The Awakening Chapter 9: Of water, lakes and storms

Glenridding,_Cumbria,_England_-_June_2009

Part I: The Awakening

Chapter 9: Of water, lakes and storms

It kept raining cats and dogs…and the four of us were supposed to travel up north, to the Lake District in Cumbria, to some aunt of Alice’s. The ill-tempered weather gave us little incentive to leave the house, but still, we left. The Lake District’s too much of an attraction to be passed up if an opportunity to visit it were to come up, even Alice and Mark knew that, as much as they’d already traveled around the globe.

The Lake District is an area in northern England which, apart from having inspired a huge amount of painters and writers, is also a National Park of the United Kingdom, thus being in a protective state. And once you get there, you know why it should be protected. The romantic beauty of the area was (and still is) perfect for writing poetry or for painting. It’s like the nature itself is inviting you to paint it or to write something about it. The likes of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge or Robert Southney knew what they were doing when they realized that the Lakeland, how the area is sometimes referred to as, offered them both a wonderful place to live and at the same time provided them with the much needed inspiration. The backdrops are often breathtaking either in their complexity and enormous variation, or, more often than not,  in their simplicity. The Lakes tend to have pretty barren mountainsides, due to excessive sheep farming in the past, but, as I was to realize, it’s precisely that barrenness that gives the land its charm, just as it does in the Highlands of Scotland, barren enough as well. It’s not always about complexity, beauty might be found in the most empty-looking places. The Lake District is also a very successful tourist magnet, with a lot of small towns with so much charm that they scream to be to be explored.

The four of us left for the Lakes after some packing, not too heavy, but still, “a week spent in such a wet place might bring surprises”, we thought, so we did some heavier packing than expected. We took the M62 out of Liverpool, heading east, as Alice had to make a stop in Greater Manchester. I would’ve loved to see a glimpse of downtown Manchester, but we only stopped for a while in Swinton, on the north-western edge of town, at a friend of Alice’s. Then we continued our journey along the M6 motorway, heading north, into Cumbria and the Lake District. The charm of the landscape kept only growing, until it grew so much that it felt just overwhelming. For anyone enjoying the typical British landscape, the Lakes is an area which illustrates just that, perfectly.

We entered the actual Lake District National Park around Kendal, a fanciful little town, which, apart from being famous for its Kendal-mint-cake, also serves as the self-declared entry point into the Lakes District for those coming from down-south. We didn’t spend much time there, apart from a quick stop at a coffee shop, but crossing through it felt longer than it should have because of heavy traffic – said traffic actually allowed us to look around a little, so it was not all bad. When we finally managed to leave town, it was just a stone’s throw to reach Windermere, the largest lake in the the UK, and then the touristy town of Ambleside, our destination. ⇒⇓

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Lake Windermere is a real beauty. It’s never too wide, but it sure is long enough to make it difficult for people to explore its shores properly in just a few day’s time. It’s waters are very clean and tend to have an enticing blue-greenish tint, depending on where one stands, the weather and the time of year. As I first saw it I knew why some painter or the other chose to use it as background in their paintings: it was fantastic. We drove alongside it, James listening to some stories on a Walkman (yeah, the devices on which people used to listen to music), while us adults talked about what was planned for the next few days and about other entirely optional activities we could do, if only we willed it. We decided that there was  one thing we couldn’t possibly remove from our schedule: a boat trip on Lake Windermere; it had to take place on that same day, as according to the weather reports, during the following days it was highly probable to rain. A lot. As much as we came to the Lake District precisely for its mountainous and watery landscapes – the lakes of the district were, of course, supposed to be full of water – we did not want said water to fall onto our heads; we’d rather it stayed in the lakes only.

“We could just go and say hi to my auntie and then hurry back to the lake, grab their boat and have a couple of hours of watery fun,” Alice said, thinking about how best to tackle the situation. “They wouldn’t mind, I’m sure, if we postponed the whole talking, hi, long-time-no-see-kind-of-stuff…

“Then let’s,” Mark said. He enjoyed boats alright, just not on oceans, like the Atlantic back in Liverpool. The enormity of the endless sea ahead of him scared him, so he’d rather he steered a boat on a lake such as Windermere, with virtually no single place where the shore felt too far away. I felt the same, actually.

We soon reached the house of Alice’s auntie, on the northern edge of Ambleside, up a on slight hill, overlooking the valley which leads to the lake. The old house looked imposing enough and the grounds around it even more so, with a back-garden climbing down the hill, all full of flowers, bushes and trees, and the occasional vegetable patches. We knocked on the door and a man in his 60’s, dressed in a dark-blue robe and wearing slippers, appeared from the other side of the door as it opened. He had some big, bulky glasses on his nose, the ones which make your eyes bigger and give you an air of importance. He held a newspaper in his left hand, folded up with care.

