birds singing everywhere, until David stops and points to the ground. I see a bright orange line. I guess crossing this line will take us to another place. Alice in Wonderland makes its appearance in my mind once again – not that it ever left.
As I expected we emerge somewhere totally different. This time we are on a deserted road and I see a car. It is a white sedan.
‘Do you want to drive?’ David asks, indicating the car.
‘That depends. Where are we going?’
‘Nowhere in particular. We are just going for a drive,’ David says.
‘Is there a purpose to this? I mean, would it help jog my memory?’
‘Not in the way that you think, but it is all part of the same procedure to help you with your journey back to your former self.’
I look at the car, thinking that it would be fun to drive. And the odd thing is that I know how to drive, even though I can’t remember ever driving or learning to drive. I smile. ‘Can I drive fast?’
‘Why?’ David asks, with a curious sort of frown.
‘I like speed,’ I say, grinning, thinking that it would be quite safe to drive fast on a deserted road. I probably would never get an opportunity like this again. Oh, I am going to have fun for the first time since I got here – wherever here is.
‘All right, let’s go,’ David says.
I get into the driver’s seat and David climbs into the passenger’s seat next to me. I turn the ignition, shift the gear into drive, press my foot on the accelerator and the car takes off like a bullet. I scream and laugh at the same time. It is so exciting to drive this fast and be safe, but then the road changes. Suddenly, it is narrow and winding, and the traffic is both ways. I see a car accident up ahead. I try to slow down, but I can’t.
‘Keep your eyes on the road and dodge the oncoming cars and any debris on the road,’ David warns.
Shit! A car is directly heading for me. I am going to collide with it. Shit! Shit! I turn the steering wheel sharply to the right, scrape the side of the passenger door against another car, jolting David out of his seat, and miss the oncoming car by a hair’s breadth. Close call! Oh shit! Not again! Another car is fast approaching. This is madness. Cars are driving at top speed. I gulp in fear as I see two cars smash together and before I can take a breath, debris flies all around and hits my car.
‘David, is it possible for me to get killed in this place?’
‘Yes, it is, so you must keep your eyes on the road and concentrate on what you are doing,’ he advises with urgency.
I weave my way around the wreckage and pass it, only to see a speeding black car on a collision course with me. I don’t know what to do. Slowing down doesn’t seem an option, because all the other cars are driving like mad. I don’t like this. Shit! Shit! The black car is going to hit me head on. ‘David, I can’t do this. Get me out of here!’ As I finish saying this, the car slows down, the road suddenly grows wider, and the mad race of the cars ceases to exist. I let out a sigh of relief, stop the car and get out.
‘What the hell was that?’ I ask as I inhale and exhale air sharply.
‘Come,’ David says, taking my hand.
I withdraw my hand from his and stay put. ‘David, I am not going anywhere with you until you tell me what is going on. Look, I may remember zero from my past, but I know that real life doesn’t work this way. Yes, there are crazy drivers on the road, but people normally don’t have a death wish when they’re driving. And roads don’t suddenly change from being treacherous one minute and safe the next. This’—I wave at the air—‘is not real. Tell me what is going on. Why has the world suddenly gone weird on me?’
‘All in good time. For now, I have to take you some place.’
‘Oh, for goodness sake, I nearly had us both killed driving that damn car with those demented drivers on the road!’
‘They were no more demented than you,’ David retorts.
I am shocked by his response. ‘What?’
‘Well, they liked speed as much as you did.’
‘But those people were driving as if they were suicidal,’ I vociferate. ‘I, on the other hand, had no control over my car. I couldn’t slow it down.’
‘Really? I seem to remember that you had no trouble slowing it down. It was your desire for speed that made the car drive hell for leather.’
Shit! He is right. I pace about, rubbing my forehead, trying to think. This world is strange. I strike my forehead. That’s it. There can be no other explanation for it. My brain must be hooked up to some supercomputer and something has gone wrong, hence the reason I can’t remember anything. ‘You’re not real, David. You’re a computer program!’
He regards me for a moment in silence, then says, ‘I am not a computer program, neither is this place.’
‘Then where the hell is this place? Wonderland?’
‘I assure you, this place is no wonderland.’
‘No shit! Tell me where this place is.’
‘I can’t tell you; I have to show you.’
I sigh in exasperation. He is impossible. ‘All right, show me,’ I say finally. What choice do I have? He seems to be in control of everything and I in control of nothing.
David takes my hand and we walk along a dirt road and then I see a deep green line on the ground.
‘I guess we are about to cross that line?’ I say in a somewhat irritated tone.
