Rubatosis #atozchallenge

delicate-arch-night-stars-landscape

Rubatosis; the unsettling awareness of your own heartbeat.

The silence was deafening. There was nothing for miles, the desert was seemingly empty of life. And yet, I was here, driving my jeep over dunes, around or through rock formations, heading for a place that always seemed just out of reach like a mirage.

The Archway to Heaven, the locals called it. I had come out all this way to see if it was true. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to find anything but it would be nice if there was an angel waiting for me or if a flight of stairs shimmed up towards the sky.

Finally, I made it to the arch! I cut the engine, got out and climbed up the dune. I stood under the arch and listened. I could hear my heartbeat hammering away and once I’d stilled my feet on the shifting sand, my heart was the only thing I could hear. I felt disturbed and the knowledge that I was alone out here weighed down on me heavily.

The last of the daylight left the sky, the dim gold colours giving over to total darkness. I looked and above me, I saw Heaven.

Little Boy

black-and-white, playing, happy

Emmy woke hours before the alarm went off. Coming to the familiarity of her bedroom, she wondered what had disturbed her. Laying in the early morning light, Emmy’s dark hair spread across the empty pillow next to her, she realised she was not alone.

‘Mummy?’

A soft child’s voice whispered in her ear.

A shiver rushed up her spine and Emmy felt frozen to the bed.

‘Mummy?’ the voice repeated.

‘Hello?’ she finally breathed.

‘Are you awake?’

‘Yes,’ Emmy answered.

‘Me too. I couldn’t sleep anymore.’

Emmy squeezed eyes shut and took a shuddering breath. She felt a small, cold hand on her bare shoulder and a breath against her face.

‘Can I stay with you?’ the voice whispered.

‘I wish you could,’ Emmy gasped, feeling tears in her eyes.

‘Why not, Mummy?’ her son asked.

‘Because you’re gone,’ Emmy chocked out.

‘Gone where?’ the small voice quivered.

‘To heaven.’

‘Oh.’

‘But it’s okay…’ Emmy trailed off as the tears consumed her.

‘Don’t cry, mummy!’

Emmy felt small arms wrapping around her and a head, pushing against her shoulder blade. She brought her hand up and patted the space were she felt the hands interlocked around her throat.

‘I have to go now,’ her son muttered.

Emmy fought back her words and bit her dry lip.

‘I’ll come back. They don’t mind sometimes. Goodbye, Mummy.’

‘Goodbye sweetie,’ Emmy burbled.

She felt the duvet move slightly to the side and the arms around her go. Emmy blinked away tears and finally rolled over. The other side of the bed was empty.

The Biggest Book Store

Books, Book, Education, Reading, Reader, Writer

She couldn’t believe it as she stepped through the doors and saw the book store stretching out before her. Time seemed to stop and she couldn’t take it all in. Then her husband pushed her gently and she moved inside.

‘Look discount books,’ he pointed out.

She went over and looked at the titles with eager eyes. She started pulling books off the shelves and selecting a few. She turned to her husband and found he was holding a basket out to her.

Smiling, she placed the books in. Then spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying her slice of Heaven.

The Arcana Of Dreams (Part 2)

There was gentle harp music playing. I sighed and tried not to open my eyes. The music was so lovely and calming. Something soft was supporting my head and a fluffy blanket was draped over me. I imagined Heavenly things … Continue reading

The Decision

beach, sand, desert, stones

By Paul Coleman

Yesterday, I decided to take my own life and I slit my wrist in the bathtub. This morning I woke on the side of an endless road, where stars still reigned in the sky. The blood on my wrists still streamed out of the wounds; leaving a trail along the gravel road I walked until I reached an aging road sign.

The sign read “HEAVEN upstairs (interviews required), HELL downstairs (free entry), welcome to your decision.”

I leaned against the sign, smoking a cigarette whilst I observed the birth and death of a day, never thinking about my destination or my decision to commit myself to Heaven or Hell. In all honesty I just wanted a staircase to show me which way to go; I have never been good at making decisions because the last one landed me in this place.

Resentment

Does it matter that I’m going to die right here and now? Does it matter at all to anyone? The world won’t come to a stop at my death, I know that…everyone knows that. They only wonder about it. And everything will go on without me as it always has done. Do I resent my life though? All the pain and suffering I’ve caused in others, do I resent that? Maybe it doesn’t matter, maybe death is the absolute end.

