Everything, no matter where I look, is so bright. Unlike that final moment when darkness slowly crept across my vision until all I saw was darkness. At that moment, I realized I’m finally dead. I didn’t think I’d wake up once more, but here I am, standing in the middle of nowhere.
“Come forward,” called a voice.
I look down and see my own two bared feet. I raise my arms and see my red-streaked wrists. I examine my blood-splattered dress and realize there’ll be no changing them. I take a step forward—not caring where ‘forward’ may lead—and follow the voice.
“What is your name?”
I look around and see no one besides myself. Where the voice is coming from? That I do not know. If I could still speak—that I am not aware—but is still worth a try so I clear my throat.
“Where am I?” I ask.
“The gates,” reply the voice.
“The gates to where?”
To peace? My eyes flicker to my slashed wrists. “I’m not sure I deserve peace,” I hear myself say.
“It matters not what you think girl. State your name so we could proceed,” commands the voice.
“Asha Sylvi.” I answer.
“Manner of death?”
I take a moment before whispering, “Suicide.”
I chew my lower lip. “Pressure. Mental stress. Anxiety,” I enumerate. “Depression.”
A dull ache grips my chest and even though I am dead, I find it hard to breathe. “Everything.”
Moments later, I feel a presence beside me but when I look, there’s nothing. I feel a hand on my lower back, urging me to walk, so I did.
“Before I let you through the gates, you must accept that everyone—no matter how thoughtless their actions were when they were still alive—deserves peace. Even you.” The voice sounds calm and sure that I find myself trusting him—him because, strangely, the voice resembles that of a male voice. “There are many others like you,” he continues and we walk farther into the distant nothingness, “and like them, you will be going through what made them accept peace.”
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“To your past,” I hear him say.
“N—,” but before I could protest, I am swallowed by the feeling of falling.
I turned at the sound of my name being called.
“What?” I answered. But it wasn’t me; I didn’t open my mouth. I looked around and recognized our house. Unlike normal times, it’s now filled with strangers I don’t know. People laughed with plates overflowing with food on their hands. This was the celebration for my honors, I realized. I’m standing in the corner of the room, and no one seemed to notice my presence. I waved my hand in front of someone’s face and the person didn’t blink.
“They can’t see you,” said the voice. “We are only visiting, after all.”
“Come here! I want you to meet some important persons close to our family,” said my dad. I watched my past self rise from where she was seated and step into her father’s arms. I followed them. My father proudly introduced me to his friends. I remembered his smile and the happiness in his eyes as he said I’d be the family’s hope; that my parent’s efforts won’t be wasted on me. He proudly stated my achievements and his friends praised me for that. I remembered returning their smiles and thanking them for the compliments. I didn’t tell them that I was getting less sleep because of studying. I didn’t tell them that I was failing on one of my subjects. I didn’t tell them that the place I’m staying for college wasn’t suitable for productive studying. I held back my complaints, and smiled.
I blinked, and the scene before me brightened.
Once again, I’m back in the middle of nothingness.
“Why? Why did you make me go through that?” I feel a piercing pain in my chest as I recall my parents. Their love, their sacrifice, every sweat and every tear they shed for me—all of it, I turned into nothing the moment I drew blood from my skin. I have betrayed them. I have disappointed them. I—
“You need to see that they still love you even as you cast their gifts away,” he says. “Every parent only wants what’s best for their child, even when they do unexpected things that make them mad. Your parents blame themselves for what you did. They think they failed as parents when their very own child took her life away.”
“But they didn’t! They weren’t the reason why. They shouldn’t feel guilty over something they had no part of,” I protest.
“Yes, I agree. But they do it anyway—to ease the pain they carry in their hearts every time they remember that you are no longer with them. Because they love you.”
I sob. All I ever wanted was to make them proud.
“And you did.”
I gave it my all.
“They know that.”
But it wasn’t enough.
“It was, for them.” That made me raise my head as he continues, “They know how much you’ve suffered, Asha, and they always feel dissatisfied knowing that they couldn’t make it any lesser.” And then, the words that I really wanted to hear comes out of him as he says, “They understand why you did it, Asha. They understand.”
I cry and wipe my tears from my face only to have new ones replace them. We stay like that for a while—me, bawling my eyes out while he, I have no idea.
“Come now,” he says. “I still have to show you something.”
I don’t protest but I also don’t think I can keep up with this any longer.
I saw myself in the arms of someone I love.
I couldn’t keep the gasp from escaping my lips as I saw him plant a kiss to my other self’s smiling face. I stared at what we once were—him, stealing kisses from me, happy and full of love. I don’t think I could ever smile again as I did when I’m with him.
“You know I love you, right?” he asked as he planted another kiss to my—her—temple.
I nodded as the one he kissed answered, “As much as I love you.”
“Where are you?” I called out for the voice. “I don’t want to be here. Take me away, please.”
“Not like how much I love you though. I love you more. That’s why I’m the luckiest person on this planet,” he said.
She snorted. “Prove it.”
He retorted and started counting, “One, you are gorgeous. Two, your intelligence knows no bounds. Three, an artist! You paint life and draw death with a smile. Four, your unconditional love for your family and friends and most especially m—”
She cut him off with her hand over his mouth. “Oh, shut up.” Then they laughed, and tickled each other and hugged and kissed like there’s no tomorrow and—
I gripped my hair and screamed.
