Do not fear, I am here,
Here to take your pain,
Pain caused by words,
Words you’ll never say
“Oh come on ref!” I shouted at the TV when the referee blew his whistle. He made me more livid when he produced a red card, sending off the player. Popcorn was scattered all over the floor as a result of my indignant reaction. I turned off the tube and started cleaning up, it didn’t take me long. Once I was done, I resumed sitting on my couch meditatively this time. Six months had passed since that mysterious stranger showed up out of nowhere at the diner. I’ll never forget those eyes, and how he changed my life for the better. My grief was gone , but the memories were still there, though they no longer haunted me. I still hadn’t stopped thinking about Sophie, she was always a part of me. It was because of her that I decided to go back to school, further my education so that I could learn better ways of helping people. Even in death, she still had some form of influence over me.
“I was enjoying the game you know,” a familiar voice behind me derailed my train of thought. No. Friggin’. Way. I thought as I turned around. It was him! The stranger had come back! He still looked the same since I last saw him with his white shirt, black Levi’s and black boots. That pleasant smile of his was plastered on his face and there was no hint of the grief and melancholy I saw in his eyes half a year ago.
“Hossein!” I yelled in delight. He frowned, clearly puzzled.
“Well I know it’s not your real name. It’s just, you know, you look like someone who’s likely to be called Hossein.”
“Okay just…just stop right there,” he said as he raised his hand and made the ‘stop’ sign. “Please, call me Azeez, my mother gave me that name and I happen to like it.”
“Oh well, I suppose you do look like an Azeez too,” I commented as he jumped over the couch and sat next to me. He pulled up his shirt sleeve slightly to check the time on his watch.
“So tell me Mr Reese, how have the last six months been to you? I’m eager to know,” he asked, maintaining that unforgettable, scrutinizing gaze on me.
“Better than the last five years I can tell you that. I’ve definitely progressed a lot, although I made the mistake of telling people what happened in the diner. The only replies I got were “Kevin are you okay?” And “I think you need to see a therapist”.”
He laughed at that. “Yeah you’re not supposed to do that, but it’s good to see you’ve learned your lesson.”
I looked at him curiously and asked, “What really brings you here Azeez? I’m sure it’s not only to check on my well-being.”
He narrowed his eyes, carefully planning what he was going to say next. “You’re right. I’ve come here to take you to my superior, the boss lady, she’d like to talk to you. Mr Reese, what happened in the diner wasn’t just some random occurrence. You were chosen to do a job, to be part of a cause, a good one. However, we won’t force you. You can decide to back out and not join us. The choice is yours.”
Three seconds barely passed after he finished when I said, “You don’t have to convince me, and there is no choice here, I’m definitely in. What you did for me, I cannot repay. So whatever you guys want me to do, I’ll do it.”
He smiled in approval, then he stood up, “Alright buddy, let’s go. Just take my hand.”
As soon as my hand was firmly locked to his, my living room disappeared and, within the blink of an eye, we found ourselves on a grassy slope of a hill, where the most beautiful woman I had ever seen looked down on us from the summit.
“Michael. Never thought I’d see you again after that fit you threw in my home last month. What do you want?”
The warmth in his voice that I had known and loved for a big part of my life was no longer there. Donald was simply a monster who looked like a human. My face betrayed nothing but my heart was a volcano of hatred and rage. I continued staring at him coolly as he leaned back on his expensive, reclineable, leather armchair. Arrogance was oozing off him as he locked his hands behind his head and studied me with intrigue.
I cleared my throat, “I’m only here this last time and you’ll never see me again. Answer me this, did my dad know?”
“Know what?” He asked with mock innocence.
“You know what, you filthy abomination,” I replied in disgust.
“Language kid, or I’ll have security throw you out,” he threatened. Then he continued, “You know Michael, I know you don’t like me. What’s funny though is that I still like you. I’m not that kind of person who…lets one bad night ruin our-”
“Spare me the bullshit and answer the question. Did my dad know?”
He narrowed his eyes and made a slight chuckle, “Well, I suppose I could lighten your grief a little bit. No, your father didn’t know of my…hobby, if you will. However, I did have a feeling he was on to me, but he died before he made any discovery,” he finished as he poured himself a glass of whiskey and took a sip.
I was trembling with rage, but I kept my voice as steady as possible, “Hobby? Is that what you call it? Hobby? Jesus Christ you are sick. Don’t you know the lives you’re ruining?” All pretenses were dropped now and I was visibly livid.
Meanwhile, Donald casually kept sipping his drink and sighed with satisfaction when he was done. Then he said, “It’s the Macallan 1926, in case you were wondering. I’d pour you some, but then I’m selfish when it comes to my personal booze. Oh and, I do know that. The thing is, I just don’t care. You can leave now, before you spew all over the floor again…”
A knock on my office door interrupted my trip down memory lane. I hadn’t even noticed that I was holding Tracy Sullivan’s photograph. Her innocent face no longer haunted me, but I still held on to her photo lest my memory of her faded, though the likelihood of that ever happening was zero. Still…
A second knock dispelled any lingering thoughts of the past. I took the photo and put it in my journal, as always. I said “come in” when my composure was fully regained. A few seconds later the mysterious and beautiful lady, with her forest-green eyes, straight hair as black as ink and overall south American look, stepped in my office. Needless to say I was pleasantly at a loss for words when her ethereal presence graced my life once more.
