The AcceptanceThere was no more point in hiding from the growing fondness in both David’s and Natalya’s eyes. They were so smitten for each other that I wanted to snap at them to admit it. If I weren’t the observer, I would have done so already.
They were already an hour out of our small town when I found them. It didn’t take very long. The movements of a spirit and a body were quite different, and maneuvering as a ghost was definitely quicker in every way. I never worried about growing tired,
“Natalya, David,” I said to them. “I understand it now. And I really don’t mind. I’ve gone over it in my mind, and I know I should be completely horrified. But I’m not. So go ahead. Kiss each other. Really, do it. I’m never coming back.”
The two looked at each other as if they’d heard every word I’d just said. Then they turned away in guilt. Natalya sighed. “Sometimes, I feel like Rose would have handled this so much better than us.”
“She had everything figured out, didn’t she?”
“Yeah, that she did.” Natalya twirled her hair with a finger. “I know she didn’t have the happiest life to begin with, but in the end, it was alright. She was a role model to me. She spread herself out, and she was always on good terms with everyone.”
David was nodding. “I never understood how she did it.”
“Maybe…” Natalya shrugged. “I guess she just led a good life.”
Oh, because I hadn’t even thought about my life, not completely. I’d been so caught up in finding a way to live again that I’d never once brought it up. But I saw that Natalya was right. Despite my father’s death, and despite my attitude in high school, in the end I had led a good life, as good as it was ever going to be.
I wondered what I would have done if I hadn’t met Justin, the science geek who so effectively drew me to him. He would always be my best friend, the one who taught me to be who I was, and not what everyone else wanted. Even if he was a bit eccentric. Even if he was to blame for so many of my recent sufferings.
He went too far, and a great being saw that. A soul extractor? Not a good thing at all. It may have seemed like the greatest and most creative invention of all time, but I should have stopped it the moment I heard of its usage. Being a close friend of the inventor, I could have stopped it.
Justin wasn’t all to blame. He was simply the epitome of all the technology that was wrong in the world. His invention may have been just one of the many that weaved its way into the nature of mankind and polluted thoughts unknowingly. It was all about being the best, having the greatest things to show off something that, again, was a creation of mankind—money.
Blowing up the world seemed to take things a bit too drastically, however. As I thought about it, and stared at the softened soil on the ground that I so wished I could feel, and seeing the beautiful blooming roses an inch away that I so wished I could smell, a thought occurred.
The fragile beauty that anyone would notice right away still existed, and now in vastness compared to before the explosion. How wonderful it was, to be able to caress the sweet existence of a mere butterfly. How magnificent and enormous the world seemed without us humans tramping across the swaying greenery and summoning concrete buildings upon the pillars of nature.
If I were alive, I would cherish what little the world had left, and I wouldn’t even try. I would do exactly what I thought necessary to keep nature alive. I would give it my eyes and ears and time, and I would rise it from its dwindling state so that, once again, it wouldn’t be about the material and the products that humans pride on making.
It would be about the land we live on in all its elegance.
“Justin,” I said to myself, “I am both angry and grateful to you at the same time. Curse you, my friend. I love you.”
That night, I made a decision. It was the first decision that I was solely taking on to help someone else. It felt almost magical as I went through the problems and the solutions in my mind.
There was no actual way to do it. I simply had to be there, and she simply had to be listening.
That would be the hard part—getting her to listen.
What were they doing?
My mind was in an escalating panic. It seemed like they were getting ready to split up. When had this decision been made? Gone for a day and it was as if I didn’t exist. I was almost ready to will myself into one of their bodies so that I could lend them a bit of sense.
“This is the right thing, isn’t it?” Natalya asked. Her eyes sparkled with new tears, but, amazingly, she held them back.
David nodded. “Yeah… I think it is.” His chest was heaving slowly. “We’ll find one another again.”
“You guys can’t split up!” I interrupted. “What happened? Have you been taken over by some extraterrestrial being? This is ridiculous! Just… Ridiculous! Think about it for a moment. You’re going to die without each other.”
They were both quiet, more quiet than usual.
Had I been heard?
I waited expectantly, darting from David’s blank stare to Natalya’s resigned one. They were each waiting for the other to speak, each waiting for the other to object.
But each was as stubborn as the other.
Without a word, Natalya turned away, heading in her designated direction like I had the day Justin and I met. Funny, how our roles had been switched. Except in this case, the situation was much more fragile, and I knew she would never come back.
