The Burden of Truth © Peter Best 2014. Peter Best has asserted his moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, copied, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying recording or otherwise without the prior written consent of the copyright holder, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. Also this publication is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publishers prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. This publication is a work of fiction. All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thought.
With our thought, we make the world.
March 6th 1987.
He didn’t know if he was going to make it, but he was going to give it one hell of a try. Brent Sandler rammed the gear stick of his brand-new BMW into first gear, then swiftly into second. He watched excitedly as the needle of the rev counter tipped into the red making the engine roar as it pulled away. Brent loved this sound. And the speed that came with it brought a sense of excitement into his life, but then again, this was how he lived it; always fast and often tinged with a sense of danger.
‘Right, what have we got?’ he said to John, his best friend sitting in the passenger seat with a slight look of fear etched on his face.
‘If you weren’t driving like an idiot, I would be able to have a look,’ he answered, and despite the toing and froing of the swerving car, tried his best to study an old battered map of Europe, and God knows how, managed to do a quick calculation. ‘At a guess, we have about fifty miles to Zeebrugge, so if we keep up a steady seventy, we can make it easily. That means you can slow down a bit.’
‘Slow down! You’re joking,’ Brent replied laughing. ‘If we slow down now, we’ll never make it.’
‘No, listen,’ John replied tugging on his seat belt. ‘All you have to do is keep it steady and we’ll get there in bags of time, so please, slow down.’
But, Brent didn’t slow down, quite the opposite. For the next twenty minutes, the needle on his speedometer never went below a hundred, much to the displeasure of his passenger.
‘Christ!’ John pleaded. ‘Remember, if you get stopped again, you’ll fail the breathalyser, and that’s you waving bye-bye to your license.’
‘Don’t worry, we’re nearly there,’ Brent answered, but spoke too soon, as he looked in his rear-view mirror to see the blue flashing lights of a police car.
‘No... that’s all I need,’ he moaned pulling the car over to the side of the road expecting the police car to pull up behind him. However, lady luck smiled on Brent when the blue flashing light disappeared from his mirror and hurtled forwards as the police car, for one reason or another, sped past him.
‘Brent! You’re mad. You’re a lucky son of a bitch, but you’re still mad,’ John said watching the blue light disappearing into the distance.
‘God shines on the righteous,’ Brent replied, again laughing as he started to put his foot down. But, God wasn’t shining so much, when two minutes later, they came across the same police car blocking the road at the site of a traffic accident.
‘Well, that’s just about blown it. There’s not a hope we’ll catch the ferry now,’ Brent grumbled, resigning himself to the fact they would have to wait a good few hours before the next one.
‘Perhaps, perhaps not,’ John replied optimistically, as he noticed the policeman almost at once pull his car to the side of the road, letting some of the traffic trickle through past two crumpled cars.
‘You’ll end up like that one day, if you carry on driving the way you do.’
‘Who me? Nah,’ Brent replied, again letting the car rip. He hammered the accelerator pedal to the floor, and once more, the car blasted down the road, leaving the accident and the blue flashing light behind them, with only one thing on his mind; and that was to reach his local pub in London, before last orders.
Ten minutes later, Brent looked at his watch, and punched the air in victory, as he turned off the main carriageway and headed towards the entrance of the Zeebrugge Ferry Terminal.
‘See! Told you we’d do it,’ he said as he handed the tickets to an extremely attractive attendant before passing on a few boyish comments, which were quickly returned by a half smile and a bored look to tell him she had heard all this before. However, Brent didn’t care and made his way towards the ship.
‘You’re still mad,’ John remarked, catching his breath.
‘We’re just about to get on the boat, aren’t we, what more do you want?’ Brent said, looking in the mirror, noticing the young girl closing the barrier for the last time, just in front of some unlucky passengers, who never quite made it.
It was March, and the air in the car deck was freezing, as the two men made their way swiftly up to the warmth of the upper decks, not even noticing the sign.
WELCOME ON BOARD THE HERALD OF FREE ENTERPRISE.
