Nov 21, 2021
17 mins read
^^^^^ Above is the better looking version of this story. Enjoy.
One Last Time
“Yhea! Well I don’t give a sh!t.”
I yell as I slam the door to my brother's house. I walk down the stairs. Turn left at the sidewalk. Slip, and then I fall on my back.
I try and get up, but I can’t seem to find the friction in my shoes. I slip again this time falling on my face. I yell at the ground, but that doesn’t scare it enough to help me. You would think someone might stop and help me, but there is no one on the streets of New York City today. Christmas Eve can do that sometimes. Even if there are people walking around, they are either homeless, without family, or just plain crazy.
The woman that approached me however, was none of those things. “Sir, are you alright?” she asked.
I looked up and saw the woman. She was wearing a green headscarf. She extended her hand and helped me up.
“I don’t mean to pry, but what are you doing on the ground on Christmas Eve?”
“I just slipped and fell, and was going to get some last minute presents for the family.
She beamed. “Well isn’t that perfect! I was also going to the store for some last minute shopping myself. Being an old woman in these parts is quite dangerous, can’t be alone for too long. Let us go together.”
The women didn’t look a day over 25. Nonetheless, I ended up accompanying her on her shopping spree. She bought groceries, toys, and flowers. Lots of flowers. By the time we got to her car, my arms were depleted of their blood from the amount of bags I was carrying. The woman ended up buying me some Shawarma for helping her and we sat in a park to eat a late lunch.
“Isn’t this the best meal? I love shawarma with a passion.” She then gobbled on her sandwich. I took a bite out of mine. The taste buds in my mouth went wild. I hadn’t realised how hungry I was, now that I think about it I did leave the house without eating breakfast. With my hunger taking over, the other two sandwiches in the bag didn’t have a chance.
“Good thing I bought three. You always did eat too much when you were hungry.” The lady said. As soon as the words came out of her mouth she gasped, as if revealing a secret.
With a stuffed mouth I asked, “Do I … know you?”
“What! No! You don’t know me, we just met.” She stated suspiciously.
She held out her hand confidently and stated, “My name is Aicha Demsi, and it is nice to meet you Mr….”
I shook her hand, “Adam, Adam Blitzen.”
“You never did answer my question Mr. Adam Blitzen.” She took another bite of her shawarma.
“What were you doing on the ground on Christmas Eve?”
I took a bite of my second Shawarma.
“It’s like I said, I wanted to buy some last minute presents.” She made a buzzer like sound. “Wrong answer.”
“How would you kno…”
“You didn’t buy anything while we were out, and we went practically everywhere today.
You can’t fool this old lady.”
I stopped eating. Then she asked me the question again. “What were you doing, all alone?”
I ruffled my hair. Placed my hands on my temple and wondered if this is what a migraine felt like. I wanted to forget about what happened this morning.
“I don’t think it’s any of your concern…”
“Oh please spare me the excuses, just let it out already.”
“I barely know you lady, you can’t just waltz into my life and demand to know whats wrong.”
She looked at me sternly. She then took the shawarma out of my hands and grabbed the bag that held the third one. She started walking away when I said, “Hey, I was eating that!”
“Sorry Mr. Blitzen, I paid for this with my money, so it’s my lunch. Unless you tell me what's wrong with you, I’m going to have to go back home and enjoy the flowers I bought today.”
With my stomach rumbling and my appetite not quenched, I caved.
“Okay, okay, I’ll tell you why I’m out. Just please let me finish that delicious sandwich.” Aicha stopped in her tracks and came back to the bench. She gave me back my food, and
I told her what happened this morning.
“Me… My brother and I had a fight this morning.” I took another bite. Aicha looked at me suspiciously. “What was your fight about?”
I finished my second shawarma. “It doesn’t matter what it was about, I just had a fight with him. I stormed out of the house angry, and slipped on some ice. That's when I met you. Satisfied?” I tried to grab my last sandwich, however Aicha held it out of my reach.
“Not. Satisfied.” She put the shawarma bag behind her. Looking at me sternly, Aicha asked, “What did you and your brother talk about?”
The way she looked at me made me shiver. I had no idea someone's look could make me shiver more than the winter cold. But it was. I slouched back and sighed. Might as well.
“My brother just got engaged, and he wants to move out. Out of our parents home. Go and live in the suburbs to raise a family or something once he gets married. This would include selling our apartment and everything in it. I don’t want him to sell the apartment. We had a fight.” I looked at her and extended my hand, “Are you satisfied now?” I asked her.
Aicha put the shawarma in her lap. “So why don’t you live in the apartment?” “Because I don’t live here anymore. I came for the holidays.”
“So you expect your brother to live in an apartment that he doesn't want to live in?” “No, I just don’t want him to sell it.”
“Why not, Adam?”
