Chapter 26:


Life Eats Us Now

Dawn's gentle fingers brushed away the remnants of the night, revealing a fresh page in the book of time... or something of the sort. Just a tidbit I stumbled upon while doing some research for the upcoming spring literature festival, which essentially signifies a new day.

I entered the classroom, much like any other day, though my steps carried a bit of hesitation for the first few moments. After everything that happened yesterday, I had wrestled with my thoughts for hours throughout the night, and at last, I had resolved to confront everything head-on. The burden of it all clung to me like a persistent shadow, yet, as ever, John's warm smile welcomed me.

Summoning courage from within, I mustered a somewhat uncertain "Good morning." John's response was a reassuring return of the greeting, and in that instant, I felt a calm release of tension.

As I made my way to my seat, I passed by Bryant, who was already seated in his place. He appeared a bit withdrawn. I couldn't blame him though, after yesterday's incident. I placed my bag on the desk, and then, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Adica.

"Good morning, Reol."

"Morning, Adica," I smiled in response.

I turned to greet Bryant, who was still settling in. He seemed to hunch in his seat for a moment, and then, after a few seconds, began to spell out "Good morning" slowly before eventually saying it aloud.

For our group, it has become a sort of ritual by now. After our regular classes, we would convene in the library for our group study session. But for me, it went beyond just studying; it carried a meaning I couldn't put into words. They meant the world to me.

Following an intense study session, we decided to take a brief break. Emma, in the meantime, vanished among the towering bookshelves, only to return with a hefty encyclopedia about flowers cradled in her arms.

"What's that, Emma?" Adica's curiosity was visible as her face lit up at the sight of the book. "A flower encyclopedia?"

"There are some stunning ones in here, ones I've never even seen before..."

Adica's eyes practically sparkled as she leaned in closer to inspect the book. "I used to have a book like this when I was younger! Not an encyclopedia though, just a picture book." Emma slid her chair toward Adica, and together, they began flipping through the pages one by one.

"Adica, you really like flowers, don't you?" I asked, adjusting my chair to face the two.

She settled back in her chair, her fingers curling amongst themselves on the table, her gaze fixed on them with a nostalgic blankness. "Yeah. You know, there was this beautiful flower garden in the town I used to live in before coming here. It belonged to an old grandma who adored sharing her wisdom about her garden and the flowers within it. A few of us would visit her garden whenever we could. In fact, she's the one who gave me that flower book and taught me so many things about flowers. Like this one, for example," she began, lifting the encyclopedia for us to see and pointing to a vivid red rose, "I guess you're familiar with it. Roses represent love and passion. They're often given as a romantic gesture. But roses have a really rich history of meaning."

"Really? What else do they represent?" John started to get invested into the conversation by now with an excited gaze.

"Of course, they're the classic symbol of love and desire, but they can also convey respect, admiration, and devotion," Adica began to explain, her voice both tender and enthusiastic. "In some cultures, red roses symbolize courage and sacrifice. But here's an interesting one: they can also represent regret and sorrow."

"So, red roses aren't just romantic; they're like a whole bouquet of emotions." Emma's gaze softened as she listened intently, while John leaned in closer to the table, fully engrossed in the conversation now. Adica continued, "And here's the daisy. It's a truly charming flower, and it has its own set of meanings too. Daisies are often associated with innocence and purity. They symbolize loyal love, new beginnings, and the simplicity of life. They're like nature's way of reminding us to appreciate the little things."

"New beginnings?" The phrase resonated in my mind as I whispered it aloud.

"Yeah. It likely stems from their vibrant appearance in spring, which marks the start of a new season. Spring is associated with renewal, growth, and the blossoming of life after the dormancy of winter. Daisies, with their fresh, white petals and sunny yellow centers, often bloom during this time, making them a visual representation of new life and beginnings."

We all listened attentively as she delved into the meanings of various flowers, like the elegant lily and the delicate forget-me-not. It was as though Adica's words allowed us to envision the feelings and emotions linked to each flower, speaking the language of feelings... without words.

As she spoke, I couldn't help but be mesmerized by her passion and the graceful movements of her hands, which emphasized her points. "This one," she said, pointing to a sunflower, "symbolizes adoration and loyalty. After all, it always turns its face toward the sun." It was as if she breathed life into the flowers, making them more than just petals and stems.

