While visiting St. James’ Church in Teignmouth, I discovered vivid pictures of people, animals, houses and mountains emerging from the texture of its walls. These pictures told me a short story, a story of imagination, which I will recount to you below. (Note to readers: It may be easier to find the pictures after reading their captions.)
There was this man. We don’t know if he was a scholar, or a poet, or a philosopher. Every day, he took a walk outdoors, found a bench by the fields, and read his thick book.
One day, he walked further than usual, through fields and woods, and came to a small hill with a small castle on the top. He looked for a bench, sat down, opened his book on his lap, and started reading.
Some time later, he heard music, dimly discernible. He looked in its direction. It came from the little castle on the little hill. The castle seemed alive and wanted to lead him to a different world….
In that world, the sky was bluer. The sunshine was warmer. The trees were taller and broader. The flowers had more colors. A clean stream ran through the woods, singing songs like silvery bells. It was an ever-green place, with no withered leaves of autumn and no freezing cold of winter.
He suddenly noticed that there was nobody around. He walked across the plain and looked into the woods but found no one, not even a dog or a bird. This was a world with no animals. He was the only one….
He was still sitting on the bench with the thick book open on his lap. The music had stopped. He felt tears on his cheek. He looked up the hill. The castle was looking at him too. It seemed to have many words to say, but remained silent instead.
He closed his book and walked up the hill. The castle was stone, and its door was closed. Judging from the cultivated garden in the front, there must be people living inside. He walked around but saw no one. It was quiet as if everything was in a deep sleep. Not wanting to disturb the occupants, he left with the same silence that pervaded the castle.
The next day it rained. The rain continued for months. The sky was gray and the clouds were thick. Reading outdoors didn’t seem possible. He stayed home and was bored. He often thought about the castle and the beautiful world he had visited. He wondered what kind of people might live in that castle. What did they look like? How had they managed to produce such touching music? But gradually, day after day, he stopped thinking about it. Life went on as if nothing had happened.
Finally, in August, came a sunny day. The air was warm with a light breeze. The world looked more colorful as if a giant gray curtain had been lifted and everything was unveiled. After so much rain, people had almost forgotten how lively the world had been.
He strolled again across the fields, feeling cheerful and optimistic. He passed meadows with pigs and cows. He passed farms where little boys were playing with their dogs. He walked and walked, all the way to the little hill of the little castle. He sat down where he had before, and started reading with his big book on his lap.
He read and read, from morning to dusk. Now the sun was going down. It was getting too dark to see the words on the page. He looked up from his book. The sky was burning with golden red clouds, looking like an immense bird flapping its wings. He could see all the fine details of its feathers so delicately woven. The little castle stood silent in the firey light, reflecting its red hue, like a monument to a world long past.
He stared at the castle for a long long time. He couldn’t tell if he was happy or sad. Life seemed static at this moment. Nothing really mattered. Nothing ever happened. He sighed, turned around, and went home.
He felt depressed. The castle, the clouds, and the dusk light raised in him a longing for a world which he didn’t know if he had missed in the past or had hoped for for the future. He felt drowned in that emotion. There was nothing he wanted to do.
He put his book down on the desk. The weight of the book drew a grumpy noise from the wood. He looked out of the window. It was dark outside. His mind was empty, except for remembered music.
The next morning, he left home early. He walked fast, without his book. He passed pigs and cows. He passed children with dogs. He walked straight towards the castle on the hill.
He heard music. He looked up. Through a window on the second floor, he saw a female profile, playing a harp. He didn’t stop to listen. He kept walking up the hill until he reached the base of the castle.
The woman was still playing, with undivided attention. Her body moved along with her music, as if it were part of a dance. He looked. He listened. He saw that world again, that ever-green world with no one in it….
The music stopped. He spoke out loud, “Excuse me, madam. I am very sorry to interrupt you. I have been listening to your music. It is so moving and so puzzling that I feel I must talk to the person who makes it happen.”
She laid the harp aside and came to the window. Her long hair poured over her shoulders. “Are you talking to me, sir?” Her big eyes looked to the horizon, far far away.
All of a sudden, he understood her music—She was blind.
He walked back home, slowly. He didn’t know what to think. He was still ruminating on what she had said to him. He thought he would feel sorry for her, but he didn’t. She wasn’t a person to pity. She had her own world. It was a beautiful world. She could fly in the sky and swim in the ocean. But himself? What was the difference between his life and hers? He had nothing, except his books. Only in books did he find his world. Only in books did he feel free. It was another world of the same loneliness, of the same youth and eternity.
[Photography © August 7th 2005 Les Nuages]
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