I remember the day better than any other, when for the first time, I had woken up with the sun in my face. The bright light that was filtered through the dirty window had confused me at first. But, as I slowly came to my senses, excitement ran through my veins and shivers went down my spine. With a huge grin on my face, I shoved the bedsheets aside and took off, knocking down almost everything in my way.
I sidled past my mother, through the doorway, and it was then when I finally saw it. For the first time, in all of the twelve years I had, I could see, I could feel the sun. The world had brightened, there were people bustling about, and I could see their faces without having to squint in the firelight. I had felt so exhilarated that day, that I just laughed as loud as I possibly could, with all the joy I had. The sun was bright, we were blessed with not a single cloud in the sky, and I felt warm for once, not only on the outside, but on the inside too.
Then, I was very rudely interrupted. “What do you think you’re doing young man!” I turned and saw the face of my absolutely, wonderful mother.
“Sorry Ma’am,” I said with a sheepish look.
She looked completely aghast with my reply. “You should be dressed and be helping out with preparations for the sunlight festival! Not standing in the middle of the street like a buffoon in your night clothes! You’re lucky the Leers haven’t come for you!”
With that, I ran back into the house, along with my childish innocence. Once I had dressed properly, I peeked into the kitchen only to see the women gathered together baking and gossiping with each other, something about the Leers predicting a new death. Before anyone spotted me and told me to go do some useful, I grabbed a pastry and ran out of the house with my cap.
There were stands everywhere when you reached the town square, selling almost anything and everything you could think of. People were running around, hurrying not to miss a single thing before the sun set for another 63 years. I strolled down the cobblestone pathways, weaving through the crowd, and enjoyed my first time at the sunlight festival.
I was engrossed with a trinket that was being sold, when I heard someone yell, “Look out!”
I turned towards the source of the noise, just in time to see a blur of yellow run straight into me. I was shoved onto the ground, surely bruising my back. I looked up and noticed that the girl had managed to stop herself from falling with me, but she gave me a withering look anyways.
“Hey! Watch it!” she said, angrily.
“But you were the one who bumped into me!” I whined.
Her face reddened with embarrassment as she realized what I had said was true, and apologized immediately. “Sorry,” she mumbled, and with that, she offered a hand to help me up.
I smiled, and as I took her hand, I had seen a sadness in her ocean colored eyes. But once she had helped me up, it was replaced with a look of annoyance, when a sudden uproar could be heard from a little further down the pathway.
Before I could speculate more about it, the girl had hurriedly run off in the opposite direction, forgetting that my hand was still tightly clasped within her small one. She dragged me - without paying any heed to my protests - into an alley in between two stands. I tried to question her on what was happening, but she only shushed me with a glare.
So I did as she asked, and closed my mouth. I watched her as she peered out at the street, with a calculating look. Then, she pushed me even further down the alley, so that we were covered by the shadows. A man had walked by the alley, looking frantic. “ Little miss! Where are you! Come back!” he called.
Once he had finally passed, and his cries faded away, the girl let out the breath she had been holding in. Looking more relieved, she once again dragged me back out on to the streets to check if the man was really gone. as she confirmed it, she apologized to me once again.“Sorry about that.”
“Why did you hide from that guy? Wasn’t he looking for you?” I asked, ignoring her apology.
“Yeah,” she said without care. “I kinda snuck out of the house so I could go to the festival.”
“Like, I mean, can you believe them?” she asked, talking to no one in particular. “The sun only comes out once every 63 years! And today is such a beautiful day too! Even the Leers aren’t that crazy! I’ll be lucky if I ever see the sun rise again, so I am going to enjoy this day as much as I can!” She seemed so upset that I could practically see the fire in her eyes. Once she had calmed down, she looked at me. “So, what about you?”
“Huh?” I was confused.
She rolled her eyes and rephrased her question, “How did you get here?”
“Oh, I snuck out. Same as you.”
With a mischievous grin, the girl said, “I think we’ll get along just fine.”
And just like that, we had become best friends. We bounded over to any stand that had nice smells or shiny trinkets. We joked around, played and ran through the streets. We watched the street performers dance and sing. It was when we were stuffing our faces with some pastries when the girl gasped.
“Oh! I never introduced myself!”
I shoved another pastry into my mouth, watching her straighten her back and lift her chin up, in an almost pompous way.
“My name is Lily Geneve Elmore, and I’m twelve years old,” Lily said with an air of fake elegance.
“Cool,” was the simple reply I gave.
She had looked at me expectantly, tapping her foot, like my mother when she got irritated.
“What?” I asked, biting into my thirteenth cookie.
“Well! What’s your name?” she asked, and in her burst of exasperation, she smacked my back. I choked on my cookie and was coughing for a bit. I turned back to Lily, only to see her still waiting for an answer.
“Well, I’m, um, Al - I mean Alphonse! But everyone calls me Al, so, um, you can call me Al too. And I’m, uh, twelve too.” I replied, still recovering from the coughing fit.
Then, she smiled like she had just learned the greatest secret in the world, content with what I had told her.
