A long time ago, there lived a girl in a castle. It was an ivory tower, tall, pale and lonely. Encircling the castle was a huge and thick gray wall, dark and foreboding. It was made of heavy grey bricks so closely melded together it seemed to be one gigantic monolith.
No matter how far she walked around the castle grounds, the girl could never see the end of it; it was impressive in its span and immensity and the girl found security in it. She felt glad for the safety that the wall afforded her: it kept her safe from bandits, raiders and strange creatures that roamed through the lands beyond the wall. Yet even so, she often felt sad.
Her heart longed for something more.
The ivory tower was tall, and the girl liked to climb up to the attic on its rooftop and peer out through the window into the far distance. Everyday she witnessed glorious sunsets and sunrises; she loved how the sun’s rays reached across the sky, tickling the clouds so that they changed colors.
On beautiful clear mornings when the sun’s rays stretched all the way to her window and illuminated the dusty floor of her attic, she felt like the sun was reaching out to her too. She would often try to touch a golden yellow ray of sun that shone into the dusty attic, to see if she could actually hold it in her fingers and hands. She would feel gentle warmth on her skin. In moments like these, she felt a heaviness lifting from her heart and she dreamt of a different life – a warm, sunlit space, uncluttered and full of fresh-air, sunshine, laughter and life.
The Dream of a Safe Place
This dream and vision of a safe home had populated her thoughts for as long as she had known – she had had a family a long time ago, when they had lived in a Glass Castle among respectable people in the town. Her father was a trader and her mother was a cook; they went to church and her mother often had people over for lavish lunches and dinners. They seemed to have everything the towns folks could envy, a pretty Glass Castle, three beautiful children – the oldest a son, and two daughters, servants, a wonderful carriage with two sleek white horses, social access to a prestigious coterie of town luminaries, and of course those wonderful parties they threw.
But the reality of home life was very different. Her father regularly had romantic rendezvous with other women when he went on his long voyages for his mercantile activities. Her mother knew that he was being unfaithful; she had once discovered smears of red rouge on his shirt, but he shrugged it off when she confronted him about it.
He pretended to be a stand-up family man and this hypocrisy poisoned the heart of the girl’s mother and drove her slowly insane because there was no acknowledgement and no end to the source of hurt and pain that was eating her up.
She sought help from several people in church, but nobody told the father to his face that what he was doing was despicable or supported her mother in walking away from a man who failed to respect her and honor their marriage commitment.
In fact, a female Christian leader said to the girl’s mother “You made the bed, you lie in it” – basically saying she had made a choice in the past and now had to continue suffering for it.
In any case, the increasing tension between the girl’s parents resulted in many broken nights of arguments, tears, cries and pleas, glass breaking and finally her father leaving the house. Her mother, who had by this time, completely given away her self-respect and lost her sense of integrity, would beg and plead for the father to come back, enlisting the support of her children to get him back.
She compelled her children to write letters to their father begging him to come home, and eventually he would return, only to leave again when he had had enough of her mother “acting out.”
This had an enormous impact on the girl, yelling, shouting, blame, conflict and repeated abandonment plagued her home life and crippled her mentally, emotionally and physically – she got backaches and headaches all the time, and often felt like there was a fishbone stuck in her throat.
When she went to see the town doctor about it he said, “There’s nothing there, it’s all in your head.”
Friends in church seemed to inhabit a different world completely. The things they found interesting or amusing, the jokes they made among themselves, the way they would laugh and make eyes at each other, it was all foreign to her. She could not understand them, she felt alone, and she would often go home after spending two hours with them because being around them made her feel even more lonely and isolated.
It very hard for her to fit in.
In the local school, she found some friends. But never felt comfortable with them. Their judgement and disapproval was not overt, but it came out in the ways they would talk about her, single her out, as if she were different from them. They would do it almost as if to say they cared about her, that she was “unique” but underneath their pleasantries was just well-concealed venom.
All of these interactions ate at her soul.
To comfort herself, she would often imagine this special “home” where things were quiet, where she could see the dust specks settle and where there was no broken glass, or cluttered spaces, but just sunlight streaming in and lighting up the space with goodness and life.
She felt safe imagining this place.
No Safe Place
This picture of a quiet and safe space was something she had kept in her heart, but she often longed to share this picture with someone she loved.
One day, when she and her older sister were in a carriage on their way back to the glass castle, she ventured to tell her sister about it in spite of a niggling feeling that it might not be a good idea to share this quiet picture with her.
Sure enough, when the girl told her sister about this picture, her sister scoffed and said in a cutting and dismissive tone, “yeah, we all want a place like that.”
The girl felt foolish for confiding in her sister.
Even though her sister had treated her poorly because of her own hurt and pain, the girl felt like it was her fault.
What could she have done so that her sister did not treat her that way? Was there something wrong with her? She could not imagine that her sister was merely working out the intricacies of her own maimed heart on the easiest target available.
