I still remember the sound of our footsteps as we stepped off the cobblestone path onto the worn dirt one. I remember the way the sun shone down on our faces, on our intertwined hands. I remember the excitement on his face as we walked to our favourite spot. And I remember how I felt, a way I could only feel in that moment, with the only person in the world that I could stand being around.
He was my best friend, that was true, but also so much more than that. He was the one person I could talk to who would understand what I was trying to say. Always.
And so, on that day, we walked off the stone path and made our way into the forest which lay right behind the outermost houses of the village. The forest itself, like our town, was nothing special. It was peaceful and quiet, made mainly of small pines which waved their friendly branches in the wind. And our spot, it was nothing special either. It wasn’t so much a spot rather than a boulder, a flat boulder which would fit the two of us perfectly. When we sat down, our legs barely touching, we had enough space to be quite comfortable, but had the smooth rock been one inch smaller or bigger, it would not have been just right.
But it was just right, just like that day was. We came here so often, to talk. We would walk from the town, sit, and talk. We talked for as long as we wanted, as long as we had something to say, as long as we had a single thought on our mind. And then, when we were empty, we would make our way back to the village.
Some days we would talk for a very short time, other times for hours on end. Sometimes I would rest my head on his shoulder, and other times he’d rest his on mine. The sound of his voice soothed me, just as I’m sure mine did to him.
On that particular day, one of the first days of autumn, we talked for many hours, and it felt the same as it always did. I remember everything we talked about that day, not the specific words we used, but more importantly the ideas that we wanted to share with each other. We talked about the sun. We talked about the our families. We talked about the most recent news in the town. And as I looked into his eyes, he ended the conversation by telling me how happy he was, how happy he would always be, and how he hoped I was just as happy as him.
And so that is why, now, thinking about how he walked me back to my house and held me to him while softly saying goodbye, saying that he’d see me tomorrow and the next day and the next day after that, it is so hard for me to understand what has happened.
Because now, now I sit here, on this cold, hard chair, and I am so lonely. I cannot talk to anyone, and all my unspoken thoughts swirl around in mind continuously. They float around my brain, bumping into each other, melting into each other, until I can no longer tell one idea from another. The longer they stay there, the worse they get. I wonder how bad my mind might get if these thoughts never manage to escape.
I wonder what the others think of me as they walk by. They see my expressionless face and probably think I am in shock. Maybe they think that I want to cry. They most definitely think that I am sad. But they would be wrong. I am not in shock, I am not sad, and I don’t want to cry. There is only one thing I feel, and it is hate. I feel it so strongly that it consumes me. It spreads over my limbs, heating them with this insufferable anger that doesn’t want to go away. It whispers to me, screams at me, that it won’t go away unless it is fed, until I feed it.
I hate because it is the only thing I am capable of doing. I remember the night of that day that he and I left our spot for the last time. I fell asleep that night just as I always did. I was awakened some hours later by my mother shaking me awake, tears streaming down her cheeks. My father stood by her side, his mouth a thin line.
I remember her telling me that something horrible had happened. I asked her to tell me and she just shook her head, unable to speak. Instead of asking her again, I screamed, louder than I had ever screamed before. I screamed at her to tell me right at that moment what had happened. I screamed and screamed. I was screaming because I already knew what had happened. I didn’t know how it happened, but there was only one thing I cared about, and I knew that my mom was crying because something had happened to him.
And sobbing, she explained to me that he was dead. And I would have been sad, I would have cried, I would have been in shock, if it were not what she said next. My mother, weak as ever, found it hard to get her words out. When she did, she managed to convey to me that he had hung himself from the apple tree next to his house, with the rope he used to tie up his horse. She told me that she didn’t know why, that she was sorry, that she was so, so sorry for me.
But I was not paying attention to her words. I was already gone. The hate was already emerging from the core of my body, a lion wrapping its jaws around the writhing gazelle. I felt it bubbling up inside of me, not threatening to spill out but rather to fill my mind with its horrible voice and horrible whispers.
I hated him. He lied to me. That very day, he had told me how happy he was. And then he left, left me all alone. I learned that he did not leave a note, no message, nothing to explain why he did what he did. No one knew that he was going to do what he did. But I should have known, he should have told me. We had always been truthful to each other.
And from that point on, I hated him for killing himself. I hate him for making me hate him. I have never felt anything so strongly before. Only that it is utterly pointless to hate him. He is dead. I cannot feed the hate that he has given me. But it will not leave.
