Chapter 7. What do you want?
First, Ada burst out laughing. Then, seeing the shock on Maeve’s face, and registering that she was still traumatised, Ada was contrite.
“Sorry, love, sorry. That was some experience.” She couldn’t help herself, tried to stifle another laugh, which made it worse, so she laughed out loud again. “I am sorry, I really am. But what you felt happened long ago. That poor man probably died a hundred years ago. You must have great empathy.”
Pause, as Ada tried to calm down,
“Oh my God, you must have listened really hard, or maybe I am a good teacher after all. You really zoned-in to yourself, you must have gone into a deep trance for it to affect you like that.”
Another roar of laughter, Ada had given up trying to hold it in, and then went on,
“I didn’t mean that to happen. I thought I had set you a simple task and you would come across someone doing something mundane, like pulling the curtains, or lighting a candle. Those are the kind of small things that linger around us and really I wanted you to learn how to hear them and then how to shut them out. I never thought you would pick up a brutal murder on your first outing! Oh my God! You are some case, you are. Who would have thought it. There you were, shutting it all out for most of your life.”
Ada was recovering her composure.
“Okay, I’m back to normal, I have it all under control, I think.” Ada, said as she wiped the remaining tears of laughter from her eyes. Like everyone else, she really needed to laugh and once she had started, it just got a bit out of control. In the family, it was known that she could shake with laughter, no noise coming out, and tears streaming down her face. She could laugh like this at her own jokes, and then be incapable of sharing the punchline. They had had situations with all of them laughing and no idea why. Some time later, Ada would manage to tell them the funny story, which might, or might not, actually be funny.
“Okay, okay, okay. It’s as if I asked you to buy a pound of butter and you came back with a cow ready to be milked, thinking you had done what I asked.” Ada smiled again as she took a sip of water helping to return to normal.
Then the tone of her voice changed radically as she said,
“This is really serious.”
Maeve thought this was singularly ironic, as Ada had been the only one laughing.
Ada went on,
“This is crunch time. Decisions have to be made. I can’t set you exercises if you can go in that deep without any of the normal set up that we use. It’s no good if you are going to come back in a state, you would be an emotional wreck in a week. So this is it, you need to ask yourself what you want out of all of this. And then do it for real. At least that way if there are consequences you made the decisions. It wasn’t someone else sending you to poke a wasps nest. With your talent, I have some idea of the kind of trouble you could unleash, so I really don’t want you digging up spirits for no good reason.”
Ada sat back and folded her arms, looking at the screen with her head tilted to one side having left the question with Maeve.
Maeve was righteously indignant,
“It was your brilliant idea in the first place!”
In a much more pensive tone, Ada answered,
“It was. But you have a gift. I mean, you, me and Orla can all communicate, but this is different. The other spirits came to you, to get you to solve their problems, and stop another murder. Pretty transactional. This time you voluntarily called a spirit and then you entered into that experience with them both, both the victim and the killer. I am not sure if you were channelling the animal or the man, you may even have switched from one to the other. You did that, and then you controlled the situation, you made it stop. This is very advanced stuff. I don’t, sorry didn’t, get into things like that. Mainly I dealt with spirits who wanted to say ‘good-bye’ or tell the one left behind that they never really loved them, which of course I don’t pass on. Why create unnecessary pain?”
Maeve remembered the sessions where as a child she had hidden under the table mortified at Ada’s indulgence in creating a dramatic atmosphere. Ada used every trick in the book, dim light, incense, anything and everything to make her clients satisfied that they were communing with spirits on the other side. Maeve had believed that it was all made up until she ‘met’ her first spirit. Thinking back to Ada’s clients she reflected, it was true she never gave them any bad news or said anything unpleasant, now she knew why.
Ada had started talking again,
“This is on a different level. What you have just done is really deep. You will need to be careful. As I said, the first and most important thing now, is that you decide what you want. I am not asking you for an answer now. I am asking you to find a quiet space and ask yourself that question. Let’s leave it there for now and we can talk again whenever you are ready.”
Maeve, had not really contributed to this conversation at all. On the one hand she had a sense of pride that Ada thought she had done something impressive, on the other hand she didn’t entirely know what she wanted. She knew she had to help, she knew that she could no longer pass by when people or spirits were in trouble. The question that was uppermost in her mind was, could she really control her gift?
