I work in a small office with a team of 10 individuals (most of the time) we all vary in age and have come from a number of professional backgrounds and previous vocations. One of the great things about our office, is the range of backgrounds, we all have very unique stories that brought us to where we are now. While we are all different, one thing we all have in common is a strong personality, and a willingness to share the experiences that have led us to where we are. Recently this led to a fascinating discussion, as to whether or not we have a soul? I know, we don’t ever really do small talk in my office.
The conversation started after a colleague brought up a show she had watched on TV the night before, in the show, they had been discussing God, and one of the commonly asked questions in opposition of such a being,
“If God created everything, and loves us, why does he allow such physical suffering on earth?”
The answer, ‘because God is responsible for your soul, not your body.’
This led to a great discussion, about just exactly what a soul is. My colleague didn’t prescribe to any preconceived religious explanation as to what a soul might be, but she did feel that the soul was a quantifiable and innate part of each person. Personally, I completely agreed with her, I feel that the soul, is a further extension of a person’s consciousness. A life-force which is emitted by the physical being, some people refer to this as an ‘aura’, some even believe they can see these life forces emanating from particularly strong spirited people.
Whether this is true or not, the premise features heavily in the characters I have so far conceived for my main literary project, ‘Phoenix’.
The following is a short story I wrote last year as my creative writing piece which was submitted as part of a Higher English writing portfolio. It is a story which is based upon an experience I had when I was much younger, it is of course a work of fiction, but there are certain elements which reflect a period of my early teens when I spent a great deal of time in and around a children’s hospital. I was there because my twin brother was incredibly ill for a very long time, but it was a place where I was able to witness miraculous recoveries, and terrible losses. While the loss that inspired this piece was not mine, I spent a great deal of time with a young boy while both of our brother’s were cared for, and subsequently got to know his brother, who unfortunately passed away.
The atrium was a façade of colour, like a copious smothering of make up scraped over an ageing face, attempting to hide the blemishes and contours accrued by age. Sky blue paint, had been slathered onto the walls, but was no more appropriate than the meadow of green hued linoleum. The whole atrium was a poor imitation of nature, but as a lion brought from the wild to captivity would wilt over time, so had the décor wilted and withered until it was unmistakeably a man made illusion. I shuddered, suddenly feeling nauseated; the air seemed thick and viscous, each shuddering breath drawing panic from the world around me into my very core. I had to remind myself, this was not just a place where people came to die, but also a place where people could get better.
The hand, which had been on my shoulder since walking through the revolving doors, squeezed gently, reassuring, strong. It reminded me I was not alone.
Bright colours and cartoon characters emblazoned on the walls pervaded my periphery; each one seeming more garish than the last, yet each one held my attention just long enough to give me time to breath. My eyes came to rest on a fragile looking woman who was speaking ever so softly into a bundle of wool in her arms. Whatever resided within so small; that I feared her gentle crooning and stroking would break whatever lay between the folds of the candy pink shroud. Next to her sat a formidable looking woman with a stern expression on her face, as though daring the universe to challenge her. With a shudder I looked away from them, leaving them to their own lives and their own pain.
The sight of the woman as she had cradled her precious burden, had reminded me of the first time I had saw… Her. My mother’s shoulders hung with the same fragility as the woman, yet her demeanour was that of a maternal wolf protecting her infant cubs. I had held my breath as I’d peered at the face, which was almost consumed by the swaddling around it. I reached out to touch her beautiful translucent skin, but my mother reflexively pulled her away, clutching her closer to her bosom, while narrowing her eyes reproachfully. I had waited three long months since being told she would be joining our family, I didn’t understand why her early arrival was not something to celebrate.
A sharp pulse in my temple throbbed as I reminisced over memories of her as she had been then; as I had been then, oblivious to the life we would all be forced to live. I reigned in the emotions, which threatened to overwhelm me, shrugging the hand from my shoulder. I turned to my father, whose eyes, were red rimmed and unusually stoic. Now was not my time to dwell on any of this. This was her time. She had asked that I be here, my father had tried to contest it, but he knew he would not win. I started walking again, knowing without looking that my father followed behind.
The double doors at the back of the atrium led to a formal looking corridor. Gone were the vivid colours, which had adorned every surface, and in their place blocks of pastel tones broke the sparsely decorated, whitewashed walls. Even the posters on the walls seemed formal, informative and they served more purpose than just to entertain. The corridor had seemed to stretch into eternity the first time we had come here. Yet now, we navigated the halls with a well-rehearsed ease. All to soon we were in front of the elevators, already groaning as they descended from above and opened, beckoning us to enter them, before we had even called them. We stepped in, waiting for the doors to close before pressing the button for the fifth floor, as if these small delays could put off what we had come to do.
The heavy wooden fire doors were sealed with an electronic lock, the entryway, usually open to all who came to visit, would stay closed until the first visitors were welcome at 09:00. It unsettled me knowing that I could not just push open the door and run to her. My father pressed the intercom, which crackled, until a harried voice dared us to ask for early entry. The exasperation left her voice instantly on hearing our names. I could not listen to what they were saying, knowing that we were now so close to her. The same nurse who had spoken over the intercom opened the door and beckoned us in; her eyes betrayed her well-trained voice. My father stayed to ask where she had been moved to, but I could not wait to hear.
I walked purposefully to the end of the corridor and stopped before the last door, the curtains were drawn on the inside and the door was closed over but I didn’t hesitate before pushing down on the handle, and opening the door to the private room. My heart fluttered in my chest, plastic lines carried unknown fluids to and from her body, and just below her left breast a dark wound lay open to the world, the wires looked more like the desperate tendrils of a plant creeping out of the shadows into the light. All of her body functions regulated by machines exaggerated the disrepair her body seemed inflicted with. Yet the broken flesh, and shallow breathing did not concern me. Her body was draped in linen sheets and nothing more.
Even as a child she had exuded energy, a soul too powerful for her body to contain, she had always been enveloped in a powerful aura. I had never questioned that I could see this; it seemed just as much a part of her as the smile, which seemed to permanently reside on her face. Seeming so tangible, that I could have reached out a hand to caress the light her skin exuded. It would wrap itself around her like a cloak, and even when her heart had begun to fail, her aura would shine all the brighter making her stronger and carrying her body when it didn’t seem to be able to carry itself.
Stepping over the threshold of the room seemed to break the spell over the other occupant; my mother staggered from the chair she had been perched on. She brought me to her chest without a word and enveloped me in her arms. My father, who had finally caught up with me entered the room, he tried to speak and faltered, instead he fell into the chair, which had only just been vacated by my mother. I disengaged myself from my mother’s arms and crept closer to her bedside. Her face was filled with a serenity, which I had not seen for months.
Gone now was the golden cloak of light, her body seemed much smaller and more vulnerable without it. The air seemed to vibrate for a moment, before her eyes slowly opened, the energy, which I had become so used to seeing when I was with her, was still in her eyes, still in her smile, but it no longer clung to her. Her eyes met mine, and for a perfect moment the universe paused for us. Even as I thought this, the gentle, upwards curve on her lips faltered and she sunk back into her white linen sanctuary as unconsciousness took her once more. In that moment we had shared, I watched as the light in her eyes faded to an incomprehensible glow. Her body continued to breath, an after effect of life perhaps, but where machines can force a heart to beat, nothing could ever contain her soul.