Naught up for grabs. I mean, there is nothing there. All on me and my desires. To go where, to do what… my swollen ankle ligaments speak to me, in voices like angels. But their message is not angelic, if angelic means uplifting, compassionate, for the glory of the Almighty. No, they speak of base things, of human excrement, of desiccated flies, of putrid fruit. Above all they speak of guilt, of fault, of the impossibility of redemption. Then other parts of my body start to speak to me. It is the inflamed parts that speak the loudest. My intestines positively shout. Imprecations, accusations of debt (financial and moral), blasphemies of all colours, protestations of negligence. I swallow 2 Ibuprufen and that quietens the storm a little. I can still hear rumblings but the words are indistinguishable. Little by little the cacophony subsides and though still present I can at least think of other things. Suddenly a knock at my door. I freeze, then plunge behind the sofa. I was not expecting this. I fear the worst. Quickly I search around the room for a disguise. All I can find is an old leather cowboy hat. I put it on and glance in the mirror. It might just work. I make a very unlikely cowboy. There is a second knock – this one sounds angrier and more impatient. And it seems to be coming from several hands, or paws, or sticks, or stones, all banging at the same time. Holding on to my cowboy hat I tiptoe to the window. Beyond lies the fire-escape and freedom, just on the other side of the double glazing. And as I look, a large white albatross floats into view, and alights on the handrail of the fire-escape. It stares at me intensely. I look at it with yearning. But the exit is locked, and I desperately try without success to rotate the rusted handle. The knocking from the door intensifies, accompanied by a strange wailing noise, like a rusty saw grating on a decrepit metal fixture. And through the keyhole emerges smoke, thin at first but gradually thickening into a suffocating acrid putrid fog. At least the hammering has stopped, but the grating screeching wail is amplified with each cloud of smoke that penetrates into the room. I cannot see any more, only smell (vile) and hear (excruciating)… but little by little the smoke forms into solid shapes, letting some light penetrate through the spaces between. And the grating noise is cohering into syllables that join together into some ancient language – Babylonian? Egyptian? I do not know as I have no inkling of these remote tongues, but the voices become more insistent, and as they repeat I begin to understand what they are saying. I understand that they are insulting me, profanities, curses, vilifications. Their sound is so ugly, so grating, so discordant and so damn loud that I sink to the floor, covering my ears. My cowboy hat falls off and settles uselessly a few inches from my elbow. My disguise is blown. And now the smoke shapes seem to have cohered into the forms of my inner organs – I am sure of this though I don’t know how – I recognise my liver, my gall bladder and further behind, shrivelled and distorted into inelegant, uncomfortable intertwining strands, my spleen. My large colon seems to be bullying my small colon in some grotesque wrestling match, pinning it to the floor and eliciting screams and whimpers from the frankly pitiful victim. My kidneys are like two chubby twins, sitting opposite each other and ignoring all the other goings on as they share jokes and titter in high pitched complicit laughter. My brain is nowhere to be seen. As I vow that I will never take Ibuprufen tablets again, I hear a tapping on the window. It is the albatross’ beak, tapping as if asking to be let in. My liver rears up and roars demonically, a powerful shriek that seems to move the walls, while my colon writhes and spits menacingly. But the albatross simply cocks its head to one side, in a friendly and curious way, and waits to be let in. I know that I can’t open the window – I can barely raise my head so intense are the screams and cries. And I feel that I am a weak, pathetic shell – can it be that my organs have really exited my body, and if so, how can I remain a sentient being? My colon has now advanced as far as the window, still writhing and spitting in the direction of the white bird, that still seems to be listening and watching quite calmly, but with real interest. Suddenly another smoke-organ appears, and with a pulsating motion, squishes and gyrates purposefully to the door, crushing the colon in its irresistible progression. It is, I sense, my heart, but my heart was never so determined or so headstrong. It has taken control now, and the other organs, spread around the room, have quietened and are still. The heart somehow takes hold of the door handle and with astonishing ease prises it open. And then retreats to leave space for the bird to enter. The albatross descends from the handrail and hops (at least almost hops) daintily (perhaps not quite) into the room. At once there is silence. The smoke-organs lose their forms, become once more simply smoke, then exit as if sucked out of the room through the door keyhole, their feverish babble of protests and complaints fading as they leave. The heart is the last to go; as if its job is done, it waits as the other forms lose their outlines and exit, then it too becomes amorphous and disappears. I am left alone with the albatross. It sizes me up and down. I don’t feel scared though; I am no longer capable of feeling anything except a vague sensation of indigestion. Then its gaze turns towards the fallen hat and I sense that it is for this paltry prize that it has come. With an almost delicate turn of the head, its beak directs downwards and grips the rim of the hat. It flips it upwards and it lands on the centre of the bird’s smooth white head. There is a moment of absolute and total calm and stillness, so profound that it feels as though the earth has stopped spinning on its axis. The bird opens its beak and speaks to me a secret so phenomenal, so intense, that I cannot set it down on paper or indeed allow myself to think of it. One phrase, the import of which changed my life forever, and which no-one else will ever hear or understand. One phrase, in which all the wisdom of the ancients was gathered together and purged to its essence. One phrase, that I dare not speak or ponder, but which is with me always and which will carry me through life, into death, and beyond into the worlds of multi layered complexities and infinite profundity that await all those who have received the word. I am starting to sound like some proselytising git, a charlatan, a nincompoop. Perhaps the albatross’ message was a mere squawk that my organ-less and enfeebled body perceived as something of sacred significance. Perception is all. There is no objective truth.