Maria was spending a lot of time in the back hills of Waldmeer. She was visiting Charlie at her art studio and, also, Gabriel when he was there. Charlie knew a lot about life and people and was generous in sharing it.
“You are too young to know this,” Charlie said one afternoon, “but relationships are full of problems. We are drawn to them as if they are the great treasure of life, yet, once we are in them, we struggle. Those who say otherwise are lying.” She paused and said more kindly, “Not that it’s a bad lie, but it’s a lie.” As if to redirect her own train of thought, Charlie added, “Erdo says that we must try to tell ourselves whenever we feel distressed about our relationships, ‘There is another way of looking at this.’ What do you think Maria?”
“Who is Erdo?” Maria asked.
“Erdo Kapus. He is my teacher. He lives in the Leleks.”
“What sort of a teacher?”
“The only teacher that matters.”
“Who does he teach?”
“Anyone who looks for him.”
“In the forest?”
“Yes, the Leleks.”
“Does he have a family?”
“No, he is old. He lives alone. He says he has a sister, Milyaket, but I have never seen her.” Milyaket? A memory stirred but it was so far away Maria had no hope of gathering it.
“Has Gabriel ever been to see Erdo?” Maria asked.
“No, but I often tell him the things that Erdo tells me. Gabriel and I have a joke when we think someone is being egotistical, ‘That’s ego, not Erdo.’ It’s a lame joke but, for some reason, we both find it funny. I don’t think that Gabriel always believes what I tell him but he always listens.”
“Can you take me to see Erdo?” Maria suddenly said bravely. “Will he see me?”
“I will take you but it’s not for me to say who he will see.”
“Will you tell him that I would like to come and ask if it is alright?”
“There is no need to tell him. He will know. He will either be there or not.”
The following week, Charlie drove Maria an hour into the Leleks, the large forested area behind Waldmeer. Erdo lived in a part of the forest which was not national park but which no one else seemed to own either. It was slow driving because the dirt track was bumpy and narrow, even though it really wasn’t that far. Charlie parked the car at the narrow walking bridge.
“Aren’t you coming?” Maria asked.
“No, he only likes one person to visit at a time. He says it’s less distracting for us. Walk over the hill. If he is coming, he will be there.” He wasn’t there. Maria sat on a log by the pond and listened to the birds.
“What would you like to ask?” said a voice behind Maria.
She turned to see who had spoken. He was supposedly old but he looked like he could be any age over forty. Suddenly, Maria could not think of one single question worthy of asking. Erdo was so still that there didn’t seem to be anything important enough to ask that would be worth breaking the silence for. It was Erdo, himself, who spoke in the manner of continuing a conversation which had started a long time ago.
“Everything that comes from this world is problematic, Maria. That is because this world is the upside down of the real world. It is a suffering one. I give you a choice, today. If you prefer, you can leave and go gently into the real world, and there you will be spared much suffering and you will only feel happiness. Think carefully. Your choice will determine your path.”
He left her at the pond and said he would return soon. The pond was idyllic. Everything was glowing with light and beauty and was so deeply peaceful that it was inconceivable that anything could take away from the gorgeous bliss that was present. Who would not want to be so beautifully happy and fulfilled? thought Maria. She became increasingly unaware of her own body and felt merged with all the living things around her. She was fast losing awareness of who she was in that other tiny, dysfunctional world of strange bodies fighting with themselves and each other. After some time, Maria looked across to see two spectacular, black swans land balletically on the pond and swim harmoniously together amongst the water lilies. They were not asking anything from each other, yet, they were together. People are so separate in that other, little world.
“Relationships are used by the darkness to keep people revolving around the ego’s demands.” Erdo had returned.
“If relationships cause people so much angst and heartbreak,” Maria asked, “wouldn’t it be better to forget about them and only think of the real world?”
“For a moment, people see the light of the divine in each other. They run to it and then quickly forget the light they once saw as their fears reclaim their consciousness. Thus begins the ongoing battle to protect one’s own ‘rights’, in case they be forgotten or betrayed. The tally of what is owed is counted, the guilt of perceived wrong doings is cast upon the other, one’s freedom must be paid as the price for ‘love’, and it is only in short periods of peace when all of this is forgotten. Those moments are the precious windows of the Soul.” Erdo cheerfully turned to Maria, “And what will it be? Are you staying or going?”
Maria couldn’t help feeling that Erdo knew what the answer would be but he was waiting for a reply. “Seeing as I am already here, I will stay. Maybe someone needs me.”
“Actually, Maria, many need you,” Erdo smiled warmly. “And you need them. We do not get to Heaven alone, my cherub. Charlie is waiting for you on the other side of the bridge. You have kept her waiting long enough. We don’t want her getting angry,” he added mischievously as if Charlie was a naughty puppy.
A few days later, in the cafe, Maria overheard two locals talking about the old man and recent sightings of him in the Leleks.
“Yeah, right, in ya’ dreams, mate,” both laughed with the good-natured superiority which keeps mates together ’cause they know better.
“Have you ever seen the old man who lives in the forest, Farkas?” Maria ventured.
“Yes, I have.” Maria was surprised. “I’ve seen him a few times when I’ve been near the old bridge,” Farkas added.
“Have you spoken to him?” Maria asked with enthusiasm.
“He gestured to me, both times I’ve seen him, to cross the bridge.”
“And did you?”
“Of course not. I don’t trust him,” Farkas snapped angrily. He pushed his chair out, almost knocking Maria over, and left abruptly. He looked as angry with Maria as he was about the old man.
Maria wanted to cry but she couldn’t because she was at work. Farkas does a lot of blaming and shaming, thought Maria. Those in pain give pain. As for Farkas, he stopped coming to the cafe.