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The beautiful sight of trees and wildlife overwhelm my vision. A straightforward path is presented in front of me. I have no sense of where I am, yet this enveloping warmth fills my heart. I feel at home, yet I know I’m far from home. For where my true home is now, I have no desire to go back. I walk down the gritty dirt path, completely disregarding my everyday worries and stress. As I approach the clearing, I notice this light. Bright light. Very bright light, accompanied by the sound of wings flapping. I shield my eyes from the divine light, but my legs continue to move on their own, moving closer and closer. A figure comes into view. A beautiful man, curly golden hair, broad pure white wings. An angel? It’s not my time yet, is it? My inner thoughts are then promptly interrupted by a booming voice.
“My name is Morpheus, a simple messenger. Titus, the Gods have decided to spare you from what is to come.” I freeze in my tracks, simply peering through the trees. Huh? What? He was talking to me, right? Titus is my name, yessiree. Once again I am interrupted. “The Gods have sent me to deliver you a message, Titus.
“An opportunity will arise for you. A sacrifice will be made that will alter your life for the better. You won’t know when it will happen, or who will make that sacrifice, but it will happen eventually. Use this gift wisely, Titus.”
Before I can utter a single word to this Morpheus, the brilliant rays disappear, not leaving a single trace of his presence behind. What am I supposed to think of this? I don’t deserve this sacrifice. Compared to the bazillion other people on this Earth who are in far more need of it, I don’t deserve this sacrifice. My legs, feeling completely weak, begin to tremble. Falling down, I suddenly feel homesick.
Yikes, it’s ten o’clock. I should probably put new batteries in my alarm. Although, there isn’t really a need to throw batteries in at this point. My own batteries are running out of juice, and I’ll be disposed of like any other double-A battery. Leukemia is a pain in the a**. Just recently when I went to therapy, my doctor explained that it’s getting pretty bad. ‘No poop, dude’, I thought to myself. When I was about nine years old, I was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma. Stupid crap like night sweats, fatigue and incredibly unpleasing weight loss, and chemotherapy are things I’ve had to deal with. Such a hinderance. All of my symptoms have been getting progressively worse over the course of the past six months. My time is coming soon, probably in the next couple months or so, or says my doctor.
Lately I’ve been so exhausted, with no desire to do anything. Haven’t been studying, hanging out with friends or family, or anything. The only reason I made plans with Paul today is because he kept pestering me. “Come on dude, it’ll be fun! I heard that it’s a great place”, he said. Paul is a happy guy. Paul is too happy. I don’t know why he’d wanna hang out with such a downer. I must admit though, he does brighten my life up… Just a tad bit. I pause my thoughts to look out the window, witnessing another snowy February day approaching. Jesus, I already feel dizzy. You’d better buy me something good wherever we’re going, Paully-boy.
I throw on my beanie, earbuds and scarf, lock the apartment, and begin approaching the train station. We’re meeting at the Port Authority bus terminal, right near Times Square. Jack Frost must be aggressive today, because as I walk out of my apartment complex, an unwelcoming wind straight-up slaps me across the face. I just wanna go to bed, dude.
“Hey! Titus! Over heeeere!” Wailing his arms in the air, indeed, like he just doesn’t care, I walk toward him, maneuvering through the crowd of people outside of the terminal. Wearing his army cap, red headphones and plaid jacket, Paul is as stylish as always. “Just on time too, pally. It’s eleven! Let’s get going!” He poses dramatically, with his right hand on his hip and his left hand pointing in the air.
“Alright, mister flamboyant hotshot. Where are we going, anyways?”
Paul shrugs somewhat comically, as a smirk creeps up on his face. “There’s this new Chinese place a bit down 42nd Street, called… ‘Zingy-young’, or something.”
“Dude, we’ve made these plans weeks ago, you specifically chose this restaurant, and you don’t even know the right pronounciation of the name?”
