Suddenly as if it was a dream that surprises you, I found myself seated in one of those old diners with speckled plastic tabletops and shiny metal walls with vaulted ceilings. I noticed that across the booth I occupied was a man that reminded me very much of someone I felt I knew. Sitting next to me was my nine-year-old daughter. Our booth had a large window, and through it I could see some lights across the street that illuminated the sidewalk, iron fencing and benches of what appeared to be a large park. It was the time of the day called dusk, when daylight is disappearing and darkness starts to engulf the familiar shapes until they disappear in obscurity. This moment reminded me of a surrealist painting by the artist Magritte, where a tree lined city street is illuminated by street lamps as if it was night, while the sky above it was of a sunny day.
It felt like late autumn, my favorite time of the year. The diner was otherwise empty. There was not a sound, only silence, the type of silence that I hear when only the low hum of my blood is rushing through my veins, with the thumping of my heartbeat. It was illumination and bathed by a cool white light, giving a greenish cast everywhere. After glancing quickly at my surroundings, and getting a sense of where I was, I had a chance to focus with more attentively at the more notable things.
The man two booths from ours appeared to resemble me a lot, was it a mirror reflection? Was I dreaming? Surely it was very strange. His shirt was open at his belly revealing his navel, his skin tanned with many freckles. Even though no words had been uttered, it seemed that communication had somehow already occurred.
I decided to stand sensing an incomprehensible impending danger, soon to be confronted. I grabbed my daughter’s hand and stood up and remained still for a couple of seconds. As we did, the man stood as well and remained still, as if mimicking us. His navel started to emit a dim green light. It started flickering, and then a solid beam shone straight at me.
In amazement, I followed the beam and saw that it was pointed at my abdomen, specifically focused on my navel. My navel was lighted and flickering as if exchanging information through the beam of green light. This was first time looked at myself, and confirmed that we were either identical or he was my reflection. I became very confused, I could hear the thumping of my blood in my ears as my pulse accelerated.
Before I saw the green navel light, it had crossed my mind that this man had the appearance of someone very foreign, maybe even alien. Now that theory held more certainty, but if he was alien, and I was identical to him, was I also alien? This thought did not remain long in place because my earlier premonition was becoming unbearable, and I was reaching the threshold to either fight or flee. With the absence of any additional information, I assumed that it would be best to flee, not even knowing what from, or even why we might be in peril. I needed time to make sense of all of this, and that by fleeing I would increase my chances to have the necessary time to solve this most disturbing mystery.
I put my jacket on, paid the bill, took my daughter by her hand and with the same motion of straddling a backpack, I put her on my back, and proceeded to exit the diner, hoping to reach the darker side of the park to avoid being followed or captured. She felt so naturally attached to my back, that it was almost comforting. I had decided to flee, I could not explain why, who or what was placing me in danger? Maybe I posed some kind of threat to the others, I could not yet tell. Time would tell.
As I started running with my daughter tightly strapped on my back, I noticed that my stride was long and agile; I covered distances quick and effortlessly. This was a relief, since in most of my dreams I could not even move normally, having the feeling that my legs were made out of lead. My agility allowed me to enter the park and quickly find areas of darkness in which to conceal us. I encountered a large building with a Greek classical facade, which was closed, its dark shadows a safe place to think for a while, to plan my next move. The building was bathed in moonlight; its walls and columns reflected a white light that I had always admired when the moonlight was able to shine, making the shadow areas even darker than usual. This was a short pleasant moment.
My daughter was asleep; her head was resting on my right shoulder, and by now I had time to notice that her body was small, and that it fitted my back as if it was designed for it. Her arms and legs wrapped my torso as if they were straps. She almost felt like a small parachute, snuggly fitted to my back. As I pondered my options, I noticed for the first time a sound. This made me realize that before this moment my sense of hearing had been limited to hearing sounds from within myself, not even the sound of my breathing as it may be heard when inhaling or exhaling. This was yet another puzzling factor to add to the mystery.
As I was trying to assess the direction from where the sound was coming, as well as to see if I could gather more information of the nature of it, I had the feeling that it did not come from my captors. Why did I use that word? Was I assuming once again something that might not be true? That word meant that if I was to be captured, my alleged captors must have a reason for doing so. I worried what would come of my daughter if I were captured. I decided that I needed more time to figure things out, and prepared myself to leave that spot to find a more safe area.
I started running and I felt light on my feet again, as if I was designed to run, making almost no sound, like some animals that have developed this skill since they are preyed upon by other animals, and had a natural sense of the terrain to be covered. I felt my head lowering as if sniffing the air ahead of me, my torso became streamlined by pulling my arms back birdlike, and my strong legs pushing my whole body forward at great speeds. As I run along the side of the building, I also found that the closeness to the structure not only provided cover but also a feeling that I could grab onto the walls and use them as a jumping point. We quickly got away.
