“And that‘s it” concluded the professor and the whole room sunk into deep silence. Atmosphere was dense with anxiety. The professor slowly put his pen & notes aside, unscrewed a lid of his soda bottle and drank a little. In spite of the discomfort of current situation, he remained calm. After all, one can get used to it and he most certainly did, he mused.
“Are there any questions?”
A few people mumbled, but no one dared to raise a hand. Nothing unusual.
“I thank you for your attention then. Until next time, ladies and gentlemen” said the professor, packed his belongings and proceeded to the exit door. As he was leaving, loud chatter broke out. This was also perfectly usual. The professor left the building and headed to a parking lot, where he sat into his car, reached for ignition and then stopped, sat back and relaxed, contemplating his job. People wanted to hear him speak – they would even pay ludicrous prices for tickets, but he charged them no more. People, so eager to hear him, would travel across the country, hoping that this one speech will make a difference in their perception of life, but it never did. People thought him someone who knew stuff, but he no longer hovered in the clouds and on contrary to popular belief, he started amassing doubts in himself. Am I a fraud? he would think whilst lying in bed back home, unable to sleep.
There, in a parking lot, in the privacy of darkness and protected by his old, beaten up Toyota pick-up, he started crying. It was a cry from the heart, for he felt hopeless and lost on his path. The audience, middle class folks between thirty to fifty years would listen to his words, they would nod, they would agree and they would start to fear their golden jail… and nothing would change. They would continue spending most of their life in monkey-work earning money that allowed them to rest in their homes, surrounded by materialistic goods and gadgets, which kept them away from their hearts, they would live their emotions through soap operas and project their insecurities on social sites, sharing every piece of both more or less interesting stuff that happened to them, hoping to get some validation. And they would get it. They would get it from friends, who, should they take a step back and reflect on their life, would find themselves in the very same situation, trapped in their golden jail with everything from work, to vacations, to leisure time precisely scheduled, and who would seek the validation themselves, so what could be created is a Social Media Validation Exchange, SMVE, and the professor cynically thought that one could make a business hiring Chinese farmers, those who farmed golds in the World of Warcraft, and one could start selling packs of likes.
There you go sir, 100 likes, that makes it $10 please. And sir, would you like those likes to be dispatched randomly, or is it more to your liking to have them all put on your very likeable profile picture with the Eiffel tower in the background?
If it wasn‘t for the young people, he would quit already. Some of them still had the drive, some still had their dreams and held onto them tightly. They were still idealistic. Despite that, he knew all too well, many would succumb to the pressure of society, which marked people who thought differently as deranged, they would succumb to the alternative, sparkly, but fake life on social sites, and even if they could stand their ground, they still had to cope with educational systems, which in most cases, prepared them for jobs requiring no creativity, which could be done by empty suits. If they followed the usual path, he would warn them, they would not leave any trail. They would help to keep some corporations & companies, or perhaps states alive and going, so instead of making the world a better place, they would give their lives away to institutions so cynical, they wouldn‘t even let them sleep properly.
And it troubled him. It troubled him deeply. The professor, thanks to a great number of highly unlikely circumstances and coincidences and planet conjunctions, and something, which in its rarity could only be compared to finding an actual leprechaun with actual heaps of gold on an actual end of an actual rainbow – in other words, something that doesn‘t happen every other day – had an opportunity to see and take different routes on many crossroads of life, routes, which took him to places long forgotten and people rarely encountered. And for this he indeed was immensely grateful thus he decided to help others see these routes for themselves. So far, he felt, his mission was a failure. Talk the talk and walk the walk – knowing the difference and doing the difference, there the dragon‘s lair lies.
And he cried some more. He has been empowered to take one or more people on a proper rollercoaster ride, similar to the one he had done, but not quite the same, since every ride is unique in almost all aspects one can think of. All that had to be done by participants was passing a test of faith and courage. During sessions with middle class folks and (mainly) students he looked for someone, who would ask a bold question and then go and talk with the professor afterwards. It is that simple. Yet no one, not one single person, did it so far. The professor‘s speech has always been coming from his heart with no veil and no equivocation, he must have been somehow intimidating. Who knows? But it broke his heart every time the only response he received from an audience, was silence. Silence, which can be encountered on graveyards. From time to time, when the Universe decided to play a little joke, the booked theatres or aulas were dark and grey, it would start raining heavily and occasionally, a thunder would roar in the distance. With this background sounds, the professor really felt as an undertaker watching over a graveyard of dreams, hopes and souls.
