Russia. Apparently my motherland that I had never seen in my entire life. So, technically, this was my first time here.
Alex took me to an eccentric graveyard. There were weirdly shaped gravestones with no names. To be honest, I was not surprised at this point.
“Which one is them?” I asked Alex.
“I don’t know. I don’t even know who your parents are,” and he replied with the most nonsensical answer possible.
“Huh? Then why are we here?”
“Because you called yourself ‘Sirota’.”
“Yes, and that is why I am looking for the people, or at least, the grave with the Sirota name on it.”
“You still don’t understand,” his tone got stern, “I tried to tell you once before, but I couldn’t. Sirota is not a family name, it is just Russian for ‘orphan’. A codeword used for all of the infants the organization took from their contractors. All I know is that your parents were one of the unlucky contractors that could provide no actual service to the organization. So, Agurashi allowed them to have children before taking them away for the organization,” he looked at me with a glint of pity in his eyes. “And you,…. are one of the countless children that were born solely for the purpose to serve the organization.”
He stopped talking afterwards. Maybe the miserable expression on my face was too much for him to explain other details. He only patted my back before giving some privacy to my tears. “I’ll be waiting outside.”
Everyone had spent their life longing for freedom. And now everyone had it. Everyone alive, at least. But was I one of those? All I could see was Aiden’s face before me as he triggered the explosion. Mocking me for getting robbed of even the sole purpose for which I was brought into this world.
“Why, why was I the only one spared. If I don’t even deserve to do the only thing for which I was brought into the world, then why the hell am I still alive!” I was shouting at thin air. But my frustration was over its limit. There was no reason I could find to live. Then there was only one thing that should be done. I took out the knife I used to carry with me.
The sun was headed deep west as the first star of the evening peeked out to see the performance I was about to display. I pressed the blade against my wrist. All I had to do was slide it, and then slowly but surely, I would be put out of my misery.
And just then the orange sky exploded into bright yellow. It was as if God was desperately trying to get my attention.
“I am not stopping, you know. If you really want me to live, then at least tell me what I am here for.” But of course, all I was talking to was a delusion in my head. With a swift motion, I slid the blade across my wrist. Thick streams of blood going all over my wrist. Energy started leaving my body and before long, I could not even maintain my balance, falling to the ground. I could hear Alex shouting if I was all right after that explosion, but I had neither the energy nor intention to answer him as I closed my eyes
They say on the brink of death your whole life flashes before your eyes. But all that I could see was the day everything started. My first mission, my first failure and my first loss. It was pitch black after that. Maybe I was finally dead. But then I heard a voice and my eyes opened.
“Oh, thank God you’re okay. What were you thinking doing something like that?” It was hard to recognize at first, but I finally realized it was Alex’s voice. It was unusually panicky. And the next thing that hit me was that I was not dead either.
“You saved me?” That was the only explanation I could think of.
“Of course I did,” he sighed heavily with relief.
“Why!?” but my question made him stop midway.
“What are you saying? ‘Why’?”
“I am saying I don’t want to live anymore. Why is it that everyone is dead when I was the one knocking at death’s door each time. It was my mistake so why did Ben die? I was the one always on the battlefield so why did gramps always suffer? I was the one who threw herself before a whole army, so why is it that everyone besides me died? And now that I want to go with them, why am I rejected to do even that. Why am I the one abandoned again!” before I knew it, tears of frustration began rolling down my face.
My emotions came overflowing. I didn’t even give him a chance to speak. He waited for me to calm down first.
“Calm down. You are not thinking straight. Do you think gramps would want that? They may be gone now, but do you really think they would have left you alone?”
“But he isn’t with me anymore, is he?”
“Yes, but he must have left you something.”
“All he left me was a mission to find my parents. And now that is over in the worst way imaginable, I want everything to end.”
“And like I said that is not what Gramps wanted,” he grabbed my shoulders and give me a good jolt. “Now think. Think what Gramps would say to you.”
For a moment, my emotions froze. Before resuming in the form of my tears and runny nose. Alex realized maybe he was a bit too harsh as he handed me a napkin. I didn’t say anything more until I properly calmed down.
