I sit in the corner of the now empty room, the small box clenched tightly in my hands. I can feel my heart pounding and what I intended to be a deep calming breath comes out as a shaky gasp. Someone is standing in front of the doorway, but my attention is not on them. With slightly trembling fingers I open the box and the memory of all that happened in the last 8 months floods my mind.
Emily and I are lying on the grass field, a place on a nearby hill that we often used to visit. We watch the clouds pass by in comfortable silence. ‘Do you believe in heaven?’ I ask, even though I knew that the conservation would only bring me pain. This was what we always circled back to, no matter how much we try to distance ourselves from it – the elephant in the room. In our case, the elephant isn’t merely in the room, it threatens to crush us under its weight until one of us relents and pays attention to it. ‘
‘No’ Emily answers.
‘Do you want heaven to be there?’
‘No’ she answers simply.
‘Why not?’ The quaver in my voice doesn’t go unnoticed by her.
‘Because eternity is boring, especially an eternity of life.’
‘Care to explain?’
‘Well let’s say hypothetically there exists a place called heaven’, Emily sits up against a tree and gestures for me to do the same, I follow. So going to heaven means all your dreams and wishes come true right? You get everything you ever wanted. Which is great, we would all be really happy. You can exist like that for 100 -200 years, maybe even a thousand, but then what? You still have forever to live. Your desire goes away after a while, like how you stop liking your favorite food when you eat it every day. But you would still be there, forced to exist even when you become a void with no feelings or purpose…’
‘Jeez aren’t you a joy to be around’, I say, my voice filled with sarcasm.
Emily laughs at that but turns serious in an instant.
‘Really Laura, listen to me, I would rather enjoy the five months that I have, I would rather truly live than have an afterlife. Having an end is what makes being alive special’
Five months, Emily has just five more months to live. Those words taste like poison in the air.
I get a good look at her face, doing my best to engrave it in my memory- she’s 19, only two years older than me . Filled with so much kindness and laughter, only beginning to get a glimpse of her future before it was rudely snatched away.
‘It’s not fair, none of this is fair’, my voice breaks at the end of my sentence.
‘I know’ she says with a sad smile
The sob I’ve been trying to hold back for the past week wells up again and even though I try to be strong for her sake, I burst out crying.
I cry for Emily, for the future she’ll never have. I cry for myself, knowing I’m going to lose the only family I’ve ever had, apart from Jason. I cry to get all my anger and frustration out, though who I’m angry at, I do not know. Emily sits through all of this patiently, doing her best to comfort me.
The dying girl is the one who is consoling her useless, completely healthy friend. I would’ve laughed at the irony if I didn’t feel so broken.
That was seven months ago and after that, Jason and Emily spent every possible moment with each other. We went shopping and helped out Emily’s mom in her kitchen. We talked for hours in the grass field or rather, Emily and I bickered. Jason usually listened with an amused look on his face interrupting us every once in a while to prevent us from breaking into a full-blown argument. Those were the best days of her life, even though time ticked away way too quickly and Emily slowly got worse right in front of our eyes. Four months continued this way until Emily had to be hospitalized.
I used to visit the hospital every day, dreading what I would find when I go there, then feel crushing relief when I see her sleeping or looking out the window. Time passed, Emily was still alive, She had survived the dreaded five-month period. She didn’t look as pale and weak as she used to and even seemed to have put on a little weight. Even though I knew I shouldn’t, I allowed myself to hope. One day, as usual, I went to visit Emily. I put my things in her room, then go to the canteen to get something for Emily’s mother. When I return, the room seems eerily quiet. Emily’s mother is bent near the bed clutching her daughter’s hand, tears silently falling from her face. Emily is dead. My friend who was talking about how nice the weather was moments ago, is now dead.
The grief I expected didn’t come, I’m filled with a strange emptiness and it somehow feels even worse. The hospital walls suddenly suffocate me, and I couldn’t bear to look at the scene in front of me so I rush outside. It’s amazing how the human brain notes the most random of details even while going through a traumatic experience. It’s a sunny day, there are people coming out from a school, there’s a school bus on the road and I can hear someone arguing on the phone. It seemed surreal to me that the world around me is still moving when my entire world seems to be crumbling around me. How is the sun still shining when Emily is dead? My frenzied walk turns into a run. And so, I run away from the hospital, away from reality in the desperation that maybe if I run fast enough I can escape all this.
That was two months ago. I’m now in what used to be Emily’s room, having finally gathered enough strength to be here. I finally notice the person standing at the entrance – it’s Jason. He moves from the doorway to sit beside me. I vaguely remember him sitting next to Emily’s mother when she was crying. He was calm, too calm, staring at the wall blankly, eyes glazed. He looks tired like he hasn’t slept in a while but the hollow look that was once in both of our eyes is now gone. I finally open the box, inside is Emily’s diary, some photographs of the three of us and individual letters for me and Jason. We look through all this carefully, as if we’re afraid it’ll vanish if we aren’t gentle. We both talk about all the times we spent with her.
After a pause, Jason asks, ‘Do you remember the plant Emily gave you?’
I did. Emily gave a small potted plant from her garden to both of us saying it would be a nice way to remember her. I’ve never been a nurturing person and had to make painstaking efforts to keep it from dying.
‘Yes, I remember’, I answer
‘Well, they’re fake. It took me a month to notice that the plant wasn’t growing. I thought you would have figured it out by now – One last joke played by her’, Jason says with a small but genuine smile
I laugh upon hearing that and the sound is strange and unfamiliar to me, I haven’t laughed in a long time.
We don’t talk after that, both satisfied with the presence of each other’s company, and a peaceful quiet envelopes the room.
I look at the photos in my hand again. It hurts me to see it but I know one day I’ll think of her with a smile on my face.
I lean my head against the wall, we sit watching sunlight pour from the windows, bringing with it the promise of a new day, and when I listen closely I can almost hear the gentle winds of the grass field, carrying the echoes of a young girl’s laughter.
Priyangha Muthukumaran is an amateur writer from Chennai Tamil Nadu and a student of La Chatelaine junior college. She has won several literary competitions at her school and one of her stories has been previously published in Kloud9 magazine. Her passions include reading books and painting.