I didn’t expect it.
Actually, nobody expected it.
I thought such sudden deaths only happen in books. They happen in stories to correct bad children’s habits. They happen to other people who live three towns away, their mourning so awful it reaches even the smallest towns on the outskirts of the island.
All my life, I’d been pampered by them. In a way, it could be called a blessing, but at the same time it’s a curse.
I didn’t go out to run and play with the other children when I was little. I stayed at the mansion, servants solving my every problem, and if I felt lonely, I talked to the daughter of one of the servants, Maylene. I remember being so jealous of her when she ran outside to play with her friends, their faces bright and cheerful, dirt powdering their faces as they built sandcastles with little scratches on their hands from climbing trees. I could see them all from my window.
My mother and father loved me so much they wouldn’t let me join them. They were afraid such rowdiness would harm my frail form. So my skin remained pale, my thumbs uncallused and my manner polite and dainty. Infact, I grew in such a way that when I once went to meet Maylene’s friends without notifying the household, they completely ignored me and gave me dirty looks because I was ‘a brat’. So I never made any friends but Maylene.
Yet I could not hate my parents for making me so frail. I am a daughter of a rich household. I am supposed to be weak and dainty. And I didn’t know anyone who loved me more than my parents did. They were not the type to neglect me – they truly took care of me, making sure my every need was fulfilled and giving me hugs and kisses whenever they could.
My mother liked me to sleep next to her. I liked to as well; she smelled like sweet apples, and I loved how she would brush my hair at night with her tender brush strokes and gentle touches. She liked to tell me fairy-tales – the sorts with gallant princes that come to rescue princesses in castles. My father was not the gruff sort – he was extremely loving and friendly beneath his bearded chin and thick brown hair, what with his tight bear-hugs and booming chuckles as he patted my head.
I loved them so much for loving me.
But then, so suddenly, they were taken away from me.
Since about a six months ago, my mother had been coming up with a painful cough and violent chills. No doctor knew how to fix her unending nosebleeds, her paling complexion, the fading shine in her eyes. She would stop doing what she was doing, her eyes turning listless as her hands froze, then slowly continuing her activity but with the air it was a great chore to her. Then she started to look so lost and faint, my father began to look terribly worried whether he was looking at her or not. And soon enough, she couldn’t even move without crumpling to the floor.
Clahadol wouldn’t let me into the room she was lying in. He told me she was resting, and I shouldn’t disturb her, but when I took a peek into the room, I was met with dulled eyes, her pretty blonde hair now stringy and lifeless and matted down with cold sweat, her mouth hanging open with a swollen tongue protuding and a constant trickle of blood down her cheek as hacking coughs brought blood to her throat.
It frightened me so much I couldn’t look much longer than a few seconds without feeling tears well in my eyes. Her trickle of blood was wiped occasionally by my father, who was at her side at all times, his eyes hollowed out with worry. It wasn’t long before it became obvious that there was something wrong with my father, too. His usually red cheeks became drained and blotched, his eyes finding difficulty to focus, his hands trembling badly when it came to doing anything. When my mother reached a critical point, my father refused to eat or drink or sleep at all.
One night, Clahadol came to my room, and told me that my mother so much more better now. She hadn’t coughed all day, and was actually sleeping well for once. The doctors had said she looked much better.
Overjoyed, I took a tray of tea and food up to my mother’s room, feeling excited as I hadn’t seen her in quite a while, and told the servant standing guard outside the door to let me in. He opened the door too quietly and too solemnly without argument. It confused me, but I walked in with the tray.
My mother was lying on her bed, the one where I used to sleep next to her in, and next to her, my father lay with his cheek against his arms. As I walked in, hesitantly speaking to them, they did not stir.
I did not think it could happen. So I dared to raise my voice. They did not respond in any way.
Then I saw the lack of breathing. I saw the blood at my mother’s lips crusty and brown. I saw how grey both their faces looked. And I saw, with the utmost finality, in place of expressions contorted with pain, the looks of complete peace settled on both of their faces.
I couldn’t move a step closer. The tray trembled violently in my hands before I threw it onto the floor, hearing the porcelain break the burning silence as I flung myself against the door the servant had closed behind me. Hot tears spilled before the horror finally caught up with my throat. I let out piercing scream of agony.
