The doorbell rang. It was louder than usual. Noel jumped completely off the bed. He was still half asleep, but he ran, stumbling through the house to the front door; he unlocked and opened it. Gramps was standing at the door frowning at him. He said, “Let me in, boy. Let’s talk about it.”
He moved Noel aside and came on in. Noel was confused, flabbergasted and speechless. “Gramps was dead,” he thought to himself. “What is he doing here?”
Suddenly, he felt someone shake him, and then he heard the voice of his girlfriend calling his name. She said, “Get up, Noel, its one o’clock in the morning.”
He opened his eyes and looked up to see Sian standing over him. She continued, “Go take your shower and go to bed.”
He sat up, rubbed his eyes, and then asked no one in particular, “What the hell is going on?”
Sian laughed, responding, “Are you having more bad dreams?”
“No,” he replied. “Just weird ones; very weird ones.”
Suddenly, Charlie felt as if someone had given him a swift kick to his posterior. He was puzzled; why would Sian be kicking him? Before he could figure it out, he felt another kick, harder this time. It woke him up completely, and as he opened his eyes he could see a uniformed LAPD officer standing over him next to a patrol car with its engine running. He had been dreaming.
It was still somewhat dark. The officer held a cup of coffee and a McDonald’s sandwich bag in his hand. He was grinning.
The officer said, “Damn, for a minute there, I thought you were dead, Charlie. Here’s your morning breakfast.” He leaned down and handed the coffee and the bag to Charlie.
Charlie reached up and took it from the officer. He said, “Good morning, Tom. What time is it?”
Officer Tom Maylor laughed, and then he replied, “The time. You want to know the time?” he asked jokingly. “You have a job to go to, Charlie?” Not waiting for a reply, he just turned, yanked open the passenger’s door of the patrol car, got in, and slammed the door shut. The car sped off. He stuck his head out the window and shouted, “Five o’clock.”
Charlie did not have anywhere to go. He had no job. He had neither family nor friends, except other homeless people like him who lived as he did – day-to-day, moment-to-moment, hand-to-mouth. However, he was content as long as he had something to eat and a place to sleep. He had no concern for his safety. His life was already lost, he was already dead; and it did not really matter much to anyone. He was just another homeless person – one less problem for the authorities to deal with.
Charlie sat up and he looked around his surroundings. He was sitting in filth under the Santa Monica Freeway. He smelt like old piss. Nevertheless, he was smiling. He was having his first meal of the day, maybe his only meal, but his first meal. The dream he was having was strange, but it brought back some memories of a past life he had just about forgotten. He decided that he would take an afternoon nap – after he figured out lunch.
Sergeant Tom Maylor and his new partner, patrol officer Eddie Clement, continued on their rounds. Eddie grinningly asked Tom, “How did you come to know Charlie?”
Tom was quiet for a minute, thinking. He responded, “Oh, we go back -a ways. I met him a couple years ago. It was a typical call from the radio dispatcher – a homeless man at the McDonald’s restaurant causing a problem. When I got to the restaurant, Charlie was huddled in a corner, crying. I immediately felt sympathy for him. He seemed cold and was a bit delirious, but harmless. He kept asking for something to eat. ‘All, I want is something to eat.’ He kept saying. We took him to a homeless shelter, cleaned him up, and gave him some new clothes, but he had no place to go other than back to the streets.
“It was then – and still is – strange how he fought them when they tried to take his filthy clothes away from him. It’s was not that he did not want new clothes, but as it turned out there was something in one of the jacket pockets. After he was able to wrestle the jacket away from the shelter volunteer, he stuck his hand in an inside pocket and retrieved a small, sealed plastic bag. In the bag was a torn photo. He let them have the jacket after he got the photo out. I was very curious about that picture, and after I got him to show it to me, I became curious about him as well.
“The picture was of a very beautiful black woman, but she seemed to also be part Asian and wore one of the traditional Asian dresses. He became pained when I asked him about this woman. He didn’t want to talk about her when I asked him. He seemed to be in a quandary, so I left it alone. I concluded that she was probably a special part of his life at one time. Most of us live on a tightrope, and it just takes a strong wind to knock us off our perch. Charlie was knocked off his perch!”
Eddie could not get Charlie out of his head after hearing the story. Later that evening as he sat with his young wife, Marietta, and his two-year-old baby girl, Julia, having dinner, he asked Marietta to put some food together in a container. She asked him why, and he just smiled, saying, “For a friend who needs it.” She prepared it for him, and he took it from her, kissed her and left saying, “I’ll be back in an hour, or so.”
