Letting Go is only as Sudden by Noor Alzaghal
The quiet city boomed with life with the start of another school day. The entire neighbourhood was like a beehive during the honey-making season. Relishing the sound of the rolling tires of school bags scraping the pavement, the bus engines roaring up and down the neighbourhood streets, and preschoolers running around playing hide and seek, I got out of the bed and went to the kitchen for my morning dose of caffeine.
Glancing at the couch, I could see Aurora asleep with the book she was reading lying on the carpeted floor. The sight of her sleeping brought a smile to my face. Her image soon disappeared once reality sunk in. She’s gone now.
The atmosphere was faintly thicker than that of a normal day, as her mother’s departure marked the date on the calendar. That dreaded date.
Aurora was only eight years old when her mother passed away, but she was mature enough to know death. It meant the end, darkness, and an eternity of nothingness. This idea of nothingness, to a child who couldn’t imagine a void, was dreadful.
Stillness. I lay in bed and gazed at night’s silent companion. I admired its shocking purity. It is both empty and full. I can see nothing, and I can see everything. Its magical powers did not sit well with young Aurora, for she could not harness her wild imagination then. It is amazing the number of creatures one can see in the night, but it is also amazing how it could all go with the wind in the blink of an eye.
Fear did not leave me, for it never leaves. It is always replaced with another. It is understanding, though. It sometimes induces me to believe it is gone. Oh, those brief moments of relief. They are pretty but short, usually the case with beauty—brief, deceptive, and powerful. The sun soon shall rise, snatching my comfort along. You would think I can keep my comfort by shutting my eyelids, but no—light manages to seep through and crawl underneath the covers.
The sound of tires making contact with the paved street was white noise and a persistent reminder of the ongoing day. I sat up, inhaled deeply, paused, exhaled. I stood up with eyes closed, feeling the blood rush through my body. It didn’t feel as if it were going through my veins. It just felt like a waterfall going down my body. Again, I took a deep breath, held it, then released.
The bathroom glass mirror is a window into the soul. Every day, I attempted to hold a gaze with my reflection. I blinked and looked away. Horrified. I was awake, but my heart was asleep. Short slow beats. Scarce oxygen. Heavy limbs. Robotic movements. My body opened the freezer and got some ice. I put it in a mug and followed it with cold milk. Then, boiled water to soak two bags of mint green tea. I stared at the tea while it cooled down, then poured it over the iced milk. My morning drink. My humble dose of caffeine.
I returned to bed. The fan was dusty. There was no Aurora to turn it on. She couldn’t live without it. We would argue all the time. She, being warm-blooded, could not function a second without a fan or air conditioner. I, although warm-blooded too, could not stomach the continuous air hitting me. My head would throb, and I would feel my insides whirling in my abdomen. It often felt like a slow dryer or an eye of a hurricane.
It is safe to say that I only use the air conditioner now. If Aurora were ever to see the electricity bill, she would for sure be disappointed. It is expensive, but I cut back on other stuff. For one, I am almost always sitting in the dark. The light emitting from my laptop screen is enough for my nocturnal being. They say using your electronics in the dark is much better for your eyes anyway. I don’t know anyone who said that, but I am almost completely sure someone somewhere has said it once.
The clock struck eight. My morning drink finished, I headed back to the kitchen. I placed my mug on top of the island, opened the fridge, grabbed three eggs, cooking cream, some cheese, and kicked the fridge door shut with my foot. Then I put it all down on the counter and fetched the pan. I oiled it and cracked the eggs in it. I started stirring slowly, added the cream, stirred, added a slice of cheese, and stirred till it cooked through.
I grabbed my wooden chopsticks and started eating right out of the pan. Salt. I forgot to add salt and pepper. I continued eating while standing. When done, I washed up the dishes and headed to my room. The mug was still unwashed on the island. I’ll wash it later. Putting on some beige slacks and a button-up white shirt, I slipped on my only pair of brown leather shoes. I picked up my car keys and unlocked the front door. The mug. Her voice was clouded, but it was there.
I went back inside to wash the freaking mug, and then I was straight out of the stuffy apartment’s door. Climbing in my sedan, I turned on the radio to full volume.
