Burden of Hope, Chapter 8 [Final]

Chapter 8: To the World I Hate

Kyle was surprised. For possibly the first time since his parents’ untimely deaths, he felt happiness. It’s been so long since he last smiled like this; smiling in a carefree way and wide enough to crack his face. A genuine smile from him was hard to come by.

He imagined his time in the hospital as long and painful; he would have run away if he could. Now he wanted to stay in this hospital bed with the officer by his bedside for as long as possible. Kyle mused how he had changed over the past twenty four hours –he had been trapped in a broken down elevator for a whole night, rescued from the brink of death, and was now having a pleasant chat with his hero. All in all, he genuinely thought this was a dream and was scared of waking up.

He prayed to the heavens for this dream to last forever; forever he would be resting on a bed without a worry about tomorrow. The tomorrow he had pictured over the past few years had never been bright or cheerful. Instead, it was filled with misery and a longing for a return to the days when he had his parents with him and they would be happy.

He pictured waking up to the smell of fried eggs and bacon. He would wake up, brush his teeth, and wash his face and then head downstairs for breakfast. His father would look up from the daily newspaper and say “Good morning” with his reading glasses sloppily placed across his nose. He would sit down at the kitchen table and enjoy the breakfast his mother prepared for him, in her pink flowery apron and pure heavenly smile. He would eat the delicious breakfast and head off to school, telling his parents “I’ll be back” and waving as he walked out the door and towards the bus stop. He imagined he would return in the afternoon, an hour or so after school ended. He would let himself into the house and be welcomed back by his mother, still in her apron and smelling faintly of today’s dinner. She would say, “How was school, dear?” and he would say “It was excellent, Mother”. Then he would head upstairs to complete his homework and be called down for dinner later in the evening. He would sit down with his family for dinner, his father to his right and his mother to the left; he would sit in the middle and smile as I retold my day to my parents and maybe add a little joke in to spark hearty laughter.

In his memories, everything he used to deem “normal” became very precious in a split second. He used to think his mother was an annoying woman, nagging and complaining everyday about little things like how a cup was chipped or how he needed to clear the room of his floor so she could vacuum properly. His father had always seemed to be a stern man, upright and straight in his teachings; always displeased with his son’s performance in school and pushing his son towards choosing to attend a prestigious university.

Revisiting his memories after the incident had revealed everything in a different light –positive and bright. His mother was a loving woman who wanted to make sure his room was clean and presentable so when his friends came over for a visit they would be jealous how well kept and organized he was. She wanted only the best for him, always giving him the cup that had no cracks and never marred in any way. His father loved him just as much and although strict, was a man of principle. He made an earnest living through hard work and perseverance and thought his son could have a much more comfortable, easy life if he could attend a well known university. His parents loved their son dearly and their unconditional and selfless love was enough to move him to tears when he thought about them.

How many times have I dreamt of this peaceful scenario?

How many times have I wanted this normalcy?

I am tired of dreaming about the past. I know nothing will change no matter how many times I yearned for the past because time only moved forward.

I am tired of grieving. Grieving will never accomplish anything.

So this is why he had chosen to bury these memories that were so bright and warm, they hurt. They hurt because he felt guilty and he wanted to vindicate himself by casting a darker light on them. Perhaps if he could release himself from the chains of guilty and of the past, he could finally see the light of the future. He spent so many years running away he did not notice he wasn’t going forward, and instead was running away from everything because he was scared. And the world had not forsaken him but it had been him who decided to forsake the world; to run away to the little sense of peace that bordered on the edge of leaving everything previous to him behind. And so he locked everything that could have brought the sunshine inside his house, locked it up tight and tossed away the key.

What he hadn’t thought of was that the key could have been the key to his happiness. He had possibly mistaken what was good with bad and bad with good. But he could not have possibly known how things would turn out and his father used to say the expression “don’t cry over spilt milk” and he supposed it was valid enough.

So when a hand had reached out to him, he found himself lifting up his own and clasping that hand. And he found that on the other side, things were brighter and much warmer. The brightness no longer hurt and burned him; instead, it was nurturing and loving.

To the world I hate, please give me this second chance.

Life might have something more to offer to him than just a job. Life might offer a chance at redemption and a new start. He wanted to believe in that. And he had reason too.

His hero was sitting by his side, keeping himself awake even though he was evidently tired from the rescue operation. The man was kind and assured him everything was fine and all the hospital fees and medical documents were being handled by experienced officers. His presence made him relax and he thought he could spend eternity like this, being doted on. But it would be wrong to impose on this man, who had not only saved him but was also going beyond his duty by visiting him like this and caring about him like this. And although it was wrong, no one could have known how this all mattered so much to him.

The officer was telling him about how he reminded the officer about his own son, a little over six years of age and bright as the sun. He could imagine a small child, clinging to the uniform pants of the officer and looking up with bright hopeful eyes and he smiled at the thought. For some reason, it felt right and he wished for happiness for the son and the officer; he prayed fate would not rip the two apart and if the heavens have mercy, allow for the son to grow up idolizing his father and loving him. Because he realized he didn’t want the child to end up like himself. He knew from experience, the pain and the regret that would end up filling up the void that the father would have left in the boy’s life. And he would be damned if the heavens created anymore children like himself.

He really did not have the right to care about the child or even ask the heavens to bestow upon the child some form of happiness in the future and the present.

Kyle wanted to do what he could –even if it’s minimal. It didn’t matter to him the frivolity of his venture; he just wanted to do something. Even if all his efforts amounted to nothing, he had tried.

And that was what mattered.

And that was when he thought the world might not be as hateful as he thought.

Perhaps there really exists hope. Hope is like a pale and weak flame of a single candle, flickering as though it might burn out any second. The light is bright though.

The light was there. And he realized he had always seen that light but he had been afraid. He had been so afraid it would burn out; it would disappear if he so much as sneezed. So he had always stayed on the sidelines watching and waiting with bated breath. But it seemed today might be a little different.

Just a tiny bit different, that was all.

It seems tonight he could finally sleep a little better. And with that in mind, he drifted off into oblivion.

oooo

It was raining by the time the library closed. The sky was pouring with grief and the clouds were low enough for its movements to be visible to my eyes. The rain splattered violently against the window and the window was veiled with its wet curtain of rain. It flowed down the windows, and fell in wet splashes against the green grass below the window.

The library had left the bottom half of the window open to let some air out. I could smell the scent of wet air and the dampness made me imagine water lilies and lotuses.

In my mind, I was no longer at the library. I was in the depths of a forest of ancient oaks, ferns, maples, and pines. The Earth was littered with fallen tree branches, stones, and living among them were the squirrels, chipmunks, birds, snakes, and insects. The mammals roamed the grassier plains and the reptiles kept themselves busy as they explored every inch of the forest floor. The trees reached upwards to the sky and the forest resounded with the chirps of crickets and birds. Here and there, I could hear the squawk of the hunted and the victorious sounds of the hunters.

The air smelled of fresh grass and rain; the taste of the air was crisp but pure. Before me, a great pond stretched as far as my eye could see –considerably big for a pond. It was home to the many lotuses and lily pads floating on its surface. Below, the water life was complex and my eyes could only show the shadows of the numerous fishes that swam in its waters. The water was crystal clear and I could see the floor of the pond from where I stood; millions of small fishes were swimming in a tight circular formation by the side of the pond and they swam past the place I stood.

Just like in the library, I imagined the rain starting to come down; it started as a drizzle and a few minutes later, began to pour down mercilessly. The beauty of the outdoors remained although the sounds of the crickets had quieted down as the rain dampened their voices. The eerily calm surface of the pond is now penetrated by millions of raindrops pelting it, causing miniscule ripples. The pond’s beauty was not lessened and instead, multiplied as I watched in my mind the ripples caused the water to come to life. Its stillness forgotten, the pond was now bustling with activity that my eye could see. Underneath, life resume as usual.

I imagine the forest and the town to be quite similar.

I stood inside the library doors waiting for the rain to let out. In my carelessness, I had forgotten to bring an umbrella with me; though how I could foresee rainy water was lost to me as I did not have a working television at home.

As I stood waiting, a few visitors of the library walked out and murmured in dislike at the weather. They straightened their coats and brought out an umbrella, opening it as they stepped out between the two electronic doors. To them, the rain was troublesome, dreadful; it was wet and an obstruction of traffic.

Rain is my favourite weather. The rain is indeed troublesome for those who wished to stay dry and I cannot say I particularly liked being drenched in my clothes; warm and dry clothes were a comfort to me. The rain had a calming effect for me, as though telling me to take a long and deserved break from the good weather and clear skies. The rain also brought to life the exotic beauty of plants and flowers.

As a child and even now, I enjoyed and welcomed the rain. The rain was a sign that all was well. Despite the thunder claps and the lightning strikes that usually followed this type of weather, I find myself relaxed and even relieved. It was almost as though the rain could wash away my past and give me hope that at the end of this watery curtain lay the rise of the sun and the clearing of heavy clouds overhead.

The rain was starting to slow now. A particular characteristic of the weather here was that these periods of rain tended to be very short. I took this as a good sign and prepared to walk out the doors myself when the drizzle stopped. A moment later, the sun began to shine again and as I saw the light illuminate the now damp sidewalk, I walked out, grateful for the rainy break. It helped to clear and organize my thoughts because they were far too jumbled.

Making my way towards the bus stop, I took care not to step into any puddles. The rain had been a bit stronger than I anticipated and a few puddles had formed on the sidewalk. The water from the roads was already rushing towards the drainage areas and as I walked past one of them, I could hear the sounds of rainwater crashing heavily against the larger pit of water underneath the square steel drains.

The clouds were beginning to melt back into the translucent sky. My imagination began to shape them into various animals, shapes, and even faces. My eyes were locked upon a particular cloud that was starting to fade with the emerging sun; it was shaped like the wings of a bird. I could imagine the cloud flying amongst the birds, living together in harmony. And I wondered if there will come a day when I would be soaring above in the sky, chasing the every changing cloud with those carefree birds. If I could, I would be a seagull of the purest white and like every other seagull, have my wings painted a light shade of grey and tipped with black. Why I wanted to be a seagull eluded me but right now, in this moment, I felt it would be most fitting and perhaps the bird with the most freedom to wander the world.