Brent, being Brent always headed to the bar whenever he took the ferry; today was no exception. He paid for the two pints of lager, as John quickly nipped to the duty free to buy some cheap cigarettes.After having a little joke with the barman about the expensive prices, Brent turned to see if he could find any spare tables. He started to move through a large pack of teenagers laughing and joking amongst themselves. Out of the blue, he heard a voice he hadn’t heard in a long time.
‘OI, THAT MAN, SANDLER. WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE OFF TO?’
Brent stopped in his tracks, turned, and started to smile. ‘Sergeant Harris! How the devil are you?’
‘I’m very well, and how are you?’ he replied in a thunderous voice, the type once you heard, you would never forget.
‘Good, I’m good,’ Brent answered. ‘I’ve just had a week skiing in France with some of the boys we were stationed with in Menden. We were talking a lot about you.’
‘All good, I hope.’
‘Yeah, most of it. So, what have you been doing since you left the army?’ Brent asked.
‘Not a great deal,’ Sergeant Harris replied, now with a much quieter, solemn voice. ‘There doesn’t seem to be much call for old sergeants in the real world, so I got a job as a security guard, the pay’s not too good, but it will do for now. And you, what are you up to?’
‘I was lucky. I landed a job buying and selling diamonds, of all things.’
‘Selling diamonds!’ Sergeant Harris said, raising his eyebrows. ‘Sounds like a pretty good number to me. Is the money good?’
‘Good enough I suppose, I do alright, but not great.’
‘Good enough!’ the Sergeant replied, not quite believing what he had just heard. ‘I’d bet you’re making a mint. I always thought you would do well, especially as a salesman. “That good looking fellow, he can charm the birds out of the trees!” That’s what they all said about you.’
‘Who on earth said that?’ Brent replied with a cheeky grin, before asking his old Sergeant where he had been.
‘Just had a day trip to Ostend, doing a bit of a beer run. There was a special deal in the Sunnewspaper a few weeks back, so a few of my mates and myself got together, and made good use of it.’
‘Good for you. Listen, I’ll catch up with you later. I need to find a table to put these drinks down.’ Brent said, before making his way towards the back of the bar to find a free table. He was just about to sit down, when he noticed John shaking hands with Sergeant Harris.
The group of teenagers was just starting to get a little too loud for Brent, but all in all, the atmosphere was good humoured he thought. One boy, aged about fifteen, was pathetically sticking his tongue out to see if he could touch the tip of his nose, much to the amusement of his friends. However, not to Brent, who was still nursing a bit of a hangover decided to look for a quieter table.
Just then, Brent wasn’t sure what happened. All at once, his balance was shifted by a strange sudden movement as the boat started to jolt forward, at the same time sending most of his pint of lager upwards and out of the glass, drenching his shirt and trousers.
‘Damn! That’s the last fucking thing I wanted.’
Instantly, he looked towards the now silent group of teenagers he had just walked through, many of them looking at him, shocked at his outburst, but also puzzled, and worried themselves by the sudden jolt. Then out of nowhere, a strange feeling of dizziness started to overcome Brent as he was sure the boat was tipping, but his brain was telling him, No! How can this be?The next feeling was stranger still - the feeling of weightlessness. Now, his brain was telling him the boat was indeed tipping. Yet he still couldn’t comprehend what was happening.
‘Wh…Wh…What’s going on?’ he tried to shout, as he started to fall along the floor towards the windows. This can’t be. What’s happening?He threw an arm out to grab a table to stop his fall, but to his horror, the table followed him down towards a large window. He landed heavily on the glass, sending a pain shooting up his leg.
It was all happening so fast; there was no time to think. Reactively, Brent looked upwards to fathom out what was going on, but a big blue flash shot into his eye as a chair leg hit him, and milliseconds after, more chairs, tables, glasses, everything was burying him, pinning him hard against the window. The next thing he saw was one of the teenagers crashing into the debris around him, blood gushing from his mouth.
