Sometimes, a computer can be a gateway to...another time.
The pearly glow of the computer screen bathes the darkened room with an eerie sheen. As I type, I become aware that I am not alone. The thought comes to me suddenly, clearly, as unequivocal as truth itself. I crane my neck and peer back, into the shadows of my office.
A bar stool, a drafting table, four or five boxes in the corner left over from the move, shadows of blackness against ebony that dot the room; stacks of books and piles of paper.
There is no one there, no one at all. I breathed a sigh a relief and turn back to the computer, and my work.
Softly, behind my left ear, a whisper: almost a thought. A chorus of voices as one, evoking eternity with each syllable. My eyes tighten and my pulse quickens, but I continue to stare resolutely at the screen. I do not turn. There is no one there. No one at all.
This time louder, more insistent, a fraction of a millimeter closer. Almost pleading. My senses are afire and the sounds of the house clatter in my awareness as I sit there in the darkness, waiting.
My fingers tremble on the keyboard, no longer typing. Still, I do not turn. Sweat beads upon my brow and begins to trickle down my face; I am hot, flushed. The computer screen is blurry through the tears spilling from my eyes.
“Mark. Marky Beava, Smooches, Marcus Aurelius. We love you, Mark.”
I groan and lean forward heavily, my thoughts chaotic. I ogle the computer desperately, focusing on the gaudy colors of the graphics cavorting across the screen.
The hum of the hard-drive - the soft whirring of the fan - approximate the Om of transcendence and Nirvana beckons in the space of an instant.
It is the captor of imagination and creativity, a simulacrum of life, in full digital sound. The dark screens of commands format my being, epitomizing the technological perfection of damnation.
I do not hear the voices, nor do I feel their pain. The computer beckons me with its softwares, promising distraction. For a moment, I almost forget myself, who I am supposed to be, who I really am. For a moment, I am almost free.
Then, “We all love you, Marky Beava,” followed by silence, as portentous as a sign in the heavens.
I moan as the chorus burst forth, harmonizing with my pain, and I stifle my cries perversely, peering up at the stairwell, hoping that I have not woken my wife and child. My neuroses are common and paranoid visions my constant companion during the days of my life.
Obsessive-compulsiveness becomes my only escape as I attempt to replace my shell, to achieve some aspect of normalcy. I begin typing again.
“We all love you, Mark.”
The keyboard clatters loudly as my fingers spasm. My body shakes with sobs and the delirious clarity of perception that accompanies the surrender of Ego suffuses me, releases me from the agonized recrimination of self-recognition.
“Your family loves you, Mark.”
The voices echo on, the chorus individuating as my visitation continues. The walls of my office thin, become transparent. Diaphanous shapes waft through the anti-matter barrier, bobbing and settling around the room. Some shift and become clear, while others remain blurred, recognizable as sentient only by the aura of purpose that accompanies them.
Big Mama emanates from the corner of the room, radiating love and warmth. A rush of sweet potatoes and talcum powder waft beneath my nose, releasing the memories of childhood, soap and warmth. Big Daddy is behind her, his presence still, patient.
By the bookshelf, Aunt Mamie stands, tall and solemn, her watery, gray eyes soft, wet with tears. She holds her hands out to me and I feel her sorrow as she stares at me.
Then Aunt Ruby appears. Her body is emaciated, incomplete. Her spirit is afflicted, but her love is certain and her soul intact. I feel her humor, tinged by the wisdom of the immaterial world, burdened with the pain of her life.
Aunt Frances is there as well, staring at me lovingly, her arms crossed over her chest. I can feel her strength as an impulse underlying a thought, a part of me, as they are all parts of me.
The forms of the ghosts fill the room, too many to count. Uncle Bubba, other, more distant relatives: all watching me, with me, in me. Delirious now, I stand, in the midst of the gathered spirits, my soul raw.
They stretch into the distance, unburdened by the laws of the physical world. Those I recognize soon give way to others, who seem familiar in countenance and aspect, all of which I intuitively recognize as the Ancestors.
Tall, short, black, brown, coral skin tones, glowing with the ethereal light of the void, their soft, whispered voices blending in a symphony of ages, dark and deep as the rivers and seas of the world. I fall to my knees, overwhelmed, and allow my heart free reign. My cries are hoarse and ragged as wave after wave of tears sweep from my eyes. I lose myself in myself, trapped between self-hatred and despair.
The computer watches me, sighing and mumbling. I can feel its digital tentacles questing in my mind, searching for the thought-patterns, the programs that it has carved into my spirit.
A hand upon my left shoulder - firm, startling me back into full awareness - releases me from the machine-spell. Instantly I wipe my eyes, embarrassed, certain that my wife has caught me, observing my weakness.
I peer up into light and face of Uncle Oscar, who passed the year before. His eyes are sad and his deeply lined face holds a serenity that was absent in the months before his death. His voice is as I remember it, craggy and grumbling, full of music.
“What are you doing, boy? Don’t you know time is short? There are people,” he gestures back, into the swelling ranks of the ancestors, “who are counting on you. You have a purpose in this life, a mission. What do you think you’re you doing?”
