Norman Allan
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Short Stories







A Night With The Kids


"What's the nicest thing you ever did?" Sangeeta asked me. I used to think the nicest thing I'd ever done was getting Antonio onto look at the aeroplane. When I was eighteen I worked for the summer in Italy as a tourist company's junior representative. A major part of my responsibilities was to ride to the airport in Naples to welcome the guests and disperse them along the Amalfi coast at their various hotels, and to collect them again at the end of their stay, to return them from Sorrento, Positano, and Amalfi to the airport. Our clients arrived and departed on the weekends, so the coach drivers worked, in the summer season, from Friday morning to Monday night in an all but non-stop shuttle. Tourists from England, Germany, Scandinavia... Ours were from England.
     As you may imagine, the coach drivers might be quite exhausted by the second day of their long weekend. Now this was no problem on the hairpin cliff-face road above the Mediterranean Sea, Capri in the distance. No, the problem came when we hit the autostrada. Then the sleepy drivers would slip into reverie, and I'd listen for that subtle change in the engine's hum or roar that echoed the driver's drift into sleep. When I'd hear the engine relax I'd hurriedly offer, "Cigaretta?" That was my job, waking the driver.
     One day one of the drivers brought his eleven-year-old son, Antonio, with him. The father would drive half a dozen, or a dozen times each weekend from Sorrento to the airport, yet Antonio had never seen an aeroplane up close. Just in the sky out over the Bay of Naples. Little toys with all those people from the buses. "Oh, it's bigger than a bus," said his father. "I'll show you."
     We drove along the Amalfi coast at night, to Salerno and the autostrada, to Naples and the airport. We disgorged our busload of sunburnt families flying to Birmingham or to Manchester. The we had too wait till all the passengers safely had embarked and departed. Time was crawling through this weary watch when suddenly it occurred to me that if I asked the Air Italia people I could probably get the kid, Antonio, a tour of the plane. So I asked, and yes, two Air Italia agents accom-panied us, me and Antonio, onto the plane. Almost immediately the passengers arrived, and we were ushered through the cockpit and down the pilot's separate gangway.
     As I say, for a long time, decades, I felt that this was the nicest thing I'd ever done, so this is the story I told in response to Sangeeta's question, and in response to this story Sangeeta told me about her night with the kid.

Sangeeta came to see me because her hands were shaking. It was interfering with her work. She had met me through a study we were doing on food sensitivity, and then again around the campus, and she hoped I might help her. Among other things I'm a chiro-practor and practitioner of alternative medicine. What do we do for shaking hands? Well, that depends. First, we take a his-tory.
     Sangeeta was small, thin and twenty-five. Despite brown skin, her upper lip was always red, inflamed. She was exotic, but not beautiful, a young East Indian woman. Geeta complained that her hands were trembling, and that she was having trouble controlling her computer mouse. She did computer graphics and she depended on her hands to express herself. And the company she worked for depended on her.
     "Is this the first time this has happened to you?" I asked.
     No, she said. It had happened before. It was worse in those periods when she was 'out of it'.
     "How do you mean, 'out of it'?"
     "Well", she confided, "I have two weeks of vivid dreams, then two weeks of dream-less sleep. And then I'm sort of out of it."
     "How so?"
     "I have hallucinations. Auditory hallucinations. Voices talk to me. Always in the right ear. And I dissociate."
     "I might find myself three hours later I don't know where. I don't know how I got there. Or I might get violent and hurt myself, or others," she said glaring threateningly at me through thick lenses, but I felt no menace. There was no threat.
     Was this happening to her now? I asked, this dissocia-tion?
     Well, yes. Though the pattern had shifted a little. It was as she had described for six years, in the winter, at the sol-stice, she'd dreamvividly a while, then not dream, and then lose it. The episodes would then last about a month. This year, however, they seemed to have a mind of their own. The dreams came interspersed: she was staying awake to avoid them: and her hands were shaking violently.

