Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,
None but our self can free our minds.
– Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”
I back out of the roomful of mirrors, back into the violet hallway, back into the cashmere plums, back into the purple rain. The butterflies dance madly on. …
I never should have answered that phone. I should have stayed asleep. Maybe I can sleep right here. Curl up on the floor, rest my head on the soft cashmere carpet, and just … fall … aslee…..
I feel myself sinking, I’m so tired. The carpet is like quicksand, it pulls me under, it feels like a nighttime sky, the clouds roll in and everything gets darker and darker and so so tired…
I close my eyes and feel the soft licking of a tongue on my face. Go away, Marley, let me sleep. But he keeps licking, focusing on my right cheek. My face stings, I feel it burning, but Marley’s tongue feels like a salve of honey, it’s soft and cool and … Marley? You’re here?
I open my eyes and see Marley’s own amber eyes staring intently into mine. He looks worried.
“What? What’s wrong? Where have you been?”
He leans into me and continues to lick the right side of my face. This time faster, more intensely. I remember the time Bob the Dog walked over a fire ant mound. He nursed his front right paw the entire night, licking intently, the pain and sting of the ant bites evident in his eyes. Dave and I did the best we could to comfort him–applied ice, wrapped his paw in gauze–but nothing helped. Eventually the Benadryl we gave him eased him into a fitful sleep, but his paw would still shiver reflexively as if he were tending to his bites in his sleep.
Marley the Dog had that same look of pain in his eyes now, only he was licking me.
“I’ve been looking for you, baby, and here you are. You found me. I’m so glad you …” but my eyes close again.
Marley licks faster.
I open my eyes and say sleepily, “So glad you found me. Come…curl up with me…”
But instead Marley growls softly at me. I’m not sure how I know this, but I hear him singing, Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight… He takes my hand in his mouth and carefully pulls me up. I’m groggy, but I manage to stand. He circles my legs, and gently noses the backs of my calves, as if he were herding me, prodding me forward.
“Okay, okay, I understand.” I step forward. Marley stays behind me, pushing me onward. I stop for a moment, but Marley nips at my heels. “Ow! Mother Fu! That hurts!”
Anger burns through my body, and I spin around to give Marley a piece of my mind. But Marley is too fast. I spin, and he spins too. We are caught in a tiger-tail chase, spinning around and around as he keeps nipping my ankles, and I keep getting more and more pissed off. I’ve never hit an animal, but, I swear to St. Francis Assisi, I am going to bite the hell out of Marley’s own ankles if he doesn’t stop.
Through it all, through our little Tasmanian Devil tornado dance, Marley has been nudging me forward, herding me down the hallway. He finally stops nipping me and dashes forward several feet. He stares at me, daring me to try to catch him.
“You little punk. What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
He woofs at me in return, and swings his head off to the left, using his snout as a directional arrow. It’s like he’s saying, Who’s the punk? Come on you daft woman. You’re not exactly the brightest candle in the room, are you?
He woofs again, turns, and walks a few feet down to the end of the hallway. And then he turns left, and is gone from my sight.
Now I’m angry, pissed, confused, AND curious. But I’m no longer tired. And my face no longer stings. I decide to follow Marley and turn left at the end of the purple hallway. And when I do, the entire scene changes.
I’m no longer in a hallway. And Marley is nowhere in sight.
Instead, I’m on a beach. I can see the ocean far off in the distance. In front of me stands a mailbox. 999 is painted on its side.
A small wooden shack, more of a shanty, is off to the right. A single candle burns in the window. I feel drawn to it, like a moth to a flame, and I walk toward it.
I approach the door, and reach out tentatively. Locked. But then I remember the key Tupac/Buddy gave me, the one Prince handed to me after I had dropped it. I take it out of my pocket and look at the numbers again.
If 6 was 9, I don’t mind, I don’t mind…
I turn the key around.
I insert the key into the door, and it swings open on its own.
“Marley?” I call, expecting him to come bounding out of the shadows.
“Sam?” Someone calls out in reply.
“Who’s there? I’m looking for my dog, I’m looking for Marley.”
“Looking, looking, looking, you will find, find you will be fine. Come in, Sam, come in.”
I stand in the doorway and consider my options. I was thinking to myself this could be heaven or this could be hell.
“Relax, child. Stop all that thinking. Satisfy your soul, not your head. Open your eyes and look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?”
“I think I …”
“No, Sam, no thinking. Just feeling. Feel it. It burns in you like a fire. You feel it, I know you do.”
“Yes, yes it do. It burns, burns, burns. This ring o fire. This fire is all you have. Remember, Sam. Remember, the fire, the light, it has a power. It speaks to you. You hear the voices, Sam, don’t you? Some of them sing, some of them scream. All you have is your fire … and the place you need to reach.”
I step out of the door frame and into the shanty, and as soon as I do, I see a fire glowing in the corner. It’s from a small wood stove and there is a pot on top, something sweet cooking within. It smells like cinnamon and vanilla mixed with patchouli.
