It was dark, but not cold. The sidewalks were filled with people, people with lives, smiles, strangers, all strangers, the familiarity of faces slipping away moment by moment. I felt light, my body elated with each step. I was floating. My feet barely touched the ground.
Then I felt it. You feel it too don't you?
Pulling, pushing, the warmth slipping from my grasp before I could even hold it, before I even felt it in my hands.
The air becomes colder encompassing the spaces where the warmth once sat, hollow, no, it was worse than hollow. Absence, like something, should be there, I know it should be there but it wasn't. My body is heavier, no not my body, my heart. My heart is sinking deeper and deeper, below my feet. I did not know it could go that low, as if each thump brought me closer and closer to something I desperately wanted to run from, but how could I? How could I when it felt so inevitable, so much bigger than me? It was so much bigger than everything. It was then that I noticed the emptiness separate from the sinking but not necessarily better, what was better? Emptiness surrounded not just me, though I felt that too, but in the streets, the sidewalks, the lives, all gone.
Where have all the people gone?
Why is it just me?
The coldness creeps into my blood, spreading, untangling my entire body. Were there always so many cracks there? Was I always so exposed, so fragile?
I try to jump, to step on air, to connect, to go back to where I was before. Yet the subtle lift off the pavement only managed to exhaust me and force my breath to become labored with the daunting sinking, calming as I hit the ground. Exhausted, so exhausted but I . . . I need to go back.
“How can you go back?” a voice whispered close, chilling breath, so cold, so empty, it sent shocks, an unwelcome feeling up my spine, no feelings were truly welcome.
He continued, “You do not know where you were or where you are, so how can you expect to go back?” I did not know if he was genuinely asking or not, but his eyes shone with pity, at least a semblance of it. “No no no, you can't go back there, not like how you got here. Walk with me,” he said, a knowing tone edging his words. He was tugging my arm, I barely felt it, the wind was stronger than that wavering grasp.
I wanted to ask, ask who he was, where we were, why we were but I could not force my mouth to open, to speak hollow words. Everything about me now seemed hollow. His gaze flinted towards me, “my name is not important if that is what you are thinking about, and do not worry you do not need to talk, your thoughts are more than enough especially since this seems like your first time here.”
I felt something akin to relief in the back of my mind, not strong, but I acknowledged it. I did not want to speak, to hear my voice, or to open my mouth, expressing thoughts that weighed heavily on my brain but would be heavier out here, when spoken. I was not prepared for that weight, not when I barely carried my own. I fear it will crush me and him, the weight of it all, how could anyone hold such weight?
With those words, he continued to hold my arm, lightly as if seeing how broken, how fragile I was, gently tugging towards somewhere. The floating seems so far away here, now as my body gets closer and closer to the ground.
I want to stop.
With that thought, my body obliged, crumbling slowly till the darkness got darker. It felt more natural here, like the tugging of my heart loosened while sitting on the grey pavement, at least I think it is grey, it feels grey. The boy remained standing, his dark eyes looking somewhat worried, but not quite there yet.
“You shouldn't do it,” he nearly whispered, “you should never sit here, never stop moving. Never. If you stop moving, even for a second, then it gets harder and harder to leave. Trust me on this, 1 minute can turn into 1 day, then 1 week, then 1 month, then 1 year and then your whole life, which honestly, if you stay here might not be that long.” The desperation was spreading through each of his words, it barely reached me. I barely felt it, barely.
My voice came out a stream of broken, pathetic words, “But. . .but . . . I. . .I am. . so. . tired. I want . . to. . to .. stay here.”
Something close to impressed colored his deep, dark eyes as he spoke, “Wow, it took me forever here to learn how to speak, well to be fair, I did not have someone else here to talk to but wow. This will be a quick one, trust me. It might even be just a phase, one you have every year or five if you are really lucky. Come on, before you get used to it, let's keep moving,” His movements hastened as he struggled to lift me up, to move me before I became the pavement that I desperately wanted to join. That place closer to the thumping, that sinking, my heart.
I nodded, holding his hand this time, how can it feel like less than it did before? How can he feel so much like nothing? I squeeze tighter. He does not respond. He barely notices. “Oh don't worry, if you actually felt me, I would be a bit concerned. That would mean you are here, fully here and trust me, you would not want that. That heaviness permeating through your body, pulling you to the ground – right now, it's just a string to stop you from floating, but for me, it is an anchor. No matter how far I walk – the floating – it's not enough. I used to float, not as much as them, those people with those lives on those streets, but I was still happy to float once a day, then once a week, once a month and so on, you get the picture don't you?” He broke his words with a chuckle, a sad chuckle that shook me till he continued, “Then, I started being pulled here and well, I never got to float that high again and it kept getting lower and lower and lower till all I wanted was to just walk, to just walk on that ground where they walked. It seems like a completely different street here doesn't it?” It did, he was right, it really did.
“But hey,” he cut through the hopelessness surrounding me, “don't worry. I am an extreme case, that is what the people up there said last time we spoke. I live here, if you can call it living. Every day I feel what you feel now. I have waited, I have slept, I have starved, I have fallen just to see if it would hurt and I have walked. The best way to get out of here is to walk, it does not matter where. Just keep walking, and you will float again, maybe not as high as before, maybe not as warm as before, but you will float. You will always be yearning for that feeling for the rest of your life, and hopefully, you won't have to remember right now. Just like now, how you cannot imagine ever being happy again, feeling anything with more than an inch of emotion, it works there too. You will wonder how you ever were that sad, even question how bad it really was, you will even ask me, ‘why are you so sad? No one can be that sad.’ You will forget until it happens again, and then you walk, you float and the cycle continues,” he finishes.
I do not want to forget him. But this? This sinking, this inescapable pulling, how can I live knowing this exists? Knowing that he will be walking and walking, getting closer and closer to the thing that we all fear. How could I live knowing this? But how can I forget? He must be wrong. My body feels lighter and lighter. My skin feels alive. I feel alive, not just something close to alive, but truly alive.
“Oh good, it must be time to go. I hope I don't see you again, I hope you forget and live a life with few of these nights. But then again, whenever you come, know I will be here, I am always walking and I do not mind walking with you,” he ends with a handshake and something akin to a smile, but not quite. My body feels light and I feel happiness. How could I ever have felt so sad? How could somebody ever be so sad? And I walked.