One day, her family house burned down to the ground, completely decimated by a freak fire that came out of nowhere. She lost her entire family to the fire. It was inexplicable, no one knew how that had happened, some suspected foul play and even insinuated that she had resented her family so much that she had committed arson.
While some subscribed to this notion, most people just believed that she was cursed.
They felt a mix of pity and fear when they looked at her – pity for how far her family had fallen and the state the she was in, but fear that they would be judged if they tried reaching out to someone like her. They felt uncomfortable as they thought that being around her could affect them negatively; they treated her like a leper, fearing that the disease would be passed on to them if they tried to reach out.
The girl wandered through the green hills, looking for something she had lost.
Daily she ventured out, drinking in the crisp air and morning dew as the sun rays peeked over the emerald hills. Shepherds looking yonder saw a lost child, wandering in the mist. Her form cast an unnaturally long shadow in the valleys. However, as soon as they ventured closer to see if she was okay, she disappeared like the morning mist.
Knowing her was like trying to know the wind, the life she inhabited seemed more of a myth than a reality. But she was always there. The towns folks knew about her. They knew her tragic story and spoke in hushed tones about the tragedy that marred her existence. The words they weaved around her formed a fictional quality and twisted the reality of her life – the barrier between her and the townsfolk grew deeper still.
She existed in a universe apart from them.
The girl felt the loneliness of living in this shrouded world keenly. The ghosts of her family haunted her, their words piercing into her spirit like a sword. The townsfolk had grown to become dark and threatening figures in her mind – she saw the way they looked at her, their furtive glances and tense whispers behind her back. They called her “volatile,” they said she was “unstable.”
She retreated farther.
The walls she had run to grew dark and foreboding, immense in their stark desolation.
And all the voices of disdain and criticism from her family and the village reverberated even louder in her head. So, eventually, for a peace of mind, she decided to leave the village.
So she wandered, far and wide. So alone for so long. She walked up and down the hills, traversed the valleys and often sat by the lakes that littered the land like coins in a wishing well.
She learned to talk to herself. Some days she would whisper softly and sometimes, she would laugh out loud. Her laughter would echo through the valleys and travel up the hills, the townsfolk were discomfited by it.
There seemed to burn a strange fire in her, and they whispered of her as if she were a woman possessed.
This went on for years, till she was no longer known as the girl, but rather as a wraith – a strange apparition that shepherd boys would sometimes encounter on their long days of watching over the flock and looking out for predators. Sometimes a heavy darkness would be felt among the flock and the shepherd boys’ hearts would be filled with fear, that is when they knew she was among them.
There were always a few sheep lying flat on their back in her wake of her visits, and when the darkness retreated, the shepherd boys would scramble to set the sheep back on their feet so that they did not end up hurt or dead.
These were just rumors of course. She had nothing to do with the tall tales the shepherd boys loved to spin about her.
The truth was the girl stayed as she was – alone, sad and afraid.
After leaving the village, she wandered away, blindly, unthinkingly, knowing deep in her spirit that she could no longer stay there.
There was no place for her – she had never been truly seen, heard or felt in the town.
Nobody saw her and accepted her as she was, only as they expected her to be, especially the members in her family and the so called “friends” she had grown up with in church and school.
She was the scapegoat they pinned all their grievances and unhappiness on, and she took their blame. She could not imagine why they would blame her and be unkind to her, there must be something wrong with her, why else would they treat her with such contempt? Why would they reject her?
These questions burned in her soul and shut her down. As she walked through the rolling mists in the countryside, her feet became blistered and cut up by the thorn and thistle in the undergrowth. She grew hungry and cold and tired and eventually lost all strength. She ended up collapsing by the side of a lake.
When she came to, she found some bread by the water and helped herself to it. It was the tastiest morsel she had ever had, the bread was crusty and warm, like it had come fresh from the oven. There was such a sweet and wholesome smell to it that she ended up scarfing the whole loaf in a few minutes. She was soon seized by thirst and leaned over into the water, scooped the cold liquid into her cupped hands, and drank deeply from it.
Ahhhh! She felt so much better! If she could have such fresh bread and sparkling clear water everyday, her soul would be satisfied! She could ask for nothing more. She felt sated. As she sat by the water in the green pasture, she pondered deeply.
“What next?” She thought. “Where will I go? Where can I live?”
She gazed into the distance and as she did so, she saw a Dark Tower in the distance. She narrowed her eyes, “is that a castle?” She wondered, regarding it thoughtfully; her eyes were now slits and but still it was hard to find a clear focus. There was something about the tall dark smudge in the distance that beckoned to her.
It stirred up a deep curiosity in her.
She got up and dusted the crumbs of her raiment. Her body felt refreshed and spritely, and for some reason, the lump in her throat had disappeared. It was almost as if not being around the townsfolk had a healing effect on her body. Her blisters had healed partially – taking note of them, the girl resolved to avoid all thorn and briar and keep her feet safe as she moved forward.
