Fictional Stories

TRUANCY

Isa knows this is not her home. Whatever the young girls with tattoos and piercings tell her, their names peppery on her tongue. “You live here now, darling. You’re safe with us.” This is not her home and she will not stay. She is a serial escapee though never got much further than the bus stop.

Her friend and tablemate, Miss Jean Bell, former assistant headmistress, knows this a care home, and turns the words over, wondering how they have changed meaning since she lost her independence. Her mind is strong, her legs not. Her eyes see everything – the monthly noticeboard with its list of activities for every day in big letters.  They have also seen that the more exciting activities never happen. “Why,” she asks, “Was there no outing to Dobbie’s? Or the Botanics as promised?”

“No idea,” they reply airily, “but there’ll be decorating golf balls in a minute.”

“I presume”, she delivers the look that caused many to quail, “that this is to fool the inspectors. I shall inform them.”

“Sure you will, Jeanie Darling.” “I am not your darling and never known as Jeanie” falls on ears already attuned for the next emergency buzzer.

The two women bond over the soup, in itself thick and viscous enough to serve in any world shortage of cement. “Salty again. What is it anyway?”, asks Isa.

The carer asks and reports broccoli.”How can broccoli be orange and taste exactly the same as lentil or tomato or…

” She has run out of soups. Jean says, “That’s why it’s called soup of the day. It always tastes the same.” And soup appears twice every day, along with the cakes, pink  and white, that taste dryly of nothing but sugar. “The food here is disgraceful”,says Jean and they begin their daily litany of its failings – the too cold, the mushy, the flavourless, the pre-packaged.

One lunch Isa isn’t there. They are all in their places at least ten minutes before service begins. She is brought in late, flushed, smelling of outside, with a glitter about her. “You’re a bad girl”, says the carer, not unkindly, “but we’ve saved you some soup”.

Not even as far as the bus stop this time. It makes Jean thoughtful. All her life she has conformed; but if Isa, with her periods of cloudedness “

as if a pea-souper creeps through my brain, dear”, alternating with moments of clarity, can revolt however  briefly, why can’t she? Legs, that’s why. Put us together, she thinks, and you’ld have one functioning human being. But one functioning person might make it, at least long enough to evade lunch.

Isa’s impulses have to be reined in. They now have a camera on the front door and a sensor mat. And Jean will need to be in her wheelchair. Isa won’t divulge the scheme; she loves secrets and anything else gets forgotten. Here is what they plan.

  1. Handbags and coats while the carers are finishing the post-breakfast duties and heading towards their break.
  2. Create diversions. Ring buzzers in the hall and lounge. Take away Mollie’s rag doll so she will howl. Remind Annie that she needs to call the police and tell her father. Unkind perhaps but hours of every week have been dominated by the cries of one, the shouts of the other.
  3. Head to door by kitchen, always open as owner has not installed adequate ventilation. When chef is busy killing whatever flavour is in vegetables. Isa will push Jean out down the ramp and through the side gate.

Not for nothing has Jean spent years timetabling and checking every child was where it should be.  Now she is gamekeeper turned poacher, playing truant.

It goes according to plan. But even with Jean self-propelling and Isa pushing, they struggle. A young couple overtakes and turns back, with “Can we help? We’re going to the main road if that’s any use.” He takes the arm of Isa, who is thrilled, and the wife pushes the chair. They soon reach the bus stop. More rescuers have to help them on, then have  a whip round when it transpires Isa has only a fiver and some coppers in her purse. Jean triumphantly fishes out a battered bus pass. They are euphoric; who knew the world could be so vibrant? But what next? Jean remembers the birthday treat she would give herself each year, a trip to Luca’s for a cappuccino and a scone. The bus stop is close;  they can do this.

Isa isn’t sure she likes cappuccino but is enchanted by the pattern on top and loves unlimited demerara sugar. They dawdle over the scones as if these were the taste of holiday. No one puts  a tabard round their necks or spreads the scones for them. The activity is agreeable if messy. Isa is soon hungry again and begging for an early lunch. The special is scampi and chips and they will share a portion. Isa eats with her fingers and after a moment, Jean joins her. “But”, she says, “this has to be the last. We’ve got maybe £16. Two coffees at 2.20, two scones at 1.90 and one special at £6 would be…”

“12.40”, says Isa. “I used to be a book-keeper. I’d forgotten that.”  Minutes later, she calls, “Chocolate ice cream and vanilla, two scoops each.” It is delicious, with a side order of guilt for Jean; she hopes the cafe will be able to reclaim the debt through the home.

For the first time it enters her mind, and as if it had summoned them, two policemen appear in the doorway. “Would you be the ladies from the Lilacs?”

