You can’t explain how colours look to a blind man.
Red is red.
Blue is blue.
And black, is well,
he knows how black will look like well enough.
But you can tell him how the colours make you feel.
Red is empowering, like when you escape your chains.
Blue is calming, like looking into the eyes of someone you love.
And black, is well,
Me, I suppose.
That’s how it is here, right now. I don’t see anything. But I know the colours are there--I feel it. They’re all around me. I feel him, too. I can tell he’s showing one of his rare smiles. I can feel a weight lifted off his shoulders. He’s excited--for the first in a long time. I try and follow him, eager to share in his enthusiasm, but he pushes me back every time.
“No,” he says.
His voice is different, too.
I carry on despite his protests, and still he refuses to let me come with him.
“No, you aren’t done yet, Alice.”
“But I am,” I insist, though not particularly sure what I mean myself.
“Please,” he says, “go back. You haven’t finished yet.”
I feel frustrated, and he begins to shake my shoulders harder.
I tug away to no avail.
“Please,” he repeats, “wake up.”
Everything is blurry for a few moments. My eyes squint open a tad, sensitive to the light, to face Lewis, shaking me insistently as tears roll down her cheeks.
“Please,” she cries, “wake up.”
I open my eyes further, and find myself in an unknown room. It hurts to focus on anything, so I close them again.
“Alice! You’re awake!” she almost shouts in relief. “Arnie, she’s awake!”
“It can’t be,” says a voice, almost bored, from another room, “we got to her too late. Face it, they were waiting for something like this just to go on another one of their ‘purges’. She’s nothing but another victim. No attachments, remember?”
“Aye, they were, but for the love of God shut your trap and come quick if you don’t believe me, damn it!”
Lewis squeezes my hand again.
“Alice, love, you still with me? Come on, you hang in there. Ah, I knew you were strong since the day I met you! A little roughed up in prison is all, but you had it in you, I knew it!” she smiles.
My head is throbbing painfully, so I only pretend to be paying attention. I open my eyes and smile weakly. Arnie, the man she called, comes into the room. He’s much leaner and younger than I’d expected. He has light brown hair and a quizzical, suspicious look on his face. His nose his scrunched up and his eyes are squinting. He oddly reminds me of a mouse
“Well would’ya look at that. You’re a strong one.” He pauses. “You’d be good for the cause, you know?”
I mumble something, but at this point can barely keep up with the conversation. I try to sit up, when I feel a searing pain in my side and immediately lie back down.
I lift my shirt to reveal a bloody patch lying above my right hip.
“Yeah, he cut you up something nasty. It’s lucky that I--”
“He’s dead, isn’t he. For sure?” I cut in, speaking of Isaac.
Her eyes glaze over, removing any trace of the cheery attitude she had before. She gives me a curt nod.
“Okay,” I say briefly. I then close my eyes, desperately yearning for sleep.
“Wait,” she says, “can we--”
“Later,” I say.
After all, I have time.
“Don’t you want to know--,” she tries again.
But I’m already nodding off, my mind plagued with thoughts.
I wake up in almost complete darkness, hot and sweating. It hurts to breathe, every inhale sending sharp pain through the knife wound, and back out.
“Alice?” I hear a faint whisper. I crane my head to identify where the sound came from, but can’t see.
“You’re alright, then? You need anything?”
Deep down, I had hoped it was Jarrah’s voice, as he sat there waiting for me to wake up. But not even knowing if he is alive can offer me solace. I can only assume the worst.
The only important people in my life--gone within a day’s time.
How slow time sees to go now, and yet the time with them spent so fast.
A candle flickers to life, to illuminate the worried face of Lewis. The light glows dimly off her high cheekbones and pale eyes, making her look ghostly. A few scars and bruises decorate her cheeks, but she’s otherwise unharmed. She gives me a small smile.
“Arnie said I’d oughta stay with you, incase you wake up in pain or summat.”
“No, no, I’m okay.”
Whatever okay means at this point.
“Thank you,” I say, “for staying.”
She nods. “After I found you all bloodied up, I couldn’t help but worry myself sick. Couldn’t believe you were caught in the middle of the brawl. I’d told Jim to get all the prisoners out of there.”