And Heaven? Do I believe in that? I guess not, because I don’t believe in God. What about Hell then? I’ve heard people say that’s where I’ll end up…but if I don’t believe there can be one…maybe I’ve been living in it my whole life. Does anyone actually know? I doubt they’d even care anyways. I know there’s going to be no one to mourn my passing.

I had it all; the family, the friends, the lifestyle, the business. Money seemed never endless and I never knew what I ‘hard time’ was. Unless it just bypassed me because I was able to escaped it? The dreams and wishes I had as a child and young person, I achieved and so much more. The world lay at my feet for so long….and now this…..

Dying hurts. No matter what anyone says it does. My suffering has seemed long, though time moves differently when you realize the end is close. Does everyone feel such things before the body gives out? When I saw the footage of people dying in far off countries, when I saw animals worked to death, when the homeless and sick were at my door, begging, is their suffering any different to mine now?

I want to cry out and scream not me, not now, I still want to live, I can go on and change. Can’t anyone grant me that one wish that money can’t buy? I’ve become resentful. Remembering things from a past I had long buried and another that I made my future. I don’t believe in destiny, I made my own. I choice all the paths myself and no guiding hand of fate ever appeared it me. Why waste your life in believing suit dribble?

What I’d give right now though, to feel the sun’s heat one last time. Or to feel sand between my toes, hear the laughter of my children, hold my lover in my arms. Money can’t buy those things, like it can’t buy me time and life. How much I’ve missed in my blindness….those simple things that simple people rejoice in. Those things bypass the rich and famous. They fall on deaf ears and numb skin, they don’t exist in a martial world.

I don’t think I resent that though, those things. They can’t compare to the feel of money on my skin, or the excitement of an extreme sports car. Life should be made up of the big things not the small things…life should be dangerous and expensive. We are the masters…no Gods of the Earth. We can kill the mightiest of animals and wipe them from the plains. We can create life in a lab and travel through space. Those who have power are the greatest and we look down on the Lost of society.

Oh, yeah, I remember the Lost. You look at me now and do you see any stain of them on me? Anything that could make me from the gutter like them? No? Well let me tell you about my other past. It’s a secret I’ve squashed down for an age, even to myself. I made it into a story, a dream, that baby born in a public toilet wasn’t me. That baby was someone else and that child they grew into was someone else too. Why then do I remember their past? The pain of the abuse, the sting of tears and the sense of utter hopelessness? Why do these feelings crowd me so?

As you die why is it that the past always comes back to you? In those final moments why does the mind choice to show us these images? Why reminds of the suffering and not the good times? I can recall years of being in the hands of others. So many faces, names, houses, places, tall buildings, open grass land. There were people sitting behind desks, I peered out of wooden and metal bars. A blood splatter teddy bear in the bath.

Push them away! Return them to the back of my mind! Let them becomes lost in death. No one else need remember them, those where my times of pain….endless suffering….but I escaped. Escaped it all and learned to live again. People abandon their lives all the time and start a new one. It seems the easiest thing to do. Take some clothes, some money and a favourite toy. Get on the bus, a train, a plane and go to a new place. A new place! Where the sun is always shinning and when it does rain the pavements glow. There is no bitter wind or snow, nothing to remind you of home.

That’s new life for you.

If there is a God can he grant me that? Will I start all over again and come back. Come back and live a new time? I heard the theory of reincarnation once. How we all come back and it’s the cycle of life. You don’t always come back as a human though, it could be an animal or plant…but we never remember the past lives. What would we do with this knowledge anyways? We’ll tell stories to the children about how we were once an elephant stomping though Africa, until a hunter shot us and cut out our ivory tusks. And you remember the screams of our family and the fear in the baby’s eyes?

Such stories we would tell the world. They’d make a book and keep a record of everyone’s other lives to be studied. But it wouldn’t change the world. Even if people knew we can back as elephants we would still hunt them. It’s what mankind are programmed to do. Have I ever killed an animal? In my dark past I killed a cat to eat with some homeless men. In my new past I killed a stray dog because it bit my child. But I did these things to survive and I don’t regret them.

