Marquita leans back into her seat and reflects on the older woman’s admission. Both their families had destroyed lives. Both their families have angered God. Both of them were cursed.
Marquita wonders if Mechteld had seen her memories. She wonders if she relived each swing of the machete like she did. If she could smell the blood and dirt grinding beneath bare feet, like she could. She wants to know if Mechteld can see the frantic look in their eyes? She wants to know if she is not the only one cursed to remember someone else’s atrocities?
“Look around the bus, what do you see?”
Confused, Marquita answers, “People?”
Mechteld turns to Marquita, “Tell me about them.”
Marquita understands what Mechteld wants her to do. She looks at the other passengers and begins reading their auras. To her, most auras look calm while some are slightly agitated. Quickly she glances at the Chinese woman, but sees her aura is no different from the other mellowed passengers. She listens close and can hear fragments of dull thoughts over the constant buzz of voices.
She looks to Mechteld and says, “Most are calm, just settling in for this leg of the trip.”
Mechteld stares forward at a passenger. Marquita didn’t need to look to know who it was.
“What’s the old man’s name?”
Marquita confidently answers, “R.W. Caine, he lives in Midwood.”
Nodding, Mechteld says, “Good. What does R.W. stand for?”
Marquita pauses and searches her memory for any clues, but finally answers, “His tag doesn’t say that.”
“I know. I don’t want you to read his tag.”
She hesitates before saying, “If I could touch him I could know.”
Marquita expects Mechtelds face to be stern, but is surprised to see a somewhat placid expression.
“I want you to do it from here. I want you to filter out the rest and only listen to him. He’s about to fall asleep so it’ll be easy.”
Marquita shakes her head, “I don’t know how.”
“Lean back.” Mechteld sits up straight and gestures for Marquita to follow. She then takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out. “Feel your breath.”
“What?” Marquita asks.
Mechteld quickly snaps, “Shut up, I’m trying to focus you.” She returns to her calm tone as she continues, “Take a deep breath.” She breaths deep again as she closes her eyes and lets it out. “Feel it go through your sinuses, feel that slight chill, feel it travel down your throat, feel it expand your chest out and fill your body.”
Marquita follows her example, but is unsure what to expect.
Mechteld continues, “Now hold it. Don’t let it out.”
Marquita breathes deep and fills her lungs.
“Now, feel your heart beat. Count each beat until you get to 60 and then start again. Don’t focus on the voices around you. Think about how each beat from your heart takes your blood through you veins from you fingertips to your feet and then to your brain.”
It seems ridiculous to Marquita. How is this supposed to help her read another’s mind? She digs her nails into the seat trying to fight the urge to exhale. Her heart begins to pump hard in her chest. Feeling uncertain, she begins to count, “One, two, three, four…” She imagines the highways of veins that crisscross her body and how each painful thump constantly races her blood further and further before it rushes back. She visualizes it flowing into her eyes, fingers, liver and brain.
“Look at Mr. Caine. Focus on him. Look at the shades of gray in his hair. Look at where is hat is worn from use. Look at the moles and veins of his neck, the lines in his wrinkles, and the protruding of his ears. Memorize him. Know the details that even he doesn’t know. Focus only on him. It takes energy and a lot of concentration. You can’t think about yourself, or the other people around you. Only him. Once you are solely focused on him then you can start to reach in.”
Marquita lets go of her breath and interrupts, “But-“
Mechteld jaw quickly stiffens, “I told you to hold your breath.”
“But, I don’t think I can get to that point. I can’t block out the voices.”
Mechteld grits her teeth and says, “Yes, you can. You just have to focus. You can’t give up after five minutes, or an hour, or even a day. This takes practice and patience. It’s slow. It doesn’t happen all at once.”
Mechteld breathes again and leans back. “Once you’re in it’s like reaching into a bag and looking for an object. You know what it feels like, its weight, its shape, its texture…You just have to feel around until you grasp it.” She looks over to Marquita. “Now, hold you breath, count your heartbeats and concentrate.”
Marquita again takes a deep breath on holds it, expanding her chest to its limits. She then counts her heartbeats one after the other until her eyes begin to water and she instinctively gasps for air.
Before she can give up, Mechteld chimes in with, “Your body doesn't need to breath anymore, fight it.”
Marquita waits a moment and then breathes deep again and counts. Slowly pain in her chest fades. She looks forward at the old man and starts to examine his features. She sees his dark gray hair flecked with silver. She guesses it must have been black and thick in his youth. Her eyes move to his skin, which is a mix of pink and tan with three dark, almost black moles surrounded by at least a dozen lighter freckles. With each of his deep breaths the moles and freckles ripple on his loose wrinkly skin, which exposes deep lines and trenches. Mr. Caine’s breaths become even as he drifts off to sleep. The expanding and contracting of his body becomes hypnotic to Marquita. She can feel herself being pulled close to him as each of his breaths brings her further in.
