I felt the vibration of the ship’s engines through the deckchair arms and through the railing against which I was leaning. Without taking my eyes off the man who said he had been following me for months–even before I noticed him in Soglio, Switzerland—because he sensed something out of the ordinary in my answer to a Jeopardy question.
A sea gull landed on the railing a few yards to my right, towards the ship’s stern, where the docks of Brindisi were no longer visible across the dark water.
My mind felt like I had been buried by an earthquake and that only a part of me was now sitting on the boat’s deck, sailing across the Mediterranean Sea on the way to Greece.
If the man sitting next to me, sipping his Chianti, really knew something about my past–perhaps even knew where I had come from before my first memories of 6,000 years ago, before I began my endless wandering across all those hundreds of generations–this could be my chance to restart my life grounded in knowledge of who I really am.
Afraid of what I might find out, I decided to mark time and take advantage of having an audience with whom I didn’t have to dissemble.
“I’ve been on these waters before. Back then, it wasn’t a diesel engine propelling our ship. Slaves below deck, bending their backs to the stoke of oars, were driving the ship forward. And we weren’t heading for Greece. We were returning home to Rome.”
Not at all sure that this was the time to reminisce about past voyages or whether I even wanted to, I fell silent. Perhaps if I wasn’t so afraid of finding out the truth of my own beginning, I would just blurt out the question that had haunted me across the centuries. But before I could venture into that terrifying unknown, the stranger spoke.
“I would love you to share that memory of another time,” he said.
Whether as an act of continued avoidance or because I welcomed the chance to share a memory that remained deeply meaningful to me, I continued.
“I was a slave of the Roman Imperium, but for the moment I was not chained to an oarlock down in the hold. The most renowned author of his time had requested me to stay by his side and attend to his needs during the voyage. His preference for me made me very unpopular among the Roman-born aristocrats hovering around the dying Virgil, each hoping to receive some sign of favor from the man they considered to be the father of Roman civilization. But Virgil couldn’t have been more distant from that frame of mind. Quite the contrary. He was full of despair that his celebrated “Aeneid” was being used by others as the battle hymn of the republic; a call to national pride for the Imperial power of the day. However, Virgil was just trying to stay alive long enough to die in Rome. During that journey, unable to even manage a sip of water, he was wracked by doubts about his epic poem–which he had conceived as an anthem for the longing of those living far from home, wearied and weakened in the warfare of Rome’s endless conquest of other lands. Virgil was using his last breaths to share his grief that his life work was being used to justify Rome’s invasion of other lands, pursued with scarcely a pause to consider that those other lands had their own past splendors; that they were not lesser because they didn’t have battle-honed phalanx’s marching in unison to the clanging of spears against shields.”
I paused to be sure that the other man was still interested. Reassured by the wide eyes and avid expression on his face, I continued.
“I had to bend very close to the dying man, trying to hear what he was saying. He was so weak that I didn’t have the heart to ask him to repeat himself, so I didn’t hear everything. Every once in a while–sitting in the stillness of the ship’s passage, with the rhythmic creaking of oars below deck sounding the drum beat of a passing era-I gently wiped away his unproductive attempts to cough up fluids that were more blood than saliva. Whenever his coughing would subside–but he was still unable to speak–I would repeat what I understood him to have said. Since I knew I was witnessing his last moments on Earth, I risked adding my own understanding: that no one can be responsible when a work of beauty from an honest heart is taken to mean something convenient to others.
“He died on that ship before we docked in Brindisi. When his entourage noticed him staring into eternity, they began lamenting that the light of the world had been extinguished. I slipped away, escaping back to the hold and taking my place on an oar, before I could become the target of their resentment. To them I was just another marginal human without distinguishing characteristics. But I have never lost my gratitude that Virgil chose to spend his final hours of life with me.”
With that summary, I knew I could no longer postpone asking the question that was simmering inside me like a pressure cooker about to fling its vibrating weight against the kitchen ceiling. But, before I could open my mouth, the stranger spoke.
“I was born 42 years ago in Lunenburg, a fishing village in Nova Scotia, Canada. My recognition that you have lived a very long time and that your memories truly record your life on Earth, doesn’t mean that I was present to observe those events personally. I am a psychic. In other words, I can read your mind. Unlike most psychics, I not only contact images riding on the surface of your consciousness; I see memories that have been buried in your subconscious. In that regard, I can glimpse circumstances that were in play, which caused you to forget why you are here on Earth.”
I had been yearning for as long as I can remember for knowledge of why I am so different than everyone around me, but now that this potential had been spoken out loud, I felt a deep pang of fear. Anticipatory glimmers of my own behavior, from so many centuries ago, began to stir, as I sat there overcome, unable to utter a word.
After a few minutes, the stranger continued.
“You are being called at this very moment by others of your kind. They need to speak with you. I’m picking up something of what they are saying but you are the one who needs to answer them. To do that, you need to open a door that you nailed shut over those early memories. The ones who are calling you are afraid that the fate of this planet is hanging by a thread. And one of them fears that he is to blame.”