That early evening seems to be a blur for me. Some might call this shock but I would like to think of this as a revelation of sorts. The day is coming to an end and a new chapter will open up tomorrow. That was the premonition I had.

As I waited for the bus that was late, I decided to walk on a straight line on the edge of the curb. In my childhood, I had been severely scolded for such actions because they were dangerous and a small child could get hurt. But with no parents to scold me, it felt lonely –just a little bit. So I decided to pretend to be back in those days when I would do everything without a care for the world. With my arms spread out like the birds I pictured in my mind, I kept myself balanced as I carefully placed one foot in front of the other in a straight line. Having taken a few steps, I raised my face towards the revived sun and opened my eyes a little so I could admire it without being blinded by its light. Staring into the sun like this gave me a feeling of closeness with the bright star; the sun that was beyond my reach seemed to be a breath away from me. I wished my story could tell everyone that I reached out my hand and closed my fingers around the star that represented my dreams and hopes, but I wonder; I wonder what will become of me and if I let go of all my dreams then perhaps reality wouldn’t appear so bad –because there would be nothing better to compare it to.

So whenever I reached this point of despair, I would like to recall my precious memories of my precious people –and though they were few, they managed to continue to nurture the burning hope in my heart. If my dreams became the flames of a candle then they would surely burn out as it stood against time and the nature of my environment. I could picture the wind snuffing out the light or even the rain dampening the flames until it became nothing but grey smoke. So what protected my dreams were hands; hands carefully surrounded the tiny flame to act as a barrier against the rain, the wind, and preserve the amount of time left until the wax ran out. Of these hands, one was mine, another was my mother’s and whenever my thoughts wavered, another hand would be there, right beside mine and sometimes on top of my own. And I would think about her.

For the first time in a long time, I had the desire to reach out to someone. Never much of a social butterfly, human interaction was lost to me.

To the world I hate, I beg of you to let these feelings of mine reach those important people of mine. Dead they may be; they will forever remain precious to me. And even if you continue to be hateful and ignore these silent pleas of mine, I am content. There is no reassurance the dead can really feel strong emotions of the living but I would like to think of it that way. Because there is really no way for me to travel back in time to change anything, all I can do is hold onto my mistakes and continue to live on to see these mistakes are rectified in the future.

So I will smile and say it doesn’t matter how many times you want to extinguish this light. Because even though we continuously fight to coexist, I have faith and hope in my dreams, and with my strengthened heart, I can overcome those obstacles of yours. Maybe I will change with time and maybe I won’t change. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is that right now, I am not standing alone in my dreams -I am beside two precious treasures of mine. I had lost sight of the things that were and will always be precious to me but I have been saved by my memories of those precious tidbits.

Like the clouds above me, I will perhaps change with that and lose sight of my original shape but that might be tomorrow, next week, in a few years’ time, or never. It’s just right now I can’t let go of these dreams so even though I hate you and you hate me, please watch over me as I try to change my destiny.

I won’t lose to you.

This is my resolve and my promise.

oooo

Withdrawing my hands from the horse figurine, I carefully examined my work. The glass glue tube I purchased from an arts and crafts store at the end of my street sat on the worn coffee table. It had taken a while but I was finally finished. The gluing had not been overly difficult save for my trembling hands and sweaty palms. The anxiety over fixing the horse had been enormous. Now that it was fixed, I laid my head down to rest on my elbows against the table. Turning at an angle, I stared at the glass figurine. The crack from its fall was still visible on the horse; but the crack seemed to fit in as though the artist had always meant for there to be cracks along its fragile body. The horse stood once again in its glory and pride –its amber eyes facing the sunlight from the window.

The light reflected off the precisely placed carvings on the glass horse, diamond-like and clear in soul. I propped myself up on my elbows as I admired its unfading beauty.

The afternoon was starting to fade into the evening and its fading flow made the horse figurine sparkle as though the horse was made of the purest diamond. Its magnificent figure stood bathed in the sun’s glow as my heavy eyes closed tiredly.

But I can’t fall asleep yet because I haven’t bid you goodbye, my friend.

My dear friend, I am sorry I was late. Just like you said, there would be times I would regret my actions –or lack of.

I know I should be overwhelmed by your sad news and believe me, I am. It’s not that I can’t feel sorrow or regret but that I have chosen to believe in tomorrow. I am sure you would have agreed with me.

You know, I used to think of this world as a cruel place. And I’m not saying I have changed my way of thinking. By far, I have not.

Neither am I saying I have given up and chosen to lie down to take a beating by this world.

What I am saying might not make sense to you or anyone else. It’s laughable but I’m barely making sense myself.

My dear friend, I’ve chosen to believe that though we may be mad puppets dancing our mad dance in a maddened world, we struggle to live because we have something precious to us. Whether that precious thing is an item, a person, a dream, our dignity, your dignity, it doesn’t matter. The fact I have something still precious to me is enough. It’s still a reason to keep living isn’t it?

And even if this mad world takes that precious thing away from me, I won’t let it.

No matter what happens I’m still Nadia. I’m still my parent’s little girl. I’m still your old and sincere friend. This is something that won’t change. Even if the world takes everything away from me, I will still have this won’t I?

I remember we used to talk about my dreams about owning a house and you asked me whether I believed I could call it my true home. I couldn’t give you an answer back then.

My answer is this: A home is not a physical place and it will never be chained to any physical place. It might be a chain of memory that will awaken if I set foot in but the memories themselves do not house themselves in a physical place. Rather, it is me who has the power to remember those events and those times. It is me who gives life to them and tribute to them.

I had longed dream of my ideal house that I could call my true home-a place where I would have paid down the mortgage and it would be mine alone. But the truth is I already found two very wonderful homes that the people whom I loved and still love gave me. I’m not saying I don’t need a physical object called a house but that thinking foolishly that I will come to lose everything was wrong.

What I have done and said, and what I have failed to do and say, can never be undone. Time is a river that flows on endlessly, forever and ever. What I have experienced and endured thus far is but a miniscule portion compared to my potential over a lifetime.

Our maddened world was taught to us to be a world of black and white, right from wrong. We have perhaps turned a blind eye to a third side, a fourth side, and even millions of sides. There was never a right answer was there? The reason why you never said a word to me about what was a definite right and wrong was because you understood.

The finiteness I have depended on is utterly useless. What is right today may be wrong tomorrow.

What I needed to do was to relish in everything and move on. I needed to hold onto my own beliefs and live each day according to what I believe. As long as I have this, I can succeed. There is no such thing as failure as long as I pick myself up.

There is no time limit as to when I need reach a certain point on my path because this path is mine alone. There is no one to tell you whether you are walking in the right direction, whether you made a detour, whether there is a shortcut, or whether this path actually leads somewhere.

As long as I have the strength in heart to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to pick myself up no matter how long it takes, I have succeeded in turning that failure into success.

And this reassures me.

I don’t have all the answers and I never will. The world is mad, but I don’t care about that.

Money? Brands? Power? God? I don’t care about any of that! What I care about is that I made a promise! And no matter how time changes it doesn’t change the fact that it was mewho promised. It is an undeniable fact that I have people I love. I promised the lot of them I wouldn’t make them regret anything, that no matter what I would keep moving forward without losing sight of those who sacrificed to push me forward or those who extended a helping hand towards a better future.

The world of black and white has the deepest and darkest black, but it also has the brightest white. Those instances when we laughed beside each other make my world a little brighter.

And now that I have answered you, perhaps you can sleep better as well.

I paused.

Did you hear that?

We were all back in that living room again, sipping tea over a pile of mouth-watering buns. We all made ourselves comfortable around the table, simply enjoying the company of others.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but what I have, it’s already enough.

That night, in my dreams, a gleaming white horse galloped across the lush green plains: ears erect as they took in the sounds of all living things, eyes wide with excitement looking out into the vast world of possibilities, and legs powerfully guiding it towards the setting sun. The horse seemed to never reach the horizon though, but the image was so startling beautiful it brought a swirl of emotions –love, hope, dreams, strength, and surprisingly, warmth. Before I knew it, the horse was gone, replaced by a figure of a woman facing towards me.

For a few moments, I tried to figure out why her face seemed so familiar. But who she was eluded me. She started walking away from me and wanting to find out her identity, I reached my hand out and chased after her. The ground was littered with stones and the objects that jutted out from the sides looked like tree branches, twisted and wicked. Away she went and I had a hard time running towards her with the obstacles in the way. The woman glided gracefully away, in no hurry and none of the obstacles impeded her path. I didn’t know how long they were playing this game of mouse and cat, but when I finally caught up to her, she was standing atop a small hill. Her figure was a shadow against the sun in the background and she turned to face me.

I could not make out her face but I could feel it –her smile.

My heart pounded and I felt I should know her. When I reached out to touch her, she disappeared like the morning mist. Alarmed, I took a step back, only to have my eyes fall upon the most magnificent sight below.

The soft music of an orchestra played silently in the background. With the jagged mountains behind me, I was faced with the lush green meadows of the plains. The wind blew across the meadow and suddenly, millions of brightly coloured flowers sprung to life. The sun came out behind the clouds and I could see it had recently rained for the petals still held some raindrops from the recent weather. The sunlight reflected off the raindrops and caused the petals to sparkle prettily. And the sky cleared up so the sky opened up to reveal clear skies.

I couldn’t stop myself –I smiled. I continued down the path in front of me, neither speeding up or slowly down. But walking at my own pace and enjoying the captivating view around me. And that was when I figured it was all a dream.

I had feared another night of nightmares but I was wrong; this is a good dream.

END


Did you like it?

The ending is open to interpretation whether Nadia truly managed to reconcile the difference between reality and her aspirations in life. The first chapter and this chapter are tied together. Hopefully you’ve managed to pick it out!

Thanks for reading!

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Burden of Hope, Chapter 7

the second last chapter!

