Monday, November 3, 2014

Episode 14 | The first apparition

The next morning, during my meditation session, I imagined I had dozed off when, impossible as it was, I suddenly saw someone standing on the beach. But arousing my attention I realized I hadn't slept, I was not dreaming -- in the eye of a blinding cloud of light, there was in fact someone standing in front of the sun!

I was terrified. I felt icy chills creeping up my spine, and my heart tightened as I jumped to my feet.

My abrupt move was enough for the sinister creature to disappear, leaving me terror-stricken and feeling unbearably cold under the tropical sun.

I found Armand in the kitchen, cooking a recipe he had learned in the Himalayas, some kind of vegetarian dumplings he would add to a buttery soup. I think it was some Tibetan delicacy, but I did not pay attention to his words.

While busy with the pans, he tried to entertain me with more tales of his adventures around the globe, but as fascinating as they were, portraying the people and the costumes of the high Asian Steppes, I hardly listened. I was still scared, as that strange vision kept returning before my eyes in rapid flashbacks. I tried to bring it into focus, the shapeless figure that was barely distinguishable in the blinding light. And each time I tried it, I shivered with goose bumps, and I felt gelid, as if that menacing apparition was laying icy hands on my skin -- or deeper, onto my soul.

As much as it was funny to see Armand joyfully cooking, it was weird to watch my ex-roommate going about in his underwear only. In two days, I had seen more of his body than in the five years during which we had shared a room in Paris. He had always seemed to live in the nutshell of his highly cultivated politeness and discreetness, which did not match nakedness. Now there was a new freedom about his presence that was contagious -- a liberty that made me rethink my own concept of freedom, that ideal which I had turned into a cruel, personal form of slavery. Freedom and slavery had been the same to me, just like I had been master and slave of myself -- on how to kill them both at once, I was suddenly learning from Armand.

"What is it with you today, mon cher Carlo? You've been staring into the horizon mesmerized all morning long... Where have you been while I was telling you about Tibet and Nepal?" Armand did not hide his disappointment. "Not here... Is your house empty today? Are you sun stroke?" He touched my forehead, and I shivered at his gentle touch.

"I'm alright." I didn't feel like talking about that morning apparition to him. Armand was much less skeptical than he used to be, India having opened both his mind and heart while giving rise to his soul, but my own budding spirituality did not contain ghosts nor wandering spirits. Had his wicked stories about the Île du Blanchomme somehow influenced and prepared a mind setting for that apparition? I did not know what I had seen, nor if I had actually seen anything. 

"I guess I'm just trying too hard to have a nicer suntan than you, mon cher Armand, haha!" Maybe he was right, I might be sunstroke. The tropical sun, too, was completely new to me.

"Well, I guess you already have a nicer suntan... from birth, mon cher Carlo, haha!" We both laughed, and seemed to reconnect in the present moment. "Are you sure you don't want me to apply that coconut lotion on you? It should help..." Running his fingers on my chest, he caressed my skin, so much rougher than his, and leaving his hand on my forearm, he changed the subject. "It feels so good... No, it looks so good... I mean," He seemed embarrassed. "It smells good, already. The food, of course." Armand blushed. "Should be ready in a moment... Are you hungry yet?"

His dumplings were delicious, a Tibetan delicacy he had adapted to the ingredients available in the house, though the soup had come out too salty and  practically inedible. The meal was delightful, a feast of unpredictable textures and flavors, all new to me. Just like my old friend, siting right across the table from me, seemed completely new to me... His new skills, his new looks, his new goals for the future, his new easy going attitudes, even the boldness with which he exposed his body, not the least shy in his nakedness. I couldn't help being thoroughly surprised.

I had always thought of Armand as conservative, and thus his transformation impressed me the greater. And in comparison to him, my identity and attitudes seemed sadly crystallized.

"Armand, I have to say how much I admire you!" I mouthed. "You are being so brave! You have reinvented yourself, and I'm rediscovering you..." I took a deep breath, trying to figure out what his reaction to my sudden remark was. But he just stared at me, with curiosity, and I decided to go on. "I mean, you always were my best friend. But now... it seems like I am getting a new best friend... You know? On top of the same best friend I've kept over the years... Do you understand what I mean?'

Finally, we did the tour of the island together. Armand showed me all he had discovered about Herr Weismann's schemes to make life possible on that small circle of sand slightly rising above the ocean. The Île du Blanchomme must have been part of a greater atoll in the past, that had vanished after successive tsunamis had swept that region, leaving behind only that stretch of land. Just big enough to provide the natives with a Portal Island. Armand had discovered a lot of things reading Herr Weismann's journals, but because they were in German, my friend had not always understood everything. There were some technical details that remained a mystery to him, and he expected me to dig deeper into them in the next months. In the most practical forms, working on the island, since I could not understand a single word in German.

He also shared his restoration plans, and how he envisioned the new property. To start with, getting rid of the forest of weeds and the dry brambles that had taken over the years of abandonment.

"I don't know why, but I haven't yet seen many flowers on this island, apart from those that turn into fruits... And therefore, not many insects, and rarely ever flocks of birds. Only a few solitary ones. The Île du Blanchomme has its mysteries... And I thought that you, with your agricultural knowledge, Carlo, could tend the garden. Wouldn't it be lovely to have flowers to decorate the rooms, and fresh vegetables for cooking?" Armand's voice had almost turned into a song, as he happily shared his plans for the island.

"The workers I hired did fix the electrical part and the plumbing system in the house," he continued, "but they had just started with the painting when they decided to leave. I wanted to have everything inside the house painted white... The light is kind of strong here on this part of the world, but somehow the rooms are dark." Indeed, I had already realized it. I thought the contrast between light and shadows was starker than anywhere else I had been, and I wanted to try it on my paintings. Armand went on, enthusiastically sharing his plans. "I thought we could bring some light into the interior of the house, and also honor Herr Weissmann, weiss being the word for white in German. Would you be into this other kind of painting, Carlo?" Armand knew I had taken up a few jobs as a wall painter during the École, including that which had led me to Heinrich Zimmer's book. Just because I needed the money, and I'd rather do those than spend my days in Paris working part time in a shop or an office. "I mean, you don't have to do it alone, that can wait until I'm back from France, and we can do it together..."

"I'll be delighted to paint the interiors of the house and illuminate them." I assured Armand. I thought it was a very meaningful activity, very symbolic of my own spiritual needs. "Don't worry, fratello mio..." For I knew Armand was trying to be tactful and slowly introducing the tasks he expected me to perform in his absence.  "The house will be shining white when you come back!" 

It was such a simple task, and I wasn't lying when I wholeheartedly promised to accomplish it, even if later I was to thoroughly disappoint Armand.

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