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Ignorance of a Cloud

         I looked down from my perch in the sky at the human cities that sprawled across the land beneath me, lights winking at me as headlights were turned on in the dusty glint of the setting sun. My brothers and sisters prepared to descend, gathering together in large cliques, the eager ones already condensing and beginning their plunge. I stood apart, refusing to fall. I had heard many stories from earth and of the humans that lived there; stories of love, of happiness, but most often, I heard stories of pain. Of loss. I had tried to understand why all of my friends and family loved these defective beings so much, but every attempt had been a failure. Each story that I heard just confirmed what I had thought: humans are a broken race. Honestly, I was just surprised they weren't extinct yet. I was sure they would have fallen apart by then.
          I continued to watch my brothers and sisters make the jump to earth until I felt Svana’s presence beside me. I let out a light sigh in anticipation of the conversation to come.
          “You should come with us.”
          How many times had I heard that line? I had stopped counting after 1,976.
         I continued watching the fleeting forms of my siblings as they raced towards the earth, refusing to acknowledge her.
        “You're always saying how you want to understand them. If you came to earth, you’d see that they are worth it.”
          That was line number 167. She'd changed our dialogue up a little a few years back.
        I turned to look into her hazy form. She was shining. She always shone. I didn't know if I had any shine to me, but I thought it was unlikely.
         “I don't see how putting myself through the horrors down there will change my mind.”
      She made a soft sound at the back of her throat. “Fine,” she sighed, her voice laced with something I couldn't define. It made her sound old.
      She left abruptly, stranding me alone in the blue around us and joined her group in preparation for descent. The sky continued to empty around me, and soon, I was left alone to my thoughts; stranded in the sea of blue. I couldn't help reflecting upon Svana’s words; she had sounded defeated, and it seemed like I had won a hollow victory. I continued wander aimlessly, and I wondered what I was doing here. What was the point of staying in the sky? I was alone, and frankly, the true reason I didn't want fall was that I was afraid. I stopped suddenly and pondered the idea. Yes, I was afraid. Afraid of getting hurt, afraid of what I would feel down there. I continued my line of thought and realized that the true reason I had isolated myself was that I was a coward. I was a coward, and truthfully, I was tired of it.
         Steeling what little resolution I had, I allowed myself to condense and slipped through the sky. I rushed towards the earth at such a speed that it felt like I was leaving parts of myself behind; like my molecules were breaking off and leaving a trail behind me as I sped towards the earth. Just as I thought that there wouldn't be any of me left, I landed on top of a human girl. Crushing weight slammed into me as the weightlessness that comes with free falling dissipated, and it felt like the sky had fallen with me. Everything felt much heavier than in my home in the sky; it was almost as if each creature had breathed its sufferings into the atmosphere so that they weighed down upon me like rocks.
        As I regained my bearings and managed to shoulder the crushing weight, I took in my surroundings. It appeared as if I had landed on the head of an ordinary-looking girl. Her plain features would have caused many to pass her off as unremarkable if it hadn't been for her eyes. Their amber light gleamed with an inner radiance that made it seem as if she hid the sun behind her golden gaze. Continuing to survey the scene, I realized it was raining. Oddly, the girl didn't seem to care as she continued on her path, and even seemed to enjoy it. Instead of fleeing the downpour, she let the rain wash over her as she breathed in its earthy scent. A smile spread across her features as she looked up and challenged the melancholy of the clouds with the brightness of her gaze.
         A voice rang out, and “Claire” turned away from the sky towards the owner. Another girl raced across the pavement, inky black hair flying back in a loose knot of curls. She held a book with the word “BIOLOGY” written across the cover in bold letters over her head, but it seemed like it had done her little good. Her green crop top and paint splattered jeans were soaked and the knee of her left pant leg was torn open, revealing a shallow scrape in the dark skin of her kneecap. Seeing her friend, Claire ran to meet her, and the two girls were splashes of color on a gray canvas.
           “What happened, Alice?” Claire asked, eyeing the fissure in her friend’s pants.
        Alice’s cocoa colored eyes widened. “It's so not my fault! There was this crazy long tree branch in the middle of the sidewalk and it totally got in my way as I was rushing to meet up with you. Honestly, that owner needs to hire a better gardener. Anyway, I'm totally fine. It's just a tiny scrape.”
          Claire rolled her eyes. “As long as you're okay.”
          “Always,” Alice replied, flashing Claire a quick smile. “So, where are we off to today?”
         Claire considered the question, her golden eyes sliding past Alice and focusing on the small cafe that huddled between two large apartment buildings on the opposite side of the street.
         “How about Tiana’s Coffee House?” Claire suggested, indicating the modest coffee shop.
        Alice turned and appraised the store. “Perfect,” she grinned and made her way towards the store.