“It‘s not a job you decided to do, it happened to you” said a sweet voice from a passenger’s seat.
The professor slowly looked up, wiped tears from his eyes and smiled. She was always the one for dramatic entrances.
“Clare, Clare, Clare… You always take on an appearance of a gorgeous woman, which always makes my heart skip a beat and causes my hands to sweat.”
“It is not that bad, many men start drooling and compliment me in a very sleazy way. One even tried to harm me and I wish I could show you the expression on his face when I flew away. The poor fellow is without a doubt convinced that he is doomed. Anyways, my dear professor, heart beating can be restored and sweaty hands wiped off with a napkin” she smiled and lightly touched his cheek.
“Do not grieve…”
The professor was moved by her presence. It was not the simple white outfit, pale skin, black hair, dark, watery eyes and the loving smile. Besides, her appearance always changed… It was the full presence in the moment, which, he suspected, only angels can achieve.
“I‘ve been there myself… I understand. And yet, I regularly catch myself thinking – what is the purpose of this? I mirror back their lives, I expose them to different ideas, I do my best to resurrect their inner child, and to what result? It has been six years since I embarked on this journey, and I do not regret anything, but…” the professor sighed, “either they are paralyzed by fear or they just refuse to be kids, to play, to learn, to live…”
“My dear professor, take the blindfold off your eyes. Haven‘t you noticed? Look more carefully at the sea of faces on your lectures. Notice their differences, notice their similarities. Within seas of the world, one can encounter the same ship in many different places. However it takes time for these ships to get accustomed to rough seas, to know the ocean currents, and to discover new continents. Sailors are seasoned during voyages, not in harbours.”
“Stepping into one‘s greatness can be seen as a profound sacrifice. The world needs great people, but not all people will become great, and those who do, they rarely choose it. It happens to them. Hold space for them and be patient.”
She smiled, almost apologetically.
“And remember, I am always by your side. You are not alone.”
With that she disappeared. The professor had to smile. He blew his nose, fastened the seat belt and asked the old engine to come alive once more. He shook his head and let out a laugh.
“Thank you” he said.
The lights turned on without him touching any button. And with that, he set off.
The traffic was low when he made his way through the city suburbs. For a Thursday night, this was unusual. Is there something interesting on telly, or is it Clare‘s job? Angels, as far as his knowledge went, wouldn‘t bother with these petty things. Either they have more important stuff to solve, or they are busy with living. She knows me all too well. He did felt exhausted and he felt his faith diminishing. In recent months, he has given many talks across the country and he rarely saw his family and his close friends. On one hand, he loved it, on the other he had to make sacrifices – whilst on travels, a one year anniversary of a trek across Chile and Patagonia he had done with his friends passed, a trek that changed their lives in a profound way. His daughter, Mary, turned six. And he felt half the person without his wife, who albeit supportive, felt her missing half even more strongly. It was no surprise then that he started to question the meaning of everything. That‘s why she showed up. Clare was always the spark. That one person, who can merely by her presence enlighten and support in a way so extraordinary, it makes one feel he can move mountains.
God knows who was responsible for the traffic. Needless to say many people wouldn‘t even noticed that something was different. Anyway, the professor cruised through the avenues and looked for a side street with one of his favourite Chinese restaurants. He stopped in the right lane at a traffic light. Turn right and after some eighty yards there it is. He looked around, for this particular traffic light required a good deal of patience. Everything seemed calm. The red light reflected in windows of offices and shops on both sides of the avenue. A man was doing his laundry in laundry shop, another fellow was haggling over a price of some hot-dog. Police officer was helping some madam with groceries. BOOM. The light went green and the professor slowly accelerated, turned right and with a not-so-smooth braking arrived in front of the restaurant. A few people dined inside.
He stepped in and waved at the busy crew – they remember their regulars – and sat down near the exit by a window. Tiny crumbs from the previous eater, and he must have been quite hungry from the look of it, were still on the table, however a Hmong waitress rushed to clear them away with apologetically smiles.
“Don‘t worry about it” said the professor.
