It was 7:30 in the morning and I had just begun my walk from my house to the big church at the end of the estate I lived in. It was a straight road of about 15 or 16 blocks from my house to the church, and ever since I moved in, I never missed a day walking to the big, blue cathedral, with colorful windows that had paintings of saints, I presume. I’ve always wondered what the inside of the church looks like, but I’ve never had any balls or in fact, any reason to go in; for about two years I haven’t stepped foot into a church. I would get to the end of the street and stare at the pointy slim iron on top of the church for minutes and some days even up to an hour, with my mind wandering to so many places.
On the first day, I walked to the church, I stood staring at the pointy thing on top of the church, wondering what exactly the point of it was (pun intended. After about ten minutes, a woman who must have been a worker in the church, approached me.
“Is everything alright?” she asked in such a nice warm tone. I didn’t respond, I didn’t even take my eyes off the pointy thing, and so she asked again. “Are you lost, or are you hungry or something? We have food and even a place to lie down if you want,” she said pointing to the church. Slowly I took my eyes off the pointy thing and looked at her for a while, from head to toe, without saying anything. My face tied in so many knots and squeezed like a dried-up orange by the side of the road. She was a dark, petite and somewhat chubby-looking woman, in her late 30s, I guess. She was dressed in a big, blue blouse with black polka dots and a long black flay skirt that seemed to sweep the ground as she moved. Her face carried such a warm smile that it could melt a cynic’s heart.
But her smile and, what I perceived to be genuine affection or tenderness towards me, irked me. I wanted to make her regret coming up to me, I wanted her to know that her charity, her kindness, and her warmth was not only unwelcomed but laughed at. I wanted her to see it in my eyes as well as my words. At first, I thought of playing along, making her feel like I was truly in need, making her get me food and then when she brought it, I would laugh as much as I could and then walk away without even so much as a word. It wouldn’t have been my first time doing such a thing. Many times, in the past year, I had done similar things, going out of my way to try and make people who tried to show me kindness miserable. For some reason, I became bored and uninterested in the thought of even doing anything and so staring back at the pointy thing I gave a simple reply, “No,” and before she could say anything else I added, “I was just taking a walk.” I turned around and walked back home without even looking at her. Come to think of it, I haven’t come across her again since then.
On my way there, I came across a route I had never noticed before, about ten blocks away from the church. Unlike the tarred roads in the estate, this one was a sandy and dusty pathway that could barely contain a car; it was different in many respects from the other roads in the estate. It had flowers and plants on each side, from the beginning of the path till the end, almost like a red carpet event and at the end of the road I could see such a beautiful and colorful garden in front of a white bungalow and at that moment it seemed a real mystery that for months I had walked passed this route every single day and never noticed it.
I walked to the end of the path and stood there, gazing at the beautiful garden and the lovely house in the background. The house was much smaller than it looked from the beginning of the pathway and the garden was infinitely more beautiful than from afar. The house was actually not a bungalow, but a small cozy cottage with a thatched roof and white plywood for walls. On the right side of the porch, there were two egg hammocks side by side and on the left a couple of knives, some rope, a machete and what looked like a body bag.
As I stood there, taking in the garden with roses, lilies, purple hibiscuses and a couple of other flowers and plants I knew nothing about, the sun began to shine as hard as it possibly could, as if to say, “hey man, notice me.” The flowers started to glow, and the colors of each flower seemed to take on a life of their own and the beauty of the scene in front of me became overwhelming. I felt the cage my heart had been locked in for such a long time, begin to creak open. My eyes became watery, my hands began to shake, and my legs seemed not to be able to carry me anymore. It was the first moment in such a long time that my heart had been affected by anything, let alone something beautiful. I looked around, hoping for something else to rest or sit on besides the egg hammock on the front porch but I saw nothing. I knew I would be trespassing, but I had to sit. Slowly, I walked through the garden, afraid my legs would buckle under my weight, till I made it to the egg hammock. I sat there for what seemed like an awfully long time and my mind wandered to so many places that I could hardly make sense of anything.
