The venue was the conference room at the Palace Hotel. Regimented rows of chairs formed blocks of seating on either side of the room. A wide aisle led to a rostrum emblazoned in stylish, royal blue lettering; ‘Arnold and Pryce Auctioneers’. The room was filling up fast. Some chose to stand to the sides, clutching their auction numbers and brochures, whilst others manoeuvred into place, some strategically seated to catch the eye of the auctioneer whilst others choose aisle seats to enable easy exits after they had bid, or not, on their preferred lots.
There was a buzz in the room, a collective energy that gave me butterflies in my stomach, an intense feeling of anticipation and a niggling, nervous energy. I took my seat near the rear of the room and attempted to skim read the brochure, but my distraction levels were high, and I could not help but scan the room for potential bidders for Lot 236, the cabin on the beach.
It had been a full six months since Eddie had passed away. I missed Eddie so much but had very fond memories of our times spent together on the sand in front of his run-down cabin, putting the world to rights, imagining what lies beneath the ocean waves and being curious together, about the night skies, shooting stars and distant galaxies.
I had bumped into Eddie some four years ago as I was walking along the shoreline on a favourite nearby beach. At the time I was feeling alone and a bit lost and that chance meeting with Eddie helped change my mindset and gave me a newfound sense of worth and pride, something that had been missing in my life for a long time. I had so much respect for him. He had helped me feel comfortable with my place in the world.
Eddie was a tall, tanned and tattooed man in his mid-seventies. He dressed as you would expect someone who lives on the beach to dress, tatty shorts, baggy and faded t-shirt and wrists full of friendship bracelets. He wore a small but perfect conch shell on a leather thong around his neck and a small silver stud in each ear lobe. His dry and wispy hair was long but kept in place with a sweatband and, when the sun was high, he would wear a stained and tatty Panama hat that was festooned with feathers and small beach finds, neatly tucked into the woven band.
Our friendship blossomed over those four years. We never had a formal arrangement, we never planned our meet-ups, they came by chance as we happened upon each other on our favourite stretch of coastline and beach. As the months passed, our time together developed into a deeper understanding of each other, mutual respect for our chosen lifestyles and a greater sense of our place in the world. A friendship so in sync, I never thought was possible. We never chatted about where we came from, our families, our work or our relationships. Some would say our friendship was superficial but the connection we shared was far from it. We bonded on a spiritual level, something I never thought I would ever imagine myself thinking or feeling, after all, I was from a social and cultural background that believed spirituality was people with too much time on their hands and a penchant for wearing cheesecloth or lycra in the most inappropriate places.
The auction began. A small man in a blue pin-striped suit, raced through lot after lot, attentively keeping eye contact with bidders across the room. People left, others arrived, chairs emptied and chairs were reoccupied. I occasionally followed the auction brochure and imagined what the properties on offer were like on the inside, who had lived there and, what had happened to their occupants. A regular, sharp knock of the gavel sealed the deal and brought my drifting mind back to unfolding events of the day.
I wondered what Eddie would have made of it all? In the main, a room full of speculators, hoping to bag a bargain and make a killing on the property ladder. We had talked on many occasions about a materialistic lifestyle and how unimportant it was in the scheme of things. He often told me “Don’t complicate your life by surrounding yourself with people who see life as a competition about who has the most material possessions”. His words echoed in my mind as we edged nearer to Lot 236. Eddie was no fool, he had worked out how the world worked long ago and had chosen to let it go bit by bit, piece by piece as he came to terms with his, what he called, “freedoms and insights that make the heart sing”.
He was well known in the local area and seen as an eccentric, a drifter, a no-one who lived in a ramshackle cabin on the beach. People had grown used to his presence and largely ignored him, shied away or actively avoided him. His monthly trips to the local town reinforced people’s bigotry. Stories abounded about him. Some said he was a tech millionaire who had dropped out of society to become a beach bum whilst others suggested he was a pot-head and drug dealer. The wildest story I overheard was that Eddie was on a witness protection programme after grassing up a couple of mob members…
I never really got to know his story and he never got to know mine, but that didn’t matter as the time we shared was not inhibited by our social codes and boundaries nor tainted by past experiences. We never aimed to solve the problems of the world nor did we forget how beleaguered humanities existent was. We simply imagined life lived in different ways, both in our world and in other worlds. Eddie believed that if you could imagine something then you could make it happen. He helped me re-imagine mine and indirectly helped me work toward living my life with truth, honesty and meaning.
“Lot 236, The Cabin on the beach. As described in the catalogue, subject to local planning conditions, with a reserve price of eighty-five thousand euros”. The Auctioneer continued, “we have had a lot of interest in this property and I believe we have four” he paused, “no five telephone bidders”.
“I’d like to start the bidding at…” the auctioneer glanced down at his papers, “one hundred and twenty thousand”. His acuity was impressive as his eyes darted back and forth, left to right and from papers to screen. The bids came in fast, jumping up in increments of thousands then five thousand. At one stage I almost stopped breathing and could not process the ravenous appetite of the bidders who were intent on devouring the cabin on the beach and its potential trove of treasure
Eddie, albeit a truly gentle, man, was wily when need be. In his last few months of life, he had fuelled speculation that he had been a tech millionaire who sold his company to opt-out, occasionally dropping subtle hints to shopkeepers and passers-by, that there was much more to his cabin than met the eye. Rumours grew that there were riches, buried underneath the cabin, which stood on wooden weather-worn stilts separated from the sea by dunes and driftwood. The whispering tales of gold were embellished with each passing story. It was Eddie’s little game, there was no wealth, apart from the other worlds the bidders imagined and craved. Eager to purchase and possess, they battled on, with each bid, fewer and fewer competed until it came down to a battle of wits. Finally, a winner emerged quietly and reservedly victorious, scribbling notes and furiously texting proclamations of his newfound, speculative acquisition to the world.
The Cabin sold for four hundred and thirty-five thousand euros. Eddie had instructed that the cabin be sold and, to my surprise, that I should be the sole beneficiary. There was one condition in Eddie’s last will and testament, that I should continue to imagine other ways to live my life and that I should spend the money to buy my very own cabin on the beach, whatever and wherever that may be and, when the time is right, to pay it forward.
I will miss Eddie and hope that he is somewhere else living a different life, in another world. As I imagine my new life evolving, I clutch Eddie’s conch shell that now hangs around my neck and stride forward into a new beginning to find my very own cabin on the beach, wherever that might be.