The SchoolThat night blended into the next day, which blended into another and another… Soon, we had reached a week.
For David and Natalya, it was a week to feel remorse, to feel grief. They were like robots trying to grasp more than one emotion, but after the incident at the beach, after coming to the realization that nobody but them was around this area, their efforts were fleeting.
For me, the week passed by painfully slowly. A few times, I tried to make myself merge with nature so that
They both almost resembled each other, with unhappy mouths, eyebrows occasionally slanting downwards in a frown or a scowl, either confused or angry at the world.
I thought this was going to be the way it would be forever—David and Natalya brooding, me watching, speculating, coming to accept my possible death… I thought I would never get the chance to see Justin’s soul so that I could ask him why he did this to me… I thought I would never be reunited with my mother, father and brother ever again…
And then David said, “I’m ready.”
His tone was hushed, almost like he didn’t believe it himself, or he didn’t want anyone else to believe it, anyone else like Natalya.
“Ready?” She asked. She wasn’t puzzled. She knew what he meant, but she asked anyway.
I knew what he meant, and I inquired of him as well, “Ready?”
“Ready,” David repeated. “We have to go back.”
Natalya’s head whipped around in a circle. She was searching again, and I was sure it wasn’t a water bottle this time. It was as if an invisible force was calling to her, but I wouldn’t have known, couldn’t have even if I wanted to.
“What, are you afraid now?” David asked.
“No.” Natalya scratched her head and huffed in frustration. “I just… I’ve wanted to go back for ages now. I’m ready too. I was just…” Her face grew red. “I was kind of looking for permission.”
David’s face hardened, the callosity sending my soul backwards. “Rose.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring her up,” Natalya told him. She swatted a hand at the air. “Let’s just forget it.”
“Just go, Natalya,” I said. “You have my permission.”
I was both excited and fearful of what might happen. If, maybe, I wished hard enough, my body would still be there, lying on Justin’s invention, waiting for a soul to host it. But if my wishes went unanswered… Then nothing would change. Really, there was nothing to lose here.
“We can go.”
David grunted at Natalya’s words, and they both began their journey.
It was not a far walk to the school. The ruins looked much the same as the last time I had seen them, except, perhaps, for the small fires that had disappeared. The blackened remains around me were such a stark contrast to the rocks and the forest and the beach that I was almost astonished to lay eyes on reality again.
Even that house we had visited was nothing compared to this.
Nature puzzled me. While I stared at the ruins, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that every material that went into these buildings had come out of nature; even Justin’s invention had been produced the same way.
Why did we need punishment? Wouldn’t the buildings and the homes we all lived in be a part of nature? What was the point of being wiped off the planet for deeds that were, indeed, quite natural? In a sense, I felt like I was having a great insight, that whoever ran this planet was simply taking out excessive anger on us.
Did we really deserve such cruelty?
My father once told me he believed in karma: “what goes around comes around,” he would say. But who decided that? How could the universe be such a great being, surrounding us, almost suffocating, and deciding our fates? Shouldn’t we have some way to repent ourselves if we ever did wrong? Shouldn’t we have the chance to make things right before immediately deciding that we would have no more time?
Humans could have turned around again. Lives could have been saved. I… I wouldn’t be trapped.
“He gave us a gift,” Natalya said, looking at David. She tried to smile, but her eyes were somber. “He gave us a gift and we ruined it. We had so much time to fix it. But we didn’t. That’s why this happened.”
David said nothing, just kept walking.
Perhaps Natalya’s statement had not been for him.
We approached the exhibition building slowly. I was terrified of what we might find. But I had to be hopeful; at least, as hopeful as I could be. It was the only way I would step soul in through that broken doorway.
The school was a complete mess. I would not have called it a school if this had been my first time coming here. It was a different world. Today, especially, it felt more sullen, more solid and in place. Like a page out of history.
When the explosion had first hit… It hadn’t sunken in yet. It was all too unbelievable to accept so easily. How… How could this have happened? So many days since the incident and I still asked the question. There was simply no way. History was supposed to repeat itself now. That was the saying!
It was not supposed to make itself. Nobody had ever said that.
“David,” Natalya said. She put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “There’s a first time for everything. You can do this.”
He nodded. “Okay.”
They took the first step.
I cowered backwards instead. I was not ready, not at all. My life was over. That was what I had to think. If I told myself that, convinced myself of the fact, I would be saved from disappointment. The reality would not be so harsh.
They took the next step.
Maybe I was lying to myself. I did that a lot, when things never went my way. It… saved face, in a way. It gave me an escape from the looks of pity people were so prone to give whenever a situation was not the way it was intended to be.
They took the third step.
Then again, I was not making sense, for I gave myself every ounce of sympathy I had and left none for David and Natalya. If I didn’t want others to feel sorry for me, why pity myself? It was even worse and I had not realized it before.
Natalya’s foot was already on the other side of the doorway. She looked back and held out a hand for David for reassurance. He took it and held on tight, almost as if he meant to break Natalya’s hand.
They stepped in together.
There was no sound, not the chirps of a cricket, not the rustle of the wind, not the gasp of people.
