Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chapter 2 "The Stranger"

As Lister left the building that evening he was happy with the way the meeting had gone and the level of support the attendees had given him. He hadn’t shared the exact reasons for his declaration of stepping down from the head position of the Company for an indefinite time. He simply alluded to the fact that he had not been away from the business world for quite some time. He had a mind to see other places and seek out new challenges. Lister was confident his empire was in capable hands… hands he trusted implicitly and with people he had picked for various roles over the past quarter of a century. They were good at their jobs and had pride in their position. It would be interesting to see how well his holdings flourished in his absence. He knew he didn’t want to be chained to the business all his life and this was a good opportunity to let the new bloods spread their wings and get a taste of what true entrepreneurship was all about. This change would enable them to try new ideas… ones that may not be put forward whilst he was at the helm. This was going to be good for all… even great for all.

He decided to walk instead of riding in his coach that was waiting outside the building.

Was this new feeling within himself, or was it something beyond him? This was a feeling of freedom, mixed with apprehension… no, not apprehension, perhaps, anticipation. That was it, a euphoric feeling of freedom… the anticipation of the new tomorrow. The unknown, the stimulation that only comes from the start of a new adventure, whether a physical or spiritual one. On this occasion it seemed both.

He walked for three miles over the cobbled roads and deserted countryside until the sight of his sister’s beautiful house came into view. It was built on a knoll overlooking golden fields of ripe wheat. The property was bordered by a crystal clear stream that bounced orange light from the dying embers of the day as it smudged itself into the grayness of the northern summer night. What a wonderful sight. What a wonderful feeling and what a glorious day it had been. With renewed vigor, he strode up the hill and on approaching the front of Speck’s house was distracted by the sounds of singing and an unidentified rhythmic beating. Curiosity getting the better of him, he diverted his steps and sidled to the rear of the house from where the sounds came. Rounding the corner all was revealed. There was his sweet loving sister, Speck, in full voice and with equally full heart in her swings as she beat the living room rugs. Through the clouds of dust he was able to see her happy face contorted with effort as she went about her three-monthly rituals. ‘Quarterly cleaning’ she had jokingly called it. Not wishing to cause her alarm, Lister stood at the corner of the house until the frantic session had finished. As Speck stopped she jumped with fright, not expecting anyone to be watching her. She was suddenly self-conscious of her seemingly unladylike appearance and also that she may have been overheard in full voice. This was a pleasure she rarely let others hear her enjoy. She hastily smoothed out the front of her dusty smock and ran a delicate dirt encrusted hand through her damp matted hair.
“Oh it’s you,” she said with a chill in her voice. “How long have you been standing there?”
“Not long” her brother lied. He knew she would be embarrassed if she realised he had been standing there watching for the past 10 minutes or so. But the love he had for her was one that went back so many years. The strengths she had displayed in the past, when he was on hard times, her love and support had been the catalyst that held him together. There was a time when life seemed almost unbearable. He had entertained thoughts of suicide and she had shown him there was light at the end of the road, a reason to go on! She was the strong one, no doubt about it. Without her he would not be the man he was today, yet people of the city referred to him as a self-made man. If only they knew the insecurity he had felt, the indecision that plagued him on a daily basis and the feeling of anxiety that gripped his gut constantly. Yet through it all, here was his sister doing her ‘Quarterly cleaning.’ How bizarre life was. The calm were content yet the achievers were not. There must be a lesson to be learnt there surely, he thought. Lost in his inner world of thoughts and feelings for what seemed an eternity, although in reality only a few seconds, he was told to get his weary ageing body into the kitchen for some food and much needed liquid refreshment.

Once inside the sprawling house, Speck went to freshen up and change from her dusty clothes whilst Lister changed from his travelling attire. She called him into the kitchen as she prepared some food.

Lister wondered why Speck hadn’t bothered with a cook or housekeeper after all the wealth he had created and shared with her. All the other influential citizens of the city had them, why not his Sister?’ As if she was once more reading his thoughts, (as she tended to do when they were children), she announced, “it’s much more fun to cook your own food, because it gives one a feeling of earning it, instead of just eating.” She placed a large portion of peeled potatoes into the cooking pot and wiped her wet hands on the clean apron she wore over her expensive blue silk dress.

She sat on a stool opposite him and with her familiar directness asked, “What’s the dream this time, oh brother of mine. I have seen that look in your eyes too many times to think this is just a social call. Are you planning more business expansion? Wishing to open new markets, or is there a new line of merchandise you have been made aware of that you want to track down and import?”
“Neither… as a matter of fact this is something so new and so elusive that I’m not even really sure where or how I should start. I have been given some direction by Michael, a starting point at least. I’m not sure where it will lead or if it will lead anywhere at all, but at least I am willing to pursue it.”
Speck was thoughtful as she drank in her brother’s words, “You are right, it doesn’t sound like a business venture to me… sounds more along the lines of a personal search for something.”
She thought for a while then continued. “Has this anything to do with your change of mood over the past few weeks? I have noticed that you have lost the usual zest and vitality you always exude while around your staff and acquaintances. It’s as if someone has pulled a cork from your mind and allowed the energy to simply drain out, leaving the man, but not the motivation.”
Speck thoughtfully rose from the stool and absent-mindedly prodded the vegetables that were by now simmering on the kitchen fire.
Half out loud she uttered, “I think I know what you are seeking and what you are looking for, but it can only be found within, In order to go within, you will have to start your journey by going out.”
Realizing she was muttering, she turned from the pot and returned to the seat opposite her brother. The look on his face was enough to tell her that not only were her mutterings audible enough for him to hear but they were also accurate.Apologetically she cleared her throat and made small talk about the ramblings of a silly old woman.