‘CHRIST,’he shouted, and then, the fear hit him hard. The sound of grating metal, the fearful screams, and now, the sheer weight of everything on top of him trapping him for what seemed to be an eternity, but in reality, was only seconds.
Instinctively, he looked to where he had last seen John, but couldn’t see him. Instead, he did see Sergeant Harris also fall to a window, quickly followed by the cash register from the bar, crushing his chest at the same time as what looked like hundreds of beer glasses and whisky bottles raining on top of him.In quick succession, two screaming women smashed through a plate glass window of what he thought was the duty free. Their screams stopped as their bodies hammered into one of the windows on the side of the ferry.
Then, it came! The water seemed to come from every door, porthole, and window and then; total blackness as the lights went out. He could now sense the panic. Then it hit him, the sudden blast of the icy water. He had never in his life felt such a body blow, even though the pressure of the water was softened by what he thought was one of the teenagers pushed against his face.Again instinct took over, as Brent, in the nick of time took a deep breath, but the freezing water pounding at him made him want to open his mouth to breathe. Again, his brain told him, No!
He was under water, trapped in the mess of the wooden tables, chairs, and God knows what else. His first reaction was to help the young lad he was entangled up with but could not, because of the sheer disorder piled on top of him. Then to his relief one of the tables trapping him moved freeing his left arm. With this free arm Brent managed to pull on a chair leg trapping the boy, but all he could do was hope it was enough to save him, nevertheless he felt what he thought was his hand pushing on his shoulder as he made his way to the surface of the water. Brent would never know, but he did know, now he had no option; he had to save himself.
Think, Brent, think. What’s happening? How do you get out? Think. Swim, swim your hardest. It was no good; only one of his arms was free, and both feet were trapped. The alarming realisation set in at once. Brent Sandler. You are just about to die. You are underwater, trapped, and you can’t hold your breath forever.But, I’m not going to give up.Pull, pull with all your might. Nothing moved, all he could do now was pray to a God he never believed in. But in that underwater hell, he thought his prayers might have been answered as the tables and chairs seemed to float away from him like the miracle he prayed for. But, that is exactly what they were doing; simply floating away. The tables are made from wood, and that’s what wood does, float! Brent, free because of this miracle, had hope, but his cheeks were at bursting point. Still, he tried frantically to reach the surface of the water.
There’s just too much debris to swim through. The tables and chairs that were only a few seconds ago trapping him to the window, were now stopping him from reaching the surface. Come on, quicker, push your way through. I can’t hold my breath.Brent pushed and pulled at anything above his head. I can’t hold my breath any longer. One more push.
It was too late; that final push was too much, he had no option. His brain told him he had to breathe, and that’s what he did. As he opened his mouth to let in some air the taste of the salty water hit the back of his throat, making him cough and splutter violently. But how? I’m underwater; I shouldn’t be able to breathe, should I? He was confused.
Then, it hit him; that final push had been enough! Freedom, achievement, and confusion came over him as he realised his head was above the surface of the water. He didn’t know what to think. Again, he spluttered, before he took a breath of air he would never forget!
‘Yes! I’ve done it!’ he shouted punching the air, realising what he had done.
Then at once, it hit him again! He was far, far from safety.
He tried to get his bearings, but he could not think. The noise, this time seemed to be just as loud as before, but different. The sounds of the grating metal had stopped, replaced by the screams of panic.
Think, Brent Think! Get out of the water; you can’t last long in this temperature. But looking around, there was only blackness; nothing! He tried to move, but in every direction there was something stopping him from doing so. His body was rapidly getting weaker, his brain was becoming numb, and his teeth were starting to chatter. Hypothermia settling in.
Think Brent, Think! How long have you been in the water, five minutes, ten? He didn’t know, but he knew he was drifting in and out of consciousness, suspended in the water. He was now in a battle to survive, and the cold was winning.
But, he had at least one thing in his favour. The debris he was cursing a while ago was now starting to give him some ballast. It was still dark, and all he could see was the faint glow of some emergency lighting somehow still in operation. He tried to kick again with his feet and move his arms, but the debris and the cold prevented him from doing so. The noise and the screaming had died down, or was it he was slowly losing consciousness?
