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A tale of reconciliation
This is a bad book. Don´t read it if you can help it. It is about bombing a country. What country? USA. Who is bombing it? You are. How can that be? In your dreams. What are the bombs made of? They are made of fear. Whose fear? Your own. How can I avoid bombing my own country? You can´t. You said it happens in dreams when I sleep, what if I don´t fall asleep? You can´t avoid falling asleep, and even if you could, wouldn´t your nightmares harass you while you are awake?
Who are the characters in this story? There are no characters. What then? Only fear, fear under different names. Fear, what of? Of yourself. Is it possible to live in fear? No, it is not. Can I escape fear? I don´t know.
The dreams were certainly terrible. The pilots, anonymous, masked, came down, down, to the core of the cities and there they gently dropped their bombs not minding, minding, anyone. Who were behind those masks? I don´t know. But in my dreams I saw them and I wanted to tear those masks off, but I couldn´t. The planes came down whirling, whirling down and they opened their mouths to utter mortal silence, syllables of mortal silence each bomb.
It was peculiar, awesome, that my dreams were absolutely silent, but that silence of the bombs was the worst of all. Not a sound, not a noise, not a whisper, not even blood or tears or cries from the victims: just that deep, outlandish silence that meant death, much more than death, and filled the air. Much more than death: those are the very words. The horror of it, the impossible made real: planes bombing the USA, every night in my dreams. Making the land into an immense grave, vast, sad, sorrowful, hopeless. I woke up in tears, in horror, every dawn. I was afraid to go to sleep, every night. Every night the same dark mare riding my unruly, subjected soul. I couldn´t bear it any more.
I went to the doctor the very next day. I told him about my dreams. As I was talking I was conscious of something odd about him. I felt he knew what I was telling him about. Yes, he knew about my nightmares even before I mentioned the falling bombs. And I noticed something else too, I knew he was afraid. He said nothing. He listened to me nervously twisting his pen between his fingers, as if he just didn´t know how to react or what to do or say. So I fell silent too, waiting for him. Waiting for him to do God knows what. So there we were both of us, just like a long, unending moment of silence. At last he said meekly as if he didn´t dare to speak louder for fear of being overheard: I know about your dreams. I am having them myself. Try these pills but I don´t know if it will work.
I left with a feeling of oppression and ill foreboding and went home.
I saw some children playing along the pavement, the area was strangely lonely that hot summer day; there should have been more colour or sound at that hour, I thought. Even the children didn´t seem very keen on their game. I stopped my car by the kerb and went into the chemist´s. I handed the pharmacist the doctor´s prescription and he looked at me with a knowing look and said: I´ll go and get the last ones left. Well, by the time I got home it was nearly dark. The evening had passed softly, silently, driving me home along lonely roads; I had driven leisurely too, as if the evening and I had a secret agreement to nonchalantly while away the time doing nothing, trying to do nothing, trying not to have to get home. As I passed the detached houses, the sunny sleepy lawns and newly painted picket fences, I felt I was watching something old, some scene from a distant world that soon would be no more. Only then, before my eyes, was this dreamy bubble of the present spreading its unreal spell of mystery and endangered beauty. A bubble sucked up in its own magic, unable to hold its place in reality for long; a bubble that, notwithstanding its pristine source, could explode any moment swallowing up, bringing havoc to, the tiny endless world.
I opened the door and went into the kitchen. I picked up the phone and listened for any messages. John had phoned, said he would call back. I called him. He wasn´t at home. I went into the living room, the last rays of the slanting sun through the Venetian blinds quietly filled the room. There I was, soon it would be dark. I switched on the TV to watch the news, but it seemed odd, queer, I got the feeling they were not telling the truth, more or less as always, not quite so this time, a little different feeling; as if there was something missing, something left out on purpose or,
what was more worrying, half-consciously hidden: as if no one dared. No one dared to even whisper a word about who knows what. I was there, all alone, alienated from my real feelings and apprehensions by that alien face on the TV screen which I felt was alien to his real feelings too. Well, perhaps I was becoming a little too nervous and jerky. I switched off the telly. I was more lonely now but safer, not so much that self with the TV on, whom I didn´t seem to trust at all. The living-room was dark and me wide awake, as keen as an owl, but unlike him, not hunter, but prey to the night. I felt I couldn´t face it, there all by myself, going to bed again, trying to reach the shores of sleep, reaching for them... only to find that horrifying nightmare of bombing once again my country, my friends, my fellowcitizens, the trees and lakes and mountains I dearly loved; I couldn´t face the anguish of bombing ourselves, our world, again and again. With a slight feeling of liberation and also of quiet despair I left the house. I didn´t want to be at home. No safety there: all alone in my bed, trying to reach an impossible peace. I had forgotten about the pills I had got, I hadn´t even thought about them for a moment, they seemed ridiculous, part of the TV news too. I went out and began walking. I didn´t know where to go. I was going nowhere. I was walking aimlessly, without a purpose; just to be a little far from the longed for and frightening sleep did me good. I passed houses, gardens, lanes, squares, benches, and then I began to notice. Lights in the houses were on, you could hear the TVs purring sleeplessly on; there should have been silence and dark, as every other night, but no. Beds were not being slept in. I began to meet people on the street. Some were walking like me, some were sitting on benches, some on the front-lawns, some on the kerbs. Most were all by themselves, some, in twos or threes, talked a little but in
low voices, as if sharing a mystery, nobody had a smile on their face. All eyes were like mine, wide awake. Then it was that I met John. He was sitting on a bench at N. Boulevard and I sat down with him.
