Shadow dancer

Sanne Burger

22 January 2020

He was born in the middle of winter.
He was not a wanted child.
His mother would put his crib outside on the porch, hoping he would freeze to death.
In the morning she would find him, shivering and blue, but still alive.
She tried to choke him with a wet cloth.
He would turn blue, but refused to die.
She tried to starve him, let him scream of hunger for hours, but he wouldn’t die.
Her madness never lasted long enough to beat his survival instincts, but the hunger would haunt him for the rest of his life.

At an early age, he decided the only way to survive was to bury his feelings.
It was dangerous to feel.
He put away his sorrow in a deep, dark place where no one would find it, not even himself.
He became resilient and tough.
Never again would he be powerless.
He grew up a strong boy.
He turned into a massive man.
His sorrow was safely put away, or so he thought.
He worked hard in order to lessen the risk of being moved.
When occasionally he failed, he would hide.
He would sit alone for hours, sometimes days, arms crossed over his chest, waiting for the feelings to pass, for the tears to dry up, for the longing to die to fade.
He would never share his feelings with other people.
He didn’t trust them.

Eventually his emotions became so dense, they started to pull at the very strings holding together the web of reality.
Chaos started following him.
Shadows lurking in the dark would come out of their hiding places when he passed by.
Children who still could see the magical world would see a big man walking by in a black coat, surrounded by dancing, black shadows.
They would get scared and hide behind their mother’s skirt.
They thought he was the devil.
How could they know he was just like them?
He was just a child, doing what was necessary to survive.
This was his fate, he believed.
To be a man who stirred the shadows and was misunderstood for it.
He carried his assumed destiny like a man.
He didn’t complain.
He just held on.

In fact, he was a very sensitive man.
He couldn’t avoid being touched every now and then.
He couldn’t avoid becoming teary eyed holding a baby.
He couldn’t help admiring beauty, when it filtered through his dimmed eyes.
Sometimes the colors of the sunset would surprise him and tears would well up.
He couldn’t avoid falling in love sometimes either.
He didn’t want to fall in love.
Falling in love was dangerous.
But every now and then, he would meet a woman who reminded him of his capacity to love.
She would see the sadness in his eyes, the reflection of that deep, dark pit within him, and be irresistibly drawn to it.
She intuitively knew that his sorrow was waiting to be stirred.
She sensed only love would be capable of stirring it.
And sometimes, just sometimes, he would be unable to resist.
He would let her in.
Unfortunately, however, they were all ignorant.
They didn’t realize the weight of his burden.
Whenever he allowed the love in him to rise, it would pull up the sorrow and anger in him as well.
They would be devastated once they saw his shadow, that darkness, that looked so ugly after years in isolation.
They would run in fear, confirming the man in his conviction that he was meant to be alone.
Every failed love affair made him denser and darker.
He became a true shadow dancer.

One day he was walking across a remote dirt road, like so many other days.
He had sought refuge in the woods, trying to find some peace.
He was tired of stirring the shadows.
The weight of his sorrow had become unbearable.
He didn’t know how to go on.
What use did it have to survive, without knowing why he was alive?
What use did it have to carry this burden, to use all his strength to hold on, while nothing good ever came from it?
It was in the middle of the night.
It was cold.
He was hiding away in his black coat, his head pulled between his shoulders, his hands tucked away in his pockets.
He was muttering to himself, as he so often did, having no one to talk to.
He was looking down when a dark shadow approached.
He only saw it when it was already very close.
It was big.
It looked like an owl, but bigger.
He stood still, trying to get a better look, wondering why it seemed to aim straight for him.
When it flew into him, the blow was so big he fell on his back.
The bird sat on him.
Only then he saw it was not an owl.
It was a woman with feathers and wings.
It was a mystical creature, an owl woman.

She looked at him and said: ‘Enough.’
To his horror he felt he was paralyzed.
He couldn’t move.
He couldn’t defend himself.
He felt utterly powerless, for the first time since his mother had tried to kill him.
A dreadful, cold fear rose up in him.
‘Good’, she said. ‘It has begun.’
With her beak she started digging into his chest.
It hurt terribly.
At the peak of his pain, when he wanted to die, she ripped his heart out and showed it to him.
It was still beating.
‘This is your sorrow’, she said.
But she wasn’t done yet.
With her sharp claws she started digging into his gut, while he wrenched and screamed.
After a while she pulled out his guts and showed them to him.
‘This is your anger’, she said.

Through his excruciating pain he managed to look at her.
He saw blood dripping down her face.
He saw blood dripping from his heart and guts.
He saw the love in her eyes.
He then knew he was going to die, and for the first time in his life he let go.
He gave in and cried.
The sorrow he had hidden in the depths of his heart finally came out.
He cried over his pain, his sorrow, unlived life, the unfelt love, all the suffering he had been through.
A black river of pain rolled over the land.
After that, his anger came out.
He screamed.
Thunder rolled over the mountains and the earth shook.
It was endless.
It was eternal.

The owl woman sat with him until finally he was done.
He looked at her and said: ‘Now I’m ready to die. Take me.’
She looked at him with great tenderness in her eyes.
She said: ‘No. Now you are ready to live.’
She put his heart back, put his guts back and he saw with amazement how his body healed within seconds.
He felt a lightness, a warm glow in his body, a feeling of ease, of love and being loved.
It was a sensation he had never felt before.
Then they heard a deep rumbling, rising up from the earth.
They saw how the surface started to crack open.
The owl woman said: ‘Don’t be afraid. Let go.’
And the man said: ‘But my life. It has just begun!’
‘It has’, the woman said. ‘Let go.’
As she said that, a crack underneath them opened and they fell in.
They tumbled through space.
As they came out the other end, the man noticed he was still alive.
They were flying.
It was magnificent.
He noticed his body had changed.
He now had feathers and wings.
For the first time in his life he felt free.
He felt love.
He felt immortal.
And with a shock he remembered he had always been.
He had just forgotten.

At that moment the woman looked into his eyes and said:
‘Finally, you remember.
I was afraid I had lost you, darling.
You are no longer a shadow dancer now.
You have become a dancer.’


Sanne Burger


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