With dignity Jean replies, “The name is as false as everything else about it. One scrubby pot-bound lilac by the door.” She imagines trees heavy with perfume, dancing in May sun. But Isa is already halfway out on a blue arm.

“Let’s have you, shall we, lo-madam?” hers says as he registers the glare that has quelled insurrection for decades. She assents.

In the car Isa is still happy. “Fancy going home in a police car. I’ve never done that before.”

“Yes, you have, Isa, love” one says wearily. Jean thinks. Not me. We’ve run away, and begged on the bus. We indulged ourselves and left without paying. And now we’re escorted back by the police, too late for soup. Something swells inside her as light and free as blossom in the sun; she thinks it might be pride.

KD lives in Edinburgh and writes for pleasure and distraction.

 

WAR AND PEACE

In their miniature world, cramped between wooden crevices of a make-shift dugout, the ants busy themselves with homemaking and egg laying, ensuring their lineage. “Come on lads, let’s all pull together, we can get this done today!” They carry their dainty furniture, food and precious eggs purposefully back and forth, undisturbed by the mayhem around them. 

A beetle scuttles past, his proud armour glinting in the late spring sunshine, swift and sure of foot; armed with strong exoskeleton and impressive talons, he scurries to his destination.

A couple of earthworms surface, drag a tasty morsel down into the earth, casting, blindly blinking in the daylight, then to disappear down into the dark moist soil, silently, steadily, unseen and safe, to exchange their genetic code in hermaphrodite heaven.

The deceiving skylark hovers high, unseen in the sky, throwing his voice to confuse and disorientate. Overseeing and watchful, he spies two divisions of soldiers, each in dugout trenches facing each other but a thousand yards apart. He cannot begin to comprehend the scene. Are the guns pointing at him? He wouldn’t be morsel for even one meal, so why this?

His partner, safely on the ground, is nesting a clutch of six, soon to be hatched, eggs; a proud moment, something to sing about. He sees the men below, only men? … all of one sex? This is strange homemaking and nest building, indeed! Down there in the mud, in the dirt, amongst their own excrement; where are their young?

A pheasant clucks and struts, calling to its mate, proud, foolish, flamboyant and pecking; always pecking; scavenging for odd bits of spent grain and seeds, occasionally intimidating and ‘seeing off’ another haughty potential suitor, protecting his own beloved, who bathes beigely in the weak sunshine, broodily thinking of where to produce her impending progeny.

The sparrows chatter and argue amongst their offspring in the hedges at the side of the field, merrily multiplying and going about their daily business. Camouflaged, they watch out for each other, safe in their numbers, constantly communicating and full of life.

The soldiers are dull with desperation, worn out, cold, hungry, desolate and dying. Morally bound and duty called, initial, spurring enthusiasms of glory and patriotism have faded; the futility and frustration of the pointlessness and tragic waste of young lives is eating away at their hearts. Fleeting friendships and comforting camaraderie are brutally broken.

The field mouse looks on quizzically, cuddled in warmth, his fluffy coat protecting him from the elements. Surrounded by his resourceful, home-loving and family-oriented cousins, who are comfortably curled up, and sleepily grooming each other, he skilfully, swings from corn stalk to burdock leaf. He seems puzzled as to why these grey and stinking men quietly sit and wait, huddled in their make-shift shelter. Stranger, still, that they share their space with corpses, stiff, cold and lifeless; they dare not even bury their dead!

Rabbits scamper about at dusk, safe in the half-light and secure in their familiar bunny territory and warren world, ears alerted and listening, thumping their back legs, as a tell-tale sign to others, of impending danger, with white bob-tail warnings of threats to be avoided. Down into their burrows, they scuttle, safe from their predators, watching their ever growing families, populating and honeycombing the area with their tunnels and diggings.

What of these young men? They are in an alien world, mind disorientated and helpless, hopelessly destroyed of bonhomie, having no family to buoy them up, no hearty hot meal to fill their bellies, no women to comfort and caress them. They are at the mercy of the elements, permanently damp and despairing, cold and miserable. They do not even see their enemy, are blind to their own effectiveness and progress; they are merely there, planted by politicians… waiting.

A hare dashes across the field, mystical in his aloofness. Proud, upstanding, mythical creature, long ears dipped in ink, solitary and shape-shifting, a legendary king of his surroundings, mysterious, and representing life and rebirth.

How can he square the images he sees before him, of man killing his own brothers? No other species would do this!!! Where is the pride, the heroics, the glory? What such animal would sacrifice its race, put itself at so much risk, or behave in such a suicidal manner? What species would so foolishly challenge the elements, be at the whims of the chilling winds, the killing frosts, the endless mud, the biting snow and the incessant rain? Where is the survival instinct for the human race here amongst the stench, fat flies and riotous rats?

