The weather went out of its way to mock me that Sunday. I scowled at the sun, hating how it revelled in its unmitigated brilliance while I mourned the lack of my own. It was in times like this that I wished for snow in our tropical isle— perhaps, its iciness would temper the burn of rejection that I felt.
The journey back home from Augustine University felt like a walk of shame, with each heavy footstep taking me further away from my dreams of becoming a successful writer.
Professor Rawlings said that it would take time and the right inspiration—an excuse meant to bandage the wound she created by rejecting my fifteenth piece— but after three years of trying, I decided that I simply had no imagination. The world was always more flat, to me, than it was round.
In the time it had taken me to curse myself, Professor Rawlings and the entire universe at large, I realised that I was stationary on the pavement, lost in a daze.
“Phoebe Atkins, dat you?” Miss Stephanie Singh was a relatively benign presence, reigning over the events of Chrysler Street. She was sixty, though her gossiping nature gave her a life experience far beyond her years.
“In the flesh, Ma’am,” I managed a lukewarm smile. Despite my crabby mood, I knew better than to cross Miss Stephanie. One slip of tongue and the entire of Trinidad and Tobago would brand me as a miscreant.
“Wat you doing outta temple onna Sunday?”
“Well, I went to the University to—”
“Anyway,” Miss Stephanie interrupted. She never really cared about words unless they were her own. “Just lettin’ you know to be careful. She is out today.”
I didn’t need to ask who Miss Stephanie was referring to; everyone in Augustine knew. I thanked her and continued on my way. Sure enough, Crazy Amy stood in the middle of my path. I took a deep breath. As every region has stories indigenous to its history, Crazy Amy was a scapegoat in Augustine’s legends. No one, including me, really knew her, nor did they care to.
Some say she was a cursed La Diablesse of Trinidadian folklore from her grotesque makeup and limp. Others insist she ran away from the psychiatric hospital. Despite their differences in opinion, the entire town was united in fear whenever Crazy Amy was around. She appeared randomly and emptied lonesome lyrics and laughter into the streets at night.
She looked exactly as I remembered her. Blotchy lipstick contrasted with her pale, bony face. She wore brilliant hues as she swayed to a tune exclusive to her mind.
Crazy Amy became aware of my presence when I drew nearer. I ducked my head as her brown eyes scrutinised me. All thoughts of my damp day were filed away, with my sole motive being to pass Crazy Amy silently. In as little as I knew about her, her peculiarities terrified me to no end.
I had successfully done as I had planned, slipping past her in silence, though her formidable gaze remained trained on me.
As soon as I had passed, she burst into tears. Against my better judgement, I approached her. “Are you okay, Miss?” She whipped her head towards me, fixing me with a wild look. Her eyes flashed with a multitude of emotions.
“Why are you sad?”
I stared at her in shock, processing the question. “Why am I sad? You are the one crying!” I exclaimed. She flashed a toothy smile. I took a cautious step back.
“You didn’t answer my question, Annabelle,” she sang, looking pointedly at me. I furrowed my eyebrows, moving backwards until we were on opposite ends on the pavement, though Chrysler street was completely empty.
“Annabelle? My name is Phoebe.” I almost slapped myself as soon as I had said it. What was I thinking? This woman was absolutely demented! Yet here I was, condoning familiarity. I prayed that Mrs. Stephanie was no longer outside.
“Oh I know,” Crazy Amy laughed sweetly, all trace of her tears gone and brushed off my words, as though I was the crazy one. “You just remind me of myself.”
“But why ‘Annabelle’?” I pressed, “Your name is Cr–, I mean, Amy!”
She shrugged nonchalantly. “My name is Annabelle, actually.”
I stared at her. She was crazier than I thought if she didn’t know her own name. “But people call you Amy.”
She laughed once more, as though she knew something that I didn’t.
“People do many things. It doesn’t mean it’s right.”
Her tone hit me heavily, as though they were full of memories that I was either too young or too foolish to understand. I suppose for people like her, both words were synonymous.
I took a step forward. “But why were you crying, Annabelle?”
Her eyes lit up, though I didn’t know why.
“Why were you not crying? You are sad.”
“Why do you keep saying that?” I raised my voice as I felt my irritation rising. Who did she think she was? I had finally found something— or rather, someone— that was more annoying than the blistering heat of the sun and Professor Rawlings’ patronizing remarks.
“It needed to be said. No one else would ask you, would they?”
I fell silent. It had suddenly occurred to me that this was the longest conversation I had ever maintained with a stranger. I was known for being alone and so, people seldom engaged me. Perhaps, though we were worlds apart, Annabelle and I weren’t so different.
Maybe it was the heat. It could have been the delirium from my horrible day. Whatever the strange reason, the words tumbled out of me and into the ears of the stranger before me. I told her all about my lack of progress as a student in the way my best literary works fell flat every time they were critiqued, how my creativity had deserted me and the parasitic loneliness that fed off my aloofness, leaving me hollow inside.
