Susan, Do You Love Me?
Susan Pevensie sat tensely in the front row of a van, staring forlornly out the window as the vehicle bumped along a dusty rut in the Serengeti National Park. She had no idea why she'd agreed to go along with this wild little adventure, but she was here and she could hardly turn back now.
The other passengers in the van were her friends: Robert, her boyfriend, sat next to her. In the seats directly behind them was Mary, a secretary at the office where Susan worked as a paralegal, and Mary's husband John, a police officer. Sitting in the back was Alice, a rich girl whom Susan had become friendly with in recent years, and Alice's beau, Joe. Their driver and guide was a Kenyan man named Samuel.
It had been a year since a terrible train wreck had killed everyone that Susan really loved and ever since then she'd live in an agony beyond compare. She wasn't the same girl that she'd had been before the accident, but how could she be? Everyone she loved had died in the most horrible way imaginable and she was left with only her memories…but then, her memories were often what hurt the most.
Following the accident, she'd run as fast as she could into the arms of her new friends, the ones that she'd acquired upon entering into adulthood. Those were the people that surrounded her now.
Robert had been her boyfriend for several years, but their relationship had always been rocky and he'd often clashed with her siblings. In the beginning, she'd almost broken it off after he made derogatory comments about Lucy, but in the end, she'd gone back to him. Robert was the one who'd arranged this African trip, having grown tired of Susan's grief. He wanted his party girl back.
Her brothers and sister—and even Cousin Eustace and Aunt Polly—had said that he was to brash and arrogant for her, and while Professor Kirke and Jill never spoke out against her choice, she could easily tell that they didn't approve. Susan, however, had been drawn to Robert's confidence; it made her feel confident as she moved about in the adult world that she'd suddenly found herself in. If the others wanted to hang on to their childhoods, that was their business, but she'd wanted to move on to the next phase of her life.
Still, she valued their opinions and it hurt that they hadn't approved of her choice.
Mary and John were older than the crowd Susan generally ran with, but they were good reliable people and Susan felt protected when she was with them. If she'd had too, she'd say that Mary and John had become like Professor Kirke and Aunt Polly to her, but without all the baggage of having known Susan since she was a girl.
The older couple had been her rocks since the accident, always seeming to show up when something needed doing or when she simply needed a shoulder to cry on. They'd even invited her to their church on a number of occasions, but Susan hardly ever accepted; the church had a way of making her feel regretful, and who wants to feel like that?
Alice was a nice well-meaning girl but, in Susan's mind, a little airheaded. It was Alice's confidence and suave in society that had attracted the beautiful eldest Pevensie daughter to befriend her, and that had overshadowed everything that Susan found annoying about her.
Joe, Alice's newest beau, was a kind man, and although Susan didn't know him well, she was pleased to find that Alice seemed a little less airheaded when she was around him. She fervently hoped that the two of them would stay together.
Now, Robert leaned over and patted her knee, hissing, "Cheer up, Susie. I didn't bring you all the way to Africa so that you could mope around here the way you do in London."
Susan ignored him, staring straight ahead. She saw the faces of her family and friends rather than the giraffes grazing on acacia trees or the black rhino and its calf nosing at the dusty earth. Robert knew very well that today was the first anniversary of the worst day of her life and she certainly wasn't going to make a scene in front of everyone.
"Are you certain that I can't shoot the rhinos, Sam?" Robert complained, after realizing that Susan wasn't going to pay attention to him. He stared longing out the window at the pair.
"As certain as I am that I'm driving this van, sir" Samuel answered, as if he'd heard the same complaint every day of his life, "The rhinoceros is endangered, sir."
"Such a pity," Robert mused, without sympathy, "Imagine how that thing would look on my wall at home."
"John would have to arrest you, if you killed an endangered species, Robbie," Alice giggled.
"Actually, I don't have jurisdiction in Africa," John answered calmly, "But I'm sure Samuel would have to call the authorities."
"You wouldn't do that, would you, Sam?" Robert asked aghast.
"I'd only call if you pulled the trigger, sir."