After facing hunger throughout the whole tiresome day, he wasn‘t in the mood of nit-picking, not that it was his hobby, especially in a place like a Chinese fast food restaurant. This lack of perfection was exactly what drew him to these places. His own hair was messy, his coat stained here and there and with a burned out hole on the right sleeve. His whole life has been quite messy. Exciting, but messy. He didn‘t mind luxury and perfection only as long as they were accompanied by a frank, friendly spirit. Otherwise, it was just a snobbish hell where each person was judged by others in the matters of wealth, manners, outfit and knowledge of wine and operas. Golden jail. He ordered noodles with butterflied & sliced chicken breasts with sesame seeds, soy sauce and Cayenne peppers. He also asked for a soda. Here and now, here and now, here and now… he slowly brought focus of his ever-wandering mind to the present moment. People in the restaurant dined quietly with the occasional breaks of laughter. One could hear the clangs of pots and searing and the sound of steam escaping, it would feel almost anonymous, wouldn‘t it be for a person from another table who stared at the professor with somehow deceiving smile for half a minute or more at a time. The professor knew about it and it did worry him. The man looked weary, with a stubble, bags under his eyes and greasy hair in his forehead. As long as he was in the restaurant, he was safe and then he‘ll ask the chef to watch over him until he gets into the car. That should do.
The food was placed on the table by the time he returned from the toilet and he happily began eating. The heat of Cayenne peppers was not the best companion of the saltiness of the soy sauce, but since they added it on his own request, he couldn‘t complain. Even the simplest of meals, when given some ballsy spice, may become memorable.
Guys from the other table stood up, picked up their belongings and slowly made their leave, the weird fellow included. This time, he paid no attention to the professor and walked to the door and held it open for his mates. As he was about to leave, he turned around and walked towards the professor with one hand in the inside pocket of his coat. In silence, he produced a piece of paper and put it on the table. As he was leaving, the professor promptly picked it up. There was a sketch, rather well-done, of a tombstone. It said:
1992 – 2013
“Those who lived peacefully,
shall never be forgotten.”
underneath the drawing was a hand-written note:
“Don‘t believe those lies. He drowned in rapids after a rafting accident – couple of days after your lecture where you encouraged them to start living fully. Enjoy your meal.”
The professor read the note two more times.
“Hey, wait!” he shouted at the mysterious man and motioned him to come back from the street. A moment of hesitation made the professor worry. But then the fellow returned inside, invited the professor to sit down with a clumsy gesture and then sat himself in front of him. For a few moments, they were both silent.
“Who are you?!” the professor finally blurted out.
“You got me Sherlock. How does it feel to be responsible for a young man‘s life?”
“I don‘t know this lad, I don‘t recognize the name.”
“Not you, maybe. But they did – marked him in the papers as promising. Even though, his blue jumper with an emblazoned reindeer… it‘s not like you could miss that.”
“What is this?”
Professor‘s mind was racing. Inevitably, thanks to the sheer number of them, faces and details became a blur.
“Let me show you…” said the man and made a small hand gesture.
The image span and became dark and empty. Silence fell across the nothingness of that space. The professor felt light, his mind clear and sharp as it has never been. Was this a trick of sorts? Has he been ambushed in the restaurant? Is this how being unconscious feels, hovering in the void and thinking clearly, despite the memory? Images. Sounds. What is that? Uncle Marcus? And there… I didn‘t know… Light at the end, doctor‘s face…
“I beg you a pardon for this rather impertinent question, but do you live fully, professor?” a young fellow in a blue jumper asked.
The professor heard himself clear his throat, but he didn‘t do it. The hands moved to put his notes in order, but he didn‘t ask them to move. He saw the audience through a pair of eyes that were not his, but yet they were. A familiar voice spoke.
“What you mean by that is whether I do what I preach. And that is a great, absolutely relevant question. You see there are many people out there who, for many reasons, ask us to do one thing and the moment you turn around to walk home, they start doing the complete opposite. Generally, they are called politicians.”
A laughter broke out in the hall.
Oh, I remember making this joke. That was what, some three weeks ago?
“There are many small adjustments every single one of us can make in our everyday conduct. I suspect, however, that you would like to hear about bigger things, am I right?”
The young man nodded.
