There was a huge frown pasted on Eliot’s face as they walked down the halls of the college, heading towards the academic offices. Elijah noticed it and sighed. He knew the reason for that frown all too well. Professor Boxton was disliked by Eliot. This was because of his beliefs and stance. He was a supporter of the coloreds and though he faced stigmatization from his colleagues and some around him, he never gave up. He was still steadfast in the support he showed them. This act annoyed Eliot and many a time he had vandalized the professor’s house but this had in no way deterred him. He was still as headstrong and fierce as ever.
“I’ll be out here waiting for you, brother,” he settled down in a chair in the reception area. Elijah nodded at his friend after taking in a long deep breath and letting it out, he knocked on the professor’s office door. A voice replied, asking him to enter. He opened the door and stepped into a large office. This was the first time Elijah was stepping into the professor’s office. It was a large and homely space. A whole wall was lined with floor to ceiling bookcases and every compartment in the bookcase was occupied. As Elijah set his eyes on the case, he could not help but wonder if the professor had read them all. He had heard that the professor was well traveled. He had gone to many different places and met a lot of people. Maybe that was why he was able to identify with the coloreds.
Elijah looked around the office. The wall opposite the book-lined wall had sliding glass doors which from what he could see led out to a balcony. In front of him was a large mahogany desk behind which sat Professor Boxton. He was cleaning his spectacles and in front of him on the desk was a large open book. He motioned for Elijah to step forward and he did. Yet again, he motioned for him to take a seat in one of the straight-back wicker chairs in front of the desk. He was being very quiet and apart from when he had told Elijah to step in, he had not said a word. This was quite unusual considering the fact that the professor was a very garrulous and hearty man. He always talked a lot, especially about his travels though not in a high and mighty way.
Elijah sat in one of the chairs and he was forced to sit erect and not slouch because of the chair. The professor certainly took time cleaning his spectacles, Elijah thought to himself. He kept wringing his hands as he sat in the chair fidgeting. He hoped the meeting would be done and over with soon.
“Is the chair uncomfortable, Mr. Grey?” The professor asked. Elijah’s face snapped up. He had been staring intently at the pattern on the carpet beneath his feet.
“No sir, No, it is not,” he shook his head. The professor looked at him intently and then put on his spectacles. He looked at Elijah sternly from behind the spectacles for a few seconds and then turned to the book in front of him, he turned a page and it seemed to be that he was reading. Elijah dug his fingers into his palm. It was all he could do to prevent himself from saying something rude due to his impatience, all that would do would get him in trouble with those parents of his. So, he sat there, his eyes roaming around the office, trying to be patient while the professor wasted his precious time. His eyes roved around the desk in front of him and they rested on a picture on the desk in a silver frame. It was positioned in a way that it faced the professor but he could also see a little of the image as well. Elijah picked up the photo frame and looked at the professor. He did not even twitch. He just focused his eyes on the book before him.
Elijah stared down at the image in the picture in his hands. It was the painting of a woman. She was probably in her sixties. She was sitting on a stone bench in a garden alive with beautiful flowers. Whoever had done the painting was truly an expert. The woman had long blonde hair that was wrapped in a bun on her head. Though she was old, she still looked graceful and beautiful. It was obvious to Elijah that she must have been a great beauty in her youth. She had a warm and friendly smile but at the same time, there was a sadness that he could feel behind those eyes. Those eyes. What intrigued him about the painting were the woman’s eyes. They were the deepest blue he had ever seen. She was staring straight at him. Then, Elijah noticed something beside the stone bench just within the woman’s reach if she had needed it. It was a white cane. He gasped. Was she blind? The question resounded in his head.
“Yes, she was blind, Mr. Grey,” the professor answered the question that Elijah had asked himself. Elijah’s head snapped up. Had he spoken the question out loud? How had the professor heard him? The professor stretched out his hand and Elijah placed the picture frame in it which the professor took. He stared sadly at the picture and Elijah could see a wistful look in his eyes.
“She was an incredible woman. Even with the loss of her eyes, she never let happiness and joy leave her heart. She held no hatred or anger towards anyone. She may have been unable to see the beauty of the world anymore but that did not stop her from letting the lives of others be beautiful as well,” the professor said, a rueful smile playing on his lips.
In all the professor had said, Elijah picked up on a particular word and he asked the professor about it, “Anymore? She was not born blind?”
“No, the poor woman was not born blind. She got sick and almost died when she was still a child. That was how she lost her eyesight.”
