Those who thought “I don’t see this world way others see it,” are the ones who pushed on evolution. Looking at an ant colony, I see them moving around methodically. They don’t allow the others to die off because they need each other like a small organism that has different parts that move and swell and fade. So when did the first ant decide to pick up a leaf? Or when did the first one grow wings? Why did that ant who grew wings survive? How did it decide it was time to fly away? What was that “stuff” inside that pushed it to grow faster?
She picked up her leather bound journal. She walked. Trying to understand. She spent most of her days doing nothing more than that. Wondering why God has brought her here to this lonely place with Nelson. He spent many days, drawing the beaks of birds and napping along the coastline.
And what did she do? Most days she found the heat unbearable. She learned to cook a few dishes from the locals and sat and read the three books she had brought with her. She had read them enough times that she could close her eyes and recite them from memory, line by line.
In the evenings, they would sit and watch the sunset together, and she would nuzzle her head into the crook of his arm as he stroked her hair and told her about everything he had seen that day. He would talk into the waves about his research, and she would listen and slightly nod, offering an occasional question of which he would always try to answer. He would lean over and kiss the middle of her forehead, and with her eyes closed, she could see a bright white light flash from the point just below her hairline. She would begin to recite to him lines from the latest book she had been reading and use dramatic voices, feeling the rise and fall of his chest when he laughed. When the stars came out, they would build fires from palm leaves and driftwood and nearly fall asleep. The beach became a haven for scorpions and other creatures at night, so they would always retreat to their small cabin to make love, but usually, they would just fall asleep. She would always ask him “What dreams do you think you’ll have?” and then they would play a little game. She would try to think of an object before they fell asleep and see if the other could secretly send the image along while they slept and then check back on their accuracy in the morning. Him, lying on his back and her, curled up like a newborn at his side. They would usually wake up and report that they had had strange dreams, but could never completely communicate what exactly had happened to the other.
Every morning, they rose with the sun, and she would prepare him a cup of coffee in a small tin mug with a red flower on it before he left for the day. He would review his notes, and she would finish making breakfast before he left for the day. Nearly six months of this simple life and she had recorded almost every day in a small pocket calendar she left at her bedside. When she wrote, she imagined addressing writing a note to her mother, asking questions like Are the kittens growing? Has my sister purchased a crib for the baby? The thought of going back to her former world seemed so far into a place unknown; she hardly remembered their old address or the names of her neighbors. Everything there seemed very mundane, and she hardly cared to wonder anymore.
She could not communicate orally to the locals in the village, but that had not stopped her from attempting to socialize. After all, she needed social interaction outside from Nelson. On market day she would see her two close friends. The first, an old man who sat on the side of a linen shop and hummed tunes into an old flute. He had given her one, and they would play together on occasion. At first, he was not the best teacher. He would simply take the flute and rapidly flow into an old folk song he had memorized by heart, nodding to her and expecting her to repeat in turn. But after listening many times, she became fairly nimble with the instrument and came up with some tunes of her own. Before market days, he would always bring her a freshly picked bag of mangos from his orchard, yet she never knew how to express gratitude to the old man that provided for her, unconditionally.
Her second friend was a school-aged boy with a lazy eye who spent his afternoons out of school by the yogurt cart in town with his grandfather. He spent his days drawing pictures of animals on the back of his school primers. One day, she came to buy a cold yogurt and sat with the boy, giving him one of Nelson notebooks he had brought along. She would draw a picture of something and say the word in her native tongue, and he would write the word in his language in return. She had learned quite a lot from him that way, and soon she found herself sitting with him after he had left school, doing homework from the same third-grade textbook he used for class and learning as much as she could. Occasionally, he would give her small gifts – a shiny pebble he had found on the shore or a piece of hard candy, and she would return the favor with a coin or a postcard from home. But her favorite gift of all appeared when she sat next to him, and he handed her a plate of fruit on which he had carved a pineapple into the shape of a small bird sitting on a branch.
Aside from her two local friends, she had befriended another foreigner on the island. She remembered the shock she felt the day at the marketplace when they locked eyes and looked as if the other had seen a ghost. He was an American who had spent two tours fighting in the Persian Gulf War and had come to the island as a way to recover from all of the tragedy he had experienced, and in time married a local from the island. She felt overjoyed and immediately ran back to the house to tell Nelson who she had met. The American came by the next day. It was the first day she had seen her husband take his nose out of his notes and pick up a beer. The three of them talked until the moon rose over the shore. Her heart rejoiced in the male companionship her husband had found. After all, a husband and wife could only keep each other company for so long before they felt as if they were talking into a mirror.
