Saturday, 30 January 2010

Voyage II – Poker

I make my way back to the bar, head oddly empty yet under pressure. I feel the need to keep the news out of it for a while. On the way, I’m cornered by Ray. He has another whiskey for me. It’s really not what I want, but I don’t want to cause a fuss. It’s not that I don’t like alcohol but it always seems like it means a lot to them and I don’t know why. I don’t like the way they watch me drink, or the way they seem so pleased about it when I finish one, like it’s a big achievement, like I’m in their club suddenly. Ray takes me back to their table and sits me down. Solly smiles indulgently at me and cocks his head, dealing me the cards. ‘So now you know’ he says.
‘You’ll be fine’ says Ray, and he nudges me and points at the shot glass and winks at me. Brenda whispers to Solly and points at me with her eyes. ‘Do you want something to go with that?’ he asks, nodding at my glass. I feel increasingly on edge. ‘No, it’s fine’ I say quickly. I don’t much like whiskey, but I can’t stand it watered down. They seem to be waiting for something more from me. I try to relax. I look around.
The lounge is a low, broad room with portholes along both sides. It’s dark with stained old wood and a threadbare, blood coloured carpet. There’s a gentle swell. Seasickness has never been a problem for me (although I’ll always feel like throwing up on a bus if I try to read). ‘Do you feel sick love?’ asks Brenda in a soft motherly voice. Part of me wants to fall against her and sob, but that makeup is just too off-putting. I say I’m ok thanks and look at what they’re doing. Ray tells me it’s my turn. I turn my cards over.
‘What are you playing?’ I say. No one answers. Ray raises his eyebrows and huffs. It’s poker apparently, Brenda informs me, implying that it should have been obvious. So they look at me, expectantly.
‘Go on then’ says Harry.
‘I don’t know to...’ I say, ashamed.
‘Well what can you play?’ says Ray finally. I can’t answer. I don’t play card games really.
‘Pontoon?’ I say with sudden inspiration. Harry looks like I’m beneath contempt but Ray smiles at me indulgently and winks at Solly. Brenda pats my knee.
I get through a few hands. I can concentrate for the first couple and I do ok, but then my mind wanders. Harry sneers contemptuously when I have to be reminded it’s my turn for a second time. He’s a big bloke, very red around the nose, and his little blue eyes twinkle like crushed marbles. The other woman, Liz is leaning on him, sharing his cigarettes, whispering things in his ear in a floppy sort of way. He just shrugs or ignores her. Her dress is too loose. I can see too much of her chest, which is bony and yellowish but hard to ignore. I look away, but Ray has noticed my reaction and winks again, as if it must be some sort of big treat for me. I concentrate on my cards.
‘So, Gabe...’ says Ray suddenly, rearranging his hand ‘did you have a girlfriend, you know, back... in life?’
I look at my cards. ‘No’ I say. My face is burning up suddenly.
‘Playing the field huh? Best way, chap your age, best not to tie yourself down too soon eh Sol?’ Solly smiles suggestively at his cards.
‘Maybe he doesn’t like girls’ says Brenda, smiling soppily at me again and pats my knee again. Harry laughs dirtily and lays his cards down.
‘Course he likes girls’ says Ray conspiratorially. ‘Don’t pay any attention son’ and he winks at me meaningfully. ‘Plenty of time’ he adds. I have no idea what he’s on about but I smile back.
‘Better off single, ain’t he girl...’ says Harry to Liz, elbowing her in the ribs. She smiles girlishly at me and then looks shyly down at her hands. The effect is a bit weird on a woman her age, and makes me uncomfortable.
‘Still,’ he continues, taking a drink, ‘we’ve done alright, haven’t we girl. Done rather nicely...’ he muses. ‘Another hand gents?’ We all nod. He begins to deal. ‘Left them all well provided for... Becky and the littl’uns...’ Liz’s eyes quite suddenly brim with tears and she gives Harry a little punch in the ribs. His response is shocking and explosive and ends in her walking, as fast as she can in those shoes, holding back her tears, to the bathroom. Ray looks cheerfully around at the room to see the reaction ‘Phew’ he says, loudly, but very few people seem to be looking at us. He seems vaguely disappointed. When Liz gets back Harry sends her up to the bar with a loud smack on the arse. ‘She’s a good girl really’ he says. Ray smiles at him.
‘Would you believe it?’ says Harry to me loudly, unexpectedly putting his head close to mine, still rearranging his hand ‘Been together twenty five years. Who’d have believed we’d be together in the afterlife as well. Road accident it was, A272 eastbound, just outside Hayward’s Heath, fucking moron in a van not looking where he was going, pulled right out in front of me, wham!’ he smacks his hands together loudly in my ear. ‘Me and Liz all over the shop. Right bloody mess, wasn’t it my love?’ he smiles up at her as she arrives with the drinks. She smiles, flinching like she expects a slap. ‘Stupid cow’ he mutters as she goes back to the bar for the rest. ‘Why didn’t you bring a tray?’ he yells after her. ‘Til death do us part...’ I hear him mutter as he lays a couple of cards on the table. I’ve gained another whiskey and I’ve hardly touched the first. ‘Come on lad, you’ve got a bit of catching up to do’ says Solly pointing at them. I take another sip, but he looks at me doubtfully. ‘Leave the lad alone’ says Brenda. I really want to go. I want to go up on deck, get some air, maybe have a bath, maybe go to bed. It’s getting dark outside. Solly reminds me it’s my go again. I force myself to look at the cards. I lay my hand and am beaten again. They act like I’m not very bright but I just feel tired.
‘What do you - sorry - did you drive?’ continues Harry.
‘Nothing’ I say under my breath. I hadn’t taken my test, hadn’t even taken any lessons. I can’t tell them that.
‘He’s probably a bit young yet’ says Solly
‘Got my first car at sixteen’ says Harry. He sings something about a man not being a man if he’s got a ticket in his hand and raises an eyebrow meaningfully. ‘Know what I mean?’ I smile weakly. I can think of several things he might mean and they all make me uncomfortable.
‘Leave him alone’ says Brenda. ‘He’s young. Don’t know what you do want yet, do you love.’
‘Too late now then isn’t it’ says Solly.
‘It’s never too late’ she says and her hand grips my thigh and she winks at me.
I sit for as long as I can stand it then go to stand up. ‘I’m going to have to go, I don’t feel well’ I say, as casually as possible.
‘Don’t forget your drinks’ says Ray.
‘No, mustn’t forget that’ says Solly. I down one and take the other with me. Brenda insists on gripping my hand and giving me a ‘good night kiss’. She kisses me on the lips, producing delighted jeers from all, and then lets me go. I turn, wipe my mouth with the back of my hand and head for the stairs.

