Is this the real life?
I’m curled up in a ball in a small and tight space, in a place where there’s no past behind me, and no future in front of me. There’s only right here, and now.
There’s a lot of different textures all around me, brushing against my bare arms and legs. I’m uncomfortable, and I’m scared. Everything seems still and quiet, and as I look down, I see that the light fabric from the yellow top I’m wearing is ripped and bloodied. I can smell smoke in the air, and there’s sweat clinging to every inch of my body.
It’s hard to breath here, so I start crawling out, pushing and kicking while trying to go towards the light I see in front of me. As I get out of the cranny, I see blood, so much blood everywhere. There’s a big hairy arm lying almost limp in front of me, and I reach over with both of my tiny hands. The skin is still warm to the touch, and the blood feels sticky as I try to shake the arm.
The blood gets all over my hands, and it drips, drips, drips.
“It’s just a nightmare Sam, it’s okay,” a soothing voice says somewhere in the distance. “Let it go, and sleep again. Sleep.”
I keep crawling forwards, the pain in my chest almost unbearable, but I feel heavy and tired, and I finally let the darkness engulf me.
It swallows me whole.
Time is such a relative thing. It stretches, it shrinks, it folds, it ripples... And right now, it’s stopped.
It’s like I’m weightless, floating in a pool of darkness.
“Is she really okay?” I hear a worried voice ask.
The sound comes out muffled, as if I am listening from underwater.
“She will be, she just needs more rest,” replies a deeper, maybe masculine voice.
“Why is she not waking up?” says the first one.
“It’s the shock... it was all too much.”
Warmth spreads through me, like a gentle touch brushing my cheek. And the voices seem a little louder, a little clearer.
“Come on Sam, it’s time to wake,” he says, and I feel like I should know his voice. Like I should know him, like I’ve known him my whole life.
Another caress warms my insides, but the shadows are calling me again, and I’m just so tired. There’s voices calling me from afar, pulling at me, and the image of a little girl materializes in the darkness. She reaches a hand towards me, as if wanting me to follow her. So I let myself go, and I leave the voices behind.
I’m crawling through the forest, the twigs and rocks digging into my knees and palms. There’s a pain in my chest that’s ripping me open. My heart beats slowly. My limbs move slowly. I collapse, my face against the dirt, the tears now dried on my cheeks.
Something grabs me, and rolls me over. I can see the sky, far away, the sunlight trying to peak in between the canopy up ahead. And then a warm feeling surrounds me as a dark figure looms over my body. Something touches my forehead.
Mist curls and dances all around me, and the pain is not so bad now. I feel almost happy as little spots of light dance around me and tickle my skin. They’re like millions of fireflies pepping kisses all over me.
“Wake up,” says a deep but persuasive voice.
My eyelids feel heavy, but I want to reach that voice. I need to reach him.
There’s noises around, the soft tapping of rain over a roof, the rustling of fabric. The spots of light seem to spark brighter and brighter as they grow bigger and merge with each other.
“That’s it, come back to me girl.”
I want to, I need to.
I blink a few times as the light hurts my eyes. I can see a face, but it’s blurry around the edges, too close to focus on it.
And then he pulls away, and I see him clearly; Tane is smiling down at me, and I can still feel the warmth of his forehead against mine. The pine scent of his perfume still lingers around me, and while I blink a few more times, he sits by my side.
“Thank the Universe, you’re awake,” he says in a relieved tone, and then he cups my cheek with his hand.
“What…” My voice sounds rough, and my throat feels dry, so I swallow and try to get my ideas together. “What happened?” I ask.
Tane reaches to the side, and hands me over a bottle of water. I have a sip while my eyes drift around, taking it all in. I’m staring at a gable roof with red beams that have white tribal designs painted on them. The walls and floor are made out of plain wood, and the whole place is a single room, with a red column in the middle. It’s empty except for the mattress I’m lying on, which is pushed against one of the side walls. The blankets are tightly tucked around my body, making me feel a little trapped.
“I think,” I say as I take my arms from under the blankets and place them over my stomach, “that the question is: where am I?”
Tane grabs a strand of my hair and tucks it behind my ear, caressing my cheek with the back of his palm as he does. Then something in his eyes changes, and he pulls his hand away. He rests his hand on his lap, and looks down at it.
“You’re in a marae,” he says, and then he looks back up. “You’re safe, that’s all that matters now.”
As I listen to his words, the memories from the woods come flooding back and I jump up, sitting up straight as panic raises all over again and my head spins a little with the sudden movement.
“Where’s Em?" I yelp. “Where is she?!” My head is turning from one side to the other, my eyes looking around the empty room.
“She’s okay,” Tane says as he places a hand on my shoulder and softly pushes me so I lay down again. “She is perfectly fine,” he says in a calmed tone. “She just went out with my brother to buy some dinner, but she should be back soon.”
Slowly, the tension releases from my body, and I let my muscles relax again. Em is okay, everything is okay. As the adrenaline wears off, I feel tired and stiff.
The events from the woods keep flashing in my memory, and I flinch. I roll my ankle slowly under the sheets, and notice that there’s no pain, just a slight tightness there. I look at my palms, and find them to be perfectly fine. I stare at them for a moment, and then I look up at Tane.
“I don’t understand,” I say.
“I know,” he says with a sigh. “There’s a lot I need to tell you, and it won’t be easy to understand or accept.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask as I slowly push myself back into a sitting position. Tane helps me by adding an extra pillow behind my back.
