When I was young, I judged situations by what I looked at and not what I saw.
Me and my friends laughed at the inebriate man that was always passed out flat on his face on the lawn of his backyard. We thought he was just a failure in life and was just trying to find courage to go on at the bottom of the bottle.
Across the street lived a preacher. His wife always waved good morning to the neighbors from a distance and returned expeditiously to the comfort of her home as if she was playing hide and seek with the sun.
I also recall my high school best friend who always sat quite in the corner of the class room with his face deeply drowned in the pages of the text book and fingers glued to the pen. Other kids at school thought he was too shy and not “cool” enough to hang out with them.
Now that am grown, I see things differently. I have come to know that there’s always more to what meets the eye.
It had been quite a long month and I needed to escape from reality, so I went back to my home town. To my astonishment, nothing had changed. For the first time in a long time, I was grinning truly. I could not wait to see my best friend who was now a teacher at our quondam school. So I decided to walk there.
On my way there, I saw a new face, so I got close to introduce myself. My jaw dropped when I recognized the stranger. It was Mr. John, the town imbiber. There he stood, sober as a judge and smart to the nines. I had never seen him like this before. I think he could see that I wanted to know about his past life and why he did what he did. So he offered me a seat and narrated his story to me. Mr. John had been demobilized from the army due to medical issues. He was unemployed, and never had enough to cater for his family. One unfortunate evening when he returned from his job hunt, he found his home abandoned. His wife had left him and had taken the children with her. He searched for them but all in vain. The pain of losing his family was immense so he decided to drink his depression away. His intoxicated mind never let him sleep in his house because it was never the same. Luckily, they had all returned and his life was back to normal.
As I continued my walk, I kept on wondering what kind of hell Mr. John had gone through to drink himself nearly to death daily.
The I saw Ms. Millian. Hers was a story that had made the news headlines. A story of how a preacher had mistreated his wife worse than a slave was one that the town people would never forget. “I used to greet my neighbors from a distance and run back to my house before any of them got close to me so that they would not see my bruises and ask questions that I would not answer.” she had reported in one of the interviews she had with a local newspaper. Her story made other women stand up against domestic violence.
“It must have been hard for her not to ask for help!” I wondered.
Unaware of how much distance I had walked, I
had reached the school gate. Moses was eagerly staring at the gate for my arrival. It had been years since we last saw each other. As we caught up, I realized that the shy and anti-social kid I knew back in high school was no more. I am not going to talk about Moses’ pain coz Ms. Millian was his mother so if we put the puzzle pieces together, we can all understand his pain. It was quite an evening well spent catching up with my friend. But it was time to part ways again.
On my way home, a rather familiar but faint voice called out to me. It was Ms. Ruth. Her beautiful amicable smile was one I could not erase out of my memory. Just like wine, her kindness fermented with age. I was happy to see her again. She invited me into her home for a cup of tea.
Ms. Ruth had gone through hell more times than the devil himself. A few years ago, on a Sunday afternoon she tried to take her own life. Luckily, one of her neighbors walked into the house before she could breathe her last and cried for help. As soon as she returned from the hospital, I innocently asked her why she wanted to die.
“You are too young to understand, one day I will tell you.” She said as tears rolled down her wrinkled face. Indeed she was right, I did not understand. Even now I did not understand coz no matter how hard life hammered me to the bone, taking my own life had never crossed my mind. That day I saw pain for the first time in someone’s eyes. All I did was wipe her tears, hug her and thank God that she was alive. But today I was eager to understand. So I asked the question again. She smiled at me and pointed to a small piece of paper that she had framed. I stood up and went to read. The following was written on it,
“if I thought death was something musical, an instrument that sounded like hope, something that would have my spirit dancing itself in the next realm, I would have sliced my wrists into violins by now-Elisabet Valasquez.” Before I could sit, she had pulled a photo frame from under the coffee table. She glanced at it, smiled and handed it to me.
“That’s my husband and three children. They died in a car accident three months before that tragic Sunday afternoon.” She said with a wobble in her voice. “The pain, loneliness, and most of all, the memories haunted me day and night till I could not bare a second of it, I just wanted all of it to end. That day, I died with them for my life was never the same.” She added.
“so what has helped you to make it through the pain all these years? I asked.
“I realized that pain can either make you or break you. I have learnt to live with the pain. I have chosen to use my experience to help other people that have gone through the same experience.” She said with a vehement voice. I hardly spoke a word after. All I wanted was to understand her pain. But how could I understand such a loss? Such immense pain that pierced the soul to the core. My mind felt like a labyrinth and I was lost in a cocktail of emotions. Amidst the hordes of thoughts, I could not help but see a woman that had gone through hell with a smile.
As I lay on my bed, reminiscing and meditating on all the stories I had heard that day, I realized that there is more to what meets the eyes.