“It’s cornmeal porridge. Would you like some? I’ll share with you,” a soft voice offers.
I look toward the sound of the quiet voice, and I see Bob Marley, the man, sitting in a rocking chair beside the stove. In his hands is a small silver bowl. He extends both of his arms in a ceremonial gesture and offers me his food. I know it would be a great insult to him to turn down his offer, so I say, “Yes, please, thank you.”
I step to him and accept the steaming bowl of porridge. It is full and inviting. I can’t remember the last time I have eaten solid-food. I can’t remember the last time I have eaten ANY food.
“It’s because you have not.”
“You have not eaten, Sam.”
“You heard me? I only thought that to myself,” I say. And then I think to myself, Where is my dog? Where am I?
“I hear everything, Sam. I don’t answer everything. But I hear it. And you are right here.”
“You asked where you are. You are right here.”
“But where is here? And who are you? Bob Marley? Where is my dog?”
“So many questions. Eat. Eat. You hungry, but you no want to eat. You different, Sam. So different. Most people? Them belly full, but they hungry. You? You hungry but you no eat. Listen to me now. In this great future, you can’t forget your past. You have questions, but you no eat the answers. Daft, daft girl. Did you see your signs, Sam? Or were you sleeping in da ruts of your own life and complicating your own mind?”
“The signs? I’m not sure what you mean, Bob Marley. Where’s Marley? Where are we?” I ask, and I’m not daft! You’re just confusing! I think to myself, for good measure.
“We’re here, not here.”
“Here or not here? Which one?”
“No matter. They the same. Here’s not here. But people don’t see. They have eyes but they have no sight. Wake up, Sam. Wake up and see, Sam. Wake up and live.”
“I’m awake! Where’s my dog? I followed him here right to this room.”
“One room many houses … Many rooms one house … You choose, they all the same room same house anyway.”
“You are speaking in riddles, Bob Marley. I don’t have time for this. You’re the one who told me to wake up and live.”
“Ah yes, I did. But did you?” Bob Marley asks.
“Wake up? Yes, yes I did.”
“Oh I know that, but did you live Sam, did you live?”
“Wait, what are you trying to say? Bob Marley? Of course I lived.”
“How you know? I thought you said you saw the signs? Sounds like you missed the signs to me, stumbling through life with your eyes closed, sleeping in your sleepless slumber.”
“Okay. Back up. What signs are you talking about? What did I miss? I haven’t eaten, I’m tired, I’m scared and I miss my husband. Lay it out for me Bob Marley, what am I missing here?”
“You know, Sam. I can’t be the one to tell you. You have to look within and see for yourself. You hungry, you just don’t want to see. Walking around like regular people. They don’t see each other. They only see what they want to see.”
And then I saw images flash across my mind … my entire life … it was all there. It was all shining before me. All the signs I didn’t see. I saw them now. And I wanted to cry. But they were all overpowered by one image and one image alone.
“I don’t know what you are talking about, Bob Marley. All I see is Dave. But if you like riddles, fine. I like them too. We can speak in riddles, in rhymes. Through this world I’ve stumbled so many times betrayed, Trying to find an honest word, to find the truth enslaved…”
“Yes, yes, better, child. The answer always the music. Music is life.”
“So if music is life, then what is the opposite, Bob? What are these zombies, these lifeless dead beings that roam the earth? What are they and how can we stop them? Is there a drug? A cure? Help me, please.”
“The zombies not dead the way you think,” Bob says. Then he looks pointedly at me, his eyes reflecting the soft amber fire. “Some of the dead are less dead than others, Sam.”
His words linger in the still room. I feel them vibrate in my bones. I have to look away from his poignant gaze before I begin to cry. A moment of silence passes between us before Bob continues, his voice low and gravely and hypnotic.
“You think some drug did this? Some vaccine? No. No drug did this. They changed all on them own. They changed in their blood a long time ago. How you say … the gene was already in them, they just flipped the switch. … You don’t have that same gene, Sam. Not yet, but maybe soon. You different. You have music in your blood, girl.”
“I can’t even sing.”
“You right,” Bob Marley smiled. “But no matter. Music is what you feel….no pain just music…music is love. Love is the drug you looking for.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Yes you do. You were born understanding. The music saves you. You still have choice to free yourself. No one can free us but ourselves. But the music keeps you alive … until you choose. But you no choose, you no eat, then you no more choice.”
“But how did this happen, Bob Marley? And what can we do?”
“They are slaves, Sam. Don’t forget. Slaves to themselves, to them minds. Mental slavery, Sam, you know this? It goes back, waaaaay back, back to the beginning. Back to the days in Haiti when the people were tired of being slaves—they checked out, they closed their eyes, anything to escape their chains and horrors of their days … but there always a price to pay for checking out, always a price. They gave up their soul, then they just a body. They wanted escape, but what they got was stuck in a lifeless soul-less shell, and the pity is that they did it to themselves, Sam. These zombies you call them today, they different, but they the same too. They closed dem eyes, they checked out … dem screens not so smart … and then they changed … One house, many rooms; many houses, one room. All the same room. All the same house. … All the same, Sam. All the same.”