The sound brought servants running and doctors coming, but I can’t say I remember much else. Because the next thing I knew, I was sitting in my bed, unable to move. Tears streamed past my cheeks, and I couldn’t say a word.
I was like my father. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. Slowly, I felt strength ebb away, leaving me in a state in which I could not move.
Then the doctors came from the next town. With syringes filled with something that wouldn’t let me die – at least, not yet. They couldn’t stop the bags under my eyes from darkening or the slow and painful deterioration of my body. I didn’t want to get better. I was dying of a broken heart, which I believe is how my father died. Maylene walked in, looking sympathetic, and I yelled at her for the first time in my life to get out of the room.
I yelled at Clahadol, too. He lied to me. Sure, it was a misunderstanding, but to feel such relief thrown recklessly into darkness made me feel so angry at him for making me experience such a change. Yelling didn’t help, but it got me out of the rut for sympathy. And bit by bit, I started to get more and more easily agitated and aggravated. I would snap and snarl at anyone who tried to console me. I totally ignored food and medicine. They don’t really care. They never cared. These thoughts kept me going at my anger and hatred of fate.
When I got out of my state in which I couldn’t move and instead ‘simply’ became bed-ridden, I started to block out my thoughts. I’d stare at a wall for hours on end without a single thought, occasionally interrupted by Maylene’s mother or Clahadol with a glass of water or an attempt to make me eat. Eventually, I did start eating a little. Start taking my prescriptions. Only to appease Clahadol’s worry. But the medicine doesn’t do anything. It can’t help me.
So day by day, despite the food and medicine, I am still weakening. It’s been a month or so since my father and mother have passed away. I’m still disbelieving of it. I’m angered by my unnecessary loss.
So you can’t blame me, really, that I’m extremely annoyed and purposefully ignoring the young man outside my window now.
I’m pretending I’m reading a book, but I can’t really concentrate. The moment I heard a pebble knock onto the glass, my head turned, and I saw a rather… odd-looking boy. Nothing like the village boys I had seen before, or the images my mother had given me of handsome princes.
The first thing that struck me was his cheerfulness. I haven’t seen cheerfulness in quite a while. He’s smiling and waving everytime I chance a glance at him. That annoys me a lot. Who is he anyway? Who does he think he is, to have the permission to knock onto my window and grin at me like that, when the entire village knows I’m an orphan now? I don’t want sympathy, but his attitude is ridiculous. But strangely enough, I don’t mind it too much. Perhaps I miss happiness.
But do I deserve to be happy?
I’ve given him so many glances, I’ve memorised his clothes now. He’s wearing a dark blue top with white straps, brown trousers and orange shoes with no socks, plus swathed over his black hair, he’s got an orange checkered cloth. His eyes are very round and he has a very, very long nose and face. He looks around to be fifteen? Sixteen? His build looks like it.
He’s smiling brightly, cradling pebbles in his hand.
He doesn’t seem to mind that I’m ignoring him. I think he knows I’m doing it on purpose. I think this because he’s getting ready to throw another pebble, that grin still plastered to his face.
Maybe it’s time I stopped ignoring him. Those pebbles are getting to be quite irritating.
Slowly, I set down my book, which actually happens to be upside-down (I suppose he noticed that.), and I slip off the edge of my bed to get into my slippers. I do it slowly and deliberately. Maybe he’ll get the hint I’m not ecstatic to greet him. No, I won’t greet him at all, in fact.
I walk over to the windows, taking care not to meet his eyes, and reach a hand up to open the window. I push against the glass.
Because it’s not opening. I’ve never opened a window before.
Oh no. This is ridiculous. How is it possible that I have never opened a window before?
Right. Maids open it for me as they ask if I’m hot or if it’s too windy. This isn’t good. I’m staring at the wooden sill, looking like an idiot. He seems to be waiting for me.
It feels like an eternity. How on earth do I– huh? He just threw a pebble at the sill again. He’s… pointing at a part of the window… right. There’s a clasp.
I don’t know now whether I should open it or not. If I do, I better do it in a way I don’t look embarrassed.
Hmmm. I feel a warmth at my neck. I feel like a real fool. Undoing the clasp, I push the windows open. Holding my head up as defiantly as I can, trying to cool my ears down with the gesture, I say the first words that come to mind:
“Who on earth are you!?”
He’s smiling cheekily. Does he find it funny that I didn’t know how to open the windows? Then again, it does sound quite stupid. My ears are warming up again. Ooh, do I want to shut the windows now.