He got in his truck and drove over to the Santa Monica Freeway underpass. Charlie was there as he always was. He appeared asleep. Eddie wanted to hear Charlie’s story – he had become more than curious about Charlie. He got out of his truck and went over to Charlie as he huddled under some filthy blankets he used to shield himself against the cold and wind; he even had a trash can fire going to help keep warm. Eddie woke him up. He said, “Charlie, I brought you some dinner.”
Charlie stirred and awoke. He looked at Eddie through half-closed, sleepy eyes. He asked, “Who are you?”
“I am Eddie Clement, Tom Maylor’s partner. I brought you dinner.”
Charlie chuckled. He said, “Well, I had dinner already – a whole lobster with lemon butter and a huge baked potato.” Then he reached out and took the food from Eddie, saying, “But I’m not one to refuse gifts of food, so I will save it for tomorrow. Now what else can I do for you, Eddie?”
“Well, Charlie, I would love to hear your story,” Eddie replied purposefully.
“What story?” Charlie asked. “I don’t have a story.”
Eddie said, “Tom told me some things about you. I couldn’t get it out of my head, and I wanted to hear your life’s story.”
Charlie started to laugh. “You must be kidding me.” He asked, “You want my story?”
Eddie replied, “Yes Charlie, please tell me your story.”
“Why are you interested?” Charlie asked.
“I am because you don’t seem to be like the average homeless person,” Eddie replied. “Looks like you are somebody.”
Charlie chuckled and said, “Naw, I’m nobody. I’m like every other homeless person out here. We all have stories. Mine is no different. Maybe I had a life at one time, but I’m nobody now. My story is just another story. I lost my way; that’s all there is to it.”
“Well, I still want to hear it, Charlie. I really do.”
Charlie got very quiet. As Eddie waited for Charlie’s answer, he thought of his own life. It was a good life – a lovely wife and daughter, and a nice home. The home was small, but it was comfortable. He knew little about his father. He never met him, or had any opportunity to communicate with him. All the information he had about him came from his mother, Maria Clement, and it was sketchy at best. Charlie’s situation somehow drew him back, so he had to know.
Charlie sought to strike a bargain, even though he held all the chips. He offered, “I tell you what. Let me think about it for a couple days, then maybe I will tell you – how’s that?”
Eddie was disappointed, but he realized that Charlie was not going to agree so easily. Still, he was going to keep at it, because he was intrigued. His only hope was that Charlie did not suddenly disappear before he told the story to him. It was a chance he had to take, having absolutely no choice in the matter. He agreed to wait. But then, almost immediately, Charlie suddenly changed his mind. “I tell you what,” he said. “You look like a nice kid and you should be home with your family.” He appeared thoughtful for a moment and then said, “Buy me a cup of my favorite coffee at McDonald’s and I’ll tell you my story – and maybe a cherry pie for dessert.”
Eddie did not hesitate. He said, “It’s a done deal.” He hurriedly opened the passenger’s door of his truck and ushered Charlie in, saying, “Get in.” Charlie got up hesitantly, suddenly not sure if he really wanted to go through with it after all, but nevertheless, he dusted himself off as best he could and got into Eddie’s truck. Eddie got in on the driver’s side. He put the truck in gear and they took off, heading directly to the neighborhood McDonald’s a few blocks away – the one that Charlie frequented.
When they got to the restaurant, Charlie chose to sit outside. Eddie did not argue; fresh air was good – the funk in the truck emanating from Charlie was stifling. He went in and soon returned with two cups of hot coffee and a cherry pie. He gave the pie and one cup of the coffee to Charlie and went and sat opposite him. He anxiously waited, hoping for an outpouring from Charlie. Charlie took his sweet time, sipping the very hot coffee and casually eating his pie as Eddie look on, not interrupting – just waiting.
Charlie finished his pie and Eddie asked him, “What’s your real name, Charlie?”
Charlie hesitated. He was caught off guard by Eddie’s question. He had been “Charlie” for so long that he had truly tried to forget his real name. It was the part of his life where he experienced much turmoil, and it was also associated with much happiness.
He answered Eddie’s question reluctantly, uncomfortably and not showing much confidence. “My name is Charlie,” he said. “I was known at one time as Noel Heath, but I’m Charlie now.” He got quiet and said nothing for a few minutes, thinking back to his life as it was then. He suddenly started up with his story. Eddie listened; grasping onto every word Charlie spoke – building images in his mind as Charlie’s story unfolded.