“So what do we do, Bob Marley? Is there a place for the hopeless sinner, who has hurt all mankind?”
“A place? Oh I know a place; we all got a place. But is it the place we want? Not for me to answer. Only we can choose. Not up to me. Have pity on those who lost their way. They sad, lonely, lost. But they not hopeless.”
“It’s hard to feel pity for someone who wants to eat you like a Twinkie, Bob Marley.”
“True. But not so hard when you see what they really hungry for.”
“My guts and brains.”
“No, no, they don’t even know what they doing. What they hungry for is who they used to be. What we all hungry for: memories … music … love …”
“Yeah right. You should hear yourself Bob Marley. You been smoking some good stuff. So the next time a zombie comes in close to eat my brains, I’ll just lean in and give them a big hug and a kiss, maybe sing them a song, right? Yeah, that’ll be the day. That’ll be the day … that I die.”
Bob Marley looked like he wanted to cry, but he just smiled and turned away. “Not my choice, Sam, your choice. But no choice IS a choice.”
“Hey, I’m sorry Bob Marley. I’m just tired. And hungry. I miss my husband. I miss him so much, Bob, I, I just don’t know what to do, I… I…. I’m not ready to die. I’m not ready. I have promises to keep.”
I begin to cry, and he says, “No woman, no cry. Everything gonna be alright. Dry your tears, I say. No woman, no cry. You can’t beat death, Sam. There ain’t no hiding place from the Father of Creation. Not my choice.”
“But, I’m not ready. Not yet, Bob Marley. I have promises to keep! I have to get to Dave, I have to. … FINE! LOOK! I’M EATING!”
I lift the bowl of porridge to my mouth and pour it in, taking it in hungry gulps, letting it nourish me, swallowing the cinnamon vanilla mixture until the bowl is empty and my belly is full.
“SEE?” I say to Bob. “Music is life, you said. Love is the drug, you said. Eat, you said. Choose, you said. I CHOOSE! I CHOOSE LIFE. I CHOOSE DAVE. I CHOOSE LIFE. I CHOOSE DAVE. I CHOOSE DAVE. I CHOOSE DAVE. I CHOOSE DAVE. I CHOOSE DAVE. I CHOOSE DAVE…..”
I open my eyes and Marley is licking my face. Holy shit, that dream felt so real. A hotel? Prince? Jimi Hendrix? Bob Marley? The day that I die? Wow. I must be the one smoking some strong stuff. “How long was I asleep Marley? Why didn’t you wake me sooner? We’ve wasted too much time!”
Marley turned away from the sound of my voice. He looked sad, like I hurt his feelings.
“Oh, Marley, I’m sorry sweet boy. I didn’t mean to snap at you. It’s okay. Let’s head out again. It looks like the sun is coming up. Let’s go find you something to eat, okay?”
Marley walks slowly toward the door, still upset with me. I take a quick look around the record store and wish the times were different. Dave and I could spend an eternity in here looking around and listening to all the music. As I spin back around, I see that same group of travelers out the window—Hat Guy, Crossbow Boy, and Sword Girl. Something about them looks familiar, they look friendly, trustworthy. Safe.
I run to the window and knock on the glass as they walk by. Safer that way, they can see I’m human. Just a girl with her dog. The glass must be thick, because they’re not looking. I pound harder on the glass.
“Hey! Hey guys! Can you hear me?! Hello!”
Sword Girl turns and looks my way. I wave and smile and point at Marley. She just stares. She’s looking right through me.
She doesn’t see me. That’s so weird.
They begin to walk on, so I turn to Marley to say, “Come on, let’s go catch up with them.”
But Marley isn’t there anymore. Instead, Jimi Hendrix is in the aisle behind me, and he is flipping through the albums. He holds one up. On the front cover, a single word: HERE. Then he points to the group that just passed the store. Jimi puts that album down and picks up another one: NOT HERE. And Jimi points at me.
“No. You’re wrong, Jimi. That’s not what I chose. I chose life. I chose Dave,” I say. “There must be some kind of way outta here.”
I run to the door and swing it open, intent on catching the group’s attention. But as I rush through the door, I don’t see the group anymore. I don’t see Marley. Or Jimi Hendrix.
As a matter of fact, I don’t see anything at all except for a blanket of darkness.
“Hello? Is anyone there?”
But no one can hear me.
“Not yet! I made my choice, Bob Marley! I chose life, I chose Dave. We’ve been through that, and this is not our fate. We are one, we carry on! We carry on . . .”
But I can’t even hear myself. Not a word was spoken. The church bells all were broken.
And they were singing bye, bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey ‘n rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die
Well the people have a voice inside of them that talk to them. That is the voice they must listen to, because in everything you going do, there is a wrong way and a right way, and if you listen good, you will know the right way, ya know? Because there is a voice inside, talking to everyone. Sien? … Sien.