-What is happening? I asked him. Why all these people around? -You know as well as I do, he said. They can´t sleep, they are afraid, like you and me, and they are here trying to escape. We all are having the same nightmare, we are afraid. His frankness overwhelmed me. I was suddenly astounded at the situation, as if recognizing it aloud made it an altogether different fact. Then it was real, our dreams had come true, inexorably and unpredictably true. We were being bombed in our dreams and that was destroying our real lives. -Pills can´t do anything, John continued in his dry, strangely comforting matter-of-fact tone of voice. You take them, you fall asleep, sound asleep as it were, yet the bombing is as deep as your sleep and gets you there, at the bottom of the sea, where you dreamed you would be most safe. No wall can prevent those bombs from breaking into the deepest corners of your mind, of anybody´s mind. I´ve talked to many and they all say the same: pills are no use. Everybody is beginning to confess. At first, it was too horrible even to admit the agony of the every nightly bombings. But now to talk about it brings no cure, only you know you are not alone, and we´ll see if that is not worse in the end. -But the TV isn´t saying a word about it, I said. -It´s too bad to say. -Well, we´ll see. -Yes.
I didn´t see John for a few days. But I saw other things instead. People looked positively ill, they wandered about in the streets, looking pale, haggard, aimlessly looking anywhere; a silent desperation had taken hold of them. Children, and this was most horrible, were affected too. Old men and women were the worst of all, they cried, they hid their faces and cried. The streets were full of people unable to sleep, not daring to go to bed, wakeful souls lying on the grass, or in strange, silent processions to no shrine or altar. People couldn´t sleep, they couldn´t rest, they couldn´t work. Little by little everybody was tired out, exhausted, haunted by the prospect of being bombed again and again when you most needed rest. Offices were empty, shop assistants didn´t go to work, policemen were the most afraid, shops and supermarkets were being broken into daily and pillaged. Yes, it was so, our country was falling apart. Everything was broken, souls first. And then all the rest.
The TV didn´t say a word, radio stations were silent: some of them kept broadcasting music without comments. One lonely day, all days were lonely, though everybody was hand in hand in the boulevards, parks, and streets, like ghostly silhouettes with no light in them, reminding me of some of Doré´s Inferno engravings- one lonely day as I was walking down a lane, from an open window there came the sound of a song on the radio: yes, it was “Blowing in the wind”. Snatches of it floated in the empty air, filling the alley and the sky overhead with its odd singsong, and yet, sad and melancholy as the prophecy of the litany was, it seemed to come from a forgotten paradise, pure and serene, to lightly touch the rough shore of my world, and I cried then.
Then one day, the radio and TV began to speak. They acknowledged the “difficulties” “some people” were having in sleeping. They advised those with this problem to visit the hospitals and clinics and also some Special Centres where they would be conveniently treated. The news told the people not to be alarmed, and that scientists were working on the matter, so it was not necessary to fret, let alone panic, over it; everything was under control. The result of this announcement was that hospitals and clinics were flooded with the massive arrival of nightmarish patients and you couldn´t see so many vacant silhouettes on the streets. Rumours began to spread too. It was said that many people who had gone to the Special Centres had vanished, disappeared, been sucked up. You just couldn´t find or contact any of them, however hard you tried. No trace of them, in the Special Centres no sound information about them. So panic began to mount again. This time worse, as people began to realize that it was no use being under the Government´s protection. Then dead men and dead women began to be seen anywhere: on the pavements, on the park-benches, under solemn big trees. People who had died, literally, of not being able to get a wink´s sleep; not only that: the constant exposure to the anguish and fear the coming night brought under its cloak, ravaging your body and mind. Death from heart attacks, from mental stress; not being able to see an end to it all, a way out of this recurring horror: being bombed by something one thousand times worse than real bombs: Nightmarish bombs that went down, down, into the inmost recesses of your being, waking up unspeakable fears, unheard of terrors, guilt and dark corridors of the collective and individual memories, suspicions and cruelties
perpetrated or imagined or hinted at by dubious facts, dangerous associations of the unstable mind, everything was working over you and under you, in you, in you, deep inside you. And you were there, helpless, no friend was of any avail, the State was shit, the pills were shit, doctors were affected by the bombing too. Death was the way out. So people began to die, massively, openly and privately, unlimited death. No sleep, no peace, then the peace of death. The longed for, possible and safe Peace of Death. Many died of fear, horror, over exhaustion, heart attacks. Many took their lives, suicide was so desirable, so comforting.
