Part Four

The days were bleeding into each other. I never once saw the sun or the moon, and although I looked towards the western horizon at every dawn, I never saw the stars again. The sky was a constant blanket of red and black, changing shades depending on the hour of the day. I couldn’t tell how long it had been since I woke up that morning, couldn’t tell how long it had been since I met that man or the dog or the woman, and somehow it felt like months had passed, but at the same time it all felt like yesterday. I kept on walking, wary of every sound, of every smell, of every movement in the corners of my vision, making sure my steps were light, making sure my footings were solid. I still did not know where I was heading. I often wondered where my heart was leading me to; wondered if I really was following my heart. What did it really mean to follow one’s heart? I questioned on lonely nights. How would I know where my heart wanted me to go? I muse as dawn would come around. But I tried to not delve too deep into those thoughts. What mattered was that I kept on moving. There would be plenty of time to question and reflect at the end of the journey. What mattered was that I survived this journey. So, on I walked. And when I smelled a certain smell, I ran; when the skies reddened and thunder rumbled, I sought shelter. Dangers were ever-present. Acid would rain, burning and eating up any organic material—I had a few blisters from where a few drops had landed on me. The smouldering winds would blow and singe anything that could catch—I had fewer hairs on the parts of my body that had been touched by those licking waves of infernal air. But where there were no cosmic dangers, danger came from the post-apocalyptic urban terrain. Structures were weak and prone to collapse, so I had to make sure the ground I was walking on was solid and would hold my weight. Boulders and glasses fell from buildings, so I made sure to look up if my path led me between buildings. Gas leaked from the underground and from homes, and with embers flying everywhere like blind and confused fireflies, spontaneous combustions and explosions were a constant threat. But I was still breathing, I was still walking, and with every mile I walked, with every escape from those dangers I made, my hope increased, trickle by trickle. However, there was little that I could do about the loneliness. The quiet in between those rolling bricks, those booming explosions, those drumming acid rains, those whipping winds, grew deeper every time they came around, and the echoes of my thoughts rang louder with every wave. I never imagined the end of the world would be this lonely.

One night, as I was resting within the tight and dark crevice of a collapsed structure, I heard a sound. It was too faint to tell anything by it except that it was different from all the sounds and noises of the apocalypse that’d been filling my ears. Curious, I quieted my breath and I listened hard.

There it was again. It sounded like a cry, or a moan, almost human, but not quite, at least, I couldn’t be sure. It wasn’t a cry for help, as far as I could tell, for what or who would expect help to come when everything was burning and the flames themselves seemed to catch fire. It sounded almost like a grieving cry, a lamentation, a weak and despairing utterance that said ‘let the end swallow me as well,’ that questioned why it was alive at all. Or was it alive? What was it?

The sound came yet again. Maybe it was my mind playing tricks on me, but I was almost positive that whatever was making that sound, it was human.

I didn’t want to expose myself. No matter how lonely my heart was, the endless dangers circling were impossible to not consider. What if I was wrong? What if it was a trap? I thought about the man who had saved me, and my fears when I heard him calling out my name. But this time the danger could be real, I reasoned with myself. What was finding out worth if I was to end up dead?

Then I heard something unmistakably human: the voice began to sing. It was not a tune I’d heard of before. Although I could hardly hear the words, I knew it was sad and mournful.

It was curiosity more than anything else that made me crawl out of safety and into the dangers of the night. It was the tune, the voice, the melody, that pulled me out of there, that gave me the boldness. I did not know what to expect. I did not hope. And in that moment, I did not fear dying. I only wanted to see who or what was making those soulful waves in the air, those vibrations that strummed my heartstrings, that seemed like it could make even the devil reflect and weep. I had to know.

I was pulled out of my hole and tugged along by invisible staves, my feet unsteady and unsure but my head and my heart wanting to see into the heart of the song.