So now I sit here, on this chair, in this room that is too big and too dark. I see his family weeping in the chairs beside me. They think that they have failed him. I watch his friends that he didn’t like walk in and sit in the row behind me. And then I watch the rest of the town, the mayor, the doctor, the butcher, and others, file into this too-big room and sit down. Except for my parents - they aren’t here. I told them not to come, and they listened to me because they think I am sad.
This town is small - small enough to fit in one enormous room, and small enough so that everyone knows who he is. Everyone said they loved him, but he sure did not love everyone. And although everyone made sure to express that they loved him, as they sit in this desolate room, I see them looking down at their feet, up at the ceiling, or talking to each other in barely audible whispers. I do not talk. I look straight ahead of me at the black casket which lays at the other end of the room.
As I look at the simple casket, I know I need to see him. I want him to see me too, to see the hate in my eyes, and it pains me to know that he never will. In my hand, I hold a single rose that I bought from the market earlier this morning. As I stand up from the cold chair, I grip the rose tightly in my left hand. I get up and walk slowly, as quietly as I can, to the other end of the room, my dress that I hate swishing ever so slightly above my knees. There is no one near me anymore - no one had dared be the first to leave the comfort of their chairs. I can feel them watching me as I approach the coffin, and then I hear them gasp as I do the unspeakable, as I firmly grab the heavy lid in my hand and pull it open. The coffin swings open, and I can finally see him.
His eyes are open, and I am grateful for that, because I can see his eyes that I so desperately needed to see. They are green, as they always were, and when I look into them, it feels the same as it did when he was alive. Except he isn’t. He’s dead, and my hatred will never let me forget that. I wish I could stand here, in this spot, forever. I wish I could stand here while his body starts to rot, when his teeth turn black, when he starts to smell like vile meat, and I wish I could watch him rot until he is nothing anymore. But that is not an option.
I could feel the others - his family, his friends - staring at me before, but now they glare. I wasn’t supposed to open the coffin. There was a reason it was closed, but I didn’t care and I wanted to open it, so I did. I stare down at his eyes for some time, and when I feel that I have had enough, I place the thorny rose on his chest. I reach down and move his hands so that they cling to the rose tightly, just as mine had done before, bright spots of blood appearing as the thorns puncture his skin. And when the rose rests on his body, in between his hands, I take hold of the coffin lid, and bring it down as hard as hard as I can. The bang reverberates in the large room, and when I turn around, I see his mother and father look at me, so disappointedly.
I look at them right back, the same way they look at me. I proceed to walk silently out of the funeral hall. I can’t stand to stay here any longer. I said my final goodbye to him, and now I am going to go home and leave him behind, rotting in his coffin. I push hard, opening the heavy wooden door that leads to the hall, and step outside.
It isn’t sunny today, but grey and raining hard. I am drenched within seconds of stepping outside, but I like it because the streets are empty and I’m finally alone. I walk along the narrow stone street, making my way back to the house. It’s windy too, so I am surprised to hear the cawing of a crow above me. I look up and spot the black bird perched atop a lamp post. I look into its two black eyes, and it looks into mine. It cocks its head, caws, and then flies to another lamp post a bit further down the street.
I forget about the crow, and continue walking down the street. As I pass the small bakery, I decide to go in and get something to eat. I open the door the small shop and a little bell rings. As I expected, it is empty except for the worker.
No, it’s not empty.
There is a young man, sitting in a corner and reading a newspaper, who I missed in my first glance around the bakery. I can see his hair, which is smooth and black, his pale skin, and grey eyes from where I am standing. The rest of his face is hidden behind the newspaper he reads. I wonder why he is not at the funeral; practically the whole town is there, but I don’t blame him.
He must feel me looking at him, because he pauses in his reading and looks up to me, appearing slightly bored, then shifts his eyes back to his paper as soon as his eyes meet mine. I turn my attention to the worker and the display of freshly baked breads and pastries.
“What can I get you, miss?” the worker says enthusiastically. He’s probably excited at the prospect of having so few customers and so little work to do.
“I’ll have a croissant,” I say, and remembering to be polite, I add, “Please.”
“Coming right up,” he says as he reaches down and puts the puffy little pastry onto a white plate. He hands it to me and as I pay him he continues, “It’s a weird day today. The whole town is at the funeral.”
“Yeah, it’s unusual,” I agree, “Except for that guy over there,” I say, nodding my head past the worker, to the man who sits in the corner.
The worker turns his head, looks at the man and then back to me, pauses a little, and then laughs, “Yes, the whole town except for you and that guy,” he says.
