This is a place where time is irrelevant. Nothing starts, nothing changes, nothing ends, and everything is the way they are for eternity. I lost track of how far I had travelled. I had no way to know too. Everywhere I looked, brightly-coloured bubbles bounced lazily off the ground, pretty but eerily devoid of life. When the world around us becomes constant, we tend to lose our identities, not all at once but bit by bit. “Lucia…Lucia…” Stubbornly trying to hold on to the last connection to my past, I chanted my name like a mantra. I lost count of how many times my legs had given out, I only knew I couldn’t fall here, I still had something left unfinished; an oath to keep till my final breath. Thus, I staggered to my feet again and again until not an ounce of strength remained. Sensing my helplessness, a doorway of light appeared. Somehow, I knew what laid ahead was mine. I inched my way to the door, arms screaming for mercy, only to be sucked in as soon as my trembling fingers touched the light.
I found myself in front of pearly-white gates and flooding into those gates were teenagers. I guessed that beyond these gates was a school since these teenagers were all in uniforms. I started moving but it wasn’t on my accord. I was only a guest in this vessel, a mere observer of these memories that I knew were my own. Scrutinizing every detail of my surroundings, I hoped to find clues that may let me learnt my situation. I entered a classroom; half the seats were already taken by groups of students engaged in animated conversation. I shuffled into the furthest corner and took a seat. With the arrival of every new face, I held my breath only to be disappointed when they seated themselves within the various groups while giving my neighbouring seat a wide berth.
Just as I was about to lose all hope and resign myself to the solitude for the years ahead, a girl popped her head into our classroom. She looked around and saw the last available seat. Hurriedly, she walked over with her head down and sat down. She was short of breath as if she had just completed a Herculean task. After settling down, she finally noticed me and gave me a nervous smile. It was only then that I saw her eyes reminiscent of clear sunny skies contrasting with her hair the colour of the darkest nights.
I came to learn her name not by asking her but by surreptitiously glancing at her worksheets that were always flawless when they were returned. Erina Liu was the daughter of a local businessman and a Russian diplomat. Her delicate features made her an instant hit and soon, we had students from other classes using the most creative excuses to come and see her. It was obvious that Erina wasn’t one for the spotlight; she spoke in hushed whispers on rare occasions and would blush furiously whenever she had a “visitor” and instead she would take refuge in her books, where she could truly be herself. Many a time had I seen a faint smile playing on her lips as she lost herself in whatever fantasy world her book transported her to.
As neighbours in class, Erina and I rarely spoke to each other but we were always in sync thanks to our teachers opting for the easiest way to split a class into groups of two. Of course, we started off horribly but even the desperate efforts of our school counsellor couldn’t even convince us into making small talk. By the end of the first semester, they gave up on us but in our defence, our coordination had improved so much that our Science teacher, Mr. Lee sought our help for his research paper on telepathy. Once, he tried to force us to communicate by giving us impromptu work but all it took was just me calling out to Erina once before we started, lo and behold, we had detailed PowerPoint slides on quantum mechanics ready well before his 20-minute time limit. By the time we stumbled through yet another inaudible presentation, Mr. Lee had somehow convinced himself that Erina and I were psychics despite our continuous denial.
Erina and I were a bizarre pair. We were inseparable yet we were never together outside the classroom. We understood each other yet we never spoke, our peers thought we were lovers yet I thought we were only companions, barely friends. We supported each other through the monotony of a loner’s life; we were each other’s last strand of our sanities. Most important of all, our time spent together made us content with what we had. It was the tiny fragile flame that brought light and warmth to our lonely hearts.
Five years passed in a blink of an eye, no, I meant that literally. I was listening to a tiresome lecture on Algebra but now it seems that I had been fast-forwarded to Graduation Day. Why was I not surprised to see Erina still next to me after all these years? She had changed somewhat. She was reading a romance novel, a genre she seemed to avoid when we met and were those spectacles?! But judging by how everyone, including me still kept our distance, she was still the same old loner I knew.
Before I left school for the last time, I was feeling sentimental and decided to take my seat again for old times’ sake. Erina was nowhere to be seen after the ceremony, we would probably never meet again. As if on cue to sweep away the melancholy, a sudden breeze blew the cherry blossoms that were in full bloom outside all over our desks. Something under one of the blossoms caught my eye, its blue hue a plea for attention against Erina’s white desk. There it was in Erina’s elegant handwriting, “25 October” I read out loud. Like a magic spell, all my memories came flooding into my mind culminating with a startling revelation. I dashed past our classroom and down the stairs, pleading for another fast-forward to let me see her one last time. My prayers must have been heard; there she was just in front of me, right past the gates. At that moment, my wish for us to be together forever took shape into a desperate call: “Erina!”. She flinched before stopping and turned around, her face lit up as bright as Christmas lights, as she stood unmoving in the path of a high-speed lorry. Time slowed down enough for me to mentally cringe at how clichéd this development was as I pushed Erina out of the way. She was crying as I laid dying in her arms. “Stay with me, Lucia, just stay with me. They’re calling for an ambulance right now”. “So she does know my name”, I put on a weak smile noting the oncoming mass of first-aiders. Alas, I was losing my consciousness and possibly my life too quickly. Knowing that this may be my last words, I managed to squeeze out one last sentence: “Happy birthday, Erina.” before my world was plunged into the darkness once more.
The bubbles were back, but this time, they were showing snippets of images, my memories to be exact and they responded to my wishes. “Interesting,” I mused as I willed one of them down randomly, the image it held was of my last cherished memory, Erina’s mesmerising smile as tears of joy streaked against her flushed cheeks. I moulded a few bubbles into a chair and called down the memory bubbles containing my time with Erina. Making myself comfortable, I thought to myself: “Perhaps this isn’t so bad after all…” A doorway of light appeared once more just as I finished the last memory fragment. This time, I couldn’t bring myself to pass through it. I looked around me, these memories were already lost once, am I ready to risk it all again? “Lucia…Lucia…” The hushed whispering of my name beyond the door was all I needed to take that step of faith.
Immediately after I opened my eyes, a loud crash made me jumped and then winced as I felt my wounds splitting again. Sitting up to see what caused the commotion, I was once again enchanted by those eyes that reflected the sunny skies outside but were now moist and glistening. It took some wrangling but Erina managed to talk my doctor into allowing me some fresh air and here we were in the courtyard as she pushed my wheelchair-bound self around. We stopped next to a bench under the cherry blossoms. I took Erina’s hand; she tried half-heartedly to pull away before relenting. “I still owe you a present, how about a promise then? A promise of eternal happiness and those tears to be your last.”