Up on the deck the wind is screaming in the ropes, and the wave tops are edged with bitter white crests. I head for the prow and look around. I see a woman, maybe Brenda, appear at the head of the stairway, gathering her cardigan around her for warmth, but I stay out of sight and I see her shudder and go back down. White birds roll and soar in the air above. All I can hear is wind and waves and I walk on. To my surprise I notice a couple of the loungers are occupied. A lady looks up at me. I can only see her eyes and nose and a wisp of grey hair in the opening in the waterproof cocoon she is in, but she is beaming up at me. She looks back out to sea. ‘Good evening’ I say loudly over the storm. Three fingers appear by her nose and wriggle happily at me. I’m tempted to bring my sleeping bag up and join her but I need a proper bed tonight. I wave and head back down, carefully avoiding being seen from the bar.

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Sunday, 24 January 2010

Journey I – Landfall

Finally the forest opens out and the path gets rocky. I can see a bit further ahead. Conifers give way to broadleaf and fallen leaves carpet the path. I find a place and sit for a while. Unexpectedly, I find some chocolate in my pocket. I sit and chew, looking through a gap in the trees at another gully and another ridge beyond. I can’t get used to the scale of the landscape here. When I began I was still thinking in Sussex Countryside scale. In England you can’t really cross many ridges before you come to a road, or very probably a service station and an industrial estate. It’s taken a while to fully realize that civilization is not going to be over the next ridge, nor the next, nor the one after that. This gully is full of ferns, some taller than I am, and there’s a stream in the bottom, full of fallen leaves. The rain is less driving here. As I sit, I feel the heavy drops on my hat. I look out under the edge of it up into the branches and several drops land on my face. They taste of resin.
Still, I feel ok, out here alone with just the weather and the terrain to contend with. It feels alright. I couldn’t be with them any more. Kev will have to handle them. He looked like he’d just about had enough of it himself. I guess he can’t choose who he gets to look after but I don’t know why I ended up travelling with them.

