The Face of Reality

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Chapter 16

We didn’t talk much after that. I joined the kids in building the sand castle, drew words on the sand with sticks. I also tried beach ball but then, it didn’t even take a minute for me to hurt my wrists and palms so I dropped it. Most of the time, Augustine sauntered around with the camera at hand but, he did surf for a while too. Then, we left the beach in the evening. While Jessica waited for me in her car to go back to our apartment, Arizona kept holding on to my hand, nagging me to stay for the night again.

“Princess, Sophia needs to go to school early tomorrow so, she has to go.” Augustine scooted down to her level and explained to her in the softest tone.

“No! Stay.” She persisted moodily, shaking her head and almost crying as she wrapped her arms tighter around my legs.

Seeing that there were tears in her eyes, I picked her up in my arms and took her out to the front yard with me while engaging her in small talks about the colorful Bradford pears we saw in front of us down the driveway. Despite my enthusiasm and the delight in my voice, it didn’t help. She didn’t buy it. So, we had to tell Jessica to leave first. Augustine drove me back later in the evening while Arizona napped. It had been a long day for her and she was tired too, which was also why she nagged so bad.

Augustine parked just outside my building. All along the way, we barely talked. We barely looked at each other. I kept my eyes glued to the road. He did the same. A quietness that seemed impossible to conquer had settled between us since we talked at the beach. We both tried to make things seem as normal as possible like we hadn’t even talked about it at all. But we weren’t fooling anyone. Not ourselves. And with each short, quick glances he cast my way, I saw the conflict in his eyes. The same conflict I was battling with within me. . . whether to reach out or let it be.

God, I was dying to reach out to him.

It’ll pass.′ I told myself. ′Time heals everything. It’s just a crush. Nothing serious.′

Keeping my eyes away from him as I got out of the car, I said, “Thanks.”

“See you tomorrow then,” he nodded and held my gaze.

I felt afraid to look him in the eye, scared that I would lose it all again, scared that the guard I’ve put up would crumble and I would be left hurt and alone. Again. Scared that I would fall harder for him when I shouldn’t. But when, in that split second, my gaze flitted across his, his eyes were saying to me all the things I wanted to hear him say. So, I looked at him and held his gaze the way he did mine. Hoping he would say the things his eyes were saying to me.

He didn’t. Instead, he slowly shifted his gaze away from me, ignited the engines and drove away. Apparently, he wasn’t going to loosen up for his own desires at all despite the transparency in his eyes, despite the fact that he too knows now that I had seen it in the way he looked at me. All for Marlon.

Aren’t you a good friend, Augustine?

*

On Tuesday, we gathered at Kennedy hall for the circle again. Timothee showed up too and sat next to me. I showed up earlier than he did and we shook hands like we had known each other for our whole lives whilst he also gleamed with a pleasant smile.

He pulled down his headphone and extended his hand jovially, “Hey.”

I hadn’t expected that but it made me feel all mushy and genuinely happy inside to see him reach out first. To be honest, I had found him quite unreachable the last time.

“Hey!” I smiled back, taking his hand. “How was your week?”

“Yeah. It was so so. Normal. Nothing exciting.” He shrugged and made a face. Then he took the seat on my right. “I had no plans of coming back here. But I thought it wouldn’t be nice to see a friend. And I wanted to keep my word.”

“I’m glad you’re here.” I smiled at him.

He smiled back gently and shrugged again. “Let’s see what happens today then.”

“Yeah. Let’s see.”

We noticed few new faces of those who had missed the first day and Shirley made them introduce themselves like we all did the last time. We played a game too where each group members had to hold hands together, stand facing the other group and pass on electric shock like we were a chain of conductors.

The first person at one end of the chain would give a signal to the next person’s hand. Each person in the group would have to pass that signal one after the other as quickly as possible so that once the person on the other end gets the signal, he would have to fight for the bunny at a distance before the last person from the other group gets it. We laughed as we watched Augustine and Marlon diving, sliding and rolling on the floor for the bunny.

Following that, we watched another cartoon illustration video for 15 minutes and by the time Shirley popped the question, half of us were silent again.