“Oh my, Martha, come and see who’s come! Our niece, Alice!” he said while inviting us in. The whole air of importance lasted for exactly two seconds, that’s how long his glasses could sustain it for him. “We expected you around evening, how come you’ve come so soon? Not that we mind, but we’re sort of too relaxed right now, we look like two retirees who don’t care about their guests. You’ve surprised us…”, the curly, white-haired man said.

“Oh, uncle Ben, you know we care little for formalities. And we know that you care about your guests, even too much so. Be relaxed! Stay relaxed! Read your paper…we’re gonna leave our luggage here and be off in a jiffy! We’d like to take the boat, if that’s ok with you? You’d have the opportunity to relax some more, so it’s a win-win situation,” Alice said, all smiling.

“It’s not about winning anything and you know that, missy! It goes without saying (or asking) that you can take the boat. We’d rather we chatted some more, long time no see, but I imagine you’re afraid of the upcoming weather, aren’t you, you Californian sunshine lover?…we don’t have that kind of sun over here, but what we have…”

“What we have is a nice boat,” Martha said, interrupting Ben just as she reached the end of the stairs. “If you don’t leave right now, the sun’s gonna set beyond the mountains long before Ben here will have ceased talking and keeping you from enjoying the lake in the afternoon,” she added. She was a red-haired retiree, about her husband’s age; from what I could gather in just a flash, she was an awfully nice red-haired old lady. Dyed hair on old people, that usually made me sick, but not in Martha’s case. She may have dyed her hair red, but it fitted her well. She wore a similar robe as her husband did, but of a different material. Her felt velvety, while his was a Turkish terry bath robe. And her was purple. They both seemed very relaxed in their outfits, so it felt only natural that we should leave them alone for a couple of more hours, to enjoy their afternoon tea and a paper or a book.

We soon left, not before thanking them for their hospitality. “As if we’re some strangers who need to be thanked! Hospitality? We just allowed you to drop your luggage! Anyhow, now go, and when you’re back you’d better introduce this new babysitter of yours, he seems a little shy, but nice enough,” Martha said, Ben nodding his head, approvingly. It felt a little awkward, me not saying anything, but I wanted to leave them to go about their business for the moment.

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We did not take the car again, it was only a little ways to walk to reach the Waterhead Pier, in who’s vicinity Martha and Ben’s boat stood moored. And besides, we needed to stretch our legs after all that sitting. We also wanted to enjoy the views, the mountains around us… We soon reached the boat: a green-painted, middle-sized, typical British motor houseboat, on which a couple of people could even sleep or prepare meals. As Mark started the engine, I realized that it was nowhere near what you’d call a fast boat, but the lake should be enjoyed, not raced, so it was, in fact, perfect.

The pier was on the northern side of the lake, so we headed southwards, trying to reach the end of the lake, stay for a while around there and then be back in time for dinner. If only it were that simple! The weather turned out to not be on our side. Quite the opposite, in fact. Soon after we headed out, big, menacing, grey-towards-black colored clouds gathered. We thought that even if it rained, we had someplace good under which to take cover, so we continued on our way southbound, undisturbed by them. “The rest of the days ought to be even worse, so we might as well enjoy this one the best we can,” Mark said, confidently.

“Mummy, is it gonna rain today? The clouds look bad…!?” James asked while throwing into the lake’s crystal clear water some pebbles he’d collected on the shore. “It may, but stay calm, nothing’s gonna happen, there’s no wind so the boat won’t mind the rain,” Alice reassured him.

Little did she know… If she could have anticipated the events, if she’d have listened to her James. Soon Mark changed his mind, telling her he thought the weather to be turning quite fast and quite badly. The clouds seemed intent on bringing a real storm, not only some rain, with which they, as Brits, were accustomed enough not to care. It turned out that the storm was no joke, though it should not have posed much threat to a well-built boat. The problem was that Martha and Ben’s was not exactly the new rage in town….it was, after all, the boat of two people who have seen quite a number of winters pass them by…well kept, she was, but old.

Before being able to get halfway back to the pier, such powerful waves started battling on the sides of the boat that James started crying, panicked. Mark tried to calm him, but to no avail. For the first time, I saw James crying, yelling, pushing Mark out of the way. Alice was better at steering boats, she’d done it more than Mark did while her time spent in California, so she left him to mend for James and took charge of the boat. I knew not how to swim, but I didn’t find it an issue before, so I was not afraid to be on deck, even on a storm. Well, I should have, indeed, I should have!