I smiled back, and we both continued on our exploration of the festival. I learned that Lily was a reckless and impulsive girl, heckling with every booth-owner. She was also carefree, jumping and running in her light yellow dress. She was bright like the sun. But, I also noticed that she had a look in her eyes that made her seem much older than she already was. I couldn’t tell what it was, but I knew it couldn’t be good.
When the day was soon to be over, a mere few minutes from the sun to begin setting, we were rolling around in a wide field of flowers. Doing tricks, laughing as one of us slipped and fell, we finally settled down in a dry patch of grass, right in the middle of the field.
Lily kicked off her sandals, and wiggled her toes at the freedom.
“Hey, Al! Do you know what those flowers are called?” she asked, pointing to some flowers near us.
Even though I could tell she already knew the answer, I decided to humor her. I squinted at the white flowers she was pointing at, pretending that I was trying to identify them. “No, I don’t know. What is it?”
She looked proud as she said, “Those are lilies. Aren’t they pretty!”
I nodded in response. “You’re a pretty amazing person Lily. I’m glad you ran into me today.”
That was when the happy look in her eyes dimmed. “I don’t know what makes you think that,” she said. “I’m a selfish person, not cool at all.”
I watched her with the childish curiosity I had possessed back then.
She continued, but this time, started with a teasing tone, “Actually, when I think about it, I get why you think I’m so awesome.” Lily turned to me and stroked her chin with a sly smile. “You are kinda a weakling for a boy after all.”
My face reddened in embarrassment and anger. “Hey!”
She had laughed at my expense, but then became despondent once again.
“Do you want to know why I wasn’t let outside today?”
I nodded eagerly, for I didn’t know what I was getting myself into back then.
She continued as the wind rustled her blonde hair. “I was born different.” Pause. “My body couldn’t handle anything.” Pause. “I was weak,” she said spitting out the last word with anger and despair.
I watched, my eyes widening because I had never thought someone so strong could be this way.
“I worked hard. I practiced doing anything that I couldn’t until I could. I managed to survive, and live as close to a normal person as I could.” She wasn’t looking at me anymore. The sun had started to set, the sky turning all shades of orange and pink. “And then, when I finally felt as if I could live normally, the Leers came to me.”
I gasped. Everything had made sense then. Leers were well known for their predictions of the future. They were never, ever wrong. They would predict a time when something significant would happen, and it would happen.
I could see the tears in Lily’s eyes and feel my own start to well up as she continued. “Yeah. That’s right. The Leers came to me and told me that I was going to die. When my parents found out, they locked me up in the house, hoping that they would be the first to prove the Leers wrong.” She was crying now, “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t just sit there waiting for death to come to me. So I snuck out. Felt the sun on my face, and enjoyed the little time I had left.”
I had tried so hard to hold back my tears, but some spilled out. We cried together in silence. That was when I spoke.
“When?” my voice came out soft and raspy.
She looked at me, her face undecipherable. Her simple answer made me cringe. “Today.”
We sat in silence, as the sun continued to set.
The quiet was broken by her. “Thanks. For today. You’re my best friend.”
I couldn’t bear to listen to her breaking voice. I was failing miserably at holding back tears. That was when she leaned her head on my shoulder and spoke for the last time I could remember.
“Let me rest for a while, okay?”
I sniffed loudly, and nodded my head vigorously.
The sun was almost gone by that time. The last rays of light were gradually disappearing beyond the horizon. The sky was beautiful, all the colors of the rainbow mixed together. We just sat there as the light from the world slowly left us.
“Goodnight, Al,” was the soft murmur that came from her.
It was when Lily finally closed her eyes, the night had begun. The last ray of light was gone and so was Lily.
That’s all that I can remember. I don’t remember wailing loudly with her cold body still leaning against mine. I don’t remember Lily’s parents finding us together. I don't remember burying her burning cold body. I don’t remember being scolded by my mother for sneaking out. I especially don’t remember not sleeping that night, scared that if I fell asleep, my memories of her would disappear.
That was it. Life went on, even without Lily. The sunless sky above us as we went about our own business in the firelight. I grew older, wiser. I lost most of my hair, only keeping some gray, wispy strands. I lost some strength, for I needed a cane in order to walk now. My eyesight got worse and now I wear glasses.
While reminiscing of the past, I’m startled by the young girl who lands on my stomach.
“C’mon Gramps! Get off that old chair of yours and lets go see the sun!” she whined.
My stomach rumbles when I let out a deep chuckle. I reply to my granddaughter,“Hold your horses Lily, the sun won’t rise for another hour.”
“But, please Gramps! Can’t we just head to the grave? The one in the pretty flower field!”
I smile at what she says and slowly push myself off the chair. She smiles back and laughs with utmost happiness. She scampers off as I follow slowly behind her, gripping my cane.
The dark sky seems to lighten a little, as the sun was getting closer and closer to our side of the horizon.
And when we reach the field, I bend my sore back to seat myself next to a tombstone. I slip off my weather-worn shoes and wiggle my toes, just like the person next to me had once done. I watch my granddaughter jump and tumble through the field, and admire the energy that the person she shares her name with also had.
“Hey Gramps! Look!”
Then, just as the bright light hits the horizon, I can just barely hear the wind’s soft voice over the squeals of my granddaughter.
"Good morning, Al.”