Noel Heath awoke in a cold sweat from the nightmarish dream he had been having over and over again the last couple of weeks, not unlike a television serial or soap opera where the scene changes ever so slightly from the previous episode. He would sometimes wake up from the dream and fall back to sleep, only to have the dream continue where it left off.
Throughout his life, Noel had always had dreams, which were usually strange and different from the typical ones, the ones that most people had after a heavy meal or after watching a scary movie. No one chased after him, nor were they ghoulish dreams, but his dreams were strange. He recalled some of them. There was one where he was totally blind but went about his business in a normal manner, using his other senses to navigate his environment without the use of any physical aids. He recalled another where he was visiting an art gallery and after having viewed a painting of an image of Jesus Christ, he felt the eyes of Jesus following him as he walked away. He could feel those eyes piercing his brain, looking into his mind, but he would not dare look back. When he did get up enough nerve to look back, Jesus was standing directly behind him, smiling at him. He so startled himself that he woke right up out of the dream. In yet another dream, he was asleep on his bed when he felt a pair of hands clamp onto both ankles and, holding them firmly, pull his entire body off the bed and through the walls of his home. He was deposited in a large Buddhist temple filled with lit candles and incense spewing exotic fragrance around its majestic interior. He was the only one in the entire temple from what he could see. The hands that held him positioned him at the very center of the temple floor, where he was made to sit in the cross-legged yoga style. The hands then released him and he immediately began to chant in prayer. After a while, those same hands carried him out of the temple and directly back to his bed. He awoke immediately on the release of those hands, quickly looking around as if expecting to see someone in the room with him; there was no one, of course, only him. What was striking was the extreme quietness; it was so quiet that he clearly heard his heart beating vigorously as it pounded hard against his chest.
These strange dreams became normal to him at an early age, so he was comfortable with them. This dream, however, the one he recalled to Eddie, had a different twist. Early on, he did not pay much attention to it, and he did not remember much of it when he woke up; but as it continued, more of a picture developed. It grew more disturbing and frustrating as he remembered more of it and tried to understand its meaning.
There were times when he would refuse to or simply be afraid of going back to bed. Rather, he would get in his car and head to the California coastline where he would go in one direction or the other, usually driving until daylight.
In this dream, he was standing on a high hill overlooking a deep, dark chasm, that except for some shrubbery and scraggy trees, was bare of vegetation. The wind howled as it raced through the chasm and hard across his path. It swirled around, blowing dust and debris, so much so that he shielded his face from it. With each episode, he got closer to the edge of the chasm until he arrived at the very edge. He looked down, straining to see within its depths, but could discern nothing except a black cold emptiness, and he could tell from the sound of the wind that it was deep and foreboding.
In this last episode, he was at the very edge looking across to the other side and through the darkness; he started to make out the shape of what appeared to be the slight figure of a woman moving around, desperately trying to maintain her balance against the strong, swirling winds. She wore a long, flowing dress or gown, which was being whipped about by the force of the wind. He could not make out her features or determine who she might me, but it seemed to him that she was trying to say something, and at the same time desperately extending her outstretched arms in the futile attempt to reach across the expanse of the chasm to him. He strained to listen, but with the wind blowing and howling the way it was, he could not hear her.
He scrambled to the edge of the chasm, and grabbing a tree limb, he tried to reach her. He stretched out in an improbable, impossible attempt to get to her, but failed. He slipped and tightened his grip on the tree limb, trying to regain his footing and prevent a free fall into the darkness. The episode suddenly ended with him waking up in a cold sweat, and shaking with fear and confusion.
After the initial shock and the realization that he was actually in bed having a dream, he laughed nervously. It was silly, he thought – only a dream, he reasoned, but just the same, its reality confounded him. He caught himself rubbing his eyes as he did in the dream. He had rubbed them so much that they became red, swollen and irritated. He had not slept well all week and this was beginning to bother him. He did not care for sleeping pills, so he was going to tough it out. Hopefully the dream would end soon and he would be able to move on with his life, he reasoned.
Eddie was fascinated by Charlie’s dream sequence as he related it, and he observed that Charlie seemed to have difficulty talking about it in stretches. He struggled emotionally, stopping from time to time in order to catch his breath as if in a panic of sorts.
Noel was a computer software engineer, and a good one. He had been divorced for some five years. He had a stepson, age 13, who lived with his ex-wife in Chicago, his hometown. He left when the boy was only five years old and had not seen him since then. He felt very guilty about that, but every time he talked to his ex-wife, an argument always seemed to break out.
It was a bad breakup. They had fought frequently, and he made the regrettable error once of slapping her across the face. He had completely lost it when she made some vulgar comment to him. He desperately tried to apologize, but she would not accept it, which made him think that she had finally found an excuse to get him out of her life.
