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I closed my eyes and smiled.
I could feel the dew moistening my thin shorts. But soon it would evaporate off. The cold wind may be chilling me at the moment, yet soon I shall be warm. My smile widened, I could taste the sweetness of the air so early in the morning.
Finally, I felt her caress. It was so soft and gentle that it was quite ticklish. I widened my arms, ready to hug her. But, as always, my hug came up with thin air. I opened my eyes slowly and watched the sun stretch my shadow long. I looked around, and I thought I could hear the twinkling of her laugh.
I inched back to my little cottage. The sea still looked grey. Dawn was just breaking. I decided to go up the mountains to collect more firewood. It wouldn’t do if the cottage fell below a comfortable temperature. Puffy was very particular about being chilled. I recalled the memory of her annoyed face with great fondness. She always managed to look adorable even when she was sulking.
I looked at the clock at the mantelpiece then look out at the sky again. There would be light enough to make my way to the mountains. Taking an axe, I made to the door before remembering to leave a note for my dear. After I sign off on the paper, I added a quick peck at where my name was. She would know to pick up the kiss when she read it.
Humming a repetition of three notes, I made it up to the mountains in good time. By the time I collect enough, it was noon. I grabbed a few berries from a nearby bush and popped them in my mouth to quench the thirst the work had caused. The sweetness of the wild berries was coating the tinge of sourness. I didn’t mind. Not when Puffy tasted the exact same way. She seemed so wild and unmanageable, yet just for me she would show a side of milder docility to appease me. She was capable of inflicting great pains sometimes, yet she was also the only one who could soothe it all away. If I must name her as a character from fairy tale, I would say she was the witch: sinister, evil, and capable of poisoning me just to hold my heart. And she probably did just that because I never minded all her imperfection. To me, I accepted her as readily as she naturally took me into her life.
All these swirled in the cauldron of my mind as I picked my way back slowly. I did not want to rush back to Puffy and risked getting hurt. It was an easy place to get a few bruises and scratches the mountain. Between minimizing the time we were apart by minutes, and seeing the pain in her eyes whenever I came back not in mint condition, I chose to hasten without letting any harm came to me. Puffy was perfectly capable of great temper tantrums when upset. And the worst thing was that she always ended up hurting herself the most that I tried my best to keep to her every whim.
Back home, the note was no longer on the table. Puffy must had read it, that came as a relief. I went off to pack the woods before preparing dinner. Puffy enjoyed cooking for me, but she had long lost the strength to do such a task. Plus I never told her that eating her food with a straight face had always been a challenge, so I pretty much relished the job at hand.
When it was done, I set the table for the both of us. Puffy would breeze in whenever she pleased and as always I spoilt her rotten, allowing her such habits. When she had the energy, she used to be the one making all the effort to talk to ‘fill in the silence’. So when it was my turn now, I just let silence lapse between us. She seemed pretty comfortable of that of late. One way or another, I enjoyed it. If she spoke, my ears feel blessed, for her chattering brought a sort of soothing flow to calm my nerves. If she stayed quiet, my eyes would be the blissful ones, being able to concentrate on their reaping of her beauty.
Usually after dinner, I would go to bed straight. The cottage held nothing but the necessity. And entertainment had never been a problem as long as she was by my side. I never cease to be amused by her little antics. But she had been restless, so I would climb to bed to wait her to eventually settle by my side.
The next day, I was up before the alarm could ring again. It became a routine. But I would only get up when the ring broke the thick silence. I silenced the clock, knowing it was already four thirty. I could only hope Puffy did not mind the shrill pierce of the alarm.
Another morning I was there before her in order to welcome her for the day.
And then it was the nine hundred and ninety ninth sun.
That was the last time I could smile.
That very moment waiting for her to arrive, listening to the chirps of the birds on the tree, I knew that I would break the promise. Waiting in the dark and cold for the sun to come, I could no longer smile. For today would be the last day she would come. I did try to greet the arrival with a broad grin, but I could not. Just for today, I could not. And she somehow knew.
It was a rainy morning. The drizzle delayed the coming of those warm rays I craved.
The last day. I did not get any firewood. I did not prepare any meals. I just sat there, at the boulder where I had always waited for her to come. I sat there the entire day, with her letter tucked against my chest while I feel the wind stroking my chin. Maybe it was a waste of the last day. Maybe I should have done more. But deep down, I knew she would not have minded. That was what I loved about her. She was so madly in love with me, for reasons unknown, that she was fine with anything I did.