“Calm down yet?” Alex asked, giving me a glass of water. And I simply nodded as I drank the water in one go. He took a seat silently, only looking at me as if trying to see through me.
“You know,” I started speaking in response to his glare, “I dreamt of the day when Ben died. Surprisingly I remembered everything very clearly. I was sure that I had forgotten most of it. But I remember Gramps’ words that he was telling before the execution clearly now. Helping other people out, not for their sake but for our sake,” I couldn’t understand it then but I sure did now. Life is just like a prison. There is nothing but sins in it. Even the normal everyday tasks become wasteful and worthless. The only thing that made it passable was humanity and selflessness for the other humans stuck in life with you. And then there would be people like me, who had their humanity drained out from them. That is why it was especially important for people like me to try and regain that humanity by living as a human and not only for them.
“So, did you figure out anything?” Alex brought me out of my trance. And I said the words at the tip of my tongue.
“Alex, I am sorry.”
“You better be,” he scratched his head.
“I won’t do this again,” he looked a bit relieved, “I think,” and then he went back.
“What do you mean ‘I think’? Promise me you won’t even think of anything like this again. Otherwise you are not going anywhere. You are staying with me.”
“I think I won’t because I have probably figured out what Gramps wanted to tell me about having a purpose in life. But to be honest, I may not have found it. But I want to keep trying.”
He looked at me dubiously but then sighed in agreement.
“Also don’t tell anyone at the church about it,” I humbly requested.
“Of course not. But first we are going to a hospital to get you checked. Then we will leave for Japan tomorrow.”
I nodded at his plan and he left the room we were in. The dream I had was traumatizing. But ironically it was the one that gave me some hope.
“(You won’t leave me, right?)” is what I asked Gramps at that time.
“(I can’t say I won’t. But remember just because I am not with you.)” And this was where I cut him off. I didn’t even want to imagine a life without him or Granny. And now I was in desperate need of that advice that I had so arrogantly dismissed. And finally, when I was unconscious, I heard a voice, Gramps’ voice completing those words.
“(That doesn’t mean that it is the end. Families never break, they multiply. If today we gave you one, then surely tomorrow you will be someone else’s family. Even if you have to be alone in this world for sometime, remember that there is somebody out there just for you. So, don’t stop believing. That is the important part.)”
“I finally understood what Gramps wanted to tell me that day. Everyone has to serve their time in this prison of life and there is no mercy. No matter what you do, you won’t be set free before doing your time. That is why I said that I was immortal. I still haven’t done my time yet,” I wiped off the remaining tears from my face and looked towards the boy sitting on my right, “that is why I decided to walk in his footsteps. Helping everyone I got the chance. Especially now that I know I won’t die, I can go all out in helping others. That is why you did not have to save me. I would’ve lived anyway and you would not have to injure yourself.”
He had been silently listening to me and hadn’t said a word until then. “It still doesn’t make sense to me. You know normal people would be happy to have the freedom to do anything they want,” it was as if his response came a beat later.
“Sorry, but I never felt that way. I am still caged in my own life. No matter what happened, I somehow always managed to live through. Even though I didn’t want to and had no reason to.”
“Yes and that is what makes me interested in your way of life. Viewing life as not something you get for granted. But as a mission for which you need a purpose.”
“Is it wrong to think like that?”
“Not at all. I think it is a much more mature perspective than most adults out there,” he looked up at me as he was done thinking. “But, you see, the problem is that you view everything too maturely. Maturity is just a distant relative of madness that is kept sane by childishness. So, to me there is no point in being mature if you can’t be immature sometimes too.”
“What are you trying to get at?” suddenly his words got all confusing and I was lost.
“That you view things so maturely that it is nothing but madness. Clogging up your mind with the past, you never tried to change anything, did you?”
“What do you mean?” I said that and yet for some reason, I knew exactly what he was getting at.
“Always being the one left alone. Always being the one left behind. Always being the victim? I don’t believe it. They say everyone is a hero in their own story. But it is not restricted to just the character of a hero. Everyone is a victim in at least one version of the story, too. And all you are doing is precisely choosing that one.”
“What is that supposed to mean? I never said that. In fact I wanted to save the victims but failed.”