The Girl Finds The Dark Tower
It took the girl three days of walking with breaks in between to approach The Dark Tower. In the midst of her approach, The Dark Tower seemed to appear suddenly in full force with a menacing strength that both awed and appealed to her.
Yes, The Dark Tower was perfect for what she needed.
In the past few days she had encountered a pack of hyenas who eyed her hungrily; thankfully she had once read about how to deal with hyenas in an encyclopedia collection they had in the home library. Mindfully following the instructions she had read, the girl spread her arms out wide, flapping them out in exaggerated motion and made howling, keening noises that were guaranteed to set even a banshee’s hair on edge.
With her Oscar worthy display of aggression and soul-curdling cries, she was able to scare the hyenas into turning tail and running away.
This small victory gave the girl a sense of confidence. However, she knew how vulnerable she was, so when she saw The Dark Tower, she felt that it would be the ideal place for her to reside. The tower loomed high over her and seemed inaccessible – there was a wall surrounding it, dark and monolithic – made of a greyish bricks that were chilling in their cold uniformity. She surveyed the landscape, determining in her heart that she would find her way in.
But there was no entrance, so she walked around the entire perimeter of the dark walls.
It took her an hour to circle the perimeter; it was hard for her to tell where she had started and ended her walk, so she left a tree twig that she had picked up along the way as a marker. It was not until she came back to the same twig for the third time that she felt something give way underfoot.
The ground underneath her right foot had crumbled away slightly to reveal a wooden structure. On closer examination, she realized it was a trap door. Moss and rust had grown over the keyhole and the lock; it seemed that the lock was barely holding the door in position. She stomped on the lock a few times and it broke apart. The door sat unmoved. She lifted the latch and tugged at it with all her might. A low yawn emerged from the wooden door as it edged closer to opening; she felt exhausted from the sheer intensity with which she was lifting the door.
Eventually, she let go.
All the strength had seeped out of her arms and they were numb. She took a break, lying on her back on the forest floor. She then had an idea, she would pry the door open just enough so she put her feet flush against the inside of the door and push hard with both her legs to swing it completely open.
The door creaked in tired and cantankerous protest as she gritted her teeth and pushed her legs hard against the side, she positioned her leg near the top edge of the trap door where she could get maximal leverage and torque. For a moment as she was pushing and she felt like her legs were going to give out, she felt a cold sweat come over her as she realized that if she gave up the trap door would slam down, crushing her legs rendering her crippled.
This thought gripped her heart with fear, but she discarded it. She pushed harder, exerting every cell in her body till her blood vessels felt like they were going to burst; she felt a rush of blood to the head and started to see lights explode in the periphery of her vision. She did not let up, but kept exerting with all of her failing strength. Finally, she pushed the door till it teetered past ninety degrees and fell over flat – the pull of gravity had conspired to help her in her mission.
When the door swung wide open, the girl’s legs slid off the wooden surface into the opening – her heart was pounding, her head and back was drenched with sweat and she savored the sweet taste of accomplishment. A frisson of fear shot through her lower back when she realized that she had almost given up and would have been horribly maimed by the trap door slamming down on her body had she done so.
Taking a few more deep breaths, she gathered herself and brushed away beads of sweat that had built up around her eyelids. She propped herself up on her hands and looked down where her legs were hanging over into a dark hole. A ladder led down the hole but she could not make out what lay beyond.
It was pure darkness.
“Perfect!” She thought, “Nobody is going to come here. I just need to make sure I close the door behind me.”
There was a length of rope attached to the door, ostensibly for it to be closed from the inside; she scanned the grounds to look for a large rock; she found one a few feet away, it was the size of a large wheel of cheese, jagged and rough around the edges. She rolled it over to the trap door and fastened the rope tightly around the rock with a sailors dead-knot, also another handy technique she had picked up from the encyclopedia.
She gripped onto the ladder and hopped onto the rungs with her two feet. Lowering herself step-by-step down the ladder with one hand, she gripped the rope with the stone with the other. She shifted her weight and moved to the right side of the ladder while yanking on the rope so that the stone came falling down; the trap door flew up ninety degrees and then slammed shut.
She was plunged into utter darkness.
In The Castle
The girl was not sure how long it had been since she had closed the trap door. But each day melded into the next. A strange peace and deep sense of relief came over her when all the light was shut out by the trap door. She climbed down to the bottom of the ladder and walked through a dank long tunnel and found her way into the castle grounds. From afar, the castle had looked dark and foreboding, but within the castle grounds, the walls of the castle took on an ivory glow, exuding stateliness and elegance.
