– Exordium of the Equinox of the Gods. 1 –
“Ah, to be able to love, to be able to suffer, to be able to feel ... That which all Humans have for granted, for me are nothing but fleeting rays of light amongst the dark clouds that constantly overcast the sky of my life ...”
At that time of day there were very few people in the streets and, because we were practically standing at the National Art Gallery’s doorsteps, most passers-by were tourists taking pictures near Trafalgar Square’s fountain.
Steph looked at the time on her small golden wristwatch and took a deep breath.
“It’s two o’clock. Can we meet here by three? Will it be enough, Mari?” she asked and I nodded.
During our subway trip we’d ended up agreeing to split up for at least an hour, so that I could pay a short visit to some of my favorite bookshops, which no one else seemed to be interested in. In truth, one hour would hardly be enough to cover half a bookshop, much less visit more than one. But, on the other hand, I could hardly deny that, left on my own to freely wander around, I would spend the whole afternoon lost amongst books, reading titles, synopses and prefaces. Since I wasn’t alone I simply couldn’t be rude to the point of telling them I’d be happy spending the rest of the afternoon on my own.
The freezing wind made me shiver and I pulled the collar of my coat up. Walking hurriedly with my head bent to better cut through the wind, I followed the opposite direction from the rest of the group.
The first drops of rain fell cold and heavy, and quickly evolved into a compact rainstorm. I fished an umbrella from inside my bag and huddled under my coat, but the wind seemed determined to blow my umbrella away, and the thought that I would end up being carried away with it crossed my mind. The hard, cold rain wasn’t falling vertically anymore and I was completely soaked to the bones in a matter of minutes.
I ran down the street and pushed open the first door I came across. A tiny bell rang, announcing my presence, and I took a deep breath as I closed my dripping umbrella, which somehow had survived the flash storm raging outside. The sudden heat from inside the store blushed my cheeks and I tried to straighten my hair, certain that by then it must look like a wet rat’s nest.
“Good afternoon. May I help you?”
Obviously I shouldn’t have been startled to hear a voice, but I still jumped as I turned around, noticing for the first time the kind of shop I had inadvertently walked in.
My eyes swept over the many objects pending from the ceiling — wind chimes of various sizes and materials, some shining softly, others made of feathers and gemstones, swinging lazily due to my unexpected visit. The left shelf was filled with different artifacts and statues from all kinds of cultures — Egyptian, Mayan, Aztecan, South American, Oriental, African. On the right there was a stand with CDs carefully arranged. At the top, on a paper printed with a flowery font, was written ‘New Age.’ Near the stand, a glass showcase kept strange objects, whose purpose I couldn’t even begin to imagine. I noticed some metal daggers and tall cups and glasses that reminded me of the Middle Ages. There were golden crucifixes of different types, wooden bowls and hand mirrors. Over the counter, placed at the far end of the store, there was a stand with candles sorted by color and, inside the counter, silver and crystal pendants with strange symbols glittered under the pinkish light that shone over them. I recognized a Celtic influence on many of the pendants. Others had designs easier to understand, such as the dragons, mages, pentagrams, swords and crosses I could see from where I stood. And finally, behind the counter, was the woman who had greeted me.
Her hair was mainly white, pulled up on a snowy knot. She wore a purple shawl over her shoulders and was watching me with a friendly, but somehow intimidating, expression. Her dark eyes, even from behind the glasses that hung from the point of her nose, shone with a liveliness rarely found on faces marked by time like hers; and she smiled almost softly.
Behind her, a bookshelf immediately caught my attention. The books had been carefully arranged by collections and sizes, and I couldn’t help notice that some looked really old, the brownish spines empty of titles.
“Ah! I’m really sorry to bother you. But the truth is I just came in to get out of the rain. I was completely caught off guard,” I hurriedly excused myself and expected to see some measure of disappointment on her face, but her eyes seemed to glow even brighter.
“I see. It’s really raining hard. Make yourself at home, child. It’s no bother at all.”
“Thank you. I hope it will ease up soon,” I said wishfully, watching as the drops fell hard on the street’s cobblestones outside.
“Why don’t you take this chance and have a look around? This store is filled with many interesting things,” she suggested, and I wondered if I should tell her I had no interest whatsoever in that kind of stuff.