We stop by the green line for a moment, then step over it. Oh wow! This new place is spectacular. I don’t know how, but we are now on a boat sailing across a river, wedged between towering mountains, on the tops of which stand gigantic black statues of mythological heroes. I find myself totally absorbed by the splendor of these statues so smoothly carved out of stone. In fact, there is something about this whole scenery that penetrates deep within my soul. I don’t want to ever leave this place, but the boat finally stops and we disembark.
‘David, where was that place? Those gigantic statues were magnificent. I’d like to go back and see—’
I fail to finish what I wanted to say as a scream, brought on by fright, escapes my mouth. An ugly middle-aged fat man, in his underwear, jumps right in front of me and shouts that he is my destiny. The encounter lasts only a second.
‘What the hell was that?’ I ask David, sounding quite hysterical.
David has a mortified look on his face. ‘How did this happen? He can’t come here, not in this place, not in this way!’ he murmurs to himself.
‘David, look at me!’ I grab at his arm. ‘Who was that?’
‘This is highly unusual! I don’t understand—’
‘Understand? Understand what? David, who was he? Tell me!’
‘Come, I am going to show you something.’
‘No, no more showing.’ Angry, I slash at the air with my hand. ‘I think the time has come for some telling.’
‘Sofia, please trust me.’
I take deep breaths, still recovering from the shock of seeing that awful apparition.
‘Please, come with me,’ he pleads.
‘All right,’ I say a bit more sedately.
We walk a short distance before we come to a bridge. Upon crossing it the whole scenery changes. We are now standing in a schoolyard and there is a commotion near where the swings are. So we go closer and I see a little girl lying on the ground. I gasp in horror, thinking that she is dead. I see other children screaming and saying that she was hit by one of the swings.
‘Why have you brought me here?’ I ask, not understanding the point of this excursion.
‘This is you,’ David says.
‘What?’ I frown in disbelief. ‘That is not possible. I am not a little girl. I am twenty years old.’
‘Yes, you are twenty years old, but only in here. And what do you think here is?’
‘I don’t know, you tell me,’ I snap.
‘Sofia, take a good look at this little girl. She is six years old.’
Fear grips me. I don’t want to look, but I do. No! It can’t be. She can’t be me. While I still have no memory of my past, suddenly I remember what I looked like as a child, and I looked exactly like this little girl. Then another memory forces itself through. I remember when I was six years old I accidentally ran in front of a swing. Horrified, I gasp and raise my hand to my mouth to stifle a scream. ‘I am dead,’ I finally pronounce.
‘No, you are not,’ David assures me.
‘What are you saying?’
‘You have crossed over to the other side, but you are not dead, and now it is time for you to go back.’
‘Go back? Does that mean that I am a ghost?’
‘Yes,’ David confirms, ‘but you are still tethered to your body.’
I shake my head in anger. ‘You are a liar, David. If I am a ghost, then how come you told me that I could get myself killed on that road with those demented drivers?’
‘That was a test of your will to live. If you truly wanted to die, you would have.’
My chest feels as if my heart has fallen so far down into the pit of my stomach that I have no way of getting at it.
The image of that awful man comes to my mind. ‘Who was that man?’ I demand angrily.
‘I don’t know how that happened or how he crossed over—’
‘Never mind how he crossed over! Tell me who he was!’
‘Your future husband.’
‘What?’ I wince in horror. ‘But why would I marry someone like him?’
‘A series of unfortunate circumstances will bring him into your life.’
‘As I said, a series of unfortunate circumstances.’
‘No, you have to be more specific than that,’ I remonstrate.
‘You can’t or you won’t.’
‘I can’t,’ he repeats.
I think my body has gone into shock. I have difficulty breathing. Though I have no idea why a ghost needs to breathe. ‘What is your role in all of this?’ I manage to ask.
‘I am your guardian and my job is to return you back to your body.’
‘No, you aren’t.’
‘Sofia, don’t say that…’
‘Goodbye, David.’ I turn my back to David and start running.
David calls after me, but I ignore him. I am going to find Mrs Smith and I am going to stay with her forever in the land of the pink sky.
I cross line after line, going through strange places; some are of indescribable beauty and some are of indescribable horror. But I don’t halt my flight. I have to find Mrs Smith. Finally, I arrive at my destination. The sky is pink; the river is quiet; but there is no sign of the elderly people anywhere. I call for Mrs Smith while I run wildly towards her street. I stop dead in my tracks when I see it. The house looks completely dilapidated. I go inside, only to see crumbling furniture and cobwebs.
There is no trace of Mrs Smith here. She has gone. To where, I know not. All I see around now are shadows – shadows of despair, of confusion, and of obliteration. The grief is too much for me to bear and I sink to my knees and howl, as the floodgates burst open. Then I see David standing by the doorway. He walks up to me and sits beside me on the floor.