She found many old and arcane books within the library of the castle – they were written in old English, so it was difficult for her to understand what was written at first. But over time she grew to understand the language, and was able to freely peruse the books. There were rows and rows of books which covered the four walls of the library from end to end. The topics of these books ranged from medicine, economics and astronomy to history … and magic – these subjects fascinated her deeply as they gave her a glimpse of many lives she had never known, worlds she had never explored. She spent her days poring over these books and the vistas of imagination they created in her mind’s eye. Everyday stretched out before her like an idyllic endless summer.
But something was missing.
She subsisted on the fruit from the many fruit trees that grew within the castle grounds. Occasionally she would set up rabbit traps, skin the rabbits she caught and roast their carcasses over a fire. She had found two pieces of flint in the library so she was able to strike up a fire which caught easily on a small pyre she would build with the dry twigs that lay scattered everywhere.
The Girl Recalls The Incident
In the evenings she took special comfort in climbing up to the attic, watching the sun recede over the horizon, as the sun melted into a golden blaze and darkened into hues of deep orange, purple and pink. One evening when the sun shone more golden than usual, her thoughts drifted back to the day the fire swallowed up The Glass Castle.
She had been unable to sleep that night and had gone for a walk in Mastiff Woods, a forest near to The Glass Castle. It was a quiet night and the only sound overhead was that of branches and leaves crunching underfoot, and the cooing of long-eared owls – a species native to the woods.
A cool night breeze played with her hair, pushing her bangs into her eyes, tickling her lids and compelling her to lift her hand occasionally to her face to sweep the hair out of her face. It was late, she was heading back home when the smell of smoke filled her nostrils, she discerned the faint sound of shouting and yelling in the distance. She stopped in her tracks, heart seized with fear and dread.
Was it what she thought it was? It couldn’t be, she reasoned, she had taken special care before she had left the house to ensure that the fireplace was safely sheltered away from anything flammable; she’d made sure of it, not wanting to repeat a near accident that had almost burned her house down.
But a sense of deep foreboding crept in as she tried to push down the rising panic in her throat. “God, please don’t let it be!” she murmured aloud as her body tensed and she picked up her pace, breaking into a run to get back to The Glass Castle. In her panic, she lost her bearings and found herself tearing blindly through the brush, the opposing branches of trees in her way scratched and clawed at her face, arms and hands, but she did not feel them. Her heart kept pounding, “It can’t be” she thought, “It cannot be.” She followed the smell of smoke and then broke through the forest boundary.
From a distance, she saw The Glass Castle completely swallowed up in flames, each flame waving in the night air like long bloody arms gesticulating spasmodically in protest against a meaningless war.
She sank to her knees, feeling her life and strength seep out of her, unable to take in the full import of what was happening.
“They are fine” she told herself, and pushed herself back up violently and ran full speed towards the burning castle.
As she approached she saw the entire community of towns folks gathered around outside, transfixed, as pieces of The Glass Castle melted and fell off the edifice, dropping onto the ground like molten lead. Desperately, she surveyed the crowd. The local Butcher and his son was there, the Priest, the Bard and the Cheese-maker and his wife. Her school mates, her Church folk.
There was never such a sea of faces before that she cared less for than in that moment.
All she wanted to see was her family, she looked for her brother, her sister, and her mother, but their faces were nowhere to be found. Jonah, a school mate, came by. “I … I… I am sorry… ” he choked in the middle of his sentence and pointed weakly towards a bundle of people in the distance.
An overwhelming sense of frailty came over the girl, yet she found her legs propelling her forward, one step after the next. She approached the tight knot, and the knot parted before her to reveal three charred, blackened and wizened bodies on the ground.
They were barely recognizable, all the hair on their heads had been burned away, their faces had been eaten through to reveal gaping maw and pink flesh, the unctuous white of bones showed through the tattered remains of charred flesh and the horror of what she saw before her rooted her to the ground.
The girl blinked several times as she emerged from the nightmarish stupor; pictures of the unspeakable horror faded away as she took in the library and the familiar comfort of the oak table and piles of books that laid stacked up all around her – she was gasping in short shallow breaths, and she noticed beads of sweat forming on her nape and temples.
All the fear and pain that she had carefully sequestered away and anesthetized with books and routine and curious thoughts for months, maybe even years, came out in tremors – her hands were shaking. When she looked down at her hands, she realized that her entire body was shaking; it was almost imperceptible.
She breathed in sharply and breathed out very slowly and then repeated the process twelve more times, no more and no less. This was a technique that she had developed since young to manage her raging emotions which threatened to engulf her whole since she was a child.
This darkness had come over her since she was a child when she realized that her parents would never be able to truly understand her, or protect her from themselves and their brokenness. Their marriage had taken on the nature of a cancer, spreading out and eating away her sense of safety and wholeness, breaking down her personhood and inner security.
As a child she lived like this for an indeterminate period of time – periods of peace interspersed with incapacitating episodes where she was plunged back into memories trapped by pain and trauma.