He was not a very emotional person, but was very passionate about what he believed, logical in his view of the world, and believed in loyalty to his friends. He sought an explanation for everything, because in his logical mind, there was always one; things did not just happen in a vacuum. This was why the dream so disturbed him. It was not logical, and yet he could not shake it. It replayed in his head throughout his waking moments, like videotape on rewind, and it was beginning to affect his work. He could not accomplish much because of the intrusion of this recurring dream.
Starting with high school, Noel accomplished everything early. He graduated at 16 and went directly on to college where he studied computer software engineering. He graduated in three years at 19, took a year off, and then went to graduate school. So at around 22, he had completed his formal education.
He worked hard and made every effort to complete every task he started, never forgetting what his beloved grandfather told him. He said, “Son, never leave a job undone. Always put your best effort forward, no matter what you doing: Making love, cleaning the yard or anything else. Give yourself the satisfaction of knowing that you did the very best job you could do – for yourself, not for anyone else.”
This philosophy stayed with him for the many years since his grandfather gave him that wisdom, and when he was having difficulty is completing a job, especially one that he did not care for, or was just feeling a bit lazy or discouraged, his grandfather’s words of wisdom would resonate in his head, renewing his determination to succeed. He could hear his grandfather’s voice now and imagine his handsome face smiling at him. They loved each other a great deal and were very close. Gramps, as he called him, was a very smart and intelligent man, even though he never finished high school. He was self-taught, survived by working hard and applying his own philosophy of life. He worked every day of his adult life, and did not do much else, which saddened Noel.
Gramps developed walking pneumonia at age 75. He either did not know he had it, or did and simply ignored its symptoms. He collapsed at work and was rushed to the hospital emergency room where he was immediately admitted. He died a day later. Noel cried for days. It was the only time that his emotions overtook him. A huge piece of his soul had been ripped from him. He missed that man! When he felt lonely, he would recall the long conversations they had, had.
Gramps loved to walk. On his walks with Noel, for what seemed like miles, Noel usually got tired first, but Gramps never seemed to, or pretended not to be. He would say to Noel, “Son, it looks like you’re tired. We better head on back.” Noel would shake his head in disbelief; as much as he tried to hide his tiredness from Gramps, it did not work.
Gramps was from Kansas. He spent the first 16 years of his long life there. His parents, like many other black Americans in Kansas, were poor in terms of material things, but they had a close, loving family unit. Gramps’ father was a custodian at the local high school and his mother made a few dollars making dolls, which she sold to the neighborhood store. Her dolls were particularly popular among the neighborhood kids at Christmas time.
As a child, Gramps dreamt of a world of adventure, fantasizing about traveling the world, seeing new things, and meeting people of different cultures. His favorite subjects in school were geography and history. On most nights, he read ’til he fell asleep – for one thing, there was not much else to do in Manhattan, Kansas.
In 1950, at age 16, Gramps decided to join the Army. He sought out and talked to his cousin Marvin who was in the 92nd Army Division and stationed in Italy until he was injured in a late-night skirmish with the Germans. The stories that Marvin told Gramps filled his head with fantastic imagery. So using his broad smile and quick wit on an overzealous recruiter, his application was accepted.
After finishing boot camp, Gramps was shipped out to South Korea where he was assigned to a transportation unit. He mainly repaired and drove heavy trucks, and saw very little combat. After six months in Korea, he went to Japan, then to France, and finally ended up in Germany where he stayed for a long three years. He became a language junkie; he learned quickly and learned to speak in the native tongue fluently. In 1960, he retired from the army, but re-enlisted five years later in 1965, and was sent to Vietnam along with the many young men who were drafted. He spent a full four years there.
Noel loved hearing the stories Gramps told him because they were colorful ones, filled with bravado and humor, and each time Gramps told them they seemed to get a little bigger and more exciting than the time before. As he got older, he began to suspect that Gramps was embellishing much of it. However, he did not mind. He enjoyed them just the same.
Unable to fall back to sleep after one of his dream episodes, Noel picked up the telephone to call Sian. He dialed her number, but thought better of it. He would instead leave his home in the Mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and go for a early morning drive in his all-black, super fast 1977 Porsche 911. He decided to take his usual route: Pacific Coast Highway all the way to Malibu as far as Trancas Canyon. Maybe he would call her when he got back.
