I looked around in awe while the company I was with moved with effortless grace, flowing and weaving their movements to match their teachings. There were eight of us who came to these Tai Chi classes and practised together, using our bodies to connect with our spiritual selves. Several months had passed before I’d finally taken Chris’s advice and joined the class. In this room I was a beginner among a team of experts eager to give their time to help with my confidence and development.
As I moved through the form I thought about its origins and wrestled with why I had been so drawn to the art. My parents had laughed at my sudden interest and feared that I was going through a quarter-life crisis of sorts. Other people’s reactions were more mixed, with some leaning forward in their chair, wide-eyed with interest, while others simply stared without expression. None of that mattered, however. I was seeking out Tai Chi because I was almost certain that it was on my path and would lead me closer to the truth.
My instructor was heading towards the end of his thirties and wore his uniform with pride. He was balding and a few inches taller than I was, and was often the most expressive whenever engaged in conversation. I noticed he paused and reflected over a question before giving an answer. In his teachings, though, I felt very much at ease, listening with keen interest while attempting to imitate his movements with little success. I hadn’t been coming to these classes for long but I still didn’t understand what I was trying to achieve.
There were many times where I lost my focus and stepped out a little too far, or moved into the next sequence without following the form correctly. I’d been asked to make my arms flow freely like water and keep my legs rooted to the ground. It had been another example of the ongoing balance of Tai Chi; the synchronicity of Yin and Yang coming together with fluid ease. I was learning the most simplest and natural of acts – I was learning simply how to be. Yet I had never felt so challenged in my life.
Phil smiled at times, though never unkindly. He could tell that I was trying to think my way into the form. I was still doing instead of being, asking more questions and getting fewer answers. Perhaps I reminded him of a much younger version of himself when he had began his own training. My heart wasn’t truly in it yet, and sometimes I’d wander into my thoughts and forget to fully concentrate. Phil knew all of this, I was certain, but he never showed offence or impatience at my ignorance. He simply patted my shoulder with humour in his eyes and showed me the routine once more. Occasionally I showed slow progress.
If I thought that I hadn’t changed before coming to these classes then I was wrong, because after a few lessons I had stopped paying attention to time altogether. While we practised I slowed my thoughts and cared less about trying to take control. I enjoyed the freedom and liberation of simply following the movements. There was an inner-calm within Phil that I was desperate to have for myself, but I knew that I was not even close to that state of mind yet. For now I only had the gift of awareness, and that was enough.
We stopped and returned to our positions, lining up opposite Phil and waiting for our next challenge. I hadn’t spoken much to the others, though they were enthusiastic to teach me their own experiences. Phil studied us all in silence and then placed us into groups. I stepped forwards and shook hands with Tom, a boy my own age.
“Welcome, Jack.” Tom said. He was far more muscular than I was and had black, coarse hair, though there was gentleness in his expression. Next to him was a young woman who looked Malaysian in her features. She was short but carried a presence and introduced herself as Liz.
“Very nice to meet you!” Liz said, smiling brightly. Before I had chance to reply she grabbed my arm and pulled me in closer, pointing towards a man of similar age and with a styled moustache and goatee. “That is my husband Matt, and we’ve been coming here for a long time! You will love it here.”
“Thanks,” I said, laughing embarrassedly. Matt waved over as if it was perfectly natural while the others in the group crossed their arms and chuckled to themselves. Tom said nothing but watched with alertness. Eventually we began to practice the form while the other two watched with interest. Unfortunately, I was the one to go first.
My feet sank into the ground as I put my arms forward and moved into pose. Liz and Tom stood next to me and encouraged me to go on, to pay them no notice. I found it almost impossible to switch off my interior monologue, my agonising self-consciousness; but I slowly pivoted on my right heel and turned in that direction. Next I followed the sequence into left ward off, before then positioning my hands as if I was holding a giant ball. Slowly I fell into the movements and forgot myself.
There was no great epiphany that struck while I acted out the form, though I became aware of a presence all the same. Working through the moves was almost energising and although I didn’t understand it, I knew I was utilising the powers of Chi. For the most part it remained in the background, never interrupting the flow but still travelling seamlessly into my body to raise my spirits. Eventually, after rolling my hands and cupping my elbow, I stopped practising and turned to my classmates with a blank expression. I was beat.
