Night - drives according to Zinnia were the best. She didn’t know if it were the serenity of a metropolitan city sleeping or if it was the whispering trees calling to her, but she loved sitting in the backseat of her Hyundai, gazing at the passing scenery. She spotted a squirrel, hopping along the trees, playing in rhythm to the swaying leaves. “Mom! Dad! Look, it’s Scrat.” She squealed in delight. It had been a week since Zinnia saw Scrat, and was getting anxious that her little friend had moved to a different tree. Her mom looked towards the left, smiling, and her father followed suit. They knew, how much their daughter loved squirrels.
Zinnia was looking at her parents, waiting for them to spot her scurry friend, but her grin faded. Her lips parted as a scream erupted within her, her gaze fixed at the black Chevy racing towards them.
In the next few minutes, she was going to experience a ridiculously sharp, throbbing pain; pain which she wouldn’t remember when she’ll finally be discharged from the hospital. Or would she?
He took a deep breath and rang the doorbell. The city, he thought was very small to be called one, but the houses all around him had such an air of grandeur that it could easily convince him otherwise. This house was no exception either- the walls were painted perfect white, the balconies decorated with fake vines-
“Elil?” the door had swung open, revealing a familiar woman in her mid-forties.
“Mrs. Millard! It’s great to see you again.” And indeed, it was. After all, the Millards had been his neighbours, until five years ago when they shifted to live with their extended family.
She chuckled, ruffling his hair, and motions to come inside. As he entered, he couldn’t but gape at the spaciousness of the house. He had been expecting a busy house teeming with people, but what he saw seemed like a huge mansion very much deserted. Where were those 'hundreds and thousands of humans living under that one roof' his mom warned him of?
Mrs. Millard leads him inside, stops in front of an oak wood door and knocked twice. “Let’s meet everyone shall we? They’re all awaiting your arrival.” Ah, so they must be assembled here. He swallowed as he nodded. He had to meet them all, of course, but together? Now, that’s harsh, especially for an introverted explorer like him. Nonetheless, they were providing him with accommodation, free of cost. The least he could do was to greet them all. Together. In an enclosed room. Yep. He could do that.
Anxiously, Elil walked inside, fiddling with the strap of his backpack. He was met with around ten to twenty faces, all staring at him, taking him in. Wait, no. There was one person- a girl – who was looking down at the floor uninterestedly.
“Elil! My dear lad-le-spoon.” he let out a startled laugh at that. Mr. Millard loved using puns, especially ones involving the word 'lad'.
“It’s good to see you again, Mr. Millard” he replied, now smiling. The rest of the introductions went breezily, all of them were natural sunshines with wide and toothy grins, until the girl and her family were introduced. Now there’s the cloud he hoped to avoid.
“Elil, this is Mr. And Mrs. Burman, and their daughter, Zinnia.” Ah, so this was the amnesiac girl. He raised his hand with a polite smile, despite the tense atmosphere, the two adults doing nothing to loosen it. Mr. Burman continued to just stare at him, while Mrs. Burman made a half-hearted attempt at smiling. He let his hand fall back to his side. Zinnia shrugged and walked out of the room, disinterestedly. Her parents glanced at each other and then muttering something to Mrs. Millard, they went after her.
He squirmed, feeling uneasy, and looked at Mrs. Millard. She glanced back at him, “I’m so sorry about that Elil, they-” he cut her off, with a nonchalant wave, and convinced her that he wasn’t offended at all. “it’s alright, mother told me about Zinnia. I understand them, really.” She smiles, and speaks slowly “if only everyone understood… do you know Elil? That when Nia was diagnosed with amnesia, Mr. Burmans’ extended family didn’t bother. ‘Oh, but it’s the child, she’ll grow out of it' everyone used to say. But I knew. We all did, in fact, that they were waiting to get my sister’s family out of their world.” Elil felt disgusted. “Why? What did they do?” “What did they do?” she echoed, “Nothing. They’re successful, and with success comes envy.”
The next day, he was taking a day’s rest to get used to his new surroundings. He was wandering around the house, fascinated at the paintings hung at a uniform interval. One of them caught his eyes. It was a swirling black void but at the very centre, bright blue lips were caught in a smile. Under it, written in a meticulous handwriting a small note was written, 'If you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.' He smiled, recognising the quote. Under the quote, towards the corner was another inscription, 'We won’t forget to remember you dear, Zinnia.'
He read it and read it again. He knew, it was Zinnia's family who wrote it especially for her, and felt like those eight words held all the sentiments of the world. About to head back, he saw Zinnia – Nia, as everyone else called her- staring at him. He waved a hello to her. Elil expected a lot of things- maybe she might continue staring, or she would walk away like the day before, or maybe even just a mumbled hi. What he did not expect was a black eye at the end of the day.
The following day he wanted nothing more than to lay in bed, especially after the embarrassing incident yesterday, but someone was banging his door loudly. Groaning, Elil opened it to find a grinning Zinnia. “Hi! Elil right? I’m Zinnia. Zinnia Burman? Niece of Mrs. Millard?”