The stage inside had to be too far away for them to even see the truth. When entering the exhibition building… Well, I remembered seeing Justin as he tweaked his invention to perfection, or as much as he could make it at the time. I remembered only taking several steps down, talking to him, praising him…
My cheeks had to be burning from the memory. Would be.
I was angrier with myself than with Justin. I really was.
Hesitantly, I made my way inside the exhibition building. If it really was my fault in the end, I couldn’t run away anymore. Justin had suffered a death as well.
All this time, I had been feeling so much weakness radiating from David. I had felt what he felt because we were both lost without each other. Yet I knew he was alive. And then Natalya… She hadn’t even cried over Justin, not in the way David had over me.
How could I be so heartless, not to give her some kind of comfort? She must have been heartbroken to have to come here and help David at once.
I had never realized her strength.
“Rose!” David choked.
I was almost hopeful, but my haste brought me the answer much more suddenly than I would have cared for.
There I was.
A perfect universe would have showed me my body lying gently on the table of Justin’s invention. A perfect universe would have showed my chest moving slowly in an upward and downward motion. Yet a perfect universe could never have been so… real.
Because when I saw the body, when I saw death honoring me this dreadful sight, I had no choice but to surrender to the truth and accept the fact that there was no way, even by the greatest miracle, that I was ever to live again.
My body was destroyed beyond recognition. It was almost as if there was nothing there at all, simply ashes. The strange grey dust was strewn across this whole exhibition area, and that fact should have been persuasive enough to me. But still my stubbornness had kept me hopeful.
And now I felt… nothing.
David was staring at where I was supposed to be, as was Natalya. They both had never seen the invention before that day, so I tried to imagine that they were admiring the genius of Justin’s mind, even though such a thing would have been preposterous.
“This is… This is good for us,” Natalya managed. Her voice was too soft. She knelt on the floor next to the invention and tentatively stroked the metal.
I turned my attention to David. He was all I could think of. “So my body’s gone,” I said to him. “That… That shouldn’t determine everything! Why am I here otherwise? There is always a reason for everything, isn’t there?”
David’s voice turned sour. “You wonder why I miss her so much,” He said, sniffing, obviously fighting back tears. “The thing is, we could talk. She would listen to me, always. She was this… delicate person I couldn’t live without. Her personality does her name justice. She was someone you always knew would never leave. At least, I had always thought…”
Natalya must have said something, but I wasn’t listening. Only David filled my deepest thoughts and desires. Whenever I needed him most, I couldn’t have him. And now he was suffering, so badly, and I couldn’t even comfort him. I would have, I really would have, had I been alive.
And? A sneering thought asked me in my most vulnerable state. If you were alive, would David even need your comfort? Aren’t you all he needs to feel whole again?
My soul literally shuddered.
David wasn’t hiding it anymore. Streams ran down his cheeks. What was I supposed to feel? Sorry for him? Or for myself? I couldn’t decide. We were both suffering the same loss, yet watching David made my loss seem unreal. Because I wasn’t really real.
“Natalya, I can’t do this,” He said.
He couldn’t do it.
The words astounded me. David was the strongest person I knew, and he couldn’t do it anymore. Where was the world if the man who was supposed to make everything right again was admitting that he simply couldn’t go on?
Natalya wiped the tears that had been on the brink of dropping off her eyelids. Tears, I supposed, she had been about to shed for the loss of Justin. A Rolex watch she was clutching went into her pocket and my heart tightened. She placed her slender hands on David’s shoulders and shook him softly until he lifted his eyes to hers.
I watched with a heavy heart as David breathed a raggedy breath.
“David,” Natalya said. “Just look at me. See? You see.” She put her arms around him. “I’m here.”
An image of David and I sitting on the school swings while talking made itself present in the forefront of my mind. It was the moment I had revealed to him how my father passed away, a very touchy subject. I hated bringing it up, and I hated my eyes tearing up, and I hated having to be babied—yet I enjoyed it at the same time. David’s arms were around me when I stopped talking, and he gently kissed the top of my head, saying, “I’m here,” over and over again.
My soul whipped out of the building at an amazing speed. If I stayed a second longer, I would die, in a sense where I would just forget everything around me, just forget that I was a soul and blend into the ground, or the trees, or the stars. The stars… I’d always wondered what the earth looked like from above.
Before I knew it, the landscape was spread out below me in such an entrancing way that I almost forgot my problems. If this wasn’t heaven, heaven must be majestically beautiful.
My thoughts slowly turned back to David, and to Natalya’s easy manner in providing all that I couldn’t. Was it because she was better than me? All along, had it always been her David was meant to fall in love with?
I could see it happening in front of me, but I didn’t want to believe it.
A bright light hovered at the edge of the horizon, pulsing, and I longed to reach out to the close star in an attempt for some sort of peace. Perhaps I could make a wish.
Without really trying, jumbled up words pulled themselves together to form one coherent sentence: “I truly and really wish I can be with David,” I choked out.
The fading light winked at me blankly. I hadn’t thought there’d been any significance to my pointless wishing.
In my despair, I let my soul spread across the sky.