In the countryside, Athena is at a standstill, like a planted seed in infertile soil, she lives on a farm. She waters dry lands for bad harvests. Nevertheless, her fruits don’t come to fruition and her steps don’t advance the process of growth even though she has cows for milk, fresh eggs for breakfast and goat’s cheese on toast for supper. Her father used to bring over beef steaks and she liked to cut slices for special guests. Except, she’s not played host for months.
For Athena, the choice of love is restrained to types wearing cowboy spurs and large hats with a revolver around their waist. The players are aces at poker, kidding themselves they are kings of smokescreens in their saloons saturated by the smell of liquor. Still single at thirty, Athena is seen as one lost woman by her community’s curtain twitchers, who behind their blinds are blind to the ambitious woman before them; underneath her pretty yet fussy outlook, she can afford to be as she’s completely self reliant. For that reason, none of the pretenders stimulate her fantasies, neither can they understand the complicated words she says or how she can be tamed.
Athena inherited her thirst for knowledge from her late mother who passed away for her sixteenth birthday. No one was surprised when one Monday she didn’t wake up. That woman spent her life being sad and some say her mind was gnawed by a secret that weighted too heavily on the heart, thus it collapsed on a winter’s night. Soon after the tragedy, Athena’s father selfishly burdened her further with an act of self pity. She found him sat on a rocking chair with a hole in his head. Trying to reunite with his deceased wife, he was facing the kitchen table and a bottle of Jack Daniels, a firm grasp on a black and white wedding photograph in the left hand, a warm revolver hanging from his right. As a result the poor chap got blind and lost reason. It must not have been his time to entirely die.
At least for Athena that incident was a blessing in disguise. With an unconscious father, the decision to marry is hers as opposed to submitting to a bribe or a price. However, as an only child, her conscience is committed and her freedom restricted since she must now take charge of the family farm and its land to whom she is bound by blood and tradition.
Nevermind Athena ’s life. For her, time to think of herself and of where she’s heading is lacking. She’s the only teacher around in the sole school in town. She teaches kids how to read and count. There aren’t many unmarried women and even less educated ones to take her place.
The farm and its animals and the school and its children weigh on her shoulders. So many beings rely on her existence that she neglects her own. Athena accepts the chores. Even if she suffered unfair tragedies, she sees them as lessons or as punishments distributed by an idolised God. Praying daily on her knees for faith to keep flowing into her mornings, she crosses her hands, looks up and asks to be healed through a freeing event sent from above.
Piles of books illustrate Athena’s mother’s tastes and the knowledge her lifetime has left behind. They are stacked on the oak and leather furniture in the living room which resembles a library. Athena enters the room frequently the way one enters a sanctuary to sweeten bitterness. That feeling has taken hold of her, she sees nothing close to being called a breakthrough in love or in soils.
About to choose her next book the way she usually does; according to its title and a quick look through the pages, Athena is surprised to notice next to the clock, on top of the chimney, a book cover without title. It catches her attention. It is covered in a layer black soot. The book has a deep square cut out inside, containing a single engraved key that reads: “Open the door to your life path.” Besides a few sentences on the borders the words are missing. Unlike on the key, the book is written in Latin, therefore, for her it is not comprehensible but even though she can’t translate the words literally, she senses this book has meaning. As she attaches the key to the chain around her neck as a good luck amulet, she wonders, how does one know if one is on the wrong life path?
One week went by, the discovery of the key awakened Athena and opened a window of wonder and possibilities in her psyche. She started looking around and questioning instead of simply going through the motions of life: Where does the key come from? What does that mystery mean? And if there are mysteries then, what does life mean, why is she here and does ‘Here’ even exist outside of her own mind? To seek answers became an obsession for Athena that scrutinized her reasoning and ignited her passion.
So far Athena’s life path was seemingly traced and wasn’t much different than most people. She was born somewhere like everywhere else into an atmosphere of conformity and she embodied it. She was shown the way things are done and she followed them. Given a few examples of who to become, she chose one of them. But, suddenly for Athena, the mundane was about to change as she realised that her life path does not have to be the one she has been assigned without consenting. Already, the key that she carries has opened a window for her vision to expand beyond the narrow corridor in which she used to dream. Yet the door leading outside her doubts is still closed.
In the classroom, Athena observes the innocent faces who look up to her. How could she be leading them on their path if she doesn’t even know her own? Wouldn’t it be a deceiving act to want to inspire others when one’s pulse is merely beating? For instance, Athena learned from her parents that sometimes behind a smile one’s soul cries out. She had a mother so busy nursing her inner wounds and self denial attitude regarding her unhappiness, that she didn’t have time to see the world beyond her books. She had a father pretending to have nerves of steel built by years of hard labour, amounting to nothing but heartbreak and a mental breakdown at the end. One parent was doing without dreaming and the other was dreaming without doing. Athena will disappoint neither, she will be a dreamer and a doer.
Now she is self aware but nonetheless there is a turbulent storm lightning inside the crevices of her immobile intestines, that’s why she applies her new conviction right away. On the way back home, Athena takes a different turn and she runs and stumbles upon a rock. A vagabond on a bicycle stops. He introduces himself as Stuart and bends over offering a helpful hand in a reassuring manner. Athena accepts the gesture and they talk of her hurry to go on an adventure towards her life path.