We landed on a beautiful stretch of desert shore – a tiny harbour and some mule carts waiting for us. We’d been sailing for I have no idea how long – months certainly, but the weather had been getting steadily better, with the widest bluest skies I have ever seen and high cirrus clouds and then tropic birds circling all around. The air was wonderfully warm and I swear I could smell trees long before I saw land.
There’s something strange about the perspective here. These mountains I’m in now were visible from a long way out, dominating the distance, and as time went on we could see desert hills with palm trees and whitewash, terracotta tile buildings on the sea front. I was in shorts and a vest and up on deck most of the time. Ray and his cronies stayed out of sight. I dreaded them appearing up there, making ‘clever’ remarks.
The guys with the carts were Spanish, which gave me a chance to practice. I’d never been to Spain in life, or anywhere really, but the village was exactly what I expected a Spanish village to look like. We stopped for a few hours and I looked around. There was a nice little bar, and kitchen gardens all around, watered by springs flowing out of the rocks. They gave me some figs, which I didn’t think I’d like, but which tasted wonderful, and a little plate of bread and ham, and some warm red wine. I’d like to have stayed, but everyone was loading up and getting ready to go. Somehow, the hundred or so passengers dispersed without me really noticing, along other paths I suppose. Our group formed a caravan of three covered wagons. I was depressed (I don’t think that’s too strong a word) to see Ray and the others there, Solly smirking superciliously at the scene, Ray still trying to look like he had everything under control, Brenda pointedly avoiding eye contact, Liz apparently not travelling with us. Only Harry showed his real feelings – outraged bewilderment. I noticed he’d grasped the power of non-violent direct action remarkably quickly. He just got in the way of anything he didn’t like. I managed to get into one of the other carts. Kevin, our guide, went round and checked that everything was secure and got into the front cart and Alex, our driver, said something quietly to the animals and we began to move off.
The road was rocky and threw us about a fair bit, but we lounged among the baggage, which was soft enough if you didn’t mind a bit of dust. The canvas was pulled back and we lay back and watched buzzards soaring high above. Later, as the sun came overhead we pulled the canvas over and snoozed in the shade, rocked to sleep by the motion or the cart. I was sharing with an older man called Martin and two ladies, Beth and Celine, who stayed very close and whispered a lot to each other – not in a rude way, I didn’t take it personally, they just didn’t much talk to anyone else. They smiled at us a lot though. I think they were in love. Martin looked out at the landscape but also didn’t seem inclined to share his thoughts. The only thing I heard him say the whole day was ‘I wish my wife could have seen this.’ Alex was singing quietly to himself. It was all very soothing. We spent the night in the carts. We had beans and pork and more wine, and coffee and bread and olives. Alex sang for us with his guitar.
Then we could hear Harry and Ray yelling at each other from their wagon. We hadn’t heard much from them all day since we left the harbour. I don’t know if it was deliberate or not, but as we went on, their wagon fell further and further behind and we enjoyed the peace and quiet without them. Now here they were arguing about something to do with their belongings. When they emerged they were all smiles as far as we were concerned but they didn’t seem to be talking to each other. Ray looked over at me but I wouldn’t look back. I prodded the fire and wished they’d go away. Pretty soon I decided it was time to sleep and headed back to our wagon.
In the morning I discovered that Beth and Celine were to swap places with Harry and Solly. I never found out why but I’m sure it wasn’t Beth and Celine’s idea.
All that day’s journey Harry sat looking sourly at the floor between his legs, still wearing that paunched grey suit while Solly grinned stupidly at the landscape, smoking heavily all the while. Every jolt made Harry look like he might erupt. I tried to ignore them, but it was impossible. Somehow, they occupied the entire space. Martin was perched precariously on some sacks near the back and after our mid morning break I went and sat with Alex up front.
‘Might’ve fucking guessed...’ I heard Harry mumble as I sat down
‘Just leave it’ I heard Solly say quietly but Harry was not put off and he leaned around to look at our backs. ‘I wondered how long it’d be’ he said. ‘Are you very cosy up there, you two?’ We tried to ignore him but it was difficult. Alex started singing but the noises of derision from below became too intrusive and he gave up. Martin got down and walked along a little way behind.

