The Silent Guest
Dr. Nihal D. Amerasekera
The pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and non-sense, not between right and wrong.
Carl Jung (1875-1961)
It was the spring of 1980. I had just completed my final examination and the relief was almost palpable. With two of my friends I decided to celebrate the occasion with a weeks holiday in Cornwall in the southern tip of England. We booked a holiday cottage in St. Ives and arrived at the village in the late afternoon. It was a holiday village with numerous cottages of the same design spread over a wide area.
Cornwall is a lush green peninsula that projects into the ice cold waters of the Atlantic. Throughout the year it is battered by the prevailing south westerly winds that bring moisture laden clouds from the Gulf of Mexico. Rain is never far away. The truth is far removed from the travel poster images of blue skies and broad sandy beaches. It is often engulfed by violent storms. The sea around it is littered with shipwrecks since the early seafaring days.
The peninsula played host to the gentry and the villains alike. The landed gentry owned vast acres of that green and pleasant land. They fought for their King and country and formed the British aristocracy. The many swashbuckling pirates who created their own empire in these parts inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write his epic Treasure Island. The Cornishmen accept the climate with a philosophical shrug although we braved it with less fortitude.
Cornwall comes to life in the summer with scores of families heading to the coast with a never ending stream of cars clogging up the highways and byways. After the summer holidays Cornwall slips back a century to a land of peace and solitude. The river Tamar meanders through its plains and valleys. It supports and sustains life as it finds its way into the sea at multiple exits. The many villages that line its vast forbidding grandeur of its coastline give refuge to the brave fishermen. They take their lives in their hands every night as they venture into the treacherous and inhospitable waters of the Atlantic. Shoals of pilchards and sardines imprisoned by their nets give them their livelihood. Of the many who went to sea some never return adding to the misery and hardship. The drifting sands are hardly a refuge for these brave fishermen off the Cornish coast.
There is no fever like the quest for the past. We wandered the length and breadth of Cornwall looking for remnants of the past from Roman ruins to King Arthur’s Castle at Tintagel. Wherever we went we seem to be the only intruders. When the thunderstorms broke we took refuge in farms and barns. Often gulls and ravens became our only companions. My reliable Volkswagen Polo took us around Cornwall during the day. We spent the evenings in the quiet pubs and bars that dotted the countryside, wining and dining at will. It was indeed a most relaxing week away from the hustle and bustle of London.
Once after a long journey we returned late. I dropped off my pals at the nearby Seafood Restaurant and slipped home for a quick change and a wash. I remember it well being a cold and drizzly evening. I parked my car opposite our cottage and walked up the steps to the main door. As I walked into the lounge it was well lit by the street light streaming through the wide bay window. The smell of frying bacon filled the room. I was puzzled as we never cooked in the house. I thought I had gone into the wrong house and stepped back to look at the number on the door. It was certainly the cottage we had rented. I groped for the light switch but couldn’t seem to find it. A mist or a fog seem to waft across the lounge and there was an icy chill in the air. I saw the head of a lady seated in the sofa facing away from me. As I said hello! The head turned towards me and her face became clearer. She had long dark hair combed back. She was an old woman with knitting in her hands. I will never forget her piercing deep set eyes staring at me. She stood up with the greatest of ease like a well oiled robot. Then her face lit up with a broad smile. She seemed transparent and I could see the wall and the television through her bright white dress. My legs and arms didn’t seem to move for a moment. When I switched the light on the fog was gone and so was the lady. This unnerved me completely. I have never seen anything like this before or ever since. My legs were shaking with fright. I shut the door and returned to my friends in the fading light.
When I related the story they were rather apprehensive to get back to the cottage. It was hardly a tale for a wet English spring. We remained a few more days in Cornwall but did not experience anything untoward. When I returned the cottage keys to the caretaker I related my story. He didn’t seem surprised and looked again at the number etched on the key with a knowing smile. He hurriedly said goodbye and wished us a safe journey home.
I have never had any belief in the supernatural and as always will remain a sceptic. Stories of the occult have been a part of fairy tales. After my experience I had never known greater despondency. Was it an illusion or a vision. The images of nearly quarter of a century still haunts me when I visit that splendid corner of England. Fear is now forgotten, danger had never been, and what remains is a mystery. The bitter hot tang of the frying bacon is in my nostrils even now. For a born cynic what perpetually amuses and amazes me is the obtuseness of this weird and wonderful world.
I dedicate this anecdote to my silent guest in the hope she would find lasting peace.