He dressed quickly and was out the door in five minutes; got in the car and started it up. As the car idled, the roar of the engine somehow relaxed him. He got his music started. He loved jazz, especially from artist like Miles Davis, Nancy Wilson and Kirk Whalum. His latest acquisition was “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. The CD player started playing and he was off on his drive, stopping only to get some coffee from the 7-11 store a few blocks away. They made good coffee – not as delicious as Coffee Bean or even Starbucks, but it was the best thing going when the coffeehouses he frequented were closed.
He drove fast. He once told a friend that he only knew one speed – fast. Somehow, the police never stopped him; he would always see them before they saw him. Someone else was always getting the ticket. He got to the Santa Monica Freeway quickly. He felt good, and there was very little traffic. He was going to enjoy this drive. Miles played; he drove. He was quickly wide awake, but all the while in the depths of his mind, the dream nagged at him. He just could not shake it. He briefly toyed with the idea of seeing a shrink, but dismissed it as something vulgar. “Not me,” he thought. “Not Noel.”
His views about doctors were that they filled your head with doubt, fear and dependency, keeping you on a string until your money ran out or your insurance would pay no more; then somehow you were cured of whatever ailed you. They were as crooked as lawyers or mechanics. Gramps told him once, “Son, get yourself a good mechanic and stick with him. If you don’t, that Porsche is going to cost you more than my wife did me.” Noel took Gramps’ advice, as he always did. “Damn, I miss you Gramps,” he said aloud. “Why did you have to leave me alone like this – I need to talk to you.” He was certain that Gramps would know what to do; he always did, as insightful as he was.
Noel got up to Trancas Canyon in a quick 40 minutes. He parked alongside the roadway overlooking the churning ocean below. He got out, stretched his legs, and with arms folded, he leaned up against the warm car engine, enjoying the crisp morning air and the captivating view of the darkened Pacific Ocean. He thought of Sian. She had come to mean a lot to him. He felt that it was only a matter of time before they got married, because he could not see his life continuing without her being an important part of it. He hated to admit it, but he was in love with her – probably the first time he had ever fallen in love with any woman. He fancied himself as a bit of a loner and had difficulty sharing his “space.” Sian was different. In some ways, she had conquered his soul.
After a while, he got back in the car, turned it around, and started back home – the dream still in his mind as he continued to wrestle with its possible meaning. He came off the PCH at Sunset Boulevard. He liked driving the twisty, curvy roadway of Sunset because it made him focus on his driving and helped him to clear his mind, at least temporarily. When he got back to his house, it was coming up on the six o’clock hour and still a bit dark. He contemplated staying home from work, but decided against it. He did not want to be around the house, brooding, and besides, work was another good distraction that he needed right now. He parked his car in the driveway, got out, and quickly entered the house. He stood in the darkened hallway for a few moments trying to decide if he should call Sian or take a nap. He decided on the nap instead. Sian should be getting up about now. They often talked early in the morning before they went to work, a sort of ritual, but she was visiting her mother in Long Beach for the last week and he didn’t want to intrude on them.
As Noel continued with his story, Eddie noticed that talking about Sian seemed to give him renewed energy, lift his spirits. She was obviously the brightest part of his life, and at the same time, the source of much of his despair.
Noel met Sian at the Long Beach Jazz Festival. He had been going to the festival for some five years now, an experience he looked forward to every summer. He enjoyed the atmosphere, the music, and he met some interesting people. During the concert, he usually sat quietly, barely moving, and close to the stage where he could easily discern the every movement of the performers, soaking in the music and enjoying it just as he wished.
There was one empty seat between himself and Sian. She was at the festival with her mother, Mildred. Just before the concert started, Sian asked him if he was holding the seat for someone. He glanced over at her and replied simply, “No.”
She smiled and said, “Good, I could put my bag down on it then.”
He teased her, asking, “You sure you can trust me? I might steal it.”
She looked him up and down for a moment, and then responded, playfully, “Yeah, I think, I can; you have an innocent face.” And then she giggled at her silliness. This was the start of a beautiful friendship, and an intense romantic adventure where love blossomed.
Sian was a “looker” by any standards. She was the type of woman that stood out no matter what she wore or where she was. She was the color of dark chocolate with skin shiny and as smooth as silk. She had naturally straight, thick, shiny black hair that traveled all the way down her back to her waist. Her eyes were as dark as her hair and skin; they were deep, slanted and almond-shaped eyes, sitting under well-manicured, dark eyebrows and framed by thick, long eyelashes. She was not skinny by any means, but solid with an athletic built standing almost six feel tall on lovely bowed legs.
She carried herself straight up, as someone who attended modeling school; but in fact, it was her mother who taught her to stand and walk straight. As a child she was taller than most of her peers and very shy. She tended to hide her height by stooping when she walked, which irritated her mother. She demanded that Sian straighten up, and as she grew older, her confidence grew along with her height, which she finally accepted along with the many compliments she received.