I bounded after Natalya, David’s still figure retreating further and further away. It hurt me, just to go after her, my best friend. It hurt because I knew what I had to do, and I didn’t want to do it. It just… it hurt.
“Don’t go,” I said. “Please, please don’t go.”
She stopped in her tracks abruptly, shoes scraping the rough, barren ground. Her entire face had turned red, but I couldn’t tell if it was the weather or her inner feelings doing that.
She looked about to break down.
“Please forgive me.” Her voice was compressed tightly, barely a squeak through her throat. She sobbed. “Please forgive me, Rose, for such feelings. I’m trying to stop them. I’m trying to turn them away. I can’t. I tried. I tried really hard.”
I stared at my friend for a few silent moments, contemplating her words for a moment. Then I said, “I would forgive you, but there’s nothing to forgive. The thing is, David needs you. If he holds on to the idea of me, he’ll never be happy. But with you, he can be happy. You take care of him. He needs that sort of comfort, and I would never, even if I tried, be able to give it to him.”
Natalya was crying. “I… I can’t go forward. I thought I was strong…”
“You are strong!” I told her. “But you’re weak by trying to leave.” I wavered in front of her eyes. I knew she could hear me. I didn’t stop to wonder how. I just knew. “You brought David back,” I said. “Out of all the people in the world, only you had the ability to do that. And he loves you. He loves me, but he loves you too, and you are all he has now. So go.”
“Rose, why did this happen?”
I felt like I was speaking to a little child. “Have you ever been in one of those elevators that had mirrors on both sides?” I asked her.
“And you look at all those people, all those people who look like you. There are countless numbers of you there, and each and every one lives a slightly different life. Each alternate version of you has a slightly different personality. And you decide which personality you want to take. Which one you have to take. You choose where you want your life to be.”
Natalya shook her head in frustration. “I don’t… I don’t understand.”
I felt like my brother now. “Natalya, you’ve been doing it already! Me, I never did what I thought was right. I needed to be pushed in that direction. I have a hard time accepting the truth, accepting what’s right in front of me. And now that I have, I just want to tell you that you have taken everything perfectly, and you can’t stop now. David needs you.”
And something in Natalya’s eyes clicked. “He needs me,” She whispered.
“Yes,” I told her excitedly. “You’re here. I’m not. No amount of crying will change that. You can’t forget. You can’t feel guilty. Stick to the way you’ve always done it. Be the fixer you always were.”
“Fix it, you mean.”
It wasn’t that it was a rule or anything, or the fact that everyone had phones with touch screens, or phones with mini keyboards on them, or phones that recorded your messages in written word.
I used to like to tell myself that it was my fixation with numbers that had led me to memorize the ‘code’ on an ancient handheld phone, where the number one contained the various means of punctuation, the number two started the first three letters of the alphabet, the number three had the next three, and the others continued as such.
The habit had grabbed hold of me as a young child, and it had never let me go since then. Fortunately, numbers were a part of a language that was universal, in this life and the real one. And I knew them all by heart. I could rattle on for days if I let myself.
And as Natalya and I seemed to have some sort of strange connection, I knew she would understand.
Along a path I knew she would end up crossing, I left a message on a broken phone: 5483—live. Forever, until they found where they needed to go, they had to keep moving, and they had to keep living.
Natalya ran, faster than I had ever seen her run before. She had probably broken a dozen records.
I was proud, so proud.
David had stayed right where we had left him. So he hadn’t been able to go on, hadn’t been able to take those few steps away from someone I knew he was starting to love.
Before I knew it, the two were hugging each other, with Natalya patting David’s hair as if he were her son, or a lost boy who had just found his way home. They stayed like that for hours, and even though I still had the lingering wish of being the one in Natalya’s place, the world didn’t seem so dark and dank any longer.
Before my soul was whisked away, I gave my two greatest friends a final demand: “Be good to each other,” I said. “There will be others who’ll come in the way, but be good to each other.”
I lost control then. A white spot filled the horizon. The scene of reality dropped from my eyes and I was in another place, somewhere light and warm. I was moving on the wind, being brought to wherever I was meant to go after death. Like Natalya had said, I would find everything out once I got there.
I could be reunited with my mother, my brother, with Justin, my father, who all watched and waited. My acceptance was complete.
No longer was I wishing for something that could not be. No longer was I longing for love that I could not have. No longer was I cursing everyone I felt had played a role in my predicament.
No longer did I feel lost, lost as a wandering soul.
I was free.