I see a ghost.
Yes, I literally see a ghost. What is more, judging by its behaviour, it also sees me, sweeping in haste as it does across my path in the form of a rucked bedsheet. Its mouth and eyes are formed by scorch marks. The rest is merely accidents of fold and tatter.
I attempt a cursory communication, expecting it to ignore me through fear or snootiness. Unaccountably, it does not occur to me to be afraid or, even, incredulous.
It seems to be on another plane of existence altogether. Whether that is a result of a decided antipathy towards the fundaments of mine or its own pride of place elsewhere, I’m unsure.
Everybody has heard of ghosts. Very few can claim to have seen one. Even fewer have actually touched one.
I am in the hallway of a large public museum, just before it shuts down for the day. In fact, an officious old janitor has already warned me of the standard opening hours, and was it really worthwhile purchasing an entrance ticket for just half-an-hour?
Like a bus conductor of the old school, he punches out a long spool of thin paper from his contraption with a handle. As he departs to continue his shutting ceremonies, he gruffly tells me not to get lost. And off he goes with his scowling walk.
It was then that the encounter with the ghost transpires. Inadvertently, I touch it, sensing the delightful tingle of silk bedcovers – an act which causes it to leave a trail of slimy white ectoplasm in its wake, congealing upon the marble floor. I fear the janitor will probably blame me for the mess, taking a dim view, as he will, of such goings-on.
So, I escape the museum, fearing the janitor more than the ghost. But I sense the spectre following me into the street and, upon twisting my neck, I indeed see it dissolve into the early evening sunlight.
I am strangely sad.
I hear a voice shouting and I discern the jobsworth janitor gesticulating vigorously. He holds a white bundle which he must think I left behind on the museum steps. But no, he is not shouting at me. He doesn’t want the ghost to make an exhibition of itself, with all its clothes off, I gather. I laugh out loud at this thought of the janitor’s material concern for the wraith.
I’ve got no heart to dwell further on such matters, since the phantom evidently fell in love with me during that timeless moment of human contact inside the museum. In short, it felt, it was conquered, it came (in more ways than one)… and it went.
“Brother, this weather’s getting real close.”
I turn to him and see that the sweat has made brown inroads into his starched detachable collar.
He points towards the horizon with a wide sweeping of arm and finger where the impending storm has produced a straight division between impenetrably dark cloud and blue sky.
Our pilgrimage is on its last legs. The silhouette of a human-sized crucifix is barely visible on a hill at the leading edge of the storm, amidst the continuous bright bubbling of thunderheads. But we do not blame God for this last-minute hurdle in our attempt to bring our pilgrimage close to Him.
Suddenly, in the middle distance, I spot a white-cloaked figure, bent forwards more at the knees than the waist.
“She’s heading this way.”
How my companion already knows the figure’s gender, I cannot fathom. It’s quite beyond me.
The black crackling sky skews swiftly above, soaking us in sheets of raindrop stitches. To the very bone, it feels.
One bright shaft of lightning slants through my companion’s chest, pinning him to the ground, as it were, with a golden girder.
He squeals like a stuck pig.
The cruel lightning gradually dissolves into trans-substantiality and eventual invisibility.
I hold my companion upon my lap - not so much to comfort him but, with a churchly blessing, to bring a realisation of death’s simultaneity to his shrinking soul.
A further lightning shaft slides through my own body from the dark underblankets of the incontinent sky, cross-sectioning itself in more colours than I have seen in common prayer or, even, in spiritual trance.
The figure arrives from the middle distance and the silk garment it wears barely touches my cheek in a timeless moment of delicious tingling.
I can hear the soft voice whispering sweetest nothings in my ear. I know I cannot die better than with such endearments. Better far than the dry-as-dust spell of churchly blessing called Last Rites.
Unlike my companion in pilgrimage, I have at least fallen in love once during my life, even if such love is to endure for less than one second.
And two spirits touch hands with a shimmering shiver that merely takes an immeasurable moment in a heaven called mindless love.
(published ‘the kore’ 1994)