Friday night: 6 PM. The Reedsy prompt drops in my inbox:
- Write about a character named after one of our contest judges…
Okay: let´s go have a look at those judges, and see if one can inspire the muses to pay me a visit.
Now, here´s one: a magic bean gatherer. I like that! He´s the winner. I´ll name my character after him: Joshua.
I´m sure my character would have loved to be named after a magic bean gatherer. Especially since he was made of magic himself…
Joshua was a person, not an idea. He was an allegory, with no center; completely free with no affection for money, property, or things – except his stringless guitar.
Joshua was kind of a miniature version of Jimmy Hendrix, and I saw him almost every morning on my way to work conjuring up mystical spirits with the silent sound of his stringless guitar. Playing with abandon, improvising mystical solos, nobody but Joshua could hear.
I don´t think I ever met anybody who took Joshua seriously. His magic was too deep. I think people were scared they would lose themselves inside Joshua´s realm. Even the tourist looked at him as if he was an attraction to be mocked.
- “I don´t know if I´m real.” He told me once. “I´m always named for something I´m not. For somebody other than myself. Does that make me real?”
Joshua could ask questions like that.
- “My name dissolves and recombines itself into another one. So, who am I?”
I asked him once about the guitar with no strings:
- “When you´re asked questions, how often do give answers that you know aren´t true?” He caught me off guard, and I was going to brush him off, but he wouldn´t have it.
- “Come on,” he insisted, his fingers playing the invisible strings on the shaft of his guitar. When I took too long to answer him, Joshua continued:
- “If your answer is – rarely – or – never – I hope I can convince you, that this in itself is something you know to be untrue.”
- “Are you questioning my integrity, Joshua?” I asked him.
He chuckled in an almost childlike way: “It´s perfectly understandable that you believe yourself to be an honest person. Most people do.” He seemed lost in the music in his head, but after a short silence he picked up where he left off: “You probably assumed that I was asking you about times when you were deliberately and consciously lying.”
- “In ways that might benefit myself at the expense of others?” I asked.
Joshua shook his head to a rhythm only he could hear.
- “I´m speaking of untruths that are on the spectrum of the unconscious.” He smiled.
I never saw Joshua talking to anyone else. I asked him why he did talk to me. He replied that he chose to speak to me because I treated him like a normal human being.
I did. I tried to see the human being Joshua must have been once before his mind broke and he lost his soul.
- “Memory is sacred ground.” He hummed, “But it´s haunted too.” He said and walked off.
Joshua managed to take care of himself. To stay alive that is. He never bothered anybody. I wish the rest of the world would have paid him the same courtesy. They didn´t!
Joshua was soft-spoken. Even shy, gentle, and mild by nature. He could be withdrawn and sometimes moody or aloof, and he had peculiar expressive mannerisms.
Joshua came to Europe as a small child with his mother, from South America, escaping a very abusive father. He couldn’t remember his father´s face anymore, he said. Just the fear and the terror. He often passed his time drawing his mother´s face on some boardwalk, for fear he might forget hers as well. People would throw him coins while he was drawing a visage from his past. The police would walk by and chase him away.
Life in Holland was difficult for Joshua and his mother. She worked two and sometimes three jobs simultaneously. They lived in an attic at exorbitant rent money. He witnessed the abuse his mother underwent, and it broke his little heart.
Joshua vowed that he would work hard and one day, he and his mom would live in a real house. A lovely home with a car parked in front of it. A good car so she wouldn´t have to take the bus anymore to go to work and swallow denigrating abuse about black women. Or have men attack her, who hid in dark alleys and made her come home black and blue all over. Never again!
He had to watch as she grew sad and sick.
He partnered up with a friend, or at least so he thought.
He was wrong. The man stole Joshua´s work and had it patented in his own name. Joshua had invested all his time and money into the perfection of his idea, knowing one day it would pay off.
He had always been good at inventing things and coming up with ideas. Until that fateful morning at the chamber of commerce, where a genuinely nice lady told him that this project had already been patented.
Joshua’s world collapsed: he lost it. He went home and planned revenge and almost executed it. He was arrested and the courts condemned him to be sent away for “treatment.”
They treated him well there…, yes, they did.
Joshua no longer was able to organize his thoughts and forgot all about revenge. He no longer was able to think straight altogether.
His mother died while he was at the institution. He never cried about her passing. He couldn´t. He simply let himself sink into an abyss where nothing mattered. No more memories, no more dreams. And yet, he was diagnosed as a theatrical histrionic. An oxymoron!
Joshua was lost and he didn´t particularly care to be found. He grew suicidal and so they took even better care of him, by treating him with the latest technology to avert the black dog that had invaded his mind. Until the funds ran out; then they gave him a bottle of pills and let him go. Alone he stood a talent unto himself.
As Joshua walked the streets, he rescued animals, sharing what little food he had with them, drawing faces on boardwalks, and playing entrancing music only he could hear.
Joshua would stand in the middle of the Dam square and play his guitar for hours. He would dive into the music in his head, feel it, live it. Every piece of music a story. An epic journey of exploration, adventure, love war, tragedy…
When he wasn´t playing he walked the city streets. His eyes scanned the boardwalk and the gutters, on the lookout for wounded animals. It was a calling for him. He once stopped a tram, because there was a pigeon with a broken wing on the tracks. He cared for it and nursed it back to health.
He didn´t eat much himself and was very thin. When I bought my morning coffee to-go I would ask Joshua if I could get him anything. The answer was always the same: a multigrain bun and a tea. His birds loved the grains, and it was good for them he said. He always shared his food with the birds, mostly pigeons. On one of his talkative days, he pointed out a limping pigeon to me and said that pigeons were very much like humans. None of the healthy birds would bring their wounded brother a single crumb. I told him I considered the level of cruelty in humans much more elevated. He didn´t say anything but let himself sink back into his own world.
And then, one December morning, just like that: Joshua was gone. Nobody knew where he went. Not that anybody cared about “crazy little Joshua.”
I never saw him again. I will probably never know what became of him, or where he went. I´d like to think that maybe the energy of his music really conjured up the soul-orientated mystical spirits and they flew him away into a world where he can play his music with the great Hendrix and his beloved mother for an audience.