Chapter 7: Lost Fragments

November 15, 1999

To Nadia,

I have often spent my nights thinking about our fateful meeting and maybe more about what it might mean. Forgive me, this wrinkled lady is already clutching at her last straws and when I had to think about happy memories I found I could not divulge any. Strange, that in my forty or so years of life, I could not come up with even an instance of happiness –except for one. Suffice it to say, my one instance of happiness was my one instance of kindness. For forty years, I have wandered like a lost sheep, searching for its flock and its shepherd, continuously wandering about and stopping from time to time to graze lazily under the blue skies. Despite my long years of searching and grazing, I have failed to find my shepherd.

As a lost sheep wanders, it is prone to thoughts of why it was left behind and isolated from the rest of its flock. I suppose in a way, the sheep becomes endangered by wolves and predators alike that prey on the sheep’s lack of confidence. Lost, the poor sheep must fend for itself with little hope of survival.

These forty years, I have spent plenty of time with my own thoughts. It may be arrogant of me to say this, but perhaps I had not been left behind and instead, had been the one to leave the flock behind. Perhaps if I told my story as the sheep that left of its own will, my life could take on some sort of significance. You see, an individual fears they will be forgotten in the tides of time. Just as the sheep fears its shepherd had forgotten it, a person fears their existence is forgotten. If forgotten, then there would have been no meaning to having lived. Of course, you could argue there must be more to life than just leaving a mark in history. Surely we must have been born and lived to accomplish a greater goal. If we were, then I would have to say there has never been much in my life to have proven me wrong on my conclusions.

When we first talked, I saw something in you. For meeting you, I was reminded of my younger self and how I wished during those days for a shepherd to magically appear and guide me, once again, on the right path. I am not arrogant enough to believe myself to have the ability to become your shepherd nor frivolous in nature to believe I have been able to impart on you some wisdom that might be of some use in the future.

Thinking back, I realize that there could not have been a right and wrong path. A path cannot be deemed to be correct or incorrect by a set of rules based on the ideology of “one size fits all”. If you were here with me, I can imagine you asking, “Then how would we know which path to take”? To that question, I would answer “You wouldn’t know until you have treaded upon all the paths available”. And you would reply confused, “It is impossible for one to travel down every path” and I would smile sadly and return with “No, but we could try”. Then we would be left to the silence because finding answers is not easy. If it were so easy to come by, then we would never question in the first place.

But leaving the rest to silence does not bode well with me. You see, this endless cycle of searching, longing, suffering, and crying has to end. That was what I was determined to tell you and say in a steady voice that would be soothing and reassuring to the young naive girl that appeared before me. If you should visit again, I would like to have a chat with you and see how you have changed to adapt to this world; or perhaps you have made the world bend to your will and I would sit opposite of you, sipping my tea and listening in earnest happiness. Even though it hurts my pride to say and admit to myself that you have surpassed me, I am praying for your happiness and if we have not been forsaken, a token of peace.

The past forty years, I have spent trying to carve my own path only to fail and realize conformity was the only way to survive. I cannot tell you with surety whether certain things are right or wrong, only what I believe and in this world, belief is a strange but powerful thing. Belief can give birth to hope and with that, many have depended on it to live side by side with a life of prolonged hardship. It is almost as though we were left with a “take it or leave it” sentiment when we first taste reality, away from the shelter of our precious ones’ arms. But Nadia, I can’t help looking back and wondering whether I should undo or redo certain choices in life. Would you think poorly of me if I told you I really would undo some?

oooo

January 1, 2000

Nadia,

I hope to find you in good spirits and health. If I could, I would like to add to your day with a “Happy New Year” because everyone is celebrating a new millennium. The newspapers have been making a huge fuss and the people are rejoicing. I suppose I should humour you the same way and if I may, ask whether you would like to come over sometime. I have heard of these “New Year Resolutions” that youth and adults seem quite interested in these days and I hope you may spare some attention on this poor woman to help me form one of my own. It occurred to me that this year can be a turning point and with all the joyous cajoling the world is making, perhaps change will come soon.

It is strange when I write letters but never send them. Some may see this as a waste of paper and environmentalists would quickly jump to the conclusion I am contributing to the killing of poor trees in or the erosion of the Earth. To these people, I wonder whether they would understand. I find it calming to write these letters to you. It gives me the feeling of having a trustworthy female companion and sense of peace because having someone to confide in is a great treasure. I have found these forty long years to be very lonely and although I enjoy being an independent, the silence and lack of human presence by my side give my heart painful squeezes. It is funny how confiding in one person seems to make the road a little smoother. I guess it really it true that no one can stand against solitude.

The weather has been mild and I have been hearing the words “climate change” being tossed around a lot in the neighbourhood. I am intrigued and quite humoured at our lack of problem solving skills. It seems if one thing were unchanged these past forty years, it is this. Of course, I have done my share in contributing to the ignorance of society and living in peaceful denial. If we could put something off or reject reality, we could continue to live in our peaceful little bubble we form around ourselves. And just like the bubbles I used to blow during the summertime as a youth, they were very fragile and prone to bursting.

I used to dream about how these bubbles floated off into the azure sky, higher and higher until finally bursting. But in my dream, the bursting was equivalent to blossoming and the transparent bubbles become madly blooming flowers. Against the light blue sky, they seemed to give off an overpowering emotion that I cannot describe. Only that I felt as though hope itself decided to bloom before the flowers wilted and the petals fell back down onto the Earth, slowly riding the gentle breeze until touching upon the ground where they will surely lay forgotten. But not all hope is lost, because they may bloom again and I hoped they were able to show their beauty to the world for a longer period of time because they were truly remarkable.

oooo

July 12, 2000

Nadia,

Thank you for visiting me yesterday. It was a surprise to see you standing by the door, shuffling your feet awkwardly and averting your eyes. I had thought we had broken through the barrier of politeness but here you are – polite mannerisms and all.

Yesterday, I had been thinking about the flowers again. The flowerbed in the front yard has been long overrun by weeds and wild dandelions. I used to tend to the flowerbed bi-weekly and thought of it as a great joy. Gardening had a calming effect. Perhaps one day you would like to enjoy the view of a flowerbed with me on the front porch? It would have to be either spring or summer because those are the seasons when the most gorgeous flowers are in bloom. You would have to bear with all the bees but they are harmless unless threatened. With your awkward nature and my silent one, I believe we will be able to enjoy the view without running the risk.

It will soon be a year since we met. A year has passed by much faster than I had anticipated and I should count this as quite a good year for me. It is rare for the days to pass so quickly and usually, I would feel the minutes become hours and days become months.

Our talk today had been insightful and I hope you found the answers you were seeking. But if you haven’t, then I hope you will visit again. I still disagree over a few points in our debate yesterday but I shall save these points for our next meeting, to which I have the pleasure of looking forward to.

oooo

December 24, 2000

Dear good friend, I trust you are well and life has been treating you better. Today I have been idle in my house due to the heavy snow and the storm warnings issued. With Christmas on the doorstep, I have begun to think of you more often, wondering if I should have gotten a gift for you. You see, I have been feeling lonely as of late.

If you are busy, then I will take it as a good sign. Being busy often means you are employed and are living life with vigour –or so, I envision.

oooo

December 24, 2001

My dear friend,

Four seasons have passed since I last wrote to you. How are you? Did you find the answers you couldn’t find here? Did you discover new questions and new answers? When will you have time to come over for a cup of tea and maybe some cake?

I have good news and sad news. I shall start with the bad news so I can end this letter on a cheerful note.

These past few years have been difficult for me. I have been finding it harder and harder to make my payments for the hydro, the heating, the mortgage, the taxes, and the list goes on. I have been hard at work in a local office for a decade now and sadly, the larger retailers have driven our modest small business out. And now I am officially unemployed.

On a brighter note, I have managed to obtain another placement –though temporary- working the night shifts at a nearby convenience store. It is extremely lonely to work by myself in the small shop since we don’t get many customers. My boss has a stern face that might have been handsome if not for his squashed nose. Make no mistake, I hold no grudges against the man but his nasal voice and the way he struts is enough to induce laughter from a stone. He is rather nervous and fidgets a lot, laughing nervously and playing with his fingers as he would peek around as though fearful of his surroundings. The best part is that he is not around when I work my shifts so I don’t have to put up with his antics. Although his presence might make the shop a little less lonely, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It seems I shall have to end this letter prematurely. Today I invited a few guests over for dinner so I need to prepare and clean the house.

oooo

December 28, 2001

I once again write to bring you good news. In my pursuit for a better job, I managed to land an interview for the position as an office assistant at an office on the outskirts of town. I am crossing my fingers and hoping I will be selected for this position. Actually, I am very nervous about this interview since I have not been to one in a long time. Shall I wear my most expensive suit? It is not particularly special but it was the suit I had bought after graduating from college as a special reward for myself. I have kept it in the closet and aired it every summer to ensure its condition does not deteriorate with time.

I tried the suit on today and it still fits –a testament to my lack of physical growth in the past twenty years. Perhaps the fashion today is a little different but I have found that these business suits do not change as quickly as other fashions which tend to change every month. Proud of my impending interview, I even dressed up and took a picture to commemorate this.

It has been almost two years since you last visited and I am looking forward to seeing you soon. You remember your promise right? I am striving towards a better future and I hope you have had good luck. I shall write to you soon and hopefully with the good news about my new employment.

oooo

Her last letter had been dated almost over a year ago and I felt a sense of dread. The feeling of cold water washing above her, blanketing her in its cold depths, made her shiver.

The current owner of the house had been thoroughly surprised to find a strange girl on her driveway. She had every right to be surprised and feel threatened to have a complete stranger lounging around her house. The woman was quite steadfast though and even patiently took the time to listen to my explanation and indulge in a few of my questions.

Before I realized it, I had been walking back down the driveway and down the sidewalk towards the bus station I had gotten off at. My mind was numb. What we discussed echoed in my head again and again.

Slightly apologetic and embarrassed, I greeted her with a simple Hello. Taking a deep breath and squaring my shoulders, I looked up at the woman and asked the question that had been running through my head since the woman had stepped out.

