01 January 2008


Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Eliot: Burnt Norton

From her quiet corner in the the Cloister Garth where she had taken coffee out into the early morning June sun she watched as the monk emerged from the gloom of the Infirmary Cloister, walked through the herb garden, passed the Prior’s Staircase and, just before he got into the Great Cloister, turned sharp right and walked through the wall. The monk wondered why had the high round arched door been bricked up, and why had anyone thought the old stone staircase well replaced by pallid marble and black iron. Then his prescient mind’s eye saw the fireballs of 1942 raining from the night sky, heard the crash of falling masonry and felt the acrid smoke in the back of his throat. He remembered then that what for him was a tragedy yet to come, for the young woman, whom he knew watched him from her place in the Cloister, it was already a piece of history.

The girl spotted the pale face under the brown hood peering at her from a window high up in the Library, close to where he might once have had his cell in the monastic dormitory. She wondered why he had lately been so persistent in his appearances. Were they random or did they have a purpose? Perhaps he wanted to talk to her, but how did you talk to a monk who had died centuries ago? What could he have to say to her, who was not even a Christian, let alone a Catholic.

The monk leaned against the stone windowsill watching the girl, silently challenging her to look and listen with him. He closed his eyes and flooded his mind with images of men afraid, women angry, young men hurling stones, young girls circling their bodies with belts pocketed by death. He heard mothers weeping for starving babies, a mob screaming and the terrible death march of children burying their virus stricken parents. He felt the anguish of centuries circling the globe in a never ending river of terror and pain.

The door at the far end of the long Library room opened and the monk knew the girl had returned. He slid behind one of the fine old book presses and went into his cell through the portrait of a sweet faced seventeenth century Dean. The girl clattered past his doorway and then paused to stroke a venerable red Turkey binding. He could hear her thoughts quite clearly: ‘How could people do.... Can’t they see... Perhaps I could .... Perhaps...’ The sound of a telephone, urgent in the heavy silence. She ran off down the aisle between the presses; another door banged and she was gone. The monk made the sign of the Cross and sighed. Was another pebble of understanding to be added to the defences against the infernal flood? If only his work here were done and he could sleep again. Outside the window of his narrow cell, a blackbird sang.

Naomi 31 December 2007