As I neared the source, I could hear more clearly the angelic voice, and what it was singing about. It was not about loss, or despair. It was about hope and happiness, of the future and all the magic it held. I did not want to interrupt the melody, so I stopped behind a large concrete boulder, hidden from the singer, listening with all my heart and my soul. The strain filled every sinew in my body with fine warmth, making the hair on my body stand up. And as the refrain came along, I couldn’t help my mind as memories flooded me, the decisions that I’d made, the consequences that they brought, the wrongs I’d done, the little good that I hoped was still in me. I fell to my knees, put my hands against my face, and I wept.

I wept and I kept on weeping. The tears were taking a life of their own. I did not know that the singing had ended. The song was still going on in my head, the notes in the melody still sustaining, the echoes exhuming memories, all the good and the bad and the worst as well. I remembered it all. It was all written in the music of my soul, and my soul was laid bare before my eyes. I saw clearly now who I was, I saw clearly what I had been, I saw clearly what I could become, might become. And as the note faded and the echo became faint and the memories cleared up like fog, it revealed to me that something that I never believed before. I saw now that I had a choice.

I heard soft footsteps approaching. My head was still buried in my hands and my eyes were still wet. I did not feel the sympathetic gaze on me as I tried to regain my composure.

Then I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder.

I looked up with bleary eyes. It was a young boy probably no older than ten. His hair was tousled and debris nested in it; his face was soot-covered, a clear streak running down from his eyes to his chin; his eyes were a deep brown that reflected my soul; his hands were kind but firm in contrast to his youth. He offered me a little smile.

‘What was that song you were singing?’ I asked, a little tremble audible in my voice.

‘It was a song my mother wrote for me. She used to sing it to me when I was sad,’ the boy said as he let his hand fall by his side and I got up to my feet.

‘Are you sad?’ I asked.

He nodded. He took my hand and led me. We walked around the boulder, and there in a shallow crater not far away a figure lay.

The boy let go of my hand and walked ahead of me. I took reverential steps forward, as if afraid to disturb the lying figure. And as I stood above it, I saw the same hair, the same nose, the same cheeks, the same chin that I saw on the boy standing beside me and looking at me with forlorn eyes, the dry streaks on his cheeks wet once again as the moment deepened. They were every inch alike, only, one’s eyes were closed and would never open again.

‘Was he your brother?’ I asked.

‘No,’ he said. ‘He was me.’

‘How did he die?’ I asked.

‘It was his time. It didn’t matter how.’

‘Did you know his time was coming?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ he said with a sniffle. ‘But it’s still sad.’

I wanted to offer a consoling word or two, tell them that everything was going to be okay, that this was not the end, but I did not need to say them, I realized. Words were only as good as the emotions and the truth behind them in the heart of the speaker, and they did not always need to be expressed aloud. Instead, I took the boy’s hand and I held it tight. I began to suspect why I was here. I knew why he was here, and in that moment, I had a dawning vision of what I had to do.

‘Will you come with me?’ I asked.

‘We were waiting for you,’ he said with an aching smile.

‘Why?’ I asked. ‘How did you know I would be coming?’

‘We didn’t know for sure if you would come. We only hoped. And we had to wait because none of us can go on alone.’

There were many questions in my head eager to be asked, but I refrained from asking them. They were unimportant to this journey, and unimportant to the understanding that I needed to have, and I understood enough to accept that. In fact, I was rather beginning to like the mystery of it all, of everything that had been happening, of all the things that could happen, and everything that couldn’t be explained. Despite myself, I was beginning to like living in the moment, not questioning myself, not trying to rationalize each and everything, not beating myself down for the past, not painting my own future black. Meeting this boy, hearing his voice, did something to me that made me look forwards to what uncertainties might lie beyond.

‘Will you sing while we go?’ I asked the boy.

‘If you like,’ he said, and the ache in his smile disappeared.