My lack of spiritual beliefs had accompanied me since the death of my grandmother, when I was still a child. At the time my mother had tried to explain to me what had happened, using all the typical strategies grown-ups apply when talking to children about life and death. She had told me my grandma Anne had gone to Heaven to be with God, the Angels and the Baby Jesus; and how everything was much more beautiful and peaceful up there. However, and contrary to what had been expected, my incomprehension of death quickly transformed into feelings of anger and envy of God. After all, why did He have the right to keep my grandma if she was mine to begin with? I was sure that, given the choice, she would have rather stay with me, than go with Him to Heaven. Clearly, if she had left me, it was because someone had forced her to go. God, Angels, Baby Jesus! None of that mattered at all! All I knew was that someone or something had taken her away from me, and that was unforgivable.
Sure, over time, I’d begun to understand things differently and my childhood ideas eventually lost their meaning. But my early rebellion against the main Catholic concepts, among which my academic education had taken place, had helped me develop a rather skeptic vision and a rational, critical thought towards all things religiously and spiritually related. And so, although I’d never expressed such thoughts out loud, and, like the good girl I was, had always fulfilled my part at school as required, the truth was my spiritual beliefs remained in an indefinite state.
Still, I lacked the courage to tell any of that to the nice old lady who had kindly offered me shelter form the rain. And so I walked up to the left shelf and let my eyes wander uninterested over the various statues, wishing it would stop raining soon before I felt obliged to buy something from her. In truth I’d never been to a store like that, nor had I noticed its existence prior to that day, although I was sure I’d passed in front of it many times before.
“Ah, in your destiny, there’s going to be a big change.” Her voice put an end to my aimless wandering and I turned back to look at her. Her white hands held a deck of cards. Some had already been placed on the counter and her eyes were fixed attentively on them. I recognized the illustrations on the cards immediately, from a movie I’d seen. Those were tarot cards.
“Hum, you don’t have to do that. I don’t really believe in that kind of thing,” I uttered, anticipating she would want to charge me for the reading, but she raised her head, smiling kindly.
“Don’t worry, child. It’s only a game to help pass the time,” she said lightly and went back to the cards.
I sighed and, seeing I couldn’t dissuade her, as a way to repay her kindness, walked up to the counter and decided to indulge her.
“Your life was supposed to follow a certain path,” she asserted, looking rather pleased to have my attention. “However, Human Beings are prone to these things. It’s not like they’re errors or mistakes. Let’s just call them unforeseen events.” I remained silent, not knowing what to say, not even understanding what she meant, and her hands pulled out another card. “Hmm ... I see you have a special loved one in your life,” she went on and my heart jumped painfully. Still I made myself look firm and unaffected. That was far from impressive, I thought critically. After all, what girl my age didn’t have one or two love interests? “Unfortunately your love is not corresponded,” she added and I felt that sharp dagger stabbing my heart even deeper. Even so, I mused, and as hard as it was for me to admit it, that was also rather easy to guess. One would only have to take a look at me, at my completely uninteresting and plain image, to figure that out. “This is something very painful for you. And it’s this suffering that creates the distortion that pulls you away from your initial and predestined path,” she continued, now with a sympathetic tone. She peered at me over her glasses with a worried expression and I wished with all my might that my expression would remain neutral. The woman sighed and turned another card. “Ah! Just as I thought!” she confirmed with new light dancing in the depths of her dark eyes, almost as if she’d been expecting what she now supposedly saw. “Right now the path before you is divided in two. One is straight, easy to follow, but dark. The other is devious, promising as much pain as happiness, but filled with light. On this dark path your true love will never come to pass,” she said, looking at another card and turning over the last one. “On the path of light, your life will be filled with new things, and among these things your love will be returned, the true love that you are destined to live.”
By the time she fell silent I was completely immersed in her story, the same way I got when reading a fantasy book about some distant heroine. And, of course, I wanted to know more.
“Two paths?” I asked leading her on, and she raised her head smiling kindly.
“Yes, child. Human Beings always have the right to choose their way,” she explained. “In our lives there are small, almost insignificant choices, like the clothes we decide to wear, or what we eat for lunch. But there are also the big choices. And those have the ability and strength to change one’s life completely, in a single second. And not only that person’s life, but also the lives of those around us.”