I put up with this for two more days. The road got steeper and more winding and shaded with pines. I also walked along behind a lot of the time but neither Martin nor I wanted to do it all day so we had to put up with sharing the space with Solly and Harry. Kevin tried to get them to not take up so much space but they were surly and uncooperative. That evening there was another fight, and in the morning Ray had taken Solly’s place. Solly was staying out of the way. During that day’s ride Ray tried periodically to engage me in conversation, making crap jokes and then telling us all we had no sense of humour when we didn’t laugh.
On the third night I got all the warm clothes I could find, all the food I could carry and set off up a side path on my own. I was so furious. I mean, if you can’t get away from these arseholes when you die, when can you? Isn’t there supposed to be some sort of come-uppance for people like these, or what’s the point? Shouldn’t Kev be able to do something? This can’t be the first time this sort of thing has happened. But I was also angry with myself. This was not the first time I’d been in this position. Maybe I should have said something. They’re just bullies after all, and mum always said bullies are just cowards and you should just stand up to them. But it’s not true. Bullies are not cowards – they’re dangerous children, and they don’t care what they have to do to get what they want – even when there’s nothing that can be done to get them what they want. They just do whatever they feel like, and I know I’ll never be like that. I’ll never be able to stand up to them because I’ll always care what I have to do.
I’ve thought about all this a lot. I think they’re lost here. There’s nothing here anybody wants to deal with them for. They can’t threaten anybody with anything, or deprive them of anything. Nobody cares here. Nobody’s impressed. All they can do is be irritating, and I think they know that and it makes them mad.

I did feel a bit guilty, leaving Kev to deal with it, and the others seemed nice enough people. I felt sorry for them. I wonder where they are now. I keep expecting them to catch up with me any moment and appear round a corner. It’s getting dark anyway – I don’t know if it’s more rain clouds or dusk. I’ve lost track of time.
When I saw him later on, Kev told me people do tend to get what they deserve here, one way or another. Being here affects people. Very few go back into life a second time the way they were. I hope he’s right. Apparently Harry ran off into the trees soon after I left. Nobody went after him. I asked what was the difference between me going off and Harry. Kev said he never had any doubt I knew where I was going, and he was just making sure I was well equipped. ‘Harry’ he said ‘got lost a long time ago.’

I tramp on down another slope, brushing against the lower branches of the trees, splashing in the puddles. The rain is getting heavier and I can only see the path immediately in front of me through the drips falling off the brim of my hat. I’m surprisingly comfortable though. This cape they gave me is brilliantly designed. It hangs loose around my body, enveloping both me and my pack. The boots are soft leather, and waterproof to my shins and then gaiters come up past the hem so my legs don’t get at all wet. I wish I’d had gear like this when I was alive. Dad used to say there’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad equipment, but we could never afford the good stuff so I was always either cold and damp from the rain seeping in, or the sweat seeping out, depending on the season.
When I need to stop for the night there’s this amazing tent that folds out of a compartment in the backpack without me having to take the pack off, and it’s designed so you just grab these loops and pull it over your head and down around you. It takes about a second. Then you slot these flexible poles in from inside and you can stow your cape and boots in a compartment at the end by your feet. There’s this thick sewn-in ground sheet that inflates. I reckon you could erect it floating in a pond and not get wet. I’ve spent days on end in it, sleeping, reading, looking out at the rain through the transparent panels, waiting for the weather to improve. Somehow it doesn’t get boring.