All the turns I’d made since the start of this journey, if I was to put logic to them, had been nothing by random. There was never a place, a neighbourhood or a district that I was moving towards, that I never aimed to be in, so I never had any concrete idea of where I was going or where I was being led. I liked to believe lately that I was following my heart, and that I had been all along—given all whom I’d come across along the way—but truth be told, I still had my doubts. Although the thoughts were growing less frequent with each character I met, and significantly much less frequent since the woman, I still had my reservations about what my destination really was supposed to be. But now that I was once again in the company of another, I began to realize that those doubts were only as resonant as the loneliness within me. Now that I was once again unalone, I was ready to begin to understand where it was that I was supposed to go.

‘Which way do you want to go?’ I asked the boy.

‘Hm,’ he said, his eyebrows furrowed as he gazed towards the horizon of every direction. ‘Why don’t we just start walking first, and we can decide later?’

‘Fine by me,’ I said.

So, we walked, eastwards at first, towards the dawning horizon. And as the sun rose higher and we traversed the coarse terrain, the boy sang it all from hymns to ballades, and cadences to shanties, with spells of silences in between or conversations about this or that. I sang along when I could, hummed along sometimes, and most times I was content with only listening to that soulful voice that seemed to reinvigorate my will whenever it threatened to dip below my levels of physical energy.

With no timekeeping materials except the bright whitish orb behind the clouds, it was hard to tell exactly how long we’d been walking. However, based on the placement of the sun, it was inching close to evening on maybe the third day when our surroundings began to grow less and less urban. I’d been, for the most part, familiar with the urban backdrop, and even I’d covered what I thought was a great distance by the time I met the dog and certainly by the time I was with the woman, I still had a vague idea of where I was directionally. But now, I realized that I had absolutely no idea where I was anymore. The buildings were shorter, the commercial spaces were farther apart, more and more of the collapsed houses were one-storeyed, more and more of the houses remained standing, and the roads had fewer broken-down cars and less rubble. We walked on, and on, and on. And I also began to perceive that the air was, although still some degrees higher than the hottest I’d ever experienced before the end of the world, not that far from the hottest summer wind I’d ever known. And at some point, when I happened to glance up, I saw that the clouds were losing their red hue and giving way to the greying-white typical of normal clouds. And it looked strange and eerie since I’d gotten so used to the foreboding red. But despite the clear indication of things progressing for the better, I did not want to get ahead of myself, for there could be something lurking ahead of us, lying in wait, waiting for us to become complacent, letting us bask in a false sense of security. Nonetheless, it was impossible to ignore the relative peace that was abounding ever since the boy, and it was near impossible to not have hope, to not be of the belief that the presence of the boy was changing the glow of this end of the world.

We were walking up a hillock that was burnt black by the fire of the apocalypse. Where our foot fell, the ground crunched and ashes exploded beneath our feet and released puffs of grey soot. But there were patches of green to be seen with new blades rising out of the ashes, or spreading from where it was untouched by the flames. And the farther we walked, the larger those green patches were. And when we reached the top of the hillock, the slow incline of the hill we were on and the plateau and the other small hills ahead were all covered in green. And on the southside, larger hills loomed, the nearest one less than a kilometre away, and they were covered in trees and bushes that seemed untouched by the fires of the apocalypse. We paused to take the sight in. We looked at each other smiling from ear to ear. Then a gentle breeze blew. It was cool and pleasant and seemed to blow away with ease the dirt clinging onto us, the fatigue, the despair. Then we laughed. I grabbed the boy and he grabbed me, and we hugged each other and laughed on and on.

After our laughter expired and replenished our muscles with strength and our minds with faith and will, we eagerly advanced. My steps were lighter than they had ever been, the cool air seeming to carry my heavy weight along.

We reached the plateau and we were beginning our climb up the gentle slope of the next hillock when the ground beneath our feet suddenly began to rumble.

The both of us froze. He looked up at me with fear and confusion in his eyes as the rumble went on, the vibration travelling up our feet to every part of our body. After what felt like forever, the rumble died and the vibrations stopped, and what prevailed was an eerie quiet.

