Chapter Eleven: Sleeping Cutie
I am awake and asleep
I am lost to be found
I am light and it’s dark
I am long and I’m round
I am here then I’m gone
I am alive and I’m dead
I am screaming with no sound
I am brave and I’m scared
Like a star, I fell from my Ancestral Tree
Look! Behold! There’s a baby
And the baby is me
When they whisper my name, they call me ‘Sleeping Cutie’
But that is not the sign that was given to me
From the sagacious old roots of my Ancestral Tree…
Tobey was no longer Tobey. I mean he was still Tobey Daley, the terminally ill, unfortunate, catatonic baby who was holed up at St Margaret’s Hospital Trust. But things were very different now. Very different indeed…
For now, Tobey could stand up straight, if he wanted to, swing his arms above his head, touch his toes or take to the skies - as he was doing now. He wasn’t just happy - he was ecstatic! Forget the grey and rainy skies of London, he was now in a special dwelling place, a world of true unlimited, unadulterated, splendor!
In this abode, his body not only worked as it ought to but it also gave off a subtle glow. And the bright blue sky, which was rolled out as far as the eye could see, was dotted with every kind of precious stone: diamonds, rubies, sapphires, amber and emeralds. Each, emanating their own distinctive hues and twinkling like disco lights at night. Except, in this case, it wasn’t night and this was no longer earth…
In the distance Tobey could hear the rapturous roar of rushing water and everywhere he looked there were flowers, trees and plants of every description, colour and size. And when the wind blew, as it was doing now, the petals chimed. For flowers in this place did not only release their scent but melodies as well. This was not unusual - nothing here was. There was harmony in everything, especially in the air which ebbed and flowed as it swirled around its glorious setting.
Today Tobey was heading towards Second Heaven Cliff. He was going there to meet his friends. They had all agreed to meet at this destination on his last visit here.
“Tobey…Tobey…” The female voice sang his name. It was wrapped up in the wind. Tobey smiled.
“Yes, I’m here,” he answered. “I’ve just arrived.”
Hearing that voice made him glad he knew what was coming next.
“Tobey. Someone’s waiting for you by the tree.”
Nothing more needed to be said. In this place much was communicated but words were seldom used. Tobey found that messages that were meant for him, made their way to him, somehow.
A gigantic tree appeared. It was both majestic and ethereal in appearance. The long, furry, green branches looked like they were in the process of melting but had stopped in mid-flow. And sat below it in a large comfy chair was a middle-aged man.
As far as Tobey was aware there were no adults roaming around in this paradise, except for the Creator of Love, which, wasn’t quite an adult but it wasn’t one of them, either.
Everyone knew the Creator very well and just referred to it as Love. But besides that, there were no grownups. Not even children. Only babies, like him.
His heart began to race.
This was another Wisdom Call from one of his Ancestors Tobey gathered. These visitations were highly exciting for him.
He quickly approached the man sitting under the tree. The meeting with his friends would just have to wait a little while longer.
“Hello Tobey,” said the man. Tobey smiled. The voice sounded immensely pleased to see him. “My name is Espen Aagaare. It is an absolute honour to be here, and to see you face to face.” The man grinned and slowly bobbed his head as if he still couldn’t believe his good fortune.
“I’m happy to meet you too Espen Aagaare,” Tobey replied keenly observing his Ancestor’s appearance.
In the past, Tobey had seen all sorts of people, all members of his family - his Ancestry. This particular Ancestor had white-blond hair and eyes the colour of the ocean. But just like all the other visits his Ancestor’s appearance gradually started to alter. It was very slow and ever so slight, but Espen Aagaare’s bold features started to age. The lines on his forehead and cheeks began to crack into ridges. He became a very old man - right before Tobey’s eyes. And then, just like that, the aging process began to reverse on itself. Espen’s eyes grew wider and brighter and the hair on his head began to thicken. He was a young man; a sprightly lad, a lanky adolescent, then a little boy. This unique transformation was very slow and gentle, and so the vacillation from young to old - and back again - continued without impeding on their conversation.