What happened to the previous owner of this house?

She didn’t respond and I rushed to explain.

You see, I was a friend of hers. Or perhaps you are a visitor?

I anxiously awaited her answer.

The woman looked disinterested. My heart sped up as my mind spun all the possibilities of what could have happened these past few years. And as my mind spun, my heart ached as I realized I had not come back for so long, anything could have happened without my knowledge.

My mind drew a blank when the woman finally answered, Don’t you read the newspaper?

I blinked and it felt like the carpet was pulled right under my feet for the second time in my life.

Huh, was my dumb reply.

It happened less than a year ago. In fact, it had made the news, the woman said patiently. You really don’t know? She asked incredulously, raising a fine eyebrow at me.

And that was when I felt annoyed with this patience of hers. Irked, I answered with a bit more heat than necessary, No I don’t.

The woman closed her eyes and I thought she wanted to end the conversation. Panicking at the thought I would never discover what had happened these past two years, I urgently latched onto her arm and pleaded her to tell me where the previous owner had gone and when. Yes, I needed to know when so I could estimate how far the woman had moved away and possibly track her down –anything at all.

You won’t be able to find her. Not in the way you’re hoping for, was the cryptic reply I received.

What do you mean? I asked impatiently, not understanding the situation.

Why don’t you go on the Internet or use the library periodicals to tell yourself? I believe you’ll find a few stories on that case, was what the woman said before closing the car door and heading into the house.

I stood frozen for a while. It wasn’t until a bee buzzed by that I realized the woman was no longer here. As I turned to leave, I heard the slamming of a door and the clip clop of stilettos against concrete.

You! A woman’s voice yelled.

I looked towards the voice to find the woman standing on the front porch with a tied bundle. Upon closer inspection, I realized they looked like letters. The woman walked up to me and handed me the bundle. I was speechless and had no idea what was required of me. My shock must have been evident for she gave me a hard glare before telling me the bundle was left for me. With that said, she stomped all the way back into the house and I heard the door slam again. Dimly, I wondered how the doors sustained this new violence thrown upon them for the woman who used to live here always did everything softly and with a quiet elegance.

My hands shook as I reached into the bundle and took out the top letter before unfolding it and beginning to read, ‘To Nadia’.

So lost in my thoughts, I scarcely checked the bus route number before hopping on. I clutched the letters to my chest until my knuckles turned white and stared straight ahead.

In my head, I kept chanting to myself ‘It’s just a dream’ and hoping I would soon wake up to find myself in bed in the middle of the night. It didn’t matter this time because I would have given up days of sleep for this event to never occur in real life.

That day, I ended up in the library for the first time in many years. I would never forget that day.

It was all a dream.

It had to be -because if it wasn’t a dream, I don’t know how to deal with this nightmarish reality.


January 3rd, 2001

FIRST MURDER CASE IN NEW YEAR

On the night of the second day of this New Year, the town’s first murder case occurred. Forty four year old Madison Williams was proclaimed dead on site. Around 3 AM surrounding residents were awakened by the sound of gun shots and the first emergency vehicle appeared at the site within half an hour of the report. Unfortunately, the culprit had fled the scene and the officers identified and confirmed the death of Ms. Williams. Ms. Williams was working at the convenience store during the late night shift and has been an employee there for almost a full year.

As of yet, we have not been able to catch the culprit. The police have seized the footage of the night from the CCTV installed in the convenience store. We hope to bring the culprit to justice,” stated Officer Doule.

Other than Ms. Williams, no one was hurt and there are no witnesses. The investigation is still continuing.

If you witnessed the scene, please call the police station at 1-800-POLICE.


January 4th, 2001

MAN ARRESTED AS SUSPECTED GUNMAN IN TOWN’S FIRST MURDER CASE

Police have made an arrest after viewing the footage from the CCTV in the convenience store Ms. Williams worked at. The police arrested Twenty seven year old man around noon today.

We have footage of him entering the store and holding Ms. Williams at gunpoint,” a representative stated, “He asked for all the money in the cash box and when she refused, he opened fire.”

Police are continuing investigations for any other possible suspects and will continue to investigate the case.

The cash box had indeed been snatched from the convenience store and its location has been confirmed to be in the house of the arrested individual. Police are asking residents to be careful at night and advising employers to ensure the safety of their night shift workers.

This is a tragic case,” says thirty four year old Ms. Murphy, “I was neighbours with Ms. Williams for the past few decades. To think this happened to her, it’s too terrible an end.”

Burden of Hope, Chapter 6

Chapter 6: A Change of Pace

That really hurt.

Noise exploded and eroded his sense of hearing without mercy or moderation which was comical because he never imagined he would still be part of this world. The wailing grew louder and he could feel a terrible headache settling in. Even with his eyes closed, he could smell the heavy scent of antiseptic. His stomach gave a sickening lurch at the thought of the box like walls of the hospital room and the stark white colour of the walls. Humourlessly, he questioned whether medical scientists and researchers thought white helped to calm patients and create a peaceful atmosphere, because if that was the case, he begged to differ. White was a glaringly bold and often gave him the feeling of “screaming”. Needless to say, he thought white was not the best option if their goal was to nurse his mental and emotional health.

Although he had yet to open his eyes to the white ceiling of what he has now ascertained to be a hospital room, he could hear the shuffling of feet, the soft screeching of wheels, and the clipped words of doctors. Since first and only previous experience at a hospital, he would prefer to never set foot in a hospital again. It was not because he was petty, vengeful, or fearful, but because he felt overwhelmingly uncomfortable. Hospitals were a place for the sick and a place for healing. Generally, they were associated with saving lives with smiles and sunshine thrown into the mix. Occasionally, the media would report stories of unfortunate accidents or patients who have caught the hearts of the public –for either positive or negative outlets- and tended to be rather controversial in nature.

His discomfort in the hospital was spurred on by two reasons: the early demise of his family and the feeling of being closed off from the world. The hospital, despite its knowledgeable and professional staff and the millions of tax payer dollars invested into research and hospital facilities, was extremely distanced from the freshness of the outdoors. It is arguable –and most likely the majority view-that hospitals should always be kept sanitary to avoid outbreaks and spread of disease because a room full of the sick would possibly spawn a virus or two, but a whole nine floors could possibly cause the beginning of a worldwide epidemic. With this in consideration, he deemed his second reason for discomfort somewhat weak and selfish. He supposed utilitarian views were still strongly rooted in a capitalistic democratic society.

The early demise of his family had been rather normal in its tragedy. It was the common case of car accident resulting in death and so, like all things in society, dismissed as “common”. Now what society deems common and what is truly tragic may seem hypocritical to many –as it should have been to him. Unfortunately, it seemed the greater tragedy was that he did not have the mindset to make others care. Instead, he had carried on quietly and –as normal as possible- to deal with the loss as a fact of life. He supposed he was merely unlucky to have lost his parents and of course, he mourned them, visited them on their anniversary-he wondered who decided to term it death anniversary for it was anything but merry-and was the good son who did not seek revenge against the society that seemed to enjoy stomping on folks like them.

What is acceptable today is unacceptable tomorrow and what is unacceptable yesterday is acceptable today.

The world is a funny place and filled with funny people. If he was cynical and of a sadist disposition, he would have even thought his whole life played out like an act in a play on the grand stage of the most beautiful theatre; the greatest powers would be pulling the strings while the population and perhaps even the audience, would dance. His thoughts turning rather dark, he decided to finally open his eyes and look back into the world that seemed to repel him so much.

Slowly cracking his right eye opened, bright sunlight stabbed at his poor eyes and he snapped his eye shut to rest in the coolness of the dark under his eyelid. Careful not to be outdone a second time, he cracked both eyes open until they were slits and allowed them to adjust to the brightness of the room. Glancing out of both corners of his eyes, he scanned the room and concluded he was alone. The room was more than modest and judging by the lack of other patients in the room, this room must be private and cut off from the rest of the public rooms he had seen before.

Relieved he was lying in bed alone in the room, he tested out the use of his limbs, fearful they had fallen asleep along with the rest of him. He first lifted his arm up to his face and experimentally made bunny faces, uncaring a nurse could walk through the door any moment and catch him in this childish act. He then wiggled his toes and then wiggled his whole body to imitate the movement of a worm on the ground. Satisfied at the normalcy in the responsiveness of his physical body, he laid down on the bed to contemplate the events that led up to his admittance to the hospital and that’s when it hit him –he was absolutely starving! His stomach protested loudly and angrily at his negligence and persisted in torturing his conscience with loud growls he was sure would send nurses in to check on his condition.

The doorknob twisted with a small clicking sound and then the door opened a creak before being flung aside as the visitor entered the room. He had expected the nurse and already had a request for food on the tip of his tongue.

The visitor however was neither nurse nor doctor, but a tall tanned man in a police uniform. Examining the officer, he drew the conclusion the man must not be too sympathizing of his current situation. With an impressive glare and an even more impressive moustache, he was surprised to see the officer’s eyes turn into half moons and inquire how he was feeling and whether he would like it if some food was brought in.

Completely caught off guard, he could only gap like a fish.

The officer merely stared back at him, patiently waiting for an answer.

Silence thickened in the room until it could almost become a palpable rock sitting atop our heads. It’s weird how he never noticed the Earth’s gravitational pull could be this strong because he could scarcely breathe at the moment. The silence was broken as my stomach decided to break the atmosphere with a loud and thundering growl.

We were frozen in place for a few seconds, both thrown off by the blatant reply of my stomach, before the officer started laughing. He was laughing so hard he had to clutch his stomach and draw deep breaths to maintain a façade of professionalism. Only to fall victim again as my stomach decided enough was enough and a string of thunder erupted. That was when he couldn’t help but laugh at the audacity of the situation and their peals of laughter must have caused the hospital staff to think bizarrely of them because by the time the first nurse popped in to check up on him, he had seen how cautious she was.

They erupted in laughter again as the nurse fell into a dead faint when she saw the pile of bowls littering the room.