“Can you tell me? What happened, exactly?” I ask slowly. My head pounds furiously as I scan the memories of Isaac’s last moments.
“Well, after the riot started, I made my way through the streets and to the safehouse, to tell Jim what was going on. He dressed up all cop-like and we made our way out after taking off my handcuffs. We split up then, to help out. I got in a scuffle with a bloke at the square, but I didn’t get too roughed up.”
She pauses, staring dreamily into the dancing flame on the bedside table.
“It was then that I saw you two. Lord, I don’t think I’ve ever run so fast. Saw you collapse onto the ground and I thought for sure it was the end for both of you. But you was still stirring, and the wound dinnae look too deep. Called Arnie as fast as I could, and we brought you here. Jim says you left with him, but insisted on going back. I just couldn’t understand why you went back to the square.”
She looks at me expectantly, waiting for a response.
I feel an urge to wipe the pitiful look off her face--the last thing I need is to be protected. I’ve already lost too much over that.
“Because I’m a right stupe, and I’d appreciate if you didn’t rub it in my face because believe me when I say I’m fuckin’ sorry I did it, alright?” I spit.
Her brows furrow, and she grabs my hand.
“Don’t say that,” she protests immediately.
“No--I will, because it’s bloody true. You really want to know why?” I sneer.
I search for the right words, but nothing is able to justify the horror of what I’ve done. My best friend, my Isaac, isn’t here because of me. No false words of encouragement or fluffed up lies from anyone can deny that.
“Because, Lewis, because I’m--I’m me. And I could’ve stopped it if only I had-- if it wasn’t for me, Isaac wouldn’t--he wouldn’t be... I killed him, Lew. I did.”
I feel tears forming around my eyes, and struggle to push them back.
Lewis tries to intervene again. “I’m sure there was nothing you could’ve--”
“No. It was all me,” I insist, “he wanted to escape, but I just had to go save Jarrah. And hell, it was for nothing. Reckon he’s dead too. God, what was I thinking? Trade a life for a life? What made me value Isaac more than Jarrah? In the end, I’m the least deserving of the three.”
“Alice,” says Lewis with a worried face, “don’t stress yourself more than you already have.”
“Don’t stress myself?” I laugh bitterly, “why, don’t I have the bloody worst of problems! I’m not lying dead in a ditch, covered in blood, or god knows where else--I deserve every damn bit of this. He’s dead, okay? He’s--gone.”
The words are finalized, imprinted into my mind as if saying them has sealed him into the course of time.
“I understand,” says Lewis softly.
“No, you don’t!” I snap back, “there’s no way in hell you understand what I’m possibly going through right now, so stop pretending to care!”
Lewis looks at me as though I’ve just slapped her, and she turns away.
“You need to rest,” she says, getting up to leave the room.
I feel the urge to apologize, but instead turn away, facing the dying glow of the candle. I try and shut out my grief to no avail. It’s no easier than stopping the sun from setting at the end of each day.
“She’s had a bad past too, you know. I suppose we all have.”
I look to the door in surprise to see Jim, leaning against the frame with a smile playing on his lips.
“Oh? What’s your story then?” I ask, unamused.
“The usual tragedy--no family, no money. You’ve heard it through others. But something tells me there’s more to you than meets the eye.”
“You’re angry,” he observes.
“How’d you conclude that? The cheerful glow radiating off me?” I sigh sarcastically.
“Indeed, it gave you away. Best work on your poker face, kid.”
I can’t help but fight back a small smile.
Jim takes a seat where Lewis sat before, lighting another match to give the room a warm glow. I feel oddly at peace, watching his rough hands strike the wood with a confident possession. He smiles kindly at me.
“You’ve been through much. Though I can’t relate, if you would care to help me understand?”
“I don’t know,” I say honestly, “I’ve lost three years of friendship and I just don’t know.”
“Tell me, Alice, is it?”
“Where are you from?”
“Mississippi. I lived with my whole family there.”
“Did they sell you? Separate you from one another? Or did you run away?”
“No--well--I ran away, but...”
I search the ceiling for the right words, but it offers me no aid.
