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I clench the rail of the bridge so hard my knuckles turn white. Below, the river calls to me, beckoning with watery hands. I lean forward enticed by its babbling song. I lean further, but my hands refuse to let go. I want to fall. I have nothing left, no one to love, or be loved by. The world is cold and grey. Everywhere I go bitter winds whip my body without relent. Nothing holds any beauty for me, nothing moves my emotions. My soul is dead already. What is the point of living on? I inhale deeply.
“One...” my breathing slows and my heart stops racing. “Two...” my grip on the rail relaxes. “Three...”
Just as I am about to begin my deathful fall, something pulls me away from the edge. I whirl to face a young girl. She is pretty, in a plain way, and dressed oddly, almost like a gypsy, wild and natural. She pulls me away from my death and into the middle of the bridge.
“What are you doing?” I snap at her.
“Saving your life,” she says quietly.
“Well, it just so happens I don’t want to be saved,” I say, “What does it matter to you anyways? You don’t even know me.”
“All life is precious and beautiful,” she says staring deeply in my eyes. I roll my eyes.
“Yeah, well I doubt it.”
“Can I ask a favour of you?” I sigh.
“Give me one day to prove to you that your life is worth something to someone and that not everything is ugly and dark. If you still don’t believe me at the end of the day, than I won’t stand in your way.” I look at her intently, trying to tell if she is serious. Her dark brown eyes hold no lie.
I follow her through the busy streets. I don’t know what makes me go after her, but somehow it seems important. Together we wind among the people rushing back and forth. Their faces are filled with pain, anger, and sorrow. I lower my eyes and count the cracks as we slowly make our way across the square. She sits down on the brim of a fountain. I sit next to her.
“Well?” I say. She runs her finger tips though the cool water and smiles gently.
“See how it sparkles,” she says. I nod absentmindedly.
“All these people are so focused on themselves and their problems that they fail to see that every other person here has their own set of problems. They run so quickly through life they don’t stop to see all the beautiful things that are right in front of them.”
“What beautiful things around them?” I ask. “It is raining. Everything is muddy. We’re in the middle of a city! It’s dirty and it smells bad. Why would they stop to look closer at that?” She shakes her head sadly.
“All you have to do is look very closely and you will see you are surrounded by wonders.” Thunders claps mightily overhead and rain begins to pour down in sheets. She grabs my hand.
“Come on!” We rush into a little cafe a couple blocks away. We sit down and try to dry our selves off somewhat. She is smiling. I am just annoyed at being soaked through and through. She orders a chai latte. I order a cup of earl grey. Its warmth seeps through my shivering bones. I hadn’t had a cup of tea in so long, and I had forgotten how wonderful it felt. We huddle around our drinks, and she looks out the window.
“What is your favourite colour?” she asks.
“What?” I reply. She just looks at me. “Oh, green I guess.”
“Mine too.” We lapse into silence again. I feel awkward to the long pause, but she seems to find it natural. The silence wraps itself around us enfolding us. I grow used to it. I settle back in my chair and enjoy my tea. A sort of peacefulness descends upon me, the kind of peacefulness that only comes from taking a moment to sit quietly and reflect. But as I think, I remember. I remember the reason why I stood on that bridge in the cold morning air staring at the river. The dark cloud that I thought had left plants itself over me once again. However, it seems that the weather outside is not reflective of my mood, for at the moment the rain stops and the sun once more shows its face to the earth.
“The rain’s stopped,” she says. I shrug.
She leads me through the winding backstreets of the city. The houses lean close together and seem to make angry faces at us as we pass by. We enter a dark alley way, but as we come out the other side we are met with a colourful sight. A street fair surrounds us. All around the vendors display their unique wares. Musicians broadcast their talent for any passerby to admire. Entertainers juggle, breath fire, and swallow swords to awe the gathering crowds. A hundred smells fill the air, smoke and French fries and soft pretzels. She goes over to a bright blue booth and buys some cotton candy. She gives me some. As the taste fills my mouth I remember childhood days when my dad would take me to the fair and we would ride the ferris wheel and try and win giant stuffed animals. I smile a bit. Her eyes glow as she takes everything in.
“What should we do first?” she asks. I spot a ride I remember loving as a kid.