‘Sofia, you must go back. A whole generation of great men and women are waiting for you to fulfil your destiny—’
‘My destiny! What destiny? That abomination is my destiny. Your heard him say it yourself. No, I won’t go back.’
‘Your life will be an inspiration to them all,’ David continues on as if he has not heard a word of what I just said. ‘Remember that beautiful street with those beautiful houses. The residents of that street are all your descendants. Ella is your granddaughter—’
‘I am not interested in my descendants,’ I shout, cutting him short. ‘This life’—I thump my chest with my hand—‘is about me, me, not them. I don’t want to inspire anyone. I am not interested in inspiring anyone. I just want to be happy. And I know I’ll never be happy with that monster.’
‘I’ll watch over you. I’ll be with you every second of every day and every night. I’ll never leave your side.’
‘What good will that do?’ I manage to say between my sobs.
‘I’ll watch over you,’ David says again.
‘But you won’t be there in the physical world.’
‘But I will be,’ says a voice.
Who said that? Startled, I look up. An angelic-looking teenage boy is standing in the doorway. He is the spit image of David.
David stretches out his hand to the boy. ‘Come in,’ David says.
‘Who is that?’ I ask, wiping my tears with my hands.
‘He is my son … and yours.’
I look dumbfounded at both of them. How could that be? He cannot be our son. David doesn’t have a physical body and he is not the one who is going to be my husband. The teenage boy walks up to us and sits on the floor between us.
David ruffles his smooth dark hair and then faces me. ‘This doesn’t happen often, only very rarely, but there have always been people in the world who have two fathers – one biological, one spiritual. This boy here is our son. His biological father has little to do with him. I am his true father. And in the physical world he will be your guardian angel.’
I cry, but this time I am not sure of the reason. The pull that this beautiful boy has over me is overwhelmingly strong.
‘He needs you, Sofia. Without you, he will never be born. If you don’t care about your descendants, then surely you must care about him.’
The lump in my throat is strangling me. I take the boy into my arms and embrace him as I weep. My love for him has no end as it has no beginning, but I have no idea where that love comes from.
I finally release my son from my arms and ask David, in a broken voice, if I will remember any of the experiences that I had in this world. He says no. His answer doesn’t come as a surprise to me. I already figured as much. No child can grow up knowing the future, let alone having an afterlife experience.
‘Where’s Mrs Smith gone to?’ I ask, wondering.
‘She’s gone to help another wandering lost soul.’
My eyes widen in surprise. ‘Is she a guardian too?’
‘No, not a guardian, but a helper. I asked her to come and help me with you.’
‘To give me a place to stay, you mean?’
‘It would’ve been very difficult, if not unwise, to explain to you everything from the onset. You needed to feel that you were still in the physical world, so this house was created to give you that illusion.’
‘Then I never slept here, did I?’
‘No, but you thought that you did, and that made you calm and well-rested.’
‘This explains why I couldn’t remember my going to bed last night or waking up this morning. But why is the house falling to pieces now?’
‘It served its purpose and now it is disintegrating. Very shortly nothing of this house or this street will be left here in this place.’
‘Where is this place? Is it heaven?’
‘No, this is a waiting area for souls that are about to be born.’
‘So, all those elderly people—’
‘Are all born now.’
‘Why did they look so old then?’ I ask, baffled.
‘Souls are never mewling babies, nor are they children; hence the reason why you don’t appear as a six-year-old child here.’
‘So, what you’re saying is that souls are old?’
‘Not exactly. Age doesn’t exist here. There is no such thing as old or young. I guess the best way to describe it is that souls, having no physical bodies, see it as a pointless exercise to look like a child or an infant, particularly when they have full awareness of everything that is going on here.’
Feeling relatively calm now, I ask David about the significance of those great statues.
‘Those statues that you saw were only a tiny glimpse into the world of your imagination.’
‘Is that the reason why you were so shocked to see—’
‘Your future husband there?’ David rescues me from saying it. ‘Yes, I was shocked. That place is your own private world. Very few have access to it. I still don’t know how he got there…’
‘So what do I do in life that it is so inspirational to my descendants?’
‘By overcoming every hardship and every adversity that you’ll face.’
I sigh and I don’t know how I should feel. I am not happy about the prospect of a life rife with difficulties or of marrying that abominable man, but then I look at my son and I know that I must sacrifice myself for him. ‘Where is my body now? In the hospital?’ I ask more soberly.
‘No, your body is still in the schoolyard,’ David answers.
‘All this time? I have been here for some time now!’
‘It only seems that way. You have been here for only two seconds.’
I shake my head in bewilderment. ‘So how do I return to my body? Just go to the schoolyard and jump into my body?’
‘Then how?’ I ask, perplexed.
‘Just close your eyes.’
I do as I am told and he pulls me into his arm and brushes his lips gently against mine.