HOPE

We assume that we can attempt, even achieve, a life without emotions influencing our choices and decisions. You find happiness in the smallest things in life. In the people you surround yourself with. The partner you begin to feel in love with. You crave what you desire the most and come to accept what you are given. And as long as you enable one another, you are gifted with a notion of hope, of something better to come.

What if you already had the greatest gift man could receive. And it was trapped inside you. And you are chosen for an amazing cause. One that would set you free. One that you have always desired. One that has its origins, since the beginning of intelligent life.

But what if its basis is wrong. What you be willing to do? Would you change everything you believe in? Would you fight it? Would you be willing to make sacrifices? And when you have lost everything and you realize hope has almost completely faded. Would you give up the only thing left that is real?

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2. Didn't say goodbye

I could always tell who is walking past my office just by the sound of their footsteps. And 8 out of 10 times I would be right. Once I place a name to the sound, I relay it to Ed, my adjudicator, who visually confirms my guess, by looking past our closed door, down the hallway, and towards the entrance to our floor. 

But today our door is ajar, and just after 4pm, I hear the footsteps clearly and I know some steps away from my office, the owner. I first deduce that, based on it being precisely 405pm, this is someone leaving work. This narrows it down to one of two people from our floor. Next the clip clop of strong shoes, possibly boots, female, echoes down the corridor. Then, the span, the intensity, and the determination of each step shatters the silence near my window,  and as the figure progresses past my window, I make my guess, I know its Aaliyah. Ed soon confirms my guess, as she continues past the door, and makes her way downstairs to leave the building.

I glance at the time, 16:09- this program I am running is taking forever! I think to myself, but my thought is interrupted as we hear a scream! It is not one of pain, nor is it “blood-curdling”, but I am instantly drawn to it, the accelerator of my heart is briefly floored, allowing enough momentum to increase its pace. I instantly recognize its owner and the origin could only be from downstairs!

“What was that!” asks Ed, now hastily ascending from his chair.

“Erica!” I reply, and I am now outside the door, my vision tunneled down the corridor. My mind begins to animate scenarios, from the scary to the ridiculous, and begins to construct a chain of events, of what could have happened, in the space of time, it took me to run down the stairs! I approach the landing, between the first floor and the ground floor, and as I take the last turn, I see her, hands over her mouth, frozen in place and staring outside, past the twin door entrance, into the dark car park.

I am soon beside her and I hear Ed approaching us. I turn to Erica and I ask her if she is all right and what happened. She responds in silence, but turns to stare into my eyes, her pupils are slightly dilated and I look deep into their green, seeking an answer. She quickly turns away, and looks out the entrance, beyond the doors and into the darkness—where I can see the streetlights, fighting hard against the mist, creating more halos. I turn back to Erica, some color returns to her face, and she opens her mouth, she is about to explain, her voice quiet, and quaky. “It’s … Aa… Aaliyah . . .” I make out those words and I lead her to her chair and sit her down. She immediately lowers to the desk, her arms providing a cushion for her head to rest upon. Ed is now by the inner door, he presses the exit button and the buzzer sounds, releasing the electronic lock on the door. He pushes past it, but with what looks like a lack of confidence in the doors ability to be held on its hinges, as he slowly ventures out. I step away from Erica, and I walk towards Ed. I hear more footsteps and recognize the familiar sound of John’s wide stride. He is walking down the stairs, no doubt on his way home too. I look at Ed, as I hold the inner door open, resisting its need to return to a closed position. Ed lowers to his knees and is staring at the bottom left pane of the outer door. I can see what he is looking at it, and I think I know what it is, but I ask him anyway.

“Is that … blood?”

“I don’t know” replies Ed

“Aaliyah?” I ask, knowing that Ed cannot answer that.

“Don’t know.” he confirms. “Might take a look outside, can’t see a bloody thing though, need a good light . . .” but he is interrupted.

“What are you doing?” asks John as he enters into the reception area.

I turn around, glance at him and then turn towards Erica, but she is no longer at her desk. I take a step back and look to my right, towards the toilets and I can see her walk into it. I turn back to John, and Ed is now making his way back into the reception area, I tell John what happened, about Erica screaming and what we think is blood.

“I think you boys have had one too many coffees!” laughs John. “Out of my way, I have a long drive!”

“You can’t see anything out there. I don’t even know if its blood” says Ed, trying not to sound weak.

John is now pushing against the outer door, no doubt sure of its ability to open. As he ventures out, I begin to feel the cold, its fingers clawing into the space between the inner and outer door. He closes the outer door, and disappears into the mist. Ed and I stare into the darkness outside, unable to see anything. Ed doesn’t seem too worried, maybe my imagination is getting the better of me and then I hear more footsteps, more victims, I wonder?

Erica returns, and she looks beaten, like she has lost a fight. She looks at me, I think she knows something or has seen something. And I have to ask, even though I know she is probably not ready to talk.