Burden of Hope, Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Always, Always like This

After walking this Earth for over two decades, it seems we are always meant to be surprised –expect the unexpected, my mother used to say. So it was with this thought in mind, that I rang the doorbell. Nervously clutching my handbag to my chest, I waited patiently for the door to be opened. Standing in front of these doors again, I felt a sickening sense of nausea and a lump started to form in my throat, closing off the esophagus and disallowing air to flow into the lungs. My eyes prickled from staring so intensely at the closed double doors in front of me and I tried to swallow, in vain, and make myself presentable. After all, no one would like to open the door to be greeted by the waterworks. So I stood my ground stubbornly –again- and straightened myself, holding head high and feet together. There, the perfect image of a composed woman.

The air felt too heavy and I wished for the owner of the house to open the door so I could be let in from the unpredictable outside world. Patiently, I rang the doorbell once again. Perhaps she was not at home? In the middle of the afternoon was usually when people went out to run errands and social with friends. It had never occurred to me as I stepped off the bus at an unexpected bus stop to visit this house again. Looking at the house, I decided to peek through the white laced curtains hanging from the window and tried to spot a sign that someone was home. A few minutes later, when it was obvious no one was home, I sighed and was at a loss.

Initially, I had ended up getting off at an earlier bus station from my destination because I had a sudden urge to visit this place again. This was only my third time here, yet it felt as close to a place I could call home; compared to my actual house, this house in front of me held something for me to return to. They say that home is a place for you to return to. I used to have such a place but it was so long ago I could not remember the feeling of being home. This house, which looked like any other house on the street, was special to me. Despite its worn appearance, it held an atmosphere of aged wisdom. It stood proudly on its measured plot of land with its pointed roof reaching out towards the sky, hands outstretched. Only here can I find any peace of mind.

On a sunny day like today, I could see the skylight window on the roof. I used to call it the window to heaven, for it was so large and clear that if you looked up from the inside, you could spot the floating clouds moving across the blue expanse, searching and welcoming. It made me feel warm and fuzzy; a sentimental feeling that rarely chooses to grace its presence on me. To stand under that skylight was to stand under the whole sky. And on rainy days, if you looked up, it looked like the sky was genuinely weeping and you felt the need to raise your face upwards and let those tears slide down your cheeks and soak your hair, for they were the sad essence let out by the heavens themselves. If you try it someday, perhaps you could imagine the rain washing away all your sadness and loneliness. Perhaps if you reached out hard enough, you could grasp at the wisps of clouds that dance in the sky and feel their excitement as they travel from continent to continent, always watching us contently from above.

I had spent the whole morning and afternoon contemplating under their graceful presence on my second visit to this house. How a person could be so attached to a simple place like this after only two visits is beyond me, but I would like to think that it’s because this place allowed me to visit my own desires in life that I could never touch upon on the outside. So even though I could not enter, I sat outside the door and leaned against it as I once again looked up to stare up at the blue sky. Only this time, there was no one there with me.

As I sat, I began to notice a strange happening. A strange feeling of peace washed over me and as I enjoyed the coolness of their depths, I began to hear music. Even stranger was the scene that appeared before me. When I would look back at this incident, I would call it a miracle.

The grass waved gently at me, in rhythm with the tune playing in my head. It was an old song and one that I didn’t even know the words to. But it made me feel at peace as its melody played itself in my mind, soothing and wiping away the tiredness there. The blades of grass seemed to respond to me as an orchestra would follow the instructions of the conductor, playing their instruments of strings. They danced effortlessly in the summer breeze, waving its flexible and study body as though performing the opening act for the audience. It was not the erratic waving of a confused musician, but the strength in their bold movements that was mesmerizing. The sounds of the strings were harmonious and gave its composition a sorrowful tinge.

The string ensemble was beautifully supported by the strong brass of my heartbeat. The brass created the low pitch of the song, the accompaniment of its relative, the strings. My heart sung with all its force, spilling its grievances, painful memories, and its majestic will. It was not the loud sound that announced a bright mood but a mysterious sound, silently supporting the playing strings. With the vibration from my changing heartbeat, they hummed and complemented each other as they followed the composition of the song.

The sound of the calm summer wind blew across the yard and gently the sounds of woodwinds picked up, blending in effortlessly with the two different ensembles. The performance sprung to life, as the music danced over me, and with me, as I continued to hum to the beat of my heart and the emotions of my memories. Without the sound of the percussions, the music was soft and strangely alluring. It felt painfully familiar but also strangely happy. The wind reached the climax of the song as its force gained speed and it sent ripples along the soft grass, forcefully taking some up with it as it continued its journey elsewhere, while continuing to play by its gentle nature as the song progressed towards its ending.

For a moment, before my eyes, I could see the beautiful orchestra play its symphony and I indulged in the peace their music brought me. As its only audience, the orchestra almost seemed to play solely for me and it left me the impression that these majestic sections that made up the orchestra, danced to life because of me. For a brief second, I thought of myself as the conductor of this symphony before sitting back and enjoying myself as its audience. Whichever it was, it eased me a bit to know life still had many beautiful things to offer as long as you waited for it with an open and strong heart.

So I sat there, waiting.

oooo

I stood outside the woman’s house for the first time since leaving it. Since that night, I’ve been constantly thinking about her. Every time I met or even looked at someone, her face appeared. Her face, with an expression so close to my own -it was heartbreaking to stare at. It felt something akin to looking into a mirror, except knowing it was not a perfect replica staring back but someone very much like me. For the past seven days I have been seeing her everywhere; she was in my house, in front of my mirror, in my dreams, and even at the grocery store. When I wake up, her figure would be there watching from the shadows with those eyes –those painful eyes-and I knew I could not run away. It had been her eyes that frightened me the most -because those eyes were the striking image of my own. They were eyes that seemed beyond its years, staring at a world with both regret and resolve; it was the determination set deeply into those almond eyes, a promise to keep going.

I wanted to run away and hide from those eyes. I was scared. I didn’t want to see them again.

But again, I am lying. If that was the truth, then why am I here?

I have actually been itching to come back to this house. Every day, I have been tempted to get off at this bus stop and step into this house and see her again. Every instance I see her shadow, her figure, her eyes, I feel the need to run after her and spill to her the darkest and innermost secrets of mine. Every time her eyes burned into mine, I was fit to explode; my skin felt too tight to withhold all the emotions too fleeting to sort. For some reason, I am drawn to this place –like a moth to a flame.

Yesterday, I had been absolutely desperate. If it weren’t for the late hour at that time, I would have surely been standing here a day earlier than anticipated.

So now I’m here. Now what?

I feel the urge to run away; to run as fast and as far as my legs could carry me. Just a moment ago, I would have been itching to stand in front of this door. And like my mother used to say, speak of things and they shall happen. Indeed.

As though I had spoken my thoughts aloud, the door in front of me slowly opened to reveal those pair of eyes I’ve wanted to see again. She was dressed simply today in an oversized green shirt with a pair of faded jeans to match. Her hair was slightly messy and a small splotch of what seemed to be flour on the tip of her elegant nose. She had reading glasses on today. Her almond eyes stared inquisitively at me.

I stared back at her, lost.

The air hung heavily around us. The summer weather was sweltering and with a creature like myself out, I began to feel the effects of the heat. Or maybe it was the situation itself that made me slightly dizzy. My vision blurred and for a moment I thought it was a shame I made bad impressions on everyone I encounter. I would have liked to have her as a friend.

A bee buzzed past me and made its way lazily through the door frame and inched into the house.

SMACK!

I snapped out of my thoughts and flinched as though a bucket of cold water had been dumped on me. The bee was now flat as a piece of paper and I watched blankly as it fell down to the ground, dead. My gaze remained fixed upon the dead bee until I heard a sigh and then footsteps. Looking up, I saw the door was left wide open –an invitation? Cautiously, I stepped inside and closed the door behind me, checking to make sure I locked the door correctly before politely removing my shoes and placing it beside another worn pair of running shoes on the grey plastic tray.

Nothing was different from the last time I had taken my shoes from the tray to put on. It was almost as though she had been waiting for me to show up again.

Straightening, I swiftly glanced around for a sign of the owner of the house and instead, found the light turned on in the dining room. The hallway was left unlit today, as the last rays of the setting sun spilled into the hallway, illuminating the path in its scarlet orange light. And I realized I had spent more time waiting outside her door than I had imagined. Hesitantly, I made my way towards the room. Strangely, I felt at home here.

Upon entering the dining room, I found the woman sitting in the same seat as that night with the same empty seat waiting for me. I timidly sat down in the chair and looked up from my lashes to catch her eye and maybe make the atmosphere a little less awkward. The woman had not looked up and was concentrating on knitting what seemed to be a quilt of some sort, although it appeared to be somewhat smaller than the ones I was accustomed to seeing. Unsure about how to start a conversation –since I never manage to comfortably converse with anyone- I sat patiently, hoping the other would initiate the conversation.

That was when, in the corner of my eye I spotted a neatly folded pile of clothes and realized they were the outfit I had worn that night. After taking a shower, I had left before taking my old clothes with me and had forgotten all about returning the clothes I had borrowed that night. Flushing in embarrassment and apprehension, I immediately bowed my head and apologized to the woman about having her wash a stranger’s clothing and even forgetting to return the clothes the woman had so kindly bestowed upon me. My sight became fixated on the sight of my hands on my knees and I risked a quick peek at the woman to see what her reaction was, only to be stunned when I saw nobody sitting in the chair beside her. Quickly, my eyes searched for the woman only to land on said woman entering the room carrying a wooden tray with a plate of what looked like bread.

Watching as the woman placed the tray down on the table between them, I began to wonder what I should be saying. After a few hesitant moments, I finally managed a soft Thank You and an earnest look of gratefulness at the woman. The woman saw my look and she smiled. Now, a normal woman smiling is nothing new but this woman’s smile felt like an angel was smiling down at me. Her benevolence made me feel uncouth and awkward and I sheepishly smiled back without knowing the reason.

It was weird. I didn’t know I could smile like that.