I was snapped back to reality by the front door opening. A fair, slim and somewhat curvy elderly-ooking woman wearing a white gown with red stains and holding a watering can, came outside.
“Oh, hello,” she said as soon as she saw me. She sounded like what I always imagined the witch from Hansel and Gretel sounded like when she invited the children into her house.
“I’m so sorry,” I said immediately, “I didn’t mean to trespass, I was just passing by and I saw the garden–”
“Oh, it’s fine. It’s always nice to have visitors.” She made her way towards the second egg hammock beside me and dropped her watering can. “Can I join you?” she asked
“Sure, I mean, it’s your house.” She smiled warmly and sat down. I began to feel a little uneasy, partly because something about her scared the shit out of me; the friendliness and calmness with which she spoke and moved was a little frightening but also because I was no good with people, especially older people. I didn’t know what to say and so I kept quiet, she did the same. Minute by minute, as we sat side by side looking at the garden in silence, birds of different kinds swooping down and flying away again and again, the uneasiness I felt began to wash away and weirdly enough I started to feel safe in the silence that engulfed us, it seemed like words were not needed and I was very much happy with that. We must have stayed quiet for more than half an hour before I decided to speak.
“Your garden,” I said, “it’s magnificent.”
“It is, isn’t it,” she replied. “It was actually my husband’s.”
“Was? As in no more?”
“Yes, he’s dead,” she paused before talking again. “He was a master when it came to gardening. His little child, that’s what he always called it.”
“No, I don’t have any.”
“Oh. So, you live here by yourself, then?”
“Yes, is that bad a thing?”
“Oh no, not at all, I mean, I live by myself as well.” After a brief pause, I asked, “When did he die?”
“Nine months ago and if I remember correctly, he was buried two weeks after his death.”
“It’s alright, it’s not your fault. Besides, what’s happened has happened.”
“How long were you guys together?”
“Do you mind if I ask–”
“How he died?” She cut me off.
“Yeah, what happened?”
She was silent for a while as if contemplating on how to even start. “He had a heart condition; Coronary heart disease, the doctors called it. That’s why he got into gardening in the first place and whether it was because of his condition or something else, he never raised his voice or even seemed disturbed by anything. Every issue or problem just seemed to wash over him. He was one of the calmest and kindest human beings you could have ever met. When he wasn’t with me, he was out here, looking at the garden or watering it or doing something to it at least. He was always looking for some way to make the garden just a little bit more beautiful. It was his favorite place in the whole world and maybe it was befitting that he died right in the place he loved the most,” she said pointing to a big bald patch in the middle of the garden.
“I came home that evening and I saw him just lying there, lifeless. I froze as soon as I saw him, I couldn’t believe my eyes, he was just lying there not moving. I waited for him to stand up, I waited for him to say, “my princess” or “my heart’s desire” or one of the other names he called me when I came home, but he never did, he never got up,” she said, her eyes fixed on the bald patch her husband had collapsed on, with tears rolling down as if reliving it all over again. “He was my north, my south, my east, and my west. The thing my life revolved around, and then, he just wasn’t anymore.” She burst into tears as soon as she uttered those final words.
I sat there quiet as a button while she cried her eyes out. I didn’t know how to console her, and my mind kept wandering to what I had lost a while back, a place and time I never wanted to revisit. We stayed quiet even after she stopped crying. We just kept looking at the garden and pondering (at least I know I was) over that intense feeling of despair and grief that comes when you’ve lost something or someone that wasn’t just part of your life, but actually the thing that your life revolved around. Your whole world seems to be reminding you of what it was like when they were in it but at the same time laughing in your face and saying to you that they’re never coming back.
“Are you married?” she asked after a while.
“No,” I replied as coldly as I possibly could, hoping she wouldn’t go down that route, but she seemed not to get the hint.
“So you don’t have anyone special in your life?”
“Well, I used to,” I said hesitantly.
“Used to? What happened there?”
“I’m not sure I have the strength to go into that”
“Oh come on, I told you about my love life, I even cried, the least you can do is share.”