My mind raced through all the things I’d been through and all the things that I thought could happen. I sniffed at the air but smelled nothing but grass. I looked around me at every direction, but there were no strange creatures or no abominable clouds anywhere in sight. I tried to hope in the brief moment of calm that followed the tremor that this was nothing out of the ordinary was meant nothing to our journey, but knowing that we were ever so close to the end, and the idea that a bigger challenge lay ahead of us, sapped away all the strength the cool winds gave me moments ago.

Mouth agape and eyes wide, the boy looked around him and then up at me.

Without much forethought, I told him, ‘It’s going to be okay.’

‘You promise?’ he said, his voice a breathy whisper.

‘I promise,’ I said.

Then the ground beneath our feet began once again to shake, this time much more violently, and it was accompanied by a thunderous groan issuing from right beneath our feet that sounded like a giant awakening from its slumber, awakened rudely by two trespassing organisms.

I grabbed the boy’s hand and we ran towards the south, towards the trees. But we could not get very far very fast. The wild shaking of the ground made it hard to put one foot in front of the other and we stumbled and staggered and floundered as the shaking got more violent with our every fall. Then suddenly the earth began to fracture with deafening cracks, and not far before us a large fissure was formed, drawing a line as if to say this was as far as we would get. And from the fissure steam erupted in spurts with angry hisses and snarls, and quickly after, yellowish orange molten substances sprayed out of the cracks like hellish fountains.

The boy and I fell on our backsides and, never taking our eyes off the trails of the thick viscous drops streaking across in the air and landing with hissing splashes, we crawled backwards as speedily as we could.

The sound died again momentarily and so did the trembling of the earth and the fountains and steam, but before we could even think about getting back up on our feet, the earth a few metres before us exploded into an array of rocks and lava and soil and plumes of smoke and dust, and from the midst of the visual cacophony and the auditory disorder, emerged, half shrouded in blackened clouds, a strange and misshapen creature of biblical evocation. And as the creature floated up and rose higher and higher, slowly revolving suspended, from within the clouds came flashes of lightning that dimmed the daylight, and then came peals of thunder to follow the flashes. And the winds blew the clouds away to reveal this demonic manifestation.

The creature had four heads looking in all directions. One head was of a crow with a long and pointy beak and round black eyes that never blinked; one head was of a serpent with its tongue lashing out at the air and its scaley head reflecting the light of day into a display of various colours; the third head was of a ram with giant long horns that curved in a loop and the pointy tips aimed at us; and the final head was of a human bearing the features of the man and the woman, and its eyes were aflame with a contemptuous glare, its nostrils flared, and its lips were curled into a taunting sneer. Its body was hairless, bare, and slender and striped like a hyena, and its limbs hung limply in the air, all of them twice as long as its body. In one hand was a small pocket knife with blood endlessly dripping from it, and the other hand held a bulging backpack, an exact imitation of my own school bag with all the badges and pins and down to the small stitched-up tear in the bottom corner.

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ the creature snarled through its frothy mouth.

I should be terrified, every sinew in my body told me to be afraid, told me to flee, get on my feet, leave the boy and run as fast and as far as I could, that I might have a chance if I took flight right this moment without warning, without thinking about it; but I was not afraid. I held no fear for the creature. Instead, I was angry. Angry that, after I’d been through the hell that I had, when I was so very close to the end, to completing this purgatory journey, that this creature would stand in my way and try to intimidate me. No, I was not afraid of it.

I got up, glaring into the eyes of the demon that held so much familiarity, letting it know that I was not afraid to look away, that I would not run.

I took the boy’s hand and helped him up. Holding fast his hand, I let him stand behind me.

‘Step aside,’ I bellowed to the creature, ‘and let us be on our way.’

‘On your way to what?’ the creature asked in condescension. ‘Perpetual grief and sorrow? To live the rest of your life in penance waiting for atonement that will never come? To slave yourself away for those who do not care for you? Why bother, child? Give yourself over to me, and I will make you my prince. You will know no more sorrow or pain for the rest of eternity.’

‘Maybe I cannot escape grief or pain,’ I said, as much to myself as to the creature, ‘but I don’t want to. We all need to feel it, so we know what we have when peace and pleasure come around.’