A wave hit the left side of the boat violently and she lost its balance, enjoying a newly acquired tendency to overturn. In an instance I found myself in the water. It felt more like a bad dream than like a real life situation. I’d had bad dreams of the sort countless times before and they always ended up with me opening my eyes and seeing how nothing around me was actually wrong…or wet, for that matter. So my brain told me to wait for the moment when I’d wake up and realize that nothing’s happened. That failed to materialize. It felt like ages, but nothing changed. I was still in water, but it felt so real. More real than before, in my dreams. My drowning felt real…because it was real! When I realized it, I began to scream:”Help, for goodness’s sake, help me!!! Mark, Aliceee!” In no time I felt water in my lungs and no real way to yell anymore. I was going down, stupidly, like a rock fallen into water. “I should have learned to swim…why, why, why is it happening…?” I thought, while submerging deeper into the cold, raging water. I had seen it countless times before in movies, I had read about it, I had imagined it…I had dreamed of it…but nothing prepared me for how it felt like. It felt like nothingness, emptiness, abiss. It did not feel in any particular way, not bad, not good. And that scared me shitless. It would have been easier if it felt real bad, if it hurt like hell. But it did not. And I continued drowning…slowly, but steadily…For me, in those moments, the chemical formula H2O, commonly known as water, of which most of my body was made up, stopped being the life giver it had been for 20 years. It felt like…DEATH! 

Chapter 10

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The Awakening Chapter 5: Of teddy-bears & nursery rhymes

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Part I: The Awakening

Chapter 5: Of teddy-bears & nursery rhymes

It was Sunday morning around 10 o’clock when I woke up from my slumber. I found myself in a neat, warm-looking room, certainly spacious enough for my needs. I slept in a superposed bed, but not of the usual kind, where two people can sleep, each on a different level. This one had just the top level and beneath me there was a desk I could use for writing. I had never before seen such a contraption and I really liked it.

I woke up not of my own volition, but because I heard some noise coming from somewhere around my bed. As I raised my head from underneath the sheets and looked down, there he stood, little James. He was playing with some toy soldiers and made little perceivable noise while at it. Fact is, I was the one to blame for my waking-up, not him, as I was hypersensitive to any noises, no matter how insignificant.

James’ hair was a bright, gold resembling blond. With his blue, shiny eyes of his, you’d think he was adopted and that his parents were some blue-eyed Scandinavians. His hair was short, but extremely fluffy and soft to the touch, a real delight to one’s hand. He had a red spot on his forehead, above his left-eye, which seemed like an Indian symbol or something. Alice later on told me that James was born with it and that it really made his granny proud seeing such a symbol on her son’s offspring, as it somewhat pointed out to her distant family’s heritage and religion.

He was of average height for his age. I could not appreciate what his height was in neither the metric, nor the imperial measuring system, as I was never good with calculations of that sort. But he did not look chubby and he was certainly not skinny. Actually, he looked pretty strong for a three-and-a-half-year-old. I know it is not customary to think of such a small child as, well, strong and muscular, but as I came to find out, this was in fact a trait of his which helped him to rapidly gather all his toys and put them in their different boxes and containers.

He was extremely well behaved and he never made a mess in the house. His mother told me as much when we discussed him over the Internet, but I did not imagine his abilities to be quite so…perfect. Even now, after years have passed, it still amazes me when I think of him. Probably the good behavior lessons which his mother taught him were the reasoning behind his tiny-man-muscles. But muscles all the same they were! If one keeps gathering toys daily, some of which quite heavy, well, one might become fit. Ahem, I imagine he won’t need to visit a fitness club any time soon!

James had seen my mug beforehand and had been told that he will meet me at some point or another That is why when he saw me get out of bed with that sleepy mug of mine it did not startle him in the least. Brave kid! Confidently, James asked me:

“Do you know where mine green-eyed teddy-bear is?”

“I’m afraid not, but we’ll search for it together, if you will!” I answered.

“Oh, I cannot find it. Help me. Maybe you can. Are you my new babysitter?” he asked.

“Yes, indeed I am. Glad to see that you recognize me from the pictures your mother showed you!”

“Yeah, mummy told me a nice person is coming and I always listen to mine mummy. If you are nice, than I…help me find mine teddy, please!” James said, pronouncing some words incorrectly or over-accentuating them, along with some bad grammar.