“In a couple of weeks, a year will pass since my friends and I trekked across Chile and Patagonia. We crossed the Atacama desert, journeyed south on horses, in cars or on foot. We did some voluntary work in Santiago, we surfed at a coastal town called Pichilemu, which has amazing surf conditions. We went to the Andes and ascended several peaks. On one descent, we were swiped off the mountain side by an avalanche that nearly killed us all.”
Few ladies, and even some boys, let out a gasp.
“It took us a couple of days to shrug that one off” the voice said cheerfully and the audience joined him in laughter.
“And in the last days we did a five-day long trip near-by Mt. Fitz Roy, which is this crazy, beautiful mountain – one of the toughest to climb you can find in the world, it is said. This whole trip of ours was life changing. Whether it‘s the vast and desolate desert of Atacama, or the power of the ocean when a wave catches you and holds you inside, you start to doubt whether up is still up, or is it down, and your lungs are screaming, but you cannot take that breath… Until it spits you out on the beach. Or whether it‘s the veil of ashes with which Chilean volcanos sometimes cover the nature in a strangely apocalyptic, yet beautiful manner. Or, of course, if you are in the avalanche… It changes everything. You are this small, tiny particle with no power at all. You are at the mercy of elements. Knowing that at times you can do nothing except hope and pray and maintain your attitude, puts things into perspective. Now I am not saying that you should go out there and risk your lives. Don‘t do that. But know this – edge, whether big or small, is where the life happens…” the voice faded out and the spun image once again, skipping the void and hurling the professor right back into the Chinese restaurant.
The professor grabbed the table and tried to stabilize himself.
“If I may present my opinion, you are responsible for the kid‘s life, technically.”
“Who… who are you?”
“What if I told you there are more?”
“WHO are you?”
“Why… why do you worry about my identity and not about the lives you have ruined? Some may call you… perhaps a bit cynical. You can call me Malfus, Professor.”
“Malfus… I never heard of you. Are you an acquaintance of Clare?”
“Clare?” Malfus burst out laughing.
“You think Clare is of any significance? Of course you do. I hear your heart beating louder than a Big Ben whenever she‘s close to you. Have you heard about any other angel, besides Clare? Tell me…”
“Some” the professor replied, nervously.
“And yet you don‘t know me, how amusing. I assume that through deduction skills, you came to realization that there must be a counterpart to angels and their deeds.”
The professor sat there, unable to respond.
“Hahaha, no, I am not the devil, my friend” said Malfus emphasizing the word friend, which made it sound utterly sarcastic.
“Let‘s say that I am in the grey zone between these two worlds. Let‘s assume that I wielded powers of one side, but, since one of my parents was a human and I inherited his greed, I wanted more so I exploited the other side to learn, and to absorb, and to use… And for my curiosity I was expelled. That broke my heart. I loved it there. They just didn‘t understand. Anyway, I am free. Are you free?”
The professor sat in silence, thinking desperately about the right answer.
“You are just a pathetic figure the so-called-angels move on their chess board trying to outsmart the devil. You think them good because of the way the behave, and how they treat you, but you fell for the false gold, my friend. They may give you fancy names like Prophet, or Messenger, or Bearer, but to me, you are a bullshit artist thanks to whom people die. And that‘s fine by me, because if they are stupid enough to listen to you, their exit of the gene pool is for the good of human kind. You are a nought, Professor. I am watching your every step, you can count on that.
I hope you enjoyed your meal. Good day!”
And with that he got up to his feet, adjusted his jacket and slowly walked away. Professor‘s eyes followed him on the street. Some driver started the car, Malfus got inside and was gone for good. After couple of moments, the professor realized he was staring at a reflection of his face in the window. Then the contours became blurry, his hair got longer, his beard disappeared, male features dissolved into features of some woman. It was a face of Clare, giving him a sad look. The Professor raised his hand as if he wanted to say something, but Clare, or more accurately, her image just shook its head. They looked at each other in silence. Is it real, or am I dreaming? Too many strange things happened that day, just too many… He felt confused and the confusion grew stronger each moment. The more he thought about it, the more he tried to control his thoughts, the more they controlled him. It became a whirlwind of distant memories, lectures, Clare, Malfus inserting visions from the past into his mind, and his own doubts about the work he was doing. Somewhere along the way lay an intersection and it occurred to him that he might have simply opted for the wrong turn. How small is he in the world of God? Is there any God out there? Is it just angels, and devils, and powerful entities in the grey zone in between, and seven billion people all with their lusts, and fear, and greed? What is it that lies between my ears? Never mind the storms of mind, heart is always stable. As he began to focus inwards, there was a strange sensation within his chest. A realm inside the body remained calm, untouched by the worries of the outer space. Face in the window smiled. This is getting a bit freakish he admitted, I need to get out. The Professor left some money on the table and walked out of the restaurant, leaving his car behind and walking down the street. Steam was coming from the manhole cover and added to the gloom of the backstreet full of dustbins, plastic bags with trash and most probably, with some rats. There was also a beggar sitting on the sidewalk. Professor gave him a quick look, full of despise, as he realized with no regret few steps ahead. It‘s not the time to pity him. I‘ve got my own problems to solve.
