Hi! I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season and looking forward to the new year. I also hope you enjoy this new story, which does *spoiler* have a happy ending. Happy reading :)
Zian isn’t at this community circle by choice. He isn’t sure he ever got a choice regarding the matter, so here he sits. In an uncomfortable chair that will most likely retain a stain of sweat from his heavily perspiring body. The intensity of the meeting is reflected in everyone’s eyes but his own. His eyes linger on the clock on the opposite side of the room, below a sign reading We allow the freedom of expression here!
Fanny, the woman to Zian’s left, gives his shoulder a forceful nudge, gesturing to the man holding the talking piece for the day. Nobody knows where they get these absurd ideas.
“I know. I know. I just can’t stay too long today–”
“Of course, you can. Everyone in here and out there can vouch for me; you’re a loathsome loner who needs to socialize more. A good man knows not to turn down an invitation, Zian.” Fanny remarks thoughtfully, adjusting her wire-rimmed glasses.
Zian resists the urge to groan, focusing on the clock again. One minute. Only one minute escaped the torturous session. Last time, Fanny spent the entire hour declaring her independence from hair dye and how she was going to let her roots unwind and age at their own pace. Zian never dyed his hair, embracing the stark whiteness with a nostalgia he could never place.
“W-welcome to the Senior Social Hour. Today f-friends, we’ll be conducting a hmm,” the man holding the stuffed giraffe talking piece wavers, squinting at the index cards in his other palm. His frame is already halfway hunched over, and the creases on his forehead nearly bulge out. It’s as if his knees are about to give way right there, wobbling in rapid shudders. “...community circle, which is an opportunity to discuss feelings. To-today’s topic is regrets.”
Regrets. As someone well beyond his prime years, Zian finds it hard to think of anything but regrets. His life is still blooming with them, though not as spry as they had once been. There is never complete peace in the world, only snippets of moments wistful and semi-satisfying enough to treasure. And such memories are not to be shared with the twenty adults attending the Senior Social Hour.
“Ahem, I’d like to go first,” Arwen, a balding senior with a youthful spirit states, green eyes gleaming. Once the giraffe talking piece rests in his hand, he immediately exclaims, “Change of topic to, um, the new generation!”
Zian’s face burns. Murmurs of chastisement fly among the people seated, startling the man still fiddling with his hands. Arwen seems to catch the vibe of the people easily, swaying them into submission. Even Zian can’t entirely resist a heated conversation about the young ones. They have such an inquisitive nature, earnest spirit, and thoughtful minds.
“They are such egoists, vile pests, and are never grateful for all the opportunity they have.”
Everyone proceeds to nod, save for Zian. Fanny pauses mid nod to stare at him. “See, here you can open your eyes to the opinions our world has. You won’t find them cooped up in a house all day. Mingle with other people. Arwen has many points.”
But he had found the world in his home, found all of its hidden opinions buried within one person. Describe the world to me, dadu. He turns away from Fanny and Arwen and the circle, taking mental notes on the room.
A couch, a classroom setting with block windows, beanbags filled with beads of aged love and care. There’s pink paint on the walls, perhaps to make the room seem less cavernous, even with the many motivational posters stuck to the surface at odd angles.
The Senior Social Hour should get renamed to the Gossip Hour. Conversations often shift from building community to analyzing every aspect of it.
“They’re so selfish and crave instant gratification!”
“They have no respect; they have all the resources, and yet they’re so lazy all the time.”
“Ah, they’ll ruin the world before we escape from it.”
Fanny rolls her eyes at Seren, always talking about the end of the world like it’s a couple of months away. “I feel bad for them, hooked onto their screens like bait. But then again, there’s nothing we can do about their states or their obsession with perfection. We’re the elderlies, the ones never listened to.”
She retreats to her inner shell sadly, the remains of a wistful thought stunning her into soft silence. It blankets over the members of Senior Social Hour. Zian feels it expanding in his stomach, sending his emotions in a wild, frantic twist. He simply does not speak to the other members, only has eyes for the clock that never seems to orchestrate time at the intervals he desires.
First, there is work in the office building down the street, and then a useless meeting he is forced to attend every late afternoon. Even work is somewhat useful; work brings money, and money buys food, shelter, healthcare, and life to live. Work brings her treatment money home in crates.
“Don’t you think you’re being more than a bit overdramatic?” Zian blurts, struggling to calm the tornado of thoughts swirling in his mind. “We were all children once. We were no better, and neither was the state of our society. Besides, children can be–”
“Oh, you don’t bloody know. We had actual hardship in our times. We couldn’t press a button, and the world would bow down at our feet!” Arwen interjects, exercising his rebuttal as if he’s a lawyer working at one of those fancy firms downtown.