“Yeah, I know you.” Elil didn’t mean to be rude, but it just slipped from him. “Sorry, I didn’t-”
She cuts him off midway, “My au, er, parents wanted me to apologise to you. So, sorry.” “It’s alright” He shrugs and starts to turn, ready to get back to his bed, but stops when she gasps.
“What happened to your eye?” Zinnia whispers. He looks at her pointedly. Certainly, her parents told her why she was apologising to him?
“I did that? No. Way. That’s cool!” She looks at his eye, then at her fist and back to his eye. He wanted to ask if she was actually admiring her strength, but instead let it drop. Sighing, he mutters how he should never have wandered around, looking at those paintings. “Yeah, well it would have saved you all the trouble” she snorts. He was confused. What was so touchy about viewing those art pieces?
“The Nietzsche quote! Those words. Didn’t. You. Read. Them?” she was stage whispering now, but the answer was obvious to her, as realisation dawned on Elil. “Well, they’re not for you to read.” She spat, and tossing her hair, she stomped away. Elil shakes his head as he realised that unintentionally he intruded her privacy, and decided that he would make it up to her later.
Now fully awake, he shrugs off the thought to go back to his bed. He was craving for some caffeine and hoped that the nearest Starbucks was well, near. An hour later, he was making his way around the house, and managed to get to the front halls, where Elil spotted the Burmans huddled close and speaking softly. He waved a good morning to them, to announce his presence. The two adults wearing identical faces of confusion, turn towards him while Nia continues to look at her parents.
The sudden situation was very awkward for Elil. He looks behind him and then back at the family. Why were they staring at him? Finally, Zinnia too looks at him with an almost similar emotion. “You seem really familiar. Have I seen you before?” Now that the question was out, her parents seemed to relax. Oh, He wondered, were they worried about Zinnia's reaction to him? Or were they worried that he was angry with her?
He nods slightly, “Yeah. We, um, met an hour ago?” seeing her parents hesitate to say something, he continued, “you came to apologise? You know, for punching me yesterday?” At the last line, her eyes shone, as recognition filled her features. She sure did remember him as the punching bag. Sighing, Elil takes his leave and sets out for his caffeine, plopping his shades on to cover his eyes.
“Are you new here?” the old woman begins without any preamble. The people here, were most certainly straightforward with their questions. Turned out the nearest Starbucks was less than a mile away, and to Elil's relief, it was empty. Except for this old woman.
“Yes, ma’am. Temporarily though. I’m here for just another week.” Elil didn’t know why, but he felt compelled to show everyone(mostly the Burmans) that he won’t be here for long; that he wasn’t here to be a nuisance.
“Ah, I see. Well, I’m here temporarily too. Visiting the Rians, though I used to live here before I moved” He didn’t know why she was telling all that to him, maybe to make him feel better? But all he was feeling was sullen, and if iced tea couldn’t make him feel better, then, how could she? Nevertheless, he continued the conversation, if only for a distraction.
“I’m staying with the Millards and the Burmans.”
“Oh my, my. Then you must be a good friend of Zinnia? The poor darling, how is she doing? It’s been a long time since I last saw her.” She croons, fixing her bonnet. Elil was surprised that people still wore bonnets.
He replies, removing his shades, “Oh, she’s in top health physically at least.” He was suddenly horrified that he shouldn’t have said that. He repeated his words mentally, 'physically at least' and felt ashamed. The woman chuckles, ignorant of his choice of words, and he feels better almost instantly.
“Speaking of mental health, my brother has recently opened a house for people with amnesia, dementia, and-” Oh, great, so she didn't miss the catch.
“Zinnia has a house already.”
“Of course, she has. See, my brother, he is providing a one-year free treatment for early birds. So, you know, it’s just a parting of a year, at the end of which her parents would be in much better mental state. That is a guarantee.”
“Her parents?” Elil was getting more and more agitated with this woman. If she was here just to publicize her brother, she should have picked someone else. He had sipped the last of his tea, and was ready to leave. But what was she talking about Nia’s parents?
The woman looked at him oddly, as if pointing out something obvious. He shrugs, failing to understand what she means.
She sighs, “Her parents. Zinnia's parents!” Like, that was supposed to help him. “Listen, that family can act all they want. But I know it, and I think you might too, those two Burmans have been worsening.”
“Worsening? What are you even talking about?” he was incredulous now, not liking at all where all this was headed.
“oh, for god’s sake, don’t act blind. The amnesia! It has been worsening. I’ve heard that they don’t even step out just as much these days.”
With a dead calm face, he says, “You’ve got it all mixed up. The Burmans are perfectly fine. It’s only Zinnia who has a slight case of amnesia, but I’m told that she’s progressing.” Elil gets up then, and walks out of the café. In his mind, Mrs. Millard's words were still echoing...They were waiting to get my sister’s family out of the world.
Meanwhile the woman was very surprised and hadn’t even flinched when the little boy stormed out of Starbucks.
My, my. She thought, and so the child has donated her eyes to her blind parents, to be blind herself? She shook her head and chuckled at the thought of dear Nia, the one with an almost perfect memory having amnesia. Well, haven’t they played fantastically. Fooled everyone by the looks of it. Still chuckling, she got up, adjusted her bonnet, and thanking the waitress, she left the little coffee shop.