Today was a big day for me. I stood beside my best friend, as she looked over at the altar towards the man she loved. She looked beautiful, glowing with beauty and ecstasy. I smiled at her smiling face. Her happiness brought peace to me.
All through the event, her cheeks blushed at the appreciation she received. Everyone loved her. We had chosen the most beautiful and intricate dress for today and she bedazzled it. Her soft, thick hair flew around her face in the soft breeze and her eyes harboured a calm for which I had fought storms to bring to her. As everyone complimented her and she bowed her head humbly, I quietly complimented myself. Only I knew how many tears those pretty eyes had shed all these years. Only I had witnessed how her hollow cheeks had gradually become chubby and how her thin, weak and disease ridden body had recovered. I could never forget all the cigarettes that she had burned, all the drugs that she had enslaved herself to. My beautiful little girl had fought her way back with me and I had never seen anyone stronger than that.
As I watched her walking around, talking to her husband, my mind pulled me back to a chaotic evening in this foreign country years ago. I had been living a miserable life in Amsterdam, away from my family and friends, struggling to make ends meet in this alien place. I had come here to study, to earn money but I realised that I was only fighting to keep myself sane.
That day, I had been walking around aimlessly, crossing bridges and pathways I had never been to before. My mind was a chaos that day, questioning me about all the reasons for which I had put myself through this torture. I was homesick to the bone and every bit of me pained to be engulfed in the warmth and solace of my loved ones, of my home country.
I walked on, my vision blurred. All the memories of my life, of my happy past flashed before my eyes. It began raining soon and I let myself be drowned in the heavy pour. People laughed around me, enjoying as I ran ahead to find a quiet, isolated place. I wanted to be alone with my grief.
I jogged around a corner of a building and tripped. My face slammed on the gravel. I turned around to see what had been the cause and I froze. The face of my best friend, from back home laid there, her body curled up in pain. Unable to believe my eyes, I slowly moved towards her and scrutinised her face. It was Emilia; I had seen her face all through my childhood! I could recognise her. I tried to wake her up softly but she didn’t budge.
“Emilia?” I whispered, awestruck. “Emilia, is that you?”
Emilia was fast asleep and all her clothes were drenched in water. A white powder stuck to her lips and she had deep dark circles beneath her eyes. It was like looking into a person’s face that had borne the harshness of life. She looked so fragile that I was afraid to touch her, afraid that she would crumble in my palm. I searched the duffel bag that hung around her shoulder and to my utmost horror, I found drugs inside. Her wallet had no address, was devoid of money or any contact number that could be of my use.
Pain filled my chest as I grudgingly shoved the drugs inside her bag and called an ambulance.
“These kinds of drug addicts are not tolerated on the streets. Keep her inside if you can” The ambulance driver told me sternly after he dropped us at my place.
I carried Emilia to my room and laid her on the bed. I did not know what to do. I had no idea when she would wake up or how strong the effect of the drug was. I flung her bag on the floor and left the room as tears welled up in my eyes. Running to the lounge, I lay on the sofa and cried for hours. What had she done to herself? Why was she here? I could not understand. I only felt immense pain at seeing her in this deplorable condition.
She had been a healthy, hyperactive girl back in school and a constant companion to me. We had had an amazing friendship. I wished I hadn’t seen her like this. I wished she was her own self back again.
As midnight approached, I began to worry about her even more. Desperate to know whether she was fine or not, I tried to wake her up again. She opened her eyes after several tries and was ready to murder me as soon as she saw me.
“Who are you?’ She screamed at me drowsily.
“Emilia it’s me, do you….”
“Go away! Who do you think you are? Bringing me to your house! Why did you touch me! Who do you men think you are! Carrying around girls to your houses as if you own them!” She kept screaming.
Emilia was still under the effect of the drug so I kept quiet and waited patiently for her to come back to her senses.
“Why am I still alive?” She wailed as tears streamed from her eyes. “Why didn’t you just leave me there to die?”
She rolled around to the other side, clutching her stomach.
“Emilia, your clothes are wet” I told her.
“How do you know my name” Out came her muffled question.
“Emilia, it’s me Jared” I replied.
She laid still, her hair covering the expression on her face.
“Who asked you to bring me here? Why can’t you just let me live my life?” She said.
I stared at her with disbelief. What was wrong with her? She wasn’t happy that we had crossed paths? Wasn’t she glad I saved her?
“I am going outside. Change your clothes and come to the lounge for dinner” I announced sternly as I left the room.
Her attitude troubled me. What had she done to herself? This was unlike the girl she was. A few hours later, I carried a bowl of soup into her room. She had changed and was sitting on the bed, checking her drugs.
“Want to smoke one? She looked up at me and asked.
“No, drink your soup” I told her and left.
Days passed like this, with me carrying food into her room watching her drink cigarette after cigarette, puffing her life away. I kept quiet and controlled my anger. She did not disturb me. She slept in the room mostly and hardly ever cared to talk. I became more worried about her each minute. The smell of cigarettes filled me up with rage and disgust.
