It’s always darkness that’s her companion. However, even that managed to become an intimate friend to her.
Mu Lan didn’t have much of a choice.
She was born healthy but had become blind at the age of five after surviving a bout of scarlet fever. And now, the same fever is burning in her body; this time robbing her speech and hearing.
The fever has reduced her sense of touch too. She’d always been able to recognize a person by touch. But now, she could barely feel them.
She could smell the scent of rain water meeting damp earth, though.
She couldn’t hear the drops, but she could imagine the sound they made as they rolled off the roofs of the temple and the residences in the Estate. It was a sight she’d never seen but had only imagined.
Once this rain will stop, the entire estate will come alive with freshness.
What she didn’t know, however, is that she’s lying in the arms of death, all alone in her huge mansion except for some servants. What she didn’t know was that most of the servants had fled, fearing the Japanese and that only her nanny, the housekeeper and the cook had remained behind.
What she didn’t know that most of her birds hadn’t survived the cruel, just as she isn’t going to survive this rainy day. Her end has neared, and she could feel it. She could hear the seductive call of death.
She knew that it would be easy to give up, easy to let go of this pain and suffering. But she wanted to feel him near her before the end. At least once.
She didn’t want to leave before he came to her. Not when he’d promised to come to her.
Whenever a tremor of pain rushed up her body and she closed her eyes waiting for it to pass over, she could hear the soothing melody of his flute as though he’s right beside her.
Time made no difference in this abyss of pain. All that she could do was pray that he will come to her before death will. She had only wish to ask of him: that her last moments be spent with her listening to the sound of the bells ringing in the temple.
She didn’t need to say those words out loud. He would know.
Another sliver of pain rushed up her spine and she stiffened, trying to call out for help. But nothing but empty air escaped her open lips.
Then she felt it: strong hands lifting her, stroking her hair.
Her fever-riddled body and mind was unable to decipher the person behind the touch. All that she could was register the callused fingers that cupped her cheek. Even the feeling of the touch was hazy as she barely hung on to life.
As she lifted her own weak arm and placed her palm on the one that covered her cheek, she didn’t know that tears had slipped out of her eyes.
She was both hopeful and afraid, as she drew a single character on the foreign palm: his name.
She waited for his response, as she struggled to breathe steadily. Beads of sweat rolled off her forehead and trickled onto her beddings. Time seemed suspended.
Then she was suddenly enveloped in a hug. And that was more than answer enough for her.
The tears that had sprung in her eyes are now more from happiness than pain.
He has come. For her.
He gently stroked her hair and kissed her forehead. She closed her eyes contently. Suddenly, there was the sensation of being lifted and carried. The shadow of a smile appeared on her lips as he took her to some place.
She could smell the scent of wet grass and melted snow. She could feel the fast drops of rain hit her face like a caress. The cool water was a comfort to her burning body. She was wrapped in cashmere shawls that kept the chill out of the body, though.
Her mind flitted back to the last time he was here and it had rained. They were strolling down the cobbled pathway near the waterfall, when they’d felt the first drops of rain and he’d scooped her up into his arms and ran for shelter, while she’d laughed all along the way.
Now, all she could do was hope that she wouldn’t take her last breath before he took her wherever he wanted to.
He smelled different to her: of blood, sweat and mud. The smell of war.
It is not his usual scent of cinnamon and mint. She suspected that he came right from the battlefield. But there was unfamiliar familiarity with the faint underlying scent of wood and metal that managed to stand out from the grime.
Only, her hazy mind isn’t in a perceptive state. She finally gave up on her suspicions and cocooned herself in his warm chest, aware that he’s trying to shield her from most of the rain.
Back then, she’d often fallen asleep in his arms, several times when he was reading a book to her in that deep and soothing voice of his.
The smell of water lilies made her eyes open with pleasure and her lips curve into a small smile.
Most of the memories they’d shared were here. She remembered a particular night, lit by a full moon she couldn’t see, and her smile grew even more content.
She needed nothing else.
Soft lips touched hers, before drawing back. She wasn’t even surprised when a strong hand covered her mouth and nose.
She didn’t even struggle as her body screamed in pain from the lack of air. The grip on her nose became stronger. She felt tears fall on her face.
Tears that were not hers.
Finally, her body gave up and went limp in his arms. But what he didn’t know that she’s still alive. Her body may have given up, but her senses hadn’t.
She faintly felt him lift her up. She knew her hearing had partially returned when she heard the roar of the waterfall, and the ringing of the Prayer Bell in the Temple.
She realized that they are near the stream formed by the water from the fall, and also that her final wish has been fulfilled.
The ringing of the bells was the last sound she heard, as she felt her feet skim the cold water. She’s being lowered into the stream.
Her heart content, she smiled for the last time at the world, as her body descended into the blue depths of the water and flowed away from the land of her birth, forever.
And this time, the darkness is final.
© Padame Warrier, 2019. All rights reserved.