For years men have question what is in the beyond. We searched the lands, seas and skies looked for some truth in the old lies. We found nothing but old bones and silenced mouths. Now we searched space, hoping to reach out behind our means and make connect with other beings we believe exist. Of Heaven and Hell, of limbo, of Paradise of damnation, we have found nothing. How can the places exist then? Are they like the wind? But surely then we would feel them?

What do I feel? Empty….Am I sure? I lie. I feel fear and dread, for I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if I’ve lived my whole life a lie and that when it turns out there is a God, surely my whole life will then be a regret. But what if there is nothing? Then I shall be nothing and remain so.

What did I do with my new life? Wasted it…my business grow, I gained friends, a lover, a family, a fortune. I threw it all away after those glory days. First my children left me and then my lover. My friends dwindled until they had all gone and the money? I spent it all. Threw it all into things I thought would make me happy, make me forget it all. I brought objects of beauty that should have been shared with the world, but I hide them away. Took long holidays in hot, dry countries or cold, snowy ones in which I studied the culture and learned the history of the peoples. I begin to live through the eyes of the others.

However, when I returned to my life, it didn’t change me. The people below me I wanted nothing to do with. I hide with those beauty objects on the island that was my house. But I never wanted to hide from the world. It is my deepest regret that person I became….the one you see before you now. I am corrupt by power, hatred, desire and money. This person is the end of my destiny, though I never choice that path. If there is a God in Heaven, can he forgive me? Has he been able to see what greed has done to me?

But if there is a God then surely there must be a Devil in Hell and can see my sins also. Will it be his hand I feel when the last breath comes? Will my soul rot in a fire pit forever? Wait! Do I even have a soul? If I don’t believe then maybe I don’t have one? But then again maybe I still do…maybe anything does have a soul and we just don’t know it. What does it look like? What does it do and feel? Can mine be saved, if that’s needed? Can it rest in peace until it’s allowed to return for another chance?

Maybe everything is wrong though and there is nothing. Just a made up tell for children to comfort them in dark times. We are living a lie then and then truth is always beyond our reach because we are not powerful enough to get it. Can that always be so? Will mankind never know the answers to those questions we ask in every generation? Maybe the truth doesn’t have to be found though, maybe we each know and we have always known, because it’s always been inside of us.

The pain is unbearable! Is this the end? What do I see before me? Darkness still. Is that to be all of it? Never ending darkness and drifting? Please let there be something more, please let there be something else. I’ve lost everything, but my sins. The cling to me still, but I want them gone….can they go…can I be forgiven as I become forgotten? Please if there is something out there now, hear me…I repent everything.

What is that whiteness? The dot in the corner of my eyes. It grows…so big and bright! What is it?

Church (Chapter 2, Part 3)

Continued from Church chapter 2, parts 1 and 2

Settling back into the trunk tree chair, I wondered where to actually begin and how much I should reveal to Rain. She was busy picking her way through the fruit basket, seemly ignoring me as she selected a few pieces of peeled and cut star fruit. I wondered where all the fruits had come from, then couldn’t delay any longer.

‘I can’t really remember my early days of being, because I was created to be a warrior angel right from the start. I have shadowy memories of things I did, events that happened, friends who are no longer. I don’t dwell in the past and anyway it’s far too long now.  Though, I can recall things from the human life I once lived,’ I ended in a shrug.

Rain glanced up at me from nibbling a point off the star fruit. Her expression showed her interested and her wish for me to continue.

‘We all have the choice to spend some time as mortal if we want it,’ I picked up, ‘I can’t speak for the others, for it has been awhile since I last enjoyed a peaceful and pleasant time with my brothers. I wouldn’t have done it of my own accord though. I was told to by my leader and I always do whatever he asks of me.’

‘Did you enjoy it?’ Rain asked in a soft voice.

I noticed she was running her finger over the table top and tracing circles. Her mismatched eyes were downcast, but when she rose them up to mine, because I didn’t reply, I noted a hint of sadness there.

‘For a time. But a part of me always was…unsatisfied. In that body and conscious mind, I didn’t know what I truly was, but my soul and unconscious mind did. I suffered the great hardships common to mortals, but it didn’t change me. I don’t know the reasons I was sent there, maybe the purpose is yet to happen. Are you human or were once?’ I asked.

Rain let out a big sigh and slide back on the chair, ‘I was born and grew up human, before…’ she shook her head slightly, then whispered, ‘I wish I’d never existed.’