Zian didn’t come to hear arguments, let alone partake in them. He remains silent, becoming the hot pink walls, plastic chairs, and the sallow faces prying prying prying.
Arwen stares at him for a while before clearing his throat. The few others who hadn’t spoken lean back in their seats expectantly, waiting for someone to argue. Zian frowns, but that is all he allows himself to express.
“Who said you know anything about children anyways?”
Zian clenches his jaw, tightens his fist until he can feel his veins building through his tender skin. You know nothing about raising a child. You never go outside besides your commute to work. Rumors define us.
And then he’s standing up, shaking in his knees. He doesn’t say a word, but the chair screeches when he gets up. He doesn’t dare look back, welcoming the wintry weather blasting him with a new awareness.
Tomorrow, nothing will change. The world will continue spinning, and people will still be ignorant.
“I have a question for you. Dadu, why do you think the outside hates me? Whatever I can’t place, whatever I can’t understand, I am afraid of.”
“It’s called emotions. Instinct. Our instinct is to run, to hide, or attack our enemies. Over time, we evolved our instincts in more than one way to respond to every aspect of fear,” Zian explains upon entering his small brownstone, barely recognizable amidst the many similar box townhomes clustered in this corner.
He’s lived here for longer than he can remember, and he still can’t distinguish his home from the next, except its crooked number attached to the door. Inside, however, Zian has every feature of this place mapped.
Rumi takes a while to unpack those words, sitting on the small bench by the door as usual. She waits for him to come home.
“Does that mean you have that running away instinct too? Wherever you go outside? Because you’re early today, from the Senior Social thing.”
Zian pauses in the middle of taking off his bulky coat. How did she…
“Have you been doing the lessons as I’ve instructed?”
“Of course, dadu. You haven’t been doing the things I want for you, though. I don’t need to see your face to know it.”
Zian sighs, letting the day wash over him with that single syllable and slip farther and farther into memory. He comes closer to her, pushes a strand of her curly hair behind her ears. Rumi smiles, and her cheeks form dimples. Everything about her is so vibrant with spellbinding color, and then your gaze meets those glazed eyes. And then the judging begins, despite every other feature a heart can love.
“Listening to videos isn’t going to help me see any better than you staying inside and not talking to people.” Rumi crosses her arms, rising from the bench to wrap Zian in a comforting hug. She’s wise for her seven years. “I know everything there is to know about math and reading words in braille, about speaking. But I don’t know the outside.”
The outside. He hears her go on and on about the outside where there is beauty, social lives, an entire world beyond parameters. To Rumi, the outside is a paradise she is afraid won’t accept her. Because they won’t.
One day, Zian woke to a doorbell, and there was a box at his feet. When the box began to wail, his first thought was that he hadn’t ordered anything. He hadn’t. The outside had left her for him, a man who was well past his years of compassion.
“We can go together if you’d like.”
At the possibility, Rumi shifts her footing just a little and cocks her head in nervousness. She walks towards Zian and takes his hand with surprising ease. They stand like that for a while, in the doorway, not wanting to continue with the familiar.
“I heard something today. They should know better. The vibrations carry better through these smushed-together walls,” Rumi says, quietly opening up.
Zian remembers an event lit aflame by this moment, recalling the day he found out Rumi was blind. There she was, crawling around the living room, rolling around the random articles of furniture Zian had placed in the room with no specific intention. It was the second day, and Zian didn’t know what he was going to do with the infant–and then he dropped his things on the counter. Her tiny head jolted upwards, looking in the opposite direction.
For a second, their glances had entwined, and Zian saw beyond what was presented before him, probably for the first time in his life. For the rest of Rumi’s life, as years pass by, she remains the same, with her head cocked to one side. Staring in the opposite direction. It takes a while to get her to say something straightforward if it’s negative.
“What did you hear?”
“Dadu…I heard about a slogan on the main street not too far from our home. It says, ‘Peace starts with perfection’.”
Again, Zian hears all the words she chooses not to say. Smart, bright, beautiful, optimistic, adventurous Rumi. He knows it isn’t his raising through which she acquired these admirable qualities. She credits him for more than he can credit himself.
“You aren’t perfect,” Zian starts.
“I know, I know.”
“Neither am I. I’m not perfect either, and I’m not sure anyone will be,” he whispers, his soft breath tickling her ear in an attempt to make her laugh. Her face is stone serious.
“I know both of us aren’t perfect, but if we aren’t perfect, dadu, does that mean we’ll never have peace? Am I the reason I can’t go to regular school with other kids? Am I the reason we don’t have peace?” Tears well up in her eyes, and Zian pulls Rumi closer, stroking her hair coaxingly. The government could, most certainly, be blamed.