“YOU!” came a rough voice from the back. Professor froze at his footsteps. The beggar slowly walked around the professor, maintaining a strong eye contact all the time. He had a cardboard attached to himself, on the front, it said “You there!.” He smelled badly of sweat and wine. He smiled at the professor through his yellow teeth and gave him a strong, heart-to-heart hug.
“Don‘t give up” he said, turned around and wandered into the darkness. The professor watched him go.
“The end is nigh” said the writing on the other piece of cardboard.
“What does that me mean?!” he shouted but from the man came no response. The end is nigh mused the professor as he returned to the car. The end is nigh… Whose end? End of the world? My end? Is it just a coincidence?
Clack the doors unlocked and the professor sat inside, bewildered.
“If I were you, I would rush to say goodbye to your family” came a familiar voice from the backseat.
“DAMNIT” screamed the professor completely taken by surprise.
“My dearest apologies for such a shady entrance.”
“Why would I rush to say farewell to my family, they are in a different state?!”
“Oh… I see. Well, my friend, look out of your window and tell me, what do you see?”
“A street with Chinese restaurant?”
“What you see, my friend, is a stagnant corner of the world. There are many like it, and there are few where rapid changes are taking place. If I were you…”
“Don‘t listen to him!!!” shouted Clare from the front seat as she appeared out of the blue. Tears were falling down her cheeks.
“I would take it into consideration” finished Malfus his sentence as if nothing of importance happened.
The professor‘s mind was being torn apart by the events he, it seemed, could not exert any will on.
“My dear professor, please don‘t listen to him” sobbed Clare, “please don‘t!”
“It‘s up to you” sang Malfus in a hideously creamy voice, “it‘s your family. The end is nigh.”
Drops of sweat appeared on professor‘s forehead. He scratched his cheeks nervously as his eyes roved from Clare to Malfus and back to Clare, and then out into the street, looking for clues in the steam rolling from the manhole covers, and then back to Malfus and to crying Clare.
“Why should I not go, Clare?” he asked, the voice trembling.
She shook her head.
“You… you.. there is nothing you can do.”
“I can take you there, right here, right now” murmured Malfus.
“No…” whispered Clare.
“The end is nigh” said Malfus softly and offered the professor his hand.
The professor looked at Clare for one more time and took the offered hand. The world darkened.
Sudden spins felt like someone stabbed him in his belly. There were shadows, shadows of street lights and cars, and skyscrapers, there were vast forests and rough mountains, all distant and barely visible. The halt was sudden, unexpected and surprisingly comfortable.
Professor felt the warmth of air with a hint of smoke. He straighten up and carefully opened his eyes. Malfus slowly let go of his hand. In front of him, a small house was caught up in a terrible inferno. There was no sound however, and the flames seemed slow, is this another vision? the professor wondered. He turned his head to the right and looked at Malfus. Malfus snapped his fingers.
Pure volume of the cacophony of the inferno, the screeching sounds of construction falling apart, and the screams of people trapped inside, burning, send him to the ground. Malfus let out a laugh. It was a long, and evil-ish laugh of someone, whose wicked plan worked out just well.
“The end is nigh, you better say goodbye to your family.”
The professor felt terribly confused. Then he recognized contours of his home. It clicked.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” came a roar that erased the smile off of Malfus‘es face. The Professor jumped up to his feet and sprinted towards the front door. Malfus watched him go and then waved his hand as the professor got just too close to the fire. The professor couldn‘t move. With another snap of fingers, every single sound of the inferno was muted. Malfus approached the professor and sat on the ground next to him.
“Clare was right, there is nothing you can do” mentioned Malfus in passing.