It turns out this wanderer with his ginger beard made into two long braids has a memory closet bursting with secrets. It must be because he follows the universe energy flow and the planets harmonious rhythms which allow him enough time to investigate within, and space to explore the outer parts of himself. That’s what Athena deducts after he advised her:
“Time is your ally. Before rushing for external pursuits you should clear your mind and then listen to your internal pleasures that reveal the true nature of your purpose. When you come closer to doing anything meaningful, the pressure always heightens. If you are heading down the wrong path an obstacle can get thrown for you to stumble upon. These blocks can be visible or invisible and they are orchestrated by benevolent forces outside your control. Their interest lies in redirecting you away from your unconscious self sabotaging decisions.”
Sometimes a life path is revealed through the little things in everyday life, those we are attentive enough to catch a glimpse of. Like the way Athena spotted how Stuart stared at the ring he wears while affirming; “This is all I have but all I need to follow my life path towards being a respected man.”
Under a sun cracked hat, the vagabond’s pupils are dilated at the view of his precious piece of gold which appears to fuel his sense of purpose in life but the glow in his eyes betrays the fact that he had nothing else to live for. Outwardly, seeming embarrassed about her clumsiness, Athena thanks him for the insights and keeps moving, at a slower pace with an inner feeling of awkwardness at her ungratefulness for the collection of jewelry that she possess but never wears.
Later on that day, she sees nothing special but a lake where she refreshes and gazes into the deep cool waters. Feeling an itch on her back she turns around to see a small branch on the olive tree in front of her which she supposes is calling for attention. On that branch there is a ring engraved with the name – Stuart. He must have hung it on the small branch before bathing in the same lake. Persuaded that the forgotten ring is indeed his, Athena aims to catch up with him before night falls. She takes the ring then runs back over her tracks.
Back in town, Athena inquires around but Stuart hasn’t been seen. A compassionate soul, she takes it upon herself to restore the vagabond’s hopes by returning his treasure. There is a farm next to hers inhabited by a widow that mourns and whom Athena has bestowed much her trust in her hands as she has assumed full care of her father. Likewise, she provides the kids with homework, however with less trust. Finally, Athena packs a case with colorful clothes and a comb next to an adventure book overshadowing her parents black and white wedding photo. Horse and carriage prepared, she races in the wind after Stuart and his bicycle.
Driving through fears on dark roads, Athena carries optimism. She wears the engraved ring on her right index finger and the engraved key hangs around her neck. Tasting the zest of freedom in the unburdened breeze, she believes change is possible and at the wake of birds song, from town to town, each day the journey seems as if it has only just begun.
Relying on her hunches, Athena eventually finds Stuart in tears, curled into a foetus position at the front door of an orphanage in an unknown town. Naturally, they exchange their stories; about his mother’s ring memory and her mother’s key hidden, about why he is following his life path and why she’s seeking hers. Soon enough, they put two and two together and mysteriously become one. For it follows that Stuart and Athena are blood related.
Their mother birthed Stuart in secret at sixteen, ten years before marrying Athena’s father. Because of unfortunate circumstances, at birth, Stuart was abandoned, left to an orphanage. All that remained of his mother was a ring attached to a black cord round his tiny swaddle, which his carers tried to replace when the leather knot slowly eroded over the years. Ever since puberty, Stuart had been searching for his mother with the only hint of who she might have been: a scent on a ring that never faded. Fantasizing about their reunion during many sleepless nights, he travelled across countries until he bumped into his half sister, Athena.
Their mother’s sorrow at not having both her children united lead her to extinguish her own flame. She could feel the long sleep coming and repented her sin by leaving a key to Athena. Her sixth sense that all mothers possess, knowing it would, when the times was right, lead her daughter to Stuart. It was hidden inside a book to ensure that Athena’s father who never reads, wouldn’t find it before she did.
From the other side of life, their mother watched a daughter trying to escape an imprisoning fortune and a son trying to find his fortunes. Athena can’t maintain the farm because it isn’t her life path to stay there and Stuart struggles on the road because his life path promises more peace; both of them have a borrowed life map.
Witnessing the chaos from above, their mother used her sixth sense again to pour her energy into the key and into the ring so that like two magnets, her children attract. Consequently, Stuart was pulled to live Athena’s self sustaining farm life and she was released to learn the art of travelling alone, from him. They spent six months teaching each others the ropes and tricks of their lives whilst strengthening their emotional bond.
In the past, Stuart’s life path was simply to see his mother. Even though it isn’t as colorful and alive as it was in the movies of his mind, now he holds her close; a black and white photograph, and his life path leads to much more than he expected by delivering the stable home and family he wished for…
The vagabond turned out to have a green hand and an aptitude for business, thus the farm expended and the soil was kept fertile. His farm became so profitable that he embodied the respected person he was meant to become and he was able to treat the animals with the respect that their offspring brought to him. The young widow who cared for Athena’s father healed her heart through the wisdom and kindness of Stuart’s words. They fell in love and their romance lasted long after their wedding day. Having spent years reading alone at night waiting for passion to resurrect, the newly married widow had accumulated enough knowledge to take over Athena’s teaching job at the only school in town.
Thrilled by the adventure that the key unlocked, Athena opened the door to her heart’s desire. That of seeing a world beyond books. She has become interested in experiencing the unseen, the unknown and the taboo. Without hesitation she concluded, that to deny the existence of magic would have been foolish, especially after so many coincidences occurred.
Athena questioned how a man sitting alone on a cloud, watching the universe from the Earth’s sky could possibly orchestrate the miracle that she’s seen. How is he synchronizing life, sending all miracles, signs, orders and punishments at once, and for each person in the world? He could be using an army in the sky, multiple twins or a futuristic cloud with multiple eyes.
Stuart never heard from Athena again. That said, the curtain twitchers of the town say that she has visited each corner of the world to investigate the origins of her beliefs and to verify if the man on the cloud is really alone.