Tobey’s Ancestor carried on talking. “Although Espen is my birth name, for some reason my family ended up calling me Baldur. It was the name of one of my uncles who was a magnificent warrior - another great Ancestor of yours,” Espen explained, “not that I’m saying I’m great - or anything like that,” he chuckled, “but like any of your Ancestors would profess, once upon a time I did live a GREAT life, or rather a life worthy of GREATNESS…I never know which one actually pertains to me as such…emmm…” Espen’s voice trailed off as he took a moment to contemplate. After a few seconds had passed he waved a dismissive hand. Espen was all smiles again. “Oh my son, forgive me. I’m just rambling on at the moment. But let me tell you Tobey Daley,” he announced with renewed focus, “Aagaare used to be your family name a long, long, long time ago. I know, right now, it might not be all that important that you know this, but at the same time, it is very important that you do.” Espen waved his index finger to stress his point. “Do you understand what I’m saying son?”
Tobey hadn’t the foggiest but he wasn’t about to reveal the contrary.
Espen continued talking. “To be honest little one, when you enter the Third Realm you won’t remember much of our time together. This will all be a bit of a haze to you.” He leaned in closer, inspecting the little face of his descendant. “You are aware of this, aren’t you Tobey?”
“Yes. I am aware,” Tobey answered quickly, a little relieved that he at least understood one thing, so far.
Other than the obvious details, for instance; his adult height, aged skin and all-knowing manner, there was something about Espen’s appearance which fascinated Tobey to no end. He noted that whenever Espen looked to the left or to the right, his greyish-blue eyes lit up like bits of flint. It reminded Tobey of the many times he had sat out in the sun, at the edge of the waterfront, watching groups of fish coursing through the fresh water lakes. Their skin glistening under the sun’s rays, and then, all of a sudden there’d be a flash, which was unusual and unexpected. Just like what Espen’s eyes were doing at that moment.
“Tobey. As you are here and I am here,” Espen continued, “we might as well enjoy the little time we have together. And I want to spend that time talking to you about me - not about you, but about me.” He repeated then brought forth a resounding laugh which Tobey really liked the sound of. So much so, he decided to collect that for himself…
“I know that sounds mighty selfish of me, son,” Espen smiled, “but this is definitely the time for you to listen to everything I have to say. You’ll have plenty of time to talk, much later.”
Espen began to tell Tobey about his experiences growing up as a boy in 19th Century Europe.
The young Espen was born and lived in a busy shipping town in Norway. He had lost two of his eldest brothers to the great North Sea, but that did little to diminish his family’s love for the waves. The warrior in their blood needed to hunt, and the object of their pursuit was now cod.
They, meaning Espen and his father, had docked in Britain in the port of Liverpool. At that time it was a thriving city brimming with commerce and trade.
While there, Espen and his father spent most of their time disposing of their recently netted goods, stocking up on supplies, and mending damages to their weather-beaten boat. This usually took anywhere between two to four months. But this was far too long for the young Espen Aagaare. For him, the days were cold and miserable and the nights noisy and unsettled. He longed to be back on the great high seas where each conquered wave brought them closer to home.
It was on Espen’s fifth visit to Liverpool that his father was taken ill and later died.
The loss filled young Espen with a kind of biting sorrow that no future loving - or good fortune - would ever overturn.
For Espen Aaagare his father was everything to him and now a light had left his world. He would never again enjoy his favourite things: the taste of pears at the height of their season, or admire the whoosh of the falcon’s wings as it glided into a nearby tree. He would not let these things warm him. A chapter had been closed. A decision had been made. He would now become an observer of life - and not a contender, consenting to look - and not feel, believing, the pain would certainly kill him for sure. Accepting the fate of a silent griever, he would play his part in this ‘so-called-game-of-life’ but Espen knew he would never be the same again…
However despite Espen’s crushing grief, he lived on - and sometimes - he lived well.
