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Category Archives: Prose

I have just returned from a short break with my family. We decided to go shopping for the afternoon. A seemingly ordinary afternoon, we stopped for some lunch at a fast food restaurant that shall remain nameless. We sat at one of the benches with eight seats around it, the kind that almost guarantees that at busy times, you will be sharing your table with strangers.

While I waited for my food, a very small, very elderly lady came and sat at the other end of the table. And as I sat, waiting for my food, surrounded by a cacophony of noise from families shopping for presents and stuffing their faces, I was shocked to see that she was crying. Silently, the tears were flowing down her cheeks. She was staring ahead, with her head up, tears running, with as much dignity as she could muster.

I couldn’t help it, I was concerned. I asked if she was alright, if she wanted to talk. She smiled sadly, and very quietly answered.
“No, thank you, I’m just being silly.”
I did not persist; her food arrived and the tears stopped, though she still looked far away.

As I reflect now on this chance encounter with a very small, very elderly, very sad lady, I am beginning to understand why some people pray. They pray when they have done all they can in a situation, but they have nothing more to give. They pray because that is the only way they can remain hopeful. It doesn’t matter who they pray to, because the intention is universal; they want the right outcome, even when it is completely out of their hands.

C. Elegans. The nematode worm. It baffled science for many years, because in the hours leading up to its death, it emits an ethereal blue glow. Fortunately, worms are not self aware. Can you imagine what it would be like if humans did something similar? I can. I see it every single day.

I first saw it when I was a young child. I asked my mother why the old man on the bus was smokey around the edges. She didn’t answer, assuming that I’d asked about his tobacco habits. It was only following his collapse and the bus driver slamming the brakes on and an ambulance crew pronouncing him dead at the scene that I realised there was something strange going on. But I was young, I didn’t understand death, nor did I wish to.

As a teenager, I began to comprehend my bizarre gift. It seemed that the smoke would begin to appear about half an hour before death – regardless of the cause. Although I was saddened when I saw the grey, vaporous substance begin to seep from the outline of the elderly, I could justify it by reminding myself that they themselves had lived for a fair and lengthly time. But I could hardly contain my anguish at the sight of a young person departing. I became very angry, and bitter at the world, seeing injustices where others could not. I tried, once, to change the fate of someone, but to no avail. A young teenage girl, around my age at the time, so pretty, walking home from school. I saw the vapour begin to creep, and I panicked. This time, I decided to play the hero. I followed her, hoping to catch her when she fell.

I saw her walk to the corner shop, greet the window cleaner up his ladder and and then stand at the side of the road, waiting to cross. I saw it, long before she did: the taxi cab breaking the speed limit, screeching down the road at about fifty. She had just stepped out. I grabbed her coat, pulling her back. The cab missed her by inches. She screamed. In the space of three seconds, my relief turned to raw grief and hatred of myself, for her scream had startled the window cleaner, who in attempting to turn around to see what was going on had knocked a window box of flowers. She died instantly. No suffering. Not for her, at least. But I had to come to terms with the fact that my actions had cost this girl her life.

With time, I learnt to accept that I could not change the fate of people, I could only tell when something would happen. My final visit to my grandmother ended with her smoke beginning to seep out just as I was due to leave to catch a train. I checked my ticket and pretended to have misread the time. I knew I couldn’t save her, but I had scored one minor victory; when the heart attack took hold, she didn’t have to die alone.

Following this incident, and realising that people die whether you can accept it or not, I spent the rest of my days trying to comfort people in their final minutes. I drove my neighbour home from a shop one day so that she could hold her husband’s hand as she slipped away from an undetected blood clot. I sat by an old tramp as he slipped into unconsciousness, telling him not to fear the end, because it didn’t really hurt. You may judge me for not seeking medical help, but even the cleverest of doctors cannot alter a man’s fate. It would only lead to pain, and an undignified end.

For my whole life, I have kept my cursed gift a secret, fearing that others would brand me evil, that they wouldn’t understand. Why then, am I writing this down? Because I, at the age of thirty-seven, can spy my own vapours beginning to twist, and curl as they ooze out of my pores. I do not drink. I do not smoke. I have no prediagnosed medical conditions. I do not know the form my ending takes. I have just long enough to write this down before my inevitable demise. I shall leave you with this: I do not fear the reaper, but I hear him knocking on my front door. I bid you farewell, then I must answer it and face my destiny. Adieu.