One of the perks of having your job overlook the beach is that you’re driving with the greenish-blue water onto your left for half of your ride. Crystals scattered across the surface of the water and the sand. One can see the sunlight bouncing from one crystal to another.
Aurora and I spent a lot of our time on the beach. She would insist on having her birthday there every single year. It was neither easy nor comfortable since she was born on the tenth of August. It was a death wish to go out in the sun during August, but she never cared.
I would schedule it for four o’clock so that the sun wasn’t screeching hot anymore but would still melt a human being. I would bring multiple coolers filled with ice and cold drinks, and I kept them in the shade so that the ice lasted till the end of the party.
Aurora was very active and forced everyone to play with her. Her favourite game was volleyball. By the time the whole thing was over, she would have sand in all the crooks of her body and all the pockets of her clothes. Her curly hair was another story. Sand would keep falling from it for a full eight days.
Catching a glimpse of the playground, I awoke from my trance and took a right turn to the preschool. I parked close to the entrance and took a deep breath, paused, and let it go. Entering the preschool, the sight of children plastered a smile on my face for what would seem like an eternity. Aurora used to teach math to those kids alongside me. On her first day, my pride flooded the school.
When she left, I had to cover her hours until they found a replacement. It took them a few months to find a replacement for her, but they eventually did. They had asked me to train the new teacher for a week since I knew Aurora’s teaching plan by heart.
The bell rang, signaling the end of the school day, and chaos filled the hallway leading up to the busses’ assembly point. Other teachers yelled at the kids to be quiet and walk slowly, but I didn’t bother to. There was nothing that could tone down the kids’ glee on this fine summer day.
My smile turned down a notch as I stared at them diving into different buses that would soon drive them to their homes where summer break awaits them. I exited the preschool and entered my car. There was no trace of a smile left on my face. Turning on the ignition, the radio blared with the sound of Rolling in The Deep by Adele. Pulling out of the parking lot, I continued down the road towards the Hypermarket, still driving by the beach.
One birthday, Aurora showed up late with a cast around her right ankle and crutches supporting her tall but petite body. She had a smile that reached her eyes while her crutches were digging their own grave in the hot sand. For a millisecond, my heart dropped in the pit of my stomach. It happened occasionally. She would either twist her ankles every two weeks or so, or tear a ligament once every few months. That day she still managed to find a way to participate in all games. She even threw a tantrum when told to be the referee in the football match. I sighed audibly at the memory. Then rolled the window down to both soak the memory in and let go.
The ocean breeze whispered her name, and for a second, I let the crashing waves lull me to momentary relief. Adele’s full-throated voice got swallowed by nature, and I surprisingly found it relaxing. The breeze whispered, the waves roared, the birds chirped, and the sunbeams screamed, while the sand grains maintained a quiet conversation amongst themselves.
Amidst all this noise, I heard her joyous, smooth laugh. Taking a right, a left, and another right, I reached the market’s parking lot. I parked and walked myself to the entrance. I went up the side trolley entrance. Walking uphill, I looked at the rails she would use to help pull herself up to reach the door before me. My steps automatically slowed, and I waited to see her jumping up and down, flailing her arms everywhere with her red curls bouncing in all directions. Her happy dance. She started fading, and I walked through her dancing image with a clogged larynx. I breathed in, paused, let go. Inhaled, held it in and released. Breathed in and out. I repeated this a few more times, focusing on my heartbeat slowing down.
I walked down the painfully familiar aisles aimlessly, looking for something that I remember thinking I needed to get. I didn’t want any sweets. I didn’t want any crisps. I didn’t want any biscuits. I didn’t want any milk or cereal. I didn’t want any condiments. I didn’t want any salt or spices, but I did need eggs. I grabbed a dozen eggs and walked back to fetch some orange juice and a mint chocolate chip Baskin Robbin’s tub from the cold aisles, as she used to call them. To her, they were rural villages located in Britain.
I went to the “10 or less items” counter to avoid a queue. As Philip scanned my items, I caught a glimpse of the gum shelves next to him. She would beg me for a watermelon flavoured Extra by now. Philip handed me the white plastic bag with a smile that I tried to return.