He introduces himself in a cheerful voice,
“I’m a brave warrior of the sea.”
Brave warrior of the sea? His smile widens.
“You seem a little down lately! I’ll tell you a story to make you feel better!!”
Ugh. That word – better. Everyone’s so full of sympathy. And I was hoping for something a bit more from the guy, because he looks near my age.
“I don’t need your interference!”
I can hear my voice strain in barely contained anger. I seem to be able to build quite a lot of it easily these days.
“Go away, or I’ll call someone!”
My threat does nothing to him. On the contrary, he’s laughing. I haven’t heard anyone laugh so heartily – not even my own father. The thought makes my insides twist.
What’s worse is that it’s like this guy expects me to be mad at him. That’s making me feel worse.
“Heh, don’t worry,”
He says the phrase in a completely carefree tone. Carefree – now, that’s something I’ve only been able to glimpse through this very same window.
“I’m an interferer!”
I find myself staring at him, anger coursing through me, but I can’t think of anything to say. Interfering is bad? That’s just silly. I’ll really call someone? I don’t think he’s the type to listen. Go before I scream? I can’t scream, I don’t have the strength to. He’s settling down into the grass, grinning at my speechlessness. Oh, it’s not smug, but it’s irritating.
My eyes dart to the windows. Perhaps I should close it?
“Oh, I wouldn’t shut the windows if I were you. It’s a really nice morning.”
Ugh. What is this guy, a mind-reader?
“It’s a nice morning, but it’s being ruined,”
I find myself snapping. He blinks before he bursts out laughing, pressing his back against the trunk of the tree directly before my room. He tucks his hands behind his head, still chuckling.
“Well, you’ve got some spunk. You kind of remind me of this stag I saw back in the forest.”
“I remind you of a stag?!”
“No, I said your spunk reminds me of a stag. It was a mystical stage – a stag with silver horns. I heard that if you caught it, it would gladly grant you three wishes if you let it go.”
Mystical? That sounds quite… interesting. It sounds like a fairytale. Like the ones my mother used to read to me… …. Though I hate to admit it, I want to hear this. But I should tell him to go away, though. I do not need this now.
Sometimes I really hate myself.
“The one right in this village.”
No way. I don’t believe anything mystical could be in this dull village.
“You wouldn’t, would you? But there is a deer like that right here. I know because I’ve seen it before.”
I didn’t know I said that out aloud, but…
“You’ve seen it before?”
I can hear an eagerness catching in my throat. Oh well. I might as well hear what he has to say.
“Oh, yeah. It’s a beautiful thing – pearly white with icy eyes and sparkling, silver horns. I was just looking for berries in the forest and looking next to a small pool of rain-water when this stag comes sauntering over and daintily sips from the pool…”
A very gentle wind blows from the tree into my room, but the breeze is warm. And I catch a waft of his scent…
He smells like green apples. Like —
“I’m telling you, my jaw hit the ground at the beauty of the creature. But my jaw made a sound as it hit the dirt, so the stag noticed me. Spunky thing, I say, ’cause soon as it saw me it splashed water in my face and bolted.”
“How could your jaw make a sound as it hits the ground?”
I say, laughing a little at the idea.
… Oh. My. I … I just laughed. I can’t believe myself. I just laughed at something so stupid, too. Nothing worth laughing at. How could I?! I’m horrible daughter! Horrible, terrible —
“Hey, stop looking so guilty. It’s okay to laugh once in a while.”
I glare at him angrily.
“Your parents wouldn’t want you to die from sorrow.”
How dare he judge me and my parents so easily! What right does he have to say about guilt? About sorrow? What does he know about that? Or me? I don’t care if he said it gently. I don’t care if he’s just trying to help. I don’t need it!
I say coldly, and grasping the windows and pull them towards me and shut them with a snap, in his face.
….Urgh. I can hear him laughing. He’s… saying something…
“See what I mean? Just like you! Splashed water in my face and bolted! Heheh. There’s seriously nothing wrong with laughing!”
I refuse to look at him. I won’t listen to him, either.
“I’ll see you tomorrow!”
The windows fly open.
“Don’t come back!!”
I shout through cupped hands angrily,
“I don’t need you!”
“Don’t you want to hear the rest of the story?”
He calls back with a cheeky tone before running off and away.
