“How did I get here?”
“As far as I know, there are only two ways. People bring themselves here to escape extreme stress, like they feel when they are about to die; or someone who is already here, who knows the ropes, brings them through. It takes a real athlete to do that. I couldn’t do that.”
“Extreme stress? Like finding out someone has died?”
Abelard considered this. “I’ve never heard of someone coming to Aum because of what happened to another person. I guess it might bring a person through if the other person’s death was truly considered a threat to the person’s own survival.”
“How’d you get here?”
“Got caught in a brush fire. One moment I was burning alive, the next I was standing in the Trembling Swamp.”
Eileen felt knocked over by the tidal wave of information presented by Abelard. “This is too much to take in!”
Abelard turned his head to look at her with his deer eye again. “Yeah, it’s a lot at once, I know. Let’s keep this simple. What’s your name?”
She didn’t want to tell him her name given the circumstances. She didn’t really know him. But he had given his first. To refuse the request might alienate him, and she badly needed a friend. What could he call her? She thought of what the Iyanifa had shown her on the night she had learned of Ifá. “Opele,” she mumbled, banking on Australia’s racist history; the reference should go unnoticed.
“Want to walk with me, Opele?”
She rubbed the back of her head with her palm. “I don’t know. Where are you going?”
Abelard stamped his hippo hindquarter. “I’m looking for someone.”
Abelard looked down to the sand. “Someone who will walk with me.” His voice sounded dark, like molasses.
He stamped again.
The cello voice in Eileen’s mind, which had been silent for some time, spoke melodically: “Tales of suffering and greed! Pride will tear us both apart!”
Abelard whipped his head up and to the side, staring wide with his deer eye at Eileen. “How’d you do that?”
“Do what? I’m just standing here.”
“Your mind. You thought with a different voice! I mean, I’ve been getting double murmurs from you this whole time, I figured my perception was just off, but that was clear. How’d you do it?”
“You can read my mind?”
Abelard swung his head so that his hippo eye could view her. The eye twinkled, and Eileen heard a male, Australian voice in her mind: “When I choose to.” His animal mouth did not move.
Eileen furrowed her brow and thought as hard as she could. “Read this: GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HEAD!”