I frowned and paused, waiting and willing her to go on. Instead she let the silence between us grow and the noise of the paradise garden filled my ears. British and exotic birds were singing to each other and flirting about the trees and bushes. Bees and other insects were buzzing and the stream was still babbling away to itself. I heard a patter of raindrops and looked across the garden.

I had avoided looking through the wooden bars of the railing at the rolling landscape, for uncertainty about that mind effecting spell. However, after a few moments, I realised that Rain had been right about this platform being a neutral space.

‘Is it raining?’ I asked.

She looked over too and nodded, ‘Yes. I like the sound and smell of rain. Sometimes you can hear gale force winds and thunder. It just depends on my mood. None of it harms anything and it’s the same with the animals and plants. There’s no time here, remember?’ she added as puzzlement flashed on my face, ‘anyway, you were saying?’

‘I’ve not been mortal since then and don’t really wish too. The only thing I know is my work, because it is the only thing I was created to do. I fight evil in whatever form it decides to hide in and no matter where it is. Most of the time, it happens to be on Earth now, not that it bothers me. Well, I did use to enjoy it so…’

Rain perked up as I trailed off, her face eager for me to explain myself.

I sighed and decided there was no harm in sharing the truth with her, ‘I’m trapped here. I can’t get back to Heaven and my powers are waning.’

‘Why is that?’ Rain breathed.

‘I don’t know and so far I’ve not been able to figure it out,’ I answered.

I got to my feet and began walking about the platform. The rain was falling heavier now and I could hear it hitting the stream and mossy rocks. Also, the sunlight had seemed to dim, though there was still enough light surrounding us. The delicious smell of damp soil and wet plants crowd my nose, with the midnight jasmine coming out on top. I started pacing and Rain, after a few moments of quietness began searching through the fruit basket again.

‘I don’t think I did anything wrong,’ I muttered to myself, ‘and if I had Fallen I would have surely known. I’ve constantly asked for guidance and had hardly anything. No other angel or my leader has tried to speak to me, well at least not to my knowledge.’

‘You’d know if something happened up there, wouldn’t you?’

I turned at the sound of her voice and saw her looking thoughtfully at me, whilst rubbing her fingers across a peach in her right hand.

I nodded, ‘I always have before,’ and went to sit down, only I saw her rising and paused.

‘Would you like some jasmine tea? Or maybe something else to drink? I was thinking about having some and then going to bed.’

‘That sounds fine to me. Do you have a kitchen?’

Rain put the peach back and pressed her palms to the table. She pulled herself all the way up as if her body had become stiff whilst we had been talking. She inclined her head to the right and my eyes followed the movement. There seemed to be nothing but a magnificent cherry tree wood panelling with traditional Japanese scenes carved on it. I hadn’t noticed it before and quickly realised, that I could stare at it forever just like the garden.

Rain moved off and following her, I watched as she turned a concealed handle in the trunk of a blossoming cherry tree. Pushing, relieved a hidden door, through which was a kitchen as modern as the bathroom had been.

‘I don’t keep much,’ she said as we stepped through. ‘I don’t spend that long here.’

‘But the fruit? Where does that come from?’ I asked, looking around. The kitchen was small, with a few cupboards and work surfaces with more underneath. A sink took dominance as there were no other appliances to do so. Rain had just used it to fill a kettle, which she now clicked on.

‘It’s not real,’ she tossed over her shoulder.

I rubbed my face with my sleeve covered arm and moved some strains of hair back into place. I poked my tongue into my cheeks where I could just about taste the remains of the apple I had eaten.

‘It seemed so,’ I mumbled and wonder how great Rain’s powers could actually be, ‘are you going to tell me about yourself now?’

She lifted her shoulders in a quick shrug and made up a teapot of jasmine tea.

‘Maybe, later. I’m tired after all your talking. Here,’ she added and handed me a Japanese tea cup.

‘Is this real?’ I asked staring into the cup and looking at the light brown tea inside.

Rain gave a little laugh, ‘yes.’

To Be Continued…

Heaven Sent

Mercy didn’t just hear or smell the angel falling and becoming caught in the power lines; she saw it. Abandoning the wet clothes she had been taking out of the washing machine, she hurried outside and across to where she thought at first a person parachuting or using some other flying device had come down. She heard the crackle of electricity and could only watch as a bolt travelled along into the person.