Emotion threatens and I stammer, dropping my eyes as they fill again with tears. Another hand - to my right - and I look up into a woman’s face; a dark, dark, woman with long, wavy black hair, that I have never seen before. Intuition becomes knowledge and I know that I am looking into the eyes of my great-great-grandmother Elvira, who came to America from Afrika during the latter years of the Maafa, one of the last Blacks to be enslaved by way of the Middle Passage.
Her voice is honey and jazz, deep and soulful.
“Child of my children, we here, where we always been, and where you always goan be. Listen, to the voices of your life. Your purpose is clear, if you just listen.”
Her eyes are pools of carbon, whirling madly. I am drawn in immediately and suddenly am elsewhere.
I find myself staring into a clear pool. Small, silver fish dart in schools beneath the water, casting blue shadows across the pebble-strewn bed. The tropical sun is hot upon my skin and the heavy scent of vegetation and living water assail my nostrils.
My face is black, and I am a girl. As I realize this, I realize also that I am not in control of the body. Rather, I am a thought, masked by a Self that I recognized as Elvira. She is not alone by the pool and her name is different, then.
A small girl kneels beside her – I sense that she is her sister - also gazing into the water, captivated by her reflection. A noise intrudes, off the left. They stare at each other, their vanity put aside. Words pass in a fluid tongue, rising and falling melodically. They decide to investigate.
As I watch the two girls stand, I scream as I recognize the flow of the currents, already caught up in the tangle of past and future, separate by the ever-present. Time becomes meaningless as context draws me inexorably back to myself and the scene moves on.
The small girls peer through bushes at the river beyond, where a group of bright, red balls float near the bank, held impossibly still against the current. Within, I rail against fate and time, cursing and screaming the truth, hoping against hope to stop them, to halt the flow of events that will result in my very birth. Heedless, they leave the safety of the underbrush, wondering at the strange sight before them. I feel their feelings, hear their fear through the rest of it.
The Slavers: the white men - one with brown, stringy hair, smelling of dung and rotted teeth, another that’s tall and shadowy with bushy, red hair - who leer suggestively at the young girls, the four Blacks - three of whom are light-skinned and dressed like the whites - their eyes wide and fear-encrusted. All stink, of death, despair and a feral insanity.
Time compounds and minutes become hours, which become days, then years. My vision lengthens and I gaze upon the face of time as a plain, stretching into the gray dimness of linear progression. The future and the past become one and the present is all there is as knowledge compounds upon itself, squaring the circle.
The chorus rises again, the voices urging me, coaxing and cajoling, pleading and screaming with anger and disgust, love and happiness, derision, exultation. Her Afrikan eyes are pools of muddy brown water and in their centers coil serpents, waiting patiently - their tails in their mouths - as the cycle begins anew. The pain of Elvira and her sister joins that of the multitudes, crying for justice.
Harsh plains of sand and weathered regolith, framed by gargantuan pyramids, black bodies toiling under the sun. Fields of cane in Louisiana, the sounds of whips cracking, gunshots. Black bodies still toiling under the sun. Deep, lush forests fed by those muddy brown eyes that course around the roots of life, nurturing love and creation in endless cycles.
The plain rises and falls as the vision deepens. Time pauses as the landscape rearranges, becoming cotton fields, filled with more brown and black bodies, ever toiling under the sun. This is Texas and the texture of these Black lives sharpens and hums with electrical tension in the dry heat of the prairie. Life, in all its variegated shades courses through the landscape, is the landscape of our destiny. Underlying all is a sense of divine purpose, the blessing of a people called to glory.
Time grows short and the plain disappears, become an endless field of everything and nothing, within which I find myself floating, alone, except for the voices.
The voices of my people: of my past.
Time grows short.
We love you; we are you, Mark.
You are we, they say.
Listen to us, they plead, acknowledge us, Mark. We love you, Mark.
Wisps of fog obscure my vision and I grasp at them desperately, uselessly, as the chorus fades and the blackness returns.
Dim light pierces the darkness and a shadow hovers over me, concern animating its, her, voice.
“Mark? Wake up, baby. It’s time for bed. What are you doing, falling asleep on the floor? Come to bed!”
I sit up, bemused. The computer has gone into standby mode and the radiation pulses from the screen in palpable waves.
I look up at my wife, gladdened by her presence. In her arms, our daughter, Zora, looks down at me groggily, her bright, golden face puffy with sleep. For a moment, their faces shift in the half-dark and innumerable faces gaze back at me, reminding me of my purpose.
Reassured, I stand and kiss Angela gently on the forehead. “Alright, baby. I’ll be up in a minute. Let me turn off this computer.”
She grumbles as she walks back to the stairs and I move to the computer and reach for the power button. As I press the button, the screen comes to life once more before shutdown, brightening the room with its light. Only one text-window remains open and, within it, are written the words, WE LOVE YOU, repeated over and over, filling the entire screen.
I rush from the room and up the stairs to my family as the computer clicks off and abrupt darkness replaces the artificial light. The moment is prescient and I cherish the time fervently, blessing the future with thoughts of the present.
My body drifts beyond the corporeal because my own personal darkness has slipped a little, and deep within, I can hear the rush of the muddy waters, babbling to themselves - and me - in soft, gentle tones. Reminding me of who I am, and who we have been. The shadows chuckle and nudge each other in amusement as the night crests and a new day is born. I lay down to sleep, comforted and assured of my place. In this world, and the next.