To begin with, the focus of my work with Sangeeta was on her arm and spine, and on the balance of energies in her meridians, but I was also searching for the homeopathic remedy that I hoped would resonate with the core disturbance and ground the syndrome. Homeopathic magic only works when we know our patient thoroughly and can match their disharmony to its "similimum", its remedy. To find this remedy may we need to know almost anything, everything. So, while we worked, we talked.
     Geeta told me of a dream. A vivid dream. She was in a basement with her elder brother, Dash. There were people coming after them, chasing them. They tried to escape through a high and narrow basement window. But Dash's shoulders were too wide to squeeze through. Geeta, however, slipped through, into a garden. In the garden, waiting for her, there was a dark skinned African boy of about ten years old. In the dream Sangeeta was thirteen. The boy showed her through the garden, to a lake, a pool. They were in a jungle. The boy led her into the water. "Usually in my dreams I'm afraid of the water." This time, however, Sangeeta was happy to be in the water with the boy, though there were snakes and fishes in there with them.
     On another occasion, not in a dream, Sangeeta had experi-enced herself as a python. She just lay on the kitchen floor and imagined that she had swallowed the world - that would explain why there was nothing out there, it was all inside - that would explain why she felt so fat, so immovable. This time, in the dream, the snakes were not fat. They were lithe and outside, in the water, black and orange and dangerous. Nevertheless she felt safe in the company of the young native. The snakes went their way, neither ignoring her nor yet paying her any attention. They swam on their swivelly way.
     The boy led her through the jungle pool a while. Suddenly they were surrounded by the grown-ups who had been chasing them. They lined the banks all round. Escape was impossible. And now her brother, Dash, had joined them. That was the worst of it, that Dash was now one of them! And with that she woke up.
     "That's a wonderful dream," I said, "but it's got a couple of problems. The betrayals of and by Dash are no fun. And the ending sucks!"
     I told Sangeeta about a variant of "reframing" where you focus on a feeling, a bodily feeling that you have at the present moment. Then you look for an image, a thought, or a memory, whatever, and you interact with it. You say what you want, do what you want, and have it turn out the way you want. You say anything, do anything, bringing any resource to bare - be super-man, be God-like - and have it turn out the way you want. When the image resolves, you return to the feeling, and see if it's changed. "Why not do this with your dream?" I asked Sangeeta.
     Some minutes later Geeta cheerily reported that she and the boy had taken a plane to a South Sea island. "I never knew you could do that," she said. While reframing may sometimes seem but the waving of a wand and the mildest of panacea, it does expand one's mental space, one's psychic horizons. It initiates a programming of success and gratifica-tion, while not ignoring the down side. Indeed, it specifically chases what's ailing you. But back to the dream: there is integra-tion in this dream, and I said to myself, "this girl will mend." Maybe I was overly optimistic, cause when I focused inside myself and thought of her I saw, yuck, there were some more icky periods still to come and all one can say is "there, there" (God forgive) or "hang in there, Sangeeta."
     Even as I write Sangeeta has flipped through another change, and it's terrifying her. "I don't know. I feel I've lost a part of me." She is dizzy, tired of it, and soldiering on doesn't seem too great an option. It's so exhausting.
     "Take the Bach Flower Rescue Remedy," I advise, trying to convey confidence. Sangeeta won't go and see a psychotherapist or psychiatrist. "They don't help." And she won't take the homeopathic remedies I prescribe. She fears such manipulations. Fears she may lose herself.

Sangeeta was teased and humiliated by her mother. When she was nine her mother sent her to day-care with her four year old younger brother. She took to withdrawing, literally into a closet.
     Her mother was an artist with some notoriety in the East Indian community. Mummy had ambitions for her sons. Dash, the elder, was a civil engineer, putting together highway projects, building bridges. Siva, the younger, still at school, was a computer whiz. Sangeeta's thing was mathematical philosophy - the meaning of logic, the rationality of number - but her mother wouldn't have it that a girl could handle numbers. Girls were delicate and intuitive, or had fire. And sex was... how about, "Don't ever let a man put his disgusting thing in you." So who'd be surprised that Sangeeta was drawn towards her own gender.
     Sangeeta was torn between hetero- and homosexual orienta-tion, and she was torn between the artist and the scientist she found irreconcilable in herself. Even though the computer graphics work might appear to us to embrace both art and science, to Sange-eta it was art. When logic sang symbols in her mind she'd feel sick, nauseated, and yet she missed this side of her. She longed for the completeness she knew she lacked without it. For a while I thought these schisms were the major dynamic pulling at her, pulling her apart. But there was more to it.
     Sangeeta's mother was a witch. Sangeeta would deny this. "She's a typical East Indian mother," Sangeeta insisted. "No," I replied. "She's a witch, and she could be a Jewish witch, or a Chinese witch, or any witch."
     When Geeta is in trouble, her mum won't see her. Cuts her off completely.
     "Mummy, I'd like to come over this weekend."
     "We're busy this weekend."
     "I'm feeling bad." Stony silence. "I'm feeling suicidal."
     "Go and see your psychiatrist."
     "He's not available on the weekends."
     "Then he's a cruel man like the rest of them, and you're better off without him. Go to the hospital."
     "Can I come home? I need to come home."
     "Your brother, Dash, isn't well. He needs the space. You would only upset him."
     When Sangeeta is well, however, her mother won't leave her alone. Not until she flips again and then mother is nowhere to be found. I wonder if she cackles like Oz's Wicked Witch of the West? Or does she speak seductively? Is she doing all this conscious-ly and does that matter one little bit?

