Paul scoffed down his sandwich like a starving child in some nameless African country. Grace and good manners were definitely not his strong points.
Perhaps I forgot to mention Paul. It might be hard to believe, but I did have some friends in those days. A computer science major, Paul and I shared one common class. Philosophy 1. We both did it in our third year of study because we had to fill in one more subject to get our degrees. Science students were allowed to take a few first year Arts subjects if they wanted, although not many did. Paul was a bit different from your average computer Geek. We both had a layman’s interest in philosophy. We thought about things. A lot. But not always in the same way.
That day we were having lunch at the campus cafeteria.
“Did you know that Sandwich A is not Sandwich B?”, Paul said, pointing at the bread on my plate as he took on a pompous British accent. He was mocking Professor David Jamison, the Oxford trained logical philosopher whom we had just heard deliver a lecture on the foundations of Western thought.
“Yeah, right”, I joined in the game. “Who’d have thought that two and a half thousand years of thinking could deliver such insight? But now that you have pointed it out it is all so clear. So, can I have a pass in Philosophy 1 please?”
“No, you can’t. Because you are an uneducated, working class twit, not one of we superior English grammar school aristocrats.”
“If you were so damn superior, sir”, I returned, “you wouldn’t be talking with your mouth full.” Some might have taken offense, but Paul knew me well enough to take my dry humour in his stride.
I munched my sandwich for a moment, feeling for the right moment.
“Hey, Paul”, I want to ask you something. Just between you and me.”
“Sure, fire away.”
“Do you think trees have a spirit?”
I didn’t really mean to put it that way. It just came out.
“Hmm… No.” He was speaking deliberately and slowly. “Not only do trees not have a spirit. People don’t have spirits either. That’s why when people die they don’t keep talking, or writing new computer programmes, or giving pompous lectures in philosophy. They just keel over and start smelling real bad.”
I looked at him for a moment, just slightly offended.
“Well, maybe you are already half-dead”, I returned.
“Well, you keep on talking bullshit as always, but you smell real bad just the same.” In a rare moment of loss of self-control, I guffawed at my own joke. Being Australian is fun. You can say the most horrendous things about your friends and everybody laughs. Except of course when they are having a bad day or you go too far. That’s when things get ugly.
“You’re just jealous because my pheromones are stronger than yours. The chicks love it. Beating them off with a stick, I am.”
“The only stick you are beating is your own.”
“Ow, that hurts!”
“Well maybe you should do it less often then.”
Paul laughed. “I’ll gotta give it to you. You’re quick. Not bad for an Arts student.” That’s what I liked about Paul. We were good mates because we laughed a lot, even if it was at the expense of each other’s egos.
Suddenly it came out.
“What would you say if I said I saw the spirit of a tree?”
“I’d say room 112 of the Warner Building would come in handy. That’s where the uni shrinks give counseling.”
“No, I’m serious. Just this one time. Honest to God.” I tried to explain to him what I’d seen the day before.
“Let’s leave God out of this. Now it’s me that’s being serious, Greg. Have you had your eyes checked? You know that some eye problems result in seeing lights around objects.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Well, now you do. Get your eyes checked.”
I nodded. A slight sense of rejection descended upon me. It felt like I’d seen something the day before. Now it seemed my eyes were screwed. I shut up about it and finished my sandwich.
I felt a little nervous as I walked the high path beside the Warner Building on the way home. Maybe the shrinks knew about me already, I half laughed to myself. I glanced down at the window of the counseling office. Something caught my eye. There was a small section where notices were pinned.
Back then I didn’t really understand the way it worked, the way the mind pulls you forward in subtle ways. Almost against my own will I found myself walking down the grassy slope to the window and perusing the notices. My eyes fell upon one small A4 sized poster, and a kind of electric shock passed through me. I stared.
Meditation classes. Monday and Wednesday, 1-2pm.
On the poster there was a picture of a girl sitting cross legged. There was something about that poster that touched me, and I swear it wasn’t just her large breasts. It was like a subtle excitement that I could sense but could not quite explain.
I looked up, and caught my reflection in the glass. The image was dark and subtle, my face a shadow in the late afternoon. And about my head I saw it again. The light, shimmering like a halo about my head. My breath caught in my chest.
“Hey dude, I was just joking about the shrinks!”
I turned around, and saw Paul waving from the footpath at the top of the embankment.
He laughed. “See you round!”
“Yeah right!” I waved back, the blood rushing to my face. Feeling awkwardly embarrassed, I returned to my reflection, half hoping; half terrified that I would see it again. But the light was gone. I scurried up the path, and headed back along the dirt track towards Edwards Hall.