I am back in the white nothingness.
I know it even as I stare at nothing and scream at everything. I hardly notice my fingers as they hold my face together because I think it is going to crack in so many places and tears and memories come flooding and threaten to drown me.
I remember every kiss, every touch, and every proclamation of love as we did the unthinkable. I remember the ocean of regret after the act and his whispers of reassurance that everything is going to be fine when only three weeks after everything jumped off a cliff. Those two red parallel lines, his horrified expression and the way he pressed his lips on my forehead for the last time—all those things brought my world to ruins. I kept it a secret that lasted only for a month. I couldn’t take it—the constant regret, hesitation, fear and disappointment. So one day, I locked myself in the bathroom and slit my wrists.
I cry until all my tears are shed.
After an eternity, I feel his presence beside me.
“Do you realize where you’ve gone wrong, child?” he asks.
I remain silent and he takes that as a yes.
“If you are thinking it was the moment when you gave yourself to the man you love, then you’re wrong. That time, your love for each other was at its peak. No, it was not that moment. Nor was it the time when you found out you were carrying a child. A child, my dear girl, is life’s reminder to go on.” His voice is soft and warm and it calms me.
“It was when I decided to keep everything a secret,” I whisper.
“But I told him and he turned his back on me, on us. All his promises and all the plans and the future we wanted vanished into thin air when he saw those red lines. Where was he, when I needed him most? He left me alone.”
“You were never alone, Asha. You have your family.”
I let out a bitter laugh. “My family will most likely disown me for my foolishness. I’m sure my father would strike me until I’m bruised and my mother would look at me with such disdain in her eyes that burns through my soul.”
“Can you blame them?” he asks. After a moment he continues, “You were given the chance to be a parent, Asha, and you refused. Suppose your parents do the things you said, except of course the disowning part, do you know what they’d do after? They would take you in their arms and stand by your side every step of the way. Time will let the wounds on their hearts scar and they will forgive you for it.”
When I find it hard to believe what he just said, he added, “I know this because I looked in their hearts and saw the truth. When all else fails, you will always have your parents with you. Remember that.”
I nod. I miss them. But what’s done is done, and no matter what I do, I will never feel their arms around me anymore.
A warm hand touches my shoulder and I lean into it. “You will, Asha. When the time’s right, you will meet them once again,” he says.
I let the thought comfort me and lead me into believing what he just said.
“Now,” he begins and takes my hand, “for our final trip.”
I’m in a funeral. My funeral.
Rows and rows of headstones line up on the fine green grass. I’m surprised to see many familiar faces—faces of those who I once fought and shed tears with; faces of persons who laughed with me and witnessed my rise and fall. There were some I hadn’t expected to show and some I tried to find but couldn’t.
My body was laid on that white box with intricate carvings. My parents were at the front, sobbing. I was their only child. The pastor started saying something, and everyone quieted, contemplated on life and reminisced on the life I had.
When the time to give the eulogy came, my father stood and despite his hoarse voice as he told everyone how proud he is of me no matter what, he still made everyone laugh with his awkward jokes even at my funeral. My mother delivered hers next, said that I’ll only be lonely for a short period of time, that she and my father would be with me in a decade or so which made the others gasp in horror. But above all, with voices filled with love and understanding, they told me that wherever I am now, “Have peace,” they said.
I shed silent tears as one by one they dropped white roses on my descending coffin, whispered words of gratitude, forgiveness, love and remorse, and wiped tears from their faces.
“We’ll never forget you.”
“I love you, always.”
“Forever in our hearts you’ll be.”
“I’ll visit you, promise.”
“Your secret’s safe with me.”
They watched my body as it’s swallowed by the earth, and I watched them go. I stayed a while longer and so did my parents. I still stayed even as they went home and the rain started to fall. Strangely, it made me smile, that even the sky cares and cries for me.
A movement caught my eye and a figure approached my grave. The figure crumpled and clawed at the earth, his sobs drowned by the rain’s cacophony. He’s here, I thought.
He’s sorry, so very sorry, he said. And I forgive him.
As I started to turn away, a child emerged on my side—a boy not younger than five. He had thick brown wavy hair and suddenly, I’m staring at my own diluted green eyes. He’s looking at me and my brows furrowed because no one was supposed to see me.
“Who are you?” I asked.
He smiled, “A voice told me to take you somewhere. Will you come?” He held out his hand like a gentleman asking a lady for a dance. I giggled at the thought and placed my hand in his. “Sure,” I answered.
We turned and we’re blinded by a flash of light.
We walk. Or rather, I walk while he skips. The boy is humming something I’m vaguely familiar with. He looks at me when I look at him and we smile at each other. I look at the white expanse ahead of me and feel as if the hands that drag my shoulders to the ground are no longer there. My eyes feel light, as if the well containing my tears dried up. My heart feels calm with every step I take. I know it will be a while till I feel happy—if I ever will be—but now I allow myself to feel…content.
So I head to whatever is waiting ahead and hum this strange boy’s strange song together with him.