There’s another untimed period of silence. And then the ewe speaks. ‘You’re here,’ she says, matter-of-factly. ‘Here, and nowhere else.’ Her eyes plunge holes into my face, as though she’s looking for the entrance to my soul.
‘And why am I here?’ I ask, as calmly as I can. ‘Why am I here?’
‘We can’t say for sure,’ the ewe replies. ‘You came to us. And when people come to us, it’s usually because they wish to re-evaluate their lives.’ She pauses; and then, without herself moving, she—and the peahen and the fly—without themselves moving, they all appear to lean closer towards me. ‘Tell me: Do you wish to re-evaluate your life?’ the ewe asks. ‘Do you?’
I nod, and the peahen suddenly produces a huge pile of papers and sets them on a desk in front of her. ‘I have spent a great deal of time reading through these reports,’ she enunciates, her voice a schoolmistress’s trill from bygone times. ‘A great deal of time. And I have concluded that the life you have is not, in fact, your own, but one plainly based on the perceived whims and wishes of others in your life. So please be aware: You do not wish to re-evaluate your life—you wish to find out if you even have a life.’
‘Of course I have a life!’ I protest. ‘I’m married, I have two daughters, a relatively secure job, hobbies, a pet chinchilla—’
‘But what of your dreams?’ hisses the fly. ‘What of your dreams? Do you have any?’
‘Yes, I have dreams,’ I reply, defiantly. ‘Of course I have dreams.’ But the three figures incline themselves even more closely towards me, watching, scrutinising, judging me. ‘I have dreams. Or . . .’ I falter. ‘I had dreams.’
‘You had dreams,’ echoes the fly, emphasising his words triumphantly as though each was a complete sentence in itself. ‘You had dreams. How telling. But tell more.’
‘I . . . I was a born a dream,’ I obey. ‘I had so much potential. I could have achieved good things, great things. But every time I was given a choice, I spent so much time deliberating over it, trying to work out which was the best option, the right option, that I ended up choosing only those things which would make others accept me. But nobody did. Not really.’
I look down at my feet. I feel like a shame-faced three year old, caught with a hand in the biscuit tin and chocolate smeared around the mouth.
‘And what then?’ asks the ewe.
‘I had chances, I had opportunities—and I wasted them,’ I admit. ‘And I always made some excuse: others were better educated than me; others were more naturally clever than me; others had a greater social standing, or a wealthier family, or were better looking than me; but I still had chances and opportunities not given to others, and I wasted them. I received them like screwed-up and dirtied pieces of paper and threw them away.’ My moist brow finds a cushion in the palm of my left hand as my elbow burrows into the armrest of my not-uncomfortable chair.
The three continue to regard me for some time while we all sit in silence. ‘So let me ask you again,’ says the clipped-toned peahen, eventually. ‘Are you here to re-evaluate your life? Or do you wish to find one of your very own?’
‘I want to go back to the beginning and start again!’ I blurt out. For the first time, I see reactions, actual reactions, in the three figures; they weren’t expecting my outburst. ‘I want to go back to when I was nothing but potential, nothing but a dream ready to unfold, and make different choices where necessary. I don’t want my dreams to crumble into dust, to become detritus not even the most fastidious of archaeologists would value. I had dreams . . . and now I want my dreams to come true.’
‘Deary me!’ exclaims the peahen. ‘Tell me, dear boy, why should your dreams come true? What is it about your dreams that make them—make you—so special?’
I retreat as far back as my not-uncomfortable chair allows. These questions are unexpected and unwelcome. The peahen continues:
‘Tell me, dear boy, why should your dreams come true? You are not the only person born on this earth who has had dreams shattered and desires unmet. The next time you visit McDonald’s, look deep into the eyes of the person serving you—do you think her only longing, her only reason for existing, is to give you a Big Mac with fries? The next time you drop a cigarette end onto the ground and extinguish it with your heel—do you think the road sweeper’s sole aim in life is to clean the street ready for you to cough and splutter your ill health and foul habits all over it again? And what about all those born who die young, who die abused, who die desperate? Tell me, dear boy, tell me: Why should your dreams come true, and not theirs?’
The ewe elaborates before I can respond. ‘Dreams are little more than attempts to shape our environments in ways we find amenable and advantageous,’ she offers. ‘Dreams are those illusions by which we seek to make the world comfortable for us. For our dreams to come true, the dreams of others must die, for our dreams seldom accommodate the dreams of others. But by making the fulfilment of your dreams depend on the supposed requirements of others, you have made real the lie that you are the only person that truly matters—though only as long as the person you are is the person others want you to be. Do you not find this perverse? It’s no wonder you have no life!’
I am baffled. Indeed, I am beginning to realise how absurd is this situation, interrogation by a humanoid ewe, a peahen, and a fly. And I begin to laugh, and heartily so. But the three figures sat before me are not laughing.
‘I must draw your attention to the three doors,’ the peahen says, her ma’amish voice slicing through the guffaws booming round the room. ‘There are three doors, and you must exit this room through one of them.’ She extends her wing towards the three doors at her left, my right.
‘If you go through the red door,’ the fly rasps, ‘you will die. Instantly. You will be missed by your wife, your daughters, your colleagues, and your friends. In time, they will move on; but your body will rot.’
‘If you go through the blue door,’ continues the ewe, ‘you will die. But likely not for many years. You will grow old, you will see your daughters grow up and have children of their own, you will have companionship with your friends. But you will never escape the feeling that your life could have been so much more . . . so much more. If you go through the blue door, you will be alive for a while longer—but you will also have to learn to live with your regrets.’
‘And the green door?’ I ask. ‘What happens if I go through the green door?’
‘If you go through the lime green door,’ the peahen corrects me, ‘well; we do not know. No-one who has sat before us here has ever chosen to go through the lime green door. The wretches who sit before us usually prefer either immediate death or a life of bittersweetness.’ She leans forward, so closely to my face that I can almost feel her feathers dusting my lips and philtrum, and peers into my soul, successfully. ‘Going through the lime green door is a mystery to us all.’