Monday, December 13, 2010

This is a story for Advent.
I imagined it as one of these advent calendars - with a little door to open for each day of the month of December...


1.The day comes when the man knows he must leave.
 Leave his wife. Leave his hungry children. Leave everything he has ever known. Leave his village and look for work in the city.

2. In the beginning everyone feels the most intense joy. She does too. The death sentence given by the doctors has given the whole family the most intense sense of how precious the love is that they possess for each other; and then, by what felt like a miracle, they all had been given extra time to enjoy it.

3. The boy lies awake in his iron bed far from home.
The boy’s blankets are grey. His uniform shirt is grey. The shirt he will put on when the bell rings to wake him in the cold morning.

4. On the second day, the man reaches the main road which leads to the city. Day and night, huge lorries thunder past. The noise stupefies him. He is choked by the dust.

5. Her friends all come to see her. So many friends! There was a queue at the entrance to the hospital ward and her elder daughter would manage it. And the mother would say to everyone who came: “This is everyone’s worst nightmare. Dying of a brain tumour. But I tell you: it’s not so bad. It’s not so bad as you all imagine”. 
And there is a fierce joy about her that profoundly touches them all.

6. The boy lies in his iron bed in a row of identical iron beds in an unheated dormitory named after a famous general. The boys compete for a polished shell case from the first world war. The dormitory is very cold. This is because he has to learn to be brave.

7. The noise gets louder and louder. There are the lorries and the music coming from the roadside workshops and food stalls. And people’s voices have to be so much louder to make their voices heard. It all confuses and bewilders him.

8. When they let her out of hospital it is a kind of victory parade. She is so happy, so happy to be home again. A friend had brought her lilies in the early stages and she had wondered which would last longer. The lilies or her. 
But she’d lived to see the lilies faded and thrown into the bin. 

9. The boy cries often. In secret, where no-one can see or hear. He is not very good at being brave. The other boys make a list for Santa. They ask for Meccano and model cars. They are excited. He feels sad and doesn’t really know what to put down.

10. In the village he knew everyone. And everyone knew him. Some he liked. Some he hated. Some he feared. A few he loved. But loved or hated, feared and enjoyed, there was a web of knowledge there that upheld him.
He did not know this at the time.
But now on the road no-one knows him. And he knows nobody. And step by step he begins lose his sense of his self.

11. She was restless at night. They had to sleep apart. The husband felt as if he had already lost her. 
She couldn’t walk up the stairs any more. Balance gone. So she would crawl up on all fours, crawl up them in the dead hours of night so she could be in the top room. In the top room, in her chair, and see the stars.

12. In the end the boy writes down what he knows he is meant to. He will get a toy car. But it’s not what he wants.
He cannot say what he wants. He cannot even tell himself.

13. The closer the man comes to the city, the thicker the crowds become. The louder the noise. It is a kind of continuous roaring that utterly annihilates him. He cannot think. He can scarcely breathe. He knows somehow he must join these roaring people. Like them, he must jostle and shove. But he is weak with hunger and dazed with confusion and he does not have the strength.

14.Somehow the brain scan had found its way into the house. A big plastic image like an x ray inside a big brown envelope. A thing of horror: an image of the tumour that was destroying her brain. And they are helpless. Helpless in the face of it. All of them possessed by dread.
She keeps crying for her daughters. She doesn’t want to lose her children.

15. The boy discovers the source of his unhappiness. It is a girl he secretly feels himself to be. He can tell no-one. He is too shamed. Almost as soon as he has uttered his desire, he tries his utmost to suppress it.

16. The man is curled up in the rubbish in an alley. It is there he dies. There is no-one to bury him. In the distant village, his family will never learn what became of him. Life will go on. After a while the scavengers tip his body into the river.

17. One night she lets out a terrible scream. She is unconscious, thrashing about, her breathing horribly laboured. Her husband phones an ambulance. “Status epilepticus”, the doctors say. “We’ve had to put her on a ventilator.” “She wouldn’t want that”, the husband says, “Take her off it, please.” They tell him: “There’s a fifty fifty chance she’ll die”.
“Do it. Please do it”.
They turn her off the ventilator. She lives.

18. The boy has grown up now. He lives as a man. His mother has died. He feels utterly and completely alone. Shyness torments him. His secret eats away at him.

19. The river carries the body downstream. As it carries everything else. The silt it deposits is the source of the country’s fertility. The country called Bangla Desh. The corpse it carries is one of many. It drops it on a mudbank where it is torn apart by dogs.

20. She falls unconscious just before Christmas. Her younger daughter says “Dad. Dad we’re still having Christmas. I’ll do it” she says “I’ll make it happen”.
And she does. She gets the tree, and decorates it, and puts out the Nativity.
As they always did.
And they put up a little tree in the bedroom where she lies dying.
And they all sit and make a toast. 
To life. To loving.

21. Years later, living as a woman, by a miracle the widow met a new lover. Their love was fragile at first, because it was always threatened by the past.
But at night they lay in the upstairs room the woman loved, and at night they would lie in bed and see the stars. 
It’s love, they say, it’s love that moves the stars.

22. It was me who encountered the man. I was in a boat, on the great river, and in the distance I saw the body on a mud bank. And the dogs around it. 

23. I was the boy in the dormitory.

24. I was the husband of the mother the tumour killed.

25. And now I am the lover. Looking out at the night sky filled with stars.

Jo Clifford. Advent. 2010.


This is amazingly beautiful. I feel like I've lived several lifetimes after reading it. What a great expression of the true meaning of Advent and Christmas!
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