The man had tears gushing down his face like the Niagara Falls of sadness. His eyes had great bags under them, a sign of the countless nights he had spent watching and hoping, but he was fighting an unbeatable battle. You can’t overcome death, as they say, “you can run but you can’t hide.” The man’s name was Marcus, and his daughter Tanya had been running from death for months. This felt unbearable. Marcus was a talented athlete, but he was helpless against an enemy he could not see or hear, much less fight. Tanya was the only thing keeping him going; now he had nothing. No one to work for.
“WHY, WHY!” he shouted at the starless sky, knowing he would not get an answer from the beautiful sky, that was so contrary to his solemn mood.
Marcus just sat there on the rough sidewalk, knowing in his broken heart that eventually he would have to get up, walk, and face the world that had tortured him so. After a while, he stood up. He knew that he would have to keep living life. He was sure that’s what both of them would have wanted. He lost his wife and his daughter in a two-month span. The hardest 1-2 punch he had ever felt, including his high school boxing career. He somehow got himself to call a cab. When he got home, Marcus lay down exhausted, and fell asleep instantly.
He didn't know what to do when he awoke, as the weight of death was still clutching his mind. Marcus sat up, his body tired and worn from many long days and sleepless nights. The law firm had been more generous than he could have hoped for, giving him two extra weeks of leave time, but it wasn’t enough, nothing would be. He walked outside, not knowing where he was going or what time he was coming back. Soon enough he was downtown, the sky a cornucopia of colors. He could hear the endless chatter of people who were having a much better day than he was.
Marcus was walking besides a two-story building when he noticed a flier on the window. It said, “VOLUNTEERS NEEDED Peace Neighborhood Center.” On most days Marcus would have just passed this flier up without even a second glance, but this wasn’t a normal day at all. The fact was that Marcus needed to volunteer at least once, to show himself that he would one day move on from the horrors that had consumed the past few months. He took out his cell phone and called the number shown on the flier.
“Hello?” said a soft female voice.
“I’m looking to volunteer.”
“Really, well you can come tomorrow, we really need the help,” she answered, in a sad sort of tone.
“Okay, sounds good,” Marcus said, wondering what “we really need the help” would mean for him tomorrow. But he didn't care, he was happy to help. Happy to be of use to someone in this world, as he couldn't be of any use to the people he cared most about.
The Peace Neighborhood Center looked like a gym on the outside, but once you got in, it looked much more like a school. Marcus went up to the front desk where a short young lady was sitting. “I signed up to volunteer today, how can I help?” he asked in a low tone.
“Can you tutor?” her voice was nice and soft, like chocolate rain.
“Okay, put your name and the time on the sign-in sheet, then you can go in that green door over there,” she was pointing at a door right behind her desk. It was a very dark green, almost blackish. His heart was beating a little faster, and he thought, “I sure hope I don’t get a screaming six year old,” but when he walked in he was surprised to see that it was actually fairly quiet. There was a large group of kids reading, and a couple of younger children playing a game in the corner. He was told to help someone named Kayla, a tall girl with rich dark brown skin, and black hair.
“How old are you?” Marcus asked.
“Twelve,” Kayla’s voice was cloudy and sad, and you could tell by the look on her face that something was wrong, but Marcus knew he shouldn't press it. She was supposed to read him the book, and he would tell her what she got wrong, but she read amazingly well. She was reading The Iliad, which must be some sort of record for a twelve-year-old to read.
“Can I do something else?” Her eyes wouldn't meet Marcus’s; she was either very shy or really depressed, or maybe even both. Marcus had lost his daughter two days earlier, and by comparison, he looked almost cheerful. Whatever Kayla was going through, it must be really terrible.
“What do you want to do?” Marcus asked.
“Cards,” Kayla answered plainly. For the next thirty minutes, they played a card game that Marcus had never heard of before. He found it surprisingly fun and interesting, even though he didn't understand much of the strategy. Kayla was great at the game though, and beat him every single time they played.
After working with Kayla, Marcus went into the kitchen and helped the people there make a salad for the kids. It was actually a pretty good day for Marcus, considering what had happened to his life over the last few months.
In a world where feelings are all relative, for Marcus, volunteering at the Peace Neighborhood Center felt amazing, a wonderful change from the death and sadness that had consumed his life the past few months. There was still the pain of sadness, but it was further back now, compressed by the distraction of the Neighborhood Center. Two lives lost is a tragedy, but why lose another in the depression that follows those lost lives? Marcus knew that helping others would be the only way to not be another pointless casualty in the fight that is living.
So this is why Marcus decided to come back to the center the next day, and the day after that, for as long as he could. Every single day, Kayla would read aloud to him in that strong soft voice, but after about five minutes she would always want to do something else. They played a different game every time. All the games were new to Marcus, and they all required an amazing amount of skill and intellect. There was still something wrong though, you could see it in Kayla’s eyes. It was as if the sun that is her person was covered by a dark gray cloud, but she was trapped in the cloud and unable to get out. Even when she seemed happy, there was still something wrong, a frown hidden in the depths of her smiling face. Marcus didn't know what to do. Should he ask, and risk getting shut out of her life completely, or should he stand idly by, knowing in his heart that maybe he could help her. This question bothered Marcus all the time; it was eighty degrees outside, but his body still felt cold.
Two days later something bad happened. Kayla had to leave early for a dentist appointment. When her dad got there he seemed angry for some reason, he swore a couple of times, and dragged her out. Kayla seemed very upset, but didn't really let on. The look on her face was the same as a wounded animal, scared and hurt. Marcus felt really bad right then; a mountain of sadness and anger hit him all at once, but what could he do? He knew that if he cut in, it might result in additional pain and suffering for Kayla. He was more trapped than ever in his life. He had been put in headlocks that had knocked him out, but this was much worse. When he left the Peace Neighborhood Center that day, Marcus was lost.
The next day, Marcus found Kayla sitting in a corner. As soon as he sat down, she burst into tears. Marcus didn't know what to do, so he started reading out loud. They read for over an hour, but when Kayla got up to walk home, Marcus noticed something. Kayla had big dark bruises on her lower neck reaching to the top of her shirt. “What did your dad do to you?” Marcus whispered to Kayla, afraid of what he might hear. He didn't get a response, instead she just started sobbing.
Two hours later they were at the police station. It turned out that Kayla’s dad had been abusing her for years, but had always threatened to beat her more if she told anyone. Her dad had been put in a jail for the time being, until things were sorted out. After a long time, Kayla finally asked, “Will everything be alright?”
With all that had happened to Marcus’s life over the past few months, he gave the only sincere answer he could, “I sure hope so.”