Catching Feathers in the Wind Excerpt

Unseen Hands

Stephen thought about the bookshop in town that sold “all those new-age books,” the ones I used to devour voraciously when I was still alive. He was wondering whether he could bring himself to go inside or, more to the point, whether he could bear to be seen going inside one of them. I waited patiently, as he imagined himself walking in and choosing something to read, then handing his money over to one of those “weird-looking” assistants. He smiled at the thought of the nose piercings, rainbow jumpers, endless dangly amethyst earrings and sandals he imagined they’d all wear.

For a second, it looked as if he might not go, so I projected into his mind the memory of that lovely coffee shop where they made the best coffee ever, and its deliciously fresh, hand-made Italian pastries. And the newsagent nearby who sold national and international newspapers and special interest magazines, for interests you couldn’t have imagined would be particularly of any special interest to anyone.

“Life goes on,” I whispered.

“Life goes on,” he echoed into the empty room.

On the bus, he looked out at the beautiful day and watched the passing traffic. He enjoyed the sight and sounds of people on the way to somewhere, other people, rushing along with the rat race, bewildered but unquestioning. It contrasted satisfyingly with the life he had led of late. He breathed in the noise, the busyness and the pollution, which he was sure he could actually taste now. But, after all that had happened, it was like a soothing balm to his soul; and yet there was still no denying it, London in the twenty-first century was a very strange and intense place to be.

He entered the deceptively small shop front, and was greeted by the overwhelming incense that he imagined burned all day long in these places. Colours, shapes and images mystical and strange greeted him from all sides. ‘There’s no way I’m wondering around in here for long’ he thought, “I’m out of here in five minutes. He took his life in his hands and went straight for the counter, worrying about the smell of incense sticking to his clothes.

“Can I help you?” smiled the rainbow jumper, which was adorned with a head that sported long silver earrings in the shape of some kind of amulet, which he vaguely recognised as Egyptian, and eyes severely outlined with thick, black Kohl.

“The things you get me into.” He whispered under his breath. He had taken to speaking to me at odd times, as if I were standing right next to him or, rather, as if he knew I was standing right next to him. I liked it. I laughed and reached out to hold his hand. It slipped through mine just as it might slip through the smoke from the smoldering incense.

“I’m sorry?” asked the rainbow jumper, perplexed and picking up a very strange vibe from this shifty-looking guy in  the designer suit.

“Um, oh nothing, I was just…um wondering if you have any books on life after death or anything like that?” People turned to look at him now, somewhat bemused. Beads of sweat broke out unexpectedly, and began to pour down his back between his skin and the ridiculously warm, long-sleeved fleece top he was wearing under his jacket. I stifled a giggle. The woman blinked and looked at him through narrowed eyes for a second. He stared back at her, unflinchingly, and then glanced quickly around the shop, taking in what felt like a huge crowd of people, all staring at him incredulously. His eyes darted towards the door.  he was too far in now. His throat was closing up menacingly and feeling very dry. The large group of people seemed to have mysteriously appeared in the shop from out of nowhere! It was almost as if they had been put there to make sure he was securely and firmly hemmed in! They stood around browsing through magazines and books by the door, cruelly blocking his exit, and further reducing the oxygen content in the room. He looked stunned and panicky for a split second as little beads of perspiration began to appear on his forehead.

The shop assistant, mercifully recognised the ‘odd vibe’ as fear and discomfort, and decided to help him out. She picked a shelf fairly arbitrarily and pointed. “Just over there,” she said, before carefully returning a tray of colourful stones to a glass cabinet.

“Thank you” he said quickly, briefly taking in the intense look on the faces of some of the regular shoppers, as they thumbed through the fascinating titles. He turned to look at the shelf towards which the woman had pointed and reeled slightly as he peered along seemingly endless rows of books covering the subject from every conceivable angle. There was a book on near death experiences which I had earmarked for him. He spent at least half an hour looking at everything else! Then just as he was about to leave, a woman who ‘just happened to be carrying a copy,’ ‘just happened to bump into him’. There was a picture of an Angel on the front cover. I beamed my consciousness onto it so that he saw my face superimposed onto the book for just for a brief second. He did a rapid double take and, without thinking, reached out to grab the arm of the woman holding it. She jumped and gasped.

