“You know,” she confessed “Some days I don’t even feel beautiful. But that’s okay. Sometimes I think I don’t even need to be. There are days…” she trailed off.
“Days when I just…am. Days when it doesn’t matter how I look, how I think I look. There are days when I’m not stuck in my own head and nothing about who I am matters. I just am. Without consent or approval, without shame or judgement. I just am. Like the wind, or the sun, or—or Nature. I do what I am meant to do, unhindered. ”
He smiled to her a serene smile.
“You know, I wish our eyes could see souls instead of faces. The outside sometimes distracts from what’s really important but it’s only — only a vessel, the envelope to a letter. A pretty envelope is nice, but you’re not going to read an envelope. You look at it then cast it aside, because it’s the letter you want. I wish people could understand that. There’s no point making an envelope pretty if the letter inside is blank or poorly written.” he said, a chagrined expression on his face.
“But I understand in a way,” she smiled wryly “The envelope lets you know that the letter is here and it also keeps it safe. So I’m not complaining. Even the plainest envelope becomes beautiful when the letter inside is.”
With that, she poked his nose and ran away, her head thrown back in laughter.
“Wait! Wait for me! Where are you going?” cried the little one, running up to the vanishing silhouette.
“Why are you going so fast? Don’t—don’t leave me…You said we’d always be together!”
“Where I’m going,” said the taller one, stopping to kneel besides the other, “you can’t follow. I need to go alone.”
“But you have to take me with you! You have to! You said it that if we weren’t together then, then it doesn’t mean anything. If I’m not with you, you’ll let yourself become sad.” whimpered the child.
“Childhood,” murmured the other, a melancholic smile tugging at their mouth and one hand ruffling the child’s hair, “I would have let myself become sad a long time ago if you hadn’t been there. I would have lost my way, I would have lost you and I would have lost me.” The older one’s voice was now watery, tremulous. “And not having you, I will surely get a little lost, but I’m doing it for you. I can’t bring you this time around. They don’t like children where I’m going. They’ll hurt you. But I’ll always remember you.
I am here because of you, you know? If there’s no you, there’s no me. I’ll come back for you, I promise.”
“People,” I recall her saying, “They are like boats in a harbour. They think they are free, but they’re really not.”
“Where’s the freedom in only being someone you’re supposed to be?” she asked. “Where’s the freedom in being moored to paperwork, to rules that are unspoken and unwritten? How free do you feel to be made to enjoy the sun’s bright glow behind a desk in an artificially lit room?”
“We’re too scared to be free.” I whispered. “Freedom is dangerous. Out at sea, there are storms. The waves are so monstrous that their very shadows instill fear in our hearts. How much trust can you put in one boat?”
“But don’t you want to know?? Don’t you ever wonder—”
I shook my head. And her voice, the light in her eyes died down.
Later, she was gone, her risk had not paid off. And I was safe, warm and well-fed. But it still felt as though she had won much more than I ever would.
“It’s easy to think that you are little when the world is so big. Insignificance comes too easily to your mind, but remember— You, with your tender heart and kind soul, deserve to be here as much as the forests or mountains. You are small but mighty. You are small but you live. You can do this, and more.” whispered the ancient spirit of the Feilglahd forest, as she sent a gentle breeze to ruffle the boy’s already messy hair.
“Humans,” she mused as the boy ran to his destiny, emboldened now. “They never know their own strengths, and when they do…” she sighed, her eyes going even paler as they landed on the decimated trees nearby, “they think they can never be weak again.”
She turned to look at the boy’s disappearing silhouette again.
At 16, he was calling upon its name, the one word leaving his lips in a painful howl.
It met him then, tearful and grieving as he was, and the sight of it, more than its sudden appearance stunned him into terrified silence. He had expected a monster with bloody fangs, the foul stench of dead bodies permeating its coat of black. He had recoiled, merely imagining the merciless bead-like eyes, hungry to witness yet another slaughter.
But the real thing was so much more terrifying. It was eerie and…beautiful, though he could not see its face. It was clothed in flowing robes of white to which clung a light, sticky coat of dust and grit. It advanced with grace and not murderous intent, as though it could not walk but only fly.
He stared, still stunned at this ethereal entity that could only be Death.
And though its cloak, like a veil on its face, betrayed nothing of what might lie beneath, he could still feel its strong, binding gaze on him.
Death remained still, waiting as if.
And that was when the reality of it all came crashing down on him. Here was Death, this murderer, standing before him, all dressed in white.
“My friend! My friend! You—you murdered him!” he bellowed, his shaking finger pointing at the white, otherworldly figure.
Tears stung his eyes once more, and the pain in his chest returned tenfold.
There was Death, standing before him, its robes of white billowing around like the very air around him was sacred. And his friend, his friend laid in the earth, buried under the ground, never to surface again.
The thought of it, of his friend’s lively face now…dead, now covered in dirt sent his heart beating to a mad rhythm. His eyes screwed shut in spite of his desperate attempts to keep them open, for fear of Death that was still, he felt it, gazing into his very soul.
As he gasped for breath and struggled to open his eyes, a smell of dirt and smoke hit his nose. The air around him grew colder and suddenly, something glacial and wisp-like pressed against his forehead.
As his head fell back into the darkness, he could recall only one thing.
A voice, clear and pure, unlike any he had heard before, uttering words he would never forget:
“You know,” stated the teacher “I have always said that the world would not be kind to you. You will have to fight an unjust system and all kinds of monsters masquerading as men, knowing that you, being a single unit fighting a system, a single soul wrestling with the universe, are severely disadvantaged. There will be times when your best will not be enough, when trying hard will mean nothing if you do not succeed. You will have to be tough beyond what human softness you may possess. Because the world does not care for your struggles. It is win or lose, live or die, but—” he stopped, drawing in a sharp breath.
