No one sits on a bench in a blindingly dark and vacant park on a chilly December night, especially if you are all by yourself. But here I am, with no company save for my misty breath that materializes every now and then, and my even foggier thoughts that are intent upon wreaking havoc in the humble abode of my mind.
There’s a rumor that wild boars emerge from the nearby woods to roam around this place at this hour, but oddly enough, that doesn’t bother me. Fear of external beasts pales in comparison to the internal monsters that won’t leave me alone. And truth be told, facing demons that you have created yourself is the kind of purgatory that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Why am I here? This is actually a pretty easy question to answer. I am here because of three stories. That’s it; three chapters spanning the eighteen years of my life that have somehow brought me to this most desolate of places. The really difficult part is trying to figure out what I’m going to do next, but I’ve left it for now, because that’s what you do with tough questions; you answer the easier ones instead, and you hope that you’ll somehow get those far more important answers at the end.
So yes, since I would very much like to know where I’m supposed to go from here on out, let me share my stories with you. This is certainly not going to be difficult for me, because I’m the star of these stories.
I promise you, there’s nothing to envy or pity here. I lived them, and now I invite you to simply live them as well.
The first story is about family.
My mother tells me that when I was born, my father cried for the first time as an adult. He is an indifferent sort, but my birth apparently moved him in the way miracles affect men of piety. I remember being fascinated when I heard this for the first time as a young five year old boy. The kind of things I cried over included grazed knees, clowns and B-grade horror movies, and I couldn’t understand why a process as natural as birth should make my father, a mature middle-aged man, break down.
I was the only child, which is why my parents doted on me. I wouldn’t say that they spoiled me, but their relationship with me did leave me with a grandiose perception of family. Throughout my adolescent years, I believed that a family was akin to a fortress; strong, reliable, and comforting. However, a fortress can certainly be besieged and ultimately brought down, and I was about to see this for myself.
I felt the tremors of family strife when I was sixteen years old, full of hope and dreams and love. It was just another swelteringly hot summer day. I was working on just another school assignment. My father returned from just another day at the office, except that it wasn’t just another day at the office. He looked like he had aged by several years; the creases on his forehead deeper, the hair on his head inexplicably whiter. He didn’t come over to my room to talk to me about my day. Instead, he went straight to the bedroom to talk to my mother.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but I certainly didn’t think that they would end up having a shouting match. That’s exactly what happened though; my mother was red in the face and it looked like she was trying to hold back a flood of tears. My father looked even older, and rage was etched on every line of his face.
I only found out later that my father had been fired that day because of negligence at work and that my mother refused to believe that it was due to an honest mistake and instead accused him of “unfaithful actions” at the workplace. I remember being terribly unsure of what to do, because like I said, this was not what family was supposed to be like.
Your parents weren’t supposed to swear at each other. They weren’t supposed to doubt each other. They weren’t supposed to be blinded by their rage and ignore their son’s happiness. But most of all, they weren’t supposed to hate, which they did from that moment on.
My father did get another job, and life did move on, but things were never the same. That was the day the fortress came crashing down. A family, I decided, wasn’t worth it if its ideal version couldn’t even last.
The second story is about love.
Contrary to what romantic fiction will have us believe, you don’t just fall in love with someone all of a sudden, as if it’s a deep well that you’ve stumbled upon. It’s not a magical at-first-sight moment; it’s a conscious choice that you make because everything about it feels right. It’s like the universe conjures a perfect being for you in the hopes that you will realize its importance and reach out for it. At least, that’s what I thought.
I reached out on a quiet autumn day, when I was strolling around a park – the very park, in fact, where I’m sitting right now – simply because I’d rather be anywhere than back home. I was so deep within the ocean of my thoughts that I would have missed her were it not for the fact that she was sobbing, her smooth chocolate-brown hair covering half of her pale tear-streaked face.
I automatically approached her, and when she looked up to face me, I realized that I was doing the right thing; her eyes were the clearest, most tempting green I’d ever seen. They were like deep cool pools of water, and I wanted to dive into them. I wanted to say a lot of things in that moment but I simply joined her on the broken bench, and waited.
She told me a story. A story of an abusive partner and negligent parents, a wasted life and broken dreams. There was nothing that she wanted in this world as far as she was concerned, but here in this park that was hardly visited by sane souls, she was hoping to find herself. I listened to her intently, completely lost in her world.
All of a sudden, she stopped talking and turned towards me.
“Do you know what that’s like? Finding yourself when you’ve lost everything that matters?”
I bit my lip. I turned away from her and found a withering dandelion a few feet away from where we were sitting. After staring at it for what seemed like the longest time, I turned back towards that enigmatic pair of eyes.
“I think I’m about to find out.”
For the next four months, we met at the same spot every day. We shared stories, and talked about our futures. When we couldn’t think of anything, we would stop and stare at the dandelion, almost reveling in each other’s silence. It was hard to figure out where time started and stopped with her, but that didn’t bother me. Maybe it should have.
Because as abruptly as this new journey had begun, it arrived at a full stop. I visited the park as usual, only to find that she wasn’t there. I sat down on that bench all the same, and waited. I looked around, and realized that the dandelion wasn’t there either.
It was only when night fell that I decided to get up and leave. I kept visiting the park as usual every day after that though, not because I was expecting to find something or someone, but because I felt more lost than I ever had in my life.
The third story is about death.
That ultimate end to life, about which we know so little, but think so much. I used to visualize the Grim Reaper swooping down upon some unfortunate being, caressing it with the tip of its scythe, before consuming it completely. I have never been a particularly religious person, but I do believe that something meaningful is in store for us after death; something to make up for what was missing in life.
I witnessed the spectacle of death for the first time a few hours ago.
I was lounging around in my room, trying to compose my thoughts and get down to writing about my life. I believed that putting it all down on paper would help me to comprehend the turbulent waters, and make sense of where I was headed. My father was still at work; my mother was probably cooking something up for dinner. It was just another day.
I hadn’t gotten far when I was interrupted by my mother; she was standing at the doorway, and before she even uttered a word, I knew there was something wrong.
It’s funny, but even though we hear about death by cardiac arrests so much, we never fully understand their gravity. Unless your father happens to be on the receiving end, of course. Then it punches a gaping hole through your body, and you just feel hollow. I can’t quite remember what my mother said after breaking the news through uncontrollable sobs, but I do remember feeling like time stood still. It was this realization that prompted me to run to the one place where time simply didn’t exist.
And here I am.
That felt good, oddly enough. There’s a stillness in the air now, as if the world around me has been listening to my stories and is now pondering over them. Are you feeling sorry for me right now? I don’t feel sorry for myself, to be honest. If anything, these stories prove why there’s no point in wanting anything, because if we are responsible for giving value to the things that make up our life, then that value is short-lived and therefore disappointing.
And yet, it’s precisely this thought that makes me want it all. I inhale deeply, hold it in for as long as possible, and then exhale.
A family isn’t a fortress, but that’s all the more reason to build one.
Love is temporary, but that’s all the more reason to keep it on a pedestal as the precious thing that it is.
And finally, life is uncertain and no one wants oneself or one’s loved ones to reach the end, but that’s all the more reason to treasure it; to live it.
All of a sudden, the world seems right. I want to go back home and comfort my mother right now. I want to see my father and bid him farewell. I want a phoenix to rise from the smoldering ashes of my life.
I get up and make my way out of the park. From the corner of my eye, I swear that I can see a dandelion.
Contributed By : Mohammad Hamza Zakir