I smile at him and take a table by the window, where I sit and start eating the croissant. I stare out into the bleak street. The rain doesn’t look like it’s about to stop anytime soon, which suits me just fine. In the distance, I can see the abandoned market stalls, covered up in tarps. Their owners will be at the funeral, just like all the others.
I go to those stalls often, to buy groceries for my family. To buy thread when my mom needs it to sew. Or to buy the rose that I bought just this morning. Most likely, my mom will ask me to go there tomorrow. I can already picture her giving me her handwritten list, and with some money and a kiss on the cheek that I despise, she’ll send me off to fetch her some food. I really don’t mind going so much. It’s always busy there, especially on weekends, so no one pays much attention to you. It’s also quite therapeutic to go through the stalls, buying the items written neatly on the list.
I am getting a bit lost in my thoughts, and I jump a little when the crow from earlier, or maybe a different one, flies right up the the window, pressing its beak against the glass. It tilts its head and caws, just like crows do, and in its beak I notice that it has found a maggot. The disgusting little creature writhes around, seemingly trying to escape its horrible fate. The crow crunches down on the maggot, swallowing it. It then looks right up at me, takes a few steps away from the window, and flies away.
I finish my croissant a little while later, and for the next ten minutes or so, I occupy myself by looking out the window, watching the drops of rain hit the ground. Over and over again. It’s a bleak day.
I see the man with the newspaper get up from his corner of the bakery, leaving the paper on the table, and make his way over to the door. Except - wait - he isn’t actually going to the door.
I am surprised when he takes the chair opposite me and sits down. I look hurriedly at the worker, wondering if he thinks this act is strange, but either he doesn’t care or he doesn’t notice.
The man takes both of his hands and places them on the table, clasping them loosely together. The first thing I notice about him is that he is very strange looking. This strangeness makes him intriguing to look at, maybe handsome, but definitely peculiar. The second thing I notice is that he is very pale too. Perhaps that, combined with his dark hair, his high cheekbones and slightly bulging eyes, adds to his odd appearance. He seems to give off an air of coldness - I can almost feel it.
I am still in the midst of studying him, but my thoughts are interrupted when he says, “Hello.”
He says this softly, but clearly. His voice is also strange, quite unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. It reminds me of whispers, a thousand whispers muddled together, creating one single voice.
I now feel uneasy. I look at the worker again as he cleans the coffee grinder, hoping maybe he’ll give me a look of sympathy. He sees me, but he just gives me a quick smile and gets back to his cleaning. I take that as a sign that there is nothing to be worried about.
“Hi,” I say, unsure of myself, and unsure of what this man wants.
That is if he wants anything. He could just be particularly friendly. But in my life, not many people have talked to me unless they wanted something.
“I see that you’re not at the funeral. I wonder why,” he says.
He speaks this sentence very melodically, almost in a singsong tone with that whispery voice of his, but it sounds like it comes out of him naturally. There is also something about the way that he words this sentence, something that isn’t quite normal.
“I was at the funeral,” I reply, trying to keep my voice as soft as possible, “I left.”
“Oh I see. You left. And why did you leave?” he asks, still in that musical tone.
“I didn’t like it there,” I say simply.
“You didn’t like it there, why not? Was there something wrong with it?”
“Well I couldn’t really tell you,” I say, “I wasn’t there for long. I didn’t like the people there I guess.”
He nods, nods like he really understands me. Which he can’t, but it looks like he thinks that he understands me. In the brief time he nods his head, I think about it and come to the conclusion that I have never seen this man before. And I have seen every single person in this town before. I decide that I should ask him a question.
“So what about you?” I ask, “Why aren’t you at the funeral? Practically the whole town is there.”
“I have no reason to go. I didn’t know him.”
“You must be lying. Everyone knew him,” I say, not in an accusatory manner. I just say this as a fact.
“I am not lying to you, I promise that. I did not know him, never even heard of him in fact. Not many people here know me either.”
I don’t know what to respond to this. I look at the worker, who is washing some dishes, for a third time. He doesn’t notice me. I don’t think I like this man and I want to leave.
I start to get up from my chair, saying, “I’m so sorry to leave, but I must go home. My parents are waiting for me.”
“No,” he objects, “You stay here, and I will leave. But before I go, could I know your name perhaps?”
“Lara,” I say. I want him to leave.
“Will,” he replies, “I’m sure I that will see you around later.” And with that, he opens the door, the bell ringing, and walks out of the bakery, disappearing down the street in the rain.