I found my way to an old and vacant house in the center of town. It was boarded up with the signs of being used by squatters. I could not recall how I got there, or how long it took. I needed a resting place for my daughter and myself. I laid her down, she did not wake up, she seemed exhausted. Now, I had some time to try to put things together. I had to start from the beginning, I was trying to remember all the details, and I could only go back to the beginning of the story in the diner, and had no recollection of any events before that. It was strange that I did not remember anything before that moment. I began with the obvious, the uncanny resemblance with the man at the diner, and our luminous navels.
I unbuttoned my jacket and shirt searching for my navel and noticed that my clothes were of a brown thick material that reminded me of a military uniform. Black running shoes covered my feet. I was looking for the green light. In the darkness of the room, the light was dim for a moment, them it flickered. What was causing it to apparently come active, and why was this thing on me and what was its purpose. Nothing made sense.
Was the luminous man warning me of the danger I felt, did he advise me to flee? Had he been sent to warn me, and if so by whom? Beyond the green flickering lights, there had not been any other form of communication. What ever happened to him? Did he get away? Was he caught? I realized that I knew almost nothing after reviewing the facts at hand, and that I was discovering more questions instead of getting answers. I had never been a person given to beliefs that could not be verified, it made sense to me that there was a logical explanation for most, if not all things. Are there clues to my situation somewhere in the past as usual? Or maybe stored deeply in my subconscious.
My daughter was sleeping placidly, I envied her situation and realized that we had not crossed words from the beginning of this ordeal; she just came along without any complaints. It was as if we had lived this episode before, or that this was a way of life for her, certainly not for me. I looked at her more closely and asked myself whether she was like me, if she had the same type of skin and more importantly the luminous navel. I was taken aback by these thoughts; I was sure she was my daughter. Things were so strange that I needed to question everything. She looked familiar, just like my daughter; I did have one, and only one. She was a possible bridge to my past. I was not alone, but I had to defend and care for her. Why could I not remember anything else?
Tempted to wake her, to ask her many questions and see if she resembled me. I felt that she might be part of a key to the secret of our situation. I was very tired, and began dozing off, falling totally asleep in seconds. I woke with her feet tucked on my back, seeking my warmth, this reminded me of the many times that she had done that before, when she got into our bed. Aha! I said “our bed” that means that I shared a bed with someone and my daughter would slip in during the night and most of the time would place her feet on my back, as I felt them now.
I was starting to remember, excitement seized me, she was beginning to wake, I waited slightly for her to fully awake. She sat up and looked at me with a mixture of surprise and happiness. She got on her knees and threw her torso towards me, embracing me strongly. As we held each other, more thoughts or feelings were revealed. I asked myself where was her mother, my wife, and what might have happen to her. I thought I heard her whimpering, but no words. We separated and I held her arms with my hands, she looked at me with a placid expression, but did not say a word.
I had to ask her if she knew anything about our situation. Again I noticed that no sound occurred, and that the silence was deafening. I decided to approach her with care and prepare my questions well. She had still the same expression on her face. I asked, do you know what is going on? I saw a brief sparkle in her eyes; I took it to say that she did. Her face returned to the previous expression.
If you know what is happening here please tell me. The same brief sparkle happened. I thought, why does she not speak? Maybe she is traumatized, certainly the events of this night were not entirely pleasant. I decided to give her more time; maybe she would yield more information later. She fell again to asleep resting her head on one of my crossed legs. I realized that I had not confirmed whether her skin was like mine, and most importantly if we shared the luminous navel. I would check it at her awakening.
I also noticed that I had a small bag with some items in it. I brought in front of me, and proceed to extract the items for a close inspection. There was, one and a half health bars, a metal key, a pencil, a filmstrip, and a subway ticket. I had no recollection of having seen any of these objects before.
I looked at them looking for clues. The health bars had wrappers in an alphabet that I could not recognize; I could not even make out a single word. I looked at the one that was half eaten, and recognized peanuts, caramel covered with chocolate. The metal key was most likely of a front house door, it did not have a key chain, it was brand new, it seemed that it had never been used.
The pencil was very small, it was well sharpened, one of those yellow pencils with an unused eraser. The filmstrip was of black and white film, it had four frames, from left to right if had two frames of groups of people, one of clouds and the last one was overexposed and all black. The foreign and unrecognisable subway ticket had a balance of one and twenty units left on it. After a brief review of the items, I felt that since I had always organized myself well for outings, that these items might have been chosen by me for a particular reason. On the other hand, I did not know if I was already fleeing before the stay at the diner, and if that was the case, had I had the time to get things together.