‘Feel pain?’ the creature said. It raised the bloody knife to put on a show of curious examination, like it did not quite know the purpose of the instrument. ‘Like this blade can make you feel? Or is pain a pleasure for you? Maybe you mistake which is which, for so long have you watched the waters of your soul drip away. And of course, that became insufficient, did it not? Someone else had to feel it too, the pleasure that you felt when the cold steely tip pierces the warm soft surface of your living. You took pleasure in it, didn’t you, my child? And why wouldn’t you?’

A cold hand suddenly gripped my heart at his words and flashed of that last night before the end of the world came back to me, my hand raised with the blade and strength in my legs as I rushed forwards with only the doorway and the darkness of night in my sights. I had not seen, had not wanted to see the two figures standing before me. They had become nothing to me. But still I felt it. ‘It was an accident,’ I said, barely a whisper.

‘What was that? An accident?’ the creature laughed. ‘Oh, my boy. How sanctimonious. Just because you beat yourself up, do you really think you could relegate the anger you held in your heart and the actions that were wrung from it down to an accident? What I offer you is better than atonement. You do not need to atone for your past or for who you are. There is nothing to forgive. You do not need to carry that burden of guilt. I wipe your slate clean. All you need to do is bring the little lamb to me.’

The boy behind me held my hand tighter.

‘Why do you want him?’ I asked.

‘How naïve?’ the creature said, feigning sympathy. ‘You’re still a long way from understanding, my boy. A very long way.’

‘What does he want with me?’ the boy asked me.

‘I don’t know,’ I told him, ‘but he won’t have you. I promise.’

‘Why promise something you cannot fulfil?’ the creature interjected.

‘Who says I can’t?’ I challenged. I was starting to realize the truth of the situation, starting to see an end to this apocalypse.

‘I do,’ the creature said, taking delight in his own self-perceived cleverness. ‘This is my world. This is my apocalypse. Nothing happens here unless I say so. I am the master. And so long as you are in my domain. I am your master.’

‘You’re just confused,’ I said.

‘Oh?’ the creature feigned surprise. ‘Please, elucidate me.’

‘You’re the master of nothing. You prey on the weak and the innocent. You take advantage of people when they are at their lowest, you promise them strength and happiness, but you are poison. You infect people with your promises and turn them dependent on you, and you think you have control over them. But what you don’t realize is that you never had any power over them. It’s all an illusion. Once the people you take realize that you have no real power, then you’ll know how truly powerless you really are. You’re the master of nothing. You are not the master of me.’

‘Very eloquent,’ the creature said through gritted teeth, ‘but very misguided. You know nothing of me. You pretend to, to make you feel better about your need for me, but truly, deep down, you love me. Take a good look within yourself, you and you see the truth. You love me and you need me.’

‘I once thought I needed you, but not anymore,’ I said. ‘You brought me nothing but pain.’

‘Oh, that is not true, child. You know that’s not true.’

I let its words hang in the air for some time before I said, ‘I forgive you.’

Its demonic eyes opened wide in confusion and the purple lips opened to say something, something derisive no doubt, but no words came out. Then it laughed, but there was mirth in the laughter. I saw clearly through the ringing cackle that it was nothing but a feeble attempt to hide the fragility within. And I felt my anger ebb away slowly, trickle by trickle, and burning heat exuding from its very being and surrounding the air around us lessen by degrees.

‘I forgive you,’ I repeated, louder, stronger.

The demon slowly floated down lower and lower until his clawed feet touched the ground. ‘You forgive me?’ it said, taking slow steps towards us.

‘I forgive you,’ I said again. I held the boy close to me tightly as he held onto me, and we stood our ground even as the creature’s shadow now fell on us.

The winds picked up and ash and dust and leaves swirled around us. The skies reddened and the earth began to quake again.

‘That’s not how it works, you ignorant child!’ the demon said angrily, but with every word that spewed from its tongue, I understood the creature better and better, and the sharp edges of its words, of its very existence, were slowly blunted.

