I’m sinking into the abyss
Of sand and clay
I’m thinking of the words
I’ll never say
The waves crashed against the sandy beach. I sat on a bench overlooking the sea and the distant horizon. How infinitesimal we all are, I mused as I took out my sketching pad and radio from my bag. The radio was a gift I got from my mother, something she bought when she was a girl around my age, she said. I turned it on and started searching for the weird and unconventional stations that aren’t listened to by a lot of people. At least they brought something new everyday, not the mainstream stuff you here every single time. I really don’t care if Swift broke up with Hiddleston (something which I saw coming a mile away by the way).
“Okay Jeff I got something crazy for you today, even crazy for us if I may say so.”
“Alright shoot. What you got?”
“Alright listen up. So a man, Kevin Reese, claims that he met an angel, who, and these are his words, who “took his grief away with a handshake.” Apparently his girlfriend died and couldn’t get over it, so he was visited by this supernatural being that gave him cosmic therapy.”
I rolled my eyes.
“No shit? Well I just think he was high George. Does he have any proof?”
“Well he didn’t take a selfie if that’s what you’re asking.”
That was pretty much what I listened to most of the time. I switched my attention to my sketching pad and started drawing the sea and its weak afternoon sun. It was a pretty sight. Everyday during the afternoon I’d go and sit at my favourite bench and start sketching the sea. No two drawings were ever the same. I suppose it was what attracted me the most, the idea that beauty need not be constant, it can change yet never lose its allure.
“Hey Latifa,” the voice of Robert Parker roused me from my meditation. We went to the same class. He had a thing for me I suppose, but I wasn’t really interested.
“Parker, what do you want?” I asked as I resumed my sketching.
“I called you a bunch of times but you didn’t pick up your phone. I sent you texts but you weren’t replying so I thought-”
“What? I was kidnapped? Sick? Dead?”
“That something wasn’t okay, that’s all,” he replied a little bit dejectedly.
“Well here I am, alive and kicking,” I looked up and gave him a sarcastic smile.
“Yeah I can see that. Well I was trying to contact you to ask, you know, since we’re done with our exams and we still have some time before we go back home, I was wondering if you could uhhhhh…go out with me this Saturday night?” He spoke while wincing, as if every word he pronounced was painful, or he was expecting a bomb to go off, the bomb being me of course.
I sighed and put my pencil down. “Look Robert, or Bobby, or whatever,” I’d like to say I’m flattered by your advances, but I’m not. Also, I’m not really interested in going out with you, or anyone else for that matter. Furthermore, I don’t really think you’re my type so I’m sorry, though I’m really not,” I explained while squarely looking at his face, though he couldn’t meet my gaze because he developed a sudden interest in his shoes as soon as I started talking.
“Well…ahem. Well it was worth a shot I guess,” he laughed dryly. “Anyway, you have a good time. And don’t hesitate to call me if you feel that I can help you out with anything.” He then went away, each step slow, deliberate and painful.
Poor guy, I thought as I watched him go. I’m saving him from something disastrous, he just doesn’t know it. For two years now I have lived like a robot, successfully building a wall between me and the things that threatened to consume me. I couldn’t trust myself to feel anything, lest I fall to my destruction. Ever since I started college, I have made no friends. I chose not to anyway. I have slept little, thanks to the nightmares that haunt me every night. And I have been constantly running away from something, though I knew that it would inevitably catch up with me someday. I resumed my sketching, but no sooner had pencil touched paper, than I saw a man seemingly appear out of nowhere from the corner of my eye.
He was tall, broad-shouldered and looked really old. His face was wrinkly too. But what was odd was the fact that he wore a black overcoat under which he wore a black suit, white shirt and a loose black tie, while it was already the beginning of summer. On his white head was a hat, so he kind of reminded me of the FBI back in the sixties.
