The Old Lady That Looked Familiar

Another night when worries kept me awake. Insomnia came to pick me up at the same time every evening and we walked hand in hand until it became pointless to fight it. The lack of sleeping made me dizzy in the mornings. This Sunday dawn wasn’t different either. I crawled out of bed and washed my face, but I still felt like a marathon runner a mile before the finish line. I stopped drinking coffee because it made me jittery and somehow I felt more exhausted after having a cup.

I needed some fresh air to clear my head. The view of the mountains across the sea and the sound of water splashing against the rocks always made me feel better. So I headed to the harbor just like every Sunday morning.

I was walking down the coast and trying not to think of anything. It’s a difficult thing to do and I always find myself thinking of the nothingness I’m supposed to think of, which is thinking after all, so it never works.

The marina was quiet just like on any other Sunday morning.  The rising sun has painted the sky in a pinky shade and the fog hasn’t lifted yet. There were barely any people around, mainly dog walkers and elderlies that couldn’t sleep too long. 

Despite my best efforts, thoughts kept chasing each other in my mind and my head became so heavy I could barely keep it straight. I stopped and squeezed my eyes shut. I took a deep breath and massaged my temple and pressed on certain points on my face a reflexologist friend suggested once. It helped a little.

I rubbed my eyes and when I opened them again, I caught sight of a strange figure in the distance. She was hunching forward and dragging her left leg as if she was keeping a quarter under her foot to hide it from others. Even like this, there was something noble and elegant in the way she carried herself and although I couldn’t see her face as she was far away and walking the same direction as me, I imagined her to be a proud and poised woman. Her moves were like that of an old, broken music box – a few sounds were off, but the melody still filled your heart with joy.

As I was watching her, an unexplainable feeling of familiarness overcame me. I couldn’t tell why, but I thought I met her somewhere already. I got curious, so I picked up the pace to catch her.

All of a sudden, she halted as if she wanted me to gain on. I startled. And then something happened that made my blood freeze in my veins and the realization struck me in the head like a giant hammer that could break a skull open with one single hit. I knew her. Who else would do such a thing? She opened her arms and bowed to the sun, then spun around twice. Once clockwise and once the other direction. Otherwise, she gets too dizzy. How silly is that, really?! I know only one person who does that. I know her well.

Tears filled my eyes as I started to move again. Slowly but confidently, I was walking toward her.

I had to meet her. I needed to talk to her. I was sure she would know all the answers. I wanted to ask her and tell her that it was okay. In case, she felt differently. The distance between us started to shrink and I was less than a few feet behind her when she abruptly turned. I flinched. We were face-to-face and I could clearly see her then. A shiver ran through my body. My legs were shaking and breathing felt so heavy as if Mount Everest was resting on my chest.

It was her. No doubt. She hasn’t changed a bit. I mean, she got older, you could tell. The wrinkles and the silver hair were new, and her skin looked somewhat paler, but that mischievous sparkle in her eyes and her slightly crooked smile were the same. And that triangle-shaped scar on her forehead she got when she fell from the apple tree in her auntie’s garden. Those would give her away even if she disguised herself as a man.

We made a few more faint-hearted steps toward each other until we got so close we could have touched. She was a little shorter than me, and I could see the cowlick on top of her head that made it impossible to have a stunning coiffure for the prom. A bittersweet smile appeared in the corner of my mouth.

She lifted her head and gazed into my eyes. Her face was peaceful and warm, it made me feel calm. It felt like she could see right through me and I got scared that she would be disappointed and a lone teardrop escaped from the corner of my eye. She raised her shaking hand and put it on my shoulder. “Everything is gonna be fine,” she encouraged. Her voice trembled but there was something undeniably confident in it. Like she knew it. For sure. And I believed her. I wiped my face with the tassel of my scarf and looked at her puzzled.

“I have nothing,” I avowed in a hoarse voice. It sounded like I haven’t talked for days. “Don’t be silly,” she said with so much compassion I haven’t felt since Mom died. I had to swallow the knot in my throat and cough to be able to carry on speaking. “No roof over my head, no family, not even a job I would enjoy.”

She reached for my hand and buried it in hers, then lifted it to her face and gently pressed it against her cheek. She slowly moved her head, so my hand was stroking her skin and I could feel her smooth but cold lips and warm breath on my palm. She stared at me again. “You have this,” she said softly and put my hand on my heart. I could feel my own impatiently racing heartbeat with the tip of my fingers. And as I felt the warmth of her hands on mine, gratitude flooded my soul.

“Am I gonna be happy?” I asked. And as the words were leaving my lips, I felt ashamed and started shaking again because I realized it was the wrong question. I took a deep, anxious breath and slid her hands in mine. I squeezed them a little and looked into her eyes again. “Are you happy?” I asked fearfully. She moved away so I couldn’t reach her anymore and flashed that cheeky look of hers at me one more time. Then she opened her arms, bowed, and spun around twice.

I burst out laughing but couldn’t stop the flood of tears running down my cheeks. They weren’t sad tears, though. They were tears of relief and love. And a sense of wholeness. She just giggled like a kid that catches sight of a butterfly for the first time and walked farther and farther away from me. As her silhouette started to blend into the mist again, fear overcame me. “Wait,” I shouted after her. “What’s the secret?”

I heard her heartfelt laughter fading in the distance as the morning breeze became stronger.“Share it,” the wind carried her voice and she disappeared on the horizon.

Were you an easy teenager or a nightmare for your parents?

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