“That is terrible. One day you are able to see and the next day it is all gone,” said Elijah.
“Yeah, it was a great loss to her but she learned to move past it, she learned to move past the horrors, the terrors of her childhood.” The professor placed the picture frame back on the table.
“Who was she to you, professor? Was she your wife?” Elijah asked the man in front of him. The professor was an old man who was probably in his mid to late fifties. Elijah could not help but wonder if the woman was still alive. The professor had spoken about her as if she was no longer around.
The professor chuckled quietly and said, “No, Mr. Grey, she wasn’t. She was my mother. She was the best mother that existed, she may not have given birth to me but she treated me better than my real mother ever did.”
“Your mother?” Elijah asked in surprise.
“Yes, she adopted me from the streets.” Professor Boxton chuckled, “I actually am not quite sure who adopted who. She had been crossing the road when I had held on to her coat and begged her for a morsel to eat. I had been a very hungry little boy, not caring who it was I had approached. Mother had squatted beside me and asked me about myself, she had asked me my name, my age, where I came from and the best question that I had heard in my life. Those words had sounded like music to my ear.”
“What were those words, professor?” Elijah sat up in his seat. Though he had been reluctant about coming to see the professor, he was much more comfortable now. He was eager to see how the story would end and what indeed had happened to Professor Boxton’s adoptive mother. He knew at the back of his mind that he had somewhere to be but something was also telling him to listen to the professor’s story. He could not understand why but he felt drawn to understanding it all.
“Do you want to go home with me?”
“What?” Now, Elijah was very confused. His voice portrayed the confusion that was coursing through him. “You want me to go home with you?”
Professor Boxton chuckled more heartily this time and said, “No, Elijah, that is not what I meant. I mean those were the words that she spoke to me. Those words forever changed my life.”
“And you went with her, right?” Elijah asked as his head bopped up and down. He had started to understand the whole situation.
“Yes I did, and trust me young man, that little six-year-old boy made the best decision to follow the fiftyish woman home. From that day on, Maria became my mother as I became her child as well,” Professor Boxton had a faraway look in his eyes, probably thinking of times and experiences in his past.
Elijah was not yet content with what he had heard, “Maria?”
“Yes, that was her name. She had gotten blind during a bout of sickness when she was younger. Before I met her, she had been a caring old woman but at the same time depressed and laden with a burden. She always felt guilty that she had not been able to save the life of her innocent maid when she was younger as well as her unborn sibling. She always had this sadness around her. When she was younger, she had been haunted and as much as she tried to tell the truth, she had been mocked and the culprit always tried to silence her. She finally fled when she turned eighteen. She could not stay there anymore.”
“Who had the culprit been?”
The professor smiled at Elijah and said, “It seems like you are quite curious about all these, Mr. Grey. Anyway, mother died about a decade ago. I guess I can say to some extent she lived a fulfilled life but she never got rid of that burden she carried in her heart. She always blamed herself for their deaths, she always felt she should have tried harder to open her mouth and utter the truth. She never forgave herself, not ever.”
“What about you, professor? How exactly did you end up roaming the streets as a six-year-old boy? Did you not have parents? What happened to them? And what about family? You had none?”
“Oh, all my suffering at a young age was courtesy of my parents. Let’s just say that they were not cut out for parenthood and so, they decided to dump me in the streets. And point of correction, it was when I was four years old, I lived on the street for two years before I met my mother.”
“You lived a very hard life, professor,” Elijah said quietly. “But I honestly do not understand something, Professor Boxton. Why did you tell me all these?”
“Yes, Elijah. Just like you, I was made to face the cruelty of my birth parents but that did not stop me. I did not fall off the ledge, Elijah. I pushed myself on and let their rejection spur me on, I let the pain caused me by my parents be my diesel in my vehicle as I moved upward in life. You can do this, Elijah, you should do this.”
“I see, you probably think we are alike in some ways. Well… unlike you professor, my parents did not just abandon me, no, on the contrary, one killed the other and is now rotting behind bars for the rest of his life. So, I ask you now, professor, is my life anything like yours? Unlike you who got adopted by a nice blind woman, I got adopted by a cold and unfeeling pair who do not care the least bit what happens to me. Why? It is because they realized getting me in the first place was a mistake, so… I ask again, professor, in what way are we alike? I honestly want to know.” By this time, Elijah had stood up, the chair had been kicked down in his hurry to get up and his fists were formed at his side. His eyes flashed with anger.
