My eyelids draw to a close as I drag deeply on my cigarette. The gentle insect drone hangs in the hot air, swelling inside my head, as I sit here alone on the back step.
I love this hour. Coming home late from work to the old, sleeping farmhouse. The smell of sweat, garlic and sweet fruit infused on my fingertips. I’m away from the city, away from the world. Just me, and the stillness of the outback. We’re old friends now.
Staying up into the early hours of the morning has become of my hobbies recently.
I take a generous swig of wine and hold it in my mouth for a moment, letting my tongue soak in the dark grape. The eucalyptus trees that line the stream at the end of the field are silhouetted against the city lights. As I let the mouthful of wine escape down my throat I wonder how many of those skyscrapers are occupied right now. Bustling with worker bees hammering away at their desks. Shutting out the world and zoning in on spreadsheets, deadlines and bonuses: The Important Stuff. Why do we do this to ourselves? What is the point?
Christ, who the hell do you think you are? You think working in the kitchen is ‘the shit’, like you’ve got it all worked out, huh? Who are you kidding?
But at least I’m happy.
Well, most of the time. When Cam’s on.
Well, yeah, why not? I like the work, I like the people. What else do you need? And Cam is a pisser – man, I’d hang around that joint just so I can muck around with him – he’s quality!
Fuck, I don’t know. It’ll do for now.
I take another drag, another mouthful.
I can’t stay here forever – I know that. This house will fall apart, for one.
I do want more than this though. I deserve more. At least, I hope I do.
Wondering what I’m doing with my life is fast becoming another hobby of mine.
I try to quiet my mind with another drag, another mouthful.
Then, a distraction of another kind. Beyond the trees, something glows. I squint my eyes and concentrate on the spot. It’s a red ring with a centre of bright white.
The bushfires. Of course, I had forgotten. I remember a sound bite from the morning’s news debating whether or not they had been deliberately lit. They were big this year. It kind of amazes me that someone would have the guts to do it. It’s an amazement that borders on awe. The exhileration, the buzz they must feel seeing the blaze, the press, the control through the destruction…
Another drag, another mouthful.
Wait a minute. The ring looks bigger now. It can’t be. The fires are miles away. They can’t reach us here.
I squint my eyes, harder this time.
Images start dancing out of the flames, morphing into solid silhouettes.
There is a figure. It dances alone in the flames. It’s hypnotic. I’m transfixed on their flight, the flow. It’s hard to make out if the heat is radiating off their flesh or if they are burning. But then the figure steps forward, further into the bright light at the centre of the flames and I can see him. His skin is dry and his cheeks are pale.
I look away then and reach for the wine bottle sitting beside me. This wine must be strong. Or I’m drinking way too fast. I sniff the opening and scan the label. Everything looks ok. I light up another cigarette and turn my gaze back to the flames.
They’re much bigger now. And closer. I can almost make out his features now. The flickering flames form fingers and limbs. Four arms protrude from his body. A drum is tucked under one, another points towards his lifted foot, the third is on his heart and the fourth hand is extended, his palm facing me.
An old memory flashes to mind – I’m walking to school. I come to the pedestrian crossing. The man in the white coat with bright reflectors across his torso waits. As I approach, he holds out his hand to the traffic on either side. He keeps his hand in place as he strolls confidently into the road, blows his whistle loud and clear and I sprint across to the other side.
‘Go, little fire fly! Run like the wind!’, he would call after me. And my legs would shoot off, gaining pace, going faster and faster. My heart racing. My blood pumping.
My palms are sweating.
What the hell is going on? I’m being pulled from my seat, compelled forward – by what? What is this?! My blood pumps faster and I have am forced to grip my hands on the step beneath me just to ground myself to the spot.
I am not of my body. It wants to run, wants to chase.
My gaze locks on the figure. It is fully formed now. And so close. Come on. Come to me. Step out from the flames. Come to me. Open up my chest. Nestle under my ribcage. You’ve ignited the engine, now ignite my heart. Show me what I am. Do that for me. Please.
Do it. Do it now.
Come to me. Do it.
Why don’t you come?
What’s your problem?!
What are you waiting for?
WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU SO AFRAID OF?!
I hear myself scream out loud.
And suddenly my body takes over. I shoot off the stairs and I am running. Running with the heat, the buzzing insects cheering me onwards. My lungs gasping for air. Running towards the ring of fire. Wanting, reaching, chasing. He holds my gaze until my chest cries out, ripping inside my chest. My body lurches, wincing, my eyes clenching. I come to a grinding hault, my hands on my knees to hold me upright. I heave the air in.
I open my eyes and look up. He is gone. So too is the fire.
And it’s just me, alone. Standing in the middle of the field. My old friend softly hums to me while I catch my breath. I wait as my pulsating veins calm themselves. Waiting somewhere between home and the rest of the world.
In the Nataraja statues, Shiva dances alone in a ring of flame. When this image has four arms, one hands holds the drum, signifying both the rhythm of time and our own heartbeats; another gestures toward his lifted foot. A third hand is raised in abhaya mudra, which resembles our modern gesture for “stop”, but in this case signifies “fear not”. The fourth is in teaching mode. One foot, usually the left, is crushing a small misshapen figure representing ignorant action, while the other lifts, indicating liberation.
– Downward Dogs & Warriors: Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis, Zo Newell (2007, pg. 36)