Later, as the red poppies bob and grace the dark and yielding soil, flowering with fecundity, the proud willow-herb salutes the sunset. An owl shrieks at dusk, signalling the shortening days. Fear, death, trepidation, initiation and change are on the horizon; the bat spirit darts to and fro, quieter than a breath.

The men, contracted only for their one grisly task, wait; always waiting, silently, scared, playing their reducing game… dying to get out.

 

Bio-Data
Ianthe Pickles
Lives in Liverpool
Aged 68, birthday 18/12/1950
Retired full-time Primary and later Secondary/Special School teacher and college tutor, worked for 37 years.
Read many books related to work only. After retiring, joined a Creative Writing group, with an inspiring tutor, attended courses, and achieved ‘A’ Level in Creative Writing.
Writing (especially poetry) was often a release during emotional and turbulent times in the 1980s working in an area of severe deprivation and unemployment in Liverpool.  Now I write for fun!
A group of us meet regularly in each other’s homes to read and discuss our scribblings!

Must Have Sea View

On the forklift truck on a grey morning Boz had a dream.  It was always the same dream; he was a man of stubborn allegiances and wild expectation. His luck would turn and he would retire to the seaside, the English seaside. He’d been happy there. Not so much the overpowering smells of vinegar, frying fat and sugar, nor the noises of crowds, amusement arcades, having fun. Even as a child his ideal was to do nothing. Contentment was lying in a deckchair, soaking up the sun which drenched his memory, and watching the sea come in, go out, come in, go out. His mates jeered at the smallness of his dream; they wanted world travels or at least Thailand or Tenerife every winter if their ship came in. Val had dragged him abroad of course, but the ocean was never the same, too tame, too distant, too fringed with the young and sleek. He knew where his dreams were to be realised and soon he knew when and how.

The dream took a lurch nearer and upended the forklift. On the ramp, maybe the wheels weren’t squarely on. He howled when lifted out and was signed off sick for six weeks. The company could find no malfunction in the forklift and alleged driver error, but Boz’s union rep was having none of it. “Mr Boswell has an exemplary record and there was another similar incident here with a truck some six years ago. He is now incapacitated and we have a medical report to indicate whiplash injuries with some trauma to the lower and cervical spine.  It is unlikely he can work again, we are told. I would suggest the fair way forward is a one -off payment, equivalent perhaps to three years’ salary. That way we can avoid any question of blame, or escalation through the Health and Safety process.” HR, as usual,  said nothing remotely useful; management said “Two years. Terrible worker anyway. Cheap at the price to get rid of him.” The haggling ended up with a nice little nest egg for Boz who was always careful to walk with a stick and a wince. There were disability benefits as well.

Val wanted to chuck in the part-time job at the drycleaners and go somewhere exotic, maybe even move to a little flat in Spain. But Boz knew he had to wait for his luck to flow in again. He went into training, absorbing himself in daytime TV, especially the property programmes and the surprise makeovers. Fortune favoured the bold, those who seized the tide when high. Then he went on the internet. It was a shock to discover how little his lump sum would buy, especially with anything that would pass as a sea view. He’d told Val, “What we need is a nice little place, with a sea view, maybe do it up a bit (he had a sudden fantasy of himself holding  a paintbrush), live well, away from all this.”

He found the auction houses for repossessed or unloved properties, got very excited by this lot or that and was cast down when the bidding went above his ceiling. He told himself he was just learning the ropes, realised what he needed was a property no on else wanted. And he needed to go to the auction house, not follow online. The next sale he waited for the fancied flat , bid fast and hard, but again it outstripped him; on impulse born of rejection he went after one for which no one else was bidding. He’d looked at it briefly, definitely sea view, bit back of beyond, a kind of chalet with two bedrooms. Very cheap. He couldn’t remember more – a scattering of neighbours, no pub (but who could afford to drink out these days?), not too far from Scarborough. But raised his hand anyway. The dream was docking. No one else bid, though he was aware of a kind of subdued ripple running through the room – amusement, excitement, applause, he couldn’t say. It was his.

Now he had to explain it to Val. She wasn’t thrilled but suggested they visit. The owner met them with the words, “You do realise the bid is a binding contract and you can’t change your mind?” Val was looking out to sea. “What happened to the garden fence?” “Bit of coastal erosion. You’ll have seen it in the report. But you’re cash buyers  so no mortgage to worry about. “

Boz said slowly, “So things do fall in the sea?”

“Yes, but it’s quite  a long garden. Most of the neighbours have put in coastal defences – quite expensive but effective. When I moved here twenty years ago, the surveyor said 70-100 years. You don’t need longer than that, do you?”