What, what’s that? What’s that on my face? A hand, but what hand, whose hand? Brent grabbed at it as best as he could, but was too weak. He was even too weak to shout out at whoever was pulling his hair.
‘Up you come, bonny lad.’
The pain in Brent’s head turned to hell, and it hardly rescinded when whoever was pulling him up had let go. He fell back into the water, but was at once hauled out again by what he could only make out as a giant of a man. He couldn’t see him in the dark, but as he fell on him, he knew instantly of his size. He tried to say something, but the numbness in his face made this impossible. The Giant moved Brent to one side, and laid him on his back on what was, before the ship’s ninety-degree roll to the seabed, the back of a long bar sofa. Now, looking up, he could just about see out of a large rectangular window two meters above him. He was now very aware the pain in his face was a direct result of the initial fall and a certain chair leg. He was also aware he could not see out of his left eye, and the shaking of his body was uncontrollable. But, in spite of it all, Brent’s mind was whirring. I have got hope. Pull yourself together. Think,he told himself once again. Think!
He looked again out of the rectangular window, and thought he could see lights outside but he wasn’t sure. Just then, he heard some heavy thumping noises, strangely mixed with what he thought might have been muffled voices. He saw the light again, then the ghostly shape of a man’s face illuminated only for a split second, then once more the thumping noises, two in quick succession, and immediately the window turned to white, just as he felt the pain in his face sting as the shattered glass fell. Instinct told him, close your eyes. He did so as the small fragments of glass cut stinging into his face. He didn’t care.
Again, he heard the sound of voices; this time the tone was clear and he knew they were speaking French. Slowly, he tried to open his eyes finding it impossible. He tried again and again, only succeeding in making a small slit between his eyelids of his right eye. But, it was enough to see the waving of a flashlight from the now-open window above him.
The beam of light rested on his face sending pain into his half open eye. He was relieved when the light went away. He tried to follow the strand of light, but it was moving too quickly, darting from one direction, and then to another, then back again. He could hear more voices, someone shouting, he did not know what. They were loud at first, but after a time, they were gradually becoming quieter and quieter. Brent knew what was happening; he was losing the battle, cold was winning.
January 1932. Buddhist Monastery of Ayratara, India.
Diakana heaved a massive sigh when he slowly removed his dark red Buddhist robe from his shoulders. Always mindful, he folded it carefully before laying it onto an old wooden chair at the bottom of his bed. The same bed that hardly moved a millimetre as he sat his slight frame on the mattress.
Lowering his head towards his trembling hands he studied the hard wrinkled skin and the calluses on the knuckles as he brought them up to his face. Doing so, he rubbed his thumb and index finger of his right hand along the top of his nose, massaging it tenderly, trying unsuccessfully to free the migraine that was now starting in his brain. He moved his hands backwards towards the temples of his freshly shaven head pressing the tips of his fingers ever so gently into his skin moving them in small circular motions, trying his hardest to smooth away his pain.
Hiten, his boy servant for the past year had just taken away the bowl of hot soapy water, couldn't help but notice its redness caused by the blood from the cuts in his master’s head. He knew today had not been a good day for his mentor. It was not hard to see the shaking of his hands had become an everyday occurrence.
‘Master; is there anything else you require?’
‘No thank you,’ Diakana answered in his customary slow soft voice, which tonight was no more than a whisper. ‘You have done more than your duty for today. Please, let me rest.’
‘Then I will wish you goodnight.’ With that Hiten closed the heavy oak door of the bedroom behind him, quite fearful of his master’s health.
Diakana looked, and waited patiently until the soft sheen of light at the bottom of his door extinguished, telling him Hiten had at last blown out the last of the remaining candles in the annex to his quarters. Safe in the knowledge he was alone, he reached for his fire lighter, and after many attempts to calm his mind, and his hand, he at last managed to light the one and only candle on his bedside cabinet.