“Good evening, Mr Booth. It’s a pleasure to meet you again,” she started, her voice forever captivating.
“Good evening to you too. The feeling is mutual. To what do I owe this welcome visit?” I queried, though I had a good guess. “Please, have a seat.”
“That won’t be necessary, I won’t be staying for long. I just passed by to see how a friend was faring.”
“Friend, you say? I can hardly call myself your friend. We only knew each other for a night.” I stated with a hint of mockery in my tone.
She arched an eyebrow as her lips quirked upwards in amusement. There was a momentary pause and then, “How are you faring Mr Booth?”
Again, that voice. There was something reassuring about it. The whole world could be burning around you and yet if that voice told you things will be fine, you’d believe it in a heartbeat. For some reason, it made me think of a mother’s soothing lullaby.
Her eyes twinkled with merriment as she awaited my response. I opened my journal and took out the photo. “Before you showed up, this was my source of self-inflicted misery. It was the best way of depriving myself of joy, or hope, or love. Now it’s the total opposite. I can’t thank you enough for saving my life and giving me purpose. I’m ready to do anything to ensure that what happened to Tracy doesn’t happen to anyone else.” I finished with my eyes shining and pulse racing. Shit, didn’t expect it to be this overwhelming I thought.
“I’m happy to hear that Mr Booth. Now that I know your response is positive, I will give you my second reason for visiting you. My superior says it’s time the two of you meet and tell you what she seeks from you,” then she added, “If you want, that is.”
“Are you kidding? I’m in. When do we go?”
“Now. Just hold my hand.”
I was about to. Then I paused. “I don’t even know your name. I find that funny.”
She tilted her head to one side and seemed to be looking at something unseen, despite the fact that her eyes were locked to mine. Then, “Call me Consuelo”.
As soon as we held hands everything around us melted in a multitude of colours, then black, but only for a second. Soon I found myself on the grassy slope of a hill, whose summit was occupied by the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
“Grandpa!” I screamed as the old man appeared out of thin air. I rushed towards him and gave him a hug. He chuckled in delight as I vainly tried to crush him. He was pretty strong for an octogenarian. Then again, he wasn’t your ordinary octogenarian.
“My dear blossom, you have no idea how pleased I am to finally see you again!” he said as the corners of his eyes crinkled. I noticed how his pale-grey eyes glowed with youthful exuberance, as if he was joyfully anticipating life’s next great adventure. Inevitably letting him go after a moment or two, I sat on my bed and patted the empty space next to me. He bowed his head and sat by my side. He started inspecting my room, observing the posters neatly glued on the wall. They were of famous politicians, the founding fathers, authors. Basically they were pictures of famous dead people. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong century.
He picked up a copy of ‘Pickwick Papers’ by Charles Dickens. “Very nice choice, a good piece of comedy if you ask me. I met Dickens on several occasions in parties and meetings, quite a charming fellow. The fact that we both shared the same first name made our relationship more familial I suppose,” he said nonchalantly. Naturally, I was stunned.
“You’ve met Dickens?” I squealed.
“Of course I’ve met Dickens! My dear, did you seriously think I was born in the last century?”
“Well, you do have something that reminds me of the Victorian times I suppose. Wow you’re old,” I commented while laughing.
“Indeed I am. Now, on to business. How have you been these past six months? I’m curious to know of your progress Miss James.”
I didn’t even pause to think of my answer, it just came out in a rush, “Things are great! I’ve been really, really happy. I’ve opened up to people now and made more friends. I even went out on a few dates, though none of them turned out to be my type, and also I’m honestly still not into dating at the moment. I think it’s because I’ve been preoccupied with community service and charity work. I’ve even started a foundation in memory of Jerome. I’m pretty sure things would have turned out differently for him had he been in a better environment, and that’s what I want to do in the end, create a better environment. An environment where people get to choose their actions, be they good or bad. Because some people don’t have a choice, it’s just the circumstances they’re under.”
He maintained silence throughout my little speech, nodding in encouragement. Then he said, “Well, that was certainly one of the best things I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard a lot believe me. It’s safe to say you’re on the right track. Now, on to another issue. I’ve come here to take you, Miss James, to see my superior. She says it’s time to talk. Are you ready?”
My heart fluttered in anxiety, “I didn’t know you have a superior. How’s she like?”
“You’ll find out soon enough, but only if you want to.”
“Of course I want to!”
“Very well then. Just take my hand,” he replied as he stood up. I followed suit and did as he asked. Suddenly I could feel the floor vanish, only to be replaced by dewy grass in a jiffy. I observed my surroundings and deduced that we were far from any town or city. There was nothing for miles but grassy hills and plains that shone ghostly pale in the light of the moon. What struck me as odd though, was the fact that there were other people around me, dozens of them. What was odder still, was that they looked like they belonged from different parts of the world. “Grandpa, what is this?” I asked.
“Balancing of the scales,” was the only thing he said as he directed my line of sight towards an extremely beautiful woman standing on the summit of a hill. She wore a sleeveless, black dress that covered up to her feet. Her hair was wafting slowly in the direction of the gentle breeze, giving her an unearthly presence.
I made a slight gasp when she turned her head to where I was standing and locked her eyes with mine…