How does one find happiness in sadness?
It was a paradox which will forever baffle him in life. But in the afterlife Espen would learn, it was for this very reason the Ancestors fought so hard to be heard...
Espen Aagare was now 15 years old. Having lost his mother when he was an infant, he did not have any family to go back to. However fortunately for Espen he was reunited with Andreassen Brevik, one of his townsmen who had docked in Liverpool a few years prior. Andreassen had married a local girl and immediately began working on expanding his warehousing business.
“As a boy, I couldn’t laugh. As a youngster, I couldn’t cry. Such was the new life I had awoken to” Espen disclosed with a heavy shrug.
He then began to relate tales of his life as a young man growing up in Merseyside. The few times Espen wasn’t working he could be found milling around the docks or chasing rats into the sea. For young Espen, meal times were few and far between. Although Andreassen and his wife welcomed Espen’s labour, they couldn’t find it in their hearts to love him like a son. Henceforth, just like a donkey Espen was put to work. The remainder of his childhood was spent toiling away in Andreassen’s dark and dank warehouses.
With a languid smile Espen told Tobey about the thatch of lice that made a permanent home in his hair. And the fishy stench which followed him everywhere he went.
“Nobody could stand next to me” Espen said with nonchalance, “I itched, and I reeked and my teeth were the colour of wet sand. I’m sure I was the worst kept youngster in the whole town.”
And indeed Espen was. For the young Espen Aaagare was a product of the desolate conditions he now found himself in. He yearned for his childhood but those days were far behind him now.
But despite the hardship, Espen was able to make some good friends. They were a group of young lads who, like him, hung around the shipyards during the day, and skulked through the windy city at night. And just like true jesters these boys found a joke in everything. Espen soon found he could laugh again.
“I tell yer boy, you never really know how much you missed it until you’re gasping for air with laughter. We had some really good times, we did. Some really good times...”
Espen was full of admiration for his newfound friends. He liked his new crew and they liked him. And this group would have a significant impact on the rest of his life on earth…
Tobey listened intently as Espen told him about the time when he and his friends made plans to break into the home of a wealthy glass merchant. However, between the four of them, none of them were shrewd enough to conjure up a fool-proof worthy plan.
“You see young man, robbery takes some real brainpower, especially, if you don’t plan on getting caught. And brainpower was something in short supply amongst our group. For although we cackled all day like a bunch of hyenas, deep down we believed the things we saw in the eyes of the towns’ people. That we were hopeless; a bunch of un-lovable nobodies. As such, we had no self-confidence, no self-worth, and no thought for the future. We were little hardened cynics, we were. Jumping off broken roofs and swimming out way too far from land. Each of us would have gladly died on any given day but was happy to see another tomorrow, if you know what I mean. That was at the start of our lives, dear Tobey, and I’ll tell you now, it’s no way for a young person to live...”
Espen paused. “In your lifetime there are young people who will live like this,” he said looking down at his progeny. “Despondent…Scared…Helpless…”
This vision chilled Tobey to the bone. “Not on my watch,” Tobey replied drastically shaking his head. “Not on my watch.”
Espen didn’t add to that comment he only shrugged his broad shoulders and continued with his story-telling...
Henceforth the plan to devise a robbery was immediately scrapped. However Samuel, the leader of the group, decided to stage a rape instead. He felt the women who worked at the public houses were condescending and charged way too much for their wares. The boys stared at each other in silence. They all knew that their poor friend had been particularly sweet on one of the girls, who had slighted him in return.
But now, Samuel said all of the girls deserved everything they had coming to them. For some reason rape seemed far less challenging. And as it turned out they were all successful at it…Espen too…
What ensued was years of criminal activity. A little robbery here, a little fencing there. Many now saw Espen as a gruesome thug, which didn’t bother him at all – at least they noticed him now.
“It’s funny how you demand more respect with the absence of self-respect. I guess you could say I just didn’t care anymore.” And besides for Espen Aagaare the internal wranglings had ceased. His head and his heart were one. There was no room for sentimentality only the basic need to survive.