He turned once more towards the door of his bedroom, he sensed and heard nothing giving him the confidence to move towards his personal shrine set in the corner of the room. Once there, his trembling hand reached behind a brass figure of the Buddha, and retrieved a small but very ornate wooden box.
His eyes, like his health, were failing him in his ageing years. He held the box close to his squinting eyes, then closer still, trying hard to focus, struggling to find some sort of clarity in his vision; it was useless in the dim light of the single candle.
Still holding the box close to his chest, he used the sturdiness of the bed to lift him from the floor. Shuffling his feet, he walked to his window, pushed open the wooden shutters and looked towards the starry night sky. Many nights, over many years, he had stood on this very spot looking towards the cosmos reflecting on its secrets, but tonight it was different. Tonight there were no thoughts about the universe or anything similar. Tonight, he had only one thought on his mind, and that thought was about one of the wisest men he is ever likely to meet. The same wise man he met this very morning.
However, as wise as he may have been, you would not have been criticised for calling him mad. Mad, because for the last fifty years or so, he had worn nothing but white clay and ash to cover his skin. He’d never washed, or even put a comb to his hair as he had never needed to. And, if this man ever had a name, the sound of it would have never been uttered in decades.
No words were said when the Holy Yogi handed Diakana the box. It was more his demeanour and look in his eyes that told him, what he was holding in his hands, was of great importance.
This troubled Diakana. Over many years he had travelled to many corners of India, and beyond, just as the Buddha did all those years ago to teach the lessons of the Dharma. He had seen many of these so-called wise men. He knew from his look he was a Yogi from Northern India, perhaps even Nepal. This itself puzzled the old monk, Why, why had this man travelled over half of India and taken many years to search for me? Why am I so important to this man?
Diakana was indeed puzzled, as once again he tried to study the small ornate box. Something was not right but he did not know what it was that made him think this way. Everything should be clear in his mind. He had solved the puzzle of the box and its contents this very afternoon. But there it was again, doubt. Something was still not right, something was still missing.
He lit two more candles on his shrine bringing an extra glow to the dimness of the sanctuary of his bedroom. Once again he tried to focus on the complex box bringing it again close to his eyes. The extra glow of candlelight helped as he tried to reconstruct what he had achieved earlier in the day.
His mind peaceful, focused on the job in hand. He succeeded in slowing it to a point where he could calm his hands. Over seventy years of meditation practice proved to be his greatest of allies, as not for the first time in his life, mind over matter played its part.
He gripped the box gently and slowly steadied his fingers around the base of the box. His thumb moved exactly the way it did earlier in the day, feeling the indentations of the carvings on its sides.
His hands again started to shake. He tried another time to calm his mind but there they were, once more, thoughts, puzzling thoughts nagging in his head.
There is more, I am sure of it, I am sure, there must be more.
Diakana moved again towards the window. This time his eyes did not fail him. This time he was sure he saw him. The Holy Yogi he met this very day was standing like a statue in the centre of the courtyard below, staring upwards at him, his piercing eyes looking straight at his.
Fearful, Diakana turned away from his stare, and as quickly as his legs would let him he shuffled back to his shrine in the corner of the room. He placed the ornate box at the feet of the Buddha figure then sat back on his meditation cushions. Carefully he positioned his legs in such a way as not to cause pain to his aching limbs. His eyes winced as he tried to pull his body into the lotus position, the same position he had used longer than he could remember to sit and meditate. But this time he did not meditate, this time he only wanted to get right in his head his thoughts of today and the Holy Yogi.
‘What was he telling me?’ he said to himself over and over again.
And then it hit him; it hit him hard. ‘That is it!’ he opened his eyes wide. ‘That’s what’s missing!’
He gasped to take a breath of air as he reached out again to the small wooden box that was sitting majestically at the feet of his shrine. His hand never reached the box as the shock of his findings reverberated around his body. His body tightened as the shock of fear hit him. The fear he had not done enough in this life. The tension of his chest gripped tighter and never let go, as slowly his failing sight turned to blackness. He knew at this very moment what was happening.