The ride home did not include an ocean view. Buildings on each side kept on doubling in height. I couldn’t help but feel them closing in on me, and the two-lane street became one lane in an instance. A turn right to my apartment building was an escape I needed.
Going up the elevator and walking to my doorway, I unlocked the door, turned the knob, shut the door behind me, and threw away the key. I placed the bag in the fridge as it was, but then remembered I needed to put the ice cream in the freezer. I pulled myself to my room and shut the blinds.
Lying in bed for the third time today, I pondered my life choices. I didn’t seem to have any anymore. If I did, I knew I wouldn’t want to live for long because I knew if I were to, I wouldn’t do so without the pain.
I repeated her name in a loop in my head in a pitiful attempt to bring her back home. Why wouldn’t time stop? My time. Why wouldn’t it just stop? Why am I still holding on to it? Why am I still breathing? Why couldn’t it have been me instead? A river streamed from the corner of my eyes and poured into the delta of hair. My lips dry and trembling opened to let out a silent scream.
It was thirty minutes to six—time for dinner. I am not hungry, but I needed to eat because… I honestly didn’t know why. I took out the leftover pizza from two nights before. I put four slices into the microwave and waited for the beep. Then I turned off the kitchen lights and took my plate to the living room, and turned on the TV. I ate the semi-warm pizza and watched some show I didn’t know. I watched lips moving, but heard nothing. Thought nothing. Barely not forgetting to breathe.
We had driven to her graduation. She had glowed, and I was grinning proudly. I had forced her to get up early, so we can get to the venue early. She rolled her eyes at me, but deep down she was glad, and it showed. She was ready when she woke me up before the already early alarm I set.
Little did I know that a few more hours of sleep were what she needed to avoid that day’s events. We got there with time to spare, and she ran to her friends on stage. I watched as they discussed their standing arrangement.
“Tall students, please stand on the short bench at the back line please,” a teacher said over the microphone.
Aurora’s four friends immediately pushed her towards the bench and stood in front of her. I smiled proudly, seeing as she took her height from both her mother and I. Her mother would’ve been so proud of how long our daughter had gone from learning her first word to graduating highschool.
Soon, the ceremony started, and she was going up the stage stairs to her assigned spot on the back line bench. Rays of light beamed from her smile. At the end of the graduation, she and her friends talked about their plans. Then Aurora came up to me asking for permission to go along, and I couldn’t give in easily, but eventually, I did. After all, she had her mother’s charm. One couldn’t just deny her wishes without guilt eating them up.
I let Aurora enjoy the pool with her friends, with a promise to pick her up at around seven in the evening. I went back to work at the preschool, then home. My phone rang at about thirty to four. Aurora’s name flashed on my screen, so I answered it immediately, expecting to hear her plea to extend the curfew.
“Hey, umm… she’s okay, but we’re at the hospital,” her friend said. My brain froze. The night ended with her friend sleeping over and me texting her to drink water every thirty minutes or so. She often scared me like that, making it easy for her to prank me come April Fools.
I’m soon out for a walk. I walked and walked, nothing but Aurora occupied my thoughts. The sky morphed into a lion’s mane, and I stepped closer towards the sea. The thick sodden humidity could be inhaled, as my large coarse hands enveloped the bright urn. I traced the intricate designs with my fingertips. Traced the flowers, amber-like her curls, peaking through June’s green canvas. All blurry. All her. My lower lip trembled, and I caught it in between my teeth. A cry failed.
I looked ahead to witness the sun skinny-dipping into the sea. The sand itched its way between my sinking toes. My right hand reached to lift the lid, and my eyes shut. Waves of sorrow engulfed my being. Opening my eyelids, the only light came from the full moon and the few street lamps on the beach’s sidewalk.
She was everywhere he looked, but mostly the sea. Once the water leveled his heart, he stopped and closed his eyes, listening to the wind’s caress his cheek almost as if to wipe the falling tears. Taking a deep breath, he pulled the urn up higher and softly tilted it, watching her travel with the winds, and he let go.
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