‘I forgive you.’

‘I saved you, I protected you, I gave you strength. What would you be without me? Nothing!’

‘I forgive you.’

‘You want to know what it would be like if it wasn’t for me?’ the demon raised its voice. The clawed hand holding the knife slowly rose in the air as if it was hung on puppet strings, then the wrist flicked and the tip of the knife cut the air, and suddenly the scars on my arms opened up and blood began to flow.

‘I forgive you.’

A swish of the knife. My clothes were torn away from my body and carried off by the wind and I stood naked in the brewing storm, struck by debris from all directions.

‘I forgive you.’

Another flick. My stomach churned. I bent over from the pain and blood and acid and spirit spewed out of my mouth in streams. Another swish. A bottle carried by the wind flew at my head, struck me and broke and pieces of glass lodged underneath my skin. Flick! A burning cigarette flew at me and stung me on my back as I attempted to evade it. Swish! All the old bruises all over my body turned purple and my insides burned. Flick! A belt came flying and wrapped itself around my throat, crushing my pipes.

‘I forgive you,’ I croaked.

‘You cannot forgive me!’ the creature screamed. ‘You should worship me!’

The hand holding the knife pointed at me turned, and with the motion of the wrist, the belt around my neck tightened. The boy grabbed it and tried his best to loosen it, but it would not give.

‘Look at the lamb. Weak! Pathetic! A waste!’ The demon got to a few feet away from us and stood there, watching us struggle. ‘Is this what you want to be? Would you not rather be strong? Would you not rather command fear, as you have? Why go back just to be trampled upon, to be abused, to be treated like you are nothing, when you are so much more?’

‘I forgive you.’

The demon threw the knife at my feet. ‘See the blood? Forgiveness cannot wipe it clean. Do you think your father will forgive you, or your mother? Run back to them, say you’re sorry, hear what they have to say about you, and you’ll see I’m right. Forgiveness means much less than people like to think. And why would you run back to them when you running away in the first place was what led you here? Can’t you see your rightful place beside me?’

‘I forgive you.’

He threw the bag at my feet and the contents spilled out—a change of clothes, a flashlight, snacks, a few bills, a notebook. ‘How far did you really think you could’ve gotten? But that doesn’t matter. All roads lead to me. Don’t you see? I am your destiny.’

The boy managed to pull the belt loose just enough for me to slip away.

I grabbed the knife at my feet and lunged at the demon and buried the blade up to the hilt into the demon’s heart and I twisted it. The human yelped, and the crow cawed, the ram bleated, and the snake hissed, all in agonizing unison. I let go.

The demon staggered backwards, surprise and confusion on its face as it looked from the handle of the knife to me. Dark red blood oozed from the wound.

‘You weren’t supposed to do that,’ it said pathetically as it fell.

I approached the demon and knelt beside him. The eye on the human face blinked and tears streamed down the sides of its face. The lips trembled and the chin creased and quivered in confused pain.

‘I helped you,’ it said, staring me deep into my eyes, still unable to understand. ‘I saved you. You needed me, and I was there. I was there when nobody else was.’

‘I know,’ I said, as I stroked its hair. ‘And look where it has led me, look what it has led me to do. But I understand you were only doing what you needed to do to ease all the pain, to help me get through it all. The only problem was there was nothing else on the other side of the scale. You were doing what you only could. And I’m ready to face whatever consequences. I forgive you.’

Pain and confusion riddled its eyes. ‘I’m cold,’ it said.

I tried to smile. ‘It’ll all be over soon.’

The eyes blinked and more tears dropped. ‘I’m frightened,’ it said.

‘Don’t be,’ I said. ‘This is not really death. You’ll always be with me in some way.’

‘I’m sorry,’ the demon said finally.

‘I forgive you.’

The eyes did not blink anymore. The tears stopped flowing.

I felt a sharp pain in my chest. I looked down and saw a cut an inch wide between my ribs right next to my sternum. Blood began to ooze from it.