“As long as it lasts our time”, said Boz. Val gave them both the look she had perfected on clients bringing in embarrassingly stained garments. “We’ll have to make the best of it. But what’s that caravan near to the road? Is that part of the sale?”

“Not officially”, came the reply, “but I’ll throw it in for goodwill.” Val had always fancied a caravan and this appealed to her as a space soundproofed against Boz’s bellows for beer and snacks. The journey home to pack up their lives was less fraught than it might have been.

The paintbrush fantasy faded like sea mist, but the chalet was in fair shape. Boz soon settled into the deckchair, basking in the garden on the better days where there was even a tree to act as a natural windbreak, or gazing out of the sun lounge otherwise, while Val sewed or watched her portable in the caravan. The summer was a good one if not as golden as Boz’ s memory, but knowing good luck came in threes he waited for something else to fall into his capacious lap.

*

The winter was another matter; the house was ill-insulated, the window frames rattled and the draughts had the chill and persistence of benefits advisors. A calm March day drew him down the garden. The rest of the fence had gone…but something else. The rhubarb patch, a bank of nettles, a recycling bin were away. None of them were much missed but this was his domain and he was uncomfortable.

The next year the vegetable bed went – undug, overgrown but the unease persisted. His neighbour Frank said, “What do you expect? We’ve all paid up for coastal defences so the waves are funnelled directly at you.”

Boz went to demand help from the Council. The letter back said, “While we have every sympathy with your plight, we are informed you bought the property while being aware of the problem. Given the many demands on our budget, we regret etc”.

Year four was frightening. A sea surge took a messy predatory bite which swallowed the bench and the tree. Val moved permanently into the caravan. Frank advised, “Think about moving. A house fell in the sea five miles down the coast.” But Boz was planted.

Year six Val moved back to live with her sister in a house on solid ground; he simply found her gone like most of the garden and half wondered if the sea had taken her too. Now when Boz looked out, the sea seemed suddenly huge, its glittering hungry, the land fragile and friable. He cursed it for wrecking his dream. One day he awoke to urgent banging on the door from Frank and the men from houses further along. “Time to leave. Storm surge coming. Take anything you need.” They helped him clear essentials to the caravan. A TV crew turned up to record all this; he’d always wanted to be interviewed but not like this. Then with an almighty crash, more cliff fell, taking half the house with it. The Council later demolished the other half.  The footage brought Boz some celebrity, but also attracted the attention of a benefits adviser who had observed Boz moving a large TV with no sign of strain.

He feels cheated, robbed. On good days he sits out in the deckchair  and waits for his luck to change. He stares at the sea wondering if it is friend or enemy.

 

KD lives in Edinburgh and writes for pleasure and distraction.

 

FAIRYLAND

Warm, five o’clock, Scottish, June sunshine bathes my old ripening skin as I sit here by the Harbour Cottage Art Gallery, overlooking the deep muddied channel of the river. A faint smell of diesel is in the air. Fishing boats are queued up, blue and white, some a little rusted, moored and waiting.

Empty lobster pots are stacked alongside the neatly cut grass the other side of the chain railings which enclose a small park. The inevitable ‘anchor statue’ graces this park. The one which really tugs at the heart strings is the carved oak sculpture of two female figures clinging desperately to each other, representing family awaiting the return of a loved one lost at sea; shows the true emotions connected with such a perilous occupation.

Going back is never a good thing. Better to have the memory. The insulting sanitisation and gentrification of such hardship and honourable work is too much, for the likes of us, to bear. We had work, we had pride in ourselves; we slept from exhaustion, driven by the next day of expectation. It wasn’t a bad life!

Times change you see. Should I feel guilty, now, about what I was doing then? I was merely earning my living. Cold unpleasant work it was. My sons feel the guilt, not me! For me it was blood, sweat and tears. I saw terrible things, a man with his legs ripped off him, caught in the capstan; he never worked again.

They were long hours on board ship, in all weathers, in shocking conditions, you wouldn’t want a dog to experience. I had two littl’uns at home, but I never saw much of the little buggers! They were ‘mummy’s boys’, they hardly knew me.

Looking back, it wasn’t a good thing, killing those beautiful animals. It was barbaric and a truly life-changing experience, but, I’m glad I did it…and the money was good especially if you got a job on the Norwegian factory ships! Paid no dues to any governments yer see. Could be away for 4-5 months on those damn ships, had to travel further afield when the stocks got low.

It was work… and you just got on with it! You could warm yer frozen hands in the blood of a freshly killed whale, but a dead’un, a week old and stinking… boy, you wouldn’t want to be there!