"Well, no matter," Robert shrugged nonchalantly, "As long as I can get a lion." His voice grew more animated as he talked on, "That's what I really want, you know—imagine locking my sight on the King of Beasts and then BLAM!"
"Eh, Susie?" What do you say?" He continued, bumping her ribs with his elbow, "Your man taking down the King of Beasts? Eh? You'd like that, won't you?"
Susan threw him a glare, but remained silent.
"That means no, Robbie," Alice translated.
"I know what it means, Alice."
Alice rolled her eyes at the back of his head, but Joe bumped her side.
"Leave it alone, Ali," he murmured.
"Alright." She patted his cheek.
"Well, I'm having such a wonderful time," Mary said, trying to change the subject, "I remember visiting India when I was a little girl. My father was stationed there with the Army and mother and I visited once. I got to see so many strange sights—I'll never forget it. That's one reason that I wanted to come here so badly—to compare and contrast, if you will."
"It's the most expensive comparison study that I've ever been on," John joked, smiling good-naturedly, "But, I'm glad Susan included us."
Mary swatted his leg playfully, "Johnny, you know very well that I'm here first and foremost for Susan."
I'm glad you and John came too," Susan replied quietly, rousing herself enough to encourage this change in conversation.
"Is it true," Joe asked, trying to be helpful, "That Asian elephants are smaller than the ones in Africa?"
"Oh my, yes!" Mary excitedly embraced his question. "And the females don't have tusks either."
"So when will I get my lion?" Robert asked loudly, disliking the fact that he didn't know anything about the subject being discussed.
For a moment, Susan wanted to punch him, but she restrained herself. Perhaps Peter had been right when he'd told her that a man like Robert didn't deserve her.
Her eyes misted again as her family and friends passed through her mind. She ducked her head, not wanting the others to see her crying, but she felt Mary's gentle hand on her shoulder and knew she'd been caught. She squeezed the older woman's hand behind her back, acknowledging the comfort without turning around.
Samuel answered Robert's question, "There's a spot nearby where a particularly large pride hangs out. They have several big lions, so you won't do harm by taking one. We should be to it in another twenty minutes or so, sir."
"Twenty minutes?" Robert groused, "That's not what I would call nearby."
Samuel laughed good-naturally, as if that kind of complaint was completely normal in his line of work.
"The ground is rough, sir," he reminded his grumpy guest, "I must drive slowly or I'll overturn us and we'd have to walk back to the lodge." He was quiet for a moment, then added, "The Serengeti isn't friendly at night, sir. I don't wish to walk back."
Susan wanted to roll her eyes, but again she restrained herself, preferring not to give her insolent boyfriend's behavior any acknowledgement. Self-control was a characteristic that she'd taught herself in her childhood and it had remained with her, even as she'd transformed herself to live in an adult world.
They rode on in silence for several minutes, staring out across the beautiful vast vistas, each lost in their own thoughts. Only Susan consciously realized that they were quiet because any time anyone started a conversation, Robert would butt in with whatever he wanted to talk about. She wished, for everyone's sake, that he would change his behavior, but speaking out would only cause a scene and accomplish nothing.
Again she wondered why she'd latched on to him. Had she really needed him to teach her the rules of society? Her brothers and sister, along with the others, had insisted that she herself should be the one to teach society how to behave, but she'd been fearful when she'd attended her first society party.
Still…why on earth had she chosen to pair up with the jerk seated beside her?
Thinking back, she remembered many an argument with her siblings upon returning home after a date with Robert, whether it was late at night or early in the morning. Only now could she see clearly that her loved ones were right, but how could she go back? The world that she'd created for herself was all that she had left. Her family, her friends, they were all buried in the ground.
She trembled as a wave of regret washed over her. All of her loved ones had perished in that train wreck. Shouldn't she have perished too? Why was she left to carry on alone? She couldn't help but to feel like she'd missed something. Her whole family had died…but not her. It made no sense.
It was memories like this that made her look back and consider the events that had led up to that day.
They'd been playing that childish Narnia game in the weeks that led up to the day of the accident and all of them had said that Narnia needed them. Peter and Edmund had gone to retrieve some old rings that Professor Kirke and Aunt Polly had buried when they were children, and the others were to meet them at the train station. Then, using the rings, they would try to return to Narnia—the land of their childhood. Her parents just happened to be on the same train.