“Yet each and every time, you were the one who branded herself as the victim”
“That is not true.”
“Is it? Then tell me,” he started fiddling in his bed, “after going on about everyone dying, did you ever think of being glad that at least one person was still alive that was not you.”
His question made me think for a moment. All I ever grieved about was that everyone left me. But was it true that everyone had left. The answer would be no. And if I had asked who he was talking about, then it really would have been just like he said. Of course, it was Alex. It was true. Despite everything, he was alive and still looking out for me.
“You didn't, did you? Because it was all about you,” his tone was serious and his eyes became sharp. “Did you ever think that, maybe everything was not about you?”
“I never said that?”
“Yes, but the reasons fueling your actions say otherwise. You worked for the organization because you did not want anything to change. And now you help others selflessly just because you need a cause for retribution.”
“No, I help others because that is what I want to make my life’s purpose. I am selfless because I know I won’t die until my time is up,” I put my hands against my ears in a fit to protest against his words.
But he slowly came forward and removed them before clapping my cheeks with his hands and aligning my face with his. His ruby eyes directed serious stares in my eyes. “Did you ever think that maybe I had a part to play in your immortality this time? Maybe you wouldn’t have made it if I hadn’t been there.”
All of these things are something I had never thought about before. Or maybe I chose not to think about it. That ignoring my problems would make them go away. But what actually I needed was the push to face them. And that is exactly what he did.
“Your problem is that you are just trying too hard to live. I agree with you that the starting and ending of life is already pre decided. It may be a short road or may be a longer one. But the choice of how to traverse this road is up to us. Enjoy each and every turn this road of life has. If there is a pit along, then try to avoid it. If you fall, then get back up. On this road, do what comes naturally. Allow your actions and fate’s desire to spin a one of a kind life,” he lifted my face up from my grief and smiled at me. “And remember, you only have one life. Don’t waste it on living.”
“But this is the only way I know how.”
“If you think you can’t do it then allow me to accompany you. I think at this point you are in desperate need of a friend.” he stretched his hand out to me, “sometimes you need people other than family. Because families don’t stay for years. They are bound to break. And once they do, you don’t finish everything. You make a new one instead.”
He was offering me a hand but it felt like a shoulder to support me. But was it worth the risk of the pain I had been through?
“But you’ll die one day too.”
“Of course I will,” he said nonchalantly.
“Look at me!,” and then immediately got serious, “Do I look like I am just going to drop dead,” and again broke into a subtle smile, “I just survived a disaster with just broken feet. I think I have a long time to serve myself.” And then he muffled his voice and erected his index finger before his lips, “(And besides I have a guardian angel of my own,)” as if telling me a secret. At this point I was not worried, I was not scared, I was just speechless.
The nurse finally came to check on me. Seeing that I was awake now, she removed the IV and told me that I could leave anytime. I looked at Hoshino.
So, I went to change back into my uniform.
There was only one thing in my head, Gramps’ words, “(So, don’t stop believing. That is the important part.) Those words spun round and round in my head. But these were the words that had me conflicted. Should I believe in another family, much less a friend, after everything I had been through. Maybe it would hurt less to live alone after all.
Thinking about it now, I barely knew Negai Hoshino. In the past 2 weeks, he has been just an acquaintance, taking the same train home as me. He was weird at the beginning but now his eccentricity is honestly something speaking to me. But there was still a final push needed for me to believe in Gramps’ words. So, I decided to talk to him again.
So I headed towards the ward with my head full of thoughts at war. He was injured, so I slowly peeked inside to check if he was resting now. To my surprise he was sitting in the exact same position as I left him and murmuring something. Maybe it was due to his feet.
“(Does it hurt so much?)” was the thought that appeared in my mind and the still lingering guilt arose once more. I wanted to do anything just to ease his pain. But as I was about to rush to him, what I saw boggled my mind. Weird light coming out of him. Almost like fire taking shape over him. Almost like an… angel.
“(I have a guardian angel of my own.)” his words played in my mind like a whirlwind blowing away all the insecurities I might have had before. I turned back making sure he didn’t notice.
“(Maybe, I’ll just believe one last time.)”