More than five decades had passed since that fateful day, since I tried to live through excruciating pain in my callous heart, but in vain. He still haunted my thoughts; who he was I shall now proceed to relate.
I was not more than fifteen then. Being more attractive than I really was, I was well admired for my looks. Word spread of my beauty; I became arrogant. Not one liked me, but I cared not.
I lived with my mother and elder sister. To make a living, my mother sewed day and night; my sister baked goods for sale. My father abandoned us before my birth.
When I was old enough to help earn some shillings, I searched for a job in the neighbourhood. After a series of bovine and relentless interviews, I finally accepted a job in a medical house not ten miles from home. The salary was good; I received free meals, hence I had nothing to complain.
On my first day I was directed into a small room at the end of the dingy infirmary. The head nurse surveyed me from head to toe, told me my duties in a few, brisk words, and left. I went through the doorway and was greeted by a sight of a balding young man, sitting in a rusty wheelchair, whom I was supposed to take care of.
Upon my entrance, he looked up; I observed him. There was not one feature in his face worth noticing – except, probably his eyes. They sparkled, though the room was dim. He was frail, pale, skinny, and had circles under his eyes. He had a bent nose and thin lips. His hair was thin to the extent that I could see his scalp. I disliked him from the moment I saw him. I did not wonder why; my preference for beautiful people was uncanny.
‘Good afternoon, milady,’ the man said pleasantly, ‘are you my nurse for today?’
I sniffed. ‘Yes, but I hope I won’t be staying permanently.’
‘Why? Do you not like me?’
I was amazed by his frankness and accuracy. ‘Yes,’ I finally said with stateliness, ‘I disliked you from the moment I entered the room.’
‘I could tell from the look you gave me. Pardon my curiosity, but why? Is there something hateful about me?’
I decided to be frank, too. ‘You are too ugly,’ I finally said.
Instead of being offended, however, he laughed. ‘So I am. But you are beautiful; therefore forgive me if I cannot have the same sentiments towards you.’
I flushed; his smart reply was detestable. He read my countenance, and immediately switched subjects. ‘Can we be better acquainted? My name is Edward Mason. What’s yours?’
The rest of the day was not worth remarking on. Simply put, Edward tried to stay out of my way as much as possible, and I did the same. Occasionally, he would produce a question or two, and I would answer them with as much coldness as possible.
More than two weeks had passed, and yet I was still assigned to attend to the cripple. One sultry afternoon, while Edward was propped up on his bed with naught to do, he sought my attention.
‘Miss Williams,’ he whispered gently, ‘would you mind conversing with me till your shift ends? These two weeks have been too serene for me, and I long to exercise my lips.’
Chance was that I had been in a good mood that morning, as my sister’s lover proposed to her the night before, and she only imparted the knowledge to me just now. Besides, my abhorrence towards him seemed to ebb; hence I decided to entertain him.
‘Fine,’ I sighed, giving in.
He beamed and said, with a gleam in his eyes, ‘Excellent! So, how is my good lady doing today?’
‘I’m doing well. In fact, my sister had just been engaged last night.’
‘That is good news. You have a sister?’
‘Yes, and I live with her and Mother. We have no other relations.’
‘Oh? How about your father?’
‘I’d rather you not ask.’
Edward sensed my altered tone and quickly silenced himself. The atmosphere in the room turned awkward. Stillness hung on.
‘I’m sorry, I should not have asked such inconsiderate questions,’ Edward apologized finally.
I shook my head and smiled, ‘Curiosity is not felony.’ Edward grinned.
‘I don’t mean to be insensitive – but what is wrong with your leg?’ I asked, pointing to his deformed limbs, which I had hitherto been pondering over.
‘I was struck with polio when I was three; malnutrition caused it, and the loss of my hair.’
I was sorry to hear it. ‘Have you no friends? From what I observed, no one has visited you thus far.’
‘They have all gone down to the bowels of the Earth; my baby sister died of ailment; both my parents were distressed, and resorted to suicide. I was left alone.’