Morning was arriving with its feeble light. Daylight would help in finding more clues, I thought. I kissed my daughter on the cheek and she slowly awoke. I pulled out the half eaten bar from my bag and offered it to her. She took it and ate it in silence. I took this opportunity to rephrase my questions, I said, is there something that you know, that could help us? I looked intently to see if she replicated the sparkle in her eyes, but this she did not do.
I started considering the idea that came to me the first time I asked her questions, that possibly she may be part of this mysterious situation, and that she only resembled my daughter via the feeling of her physical appearance. If so, what was her purpose, she did not appear to be a threat to me, or be part of any conspiracy to capture me. I decided to inquire about the luminous navels.
I said, can you show me your stomach to see if you have something on your navel? She proceeded to pull up her top, as it reached her navel, I could see that she was not looking down at her stomach, but right into my eyes with the sparkle that I had noticed before. When her navel was revealed, there was no light, it was a normal navel. I fell backwards in amazement and started pondering the repercussions of this new revelation.
We were different, but how different? Was she or I the norm? Is there something called normal? Are we being chased because of her or because of me? Was she really my daughter or some creature made to resemble her? If so, what was her purpose? My head was spinning. I had to sift through all these new unanswered questions.
I had to ask her more questions; she seemed to be part of the mystery. I decided to talk to her again. I said, do you know who I am? Her eyes again sparkled for a while, she did not respond verbally. I thought that maybe the only way to communicate with her was through the signaling in sparkle of her eyes. So, I tested this theory. I asked, is there someone else in this room? Her eyes remained the same. I said again, so, it is only you and I here? Again, the eyes sparkled. I said, would you answer my questions with a yes or no answer? The eyes again sparkled.
Now, I had to come up with questions that could be answered with either a yes or a no. I thought for a moment, there were so many questions. Had to organize them, so not to waste any more time. Do you know why we are here? She replied with a yes. Is it because of you? I waited a moment but her eyes remained unchanged. Is it because of me? I got a yes. Do you know why I don’t remember anything before the diner? Again, yes.
I asked, who was the man in the diner? No change, I realized that this was not a yes or no question, so I rephrased it, do you know who was the man in the diner? Yes. Do you know why he was there with us? Yes. Was he there to tell me something? Yes. I thought that we had not spoken, and that the only possible communication was via the green light emanating from his luminous navel.
I stayed on the subject, was he talking to me via the green light? Yes. Do you know what he communicated to me? Yes. Was it very important information? Yes. Was he warning me? Yes. I confirmed my suspicions about the danger I was in, and more importantly, that I was unaware of it, and that he had been sent there to warn me. Am I in real danger? Yes. What kind of danger, I raised my voice. Again no change, I knew that my question was not properly posed.
The danger issue had subdued since we arrived at the house, so I pressed her to find out more about it. I said, is it very big danger? Yes. Is it mortal danger? She replied with a longer period of sparkle in her eyes. Are we safe here? Yes. Can we stay here while I ask you questions? Yes. I began wondering about her nature, Why was she with me? What ulterior purpose might she serve? Finally who was she?
I had many other questions to ask before getting to that. I went back to the man in the diner. If the man in the diner communicated with me, should I know what he said? Yes. That surprised me because I did not remember any of it. I began thinking, that if that was the case the information was in me, so I thought hard and had a feeling that there was something stored in my memory that I could not remember. I decide to ask her, will the man’s communication help me understand my predicament? Again a long sparkle. I was getting somewhere.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and relaxed my tense muscles to facilitate the search of the information. I started to remember, bits and pieces. The nature of his communication was non-verbal, it seemed as if it was implanted directly into my being, and it almost appeared in dream like form. It began coming into focus, there were vignettes of moments of my life before the diner. They were of particularly pleasant moments, sharing with others. They were in color and very little sound could be heard. They were all flying about, fading moving, disappearing, soon reappearing as if I was in the middle of a large room without distinguishable edges, and everything was around me. It seemed as if they were movie clips floating on a pleasing background that changed constantly. It came to me, this looked like a screen saver on a computer, but it surrounded me.
I opened my eyes and asked, did the man at the diner give me these memories? I got a no. Are these my memories? Yes. Is there something more in what he gave me? Yes. All right, then I have to search further to locate the rest. Now I rested my back on the floor, folded my arms over my face covering my eyes, the images reappeared. Focusing in detail on the flying memories, I could see that one seemed to be of something indistinguishable. I looked at it more intensely; it came slowly into focus, while the rest slowly began to somewhat fade.