I thought I would cry. I wanted to. But nothing came. Not a single shred of emotion. I just sat there, as if I was a stone myself. She did not appear to say the goodbye, but I knew she was watching me from a distance. Maybe it bled her heart to see me in pain, maybe I was hurting her this way. But at such times, I was in too much pain myself to care.
The night came too quickly. I did not want to sleep. But I could not spend the night on the rock either. So I climbed to bed, and just lay there listening to the clock tick. I wondered what time it was. How long since the sunset had I been musing there? How much longer before today end and another day came? How much longer to the new sun, to her departure?
But the clock had no hands. The moment Time had stopped for me, I had plucked out those hands, so I need not know when my world had collapsed. But the clock remained because I still need to get up every morning. Even if I could get up on my own, the clock must still stay, just in case one day I really missed waking up in time.
Memories were haunting me again, and before I knew it, the alarm was murdering the silence. This new day, I decided not to stop its ringing. Surprisingly, it stopped on its own. Not just the alarm, but the entire clock. The tick that had bothered me the entire night was now paused in eternity. Maybe the clock knew too today was its last day of work.
With heavy steps, I dragged myself to the mantelpiece where the urn stood, pressing the last envelope heavily. I took both gingerly and tucked them to a waterproof bag and head towards the sea. The dingy was made just for today. It took me a good part of the time I had in the cottage. I tried it once and it seemed sturdy enough. I arranged myself into the tiny craft and began to row to the endless horizon of the vast sea.
When I reached a point where I could no longer see the cottage, I stopped, feeling it was just nice for Puffy. I undid the top of the urn. I could not say my farewell, I was supposed to do this the day before, while she was still around. But I could not, I wanted her last day to be spent entirely with me.
So unceremoniously, I tipped the urn a bit, and a bit, more and more. Until finally the wind found it and began to lick contentedly at the contents. Soon it was light. And empty.
Now was a good time as never to read the last order the control freak had for me.
I know you’ve kept to your promises. Now it’s time to let yourself go as well. You’ve allowed me to be free, take your turn now. It’s been almost three years. You should have no more excuses to run and hide. Love me, love life. Don’t look back.
Only now did the tears fall. I knew this was coming, yet it hurt to know I lost her for good, someone who could read me so well. Now I could never imagine her smiles, her laughs, her tears, her tantrums that were all just for me.
I took out the other letter from where it laid against my chest, I had wanted to kept it close to my heart, although my heart could memorize the letter’s content.
No point thinking about what could have been, or what might have been. The inevitable happened, and we anticipated it. Don’t be sad. I am not gone. At least not yet. For at most one thousand days I should linger on. The very second your heart could let me go and set me free I should be entitled to taste the sweetness of eternity. But I would stay until you are ready. I shall come with every sunrise, and I shall leave only after you sleep, so I could rush to dreamland to cuddle you there again. I know it would be hard to be alone again, which is why I allow you this three years break from life. Just get away from everything! I’ve prepared the cottage for us. Bring what is left of me there. It had blessed by those memories we had in it last Christmas. Stay and recover there with no worries. I will protect you.
I need not say this, but I enjoy telling you:
I love you.
She planned everything. From the second she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she planned her funeral, she planned my retreat, she planned for all the arrangements to be made with friends and family. So the least I could do was just follow her orders, as I always did.
So it had been practically three years. My hair had been unkempt, appearance had not matter even when she was in physical form. I took out a knife which I kept in handy all the times. I cut a small lock of my black curly hair and held it with one hand, while the other searched for the paper wrapper in the bag. I found it, and from the wrapper I extracted a good amount of fairer brown hair. I did not bother to sniff it obsessively as I did the first few days, hoping to capture her scent for one more time. But scent, like Life, could only be present when it was fresh. I entwined both our hair together before scattering them, like her ashes into the sea.
Go, fly to your destiny, be free to leave now.
That second, the sun peeked out from the cloud. You call it coincidence, but I know it was Puffy’s way of saying thanks. Because that radiance of heat I felt on my bare shoulder was the same feeling I get when she flashed that smile of great brilliance of hers. I smiled back, knowing she had stayed a little longer just to check on me. I pocketed her remaining hair into the locket she gave me last Christmas. I took one last lock, kissed those strand of hair that grew out of the skull of the girl I had loved, and threw it up where the wind playfully caught it and blew it past me.
No, Puffy, I won’t be looking back.