Susan had, as usual, tired of their childishness. She'd left the house in a huff, desperate to get away from them. They were all adults—just like her. Even Eustace and Jill—never mind Professor Kirke and Aunt Polly—were too old for the Narnia game. Why couldn't they lay that land aside as she had done?
She'd heard of the accident while shopping for an upcoming party and had hurried home, hoping that they had gotten back before the terrible crash. No one was home and, after several days of hearing nothing from them, she'd finally conceded that they had indeed perished. The hardest part was when she'd been called to identify what was left of their bodies. Those images were ones that she would take to her own grave.
"Oh, wow! He's huge," Robert's voice jerked her harshly back to the present and she quickly threw her attention in the direction that he was pointing.
What she saw took her breath away.
Spread out under an acacia tree, sleeping on a rock platform, lay a magnificent lion; one gigantic paw covered his nose and his great golden mane shimmered in the sun. He seemed blissfully unaware that he was the subject of an assassination plot.
"And you're certain that I can have him?" Robert questioned Samuel, gazing rabidly at the beast.
"Yes, sir," Samuel answered easily, "If you want him, all you have to do is hit the target."
"Oh, I won't miss him," Robert assured everyone, fumbling with excitement as he loaded his rifle.
"If you did, you'd be a terrible shot," Alice put in.
"I won't miss, Alice." Robert retorted hotly, then he angrily shoved the door open and climbed out.
"Don't slam the door, sir," Samuel warmed just before the door slammed. The guide cringed as the loud noise caught the pride's attention. They became restless with unease.
Everyone watched when the formally snoozing lion slowly opened his eyes. He didn't move, but stared at them unafraid through deep bronze-colored eyes.
Susan's gasped, shocked by a sudden image that flashed through her mind.
It was the image of a Lion, one far larger and far more magnificent than the one here in Africa, bound and muzzled with horrible ropes that cut into His flesh, making His blood run. His mane was ragged, having just been hacked off, and great hunks of its golden richness lay strewn in every direction. Wild fantasy creatures shirked and crawled over and around Him with evil delight and ghostly-white moon hung suspended in the black sky above Him.
She thought that the Lion had a perfect right to swat those evil creatures who took such delight in His suffering, but then shook her head, trying to return to reality. What a silly thing imagine at midday, she thought, shivering as the haunting cries of evil rang in her ears.
The lion on the rock in front of the van continued to stare at them, completely oblivious to the fact that his murder was at hand. The only thing stopping Robert from taking aim was the fact that he too was mesmerized by the lion's great size and deep eyes.
Those deep eyes…they stirred something in Susan. She knew that she'd seen them before, but her heart broke when she tried to remember where, and she, as she'd trained herself to do, quickly fled from those thoughts. She'd come to Africa to get away from painful memories, not try to dig them up.
Finally, Robert recovered from his awe and raised his rifle. The sun glinted off the hard steel, flashing light in Susan's eyes.
She half-screamed as the image of a knife flashed in the night, then plunged into the Lion's body. Clamping a hand over her mouth, she was terrified that her scream had been heard by one of those crazy evil fanciful creatures that crowded around His body.
"Susie!" Robert whirled around with a furious glare, "You know how much I want a lion head for my collection! You're spoiling the whole reason for being here."
"I thought we were here to make Susan feel better after the year that she's had," Alice said.
"Sorry," Susan answered meekly, having been forcefully returned to the present, "I-I don't know what came over me."
"I'll tell you what came over you," Robert growled, unable to forgive. He took a step toward her, pointing angrily, "You've wanted to ruin my hunt ever since I invited you, haven't you? I tell you, Susie, after the way you've been treating me this past year—"
"Now, just a minute," Robert," John interjected sharply, "I hardly think—"
"Get back in the truck!" Samuel's voice rose above the argument.
He was the only one paying attention to the pride now and he saw their agitation. He raved the engine as Robert quickly scooted back into his seat and slammed the door. Soon they were bumping across the grass at a high rate of speed.