When she came to from these dark reveries, she would eventually smooth her emotions over with methodical focus and routine and fueled by her unquenchable curiosity for life.
She had mastered the art of distraction and used it like a hot knife on butter.
One day when she was setting up a rabbit trap, the girl spied a bramble bush she had never seen before. She turned towards it quizzically. How had the bush just popped up today? Or had she just never seen it before? She walked towards it and saw what it obscured – a trap door just slightly misaligned with the bush, so that its handle poked out from from behind.
She walked over to the handle and pulled on it. The trap door swung open, revealing a long, dark and seemingly never-ending tunnel. She walked into it, leaving the trap door open behind her. It became immensely and unnaturally quiet once she stepped into the tunnel.
It felt as if she had slipped into another reality.
There was a chill in her bones and her hair stood on their ends. She had a premonition of something momentous, something that would change the course of her life if she continued walking down the tunnel.
But what life did she have?
A dark castle filled with books? The girl enjoyed that life, but often found herself longing for something deeper, fuller and more meaningful than a bookish existence of vicarious living.
She was not sure how long she walked through that tunnel. There were moments she felt like giving up – mentally exhausted from the darkness and uniformity, unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel, she would drop down into a crumpled heap and hug her knees to herself.
Sometimes she would cry and wonder if she had made the right decision to enter the tunnel, she longed for the comfort of the Castle and the beautiful sunset views it afforded her. She missed touching the yellowed and textured leaves of book pages and turning them slowly, page by page as she devoured the words and the worlds they opened up to her.
She felt overwhelmed by the surge of emotions that would come over her in the darkness.
Whereas there were many distractions for her to turn to in the creature comforts within the castle, there was no such reprieve in the tunnel, only more darkness, only more uniformity, only the silent echoes of her ragged breathing.
There was one point where she decided to give up. “That’s it” she thought “I’m not trying anymore, I’m just going to lie here and die.” This thought filled her with a cold peace, an icicle in her heart, as she slipped into the darkness, losing consciousness and falling into deep and troubled dreams.
But she woke. Her eyes could not make out anything, but she heard herself breathing and felt the cold hard ground beneath her.
There was a song in her heart when she woke, it sounded haunting, plaintive, but persistent. It was the lure of what lay beyond the tunnel, she took the song in her heart and sang it out.
She felt surprised by the sound of her voice. It was … pleasant, heart-warming and comforting. She wavered abit when she first heard it, and then started to sing louder and more confidently. Finally, this song became her compass and bulwark as she navigated her way out of the tunnel. It took days and nights to break through the tunnel, but at least she saw a faint light in the distance; sunlight stole through the opening, illuminating the darkness.
As she drew nearer to the entrance, she saw how the light revealed motes of dust in the air; these dust motes floated through the air lazily, languidly, almost as if to say,
“Don’t worry about time my dear, you have all the time in the world you could ever need.”
The girl felt comforted by this sight, as she had felt anxious about losing track of time in the tunnel. As long as she had stayed in the castle the passage of time was marked by the waxing and waning of light, and the brilliant sunsets she witnessed daily marked her days with a regularity that was both reassuring and orienting, but in the tunnel it felt like she was disconnected from time itself and held in stasis – a place where there was no beginning and no end, no rhythm and indication of her connection with the world.
The only reality was herself and that was all she had. It almost drove her mad.
She turned her eyes from the dust motes to the open field in front of her and drew in a sharp breath. A vast sea of green grass bordered with Pine Trees lay before her; it was dotted with daffodils and lavender nodding in the breeze. The air around her was fresh and crisp, enveloping her with the sweetness of pine and lavender. This experience was something that she had not known for years in the dank castle.
It felt wonderful.
The sky above was majestic, a deep azure blue that seemed to say that there was nothing good that would ever be withheld from her again. Sunlight bathed the scene before her with a brilliance she could not comprehend. Why did the green seem so much more green and why did the flowers appear almost as if they were dancing and rejoicing, almost as if they were trying to tell her something.
What was it they were saying? That she was free?
She felt the song in her heart come up again. It pulled at her heart-strings and floated out of her mouth – a melody of joy and hope. This music felt unfamiliar to her, her heart seemed to flutter in a way that was foreign. It felt like a slowly unfurling rose, like a layer in her heart had been gently peeled off; she felt lighter and softer; she felt like a burden she had been carrying for a long time had fallen off from her back.
There appeared a figure in the distance. A man. He was tall and thin and walked somewhat awkwardly towards her. She looked at him with curiosity. It had been years since she had last interacted with another human being. She wondered what this man wanted with her.
“Hello” he said as he approached her.
“Hello” she intoned.
“How are you feeling?”
“My name is Jesus, what is your name?”
“I don’t have a name” she said… feeling lost, feeling as if something had eluded her. She had always been known as “the girl” as far back as she could recall. It did not make sense though, everyone else in the village had a name, she remembered their names but how come she could not remember hers?
