Unity is strength. . . when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.
- Mattie Stepanek
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Gravel crackles upon a smothered symphony of raindrops. Smouldering lights scream unto the frigid fog. A weathered steel beast gently tears through a veil of water. Grunting to a pause, the ageing bus sighs. As rain hammered its rusty roof, jaded leaves rustled a discordant, moist lullaby. Drops tiptoe across the smooth embrace of umbrellas, disappearing in curtains of haze. Banished by others, or themselves, it’s all the same. The open doors of the forest nestle us all. Well, perhaps it has no seams it could shut. What lies in its embrace lies at the edge of existence itself. However, people who don’t exist often commute to one. That’s why this bus drudges on. It hews detritus from the outskirts and back, every single day. Weary, but bound to bear the burden of its purpose.
Tired yellow bulbs laid their eyes on seats, flickering. The girl at the window didn’t bother herself with cloudy glasses, scratches cutting through droplets and fingerprints. Her shrivelled bag slept next to her, feigning ignorance alike. An old man in his oversized coat glanced through his wrinkles, as always. The damp corner welcomed me, a daily ritual. Its crumpled creases smiled. Ethereal clouds of mist flamed from my breath as I sat on wet, torn fabric. Faint pulses from nausea struck amidst creaks of ageing axles. Through torn gaps between passing cadaverous trees, clouds pour themselves upon the restless lake. The black, agitated water lurks back at your lost glances. It imposes an abyssal stare, fixed, as its depths stir and weep. As the lake diminishes and trees grow sparse, the town approaches. A ghoulish colossus draped in fog; its towering outlines and lamenting yellow eyes reveal themselves. Veins of grey pavement and worn out asphalt run across weathered bodies of brick. Despite fanatically smiling neon lights, entrails of decadent darkness aren’t hidden. Tormented skeleton and sinew wrapped in violent hues of pleasure ooze from cracked windows. You don’t belong here. Guests shouldn’t stay too long, you know. Especially unwelcome ones.
Damp air taps my shoulders at the littered desk. Rain knocks on windows, its longing tears streaming down the firm surface. “Excuse me, could I...” It’s the same vain spark, everyday. Differing in content, but ending in the same bleak outcome. Every possible tone of hers tried, every alteration tested. I wonder what satisfaction she derives by scraping for life in dead husks. She’d look at me, reading faded letters of an irrelevant book. Endless questions remained famished by my solitary words. Yet, she comes without fail. Same time, same means. Whenever my tongue dares to flow, my mind strangles it mercilessly. She shouldn’t get into the forest. She might get lost, or even worse.
Me exile was my home. The lake silently agreed, observing me through dusty windows. The clock’s ticking echoed, compelling me for a talk I didn’t want. Cold air filled my lungs, a musty concoction. I walked up to the forested shore. A tattered canopy of leaves suffocated the sinking light from above. Trunks long dead stood amongst the living, drowned in scarred silence. My mind was imprisoned within my phone, though. The staccato of its keys long subsided, but haunted my ears. I constantly repeated the sequence of messages. My mind was pulled in all directions, effervescent claws snatching away at it. Thoughts fragmented and clumped in grotesque forms as my shoes crushed fallen leaves. I wondered what all was left unsaid in her words. What was mentioned and what was meant. If only those lifeless letters could speak the unspoken. After all, it can be confusing when people don’t say things they came to you for. We talked today; her and me. Why would someone do that without a task at hand? Everything has a purpose. A definite end. A point after which I retreat into the invisible again. I wanted to be wrong. Remoteness can facilitate the growth of proximity. Buried seeds of doubt began bursting through my memories, puncturing soil that had hardened to stone. What monsters could the shadows of decreasing distances hide?
I overlooked the horizon, where the steely sky merges with desperate branches of the forest. The lake had swallowed everything between me and that wooded shore. It struck as a gigantic shattered mirror; its primeval face rattled by crashing waves. Wailing waters failed to drown the tumult in my mind. I was immersed in my own struggle to wrangle sense out of today. It felt threatening yet warm, jarring yet comforting. My thoughts aimlessly wandered along the damp gusts scratching the aching barks. I knew what longing felt like. Aloofness you’re obliged to want burn through your will to desire. The neat lines of my world lay pulverised into hideous distortions, straddling hope and fear.
