As soon as I walked through the supermarket doors I wanted to turn around and walk out again. I was still feeling jangled from my latest encounter with weirdness, like my skin had been pulled off. It was early, so Morrisons wasn’t too busy, but the light still hurt my eyes and the vacuous music still made me want to shove radishes in my ears. I couldn’t filter out the noise like I normally would. I couldn’t filter anything out. Walking down the aisles was an assault course, stacks of products all screaming for attention, arranged deliberately to confuse, so you end up buying stuff you don’t want, let alone need. Nobody needed this much choice. It was a conspiracy of consumption. It was unhealthy.
I consulted my list. I had carefully prepared it to match the order of the shelves so I could get in and out as quickly as possible. But here I was, basket in one hand, list in the other, lost in soup and canned meat. This should be cereal. They had moved everything. Again.
‘I need an au pair,’ said a joyful man’s voice behind me.
I shivered. The voice sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it. As I turned, it hit me: it was the voice from the trance. The powerful, overwhelming voice commanding me to Pay Attention. I almost bolted for the doors, but instead found myself looking into the face of a super-spruce gentleman who was smiling at me with great amusement. His hair was grey and his pinstripe suit expensive, with a waistcoat with tiny buttons and a sleek lilac cravat. He looked like he’d stepped straight out of my dream into the shop.
I fumbled around in a pocket and pulled out one of my business cards, holding it out for him. Maybe he thought au pairs were cleaners and had got confused. Maybe he was just posh. He made no move to take the card – just stood there, smiling.
‘Adam Kadmon,’ he said, with a nod of his head. ‘At your service.’
I felt stupid standing there holding out my card, so put it back in my jacket. My mind had gone into slow motion trying to work out what was going on. Why was this man talking to me? Why had I dreamed about him? Was he following me? Had it really been him speaking to me through my trance the other day? And why did he have such a strange name? Whoever he was, he seemed out of place, like he didn’t quite belong here.
He looked about, amused by something. ‘You’ll not find what you need in here.’
‘Oh?’ I was intrigued despite myself. ‘And what do I need?’
‘Don’t you know?’
He fixed me with a look so deep, so unfathomable, I had to look away. I fumbled around, looking for a response.
‘I’ve seen you before. In a dream.’ I felt foolish telling him this, but his smile grew warm.
‘Meet with me on Sunday,’ he said.
Part of me wanted to argue, to run. This was too outlandish. My brain wanted to shut down and sleep. But another part of me, a deeper part, understood what was happening. I needed to talk to his man but couldn’t do it here surrounded by oxtail, minestrone and spam. His eyes twinkled and yet he was absolutely serious. I knew in my bones I couldn’t argue with him, or at least not win an argument with him.
‘Where and when?’ I said.
‘The circle seats by the river at noon.’
I glanced away for a second to work out where he meant. Why was he being so obscure? There was that set of concrete seats arranged in a circle beside the river Ouse just down the street from my flat, the ones with the words about dreaming carved into them. Did he know where I lived?
I looked back and the aisle was deserted. I rushed down to the end and searched left and right. There was no sign of him.
He had vanished.
That evening I hung around the kitchen while Jonah cooked rice and beans. I still had the jitters and kept getting in his way. I managed to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time over and over, and could tell he was getting annoyed but I wanted to tell him about Adam.
‘Why would I dream about him and then meet him? What’s going on?’
Jonah shrugged and poked at the boiling rice. ‘You’re the visionary, babe.’
‘I know I need to talk to him, but I’m scared of what he’ll say.’
‘The fear of madness stuff again?’
I nodded and chewed on a fingernail.
‘How old was he?’ he said.
‘Hard to say.’ This had been puzzling me all day. ‘He could be in his sixties, but then, he seemed younger and kind of older too. It doesn’t make sense.’
‘So what does an old bloke want with a young woman?’ said Jonah, taking the rice off the stove.
‘And you know that because?’
‘Because… I don’t know, Joe. If you saw him, you’d understand.’
‘Y’know, you shouldn’t trust a man just ‘cos he’s wearing a natty suit,’ he said, with a smirk. He drained the rice, disappearing in a cloud of steam.
I remembered the first time I’d seen Jonah, standing by the Tyne Bridge, shivering in his best suit. I hadn’t been remotely interested in his clothes. I smiled to myself and hooked my arms around his waist as he stood at the sink, slipping a hand under his T-shirt and running my fingers across his belly.
‘I’m sure it’ll be fine,’ I said, and almost believed myself.