“People used to call me ‘the girl’ but I guess that is not really a name?”
“That’s a noun. But don’t worry we’ll figure it out” He sighed and sat down on the ground. “Would you like to join me?”
“Okay” the girl said, and sat down next to him.
“The sun is going to go down soon, it’s going to be beautiful”
“Mmmhmmm” the girl said, leaning back slightly as she hugged her knees. She felt excited about the impending sunset. Sunsets were beautiful at the castle, but surely it would be different here.
It was different.
The sky turned into a canvas of purple and pink and burning orange – it bathed the pine trees and the field of daffodils and lavender with an ember glow.
A strange and ethereal sense of peace filled her heart in the moment as she registered the presence of the man next to her. He looked young, no more than thirty years old; his face was filled with a sense of joy and expectancy; there was a quiet sense of confidence in him that she had never witnessed before in any of the towns folk. She felt comfortable with this man. It felt like she had known him all her life.
“What are you thinking about?” the man said, turning to her with a serious look on his face.
“That I feel happy, peaceful and at rest” the girl said; something in his expression seemed to indicate that he was asking about something more than what was on her mind.
He gazed at her for longer than a few seconds and then tilted his head and said, “How often would you like to come out here and see the sunset with me?”
“Everyday” the girl said with a happy smile. Her eyes lit up and the lids closed gently as she imagine the pleasure of more sunsets, all the different ways the dying sun rays would spread across the sky enveloping it with a burst of orange and pink. She imagined how the air might smell as the seasons turned, perhaps in a few months, instead of lavender and pine, she would smell the scent of falling autumn leaves and wet soil.
The man turned and looked at the castle wall that lay behind her.
“Would you like those walls to come down?” He asked the girl.
The girl pondered his question – it had taken all she could to walk through the walls, every last ounce of her strength and beyond what she thought she had in her. In the end, she had given up, but something else arose in her, a song of faith and courage that gave her the final push to get through the tunnel.
Did she want to go back to the castle? Yes, it would be nice to have a warm bed to rest in and books to read, but the thought of going through that tunnel filled her heart with a deep sense of dread.
“Yes, please” she said, looking at Jesus expectantly. “Can you take it down for me?”
Jesus nodded his head and he bowed his head and started murmuring. “Are you praying?” The girl whispered tentatively to him.
“Yes” he grabbed her hand and said, “Let’s ask my Father to bring the walls down”
His hand felt warm and strong, it enveloped hers completely and filled her with a deep sense of safety and peace. The girl closed her eyes and let go of the last vestige of fear that had gripped her heart when she thought about the tunnel.
At first nothing happened. But Jesus and the girl persisted in their prayers. Suddenly spidery cracks seemed to appear out of nowhere and quickly spread across the entire expanse of the wall. The wall which had appeared to be dark and impenetrable now seemed fragile and delicate, almost frail with the lace-like pattern of cracks that had spread across its edifice.
Jesus continued to pray and the cracks widened and spread right down to the foundations. There were tremors as the cracks expanded; cascades of energy seemed to shift within the walls and soon small rocks were starting to fall out from in between the cracks. There was a low rumble which mounted to a large roar as chunks of the wall came tumbling down, falling apart like a 3D jigsaw puzzle being torn apart. Chunks of stone lay all over the encirclement; dust filled the air in a gray mist.
The girl stood dazedly looking at the castle and the ruins of the wall encircling it; Jesus stood next to her, still holding her hand.
When the dust settled she saw the castle in a different light. Now it looked pale and vulnerable, whereas previously it had seem dark, impenetrable and foreboding. The foundation stones of the wall around the castle were stark and jagged, it would still be dangerous to venture past those sharp edges.
The girl turn to Jesus with a perplexed look on her face and asked, “What are we going to do about those jagged edges?”
Jesus squeezed her hand and said “Let’s continue to pray for all of those foundation stones to crumble so they are no longer in the way” he said quietly.
There they stood, praying. The girl closed her eyes and said a silent prayer to God, her Creator, “Lord God, thank you for bringing down the walls, those sharp edges make it hard for me to go out and come in, can you remove it completely so I can come and leave as I want to? I don’t want to feel afraid, like I am walking on eggshells all the time.”
Jesus smiled and nodded. Sure enough, the remaining rocks came crumbling down till there was nothing more than dust, leaving a dark ring around the castle.
There was a long moment of silence as the girl and Jesus surveyed the landscape. The castle stood looking somewhat sad and forlorn without its walls, but there was something strangely inviting about it, now that it was unencumbered by the towering expanse of a dark wall.
Something like a huge weight felt like it had fallen off the girl’s back. She had never really noticed the presence of this weight before, but as she surveyed the landscape before her and saw how nothing was blocking her passage between the castle and the open field, her heart thrilled and a deep sense of hope stirred from deep within her.