The concert started and Noel settled in for an enjoyable evening, and he was beginning to enjoy his company, too. He would glance over at Sian, only to see her staring at him; at least he thought she was. The music was great. The concert featured artists who were some the very best on the jazz scene and some of Noel’s favorites – Kirk Whalum, Bobby Caldwell, Rachelle Ferrell, Blue Note and Randy Crawford singing her smoky rendition of one of Noel’s favorites, “Joy Inside My Tears.”
He was hypnotized by the music – in a music box of sorts. The sounds came from everywhere, but through it all, he heard her voice – Sian’s voice as she chatted with her Mom. It did not intrude on his listening; it was a pleasant voice, slippery and seductive, as hypnotic as the music.
There was a break in the music, and he suddenly heard her say, “Would you like a glass of wine, sir?” She added, “I have sandwiches, too, if you want one.”
He turned and looked across at her, drinking in her beauty. He replied almost immediately without much thought, “Yes, I would.” She handed him a glass of white wine and a sandwich on a small paper plate. He admired her hands as he took it from her. Her fingers were long, slim and sexy, with well-manicured nails. He commented, “Very nice hands.”
She beamed, and then said, “Thank you. My mother did my nails. She is a manicurist.”
Noel said, “Really? Well, she did a great job.”
She said to him. “Thank you again. Let me see your hands.”
He reluctantly extended one of his hands. They were large hands, and contrary to her hands, his nails were not manicured, but well shaped. They were the hands of a basketball player – the game he played in college until he fractured his right ankle. He was never the same after that. She examined the extended hand closely, and then commented mischievously, “You have large hands, and strong fingers. I bet you give great massages.” Then she chuckled and added, “Do you have big feet, too?”
He was a bit embarrassed by the stereotypical connotation of that comment and responded with a straight face, “No, sorry, I just have average-sized feet.”
She laughed. “Modestly perhaps, or are you just an honest man?” She paused and then continued. “Maybe?”
He replied, “Just an honest man, and I do give great massages.”
They both chuckled at that quip.
They started dating soon after that day at the jazz festival, and became inseparable. They appeared to be truly in love with each other. If there was such a thing as soul mates, then they were a prime example. After dating for about six months, he decided that he would ask her to marry him. Her birthday was a week away, so he made dinner reservations at one of their favorite restaurants and ordered a small cake with special instructions.
She looked lovely at dinner and they could not keep their eyes off each other, enjoying that special time together. After dinner, the dessert arrived in the form of a small chocolate cake with a one candle on top. The waitress set the cake and a cake knife down in front of Sian and stepped aside. Sian blew out the candle as Noel watched her closely. She tried to cut the cake, but could not. Something seemed to be obstructing the path of knife. She seemed frustrated, saying to Noel, “Honey, there must be a rock in here. I can’t seem to cut it.”
He chuckled at the irony of that and responded, “There may well be a rock in it. Let me see, I’m stronger than you.”
She looked at him curiously as he took the plate from her. The waitress looked on in amusement.
Sian became befuddled when Noel stuck his fingers in the cake and carefully removed a small, jewelry type box. She could not speak; just watched him with mouth agape. She was totally surprised by what she saw. She never expected this to happen. She was speechless as he got up, cleaning cake residue off the box. He came over to her, but she could not look at him. He squatted down next to her, opened the box to reveal a two-carat diamond engagement ring, and while showing it to her, he announced, “Sian, it’s time we got married.”
Her response through trembling lips was immediate, but wordless. Her emotions took control and she could not respond to him in any coherent way. She just nodded her head, first slowly, then vigorously. She let him take her hand and he slid the ring on her finger and then kissed her gently on her lips. The tears came and just rolled down her cheeks silently from her overfilled eyes as she cried with joy.
Noel’s disturbing dream stopped soon after their engagement. He was not sure exactly when it did, but he was thankful that it did, though still unresolved.
Sian inherited a lineage of African and East Indian. She was born on the island of Trinidad in the West Indies where the predominant culture is influenced by African and East Indian traditions. Her father was East Indian and her mother African, giving Sian a uniquely striking appearance.
The family lived in a small seaside village named Mayaro Village. The villagers were mostly fishermen or had small shops that served the tourist industry. Sian’s grandfather was the typical entrepreneur; he owned a fleet of six fishing boats. Her father, too, had owned a bed and breakfast inn, located on the beachfront were many overseas guests spent their holidays. On national holidays, Trinidadians from across the island came to visit the beach and eat at the local restaurants.