The simple act described as the upward pull of the cheek muscles with the lips closed or open, had never occurred to me as hard. But looking back, I realized that forming a smile had never been an easy task for me. So why was I smiling back so easily?

The woman gestured towards the bread and I politely declined, babbling in nervousness about how I could not receive this as I was in her debt already. I also added that I would be sure to bring back the clothes she had lent me, cleaned and in good condition, as soon as possible. She silently took my hand in hers and brought it towards herself. I expected her hands to be worn and calloused with time and chores, but I was surprised to find them soft and if I may, childlike. Her grip was steady and strong and I wondered again at her age. On my outstretched hand, she put a bun and curled her hand around mine so I was now holding onto the plain bun. She smiled her smile again, and took a plain bun for herself. Peering at the bun in my hand, I debated to myself whether I should eat it or not. To eat it would really be imposing myself on her hospitality but to refuse it would be rude. Seeing the woman eat, I decided that I should as well.

I wasn’t hungry but I ate. Taking a small bite first, I chewed. I don’t remember bread being so sour in my mouth. But it tasted good. It tasted like rotten berries left out for too long and the moist heart of a ripened fruit; it tasted like the pickled plums she hated and the scrumptious tangerines she loved; it tasted like bread and unlike bread. And then it just started to taste salty.

Bite after bite, I swallowed -until I could not tell whether the bitter taste was from the salt of my eyes or the salt of the bread.

oooo

Recalling my second visit and stay at this house, I felt nostalgic. The sounds of the orchestra had faded as soon as my memories began to surface –the discussion I had with the woman, staying over at the house a second time, and my departure. The scarlet sky indicated the time and I sat there, wondering when and if the woman would return soon. The afternoon was coming to an end and evening would soon be upon us. Having to sit outside, I had attracted quite the company –a few small bugs and to my disgust, a mosquito. The mosquito had kindly left a parting gift in the form of an itchy and angry red bump. Mosquitoes really knew where to bite because they always bit you at the most inconvenient locations; I’ve had the pleasure of receiving its kindness on the strangest places, including my bottom and above my eyebrow.

My body ached from sitting in the same position, unmoving, for such an extended period of time. I stood up, dusting the remnants of grass, grit, and bugs off before scratching the back of my head in confusion. Either the woman had a warped sense of time or I was at the wrong address. Bending over the black metal fencing of the front porch, I double checked to see the number of the address was correct –number 88. Confirming the address, I began pacing back and forth across the porch, trying to bring back some blood circulation to my legs. They had stiffened and were aching quite badly from my poor sitting position. I might have even dozed off for a few hours as I could not recall anything from what happened while I began my reminiscence of my past visit here.

Antagonizing over my most recent dream, I hoped that seeing her again would help me find a little peace. So as I pondered over my thoughts, I glimpsed a small navy blue car coming up the road towards me and my heart started pounding again. Was that her? The intensity of the moment should have burned me to ashes but I had been waiting for this moment for so long. I couldn’t help letting out a small smile that slowly cracked into a huge and silly smile, hoping to welcome the woman home. Last time I had not been able to smile for her but this time I would return the favour. Checking to make sure I looked presentable, I stepped off the porch and began approaching the car parked on the driveway.

The door of the driver opened and out she stepped -except she looked a little taller today and perhaps, younger? Heart pounding, I rounded the car and stared at her face. And the woman stared back at me-my stare being one of horror and her stare being one of astonishment.

You know, it would have been the perfect moment, just like those moments told in novels and played on television. You know, where the child grins, running towards her, jumping up and flinging her arms around the woman, crying and laughing. From the bottom of my heart, I sincerely wished for it. But you know – the world is cruel. The woman who should have been on the receiving end of my hope and joy was not the woman I was seeking out. Instead, it was some middle aged woman wearing branded sunglasses, slim fitting clothes, and a pair of ridiculously lavish high heels. If this could be turned into a joke, then I pray that the woman I was waiting for would step out from behind this stranger and yell in a loud clear voice, “Got you!” before laughing and telling me how my face was ridiculous and she would prepare the tea and buns. Or maybe how she had a feeling I would show up here again and that she had been waiting for me all along.

In fact, anything could have been better than this.

I felt like it was the cruellest joke in the world.

oooo

Thanking the woman for her hospitality, I hoisted the bag of buns up as I prepared to exit the house for the second time.

That was when I made my promise to her and her promise to me.

I’ll come back one day. On that day, I will genuinely smile because I’ve finally found my reason and my resolve to walk out my path in life. Thanks to you, I will be able to continue my path.” I earnestly promised her that I would return and even added, “I might even discover some talent in baking or cooking or maybe both! If I can manage it, I will bring something good to eat.”

I was serious when I said that. Even though my cooking and baking skills were below average, I believed if I worked hard at it, I could perhaps repay the woman for her kindness.

She looked at me and smiled, “Of course. You must remember to come back because I’ll be waiting for you.” Jokingly, she added, “Hopefully, you would have managed to find a boyfriend of sorts or maybe even be married and settled down? Remember to send me an invitation!”

The light hearted atmosphere calmed my heart and I thought for perhaps the first time in my life that I could do anything. It was almost like a second chance at life. And I walked out of the house waving my hand towards her as I began my journey out into the world, for the second time of my life. With the sun shining upon me, I lifted my face up towards it and breathed in the scent of fresh air.

I’ll come back with a smile.

Definitely, you’ll see it.

oooo

Perhaps I should have noticed then.

I really am I horrible person.

She was a woman worthy of respect and I set her up on a pedestal on my mind. She was a role model to me and I admired her with all my heart. A small part of me might have been a little afraid too because at times, she had seemed fragile and even on the edge of insanity. I often wondered whether she was still sane but I wanted to believe in her, wanted to believe we could both search for the future together.

I wanted to believe in it so badly that I ignored all the warning signs along the way.

I guess you could say reality has finally caught up to me. And now I have nowhere to run anymore.

Above the frustration, pain, guilt, and sadness, all I could feel was a slow simmering anger.

All I could think of at that time was, ‘How could you’.

I held onto my anger and used it as a shield for myself, wrapping it tightly around me. It hurt. And I needed a way to make it not hurt anymore. I’m so sorry, I should have known. I should have realized it, shouldn’t I?

oooo

One day she suddenly started talking. “It wasn’t about the future.”

It came out of the blue so all I could respond with was a dumb look and a surprised sound, indicating I was still listening to her.

It wasn’t about the dreams we wanted to fulfill with our lives. Sure, we had dreams and our hidden secrets. But it wasn’t all about that. We only thought about seeing tomorrow –together. We were like the outcasts of society, scrapping by but never willing to fall. We were alike, you see.”

She was smiling now and I looked away. That smile felt sacred, something precious an outsider should never have the permission or means to see.

You would have thought we lived in desperation, heading only towards despair but we because we were so alike, we banded together. It was not our intention to be in the same circle of friends or to befriend someone for benefits. It was the uncontrollable and natural attraction between lonely people. Having someone to believe in is the greatest gift bestowed upon us –a blessing in the form of a ray of light. Because belief was what allowed us to hope and keep dreaming. We always feel we are insignificant don’t we? And with so many people, that some are bound for success and others, failure. But that’s not true. We were all bound towards the same thing and although our circumstances have differed, the chance for happiness was never taken away. You see, I believe there are really only two options in our lives that we are free to make: to acknowledge and not to acknowledge. “

My head was turned to the side, a way for me to show some semblance of respect. The fact that a stranger was baring her soul to me felt so wrong. Although I averted my eyes and face, I caught a small motion at the corner of my eye. She had shifted from staring out the window and at the sky to me staring in my direction.

Not knowing anything –it’s scary isn’t it?”

I swallowed painfully, emotions surging wildly.

We’re scared to do things for fear we would suffer. The unknown factor might change something. If it does then it would make everything we did up to that point of revelation meaningless. And that meaningless scares us. And it petrifies us.”

Timidly, I asked, “Who are you talking about?”

She smiled albeit sadly, “A group of old friends. They have already passed on. I wish that we could have seen the future together.”

There was that forlorn look again. She was staring out the window again; a bird trapped in its cage, looking outside awaiting its escape. Afraid of startling the bird into flight, I settled for keeping my silence. We just sat there for what seemed like hours until the sun was no longer up and the sky became a dark blanket full of stars.

I never asked anything more. We all had our own secrets and hidden truths. And we should be allowed to keep them to ourselves if we wanted. The world should allow this much at least.

Burden of Hope, Chapter 4

Chapter 4: The Sky Above

Swimming back into consciousness, I sleepily cracked one eyelid open. Dawn must have broken, the thick woollen curtains were starting to let a small seam of grey light into the tiny bedroom. Closing my eye again, I willed myself to sleep; three measly hours of sleep would not be sufficient. I must have woken up from the dryness of my eyes; they were swollen and red from a lack of sleep. An uncomfortable, dry feeling of rough eyelid skin did not whisk me away into the world of dreams; rather, the horrid feeling was beginning to enhance my other senses, pushing me towards a slow consciousness of my surroundings. If a fly would have landed on my face, it would be equivalent to a quick slap. Sensing my attempts to drift off into unconscious was in vain, the small seam of light grew more concentrated, as the sun seemed to shine brighter, mocking me for my lack of sleep.

The covers were warm and the air inside the room was rather cold and rejecting. It is true that waking up early in the morning is comparable to a slow mundane torture of the physical body –in my case, it included my mental health. Aware of my complete conscious state, I let out a big sigh before arrogantly throwing the covers off. I will not be defeated by the likes of cold air. Hugging my arms around myself, I padded quickly into the bathroom to freshen up. The cold tiles bit sharply into my bare feet –and ever sharper at my morning giddiness.