She suddenly feels herself surrounded by cool cloudy water. She frantically kicks until she breaks the surface and is then hit by sunlight. Young tan hands wipe water from her eyes.
She hears herself say, “Come in! It’s great!” in an unfamiliar voice.
She looks up to see a small brunette woman in an old fashion swimsuit sitting with her legs dangling over the edge of a dock. The woman shakes her head with a smile and lifts her feet away from the water.
“Come on now, don’t make me beg.”
She looks down into the rippling water and sees that she’s not Marquita. She sees a handsome man with dark hair. She realizes she’s in Mr. Caine’s dream. She’s on the surface of his thoughts.
He swims towards the woman, keeping his head above water and eyes on her thin ankles. She tries to push away from the edge, but before she can a wet hand grabs her left foot and pulls.
She laughs as she screams, “Robert, no!”
Marquita thinks, “Robert. That’s his name.” She tells herself she now only needed to reach further for the rest. She can be finished in minutes and breath again.
She kicks beneath water and feels herself diving into a darkness. She repeats to herself, “Robert, Robert, Robert.”
She feels a force pulling her to what she desires. She knows she’s no longer in a dream. She knows she’s reached his memories.
Marquita feels a warmth envelope her. She smells the air and knows that New York is near. Her face is hot and wet and her breath comes in wheezing gasps as the warmth pulls her closer. She opens her eyes and sees a woman holding her.
Marquita chokes on her breath as she struggles to whisper, “Mama.”
Marquita feels the woman’s hands cup her cheeks. The woman looks into her eyes and says, “It’s okay Rob. Just breath. Don’t worry.”
The woman begins to stroke the short hair on Marquita’s head. She buries her face in the woman’s chest and realizes she feels so small in her arms. The woman rests her head on top on Marquita’s and holds her tighter. She can feel the love and deep concern in her embrace. It reminds her of her mother’s last embrace.
Softly the woman says, “You’re strong. You’re my boy. You’re my Robert Wilhelm.”
She sinks more and more into the woman as a pressure in her chests alleviates. Cold air finally rushes deep into her lungs, which lets her cry out.
A soothing voice assures her, “You can do this Rob. In and out.”
Suddenly the warmth surrounding her begins to fade. She looks up and no longer sees Mr. Caine’s mother. Instead she met with a darkness that’s pulling her hard and fast. Marquita tries to kick and thrash against the force, but finds that her limbs are stiff and rigid.
Then a stinging brightness besieges her as she inhales a choking gulp of air. She closes her watering eyes and says, “His name is Robert Wilhelm Caine.”
Her vision focuses, yet she still sees darkness. She blinks a few more times and realizes that she is wearing sunglasses. She takes off the glasses and sees that the sun low in the sky. Mechteld notices her and answers her unasked question.
“It’s almost six, you’ve been concentrating for five hours.”
Stunned, Marquita lightly shakes her head. “Five hours? No, that can’t be.”
“It’s true, you went catatonic. I put those sun glasses on you to make it look like you were sleeping.”
Marquita keeps shaking her head in disbelief.
“Five hours to learn a name? I can’t be doing this right.”
“No, you did well.” Mechteld says, sounding pleased. “You stuck with it. Most beginners lose stamina around the third hour. In time it’ll get easier and quicker until it’s no effort at all.”
Marquita tries to process what she just accomplished, but finds that she cannot. In fact, she cannot grasp onto a single thought. She sits with her legs stretch wide and her arms hanging limp at her sides. Her head rests awkwardly on her shoulder as thoughts continue to swirl uncontrollably. After several minutes she comprehends that she is still on the bus and it’s no longer moving.
“Where are we?” Marquita softly asks.
“Pittsburgh. They’ll change drivers and rest here for a bit. I’m going to monitor our driver and see if he mentions anything. I trust you to stay put. I’ll know if you don’t.”
Marquita stares forward.
“I don’t think I can move.”
Mechteld stands from her seat and steps over Marquita. “Good. I’ll be back. Don’t talk to anyone.”
Marquita watches her walk down the aisle and off the bus. She sits unable to move, but despite being exhausted she gives herself a small smile.
“I did it.” She thinks.
She entered his mind without physical contact and blocked out the voices from around her. She finally took some control over her abilities. The thought brings a light feeling to her chest.
Instantly she feels like she wants to try again. She looks around at her potential subjects and her eyes rest on the Chinese woman. She takes a deep breath, but before she can begin counting her heartbeats she sees Mechteld climb the steps of the bus. She quickly exhales and looks down at her shoes before Mechteld again climbs over her stretched legs.
“We’re fine. Nothing was said.”
Mechteld takes her seat and Marquita hears a rustling coming from her direction. She rolls her head to its side to see a small plastic bag between them. Mechteld pulls out a plastic bottle and sets it in front of Marquita.
“Here, you’ve earned it.”
Marquita looks down at her tray table and finds a small chocolate milk.