The evening with the kids nearly put Sangeeta back together again, until her mother sensed it, and brought her artillery to bare. The evening with the kids also reminded me of taking the child onto the plane. Why, I can't explain. It made me glow. And I felt a healing, though, as I say, I was not directly involved.

On the day in question Geeta went out with a friend to a movie matinee. After the film, they went out for a coffee. Geeta's friend ordered a drink, a pinklady, even though she knew she shouldn't. So Sangeeta too had to cheat, had to be weak. She ordered a chocolate milkshake though sugar, dairy, and chocolate didn't agree with her, and often induced quite strong reactions. By the time Sangeeta reached home she was feeling a little high, spacey, and apprehen-sive.
     Sangeeta rented a room in a family house from a couple who fought all the time. There were two children to the troubled marriage; Rick, four, and Brit, two.
     Little Brit was daddy's darling. Chubby and angelic, she was emotionally substantial, her solid presence belying her age. As Sangeeta entered the house, Brit was sitting on the bottom step of the stairs leading up to Geeta's room as though waiting for her. Brit's arms were folded decidedly across her chest. The two-year-old dumpling sat below the closed trellised stair-gate, immovable.
     "Can I get past?" Sangeeta asked. Brit shook her head "no".
     Beyond them, the door to the basement was closed. The parents were off behind the closed door battling. The odd sharp word drifted up to the main floor. The two kids were left to sit it out, to weather the storm clouds.
     "Do you want to come up to my room?" Sangeeta asked the kids. Brit nodded a cursory "yes". Sangeeta opened the stair-gate. Little Brit grabbed her hand and surged up the stairs. Rick, mournful, followed. Where Brit, daddy's favourite, glowed with self-assurance, Rick, mummy's pet, lacked lustre. Mother enveloped him, but without substance. The world might any moment swallow mummy, and any wind might blow little Rick away. The corners of his mouth dragged towards the floor as he shuffled up the stairs behind the young woman and the toddler.
     Was it the milkshake that had Sangeeta's head whirling? She talked to the kids as best she could as she tidied her room compulsively. She tried to be there for them, but her head was spinning, and things needed to be put in their place.
     "God must have a sense of humour," she told me as she related this story. God is a new word in her vocabulary. She felt that the Hindu gods of her fathers' were a fiction, but I use the concept, "God", in such a loose and general way that Geeta has begun to concede such a benign and defuse Divine principle might indeed exist.
     There in the room with the two kinds, her head swimming, Sangeeta prayed for help, and questioned how someone so near the edge - and here come the voices again - how she could be of any use.
     "Shall I read you a story?" she asked. "Yes," nodded Brit sagely. Rick's assent was a mere twitch.
     They went down to the living room where the kids' books lived. Geeta picked up a book, plonked herself on the sofa, and read: Jack and the Beanstalk. But both kids were listless. As Sangeeta read on - fee, fie, foe, fum - Brit wandered over to an aquarium on the other side of the claustrophobic blue-walled room, pulled over a chair, climbed upon to it, and made to pour her milk into the water.
     "Wait!" Geeta shouted. Brit hesitated. Geeta explained that the milk might kill the fish.
     "I want to kill mummy's fish," said little Brit.
     "Do you know what it means to die?" Geeta asked.
     "That's when they lie at the bottom of the water on their side," said Rick.
     "They stop," said Brit. "They go away."
     "When I was little," Geeta recalled and told them, "I poured ketchup into my mother's fish tank. She was so proud of her fish. And all the fish died. It made me feel very sad. I'd really like it if you didn't kill these little guys."
     "Okay," said Brit. "Let me sit on you lap."
     Brit and Sangeeta sat a while and talked. Then Sangeeta began to feel Rick's absence, and she had the intuition that she should find him fast. She put Brit down, and went out into the hall, over to the stairs. Rick was upstairs. He had climbed over the banister, and was hanging down into the stairwell from the banister.
     "Oh, Rick, be careful. You'll fall."
     "I want to fall. I want to kill myself."
     Sangeeta climbed the stairs, talking to Rick the while. As she approached him, he let go. She reached and caught him. They tumbled together into a heap on the stairs. Rick huddled up close to her.
     Geeta had on an old sloppy jumper. It was open, unbuttoned. Her hands had been too shaky since the milkshake to fumble with the buttons. Now in the aftermath of her fright with Rick's fall, she shivered. And the little four-year-old boy helped her button up her jumper.
     Brit came and joined them. And they hugged together, all three, a long while. Then Sangeeta put the children to bed.

I glowed quietly as Sangeeta told me the story. It made me feel useful, though I was never there, and the encounter was far from a cure for Geeta. But we got to look into the aeroplane and we 're getting ready to fly home.