My feet felt a sudden jerk. Beads of sweat on my forehead were brushed by the wind’s hands. A pulse of ice burst through my nerves, its web ensconcing me from within. My legs dried unto stone, my breath lay stuck within me. Eyes slowly turned towards my feet, rubbing fog away. I had forgotten that the wild can be tamed, not domesticated. Once a while, nature’s benevolence is replaced by its brutality. The primal need to survive had gripped my brain. I had to survive, at any cost.
There are times we misinterpret, and there are times where the most harmful of beings dwell solely in our imaginations. Such as today. Unlike my expectations, it was nothing sinister, or threatening. It was an innocuous ball of charcoal with a little tail jutting out. A tiny kitten proudly latched on to my foot. Gleaming green eyes peeping through black fur looked at me. Both our eyes, perplexed, asked questions in a soundless tongue. What would we choose- fear, or temptation?
It was brief. Its inviting snuggles ultimately defeated my hesitations. Kneeling down, I cautiously felt its fur as it purred. Molten silk poured between the grooves of my fingertips. The back of its neck reminded me of her muffler- Bright, black, and supple, almost fluid. Its warmth melted onto my cold skin. The fading sun was pulling me home. I rubbed along its moisture laden coat one last time and proceeded to part ways. It was time I returned to my world.
A pat on its head was clearly not enough. Despite my insistence, it was determined to follow my footsteps. Its shining pupils playfully pleaded. From shoos to diplomacy, all failed. Its tiny paws ruffling the soggy soil, it hobbled along puddles, pupils anchored to me. Every once a while after having been convinced of its absence, I’d look back to find another example of its obstinacy. A stubborn fellow it was, maybe just hungry. Probably I could entertain this guest to a meal. Not like I have others to do the same.
Curiously looking around itself, it followed me. Enthralled, perhaps amazed, his striking eyes shone as he investigated its surroundings. It timidly marched right inside; overwhelmed by the alien novelty around him. Picking it up, I decided to let it stay in a neglected room for a while. Barren and stark, it housed scars of times long gone. Its shining green pupils were akin to unexpected sprouts within the barren, ashen place. The hard floor and decrepit roof were clearly not to its taste. In unknown surroundings, it clung to me, refusing to let go. Old pillows and cloths were arranged for its stay. After bouts of persuasion, it slowly curled up in a little ball of its own, making home of its humble bed. That done, it investigated the cold milk I poured in a bowl for it. Perplexed, sniffs and swift paws accompanied a fixated vision. I nervously watched on, as I smelt the milk. Its tail swung. The next moment was the one of relief. It delightedly sipped away droplets, leaving white ripples by the touch of its minute pink tongue. Swollen, cracked walls rejoiced in quiet over a long awaited return of liveliness.
Quietly closing the door, I left to wipe the smudges of mud left in its wake. Barely a few minutes into the job, the muffled whispering of trees was broken by a scorching shatter. I rushed, half fearful and the rest alarmed. The furniture lay scratched and scarred. Papers littered the floor, thrown and abused. On a corner lay pieces of broken porcelain, nodding to their demise. The kitten was scared, its hair spiked up as it rushed behind me. My throat was parched. I knelt and picked up the debris. Every piece was a lost testament to fading recollections of my remnants. I did not look at the little thing as it nudged. My heating skin reddened. I wanted to yell at it, my tongue stuttered to a shut. Prying the window open, I gave material to my will of wanting it to finally leave. However, seeing its innocent twinkling eyes softened me still. It killed my wish of placing it outside and shutting my doors. It’ll go by itself, I reckoned. I closed the door even as its pupils told me to stay. Tired, I collapsed in my bed. The phone had nothing new to say.
