5
min

Here We Are

Image of El Epps

El Epps

34 readings

2

FINALIST
Jury Selection

Here we are, two strangers standing at a deserted corner, waiting for a bus to come, while knowing deep in our hearts that it will never appear. Only a dull street lamp illuminates our view of the dark street. Rain pelts down on our umbrellas making disorganized sounds with every drop. The wind howls and screams as it twirls around us. I feel the cold through the thin coat I chose to wear today. The freezing water seeps into my clothes and onto my worn body.
Turning to the left, I see the man beside me has fared no better. His clothes are drenched in the elements that the sky has decided to pour out upon the vacant earth. His dark clothes seem to have dulled, as if the turbulent rain has drained them of all their vibrance.
The man turns his head to look at me, as if he could feel my constant stare. I tear my gaze away sharply. Still, my eyes drift to the side to watch the man. Or rather boy. For he has a face with an age close to my own. He is average in every way but one: his eyes. When they looked upon me, I was taken aback. They held, and hold, an age that fits not his body but a war-scarred veteran. But he is far too young to have such darkness in his eyes. They lack youth and wonder that I too lost.
But here we are, two strangers, standing on rain-soaked pavement, waiting for a bus that we know will not appear.
Now it is I who feels the strange stare of a stranger. Unnerving as it is, I turn to face the battle-worn boy. His eyes widen as he realizes he has been caught, but neither he nor I lower our gaze. Caught in a deadlock, all we can do is look into the soul of our opponent. His eyes are guarded, much like mine, from seeing the worst of life. I wonder if he follows my thoughts and wishes that others can see behind the walls.
The wind screeches again, and we flinch as one, reacting to the sound of a hurting earth and severing our eyes’ connection. It ends just as it began: in a turn of a head and a refusal to back down. The wind, however, holds the same determination. It picks up speed and wraps its arms around us both. Circle upon circle, it drags our frail umbrellas in maddening circuits, never repeating their cursed path, until it slams the two of us together. We crash to the ground at the same time thunder roars through the sky.
So here we are, two drenched strangers tangled on the frozen ground, waiting for a bus to come while believing it will never appear.
The boy is as a statue on the ground, so it is I who makes the first move to stand. I kneel, hands on my knees supporting my weight, and look around for my discarded umbrella. The rough pavement scratches and grabs hold of my skin as I crawl towards my property cloaded in fog.
As I brush past him, the boy flinches back violently, falling to his back with a hard slam. He shakes in his fallen position, eyes squeezed tight and jaw locked solid. “Are you alright?” I croak out, voice raw from disuse. He makes no move to answer me or gives any indication that my words have reached his ears. I slide beside him and pull him up to a seated position, but I have him lean against my arm. The wind screams around us as I whisper into his ear. “Focus and breathe,” I repeat to him, for that is all I can do. His irregular gasps of air slowly die down into a steady norm of peace.
Now here we are, two strangers, locked in a grasp of warmth, waiting for a bus that we fear may never appear.
He is the one who breaks away first, pushing away from my body with hidden strength. “Thank you,” he pants out as he stumbles to his feet. I, too, make a move to stand, but the elements have long since numbed my feet, and I fall again to the ground. The boy offers his hand wearily, and wearily I take it.
This time, with help from another, I remain tall. My fingers linger in a hand not my own before they retreat to my side. I part my lips and breathe out a soft whisper: ”Thank you.” He nods slowly before making the move to turn away.
And here we are, two mute strangers left in the cold, waiting for a bus that never seems to appear.
“Where are you going?” I suddenly ask. My voice breaks through the howling screams and frigid cold. The boy whips around and looks at me like a wounded animal being stalked by prey. “I’m just curious,” I add. “There is no need to answer if you don’t want to.”
He licks his blue-tinted lips and runs his teeth over them. He makes no move to reply so I drop my eyes. “Anywhere but here,” he says at last. His voice is filled with defeat and lingering pain; my glass heart shatters at the sound. It takes me back to my time full of sorrow that I just narrowly escaped from.
“I know the feeling,” I sigh reminiscently, looking back at my tattered luggage standing alone in the midst of a storm. A fleeting thought of a house far away enters my stone-walled mind. It draws tears to my eyes that I cannot brush aside. I am happy the rain washes them away.
The boy looks up at me once again. Hope now shines in his eyes, and not the fear of the past. “You do?” he asks, eyes wide and clear. His voice rings soft but is carried by the rushing wind. I nod my head as my rain-coated hair flies around my face once more. “But you look so strong,” he says in surprise.
I give out a humble laugh at the words he has uttered. The sound seems foreign to my ears. The strength he sees is invisible to myself. I have felt too weak for far too long. However, I do think there is truth in the remark as I ponder it. “Strength comes in different forms,” I say at last. “You see it in me, and I, well, I see it in you.” I step forward into the current of air. I move close to the boy, yet he does not flinch away; he stays steady where he stands. “We took action to leave, and that demands strength,” I try to convince myself.
“But I fled,” he cries out, voice breaking in anguish. He lowers his head again. “I could not take that life anymore. That’s cowardice, not valor.”
So here we are, two strangers burdened by strength, waiting for a bus that we do not believe we are worthy for.
I reach out and take his hand in my own. We are both shaking from our words and the cold. I grasp his fingers tightly, refusing to let go. “The warm in your hand and pulse of your heart, they demand strength just to go on.” I pull him to me, closer than we both would have liked. I raise my hands to his face and lift his head high. “You saved yourself from that horror. You have more bravery and strength than most.” The boy’s eyes begin to glisten with repressed tears. He nods his head earnestly, and, for the first time, I believe my own words.
And here we are, two strangers rigid in close embrace, waiting for a bus that we finally know will come and save us.
A shutter comes from down the long, barren road before us. We turn our heads in unison and gape at the sight. A bus, radiating with dazzling light, turns the corner and advances to our unmarked station. It slides to a stop without as much as a sound. Its doors swing wide, shedding light and warmth to the chill ground below. I scramble to my bag and grasp it in both hands. As I make my way toward the long-awaited bus, the boy holds out my long-forgotten umbrella that had been discarded on the soaked ground. I take it, offering a small smile to the boy in front of me. We step with newly discovered confidence onto our saving grace.
The doors slide closed behind us as we slip in. I find comfort in the sturdiness of the vehicle and the softness of cushioned seats. The feeling of relief I feel is inimitable. I believe I am truly safe for the first time in this short life.
The bus pulls out from its stop and charges down the road I have long refused to travel on. Tears, but not of sorrow, stream steadily down my flushed cheeks. For once, I am not ashamed of the water coming from my eyes. I turn and see the boy sobbing with a slight smile on his face.
Here we are, two strangers who are not strangers anymore, no longer waiting, but aboard a bus that will take us from our pain.

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