It did not matter though, as his way of speaking was truly charming. He spoke and understood what other told him well enough for such a tiny soul, even too much so. I wondered how it was possible to be so bright at such a young age. “Genius or child prodigy, that must be it,” I though.

“Come on, little guy, let’s find your teddy!” I said, after which we left the room.
Next door was the parents’ dormitory, which, as I soon came to realize, was really huge compared to any of the other rooms of the house. As I climbed down the stairs, I stumbled upon a bookcase incorporated into the wall of some kind of break-level between the ground floor and the first floor. On that break-level, the stairs made a u-turn and continued further down in the other direction as that from which they started up on the first floor.

The said bookcase provided the staircase with a nice touch and as it was partially filled with travel books I soon familiarized myself with it. I was really into travel, geography, culture, stuff like that. The other half of it was made up of cooking books, which Alice often attentively browsed when she needed inspiration for one of her culinary experiments. Which proved to be great each and every time, by the way!

In the kitchen we found Alice, preparing some breakfast for the two of us, me and James. James, because he felt a little hungry and did not want to wait a couple of more minutes for his food to be ready, opened the fridge, took a sweet pepper and began crunching it. I was raddled by the sight of this happening, you know, because of the intensive talk of all those children who would not eat vegetables or fruits even if they were the last food items in the house. They would have rather starved to death than poison themselves with that stuff! But James was different, in every conceivable aspect. So he ate a lot of fruits and vegetables, of his own accord.

“Hello, my sweet sunny pie! Who have you brought to me, James? Your new friend, perhaps? Come to mummy to give you a kiss!” Alice said, pleased to see me up and about.

“Good morning, Alice!” I said.

“Mornin’, Luck, hope you’ve slept well!”

“How could I have not?” I asked.

“I don’t know, there’s any number of things which might’ve made you uncomfortable in that room, in that bed, in this house. I dunno…one never knows what to expect, people are so different, you know!”

“Nah, everything was and is more than ok & now I’m ship-shape again! Well, not quite, if I’m to think it over some more. I’ve had a hard time getting down the stairs, you know, I told you, my feet are done-in from all that criss-cross of London in sandals. Dumb stuff, dumb choice, dumb consequences!” I said, staring down rather discontentedly at my pitifully-looking feet.

“Poor you, lemme’ see if I can find some patches for ya’. Be right back!” Alice said, leaving the kitchen in hurry, clearly caring about my well-being as a guest of hers. On the kitchen table lain a nursery book with a green-eyed bear drawn upon its cover. I picked it up, glancing at the bear and thinking that James mentioned a similar-looking toy. James approached me and said, pointing out at the book:

“Luck, see, this is how mine teddy-bear looks like. It came by the book.”

“We’ll find it soon enough, I’m sure we will,” I replied.

“Could you please read something from the book for me, Luck?” James asked.

“Well, I’ll try, even if I’m not good at singing and all that.”

“No matter, mine father can’t sing as well. That’s why I tell you to read.”

“Ok then, you bright one — making suppositions like that,” I replied, under-toning the second part of the phrase and laughing my ass off from seeing as how James seemed to generalize the fact that men can’t properly sing. We stood there for some time, on the kitchen table, me reading and James listening, and that is how Alice found us when she finally came in with some patches for “mine feet”, as James would’ve put it. She was smiling at the two of us, clearly enjoying the fact that we got along so fine.

Chapter 6

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The Awakening Chapter 4: Third degree meeting

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Part I: The Awakening

Chapter 4: Third degree meeting

At 10 o’clock in the evening I arrived at Liverpool Lime Street Station. “I have only to find my hosts and employees and then my new life will begin!” I thought. There, on the platform on which I stepped out on, there she was, my host, Alice. She must have been around 27-28 years, I am sure she told me at some point, but my memory is foggy on this particular detail. She looked exactly as in the photos she shared with me, which stroke me as an unexpected thing, since I usually found people’s photos and their actual appearance to differ quite greatly. Not in this case, though.

Alice was a dentist. She was set to finish her studies on the subject that same week I arrived in Liverpool. She did not look like a geek or a nerd, whatever term strikes your fancy. One might have expected that, since she had studied a lot, at the same time having had her baby. And on top of that she was pretty smart and cultivated in any area of expertise one might think of. But no, even if for a second her stylish – though a little out of fashion – glasses might have pointed the observer in the wrong direction, she was in fact a very down-to-earth creature, a mother and a wife with a refreshing and dynamic energy about her. Alice was certainly not one of those who took her studies much too seriously, but she did maintain a certain reverence when she spoke of her university life. And that is always a safe bet, I think!