"We'll talk about this later," Robert whispered harshly.
Susan glared back, pressing her lips together. She didn't need to say anything; her look was more than enough.
"Can we go back to the lodge?" she asked Samuel, almost apologetically.
"I think that's best," he replied, sound miffed for the first time, "I've never guided a group like the six of you before."
It was the first harsh thing that he'd said all day and Susan was sorry that they'd upset him.
As they rode along in stormy silence, her mind floated back to the image of the Lion bound on the rock. What was it about that image that she found so attractive?
She retired to bed early, having taken all that she could decently take of Robert's humiliations. He just wouldn't let it go that he didn't get his lion and he wouldn't acknowledge that she had a perfectly good reason for being downcast today. Lying in bed, she grumpily berated herself again.
Could you not find anyone better than him?
She longed to call her brothers and let them have it out with him, but she knew it was too late for that. A sob found its way past her stoic lips as she remembered how much they'd longed to punch him in the mouth…and, undoubtedly more. How stupid she'd been to not let them.
She pulled the cool sheets over her body and, with relief, relished the light breeze that blew through the window. The difficult day had made her weary and she longed to fall asleep and thus, for a time, be rid of the pain that had become her everyday reality. She only hoped that her dreams would give her peace.
She found herself walking along a cold storm-swept beach. On one side, huge frothing waves pounded the sandy shore and on the other was a dark menacing forest. Beneath her feet, thousands of pieces of driftwood pierced her bare feet and above her head bright flashes of lighting cut jagged streaks across the dark cloudy sky. Thunder rang in her ears and bitterly cold rain soaked her to the bone. As she wrapped her arms around herself, trying to stay warm, she noticed a small flat treeless island amidst the raging waves, its tall grass bending low in the gale.
Great, she thought, acknowledging the fact that she was dreaming, just where I want to be. There's a raging ocean on one side and a haunted-looking forest on the other. This isn't the peace that I was hoping to find in dreamland.
It's just like my life, she continued thinking. I wish circumstances were different, but there not and I can't change them.
Suddenly a great shadow rose up behind her and she whirled around, fearing that, with her luck, some horrible creature was about to attack. Instead she saw Him—the Lion that had been bound in ropes that afternoon. Now, standing before her, He was free from His muzzle and the harsh ropes and His great mane was completely intact, shimmering with light as it rolled in the furious wind. His solemn eyes were laughing with delight at the sight of her.
Recognizing Him immediately, as one would recognize a dear old friend whom they've failed to keep in touch with for a number of years, guilt hit her fully in the face, buckling her knees. How could she stand before Him, after all she'd done?
He stared back, His expression as loving and stern and peaceful as she remembered it. She couldn't fathom why He'd come to her after all the years she'd spent denying Him and not living in a way that pleased Him. She felt like a piece of scum before Him.
Then He spoke to her.
"Come, Queen Susan,"
His command was clear and gently and, somehow, it strengthened her knees, enabling her to stand upright. She trotted toward Him instinctively, as if her body remembered to obey Him, even as her mind whirled with grief and guilt.
"Welcome, beloved!" He laughed happily, genuinely pleased when she reached out to stroke His velvety muzzle. He nuzzled His nose against her hand, relishing her cold touch caressing His face as much she was happy to be warmed and protected by His presence.
Still, questions persisted in her mind.
"Why did you send me away?" she asked, wanting to feel this kind of comfort every day, "I can't be with you in my own world."
"Have you forgotten that I'm in your world too?"
"You told Peter and I—then Ed and Lu later on—that we're too old to return to Narnia," she countered, "I thought that you meant for us to lay that land aside and grow up."
He answered patiently, "Beloved, I never meant for you to forget Narnia or the lessons you learned there. Indeed the lessons you learned in Narnia are meant to be learned in every world. I meant for you children to keep the lessons you learned there in your hearts and teach them to your own world."
"The others did, you know," Susan answered wistfully, "They lived everyday as if they were still in Narnia—they didn't forget your ways. I watched from afar, and enjoyed my memories when I watched them, but I didn't practice living like a Narnian, and now I've forgotten how."