He was gazing at the sea, but soon turned his attention towards me and smiled, his pale-grey eyes twinkling with amusement. Then he said, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” in an English accent that strongly made me think of the gentlemen that existed during the Victorian era. I loved reading stories about them, but that was before…
“It sure is,” I replied while smiling genuinely for the first time in two years. I didn’t even know why I smiled, it came so naturally as if I’d never forgotten how to do it in the first place.
“May I?” He asked as he pointed at the bench.
“Sure I’d love to,” I replied as I scooted to one side and gave him some space to sit.
“So, grandpa. Can I call you grandpa? I just feel like calling you grandpa.”
“Call me anything you like,” he replied with kindness.
“What brings you to this part of the world?”
“Well, you called me, didn’t you?”
I was struck dumb by this answer. Naturally, I denied his claims, but he insisted otherwise.
“You called me, Miss James,” he said to me with a knowing look.
“How did you know my name?” I asked, astounded.
“I know a lot of things about you. I know for a fact that you’ve been running away from something that will cause you unimaginable torment once it catches up with you, and it will catch up with you.”
I had never met this man before, but I was positive that he knew me more than anyone else. I should have been scared by this, but I actually felt the opposite. For the first time I felt safe, as if nothing could harm me.
“Miss James, it’s time to open up to what you’ve successfully closed off. I am simply here to help you, but I can only do that if you’ll allow me.”
I stared into the sea again. I was tired of running. “For two years I’ve been living behind a wall that separates me from myself and the rest of the world simply because, I couldn’t save my brother.” I began as I turned off my radio and lost myself to the cacophony of sounds that were the crashing waves and soaring seagulls…
“James, Latifa.” Roars of approval rang throughout the hall as soon as my name was called out. I majestically walked up the steps and received my high school diploma, a dream I never thought would come true. As I faced the crowd, I scanned the entire room, in search of my big brother, Jerome. He wasn’t there. My smile faded and my heart sank in disappointment. Just this once you could have showed up Jerome, showed up at one of the most important days of my life.
After the ceremony was over, I stuck around what was my former high school now, and hung out with my friends. A while later they headed out to the graduation party
“Latifa, you coming with?” Peter, one of my closest friends, asked me.
“Nah I’m good. Sort of tired so I’ll just go back home.”
He nodded in understanding as he got my true message. I quickly hailed a taxi and was driven home. My neighborhood was your typical African-American ghetto. Gang violence and turf wars were the orders of the day. Drug abuse was just a by the way. It pained me to see how the current and future generation seemed to have no light at the end of the tunnel we were stuck in.
I paid the driver and thanked him before he went away. I hastily climbed up the steps and got in my house so that I could drown out the sound of gunshots that had begun piercing the evening air. I locked the door and called out for my brother, who was in the kitchen. As soon as he saw me, his face dawned with comprehension and exhaled in guilt and embarrassment.
“How could you forget my graduation J?” I yelled in frustration.
“Look sis I’m sorry. I just lost track of things ’cause of this job I’m gonna do tonight.”
“Just a job. The kind that gets you money, real money.”
“Is it illegal?”
“I don’t have to tell you nothing, and I ain’t gonna say nothing,” he said dismissively as he turned around and reached for something in the top cabinet. It was then that I noticed the gun handle protruding from his jeans.
“Oh my God, is that a gun? Jerome, what the Hell have you gotten yourself into?” I whispered with urgency and horror.
“Relax, okay? It’s just insurance, but I’m not going to use it. I’m just the getaway guy. It’s just this one job and I’m done.”
“I really don’t want to hear your lame excuses. I’ll be in my room.” I stormed off in rage and flung myself on my bed as soon as I entered. Some time later, Jerome came in and told me he was going, but I ignored him.
Several hours passed and he still hadn’t returned. It was well past midnight when I decided to not wait up for him any longer. I convinced myself that he’d come in the morning, and when he did I’d give him a good scolding, the way my mom used to do whenever he did something wrong. As I lay in bed, all I could think of was the words I was going to smack him with the moment he stepped through the front door…
“But he didn’t step through the front door, did he?” Grandpa asked, his voice tinted with sadness. The amusement in his eyes was gone now, replaced with pure melancholy.