So you see, when I sit here and look at these ‘namby pamby’ tourists drinking their Pinot Grigot and eating their fancy scallops in that garlic and ginger, I get a peculiar feeling in me belly. Very nice life they have, very nice! Soft hands and Nancy shirts, they don’t know what real work is; the horrors I’ve seen. They see these cute fisherman’s cottages all prettied and painted up, think nothing of paying the mad rents and they thinks they’re in Fairyland?

This is an empty, pale ghost of a town haunted by the dead whaling men who didn’t make it back home. I keeps me own thoughts to meself, like. Got big emotions and profound memories of what this place has meant to me over the years. It’s not the place I remember now…I won’t be stayin’ long and I won’t be comin’ back!

Bio-Data
Ianthe Pickles
Lives in Liverpool
Aged nearly 68, birthday 18/12/1950
Retired full-time Primary and later Secondary/Special School teacher and college tutor, worked for 37 years.
Read many books related to work only. After retiring, joined a Creative Writing group, with an inspiring tutor, attended courses, and achieved ‘A’ Level in Creative Writing.
Writing (especially poetry) was often a release during emotional and turbulent times in the 1980s working in an area of severe deprivation and unemployment in Liverpool.  Now I write for fun!
A group of us meet regularly in each other’s homes to read and discuss our scribblings!

Your Policy

[How to let a reader know from a one-sided conversation on the phone what the person at the other end is saying.  The obvious ploy would be to have the recipient of a phone call continuously repeat what the other is saying. But this may abrade the reader with such an obvious and redundant repetitive strategy. 

I recall Bob Newhart and his sketches about the driving instructor and Sir Walter Raleigh’s introduction of tobacco and potatoes to Queen Elizabeth I.  He had a subtle way of crafting his monologue by letting the listener infer and predict what is going on at the silent end of the conversation.]

*

[Scene]

First you pay attention to the buzzing of your phone against your thigh.  The phone’s in your pocket.  You’re sitting at your computer and really don’t want to be disturbed.  Ah!  That’s the reason, it’s on silent.

Stand up.  Remove from pocket.  Look at the screen.  Sit down.

This is an unidentified call.  Danger!  Danger!  Must be a stranger.  A Nigerian gang are after your bank details; or an Indian girl with a sweet voice wants to tell you there’s something wrong with your computer and to switch it on; or it could be a friend of a friend with some bad news … so better to answer.

  • That’s me.

  • No, I don’t think so. She didn’t mention speaking to you.  Yes, go on.

  • She did mention speaking to someone from the bank the other day.  Oh, it was you.  So, you’re Doris.  OK.  Go on.

  • I’m not on the system! What system?  My date of birth?  27 01 59

  • Hold on or phone me back? … Eh! … phone me back.

*

Switch off call.  Back to your computer screen.  Now, what were you doing?  Let’s see.  Napier University.  Published writing … that was quick.  Phone buzzing again on your desk.  Unknown call.  It’s Doris.

*

  • Yes, it’s me. Hi Doris.

  • Per month?

  • No, I don’t have my home insurance policy handy. Nineteen pounds and thirty three pence … per month?  I’m not sure how much I’m paying.

  • A cooling off? A cooling off from what.  No don’t send me the policy.  I can tell you now I don’t want the policy.

  • You mean the money is taken out of my account if I forget to cancel? What if I forget to tell you within the fifteen days that I want to cancel the policy?  I’m a bit absent-minded. Can you not just send me the policy and I’ll consider?

  • No, I don’t think so. I don’t think I like this method of selling.

  • Give me your number and I’ll check it out online and if I’m interested I’ll get back to you.

*

You don’t bother to write the number down.

One week later.

*
  • Yes, this is Mr McHaggis.

  • No, you didn’t speak to me and I don’t think you spoke to my wife. Someone called Doris called and spoke to me.

  • Why did she put me on the system?

  • Yes, she gave me a quote but I told her I wasn’t interested in the sales method and that I wanted the details in writing before I make a decision.

  • Why don’t you do that? Oh, you don’t do that.

  • No, I don’t want a cooling off period. I’m feeling cool just now … and what is there to cool off from.  Should I be feeling hot?  Do you want me to feel hot?  I have an idea, why don’t you improve your conditions of sale and get back to me in about five years and I’ll consider your offer of a policy?  Oh, and take me off your system.

  • No, don’t contact me at a later date.

  • No, I’m not interested. I have to limit my interests at my age.

*S

You hang up feeling less cool than you did five minutes ago.  You are more than a little rubicund.