Espen would have kept up with this lifestyle but the eventual arrest and hanging of his closest friend brought an end to Espen’s prolific life of crime. Although he wasn’t sad to see it end.
“There was something about my life, Tobey, which was mathematical in the most bizarre sense. The more I added to my conquests, the less of a man I became. Towards the end there really wasn’t much of a difference between me and those rabid dogs that fought each other night after night in the baiting pits…”
“You see, at the time young Tobey, I believed taking up a life of crime was my only choice. But once that was taken away from me I saw that there were indeed other choices I could make. Even if I chose to do nothing it was still a choice…I had a choice…Why didn’t I see this before? What had I been doing all along?”
Without putting too fine a point on it, Espen turned over a new leaf.
And so the next chapter of his life began.
At 23 years old Espen became an apprentice to a highly skilled carpenter and married the daughter of a local baker.
According to Espen she was ‘satisfactory’ but not as pretty as her elder sister - the one he really wanted to marry, but someone had beaten him to it. Someone with much better prospects than he.
Espen went on to talk about fatherhood and how it made him extremely self-aware…
“You know Tobey. There’s no shame in poverty,” Espen said with a glint in his eye. “Only for those who seek to make others impoverished* Nevertheless, as a man of the earth I didn’t understand this simple truth. Poverty to me was like a debilitating disease - it was cruel and undignified. I hated it.”
With a painful awakening the young man, Espen Aagaare, began to see that even if he worked every waking hour that was given to him; no matter how much timber he could square, or how quickly he smoothened the boards, he and his loved ones were still going to die in abject poverty. He knew this truth like the back of his own hand. And it was a stone cold certainty for many of those in his community. He tried to fight it, but this dark reality ate at his resolve and eventually drove him to drink.
“I can’t speak for others Tobey but the gin certainly spoke to me, and it said with a cruel laugh: ‘If you were rich Aspen Aagare you wouldn’t drink as much as you do’ And do you know what Tobey? It was probably right about that. Deep down I did harbour dreams, I wanted to go somewhere, do something with my life - it was the seafarer in me I suppose. But instead I got busy doing nothing, and as you know nothing gets you nowhere”
Espen soon grew to believe that gin was the only thing he could look forward to. It got him up in the morning, and helped him to sleep at night. But when he experienced acute moments of clarity - which was more often than he would have liked - he despised his weakness, and despised himself all the more for it.
His wife of five years died giving birth to their third child. Espen didn’t stay widowed for long. He married again but this time to a woman he really liked.
“On earth everything is beautiful, believe it or not - everything. The fattened slug, the curl of a dung, the fins of a Roosterfish…It’s all beautiful!” Espen chuckled as Tobey made a face, “But the extraordinary thing about beauty, is that it’s not so much what you see that is beautiful, but how it makes you feel when you see it…How best can I describe my feelings for my new wife? Only to say that there was something about her that was so easy to hold, she had fresh features which never waned in my sight, and a laughter which made me laugh whenever I heard it.”
Sarah Ward was her name and she bore him two children.
She later became pregnant with his sixth child but that year Espen fell ill and died on a stormy afternoon. It was February 17th 1903. He was 33 years old and was buried in the local Methodist Church.
The child his second wife was carrying was Tobey’s great, great, great grandmother, Veronica Staunton…
Espen went on to tell Tobey the many stories of his life; the happy, the sad, the fun and the regretful.
It would seem he went on for days and days. But in this paradise the conversation was actually quite short and was expressed in no more than a few poetic verses. As time, just like all earthly matter, could not be accounted for in this spiritual realm…
Albeit Tobey soon discovered that there were no morals to be found in each of his Ancestors’ stories. They didn’t come to moralize. In fact, they did the opposite. Their experiences were laid bare for their all descendants to see. The weak and the strong, the beautiful and the brutal, all told in the same sanguine manner.
