Conscience


Why is it that some people seem to have a line direct to your guilt centre, whose words do not contain logic but some undeniable universal truth grain, no matter how far fetched. Just imagine if these people had power and the reigns of justice and then discovered a  will of revenge. Wouldn’t we all be fucked?

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.
Marcus Aurelius

When walking through the woods one day I spied a lone snowdrop growing on the slope of an otherwise featureless forest floor. It cheered me to see it there with its white tepals and green slender leaves with pointed tips. I went closer to get a better look at it. Close up I could see that it was perfect in every way as if it had only just grown out of the ground that morning.  ‘Hello you…’.

flash.

I was sitting on the ground next to the flower. My skin felt like it was crawling with beetles. I looked at my watch. The digital readout informed me it was 5:15pm . It was getting dark and there were hunger pains in my belly that supported what my watch was telling me. Five hours had passed and I hadn’t a clue where they had gone or what I had been doing in them.

flash.

I was sitting on the ground in the woods next to a solitary snowdrop. I looked at my watch. It read 10:30 am. I felt discomfort about something. I looked down and groaned at the sight that met my eyes. I was sitting in half an inch of water. I scrambled to get up and doing so splashed water up my top, trousers and trainers. F*****g great! I thought.

flash.

Five hours? It was a gap in my recollection, a break from a stream of experience of sights and sounds, contacts, observation, and actions like smoking cigarettes. I suppressed a start. Is it meant to be like this? In fits and starts? With never ending conformity? I wondered. At my age shouldn’t I have a better handle on things? By now?

Nothing to worry about it’s only a panic attack and I’m not going to the doctors about something that only lasted for seconds unless it happens again that is.

But it was five hours. Now I am worried. What if it happens again? What if I’m with people?

I held out my hand in front of my face and observed a slight wobble. I am shaking therefore I am shaken. But not stirred.

Can’t I be serious for a minute!

flash!

I decided that the best course of action was to sit down and to have a smoke. While searching empty pockets for my tobacco I couldn’t get the image of the snowdrop out of my mind. I pushed myself upright hard against the tree. I felt uncomfortable. A quick look at the sky and the almost stationary slowly drifting clouds confirmed calm in the already peaceful surroundings. My breathing was unconscious and my eyes drank in my surroundings. What did I know about trees? That they grew slowly and tall,   that for every year they got a new ring and in every autumn the deciduous trees shed their foliage. What was the point of reading all those books?  I know so much rubbish I thought. Who cares what I know?

I drew in a lungful of luxurious smoke and stubbed out and buried the tip of my cigarette in a single thumb movement. Then I put my head back and closed my eyes. Soon blankness enveloped my senses and I was drifting away.

I was getting out of the back seat of a car and being greeted by the concierge of a hotel. We talked pleasantly about the journey and my luggage. My mind was full of memories of a pleasant journey of relaxed flights and connections. In the hotel the dinner party sat gathered and waiting for me so to get it underway. In my mind were my wife and child who were staying close by. Today was going to be one of those good days.

Then I awoke from my dream with a feeling of dread. Everything was not alright.

‘You…’ said an apparition in my mind.

I knew what it was going to say. I interrupted it it before it could finish.

I asked out loud ‘Who are you?’

‘I am your conscience.’

Then the apparition asked ‘And what are you?’

I couldn’t help myself.  ‘A thief so they say…I’

I stopped myself midsentence. People don’t talk like this.

 Then another voice said ‘But you must tell the truth. Tell the truth!

This seemed to give the apparition power and I felt its presence multiply and strengthen.

Thief,’ The apparition repeated the word.

I felt I was caught red handed in reality or in a dream: how could I refuse punishment or even argue my innocence? It was like there was nothing I could do but wait for the words that I knew would cut me to the bone and make me sink to my knees in shame.

Flash.

I opened my eyes and I felt wide awake. No recollection. Now for home, dinner and a night of the television and whatever else took my fancy. It was getting dark. I checked my watch. Countdown was just finishing on the TV. Plenty of time to walk home now.