I hesitated at first, but eventually, I gave in to telling the story. I didn’t really want to say anything but she wasn’t budging and truthfully, I was a little scared of telling her no. Part of me kept wondering what she would be like when the smile changed into anger.
“Two years ago, I was engaged. I know this might sound like hyperbole, but I really mean it when I say she was the most beautiful woman this planet has ever known, she truly was a sight for sore eyes. She was light-skinned, almost never wore makeup, and short in the way that her head never even reached my shoulders. Her breasts were so perky, and she had an ass that was to die for,” I said smiling to myself. “And whenever she spoke, her voice sounded like ocean waves. She was such a wonderful human being though. She was kind, generous, ambitious, a real go-getter and best of all, we wanted and valued the same things. Or so I thought.
“Three months before the wedding, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Everything went up in flames. The wedding was cancelled, she said she couldn’t do that to me, and nothing was the same again. It was one of the worst periods of my life; there’s a certain anguish one feels when you watch the person you love the most suffer from an illness or pain and there’s nothing to do but watch it happen. You hope and pray to God that the pain or even just a small part of that pain can be transferred to you, but obviously, that could never happen and so you stand there and hope like a beggar who has no meal in sight. In such a short amount of time, she became a shadow of her former self. She looked nothing like the woman I once admired, at one point I almost couldn’t differentiate her from a skeleton. She could barely eat, laughter was almost a thing of the past, and she was constantly in so much pain that at times I wished she would just die already. And then within seven months of her diagnosis, she was gone.”
Her eyes were fixed on me as I spoke, every minute a much more intense look than the one before as if trying to absorb every single word I uttered.
“Is that it?” she asked.
“What do you mean, is that it?”
“That cannot be the entire story.”
“I don’t get what you’re talking about.”
“No, I think you do,” she said. “I was listening to you speak and you sure as hell didn’t sound like someone who was hurt by the tragedies of life, heck you didn’t even sound like you were hurt, it sounded like you were angry. You talked about her like she had betrayed you or something.” I just looked at her, without saying a word, wondering how she came up with all of that just from listening to me talk. “Oh come on,” she continued, “you can’t just leave me hanging like that. I want to hear the whole story, please?”
“Fine.” She smiled so warmly, and then went back to looking at me like a hawk watching over its next meal from above, waiting for me to begin.
“She was buried a month after she died, and my life just wasn’t a life anymore. Wine became water for me, and I began to distance myself from most of the people I knew. In fact, the thought of a human being near me irked me so severely that when someone tried to approach or console me, I didn’t just tell them to fuck off, I tried to make their life as miserable as I possibly could. I didn’t care about anything again, I couldn’t even if I tried. I cursed God at every chance I got, even though I’ve never believed he existed. I just needed to blame someone, anyone at all, but there was no one to, it’s just another suckish part of life I guess and at the time, I thought I couldn’t feel much worse than I did. But I was wrong.”
“About six months after her burial,” I continued after a brief pause, “six months of mourning a woman I believed to be my soul mate, a woman I believed to be capable of no wrong. Six months of killing myself over her, not being able to sleep or eat or pretty much function, I found out that she had been cheating on me. While we were making wedding arrangements, planning her perfect wedding she was fucking someone else but it wasn’t just any guy at all, it was the closest and most cherished friend I had.”
“Oh…” she sounded truly shocked.
“The guy who was supposed to be my best man was fucking my wife-to-be,” I smiled.
“The motherfucker who was supposed to be up there at the altar with me was fucking my woman and shaking me daily with those same hands,” I almost screamed.
“How did you find out?” she asked.
“I went to his place to apologize after months of behaving like a dick and pushing him and every other person away, I knew I had to. He wasn’t at home when I got there so his sister let me in. She was cooking and so I had to wait in the living room by myself and after a while I got bored, so, I decided to check out his film room. I knew he must have had some new materials. While I was going through some of his pictures, I hit a small white box that fell to the ground, spilling the contents all over the floor. They were mostly pictures and a hard drive as well and when I bent down to pick them up, I saw her. Naked in every single picture. There must have been about fifty or so there and in all of them, she was naked. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at, I couldn’t understand it, and what was I supposed to make of it? Before all my strength or even reasoning failed me, I rushed to his laptop to check what was on the hard drive.”