“My parents were separated from us--me and my brother, I mean.”
“Why is he not with you now?” asks Jim.
“My brother, Art, died when I was a kid.”
“I’m sorry,” says Jim, genuine concern lining his forehead, “it must be hard living without a family.”
I pause for a moment, his deep-buried memory gnawing at my heart.
“God, I miss him so much, you know? He left me all alone and I just didn’t know what to do anymore. He was my only connection to-” I choke on my words, fighting back my grief.
Jim smiles encouragingly and nods for me to continue.
“He must have it simple, huh? It must be easy in heaven. And I know he ended up there. He was always an angel.”
“That’s a beautiful thought.”
We sit in silence for a few moments, watching the light dance off the walls.
“If I may ask, what happened to him?”
I close my eyes, remembering the horrible two years of my life before I lost him.
“He started off with a cough. Nothing serious at first, but then it got really bad and no one knew why. Peak of summer too. He was always tired-but not from working on the fields, just...tired. Empty. He started losing a lot of weight, and he wouldn’t eat anymore. He tried to hide it from me, but I knew-a gutwrenching pain in his chest. I saw it when he would breathe, it was always hard for him. Then, one day he came down with a fever. Starting coughing up blood and we all knew that was it. The massa’s physician didn’t care too much, instead he ordered him away from everyone else in case we caught it too.”
Jim stares at me long and hard, absorbing my words and at a loss for his own.
“I was alone after that. Sometimes I think...maybe it’s good he got sick, you know? He was freed,” I finish.
“You’re never alone,” he says, “You will always have people who care about you because, despite what you may believe, you are a good person. You fought to save Jarrah when you knew it was almost impossible to find him. You feel grief for Isaac--that is only human. You did what you felt was right, and I have only respect for your bravery. You may not have known Isaac for long, but I know the love he must have felt for you to go back was incredible, and that’s more than most people get in a lifetime.”
“Thank you,” I say genuinely, “you helped me.”
Jim smiles. “Get some rest.”
I awoke abruptly with a cry. I dreamt of Isaac again. The knife piercing his body, the widening of his eyes, the lips slightly parted and prepared to utter a word that would never be fulfilled. I saw his body, cold and lifeless and limp like it had never even felt the sun on its skin or the grass below its feet.
I thought about a lot of things in that moment. That one, spinning, endless, moment where everything I had ever felt and loved and dreamt collided in a spinning haze of emotions. But mostly I thought about Isaac. I thought about the way his eyes lit up with passion when he spoke. I thought about his hands, strong and warm and safe when they were clasped in my own. I thought about his endless, unwavering loyalty. His love. I thought about how it didn’t matter in the end, whether he escaped his plantation or saved me or didn’t save his brother or didn’t save himself, because in the end there was only one path for all of us. For me, for him, for Jarrah, for Tom, the same, inevitable, unavoidable, and indestructible path. I wanted to hate that path. I wanted to say that he had so much more to do and to see here, and that no, I wasn’t ready for Isaac to die, but I would never be ready for him to die, really, and he had died in a way that was fit only for someone who could love so deeply and so purely as Isaac did.
I wanted to let him go, too. To say that the world did not deserve his kindness and his beauty, but I realized that the world did not care whether Isaac lived or died, whether he laughed or cried, whether he lived to see the next sunrise and fall asleep to the next sunset, because it went on without him. The world did not realize what it had lost that day.
And in that way, I was like the world. I did not realize that I had lost something so unfit for words, that even the most glorious of praises was unfit for the man that was Isaac.
I wanted to say he was in a better place now.
But I did not know.
All I did know was that wherever Isaac was, it was a better place with him in it, and that this world was a worse place without him in it.
I wanted to cry. To run. To scream. To get as far away from here, wherever here would be, and to where he was, but all that was left was his body. His only selfish act had been taking his soul with him, and away from me, and it was just another selfish thing that I had yearned for to wish that he had never left me.
I realized that it was not Isaac that I was mourning. It was what Isaac had given me that I was mourning. And in that moment, I was endlessly selfish and he was infinitely selfless, and it only made me love him all the more.
I closed my eyes for a long time. I allowed the anger to consume me.