To help her think straight, Maeve needed to take a walk. It was still bright. She was waiting for confirmation from Marianne to be able to sort out the logistics of picking her up. Orla needed to spend awhile on her own, so now was a good time.
If she had taken a little longer to plan her route she probably wouldn’t have gone back to the woods behind military road. But her mind was thinking of somewhere quiet and her feet were on autopilot.
En route she passed John, the Big Issue seller, now because of lockdown not able to sell the Big Issue till it was over. He always had a lovely smile and positive attitude, never pushy, always polite. She wanted to make sure that he was okay and didn’t want to just walk by. So after confirming that he was fine for the moment, without prying into his private life, and having had the, by now usual, exchanges of, ‘It’s getting colder now, will they keep the lockdown till Christmas?’ Maeve decided to ask about people who might camp in the woods but not to mention the body that she had found in particular. Just in case.
Happy to oblige, John gave her the lowdown,
“Hard to tell. I’ve moved around over the years and I can tell you, Canterbury has more homeless than most places. It’s like London. There must be some kind of magnet drawing people here. ”
He was happy to talk and Maeve was curious,
“But there are some that seem to be in some kind of gang. They have certain spots in town that they stick to and seem to be pretty aggressive. The ones I am thinking of are mostly young men.”
“Oh yes, the scene has really changed over the years. You can spot some of them who are in pretty organised groups because they have the same sign, I mean the actual same sign, asking for money. They pass ‘em around. Some of them are Eastern European, some are British. The drunks in town at the moment are mostly English. I keep myself to myself. There are a lot of them who stay in groups and stick to their own group. I don’t think they have been camping out. Since the first lockdown most people have somewhere. Or are waiting for somewhere unless they are still on something so won’t get anywhere...”
Maeve wanted to know more, so asked the direct question she had avoided in the past,
“What brought you to the Streets?”
John warmed to his subject,
“Divorce. I left home thirty years ago and it was the best decision I ever made. I wouldn’t go back, I choose to be on my own, I want the freedom. I love to wake up in the morning and hear the birds, nothing else, no other sounds. No one around. But things have changed. Years ago it was different. I have friends and we used to meet up in different places around the country. Most of them are gone now. Homelessness is still a hard life, hard on the body.”
He paused thinking back on his life,
“Of course when the Big Issue started back in the ‘90s, it made it all possible. With that you can survive. You are your own boss. You earn your money. Keep your own hours. There are stories I could tell you about that too……and how that’s changed. But really it all changed when serious drugs arrived. I’m talking crack cocaine. If they’re on that I’m off. You see ‘em move.” He was emphatic. Silence.
He reflected on his experiences, then in a more positive note,
“Mostly though the homeless, they don’t stay in one place that long.”
Maeve was really absorbed so she went on,
“We hear about people with mental health issues and soldiers who are on the streets, are they?”
John was thoughtful,
“Yes there are some, but not many, ex-service men around, those who can’t cope. But there are a lot of charities too. ‘Ere in Canterbury there are a lot of charities, Catching Lives, Porchlight, and Lily’s cafe in the Baptist Church, I get a cup o’ tea there in the mornings. Or I used to before lockdown.” A little pause of regret.
“But do you remember that guy, the young-ish blond guy who used to cover for me sometimes?”
Maeve nodded, so he went on,
“I never would’ve thought it, but one day ‘e just come up and punched me in the face! I laid low for a bit, didn’t come into town. After a while I asked around to see if ‘e was about. No one ‘as seen ‘im since. I don’t know what happened to ‘im. Maybe ‘e ‘ad an episode.”
They had been standing on the street for nearly quarter of an hour and John was hopping from foot to foot, clearly on his way somewhere. Becoming aware of this, Maeve said,
“Take care and stay safe. I know people say that, but I really mean it. Be careful with this virus.”
“I only know two people in all my customers who’ve ‘ad it. Yet our numbers in Canterbury are still high, where are these people?” and with a shrug and a wave, he was on his way.
Maeve felt she now had a picture of the homeless that was much more nuanced than her natural bias. Confident that it was very unlikely that there were any in the woods she headed straight there. So often things are not what you expect.