Gaaaaah!! What is this person?! I don’t believe this! I sit in my bed, fuming as I clutch my blankets to myself. He mocks my sorrow, ignores my pain, makes me laugh when I definitely do not need to now! Who is he to tell me there is nothing wrong with laughing? My parents just passed away. Laughing and smiling are the things furthest from my mind now. I don’t even want to recover.
Besides, the medicine hasn’t worked, has it? There’s no use! There’s no cure for my sickness. I’m in no condition to be healed anymore. I’m…
…Oh. My. He… I… I laughed. Just a little. And I shouted at him. I thought I didn’t have the strength for those sort of things anymore.
I just thought… I don’t even want to recover. There’s no cure for my sickness. The medicine hasn’t worked. But… I laughed. And I.. I got my strength back. Just a little. But it’s done so much more than a week’s worth of medicine.
That boy was right. My parents wouldn’t want me to die of sorrow. But…
I don’t want to do anything else.
There were so many things I regretted once they were gone.
Once I was having a tea-party with my dolls, and I used my mother’s favourite porcelain cup. While I was trying to make Mindy’s plastic fingers hold the handle, however, it slipped and hit the floor and shattered. I was so scared, I never told her about it. She eventually noticed its absence, and I dare say I know she knew it was me who made it disappear from its usual spot in the cabinet. But she never said a word. I never got to say sorry, nor did I ever think she’d mind.
I… glued together the pieces. Hoped she wouldn’t notice as I poured tea into it that some of the stuff was leaking out. I was so nervous and so excited to see her when Clahadol had informed me of her better being I guess I wasn’t thinking too straight. I carried it carefully, hoping she wouldn’t notice the cracks. Well, she didn’t, so I guess I got my wish. And I dropped the tray from shock so the cup disappeared amongst the other white porcelain shards.
I regret never telling her about that cup.
And my father. I think he knew about me pulling out all the daisies from the garden patch – the ones he picked out and planted. I thought they were plain. And weren’t they weeds? I acted as thought I had no idea how on earth the plants had disappeared, suppressing my guilt and continuuing to grow my own zinneas and honeysuckle. I didn’t realise horribly selfish it was of me until a few days before he died. He was talking to my mother about her favourite flowers. The simple yet pretty white daisies.
The ones he’d not planted again because I didn’t like them.
I know I’m being stupid but… I feel that if I had told my mother about the cup… if I had left the daisies alone… my parents would still be alive now. It’s stupid, isn’t it? But I feel that way.
….Crying doesn’t help, but I can’t stop. I… I’ve never steered myself to come into terms with my guilt. Not just laughing when my parents have died. Everything about their deaths…
I wrap the blankets around me, quietly sobbing into my sheets.
Why did they have to die?! Why couldn’t someone else have contracted that disease?!
No… no, that’s wrong. That’s selfish. Someone else would experience what I am feeling now. No one needs this.
How did he make me laugh? Just through that story? No… that’s not it. It’s… just himself. He’s just so bright and cheerful it sort of seeps in.
…Am I allowed to laugh, though?
I’m still crying. I don’t think I deserve to laugh. I’m trapped inside endless and unanswerable thoughts and questions, stuck in a paradox and a terrible sorrow and depression…
But… although this is hard to admit to myself… I don’t… I don’t want to keep wallowing in my head. It’s wrong, not just to me but to my parents, to Maylene, to Clahadol. I can’t keep doing this, but I can’t keep a cheerful facade up either.
…When I laughed and shouted just now… I felt different. I felt… I felt free from my usual chains of sorrow. I came out of my tower for a while.
How silly of me. I sound like a princess or something silly like that. I’m nowhere near a princess, that’s for sure. Not unless I was abducted by a monstrous evil. Like depression.
Usopp, was it? ….Usopp-san.
He doesn’t look a thing like the photos Maylene sometimes brings in of boy friends she has. He’s got a ridiculously long nose, long curly hair and certainly isn’t what Maylene calls ‘drop-dead gorgeous’. But…
His laughter… his smiles… his cheekiness… his apple-scent…
He’s the direct opposite to what is clutching me right now, and I– I honestly don’t want it anymore… I want to get out of this cage, I…
*…I’ll see you tomorrow!…*
I mean… I don’t expect it, but then again I’ve never had any correct expectations…
Yet this time, something just tells me…
That just maybe, just maybe, he’s my knight.