Chapter Nineteen: Another trip...Another story.
A well-known chat show host was interviewing a Hollywood hot-shot on the television that evening. Christine laughed out loud at some of the gags being delivered. She couldn’t believe she was actually finding something genuinely funny. It had been a while since she’d felt this relaxed.
Something had changed.
She knew she was still a long way off from being healed, but as thinly as it was, a salve had been applied to the wound…
You should go and see a counsellor - it’s free! And it’ll do you some good.
Yes…But counselling won’t bring my son back.
No. it won’t Christine…But in time…it could bring you back…
Once the show was over, she lowered the volume and padded bare-foot into the kitchen. Her mission: to rescue a box of half-eaten cherries from decomposing in her fridge. It was probably one of the few food items she had left in there.
She peered into the refrigerator. Immediately she spotted a foreign entity wedged between a carton of milk and a packet of stale celery. It was a carrot cake in a fancy looking box.
‘I didn’t buy that’ she frowned.
She then began to notice more unfamiliar items packed into other compartments. There were two, blue-topped, tupperware dishes crammed with cooked food, a large packet of mature cheddar cheese, and a bottle of cranberry juice.
There was only one explanation for this: Her mother had been here.
Christine had given Yvonne a spare key to her flat (or more likely her mother had requested for it) not long after she had moved in. Her mother was still concerned for her well-being. And naturally so, considering the roller-coaster few years Christine had had prior: the marriage, the divorce, her devastating loss…
Following Jerry’s death, Christine had lost an obscene amount of weight. She was still nowhere near back to her usual shapely self. Yet, her mother was persistent in her quest to get her back there.
Whenever she caught a glimpse of her gaunt appearance, she understood that grief had many faces, and it appeared it did whatever it liked to the body.
She thought of Jerry’s father, then…Andreas…
At first when Christine heard that he was coming to the funeral she was baffled. To her, the damage had already been done. He had abandoned the marriage and had no desire to raise his child. So, to hear that he wanted to pay his respects when, there wasn’t any to start with, felt like a heavy-handed slap in her face.
In his own words he had said that marriage was nothing but a ’Social construct…A pointless act,’ So, in her opinion, how was a funeral any different? Christine instantly felt bereft all over again. She didn’t want to face him. But it turned out his presence at the funeral was more important than she realized.
It was on the day of the funeral that Christine finally saw Andreas in all his glory. Except, on that day, she saw that he didn’t have any. Andreas used to stand out as though he was the last man on earth. But on that day, as he quietly shuffled into the background, he had simply become one - amongst a very, small, group of men. Christine didn’t know how it had become possible that her love - who had been larger than life - had now been reduced to a mere blundering mortal…And with this stone cold realization she grasped that, she too, had now become one, amongst many in his sight. Just some woman in tears…No longer his woman…no longer his tears…
From a distance they watched each other without staring, both seeing that their love bond was no more. Ironically it had dispersed like a shower of confetti. They were no longer bound to the love they once shared. They were free to move on, as it were, or at least move away. Both knowing that they could meet up a hundred times afterwards, but that very moment, that very day, marked the end of their short-lived affair.
And that was that. Christine was free to talk about her doomed marriage with all the zeal of a stoic and the experience of the wretched. Like all lovers, they had their time, and now… she was deliberating on whether to glean a slice of that sumptuous carrot cake, or devour it at a more reasonable hour like tomorrow perhaps? She went along with the sensible option. She closed the fridge door and got herself ready for bed.
Before drifting off to sleep her last thoughts were of baby Tobey. She smiled remembering his cute voice, soft skin, and head of hair which smelt of jasmine and orange flower. She had taken an instant liking to him. He seemed a lot worldlier than some of the babies she’d spoken to, prior. She was looking forward to speaking with him again. In the meantime she could only hope the dangers he spoke of were more imagined than real.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the universe, baby Tobey awoke to warm kisses on his face and the sweet, symphonic sounds of baby paradise.