The vise that had gripped her heart previously, a deep sense of dread and fear that lay deeply buried within the embers of her heart suddenly loosened. Deep within her soul, the girl felt an unfurling. Something strange and beautiful was happening and Jesus was with her through this experience. She turned and looked up into his eyes.
He looked back steadily at her, quietly.
“Want to go home now?” He said to her. “I’ll be here again tomorrow.”
She hesitated. She felt reluctant to leave. It had been so very long since she had had human contact. And this did not just feel like human contact, it felt like she had met a friend whom she had known her whole life, someone who knew her intimately, yet held her lightly and gently, but with a supple strength that rivaled that of figure skaters she had seen on the television many years ago.
“… okay, see you tomorrow then” she said softly and treaded slowly back to the castle.
Her life soon took on a rhythm and a flow that centered around her evenings with Jesus. There was a religious order to her day that gave her a sense of fullness and purpose. As she started her days, she would read books, play the piano, draw and craft, looking forward to sitting in the field and witnessing the sunset with Jesus.
Sunsets with Jesus filled her heart with such peace and hope – a new feeling of safety and space had begun to govern her mind and all of her waking moments. Her heart was at ease.
Whereas previously each day melted into the next in a blur of happenstance, each day seemed to be marked by specific thoughts, events and revelations about her identity, and the girl felt like she was becoming a different person. Things which used to scare her, like spiders or the sound of ferrets mating in the wild now no longer perturbed her. She had no problems stomping on insects and putting them to rest, whereas in the past she would cower in fear of them.
She took more pride in keeping the castle grounds clean, whereas in the past she would have trouble finding the strength and will to maintain a tidy space. She developed an interest not just in reading, but also in writing. She pulled out a quill and some parchment paper and started writing poems and songs. As she did so, she felt more at ease and a stronger sense of self developed in her. She realized that she was really and truly a different version of herself now – it was almost as if her daily encounters with Jesus was bringing her truest self into life, it was a slow unfurling each day, a peeling back of layers and layers of hurt and pain that had built up over the years.
Each day she felt a rawness and ache in her heart, but even through the pain, she felt a deep seated sense of joy emanating through her spirit.
The only thing that she felt bad about was the garden in her castle grounds.
She felt glad that Jesus never came to visit her castle and that he stayed outside in the field. Every time she left the castle grounds and came back she would be confronted with the barrenness of its garden: thorn and briar inhabited the hardened soil and whatever grass there was had now completely shriveled up into light brown clumps of straw.
Each evening she walked out of the garden into the path leading to the green field. He stood facing her each time she approached him, and she would feel herself sinking into a deep sense of peace and safety as she walked closer and closer to him, all her fears about her castle grounds being exposed melted into the far recesses of her mind.
One day as the sun slipped beyond the horizon, Jesus turned to the girl and said, “I’ll walk you back home”
The girl felt uncomfortable at the thought of Jesus seeing the state of her garden but she did not want to say goodbye and felt thrilled that Jesus was trying to spend more time with her.
“Okay” she said hesitantly.
“Something the matter?” Jesus asked.
“Oh, it’s nothing” she said, shrugging her shoulders… they got up and started walking back to the castle. There was a long stretch of silence after which the girl blurted out, “Okay, the truth is I think you are going to hate my garden. The truth is that everything in it is dead.”
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“Well, for starters, there is nothing growing there, it is all brown and grey, everything’s dead…I’ve always dreamed of a verdant green garden with an oak tree and a swing…” she trailed off as her eyes followed the sun’s dying rays, reaching across the sky in a silent goodbye.
“I know a place where you can pick out some plants, any type of plant and we can bring that back to your castle grounds together” Jesus offered.
The girl paused. She could scarcely take it in. Jesus was not judging her for having a barren garden, but he was actually offering to help her get new plants to transform her garden and make it beautiful.
She kept quiet for a long time, trying to hold in the tears that were threatening to pour out.
“You okay?” he said, turning to look at her intently.
The tears came out; first they streamed down slowly, but soon they came in torrents as the girls body started shaking violently. She stood there before him, convulsing as she tried to choked back her cries of deep anguish. He put his arms around her and drew her close. She had gotten used to his presence soothing and comforting her, but she had never felt his touch before.
It felt foreign to her, the warmth of a body that she had come to associate with love and tenderness. The way that he held her was so gentle, yet strong. Something broke in her, something that had been tightly balled up for years yielded to the softness and care that he offered to her. She stopped trying to choke back her cries and started weeping deeply, fully, unashamedly.
As she wept, her whole body shook and heaved, and she collapsed into a heap on the ground. Jesus bent down, got on his knees and hugged her, holding her close to him. They sat there for rest of the evening until the final light disappeared, bird calls mingling with the soft whispers of the night breeze.
The Plant Shop
They ended up going to the plant shop Jesus had told the girl about.