I grinded my teeth, “Because it’s where we grew up.”
“Bzzz, wrong answer.” Her serious tone didn’t help the buzzer sound.
“What do you mean… Ugg, it doesn’t matter. That's the answer I’m giving you.”
“So, you admit it’s the wrong answer.”
“I admit that it’s none of your damn business!” I got off the bench. This lady was giving me a headache the size of a mountain. I needed to get away from her. Before I could do that she grabbed my arm.
“If you keep running, your problems will just pile up and you will take it out on the wrong person.” I pulled my hand away. I started to walk out of the park.
“If you want your last shawarma, you know where to find me.” She yelled that last part.
I had no idea where I was going. I just needed to get away from that woman. I just needed to get away.
I walked and walked and walked. Didn’t even know where I was going, just had to walk. If I stopped that means I would have to think and if I had to think… I don’t want to think. So I kept walking.
Mom always said walking was the best medicine. We would walk away all our troubles. When we all got too mad we would take a walk. When me and Hank got bad grades and Uncle Danny was about to give us a lecture, we went for a walk. When Hank was getting bullied, Mom walked right into the bullies house and gave him a piece of her mind. When my Uncle Danny died, me Mom, and Hank walked the streets of Manhattan for almost six hours.
It was when Mom couldn’t walk anymore that the world became less beautiful. Less bright. No more walks, just one hospital visit after another. And another. And another.
Then we stopped going out all together.
The funeral was the only time we left the apartment that year. “Adam?”
I looked up. Hank was at the top of the steps that I stormed out of this morning. The sun was going down. How much time had passed? “Adam? Are you okay?” My brother came rushing down the stairs. It was only when he grabbed my shoulders when I realized I was crying. I put my head on his shoulder and started sobbing.
“I’m sorry Hank.”
He hugged me. “It’s okay Adam. It’s okay.”
******************** “I know why you don’t want to sell the apartment.” “You do?”
I was back in the house, face washed, tears gone. Hank was making me some coffee to warm me up from being outside all day.
“This place has been our home for most of our lives.” He put the kettle on the stove. “With both Mom and Uncle Danny … gone, this seems like the last piece of them that exists.”
I looked down, ashamed of what I had told him this morning. “As per usual, your right
“I know.” He smiled as he gave me my coffee.
“I never thought about Mom after what happened.” I confessed. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, I kept her in the back of my mind, never really dealing with the fact that she
was... gone. And I think I’ve been like this for years.”
Hank sat down with his coffee in hand. “Adam, why didn’t you tell me about this? I could have helped you.”
I took a sip of my coffee. I almost spit it out. “Dude, you know I hate caramel!” “Let’s just call it revenge for what you called me this morning.”
I chuckled, “Fair enough.” I placed the coffee on the kitchen table.
I sighed. “I didn’t tell you... I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to talk about it. When Mom died, my world collapsed. I left, and we stopped talking, and I wanted everything related to Mom to just disappear from my brain.”
“I’m guessing dinner yesterday didn’t help.” “No, it definitely didn’t.”
Hank and I sighed. Then we looked at each other and laughed. I couldn’t believe this idiot was my brother. But he was all I had left. If he sells the apartment that is. I’ll let that be a topic for another day. For right now I’m just going to hang out with my family.
After our talk, I went into the living room and apologized to Nina, my soon to be
sister-in-law. Surprisingly she hugged me and started crying. She was worried about me being gone the whole day and insisted Hank go find me and apologize. I made popcorn and we watched Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. After the movie, Nina brought out boxes from the storage closet. She asked if she could make an album of all our childhood photos.
“This way, if you guys decide to sell the apartment, you won't have to lose all your memories of your Mom and Uncle.”
“Thats a nice thought Nina, but we are not selling the apartment.” I stated.
Hank gave me a stern look. “Of course that will be a topic for another day, Adam.” I grumbled in the corner, “but I think Nina’s right. I kinda want to look at your middle school photos right now.
“Hank, don’t you dare!” “Nina, dump the box!”
I looked at the photo again. I wiped my eyes and even asked Hank if he saw the same thing I did. I couldn’t believe it.
“Hank, I have to go out.” I started to put on my jacket.
“What do you mean you have to get out? It’s the middle of the night Adam!”
“Just don’t worry, I’ll be back!” And for the second time that day, I slammed the door in Hank's face. I’ll apologize later.
Despite it being Christmas Eve, New York City was still awake. Cabs were driving around and people were partying like there was no tomorrow. But I wasn’t worried about parties and cabbies right now. I was worried about Aicha Demsi. Did she really stay at that park bench like she said she would? Would I find her in time?
I ran fast, faster than I’ve ever run before. Mom never liked running. She always told me rushing into things wasn’t her style. It’s why she liked walking, it allowed her to think while giving her an excuse to exercise. Sorry Mom, but this is important!