Confusion seeped into my mind momentarily before I began to realize. It was a strange kind of realization, but of all the things that have happened so far, it felt like the one that made the most sense. Of course, I couldn’t finish this journey because it was not mine to finish.

I looked up to the clear sky. The sun was ever closer to the horizon, and the glow of the evening was pleasantly warm and pleasing.

This was not the end of the world; it was simply an end of the world.

I turned around. The boy stood a few feet away, his hands clutched to his chest and his bewildered eyes gleaming in the orange evening light. I smiled at him.

The boy ran to me, but when he saw the bleeding in my chest, he began to cry.

There were a lot of words I wanted to say, a lot of advice I wanted to give, and a lot of things I wanted to warn him about, but I understood that he did not need it. Not now. Not yet. And not from me in this existence. Instead, I reached out to him. He knelt down and grabbed onto me and embraced me tightly, my blood soaking through his shirt.

After a long moment that I wanted to never end, we separated.

‘What do we do now?’ the boy asked.

‘You will go on,’ I told him. It was getting harder and harder to speak as my lips seemed to tighten and my thoughts seemed to be on the verge of derailment. I was feeling drowsiness coming on. My arms were heavy as I held the boy by the shoulders.

‘Without you?’ he asked, teary-eyed.

‘This is as far as I go,’ I told him. I spent the last bits of energy in my arms wiping the tears from his cheeks.

‘But I don’t want to go alone,’ he said.

‘Nor do I,’ I said. ‘Sometimes, we have to go on, no matter what, alone or not. But the thing is, we’re never truly only. I’ll always be with you, one way or another.’

‘I don’t even know where to go,’ he said.

‘All you have to do is follow your heart,’ I said.

I smiled. My arms dropped. I lay down on the grassy ground to rest. I closed my tired eyes.

I heard the boy sniffling.

‘Would you sing me one last song?’

‘What would you like to hear?’ he asked through quivering voice.

‘A lullaby,’ I said.

And he began to sing. I’d never heard the song before. It was the first lullaby that was ever sung to me. It was beautiful.

I smiled as I felt the life leaving me, and the end of this end of the world came along.

Epilogue

Wisdom is not something that simply comes to you in the course of time, it comes to you out of experience, but even then, it may never come, or come in quantities that will still always leave you feeling unwise and immature among your peers. And above all of that, it is never for you, not in any situation, to say whether you are wise or otherwise. You will be judged, you will be evaluated, your decisions will be scrutinized, and your words will be dissected for the hidden meanings behind the vowels and consonants, regardless of if there was any more meaning than what your words themselves describe. It would be especially harder to escape this judgement, this social peer review, this scrutiny if you had dark baggage from your past that you had to carry with you for the rest of your life, that is no secret to anyone who knows you and to anyone who knows the people who know you. But if you get through it all, by hook or by crook, go along an arduous hellish journey, let your old self die and come out the other side with your capacity to be rational still intact, a shred of goodness still clinging on, then that wisdom might very well come to you, and if that is the case, then it matters little what others think of you.