Sunday arrived and I made my way down the cobbles behind The Ship Inn. The lumpy path was so uneven, one tiny slip and I could be laid up for days with a twisted ankle and unable to work, which would mean no money, so I concentrated hard on where I was putting my feet. It was a welcome distraction from the sickness in my stomach. I hadn’t managed breakfast that morning because I was too nervous to eat, and now I was regretting it.
I crossed the footbridge and rounded the corner. Adam Kadmon was sitting on the seat marked DREAM, waiting for me. I had an impulse to turn back, but it was too late, he had seen me. I entered the circle and sat opposite him, on the seat marked OPEN.
‘I wasn’t sure I should come, I mean, I don’t know… you could be… not that I think you’re a…’ Stop rambling, Zoe. ‘I don’t know you from Adam.’ I laughed my best hysterical laugh and stared at the cobbles at my feet like they were the most fascinating thing I’d ever seen.
Adam didn’t move. He sat listening and watching in the same suit and cravat as before. Didn’t he have any other clothes? It was profoundly disquieting. He was doing the therapist thing: sitting in silence and waiting for you to figure it out for yourself. Well, if I was capable of figuring it out for myself, I wouldn’t be here, would I?
‘Why did you come?’ he said.
‘I don’t know.’
‘What do you want, more than anything?’
Peace on earth? Everlasting happiness? To win the lottery? A flat stomach? There were a million answers to that question, but I knew we were talking ultimates. The bottom line. The non-negotiable, deal breakers. I didn’t even know how to begin answering. I felt completely lost.
‘I just want to understand who I am. Underneath all the madness.’
‘You must stop running away.’
I laughed again. ‘I’m not running away. I came here, despite myself. I’m sitting here.’
In a snap, my mind kicked into high alert. I did want to run away. Every nerve, every muscle in my body was straining because I was repressing a violent desire to flee. Adam gave me a look so intense and focused I couldn’t hold his gaze. It felt as if the earth was moving beneath my feet. I pushed my hands against the rough, freezing concrete. It felt solid enough, but it didn’t help, the ground was still reeling. I jumped up and started to pace.
‘Why are you staring at me like that?’ I said, panic making my voice thin. ‘It makes me feel like, I don’t know, like-’
‘Like you’re standing on the edge of the world,’ he said softly, ‘and one tiny gust will send you tumbling over into nothing.’
‘Who are you?’ I spun round to face him, anxiety making me tremble.
‘Sit down.’ His voice was gentle, like a caress. ‘If I’m going to help, we need to establish where you are right now.’
‘But I understand,’ he continued. ‘You need some reassurance. I could be a nutcase, right?’ He chuckled heartily and light flickered in his eyes.
I nodded and smiled. His laugh was infectious and I felt a bubble of joy burst in my belly and spread. The idea that he could be a lunatic suddenly seemed absurd.
‘I ran for a long time too,’ he said.
Adam had been a broker, one of those traders surrounded by screens and telephones and blinking numbers. It explained the big ticket suit. He made lots of people lots of money, and stashed a canny sum for himself in the process. On his way to work one morning on the M25, his Ferrari started to splutter, so he pulled over. Smoke was pouring from the engine. He sat at the side of the road and watched the flames lick around his tyres while he waited for rescue. By the time they arrived, the engine had damn near exploded, and so had he.
His blood pressure was off the scale and he hadn’t slept properly for years. Being a superstitious sort in those days, he took it as an omen and quit his job. He got out in time to miss the stupendous crash which was just around the corner and would have cost him, and his clients, a fortune.
This made him think. And the more he thought, the more he realised his life was out of balance and he needed to do something about it. He travelled the world but couldn’t settle anywhere. He started to ponder the meaning of life and found himself in a woodland monastery in Japan. He was stripped of his belongings and his beloved suits, and threw himself into monastic life with the fervour of a recent convert.
‘That’s where things got interesting. I struggled and fought and ran. I made life very hard for myself.’ He chuckled. ‘But you can’t outrun the process.’
‘You.’ He smiled, as if to be free from yourself would be the most wonderful, glorious thing in the world.
‘But I don’t want to be free of myself. I want to know who I am.’
He laughed. ‘And who is that?’
‘Well, I don’t know, that’s why I’m here.’
‘Precisely. You’re already on the path, Zoe. You’re a mystic. You just need a little training.’
Being labelled insane was one thing. Being labelled a religious crackpot was another.
‘No. I don’t believe in all that God shit.’ I spat the words at him and stood. ‘You’ve made a mistake.’
My head was swirling with heat and confusion. I marched away from the seats, vibrating with anger and embarrassment. Why had I come here? It was such a stupid thing to do.
Adam shouted after me, his voice echoing round the valley and implanting itself in my mind, ‘Same again next week.’
I didn’t look back.
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