Ah yes.  Bar that damn number.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Indian Piece

Six in the morning and the heat was already rising in waves from the earth. Runnels of sweat ran down the faces of the two passengers swaying to and fro in the rickshaw.  Crows cawed ominously and flew down from the trees, scavenging the streets for carrion. A cow ruminated at the side of the road and looked at them dolefully with its indifferent, watery eyes.  Although together in the one place – man  beast and bird – they retained their separateness, each aware of the other without concern. 

Time passed.  

Being early for the temple, Tom, a tall American, bronzed with the sun, suggested to Kumar, “Let’s have a look at the market.”  This was Kumar’s chance to show Tom around the district as both felt they had  languished too long in the village and welcomed the chance to visit the nearby Keshav Dev temple in Mathura, the legendary birthplace of Krishna. 

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Harriet Tubman

A story of overcoming fear in your workplace, and in your heart. Excerpted from Jaiya John’s new book of healing, Your Caring Heart: Renewal for Helping Professionals and Systems. Online where books are sold.

Harriet Tubman was a baaad woman. She didn’t play. One story I appreciate telling about her (creatively adapted, of course) is a story of leadership. So, the story goes that Harriet and her people had been discussing for some time the idea of breaking away from their plantation and finding freedom. Now, freedom can be a very frightening idea to a slave. Sure enough, as the designated night approached in which the group would escape the plantation, the people began to voice their concerns. Their fears.

Many of these people were menfolk, and Harriet being a woman, was used to the challenges of being a female leader. Folks started in with fear talk: “Now, Harriet, this freedom thing of yours sounds great in theory, but I don’t know if it is realistic. Look at our life. We have so much to deal with. So many bad things could go wrong. I don’t know if we have time for this freedom thing. I need to get back to my work or Massa gon’ whup me good. I can’t afford to lose my job. How much work is this freedom thing going to require?”

Does this litany of fear talk sound familiar to you? If so, it is because, bless us all, the slave is alive and well in our society and work. It is a spirit of self-oppression that burrows deep into people and groups, rendering their idea of reality as one of impending doom.

 Harriet listened respectfully to her people. But Harriet knew fear. It was in the nature of being a slave. In fact, her people harvested fear more than they harvested cotton or other crops. It was fear that they brought home to their slave quarters. Fear that they ate together for dinner. Beds of fear that they slept on. Dreams of fear in the night. Fear was their sunrise, their clothing, their daily industry. So, Harriet, she knew fear. And she would not let it get in the way of freedom. On a night absent of moonlight, Harriet gathered her people down by the riverbank. The murmuring water would be their chaplain for this freedom service. The people were now terrified. They risked death, dismemberment, whippings, dogs tearing at their flesh. They risked disappointing their overseers and their masters. They risked losing their precious jobs as house slaves, for few wanted the backbreaking life of a field slave. They risked being sold. This entire river of fears was now pushing up their throats, coming out as angry resistance to freedom.

 Harriet wasn’t sweet. She was fire. A woman, slave, nurse, social worker, leader, healer in those times had to be fire. She used hers. Lifting her sawed-off shotgun, she pointed it directly at the men challenging her leadership. Harriet said these words: “I understand, my people, the ferocity of your fears. But we have been slaves far too long. We have lost the taste for freedom. But here, under cover of this black night, I’m fixin’ to make an executive decision. Those who choose to stay in this life of suffering may do so. Otherwise, whoever wants to have freedom sing in their bones and dreams tonight, follow me. Tonight, my people, we fixin’ to be free.”

 In every group of human beings who care deeply to do this healing work, in the right way and spirit, there must be those, of any title, willing to walk the group through their long night of fear into the astounding daybreak of freedom. There is no other way than directly through our fear. We should do this now, good souls, before we further lose the taste of freedom.

 

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HARRIET TUBMAN

 A story of overcoming fear in your workplace, and in your heart. Excerpted from Jaiya John’s new book of healing, Your Caring Heart: Renewal for Helping Professionals and Systems. Online where books are sold.

Harriet Tubman was a baaad woman. She didn’t play. One story I appreciate telling about her (creatively adapted, of course) is a story of leadership. So, the story goes that Harriet and her people had been discussing for some time the idea of breaking away from their plantation and finding freedom. Now, freedom can be a very frightening idea to a slave. Sure enough, as the designated night approached in which the group would escape the plantation, the people began to voice their concerns. Their fears.

Many of these people were menfolk, and Harriet being a woman, was used to the challenges of being a female leader. Folks started in with fear talk: “Now, Harriet, this freedom thing of yours sounds great in theory, but I don’t know if it is realistic. Look at our life. We have so much to deal with. So many bad things could go wrong. I don’t know if we have time for this freedom thing. I need to get back to my work or Massa gon’ whup me good. I can’t afford to lose my job. How much work is this freedom thing going to require?”