The shop was unlike anything she had ever seen before: bursting with color, the entire space was populated with heads of tulips of every shade of red to purple and pink sitting straight like little handleless cups, there were Rhododendrons in all shades of lilac, pink and purple, all the hothouse flowers: Orchids, Anthuriums with their Big Red Heart Shaped leaves, Bougainvillea creeping all over the trellises they grew on, the Chenille Plant with it furry extensions, Jasmine flowers lending their sweet pungent scent into the air and Birds of Paradise with their orange crowns and blue beaks. Lobster claws hung discreetly at a corner of the store.
The girl was blown away! This was like nothing she could have ever imagined.The village where she had grown up in only ever had Roses, Carnations, Gerberas and Baby’s Breath; whole vistas in her mind opened up when she surveyed the store and imagined all that she could do with the plants that she was eyeing.
In a shaded corner of the store a strange odor emanated. It had a cloying scent that smelled abit like overnight trash. Curious, she ventured towards the strange smell and was shocked and intrigued at the grotesque monstrosity of a flower before her. It approximately three feet wide and had five “petals” that were mottled with white spots, these “petals” converged on a big yawning mouth that gaped leerily at her.
The smell was much more intense now that she had gotten closer to it. “Who would want such a horrible looking and smelly flower?” she thought to herself, withdrawing viscerally.
“Different strokes for different folks” Jesus said, smiling as he looked at her. She looked at him and smiled. Jesus seemed to intuit what she was thinking very well. That is another thing she really liked about him.
She continued surveying the dark and dank section and found more plants that captured her interest. There was the Venus flower trap with it oval shaped lobes articulated with thin red strands, a buzzing fly soon landed in one of its lobes and the two lobes immediately snapped shut like the praying hands of some alien space monster.
The girl was thoroughly impressed. She added the Venus fly trap to the mental list of plants she wanted.
She looked around. There was sooo much more that she wanted. In truth, she didn’t really like the Rose, Carnation, Baby’s breath or even Geberas. There was nothing wrong with those flowers, but they were just too pat and just a little bit boring. She was interested in wild crawlers, like the humble morning glory. She was fascinated by the idea of growing a herb garden, she loved tulips, especially the jagged-edged and two-toned ones. She loved the fly-traps, the pitcher plants but doubted that Jesus would approve of these death traps! She loved the crocuses and green buds that would reveal special surprises of their own. She wanted to grow Four-Leaf Clovers in her garden and toadstools and all sorts of moss and ferns.
She wanted, more than anything, a huge oak tree from which she could hang a swing. She touched the packets of morning glory seeds gingerly at first, glancing back to see how Jesus would respond. He caught her glance out of the corner of his eye and turned to her.
“Beloved, what do you want?” He whispered gently as he knelt down next to her.
The girl felt a sense of comfort wash over her as she had never known before. Here He was, looking at her fully, acknowledging her deeply, teasing out the tendrils of unspoken desire she had carefully sequestered away for years.
“Beloved…” she thought to herself slowly. “He called me Beloved.”
“I would like these things…” Beloved responded. She indicated all of the things which she really wanted – the morning glory, the misshapen bonsai plant ridden with knobbley branches, the Butterfly Pea plant, the creepers, the traps, the weeds, the things that nobody would cast a glance at, because they were not considered beautiful by mainstream standards.
These were the things she loved, there were the things she cared about.
Her eyes filled with tears because she was finally being honest with herself and with Jesus.
Jesus looked at her and loved her.
And she felt His love for her so deeply that she was no longer afraid.
She went and got the stuff for moss and ferns, helped herself to the creepers and traps, grabbed a bunch of seeds and bought some rope and wood.
“This is for the wooden swing I’m going to install on the oak tree Jesus” she informed him with a quiet confidence.
Jesus smiled and said, “I can’t wait!”
If you were to walk into her garden today, you would find a place that you could only dream of. It is filled with plants and creepers of every kind. A mish-mash of the tropics interspersed with evergreen trees. The cornucopia of wildlife and plants is framed by a large oak tree in the garden from which hangs a wooden swing.
“To the weary and heavy-laden, come and sit on the swing, have lots of fun!” says a plaque that Beloved herself designed, painted and nailed into the tree. The oak tree is verdant and strong – it’s branches spread out with a majesty that speaks of something greater and deeper than the material world we live in.
The way the wind blows through this resplendent garden tickles your senses and brings you back to a time in your youth when you once believed in love, and trust and freedom and growth, a time when the world was filled with the fullness of possibility and hope – you knew that life was not perfect, but you believed you could shape the world into a vision of joy, hope and beauty, if only you allowed yourself to.
This is what her garden invites the lonely, weary and heavy-laden to: rest and revival. You find your courage renewed when you spend some time swinging up and down beneath the steady branches of the majestic Oak.
If you were to see her today, if you were to walk into that garden, you would see Jesus.