A Short Story
By Meshalini Govender
I look at her and see all the things that I am no longer. She smiles, with a complacent confidence-it boasts sincerity and vitality borne of youth and innocence. Her eyes are glazed with the far-flung horizons of promise; promise that she strides towards with definitive unwaveringly infinite hope. Looking at her hurts slightly, and suddenly I am engulfed in a whirlwind of nostalgia and homesickness for an unknown home, and while it hurts, like thorns dragging on skin, I can truly not stop looking at her. For a second, my attention is swayed by my own chapped and chipped palms, palms that are extended from arms that have known time, arms that wear their age gracefully. Arms that now have bones and veins protruding obscurely from under amalgamated ink lines and blotches that were once tattoos of long dissolved artistic symbolism. Drawing myself back to her, I stare unashamedly, she looks so perfect: black hair cascading down her bronzed brown face as fluidly as the tears cascade down mine, bright eyes that were brighter still, and a mouth, soft and unknowing of the words it may speak, of the praises it may sing, and ignorant of the men it may bless.
I whisper, ever so softly, barely audible over the flutter of easels somersaulting outside in the sugary summer evening, to the seventeen -year old girl,
“Do you know how it feels to feel so sad that eventually, the sadness melts into a piercing emptiness, a permanent and heavy anchor; dragging you into the furthest and darkest depths of the universe?” I ask her and then continue without a beat, “A sadness etched into your aching soul, embedded amongst the holes in your heart, a sadness like a poison flowing ceaselessly and furiously through your veins. Are you familiar with the comforting softness of tears caressing your face, with the stain of heartache; a void tragedy dare create?” Of course, she is silent, the humid air hanging about makes more noise in the room than she does, and she stares back, and, with what was formerly thought to be blissful ignorance, has now surprisingly warped itself into a glare of defiance.
“But then, do you also know how it feels to feel so happy that you silently whisper words of gratitude to the earth that hosts your feet and the sky sheltering your being? Even the fields of dandelions dancing in the lullabies of the winds and the wandering clouds could never compete with that freedom latched onto your spirit. Can you remember a happiness that enveloped you so that all your writing was poetry, all your actions smelled like rain and all you said sounded like a child’s laughter? Have the stars of the skies ever seemed like your slaves?” I know that I am no longer whispering to her anymore and that my voice has consciously risen with emotion. I know that I need to lower my voice or else. A single tear, of happiness but also of longing, trickle down the atlas of my face. Still, she is silent.
I feel the air in my lungs whirring around forming destructive tornadoes; they want to burst forth in a scream, my head is pounding with thoughts that are starting to blur. But I do not scream; I cannot. All that I manage is a whisper, one that sounds like a falling petal.
“What of love, have you known it? Have you known the heart-wrenching, soul-sucking, and earth-shattering pain of a lost love?” I pause, reminiscing; the speed of my thoughts dizzying, the tears blinding.
“Your thoughts will blossom in the exact shade of his eyes for the longest of years…You will have his laughter bottled up for rainy days, and you will know the number of his freckles like he knows the number of times he made you cry.” I offer as a side-note, but she is uncaring of my sentiment.
“Do you know how it feels to eventually fade, fade, fade…into your own little world where nothing else can hurt and no feelings can be felt. Joy may not triumph, but sorrow no longer has the reigns.
Do you know these feelings? Do you, really?
Because, I do, only too well. Some more than others, but I know them all. My heart may now be in ruins, but it still manages to house sympathy, and I am so terribly sorry for us both, but I am sorrier for you….”
I am done now, partially because I am out of breath, partially because the tears have turned everything into obscurity, that I can no longer see her, but I do know that her expression, of course, is unchanged. I notice too late that at some stage my voice had perhaps risen again, and much too loud because there is a nurse from the institution who has entered my room unnoticeably and stands cautiously monitoring the saga at the door. I try to gather myself, embarrassed now by my raw display of emotion.
“May I see who you were talking to?” she asks gently, slowly edging forward. Nurse Eliza. That was her name, I think. I used to have a typewriter named Eliza.
I hand her the photograph of the seventeen-year-old that I had been incessantly and emotively talking to for what has felt like an eternity. I am parched: my throat is as scratchy as the door when it opens.
“She’s beautiful,” Eliza offers up politely, her voice unsure and her body standing in a ridiculously uncomfortable posture, “Who is she, may I ask?”
“Me,” I whisper, “Sixty-Four years ago.”