“What happened, Erica?” I ask, softly, and she takes almost a minute to answer.

“Aaliyah . . . .” she pauses briefly, a deep breath “Aaliyah came down to leave at 4. We talked for a few minutes” another breath and she lowers her head “she then said goodnight and she walked out of the door.” I begin to picture the moment, the look on their faces, their smiles and the glint in their eyes.

“But then, I heard a scream and then . . .” she looks up at me and into her eyes I am drawn, “ …and I saw an arm slam on the door” And her eyes begin to glisten and tears start to tip over the lids and I fear she is going to fall apart again, but I need to know.

“Erica, we need to know” I say as I walk closer to her desk. She nods in agreement and continues.

“The arm, it slowly slid down and I stood up and walked towards the door, to see more clearly.” another pause. “There was blood on the arm and then when I looked at the arm I recognized Aaliyah’s bracelet.”

“I then opened the door, to have a better look.” She explains. I feel the story is coming to an end. “And then all of a sudden, the arm disappeared! That’s when I screamed, I didn’t know what to do.” I seem to have deduced correctly after all, and as I had imagined, Aaliyah was the victim. But, a victim of what, I wonder.

Mary and Sophie are the new arrivals, on their way home. They hear the end of Erica’s story and I turn to them now, and I see a look of confusion, one that is clearly visible in someone not having witnessed events themselves. I ask them not to leave just yet, that Ed and I want to have a look outside. I look at Ed and ask him if he would get the light. He agrees and leaves towards our office, to fetch the fluorescent light, which I hope will illuminate what is outside. Mary takes a seat on the sofa by reception, and Sophie moves towards Erica and places her arm around her shoulder, holding her gently. Erica is sobbing. No doubt her reality intensified by her imagination too.

Ed returns with the light, but I am not so certain now, that its brightness will succeed in cutting through the darkness outside and help illuminate the remnants of whatever happened outside. Is that what I hope to find, remnants? And what happened to John? It’s been a while since he left. Did he make it? Did he see Aaliyah?

But as we walk out the inner door and as I hold it open for Ed to walk out with the light, my questions above would soon be answered. As we hear a thud!

I see John, almost slapped against the door, his arms wide apart, as he would be if he had fallen on to the ground and we were inside the ground, looking up at him. His face is pale and beads of sweat line his brow, I find myself unable to move, the sight being seared into my mind. I hear a gasp behind me not certain who it is from. I then feel Ed brushing past me, opening the outer door hurriedly. He reaches out, grabs John by his arm and tries to pull him in. I then snap out of the state I was in, I need to help John I have to help Ed get him back in. But I can see Ed struggling, like John is being pulled in the opposite direction, by a force stronger than we can reckon with!

And then suddenly, almost like watching someone fall away, from a cliff face to the ocean below, we watch helplessly, as John is swept away, wrenched from Ed’s arms, into the darkness! The whole thing took but a few seconds, but in my mind, forever, and I ask myself, was it enough time for me to save him?

“Oh. Please God! … No…” I hear Erica cry, and Mary who has been quiet all this time is now behind me and is almost screaming.

“What happened? What was that?” she asks.

I turn and Mary retreats slowly, the look on my face must have given her the answers she needed. I turn around again and put an arm on Ed’s shoulder, his head is resting against the door, and he seems exhausted, but he nods and slowly turns around. We both turn to walk in, but Ed pauses, and he turns around once more and reaches for the door latch, and turns the knob, locking it from the inside. A thought lands in my mind, and I realize we are not going outside to investigate. But then I also realize that whatever is outside is probably not going to be held back by a locked door!

We walk back into reception and find Mary and Sophie are next to Erica. Erica is lying on the desk again, her head lowered and I can hear her sobbing. Sophie is quiet, but her brave face doesn’t last long. She probably understood from our expressions what happened and as I look at her, apologetically, I see her lips begin to tremble, and the emotion breaks free, and her eyes well up, and the first silver droplet of tear streams down her cheek. Sophie and John worked together, side by side and I can’t begin to imagine how or what is going through her mind.

I look at Ed, staring out the window, a blank expression, replaying the events? Or planning our next move? I am uncertain. Sophie wipes her eyes and turns to me, “We are going upstairs, to tell everyone.” and then turns towards the stairs. She has to be strong now. All of us have to be strong now. The weakest amongst us will need us the most and tonight we will be tested. Mary follows her and they begin to walk back up the stairs.

Erica is quiet, I cannot see her face, but then I realize, I probably cannot do or say anything to help her. I turn to the clock on the wall, the minute hand has overtaken the hour hand, it feels like an eternity since I have been down here but it has only been 15 minutes, and then, at 425pm, it dawns on me, and I say it out loud.

 

“I didn’t say goodbye.” loud enough for both Erica and Ed to hear. Erica lifts her head slowly and looks at me, confused, and Ed does too and I repeat “I didn’t say goodbye to Aaliyah or John.”

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