“Welp, I know it’s some sort of Chinese restaurant.” Glancing shyly, Paul pulls out his over-sized phone. “Did you not get the email from the restaurant?”
“Dude, I don’t even use email. Did they have any coupons or anything?”
“Huh? I should’ve checked their website or something. Anyways, no.” Paul seems to furiously be scrolling through his phone.
“Apparently, the wishes in their fortunes come true! But, I can’t seem to find the email… I got it a few weeks ago. Oh well, let’s hope it’s true!”
Suddenly I begin to feel light-headed. I don’t know what caused it, but it’s bothering the hell outta me. The one day I wanna get out of the house, and all of this crap comes up.
“I need to sit for a sec, before we walk.” I sit on a bench and place my face in my hands. As if on que, Paul speaks up right when the feeling begins to go away.
“Is everything okay, buddy? Did you take your meds this morning?” Nodding my head, I answer him. “Yeah, I’m alright, dude. You lead the way, Paully-boy.”
Fifteen minutes of walking the city streets, we arrive in front of the restaurant. The real name is Xingyun, so I guess this goofy idiot didn’t get it completely wrong. On the outside, it looks gorgeous. A large, bronze Buddha statue waits to welcome visitors next to the door. The building is a lush, bright red color. In the window, a sign reads, ‘Dinner special with tea - $5.99’.
“Solid.” Paul looks like such a kid, with that dumb ol’ smile on his face. As he opens the door for me, we proceed.
It seems to look much smaller on the outside compared to what’s on the inside; Pots containing plants and chinese statues, particularly lucky cats, are everywhere. Tables and booths aplenty, although there’s only three customers here, including myself and Paul. Is this place lowkey really popular, or something? Didn’t it just open, though?
Right when we step in, we’re greeted by a friendly, beautiful face.
“Hello! For two?”
“U-uhh, y-yeah.” Ah, I can’t help it. She’s so gorgeous. I hate being shy. My face is probably extremely red. I hate this, I hate this, I hate this. Disregarding my awkwardness, the woman giggles and leads Paul and I to a table. Receiving our orders for beverages, she leaves to fulfill our wishes.
Paul sits down, and takes off his hat and jacket. “Damn dude, maybe you should try getting your number, huh?” He playfully nudges me with his elbow. I proceed to smack him.
“I swear to God Paul, I will splash my tea in your face.”
Unexpectedly, we had a wonderful time. The music was captivating and soothing, filled with string instruments and piano. Yet, there was this unsettling aura. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, but it might just be because i’m exhausted. Paul asks the usual questions, like if I’ve been taking my meds and going to my chemo. I can tell that he’s dancing around the topic of my passing, because he’s way too nervous to come out and say it, and I wouldn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable. I know that I act somewhat cold towards him, but I do appreciate him. We’ve known each other since pre-school. Our mothers worked in the same office building, too, and both of us have lived here in N.Y.C. since birth. He was the first friend I made, and I know that sounds cheesy. If I learned anything from my life before I pass on, it’s that it is important to keep the ones close to you close.
I sip my tea and eat the last piece of my general tso special. “Thank you for everything, Paul.”
“For what, Titus? I was really looking forward to doing this with ya.” He sneaks a sip of his Coke.
“Well, I know that you do a lot of stuff with your church and everything, so it was really, well, kind of you to do this for me. I really do appreciate it.” I glance away, scratching the back of my head awkwardly. I feel more exhausted than usual today.
“Aw, Titus. You really are a good guy, huh?” Paul reaches over, pats my head, and smiles. I wished that I could be as happy-go-lucky as he is.
As we wrap up our meal, the cute waitress comes by and drops off our check, along with two fortune cookies. “These fortune cookies were just recently made today, by our boss.” The lady points toward the bar portion of the restaurant, where an older man sits. Long grey hair and a long mustache, he’s reading the newspaper while propped up on a stool. He seems friendly, at least.
