The first time I see one of them on another of my hunting trips, she’s looking up at the stars. I’m confused as to what a pretty girl like her is doing in the woods in the dead of night, alone.
“Where do you come from?” I ask her. She says nothing. “Where are you going?” Nothing. I shift uneasily on my feet and Dog gets restless as we stand there aimlessly. “Do you need help?” No reply. I sigh in frustration and I’m about to leave her where Dog and I found her when I notice a teardrop making its path down her cheek, stopping on her chin, and landing on the grass. I don’t know why, but seeing that single tear gripped my heart. Maybe it’s because I’m familiar with pain and feel compelled to help any miserable person.
“You’re crying.” I point out, like it wasn’t already obvious. “What happened?”
More tears stream down her cheeks and for a moment, I thought she wasn’t going to reply me, but sob alone in the heart of the woods like a damsel in distress. However, in a voice like bell chimes, she says “I fell.”
“Turns out her leg is sprained.” I tell the doctor when I got this mysterious, silent girl into my cabin in the woods. It wasn’t hard to carry her all the way down here because she was as light as a feather. I offered food to her but she didn’t eat. Instead, she sat on the bed silently, then slept heavily as soon as the first streaks of daylight came about.
“It’s not so bad, actually. Just a slight bruise, which I’ve cleaned up already to prevent any infection. You’re lucky to have found her when you did, Tony.” Dr. Kay tells me. I run a hand through my brown hair and take another sip of my cup of coffee. I don’t know if I’m lucky, having a stranger in my house. What would I tell my daughter, Isabel, when she comes visiting me today? So much for my talks on stranger danger. But I couldn’t also imagine myself telling her I met someone in pain and did nothing to help...
My cabin is a really small one with a couch in the centre; a small TV and a fireplace in front of it; a cabinet to the side where I keep foodstuffs, cups, bowls, pots and spoons; a gasoline stove beside it and a single bed at a corner. Dr. Ken and I are sitting on two separate stools I made myself, Dog is lying down on a small rug I made out of rabbit hide beside me, while the girl is sleeping somewhat peacefully on the only bed in the room. She’d look like an angel if they were real.
“Yes, she’s beautiful.” Dr. Ken says in reply, which made me realise I thought out loud. “She might just be the right one for you now that Sonya is gone…” I take another sip of my coffee and pretend I didn’t hear him. That’s what I do anytime someone brings up the touchy topic of my dead wife. This girl is nothing like Sonya and can never be a replacement for her, I think. Putting my feelings aside for my long lost wife, she doesn’t even look anything like her. Where Sonya had fiery, red hair and forest green eyes, with freckles splashed across her slightly tanned face like strawberry sprinkles on ice cream, this girl has pale, blonde hair- almost white- and a pale, light, and clear skin. The last time I saw her in the night by moonlight, her eyes were sky blue. Nothing like Sonya.
“Once she wakes up, I’ll ask her where she lives and send her off.” I say curtly, finish up my coffee, carry my axe and head out with Dog. I don’t give a second glance at the doctor. Whenever he’s done with the check-ups, he’ll leave. I might feel inclined to help people, but I never said I felt the same way towards babysitting.
I chop some wood from a nearby tree and begin to work on carving some arrows with a knife in my pocket. I planned on teaching Isabel archery and since I’d carved a small bow for her some days before, I worked on the arrows. Ever since Sonya died, I’d gone through a depressive phase and struggled to rediscover myself. It was then that I found my love for hunting and since I knew woodwork, I built my little cabin in the woods, so I’d be able to hunt and build wooden furniture at my ease. However, it wasn’t healthy for Isabel, who was five years then, to be disconnected from her social life as I was, so an arrangement was made for her to live with her grandparents in the city on weekdays, then visit me on weekends. It’s during these visits I teach her vital hunting skills. This has been working for both of us for three years.
I’m on my sixth arrow when I see Isabel bouncing happily towards me. Dog runs to her excitedly while I smile as my little eight year old comes to my open arms.
“You look really big now!” I exclaim.
“That’s what you say everytime.” She replies jokingly and rolls her eyes at me. “What are we learning today?”
“Archery.” I tell her casually. “I made a bow for you. It’s on the couch.”
“Awesome.” She squeals and runs off towards the cabin happily, auburn curls flying behind her in the evening breeze. That’s how it is every weekend. She comes to the stream to meet me, I teach her something she can never learn in school and she eagerly learns.