Crying out, she saw the person struggling and more electric bolts striking them. Even as she came to stand close by, she knew there was nothing to be done and really, she should have phoned the police straight away. Too many times she had seen birds and other animals go the same way. Wrapping her hands in her dress and apron, she heard one of the lines twang and Mercy looked up to see it snapping. The now still body was weighing the lines down and they couldn’t take the weight. She moved back, torn between seeing if the person was still alive and going back to the house to phone for help.

The lines snapped, dropping down and wrapping around the person as if they had been caught in a spider’s web. Mercy stepped forward before stopping again, the lines could still be alive and she couldn’t afford to put herself in danger. A limb hand reached out towards her and for the first time she saw the white feathers. Frowning she wonder if a bird had become tangled up too, but as more white feathers drifted down, she came to the conclusion that the person must have been using some kind of winged flight contraption.

Slowly, she approached and nudged the bundle of wires and body with her booted foot. She wondered if the electricity had run into the earth now and if it was safe to touch the body. They must be dead, she thought, nobody could have survived that. A groaning called her out of her thoughts and Mercy knelt as best she could and tried to figure out where the person’s head was.

‘Hello? Are you alive? Moan or something if you can hear me,’ she spoke.

A moan sounded and she took that for an answer.

‘I don’t know what to do. Should I call someone?’

Another groan and then the person moved and slowly began to untangle themselves.

‘I don’t think you should do that,’ Mercy said as she moved backwards, ‘the wires could still be alive.’

A tumble of words reached her ears and puzzled she watched as a man emerged from the power lines and climbed to his feet before her. Her bewilderment grew as she saw the man was wearing what appeared to be a white robe- now slightly burnt and very dirty-and brown sandals. His hair was very blonde and just long enough to cover his face and neck. He also had large white wings strapped to his back and smoke was drifting up from them. Mercy pointed and tried to tell him this, but words failed her.

He stared at her with the bluest eyes she had ever seen before looking at his wings.

‘On no!’ he cried and began twisting and turning about whilst trying to stop the smouldering feathers.

That’s highly ineffective, Mercy thought and almost left to get a bucket of water, but the risk of causing more danger stopped her. ‘There’s a water pump over,’ she called out instead.

With an anguished cry, the man rushed over and pumped the handle like crazy. Water gushed out and he dived under. Mercy followed behind him, watching his hand trying to pump the water whilst his other grabbed at the wings. Mercy took over for him and instructed him to sit down. She was relieved to find that worked and the man became calm as the water rushed over his wings.

‘Can’t you just take them off?’ she asked, ‘it might be easier and you wouldn’t have to get wet too.’

He stared at her, water dripping off his hair and face. She gasped at his handsomeness and her hand slipped off the handle. He stood up and the two wings spread themselves out behind him. They were almost as tall as he was, but a lot broader, each made an arch shaped behind him and Mercy wondered how they actually worked.

‘They’re attached,’ he answered.

She pulled a face, not convinced she had heard him right. Before she could ask what he meant, he turned around and she saw that they were attached to his shoulder blades. Large holes had been cut in the robe for them to fit through and Mercy could see patches of skin.

‘An angel? But…I…how?’ Mercy stuttered.

He turned with a flourish, holding his arms wide in front of his wings, ‘that’s what I am. Well done. How? Because I was good in life. I’m Septimus, nice to meet you.’

Mercy swayed backwards, her mind and mouth trying to form words but making no sounds.

‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean too…’ Septimus looked over his shoulder at the broken power lines, ‘I can fix that…erm…you are Mercy Bentley, right?’

She nodded and had to steady herself on the water pump. Breathing deeply, she rested her other hand on her hip and looked down at the puddle of water which was slowly disappearing into the dry earth.

‘Are you okay? Do you want some water? A chair?’

Mercy waved her hand and kept her eyes fixed on the ground. So many thoughts and questions were rushing through her head. She wasn’t sure what to ask first or if she wanted anything to do with this angel as he claimed to be. Taking a deep breath, she brought her hands to her stomach and looked at him.

‘Maybe we should go in and sit down?’ he suggested.

‘Why are you here?’ Mercy asked instead.

