Image by Koratmember, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
“And so you see, no one can be motherless,” he had said.
I raised my head from the desk, feeling half drunk as the walls of the class room seemed suddenly to loom in close. Mr Thomsen was smiling, and as he smiled his eyes crinkled up at the corners like potato chips. I found him the least offensive of my teachers, because he never bothered me, because he let me sleep if I wanted to.
“Anyway, I disgress, in this class we are supposed to stargaze, not naval-gaze.” He smiled again at his little joke, and the girl with the rose-coloured hair in the front row laughed and her long plaits thudded softly against the side of her desk. It was a small class today, snow lined the windows, and half the school was probably lying in bed sick, getting nursed and spoiled and brought little bowls of home-made soup. I rubbed my eyes, and wished then that I had been listening.
After class I waited behind. The others streamed past me as if chasing the sound of the bell into the corridor and out and away, home. Mr Thomsen seemed not to notice me at first. He had busied himself with his desk, stuffing papers into folders, finding homes for orphaned pens. I coughed, and he looked up at me in surprise.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there.” He said, smiling again. He was always smiling. I wondered what his secret was.
“I wanted to ask you, about what you said earlier”
I stopped then because something scared me. I think it was a wave of feeling that I hadn’t expected, I think it was because I knew I might have to reveal something of myself to a stranger, again.
“Yes go on.” Mr Thomsen sat on the edge of his desk and folded his arms. He inclined his head to me then, as if he thought I was about to say something of interest to him, or importance. It reminded me why I had decided to stay behind, because he wasn’t like the others. Most of the other teachers had this habit of looking at you like you were out of your mind if you spoke out, like nothing you said could mean anything.
“It was what you said, about no one being motherless”
I stopped again, I realised that I had not been listening really, that I didn’t even know how to frame my question. Mr Thomsen looked at me through his glasses.
“You’re Adam aren’t you?” He said, and I nodded. I knew then, that he wanted me to know that he knew about me, if that even makes sense. The classroom was cold now with all the bodies gone. It was just us and the silence was the loudest thing in the room.
Until he spoke.
“What I was saying Adam may sound foolish, but it’s true. Do you see this?” He pointed to the image on the projector. “Do you know what this is?”
I felt my cheeks burning red, I knew but I didn’t know.
“It’s a star being born Adam, and all this material you see here-” he waved his finger over the image. “-is gas and dust that will eventually bind together to form planets, just like the Earth”
I stared at the picture and wondered where he was taking me with all this planet talk.
“Adam.” He rubbed this bridge of his nose and looked momentarily weary. “How shall I put this…” There was that silence again that swallowed us up.
“I am aware of your family situation”
Now he stopped, now he was the one to feel awkward.
“I don’t have a family.” I said. But what he said next surprised me.
“Yes you do.”
At first I rolled my eyes. “They aren’t my family” I said, but he butted in.
“No I’m not talking about your foster parents. I’m talking about this.”
Again he pointed to the image, but he didn’t point vaguely. He pointed to the heart of the glow within the image, to the centre of the new sun.
“This is your family, my family, everybody’s family.”
I just laughed at him. “I have no idea what you’re saying.” I said. He laughed too.
“I know! But hear me out. What if I told you that the universe is a mother? That she is always pregnant, always giving birth to stars, formed in these amazing nursuries up there in space? Now you might say ‘what the heck does that have to do with me?’ but listen to me. The atoms that make up your body, all those particles that whizz around inside of you, and make you you, your DNA, all that was made using the same elements we find in star matter. I mean look at this guy, he doesn’t look anything like you ok, but he could be like your stellar ancestor!” I snorted and shook my head at him, but he knew I was thinking about it.
”In all seriousness, I know that you must feel like you have no one, that you are connected to no one, and that you don’t belong anywhere, but whenever you feel like that, I want you to remember that everyone, every last person, is connected, because of this.” Once again he stabbed at the heart of the star.
“Here, now just wait a minute.” He said, and jumping off the desk he began foraging in its drawers for something. I waited, and while I waited I stared and stared at that picture, at the golden light of that star in amongst all that stuff.
“There now.” Mr Thomsen thrust a book at me. I looked down at it. The cover showed the blackness of space, and in the midst of it, a giant rainbow coloured cloud.
“Take that, and I know what you must be thinking, but don’t worry about reading too much of the text if you don’t want to. Just look at those pictures, just think about what I’ve said.”
I thanked him and tucked the book in my bag, we smiled and said goodbye, and I felt alright about it all.
When I got back to the house, everything was a mess. Anna, the girl who they had taken in just after me was crying and Mrs Wilson was trying to get her to pick up her toys but she just kept howling like a kicked dog. Neither of them noticed me as I slipped up stairs.
That night I lay awake and stared at the ceiling, like I always do. Mr Wilson had fallen asleep in front of the TV again and he’s deaf, so Ricki Lake was turned up so loud I could hear most of what the guests were saying. It was all nonsense to me, just old repeats, they seemed to go on, and on, and on, forever.
I crawled out of my bed, and turned on the night light that was still covered in some kid’s old Disney stickers. I reached over to my satchel, pulling out the book Mr Thomsen had given me and thumbed through some of the pages. The pictures were beautiful. I loved the colours and the total darkness around them, how vibrant everything was. Most of all I liked the total absence of people in that book. It was all about science, and every image was like nothing you would ever see on Earth. I soon got tired flicking through it though, my eyes were heavy. I went over to the window, pulled back the curtain and wiped the glass. Outside in the street, snow was gathering on the pavements. The streetlamp outside the house was dead, but I could just about make out that blanket of whiteness glowing in the dark.
Then I looked up and saw the stars.
They were like little crystals pinned to a blanket, winking away, on and off.
When my parents died, a lot of people tried to tell me that they were in heaven watching over me. I wanted to believe them but then my parents didn’t believe in God. My last foster mother had scolded at me when I said this, she had said that maybe He had punished them because they didn’t believe, and that was why they were dead.
Now, I thought about what Mr Thomsen had said and something started to form in my mind. What if heaven wasn’t about angels? What if heaven means being a part of the hearts of stars? The Earth is going to get swallowed up one day, I remember Mr Thomsen saying that. He said that our sun will gobble up the solar system, and then all of what we were, will really become part of the universe again. What if heaven is about being a part of everything?
I must have stared at those stars for a long time because suddenly I realised that my feet were frozen, and my hands were like ice from where the pressed against the glass. I went back to bed and as I got in, I found I couldn’t hear the TV set anymore. I wanted to sleep, I was so tired out, but a part of me just wanted to read that book, wanted to try to read it.
As I closed my eyes I said goodnight, I said the words out loud to no one. But I felt the stars all around me. I could see them in my minds eye, burning, constant. I smiled then, into the darkness.
For the first time in what seemed like forever, I felt ok, because I knew I had a family no one could ever take away from me.