Hearing his tale, I could only dab away a few tears that involuntarily welled up inside my eyes.
Unexpectedly, Edward grasped the metal railings of his bed and did his best to stand. Surprised yet obliged to fulfil my duty, I hastened to him and grabbed his trembling arms, asking what was wrong.
‘I could not stand to see such a beautiful girl cry; it is not in my nature to see people suffer,’ he spoke breathily. My eyes flowed.
Subsequently, Edward and I became close friends, and I accompanied him faithfully and willingly. Everyday both of us talked till the sun set, and even till then, Edward had not the heart to let me depart. However, happiness is but a thin line from anger and sadness, and I happened to cross it shortly.
It was our ten-month anniversary as friends, yet I was not in my best mood that day. Slightest mistakes annoyed me; huge ones raged me. I came earlier than intended, and noticed Edward busy writing in a scuffed, leather-bound book. Upon seeing my treasured friend – my only friend, actually – my heart softened despite my acrimony. I started towards him; he heard my footsteps, looked at my approaching figure, and instantly shut his book. I stared at it, then at him.
‘What is it that you are writing?’ I queried, secretly offended.
‘My dear, it is not to be disclosed till the right time, thus forget it. Come now, sit beside me and tell me of your day,’ he patted the empty space beside him.
I neither moved my eyes nor body. I began to feel affronted, and made that fact known. Edward’s smile faded a little.
‘Come, now! Don’t be a baby; you will know what I have written when the time comes,’ he added, ‘I need you to keep me company; come hither.’
‘What did you write in that book?’ I enquired sternly, ignoring his plea and feeling more insulted than before by my being called a baby.
Edward sighed, and for a moment, I thought he gave in. My musings were wrong; he displayed a grave look instead.
‘Emily, it is no business of yours to demand to see my book. You shall not know its contents till the right time.’
‘Did you write bad things about me?’
Edward became restless, and impatiently replied, ‘I have no time for games, Emily. I am tired as it is. If you do not wish to accompany me today, please leave.’
‘What is it that you did not want to show me? You did write bad things about me, didn’t you? Oh, you are a bad, bad man!’ I exclaimed fractiously.
Here was when his tolerance expired. Edward instantaneously became enraged, though he was a man of gentle temper, and raised his voice when he next spoke firmly, ‘It is your wish to think whatever you like – I have no power over your childish thoughts. I had thought you were understanding and considerate, as well as beautiful. Now I know that your pretty face is meant only to hide your selfishness, incompetence, and conceit. I will say no more – go.’
On hearing this, I became irate and wounded, and started yelling piercingly, ‘Well, you are not perfect either. You are also what I thought you were – annoying and despicable. I may have a pretty face, but at least that will get me somewhere. Whereas you – you are nothing but a useless, ugly imbecile who only employs his deformed limbs as reason to shirk responsibility. You wish my absence? Fine, I shall never return.’
I knew by then that I had severely injured him; I saw the loss of glimmer in his eyes; it was replaced instead by traces of tears. However, I was too furious to remain with him, and so left his room and the infirmary behind.
Ten days passed since my previous nasty encounter with Edward. I knew I was to blame, but my pride and arrogance forbade me to seek his pardon. Therefore, I quietly remained in my home, and used sickness as an excuse to avoid work.
I was calmly reading in my halls (my mother and sister being absent to shop for wedding dresses then), when a knock came at the door, followed by a shouting of my name.
I ran to let the visitor in; it was a messenger, carrying a torn piece of paper with some writing. He thrust it into my hands; I read its writings. My blood turned cold then and there.
Overcome by panic, I darted towards the medical house, leaving the messenger panting at my doorstep. As I passed the streets filled with pedestrians, all that filled my mind was how I regretted not seeking Edward sooner. After what seemed hours, I finally reached the medical house, pushed the wooden doors open, and demanded for Edward Mason. A stout nurse approached me and gave me a desolate look.