Alice spent most of her childhood in California – since her accent with many American touches – but she was in fact one hundred percent British. Actually, the way she spoke was so clear that even a complete neophyte in the study of English could probably have understood her easily. She combined the best of the British and the American accent and sounded like a reporter who worked for both the BBC and the CNN. Which felt as a delight for the ears of any of her interlocutors.

Her husband, on the other hand, was not red bloodedly British. From what Alice told me, Mark was half British, half Indian. His father was the British spouse, while his mother moved to the UK when she was little. Mark spoke with an impeccable English accent and had only the faintest of Indian anatomical features, apart from a slightly brownier skin tone than that of most other Brits. None of this mattered though, as I soon came to realize that they were great people.

“Hey, Luck, evenin’! Great to finally meet you!” Alice said, earnestly.

“Good evening, Alice! The pleasure is all mine! I’m so very tired…so I may not look all that enthusiastic but I want you to know that I feel really honored to be here.” I replied.

“I’ll get you home in a jiffy and there you can relax or go directly to sleep. You’ll meet little James tomorrow, now he’s most likely already put to sleep by his father.”

Little James was the three years old I was supposed to look after. In the pictures I had received from Alice, he seemed like an extremely intelligent boy. Little did I suspect back then to what extent his good upbringing actually went to. But I would soon find out.

We got in Alice’s car and drove for no more than ten minutes. I could not see much, as it was around eleven o’clock and she took the less used roads which were not all that well lit for me to see much of Liverpool. Not that I had it in me to play geography quizzes at that moment.

We soon arrived in an even more typically British neighborhood than Paul’s Borehamwood in London was. This one had rows of houses which did not seem to end and which tried but little to differ from one another. I would probably not have been able to return to their house during the next couple of days if I had had not paid enough attention to even the most minor details in the surroundings.

The house had the same color as most of the other lying around, namely a brownish tint. On the porch, in a smiling but still pretty serious way, I said to Alice:

“How on earth are you Brits able to find your way around such neighborhoods is beyond my limited comprehension!”

“Well, we try our best to be unique, even in the dumbest sense of the word!” giggled Alice.

“Shouldn’t your city planners try to make each area easier to differentiate from the rest of them? I just think it’s not natural. To all foreigners, not just to me, it must feel like one of the real downsides of the UK.”

“Oh, but each area in the UK is as unique as it could possibly be. You may not realize it now, but you will at some point. Brits are as alike to one another as they are different!” she tried to explain to me.

“Ok then, I won’t contradict a Brit, forgive me!”

“Nothing to forgive, Luck, ‘cause while I may be contradicting you, I also understand exactly what you mean.”

We left the whole issue hanging, only to return to it some other time. I entered the house and while I found it not quite wide enough, I had to give it to them, they knew how to make it cozy and work their way around any inconveniences such a narrow house may had caused them.

There was a long, cramped hallway leading into a study, into a small but stylish living room and into the kitchen, which, curiously enough for such a house, offered rather a spacious place to experiment any culinary delicatessen. In the living room, on an antique sofa facing an even more ancient-looking bookcase, there he laid, Alice’s husband, Mark. His glasses on his nose, he was browsing an encyclopedia about birds when we suddenly interrupted him. I never really understood what exactly his job was, but it had to do with birds, that much was sure.

“Evening, Luck, and welcome to our humble house!” he greeted me, letting that the encyclopedia fall out of his lap as he rose up.

“Good evening to you too, Mr. X”, I replied. I don’t recollect using their family name more than a few times and since it was a pretty difficult one, I couldn’t bring myself to remember it.

“Oh, no, call me Mark, I’m not much older than you are, and even if I were, I wouldn’t need to be reminded of my age by yet another person. Just call me Mark.” he replied, clearly not being comfortable with my calling him so officially.

“Ok then, I will comply with your request gladly”, I answered.

Alice, who was making some tea in the kitchen while we men introduced ourselves, came in and said:

“Mark, dear, let poor Luck go upstairs to bed, he’s beat up from his extended London stroll!”

“Of course, my bad, I should’ve guessed that he needs to get in bed more than he needs to hear me talking about unimportant stuff. Please excuse me, Luck!”

“Mark, don’t trouble yourself about that, there will be plenty of time for me to rest. The thing is that I’d rather I had a bath before bed, I feel rather filthy. Could I, Alice?” I asked.

“By all means, be our guest! Let me show you to the bath upstairs!” Alice replied.

We went upstairs, I had a refreshing bath and got to bed lickety-split. I did not even care to look around the room they made available for me. “There will be enough time for such trifles the following days.” I said to myself and fell asleep in less than no time.

Chapter 5

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