I woke up to a corroded incompleteness. It was not around. I myself had wanted it to go, but a part of me was seeking its sight desperately. The silence screamed. I frantically looked around, galvanised by the dying hope to sound disappointment in its presence. Abandoned pillows taunted me. The cold wind from the open window tugged at the sorrowful curtains. I let it go. I made it go. Its little paws had trusted my touch. Its emerald eyes did not show disgust, but compassion. I betrayed it. I betrayed all that I longed for. All that I had lost once was lost again.
I dragged myself to the mocking windows. I hurled the dusty glass panes to a shut, my head hung in regret. I looked out to the shore yet again, its hymns being carried by frigid gusts. Every breath was an indictment of being undeserving. All the moments of my past spun into a saga of failures. Hauntings of crimes long done seeped through my voids. I turned to the door.
I stood startled. It couldn’t be.I thought it’s another one of those tricks my mind plays. This time, it wasn’t so. My restless heart couldn’t help it. I ran towards the little ball of fur that stood peeking at me. All was not lost after all. Fate does smile when the clouds clear. Watery eyes and filled arms stood frozen in time. That night, it slept next to me. Safe, warm and loved. I slept in peace, unusual as it was.
The mornings had life in them. The solitary chirping of birds was drowned out by hustles of my companion. Its clumsy paws, delicate voice, and its incessant need to fiddle around had smothered the canvas of calm in bright colours of motion. Bathed by the glinting eyes of splashed glass, it would slowly familiarise itself with every little detail of the house. Prancing ahead of the little catastrophes it causes, none of its woeful wastage failed to bring a faint smile to my face. Gulping tablets down, I chuckled as it entangled itself with a forgotten dusting cloth. A crumpled river of faded ivory entwined itself with torrents of pearly black. I wanted this to stay with me. A piece that would fill holes of a violently scratched mosaic. I clicked a picture of him, a wondrous curious infant still enthralled with the wonder that’s life. It could easily be a picture stuck in a child’s photo album, an article of nostalgia of times gone by. The glimmer of blue of the sky painted on the lake’s water smiled.
Her pink face lit up as I showed her my new friend’s picture. Affection unbounded, she couldn’t stop herself from grinning. A flurry of questions came- what does it eat? Where did you get it from? How old is it? Time flew instead of the usual glacial drag. Behind hours worth of words being knit together stood a little, adorable ball of fur. One spark and a world of warmth unfolded. Days passed by, the skies got brighter.
It was fast asleep, adrift in a sea of calm. Bathed in the rays of a new dawn, it lay in a nest of tousled cloth. The blue skies kept their quiet, lest they would wake it. Tender hums of waters echoed as colours leaked into the world. I couldn’t resist taking another picture. Angelic. That’s the only word I had to describe it. Alas, my moment of peace had to be short lived. Pills taken, I grabbed my dusty bag and ran to the bus. I sat; the symphony of the waters filled the lit the heavens. My face hurt. I smiled too long.
The lingering smell of rain played hide and seek with splashes of drying puddles. Blades of grass, glowing green, climbed out of the sidewalks. A nonchalant buzz of citrus and coffee wafted in the air. The table in front of me still had some rainwater marks, the menu’s corners thumbed. A bright sun tiptoed along the odd white cloud. You could see people walk across the street, with waving lush trees welcoming them. A melody of slow chatter was applauded with footsteps of those going by. In front of me was my half finished coffee, taste lingering on my lips. Facing it was hers. It was a great day. I was alive.
I got a little late coming back, but not too much of a sweat. The crystal blue lake lazily gazed amongst the trees. Dusk approached us, its fire blazing above us. Birds sang, perched atop sleeping trees. The old bus walked on the road, splashing the remnants of the rain last night. Tiny white flowers bloomed about, merging with the verdant forest. The wondrous, caressing air rubbed against my skin as I got off the bus. I couldn’t wait to share the day with the little one. His impatient pupils would stare at me, eager, as I would open the door.
