I Listen To

Sleepy morning light and the sense of being drawn from somewhere else — that’s how the day begins. 5am on the dot, I turn off the alarm before it can make its first clarion call, and roll from bed. The busiest time of the year for me is about to begin, and under the excitement is growing apprehension. Another limitless day ahead, and already the possibilities are set to drown me. Or it would be, if not for the angel on my shoulder… well, less of an angel and more of a companion.

He climbs up onto the silvery surface of the bathroom mirror and swirls, changing form and size and color as he pleases until he finds a shape that suits his mood and waves.

“What’s today for, then?” The words, as always, seem to land in my mind by magic, rather than passing through my ears.

“For working, I suppose,” I reply, and he shakes his head in disapproval.

“Not only — what else? Running? Eating? Art! You could make something shiny and hang it from the branches outside to sparkle in the sunshine.”

“I suppose I could,” I say, unable to hide the growing smile. “I’d like to try a new hobby, maybe.” He shuffles and pantomimes a few different things, “I don’t know what,” I add. “Maybe baking or cooking.”

A nod before he scrambles away — he does that sometimes, takes the lead and charges into the day, leaving me to catch up at some point. It’s a good motivation to push on with the morning.

They say that cleanliness is next to godliness, and while I can’t make any claim to divinity, I’ve never felt worse off for having a good shower. That’s why every morning starts with cleaning. Body, face, teeth, and a fresh set of clothes; shower, bathroom, bedroom, breakfast, then kitchen. Every morning like clockwork, so that when I step into the fresh air, there’s nothing left undone. It could sound boring to some people, but there’s a sense of satisfaction in seeing the room around you come to order. No two days are alike; from the way the light hits the wet floor to the scents on the breeze that enters the open windows…

“No time to dawdle, dude,” he whispers into my mind. “Big day, big things, big big big smiles on the way.” I grin, then, because there’s nothing else to do when my companion sets his mind to it, and a passing stranger smiles back with a surprised look on their face. “See,” he whispers again, “big smiles make big smiles.”

The subway station is packed tight; the stale, warm smell of the trains and their tunnels wafts across the crowds from time to time and a stroke of luck, good or bad depending on who you ask, sends the majority of the crowd into a train that closes its doors and takes off without the rest of us. Too full, perhaps.

While others grumble and check their watches, I feel my companion stir. Three minutes is no great loss, in the grand scheme of things. The painted tiles of the subway walls fade into the background for most people; I step close and look at their design, tracing the intricate lines with wondering eyes until curiosity sends me to my phone.

They were hand-painted, I learn, and designed by one of the city’s most famous daughters. Three schools and a childrens hospital are named for her, and yet most people would say they had never seen her work… while seeing it every day. Remarkable.

“Amazing,” I say quietly, but still some of the people around me turn to look,

“Tell them,” he whispers, and I do. A few people seem unbothered, but one comes closer to look at the tiles. She agrees that it is amazing, and traces the wall with one slim finger before smiling self-consciously and pulling away, wiping her hand on her worn jeans. Her hair is like fire, her eyes are tired but kind.

The man next to her has an elegant nose and a high forehead, his turban is impeccably wrapped. In front of them a small woman is teaching her child to count. His dark, chubby hands make the numbers as she does, and their straight, white teeth flash in the artificial light as they smile. The world is beautiful, even as an asthmatic subway train wheezes to a stop and swallows us all whole.

The office is warm and stuffy, almost sleep inducing; I throw the windows open without delay. The breeze that comes in is sharp and fresh, laden with the smell of wet dirt and freshly cut grass. The work is in full flow this morning; everyone seems to be bowing under the weight of their concerns and thoughts and the stack of paperwork on my desk grows by the minute.

Portfolios, content creation plans, design boards, and client files stack like so many Jenga blocks and threaten to tip as each new item lands. My companion is quiet for a while, letting me sift through the stacks that have formed to plan something like a productive day. There’s just one thing missing and my companion begins to stir.

“Sometimes silence is a cry for help,” he whispers to me and I scan the office floor through my window. Steven is still sitting at his desk, head in his hands, staring at something as though he could will it to make sense. He doesn’t move as I approach him, too lost in whatever thoughts are holding him hostage.

“You alright, Steve?” I ask and he jumps.

