When I was a child in school the teacher told us the world was not flat, that it was round. I had never thought of the world having shape. He seemed too pleased to tell us this. He said people had believed we could just walk and walk and eventually would fall off the edge of the world. He demonstrated by walking his two fingers along his desk, stopping and looking to see if we were looking and then dangled his two fingers over the edge and screamed a little until it changed into a laugh. We all laughed too.
Falling off the edge of the world, he said. How ridiculous is that, he said. One boy, one who always loved asking questions, asked but how come we can fall of the edge of our seats. The teacher smiled at him and said it was because of gravity. He said it again, but this time he said it more slowly, breaking up the sounds and telling us that was why; gravity was the reason. The boy asked what gravity was. The teacher said it was a force that kept us fixed to the ground. The boy asked what a force was and the teacher smiled again, scanned the whole room, bit on his bottom lip and said it was gravity, gravity was a force that stopped us from flying away. Another boy said we could not fly away because we had no wings. The teacher said if there was no gravity we wouldn’t need wings, we could just jump and fly. I said why would we need to jump. He said because we would be on the ground. He jumped to demonstrate. I said but isn’t gravity what keeps us on the ground. He said yes. I said without gravity we would not be on the ground so how could we jump. He scanned the room again and said I had all the answers. I said that was a question. I said how could we jump if we were not on the ground. The teacher laughed. He said he would like to walk me to the edge of the world and let me fall off. He laughed again. The class laughed too. I said if we got to the edge of the world I would push him off. He did not laugh. The class laughed. But the world is round he said. You couldn’t push me off he said. He began to laugh. I said I would not be walking anywhere with him anyway. This time we all laughed.
The teacher picked up an orange from his desk and held it out. He rotated it in his hand and told us the world was like the orange.
Jak Sparkle was a man. A man like many men, except for his ability to transform. Jak Sparkle, when facing embarrassment, did not blush red like you or me. No, he glowed. Glowed until his head was a shining white, bright bulb. A bulb so bright it dazzled all those who looked at him.
And how they looked. But those gazes never were never met by Jak. The glow it shielded him. And those fingers pointing went unseen; the little nudges and head tilts unnoticed, and even the sniggers, the low whispers, those went unheard. Jak was impenetrable. Impervious. He could just walk on by, not fazed, unaffected.
Now, it was not always like this for Jak. Times were when Jak would burn with embarrassment. His face roasting red when mouths would hang open in shock at seeing Jak pass by. He tried wearing wide-brimmed hats, wearing long-peaked caps, wearing baggy-hanging hoods. He tried large sunglasses and long, bushy beards. He tried not going out. He tried and tried and tried. And then one day, his embarrassment blushed until it burst and popped into that glowing, white, impervious bulb. Jak was saved. But saved, only when his awkwardness overwhelmed him. And lately he was just not getting as embarrassed as he used to.
+ When you left, when you left him, did you know it was forever?
- When I met him, the first time, when he walked into the room, it was like the first time I had ever seen a man. And when his eyes met mine, it was as if he had given me the gift of sight. The gift to see, to see him. But ya, the longer you look the more that is revealed, and the more that gets concealed, you know.
- I never thought I would leave. I feared he would leave me, of course. Why wouldn’t he? So, did I know it was forever? What is forever?
+ What is forever? I mean, not to go back? To stay apart.
- Apart? Never. Never apart. He is never distant from me. We are never separate. I carry him everywhere. Does it weigh? Does it burden me? No. But to answer your question – not go back? Back to him, always. Back to us, to what we were, always. Back to what I left, never.
My eyes twitched. The eyelids and lashes seemed incapable of independent movement. How long had I been asleep? Had I been asleep? Like paper tearing my eyes began to open. It was dark except for some lights off in the distance that were moving away from me. It took me a few seconds to realise I was doing the moving and not them. Moving my head pained me. Each turn felt like a lead ball was rolling loosely inside my brain. The low hum of voices began to register with me. I was still on the bus.
Looking to my left I saw that the twins had now moved to the front seat opposite mine. Grinning, with their big cartoon heads bobbing up and down with the movement of the bus. Neither of them said anything, but they held their gaze at me, almost willing me to fully take in my surroundings. That lead ball rolling around inside my head had now shifted its weight to my forehead causing my head to drop. I breathed in deeply, making a wheezing sound. What was that taste in my mouth? Dropping my head to my lap, I spat out. The spit landed between my feet. My shoes? I was wearing backless slippers. I recognised my own black socks, but why were my feet tied together with what looked like laces. I tried to push my feet apart. The laces cut into my ankles and the lead ball rolled back and a little and then crashed bang into my forehead. My head began to swim. I inhaled deeply, trying to prevent the onrushing vomit from spurting forth. Again, my eyes glued shut. I could hear giggles coming from the twins. My stomach contracting I began to vomit, stopping it in time. A burning acid taste invaded my mouth. My nostrils filled and little bubbles popped out. Again I tried to pull my ankles apart.
- Those are my slippers. I normally don’t wear shoes when I’m travelling. I find my feet swell up something terrible.
An arm was now around me and my back was gently being patted. I wanted to straighten up to see who this was, but the voice was unmistakeable. And the shoes. Those were my shoes. But not the laces. Not white laces with black shoes.
We thought we would take the group therapy to a new level. It was not my idea. I was never one for ideas, well not new ones. Often, just to be awkward, I would propose an opposing idea, especially if it was the leader who was proposing it. But this idea I just knew would be fun. Not fun in the fun sense of the word, but fun in the sense that I would have fun! This crazy idea to take our group on a bus tour just could not end in anything but tears.
To begin with, because of a problem with the rental booking, we got the bus at 9 in the evening instead of 9 in the morning. Apparently the online booking had a pm and am drop down menu, which our leader had not noticed. When this came to light we were offered the chance to cancel the booking and make a new one, but it would have to a be one week later. In his wisdom, the leader decided it was best to go with the original date.
So, on a late evening in early November our little group gathered at the pick-up point to set out on our bus tour. Bus tour may not be the best term to describe what we were embarking on. The idea was to take our group therapy session on the road. The thinking behind this, according to the leader, was there would be no escape (his actual words). We could not just run out the door or request to go to the bathroom when it came to our turn to share with the group. No, we would all be on the bus and we would all have to contribute.
When the bus arrived we were glad to get in out of the cold and rain. The leader sat in the front seat, his voice bellowing out through the bus microphone, welcoming us all on board.
- Let the fun begin. I said as I sat down in the seat opposite him.
Little did I know how much fun laid in store. Fun for everyone, but not for me.