The professor sighed and said, “What happened to your head, Elijah?”
“I fell,” he replied bluntly. The professor studied him for a while. Elijah was sure he did not believe him. Whether he did not, he did not say.
“We are actually more alike than you think, Elijah Grey, I may have had a loving adoptive parent but now and then, I still felt the bitter sting of being abandoned, I almost went down the ledge myself but I was reminded by someone who cared that I should not give up on life, that I should not let my past define me. Now, I am telling this to you too, Elijah. Do not let your past define you. You could let it be your inspiration to spur on but do not let it engulf you and take over you. You are a bright young man and you have a good future ahead of you.” The professor stood up and walked around the desk. He placed a reassuring and friendly hand on Elijah’s shoulder. “You are failing, my boy. You are only going downhill. Stop your drinking, your lackluster attitude and tread the right path, then, you will become great. If you need anything, I will be here, I can be that parent that I know that you need.”
“Oh please professor,” Elijah shrugged the man’s hand off, “I don’t need your pity. Besides, you are a fan and supporter of the coloreds, which I am not. Associating myself with you would be like painting a bull’s eye on my back.”
“I know you do not think that, Elijah. You do not hate the coloreds. All that you portrayed in class today was just a show. You do not care about the coloreds but you do not hate them either.”
“Whatever you think, whatever rocks your boat because honestly, I do not care.” Elijah had calmed down at this time and he forced himself to look at the professor who was staring straight at him with genuine concern. He chose to ignore it. He cleared his throat, then said, “Are you going to tell my parents about my failing grades?”
“No I won’t, Elijah. I still believe that there is a chance for you. You just have to believe so yourself.”
“Right, indeed,” Elijah said skeptically. He nodded and turned and walked towards the door.
“Take care of yourself, Elijah and keep in mind, my offer to be your mentor still stands,” the professor called from behind him and he opened the door. Elijah grunted in reply and shut the door behind him. He found a still frowning Eliot waiting for him. He had his pocket watch in his hands and he was staring so intently at the face that he did not realize when his friend walked up to him.
“Can we go now? Thanks for waiting, brother,” Elijah rubbed his stomach. He was starving. He had not had anything to eat since the previous day’s afternoon. The previous night’s dinner had consisted of liquor and it was the coffee he drank in the morning that was keeping him standing.
“Well… you certainly took your precious time, my friend. It has been thirty minutes since you went in. You did not give the sign for me to retrieve you,” Eliot told him when he saw him.
“Sorry about the delay, man. Let’s get out of here,” Elijah started back down the corridor. Eliot ran up to catch up with him.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, why do you ask?” Elijah asked hastily.
“Nothing much, you just seem a bit rattled, that’s all. What happened in there? Did the stupid professor try to convince you to join the nigga movement?”
“There is nothing wrong in what I just said, It is quite possible that it is through people like you who are reluctant to make up your minds about hating the coloreds, that they would be able to infiltrate our circles soon enough.”
Elijah rolled his eyes and shook his head, “It is nothing, Eliot. I just have a slight headache, that’s all. Just drop the issue.”
“Why won’t you have a headache with all your drinking? Anyway, you have still not answered my question. Why did he call you?”
Elijah thought of what to say. Eliot was not going to let it go especially considering the fact that he had accompanied him to see the professor. Now, his friend felt like he was entitled to the information they had held the conversation about. “It was just about my grades so let’s stop this conversation.”
“But…” Eliot started saying. They had already gotten to the bus stop. Elijah released an exasperated sigh. He could not wait for the bus to arrive; he turned away from Eliot and turned a deaf ear to all his ranting about the colored folk. He felt like some adventure and fun to distract him from what the professor had said. What better adventure was there than exploring the old and abandoned house?
Paul was a skeptic and realist. Never once had he ever believed in anything greatly. He was actually the most reasonable in the group of friends because his head tended not to be in the clouds. He was the only one who said things as they were and as he saw them. Most times, Paul was the one who snapped their senses back into their heads when they were being stupid. At 5’11, Paul was the tallest among the four friends. He came from a family where your worth was only measured by how far you went in life, how much you were able to attain. His parents were workaholics who had invested all their time into achieving success and attaining the highest rung in the ladder of their careers and less time into the wellbeing of their children. They provided all that Paul and his three siblings needed and expected nothing less than the best from them in return.