‘Ahhhhhhh,’ he gave a loud sigh as joy sprang up inside him like a fountain at the ready. His mind instantly flew to earth, and to Christine but only for a fleeting moment. ‘Hurray!’ He cheered without reserve. He was back in the land of Love.
On his previous travels, Tobey had learnt that there were in fact three stages in babyhood and thus three wonderful realms that babies reside in…
The first realm was a paradise far, far away from where he was now, or so he had been informed. He was told it was a place where babies in their early post- conception stages lived. He learnt that the babies there, also participated in plenty of Wisdom Calls - much like what they had in the Birth Trail. However, in that realm, babies also decided what their names would be when they got to earth. Once agreed, the names were sent out like freshly released doves to the world and to their intended parents.
Whispered in the mind…Engraved in their hearts…
To this day, many guardians’ labour under the mistaken belief, that it is they who choose their babies’ name. But of course, this is not the case. It is the babies who in fact decide along with a little help from members of the family tree…
The next paradise is of course the Birth Trail where Tobey and his soul mates were currently residing (in medical terms, this period is referred to as the third trimester)
Tobey was told that the paradise he was currently in was the most anxiety-ridden stage of them all. This was because it was the penultimate plane. After here, those who were fortunate would enter earth - where they’d be given the chance to carve out their names on their Ancestral Tree. Or, failing that, they ended up with the other option: grimly facing The Fears.
However, Tobey later learnt that some babies actually did neither. They did, in fact, go onto another stage which was referred to as the Island of Lights.
Tobey was never told why some babies were permitted to go directly to this plane. However, he understood all too well why they wanted to be there…For you see, it didn’t have to be declared; this other stage was the best place of them all!
According to various reports this paradise was nothing short of spectacular! It was a place reserved only for babies - and very young children - who had lived on earth, but only for a short time…It was there, those young ones were given the best in everything. It was never outwardly spoken, but this place was revered in the highest esteem, quite simply because it was where the Creator of Love spent most of its time…
There were other realms Tobey was later told about. But these were places where people went to after they had passed childhood, and had finished their journey on earth. It seemed everyone Tobey met knew very little about these other dimensions - including the Ancestors who came to visit him. Tobey supposed - like the rest of the babies - that when their time came, they would just have to experience it for themselves.
Tobey was called to the tree again. He flew towards it as fast as his illuminated body could carry him.
A beautiful woman was sat on the throne-like chair. Her skin was as smooth and as shiny as a freshly earthed chestnut. And her hair did not lie flat, but rose from her head like soft billows of brown smoke. “Hello Tobey,” she said gushing and smiling as she examined her little guest. “How are you little one? It’s so good to finally meet you.” Tobey felt his happiness pour through his smile. He quickly sat down at her feet. There was something about her voice which set his heart alight and her movements were compelling. He felt as though he had awoken into a dream. The woman continued. “My name is Kaori of the Manami family. I was born in Togo in West Africa, in a village not too far from the capital.” She smiled down at Toby. “Although, Kaori is my birth name in later years I would be called Elizabeth Johnson...”
Tobey was totally enamoured with Kaori’s voice. It was like listening to a live orchestra - there we so many vibrant levels at play. To Tobey, Kaori had the most captivating brown eyes he had even seen; pure and radiant, knowledgeable and beautiful. She also wore a robe, it glistened with all the colours of the rainbow and placed upon her head was a dazzling crown. Yet, for Tobey the most stunning thing about this particular Ancestor was her eyes - hands down! They were the best set he had seen thus far.
He was beyond excited and listened carefully as Kaori continued speaking. “A lot happened to me, or rather, a lot took place before the changing of my name…” she paused and then smiled down sweetly at her young audience member. “Are you ready Tobey?” she asked.
“Yes Kaori, I am.” Tobey quickly replied fully absorbing the rich tones of her voice and the force radiating from her eyes.
