“Allright, I want to meet my guides” I think, sounding more determined than I feel. The books all say we have guides: I want evidence. I sit erect, and begin my visualisation.
I imagine myself walking down a sandy pathway through the sand hills, towards the beach. At the crest of the dune, I see opaque green waves pounding the beach, empty except for two figures at opposite ends. On my right I see a figure that seems to be glowing with a golden luminescence. That has to be a guide. Glowing like that was practically a pre-requisite. I make my way towards it. As I get closer, I make out a figure wearing a long coat made from a patchwork of different hues of orange and rusty browns, with beads that catch the setting sun and flash brilliantly.
“Hi,” I venture.
He turns around: he’s young, his skin that deep blue black that draws your eye with a certain hypnotic shine. Long black dreadlocks, spring energetically from his head, and he gives me a generous smile full of teeth.
“Yo brother, what’s happening?” he says in a broad American accent, and with a small swagger.
“Ah, you’re not what I imagined my guide would look like,” I say.
“Oh, I’m exactly like you imagined,” he says and starts to walk along the edge of the waves. I follow him.
“But, you’re black,” I say. “Shouldn’t you be in the USA somewhere guiding Americans? Not here?”
He doesn’t reply, but keeps walking, his smile undiminished by my lack of welcome.
A minute passes in total silence.
“Look,” I say, frustrated. “What’s supposed to happen here?”
“Whatever you want,” he answers.
“I want to know what the purpose of my life is,” I say petulantly. Sounds kind of corny, even to my ears.
There is more silence.
“So, are you going to speak to me?” I ask.
“Yes, I was just enjoying the silence with you,” he says. “This is what life is about.”
“What, life is about silence?” I ask, skeptical of my guide’s credentials.
“Yes,” he replies, “and enjoyment. And conversation.” He lets go that toothy smile again.
“What - surely there’s more to life than that?” I question. “Surely there’s more I should be doing in my life?
“Like what?” he asks. “And don’t call me Shirley.” He peels off in a loud belly laugh, slapping his knee with amusement. I frown. I have serious concerns. This man is being way too frivolous.
“Well, like helping other people” I say. “There’s plenty of people who need help.”
“Have they asked you for help?” he says.
“No,” I answer, feeling defensive. “But some people can’t ask. They’re a long way away, or else they haven’t the means to ask. That doesn’t mean you don’t help them.”
“Then if they haven’t asked for your help, how do you know what kind of help they want?” he questions.
“I don’t know,” I say, throwing my hands up in the air. “It depends on what they need. Maybe they are unhappy. I would have to find out what they wanted.”
“And how would you do that?” he asks.
“I’d talk to them, I suppose,” I answer. “Then think about how to help them, then try to do something that would make them feel better.”
“Ah!” he smiles that voluminous smile again. “So you would talk, then you would be silent, then you would find enjoyment?” He raises his eyebrows and does a little jig in a circle around me.
“Well, yes,” I admit. “Except it’s more complex than that.”
“Is it?” he smiles again, and falls into a deep silence.
“So is that all there is to life? I demand, my voice sounding unnecessarily shrill. “Talk, silence and enjoyment?”
“For the answer to that” he says, indicating the figure at the far end of the beach. “I think you need to go there next. Call me if you want to hang out again.”
“O-kay” I say uncertainly, not sure if I’d gotten any answers to my question. Unsure if I even knew what the question was anymore.
“What’s your name, anyway?” I ask.
“Does it matter?“ he says.
“Well it does if I want to call you” I say.
He thinks about it for a while. “Call me Duane” he says with some satisfaction.
“Duane?” I say with just a little disbelief. “Duane? Shouldn’t you have a better name than that? Something with a bit of mystery or …” I was lost for words “Duane?”
“You thought of it,” Duane says. “You must like it.”
“No I didn’t !” I splutter.
“Whose imagination is this, then?” Duane laughs, and saunters off down the beach.
I walk toward the other figure at the far end of the beach, only able to discern a dark outline against the pale sky. As I get closer, I see what could only be described as a bag lady, toting a big rucksack on a frame on her back, and putting garbage into it that she picked up from the beach. Her hair looks like it needs a good wash, and her body is bent and crooked. When I draw up next to her, she squints at me.
“What do you want?” she demands, her tone of voice rough and unwelcoming.
“I, um, I want to ask you a question,” I stutter, taken aback by her abruptness.
She stares belligerently at me, but doesn’t say a word. It’s unnerving.
“I, ah, don’t know what to do with my life,” I finally say. Even to my own ears it sounds pathetic, coming out with a slight whine.
She shrugs and picks up a chocolate wrapper tangled in seaweed.
“It doesn’t matter what you do,” she says with an air of finality.
“What do you mean?” I say. “Of course it matters. I don’t want to waste my life. I want to make sure I use it well.”
“If you already know the answer why ask me?” she says, and shows her missing teeth in what could be a smile. Or a snarl.
“Cause I don’t know what to do,” I repeat, more than a little frustrated.
“What do you want?” she demands again.
“I want you to tell me…” suddenly it dawns on me “Oh! You mean, what do I want? Like in life?”
A glint shows in her eyes, and I wonder if she’s making fun of me.
“I want to have spirit in my life” I say “I want more than just the mundane. I want to feel love.”
“So how you gonna do that?” she asks. I sigh. The oft repeated question, seemingly with no answer.
“Where is your spirit?” she asks, lifting up the flap of her rucksack, and rustles through the garbage. “Here? No.” She looks behind me. “Oh, there it is! No, sorry, my mistake, that was a seagull.” She roars with laughter, sounding like a rusty gate.
“Where would your spirit be then, eh?“ she asks. I shrug, feeling hopeless.
“Is it in the ocean?” she asks gently. I shield my eyes against the glare off the water, and not for the first time, marvel at the beauty of it’s azure blue depths. The sound of the waves fills my ears and the salt smell permeates my nostrils.
“Yes, it’s in the ocean” I say.
“Is it in the shells?” she asks.
I look down, and at my feet are a thousand tiny, perfectly formed shells. Each one exquisitely designed, each pattern different, each shell a world unto itself. I think about how many tiny sea creatures had toiled away to make these shells, then discarded them without ever recognising their extraordinary beauty. An act of love.
“Yes, in the shells” I say.
“Is it in the sky?” she asks pointing upwards. I tilt my head back, and see the mother of pearl sky, blending seamlessly with the palest of blues. And in the west, the brilliant reds and oranges of sunset. My eyes drift down, where the peculiar quality of the light makes the sand the palest of yellows, and the foliage in the sand hills, the duskiest of greens. It’s all so perfectly arranged, like a master painter has been here.
“Yes,” I murmur. “It’s in the sky.”
“It’s in beauty” she says. “But life isn’t all beauty. Practice seeing spirit in other things.” She turns away.
“Especially in people,” comes her voice, muffled by the crashing of the waves.
“Wait!” I call. “What’s your name?”
She pauses and turns back.
“Dumpy,” she says, then turns away again. I can see her shoulders shaking as she shuffles through the sand, and suspect she’s laughing.