The Uninvited Guest

  The Uninvited Guest 

I felt him come in; through the noise and colour and lights of the party, I felt him come into the room and stand quietly to one side, not mingling,  just waiting and watching. We have such a deep connection he didn’t need to tell me he was there; I knew. Maybe there was a change in the air, maybe I smelled him, his scent distinct as the ozone smell before a storm breaks. Whatever it was, I knew he’d arrived and I felt a brief flare of rage that he should just turn up here, uninvited and unwanted, when I was trying to enjoy my party.

The heat of the room was pleasant still and I was passing from guest to guest, making conversation and laughing, but all the time I could feel his eyes follow me round the room. He wouldn’t do or say anything yet; from experience I knew he could be trusted to behave for a while longer. He might even be decent company for some guests but if that were the case, as I shut the door on the last few to leave, there’d be hell to pay for ignoring him all evening. I had to act.

I sidled up to him; he’s an expert sidler so he appreciated that, and grinned at me as I took his elbow and guided him into the kitchen. With my foot wedged against the door, to stop anyone else coming in, I looked at him sternly and felt furious that he just laughed.

“What are you doing here?” I demanded. “I didn’t invite you.”

“You never do,” he said, his mouth turned down in a quirky mock frown. “You never do.”

“Well, what do you expect? You’re a right royal pain when you’re with me. You make my friends hate me,” I said.

“No,” he said and I saw that the joking was over. “They don’t hate you. Honestly. They don’t even know about me, most of them. Or care. I know I make you different when I’m with you, but is that such a bad thing?”

“Yes,” I said.

Someone rattled at the door.

“Just a minute,” I called.

“Look,” I said. “You can stay, all right, but please don’t upset anyone.”

“Deal,” he said and held out a hand.

Reluctantly I took it and he squeezed it.

“We do need to talk,” he said gently and I could see he meant it.

“Later, when everyone’s gone,” I said.

“You always say that,” he said.

“Maybe this time I mean it,” I said.

He kept his word and behaved like a perfect gentleman. I’m not sure anyone really noticed him among the guests; he certainly didn’t stand out as anything out of the ordinary. Nonetheless, I was glad when I shut the door behind my last guest and knew there was nothing more he could do to spoil my party.

I was collecting glasses and he came up behind me, making me jump and drop glasses. I scrabbled to retrieve them and set them down on a coffee table.

“We need to talk,” he said again.

“Then talk,” I said. “I have all night now. What do you need to tell me?”

The Parable of the Goldpanner

The Parable of the Goldpanner

 

 

  Once upon a time there was a young man who ran away to seek his fortune. He had heard that men could get rich by mining for gold and so he travelled to the gold fields only to be told that the mines were all but exhausted of gold but he could still find gold by panning for it in the streams that flowed from the mountain. Much gold still remained inside the mountain; indeed, far more remained than had ever been taken out but it had become too dangerous and expensive to go any deeper into the mountain and dig for gold and so men contented themselves with the gold that washed from the heart of the mountain. Indeed, this gold was known to be purer and need less processing before it could be used. In ancient times, the nuggets were simply taken and washed before being skilfully beaten and shaped into rings and cups of astonishing beauty. Now, gold that had been mined had to be crushed and heated and treated with dreadful chemicals to extract the pure gold and by the time the finished product was ready it had cost almost as much to produce as it was now worth.

   On his first day the young man stood knee deep in the icy waters that rushed from the heart of the mountain and panned and panned till his back ached and his feet and legs became numb with the cold. All the while he squinted into his pan and every so often he would shout out with excitement and pick out something and stuff it swiftly into his leather pouch. At the end of the day, he ran, tired and cold as he was to the Valuer’s tent and poured out his day’s finds expecting to go home to his family that day, rich beyond belief. A long silence followed that was followed by a low rumble of laughter, first from one man and then from all the men present.

  “Why are you laughing?” he asked, bewildered and angry that they should mock him so.

  “Because all you have found here is Fool’s Gold,” said the Valuer, wiping his eyes of tears of mirth. “Every man here did this on his first day. Until you know what gold really looks like, you will think that this mineral here is it. Let me show you.”

  The older man pulled from his pocket a small leather bag and extracted from it a small rough lump that shone like the morning sun rising above the hills. It was brighter and somehow purer in colour than the iron pyrites that he had shown the Valuer, and instantly the young man knew what it was he was actually looking for.

  “The old man who taught me gave me that lump so I would know what I was looking for and not be misled by fakes and forgeries. And now I am giving it to you because sometimes when the winter sun fails to shine and you are cold and miserable, you will need to look at the true gold so you can remember what you are seeking,” said the older man. “And one day, you will pass this nugget onto someone else so they too know what they seek.”

  So the young man returned to his icy stream bed and began again. Sometimes he would see a gleam that made his look again but it only took a second before he knew he was once more looking at Fool’s gold and he would sigh and carry on.

  Weeks passed and then months and all the time he carried on looking, his small reserve of money dwindling each day that passed until one day he had no money left to buy food. He looked at the gold nugget the Valuer had given him and considered whether he should sell that so he might eat that day, but after looking at it, he realised that he would maybe one day forget what true gold looked like and be led astray once more. So he put the nugget away and carried on swirling the water and sediment in his pan and suddenly, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, he saw first one and then another tiny lump of pure gold. All that day he worked and when he trudged back to camp, he had enough gold to sustain him for weeks.

  As the years passed, the young man accumulated gold, and slowly and steadily he grew richer and older until one day, standing knee deep in the water of his stream, his bones started to ache with cold and tiredness like they had never done before and he waded back to the banks of the stream and sat down.

  “All I have had of this stream, I have spent and enjoyed so very little,” he said to himself. “I have bought food and only the necessaries of life. Maybe it is time I began to enjoy the gold I worked so hard for.”

  So packing up his kit he walked back to the camp, which by now had become a small town, and went to the Valuer’s tent to say goodbye to his old friends.

  “I’m going back home,” he told them. “I have enough now that I can support my parents and maybe even marry my sweetheart and start our own family.”

  As he started to leave the tent, a second young man came in. His eyes were filled with feverish excitement that the first young man recognised at once.

  “I’m rich, I’m rich,” shouted the new arrival, pouring out on the Valuer’s table the spoils of his first day’s work.”

  The laughter that had seemed once so mocking now seemed friendly and rueful, the recognition of a mistake the men had all made in the past. The new youngster’s face became red and angry and he seemed almost in tears with frustration.

  “I’ve never seen gold before,” he admitted, sweeping his pile of Fool’s Gold to the floor in his disappointment. “How am I supposed to know if no one has ever shown me?”

  The first young man, no longer so very young or so very foolish, went over to the other man and put his hand out.

  “Here,” he said. “This might help.”

  In his hand was the gold nugget he had once been given to help him know what true gold is.

  “But don’t you need it any more?” asked the newcomer.

  “No,” said the first young man. “You see, after all this time, I think I will always know gold when I see it. And I have found enough gold of my own now to be able to be sure I will always know how to find more if I need it.”

  And so our not-so-young man walked away, and went home to his family richer and dare I say, wiser than when he had set out years before.