How could I have guessed that my exile to the Vast White Plain was destined to end in a moment of triumphant repatriation? I wish with all my heart that I had known. As it was, I suffered unspeakable agonies of pain and loss as I lay helpless and hopeless in that wretched place.
Picture my situation. I had been abandoned. For the first time in my existence I was alone. In every direction stretched a flat, utterly featureless desert of faded whiteness, surrounded on all sides by sheer cliffs of that same ghastly dead-skin colour, yet more ominously pallid in the far distance. Can pale things produce a lifeless glow? These did.
Beyond and behind those cliffs it was just possible to detect the shadowy, ill-defined shapes of monstrous, towering edifices, dark and mysterious, impossible to identify from the centre of my bleak environment.
Did I take some comfort from the fact that the light shining on me was the one I had always known? No, I did not. I could not. I was confused. Or rather, perhaps, in a state of profound shock. In the village where I belonged the sun had been a single shining orb in a sky of the brightest, balmiest blue. Here, above the Vast White Plain, the source of all light seemed to my tortured gaze to be divided or fractured into three equal and strangely shaped parts, providing incandescence rather than an outpouring of light, and offering no perceptible warmth at all.
An additional consideration. This triune sun, with no warning at all, would abruptly extinguish itself, only to reappear with equal suddenness, minutes or hours or even days later, making the Vast White Plain and the distant cliffs visible once more. How cruelly it illuminated the scene of my distress. I was accustomed to the reassuring consistency of streaming sunshine. This bizarre randomness of light and shade added to my misery. By the time my exile ended I confess that I had come to prefer the darkness.
My village. I have already mentioned my village. I was part of it. I was meant to be there. I fitted in perfectly, at least as well as any of the others. That strong sense of belonging must have contributed heavily to the deep hurt caused by my temporary rejection. I will describe the precise moment of my banishment, but first let me tell you about my village, my home, my truly delightful place of origin.
We who live there are blessed with a traditional English Village Green, complete with small children’s playground in one corner, and a pond with reeds and ducks and leafy, overhanging trees on the side nearest to our local pub, the Horse and Groom. This hostelry is a charming, ancient building with a fascinatingly uneven roof, and clusters of tall chimneys, each one uniquely shaped by the way in which its brickwork has crumbled and worn away over the centuries.
I must be honest. You would never find me inside the Horse and Groom, but you would be right in describing me as a permanent fixture down at the end of the front garden beside the road, where two benches have been provided for village folk who love to relax and watch the world go by.
What else can I tell you? Five children, three boys and two girls, spend all their time playing happily on the Village Green. The two little girls each own a skipping rope, and the boys enjoy playing one of those eternal games of football, using the fence of the children’s playground as a goal, and their colourful jumpers as goalposts. It is clear that these youngsters (they must be eight or nine years old) love the sunshine and safety of the Village Green. They are always there, just as a proud-chested little robin has made a permanent claim to the rickety railing outside the Post Office, his beak opened wide as he magisterially declares that he is master of all he surveys.
There is a special parking space provided for the Post Office van, a bright splash of red in vivid contrast with the shining emerald grass and the sky of egg-shell blue. The postman, a corpulent, cheerful looking fellow, is constantly to be seen cleaning and polishing that van of his, the only vehicle that is allowed to park beside the Green.
This central area is surrounded on three sides by beautiful, expensive residences. You only have to look at these houses to know that they are owned and occupied by the richest inhabitants of the village, those who can easily afford to buy property on the edge of the Village Green.
Ah, the edge! That word troubles me. I did harbour suspicions that those on the edge might have been the ones who initiated or somehow engineered my rejection and exile. They are so respectably straight and so closely bonded in their determination to show a bland, untroubled face to the outside world. But the rest of us are not deceived. We know that these individuals have another side to them, a side that displays as many peculiarities and idiosyncratic differences as you would find in any of us. My belief is that our varying shapes are ordained by a higher being, and therefore intended for a purpose. It would be foolish and, in a sense, ridiculously impractical to pretend otherwise.
You will understand that I am reluctant to make the following statement, but I must. An issue of colour was, in the end, responsible for my rejection and exile. As you will shortly discover this is an indisputable fact.
Some months before the incidents that I am recording here there had been a major, cataclysmic disaster in our village. It really is not necessary or helpful for me to explain the nature of this disaster. I hardly understand it myself. In some ways the memory is even more dark and dreadful than that of my banishment, and I really do not wish to relive it. Suffice to say that our little community was violently torn apart to the point of fragmentation, and thrust into a claustrophobic depth of darkness that we could never have imagined. Then, quite unexpectedly, an opportunity for healing arose. We were, if I may put it like this, presented with a miraculous opportunity to move from chaos and darkness into a place of light and reconstruction. Such joy! And for a time I seemed to be as much a part of this process as were all the others. The drive towards regeneration involved the necessary forming and re-forming of groups as we discovered common ground and searched for connections that might eventually make us whole once more. It was not easy, but it was exciting, and I was excited.
Then, in a heart-stopping instant, it happened. With no warning whatsoever I was literally picked up, flown away from my village and deposited unceremoniously onto the very centre of the mysterious and terrible Vast White Plain. I have already described the horror of my experiences there.
My return from the Vast White Plain was quite as impossible to predict as my exile had been. Inexplicably the entire universe seemed to be filled with what I can only describe as a mighty gasp. And then, amazingly, I was flying. In less than a second the motion had stopped and I found myself suspended, motionless, immediately above the place that I had always known as my world.
There below me, perfectly restored and ineffably harmonious, was my own dear village, bathed in summer sunshine. Even from that height I could clearly see the children playing on the green, and over there next to the Post Office the plump postman, chamois leather in hand, keen as ever to make his jolly red van gleam and sparkle. The dear, proud little robin sang from his perch on the railing. The old Horse and Groom seemed to beam benevolently across the glittering surface of the pond, its ancient brickwork warm and mellow in the golden rays of the sun. In that glorious moment I knew one thing for sure. An eternity of exile could never have shaken the belief in my heart that this was the place where I not only belonged but was truly needed.
It was perfect. Or rather, it was so very nearly perfect. I knew, without a trace of vanity, that my presence would make it perfect.
I wonder if you will understand me when I say that, as I began to make my final descent, I seemed to see the outline of my own destiny looming before me, and I experienced an unmistakeable sense of being held and directed by a force much more powerful than myself. Eventually, as I slipped quietly and comfortably back into the part of our village that always had been rightfully and specifically mine, I swear to you that I heard a voice, proceeding, as it were, from somewhere in the heavens above me, and these are the words that were spoken.
“Look at this. I threw this bit in the box lid a couple of days ago because I couldn’t see how that bright blue colour could possibly fit anywhere. I thought it must have got in there from some other puzzle. Turns out it’s the groom’s neckerchief thingy on the pub sign. I nearly chucked it in the bin. There we are. Finished!”