“On the contrary sis, you are as always, accurate,” replied Lister as he warmed, once more, to his sister and the subject of their discussion.
“I have, as you observed, been somewhat low on excitement for what I am doing lately. It used to be that I would wake up early each morning, full of joy and enthusiasm for what lay ahead. Each day seemed like a new adventure, a miracle waiting to appear. Each moment was filled with anticipation for the next. But, recently I’ve been waking up later, getting out of bed slower, arriving at the office the same time but leaving earlier. I am experiencing restlessness and dissatisfaction in the world around me, but unable to pin- point the cause of it. On the surface, nothing has changed and the companies are all growing with natural expansion. My family seem content and my wife wants for nothing either. To use her own words ‘she is as contented as a cow in the meadow with a calf in tow.’ She has security, love, affection and a real sense of fulfilment.”

Speck interrupted Lister gently, “and that is what you are seeking isn’t it Lister, that feeling of fulfilment. To feel that away from the busy hectic world of finance and economical banter you still have a place where you belong, a place where you have value, yet no pressure, a place where you can simply BE.”

As she gazed into the tired eyes of her brother she felt a lump come to her throat as she saw tears brimming in his reddened eyes and trickling down his sagging cheeks, dissolving into the soft fabric of his elegant jacket.
“Lister you can find what you are missing, but it will be like no other journey you have ever undertaken. There will be highs and lows. You will experience things that you cannot see. You will see things you cannot explain, you will feel feelings that you do not know and lose feelings that are familiar. It is an odyssey that anyone can encounter, but few have the strength to endure the trials and challenges that must be faced and overcome. The victory will be sweet and the pain soon forgotten as you embrace this complete way of living. Till now you have been living as only half a person. Don’t look so alarmed. Most people don’t even live as much as that. You are an incredible human being, full of love, compassion and passion itself for the things you have done. There have been lives you have changed; the hope you have given to others, the opportunities you have created and the empire you have built. Now is the time for you to create for yourself that which you have done for others.”

Wiping the tears from his face and dabbing at his jacket sleeves, Lister in a quiet voice said. “Why is it that you know so much about the things I am searching for? It’s as though you have already been through the process yourself…Have you?” he enquired.
Smiling now, Speck nodded in agreement saying, “Remember several years ago when I said I needed a change of scenery and that I just wanted to get away for a while?” Not waiting for a reply she continued, “I was at the stage you are now. Looking for more than I knew at that time, not knowing what there was, only knowing there must be more. I found other people that in the past had felt the same way and asked for advice as to where I could begin to discover the secrets of Inner Peace and Fulfilment. It was a journey that took many months and many more miles to complete and that was only the physical aspect of the discovery. The real tests came when I had to journey inwardly and that, my darling brother, is something that only you can do for yourself. Compared to the physical side of the pilgrimage, it is tougher and far more draining and at times terrifying. But here I am telling you what you will discover for yourself and possibly painting a dismal picture into the bargain. So enough of this idle chatter. I don’t know whom it was that Michael suggested you visit, but if they are not able to assist you, might I suggest that you contact William the old man you had working for you a while ago.

There was stunned silence as Lister digested the shock announcement his sister had just delivered and grappled with its implications. Stammering, he looked up through glazed eyes and asked her how she knew about William. He informed her that it was in fact William, who Michael had said he should seek out before setting out on the Journey.
Nodding her head in agreement she said, “Good, he will be of great assistance to you in the beginning. Interestingly you only know him as a watchman. When you meet him again however, you will feel you are the one that is out of your depth and you will see William in a different light. At the same time he’s a familiar friend, someone you have known for many years but you’ll feel you’ve never met before.” She ended with, “There I go prattling off again. What have you told your wife and family, and how did they react?”
“Wanda has been wonderful about it. She knows something is troubling me although she doesn’t at this point know the full extent of what I’m proposing. She will stand by whatever I decide to do as she always does. The children… well they are not young anymore and are so involved with their own lives that I doubt they will miss the old man, as they refer to me behind my back. So I will have my lovely wife’s blessing to go for as long as it takes and return when I have discovered the cryptic clues (as she fondly calls them) to the riddle of Inner Peace and Self-Fulfilment. I needed to see you before I made any final plans and I wanted your input. You are my last call before the great unknown,” Lister chuckled, “and very pleased I am that I called. You have me intrigued and I admit, a little anxious about the undertaking. More than anything, I am excited about meeting the stranger that I have known all my life, very mysterious indeed. It was my wish that I could persuade you to join me, but evidently a hollow desire as I find you have already undertaken this journey. The journey of ‘self discovery’. Tell me one last thing sis, was it really worth it?”
“More than I can say Lister, though at times I did wonder whether the end was worth the doing. And as to your request… even if I had not been on the journey before you, I feel my adventuring days are over as I’m approaching sixty. I now want to enjoy my grandchildren, nieces and nephews. There is so much I can share with them as a result of our other adventures together. Thank you for the thought, but I’m happy to stay put for this one and in any case, this is one adventure you have to do on your own. If I came along you would only find me a hindrance. “Now let’s eat and you should get some rest before you start your new journey of discovery.”

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