“I am terribly sorry for your loss, I truly am. It‘s a game of people above you, you know? When they make a decision, nothing and nobody can stand in their way.”
The professor stood there, his eyes fixed on the flames, tears rolling down his face.
“Tell me, what did you expect? You travel around the globe and encourage people to follow their hearts and intuition. You tell them not to settle. You ask them to break free. You are ruining their experiments with this live your dream attitude, you know? For many years, a strong leading figure was missing and people settled for the darker parts of their souls, that is greed, fear, lust, laziness, envy. Yes, such a herd could be powerful, if, and only if, it had a strong leader. Luckily, it didn‘t. So it became perfectly controllable. And the guys wondered, what would people do in this numbness of theirs? Where are the possibilities? And the rest is history – you know it all too well. And then Clare contacted you. Clare, who is just this completely insignificant person, rebelling against the, let me call it kingdom, even though it shan‘t be taken too literary, for there is no king, and together, you invited young and old, weak and strong, black and yellow and white, to live their lives fully. That is noble, I give you that, my friend, however Clare should have known better and warn you about the inevitable payback. The kids death? It was no coincidence. Nevertheless, I still hold you responsible. Ah, Clare is coming, I believe. I shall make my leave then. Farewell professor and remember, I am watching. Professor heard every word, but with his eyes fixed onto the flames, he couldn‘t see him disappear. As Malfus did, his body broke free and he collapsed on the ground. That‘s where Clare found him.
The Professor shivered with cold and grief. The burden was too heavy to bear, he felt misunderstood, left behind and betrayed. Clare knew that as if she could read his mind. On the other hand, who wouldn‘t feel the same way in his shoes? She put a blanket over his shoulders, sat beside and hugged him. The inferno remained muted and a person passing by would find something strangely soothing about the way the flames consumed the front porch and licked its way up to the second floor. Last bits of blue paint got scorched and turned black. The roof collapsed, rising a large cloud of thick, black smoke, which than slowly made its way toward the night sky. The Professor‘s home was now nothing but a skeleton glowing into the darkness. Even destruction has its beautiful aspects. The external havoc of falling chimneys or building demolition brings peace to souls of many spectators, but the inferno never occurred to the professor as beautiful. He heard the screams. When the roof fell, he knew that his loved ones as well as his memories, were forever buried.
He turned to Clare.
“Why is this happening, Clare?”
There was a slight moment of hesitation.
“Every path, every quest no matter its nobility, is filled with perils, obstacles and trials of faith” she finally responded.
“But Malfus said…”
“Malfus is just a part of it, don‘t you see?”
“I don‘t, I‘m afraid.”
“Let me put it this way. You know me for some time. The inferno, the pain and destruction… those are deeds of the devils and a small demonstration of what they can do. You‘ve met Malfus, a powerful person who stands in the grey zone. He‘s neither good, nor entirely bad. I could hear his wicked laugh miles and miles away” Clare said with contempt.
“Now the question is, who will you ask for advice now? Who will you listen to? What are you going to do?”
Ashes were falling down the sky as black, dark snowflakes. Hushed sounds came from within the ruins – the sounds of wood cracking in a campfire. One could also hear a horn of fire-fighters, albeit far, far away. After all, it really did turned into a soothing place to be. And that bewildered the professor. So did the questions.
“Who… who are you, actually, Clare?”
“Me?” she said whilst turning her gaze to flames. She chuckled.
“I am a part of your consciousness, don‘t you know?” she said with the last words fading away.
Once more he was in a parking lot, heading home right after one of his lectures. Not a single person asked a bold question… What is the meaning of this? I am just a useless, old professor. He approached his pick-up truck, unlocked it and grabbed his door handle. A very strange, unusually long and, at the end a bit too warm, deja-vú played itself in his head. He felt so dizzy he lost his balance and with no dignity fell on the bonnet. He grabbed his throat wheezing, hoping to get in some fresh air. Slowly, moment after moment, he recuperated from the experience. Still a bit dizzy, he sat inside his car and was holding the steering wheel in the same manner a drowning person would hold a rescue circle. I am scared, Clare. But I will listen to you. I always did and I never regretted… He took a deep breath, turned on the engine and headed straight for the airport, determined to prepare for the next speech. He never asked for such a mission and yet, he couldn’t imagine a different way to live his life.