I can tell that Paul is super excited about the fortune thing, but I can’t believe that he believes that crap. “The moment of truth, Paul. Pick your cookie.” I slide the bill with the fortune cookies towards him. “Thanks, buddy! Now, when we open our cookies, we can’t tell each other what they say, okay?” Fine by me. I let Paul grab the first cookie.
Admiring the shape of the cookie, I unwrap it and wonder what my fortune is. Snap! The cookie was split. I eat one half of the beautiful, crispy cookie, and eventually eat the other half, obtaining my fortune.
My fortune says, “Your kindness leads you on this path to your destiny”. Lame. I glance up from my fortune and study Paul’s face as he reads his fortune, and I notice that he seems somewhat unsatisfied. “Well, Titus, I guess you could say this is how...the cookie crumbles.”
We wrap up and begin to leave the restaurant. As we walk out, I peek over to the bar where the old man is sitting. It’s interesting that he makes his own fortune cookies, as many chinese restaurants just buy them from the grocery store. At one point, he lifts his head from his paper, and our eyes interlock. Our eyes are in fierce battle with each other, and I feel as though I can’t look away. The old man smiles, nods, and looks back at his paper. What was that just now? I truly felt as though I couldn’t look away, like I was paralyzed. Maybe it’s because i’m extra exhausted today.
Paul and I make it back to the Port Authority bus terminal at around five. Night time had already fallen upon us.
“Bring it in, bud.” Paul notions to give a hug by spreading out his arms and twirling his wrists. I accept the hug. “It was nice doing this with ya, pal”, I tell him. His kindness is a true gift to the world.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Titus!” Paul salutes me as I begin to walk down into the terminal. I return the salute as I put in my earbuds. Right now, I just wanna fall asleep.
“There’s a complete remission, Titus.” The doc files through my recent test results. “Th-this is incredible, a miracle! How could something like this happen, at such a late stage?” Looking up at him, I begin to cry. What is this? It’s like some sort of dream came true. I have no idea what to think of this. All of my symptoms were gone as of this morning, and my body is filled with energy. Maybe there truly is a god. My leukemia is no longer. This is the path to destiny that my kindness set out for me, huh…It doesn’t make sense. I’m just extremely lucky.
The first moment I get out of therapy, I go into the waiting room of the clinic and decide to call Paul, tears rolling down my face. I sob uncontrollably. Paul and I can continue to keep doing stuff together, for years to come. We could go back to Xingyun, maybe try some more of their green tea. As I think about the restaurant, the idea hits me: Did his fortune come true?
“Hello…” It’s Paul, but he sounds awful, like he’s sick. Perhaps he just got a cold while walking home yesterday. “Paul, are you alright? You don’t sound too well.”
“I’m in the hospital right now, something weird happened to me this morning.”
My eyes go wide. “What happened? Are you going to be okay?”
“I’m not sure,” He takes a moment to cough away from the phone. “All of these symptoms came out of nowhere, all together.” What’s going on today?
I burst into his hospital room. “Paul! Paul!” Tears continue to roll down my cheeks. I lean over him, checking to see if he’s alright. He looks up at me, smiling grimly. “Thanks for coming, partner.” I look at him as he attempts to prop himself up in bed. “My mom just left, you missed her.”
“I’m sorry, Paul.” At this point, I’m sobbing.
“You’re completely full of energy,” says Paul in his newfound raspy yet quiet voice. “What happened with you? It’s like you’re eight years-old again.
“Nevermind that, Paul. I think something might’ve happened. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think our fortunes came true.”
“I knew they would.” One single tear rolls down Paul’s left cheek.
“What did yours say, Paul?!”
“Remember? We can’t tell each other what our fortunes said.” He begins to frown now, as more tears exit his eyes.
“Oh, yeah? Mine said, ‘Your kindness leads you on this path to destiny’. So what did yours say, damn it?” My fists are clenched, not out of anger. I look into his eyes, trying to pick up on what he’s trying to tell me.
“Are you sure that’s what your fortune said?”
