"Look, I'm not crazy," Adrian kept saying. He'd lost count how many times he'd echoed those words, and they hung in the air, heavy with his plea for understanding. His gaze landed on the man across from him - an emissary of worry and empathy. Adrian had figured out, right off the bat, that this guy wasn't here to buy an electric guitar. There was something about the weariness in his eyes, the lines of concern etched on his forehead, the sparse hair clinging to his scalp.
"Who put you up to this?" Adrian asked him.
The man responded with a patient smile, handing Adrian a business card. Dr. James K. Davies, Board Certified Psychiatrist, it read, bearing his contact details. "Here, take this. I know it's tough, but remember, there's help available. It can make a big difference."
Adrian held the card, furrowing his brows. "Help for what?"
Just as the doctor began to answer, Adrian cut him short, "I'm not crazy," he insisted, "If you're not buying, you can leave. I've got things to do."
With a nod, the doctor exited the shop, the door's chime ringing out his departure. Adrian was left in the shop, staring after him, his mind churning with thoughts. His eyes moved to Julie, his five-year-old daughter, who was happily tinkering with a piano. He thought about the past few months, the never-ending questions about his mental state, and how they all began after the bus accident.
They were simply on a holiday in the highlands of Kundasang when the bus skidded off the road and into a ravine. Fifteen people didn't make it that day, but Adrian and Julie had. He'd woken from a coma a month later to his family's worried faces and Julie playing with her playdough nearby, oblivious. That sight had stung him - it was as if they'd forgotten about Julie in their relief to see him awake.
Since then, he'd been clinging to Julie like a lifeboat. Losing his wife Dianne during Julie's birth had already broken him. He couldn't bear the thought of losing Julie too. He understood it looked irrational, this constant fear, this refusal to let Julie out of his sight. But he wasn't crazy, just a man trying to mend a heart shattered by loss.
Anger boiled up within him. Someone had set this up, had sent the psychiatrist to his shop pretending to be a customer. He needed to find out who. Why hadn't they just talked to him about their concerns instead of staging this intervention? He was struggling, sure, but wasn't returning to work a sign he was coping? Wasn't that evidence he was trying to move forward?
At 6:30 pm sharp, Adrian turned the key in the lock of his small shop. It was different from his usual days that were spent cocooned in the safety of his home and the soothing tunes of his music store. Today, he felt a calling to go beyond that, to take Julie to Servay Hypermarket. He needed to prove to himself, more than anyone else, that he could face the world again.
His pantry was far from empty, kept stocked by the home delivery service he had been using for months. But this trip wasn't really about getting groceries. Adrian had decided it was time to eat out. He couldn't remember the last time he'd thought about doing something so normal, always held back by the fear of something bad happening. Maybe it was his constant anxiety that had his family and friends worrying about him. But he was ready to show them that he was doing just fine.
"Daddy, what's that?" Julie asked, her tiny finger pointing to the line of chilli sauce bottles on the shelf.
"That's chilli sauce, darling," Adrian answered with a warm smile.
However, Adrian soon realised that fitting in wasn't as easy as he had hoped. As they moved from aisle to aisle, having their usual father-daughter chatter, they were met with curious, even confused, stares from other shoppers. Adrian felt the weight of their gazes, and it filled him with a sense of annoyance and disappointment.
The irritation only grew when they stopped at a restaurant for dinner. A waitress approached them, a look of concern on her face. "Sir, are you okay?" she asked. Frustrated, Adrian took Julie's hand and left the restaurant. Julie looked at him, her young face full of confusion. Adrian wondered how a five-year-old could understand the world's intricacies.
Driving home, it hit Adrian. The gossip about his mental health had spread all over town. Every glance he received was filled with suspicion, sure of his alleged insanity. Furious, he began to speed, not realising his recklessness until he had to force himself to slow down, chiding himself for risking Julie's safety. The last thing they needed was another accident. Heaven forbid.
