“Maya always said that when she died, she wanted her loved ones to scatter her ashes in the place that she loved most. When I asked where, she winked at me and said that I would know. I never thought to ask her again because I thought that I had thousands of days left with the girl I called my best friend.”
I took a breath and continued.
“It never occurred to me that she could die at the tender age of sixteen. In the year that I had known her, whenever she referred to someone who had died she never used the word ‘die’ itself. She said there was something so final and damning about the word. She said cushioning the word wasn’t lying but rather it was making sure that their soul would stay in our hearts forever. I would laugh at her optimism and her beliefs. I often made fun of them but she simply smiled and started to whine about how I was being mean to her. After she left me, I finally understood what she meant. Every time I hear the words, “Maya is dead.”, it feels as if the devil himself has clawed his way through my chest, ripped my heart out and is crushing it. My mind hasn’t comprehended the fact that every time I check the notifications on my phone, Maya’s name won’t be there anymore.”
The tears were threatening to spill but I had to stay strong, at least until I had finished speaking. She deserved that much, if not more. I started to continue even with the sob lodged in my throat.
“Maya believed she was just an asteroid in the universe. She always believed that she was nothing special. But what she didn't understand was that she was a star. A star that all us ordinary planets revolved around. She gave us warmth and light. She was our sunshine.”
The tie I was wearing dug into my vocal cords and I almost ripped it off. I had one more line left and it felt as if an alien force had stolen all of the oxygen in the air and I had to struggle to breathe. Hungry for air, I took a deep breath and I felt a little drop of moisture trickling down my cheek. I didn't care that the whole school was watching me cry, I didn't care about anyone but Maya at that moment. I could feel pain so raw and aching that all I wanted to do was fall to my knees and break the dam that held my tears. Taking in another gulp of oxygen, I continued.
“Maya isn't with us anymore but I know she’s among the stars and she is laughing, smiling and making all those around her happy, just as she did here, for us.”
I didn't stop to acknowledge the crowd. I didn't stop to hear the claps. I didn't wait until my principal formally thanked me for speaking. All I knew was that I needed to get off the stage. I immediately ran to the boy's washroom. People tried to stop me and offer their condolences but I pushed them all away. I needed to be alone. Making sure there was no else in the washroom but me, I locked the door before anyone could follow me in. The past two days had been absolute hell. I fell to my knees as I let pure agony take over my body.
It felt like someone was dragging a knife right through my heart and I couldn't stop it. Nothing in the world felt beautiful anymore. All I saw was a relentless fire burning everything wonderful in its path. The leaves didn't look green anymore and the sky was filled with grey clouds. The stars seemed to hide away as night approached. It was as if they didn't want to sparkle without their favourite child looking up at them. The water was stale and it tasted of grief. Music turned into noise I couldn't bear to hear.
My arms held my aching body as I rocked back and forth. My throat was sore from the constant screaming and I couldn't seem to stop crying. I wanted to lay on the dirty washroom floor and forget that I had to wake up to a world without Maya. Instead, I got up, washed my face and hoped to God people couldn't see the exhaustion in my eyes.
I opened the door wanting to disappear but instead, I was met with the faces of Maya's friends in her class. Unlike many of the people I had talked to in the last two days, their faces mirrored the misery in my eyes. They understood. Like me, they had lost a friend that loved them very much.
All the students and faculty members of our school had been asked to attend an assembly on April first to honour her. Maya's family and her closest friends had been asked to speak about her. Her family didn't say a word. Her mother cried through the entire event. Maya's father just stood there, unmoving as silent tears flowed down his face. Shruthi, her sister, was the most painful sight of them all. She stared at her feet, not a drop of water on her face and not a flicker of emotion in her eyes. Anyone could tell she was trying to be strong for her mother and father.
I looked at Maya’s friends in front of me and I swear I could see Maya right alongside them, laughing and smiling like nothing was wrong. It was strange to see all of them without her. She was always with them, except for well, when she was with me. I realised I had been staring at them about the same time I was reminded that Maya would never come back. I would never be able to feel the comfort of her hugs or the pleasure of just being in her presence. Another wave of heartache hit me, I felt my legs grow weaker as tears pooled into my eyes for what seemed like the millionth time that day.
Just before I hit the cold unforgiving ground, Akshay, the boy who Maya was in love with, caught me and held me close against his chest. The rest of her friends enveloped us in what seemed like a group hug. I could feel their pain, their exhaustion and distress. Most of all, I could feel the love they had for Maya.
For one moment, I closed my eyes and I could finally pretend that instead of their arms around my shaking body, it was Maya's. I could pretend that the warmth and comfort they gave me was the result of Maya's twinkling eyes gazing into my plain brown ones as she laughed at one of my terrible puns.
I could pretend that Maya was okay and that I was too.
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