And the Ancestors were only too happy to tell their stories. For despite what is said, the world seldom remembers those that came before them. Let alone their heroes: the people who make commendable sacrifices and demonstrate extreme acts of selflessness. These people the world forgets. And history is even more unforgiving; omitting dates, names, battles, and most scandalously the deeds of the just…
Although the world might forget, the descendants do not. They hear the stories and it is up to them - the little ones - to take what they want from it. They were free to choose, without prejudice, what they think is wise, beneficial, favourable or cautionary to them. And whatever they take away with them would be used as tools in the next realm, which was earth, the ultimate testing ground…
Tobey, like all the other babies in this realm, was endowed with an acute perception of the truth. He understood that the Ancestors had a palpable desire, or wish, rather for their descendants to prosper on earth. And charged with this undertaking, the Ancestors, with every passing generation, thought up more elaborate ways to equip their offspring with the best of whatever they had to offer. Be it; knowledge, particular physical attributes, or special abilities – anything, they hoped that would give their progeny a feasible chance at success on earth. But if they couldn’t succeed, then, the overall hope was that their descendants would at least aim...‘to do well’
Do well? Do well? How does one do well you ask? And moreover what does ‘do well’ mean? If the Ancestors’ offspring couldn’t succeed, why was it important that they should at least aim…‘to do well?’
This, again, was another answer that Tobey, like all the other babies in this paradise, had learned sometime before they were born. For it went without saying that the world that they were about to be born into, was a living and breathing organism which had some unwieldy conditions of its own…
For you see on earth, decisions needed to be made. And these decisions held serious weight. Because contrary to what is believed and discounted, when it comes to life on earth, there is a right way to do things, and there is, indeed, a wrong way…And the course of every action didn’t just up and disappear into the ether - like humanity banally thought - or in some cases, had desperately hoped. Instead, the repercussions of the Ancestors live on, and they are passed down….And they are not only passed down, but they are free to swirl around in the celestial family gene pool like snowflakes after a blizzard. Tiny distillations of actions passed. And these abstractions are free to settle on anyone on that tree - without prior thought or design.
So, in essence, a good person could receive an ominous repercussion, likewise, a bad person could be the recipient of good fortune. Because in spite of the general make-up of the world there are repercussions; either good or bad. And the descendants do inherit them all…both the good and the bad…
The babies were made to understand that life spent on earth was far from futile. Whatever took place there had a profound impact on everyone in their Ancestral Tree. Therefore it was important, rather, for the little ones to always strive to do well. Do well, in order to create rich blessings for their descendants and not the reverse…
However, the directive to ‘do well’ is not an easy one to follow, as many of the babies will later find on their journey to earth. What the babies inspire to be, and what they will eventually become, are all relative to what they were about to see...
For the spirit in Man dreams of freedom but the world laughs in the face of it! As I mentioned before, the world has its own plans and conditions. And it possesses a very complex terrain. A terrain, which is carved up into many disparate tracks - much like a gritty race-course but the race, for human beings, is proving to be more ferocious than fun. There are winners and there are losers. And although many of the babies have a good shot at success, they equally had the same probability to fail.
And what of the many things that would cause someone to fail?
This was another interesting question, but one which the Ancestors did not seem too bothered about detailing. Their overriding concern was that when their descendants eventually started their journey on earth, each of them should strive to do the best with whatever tools they were given, and let the rest…take care of itself…
And that was as much as Tobey and the other little ones understood about the current mystery to their existence.
And just like that! The Wisdom Call was over. It ended like all the others, with the Ancestor placing a farewell kiss on Tobey’s forehead.
But before he left Espen said. “As you know I dwell in another dimension; a place you cannot go to right now. But one day I might see you there…” he smiled, “…which, isn’t altogether a bad thing. But we’re all hoping you’ll aim much higher son - much higher.” And with that, he sighed and reclined back into his chair. The chair then entered the tree, and the tree slowly drew away from Tobey before disappearing into nothing…