‘He is waiting for you,’ she said, and led me to Edward’s room. I followed her and presently saw him. Lying supine on the bed, with eyes closed and a calm look on his face, was my Edward. He did not seem to hear my entrance, hence I inaudibly settled next to him. I brushed hair off his temples; he stirred, and looked to see who it was. When he saw me, he presented a soft smile, which seemed to take up all of his energy, and beckoned me to come closer. I did his bidding.
‘I am sorry,’ he whispered delicately in my ear, ‘I did not mean to hurt you.’
I shook my head, while tears streamed down my face. ‘It was not your fault but mine. I was immature and stupid. I apologize.’
He again smiled, and his eyes got its sparkle back. ‘I did not mean what I had said. You have a good heart, along with a beautiful face,’ he touched my cheek tenderly, ‘you are perfect to me.’ He closed his eyes and breathed heavily. I grasped his hand and placed it in mine; he seemed satisfied by this procedure, and peacefully went into slumber.
Edward Mason passed away the second midnight struck – I was there, my head by his bedside, sleeping. A nurse had kindly awakened me to deliver the news of his death. I looked at his countenance, and I saw the tranquil expression on his face. I thought for a moment that he looked handsomest then.
I found out the cause of his demise, and blamed none but myself. Apparently, his health weakened due to depression and solitude. For ten days he became insomniac, and lost his appetite. Sickness overtook him; so did death soon after.
His funeral was a quiet one, for he knew not many. He was buried near the ocean (the place where he yearned to go most), under a huge chestnut tree (his most beloved type of tree). After the ceremony was long over, I still stood by his grave, unable to acknowledge the loss of my only friend. I could cry no more - though my grief did not cease.
A fortnight later, whilst I was helping prepare my sister’s wedding, a large brown envelope addressed to me arrived. I quietly quitted to my chamber to find out its contents.
Inside were a roll of paper and a leather-bound book that I recognized as Edward’s. I undid the knot that bound the paper, and, as suspected, it was a letter written in his hand. The contents were as follows:
I know that I have hurt you greatly by saying the things that were not expected to come from me; hence, forgive me; I was stupid and unfeeling.
It has been too long since I last saw you, and my yearning for you increases daily. The days that pass without you are dull; there is no sunshine and moonlight; my world has shed its light.
By the time you read this, I am sure I would have left your side, for I can feel my approaching death. However, there are some things yet to be revealed.
If you wonder why I did not show you the contents of the leather-bound book, it was because I was ashamed of my writing – I was afraid you would scoff and leave. I cannot risk your friendship – you are too precious to me. Now, however, I feel that the time is ripe enough; read the book at your own will, but do not think too lowly of me.
I now confess; you are my beloved friend, the only light in my life. I have always loved you – more than a friend, and no lesser than a foolish lover. I apologize for having kept these feelings from you. Again, I was afraid to lose you. I cared not to have more than your friendship – you being there next to me sufficed.
If I were healthy and handsome, I would have proposed, but I am neither, so I dared not. You have given me more joy than anyone else. I swear an oath that I shall watch you from the doors of heaven above; keep you in safety, serenity, and eternal bliss.
I leave all possessions to you – my book, feelings, and memories of me.
I expect not tears of grief but of joy for me, as I would have joined the spirit world, together with God by now. You must remember that all endings lead to beginnings; my life on Earth ends and my life in heaven begins.
Edward Theodore Mason.’
All I did was weep. I read the letter over and over again, sometimes feeling anger at his stupidity for keeping his feelings silenced, sometimes feeling happy that I was loved, whereupon to be crushed again when I realized that my lover was no longer alive.
Finally, after I had the strength to put the letter away, I opened the leather-bound book. Inside was only one entry, which only increased my wretchedness.
She sat ‘neath a large chestnut tree
With roses in her hair
And sang a tune so mild, so free
Such voice! so pure and fair
Her eyes were dark with shining light
Her cheeks were rosy too
Her lips, they form a smile so bright
It caused the birds to coo
A boy stood far and viewed her face
Afraid to thither go
He watched her so for many days
Whilst making sighs of low
She stands up; walks so far away
My lovely Emily
I see her leave and mourn a day
Will ever she love me?