Thursday, 6 March 2008

The beggar at the garden gate

Central Europe, cca 1943

A little girl is playing with her cousin in the garden.
It's wartime, food is scarce at best, scurvy is rampant. But children can find joy even in wartime, if given half a chance.

Suddenly they notice a man standing by the garden gate: a tall, youngish man cloaked in a coat that resembles a patchwork of rags. A beggar.

The girls hadn't seen a beggar in a very long time, and not only because they live in a "nice" part of town, but because the German occupation army made sure that beggars and other such undesirable elements were appropriately disposed of, so they didn't roam the streets molesting law-abiding citizens and breeding low morale with their depressing presence.

The beggar is looking at them, smiling.
He doesn't say anything.

But the girls, being kind and curious, as many children often are, approach the gate.

"Could you girls spare a piece of bread, a carrot, perhaps - something, anything, for me to eat?" he asks kindly.

"Oh, the bread is locked up, and I cannot take any of it without mamma's permission, and she is not home... But I think we have a turnip! Would you like a turnip?" the first girl asks.

The beggar smiles warmly at her and doesn't say anything.
The girl turns to her cousin and says to her: "Go and get the turnip! It's in the cupboard."

Then she turns to the beggar again.

He isn't there anymore.

Bewildered, the girl opens the gate and runs out. She looks up and down the deserted suburban street.

He is nowhere to be seen.

Her cousin, returning with the turnip, helps her look for him - only, there is nowhere to look, really. There is nobody in the street, as far as the eye can see. There are only locked gates: lines of locked garden gates, with no sign of life, except for the birds chirping in the trees.

The girls wait on the street for a long, long time.

They never saw that beggar again.
And they never found out - or figured out - where he could've gone in such a short span of time.

But that day, in the garden, the little girl found something else: she found mystery; and she found wonder. That day, and although she didn't realise it at the time, her world expanded beyond the visible. That day the world offered her a glimpse of its true face: the face of Janus, forever steeped in uncertainty, shimmering with wonder and doubt and mystery and possibilities.


This is an atypical "time slip" story: not a good choice at all for starting a blog on "time slips". In fact, I am almost sure it doesn't even qualify as a "time slip" proper.
(And please, do notice that I haven't listed any of the barometric or hygroscopic conditions, or listed any possible sources of radiation, or any of the specifics that I am asking for in the introductory post - with the exception of a turnip.)

But it has a special place in my memory - and in my heart - because it became a precious part of my heritage. The girl was my mother; and this story was for me one of the earliest lessons in mystery - that precious commodity that, according to Einstein (and my mother) we cannot do without... unless we're willing to settle for a death-like existence, mere survival of the body, a vegetative existence within the confines of our fallible bodily senses.

That's what she gave me (among many, many other gems that cannot be bought for money - only for love): a world - the world - without limits; a world where nothing is impossible because we don't really know what is possible. So that I could tread without fear, with the timeless wind of mystery in my sails.

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