“Yes, sorry — I know the Mitchell project is late, but I-”

“It’s alright.” I pull up a chair and move in close to the desk. “Show me what you have. We’ve all been stumped before.”

“I just can’t find… I know that they want and I can give them it, but it’s not unique. Nothing I come up with really pops, Gee.”

“Okay, well, let’s see what we can do about that.” I open my hands for the mood board that he has folded away. My companion scampers back into view and pours over the pictures and details with me. “How can we make this more interesting?” I ask myself, catching Steven and my companion firmly in the net of that question.

“I… I don’t know. I want it to make them feel something, you know?” Steven says.

“I think I understand.”

“Ask him more questions,” my companion says and scampers around to point at a few splashes of color. “About what made him choose these things.”

“What about these,” I ask. “Why did you want to include these?” Steven makes a face and draws in a breath.

“I just wanted to… I don’t know, if I’m honest, I felt like they were attractive and eye-catching.”

“Because of the colors?”

“Partly, but also the lines and the composition,” he says and spreads his hands, then reaches over the mood board. I smile as my companion scampers over his hand, up his arm, and whispers something in his ear before hopping back down to the table and grinning up at me in triumph, “It’s the way they bring the focal object slightly out of center. The way it seems to be on the periphery and the color palette makes it feel fresh and…”

“Avant-garde?” I ask with a chuckle.

“Maybe not that,” he says, blushing a little, “but yes. I want to bring this kind of off-beat but on-trend vibe to the client’s new design. I know this is a marketing campaign,” he says, motioning to the image in question, “but I feel like we can learn from it.”

“We can always learn from the world around us!”

“Of course we can, Steve,” I say. “We can always learn from the things others are doing. I like this idea — get started on it. I’ll buy you some time with the client.”

“Thanks, Gee, I’m sorry I-”

“You’re doing great,” I say and clap his back with my palm. “Just let me know if you struggle in the future?”

“I will.” His shoulders relax as he says it the worry lifts from his eyes. How far a little kindness can go — I often think there’s no limit to the wonders we can work with a little empathy and elbow grease.

The rest of the day flies away in a flurry of actions and inactions, choices and happenings until there’s nothing left but the sinking sunshine and the cool breeze from the window. The air turns sharp; the light becomes golden and oozes over everything sluggishly.

He wriggles back into sight, my little companion, and stretches his form; really stretches it, like a kid’s toy. It loops and bends until he’s satisfied, then shrinks once more.

“Night may come, but the day’s still young — there’s fun in the world for the quick and clever,” he sing songs a little, as he does sometimes, and then clambers up to whisper in my ear. “Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t know,” I mumble, making a few of the remaining employees turn to look at me. A smile shakes off their concern, and their happiness at the finishing of Friday all but pushes me out the door with my companion leading the way.

He changes with the light and wind, growing as he sees things that excite him. This happens often; he is as enchanted by the world as I am. Or perhaps he is why I am so enchanted by the world at large. He leads me out into the city without a backward glance.

My companion is my sometimes my conscience, sometimes my friend, but always my free spirit. He leads me to places that my practical, ambitious brain might not take me otherwise. Introduces me to people and things that I may have otherwise overlooked and keeps be brimming with joyous curiosity; I do not know if everyone has a Companion of their own, but I believe that they should. Mine leads me down a side street lit with fairy lights. The effect is charming; it renders the somewhat dingy street warm in appearance and makes it feel quaint rather than rundown.

The cafes and bars have spilled out into the open air; an empty table beckons. I slide into it and wait for the pretty waitress to come around with her notepad. At a nearby table, a group of kids are hunched over a sheaf of paper. A scattering of pens across the table top give me an idea of what it is that they’re working on.

He’s flitting around them, my companion, ooh-ing and aah-ing with glee on his face so strong that it changes his whole look. One of the kids, more of a teenager, catches my eye and frowns a little.

“Art project?” I ask with a smile, but he only draws his brows down.

“Share something of yourself,” my companion urges.

“I used to be an artist,” I say. “Then I became a graphic designer. Now I work for companies, helping them to make their websites and product packaging.” They warm a little and the close-knit circle they have formed starts to ease open. I can see the making of a comic on the table between them. Or a graphic novel. Well, the plan that will turn into one, one day. The waitress delivers a steaming mug and a plate of small bites.