If you had the chance to travel to another Earth never to return, will you go?

Augustine and Marlon were sitting right across me. I glanced at them to find Marlon whispering something to Augustine and snickering away mischievously.

“I would go.” Marlon grinned. “Care to join me, Sophia? Just you and me on Mars.” He winked flirtatiously as he brought his hands in front of him and mildly swaying his body as if we were dancing lovestruck.

“No. I wouldn’t. I don’t want to risk getting killed by Martians.” I replied in jest and instantly saw Augustine crack a small smile, eyes on the floor.

“Oh, come on,” Marlon groaned, throwing his head back. “What about you?” He turned to Augustine.

“Nope.” Augustine shook his head with a pleasant smile.

“Not even with me?”

Augustine chuckled and warmly wrapped an arm around Marlon’s shoulders. “Trust me, I love you but, I love my family too.”

“Seriously under consideration.” Timothee nodded next to me waist deep in thought.

A bunch of the crowd said they would go for different reasons – adventure, exploration, new life, second chances. . . Half of us decided to stay back for another bunch of own personal reasons – family, friends, fear, contentment. . . Another bunch of us were undecided. We joked and continued to chattered about it for a while, weighing its pros and cons before we moved on to the next question.

What is that one thing you think every person should experience in their lifetime?

Remy raised his hand. Once he had captured everyone’s attention, he spoke up powered by his usual lively energy and sass. “I think all of us deserves to experience some fun. . . feel good about ourselves. Accept ourselves. I understand it could be hard sometimes but, I think that everything needs to have a beginning? And it should start with ourselves. Honestly, I feel that for people to accept me, I should accept and love myself first. That’s what I think. Feel good about ourselves.”

“That’s amazing.” Shirley smiled at him.

“Thanks, honey.”

“How do we do that?” Timothee questioned in return. “Accept ourselves. I mean, how does one person actually feel good about himself?”

Sly, nervous glances were exchanged in the circle and everybody fell into silence again. But, Remy just looked at Timothee, lips tilted and seemingly lost in thought.

“Anyone would like to answer that?” Prof. Goode looked around.

Remy raised his hand again. “Yeah. I have a point or two. Anyway. Personally. . . positivity. Now, I know none of us is 100% good. Neither are we a 100% bad which I toootally love because, yeah.” He suited his eyes up to the ceiling. “Sometimes I just wanna be a bad, bad bitch and kick some ass. It’s fun. But so long as this feel-good is concerned, positivity helps a lot. It makes me feel good about myself when I’ve done something nice, something right. And it even helps better if I continue to be and do the good that I am. You know, multiply, magnify the good in me. Ignore and subtract the bad.”

Eyebrows knitted and eyes intent, Marlon watched Remy as nodded. “Yeah. That’s good. I like what you’re saying.”

“Thanks.” Remy kissed her fingertips and blew him a kiss.

Timothee sneakily leaned into me and whispered. “If you could see something good in me, let me know. I really have no idea.”

My face split up into a wide smile and I whispered back. “Count on me.”

“Anyone else?” Prof. Goode looked around again.

I wasn’t really sure but soon, I found my right hand going up in the air.

“Yes. Sophia.”

I straightened up on my chair and said. “I’d just like to add something to what Remy had said. It’s true we’re all bad and good somehow. So, we can’t always be doing the right thing. When we do, instead of giving ourselves into our flaws, if we could only give ourselves one more chance to right the wrong. . . instead of blaming ourselves too hard. Just a chance to make things right, then I guess we can feel good about ourselves that way too.” I could see some people nodding again like they did when Remy spoke. It gave me more confidence to speak up. “You know, be kind to ourselves. I think we all deserve that too. Mistakes happen. That’s a part of being human. If we’ve done something wrong, we could learn from it. . . not to do it again.”

Assuming that maybe I had more to say, they waited for me to speak further.

“That’s it,” I told them.

“Well, we’ve heard two awesome points. Why don’t we give a round of applause for Remy and Sophia!” Prof? Goode suggested and cheers to Remy and me, we heard the hall erupt with applause and appreciation.