One fortunate day, Emilia dragged herself to the lounge and sat opposite to me on the sofa. She watched the television without really watching it. It was a pity to see that she was forcing herself to live like this. Alive, without really wanting to. The searing pain in my chest rose again as I watched her frail form and her weak, aging face. How a human being could subject themselves to such atrocity, was beyond my understanding.
I stared at her until she looked up at me. She stood up and started walking away from me. Enraged at her, I stood up and in one blithe movement, pushed her up against the wall.
“What are you doing?” She screamed in my face.
“Listen to me” I commanded her.
“Get away from me” She shouted.
“Please, listen to me” I pleaded.
“Well, I can listen to you, if you move back!” She threatened.
“No, just listen!” I held her strongly as she tried to squirm free. She was confused and fearful.
“What have you done to yourself?” I spat out.
“What? The cigarette? Oh please….”
“Yes and everything else too” I cut her off.
“What’s it to you” She demanded.
“What do you mean? You’re in my house, doing mad things and you think I wouldn’t be worried?”
“Well, I’ll leave then. You brought me here yourself”
“I did so because you were so messed up! You were lying in a street. My best friend, who I love more than anything, lying in a street! Do you know what I went through when I saw you?” I tried to make her realize what it had felt like.
“That’s none of your business. You could have left me, I would’ve died in a few days, problem solved” She blurted out.
“Are you mad?” I screamed. “Do you know what you’re saying? Do you know why I brought you home? That’s because I care about you. How can I ever leave you to die? I’ve always loved you!”
“No, you don’t. Nobody loves me. You came here and lived your life. I thought you were my best friend but you left me all alone. I needed you.” She began sobbing.
“You never told me you needed me. You destroyed your life for people who never cared about you. Didn’t I stop you? People used you, and you allowed them to do that” I tried to reason with her.
“You could’ve stayed” She accused me. “You could’ve saved me. You were my hope.”
“No…..you could’ve stopped me. You never stopped me…..” I couldn’t find my voice.
“Why would I have stopped you? To ruin your life! No!”
“Well, it got ruined anyway!” I told her matter-of-factly.
“At least I wasn’t the reason” She wiped her tears away.
“I wouldn’t have cared even if you were” I rolled my eyes at her.
“Just let me go! I will go away. I don’t need you to take care of me anymore” Emilia tried to break free.
“I can’t” My voice broke. “I can’t see you like this. You’re so wretched, it’s worrying me” I pleaded again.
It had been years that we had talked like this. Back in the happy times, we were inseparable, the best of friends. I let her cry her heart out and spill her insecurities. She had so much to complain about. I felt as if I was to blame.
She told me her story amidst tears and sobs. How she had been betrayed by friends, oppressed by family and rejected by love. Little by little, everything had added up to her depression. I learnt that she had ran away to London to escape the hardships and living alone had contributed to a severe depression. She had travelled to escape her monotonous life but had ended up finding escape in drugs.
As she spilled out her pain in words, I felt as if I was equally responsible for what had happened to her. I took my loved ones for granted, broke contact with them. I had run away to a foreign land to live a better life and I had not cared about how I had consequently destroyed the loves of the many people who loved me.
I could have stayed back and been a companion to Emilia. I could have stayed in my own country and been a companion to many who suffer. But alas! I had escaped to this foreign place and suffered myself.
I had wiped her tears away that day, promising to fix her life. I had taken her to the hospital, and helped her with rehab. The color of her skin became better, her health improved and her addiction subsided.
Day by day, she came back to life. The friend that I had in school came back to being herself. We read books together, played games and learnt how to cook. We painted the walls with bright colors, planted fragrant flowers in the garden and dealt harshly with depression.
All the love and effort I put into healing her brought great results. We fought the disease together and pushed darkness out of her life. Now, it was flooded with life. The peace that descended upon her engulfed me too. It made me proud, that I had helped my friend recover. It made me feel that I had done the sincere duty of being a friend. I loved her selflessly.
As years passed and Emilia regained her health, she got enrolled in a university. She made friends and had relationships. She had achievements and failures and I was there to support her in every phase of life.
“Jared!” Her melodious voice brought me back to the present. “Where are you lost?”
“Just trying to remember when you became so tall?” I asked her.
“I am not! You eat a lot that’s why you look chubby. Come, my husband wants you to sit with us.” She dragged me to a table.
“You have spoilt her!” her husband accused me as Emilia laughed at the joke.
“Do not hurt her, ever. Spoil her even more, she loves it” I told him, silently praying that he would never break her heart.
A part of their conversation had already been written down by me back in 10th grade (2010). The only difference was that it was from the girl’s point of view; scared and hateful. I changed the point of view to a more loving one when I picked that piece of paper up from a dusty box and began creating the story once again a few months ago.