Paul had chosen to follow the path of his parents and from the time he was younger, he had invested all he had into becoming the best in all he embarked on. The tall, brown-haired guy had seen everyone as a challenge and a competition; they were all obstacles to his success. He had graduated as the best from high school and went on to college and currently, he was the best student in their class. Time and again, he had offered to help Elijah with his academics but it seemed like sometimes, his friend was adamant on failing. Paul always felt that most things Elijah did was to get the attention of his cold parents. He had met them a few times and they were frigging as cold as ice. He had also met Elijah’s siblings as well; it had been the previous year when he had spent the Christmas at Elijah’s. It was then during that short vacation that he had realized that his friend was the rejected child. From that moment on, he had started understanding his friend more. Even with all of his friend’s acting out, he still never got the attention of the Greys. They still treated him as an outcast. He was unwanted and not once had they even pretended they cared, not even when he had friends over. The bitterness and hate they had for him was obvious in their eyes. At the end of that vacation, Paul was not sure if he should be grateful for the parents he had who at least did not stare at him with hatred though they just like Elijah’s parents were always absent from his life.
He had never been very close to anyone due to his beliefs and his stance. Even with his siblings, there had always been a rift. It had seemed like they too had been competing among themselves for the scraps of love that their parents gave them, now and then. The way he had been brought up embedded in him a pragmatic attitude. All that had changed when he had met Nathan, Elijah and Eliot. He had met them during the campus tour when they had started college. All at once, the four had become fast friends. Nathan and Eliot had already been friends from high school. In a short time, the four friends had become closer than brothers and finally, the void in Paul’s heart was filled. He finally had a family. But time and again, he could not help but miss his siblings. He wished with all his heart that he could be close to them. But he always told himself that that ship had sailed. It was too late to get back to the way things used to be when they had all been younger. He doubted he could bridge the gap that had developed between him and his siblings and he was not sure he had the heart to try.
Paul was snapped out of his thoughts by the honking of the bus. They had gotten to his stop. He alighted and looked around the lot he was in, and then, his eyes rested on the building which housed the apartment he was headed to, his girlfriend’s, Rachel. He smiled as he thought of her. Rachel like his friends had been another ray of sunshine in his otherwise bleak and cold life. Just like how he met his friends, he had also met Rachel on the first day of college during the campus tour. They were both in different disciplines and from completely different backgrounds. Unlike him, Rachel had not been born into wealth but she was hard working and feisty. He had fallen in love with the strong and wonderful girl she was. When he had gotten closer to her and found out her problems, he had admired her more for always putting on a brave front in the face of so many problems. Rachel had a father who was an alcoholic and who chose to use her or younger siblings as a punching bag whenever he felt like. Her mother who was the provider of the family along with her had fallen sick in her first year in senior high. From that moment on, Rachel had automatically become the sole provider of her family which comprised of her mother and her two younger brothers. Her father was completely worthless and with the little they had, he still chose to scrounge off them.
Through her hard work and perseverance, Rachel had been able to finish high school and luckily for her, she had gotten a scholarship. Still, the scholarship only covered her tuition fees so she still had to work to provide for her other expenses as well as that of her family back home. Her mother was still sickly, barely having periods of wellness so her help could not be counted on. Now and then, Paul tried to help her out in any way he could but he had already realized that Rachel was a very proud person. She rather worked than take any freebies. The only times she bothered to accept his help was when she was desperate and in a tight spot and as soon as she could, she always paid him back in full, paying no heed to his objections. Yes, she was strong and independent but the littlest things still scared her and he loved her more for her weaknesses. He loved the fact that she was terrified by the strike of lightning and absolutely hated horror motion pictures because just like lightning, they terrified her.
Paul was still smiling to himself as he stood in front of the door to Rachel’s room. Unconsciously, he raised his hand to knock and the unbolting of a door snapped him out of his reverie. The sound of the door was followed by a kiss on his cheek.
“Hi honey.” The green eyed beauty grinned at him and he grinned right back. Her shimmery red hair was held up in a messy bun. Her square shaped lens was sliding off her small nose and she was dressed in a sweatshirt and a pair of jean shorts. “What’s wrong, hon? Are you okay?”
“No, no, I mean, yeah I am. I was just admiring your beauty. I mean, even those nerdy glasses don’t fool me, not even from the start,” Paul grinned at her.
“Paul!” she playfully slapped his arm. “Come on in. How was your class? How are the guys?”