“Maybe you should rest a little more,” he says doubtfully.
“I don’t need to rest, I’m fine,” I say, and then it hits, I am fine, I actually am fine. “How is that even possible?” I ask, my voice too calm for the hurricane circling my mind. “How am I fine? What happened in the woods? Did I imagine all of that?” No, there’s no way, I didn’t, I didn’t. “You saved me…” I say, needing reassurance that what I remember actually happened.
“Yes,” he says. “ I did.”
He’s looking into my eyes, and as I look into his, I can tell he’s being honest. There’s just something in his eyes that tells me I can trust him. Or maybe I just want to trust him. He saved my life, I was going to drown, I was going to die, and this guy that I’ve barely known for a week, saved my life.
I can’t believe it’s only been a week, when I feel like we’ve known each other for so long… So much happened in such a short period of time.
“Tell me what happened,” I say as I reach my hand over to hold his. I need that touch, I need to know that what’s happening here is real, that it’s not just a product of my imagination, a delirium of my messed up mind.
“Do you remember everything that happened in the forest?” he asks. How could I not?
“I do,” I say, and I can almost feel goosebumps in my arms. The memories are still too fresh, too raw. “But, I don’t understand, it doesn’t make sense, I hurt myself, didn’t I? How long have I been sleeping?”
It would have taken weeks for my palms to heal this much, there’s not a single scratch, not a single mark. And if I was out for that long, then why is it that I’m not in a hospital?
“Maybe we should wait for Emma to come back,” he says. “This way, I’ll only have to explain the whole story once.”
“Does she not know what happened?” I ask, surprised and confused.
“Not entirely,” he says. “Can we just… have a moment? Just like this?” he asks as he holds my hands between his and takes them up to his forehead.
It kills me to see him like this, he seems so stressed out and tired, so I stretch my arms and wrap them around his neck. He leans against me, lying on the bed by my side as I stroke his hair; and even though I just went through hell, I feel like I’m the one looking after him.
I lie by her side on the bed, her hand running through my hair so softly that I think I’m going to lose control over myself. I’m struggling to keep a grip on her feelings, making sure she’s still calm enough. I know it’s selfish and I shouldn’t control her if I don’t need to, but she barely survived what happened in the woods, and I tell myself that it’s for the best.
I also feel exhausted after healing her all night and all morning, as I barely had enough power in this human body to manage it. But that’s not the feeling that’s bugging me; it's the guilt.
I feel like all of this is my fault, and as soon as she knows the truth she’s going to hate me for it. So as selfish as all this may be, I just lay here enjoying this moment, which might be our last good moment together.
I was not meant to feel like this, but the emotions inside this body are so strong, that I can’t stop myself as my hand reaches up to cup her cheek, and I brush a soft kiss on the corner of her lips.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
She seems surprised that I’ve kissed her, but it was such a soft touch that I can tell she’s wondering if it even happened. She lifts her eyebrows, and the corner of her lips turn down.
“What about?” She asks in a quiet little voice, half asleep again.
She must be so tired after everything she’s been through, I don’t even know how she’s still in one piece. She’s dealt with more in the last week than anybody does in a lifetime, and she’s still here, in one piece, looking after me. She is resilient, even if she doesn’t know it yet, so I tell myself she’s going to be okay. I tell myself I know what I have to do to make this right as I try to convey all my energy in telling her she needs to sleep again. I will tell her the whole truth.
“For not getting there sooner,” I say as I brush another gentle kiss on her forehead and I watch her eyelids drop. I know I’m only making this harder on myself, chances are not on my side, but I just can’t help it.
“For making you wait for so long in the woods, for not understanding earlier what I was meant to do,” I say in a whisper a moment later as I watch her sleep. “For not realising I was putting you in danger.”
It takes all my strength to leave her side, but eventually, I get up and walk out to the entrance to wait for Rongo and Emma.
I think this will be easier if I keep my distance from now on, so I tell myself I will try.
I pull over in front of the marae, grab the bags of takeaways from the back seat, and walk towards the entrance, Rongo following suit behind me.
As I get near, I see Tane standing by the door, and worry ripples in my gut. The guy has not left Sam’s side since the accident, so I wonder what he’s doing waiting for us.
“Is everything okay?” I say as I’m close enough for him to hear me.
“Yes, all is good,” he says, but it doesn’t sound like it. “She woke up a while ago, but then fell asleep again, she’ll probably be up again any moment,” he says.
I hand him the bags of food in an abrupt motion, and take my shoes off as fast as I can. Before I’m even done with the laces on my second boot, a voice reaches me from inside the Marae.
“Emma? Is that you?”
At the sound of Sam’s voice, I yank the boot off and run inside.
“You’re awake!” I yelp as I run towards Sam, who’s standing right by the bed. I embrace her in a bear hug, and Sam squeezes me back so tight that I think she might crack one of my ribs.
“Oh, Gods,” I yelp as we pull apart, “I’m so happy that you’re okay!”
I look Sam up and down, a bit surprised to see that she’s on her feet.
Tane and Rongo join us a moment later, and after introductions between Sam and Rongo are held, a weird silence settles between us.
I still don’t understand everything that’s happened in the last 24 hours, and my brain is such a mess that I don’t know what’s real and what’s not anymore. I’ve been feeling so weird for the past day, like I’m not sure if I can believe my memories; so I’m really looking forward to some explanations. As me and Sam sit down side by side on the bed, I hold her hand in mine.
And she squeezes it back.