As my eyes were fixed on this item, it became bigger and bigger, covering all others, eventually remaining the only visible item. It was engulfing me. It was an unsettling experience. Then it quickly disappeared leaving me in the same empty and unending room without the memories, sound or even the pleasant background. I looked around for a while but nothing seemed to materialize.
I sat up again, and she was gone, my daughter was gone. I stood up quickly looked around the house not finding her. I was startled and anxious, my hands were shaking, and I got sick to my stomach. The thought of loosing my daughter was overwhelming. I had to sit down, and think, what was happening? Where was I? Where could she be? I began weeping, and then broke into an all out sob.
Needed to get myself together, my heart was very heavy, I was alone. What was I going to do now? Why had she disappeared? Did her disappearance mean anything? Had to think. I spent a long time thinking about all of this and more. I decided to remove her from the questions at hand. Maybe she was only a pleasant memory similar to the ones in my mind that somehow I made materialize due to my necessity to have someone I loved close to me.
All through my life, I detested being alone, I always wanted to be with others I cared for, and cared for me as well. I had been miserable when alone. I remembered spending a couple of months in Paris, in the wintertime. At the beginning of my stay, I was taken by the city’s charm, beauty, culture and sophistication, but after a while, loneliness began creeping in until it became almost unbearable. At its worst, I entered a café in Montmartre to take some shelter from the cold and to seek the possible warmth of others. I sat at the bar; there was no one next to me. There was a man seated a couple of stools away, he was also alone. After ordering a glass of wine, and savoring it, I felt that my body was regaining its warmth. Observing my surroundings, and specially the man at the bar, I noticed that he seemed as lonely as myself. We made eye contact and for a brief moment I felt that he was asking for help to relieve him of the misery that we both shared. We did nothing about it. After this incident I felt very depressed and further alienated making any human contact even more unattainable.
I thanked my daughter or the memory of her for her company, which had provided me with some solace and clues as to my situation. Since things were altogether very strange, I decided to leave logic behind and consider other avenues of thought. It seemed that I had exhausted those options. So I asked myself, what possible parallels to other states of being could I considered. The first one that came to mind was that this was only a dream. A very possible option, since elements of the events did not seem firmly founded in reality. This also meant that it was a transitory situation, and that I would wake up sometime. This was a reassuring thought, I would wake up and everything would be back to normal, I would have my life back, my wife and daughter would be there, and everything else.
I thought, yes that is it. I just need to ride this dream out, try to enjoy it like many of its kind before, then wake up and try to remember it, and possibly tell it to someone. I felt somewhat relieved. So I decided to go along with this theory, it was the most innocuous. I picked up the bag again and took out all the objects in it for further inspection. I opened the last health bar, took a bite and savored the mixture of peanuts and chocolate. I hadn’t noticed how rewarding it felt to eat something in a while. I thought I am going to try to see if any of these things can yield any additional clues.
I looked at the pencil first; it was a small yellow pencil with a new eraser. All right, I said, this pencil has been used a lot, that means that it has written many things, maybe notes, letters, or even a story, the unused eraser started me thinking as to its implications. Maybe the owner just wrote without erasing or correcting anything, as if he had no regrets for anything he or she was doing. That satisfied my observation of the pencil.
I moved on to the black and white film negative. I put it against the light and could barely make out on the first frame a family gathering, upon closer inspection, I discovered that I was one of the members of this group, and that the rest were my parents and my siblings. We where seated at Sunday lunch during winter. When I was a child of about nine or ten, after breakfast and dressing up in our Sunday’s best, our mother would send my brother and I to get fresh bread for lunch since the baker’s delivery person did not work on Sunday.
We would walk several blocks to reach the bakery. Winter mornings were cold, the streets were deserted, most people where still in their homes trying to keep warm. This surreal environment appealed to me, it was not the norm of everyday, with cars, people and noise. I do not remember if we talk along the way, but probably did.
We would buy a dozen warm buns, and share one on the way back. This activity was repeated for several years. I let my mind wonder awhile and experienced a bit of nostalgia with those precious moments of my past.
I looked closely at the second frame; there were three persons, two adults and a child standing in front of a door. It looked like the house my wife; my daughter and I lived in, but with some differences. It’s us; I confirmed. I could distinguish that she had her school uniform. Maybe it was our customary first day of school picture.
This image transported me to my adult years. I remembered with pleasure the birth and growing years of my daughter, how hard we had tried to give her what she needed to be happy in life. In our opinion the only thing worth fighting for in life was real happiness. That meant that one had to be happy with one self, not just appear to be.
I was alone again, this time I did not feel so lonely, my memories accompanied and comforted me. I was thankful for having them, and was pleased with what I remembered my life had been. I realized that I had a very good life, and that made me happy.