Kaori Manami began to relate the tale of her life as a farmer’s daughter…
The year was 1824 and Kaori was considered one of the most blessed girls in her village. After all, her family owned one of the most productive lands in the district. The soil was rich and red, and year after year, their crops never failed and never faltered. To those around them it was nothing short of miraculous. It was with little surprise that her family drew envious stares from distant family members and villagers alike...
‘You have the full blessings of your ancestors behind you,’ many would say to Kaori’s father whenever they glimpsed his bounteous harvest.
Kaori chuckled, ‘And you know what Tobey?’ She said with an over-arching smile ’it turns out, they were not too far from the mark’ She openly laughed again before continuing with her story.
’Through trading with the local merchants, my family soon owned some of the finest things in the whole village. We exchanged our crops for many exquisite items. We were given pots of many sizes, some for cooking and some for storage. We also had amazing looking instruments which were made out of pure bronze and other shiny metals. And the women in our family received hoards of pretty looking shells, beads and precious stones. Things, our hungry eyes had never seen before; they either came from neighbouring countries, or far off shores. Little did my people know that one day I’d soon be venturing there myself...’
Kaori then told Tobey about the time when some of her father’s enemies broke into his compound. They quietly approached when all the men had gone off into the bush. They dragged Kaori away, along with other women and children from her kin. They took them to a stately wooden mansion by the sea...
‘I had heard about this place before. It was a two-story building where merchants and some white traders met to conduct their businesses.’
Kaori knew she would never return home. She had heard that those that were dragged into that mansion never did. She feared for herself but more so for the young children who were wailing all around her. She was later grateful that none of the little ones from her village had survived the journey to the other lands. The hardship waiting for them there, was more pitiful than the fight against death.
Kaori looked bigger than her 12 years but every night she cried like a baby. She was now locked in a darkened room and chained to its floor. She wished she could turn back time, just be allowed to run back to her old life in the village, where she was free. Free, to enjoy the sun on her back and the rain streaming down her face. Free, to breathe in the humid air, thick, with the rich scent of moist roots, and all the wonderful life that lurked in its riverbeds. If she could only be allowed to return home, she would never again curse the stench of freshly gutted fish, or rotting fruit, which she used to deride with such childish disdain. She would never abhor these scents again. For the smell of dread, hopelessness and despair was far too harrowing to describe, yet, her young senses would be forced to comprehend.
‘I was subjected to a strange and powerful law, Tobey. A law which said my kind was not human. How terrified we all were of this law, for it allowed humanity to do all manner of inhumane things…They placed their hope in a law, which proclaimed to know all…’ she smiled, as though seeing children fight over toys, 'But how wrong they all were Tobey, how wrong they all were…For it did not know the first thing about love…’
She turned away and began to give an account of her life in Barbados.
'Soon after my arrival people started to call me Elizabeth. It was to be my new name – I did not fight it. A new name was more than apt for this new life I had entered into.
Above everything else, my time in Barbados was an extremely lonely one. Many of the other slaves were gathered from the same region, and thus, shared the same mother tongue. They did not speak Ewe, the only language I knew and longed to hear.’
As a result, many of the inhabitants were free to comfort each other during some of the most harrowing times. When such events befell the likes of Kaori, she would sing. She sung to the mothers who had lost their children, she sung to the injured, and of course, at times, she sung to herself when she lost two of her babies - in infancy - and later their father to fever.
Her name spread quickly amongst the neighbouring plantations.
‘Ironically, Tobey. I became the sweet voice of tortured souls. The pain in my heart never sounded so sweeter in rhyme.’
Kaori was called to sing in front of everyone: Lords and Ladies, Governors, Merchants and their wives. She was even called to sing to the sick and of course the dying…
In 1834 freedom eventually came to the little island in the West Indies. Kaori had planned to leave the plantation and try to make some kind of life for herself up in the mountains. But at this point, her singing abilities were heavily in demand. She soon found she was able to make quite a reasonable living as a part-time singer and house maid.
But just as destiny took her to foreign shores - so would love, as Kaori soon discovered.