“It’s gonna be about superheroes,” one of them says before the others can shush him.

“That’s good. Everyone loves a hero.”

“Ask, ask, ask,” my companion whispers.

“Are you each designing your own superhero?” I ask, taking a small bite from a delectable pastry. They nod after a few moments. “I think that’s wonderful. Are they based on you all?”

“No, not really,” a shy boy says, his curly hair shining in the warm lights. “They’re probably more like what we wish we were.” The others laugh and I can’t help but laugh along with them. My companion grins.

“They’re really good,” he says. “Like little slivers of life caught on paper.”

“Can I see?” I ask and the first boy nods hesitantly and leans over the space between us to give me a sheet of paper.

“He wants to be told how good it is,” he says. “He’s not sure. Give him a boost!”

“This is very good,” I say, and I don’t have to lie to say it. “I can see that it’s a draft, but it’s still very good. The lines are clean and the colors are strong… but it’s the face. You’ve made it look like there’s life in it — that’s not easy to do. Some people never manage it, no matter how much they practice…” I hand it back. “You have talent.”

“Thank you.” The flush spreads across his whole face. “Thank you very much.”

“It’s simply the truth.”

“Good, now give them space — let them grow.”

Let them grow — it’s good advice, but my companion always gives the right advice at the right time. It’s a wonderful skill, a wonderful gift to me, and when I do lean back and let them grow, as it suggests, I see how they come back together and bloom. They have their own companions, that much is clear, even if they don’t see and hear theirs as literally as I do mine.

The subway is quiet this time, and the walk home less fragrant. But still there is wonder on the walk home. He dances in front of me and pulses with all the colors and sounds of the world around us, leading me home by the most beautiful, if not most direct, ways. We come to a small park, nestled in the city, where the different trees often bloom and shed in canon, keeping it alive with color and scent for the majority of the year. Despite this barrage of life, it is tranquil. Serene, even. As I stop to take in the night air, my companion settles down by my side,

“Not much like the kids now, are we?” he asks, and I can’t help but laugh. We were like them, once, and he’s right — we’re not much like them now. There was a rawness to them; when they knew they had been noticed, they seemed to retreat. As if the ordeal of being known was mortifying. How long had it been since I felt that.

“No,” I say, “no, we’re not. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

“No, not bad. Just different,” he admits. “Time focuses the mind. Or the lack of it does.”

“We have time,” I say, even as I see what he means. How much life has passed me by? More than I care to admit. “Not as much as we used to. But we have time.”

“And what to do with the rest of it?” He grins and flops back onto the wet ground, looking up at the sky.

“Lots,” I say and lower myself to the ground as well.


“Like expand the business,” I say and he huffs.

“Very daring.”

“Excuse me?” I say, more as a result of shock than anything else; it’s not like him to respond in that way. He rolls his eyes and sighs.

“Work work work, work work work, that’s all we do — there’s more to life! So little time, and all you want to do is work?”

“Of course that’s not all!”

“So what else?”

“I…” I start to speak and then falter. It’s a good question that I’m beginning to think I haven’t given nearly enough thought to. “I’d like to travel more… and learn to cook while I do it. Learn from all the people who know the cuisine and ingredients best.”

“Good! What else?” He’s excited now, glowing and pulsing with life and energy.

“I… want to learn a new language.”


“I don’t know what else. Not yet,” I say, and it becomes clear to me all of a sudden, “I’ll know when I know… all I want to is to stay curious, and to keep growing. That’s all. As long as tomorrow is better than today and ten years from now doesn’t look like ten years ago…”

“No stagnation,” he says. “Just life and living for as long as we have.”

“Exactly,” I nod and stand, feeling the wind chill on the wet denim, slowly seeping through to the flesh of my legs. “No stagnation, just change. And life.”

I move away, knowing that he will follow. The crisp, cold air is invigorating, but sleep is calling. My eyes are itching — when he leads the day, I see more, do more, feel more, but it takes a toll. Tomorrow will be more peaceful, more commonplace, but he’ll come back and that will be another adventure. When I fall into bed, there is an overwhelming sense that everything is as it should be.

“Good night,” my companion whispers.

“Goodnight,” I reply and turn off the lamp. Firmly in place and turning as it should be, the world can be a wonderful thing. I count through the blessings of the day as I slip quietly into the twilight world beyond.