The whole class stared at me in stunned silence. All the students seemed awestruck with my story. I stared at them for the first time, since I had begun my story. I could see that the narration of my story had led to a lot of tears and a lot of stony faces on the verge of a breakdown. My pale hair glistened in the afternoon daylight, as I completed the story.
“It has been 57 years since that day. 57 years. I was saved by some fishermen again that day. They had found my body floating and they rushed me to the hospital. It took Zen three months to recover. I took six. Though, I spent only 30 days in the hospital. I spent the next five months thinking about what had just happened, if it was all a dream, would I ever be okay? But, at that time, my mind raced back to the fishermen. If that fishermen wouldn’t have introduced me to my karate teacher, I would have probably spent the past 57 years in heaven by now. Not that it would have been a bad thing.” I winked at the class, as a few laughs broke through the tears. Fresh waves of tears broke again, and I handed down another box of Kleenex.
“I did visit the Karate sir after that incident. He seemed to be pleased at me finding my strength finally. He then again told me that I could never forcefully induce strength and courage in someone. It had to come from the within. So today, I stand before you all, because I know you all have had tough childhoods. Having a less privileged home or having a disorder or having survived a war or even being a teenager in this modern age, is not an easy task. But, I urge you all young minds, to not give up. Today, is careers day, so hence I share my story with you. My name is Esmerelda Joecelyn Angelica Perme, the wife of Zen and the mother of two children and the grand-mother of three kids and counting-“ I winked again, “ask you all to try and stay strong and never give up on your dreams and hopes and aspirations. I run this school now, and I feel overwhelmed when I see kids your age strive for high ambitions. Please keep believing in yourself. If you have anything to ask me, you may do so. Others are free to leave.” The kids began pouring out and I watched outside the window for one last time that day. I looked solemnly at the grave which stood so uniquely in the school backyard. A tear escaped my eye, as a timid girl approached me. “Uh- H-Hi” I smiled back, wiping away the tear. She looked down towards what I was looking at and gasped. “Is that Z-Zen’s grave?” Before I could answer, she hurriedly began again, “Wait- no! you said that you were a mother too, so wh-what, h-how, whose grave is that? Is that Aunt Helen’s? ” She looked so horrified that I thought she would faint. I gave her a glass of water and asked her to follow me.
“Read.” I asked her when we were near the grave. She leaned in closer, but yet failed to understand anything.
“It’s in Russian.” She pointed out dejected.
I put an arm around her shoulder and took her hand, as she felt the cold carvings. Her finger encrypted the foreign words, as I translated in English.
“To the late and never welcome memory of Esmerelda Joecelyn Angelica Perme’s fear.” She gasped at the words and looked aghast.
“Y-you, built a grave for t-this!? Are you insane?”
“Yes, I did.” I replied calmly.
“Um . . . I don’t wish to be mean but, didn’t you go over the top a little? I mean, I understand that you went through a lot and you definitely needed to vent out your mixed feelings somewhere, but this seems a little bizarre.”
I looked at her calmly and asked her to open the grave. She looked at me blankly and then shrugged and did so. The contents inside astounded her and turned her skin cold. I sat down with her and touched my mother’s leather jacket and the picture of us. The picture was wrapped in a thin, plastic zipper and I sighed as I touched it. I brought it out and placed it in her hands. “I always feared unconsciously that my mother left me because of who I was. As I grew up, I feared that everyone would leave me sooner or later. So, I became who I was. As I grew up more, I feared that my anger would destroy me, so I chose to be dumb and deaf. As I grew up further, I feared that my anger would destroy the people around me and retreated to nonchalant numbness. As I reached my mid-teens, I feared the violence around me so I faced it with defiant denial and let it wreck me bit by bit every day. As I reached my young adult stage, I feared how stealth was sneaking in on me day by day and I would eventually be left to pick up my own tatters. When I met Zen, I feared his loss and I worried that I would lose him too. I only feared all my life. Esmerelda never existed until that day. Only fear did. So thus, I decided to dig a grave and bury my fear. To dig it out from its roots.”
I response seemed to have stunned her. She quietly picked up her bag and left. I watched her leave, but then she turned around, a tear streaking down her face, “T-Thank you.” I watch her walk away as I identified the same lost and victimized younger me, in her. I could feel her innocence fade away as she walked further and further away. I turned towards the grave, placed the picture carefully with the letter and shut the grave. I sat there the whole afternoon, watching the colors of the sky change from hues of yellow to the violet of the dusk. Zen came and found me at twilight. Wordlessly he sat next to me, handed me a spoon and placed the chocolate truffle cake in front of me. Just like our wedding day, I placed my head on his neck and sighed content. He fed me a bite and waited for me to say something.
“Zen, my childhood walked in today.”
His smirk broke through his wrinkles and he threw his head back and laughed. He looked deeply into my eye, traced the nape of my neck with his tongue and winked,
“I always knew you had a secret.”