So I put the tent up again and I’m warm and snug inside and I start to rummage around in the pack to see if there’s any food left. There always seems to be something to eat and some fresh socks. Bizarre. I know I’m not alone. I think there’s a fairy in here doing my laundry and going shopping for me.
Now the rain is easing off. I open the door and look out at the forest.
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Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Joe I – The basics

I don’t know how long I sat there. I arrived in the cafeteria some time later, red eyed and drained. The wide, low-ceilinged wood-panelled room was filled with a low hubbub of conversation. A few people looked around at me as I searched for Joe. I avoided their eyes, but one of them got past my defences and insisted on introducing himself as Ray. He took me over to a table where there were some other people, apparently friends of his. ‘Can I get you anything son?’ he said, and for a moment I wondered if he was somehow my dad, but he wasn’t. I was relieved about that. I looked around at them. There were two women and two men, all looking about forty years old. The two women (Liz and Brenda) had a lot of make-up on and permed hair. I could smell soap and hair lacquer. The men (Harry and Solly) had suits and ties on, and very stiff, shiny hair. I suppose they were just trying to be friendly but for some reason I felt really uncomfortable about them. Ray brought me a coffee, which I was not pleased to discover contained whiskey but I thanked him politely anyway. ‘Get that down you’ he said, ruffling my hair.
Not heaven then, I thought. Joe rescued me by ‘reminding’ me of my appointment.
‘How’re you doing?’ he asked, once he’d got me sat down at a window table with a proper coffee. The sea was just as grey as yesterday, but rolling heavily and the air was clearer and I could see further out. White birds soared and glided. ‘Where is this?’ I asked eventually. I had so many questions. I plucked one at random.
Joe looked a nice chap, concerned but not intrusive. I knew at once that he would be there to help but that I didn’t have to make friends with him. That was a relief. ‘Is this a dream?’ I asked. I was very sure it wasn’t but I wanted to ask anyway. 
‘No, it’s not’ he said. ‘What’s the last thing you remember about your life?’
I had to think quite hard. I had images of the house, my parents, school, then work and suddenly I remembered Tim and Gillian and the party. It seemed such a long time ago. I told Joe about being up on the Downs that night. It was the last thing I remembered. ‘I died, didn’t I’ I said.
Joe relaxed visibly. ‘Well, that makes my job a heck of a lot easier’ he said, ‘not having to break the news...’ but I’d gone into a spin. I had guessed but not really believed it. The confirmation took the floor away and next thing, I found myself lying on it, under the table. People were fussing around me. It took a moment to get my balance, and I pushed my way through them and strode quickly up onto the deck. The wind was icy and blowing hard, and I leaned over the rail and looked down into the water. I felt so angry.
Joe turned up soon. I was silent, fuming, looking around me.
‘Shall we go somewhere quiet?’ he said. I nodded and followed. We sat down in what looked like someone’s study.
‘I’m sorry’ I said ‘it’s just all those people, fussing...’
‘They were worried’ he said. I nodded, but I suspected they were just nosey and liked the drama. I kept that to myself. I had more important questions.
‘So, this is the after life?’ I said
‘Yep’ he said. He was watching me closely, cautiously, like I might go mad any moment. That pissed me off too. I wasn’t going to hurt anybody. Why did people always look at me like that?
‘What are you then, an angel?’
He smiled broadly. ‘Hardly’ he said and shook his head. ‘No I’m a guide. We’re here to look after you through the journey. There’s twenty or so of us on this trip, and we get assigned a group of passengers. You don’t have to stick with me if we don’t get on. It’s up to you. Basically I’ll try to answer whatever questions you have...’ He tailed off and looked a bit worried. ‘Look’ he said leaning forward, elbows on knees. ‘I’ll be honest with you. I haven’t done this before. I don’t know all the answers. None of us does. Angie’s done several trips so she probably knows more than most of us but... the thing is, we do a course. If we choose to go back and be a guide we go to a place and they give us some lessons in how to be a guide. A lot of it’s just regular Samaritans stuff – listening skills, basic psychology...’