I’m not wise, nor would I say I am imprudent. The two decades that I have strung behind me since I was sixteen were not devoid of events that gossip-mongers wouldn’t devour in an instant, and there had certainly been times when I felt like the ground beneath me was shrinking and there was nothing to hold on to as the winds picked up and threatened to blow me down. I would not say that the immediate years after my sixteenth were any harder or harsher than all the years that came after, but I was younger then, and maybe I lacked the acumen to see things for what they were, and maybe I lacked the will to turn away when an offer has been made to ease the recurring pains even when I clearly was no stranger to the dark consequences of those interim easements. I made revolving doors of institutions and homes and centres, and even though I always entered at a low and exited at a high, the world outside seemed not to care about the fragility of those highs, the delicacy of my resolve, and the flimsiness of the box that housed the horrors of my past. My nights for years were haunted by dreams of infinite sorrow, and my waking hours were nightmares that made me long for the dreamless paradise of eternal sleep. Moments were rare where those leaden notions were helped carried by someone else, and every time someone came along, I had the faintest hope that it would be that long-awaited turn in the road, but then that hope would grow into complacency, and the notions would grow heavier and heavier for other people to bear for me, and I would be left alone once again with my demons. The conversations in those desolate moments with my demons evoked memories which elicited emotions still beyond my understanding, or at least it was the truths behind those memories that I could not understand. My parents were now strangers and their faces had become no more than abstractions, mental personifications of personalities, but the memories still held that poison in their words and in their whips, the phantom pain those memories induced was no more real than the torture felt in the past. My last hope was time. Time would ease it all. But time was slow, and in the slowness were countless opportunities to stumble and look for other means to numb the pain, and opportunities to end all pain. I could never count on those rare moments where someone came along. It was all up to me. Most times I don’t know what I did or how I did it or what happened, but the dooming clouds would move on from over my head. I never really knew why I did not, or could not, make use of those fatal opportunities. I never understood why life would not let me go, would not give me that final nod to say, go ahead. I would lose nothing, and nothing would lose me. If I had any shred of any kind of self-worth, I would even venture to say that the world would be the better for it, but why would I never make that final cut, take that final leap, pull that final trigger, was a questions that, even in my most disoriented hours, was always stark. And so, I was strung along by life, the years increasing beneath my feet moment by moment. Maybe it was complete indifference that I felt from the world around me that made me question the worth of an end. Maybe a part of me wanted tears to be shed for me, and knowing that no claim would be laid to my remains, knowing that anonymity would be my epitaph, took that deadly will from me. And as I wallowed in those affecting thoughts and self-pity, time passed, slowly, and surely.

When you’re living in it, in anything, you hardly notice any changes unless they are drastic or meant to be noticed. And time, it seemed to drag like honey flowing on sand. But after some time, you get to wonder how time that seemed to hardly move at all could jump so far in the blink of an eye, and a moment would come when you realize that something is different, something changed, and it might take you some time to realize that it was the little changes that had been adding up for years and years unnoticed, and now that you decided to compare the present to the past, you find it hard to reconcile the memory of that thing you knew to the thing that is now. In a way, if you had known and noticed those changes and knew what those changes would lead to in the end, then those changes might mean nothing at all and the importance of it would waste away. Maybe if I had known, like I know that water makes you wet, that time really would ease the pains of the past, it might not ease at all. I am now in my mid-thirties, and although I feel the pain, although I feel the hate and the anger, I understand now those emotions, why they come about, why they can be so powerful and so damning, and I understand it well enough to not let it overpower me. The physical reminders on my body holds no shame for me for I let them carry the weight of my past instead of letting them fester in my mind. My youth has claimed a large part of my life and of my well-being and my sanity, but with time and work, the vacancy in my heart is slowly being filled. Even if I live to a ripe old age, I know that what I lost would never be found again, and the hole would never be filled like it might be if my past cast a brighter light, but what I have inside of me is enough for the day, for the week, for the month. Moments of temptation which were once a constant has now become occasional. They are never the less powerful in their temptations, but I like to think that I have grown stronger. And despite what I said about it being all up to me, I would be remis if I don’t say that I could never do it alone. Those people who came along; were it not for them, I would not be telling my story. And all those people who came after, to offer a word or two, to offer a shoulder, to hold me down, to hold me back, to pull me away from the edge, all those things, little things at the time, with time, has grown to be momentous in retrospect.

My journey through the end of the world made new sense every time I think about it lately. There materialize new ways to understand it, understand myself, and I count on the hope that it will keep making sense, offer new meanings. Now, as I write this, I understand something else. In the moments where I was most alone, literally and metaphorically, I could never bring myself to end my life, and now I understand why, or at least I am beginning to feel that I do. There is a young juvenile I met through the program. I see a lot of myself in him, and I recognize the death inside of him, but I also recognize the songs of hope that were waiting to be sung. If I am to make meaning out of my survival, then this is it.

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