“They are okay. I’m actually here for another reason,” Paul said as he stepped into the room. It was sparsely furnished and Rachel’s roommate, Kate was lounging on the couch. She smiled at Paul and greeted him when he entered. “Hi Kate.”
“Okay, change of plans, then? We can’t go out today?”
“No, I mean yes…” Paul stammered causing Rachel to quirk a brow as she stared at him. “I mean, we are going out just not where we planned to go to.”
“Okay, well where are we going to then?”
Paul, the ever-skeptical guy settled down on a couch and told her after heaving an exasperated sigh, “Apparently, Elijah found an old, abandoned house and for some reason which baffles me, he is intrigued by it. He wants us all to go check it out.”
“Well, that is not so bad, people are interested in different things, ranging from cartons to postcards to photo frames even. There is no big deal in Elijah taking interest in an old house,” Rachel shrugged.
“There is a big deal when he says he hears voices calling out to him from the house, probably inviting him to go in and explore, who knows what?”
“You’re joking right?” Rachel asked, very amused. Kate who had been close to them did not hold in her laughter. She let it out and in no time, Rachel had joined her as well with Paul inserting an occasional chuckle then and now.
“No, I am not. He was going on and on about it. Don’t worry, when we go over there, you’re going to see exactly what I mean, he just can’t stop talking about it. You’re invited as well, Kate,” Paul told them.
“A dig through an old, abandoned and from what I’m hearing, possibly a haunted house? No thank you but I’ll pass,” Kate told them shirking at the very thought. Rachel hurried over to her.
“Oh don’t be like that, Katie. It is going to be great fun. Besides, I’m sure Nate is going to be there,” Rachel whispered the last part.
“Besides, there are no such things as ghosts,” Paul told the two girls.
“And how sure are you about that, Paul? I’m pretty sure ghosts exist,” Kate reiterated her previous sentence.
“I am sure because the existence of ghosts is completely unrealistic. Also, since you are so sure, then I ask you, have you ever seen one?” Paul asked her and from the quivering of her eyebrows, he knew he had already won the argument.
“No, but-,” Kate started saying but she was interrupted by Paul.
“I rest my case,” he took a bow.
“Hmmph. I’m going to get dressed.” Kate threw a glare at Paul before she left the room.
“Really?” Rachel turned to him and noticed his victorious smile, “There is every possibility that they exist, you know.”
“No, they don’t. And your friend is a sore loser,” he was still grinning widely.
“I hear you. And you really didn’t have to be so mean,” she reproached him.
“I wasn’t mean, I was being realistic. She’s what? Twenty-one? Twenty-two? She’s got to get such delusions out of her head. I mean, why would someone her age still think ghosts exist? It’s like saying you still believe in Santa Claus,” Paul scoffed. He was sure he had made his point clear but the look on his girlfriend’s face told him otherwise.
“Exactly, Paul. It’s just like believing in Santa Claus. Have you ever wondered why kids believe in Santa Claus and why parents ensure that their kids do not find out about his nonexistence? It is simply because they want them to have something to believe in, someone to hold on to. Now, my love, why don’t you ask yourself while a twenty-two-year-old girl who is almost twenty will still choose to believe that ghosts are real, alright? I’m going to dress up as well. See you in a bit.” She pecked his cheek and left the room.
Paul could not help but shake his head at the imaginations of some people. Why would anyone think that ghosts existed? And then, it struck him. It was to have someone to hold on to. At that moment, he understood what Rachel had meant. Kate had lost both her parents and her older sister in a ghastly car accident when she had been only ten years old. She had grown up in the foster system, she had not been as lucky as Elijah. But really, if he thought of it, was Elijah lucky having gotten such people as parents? She probably chose to believe in ghosts, that her family was still around because she could do nothing else. It was her coping mechanism. He shouldn’t have been so adamant and pushy.
The girls came out a few minutes later just as he was still beating himself up. He had placed his foot in his mouth.
“I am sorry for what I said, Kate. You are entitled to your own opinions, beliefs and stands. I should not have tried to force you to conform to mine. What I should have done was respect yours. It was completely wrong of me,” he apologized.
She smiled at him and said, “That’s okay, Paul. I forgive you.”
“Yay! Peace has returned. Now come on everyone. Let’s go. It’s time for fun,” Rachel shooed them out of the house. She tweaked Paul’s nose and turned to lock the door. “It’s going to be great. Stop frowning, dear.”
She pulled them down the road to the bus stop.