“Excuse me,” he heard himself say, while staring intensely into her alarmed but radiantly beatific expression. “Where did you get that book?” The woman looked at the book for a second as if she hadn’t seen it before either. “Unseen hands,” the title screamed out. Then in smaller print “Guardians from the Other Side of Life”.

“I’m sorry, can you tell me where to find that book.” He insisted. The woman took a small step back…

“Uh um…” She mumbled, feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the intensity of the whole experience. She wasn’t used to this sort of place, and this was all getting to be just a bit much for a lunch break! Next time, she would come on a day off. She looked around the shop, confused. A slightly irritated man, who looked as if he could be a manager, looked up from the Inner Peace and Compassion section and said (somewhat tersely, Stephen thought) “There’s another copy over there.”

The woman quickly seized her opportunity to slip out of Stephen’s grasp, paid for her copy and left the shop, carefully adjusting her office clothes and checking to make sure that no one from work saw her exiting the strange adventure. Stephen looked towards the general direction of the man’s disdainful stare, and then looked back at him puzzled. The man had returned to Inner Peace.

“Sorry, where?” He asked, again attracting more attention than anyone could ever be comfortable with.

“It’s behind you!” said the man through compassionate, tranquil and conscious teeth. Stephen was caught off guard by the pantomime nature of his completely innocent choice of words, and chortled mischievously to himself. It felt like the first time he’ d laughed in years.

Out on the street, the woman felt as if she had entered the real world again. She shuddered as she thought about the guy with clammy hands. One never knew who one might meet in these places. Later on she would tell her friends, over the wilting prawn mayonnaise sandwich she would now have no time to eat, about the guy who came into a new age book shop and asked if they had any books about life after death. On second thoughts, perhaps she wouldn’t. That had been her once, after all; looking for something, not knowing something; searching for something. Something she might not easily explain to the extrovert sales reps she had such fun working with. No, maybe they wouldn’t quite ‘get’ that one.

She clutched her book protectively as she walked, as if it might disappear like printed Shangri-la, transcribed in faint old ink, which someone who didn’t really understand might somehow suck from its pages with their cynicism, and leave her wondering through life’s icy, post-bereavement landscape without hope. She tucked the small paper bag, deep into the bottom of her efficient, trendy, modern-girl-about-town-2nd time-around-and-reconstructed-therefore-not-Stepford-wife-like Kelly-bag, and walked efficiently back to the office with her head held high.

Back inside the shop, Stephen hesitated before making his way over to the counter. What, or who would he have to negotiate to get there? This shop was way too small. A man with spiky blond hair and a pierced eyebrow, wearing an itchy-looking mohair jumper (striped but actually not in rainbow colours), was looking through a selection of tarot cards. The man, who had been standing there statuesquely, for what seemed like an age, trying to intuit just the perfect pack to buy, and blocking yet another thoroughfare to freedom, tutted as Stephen squeezed past him apologetically. He didn’t like being jostled. He didn’t like all the weird energies he was picking up from him either. He scowled meanly. Stephen persevered; he’d come this far, and there was no going back.

“Excuse me” he said as he squeezed past a man with glasses in round frames. “Excuse me…” as he crushed himself through rows of people sniffing weird-smelling, headachy, gummy-looking oils in dark bottles. The shop seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. “Excuse me, oh sorry, excuse me…” as he stepped on a sandals and grey camping socks combo. A woman with eyes so intense he had to look away quickly, to save his soul, he thought, looked into him over her glasses and smiled sympathetically. The shop felt woody, dense, strangely olde-worldly, magical and deeply mysterious. He thought about Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle for some reason. Hadn’t he been into all this stuff? Despite the humour and strangeness of the situation, or maybe it was because of it, he liked the feeling of this new world. It felt sort of warm and welcoming, and somehow… hopeful.

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