Book TWO - The Falling Man

The Falling Man


BLURRED FRIARSMy idea of God is that He is evolving. I don’t believe in the watchmaker God, the original creator who built the watch and then lets it tick. I believe in a “Self-maker God,” who is evolving and experimenting, so are we as parts of Him. Bodies wear out, souls may need periods for rest and reflection. Afterward one may start again with a new body.

Professor Ian Stevenson 


The Secret Archive of all the documentation from the Second Vatican Council is disorganised and some of it is missing…There is a whole series of papers and documents that are as yet unexplored and have tremendous value

     Piero Doria, Archivist, Secret Vatican Library

May 2012

Fears are growing that the Roman Curia could be enveloped in its worst scandal in decades after the Pope’s butler was arrested on Friday with private Vatican documents found in his possession. .. The Holy Father said that all people must persevere in the face of “conflict in human relations, often from within one’s own family.

     Scottish Catholic Observer

June 2012

Beijing always considers downstream countries when choosing dam projects and would never harm their interests. China always pays great attention to the impact that these kinds of developments might exert on resources, the environment and ecosystems and takes the concerns of downstream countries into consideration.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei

April 2011

China plans to preserve a badly damaged Buddhist monastery in a remote northwest Tibetan region as a memorial to the devastating earthquake that killed nearly 2,700 people more than a year ago. Twenty three monks of Trangu monastery died in the quake that also levelled most buildings in Gyegu on April 14, 2010. Thousands of Buddha sculptures and scrolls of scriptures were buried under the rubble.

     China Daily News

September 2011

velazquezi_50Nightmares is the stuff that sleep is made of, at least if you are Monas. Maybe it had its origins in the new born baby that was arriving too soon in this world for the good of his haemorrhaging mother, or maybe because he was reluctant to make a difference to a world fallen too far. But there never was a comfortable nest for him to retreat to and sleep, something that continued on and off through his life as the fear that swept through him at the prospect of bedtime was always with him. From stories being told from a father on the edge of his bed until it was time to return to the scotch bottle, or later in adulthood where he had cultivated an ability to survive on four hours a night, the day was often an attempt to avoid the inevitable imagery that waited.

And this night was no different except in its intensity. It often happened like that, when he had returned from a period of working with the Room. He lay drifting between sleep and restfulness, wrestling with the usual unconscious tragi-comic imagery of Francis Bacon’s paintings that haunted him since a childhood visit to the art gallery in Aberdeen. The irony was not lost that Bacon’s study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (The Screaming Pope) was part of Monas’s nightime DNA. So inbetween the snarling baboons and distorted human faces of tortured Pope’s, he resurrected thoughts from elsewhere in his subconscious –  should he have contemplated a better retreat from the world than Pennan, and was he really falling head long into another pit of despair, or is he drawn to this end, or this path where his will was mapped out ? Should he accept his fate like those who are pinned to the crucifix of a lethal injection bed, or should he struggle? Or is he to remain relaxed about it all, and anticipate the next episode with questions only, as Nargess seemingly does?

At which point, he saw himself rise and from above he could peer down at the Monas below, writhing, black and white merging as the air bore down on his suffocated chest. In his eyes he could then see it, and in his ears he could hear it, what he felt was his end coming near, like an unexplained gasp running through the hair he had left as the end rushed by.

There was a pain in his lungs like a piercing spear in the side of a nearly dead man. He felt himself dangling on a cable hanging from a tall building one hundred and ten stories high, suspended in a harness with his back to the ground, he sees only the face of one person, who controls the winch that is lifting him to the top of the building like a bundle of cargo. The face is hers, that of Nargess. And then it happens once again as in the past, the sensation of being a child who is so accustomed to looking upwards, and tugs at the naked flesh where there were once apron strings. Touching the skeletal hips and legs of his hollow- eyed mother coated with stale urine as the small fragments of tablet are dropped into a metal cage above their crowded heads. It was not the casing for a flickering, dim light they had believed in.