Sian loved the sea, and could easily talk her grandfather into taking her along on fishing trips some mornings during school summer holidays. Her mother loathed it and spent most of the time that Sian was gone patrolling the seashores until she returned. Mildred told Noel that she had nightmares of the boat capsizing and Sian drowning; she was so afraid that it influenced her decision to immigrate to the United States when Sian was just 12 years old.
Sian never forgot her early childhood, a period in her life when she was very happy. She had a large extended family – lots of relatives, many in her age group, who along with her lived in Mayaro Village.
Sian and Noel argued almost daily about her and her mother’s wedding plans for them. He wanted small; she wanted elaborate. She had not been back to Trinidad for some time and was excited to show off her new husband to all her cousins, aunts, uncles and childhood friends. She was steeped in tradition and culture and wanted to be married in a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony. He was committed to marrying her, but dreaded all the drama associated with it – Vegas was just fine with him. He proposed a solution, and Sian compromised – they would get married here in California and would go to Trinidad to have a civil ceremony and stay there for their honeymoon.
Noel had never been to Trinidad, and he had not thought much about the island until Sian tried to sell him on the idea of getting married there. The closest he had come to knowing anything about the islands was while dating Rachel, a college girlfriend many years ago. She was Trinidadian, and he loved listening to her voice as she talked about the island. She spoke in a sing-song rhythm of sorts, and when she got excited, he could barely understand her – unlike Sian who rarely got excited.
Rachel had given him a history lesson of Trinidad, from the days of early slavery through to its independence from Britain on August 31, 1962. She included the history of Carnival from it roots in Europe, hundreds of years ago, to its introduction to Trinidad by French colonists around 1785 and its progression up to the present. He thought about visiting during the carnival celebrations, but he had broken up with Rachel and his interest waned after that. Now he was set to go. He was truly excited about his and Sian’s marriage plans.
As the wedding day grew nearer, he became more nervous – ambivalence crept into his mind about getting married. But, he was not about to back out. He dare not disappoint Sian; she was someone special, and he knew he could never find another woman who moved him like she did.
On their arrival in Trinidad, it seemed like the whole village was there to greet them. Sian was excited and not shy in showing off her husband. Noel, on the other hand, was reserved; he wasn’t sure how to handle all the attention Sian’s family gave him. They were treated like royalty.
After Noel and Sian were married, they hardly left the village, except for a driving tour of the island of Trinidad. They ate, slept, made love, and took long walks on the beach. On the second week of their stay, Sian asked Noel if he wanted to go with her on a fishing trip with her grandfather. He agreed to the trip without hesitation, and strangely that night, he awoke in a cold sweat and shaking. The dream, which he thought he’d forgotten about or had forgotten him, had suddenly returned. In this episode, he was standing at the edge of a chasm and leaning into it, trying to discern the face of the woman across the other side. She slipped and began a free-fall into the dark, cold, foreboding, bottomless chasm. On the way down, she screamed, “Noel, save me!”
He responded, “Sian, nooooooooo!”
And this was when he awoke in a cold sweat, shaking with fear. He looked over at Sian, who was asleep and not stirring. He slid off the bed and went to sit near a large picture window overlooking the ocean. It was a beautiful sight with the moonlight reflecting the dark ocean.
He jumped as he heard her voice. “Come back to bed, baby. It’s cold.”
He went back to bed, and she cuddled up to him, both of them soon falling back to sleep. The alarm in the form of Sian’s grandfather knocking on their door woke them up. It was 3 a.m. and time to get ready for their fishing trip. Noel awoke, still thinking of his dream, but did not share it with Sian. They reluctantly got out of bed, got dressed, and set out to the wooden jetty just 300 yards away.
Grandfather walked with Sian, holding her hand as he did when he took her fishing as a child. Noel followed. It was a beautiful morning – the air fresh and crisp with a gentle wind blowing across their path. There was a certain calmness about the whole atmosphere. They got to the boat, which was already fired up and prepared for them by some of the men who worked for her grandfather. They casted off and the boat, with grandfather at the controls, went further and further away from land, disappearing into the vast ocean. Noel and Sian sat cuddled together, braced against the morning chill and enjoying the trip.