“No, he never did,” I replied in an even voice, devoid of all emotion. I fixed my gaze on the horizon and continued, “At ten a.m. the following morning I got a call from the police, telling me that Jerome was involved in an armed robbery the night before. They also told me he got shot in the neck and back while they were trying to apprehend him. The good news was that he was still alive. The bad news was that the bullet that hit his back shattered his spine, so he would never be able to walk again. He was going to jail, but since this was his first major crime and his role in it wasn’t a huge one, the police department were willing to cut him some slack and put him under probation for two years, if he agreed to cooperate and mention the names of the members of the crew he was in who got away. That, and the fact that he was going to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, made it pointless to put him behind bars.
“But that’s not the worst part, which came after he was discharged and got home. He was half the man he once was, according to him. I didn’t talk much, because I had nothing to say to him. I had been accepted at college, but I couldn’t go because there was no one else to take care of Jerome. Soon he became moodier than ever and started drinking a lot. It was only a little over a month later that I found him dead in his room, with an empty bottle of prescription drugs on his nightstand. The officials confirmed it was a suicide and a few days later I held his funeral. He was buried next to our parents.”
“I’m truly sorry for your losses.”
“But you know what sucks? I don’t feel anything at all. Ever since he killed himself, I managed to separate myself from the events on an emotional level. I feel like I’m just a video, playing back the things I heard and saw, but not really remembering how I felt about it. A part of me knows that if I keep up like this, things will end very badly for me. The problem is that I’ve forgotten how to feel,” I explained as calmly as I could, though desperation was starting to get the better of me.
“I think I can help you with that,” grandpa said as he smiled a sad smile, and he placed his index and middle fingers on my forehead. Right then and there I felt the wall vanish, and a weight equal to that of a trailer fall on my chest, making it difficult for me to breathe. Tears stung my eyes as the full realisation of what I’d lost flooded my heart to the point of not being able to handle it anymore. I wailed, calling out my brother, my mother, my father. Two years’ worth of pain, rage and grief consumed my soul, which made me think of throwing myself in the sea and joining my family.
“How do you feel?” Grandpa asked, his voice captivating.
“I feel like I should have done more. The guilt that is weighing down on me makes me wish I said something before he left that night. Maybe if I’d told him I got accepted at college to study law, he would have changed his mind. But I didn’t, and I’ll never get over that.”
He silently looked at me for a while, then, “You’ll forever be haunted by the words you never said, and never will,” he said, which sounded as if he was reciting a mantra. Then he added, “but you don’t have to be. Anyway, I must leave now my dear Daisy. I am needed elsewhere.”
“Please don’t leave!” I pleaded in the most desperate of tones, and boy was I desperate!
“But my dear, this isn’t goodbye forever. There will come a time when I will need you,” he said in the most assuring tone that made me believe him.
“In the meantime, come here,” he opened his arms and I threw myself at him and gave him a really big hug. At that moment, I could feel all the pain and guilt I had just experienced leave me and make my heart light again. Only this time, I wasn’t a robot. I was Latifa James again, I was happy, hopeful, and had purpose. As I looked into his eyes, I noticed them darken until I was staring into the depths of an abyss that contained the grief and pain of thousands before me.
As I let go of his embrace, he remarked, “What a beautiful sunset.” I hadn’t even noticed the sun had almost disappeared.
“Yeah it is,” I agreed as I directly looked into the sun, in all its gilded glory, marvelling at how it would always rise again, regardless of whatever happens to me or anyone else in this planet. I was about to tell Grandpa my philosophical musings, but I stopped when I discovered he wasn’t there anymore. I sighed, I suppose I’ll just have to wait for you then, I thought as I stuffed my sketch pad and radio in my bag, and headed back to my room.