Once he had put Julie to bed with a soothing story, Adrian made up his mind. He would find out who was behind the rumours ruining his reputation. He was eager to confront them, to let loose the anger he'd been holding back. Maybe they had meant well, but their actions had only worsened his state of mind. He was determined to make them understand the damage they'd done.
As he sat in the quiet of the night, Adrian realised how powerful rumours could be. It was surprising how a single piece of gossip could mess up someone's life, its effects spreading out like ripples in a pond. People may think their words are harmless, just expressing concern. But they should be careful with what they say. Words had a way of leaving lasting impacts.
Morning found Adrian back in his well-worn groove, greeting the dawn with newfound hope. Shadows from his past seemed to recede, his peace genuine, regardless of prying eyes. Resolute, he hoisted the shop's shutter, its metallic protest piercing the silent air. He swung the door for Julie, his smile lighting up the chime-filled entrance.
Warmth swaddled them as they entered the shop, the air thick and humid. The AC took its time, dragging the room down from a greenhouse. Finally balanced, Adrian flipped the sign— 'open'—a silent invite to the world. Julie, in her clockwork way, beelined for the piano—retired from sale, but not from duty. Her fingers pecked out a no-tune, then traded keys for crayons. Adrian beamed warmly. Today, something inside him tightened, love and protection for Julie tangling up with his newfound calm.
Soon enough, two customers walked in – a lanky teenager and an older woman who shared his features. They gravitated towards the violins, murmuring to each other in hushed tones. Adrian, ever the amiable shop owner, approached them with a welcoming smile. "Can I assist you?" he proposed.
"We're in need of a violin," replied the woman.
"We've got plenty to choose from," Adrian started, but before he could continue, Julie tugged at his sleeve, a brightly coloured picture gripped in her hand. "Just a second, sweetie. I'll be with you in a minute," he promised her.
"Alright, Dad," Julie chirped, skipping back to her spot at the piano.
Adrian refocused on the customers, noting the teenager's discomfort and his mother's concerned glance. Picking up on the tension, the woman said, "I heard about your accident. I hope you're getting the help you need."
Adrian's heart dropped. Not this again. "And what kind of help would that be?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. It wasn't my place to ask. But—"
"Leave!" Adrian's patience had snapped. No matter how hard he tried, people still saw him as damaged.
The woman and her son froze in shock before they slowly started to move towards the door. But Adrian couldn't let them go without getting answers. "Who told you about me?" he asked, desperation seeping into his voice.
The woman met his gaze, but not a single word escaped her lips. Silently, she clasped her son's sleeve and led him out of the shop, leaving Adrian alone with his lingering questions, the truth eluding him once more.
Fed up and worn thin, Adrian decided to close the shop early that day. It seemed that gossip about his supposed mental instability had spread like wildfire throughout the town, colouring the way each customer looked at him when they stepped into the store. Their persistent worry, their endless inquiries, had become too heavy to bear. Deep down, Adrian knew he was okay.
In his frustration, he realised he needed someone to talk to, to help lighten his load. He picked up his phone and dialled Gary's number, seeking comfort from his reliable friend.
"Hey, pal," Gary's voice sounded, a grounding presence in Adrian's emotional storm.
"Hi, Gary. Can we talk?" Adrian asked, his words rushing out as he explained everything that had happened, the suspicious looks, and the shared belief that he had lost his mind.
There was a brief silence before Gary proposed, "How about we meet at Daily Coffee?"
A wave of relief washed over Adrian, "Okay, see you there," he said before hanging up. Looking at Julie's wide innocent eyes, he gently tousled her hair, his touch filled with quiet reassurance. "We're going to meet Uncle Gary later," he told her with a gentle smile, hoping that the upcoming meeting might offer a break from the whirlwind in his head.
"Say hello to Uncle Gary," Adrian told Julie as they sat down at an empty table at Daily Coffee. The café was thankfully quiet at this hour, a welcome break from the nosy looks and hushed whispers Adrian was getting tired of.