Suddenly, and without warning, the weather changed for the worst. A sudden storm moved in with heavy rain and a very strong wind. The sky quickly turned black with tumultuous clouds twirling about in the early morning sky. The water got rougher, with waves quickly increasing in height and ferocity. Noel was suddenly very nervous. The meaning of the dream he had been having was now coming true. He grabbed Sian tightly, trying to keep her safe as large waves lashed repeatedly against the boat, slapping it with large, watery hands, seemingly determined to turn the boat over. Grandfather calmly started to turn the boat around to get back to shore, but before he could complete the turn, a strong wave washed over the boat and dragged both Sian and Noel into the deep, dark ocean. Grandfather, using all his experience and knowledge, desperately tried to get back control of the boat. Sian was screaming, and Noel was trying to find her. She seemed near, but with them being buffeted about by the strong waves and in the darkness, he couldn’t find her, and her screams seemed to be getting further away from him. He could hear the boat’s engine and grandfather’s voice calling their names. Suddenly, the boat was upon him, and grandfather threw him a rope, which he grabbed as he continued to yell for Sian. She was not responding to him or grandfather, however. The fear of having lost her suddenly engulfed his mind as he was pulled to safety back on the boat. He and grandfather continued to call out to her, but got no respond. Noel’s head was now spinning with images from his dream. He leaned over the edge of the boat, desperately trying to find her in the churning water. Just as suddenly as the storm started, it ended. The cloud cover dispersed and the water returned to it usual calmness.
Noel jumped back into the water, screaming for Sian, but he was not a strong swimmer and was desperately attempting to stay above water. Grandfather, seeing this, implored him to return to the safety of the boat.
Charlie was now teary eyed and shaking as he continued with his story. Eddie’s was now thinking that he made a mistake by getting Charlie to relive this nightmare. He reached out and held Charlie’s hand as an offer of support, but Charlie pulled away. He wanted to relive every moment, it seemed. He continued:
“I walked the beach for days and weeks, looking and hoping that somehow she would show up alive and smiling with those dark, hypnotic eyes and long, black hair, but she was gone; she was gone from me forever. I was lost; my life did not mean anything – not then, not now. I should have died that day instead of her, or died with her. We would be together now.”
Eddie asked, “How did you get back here, Charlie?”
Charlie replied distractedly, “I don’t know. I have no idea. I just awoke one day, and I was here in the street. I am tired. I need sleep. I want to dream of Sian. Take me home.”
“Where is your home, Charlie?”
“It is where it is – where you picked me up.”
It was two weeks before officers Maylor and Clement returned to Charlie’s makeshift home. Maylor, as always, got out of the patrol car with a hot cup of McDonald’s coffee and a sandwich. He attempted to wake up Charlie, but suddenly stopped when he realized that this was not Charlie. He woke the guy up and queried him about Charlie’s whereabouts. He asked, “Where is Charlie? What are you doing here?”
The man smiled and, with a toothless grin, replied, “Charlie left. He sold me this spot for $10. He said that he was going home to his wife.”
Maylor frowned and asked, angrily. “His wife? What wife? He doesn’t have a wife.” He handed the coffee and sandwich to the new resident and left. He was quiet when he returned to the patrol car.
Eddied asked him. “What’s the matter? Is there something wrong with Charlie?”
He looked over at Eddie and replied with a bit of anxiety, “Nothing’s wrong with Charlie. He’s gone. Gone to be with his wife, he said.”
Eddie frowned. He said, “Tom, he doesn’t have a wife. She died some time ago. She drowned while they were on their honeymoon.”
Tom turned to look over at Eddie and then he asked sarcastically, “And how do you know this, Eddie?”
“Because he told me so, Tom.”
Tom said, “Well unless he plans to die, he won’t be joining her.”
Eddie replied, “I hope that’s not what he is planning to do – commit suicide. We have to find him before he does.”
“And where shall we start looking for him? I have absolutely no clue.”
“We can start at the ocean. She drowned in the sea.”
“He told you this? When?”
“We had a long talk about his life a couple weeks ago.”
“Well, not until after breakfast. Let’s have some breakfast first.”
The night after Charlie related his story to Eddie, he dreamt of Sian. He didn’t dream of her drowning on that faithful day, but rather, he dreamt of their wedding day, and distinctly remembered the Hindu priest’s prayer reading.
“A circle is the symbol of the sun and the earth and the universe. It is a symbol of holiness, and of perfection, and of peace. In these rings is the symbol of unity, in which your lives are now joined in one unbroken circle, in which, wherever you go, you will always return to one another and to your togetherness.”
He was intent on joining Sian, wherever she was; he could not continue without her. He walked into the ocean as far as he could until it swallowed him up. As he drowned in the swirling ocean, he could see her face clearly. She was reaching out to him, smiling. Her smile gave him the warmth he felt when they were together. He died contented that he would be happy with her in death, as he was with her in life.