Shrugging on a thick robe, I quickly raced through my morning routine –for what purpose, I do not know. The skies were still grey, the sun haven’t been up long enough to wipe out the pitch black of the night. The weather was supposed to be spectacular today so I heard from the inspection agent the previous day. He was a queer one. On that topic, I still needed to procure the proper documents to satisfy our clean and proper procedural system. Trying to recall the types of documents and what I needed to prove, I hummed a soft tune while preparing my somewhat threadbare breakfast. Breakfast usually consisted of cheap coffee mix and fake eggs –if you could even call them eggs – that now come from a carton. The supermarket had a promotion for the product and I had senselessly enlisted myself as one of their guinea pigs –talk about self sacrifice.

The yellowish orange liquid was poured into a cracked bowl and shoved into the microwave. Sipping the coffee, –it tasted horrible – I leaned against the crumbling counter to relax. In the past, my dear mother used to fry fresh eggs for my then high school self while my father would be sitting at the kitchen table, newspaper in one hand and coffee in the other. I would not vouch for her cooking skills as the eggs would only turn out in two ways: hard rubber or gooey slush. I was not particular about my food and went about with my breakfast as usual. Perhaps that’s the reason why I am going to consume this mock substance called eggs this morning. I was sure the carton had said five minutes. The heap of something that had risen up in my plate looked quite deformed and unappetizing. If I were to make a humble comparison, my mother would have done better blindfolded.

Needless to say, the pile of yellow mush on my plate was starting to even deter me from trying it for fear of an impending doom. Finding a clean fork, I poked at the mass before spooning some into my mouth for an experimental taste. The taste itself was unpleasant. Whoever said you could not judge a book by its cover had obviously never taken such drastic measures to provide breakfast. Swallowing with great difficulty, I stood in the kitchen pondering whether I should take a leap of faith or spoon the rest of the yellow substance into the disposal unit of my kitchen. If I disposed of them, I would have to take out the whole bag of garbage and the racoons would undoubtedly be at it until the waste management truck came by. Peering at the garbage schedule, I resignedly placed the plate on the counter as I realized that the garbage had already been picked up yesterday –meaning these eggs would be with me for the next week. It seems that not only the house was doomed, but myself as well.

My stomach flipped at the thought of consuming the foul thing and my nose adamantly denies the option of the disposal unit. Deciding that even though my life was doomed, I should spend my last few moments in peace and away from the smell of rotting artificially produced eggs, I spooned the substance into the garbage and quickly tied a tight knot. I would take the bag out after washing the dishes.

Nodding once, I left the kitchen after placing both plate and fork into the sink.

oooo

He hadn’t planned on sleeping, and was quite startled to find he had fallen asleep on the dirty elevator floor. Looking at the stubbornly sealed elevator doors, he shifted into a more comfortable position. Sitting up with his back against the metal walls, he yawned and pulled himself up from the support railings lining the silver cage. Glancing at his wristwatch, he mentally berated himself for falling asleep. The needles of the clock told him it was Monday morning and he was late for school, if, he were to be able to attend school as it is. The pessimistic thought gained a slight amount of giddiness as he wondered what excuse he would have to tell his teachers tomorrow. They would not be pleased.

His teachers hardly cared a smidge more than was required by the standard practice and they would probably count it a miracle to receive the good news he was either dead or unable to attend school. They were nasty folks, unkind and hypocritical, puffing their chests as they lectured them on how to live life, and how to make educated deductions and sense of this ludicrous world. He supposed they were entitled to hate him a little. He was never subtle about his dislike of their kind, and they likely returned the favour with their reproachful and patronizing glances.

He was on his feet, albeit unsteady and quite stiff from sleeping in an unfamiliar position on the hard floor. Walking towards the small buttons of the elevator he experimentally pressed the button to open the doors. He heard the doors budge and tremble before heaving a sigh and settling down, doors closed. Dispirited, he attempted to make an emergency call which ended up with the same result as the elevator button, with the exception of a few unhealthy screeches and ear splitting noises. At this point, he should lie back down, say his prayers, and wish for mercy upon his soul.

To the disdain of the deities awaiting his sorrowful recompense and his will to deliver his poorly guided soul upon their doorstep which he was to submit to their divine powers, he cursed and kicked the metal doors with all his might. He even let out a ferocious animalistic yell before continuing to pound on the doors. He refused to rot away in this place and he no longer believed in divine powers to shower him in benevolence so he pounded and yelled until his strength drained away and his voice became coarse.

The world had never shown him mercy and he did not expect that fact to change. If he was to get out of here alive, it would be by his own power. An unknown period of time ago he would have been a naïve and pure hearted youngster who believed in the world around him. He would have decided to believe in humanity; however, the serious affliction of his heart proved worse than anyone could have imagined. In one night, the line between black and white faded into a shade of grey and that was when the terrible virus had taken root. So terrible was this virus that it stained not only his blood and flesh, but his faith and beliefs. The heavens had forsaken him.

Someone help me!

No, he was no longer a little boy. He could no longer indulge in those naïve moments and idealism that he was told to believe in.

Even though I’m weak, as long as I have something to believe in – I can still draw breath, still see the world, and still run with my own two feet towards what I dream to be a better tomorrow.

Kyle wanted to believe in that. For so long, he had clung to the hope that beckoned from the other side of the darkness, tempting me and drawing me closer. But the time it took to get to that speck of light was too long, so long that his human body of flesh and blood felt it would wither and age away before he could physically reach that place of solace. His mind was tormented by the seconds and even milliseconds that went by, seeming like hours and days. Days blended into months, and months blended into years.

For as long as I can remember now, I have been running towards that light.

It was this irreversible feeling of wanting to attain that hope that kept him going –a horse with a broken leg that could not cease going after the carrot dangling in front of it. A broken horse that could not stop running because it could then never catch the carrot and could not keep running because its leg could never sustain the distance, caught between two choices that both lead to death.

Would you want to die running after your goal?

Or would you rather die bleeding your life away and never attaining that goal you spent so long chasing?

He honestly didn’t know which was worse -to be the hopeful fool or the regretful fool.

Hope will eat away at us because what we hope for is usually not what our heart truly desires. In hope, we will forever wander from objective to objective. How could human desire ever be satisfied? No, we will plunder and blunder until there is nothing left. Yet we will continue to make the same mistake over and over like a vicious cycle.

Then should he choose the path of regret?

Regret will eat away at us because we could not attain what the heart wanted. Our hearts yearn for the things we do not have; our thirst could never be satisfied.

Was there an end to desire? If so, then could it be no one has even attained their heart’s final desire –considering such a thing exists? Are we to wander in material damnation and greed until we ruin ourselves and those around us?

If I don’t become rich, take from the poor, connive with the corrupted or live a peaceful married life, own a cottage, turn a blind eye to the true demons of this world, would I regret it?

Truly, he would. Whether altruistic or selfish, all our desires in the end were for the sake of reaching for that tantalizing star that hung just out of our reach, forever and ever.

And now we are back at square one. How is a fool –no matter what kind of fool –supposed to live in this world of warring qualities?

We are like the lab rats we so often test our scientific methods on: running on the wheel, around and around we go. There is nowhere to go.

So I wonder if I can be happy like this. Will running on this wheel give me a better outcome than stopping completely?

Boxed in, we are just content to keep running until one day we can no longer keep running. Whether our limbs become heavier and tired from spinning out fate or whether they wither and grow old from age, he had the feeling the outcome was the same.

At the end of the day, we are all the same.

For some reason, his thoughts left him disconcerted and somewhat sad. It left a bitter taste.

oooo

The air was humid and clung to my skin as I walked down the road towards the bus station located on the main intersection, just beside the neighbouring road. On days like this, I wore my only sunhat to keep the sun from my face. My mother used to lecture me on the importance folks in the big cities held about a person’s face. If my look were not aesthetically pleasing, it would be hard for women like me who come from a far from well off family, to find a job in a nice office. My poor mother’s worries were wasted. I never had the opportunity to work in those air conditioned and clean offices where the black suits worked and the ladies had tea time together in the tiny cafés that littered the city.

The unwavering blaze of the sun made me thirsty and my clothes began to plaster onto the mould of my body as I perspired. Walking out so casually was not a normal occurrence for me and I caught a glimpse of two women walking up the road in my direction. They seemed around their early forties, beginning to show signs of age with the beginnings of fine lines on their still youthful faces. Both wore sunhats; pink ribbons decorated the hat of the shorter and purple for the other. The women wore long summer dresses that flowed and rippled gently with the summer breeze. Perhaps my mother had envisioned her only daughter to grow up to become like one of these women.

I had seen many types of women, big and small, thin and thick. Some were obnoxious and vixens by nature; others had an air of nicety. And once a blue moon, I had the pleasure of concluding they really were kind hearted people. I believe my dear mother to be one of those –hard to come by but easily wilted. She was like a flower that needed the sun and the water soaking up its roots, with a tremendous amount of tenderness and care.

Flowers in bloom were the loveliest part of gardens. The bud that bloomed and became petals of luscious colour made me feel as though I wanted to participate in the same process, to one day bloom into a beautiful figure made up of many delicate petals that reached out for the sun. And like all delicate things, they do not last long. My mother used to have peonies in our humble house garden; mesmerizing flowers that were so large and pretty in colour, I would spend an afternoon staring in fascination. For as I learned after witnessing the slow decay of the beautiful flower, it wilted as fast as it sprung to life with its colours bleeding out into a light brownish colour before completely falling off and onto the cold desolate ground. My mother was like that. Despite her resilience after her bloom, she had faded away just as quickly. The difference between them was that the peonies my mother planted and tended to bloom once every summer; my mother never bloomed again.

It was these memories that sprung up whenever I set foot outside that made me believe I am still of a human nature. However uncaring and detached I tried to become, these memories anchored a deep sense of humanity inside. It brought out what I have decided to label as the altruistic side; unlike the altruism spurred by motivation of future benefits, it was rather an honest impulse to help a fellow human being. I don’t know if it is proper to label it as that but there had been instances of those in my childhood. It was those times that I wished would be protected in a case of amber and preserved. They say those are just naiveties of the young but I would like to think of them as the side of me that really cared; that it was not because of age, but simply because I wanted to help someone because it felt right. Because I am sure even the strangers walking along the sidewalk have had similar experiences.

