BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
I’ve had some peculiar dreams recently. One dream involved a tiny, bald, Celtic warrior painted in white brandishing a little spear right in my face – he had piercing blue eyes, terrible teeth and the breath of a very old Labrador. Another involved sharing a pantomime horse with Her Majesty the Queen – appropriately I was at the blind rear end and obediently took instructions. (I have spent too many years under tropical sun and now, finally, I have a minor skin ailment to show for it. The cream that I have been given to heal my burnt gammon is infamous for its side-effects. Clearly it is answerable for these dreams. Sleep has certainly become more exciting.)
Last night’s dream was similarly notable. It started off at an athletics tournament. I recall seeing a large crowd sitting around some vast arena. I believe I was stateside. And then the next thing I knew I was crouching down in that odd, hands-forward position to start a sprint. The starter’s gun sounded, and I shot off like a hare but rather over-launched, and fell straight onto my face on the track.
It was only then that I paid any attention to the other competitors – who had flown past me. They were all girls. Some were quite attractive as I looked up at them.
Next I remember thinking to myself “on your feet, Wightman” and in a jiffy I was back on my feet and attempting to haul them in. “They’re only girls,” I thought, “I can’t be beaten by girls in a sprint!”
Soon the wind was flying through my hair and I was back up alongside the girls. I could hear the noise of the crowd and thought to myself that they must be roaring me on. This was my Eric Liddell moment. I was going to be a YouTube video. Who couldn’t support the fallen underdog? I noticed the other competitors glancing across at me with fear in their eyes. Then everything went into slow motion. My legs became heavy and my chest tightened. I knew that feeling from years back. This was a 400-metre race – the man killer no less.
Yet there was the end tape just a hundred metres away. I seemed to be winning now. By some margin. This was incredible. The shouts of the crowd transformed into an underlying din and all I could hear of any volume were my toes hard-hitting the tartan track and the boom of my heartbeat.
I was a good distance ahead now. The tape broke on my chest as I hit it with arms wide apart like an eagle. I was elated. I landed on the ground again. I had won the running race and I turned to see the other competitors way behind me as they crossed the line. I sat up and raised my arms above my head. I took some deep breaths and smiled. Then I got back to my feet and went to shake hands with my vanquished competitors.
But I was not there.
The girls who had run the race with me turned their backs towards me when I approached them, as if I were a ghost who had only imagined thrashing them. As I went forward to enjoy the clapping of the crowd, they were not looking at me nor paying me any attention. Was I there? Was I actually present there at that moment on that track? Had I merely imagined winning?
Immediately I felt despondent. Perhaps I was dead?
As I walked down the tunnel towards the showers, I was pleased that an old man holding a rake spoke to me and acknowledged me. He chided me: “You should feel ashamed of yourself, son. How can you dare show that face at the medal ceremony?”
I wondered whether he was a ghost too.
What was wrong with my face? Had I injured it on the tartan? I carried on walking and soon I was standing in front of a mirror and looking at myself in it. I was there alright. I could make out my face and I was not injured.
“But good God,” I thought to myself, “Lycra? You’re wearing bloody Lycra! That’s a bloody leotard! And what on earth is that on your head, man?”
I was wearing a blonde wig. One from the Beyoncé collection. I seemed to be sweating profusely on my face and what looked like heavy layers of make-up were turning into little rivers of gunge and heading straight for my eyes. This was beyond weird and my feelings were a pungent cocktail of shame and confusion.
I felt an irrepressible urge to apologise to the other girls. I was an impostor after all. A charlatan of the highest order. No way was I now going to accept first prize. I’d make sure whoever came second took the winner’s medal. After all, she won fair and square. Where was she? I had to find her.
When I found the girl who came second, she definitely saw me this time. She spat in my face and disappeared in a huff. Her mother was walking up behind her and grabbed a handkerchief and hurriedly wiped the spit off my face, apologising profusely for her daughter’s actions.
“I am so sorry,” I said to the girl’s mother, “I have no idea what came over me. Maybe I was pressured into what I did? Am I on a Stag Weekend? I’m not drunk though. I totally get why your daughter is so angry.”
“I understand how you feel,” said the mother of the girl, putting her right hand on my left shoulder. “The problem is that feeling is not the same as being.” And with that she walked off in the same direction as her daughter.
Feeling is not the same as being. Feeling is not the same as being. Those words reverberated around my head like echoes in a deep cave. There was nothing else. Feeling is not the same as being. Just those words.
Then I woke up. (Those who wake up are the fortunate ones).
I shall always remember that mother’s words. They’re useful you see in a world whose paths are increasingly laid with IEDs at intersections, where some promote their hall of mirrors to trip us – and our systems – up.
Feeling is not the same as being.