"Hi, Uncle Gary!" Julie greeted, grinning ear to ear. "Wanna see my colouring?" she asked, showing him her colouring book, her innocent eyes filled with excitement.
Gary, although kindly, had a faraway look in his eyes, his attention not on Julie's beaming face or her colouring book but on his troubled friend. Sensing the heaviness of the conversation they were about to have, he suggested, "Should we get our drinks first?" Adrian nodded, grateful for the momentary distraction.
With their hot drinks in hand, Adrian's pent-up frustration began to boil over. "I don't know who's been spreading these lies about me. It's too much."
"Slow down, Adrian," Gary said soothingly.
"How can I?" Adrian shot back, his exasperation clear. "What's so wrong with me? Look at me!"
"I know you're okay," Gary replied, trying to ease the tension. "Maybe people are just trying to be supportive."
"I don't need their support," Adrian replied harshly. "They should help someone who really needs it. Someone worse off than me."
"Daddy, what does 'worse off' mean?" Julie asked, interrupting the conversation.
Adrian opened his mouth to respond, but Gary's words overlapped with Julie's, leaving him unable to discern what had been said. Gently rubbing Julie's shoulders, Adrian requested, "Hold on a moment, sweetheart." He turned his attention to Gary and asked, "Sorry, what were you saying?"
"I was asking if you'd join me tomorrow," Gary clarified, sounding hopeful. "I know you're not into church events, but we're having this New Life in the Spirit seminar at BTRC in Kundasang. It's a beautiful place, and there's one spot left. Don't worry, Julie can come too. I'll make sure they're fine with a kid attending."
The mention of Kundasang, a place filled with painful memories, made Adrian's head spin. "Kundasang?" he asked, surprised.
"Yes, I get why you're hesitant," Gary agreed, looking at him steadily. "But isn't it time to make peace with the past? Maybe this is your chance to prove to yourself you're ready to face what happened."
Adrian thought it over, his eyes landing on his daughter, who sat there looking like the bravest person he knew. Nervously, he asked Julie if she'd be okay going back to where they'd had a terrible accident a few months ago.
To his surprise, Julie's eyes sparkled with enthusiasm as she said, "Yes! Let's go!"
A shy smile crept onto Adrian's face as he looked at Gary, both of them filled with anticipation. His little girl was showing more courage than he was. "It seems like Julie's readier than I am," he confessed, feeling both amazed and grateful.
"What did she say?" Gary asked, sounding excited. "I'm sorry, I missed it."
Adrian gave a soft laugh. "She said yes."
Gary's grin got bigger as he said, "Great. Pack everything up. We're leaving early tomorrow. I'll come get you."
The winding road leading to Kundasang tested Adrian's mental fortitude. The scenic beauty of the endless greenery, the majestic pine trees, and the glorious presence of Mount Kinabalu, veiled by swirling cumulonimbus clouds, failed to impress him in the slightest. Instead, a cold sweat trickled down his forehead, causing a shiver to run through his body.
"Just shut your eyes and breathe," Gary suggested, placing a comforting hand on Adrian's arm.
In contrast, Julie was loving their journey. She sat in the backseat, moving from one window to the other, entranced by the magical highland scenery.
When they finally reached BTRC, Adrian excused himself and hurried off to a bush-lined ravine. There, he was sick until all he could taste was the sour tang of bile in his mouth. Gary was there to help, rubbing Adrian's back in a soothing rhythm.
"There's a couch to rest on," Gary pointed towards a building where comfort beckoned through the doorway, accompanied by the welcoming smiles of two nuns behind a desk. "I'll handle check-in and the keys."
Adrian straightened up, still a little dizzy, but better. He walked slowly towards the entrance of the hostel. Julie, worried about her father, asked, "You okay, Dad?" Adrian nodded, taking in their surroundings. He noticed people of all ages attending the seminar, but Julie was the only child. He wondered if she would feel lonely in the coming days among all the grown-ups.