My eyes widen. I brought my fortune with me, as I left it in my jacket pocket. As I dig through my pocket to pull it out, a big, goofy smile makes its way onto Pauls’ face. I feel it in my grasp.
“I got it, Pau--” I open it up.
“A sacrifice will be made to benefit your future.”
I’m in complete shock, not knowing what to say to this. How did Paul switch out my fortune?
“I just wanted you to experience your life, Titus. Your soul is beautiful, you’re destined for great things, and I know it.” No, Paul. your soul is the one that’s beautiful. Your heart radiates purity and kindness like none I’ve ever known. I can’t believe this is happening.
Almost instantly, Paul closes his eyes for the last time. I know he won’t wake up. That’s not what his fortune promised him.
A knock came from the door. I don’t answer it. The appropriate thing to do then was to grieve. I sit and stare at Paul, reflecting on his sacrifice. I push my hair back, and the tears keep coming. The door eventually opens up, ever so slowly.
It’s the old man from the Xingyun. He has this blank expression on his face. He sits and stares at Paul. Did this guy do it? Did he do something to Paul? I look into his eyes as I stand up and walk towards him with my fists clenched.
“What did you do, you b*****d?!” Putting all of my rage into this attack, I go for a left hook to his face. With incredible speed, he grabs my fist. “There’s no need for this, son.”
As if it’s magic, when he grabbed my fist, all of my built-up rage exited my body. I frown, and the tears come back. “I’m sorry sir, this is all too sudden.”
“Yes, the fortunes did come true.” I look up from the ground at him. What? What did he say?
“Titus, I know that Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams, sent you a message. Do you recall what he said?
“About the gods shining their divine light upon you. They’ve chosen you to live. So, they’ve asked me to come to Earth.”
“What the hell are you talking about? Who are these ‘gods’ that you mentioned?”
The old man gets comfortable, lifts up his legs and places them on an adjacent chair. “Spirits and gods from religions and beliefs and stories around the world coexist with one another in order to look over humans. That is our sole purpose. In this case, a consensus arose from all of us to keep you alive. You have talents like no other human being.”
I am overwhelmed, my emotions are going rampant on me now. To be honest, after all that’s happened, I can believe him. Yet still, I don’t know what to think of this man. It’s as if he has no feeling at all.
“I am a god as well, although I rank lower than some others. My superiors sent me here, so that I may use my wish granting power to aid you.”
“Why would they aid me? Paul… he didnt deserve this. I should’ve just been the one to die. Why go through all of this trouble to save me?”
“Well,” says the old man, as he stretches out his arms, “you have the potential to see these spirits.” He places his hand on my head. For some reason, I have no desire to fight back. His presence is oddly welcoming. “I will just be blunt with you, this potential was sensed by all of us in the heavens. We believe that you must be kept alive, so that you may witness us. In fact, you can see if the stories and legends live up to your expectations.”
He then places both of his hands upon my face. Once again, my body refuses to move, as if his being is just too overwhelming. He is a god, after all. Mumbling unintelligible words, he then takes his hands off. A bright light fills my eyes for a split moment, and my vision then returns to me.
“See for yourself, Titus.”
Gesturing to the window, the old man encourages me to peek out into the world. As I do, I am stunned by what I see; dragons in the sky, and what appear to be leprechauns on the window sill.
“I’m not imagining these things, right? I feel dizzy again.”
“Not at all,” encourages the man, “You see those, right? We live in your world without you all even realizing it.
“Now, you may have noticed all of the booths in my restaurant. After normal hours, these spirits come to my restaurant: a welcoming place for these spirits. With your newfound power, you’re more than welcome to come on by and help out.”
I glance over at Paul. I feel as though he knew this was coming, as if he really knew the fortunes would actually come true.
My nose still stuffy, I look to my dear friend. “Paul's sacrifice will not be in vain. He had a golden soul, that of which not many could ever live up to. He said that i would do great things with my extended life. If that’s the case, then I’ll inherit his golden spirit. Yes, I would like to help you out.”