‘Except you don’t get to deal with suicides’ I joke.
Joe smiles awkwardly and leans back in his chair. ‘Well actually that’s not quite true...’
‘I mean they may have committed suicide, but...’ he’s shaking his head. Clearly there is a way to commit suicide even after death.
‘I will explain, later’ he says. ‘The other thing we get taught about is, um...’ he shrugs and looks at the ceiling for inspiration ‘...the way this thing works. Life, death, after life, rebirth, and so on’.
‘Rebirth?’ I say. ‘Really?’ Now I am interested.
‘They don’t tell us everything. Between you and me, I don’t think they know everything themselves. I can’t tell you anything about the big questions, the meaning and nature of the universe, God, spirit, all that. I don’t know where we are now in relation to the world, or what we are. I don’t know if we’re spirits or souls or actual physical beings or figments in the mind of God or whatever, and I don’t actually know that this isn’t some kind of dream. Sometimes, particularly on the next part of the journey it can seem a lot like being in a dream. A lot of it won’t make much sense at first but it’s my belief that it does have a certain weird logic to it.’
‘Like Alice in Wonderland.’
‘Perhaps. Sort of. I think sometimes, in a way it’s here to show you things. Which can be like a dream if you think about it... Anyway, I do know that no one ever actually dreams here. So that could be a clue.’ He pauses again. ‘You’ll get memories come in the night sometimes. It’ll feel like you’re right there again, back in your life, which can be quite unsettling... Anyway, what I do know is that, after you’ve completed this journey, if you want to, you can be reborn.’ He waits a moment for that to sink in. ‘But it’s not like the Hindus and Buddhists and New-Agers say, in case you were wondering. You don’t come back as someone or something in the future. All that stuff about people remembering past lives when they were Marie Antoinette or Genghis Khan must be something else – I won’t hazard a guess what but it’s not reincarnation. No, you come back as yourself.’
He knows how I’m going to react, but I do it anyway.
I stand up and pace around. ‘How? Why?’ I say.
He looks up at me from his chair, grinning ‘Why not?’
I’m looking out the window. I want to say something about time but can’t quite phrase it properly. It’s too obvious anyway – he’s playing with me. He must understand why I object.
‘Traditional notions of reincarnation depend on a rather limited notion of time’ he says smugly. ‘Physicists know about this. They don’t know about this exactly...’ he says indicating the room, the ship, wherever we are ‘...but they do know, in theory, mathematically. Our normal idea of time is a convenient fiction. It’s a structure we use in order to get stuff done, but it’s not universal, or absolute. Look, I don’t know how to explain it, I’m not a physicist or God or whatever. You can look into it for yourself if you want to.’
‘I read somewhere about Einstein saying how space and time are part of the same thing. You can go backwards in space...’
‘Absolutely, and they always say the spirit is a non-material thing. Maybe it’s a non-temporal thing too.’
‘Anyway, all I know is, whatever we are, here, goes back and gets born again, over and over.’
‘How do you know?’ I say sceptically.
‘Ask them, other passengers, here on this boat. Not all of them. Some are here the first time around, some don’t remember, but a few...’
I still am not convinced. Why should they be telling the truth, these people? Why should they lie? Why should they do anything? What are we? Where are we? Why should I imagine I should be able to make any sense of any of this at all? I sit down again.
‘This is not your first time around by the way’ he says.
I want to ask a question but am not sure what it is.
‘That’s enough for today’ he says ‘Come and find me tomorrow. We’ll talk some more.’
And off he goes. I don’t have a single coherent thought in my head. What would be the point? Every thought is as useless as the next, except breakfast that is.