A few of us were specially afraid, peculiarly scared. We: that´s a few friends or almost or more than that. John and me and a couple from California, and a few kids. But by the way we exchanged looks, by the way we looked at one another, you could have said that there gleamed somewhere inside us some kind of helping spark, some kind of mysterious way.
One very noticeable thing I don´t know if many had realized at all was how few blacks had been affected. Really it was very difficult to find a black woman or man suffering from the “disease”. Sometimes you caught sight of some of them, but on the whole, this part of the population seemed rather unblemished, unscathed. Very few Orientals, very few or none of the North American Indians had been seen suffering from our illness. Yes, this is the first time I used this word: “our”. It made you think, it made me wonder, that this could be a whites´ problem, an illness of the whites. What did it mean, what was behind it? What was lurking behind this mostly whites´ horror?
Who were the pilots driving those stubborn planes, those malign aircraft deep-seated in evil? Masked they had been so far. But now they began to conjure up visions, to conjure up lineaments and features under their black masks. Who were behind them? I needed to see the pilots, I wanted to see them, face to face. I was totally scared. I spoke with John. John didn´ t know either, but he had wondered, yes, he had seen some dying men´s eyes. He had listened to their confused stammering and horrified babbling. He had some vague guesses, yes. He was afraid too, mortally afraid. But he needed to know, just like me, just like everybody else. Oh no, not in the least like everybody else.
Who were we expecting to see? Who could be there, in the cockpits, well protected, self-assured, heartless but not mindless, hating with a subdued, cold hatred, almost natural, so frightening?
Who would be there going down the deep ravines of our old half-committed sins and digging them up to torment us, leaving us gaping blankly at ourselves? We were expecting to see blacks, yellows, browns, the ghosts and grandsons of the extinct native North American Indians, the unborn seeds and inheritors of all the Vietnamese that had been napalmed and ground to dust, to pulp, to mingle again with the jungle as if they should never have come to life. Yes, I was expecting to see Iraqis, and Arabs, unheard of hosts of old ghosts riding those everlasting planes scudding through our muddled brains.
Fury and ravenous madness driving down on us, claiming vengeance, those that were and had been hurt and raped by all the KuKlux-Klans of the world: those were the faces I expected to see.
But I was not destined to such a lucky fate. It was not them who I saw. It was ourselves. Oh Christ, it was ourselves. No black, angry faces behind the masks, no Iraqis, no dangerous Arabs or communists or whatever you, at one moment or another, had been led to hate. No, as they kept coming, kept coming towards me I ripped off the silent masks and it was me there. Oh horror. I was the pilot, and no one else, no doubt whatsoever, no double playing tricks on me. It was me. And behind all the masks I pulled down I saw ourselves, my father and mother, my friends, distant relatives, old acquaintances, my grandpa and granny, my teachers too. At that moment all the masks began falling of their own mute and desolate accord. My college mates, the neighbour next door, the gardener and carpenter, actors and senators, Congressmen and Presidents, the bootblack and the developer, the estate agent and the bankers, big-mouthed
philosophers, hypocrites and sorcerers, priests and buffoons, squealers and blacklegs, pimps and dunces, sweet venomous Polonios and jewelled, soft skinned Lady Macbeths, greedy, murderous generals, dumbfounded mishandled and astutely manipulated good old boys, boisterous veterans of all the wars and no peace at all. Stupid beginners blindly following their blown up conceited leaders; the ghastly Cavalcade, the foul, intoxicating Procession went on parading in my mind. It seemed to have no end. I was utterly silent, it seemed as if I would never have a mouth, a tool to articulate sounds or thoughts ever again. I looked at John, and he at me. Yes we knew at last. The young man and the young woman from the West and the teenagers knew as
well. We were there, on the grey grass, strickendown, forlorn, at the end of the day.