"But what I truly appreciate about all of this..." For a moment, Adica's gaze drifted from the book, tracing the surface of the table. "We all have our unique ways of interpreting or assigning meaning to these simple flowers. Not everyone sees them in the same way as others, but how these little details evoke so many different emotions in someone, causing them to signify various things. And just by understanding what someone feels when they see a flower, you can learn a lot about that person too. Isn't that truly wonderful?"

"Well, some of them do have some quite beautiful meanings too... but I never knew roses could represent regret and sorrow as well."

"If you ask me, it just makes me admire them even more!"

"Even more?"

"Consider it this way: everything we encounter every day, all that surrounds us... ultimately, it's us who give them meaning. Our emotions, or someone else's... ultimately, it's our choice how we interpret them. It's up to us, if we want to admire them, or if we want to detest them. And in doing so, we cast them in roles, be it a hero, a villain, or something else entirely."

Emma, still a bit puzzled, swayed back and forth in her chair. "I'm not sure I quite get it, Adica."

Adica smiled, attempting to clarify. "What I mean is, not everything in the world is inherently good or beautiful, just as not everything is bad or ugly. But what truly matters is our perspective. If possible, I'd like to give each of them a positive role, to make the world around me, even if just a little, a bit more beautiful in my own eyes."

Adica concluded her mini-lesson with a smile. Her eyes clearly shone with joy from sharing something she loved. Emma got up to return the encyclopedia to its place, and we then resumed our studies.

What truly matters in the end... our perspective... I cast a sidelong glance at John. My thoughts about him had been a jumbled mess until now, like a web of tangled strings that only seemed to tighten the more I unraveled them.

When was it... I don't remember quite well... I had given John the role of a hero, or something like that, in my life. But then, like a flickering switch, I had shifted his role to something less flattering. Not quite a villain, but I wanted to keep him at arm's length. That's how much scared I was... of some looking right through me.

When I hadn't even attempted to be an equal... a friend.

"What's on your mind, Reol?" John glanced back at me.

"Oh... actually, there's something I'd like to discuss with you after this,"

He turned his head slightly, acknowledging me with a subtle nod. "Of course, I'm all ears."

"Hey, you two, back to your studies," Emma chimed in, though it wasn't as if she was fully engrossed in her own work either. I responded amid her plea, "Yeah, yeah, we will."

John raised an eyebrow but refrained from pressing further. He understood that if I was bringing something up now, it was likely important. We agreed to wait until our study session was over before discussing it.

At last, the study session concluded. Emma and Adica began packing up their belongings, preparing to depart. However, John approached them.

"Hey, guys, I think I need to have a chat with Reol for a bit. Would you mind heading home without us today?"

Emma glanced at Adica, and they exchanged a brief, puzzled look before nodding.

"Sure, no problem," Emma replied. "Just don't keep him out too late, John. Or he'll find himself in more trouble again."

"Yeah, that's fine. I'm not a kid, so don't worry."

John smiled, assuring them, "We won't be too long. Go on ahead." As Emma and Adica left the library, John turned to me with a thoughtful expression. "Alright, Reol, what's on your mind?"

"Let's step outside first."

Outside, the vibrant blue of the afternoon sky stretched overhead, still under the reign of daylight, but the impending sunset painted the horizon with promises of warmer hues to come. Once outside, John told me to wait as he went to fetch two cans of Cola from the nearby vending machine.

"Thanks." I accepted the can from him and, with a soft hiss, popped open the tab, releasing a burst of fizzy bubbles into the air. The subtle scent of sweet carbonation tingled my nostrils.

"So, what's on your mind?"

"It's actually about that day, when you asked me about Adica?"

"About that day?"

"Yeah, well... let me just get to the point. John, why did you want to be friends with me?"

"Why... huh? Well, that's a really tough question you're asking."

"But there must be a reason."

"How should I say... uh... gut feeling? It's just that I kind of felt we could be friends..." John replied.

"Just that?"

"Yeah, just that. Or do I need better reasons to be your friend?"

"Uhm... no, no... but, there must be something... like-" Huh? Suddenly, all my thoughts went blank, the words hovering around us like a question I shouldn't dare to ask. I truly wanted to understand why he had chosen to be friends with me, what he truly thought of me.