Flash

‘Thief,’ My vision became blurred.

I now felt that no amount of purpose,or will could give life to my body to get me away. Instead I was focussed on the apparition before me who was my accuser, judge and executioner.

Thief!’

The word came again. In my mind I chased the thought away but it evaded my grip and the thought of being trapped and helpless came again.

Thief!

‘And do you think you are innocent?’ I asked.

‘Thief!’

I mentally turned my nose up at my accuser, satisfied I was on balance, innocent of a crime, but instead of its presence going further away it seemed to draw ever closer still.

So you think you are clever?’ it asked.’ You think I wouldn’t find out?’ it probed.

I didn’t do it.’ I said.

‘Ah, we thought you’d say that’ it said.

And in one moment I could see that it had reinforcements to get past my weak denials: statements of facts, simple yet direct accusations.

‘Thief!’ It was cruising.

‘Go Away!’  I said but it persisted.

Thief!

‘Liar,’ I retorted.

‘Thief!’

Liar,’

I looked at the ground and willed the words away.

Thief!

I was sorry I ever met this accuser or was this a chance, a chance for redemption?

What had I actually done?

Thief!

I was caught! I was guilty!

Thief!

And now the beetles were on my skin again and the memory of being overturned was fresh and relived again and again in my mind.

I felt fucked and unforgiveable.

In my head a thousand voices mourned my innocence passing. The noise was like being overtaken on the motorway many many times whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.

I breathed and waited. Nothing. Was it gone? No sounds came and I breathed some more. It was gone. Now I wanted revenge. Bitch. How dare you! Now I had a real life target in my mind. How could you do this to someone? How could you make them suffer so?

But then counter arguments became one, two and then became three and then four and soon I lost my will to fight them at all. My chin touched my chest and a tear forced its way clear of my eye to roll slowly down my cheek.

Images of earlier accusers from my past flashed before my eyes as their words seared my thoughts. Thief! Thief! Thief! Wretchedness overtook me and I sat there feeling powerless to fight back and waiting, should it never ever pass.

It was not the first time. No. It had happened before many times. I knew what I was in their eyes: A thief and a liar. A dishonest piece of work. Someone not to be trusted. Someone with a mark against their name. Known to the police – even if I wasn’t. Thief. I joined in the tirade against myself. Loser! Bastard! Not worthy! Not one of us! But it was all a waste of time. It felt like my fate had been decided by some and no matter what I did it didn’t matter a jot. Thief!

Flash!

How long had this lasted? A minute or more? Five hours? And how was I when I was under the spell? What made me react the way I did? Was it seeing the snowdrop? Then I heard my own voice saying ‘It cannot happen again, this cannot happen again’

Be calm now and think. You can get over this. You are smart and you have a good mind! Use it! But I feel small and alone here in the world I said. Is it cold? What am I? What if someone finds me like this? I had no answers to my questions and felt no-one would listen to my defence.

I imagined myself screaming up to the sky if it ever happened again but knew it was hopeless it was like they had found the main route into my mind and would never let go of me until they felt like it –never relenting, never subsiding. Inhumane. Time passed. I smoked and nobody came by. Nobody was around. Got away with it. Wink!  Careful now. My eyes dry, I felt normal again.

I walked over to where the snowdrop was and looked at it. I tried to lie down next to it to get a better view look but the ground was waterlogged so I picked it out of the ground and took it back to the tree. I laid the snowdrop up against the base of the tree and positioned myself on my side so I was looking right at the snowdrop. I closed my eyes and imagined it resting on the tree base. I looked again. All I could see was snowdrop on the tree base. Good! I could now examine the thing at my leisure.

I said the word I had heard in the dream: ‘thief.’ Nothing happened. No voices came back to haunt me.

I said it again ‘Thief.’ Nothing. It had gone, for now, whatever it was.

Published by Andrew Mark Watkins

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