Aged four or thereabouts; maybe five. He would wake up in the night bathing in treacle. It wasn’t the flavour but the consistency. He could move but only as if in slow motion. Still, that was better than being paralysed. One element drove his little body out of bed, down the stairs, through the front door (after climbing on a chair to unlock the latch) and out onto the frozen street. He didn’t know how to put it into words. All he knew was that if he remained where he was in bed, he would certainly die. For a crushing weight had pressed down on him with inhuman force. He later read a story about a man in a room in which all six surfaces had gradually closed in on him and this is what he related to his earlier night time experience of crushingness.
From that tender age he had known the meaning of terror; and it had taken many years of crushing before he was able to withstand those converging walls. In hindsight, he had realised that the experience was some kind of test to increase his strength and power of will. There were always tests. The trick was to discern when it was a test. So often he had realised too late and missed the test. Whenever he mentioned these tests to people, a tiny few had understood but the majority scoffed bitterly. That scoffing — he had observed — was way beyond what would be normal disagreement and bordered on fanaticism. What seemed to upset the scoffers was that the idea of a test implies a tester apart from the one being tested. When they questioned that, Nathan would tell them that he had met his testers — not in the flesh but “in the spirit”. Once he had tried to describe one to me. He said they came to him from other worlds so unlike our own that he was almost lost for words. He would tell people:
“They don’t even have a describable form. You would have to imagine electricity flowing through a cable, then squeezing through a hole of sorts, then materialising around you in a crazy unseen cloud and then give it a name like Jarod or Beltine or Nedrigor. Then you might start to have a little glimpse.”
Pause. Followed mostly by scoffing.
Nathan would say: “There is only one thing worse than ignorance and that is wilful ignorance.”
The first time that he had been “presenced” (as he would put it) by such a being was between two and three years old. From that time, for about five years, this creature had lived in his wardrobe. He could just about see it. There was a discernable form like a transparent shadow and something crackled like rain falling on glowing embers in a fire. It started early one morning as he lay under the covers on his broken bed. A sound which had a quasi-human tone came from the heart of the vast dark oak monolith which stood in one corner like a reminder from the past. One of the doors moved then hung open like an outstretched arm beckoning him to step within. He peeped out over the top of his sheets and peered at the open space. He could just make out the dark formless shape. It was a kind of shady blob sharing space with his clothes. Was he frightened of it? No. Why not? Because it seemed friendly. How could he tell? Because he felt a smile cascading around the room.
“Who are you?” said Nathan. Then he felt a voice on the inside of his skin reply: “I’m your friend”.
He would talk to this shadow for hours. He learned more from within his wardrobe than from his kindergarten or school, which he regarded as a daily imposition on his freedom and the creative meanderings of his mind. When his mother said “Who were you talking to?” he would reply “To my shadow” and she would say “You are a funny boy” (with the accent always on the word “are”). When he was eight years old and she asked the same question, he would answer, with some triumph in his voice, “To my nebulosity” (a word he had invented specially for the presence in the cupboard). At which his mother would turn to his father (who was never listening) and ask with consternation in her voice:
“Where did we get this boy?” (with the accent always on the word “get”).
The father, on stirring from his snoring stupor, would reply: “What? You know where we got him”.
She: “I didn’t mean it like that.”
The father was referring to the questionable orphanage from where they had collected the eight-week old Nathan. His parents never had to tell him that he wasn’t theirs for him to know it (though they mentioned it at every opportunity, as if designed to make them feel ultra-charitable and him feel eternally grateful). Right from the start of his sojourn in that family he had felt completely alienated, as if birthed from another world which was his true home. From as early as he could remember he had wanted the words “He never belonged here anyway” to be carved on his gravestone.
One evening, when his mother was listening to “Strangers in the Night” sung by Frank Sinatra on her Dansette record player, he had seized on the title as a fitting description of his time among those family people and in the world in general. Later, he romanticised his experience as being like Abraham’s friend, Melchizedec, “without father, without mother, without genealogy” — having somehow materialised on this planet in a mystery. In a sense, this was true, as we shall see; and it had played a key role in the development of his calling.
It would be no exaggeration to say that because of those early experiences Nathan spent the first part of his life attempting, with futility, to belong somewhere. However, there came a time when he ceased that search — what he called his Day of Elucidation. But we will learn more about that in its own place…