From my left after two people, Remy reached out to me with her palm. “High-five, sweety. We did good.”

A ripple of light-hearted laughter escaped from my throat and I high-five him. “Yeah. We did it.”

It actually felt good to celebrate this little thing.

So this is what you mean, Remy? I thought. Magnify the good. No matter how small or how big. Just magnify it. Celebrate it. Be proud of it.

Every face in the room glowed with appreciation and laughter after our little celebration. I noticed Augustine smiling too. At some points, I found him staring at me but, I avoided his gaze. You could say I felt nervous. And a ton of butterflies creating havoc in my stomach.

God, it’s so hard to not pay attention to him.

“Anyone else?” Prof. Goode prompted but, there was no more volunteer.

“Okay.” He said. “Remy and Sophia have given us some great points. I’d like to add my point too. And that is, in simple words, conquer your fears. Avoidance is a very common defensive mechanism in people. We tend to avoid the things we fear and stay as far as possible from it. That might help in some way from disturbing feelings or situations. But it’s costly. The more you avoid your fears, the more it grows. It’s like a parasite that feeds on your fears and they make you feel pathetic and helpless. Don’t let it. Face it and stand up against it. Then, you will see that it’s not that scary at all. Then, you will feel more worthwhile and competent. And you feel more good and proud of yourself. Trust yourself. And that ladies and gentlemen are all I got to say for now.”

We all gave him a round of applause and he tipped his non-existent hat.

People began to speak out more and more after that. One round of answering and exchanging opinions to that question later, Shirley asked. “Let’s see the opposite then. What is that one thing you think everyone should not experience in their lifetime?”

“Loneliness,” Timothee said. “Utter loneliness.”

“Outcast,” Remy said.

“Unloved,” I said.

“What about you, Augustine?” Shirley enquired.

He looked up from his shoes and thought for a moment. “Uhh. . . I agree with Timothee. Helplessness too.”

Marlon turned to him. “You know I’m with you, right?”

“Yeah. I know. Just saying.” Augustine returned with a somber smile.

We wrapped up the session in about ten minutes. Just before I left for the rest of the class, while just being around the hall, I talked with Timothee, Remy, Shirley, Marlon, and Augustine.

“I liked what you said back there.” I heard Augustine murmur to me under his breath as we exited the hall together.

“Oh. Which one?”

“That one about. . . second chances and being kind to oneself.”

“Oh. Thanks.” I managed a smile.

“Yeah. That was deep.” Marlon contributed. “I bet your grandfather’s Socrates.”

“Yeah, you never know.” I joked in return.

Augustine remained quiet until we finally departed outside the hall for our next classes. Marlon left first. Since our department buildings were poles apart in the campus, I had to go the other way where Augustine was supposed to go. I decided to slip away without saying anything to him but I heard him abruptly call after me.

“Sophia.”

“Yeah?” I looked back at him. Looking as pleasant as perfect, I felt my heart race in my chest as I watched him approach me in the yard under the gentle sun.

“Umm. . . about. . .” he began to speak but paused, clearly lost for words and hesitant. I waited, watching him knit his eyebrows and drop his gaze to the ground. ” Nevermind. I’ll. . . I’ll see you later.” He shook his head.

My stomach dropped in utter disappointment. For a moment, I had assumed that maybe he would say something overwhelming to hear.

“Okay. .?” I drawled, giving him the chance to actually say it.

“No, wait. I won’t see you later.” He added almost instantly. Not something expected to hear. “I’ve got to take Ari at the clinic for a check-up in the evening. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I nodded. “No problem. Is she alright?”

“Yeah. She’s fine. Just in case.”

“Okay.”

Giving me one little weird, hesitate look, left the yard.

“God, Augustine.” I sighed, a little frustrated, after him. “Why don’t you just say it?!”

Though I’m not exactly sure what you meant to say.

Loosen up, please.


Feel free to answer!

1. If you had the chance to travel to another Earth never to return, will you go?

2. What is that one thing you think everyone should experience in their lifetime?

3. What is that one thing you think everyone should not experience in their lifetime?


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