The American told the couple his stories. After two tours in the Persian Gulf, he came back to states to find himself homeless, drinking soup from a tin can he had pulled out of a dumpster until one day a woman from a Catholic charity mission cleaned him up and gave him a place to rest. He did not want to stay in the church for long, for fear of becoming converted, so he found work in a packaging plant and moved into a basement apartment of his own. One night, while walking home after a long night with his drinking buddies, a group of three teenage boys mugged him and broke his right leg, and he found himself out of work again and living off of his unemployment checks. He carted himself to the library on the weekends to an art therapy group reading Paradise Lost and making painted collages.
“Me miserable! Which way shall I fly
Infinite wrath and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep,
Still threat’ning to devour me, opens wide,
To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.”
He decided once he became physically healed he would heal his mind and spirit through travel. He had seen so many men die in the Army that he began to question the purpose of life itself. He wanted to see what was out there beyond the crumbling streets of America and war-torn villages of the Middle East. So after saving up enough for a one-way ticket, he sent himself to Africa, then hitchhiking his way through Asia, and eventually flying to Central America before settling here on the island where he married and built a small home on the side of a mountain. Both she had Nelson were so captivated by his stories that they would invite him to the cabin after his weekly trips to the market for produce. They always promised to go up and see his home, but terrible weather or illness always seemed to prevent them from taking that journey.
One week, while Nelson’s was consumed in his research, she spent some time along with the foreigner. It was then that she began to notice things about him that didn’t seem quite right. He said and did things he had not in the presence of her husband, such as commenting on how overly lavish her clothing was for the island or occasionally brushing his hand along her waistline when he passed her while preparing dinner in the kitchen. One evening while the two were smoking cigarettes on the porch, he pulled out his small sketchpad from his back pocket. “Want to see a picture I drew of my wife?” he asked. He flipped through pages to reveal a picture of a woman with full, round breasts. “Aren’t her eyes so beautiful?” he said as he paused his index finger on the corner of the page.
He began to talk about his wife and his plans to take her back to America with him and show her a civilized life. He expected she would cook and clean for him while he took a job at a financial institution, and put his degree in business to use. He hoped they would try to have children, but had come to suspect that his wife had been drinking some strange type of mountain herb that prevented her from “producing” the heir he desired. She did not understand, for when he drank with Nelson the American could always talk about how he could live forever on this idyllic island of bliss with his wife, and never return to home. When she asked why he never brought his wife along for a visit, he said the journey down the mountain would be too much of a strain on her and hinder her ability to carry his future children.
When Nelson had left for a two-week-long excursion at sea to study the mating patterns of turtles, a terrible storm came to the island. In fear and loneliness of her husband’s return, she invited the American to stay with her for company and protection. He slept on a cot on the floor in the common room and occasionally on the hammock outside when the poor weather subsided. At night, she would sit and with him and chat while sewing and repairing holes Nelson’s torn trousers, sometimes tuning into the news on her AM radio or putting on a record to keep her mind off her longing for her husband’s return. She had stopped drinking and hardly ate more than a few pieces of fruit during the day, yet the knot in her stomach remained. During their evenings together, the American had taken up the habit of drinking vodka straight out of the bottle, chasing it with a beer. One night, the power went out, and she huddled next to him on the porch of their cabin, watching the rain pour mercilessly.
She took his hand in hers. “Tell me that we’ll be okay,” she said.
“Will it be okay?” Tears welled up in his eyes as he told her what he had seen in the military. The hundreds of men coming across his operating table, with missing limbs, open wounds, fractured skulls that revealed the bloody bits of ruptured brains.
“My body, when it dies, it just is gone, nothing else,” he said. His tiny pupils looked at hers as if he was looking into nothingness. “And that terrifies me, death. I don’t know what comes after.”
“There is another side,” she replied. “You know that of course. All of the near death experiences that you hear of, the white light that people see. The way they feel they are floating out of their body, going into heaven’s gate.”