       The cafe was humbly decorated, but had a warmth that radiated from the walls and an overall feeling of peace and security. I watched as Claire dutifully removed various books and papers from her backpack, ordering two hot chocolates topped with whipped cream and cinnamon. Alice produced a notebook and pencil and flipped it open to a blank page. Sipping her hot chocolate, Claire glanced across the table at the beginnings of a sketch that had started to form under Alice’s pencil. “Who or what is the subject of your artistic genius today?”
         Alice shook her head, ebony curls flying, but allowed a small smile to creep onto her face as she jutted her chin in the direction of an old man who was sitting alone nursing a cup of coffee. “That man over there; the one with the glasses and crooked nose.”
        Claire nodded. “An excellent choice. The lighting, um, casts mysterious shadows that really are - er - that really accentuate his features.”
        Alice suppressed a snort at her friend’s poor assessment of her subject. “This is why you are in choir.”
        Red sprung into Claire’s cheeks and Alice laughed at her friend’s embarrassment. “Well, not everyone is as amazing at art as you are, Alice.”
       “You don't have to be uniquely gifted to realize that everything about the subject I'm trying to draw is soft and gentle. In fact, that's exactly what I'm trying to capture.”
        Alice studied the elderly man a moment longer before going back to her drawing, and Claire soon lost interest in her studies and chose instead to watch as the scene in the coffee shop came to life under Alice's pencil.
       As for me, I had never felt lighter. The atmosphere in the small cafe made me feel like I could float away and just disperse into the moment. Time seemed to slow down so that we were isolated into our own world. The coffee shop seemed to be an island of color and warmth amidst the cold, gray world outside. Time had stopped, and all that existed was the fragrance of brewing coffee and the comfort that comes with the presence of good friends.
. . .
      The next day was school, and I soon realized why it was so many teenagers’ worst nightmare.
        The day started off fine; Claire and Alice had each other for their first two classes. However, they parted at third period, Claire departing to the choir room and Alice heading off to Pre-Calculus. Claire’s singing was graceful and delicate; the music flowed from her as if her soul had been poured into the words. Unfortunately, the ardent melody was cut short when Claire’s voice broke like a dagger against stone. The conductor visibly winced and quickly waved at the rest of the choir to stop.
           “Claire? Do you need some water?”
           Claire’s cheeks bloomed scarlet. “No, I'm fine. I'm sorry, I don't know what happened.”
           The teacher nodded. “It's alright. Let's start again.”
           Claire swallowed and straightened her back, allowing the melody to flow from her.
           “She just can't do anything right.”
         “I know, you would think she would be able to get through a practice without cracking by now.”
        Claire faltered for a moment, but quickly regained herself and pretended as if she hadn't heard, but I knew better. I could feel as their insults settled upon us, hanging to Claire and dragging her down like lead weights through water. Sadly, these insults were only the beginning. Rumors and whispers continued to flit around the hallways; whispered between locker doors just loud enough to reach the ear and settle upon us like woolen blankets, suffocating and weighty. By the end of the day, I was surprised to find Claire still standing. However, she greeted Alice in front of the double doors that lead into the school with a cheerfulness that betrayed none of the emotional exhaustion that came with walking the halls of the high school. It was then that I realized what bravery Claire had. The ability to rise every morning and shoulder the weight this world forced upon her required more courage and strength than I could ever possess.
. . .
        Even before my fall to earth, I had known of death. It was easily observed from the sky, and I had even witnessed, on occasion, a soul’s ascent through the azure heavens. However, it had always been a distant concept; something that happened to the unfortunate creatures that crawled their way through a short life on earth. I had never realized how cold and unpredictable death could be until that red Mercedes skidded onto the sidewalk Claire had been walking along on her way to school. She had been snuffed out like a candle, and I could do nothing but watch her flame give a feeble flicker and fade. The worst part had been watching her eyes. Their light extinguished, they were only shadows of their former selves, and I wondered how something so radiant could become a vacant remnant in the span of a few moments. I am ashamed to admit that I fled; unable to stand the feeling of emptiness she had left behind, I had allowed myself to expand and escape the earth, fleeing skyward.
        Home had felt different. Although impossible, I could have sworn that the sky had grown heavier since I had last been there.
. . .
        Svana was upon me within seconds of my return, questions spilling out of her mouth in a waterfall of curiosity.
        “So you finally caved and went to earth? I never thought I'd see the day! Was it as horrific as you had expected?”
       “Yes, but…” I trailed off, the image of a cafe and two flowers in the middle of a rainstorm appearing in my mind’s eye.
         “I understand now.”
        A bittersweet smile split Svana’s face and she nodded in agreement. “I told you you would understand once you got down there. What happened? I want to hear all of it.”
         I told her everything, starting with the canvas of gray where the people were the only colors and ending with the cruelty of kids and the stinging presence of death. However, most importantly, I told her of the girl who chose the light over darkness.

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