Her second husband of eight months, Percival Johnson, was an ambitious African sailor. He wanted to travel to the UK - he had heard there were numerous jobs springing up on Cardiff’s busy ports.
Whilst at sea, Kaori was grimly reminded of the journey she had made over fifteen years ago.
‘My birthplace became like a dream to me, and just like a dream when I did wake up I was unable to go back to it....I don’t know why I felt that way, but the feeling never changed....I never did find my way back home...’
Needless to say on her passage across the choppy Atlantic Ocean Kaori developed a severe case of seasickness.
‘It was the most distressing of ailments, which would stay with me for the rest of my life.’
Subsequently, many of her descendants would also inherit this dreadful condition...
Kaori was surprisingly taken in by Cardiff Bay. Although it was disorderly and bitterly cold, it was far better than the horror she had painted in her mind’s eye. It was a stark difference from her warm and sunny life in Barbados but she didn’t mind the contrast, in fact, she was grateful for it.
That night she hugged her husband even tighter. A decision had been made. This was the place she would start over; have children and live out the rest of her days.
And just as she said, the children came. And her children had children. And their children had children. Naturally, Kaori did not meet all of them. Not on earth, that is.
In her later years Kaori learned to read music. She became a highly respected music teacher; respected, more so, for some of the good decisions she made. For it happened, that out of her meagre means, Kaori made it a mission to teach the poor about the joy of music. No financial demands were placed upon anyone who showed up at her door with only the simple desire to learn.
After life, she would hear the fate of some of the pupils she had taught. And what she saw and heard filled her with jubilation. Through her life’s work many of her pupils, and their offspring, were able to create a positive impact on the world’s stage. Some of her pupils did well, and some were successful, but all of them bestowed honour on their own Ancestral Trees...
Kaori died at the age of 71 - three years after the death of her husband. Her children gave her a small burial, just as she had requested. She was dressed in her favourite navy blue Sunday gown. And in her hand someone had placed a string bracelet made up of tiny shells and exotic looking beads. They had belonged to Kaori and now they were buried with her…just as she had requested.
Kaori Manami had three sons. They later settled down with the local woman of the city and produced offspring. And these children married locals too. And what was once distant and exotic, appeared white again.
Tobey was bursting with questions.
“Kaori! Kaori!” He cried. “When I enter the world I want to sing just like you!” He said with all the joy of the innocent.
Kaori laughed her special laugh. “If you want it Tobey – then it’s yours my darling!” She was thrilled at his response. “Everything I have is yours, and only you can make it so,” she smiled and continued. “Through the ages, the story of my family was somehow lost. And as you enter the world - just like the many that had come before you - your skin will be as white as any of those from our Nordic brethren. But those brown eyes you have decided to take on. They are not just brown eyes,” she said with a knowing smile. “They’re my brown eyes.”
“I know,” Tobey beamed he couldn’t disguise his immense pride. In fact, Tobey couldn’t fathom the idea of choosing anything else. “And if I can see the world, the way you saw it, and yet remain all the more dignified and stronger for it, I’ll probably be a great survivor, just like you.”
“Oh Tobey!” Kaori laughed. “You really are a wise one.” She smiled down at her little guest. “I wish you a great journey ahead, and may you be as richly rewarded as I have been.”
Tobey remained by the tree long after his Ancestor Kaori Manami had ended the Wisdom Call.
After a brief pause Tobey made the decision to take the disorientating trip through the Corridors of Revelations. He wanted to refresh his memory on what the doctor at the hospital was up to. Also - as is often the case with babies - Tobey had forgotten a lot of what he had previously seen.
Tobey wasn’t to know, however, that he was yet to face another obstacle when he resumed his talks with Christine. For the names of all the babies could only be mentioned in this realm alone. No baby could utter the name of others - including themselves - until they had fully entered the world, and been given their name by their rightful guardians… But that was a quandary scheduled for later down the line. For the moment baby Tobey was in paradise, and while there, he would enjoy the little peace he had left until the great big red dot in the sky came to claim him once again...