“Choices like a marriage, or a divorce,” I exemplified and she nodded approvingly.
“Yes. And the choice standing before you, right now, is something with that potency ... Maybe even more.” I smiled softly, unable to dislike her, and brought myself back to reality. She wasn’t telling me some fantastic story. She was talking about me. And something like that was simply impossible.
“Well, I’m sorry but I really don’t think so. My life is rather simple and dull. And since I’m still a student, I’m guaranteed with at least two more years of this same exact routine,” I argued. She smiled again, this time with a condescending look; one of those that tells you that we, young people, still have a lot to learn. Turning around, she went to the bookshelf behind her and came back with a heavy-looking book.
“Here you go,” she declared, placing the large volume on the counter. Although smaller than the standard size, it was bigger than most of my books, and certainly thicker. On the brown leather cover one could read in shiny silver letters, Magic Spells and Enchantments.
I smiled wryly, not knowing how to refuse it. Things like that made even less sense than the spiritual philosophies of the Catholic Church. Besides, it looked like a rather old, secondhand book. And I feared it would be some antique, which meant I would probably be unable to pay for it.
“In this book you’ll find all you need to make your choice,” she announced. “The one that will take you down one path or the other.” I took a step back, avoiding even touching it.
“You know ... it’s like I’ve said before,” I began trying to sound as nice as possible. “It’s not really my thing. Besides, I don’t have that much money on me.”
“It’s a gift!” the woman stated, invalidating my best argument. “To tell you the truth, it’s not even for sale. You see, this book belonged to me at one time,” she said, caressing the leather cover with a nostalgic expression. “It served me well during this life. I brought it here, together with many others, in hopes of finding them new owners. They’re not something I can simply put a price tag on. To me, they’re priceless,” she stated, and I couldn’t help feeling touched by the woman’s love for her books, independently of their strange titles.
“More the reason. If it’s so important to you, how can I simply accept it? For starters, why have you decided to give it away?” I asked with genuine curiosity. For me it was simply unthinkable, giving my precious books away just like that, to some stranger.
“Because, child, books are like Human Beings. They all have their mission. And these books’ mission by my side has already been fulfilled. The same way I’ll leave this world once my mission in this life has been completed to return to it once again with a new mission, these books also need to be reborn next to those who now need them. And, this book in particular, has a task to fulfill by your side.” I looked at the book on the counter and took a deep breath. I didn’t really want to keep it, but she cut short my argumentative thoughts. “Please take care of it. It was a good friend to me.” With a resigned sigh I picked it up and held it against my chest.
“Thank you. I promise I’ll take good care of it,” I assured her. The joy in her lightly wrinkled face made me feel pleased with myself. Making others happy always made me feel the same way, and I promised myself I’d really take care of that lady’s treasure, although I would probably never read a single page. “Oh, and how much do I owe you for the reading?” I asked, wishing I could somehow repay her kindness and time. She placed her pale hand on my arm, stopping me from reaching for my wallet.
“You owe me nothing, child. The reading is part of my mission,” she replied with her persisting smile as I rummaged my brain for a way to object. “Ah, look. The rain has stopped,” she pointed out, looking over my shoulder towards the window, and I followed her gaze.
“Yes, at least for now.”
“You should go, then. Before it starts again.”
I looked at her, aware of her strategy to end the subject, but still couldn’t feel right taking something without giving something else in return. Still the honesty in her eyes left me without arguments, and I instinctively knew I’d probably never be able convince her otherwise. Above all I didn’t want to end up offending her goodwill.
“I thank you, once more, for your time. It was a really pleasant talk. And I don’t know how to thank you for your gift.” I looked for the right words and she nodded, pleased with my honest acceptance.
“You’re quite welcome, child. I wish you luck and, above all, courage!” I smiled, since she had said the same exact thing as Steph, and walked towards the door.
“Thank you once more. And have a nice day.”
“Be at peace, child, be at peace,” she answered as I opened the door. The small bell rang once again to announce my departure, and the cold wind made me shiver.
I hugged the heavy volume under my coat to protect it from the weather and walked back to Trafalgar Square. There was no time to go to any of the bookshops I had planned. And yet, not knowing exactly why or how, I had just acquired a new book.