The house had given in to silence. Who knows, what new endeavour was it up to now? I kept my bag on the chair and called out for it. It must not have heard the first time, all caught up with his own life. I called out again. I couldn’t hear his paws. ‘This isn’t a time to sleep’, I said to myself. It must be around nearby. It has to be.
I pushed the door open. Pills were scattered across the floor. The bottle lay near the cabinets, its lid rolled at some distance. The little thing lay still at the door, drops of saliva stuck to its face, limp. It wasn’t breathing. My chest congested. I rushed, tapping his face for a sigh or cough. Nothing. I rubbed its belly, anxiously awaiting for it to throw out anything that shouldn’t be there. ‘No..’ I kept repeating, louder and fearfully, my voice choked. Tears fell on its belly as I rubbed it as I firmly as I could. It was the pills. My spine frosted as my rubs grew slower. It was asleep, forever. All because of me, the one it made its own.
It was still warm. I took him in my arms, its innocence intact on its face. Teardrops slid on its fur. I tried to wake it up, I knew it wouldn’t, but I did. ‘Please’, I said. It wouldn’t heed. It was gone. I held its intricate paws in my fingers and fell to the ground with it in my arms. My lips couldn’t beg anymore.
I didn’t ask for forgiveness. I couldn’t. It loved me. Through all what I did and said, it chose to be with me. I wanted it to open its shining emerald eyes once more. Just for once. I missed its delicate voice that filled the emptiness within and around me. All the little things he broke and scratched, all the things he threw on the floor and watched, all the times he’d mess his food. ‘Please’. That’s all my cracking voice could force out. My hands had the blood of a child who loved me. What have I done? I held it to my bosom and cried till my eyes dried up. I had killed all what I never deserved and yet gotten. An naive being that had barely stepped into this world, full of hope lay dead in my arms.
Wrapped in a towel, it lay still. The skies howled, and wailed with thunder as rain streamed down its fur. Its closed eyes spoke of calm, of peace. That could give no solace to me. The lake was silent today. Cold. Dead. The stillness around me deflated my lungs. My sore eyes couldn’t see it any longer. Every strand of its fur reminded me of what an abhorrent creature I was. I stood in the same woods it had found me. The trees looked away, refusing to throw further scorn. Was it disgust, or hatred, I couldn’t tell. It hardly mattered anymore. What once did was lost. Forever. It rested in the ground now, with the trees that took better care of her. I passed off into a slumber of regret, weeping by where it rested. It wasn’t big, but it was the heaviest when I let it go.
I never knew the waters of the lake felt so cold. They warp around your legs, inviting you to its depths. Just the way it had, but towards warmth instead. Wet pebbles crushed against my feet, easing my way in. My wet jacket, soiled on one side, sees a pocket buzz with the phone. I look out at the horizon. Wouldn’t it be better out there? The next world... I could have a new chance possibly. A life where I didn’t regret my existence. One where I hadn’t wronged those who did good to me. A place where I had made it worthwhile for those who had trusted me. Water chipped at my knees. I had just one more thing left to do.
47 missed calls. It was her. What an irony, I’ll have to let one more soul down. Even my final act consists of breaking hearts and infidelity. Waves of chaos and disdain ate away at what was left of me. A tear fell on the screen as I clutched the restive water in vain. I could hear her soothing voice calling me. Telling me it’s okay. Her fingers run along my wet hair. I could feel her skin embrace me, into a world where hope and light flooded. That world demands someone worthy of it. Someone whose precocious touch doesn’t wilt blooms to death. The twinkling stars above me demanded my verdict. I sighed as my tears disintegrated in the awaiting lake.
I don’t deserve it. Or anything, anymore. “I’m sorry, stay happy”. That’s all my trembling hands could text. I walked ahead, as the waters dissolved me. Inch by inch, consuming remnants of sin and revulsion. The icy waters burnt me away, leaving behind numbness in the crevices of my skin. If I’m lucky, I could say sorry to it too, on the other side. Ask for it to give me another chance, one that I won’t squander. Maybe, I’d forgive myself as well. Only the waters know. Only they will. I’m sorry.