Annabelle listened quietly, her face stony as I rambled. The onlooker might have pegged her as a therapist and I, the deranged patient.
“My professor told me to find something that inspires me. I’ve tried to emulate the famous novels she suggested yet none of my own writing makes me feel the way it’s supposed to. It’s like, I can predict my manuscript will be rejected even before I submit it. I am three grades from flunking out of my programme.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad,” she mused.
“Did you not hear what I said?” I yelled, feeling the frustration of the day overcoming me. “Do you not know what it’s like to be rejected, after giving your very best?”
Her eyes adopted a fierce look though her voice was calm when she spoke. “You might have forgotten who you are speaking to.” Annabelle walked towards a nearby tree and hugged it as a cool wind sauntered past.
“I am the woman who has known nothing in her life but rejection, Annabelle.”
“Stop calling me Annabelle! You’re Annabelle! You can’t call people whatever you like!”
“Names didn’t seem to matter much when you all called me Crazy Amy, did they?” Her words bit into me, yet her tone remained even. I avoided her gaze.
I was saved from responding as she continued, lost in a trance as she maintained her hold on the tree. The wind gathered loose leaves and petals in a carpet at her feet. Were she not so incongruously mismatched, the sight would have been ethereal.
“Everywhere I go, to every place I turn, I am discarded like these leaves in the wind.” She caught a leaf mid fall before continuing. “People throw you away all the time. You have to be your own inspiration. Only then will you transform. ”
I shook my head at her lofty words. “You really are crazy.”
She shot me an award-winning grin, as though I told her she was the most beautiful person in the world. “Aren’t we all a little bit crazy?”
For that, I had no response.
“Why do you think they reject your writing, Phoebe?”
I was beginning to make a habit of staring at her. “You actually called me Phoebe…”
“Well that is your name, isn’t it?”
I stared once more, at a loss for words. Perhaps I really wasn’t as sane as I thought...
“I told you already, my professor thinks I’m not imaginative enough. I’ve been told to find an inspiration so often, the word now has the opposite effect on me,”
She smiled. “Why do you write then?”
I shrugged. The question didn't require much thought. “Because I love to.”
She beamed brightly. “Exactly, so you do have an inspiration: Love.”
I shook my head and laughed. “I don’t think you understand. Inspirations are supposed to be sources of creativity and stimulators of imagination. It’s that driving force that is supposed to relentlessly motivate you towards your goal. I don’t have that consistency. ”
Annabelle arched an eyebrow. “Even a crumb is important to an ant.”
“You don’t understand. As much as I want to be a successful author, there’s only so much rejection I can take before common sense suggests I quit. It’s hard to be inspired when people relentlessly beat you down.”
A butterfly circled around us. Annabelle held out her hand. After a few moments, it settled into her palm. I gazed at her in wonder.
“Sometimes, when you chase after what you want, it plays along and runs even faster.”
She stroked the unflinching butterfly with a gentle finger.
“So what am I supposed to do? I’m being severely outrun,” I said dejectedly, thinking of my peers halfway through the publishing process.
“Then, stop running.” Annabelle lifted her palm and the butterfly fluttered off.
“That’s not how the world works, Annabelle. You have to run if you want to keep up.”
“And why must you keep up?” She furrowed her eyebrows.
“Well I don’t expect you to understand, you’re—” I stopped mid sentence.
“—Crazy? Delusional? Perhaps. At least I’m happy. Are you?” she finished, serenely.
“How do you do it?” I breathed in wonder.
She held out her arms and spun. “Sometimes being labelled as crazy is one of the most liberating feelings in the world. You can be unapologetically yourself; people can’t think worse of you than they already do. I am homeless, alone and a castaway. Yet, I am happy because I am Me. That’s the best thing I can do for myself.” She waltzed along the pavement with an imaginary partner, humming a bubbly tune.
“You remind me of myself when I was younger and validation was all that mattered. Now, I’m living my truth. Most don’t agree with my ways but they don’t give me my breath. I found inspiration to find my way in nature. It’s all in the little things.” Annabelle had now moved on to a lively foxtrot.
I began to feel very uncomfortable, as though Annabelle saw through my soul. “It was lovely meeting you, Annabelle. I’ll see you around.” I shot her an awkward smile and turned to leave.
I felt different as I walked away. The cracks in the sidewalk and weeds amongst the grass caught my interest. Though I still bore my reservations, I wondered if my inspiration could come from something so small or whether it would come from a much larger revelation within me.
“Sometimes I like to think that I lost my way so that people like you can find yours.” Annabelle called from behind me. She gave me one last smile before disappearing, leaving a faint hum in her wake.
It occurred to me that in as much as she was bizarre, Crazy Amy had a far firmer grasp on reality than people understood. She had gained both my admiration and pity in being a realised but forgotten soul. Yet, she had managed to find happiness within herself— and motivated me to do the same. I sat down to pen this story that very night, subtly transformed in vision and spirit. I had found my inspiration.