‘God sent me. Well, really, my commander did. He got his orders from one of the angels above him and they might have got the orders from one of the angels up top and they were probably got there orders from Him. Though, I can’t be sure. I don’t understand the system, it can get confusing, you see?’

Mercy shook her head.

‘I’m here to help you,’ Septimus concluded.

‘I’m fine. Honest,’ Mercy replied and turned to leave.

‘No you’re not,’ the angel called and came to her side. They walked together for a moment then the angel added, ‘you’re just in shock. It’ll pass soon. Would you like to go and lay down? I can wait.’

‘I’m good, thanks, please leave me alone. I’m sorry you had a wasted trip. Goodbye now.’

Mercy reached her porch and walked up the steps. As her fingers reached out for the door handle, the angel’s voice spoke close to her ear, ‘I’ve been assigned to stay with you. I’ve come to help you and the baby.’

Mercy spun, her hands dropping to her lower belly. She saw that the angel was behind her, waiting at the bottom step and looking up at her with a sad expression on his face. Septimus shrugged his shoulders and wings as if in reply.

‘How do you know?’ she asked.

He looked up at the sky, ‘we see everything.’

Mercy glanced up then opened her front door and stormed in.

‘It’s’ the truth,’ he called after her.

She heard his sandaled feet slapping on the floor and the door opening. He followed her into the living room and joined her on the sofa. Miraculously, he was dry and clean as he sat down. Fascinated, she watched his wings folding around him and fading in definition until they had almost disappeared. She wanted to reach out and touch them to see if they were still there, but she resisted.

‘You asked God for help,’ Septimus begin softly, ‘He can’t come Himself, so He sent us- His angels- in His place. We try to do the best we can, but people can be so…resistant, I guess?’ he shook his head, ‘humans don’t believe like they used to. It can take a while for them to accept us, but we only want to help.’

‘And how do you plan to help me?’ Mercy cut in.

‘In whatever way I can.’

‘Useful. Really useful,’ she puffed, ‘aren’t you suppose to try and convince me to keep the baby or something? You do know I’m still thinking about getting rid of it or adopted, right?’

Septimus nodded, ‘of course, I know that, but that’s not my job. It’s up to you what you do. It’s your body, your fault, free will and all that.’

‘My fault, huh?’

‘Well…’

Mercy picked up a paper fan and began to fan herself, though she was half tempted to hit the angel with it. He was shrugging his shoulders again and looking for a better way to explain his words. He shook his head and turned back to Mercy’s piercing eyes.

‘I’m here to guide you and help you to reach a decision, if you like. But, I’m perfectly happy with what you decide to do. Your baby isn’t one that’s important to the world, so that should make it easier. I mean…he, they, don’t really change anything. Ouch!’

Mercy hit him with the fan and stood up, ‘don’t talk about my baby like that! Get out!’

‘I’m sorry!’ Septimus shouted and curled up in a ball whilst his hands stayed held up to ward away the fan, ‘this is my first job in a while. Really, I wanted one of the female angels to do it, but she wouldn’t swap. I’m trying to get it right. I’m sorry.’

‘How can you be so unprepared to do your job?’

‘I’m not. I had this speech and anything. Just nervous or something, I guess. I want to help. Honest I do! Please!’

‘Well, I don’t want it. Leave! Go back to Heaven or wherever. You’ve caused enough damage. I don’t need any more around here.’

‘I’ll go and fix the power line right now. I said I would, didn’t I? Septimus bawled as he jumped up and fled to the door.

Mercy watched him go then dropping the fan, went into the kitchen. Her washing was still on the floor. Tutting, she picked it up and began hanging it up. From the corner of her eye, she saw a flicker of light and turned to the window. Frowning, she stepped closer and watched as the angel fried himself again on the live power lines. Shaking her head and putting her hands on her hips, she decided she had no choice but to go and help him again, least he get into more trouble.

Putting on her coat, she went outside and saw Septimus curled up on the floor shaking, his wings and robe with smouldering again and he looked miserable. Mercy tapped him with her boot and his eyes rolled to her face.

‘Come on,’ she said, ‘before you actually kill yourself.’

Slowly, they went to the water pump and she dumped cold water over him once more.

‘Seems, like I’m going to have to teach you a few things,’ she added.

The angel nodded, ‘I have a lot to learn.’