“No no no. If we were perfect, peace wouldn’t be a word in our language. Now, how about I make us some brownies.”
By the time Zian has the oven preheated, he grapples with the weight of facts. More people are getting closer to finding out, and they will hurt her. Take her away forever to a facility. The government doesn’t care what happens to the defects.
Next morning, Zian has no desire to go to work or socialize at the Senior Social Hour, so he stays in bed a while longer, watching the minutes tick on. He should get up and check on Rumi. She shouldn’t be unsupervised downstairs; even normal seven-year-olds could cause a ruckus.
Normal. Zian closes his eyes, reopens them to the same world. Is he finally becoming like them, categorizing what is normal?
Blink. Rumi shouldn’t be awake. It’s only 5:30 AM.
“Dadu?” Zian throws the covers over his head. Rumi found him. “Why aren’t you at work? You promised me last night that you’d go to the social hour because you need it. I choose not to go outside.”
“I slept in!” Zian retorts, sinking deeper within his mattress.
“I heard your sheets move when I surprised you. And you have an alarm.” Rumi sits on the edge of the bed, a loose smile tugging at her lips. He grimaces. 5:30 AM.
“Why are you up?”
“I have some things on my mind. Can I show you?” Without waiting for an answer, Rumi yanks Zian from the comfort of the bed, that philosopher and junior lawyer of a child.
He tries to find fun things for them to do together, but Rumi fears the outside. She loves it but hides from it. “C-couldn’t you have told me what’s on y-your mind while I was lying down?” Zian half-stammers, cracking his neck.
“You need to listen. I’ve been thinking of the meaning of stuff I know, like how dadu means grandpa. And then I realized I don’t know many meanings at all.”
Dadu does mean grandpa. Grandpa. Father of the father. It’s one of the many necessary lies he’s told about her past.
She’s looking past him again. She has so much advice and thoughts. “You’re seven. You’re not supposed to know the world at seven.” Zian sits up a little straighter.
“I’ll never be the same as you because you can see life. I don’t know what paint is, how color is, how mountains and beaches and the sky just are. I can’t explain these notions to myself. They’re so abstract that I get spirals thinking about everything I don’t know.”
So she is having a spiral.
“I don’t know what the world is in general. It’s like I have the pieces to a puzzle, but they just don’t fit no matter how hard I try. Sorry dadu, for waking you up.”
In the dark, Zian can barely see Rumi. Her faint outline is a second heartbeat to him, his strength and weakness, opening a chamber inside that he never knew lived. “What do you want to know about?”
“Color,” she echoes with longing. Zian leans back, and Rumi flops into the pillows like it’s a bedtime story with fantasy magic. Sight is magic to her.
“Blue is the color of the–never mind. You know the feeling you get when you comprehend how small you are in the face of the universe? That’s blue. Red, orange, they’re warmth from fire and pain from war. Mountains are stubborn, like aches in the knees when we’re climbing stairs to combat the unknown–” Zian lets out a startled gasp when Rumi presses a finger to his lips.
“Dadu. Enough. Tell me instead, tell me the truth of the government. I know that if they find out I live, they’ll take me away. Why do you love me if I’m not perfect, if I can’t see colors?” Rumi’s voice wobbles. Zian takes her hand, lays it on his chest.
He breaks every time she cries, breaks every time she asks these kinds of questions nobody should ever ask with such finality.
“I love you because you make me feel. You’re special. You don’t need senses to feel the color, to feel the universe around you. You don’t need Sight to open your eyes; they were open from the beginning.” Zian takes a breath, struggles to swallow when Rumi wraps him in a fierce embrace.
With her head buried in his arms, Zian speaks again. “Understand, Rumi, that it’s not how we perceive color through these that makes it special,” he brushes a finger over her long lashes, “it’s about how we feel when we experience something so beyond us, it’s beautiful.”
Whenever she smiles, it lights up the world.
“I love you too, dadu.”
“Me too, Rumi. I only wish you could see how captivating and illustrious your smile is.”
“Then show me.”
Show me. Zian bounces off the bed abruptly, guiding Rumi down the stairs, running as if he were Seren and the end of the world was napping at his heels. Rumi lets out an eager trill, Zian leading, throwing back the front door. Rumi resists. Zian pulls her forward onto the front steps. Outside. “Rumi, Rumi!” Zian gasps, sweeping her up to fly fly fly!
A brilliant beam of light strikes their senses, Nature’s kiss resting on Rumi. An awakening bringing a flame to her curiosity of the world.
“This is what a smile feels like, Rumi.”