I got to the park bench. I saw her sitting where I left her. Aicha looked at me relieved. With a smile on her face she said, “Good, your back.” She got off the bench, “We have a lot of things to do.”
We took Aicha’s car to the cemetery. We got all those flowers from the trunk and placed them on almost twenty or thirty graves. She was very specific about who got which flower.
Cecilia Foote who lived from 1982 to 2011 for example got a magnolia, while Benjamin Yeller who lived from 1942 to 2001 got a daisy.
After we had placed all the flowers in their place, Aicha put her hands together in a cup form, as if she was holding water in her hands. She said a couple of words that I couldn’t understand at each grave we put a flower at and poured some water on their tombstone.
“Is that some sort of prayer?” I asked after the last grave.
Aicha chukled, “Yes, in my religion we have to read a chapter from the Quran and recite a little prayer when we visit a grave. Usually where I’m from they have a little hole on top of the grave so we can place water in it. But here, I have to improvise.”
A few moments passed, then I took out the photo.
“This is a photo of my mother when she was still in the hospital. She insisted we take a photo of her with all the staff that took care of her, so that we remember the people that helped her.” I took a deep breath. Then…
“The photo was taken in 2005.” I handed the photo over to her, “And you're in the photo, Aicha.” She took the photo from me and smiled.
A light snow started to fall. The city began to darken as the sun set on the ocean.
However we wouldn’t be in the dark for long. Already most buildings and city streets had their lights on. The graveyard we were in had one measly lamp in the center. Aicha began her explanation with a confession.
“I lied to you before, when I said I didn’t know you.” She looked at me with a solemn face.
“I’ve known you most of your life in fact. You and your brother that is.” “What… I’m confused, how do you know me when we only met today?” I asked. A pause. “I guess I should start at the beginning.”
“I was a nurse in the cancer ward when I was twenty-three. The year was 2002 and I had been working as a nurse for four years at this point. I sent most of my salary to my family back home and had no life other than work. By the time I met your mother I was practically living in the hospital.
“If I were to describe Amanda in one word, it would be that she was radiant. I’m sure you know this, but despite the odds, she was confident that everything was going to be okay. Never was there a day where she didn’t see the good in life. You know, once I accidentally spilled food all over her bed, and you know what she told me. She said that the food brought out her skin complexion!” Aicha laughed after she said that. Then she sighed.
“That was until the doctors told her about her diagnosis. The lung cancer had spread all over her body by the time she was admitted into the hospital. Yet your mother wasn’t the only one dying that year.
“Because I wasn’t taking care of myself and living at the hospital, I caught an incurable disease. When I found this out and told my family, they disowned me, saying that only those
who could make money would be allowed back home. So, with no family and no reason to live I decided to die quietly.”
She paused for the first time since she began her explanation. I decided to chime in. “That sounds loney.”
“Your mother thought so too. In a moment I know I will regret for the rest of my life, I told your mother that I was going to die. I thought if I told her, she wouldn’t feel as bad about her life ending. Instead of consoling me, she started laughing. Could you believe it! Here I was, laying down my soul to this woman and she was laughing at me. I never knew it then, but she was thinking of ways to save me.”
“I don’t know how, but your mother kept me alive somehow. She tried to explain it to me but I didn’t understand. It had something to do with this necklace.”
She took out a gold necklace from under her clothes and showed it to me. There was a crescent moon at the end of it, it glowed in the night.
“She wanted me to give this to you when my time was up.” “What do you mean?”
“I can’t remember most of what your mother told me that night, but she specified that whatever kept me alive would dissipate as soon as this started glowing, and that when that happened I was to bequeath this to you when the time came.”
She took off the necklace and put it in the palm of my hand. As soon as it entered my hand it stopped glowing. Aicha on the other hand was as bright as the necklace. She has a light green glow, like the scarf covering her head.
“Wait, what's happening to you?” I exclaimed.
“I think it’s finally time for me to go.” She said solemnly.
She started dissipating into green particles. They flew up as the snow fell down. “Apologize to your brother if you haven’t already. And treat that Nina girl well! She has good intentions and wants to make your brother a happy man.” She sighed, “I wish I could have been there for their wedding.” Aicha looked back at me and declared. “Never forget your family. Even if they betray you and hurt you, they are the only thing you have left in this world.”
She cupped my face as she said the following, “I am so glad I got to see you one last time, Adam.”
Then she flurried into green balls of light.
Despite the slight snowfall, I looked up. I barely knew her, so I didn’t really know how to feel. And yet my eyes watered up when I saw that green light fade away.
I put the necklace in my pocket and walked out of the graveyard. I entered her car and drove home. I think I cried the whole way back.
Al Nihaya (The End)