New Year’s Eve

-Hitesh Belwal

The way how guilt forces a person to live with a dead soul is admirable. It is the strongest of all feeling.
Amber valley was a small town with few people and lots of feelings. From distant it would seem to be a normal small town but as one try to know it more, the more it wasn’t. Beautiful hills surrounded it from all of its side. It was always pleasing to view it from the hilltop. The town appeared like a child’s school project with small buildings, river with tiny bridges and tiny people with feelings. Anna could easily spot her apartment form hill as she sat there staring at the town. She sat there since an hour just watching the sky changing from black to red and orange. The stars started to disappear but one thing that never changed was the guilt inside her. She was 23 and lived in a small apartment with her mama. She worked in a big store and always looked tired and sleepless. Her fair skin and brown hairs revealed about her young beauty and her bright green eyes would make the stars look less shiny.
It was a chilling winter and beginning of the last day of the year. This very morning she decided not to enter the New Year but end up her life anyhow. She chose to kill herself as the hope to live was something she never experience since 5 years. As a tear rolled down her cheek she said to her own self “I do not deserve to live anymore. I never did”. She stood up from the morning dewy grass and screamed as she burst into cry “I want to die” she cried as she knew no one care to listen her in this ghastly world but she was definitely wrong this time. Suddenly she felt a hand over her shoulder which made her to turn herself terrified and discovered an old man standing with big plastic sack and a long fat stick. She took two steps backward and as she gazed him through his dirty ragged clothes she discovered he was without a leg. “Don’t die” he said in an odd low voice. “Who are you?” she inquired of the stranger. “Please don’t die” he cried and requested. “Don’t tell me what I should do. I am not allowed to talk to strangers.” She said furiously. She believed he is a mad man and decided to leave instantly. She started to walk briskly and as she reached some distance away heard him shouting “Don’t die”. She looked back and watched him fall down with his one leg. She ran back to help the poor man, held his one hand and pulled him up. “I wish I could help you too” the man said. “A thank you will do enough.” “I wish I could help you from not dying” he said as he looked her shiny eyes. “That is not… well you better take care of your own self instead”. “Not every scar is healed by time my dear. Tell me your story.” Suddenly she felt understood. She never had friends and she did not know why. “I am not allowed to talk to stranger” she hesitated. ”Are you allowed to die then?” he inquired curiously. “No. I am not. But I am supposed to.” Her eyes were wet by now, “My little brother died because of me. My mama is suffering because of me. I ruined everything” she cried as she said it. “Tell me what happened” he said it with curiosity to understand her. “You will never be able to understand me so leave me where I am” she demanded. “What if I try to understand? At least I can try; I hardly see any harm in that.” She thought herself to be as crazy as him because she decided to tell him her story. “Let’s walk down to town as I tell you about my sinful life after we introduce each other.” The man nodded “I am John. And I live in the small house right at the corner of the town” he pointed to the end of town as he said “With Sophia who is pregnant. I am very excited about the kids.” She was happy and jealous at the same time to see his excitement and wide smile. He has everything she thought. A wife and soon he will have kids “I am Anna and I live with my mother” she introduced herself.
 As they started to walk she said him about her little brother Jeremy. What a cheerful soul he was. Always jolly and full of dreams. It all started 5 years ago when she was 18 and her brother was 7. They were a happy little family. Her beautiful mother was the strongest lady she had ever seen and was her role model. Her darling papa died when she was 12. Anna wanted to travel the world to discover the places yet to be seen by human eyes. It’s surprisingly odd how all this vanished and molded her future to something else. At the end of summer that year Anna was exited for graduating high school and was looking for colleges. It was a normal day of June when Jeremy wanted to see the river from bridge after rain. The river was flooding heavily. Mama was busy and said him it was dangerous. But he didn’t listen, however Anna said to mama that she would take him to see the river as he wants to see it badly and will take care of him. Jeremy said her to take mama’s car and she denied but at the end she stole the keys and took the car “This is the last time I am doing this.” She said him. As they were heading towards the bridge in heavy rain something unexpected happened. She met with an accident in middle. She lost her control and the car just hit a big tree, however she ducked but Jeremy didn’t have time as it happened in a second of time. When she came to her consciousness in the hospital the news that her brother died hit her like a hundred ton weight and she started to cry bitterly. She looked around but mama wasn’t there. She asked Uncle Sam about her and he said that she is in the hospital and in terrible shock. Anna blamed herself for mama being in this condition. Mama couldn’t work anymore. She just sat on her chair staring at the ceiling and never spoke a word since then. She didn’t even shed a single tear since then. And Anna blamed everything on her. She decided not to go to college and work as she wanted money for her mother’s treatment. “And ever since 5 year I come here many times to cry my heart out. The guilt of killing my brother and make my mama what she is today would never let me go. It just holds me tightly.” “Don’t let your past decide about your future. Guilt hasn’t held you. It never did. Actually you are not letting go your past. Just forgive yourself dear.” He said concluding her.
