Past the Quartz Lamps

Ibrahim Waheed “Ogaru”


A sudden burst of white blossomed like a giant flower from behind the breakwater, catching fiery diamond-like glints in its misty halo. A fraction of a second later, a muffled boom hinted at the power of that extra-powerful wave as its remnants cascaded over the concrete and spilled over into the shimmering blue of the inner lagoon. The lagoon, in contrast, was floodlit by powerful pole-mounted quartz lamps that were assumed to keep the sticky hands of the conscience-less away from the slick speedboats which lay there. These boats belonged to the more affluent, the more powerful or the more fortunate members of society. The boats themselves, bobbing complacently in the almost-harsh light, remained largely unaffected by their ownership or even the ripples created by the gentle spill of ocean water into the corral. They were also unaware of the possible attention they might be getting if a wayward soul gave them more than a fleeting thought, en passant.

It just happened that on that particular night, at that dim time hour past twelve, I happened to be that passing soul. And of course, as had probably been intended by the more affluent and the more powerful, everything was as it should be. The nonchalant speedboats lay bobbing at rest, the quartz lights shone bright, and even the odd large wave boomed onto the breakwater every now and then. That was when I noticed the one odd note: A dark figure sat on a stone bench on the waterfront, partially shaded from the overhead lights by a hardy beach hibiscus tree. It looked like a man who was engaged in dialogue with an invisible being in a low voice. He did not appear to have company of a creature of a more physical nature.

Was this someone a man perhaps possessed by one of those ill spirits of historical fiction and tradition? Someone tortured into incoherent mumblings by an unavoidable sequence of events set off by a few bad decisions? A soul that had snowballed its own feelings into a bout of nonsensical babbling in the dead dark of night? Even more frighteningly, was this someone trying to conjure up a particularly vicious, but somewhat reluctant sea-demon from the past?

I slowed down, stepped off the sidewalk, and moved as close to the shadowy man as I possibly could without being seen, using a few beach Scaevola bushes as cover. I had the greatest insane urge to listen to what the man was murmuring.

“I was born an orphan and remained a sad little creature for a long time. Then you saved me! You took me into your caring world. You healed my spirit and cured my depression. You gave me fortitude and joy. Thank you!” The man was saying.

I was right! He was indeed talking to an invisible being as if it was sitting there right beside him on that stone bench. Part of me told me that this man was nothing more than a harmless, slightly unhinged character best left alone with his ghosts, and that I should be going my way. An inner side of my inquisitive soul told me to wait a while, watch and listen.

“I was once lost and then you found me and guided me back into the world of the truly living. Thank you!” The man was saying.

Possessed? Definitely, I told myself. This man had surrendered his soul to the supernatural and was paying the price. I wanted to quickly walk away.

Suddenly, a gentle breeze parted the branches of the hibiscus and the light from the quartz lamps shone briefly on the face of the man. And I had a great shock: What I saw was not the face of a drooling lunatic but a face with a gentle smile on it, a face filled with great strength of character and an inner radiance rarely seen on this island of self-serving selfishness!

“When you came into my life, I was such a pauper. I was a beggar in so many ways. I was entirely dependent on the minute morsels of charity thrown in my general direction, often with derision and revulsion. I hated myself and everything around me. And then you gave me the courage to look for opportunities, to work hard, and to become self-sufficient. Since you became my supporter, my sustainer, my nearest and dearest, I have been able to walk amongst men with my head held high. Thank you!” The man on the bench continued.

I began to question my initial assessment of the man. This was no sad fool conjuring up his imagined genie. He did not sound like the stereotypical half-crazed idiot babbling away at a half-imagined apparition in the dark of night. His voice was deep and warm. It carried that tone of inner strength and conviction that only the spiritually fulfilled can carry. I had to remain where was and listen to more, making sure that I stayed away from those pools of ersatz sunlight created by the hot quartz lamps that served to protect the property of the rich.

“Of course, I shall never turn away a needy soul, a person less fortunate than I am, the orphan or the disadvantaged. I shall do my best to share with them the blessings that my Creator has blessed me with in this world. I shall glorify Him.” And that was when I knew what it was all about! Words that I had memorized as a child came back to me like random shadows and slowly arranged themselves in perfect order in front of me in sharp focus, not needing the artificial light of those man-made quartz lamps. I began to experience a slow but steady resurrection of the soul.

As I stood there with a great understanding dawning on me, another large wave banged into the breakwater. Another white flower blossomed against the backdrop of the dark velvet of midnight horizon and fell down and away. One more muffled boom rang into the night. More water cascaded over into the inner lagoon. The captive speedboats bobbed away in the night, now nothing more than meaningless baubles. Their mooring ropes relaxed creaked taut, nothing more than an insignificant noise, they lay at insomniac rest in the sharp beams of those quartz lamps My unknown friend continued to sit on the stone bench, audible soliloquy run out, but his joy enduring as he spent his night of thankful contemplation on that mercifully shadowed stone bench on the waterfront.

Should I now be that breakwater and let that special wave bang into me? Should I let the clean salty water from a wide-open ocean splash over me in a flower of iridescent glory? Should I nurture and cherish what had rested dormant but had now woken up within the circle of protection of my soul? Should I still deny my awakening and remain asleep like one of those lifeless but expensive boats which belonged to the rich and the powerful, tugging continuously at the mooring ropes which kept them tied down in one very small place, their owners eternally afraid of vagabonds and thieves? I aspired to be more like that wonderful man who sat so calmly and peacefully on that stone bench, a man who was definitely not alone as he knew and defined it, shaded only from the glare of those blinding quartz lamps. I knew that this man who had such strong faith in just the right things in life had been right all along that blessed night.

I stood there in the shadows, no more in darkness, re-awakened by what I had seen and heard. I was ready to leave the ranks of the simply en passant. And I stood there, yearning for that call – the one that announced sweet dawn – that I may join men like him, souls of faith, in the nearest house of the faithful. And then, a while later, I would come out into my newly-discovered world, past the quartz lamps that lit up the thief-fearing darkness of a rich man’s night, past sunrise, into bright light of a new day.

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