Does this litany of fear talk sound familiar to you? If so, it is because, bless us all, the slave is alive and well in our society and work. It is a spirit of self-oppression that burrows deep into people and groups, rendering their idea of reality as one of impending doom.

 Harriet listened respectfully to her people. But Harriet knew fear. It was in the nature of being a slave. In fact, her people harvested fear more than they harvested cotton or other crops. It was fear that they brought home to their slave quarters. Fear that they ate together for dinner. Beds of fear that they slept on. Dreams of fear in the night. Fear was their sunrise, their clothing, their daily industry. So, Harriet, she knew fear. And she would not let it get in the way of freedom. On a night absent of moonlight, Harriet gathered her people down by the riverbank. The murmuring water would be their chaplain for this freedom service. The people were now terrified. They risked death, dismemberment, whippings, dogs tearing at their flesh. They risked disappointing their overseers and their masters. They risked losing their precious jobs as house slaves, for few wanted the backbreaking life of a field slave. They risked being sold. This entire river of fears was now pushing up their throats, coming out as angry resistance to freedom.

 Harriet wasn’t sweet. She was fire. A woman, slave, nurse, social worker, leader, healer in those times had to be fire. She used hers. Lifting her sawed-off shotgun, she pointed it directly at the men challenging her leadership. Harriet said these words: “I understand, my people, the ferocity of your fears. But we have been slaves far too long. We have lost the taste for freedom. But here, under cover of this black night, I’m fixin’ to make an executive decision. Those who choose to stay in this life of suffering may do so. Otherwise, whoever wants to have freedom sing in their bones and dreams tonight, follow me. Tonight, my people, we fixin’ to be free.”

 In every group of human beings who care deeply to do this healing work, in the right way and spirit, there must be those, of any title, willing to walk the group through their long night of fear into the astounding daybreak of freedom. There is no other way than directly through our fear. We should do this now, good souls, before we further lose the taste of freedom.

 

INSPIRATION

“But what is self Love?” she asked.

And Love answered:

“When your sacredness becomes your deepest song.”

Dr. Jaiya John has served organizations, agencies, schools, and initiatives globally for many years. He is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer, consultant, book author, poet, spoken word artist, and youth mentor. Jaiya is the founder of Soul Water Rising, a global human mission that has donated thousands of Jaiya’s books in support of social healing, and offers scholarships to displaced and vulnerable youth. He is a former professor of social psychology at Howard University, has authored numerous books, and has addressed over half a million professionals, parents, and youth worldwide. Jaiya is a National Science Foundation fellow, and holds a doctorate degree in social psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. As an undergraduate, he attended Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and studied Tibetan Holistic Medicine through independent research with Tibetan doctors in Nepal.

Soul Water Rising  |  jaiya@soulwater.org  |  soulwater.org

She Wanted Peace…

 

GIRL

She wanted Peace.  So she played beautiful music, painted beautiful expressions.  It was not enough.  She went on long walks.  Gave away possessions.  Smiled more.  Stopped multitasking.  Not enough.  She bought more reverent clothing.  Read spiritual books.  Spoke spiritual words.  Not enough.  She changed her relationships.  Attended classes.  Cut her hair.  Improved her diet.  Attended worship.  Found a new job.  Travelled.  Came back.  All of it, not enough.

Then, one day, she looked inside herself, the place she had run from all her life.  She found two Truths: the concentrated ego of suffering and fear, and the simmering ember of Peace.  Realizing that Peace was a seed already inside her, she decided to try something new.  She decided to Love more.  Herself.  Others.  All things.  In every moment.  She opened.  The ocean inside came out.  The ocean outside came in.  She dissolved in two oceans.  Became immeasurable Lightness.  She found Peace.

Love is the sunlight that awakens the seed of Peace.

jaiya

jaiya@soulwater.org

SOULWATER.ORG

 

A SLICE OF SAMSARA

samsara

 

He realized with a start that he was staring at people. “Mustn’t do that” he told himself “…people might think you are strange”.  Sitting in the café in the corner, his favourite place where he felt (erroneously) that he could see but not be seen, he drew his eyes down to his flat white, took a sip and for a brief moment was able to be in the present, to relish the smooth texture  and the sharp taste of the coffee balanced by the creamy milk.

 

But that was just for a moment … then the thoughts began again and hijacked his mind. They started with a hollow feeling in his gut then surged upwards. He found himself staring at a young woman with shiny hair who was absorbed in what she was typing on her laptop. She looked strong and healthy. John immediately knew that he was admiring these qualities in her because he felt bereft of them.  For the past three months John had been feeling weak, low in energy, having to drag himself to work, force himself to concentrate then make his way home, collapsing onto the sofa as soon as he closed the front door.