"Reol, I think you're misunderstanding something. I genuinely believed we could become good friends before I even approached you."

"But wasn't it obvious... that I was avoiding you... and everyone else in the class? Didn't you think I was a weirdo? I mean, I couldn't even talk to anyone while looking them in the eyes back then. Why did you want to be friends with someone like me?"

"I won't deny that I didn't notice those things-"

"Was it pity then? Were you just being kind towards me? The reason you approached me and became friends with me?" My voice grew colder, my hands clenching into tight fists. Each word seemed to demand more strength than usual. "When I never wanted that..."

"Pity... " John scoffed, taking a deep breath, "I guess that's one way to interpret what I said that day. Though I'm not saying you're wrong... it's just that, I've seen it that way."

His eyes weren't locked onto me, but I sensed a faint light shimmering within his gaze, like a fire on the verge of igniting... or maybe going off.

"When I was in middle school, I actually had a lot of friends. A whole bunch of them," John said, his lips arching on one side, though there was no real humor in it. Instead, the light in his eyes dimmed a bit from a moment ago. "Friends are often just companions for enjoyable but ultimately meaningless moments. But when life takes a harsh turn, they often seem to vanish, leaving you to fend for yourself. No one comes to your rescue,"

"I can relate to that. I've seen the same thing in my old school," I admitted.

"It's not just your old school or this one, though. It's the same everywhere. Everyone's just competing with each other to see who can be the most popular, who can make the most "friends." It's all for show..." John sighed. His voice grew quieter, each word carefully measured as if he were conserving his breath. "I had a friend, Alis Turner, back in middle school. He was really quiet, a bit clumsy... but kind and helpful. However, those traits made him an easy target. As you might expect, the boys picked him as their target for the entire year. It's almost comical to think they held polls to choose their victim. I didn't participate in what they did, but as his friend, I didn't try to help him either. I was scared. Scared that if I helped him, I'd become their next-"

John gripped his shirt tightly, his legs wobbling, and he began to pant heavily. His eyes widened, revealing a deep pain. I grabbed his shoulder, guiding him to a nearby bench. Thankfully, there were a few benches outside the library.

John sat down, and his breathing gradually steadied. After he calmed down, he thanked me for the assistance.

"Are you sure you're okay now? Was it a panic attack?" I asked, concerned.

"I'm fine now. Where was I again?" John replied, trying to regain his composure.

"Don't worry about it. Just sit still and catch your breath," I kept urging him.

"About Alis... so what I was saying..."

I interrupted gently, "You don't have to make yourself remember that right now. I'm more concerned about you than that."

John managed a small smile. "Don't worry, I'm really okay now. I'm still willing to bear the weight of this memory, as painful as it is, as much as it makes my heart ache. Sometimes, I'm tempted to ask God to erase it from my mind. But as long as I stay strong and face it head-on, giving my all, I know that someday... there will come a day when I'll become stronger... so that I won't have any more of these painful memories. I have faith that I can. Some memories can't be erased, they're not that kind of memories. They always reside within my heart. But thanks for worrying for me. I guess that makes us friends in a way, right?"

"Friends? Because I was worrying about you?"

"Reol, I really don't think one needs to have the same interests or play the same games to be friends. When I first saw you, I could sense that something was troubling you. That's why, when I helped you, deep inside, I wanted you to share your worries and fears with me, so I could be of some help to you... and in return... you would lend me an ear to let me let go of everything pent up within me too. That when I got into any trouble, you'd be there for me too. Alis helped me a lot with my studies, and maybe he's the reason I'm so focused on academics too. But when it was my turn to return the favor, it was too late..."

As the words spilled from his lips, each syllable seemed to carry an unseen burden, like a heavy stone dropped into the depths of a still pond, causing ripples of sorrow to radiate through the air. His voice had a quiet shake with the raw emotion he struggled to contain. "If I'm spending time with someone... someone I call a friend... at least, I don't want that time to be meaningless. I don't want to regret any part of it in the future."

It was as if a heavy bolder that had rested on his shoulders for far too long was finally lifted. The words flowed, carrying with them the weight he had carried alone. "I'm sorry, John, for thinking about you like that... when I didn't even try to understand anything about you in the first place."

"It's alright. Thanks to that, I could finally share all this with you, Reol. I'm really grateful."