“Watch out, the bus is coming soon. So do not stand so close to the curb”. The woman leans back in the battered bus stop. Silence is her answer. It is a chilly morning, the dew collected last night now drips slowly of the aluminum siding. The hazy pinks between the apartment blocks promises a hot day.
A bus passes while her contorted face stares across the street as if the bus is invisible, and due to her apathetic attitude to the bus’ approach, the driver responds in perfect synergy by just driving by. He has seen her there before, and heard some of the story why she just sits there. A sadness touches his heart for a second, before his attention is drawn to the next busy intersection. Her blank stare is all that remains.
Behind the red fence inhabitants of the nursing home rake left-overs leaves from last summer, to give the new grass sun and air. For the blanket of leaves: it was too cold last fall to do the cleanup then, but only after the leaves and twigs are removed can life explode all over the garden. The cycle of life. A lady closest to the fence, closest to the road, looks over to the bus stop. She stops raking to look more closely, her arms frail and bony. Her parchment skin is cracked by blue veins, human marble. Some big blue-yellow bruises decorate her arms as a defiance to the county’s anti-tattoo laws of late. The early morning sun casts a long shadow as if to reach out to the sad lady across the street.
She remembers stories all too well, since there is not much more to do than keep busy with trivial tasks, while in-between think about all that what was her life. Less to look forward to every year, but more memories to cherish. Some holes in the story to the sad-bus-stop-lady, like the woman’s name remain, but some details crisp and clear such as the date when she first laid eyes on her: it was the middle of the harvest month, warm yet with a bearable breeze. It was the year of the Rabbit of 341, according to the new calendar of course, since the beginning of the new empire. It was already more than 20 years ago, the year the empire shook. Feiyan leans on her rake and sighs while memories flee like a monsoon into her brain. Such is the faith of the elder brain, focused, but when distracted hard to bend back. Others just assume she is taking a break.
It was warm that year, and already early on. Climate control still had its problems, and farmers of the Wǔ Gǔ corporation demonstrated against the conglomerate of the Creator Group in the center, an ordeal that disrupted local traffic for weeks on end. It was for this reason that Feiyan was late at the ‘House of the Three Stars’, a retirement home for those who could not stay with their family. Of course Feiyan did not want to stay with her daughter’s family. She felt then and even more so now, that she would be a burden on them. With a disabled husband and little income from the food-stand she helped her daugher best she could. Taking care of the grandchildren when possible before the forced retirement age of 70. She wished she could help prepare food for her daughter’s business, but county laws prohibited the elderly to take jobs from the large group of young people graduating these coming years. Feiyan shook her head while she went over the arguments again she had with her daughter and son-in-law. This was better, by grace of donations of the community she could reside here the rest of her days. She sighted, ‘the rest of her days’ sounded like she was set-aside into the margins. Ready to die, ready to be released from society. Some whom continued to be big influencers after retirements, founders of companies, writers and philosophers, some academics worked until they fell over. The honorable death. Those close to the Empire. People who knew people, or were born into families who do. Feiyan was neither. Daughter of a farmer, who had to sell his lands, later a factory-workers-daugher, then student, teacher, wife and widow. Now her life according to others was over. She felt like her life had not fully started yet, always she lived through others, for others, now she was retired and cast aside.
She sighed once more and with some reluctant force tapped three times on the door for good luck. No answer. She knew she was late but even so, the house was staffed most of the time, and she could not be the only one who was not bedridden. She did not dare to knock again, bad luck may strike at any given time, and she needed all the luck she could get. It felt like the first year of high-school all over again, but she was 70. “Darn it”, she muttered to herself, “you are a grown woman” and with that she pushed the door. Unlocked it swung open. Silence greeted her on the wave of hot air mixed with the smell of urine. It was eerie. Only the birds reflected this hot day in perpetual singing, humanity held its breath for a moment. Then muttering, a yell, more voices chiming in, some screams from behind her on the street. With that surreal introduction to retirement she stepped over the threshold.
Feiyan enter the hallway as a stayer, but felt like an intruder. She found the common room filled with the elderly by following the sounds of a disruptive excitement. Not the kind of excitement you want to walk into. Her own perception of her inner self betrayed Feiyan while she passed a mirror in the hallway. One of the elderly. Now she stared at the faces of her future, however, all eyes but her’s were on the standard big screen. Faces white, a nurse with her hand over her mouth in shock, some openly weeping. Feiyan remembered the moment she turned slowly to the screen to see the Emperor slumped down on the Empirical Wagon, covered in blood. A shriek left her mouth to reverse the roles, all eyes on her, while she stared at the horrid events on the screen. Almost too vivid to her taste.
Feiyan switches her attention from past events to the present. The woman across the street is ready to leave through blinking eyes. She would never forget the day she came to the retirement home because of the tragic events that day, but more vivid than the images of the dead Emperor burning on her retina, are the memories of the day Feiyan crossed the street and sat down next to the sad-bus-lady. “If I could only remember her name”, Feiyan thought.
Sad-lady smiles a watery smile as she recognizes Feiyan even though it must have almost 2 decades since they last talked. Even though Feiyan sees her regularly, even though sad-bus-lady never said anything since. The poor grass has to wait longer for sustenance, as memories come immediate and without warning. Feiyan can almost feel the chill of that day, the field covered in a forgiving blanket of snow, hiding the impurities with newness.
“I am sorry may I sit next to you?” Feiyan’s careful approach in the crispy snow went unnoticed. A young lady, maybe thirty or so looks up. Her eyes are red, clear signs of recent weeping. She nods with little strength. Feiyan seen pain before, and knows when to be silent. Just a presence can be comforting, just being there may invoke the need to share. Some need to reflect to see if greater pain in the world will ease theirs, while others need to release the pressure or burst. The young lady next to Feiyan has the ability to suffer through it, but needs to justify her presence to Feiyan, as if without a valid explanation she would get arrested for treason.
The lady spoke softly as if she did not want to disturb the natural process of the falling snowflakes. A stare in the distance; she reviewed past events in her mind's-eye, and validated her presence. “Here... on this very spot I lost all companionship, then... when... it happened, I lost all of society. All of my being, all of me is all that I am right here. Only here. I need to feel that connection otherwise I lost him for nothing. Otherwise there is no meaning to anything.” Feiyan listened, she felt the emotion, and that she talked about a loved one. Understanding it all together was something different. Yet the sad-lady had an ominous stare and even a glint of compassion towards Feiyan when she turn her head look at the old lady next to her.
“You must know such loss, you are in the old-folks home across the street, right?”
Feiyan then got it, she lost a child, and she assumed Feiyan had lost her children for otherwise she would live with them. So Feiyan shook her head, while she put her fragile wrinkled hand on the woman’s knee. “I am still blessed to visit my children occasionally, you see I have chosen...” The lady’s eyes lost the connection to the world and she slowly pushed aside the hand on her knee. Like useless ashes of a burning cigarette before they would damage her pants. She turned her head to explore her inner horizons. Feiyan sat besides her for a while, but with every moment and every car that drove by, with every snowflake that fell, Feiyan felt that she outstayed her welcome. Eventually she got up and went back to the home. Soft chirping footsteps echoed through the silence like hammer blows on metal in a dark quiet night.
A hand on her shoulder, “are you alright my dear?” Feiyan awakes from her thoughts, her memories. The kind face of a nurse, whose name she can not recall, looks at her. Fellow leave scrapers huddle around the catch of the day: a pile of leaves. The grass is free to receive the sun’s blessing. Feiyan looks at the bus stop. It is empty. “That is right”, Feiyan mumbles, “she never did give me her name”.
(c) Casteleijn MG. 2017
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