“I remember being in a tunnel,” said Karl, “The walls were so close around me that I could barely move a muscle.” He took another swig from his pint. “And I knew that all it would take was another few centimetres and I’d be free. Felt like hours before I was finally dragged out. And there were lights shining down on me, almost blinding me they were. And people standing around trying to help.” He took another drink as he watched his audience hanging on his every word.
“Whoa, that sounds gnarly dude!” said Trevor.
“I remember it felt so much colder once I was out,” continued Karl, “And I was crying, and the next thing I heard one of the people shout, ‘it’s a boy!’…” He sat back and watched with amusement the way the expressions on his friends faces change from rapt attention to various shades of annoyance and chagrin.
“Oh, come on, Karl!” said Sarah, “That is some bullshit. No way in hell you can remember your own birth!”
It had started as an exercise in team bonding. Karl and his co-workers had gone out for drinks after work and Sarah had suggested a round robin of questions to help the newer members of their group get to know everybody.
She had already relayed a story of sitting on the carpet at her grandfather’s feet and watching the sun shine in through the window onto his bald head. “I remember thinking that I wanted nothing more than to play with that shiny ball.”
Trevor had claimed to remember a trip to see a shopping centre Santa one Christmas and being so scared that his mother had to take him outside before he got his gift.
And then Karl had outdone them all with his story of being born.
“Well, you’ve always said that I have a good memory,” he’d grinned at the look on Sarah’s face. “Okay, okay, you want my actual earliest memory?” He searched through the recesses of his mind. It took quite a while before he found an innocuous one about unravelling a string of beads belonging to his sister, swallowing them, and nearly choking.
Trevor frowned as he listened to the story. He could have sworn that he’d heard that Karl was an only child. Shrugging, he finished his drink, thinking that he must have been mistaken. It was difficult trying to remember what he had been told about which of his co-workers. Still, a few more sessions like this and he was sure that he’d get to know them all a lot better. He wished he had Karl’s memory though.
Karl saw the look on Trevor’s face and cursed inwardly. His legendary memory had let him down for once. “Ah well,” he thought as he emptied his glass, “By the time we leave here, nobody is going to have a head for details and if they do remember, I’ll just claim that I said ‘sitter’ instead of sister.” He offered to buy the next round and headed for the bar with the drinks orders.
The incident that he’d talked about had actually been a true one. It just hadn’t happened to Karl, or at least not when he had been known as Karl. No, that memory had happened to Irene, and they hadn’t managed to get the beads out in time. After that there had been Francois, whose first memory had been of the shiny stove in his mother’s kitchen and whose last had been of leading a doomed charge on a muddy battlefield. He’d been followed by Kathleen whose memories stretched from the Armistice celebrations, to simply turning out the light when she’d gone to bed on her seventy fifth birthday.
There had been more before Irene and Karl was reasonably sure that there would be more to come. Not that he cared to put that theory to the test. He lived each life as if it was the only one he was going to get and had never succumbed to the occasional temptation to see if the grass would be greener the next time around.
And of course, there was always the interval, the limbo between lives that seemed to take somewhere between an instant and an eternity before he was once more dragged forth to yet another existence.
Karl took a quick sip from his pint to make sure it wouldn’t spill on the way back to his seat. Of course, the worst thing might well be the eighteen to twenty years between alcoholic beverages, he thought as he sat down.
Reincarnation did have its downside, but on the upside, there was always something new around the corner.