“Let’s go on that,” I say and point.
“Okay!” We get in line and are soon seated on the ride. A mechanical whirring begins as the ride starts up. Suddenly, we are being thrown about, whirled around, and spun in tight circle. I can’t help but laughing. Beside me she lets out a mighty whoop and gives me a huge grin. When the ride ends we are both a little dizzy so we decide to sit and watch one of the musicians.
“What instrument is he playing?” I ask.
“It’s called a hammer dulcimer,” she replies. I watch fascinated as the man hits the strings of his instrument with a tiny hammer and produces a beautiful song. As he begins to sing I realize I know the song. My mother used to sing it to me when I was little. I join in.
It's not time to make a change,
Just relax, take it easy.
You're still young, that's your fault,
There's so much you have to know.
Find a girl, settle down,
If you want you can marry.
Look at me, I am old, but I'm happy.
I was once like you are now, and I know that it's not easy,
To be calm when you've found something going on.
But take your time, think a lot,
Why, think of everything you've got.
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not
She looks at me happily and beings to sing as well.
How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again.
It's always been the same, same old story.
From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen.
Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away.
I know I have to go.
All the times that I cried,
Keeping all the things I knew inside,
It's hard, but it's harder to ignore it.
If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them they know not me.
Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away.
I know I have to go.
The last strains of music die away. The song speaks to me in a way that it never did before. She looks at me and smiles, and for the first time I smile back.
We wander through the fair looking and the merchandise and commenting on the things that catch our eyes. As we draw near to the edge of the fair she turns to me.
“Wait here a sec.” She runs back in between the crowded stalls. A few minutes pass and she reappears with something in her hand. She passes it to me. It is a small green origami box, inside is a watch I had been admiring. I open my mouth to thank her, but she is already leading me on.
The sun is high in the sky. We sit under a tree in the park. The colours everywhere have been heightened by the recent rain. She hands me a sandwich she bought earlier, and we munch happily on our lunch.
“What is your favourite memory?” she asks. I think a moment.
“When I turned nine, I remember my dad taking me aside to give me my birthday present. It was a compass that had belonged to my great great great grandfather. He told me that I was becoming a man and that he trusted me enough to give me this prized heirloom. I was so happy. The feeling that I was trusted and loved by my father was the best feeling I ever had.” She looks at me with complete understanding in her eyes. I pull out the compass from my pocket. “I still have it. All the years, I never once let it out of my sight. My father told me that it would always show me the way home. But that’s not true anymore. There is no home.” She looks down at her lap. I lean against the tree and shut my eyes. I try to shut out all the pain, the disappointment, the ugliness of life. She gets up and pulls me to my feet. We walk together through the park. A flock of geese sits in our path. We look at each other and smile. The birds scatter, as we run through them, chasing them this way and that. Our laughter rings amidst the trees and we collapse onto the ground. We lay there for a while and then get up. Then we walk around the city, admiring the old buildings and their Victorian architecture, peering into shop windows, and avoiding all the cracks in the sidewalk. But as the sun begins to set, and as we draw closer to where it all began, we both fall silent. I know that I am going to have to make a choice.
I clench the rail of the bridge so hard my knuckles turn white. Below, the river calls to me, beckoning with watery hands. I lean forward enticed by its babbling song. I know she is standing behind me watching me. What has today changed? I remember the street fair, chasing the geese, singing with her, laughing with her. Maybe the world is not cold and dead, but what is it worth if you have no one to share it with. I am still alone. I look behind me. She stand solemn and still, tear pouring down her cheeks.
“Don’t go,” she whispers. I look at her in confusion.
“You said you would show me that the world is beautiful and that people still care about me. You may have showed me that the world is not cold, but you haven’t shown me anyone to share that with.”
“Haven’t I? Well then let me tell you now. If you jump you will break my heart.” It hits me, full force. She cares. She spent the whole day with a total stranger trying to save his miserable life. She stands there crying for someone she barely knows. She cares, and I find myself caring too. I want to know her, to share everything with her. I feel lighter, like a burden that has been crushing me is lifted free of my body. I feel joy for the first time in many years. I step away from the bridge towards her and take her in my arms. And as I embrace her, I think, maybe, everything will be alright.