The cable suddenly unclips and he plummets towards the concrete below. Surrounded by a circus of dancing paper trails in mid- air, he is aware of the sheer panic but knows there is a job to be done. He must remember and speak as he remembers. His brain recalls such situations as if in slow motion before the brain’s clock actually stops accelerating, the faster the event, (like a spinning wheel) is recorded in the brain and appears to show the wheel, reversing in time. His mind  slices the action into segments and replays them in a different time frame. Monas does not look down but at the  flashes of accelerating light, darting black and white as they flee from his side, silvery remnants of a damaged dying portrait like two colliding trees of knowledge and life.

That is what he remembers from that night – it was very primitive in terms of the target. Ontological, again. These images pass with an acceptance of what must be, and he feels nothing but becoming part of this time. His arms, as with his legs, stretch to that of an embryo in the womb, stretching now with a soul into a child into this time. From the beginning to the end, he flies through the maiden air. His clothing is like that of a chef or kitchen worker, clean and white shirted with blue and white checked trousers  billowing in the panicky wind as he rockets downward. Unlike those that pass him by, he does not struggle or scream. If he does, he cannot hear it. His shoes are buckled tight and do not unhinge themselves as they do with others, whose screams he does hear, but cannot help. The merging textiles of landscape and colour  is vast against their insignificance. Glass and paper, concrete and steel, the sun reflecting against the lenses of the life he is leaving. He thinks as only a priest would, and like the temple towers of Jerusalem, he leaves them behind. As their columns creak he can mock them as he follows their vertical path, from the earth they must return. Like a draughtsman he colludes in their structure, drawing a downward Indian ink line of precision until the measurement is found and the line of worldly descent will cease without falter. There is a determination, a hope and joyous inevitability that embodies every moment of his final being. His thought of this final remembrance – “all my life I have been uncertain but now all has become clear”. The north and south meet at the summit of the ground, and the sky can look down on the fallen earth as it falls. This is what his soul said to him.

His watch is stopped at fifteen seconds past 9:41 a.m. EST, on September 11th 2001, a moment held in the clutches of pure physics, accelerating at a rate of thirty-two feet per second squared. He has travelled at upwards of 150 miles per hour, and he is upside down, as he leaves the womb and re-enters another life at another place. The steel and the glass has been replaced by that of a hospital ceiling and the flashes of the photographers that capture his fall, is replaced by a dying mother as she receives him in her tired arms, before she is dead. And that was a typical night’s sleep, for the man Nargess could hear screaming and writhing next to her, and it is the only circumstance he feels he can places his arms around her and finally, he weeps.

The following morning, she could always tell when Monas was angry because he drank his coffee when it was boiling hot, and at a speed that he hoped would circumvent pain.  Only later were the consequences apparent to him, what he viewed as a mere penance for the delight he took from the finest Colombian bean, grounded at the hands of Nargess, a woman he could not, as a priest, dare to love too much. Drinking coffee was reminiscent of life itself he said, – “it’s like putting your lips around a freshly made coffee and sucking. That’s what life is about. Either you suck, or you don’t.”

It had been three months of glorious peace and recovery at home since Monas and Nargess last had dealings with the Room, and that recovery always took place in the small coastal village in North East Scotland, Pennan, where the veil between this world and the next, (even for the likes of Monas and Nargess) was somewhat thinner. Typically, it took a couple of weeks for them both to make up their minds to stay with this life, in this place, knowing they the Room like the coffee, would suck them back in. The added difficulty of that decision for a Catholic priest, and for a young woman who had been given a second chance at living, was not lost on those few dozen or so residents that usually know when to leave them alone.

The curiosity of their relationship was a magnet for the bletherers, the beaters of the village drums in the area whose rhythm travelled up to Gamrie alongside the Moray Firth of the North Sea to Banff and Macduff onwards to Inverness, as well as eastwards and south to the Broch (or Fraserburgh), if you were heading to Aberdeen. But those that knew them well enough, knew well to leave alone.