“Once, in Tibet, I witnessed a Sky Burial on the side of a mountain,” he began to speak as if he hadn’t even heard her comment. “I stood 500 meters away while I watched two men take their dead brother and lay him out for a pack of hungry vultures to pick apart. The flesh disappeared in a matter of minutes. All that was a stack of bones. The monk came with a knife and hacked away at the skeleton, then ground the bones into a paste with a motor. I watched the whole thing until nothing remained of the dead man’s body. I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. But I wondered, had they felt invaded by my voyeurism? How would I feel, if these men had come to America, and stood on the sidelines while they watched a priest lower my brother’s coffin into the ground? Maybe they wouldn’t care. According to the Buddhists, death isn’t the end, and we are all reborn. Maybe we are all just a part of the circle of things, and it’s true that a man’s flesh is no more valuable than a vulture’s. He goes to the sky through the belly of the bird until it then too dies, decays, and becomes a part of the endless circle of things once again.”
“Hmmm,” she whispered, “perhaps that’s how we go.”
He took another swig from the bottle.
“When I go, I want to have a party, go out with a bang! You know? Prop me up in bed, give my friends a round of champagne and let them drip morphine into my blood until I take my final breath.”
He pulled out a book of philosophy by Alan Watts from his pocket. She had no idea where the book came from, but she looked at it hungrily, wanting it to satisfy the thirst for knowledge three books she had already eaten could not give her.
“There is a beautiful quote in here that says: ‘I pray that death will not come and find me still unannihilated.’ In other words, man dies happy if there is no one to die, which means the ego has disappeared before death caught up with him. But you see, the knowledge of death helps the ego to disappear because it tells you that you can’t hang on. So what we need is to go out with a bang instead of a whimper.”
She let out a faint weep. The American leaned over on her shoulder, twisting a lock of her hair with his index finger. “Does your husband ever tell you how beautiful your eyes are?” he whispered.
She gently pulled herself away from his soft grasp and swiftly returned into the darkness of the cabin. She curled her knees into her chest under and dragged the thin layer of sheets up and over her ears. She knew in that instant that she did not want to see the American anymore
The American returned to his home on the mountain the following day without a word. Nelson returned from his journey seven days after that. The two of them sat in their usual spot on the shoreline, and he habitually leaned in to kiss her forehead, but this time she could feel the quiver on his lips. Something was not quite right.
“We found a lot about the turtle’s mating habits and even more about their evolution,” he said. “The world needs to know this. It’s time I go back to publish our findings. Can you stay here? And maintain our cabin? As we promised, you know that.”
She nodded. “Of course my love.”
“I will be back in three months, once the committee has approved my second grant.”
She could feel the skin of her breastbone tighten, and she began to curl her knees into her chest. “Yes, of course, my love.” Looking up into his brown eyes, she twisted a lock of his wavy hair, hair that now nearly reached down to his shoulders.
“I may get a haircut while I’m back to,” he laughed, brushing her hand aside. “Will you be okay? Three months alone is a longtime alone for you. Perhaps the American and his wife can come down to keep company.”
“No, no, I don’t think he wants to see me anymore” she replied wanting desperately to tell her husband of their earlier encounter, but she held it in, wondering if such a wife even existed.
“I’ll continue my flute lessons, and I’ve found some new reading material,” she said, forcing a smile. “Just promise me to bring back some books?”
“Of course, my love. I’d bring back the entire bookstore for you.”
The next morning she stood at the shoreline, watching his boat sail away. On the ship, there was life and noise; she saw him searching for her; sorrowfully he gazed at the pearly foam as if he knew she had thrown herself into the waves. She gracefully walked away, and her feet left fresh indentations in the sand, the only mark of life aside from a pack of vultures gnawing on a decaying fish by the jetty. She took a seat on the log by the anthill.
She closed her eyes and pulled out a pocket Bible and opened to a page at random “For when the ear heard, it called me blessed. And when the eye saw, it gave witness of me.”
She lifted her head to the sun, and felt the, for the first time, her eyes filling up with tears.
She was in his thoughts, and the knife trembled in her hands: then she flung it far away from her into the waves; the water turned red where it fell, and the drops that spurted up looked like blood.
Her legs gave way, her limp body becoming one with the sand. She allowed her flesh to be coated by the music of the waves, dissolving into the water from which she had come from and to where her immortal soul would one day return.