Behind his half-rimmed spectacles,blue eyes narrowed in on the boy. The teacher’s mouth was drawn in a thin, taut line and for the life of him, the boy could not discern what the hard,scrutinising look meant. He feared that it meant he was in trouble. He dreaded the idea that perhaps…perhaps he had shown weakness. Or worse yet. Perhaps he had shown himself to be irreparably weak, broken. Perhaps…and he dared not think it was true, he had let the man down.
The latter, with his strong, set shoulders, slicked back grey hair and the usual cunning look in his eyes, did not help any and made him want to croak an apology and then run far, so far into himself that there could be no way back.
The older man’s eyes softened, their blueness now calming, a bit like the sea on a beautiful day.
“But there are cases where the mere act of fighting is victory in itself. The darkness you fight here—” he remarked, tapping his wrinkled finger against the boy’s beating heart, “is an example of that.”
“I do not say this lightly. You are strong, my boy. Whether you win or lose, it is your refusal to give in to these dark times which makes you strong. And even if the battle never ends, this is already a sign of victory. This is you reclaiming what is yours, even if you may never get it back the same.”
And then, something happened.
The old man smiled at him.
And in that moment, the boy knew that what he was doing was right. He knew with a burning conviction that people were strong not because they had no weaknesses, but because they fought to rise above them.
“Not all those who wander are lost.” — J.R.R Tolkien
“Hush,” he whispered to his mare, the gentle and now weary Céleste. “Easy now, Céleste.”
He brushed through her mane soothingly and in an easy movement slipped off her.
Night surrounded them on top of the hill they had climbed, millions of small stars blinking down at them. Céleste gave a proud grunt. She liked the night, it looked just like her coat of black speckled with white all over.
The sound of something being fired pierced through the silence and soon, bright sparks of red and gold formed patterns in the sky.
The small town below them was illuminated far more than normal towns usually were and in the distance, it seemed to him like an ant colony: busy, bustling, full of energy. Another few rockets exploded in the night, showering the town in streaks of pink and green lights.
“So it is already that time,” he murmured to himself “Already a year…searching, seeking out the road that promises no destination.”
“A year spent wandering,” he mused, “and what for?…Purpose? Meaning?” He sighed and looked back down the way from which he had emerged.
His eyes and voice were wistful as he spoke to no one in particular.
“But there is no place for me there. Not anymore; perhaps there never was. And so now to the road do I belong, and Time,” he looked at the bursting fireworks more intently now “does not matter here. Only the road matters. I will either reach the stars above or die on the road. I am on a journey that has perhaps no end, and yet I cannot stop. I cannot stop because it is better to wander unknowingly than to stay somewhere you don’t belong.”
He stood still, watching the displays of lights and sounds with a profound sadness that only grew deeper at the sounds of loud cheers and lively music.
He remained like this a long while.
And then, as though he’d had enough, he pulled the ample hood of his long cloak back on, and Céleste’s reins in hand, marched forth into the darkness.
He had come up with an excuse to escape then, a sloppy one. One they would decidedly never believe. Surely, his phone would be ringing up in a few hours.
As he pushed open the door to his mess of an apartment, he numbly decided to ignore the clothes strewn all over the place and the balled-up pieces of paper that contained an incomplete masterpiece.
Instead, his feet took him to the balcony. It was the one thing in his life that looked like it had been given importance.
There were flowers of all kinds everywhere. Daisies, roses, poppies, lilies, hyacinths and many others surrounded him.
What about him?
What…Who was he? Where was he going?
His friends…they had all sat on the same school benches, had experienced happiness and heartbreak, had lived their youths together, all as one, and now…Now they all were on their paths to happiness whilst he was lost trying to find his.
And him, what about him!? He nearly cried.
His head hung in shame and sorrow, and blankly, almost lifelessly, he touched the lilies that had yet to bloom.
“Why can’t you just – just blossom already!” he cried in sudden anger.
He had bought the rose and lily seeds and had planted them at the same time, and yet, these lilies stubbornly refused…
But then, he remembered something.
On the back of the package, it had said that these would take longer to grow, simply because, well, lilies were lilies. Lilies could not grow as fast as roses, or else they might as well be roses. But they would eventually bloom.
It was just that they were…different, and so, they grew differently.
It was stupid of him to ask the lily to grow and blossom like the rose had…Why then was he doing that to himself?
He looked at them with an ugly, uncertain kind of emotion.
They were talking, the lot of them, about things he had only dreamed of.
The shortest one was speaking of his latest travels, while his brother enthused over his newest job. Next to him was the one who had always been soft at heart, always with stars in his eyes, and now even more so as he spoke timidly of a girl who was more beautiful than all the stars and moons. And then beside him, was the tough one of the group; the rebel during their school days, who would somehow manage to come up either with mischief or with a new tattoo or piercing every other week or so. He was listening, with a look of uncharacteristic fondness as his friend talked about that girl he swore did not belong to this world.
Silence fell on the group as the question was asked. And it suddenly felt like they were all looking at him, all waiting, expecting.
And him, what about him?
His life, in truth, was a mess of empty coffee cups, half-written novels and sleepless nights spent wondering about the meaning of his existence.
But he couldn’t say that, could he?
And me, what about me?
And then, at that moment…
That was it, that was the ugliness that had been growing in him. It had fallen on him like a drop of ink on a white sheet of paper, and then it had spread and spread and spread…