It’s almost five minutes since she went to get her bow and I start to wonder what’s keeping her, when I see her walking awkwardly with someone beside her, the bow all but forgotten. As she comes closer to me, I realise the person with her is the girl I saw in the woods last night. I totally forgot she was in my cabin. I should’ve collected the bow myself.
“Daddy, I found an angel!” she screams happily once she’s within earshot from me. She helps the girl sit down on a tree stump and gapes at her, brown eyes wide. I must say, the late evening light shining on the girl’s face gave her a supernal glow, making her look divine. Even Dog was attracted, for he was sniffing her eagerly as if that would make him know her more. “What’s your name?”
“Thalia. And what’s yours?” she immediately replies Isabel. I don’t know which shocks me most: that her voice is as beautiful as she looks, or the fact that she replied Isabel’s direct question. I vividly remember how much probing I had to do before I got just two words out of her.
“Isabel.” My daughter squeals brightly. “You’re so pretty.”
“You, too.” Thalia replies, which earns her Isabel’s dimpled full grin.
“I hope you stay with us! We could share the bed while my dad sleeps on the couch.”
“No, no, Izzy. Miss Thalia here is going to her home right now.” I interrupt Isabel’s mingling, which earns me a huge frown from her. I’ll make it up to her later, but I can’t possibly have her making friends with someone we absolutely know nothing of. Security is our number one priority out here in the woods. “Now, Thalia, would you be kind enough to tell me where you live? I’ll do you the favour of paying your cab fare once we get you to the city.”
The frown that creases her perfectly smooth forehead is in high contrast to the winning smile which was plastered on my face. And like before, she doesn’t say anything. Oh, come on! What does this woman have against me? I don’t think I’m that bad looking. Maybe my hair was a little rough because I didn’t comb it but that’s about it to my facial flaws. I also don’t think I’m intimidating… at least not when Isabel is around. However, Isabel gives me a that-was-so-dumb look, which made me feel like the student and she, the teacher. Was it something I said?
“Are you okay?” she asks Thalia and holds her hand compassionately.
“I fell.” Thalia replies, and sighs. “I fell and now, he’ll never see me before midnight.”
She’s crazy, I think, after Isabel was able to extract all the information she could from her. I’m staring at this girl, who claims she’s a star in disbelief. Not an important player or something, but a real star- what we all believe to be luminous balls of burning gas in space.
And if that piece of information wasn’t incredulous enough, she claims she died ten years ago. Funny, right? And that all stars are dead people watching over their loved ones on Earth. Call me Simba and her Mufasa.
And the funniest bit of it all, is that Isabel seems to believe everything this crazy girl says!
“So, the person who’s meant to see you is your father?” she asks, sympathetic.
“Yes. And I have to meet him before midnight, because that’s when the Moon will bring me up to join the remaining stars. This is the only chance we’ll ever get to see eye-to-eye.”
“Oh.” Isabel says, understanding. “Daddy, we can help her can’t we? We can help her meet her father.”
I’m in too much shock to even think of anything to say, unable to believe the conversation occurring between the two of them. Is it that both of them are crazy… or they’re the sane ones and I’m the one who’s lost my mind?
“I don’t believe any of this.” I spit. “I don’t believe you’re a star, and I also don’t believe dead people visit their loved ones. The only way I’ve ever thought it’s possible for something like that to happen is, well, if both parties are dead!”
“Daddy!” Isabel screams, angry at my reaction. I should be the one angry with her for speaking gibberish.
“No, Izzy. There’s something peculiar with this girl. I don’t like you making friends with people like her…”
Thalia looks at me, first with cold eyes, then with sympathy. She then looks at the sky, and watches as the sun dips into the horizon, leaving the three of us in utter darkness. I don’t fail to notice the faint glow of Thalia’s skin but I dismiss the thought and convince myself that her pale hair and skin, and silk, white gown are playing a trick on my eyes.
“The more you convince yourself against the truth, the less you see. It's obvious how many times you’ve come face-to-face with the truth but took it as a farce. I was surprised you could even see me when we first met, considering how blind you really are.” Thalia states blandly, which makes me smile at her, because I’m pretty sure I know the truth more than she does. Maybe she needs to pick up a science textbook to understand that stars are not people and there’s no life after death.
“It looks like my father will have to wait a while before we can meet again. See, the moon is out. It’s almost time for me to take my leave.”
“Leave?!” Isabel ejaculates. “But you only just came!”
“Yes, I did, but we stars have limited time when on Earth- a stay of twenty four hours and then we’re taken up. If I stayed on the path, I would’ve landed in my house and met up with my father. However, I fell, and landed here. I wonder why, though…”
The sad look on her face was so genuine, that if I didn’t know human beings better, I would’ve been trapped in the web of her lies. Instead, I decided to act to her script.