He could not eat because all food revolted him whilst he recovered. Not even Cullen Skink fish soup passed his lips. Nargess nursed him and talked as they watched and listened to the sea together and the days slowly passed by, occasionally beachcombing for broken glass and pottery. People tended to do that a lot in Pennan. It was said that prolonged staring at the horizon told you all you needed to know, at least about yourself.

IMG_00000354Along the sea front or bank head as it was known, stood the weathered greenheart wooden posts that bore witness to many a vessel lost and suffocated by the strong current of the Firth. And it was there but for that very grace of God that bound many of these coastal communities together in grief or glory, depending on your time of being, your moment of history. Whether witnesses to the cove smuggling of old or the trafficking of now, those standing tall seven foot grey masterly tree trunks peered over the beach and beyond to the horizon. These apostles of the sea, wise and all seeing remnants of time had embedded themselves like a Pictish tribe over the length of the village bank-head, standing out strong and independent,  proudly some ten feet apart, as poles for latter day washing lines. A noble and rustic people, impregnated with memory and growing old and encrusted with sea salt in a breeze that clawed people in like the boats to the harbour, for the safety of a longevity free of the gathering storm.

From day to night the wind and rain soughed against his bedroom window and even the view of the sandstone cliff face and a haar through which shags and cormorants skimmed the cold water sea surface, failed to encourage him out of his melancholy.  Too often in those days before he became well, the mood suited him but he rarely admitted it. Secretly part of him was revisiting the childhood view from bed of a painted curtain with holes in it, and a tattered sheet of newspaper full of photographs that meant nothing. It happened whenever he came home after a period away.

IMG00165Pennan Head cradled the village in its arms, the bay tucked into the red stone of old which looked down at him as he wandered the beach in the days to come in the early Spring dawn. He was feeling stronger now. This, along with dusk, were their favourite times to walk. “She sells sea shells by the sea shore” he would hum to himself as his mind drifted. There was something of a story to that scenario, he thought. Plenty of unexplored reasons for such behavior. As in the words that ran though his mind, Pennan contained over the centuries a myriad of its own museum memories and reasons, tales and scenario’s, and ended as it did for all, the coffin bearers carrying the flesh of the people of the village when the time came, over its Headland high up and over  that sat looming large like a beached whale to one side of the village, handing over their souls to another world, ashes to ashes and dust to dust in the resting place burial ground of New Aberdour church, nearby. Fossil free, its sandstone vaults claimed those bodies from the bay so they could look up to the dawn mist of the purple skies under which he had found her now, crouched down and rummaging through the recently placed flowers of ancient graves. All of Pennan and New Aberdour were buried there, the incomers in one section, and the great families of three hundred years in the other, the Wests, Gatts, Watts, Watson’s and Whyte’s.

The gulls overhead were screaming for the food they thought she had. Her hair was much more tightly packed under her black hijab, more conservative than normal and she was singing  a song she often sang on her own, in Farsi. She was a great one for singing, when she felt alone. The language was a memory of a past she left behind in Tehran, and of course the language she spoke with her family, before the hell found by a woman rescued from a ritual stoning that Moses would have recognised. She rarely used Farsi now, except when she sang the songs of her childhood, of innocence.

HIJAB TRAINOn the subject of the hijab which she made sure came in many colours, the beach was probably the only space that she would allow her blue black hair to fly free. She said it felt right when faced with the enormity of the sea in front of her. At dawn and at night she could be seen standing and singing as she was just then, the distant flicker of lights from a staggered procession of ships and the only sign of manmade life. Monas saw her often from their home, and her voice would be heard to resonate round the bay as the lonely figure walked and stooped to scavenge , in and out of the sound of birds during early morning and night. It seemed far away from the  metropolis of Aberdeen where its own hidden souls were dug up in sewer pipes and archeological sites seeking out the past. What they found there was the same sandstone in the grey granite building blocks which held the black gold of material wealth which the city devoured. Primary rocks set in a sandstone frame, that is what the geologists would say.