 

The young woman glanced at him then looked at her screen, frowning slightly. John thought it must be because she found him intrusive although she could just be thinking about her work.
How John wished he had the concentration she appeared to have, probably enjoying her task whatever it was and not endlessly distracted by worries.

 

He had phoned the doctor at 9am to get the results of the blood test but the receptionist said he should phone back later after 11am when the doctor would have had a chance to look at her mail. John found this delay intolerable. He quickly decided to go out, to sit in the café and read, rather than watch the clock at home.

 

He glanced at his watch now; 10.13am. He tried to read his book but his mind wouldn’t settle on the words. He found he was reading without taking in the meaning, rapidly scanning sentences, whole paragraphs, and turning the page with no idea of what he had read. His mind felt shaky and unstable as did his stomach.

 

He knew he wasn’t well and as soon as this entered his mind it was followed by “what if…” thoughts.  “What if it’s cancer” led the assailing army.

 

Two young men walked in and sat at the table closest to John. One of them looked younger and spoke nervously saying “I don’t know where to begin”. The older, taller one was more confident and spoke in a deeper voice. John stared at the open pages of his book as if reading. He listened intently to their conversation but couldn’t catch every word. The younger one seemed to be responding to the other’s questions, giving an account of his work, apologizing for something being all his fault. John immediately liked him, felt empathy for his predicament yet also superior to him because John was known to be very competent at work. “Until now…” John thought, and his mind flooded with a torrent of fears of long-term sick leave, redundancy and of course  …death.

 

The older man had a self-controlled rather cold manner. John hated him. 10.25 now, nearly time to leave, to walk home, to phone the doctor again. As John was gathering his thoughts about leaving a middle-aged woman sat down opposite him. She smiled and said, “Hope you don’t mind me sitting here but there’s nowhere else”. John mumbled assent but felt invaded. She seemed so self-assured and certainly didn’t have any obvious health problems although she was much older than John. “She is  probably obsessed with her body and goes to the gym every night” thought John, eyeing secretively her muscular sun-tanned bare arms.  She was making him feel much worse, acutely aware of his own failing health and lack of energy. He got up quickly and left.

 

At 11 am John sat at his kitchen table (better to be sitting down, he thought, in case it’s bad news) and dialed the doctor’s ‘phone number.  The receptionist answered and John asked to be put through to the doctor, emphasizing the urgency of his call. The receptionist said there was no need for that, the doctor had said to tell him that he is fine, just very anaemic, and he needs to take iron tablets, available over the counter in the pharmacy. She tolerated his insistent questions – “are you sure?”, “does the test show anything else?” and “could I discuss this with the doctor please?” – then said they were very busy this morning and he really doesn’t have anything to worry about, he is fine, just anaemic.

 

John leaned back in his chair and went over the events of the morning in his mind. He thought how if he saw the girl with the shiny hair in the cafe again he might buy her a coffee. He pictured the two young men, identifying himself with the older one, more cool and competent like himself. He also decided to join a gym and get really fit.

 

Lynda

  Lynda has been a student of Ringu Tulku Rinpoche for the past five years and has been interested in meditation, yoga and Buddhism for  much      longer than this. She is a child and adolescent psychotherapist and works at the Tavistock Clinic in North London as both clinician  and teacher. Due  to a serious back injury, now healing, she has been unable to work this year until very recently and in this time she has  developed a passion for  creative writing. This is her first short story entitled A Slice of Samsara.

 

THE PILOT AND THE PRIEST

gates of heaven

 

 

The Pilot and the Priest

 

A priest dies and is waiting in line at the Pearly Gates. Ahead of him is a guy who’s dressed in sunglasses, a loud shirt, leather jacket,
and jeans.

Saint Peter addresses this cool guy, ‘Who are you, so that I may know whether or not to admit you to the Kingdom of Heaven?’

The guy replies, ‘I’m Jack, retired airline pilot from Houston.’

Saint Peter consults his list. He smiles and says to the pilot, ‘Take this silken robe and golden staff and enter the Kingdom.’ The pilot goes into Heaven with his robe and staff.

Next, it’s the priest’s turn. He stands erect and booms out, ‘I am Father Bob, pastor of Saint Mary’s for the last 43 years.’

Saint Peter consults his list. He says to the priest, ‘Take this cotton robe and wooden staff and enter the Kingdom.

‘Just a minute,’ says the good father. ‘That man was a pilot and he gets a silken robe and golden staff and I get only cotton and wood. How can this be?

‘Up here – we go by results,’ says Saint Peter. ‘When you preached – people slept. When he flew, people prayed.’