“What was on it?” she almost sounded like a child being told a folktale, eager to know what happened next.
“Videos upon videos upon videos of them fucking,” a chill ran through my spine as I spoke. “I didn’t know what to think or say as I sat there watching it. I walked back to the living room, still holding some of the pictures when he came home. As soon as he saw it, he started rambling about how he could explain and how he never meant to betray me, or something along those lines. Much of what he said to me that day, I honestly don’t recall. It was like I was outside my body and in a faraway place where I could make out the sounds of a voice, but not the words, I just stood there looking at him, watching his mouth move but not understanding anything.” I went quiet, the scenes of that day replaying in my head over and over again.
“So? What did you do?”
“Nothing. After minutes of trying to explain their relationship in a positive light, I heard him say, “We were in love with each other, but she never meant to hurt you, I never meant to hurt you.” What the fuck does that even mean, you know? I wanted to ask him if there was no other girl in the world he could have been with. I wanted to ask him if he planned on fucking her even after we were married. I wanted to know if she ever told him she didn’t love me. I wanted to know if they were going to elope someday, leaving me behind. The number of questions that plagued my mind in those moments seemed, to me, bigger than the Milky Way itself, but I didn’t ask any of them. I just threw the pictures down and walked past him, right out of the house, without saying a word. I haven’t seen or spoken to him since then.”
“Wow. I can only imagine what you must have felt.”
I made no reply and again we were silent. More and more as the conversation went on, those repeated bouts of silence seemed not to bring awkwardness anymore, rather it seemed more like a safety net that I could perfectly fall back into, without any fear.
“So, do you think you’ll ever get into a relationship again, even if it’s not marriage?” she asked after minutes of silence.
“I don’t think so,” I said with a wry smile. “Besides, I don’t think relationships are my thing.”
“So, what is your thing?”
“Friends with benefits, without the friendship.”
“So, just sex?”
“Sounds about right.”
“I know you’re still hurting, so I won’t try to preach to you, but you shouldn’t write off relationships just because you got betrayed and hurt. There’s nothing more important in this life than love.”
“Well, that’s your opinion,” I was in no mood or frame of mind to hear any sort of optimistic ideal.
“At least think about it,” she didn’t press on the topic any further.
“Let me ask you something. What’s it been like for you since your husband died?”
“It’s been tough, like walking through a thorny bush all day long. I guess more than anything in the world, I miss him every single day. I miss being with him, I miss who I was to him, the way I mattered more than anything in the world to that one person. Everything I do reminds me of him, what it was like when we were together, but at the same time it reminds me that I’m alone. The first two months were the hardest. I felt so much pain and loneliness that at times I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest, but eventually the pain, even though it never went away, became more and more bearable and being alone is one I’m getting better at. I have friends, sort of, and I’ve tried meeting new people, but ever since he died, I think I just lost the taste of human connection.”
“You really loved him didn’t you?”
“With all my soul”.
“Forgive me for asking this but, is there any part of you that regrets loving him?”
“In those first months, I used to wonder if it was worth it. If the amount of pain and misery I was constantly in was worth whatever we had and I struggled to come up with an answer, I really did and still do. There were times when all I wanted to do was curse the day I met him or even wished we had never met but how could I bring myself to do that? In spite of all the pain, if I could do it all over again, I would choose to be with him,” she said with tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Do you think you’ll ever start dating again?”
“I don’t know, it’s only been nine months. Besides, I’m not really sure guys are going to be queuing up to get with a washed-up 60-year-old.”
“Well, you don’t look sixty at all,” I said. “What do you do when you’re lonely?”
“I have a couple of friends that always keep me company.”
“Vibrators,” she winked, and I couldn’t help but smile. “Would you like to meet them?” she asked, her face carrying the kind of grin that you see on the mad genius scientist in superhero movies.
“Whether or not I get to play with them.”
Again she had that same smile as she stood up. “Why don’t you come inside… I have tea.” She was already walking inside the house before she finished the sentence.