Tom watched serenely, nodding once but keeping his thoughts secret. Liz clapped me on the back and praised my efforts. I was disappointed that I’d forgotten so quickly, but she seemed to pay it no mind and thought progress had been made. Perhaps the aliveness of my eyes told her that I had connected with Chi in some way, and that something had finally clicked after stumbling for so long in the dark. I held onto this thought stubbornly as Tom took his turn and ran through the form for many more minutes, before finally giving up with a shake of his head.
There were more classes across the next month. Sometimes I took a step forward with my training, only to take three more backwards and lose focus altogether. The more I seemed to lose patience, the more encouraging my classmates became, until I was obliged to have another go in spite of myself. Not for the first time I found myself being guided by a stranger. Tom looked pensive while we sparred and in my mind I saw Aiden laughing in his place, with the silvery glow of kindness in his eyes.
I wore the gloves and Tom threw the punches, though there was no aggression in them. There was no mistaking his compassion as his fists came in my direction and pulled back just as quickly, never landing enough to cause any pain. Tom was the perfect model of a student, following the words of his teacher with respectful diligence. He didn’t yield too much, nor seek to inflict any real harm. Quietly I repeated the words Phil had said to me during the first five minutes I met him: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
During our meditation I couldn’t get away from the feeling that I was a constant burden to my friends. There had been so many nurturers in my life while I could offer nothing in return, feeling helpless as a result. Tom was another thread in my life that was linked in some way I didn’t understand. So many guides to protect and build me like a temple.
All the while, though, I couldn’t escape the words from the old, wispy-haired man chiming away in my mind.
How much will you sacrifice, little one? The path you walk offers nothing but bloodshed. All those you love will be used for the purpose of your Gods, and
you will be helpless to save any one of them. They drown, Pisces, and you do nothing.
I closed my eyes and prayed hard. When I opened them, I saw Phil staring back with an almost knowing look. Slowly he nodded. It looked like I wasn’t the only one struggling with my own inner-demons.
It would be a long time before I’d ever dare to put faith in my prayers again.
The more I visited Molly in hospital the greater the chances of her never waking up loomed largely in my mind. She remained as motionless as ever, her face as gaunt and vacant as when I had first laid my eyes upon her, though at least her bruises had healed. Her scars would take much longer, if ever, to recover, and often I’d sit next to her while feeling an immobilising sense of powerlessness.
There were times when I could barely step through the revolving doors into the hospital. Even before seeing the patients I could feel their long drawn out suffering rummaging through my mind, with their nightmarish visions crawling through my skin and infecting me with its messages of hopelessness. More than anything I wanted to run away and ignore the stirrings pinning against my conscience – to listen to my fears, though, could only invite feelings of guilt to linger and hammer relentlessly away in my dreams like a powerful drumbeat.
All I could do was walk through the corridors with mindless willpower and resist the negative critic that tore away at me with venomous hunger.
Whenever I came I’d often find Antoine sitting next to her bed and holding her hand. Sometimes he would lay asleep with a book on his lap. Despite his coarse appearance, there was no escaping the fact that Antoine truly cared for the girl, to the extent that he usually ignored the limitations of visiting hours altogether. During those times I’d study him and realise that I had come to love the man like an uncle. Whatever Isabelle might think, he had shown nothing but selflessness in his protective dealings with us younger descendants, and in those moments I truly valued him for all the help he had given.
This time, though, I wasn’t greeted by Antoine. Once moving into the room I couldn’t hide my surprise when I saw a stranger looking back at me, his expression warm and amiable. He was an American Indian with sharp features and almond shaped eyes. I felt taken aback by his blue, scruffy jeans and red-chequered shirt – his casual dress simply didn’t match his captivating presence.
Before I had chance to speak the man was moving towards me with an open palm and a wide grin.
“Good day!” he said, clapping me powerfully on the back. I shook his hand, my mouth agape and uncomprehending. “I’ve had visions of your coming for a long time, Pisces, but I’m sorry to meet you under such circumstances. I am Libra’s descendant. Please call me Liwanu.”
“You knew where to find us?” I asked, though I had many more questions. That wasn’t even at the top of the list, but I didn’t really know where to begin. Chris had said that sooner or later the other descendants would come, but I still didn’t feel prepared.
