by Aisha Quadery
Judgemeadow Community College, Leicester, 2019
The rolling ocean sang a melodious tune, rhythmically beating against the shore. As the foaming waves danced across the rocky bay, a pale silver wash of luminance coated its skin, the sea adopting an iridescent sheen. Above, the raven ribbon of sky was illuminated by sparks of glistening stars, gently twinkling in unison to the wave’s heartbeat. The moon was a portrait of tranquillity as it lounged amid its subjects.
He sat, curled into a timid ball, just at the edge of the shore, his feet every so often tickled by the water. His wilting hair flopped over his eyes, the same shade as the moon’s glow from above. His skin was withered and battered, resembling worn leather – yet still holding the faint vibrancy of youth. With the pained wisdom of a man who has known grief, his storm-grey eyes gazed at the beauty before him, hypnotised by the ocean’s lull and the memories it bore.
‘It’s been seventy years, my love,’ he whispered into the breeze, his delicate voice breaking at each syllable. ‘Why?’
Seventy years. Seventy years since the day. He had been a full seven decades remembering, reflecting and reminiscing with that burning question blazing at the back of his head. That one day had single-handedly both determined and shattered his life’s course. Memories had consumed him; all that he ever thought of was her.
He knew that to find and fall in love with one who embodied all things soft and beautiful and right in the world was incredibly rare, let alone at such a young, ripe age. He still yearned for her touch, her scent, her smile, even after these seventy years. They had truly loved one another: a pure, unadulterated sensation that belonged only to the two of them.
Love had fabricated a lucid idea in his soul, a mirage of a flawless future that would surely arrive, because didn’t their love conquer all? His naive, innocent self had been cruelly tricked into believing in a future – one consisting of only the two of them, a small cottage by the sea and an endless supply of slightly-too-sour lemon meringue pies.
Yet, her illness had caught up with her, had devoured her fragile, vulnerable body until all that remained of her was the lust to leave her pain behind, in the frantic hope of encountering him and their joy once more in the next life, without the hardships that they had encountered in this one. And so she left him behind, in the world, alone.
It was incredibly difficult for him to comprehend the reality: seventy years ago, the love of his life had sat in this same bath of golden sand as he did now, admired the same periwinkle-blue sea as he did now and had pondered the very same haunting question:
Desperation polluted his eyes as he scoured the waves for an answer, anything. Years and years had passed by, years of complete emptiness. His chest had long ago become an empty cavity. Everything about her haunted him, each memory was laden with grief and pain. Fragmented remains of the shattered glass dreams they had so painstakingly created together now adorned every nook and cranny of his life.
The darkest of times had passed, during which he solely existed to trudge through a chest-deep swamp of bitter nostalgia. Life had become an insufferable chore; nothing, nothing could ever possibly amount to the joy he had felt in her presence. No: not the innocent and oblivious blonde who his parents arranged his marriage to; not the stifling company of the high society he lived amongst; and most definitely not his very own children, who – more than anything else – deeply desired his approval.
Everything returned to her: without her, everything returned to nothing.
But, alas, he continued. He continued to wander aimlessly through the dark caves of existence, with not even the dim aid of a flashlight. Although he couldn’t see it, he knew, just knew, that there was light at the end of the tunnel, peeking through. That light, that hope, was her. It had always been her. The prospect that one day, one mighty day, he’d see her amid the pearly clouds and beaming angels, and it would be just them, a cottage by the stars and slightly-too-sour lemon meringue pies. When the nights were cold, his soulless dreaming was sometimes graced with her warmth, her feeling and a strange comfort that surged from his head to toes. In dreams she told him to carry on, to keep going for both of them.
And he did. He damn well did. Seventy years of his life he endured alone, each night plagued with memories of what he had lost. He lived a loveless life in this world for her, for both of them, in order to truly live a loved life in the next. Everything was worth it. All this waiting was worth it, for just one more glance at her.
And now his time had come.
He knew it, could sense it. That exhausted feeling that he had so desperately pushed off before, loomed upon him and he finally understood that he was released. His burden had finally been lifted and he was now free to run into her arms. Ever since that wretched day, seventy years ago, he had dreamed of death, but saw it as a painfully foreign concept that would never grace him.
Yet he glided into the singing ocean freely, with death on his arm as an old friend. A sense of deep peace laced his figure as he ambled into the welcoming tendrils of the waves. The pale ambience of youthful joy lightened his features as a childish giggle escaped from his lips. Surrounding him, the sea enveloped him, caressing him. His life was tenderly collected from his aged body and breathed back into the body of his youth. The tide carried him out towards the evergreen field where she lay, at peace amongst the lavender, waiting for her true love to arrive.
And, indeed, he had.