“Uncomfortable is where I want you to be, Malik.” His father’s counsellor was now his own. He felt closer to his father in the presence of the man who knew his secrets than face to face with the actual man. “You needn’t be afraid,” he said, “your heart will always keep beating.” Malik lowered his hand and rested it once again on the plush arm of the chair, picked at the the corduroy, though the impulse at times like this was to press his fingers to his wrist and feel his pulse. He didn’t like to be micromanaged, and he felt it made things more difficult but he knew that that was how Goldmund was at the best of times.
“There’s too much,” said Malik, “too much in the way, too much interference. I’m getting everything at once.” In his head a multitude of people from all corners of the earth were walking, gesturing, emoting, a cacophony like a pedestrian scramble except in a nowhere place between his mind and another level of reality, somewhere, he didn’t know. He had never received clear imprints of things like his father, who could draw a map from as little as five minutes of clear, uninterrupted receiving. Malik always received things in living parables—he had to see data played out as though in a real scenario, with real people. Which he didn’t mind, only it made it all the more difficult to withhold interpretation, which was essential to do for actionable material. Introducing his own conceptions about what he saw always interfered with the process, would create artefact and skew the results. Though he had had years of practice the anxiety, the feeling of being drained and somehow challenged on authoritative grounds every inch of the way made him inordinately attracted to the mundane—like cleaning his guns at home, watching television, counting the ducks on the lake, visiting his nephew and playing the things he and his father, Malik’s brother-in-law liked to play on a Sunday afternoon. When he went under, as he had sometimes called it, it was for a specific purpose, as today.
Malik lifted himself from his seat, his gut dropping out from beneath his shirt and candy wrappers rustling, drifting to the floor like so many autumn leaves.
“What?” said Goldmund. Not “What are you doing?”, “Where are you going?”, just “What?”
Malik unmuted the television then headed to his father’s bookshelf, taking a book at random.
“I need outside stimulus, I’m drowning here,” he said. “This will help stir things up.”
“Take your time,” said Goldmund, though he was irritated.
“’Boy Singeing a Bat’s Wings’” Malik read quietly. He looked into the gleeful eyes of the boy whose face, illuminated by the candle seemed to reveal a kind of treble pleasure in his mischief, the distress of the poor creature being tortured, and Malik’s complicity—as though he were the friend he had invited around earlier and had only arrived now, to give the same soft smile, the same knowing look, deriving the same shylock pleasure from the extraction of some abstract debt, drawn as it were through the physical.
Goldmund stood at the window, jangled something quietly in his pocket, took in the wonderful view Malik had inherited from his father and his labours.
“Mr Goldmund,” said Malik, Goldmund turning, surprised out of some faint dream, “I’m ready.”