“Antoine found us,” Liwanu said, his voice soft and melodious. His spiritual calm was very reassuring and took away the anxiety in my chest. Somehow I felt like I’d met him long ago, even though that was surely impossible. “He’s the loyalist follower the Zodiac has ever seen, and maybe the smartest, too. He knows where to look.”
“Us? Do you know the others, Liwanu?”
“I am certain there will be more sittings for us to talk. First, though, we must focus about our business here.” Liwanu said diplomatically but without yielding. I could tell that he knew how to take charge of a situation. He then nodded towards Molly and moved to take a seat. I followed, still trying to suppress the evil that lurked within the room.
“Do you know her?” I asked, feeling conscious of the fact that every word that came from my mouth was a question. He didn’t seem to mind.
“Our paths have crossed three times, though she has escaped me in every instance. A wiry girl, I thought, and an inquisitive one,” his mouth rolled into a smile. Outside, I saw the waxing moon shining its light into the room. “Had we spoken the final time, I might’ve been able to prevent all of this. Then again, we may not have been talking right now, either. Hard to make sense of, isn’t it?”
I nodded. It was. Slowly I was learning to accept whatever came into my life and go with the flow of it. There didn’t seem much use in doing much else.
“I’m afraid we don’t have a lot of time, Pisces,” Liwanu said, eyeing the door with caution. Despite his warning he looked a lot more composed than I felt. “We need to talk about Molly. We need to talk about her role as Aquarius.”
I looked over at Molly and took in her features for the first time since my last visit. Her hair was slowly beginning to grow back to reveal a darker colour to compliment her pale blue eyes. I imagined most people looked peaceful in their sleep but as I studied her lines on her forehead and the twisted, contorted expression on her face I suspected she was haunted by deep-seated angst ravaging inside her mind.
When Liwanu spoke next I figured he must’ve known my thoughts, because he said: “It’s her stubbornness that’s still keeping her alive. Whatever is killing her is also the very thing that’s keeping her alive, because she won’t let go until she’s played her part. She knows herself that she is the centrepiece on the board, even if we don’t yet know why. Pisces, you are the last sign, and the one that we’ve been seeking all this time, but you cannot do anything until you’ve discovered Molly’s secret.”
“That’s what Antoine said, but I can’t speak with her unless she wakes up. I don’t think she’s even getting better.”
“That brings me back to my business, but we must be quick. If you like, my purpose here is to help to connect the dots. I am the extra little bit of weight that enables balance,” I looked at Liwanu hopefully, but he shook his head, his small eyes becoming sharper. “No, I can’t wake her up. But I can give you the means to communicate, nonetheless.”
As I leaned forward and began to formulate my words there were hurried steps coming from outside. Liwanu rose from his chair almost immediately, standing to greet the man who emerged from the door, his forehead bristling with sweat. Our eyes met, though his were closer to radiant green orbs that looked to have thousands of secrets hidden away like a locket.
He spared me only a glance before his voice, heavy with strain, said that they were out of time. Liwanu nodded and calmly headed for the door. When I started to follow him he stood half-way at the entrance and said: “Not now, Pisces! They can sense me, but you’re still invisible. We will talk again. Until then, you can talk with Molly. She will do what she must.”
“But she might never wake up!” I said, feeling frustrated and anxious at the same time.
“The moment you walked into this room and saw me you learned the skills to communicate. It was already latent within you, I just ignited the spark. Put us out of your mind – we will come to you when its time!”
He left without another word, following at the heels of the red-faced man with the silvery beard, while I stood motionless with nothing to look at but Molly. I held onto her with my gaze because it brought me comfort, and I wanted nothing more than to talk with Anna at that moment. Not for the first time I was completely at a loss.
I felt like I was walking a tightrope and there was nothing to hold onto. One step out of place and I was bound to end up in a real mess, but if I didn’t move at all I was going to be forced to do so by some unseen force. All I did know was that I needed answers, and although I didn’t know where to look, I was determined to seek them out.
That’s when Molly stepped in – the one girl who I’d written off, believing that she might die in that hospital bed before so much as speaking her first word. I fell asleep in my chair and she appeared right in the middle of the field of roses. It looked like I had stepped right back into the quintessential nexus of all consciousness.