Sometime in the afternoon, Adrian was awoken from his nap by a steady knock on the door. Half-asleep, he climbed out of bed to see Gary waiting. "Get dressed," Gary said. "We're starting our first session in the conference room soon."
"Alright," Adrian mumbled sleepily. "Be there soon." He closed the door swiftly, exchanging his clothes and rubbing his face with his hands to chase away the remnants of sleep. Amidst his preparations, he noticed Julie engrossed in her colouring, sprawled atop their bunk. The chill of Kundasang made Adrian shiver as he grasped the cold metal frame. "Get ready, honey," he called out. Julie smiled in response, immediately descending the ladder of the bunk bed.
Moments later, on their way to the conference room, exchanging warm glances with others, Adrian was greeted by a friendly middle-aged nun who introduced herself as Sister Margaret. "Shalom! Your name?" she inquired.
"Hi, Sister. I'm Adrian."
"And who might this little pumpkin be?"
"My daughter, Julie," Adrian answered. Sister Margaret's kindness reassured him that coming to the seminar had been a good decision. For the first time in a long while, someone had paid genuine attention to Julie. Adrian had occasional twinges of guilt for not sending her to kindergarten, a consequence of his protectiveness following the accident. The music shop he owned and operated was too adult-centric, where Julie often went unnoticed.
As expected, the first gathering encompassed briefings and overviews, unveiling the roadmap for the entire seminar. Each segment was punctuated by prayers and melodious worship songs. Adrian felt a lightness in his heart, unable to contain the beaming smiles he shared with Gary and Julie, who stood steadfastly by his side.
"Until later, brethren," Sister Margaret said, wrapping up the session. "Dining hall for dinner, then back here. Tonight, we'll unlock the Holy Spirit's power."
The night's session, aptly named Sanctifying Gifts, resonated with fervent prayers, echoed aloud by all attendees after they repeated the hymn Come Holy Spirit incessantly. Adrian couldn't deny the stirring within his soul, tears streaming unabated down his face.
The intensity of emotions heightened as others in the gathering began to worship in the divine language of speaking in tongues. Before Adrian knew it, he found himself dropping to his knees, his entire being consumed by sobs. Every burden that had plagued him for years—the death of Dianne, the terrible accident, the hurtful gossip about his sanity—found release as he poured his heart out, surrendering everything to God.
Moments later, a gentle hand made contact with his head and shoulder. Even without opening his eyes, Adrian recognized the touch as that of Sister Margaret. "Lord, protect this child," her voice reverberated, nearly drowned out by the collective singing and his own heartfelt sobbing. Her prayers continued, though Adrian struggled to make out the words amid the cacophony of sound.
Then, Sister Margaret spoke softly in his ear, urging him to open his eyes. Obeying her request, Adrian scanned the room, his gaze ultimately resting on his daughter, Julie, whose face radiated an ethereal glow. Julie spoke, her words cutting through his shock like a blade. "Daddy, Mommy's there! Just like your wallet picture!"
Panic seized Adrian's senses as his mind spun in disbelief, grappling with the meaning of Julie's words. But before he could gather his thoughts, Julie spoke again, her smile illuminating the room. "Bye, Dad. We love you."
Instantly, darkness took hold of Adrian as he tumbled backward, blacking out for the second time on Kundasang's soil, yet this time, he sustained no injury, simply conceding to the divine forces in motion.
Days blurred after the BTRC seminar, leaving Adrian lost in a windswept terrain with flat, engraved stones. With Gary by his side, leading him to a long-denied truth, Adrian braced himself for the overwhelming emotions as they drew closer.
"I love you," he vowed softly, his hand trembling against the memorials of Julie and Dianne.
Then, he turned to Gary, a flicker of gratitude passing through his eyes. "Thank you," he murmured, recognizing his newfound healing and readiness for the next chapter.