Half awake, half dazed, I came to some place beyond the world´s end. I looked aghast around me, inside me, corpses and a distant, blue, far off sky, unreachable. A silent wave of emotion engulfed and showed me the new world. I envisioned it all with the purity of the truth I had reached by unmasking the dark riders that had ravaged our days and nights. I wasn´t healed, I wasn´t cured, but I knew who had been bombing me and my friends. It wasn´t anybody but ourselves. Where was the impulse to destroy our own country born from? I knew now, I thought I knew. The fear of what we had done to others during many years, too many generations, the cruelty to others, claimed now their fees. We were the fees. Atonement, expiation: those were the names of the solitary bells ringing in my head, waking me up to the newly revealed part of all of us. We wanted, we needed, terribly enough, to come to terms with our very selves. We needed to square things, to pay off our old and recent debts, to reach a compromise and be able to be at peace, to begin again. Begin again as corpses? As peaceful dead men and women, silent as graves, lying on the lands of our country, looking with empty eyes and empty minds at the serene sky over our skulls? Yes, we were paying dearly. All this whirling revolution that had cost so many lives, was only a silent reconciliation tale. A tale of reconciliation not only with the others, with everybody else, but with our hearts and souls.
Would any of us get to the other shore? Would any of us survive the revelation of our own true faces and be able to go down into the river Jordan and get a new skin and eyes so as to look calmly at the sun again? Would any of us ever get rid of the terrible nightmare that had pulled down our beautiful White Towers, the Towers of our self-esteem, well-being and self-respect? Now that we had been destroyed, would any of us ever have the power, the faith or purity to rise over the dead and come to life again? Now that we had paid, would we be forever downcast and fallen, living in an agony of terror in this world and the next? Or would we learn? Would we be better, would we become more colourful like the rainbow, not just white like the crazy whale? Would we learn to reach out, to spread our hands to others, to other things, other worlds that were within our own? Spread our hands, not out of despair, but out of recognition and awareness, to touch and caress and fondle what we were: the others that all our mad lives we had been taught to dread and hate. Could we ever find Grace?
We were empty now, like the bottom of a dry sea. Mysteriously, I felt the power of the nightmare was on the wane, or was it just a wish? I felt lighter, slightly relieved of a burden that had been weighing on me since the beginning of the air raids. I left my comrades and I went for a walk. But this was not an escape, some aimlessly drifting into nowhere. Amidst all the debris and the dead, the wreckage and the pain, something inside me had died but I had not died myself. Something within me had burnt and now I felt clear, hopeful. I looked around and I saw all the suffering, the broken down country, yes, but I saw that a few of us had been spared. Lucky we were to have come out to the surface and find the light of a new day.
I felt I was walking on a desolate Earth, but I also sensed that I was walking on some deeper layer I had never before been aware of. I deem there was in me some unforeseen innocence, some unexpected purity, granted to me by I don´t know who or what or where from, but I was alive, lively, reaching out, looking for sunbeams in any creatures, anywhere. I had a renewed sense of brotherhood, a real one. I wished to approach any particles of being with a true sense of fellowship. I came near birds, they were not alien to me; I walked past trees and I timidly touched them as if they too had survived an ordeal and were there to comfort me and say yes to me. I felt an intimacy with clouds and soil, with magpie and robin, with the ones on the Cross and the ones in the Nest. I felt sorrowful and happy at the same time. Was it Grace?
How many would survive? But I had a sacred respect for all those dead bodies lying down peacefully at last. All those dead men and women that right now were being transformed by the Wheel of Changes into nutrients of an ever flowing, obstacle-parrying, new world. I´m no wise man but a thought came to me as I walked about the streets of my city: Perhaps the key was not to lose contact with the deep reality that lay under all the seemingly different aspects of the world. I was in no position to make a happy bet but a feeling of devotion took hold of me instead. Perhaps the keystone of it all was not to exclude anyone or anything from that big, profound core that bathed us all. I walked on about my world, it seemed as if I had never walked before, I saw everything the world contained: the infinite sky of the wide twilight that was coming down one more day over my
neighbourhood, the lost alleys of my childhood opening into the wide avenues of the silent present. The clouds hung over me. Their forms and colour lent a strange vibration to the empty buildings that flanked my slow footsteps. I felt like a speck of dust in that big world. But I was keen and alert, easy in my mind, but also watchful and, as I ambled alone about the deserted boulevards, I was listening to all the things in my world. Listening in silence I heard what every particle of Being had to say. I never tired of walking, I listened to them, all the time, all the time, I listened to them. And so ends this tale, with a one-man Community of listeners in silent conversation with the deep river of our Self. Conversing calmly, calmly hearing the pure waters, peaceful water of our huge, most infinite and radiant, all inclusive, all pervading old river of the Self. John and me, Martha and Mary, Judas and Christ, God and the Devil, and the tearful, hopeful kids, all of us listening, only listening to the softly flowing river, always healing, always whispering, bathing and engulfing us with it, leaving behind our weary feet, reflecting now our calm faces, taking us quietly into the nearest nook beyond the world´s end.
Miguel Ángel Bernat
number of the Intellectual Property Register: M-000620/2008