As he approached her, she caught his eye and she swept back a ting lock of her hair and placed it under her veil. “I’m being very respectful as you can see. And you must be getting better to walk this far to find me.”

As they walked back slowly over Pennan Head to the village, so it continued in his thoughts, what they felt for each other. Sometimes he had expressed his feelings  without realising that he was making only a near silent noise. His years in the monastery and time spent alone meant that he had learnt well to whisper, but with meaning.

As they arrived into the village he muttered to her, with a smile “safely home”, just as the men would have said who were now buried in the cemetery where he found her, as their women waited by the harbour wall with business in mind. For the women of that time were the entrepreneurs back then, and the beach glass ceiling was nothing to the price of haddock in the Broch market.

Many things had changed of course. The convulsions of nature had shattered the rib cage of the Aberdeenshire coast, its primary granite rocks of matchless beauty had long done battle with the “Old Red” as the sandstone was known. In its upper beds, the fossils fought against the red oxide over which the irons prevailed, and granite won the day. But for Nargess, the local dead still passed above as they danced a merry jig amongst the stars as they did in their day. She knew because she spoke to them whenever she tended their graves.

The harbour had changed too. At the Pennan Denn where they had paused, where the local Highland world met the sea, the harbour was beginning to swing to high tide and the boats would no longer tentatively come in as they once did, with their shots of herring, with all human activity brimming over with silver darlings in the cran basket. She could still see the two men on the halyard rope, faces to the sky, pulling fist over fist, in heaving rhythm. Limber men, blue-jerseyed, with lean belly muscles and slender hips, quick footed as dancers no doubt. They could dance in their leather sea boots that came up to their thighs, or sway drunken in a public house (when Pennan had two) on rooted feet. It was a world of action, of doing. It had the warmth of colour in faces and of flashing eyes. One could rush to it with excitement, and that is what she felt and saw and breathed when she could forget some of the past.

Nowadays the granite plays a different tune alongside the combine harvesters in the fields up top from the village. Like paddle-steamers in waves of corn, the dead speak to her just as they speak to the bankers and their gas guzzling tanks driven by those who make their fortunes at the throwing of a dice. Maybe the difference now, Nargess thought, was that those whose spirit passes through the village these days may be too busy to hear their call. The world now had too many facing the ugly reality of pursuing unrealisable dreams.  “We have yet to learn from that which is staring at us, always there trying to tell us…the stars and the sea” she would say to him.

At the door of their small home (an old set of three fishing cottages pulled into one) Monas said, “I have listened to you every day now, from my bed and from the house when you go for a walk, singing. I never have asked you. What are you actually singing?”

She carried on the song as she grabbed his arm and pulled him to the beach, now in English for his benefit. He had heard it so often but this was the first time for a while that he had left his room to sit with her on the beach. It was the first time it had felt like a live performance where he was the only one in the audience. She collected a pile of stones and sand in one hand and let its contents fall between her fingers and he noticed that same sand had stuck to the side of her face where she had tried to wipe away some tears.

“Just before I left home, this was what you would call top of the charts. I think, Monas, that this place reminds me a little of the lyrics which we used to sing all the time. It would drive my parents mad. My brother would sit and play the guitar and we would both sing. Sometimes, when I sing it on the beach here or at the graveside, I imagine him sitting as you do, with him strumming along. It is called Age Ye Rooz or If One Day, by Farmarz Aslami, who was a bit of a star back then.” As she began to adjust herself as if to sing more publically, he moved closer to her and saw the side of her face set against the purple light on the yellow gorse of Pennan Head. He never spoke of it, but her song was not dissimilar to the herring songs that were sung by women in the distant past, meditative, time-lengthening, songs of hope; stoical songs of nature and tributes to that over which we can only have hope and respect. Those things we do not really understand, now.

