I wrote you a letter once. I poured everything into it, an empty jar waiting to be filled. I fold it and place it in my pocket and carry it around. Everywhere. I stand before you, itching to reach into the darkness of my pocket and extract the thoughts written from the depth of my soul.
But I can’t.
You tilt your head, confused. I’m scared as I know it’s only a matter of seconds before you pull away, retracting.
I can’t. Again. You’re head is still tilted and now your brows furrow. 3, 2 and inevitably, 1, and then you leave. Again. This ridiculous tug of war game we’ve had going on. So I keep the letter in my pocket and carry it, especially everywhere you go, in the hopes that maybe one day the courage will come.
Weeks later, I get a call.
“You have to come. He needs you right now,” your brother says to me.
“What happened?” A thousand and one thoughts spiral out of control, my head foggy. I feel faint and sick.
“I can’t explain, just get in the car and get here. Quick.”
“Okay, I’ll be at your house in 10.”
“No, not the house. The hospital.”
I encountered approximately three near death experiences on the way, but that’s okay. I got there in 15 minutes. I had no idea where to go, so I rushed to A&E to ask about you, except, I see you right there. On the bench, with your head hung low. You look like you haven’t had a shower for days and you’ve probably been in the same clothes for a while. I can’t see your brother, or anyone else I know around. I go from being utterly frightened to being very confused. I gently sit next to you. You make no acknowledgement of my appearance, so I shuffle a bit closer. I wait. And I wait some more. Then you finally speak.
“I didn’t want this day to come,” you whisper, head turning slightly my way so the breeze could blow your words on to me. Your eyes were still focused on a spot on the ground. I have a feeling I know what’s going on, but I suppress it. I’m good at that. I really hope the day hasn’t come.
“He just rapidly deteriorated. I can’t explain..,” you pause to cough, a low grumble clearing your throat. I wanted to tell you to try not to explain. That maybe logic can fail us at certain times, or at all times. That the human body is more complex than what your medical training taught you. That maybe a lot of things just don’t need to be explained. But I stay quiet. You’ve never once initiated a conversation with me, and here you are, speaking without me asking you to.
“He just…,” you pause again, pulling your eyes slightly upwards, that distant stare now all too familiar. But now, it’s misted with unshed tears as your mind races to find an explanation.
“He’s dying.” The whisper oh so quiet, I wouldn’t have caught it if it wasn’t an obvious statement. He has been for a while, but you failed to see. Even with your training and supposed rational, you failed to see, because he’s your best friend. You didn’t have to say anything to me, I know. I have known for a while.
Last week, I sat beside him on the steps outside his home. I got a message from him telling me to pass by on my way back from work. So I sat next to him, not sure what I’m supposed to be saying or doing. I make him green tea. He tells me that my green tea is his and your favourite thing to drink; that no one does it better than I do. I don’t know why, but it gives me a kind of warm feeling inside. So I go back into his kitchen, make him a lot more of my green tea and fill up a large thermos. All the while, his mother is looking at me with a solemn expression, not saying anything, but hugs me a bit too tightly. I bring the thermos back and place it between us on the steps outside his home. He looks at me, eyes sunken and cheeks hollow.
“Please take care of him,” he says, his voice croaking and weak.
“I didn’t ask for this, but it is His will, a challenge I’ve accepted,” he says while looking up into the sky. I too, follow his gaze, and see that sundown is nearly upon us.
“He doesn’t say it, but he cares for you,” he says. He tells me to pour him more green tea. Then he tells me more things about you and my hands start to shake, along with my head, denying the words he spoke. He assures me they’re true and yet I still can’t quite believe. I think there’s a manual somewhere that says you’re supposed to be nice to people who are dying, so I give him a small smile, not knowing what else to do. I then jump, with the sound of the Adhan coming from the mosque opposite. He laughs his unique laugh and tells me how hilarious it is when I jump every time. I walk away and leave, not before looking back and pulling my tongue out to him.