“Okay, Thalia. Assuming stars, or whatever you are, do exist and they visit their loved ones on Earth, how come no such reports have come to anyone’s notice?” I ask mockingly, happy to have caught her in her web. Surely, she wouldn’t be able to explain something like that. This story was all a fantasy- a delusion!
Yet, she smiles smugly, as if she knew something I didn’t. “Oh, really? Are you absolutely sure you’ve heard no reports of our existence? Any claims that indicated the probability, which you might’ve dismissed in the past and assumed it to be the whimsical imagination… of a child?”
At first, I feel like laughing and telling I’ve heard no such things. However, as I look into her eyes, her piercing gaze turn into ice shards, impaling my chest and burning my heart. Or was it a thought, which arose from the murkiness of other thoughts and was long buried in my head, but is now painfully lucid in my mind, that scorched my heart?
My gaze turns slowly towards my daughter, Isabel, whose cheeks are now as red as her hair, and who is also intentionally not looking at me. It wasn’t real, right? That day… that day she said she saw… Sonya.
“Isabel?” My voice sounds incredibly small as I think about her. “Do you remember that day, when you were five? Back when we still had that house in the city?”
“Yeah.” She replies, still not looking at me. Her voice is small, too. “What about it?”
What about it? “Well… there was a time… I don’t know if you can remember… but you mentioned something…” Why was I stuttering? I take in a deep breath to calm my unsteady nerves. “You mentioned something once about seeing mommy, didn’t you?”
“Yes. I also remember you telling me it was all in my head and giving me a long speech on how dead people never come back. You put a lot of emphasis on it being all over.” A small smile tugs at the corner of her lips.
I flinch as I remember that day. I was a little hard on her for mentioning something as ridiculous as that, because I was still recovering from the pain of Sonya’s loss. Her claiming that she saw her mother triggered something in me that made me vent out all my anger on her five year old self. I was a sorry excuse for a father back then.
“But… even though it’s been three years, I’m pretty convinced of what I saw.” Isabel then looks up at me and I can see she’s on the verge of tears. “I didn’t understand what happened then, but now, I do. Stars ARE real. As long as there are stars, there is hope. That’s what mommy told me when she visited.”
There is a lump in my throat as I realise the probability of the fact that somewhere, somehow, my Sonya still lives on. But why did she only visit Isabel? Didn’t she know how I longed to be with her, to see her, to wrap my arms around her, hold her tight to me and breathe in her scent? Didn’t she know how I longed for her laugh and ached for her smiles? Didn’t she know how much I needed her… how much I loved, no… how much I love her?
While I stand in the dark, battling with the sea of emotions inside me, Isabel comes to give me a tight hug. Holding her to me and resting my chin on her head, I permit myself to silently let out the tears I’d been holding for a while. Am I really allowing myself to believe that there is life in our stars?
While we’re still having our father-to-daughter moment, Thalia gets up abruptly. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but it’s time for me to go.” she says.
“Now? But… you haven’t met with your father yet.” I say as a sudden urge to help her overcomes me. The reason she came here in the first place was to see her father… maybe he’d been aching over her loss for a while like I’d been with Sonya.
However, Thalia smiles and shakes her pale head softly. “It’s been ten years since I last walked on Earth. Not long enough to cover the scar of my death, but long enough to give it room to heal. I think it’s okay for me to say life has moved on without me.”
I don’t know what to say to this. This was the same girl who was sobbing, knowing she wouldn’t meet with her father, but here she was, smiling at the thought of life moving on without her.
Before I can give this sudden change too much thought, I notice the faint glow on Thalia’s skin I originally thought was a trick on my eyes, become more pronounced. I don’t have time to marvel over this because the glow quickly gets brighter until it becomes a blinding, white light. I close my eyes at the brightness and I hear Dog give a soft whine, too. When I open my eyes again, Thalia is gone.
“Izzy, pinch me.” I whisper, which she does all too willingly. “Ow! I didn’t mean that hard.”
She giggles and rests her head on my shoulder, while I run my hands through her hair. We both look up at the stars together, which hold a new meaning to us. I wonder if I can see Sonya up there… There is much I still don’t understand, though.
As if reading my mind, Isabel says, “Mommy said she’d visit you once you started believing. Now that you do, just continue to hope in the life of our stars. Everything will become clearer soon.”
“Yes.” I whisper in the night. As long as there are stars, there is hope and with hope, there is strength.
I’ll wait for you, Sonya. But when we meet, what happens next?