Nargess laughed. “If you imagine Amy Winehouse singing it, you might enjoy it more. Or Jim Morrison. You should be accompanying me on the guitar! But here goes anyway. You will have to forgive my translation.” It was folky, poetic and he imagined how much it must mean to her that he brings back those memories of her brother.

There was one line which spoke to him :

If you forget me/ If you leave my embrace/I will become the bird of the sea

He had never seen her cry before, not even after she was rescued by the Room from Iran. He had only heard her in the night from his upstairs room, above that set aside for her below. When she stopped singing, there was an expectant pause and he noticed her wipe the sand from her cheek and she stared at the sand and stones where they sat. She picked one up and held it to her nose. He touched her shoulder as he had never done before.

She said “the stones change before our eyes and we often don’t know it. Even their scent.”

She removed her hijab and used it to wipe her eyes, and then she threw the stone out to the sea. “I stayed out here last night. It reminded me of laying out on the flat roofs in Tehran and sleeping in the garden. Once, that was safe. Now I am here and I don’t know if I am safe again. We see strange things don’t we, Monas? You and I, we do look at the world differently, don’t we?”

He wasn’t about to answer. “What was the sky like last night? I missed it.”

“It felt so close after a while, the stars, that I almost felt I could hear it. Ludicrous I know, but do you know what I mean?

“Because we cannot hear it, does not mean it does not exist. Maybe some people can hear it? Maybe the deaf can hear the stars talk to each other, or the blind. Did you do a lot of thinking last night?”

“Like the bird surfing the waves in the song I guess, I was hoping that as I looked up at the stars I might catch a sound of my family, my father. I wanted to say to him that when I die as he did, I will be thinking of him, you know, at that moment.”

“Many things come alive when you gaze upwards, Nargess. Not nearly as many as if you gaze inwards though. But there is wonderful colour up there, don’t you think? The whole thing can come alive in three-dimensional colour if you take the time to look. All we tend to see is the first page, with a universe of millions of galaxies. Then the Milky Way, and our solar system. We never spend time to think about how what we see may develop further on in the book we haven’t read yet.”

“I think that we have the stars so that we will remember where we came from—as if I could forget. Then, more of your pages are turned. What do you think?” Nargess asked.

“ Don’t ask me, I am after all, just a simple priest.”

“Yeh, right.”

“But it is good to see the world strangely” said Monas. I wish I could know more, but much more than that, in the end I think I will wish that I could have loved more and was able to love…more. For us, something has happened which means that life is more of a prison than for most. At least it is for me. Part of me is glad and for the other part, it bothers me a hell of a lot.”

He, the Catholic priest and her, the Iranian academic, would, along with everyone else, be yet again hung up in a box by a thread. Both of them were being called back to another world by a message left at home by the Room. On the beach that previous night she had also thought of him in a different way. “His relationship with me, this bond we have, is in danger, for heaven’s sake! When anybody experiences the type of work Monas does, it usually means they are about to pass over into another life. They never come back. One time, he will not return to the Room”. These were the thoughts that kept Nargess awake at night on the beach, then upstairs as she listened to his restlessness, the sounds of disturbed dreams, before she went out again to look at the night sky and fall asleep under it. She was unaware that Monas too, was contemplating the terrifying thought that he may have to die once more, and leave her alone, just as he found her when she would sing, the following morning.

Monas had previously tried his best to talk to her about it, but she did not want to understand. Then she would become angry with him, angry because she was stronger than him. Those involved in the work of the Room knew that at some stage they would both leave the earth “as a spear leaves a hand”, as the Room put it. They told them both that  “Its path and destiny is unknown but you accept your fate as a child trusts food from its mother”. It was unavoidable and true that it was part of their ontological nature, their own inscape, or you may call it a gift or a branch of their DNA from which they cannot unravel themselves. They would ultimately embrace their departure as they did when entering the Room the first time.



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