“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…”
I sing this under my breath, strolling among the busy streets of Nepal.
“You make me happy, when skies are grey…”
It’s been a while since any of my skies were grey, though. Ever since I met him, my sunshine, my skies have been blue. A bright, sunny blue, with no end in sight, much like the sky today. The wind whistles through my long copper hair, pushing it against my face. I brush it away, being careful to avoid my carefully glossed lips.
“You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you…” Oh, but he will. I’m meeting him here, today, under the fountain in the town square. He said he had something important to tell me. I feel a little thrill of nervousness. I think… I think I want him to ask me to marry him. I think I love him. And there’s no greater feeling in the world.
“Please don’t take my sunshine away…”
When I reach the fountain, he is already waiting for me, dark brown hair blowing about his face, tanned skin glistening with the spray from the fountain. I rush forward the last few steps, hugging him tightly. He pulls back, though, and sits on the edge of the fountain. I frown and take a seat next to him, rubbing my arms. I’m suddenly struck with a chill of foreboding. Nothing good ever comes after that.
“Hey…” he says slowly. “I need to tell you something.”
I nod. “I know, that’s why… that’s why I’m here, after all. I mean, you asked me here, right, sunshine?” I giggle a little bit, nervously. We’ve always been so open. What’s going on?
“You know that war… the one between the rebels and the government?” he says, still going slowly and choosing his words carefully. I nod once more, mouth dry. He says five words that change my life:
“I’ve decided to join it.”
I nod for the third time in as many minutes. What else can I do? I’m suddenly aware of everything-- how the crystal water gushes out of the stone lion behind us. How the wind sweeps the spray one way, then the other, drenching us, then drying us. How the chatter of people in the market square overlaps, creating a rising tide of sound that I wish I could duck under, into, to avoid this moment.
He’s looking at me now, searching my eyes for my thoughts. I summon a smile, hoping he can’t see to the turmoil within. “That’s… great,” I say. “Absolutely great. An amazing opportunity!” Something inside me dies a little at his pleased expression.
“You really think so?” he asks, still searching my eyes.
I smile. “Yes, of course.”
Behind my back, my fingers are crossed so hard it hurts.
Later that night, lying in the darkness at home, the tears come. And they won’t stop. I sob, tears muffled by my pillow. I thought today was going to be the happiest day of my life, and instead, it’s the worst.
When the tears finally do stop, I sit up, wiping my damp face with the sleeve of my nightgown. I’ve got to make a decision. Do I stay here, try to forget him, try to forget the pain and the sorrow and the memories? Or do I follow him into the great unknown, be with him as we fight side-by-side?
There, in the moonlight, I make my choice.
He seems surprised to see me the next morning.
“Come to see me off?” he asks, pulling me into a tight hug like he doesn’t want to let go. This time, it’s me that pulls away.
“Not today, sunshine,” I say, gesturing to the bag at my feet. “I’m here to join you.”
His face brightens and now, when he hugs me, neither of us lets go.
Six Months Later
Everywhere around me, I see it. And yet I keep on. I have to keep on.
Beside me, he nudges my elbow with his and gestures with his rifle to the enemy’s flagbearer-- the ultimate goal. The flagbearer is the symbol of the country, what the enemy is fighting for. If we can take him down, it’s as good as a victory. And he’s right there.
I look around. There’s nobody near us. We’re on the flank of the army, far to the side. All the main fighting is off to our left. Only a few stragglers remain.
“On three,” I mouth. He nods. If not for him, I don’t think I’d have the courage.
We charge forward, together, like it should be. The flagbearer doesn’t see us coming and he goes down quickly with one shot. I yell in exultation and turn to him, just as an enemy soldier spots us. He sees the smoking rifle in my hand, sees the flagbearer fall, and puts it together. The soldier raises his rifle and s h o o t s.
It’s like it’s in slow motion-- I can see it, even now. The puff of smoke, floating through the air, belying its deadly purpose. The soldier, reeling backwards from the kickback of the rifle. And the bullet-- spiralling through the air, in a clean shot, straight towards my heart.
And yet, and yet--
I’m jammed out of the way in a flash of fabric, so quickly I don’t believe it’s happened until it’s over.
Until he’s wide-eyed and looking at me, a hand on his chest, a spreading scarlet bloom beneath his fingertips.
He drops to his knees and I follow, clutching desperately at his shirt, his collar, his hands, something, anything, to stop this treacherous bloom from spreading. I have him in my arms, his face looking up at mine, his hand fluttering at his side like he wants to touch my face and then--
The light leaves his eyes and his fluttering hand goes limp. I sob, having seen enough death in the past 6 months to know that this-- this-- t h i s-- is what it looks like.
I sink to my knees, heedless of the battle raging nearby, cradling his lifeless head in my arms, his body laid across my lap. How can I let go? He is my world. My everything. My sunshine.
I do the only thing I can think of. I start to sing.