A sob rose in her throat. "I'm sorry, Aslan," she whispered, "I've forgotten so much. How can I go back now? Everyone is gone—dead. There is no one to teach me again."
"I am not gone," He answered, "And I have conquered death—do you remember?"
A light flicked in her eyes, "Yes!"
Then, more hesitantly, she added, "Do you mean to help me remember?"
He turned His face toward the stormy sea, gazing across to the island. "Come," He told her, "Let's spend time together again."
Her eyes widened. Accomplished swimmer that she was, she knew that she'd sink in such ferocious waves.
"Dear, Aslan," she gasped, "I can't swim in this storm."
"No," He replied, "You can't, but I didn't ask you too."
"Didn't you know that I can walk on water, beloved?"
Her eyes widened, as He finished.
"I have even done so in your own world—come, ride on my back again tonight."
Questions again rose in her mind; she felt so unsure. She still couldn't believe that He'd come to her? Was He really willing to forgive all that she'd done…or perhaps, more importantly, all that she hadn't done?
He was crouched in the sand, waiting for her, and she obediently eased herself onto His great golden mass, not forgetting to remember that the last time she'd done this, Lucy had been sitting in front of her.
He walked confidently out onto the huge waves and her doubts began to ebb again. She was with Him and He would protect her. She knew that. They moved out onto the sea and the great rolling swells were crushed under the weight of His mighty paws. The sea grew calmer with each step He took.
With that backdrop, Susan realized that it would be logical for all her questions and fears to simply evaporate, but this was not the case. The old worries that had, moments ago, begun to disappear were now reappearing. She simply had more questions for Him.
They reached the island and she slid off His back. Kneeling humbly in the grass as He towered over her, she asked, "How can you teach me in my own world? I mean, I know you're there, but…"
"I have a different form in your world,." He answered, ever patient, "I don't look like a Lion there, but you will know me because I am who I am in every world."
"And if I need you, how will I find you? In Narnia, I had my Horn—"
"Susan, Susan, don't you know that your Horn isn't necessary? It never was, beloved, not even in Narnia. You can call me anytime and find me instantly. I will always come."
"My Horn wasn't ever necessary?" Susan questioned, appalled. She'd treasured her Horn. It gave her a sense of peace in troubled times.
"No, beloved. Father Christmas gave it to you when you came into that world because you were a child and you needed it to help you grow. As you grew up, you learned the lesson that the Horn taught you—that is to trust that I hold everything in my paws and I will send you help whenever and wherever you need it—and thus, you ceased to need it."
He finished explaining, His voice a soft rumbling purr, "I sent you back to your own world for the last time because you'd learned everything that you needed to know about myself and I needed you—and the others—to help your world to grow and know me as well as you had grown to know me."
"But I blew it, didn't I?" Susan said softly, "The others—they understood—but not I. I just mess up my whole purpose for being sent back."
"There's time for you to do what I've called you to do, beloved," He reminded her, "I haven't call you to be with me, and the others, in my own country yet because I still have work for you to do."
"And what work is that?"
"I want you to tell everyone about me."
"But, dear Aslan, they won't believe me. Why, I've even gone so far as to deny that I knew you."
"Do you love me, Susan?"
"Then only love everyone as I have loved you and then all peoples will know that you are mine."
She had one more question, but she didn't dare ask it. It was at the root of her deepest pain, yet she couldn't find the strength to ask. Finally, all in a rush, she blurted out, "Will I see them again, Aslan?"
"Yes, beloved, one day."
Susan woke up the next morning with a sense of renewed purpose and hope. Her deep pain hadn't gone away, but she found that she was strong enough to bear it and even look beyond it, to a future filled with happiness.
She yawned and stretched her arms as far as they would go, then flipped the curtain aside and peered outside. The sunrise was a soft pink and golden hue and fog blew lazily around the buildings. Looking out at the wilds of Africa, she did something that she hadn't done in years; she smiled the determined smile of a Queen who was heading into a meeting with an enemy audience.
She knew that the work ahead of her wouldn't be easy, but today was the perfect day to begin the work that her Lord had for her to do.
Somewhere, far in the distance, Susan heard a mighty Lion roar.