Seeing Things As You Are
Not As What They Are
When I was in elementary school, a hut behind the school burnt down. I remember staring as huge flames and black smoke enveloped it.
We students were led out of our classrooms to the assembly ground.
The adults kept saying everything was going to be okay as if they were pouring honey into our ears.
Meanwhile, the hut continued to burn. I had been in a dream-like state, in another body and watching from someone else’s eyes.
I watched my classmates tear up and wondered if I should also be crying.
In truth, I did not know what to feel. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t sad. I was just there.
As I observed an apprehensive friend cry, I forced myself to shed a few tears and wiped my cheeks. I felt hollow inside but didn’t want to be the odd one out.
On the grounds, I heard whispers that two of my juniors lived in that house. A gas leakage had caused the fire while the girls were in school and the parents were busy at work.
Everyone nearby had been lucky that the blast hadn’t been extensive.
To this day, I have this image of two little girls in their school uniform sobbing and hugging each other, the elder trying to soothe the younger. It’s strange. I have never seen the two girls, but I have had that image since I first heard about them.
I pretended to cry when the hut burnt down. It was only when I imagined what the girls and the parents must have felt as their home burnt down that the sorrow hit. Only when I considered that no one was home did I feel grateful for their luck. And only when I imagined the parents’ relief that neither of their daughters had been home did I experience bittersweet joy. I could imagine tears streaming down the parents’ slightly smiling faces as they hugged and kissed their daughters.
That day, I shared none of my thoughts or emotions with anyone. Instead, I carried them with me.
Some days, I still feel the weight; it reminds me that I am not empty.