It was a shopping street, pedestrianised, but only because the steep, cobbled hill was never built for vehicles. Fairly crowded. I have no back-story for why I was there, but I was.
The young man passed close by me – his clothes were poor quality. A white top with a grey and black hoodie over it. He pulled the hood up as he walked by and something drew my attention to him. I saw that he had a lighter in his hand. Suddenly I realised what he was about to do.
He looked, rather shyly, around him and muttered, “Sorry,” as he put the flame to his clothing.
An instinct for self preservation made me leap back, but the street was narrow, with shops on either side.
“It won’t take long,” he was saying, in the same, sad apologetic tone. “The pain will be over quick.” He rolled himself into a ball and began rolling down the hill.
The flames licked half-heartedly at his clothes. As he rolled, they went out. Suddenly he was back at the top, close to me again.
“Not enough petrol,” he said miserably and began looking around as if searching for a source of more.
In an instant I was in front of him. It struck me as slightly odd that I couldn’t smell any petrol. “Think of your mother!” I was screaming at him.
He sneered nastily, but looked at me.
I held his gaze and repeated it. This time it got through. He hung his head and looked so wretched and miserable that I risked putting my hand on his shoulder. He didn’t resist.
“Come on, let’s sort you out,” I said, and led him back to where I worked. It was an educational establishment.
“Hungry?” I asked, as he slumped into a chair.
He looked up, hope burning in his eyes. The boy was ravenous. I hunted about for pieces of food. My teaching assistant, a lovely motherly soul I’d worked with for many years, found some cake and handed it to him.
“She’s a good guy,” he remarked to me, as he shovelled food into his mouth. A couple of the students had appeared by now – lads around his age.. No one asked any questions. They sized up the situation and began hunting in lockers and cupboards, finding more snacks he could eat.
He started talking to me then. Told me his name was Ali. Told me about his siblings and his father – a man he loved and respected; a man who would be heartbroken to know his son died a martyr to his fundamentalist cause.
He told me he belonged to a group. They had a leader.
“We got to do what he says,” Ali explained, with a slight helpless shrug. “It’s like this -.”
And now I was seeing him in a separate location, over to the right and slightly above where I and the others were still gathered around the table.
Ali was over there with a rather ramshackle group of young guys who looked similar to him, being drilled by a thin man with dark eyes who barked commands and instructions at them. They had to repeat what he said as soon as the words were out of his mouth. No time for them to think – to process his words. His words became their words. Simple and effective. Ali and the others were being indoctrinated. Ali was being chosen. I could feel his pride and his despair and his regret all mingled together.
So how come I’m able to see all this? Just now Ali was sitting eating at my table. His location has changed, like in a film… or… a dream.
I was still in the school, or college, or whatever it was. The students who’d been helping find food for Ali were watching his scene as well. They’d realised what was going on and were swearing at him, calling him ugly names. I was remonstrating with them – imploring them to listen and understand his dilemma.
At the same time it’s dawning on me that this is a dream.
Ali is a character in my dream.
Or maybe I’m a character in his? This feels more likely.
Now I know it’s a dream, it unravels. But not before – telepathically now – Ali tells me he chose me to help him decide. I wake up, knowing I’ve helped him.
Ever done that? Gone to bed with a massive problem, slept on it and woken, knowing what you must do? Would it be too far-fetched to believe that Ali, whoever he is, did just that, somewhere? Might he, at some level beyond waking consciousness, have invited me into his dream to help him work through the choices? If so, I’m honoured to have been chosen and I wish him well.