They were standing outside her apartment. “Will you like to have tea?” she asked. “Yes. It’s chilling outside”. As they entered her small apartment with old furniture. She was terrified to see mama down on floor unconscious. “Mama” she screamed “Are you okay, mama.” “We should take her to the hospital right now.” said John. They took her to the hospital immediately. Doctor said that she was in a critical stage and there were very less chances that she will live. Anna was broken. Her papa died when she was 12, her brother died when she was 18 and she didn’t afford to lose mama. She was crying and blaming herself again. “My house is very near; I think you should come with me for sometimes.” She agreed and they went to his house. When they reached outside the small crooked house she was bounded by surprise by seeing 20 to 30 stray dogs sitting outside his house. He took out food leftover from his big plastic sack and gave them to eat. “These are my friends Anna. My only friends” For a second Anna thought that how lonely he was. He opened his door and there was a dog sitting just near an old broken chair. “This is Sophia. She is my best friend.” His words were full of amazement to her. Ever since they met she thought Sophia to be his wife. “And she is pregnant, isn’t she?” she inquired in amazement. “Yes. She is very pregnant. Isn’t it great? I am expecting today as a big day.” As she sat beside Sophia she saw a picture of a beautiful women and a young handsome man. “Who is that?” she asked surprising. “That is me with my Catharine; my lovely wife Cathy.” “What happened to her?” she was curious. “She died.” He said touching her face in photo. “I am so sorry” Anna said hesitatingly “How?” John began his story without wasting more time. “ About 30 year ago when I was 25 and she was 22 we got married. Everything was perfect, magical and the dreams were all coming to life. We loved each other more than anything, more than anyone. We were a small happy family; Me, Cathy and our dog Denny. After a year our lives became happier by the news that she was pregnant. Cathy and I were going to be mama and papa. We planned everything and moved to a bigger apartment. We even decided the names; Emma if girl and William if boy. But something awful happened. I still remember the gloomy rainy day of June. It was raining heavily and that day was supposed to be the happiest day of my life. I phoned Cathy and told her to wait at home and I’ll be there soon than we can go to the hospital. But she said she can manage to go to the hospital by herself and I should meet her there. When I reached hospital she wasn’t there I waited but she didn’t come so I went home. The door was locked from inside. I broke the door and right at the stairs she was in a pool of blood all around her. I was terribly frightened. I took her to the hospital but both of them died. My wife and my child were dead. I couldn’t save them. This is how I lost her Anna. I loved her so terribly much but was very helpless when she died.” As he looked at Anna she saw her wiping her tears. “See, I made you sad. You already are stressed by your mother’s condition and me…” “And so you started to live with dogs. Because your wife died and you had no one else in your life.” She said it convincingly. “No” he denied. “After Cathy’s death I was totally broken. I had the guilt of not saving her. Life was useless for me to live so I decided to kill myself and went to the bridge. Denny my dearest dog and my best friend followed me. I kissed him goodbye crying bitterly and jumped down the bridge. But as I jumped I realized that Denny needed me. My guilt made me so selfish that I forgot about him. And as I fell I shouted for help. The 3 seconds since I jumped changed my thought of dying. That time was less but enough to make me realize that the guilt wasn’t the strongest feeling but forgiveness was. I had to forgive myself. Everything that happened to me in past wasn’t holding me but I had held the past tightly and needed to let it go. I needed to forgive myself. When I came to my consciousness in the hospital people who brought me to the hospital told me that the dog died. I was shocked to hear that Denny jumped from the bridge just after me and they couldn’t save him. I cried for many days. I lost my one leg. I forgave myself for Cathy but I could never forgive myself for Denny. And since then I live with these dogs. I feed them, I talk to them and I love them.” As John heard Anna crying he stopped and said “Please forgive yourself. All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am; Not because of Cathy or Denny but because I choose to live this way.”
Anna glanced the time in her watch and realized she had to go to the hospital. “I have to go” she said hurriedly. “I’ll come with you” said John. When they reached hospital the doctor said that her Mama was alright now. “I wouldn’t live if she would be dead” said Anna looking at her mother’s sleeping face. “What if she would be thinking the same.” Said John and this made her realized how selfish she was to die. Today was 31 December, last day of the year and she decided that very moment to forgive herself. She discovered that forgiveness really was the strongest of all feelings and not guilt. John went and promised her to start the New Year together at her apartment. She went home with her mama. Unlike everyday she was smiling and as she looked at her mother she was smiling too. “I love you” said mama “I love you too mama” said Anna. After dinner when mama went to sleep she took some milk and biscuits for Sophia and smashed potatoes for John. As she reached at his house saw that there were no dogs outside. Door was open and his house was full of dogs and he was laying in the middle. She called his name but he didn’t wake. “John, are you asleep?” she said it twice. He was dead. She could feel remorse in the air. The man who taught her to live died on the same day when she decided to live. In the corner Sophia sat with her newly born puppies. She saw a white band tied on one puppy’s leg on which it was written “Happy New Year Anna. Live to the fullest. This is your new year’s gift. I can give you nothing more than this.” She burst into cry reading it as she knew he gave her the greatest gift; a hope to live and this time she chose it over dying. She knew everything will be change from now. She will start dreaming again, she will travel but the most important decision of her was to make John’s house a rescue center for dogs. And as the midnight arrived she was a new person herself.

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