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Monday, 4 January 2010

Voyage I – Songs from a Cold Sea

The afterlife always begins with a voyage across a freezing sea.
Sounds are muffled by fog but if you listen long enough on a still day, you can feel rather than hear a deep fluctuating note emanating from somewhere, rolling in and out. Sometimes it seems to be like a song coming from far out over the water, perhaps some primeval whale song. Other times it seems to be the sound of the ship itself. The sails are rarely fully unfurled, but we move anyway. The water is cloudy grey green, greyer in the fog, greener on clearer days. Sometimes shoals of metallic angular fish with jade eyes, ripped fins and mouths full of translucent pins for teeth can be seen just below the surface. Other times, enormous sooty black shapes move along deeper down. Sometimes there are what appear to be eels, and jellyfish pulsing weakly. There are birds too. White streamlined ones appear when the weather is fine, gliding along with us. Tattered black ones arrive when the fog closes in, fluttering up by the masts. In storms we are on our own.
The crew seems to be made up of a handful of silent seamen, bulky with woollens and oilskins, their faces obscured by collars and peaked caps or wool hats pulled low. The captain can be seen pacing the bridge sometimes but none of them are seen often. He is attended by a big shaggy ash grey dog, which seems to have lost an eye.
And then there are the guides who, I’m informed, are here to help us. They are dressed in pale grey and are understanding and softly spoken. They are dead, like us, but they have volunteered to stay back and help. They look after us in the first days, to stay warm, collect our meals, find the bathroom. Although none of us actually have physiological needs any more, these are comforting habits. In time we begin to wander about, talk among ourselves, or just stare out at this strange boundless grey water. Then the guides are there to answer questions if they can, and lead us through the next part of the journey.

My first view of the afterlife was of the sea. Like a lot of people, for the first part of the journey (apparently there’s a kind of art deco departure hall and a quayside), most people are still in shock, unsurprisingly. The first thing I remember was looking at a ragged black bird keeping pace with us a little off to port. I knew I’d been there a while, I knew other things had happened but I couldn’t find a memory of them – very like waking up from a long and interesting dream, when it seems the harder you try to remember, the more it slips away. A lot of the after life is like that.
I looked around me. I was on a vast wooden deck. There were masts and hatches but they were small and distant in a huge field of planks. The next thing I noticed was the quiet. Not silence – there were sounds, distant, muffled - a soothing sound of us moving along, the wind moving over us, and the water below, a faint clucking of the swell on the boards, and the gentle whir and rhythmic tinkling of the wind in the rigging, sometimes accompanied by a far away sort of whine – a gentle ambient symphony. And the air was full of a cold mist that softened and obscured the distance in pearly grey washes. It was very cold but I found myself cocooned in a downy hooded sleeping bag, on a wooden deck chair. I pushed the hood back. I could hear people talking. There were others like me along the deck. Some of them were closer to each other, talking gently, looking, like me, out to sea, at the soft misty horizon-less view, and that was when the bird glided past and I thought it was wonderful.
I was completely at peace, drifting in and out of sleep for I don’t know how long. Later, as it started to get dark, a young woman in a simple grey outfit asked if I wanted something to eat or drink. They brought me fresh coffee and orange juice and croissants, and I knew I’d died and gone to heaven.
Later that night, she showed me to my cabin, a neat, compact little room with a narrow bed with a port-hole by the head so I could lie down and look at the water just below. There was just enough light to make out shelves, cupboards, and a sink with a mirror on the opposite wall.

In the morning I'm woken by a knock on the door, and a young man brings coffee on a little tray. He smiles and tells me that his name is Joe and he will be my guide for the voyage and that if I want to talk about anything he's the person to ask. I arrange to meet him in the cafeteria when I'm ready for breakfast.
I look in the mirror on the back of the door. I look like a kid. I’d never noticed before. Why hadn’t I realised? I look so immature. I look about thirteen. Why couldn’t I just grow up? I look around me – the plywood shelves and cupboards are neatly built into the wall beside the door. There's a towel on a rail and when I open the cupboards there's a selection of clothes that I don’t recognize but which I like the look of. No school shirts. On the shelf is a selection of books which I don’t recognize either but which look interesting, and some art materials. One thing I recognize is there – a plastic fish from last Christmas – a silly stocking-filler but I liked the shape of it. Suddenly it all comes back to me like a tidal wave to the head – my home, everything I know, everything from back there and I'm suddenly sure I’ll never ever see any of it again.

To continue reading either go to Lulu to buy or download the book, or let me know when you want to read the next bit and I'll post it on the blog

A life backwards

It's in the nature of blogs of course that you come across the latest postings first (or you find yourself in the middle.) Normally it doesn't matter but if you want to read my novel in order, the first installment is as you'd expect, the oldest posting.
Thanks for your patience.