That was the last time I saw him smile.
“I don’t know what to do,” you say, bringing me back from the memory. Neither do I. So I stay quiet and inch slightly closer. I have an empowering urge to reach for your hand. My fingers twitch slightly closer, but then I ball my hand into a fist and place it on my lap. We stay like that for a while.
Three days later, I stand in the kitchen, pouring my green tea. My hands shake as I carry the tray around the back garden towards the tent. I call out to you, but you don’t hear. Your head is in the shadows, while your father has his arms around you. Your shirt and trousers are still smeared with dirt from the graveyard. The patches on your knees large from where you sat weeping after you buried him, your best friend.
You’re brother takes the tray away from me without a word and walks back to the tent.
The days go by and your pulled back into the darkness, the one which I’ve tried so hard to get you out of. Maybe some things just aren’t meant to be. I’m late for work and still searching for my keys. I search all the pockets of my favourite jeans and trousers, even though I’m pretty sure I didn’t leave my keys there. In the pocket of my brown ‘work trousers’, which I hadn’t worn for months, I find the letter I wrote to you, nearly a year ago now. It’s crumpled, withered and battered, but the words still evident if I squint. I laugh in despair and toss the letter on the ground, shaking my head at the naive wishfulness I once had.
I finally find my keys beneath the sofa bed and make my way to work, arriving an hour late. As I walk in the reception, a profile of a face I haven’t seen for a while greets me. The exact same hazel eyes, long lashes and smile, except more feminine. Your sister puts her arms around me and I suddenly don’t care that various colleagues are wondering what’s going on and I hold her close. It feels all too similar to home, wherever that may be. She tells me how she’s been, how you’ve been and how everyone’s been. She talks and talks and I talk back and it feels so real. So raw. And then she leaves. She didn’t ask for anything in particular, but I know the unspoken question left behind.
So later in the day, I make my way over to see you. It takes me 1 hour and 32 minutes to be exact. There always has been a bit of a distance between us. I see the glimmer of chestnut and auburn stands of hair reflecting in the sun’s last rays of the day. Your sitting outside your place, on the steps. The situation is too deja vu-ish and it scares me. Will this be the last time I see you too?
I sit next to you and then inch a bit closer. Why is it always me that’s inching closer? I wait.
“It kinda still…hurts, you know?” you say after a while.
I know. I know all too well.
I keep silent, in the hope you’ll say some more, but you don’t. Just the crawl of your tears down your cheek. I don’t think I’ve felt more pain than in that moment. My heart constricts and my head hurts. May hands ball into fists. I was prepared to punch fate, to keep punching and kicking until it surrenders to my force. I’ve never felt so much utter pain in my life and nothing physical is broken. If this is Love, Universe, then I don’t want it. I don’t want the pain it brings and it’s all locked up inside. It’s been far too long being locked up inside.
A splatter of rain fell against my eyelashes. I give a small thanks to the Universe, as now it’s not too obvious that tears are falling down my cheeks as well.
I keep on waiting. I realise that I hate this game, that I hate this thing, whatever it is, this Love. It makes me sick and I just want to keep punching it or fate in the face.
A deep sigh escapes your lips. I turn my head towards you. You’ve managed to express my thoughts with only an exhale of breath.
You inch slightly closer. I freeze. You gently lay your head on my shoulder. I’m not too sure what’s happening but my eyes widen in fear. What is this? I think you’ve just crossed the invisible boundary between us, the one that’s put up every time I take a seat next to you.
Another smaller sigh escapes your lips. I look down at your face, your eyes red from the salty tears, still staring at the distance. Confusion eats away at me and I’m not sure what to do. I feel like you’re asking something, without saying any questions.
I uncurl my fingers from the fists they were in. I didn’t realise my nail’s had dug so deep into my palm. I take a large intake of breath and look up at the sky. I gently lay my head against yours and we both look at the distance together.