The two women were getting closer now that I had spent a few moments with my thoughts. Closer, I could see the two were walking arm in arm, chattering lightly as they walked. The pink ribbon –I nicknamed- steered her companion slightly to the right so that we could both continue our paths without break. The purple ribbon merely continued their conversation with little notice. As I walked passed them, I could almost feel their eyes settle on me as soon as my back was towards them. Likely, they were wondering who I was as I was rarely seen by any neighbours and they rarely glimpsed the face of the inhabitant of my house. Their focus on my subject dissipated quickly and soft chatter started up between them again. Relieved their attention was no longer focused on me; I walked a bit faster in case the bus was to arrive early.

As it turned out, the bus came late today. I seated myself at the back of the bus since I needed to ride this bus for an hour before switching onto another line. The passengers on the bus were few; not many people in this area rode the bus. Cars were the popular option and public transit was quite expensive if you had to pay your way through every single time. I never really took the bus and did not mind handing over the few coins to take the transit. The bus was air conditioned and was a bit more comfortable from the house I lived in; the seats were worn but soft and the windows gave a lot of light. The passengers kept to themselves and cases of arson, theft, murder, and manslaughter were rare in these parts. Occasionally, the town bordering the larger city would report news of a local incident; a car crash or a mother who lost their son at the local hockey rink. It was rare to hear any type of heinous news and we all lived rather peacefully in this suburban area.

My family came to these lands when I was only a tiny child, small and always crying. The house I currently reside in was the only thing left from my late parents. And it seemed even that was to be taken away by those vultures from the Board of Insolvency. And it seemed that my life was just coming to an end –a bleak end of a misfortunate woman. It occurred to me that there must be other people having even more difficult times than me and I should count my lucky stars. Unfortunately, reality gnawed at my conscience and I could not help but feel pitiful towards both myself and my parents. To think that the harsh servitude my parents had been forced upon had been for naught pained me greatly.

I glanced out the window to gauge where we were on the bus route. We would soon be passing by that place –the woman’s. I wonder whether she is still living in her old dingy house; whether she still serves tea and plain buns to her guests; whether she still dresses moderately young; whether she still retains her youthful visage so unbecoming of a misfortunate woman; whether she still remembers me. I had visited her house shortly after recovering from my strange ordeal to properly thank her.

In my heart, I was hoping we could have a discussion –of what, I was uncertain. I felt she had the answers I was seeking. Perhaps it was my foolish desire to push my responsibility in life onto another so that I could breathe easier. And it was a desire to bond with someone, to share one’s pain and one’s hopes –a thing written for the fancy of young children. Despite the foolishness and naivety of my actions, I could not control with my mind my heart’s yearning to connect with someone on this Earth. I suppose in a way I was seeking out a justification of my own existence. Or a ghost of what remained of that existence.

oooo

He must be too far gone. He was starting to hear what sounded like the crying of ghosts and it was grating his nerves.

It seemed as though years had gone by while he was stuck in this forsaken place so he was thoroughly surprised when he started to hear voices. The voices came through the walls and did not resemble any language known to him; they were crying out and by the desperate ring of their tone, he assumed he may even be condemned to darker times. It seemed whatever powers that lay above the sky, away from the human eye, saw his life as a joke to be toyed and meddled with. To suffer above and below ground is not exactly what he had been hoping for when he pictured what philosophers call the antithesis of human life –in other words, death.

Wondering what he had done to deserve this, he resignedly slid back down to sit on the rough floor. His head was starting to feel fuzzy and his vision was blurred by the lack of oxygen left in the elevator box. Chuckling, he grimly smiled as he thought about his grand dreams of one day becoming a moderately successful blue collar worker.

He would be married to a nice woman who if the heavens allowed, would love and cherish him, for he was a man without much to give and bless her poor soul for the crimes he will commit in thieving her of a peaceful and comforting life. Knowing your capability and accepting the bare means of living your life as the lowest dog of society are quite different. In one, you could use to your advantage or disadvantage depending on your will and –dare I say –bullheadedness in living out a fulfilling life for yourself and others. In the latter, one would be deprived of the barest rays of hope and condemning themselves to the darkest corners of despair. He had always been taught if it’s not one way, it’s the other. He supposed there was truth to that; however, choosing to see and accept the greys of this monotone coloured world would be a premonition of possible salvation in the form of real and permanent happiness.

Unfortunately, the educational teachings of his current day did not give any of them the formula of happiness. In fact, he could almost say he never knew what happiness really was. In their blind pursuit for a better tomorrow, was happiness just an illusion to guide them onwards in their paths? But feeling the love of a parent could be called happiness, could it not? Or loving another? What about having the means to achieve an end? He was confused and couldn’t say what statement these chaotic thoughts were trying to implant in him.

In his darker moments, he had thought about what to do when he died. There was always the question of how you wanted to die; what would you do if you only had twenty four hours to live; what would you say to those precious to you if you knew of your impending doom; who would you visit if you could only visit one person before your time is up; where you would rather die. And there was always the answer of, I wouldn’t know –should I? So when you are faced with a situation like this, you would tend to think to yourself those questions and those answers don’t match up. Why? Well because, my dear audience, when you are facing an unexpected end, you tend to regret certain things and rethink what youcould have done. And in his current predicament, though he knew what was to come, he longed to have some sort of control over it. Maybe he could have answered those questions a little better. For starters, he did not want to die in an elevator; he did not want to have only twenty four hours to live and be confined in a silver metal box with nothing around him; he did not want to say his goodbyes knowing there was no one to say them to; he did not know who he could possibly visit when such a person did not exist to begin with; he did not know where he would rather die but it could be anywhere but here. And they say when you have a revelation, you feel like you were hit by a train; they forgot to mention that ithurt.

Alas, he would no longer have to spend day by day wondering about the future. There would be no need to attend the school he hated and work his coffee job he somewhat hated anymore. There would be no need to pay rent and scrap enough money together in order to get by in this blasted world where riding an elevator could cost you your life and your future. There would be no need to think so hard about what everything meant. There would be no need to go to bed disappointed and wake up not knowing what to expect or even to wake up and hope things could change. There would be no need to dream of a tomorrow that would never come because let’s face it, dying in a broken elevator without even a shred of help was not exactly something he would have foreseen.

He just wanted to be able to affirm that he could still hope and that his hopes would not be in vain.

Was it really too much to ask for peace of mind?

He just wanted to be able to live out his dreams, even if it meant suffering along the way. But living without any dreams seemed like he was giving up. He was like a nut to be cracked between reality and hope. Perhaps he thought that those cracks could release the core of that nut and set it free from its confines. But the hammer of reality and the anvil of hope both needed a capable blacksmith to weld the metal into a creation of beauty to be admired by onlookers. It was just that his role as a blacksmith was ending and like my boss used to say, there are so many capable for this job and if you can’t do anything worth the pennies I’m paying you then you’re as good as laid off. I suppose my turn is over and as the curtain falls on this last act, I would have to leave the stage.

At this point, he didn’t know how he should feel. It was just overwhelming.

So he blamed it on his tears when he was startled to find a hand on his shoulder. Staring at the gloved hand, he slowly turned his head to look at the owner of the hand. Seeing stranger’s face, he was at a loss. The stranger was no stranger. It was a police officer, by his uniform and the painted crest on the uniformed chest, and said man was asking if I was alright and if he could stand. He managed a weak nod before wondering how he was supposed to stand and leave this confining elevator. It seemed so strange. Perhaps it was a type of hallucination you experience before passing into the afterlife.

The officer seemed a little worried and called for someone or something. It seemed strange how real this felt and he would be lying if he didn’t feel a small sparkle of hope towards a rescue. But he quashed the small sparkle before it could ignite and burn himself.

Sounds seemed to become muted and from the alarmed expression on the officer’s face, he could imagine what was happening. His bewildered mind must really hate him if it wanted to let him die suffering like this. For some reason, he could only remember the officer’s extended hand, reaching out for him. It beckoned to him. Despite his misgivings, this felt real. And before he could help himself, the flames ignited and everything burst into an angry red.

He smelled smoke. He looked down and realized he had inadvertently set himself on fire and the flames were already spread around his body, burning his flesh. As he stared confusedly at his blackening hand, he vaguely wondered why he didn’t feel any pain –or anything for that matter. Flames were supposed to hurt and being set on fire was supposed to be an unpleasant experience. As he watched, his blackened hand started to house a few cracks and he began to spot the first signs of breakage; his skin was cracking open and blistering over at the intensity of the heat. But still, he felt no pain. Unsure, he raised his other hand up to his face and carefully examined the damage being done. Except, nothing was happening and he thought it was peculiar.

Peering into the flames, he wondered what sort of joke this was. Resigned, he waited for the end to come when his senses would dull and he would eventually fade away from the world that both loved and hated him. And he asked himself once again those questions that wouldn’t stop bothering him since his waking this morning. Perhaps –he hesitated for a moment-, perhaps he could have started anew and found a reason to keep running on that wheel. He couldn’t stop wondering and it wasn’t because he was arrogant enough to think there was always a better future waiting for him, but because he just couldn’t stop himself from being human. It seemed natural for him to wander about in his deliriousness thinking about what could have been.

So when he felt cool flesh being placed above his unburned hand, he couldn’t hide his surprise or the widening of his eyes. He couldn’t stop the burning of his eyes, the blurring of his vision, and the dampness on his cheeks. He couldn’t stop the palpitations of his heart or the sudden strength in his limbs. Least of all, he couldn’t stop the hope that blossomed in his heart. He couldn’t deny that above him, a hand had reached out towards him, palm facing up and beckoning towards him to grab onto it.

In his darkest moments, another hand still found his.

The hand never guaranteed anything to him –not even salvation. On the other side of the door, from where the hand reached out from was the unknown. There was no promise of smiles and laughter. There was no promise of pain and suffering. All it guaranteed was a second chance.

So he reached out and grasped desperately at the proffered hand. As he was pulled back up from wherever it was he was falling into, he didn’t question where he was going.

He didn’t know why. He didn’t even know where, who, what, or how.

He didn’t need to.

He just wanted to live.

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