The feral girl arrived at the old man’s home early one warm, soft morning. The sun was trickling gently through the overhanging branches surrounding the clearing as she approached. The old man lived on his own in a little hut at the outer edge of the village, a short distance away from any other dwelling. There was a small garden surrounding his home which ran to the edge of the clearing itself, where it merged invisibly into forest; a smooth flowing transition from cared for greenness to dark, tangled wildness.
When the feral girl saw him for the first time he was coming out of his door and into his garden oasis. He moved with a softness to every step and a calm steadiness of posture. He paused outside his doorway for a moment. The feral girl could sense him feeling the freshness of the world around him, opening his eyes, ears, lungs and skin to the new day. He took some long, gentle breaths, looking up at the sky and greeting the sun with his glance. A bird chose that moment to sing its own welcome to the new day and he turned to it with a smile, uttering a few soft sounds which the feral girl could not hear.
As he moved out into the garden the girl was surprised to feel the plants responding to his presence. They stirred themselves as if out of a daydream and awaited his touch with anticipation. Their sap quickened, their leaves trembled, their petals opened. He moved among them with such fluid grace that the hidden girl felt her own body sway in response. It was if he was engaged in a secret dance of intricate steps which led him from plant to plant. As he passed each one he would stroke a leaf, whisper a secret greeting or smile an ever welcoming smile. His presence was nourishment to the plants; the girl could feel them expanding as if a gentle rain had just fallen.
The feral girl was mesmerised by the sight of the old man and intoxicated by the closeness of his presence. He stayed in the garden all day tending to his plants, and the girl remained there all day watching him. He continued to move calmly with a lightness that belied his age. Often he was quiet, with a wonderful spreading outwards kind of silence that brought peace flowing into her being as she watched. At other times he talked to himself, the plants and the world around him. Sometimes he sang a lilting song which rippled delicately through the girl, tugging on her vocal chords, willing her to utter her own melody alongside his. Often he smiled and occasionally he laughed to himself, a warm, rich laugh, that melted out of his mouth and into the world. The feral girl felt soothed to her core. The chaotic contrast of the other villagers’ lives and her own attempts to understand them had created a strange turmoil inside her which this man alone was able to quieten.
For the whole of that first day the feral girl remained in her secret hiding place transfixed by the old man. That night she did not creep into the village to leave any tokens but instead wrapped herself up in dreams in which he would often appear. The following day she could not wait to return to her hiding place by his garden to sit and drink in his presence and that night was full of more dreams where his voice called softly to her.
On the third day she stirred herself from her enchantment to begin a closer study of him. She began her usual soft delving into his internal world, intuitively slipping under the outer layers to see what lay beneath…
But the very moment she peeked within she felt a sudden, rushing sensation as the entire universe shifted. The jolt shocked her so much that she withdrew her enquiring inner gaze instantly. Her whole body was quivering, her mind dazed, her pulse pounding and her heart suspended. What was that sensation she had just experienced? She had no idea.
Tentatively she sent her inner sense probing once more and, once more, recoiled from the shock. A strange new fear overcame her. Not a bad fear as such, but a realisation that his inner world was beyond her. The old man’s inner realm was in tune with his outer one in a far greater way than the feral girl’s. And it was vast. Infinite even. It included more than she had ever known, ever sensed, or ever dreamed existed. His world encompassed an awareness that emanated from deep within and extended outwards to places so distant she could not begin to imagine them. She would touch into it and find the breath taken from her body as if she had fallen out of a tiny box into an expanded universe so vast as to be indescribable.
And somewhere within that falling sensation she thought she caught a glimpse of his smile. It was directed at her and for the briefest moment she felt that he had seen her. Not just seen her hiding in amongst the undergrowth, but seen inside to the vast lake of her soul and beyond.
The feral girl quickly gave up her attempts to peek inside the old man. She felt like an ant attempting to study an elephant. But what now? She had come to a standstill. Her studies of the other villagers were complete. Her attempts to slip into their lives with flowers, dances and whisperings were leading nowhere. And now there was this old man whose vastness humbled her and left her feeling slightly ashamed of her own smallness. She couldn’t keep spying on him, she felt embarrassed that she had already done so. Her path was once more at a crossroads and it was simply a matter of picking one of two opposing directions; she could either return to the forest or reveal herself to him.
She wanted desperately to stay and meet the old man. She could not imagine slinking silently back to her forest now and leaving the one person who brought her such peace and such wonder. She trembled at the thought of approaching him. What if he had seen her? What if he was angry at how she had spied on him? What if he told her to go away? What if she was rejected by the only human being she had ever wanted to step out of the shadows to meet?
While she hid in the trees watching the old man, wondering if she could find the courage to step forwards into his garden, she had no idea that the smile on his face was about her, no idea that he was waiting for her, allowing her to make the first move, smiling at her fears and knowing they would soon be put to rest.
The next day she made her decision, although in reality she had already made it and had just needed time to find the courage. She arrived early just before he appeared in his garden. She waited until he opened the door and breathed in the day. She waited until he had completed his dance of caring attention with every single plant. She waited until he had settled into one of his still, quiet pauses.
And then she stepped shyly, hesitatingly forwards to meet him, with a fearful smile on her face and a tremulous heart beating within her…