“I’m so sorry, Sohla.”

The familiar man’s words fall on deaf ears, and I stare blankly at the pictures set up on the flower altar, consumed with nothing but numbness and emptiness, as though I have lost all sense of everything and exist only in a black hole. There’s no oxygen in this space, no air, or breeze, no sensation except stifling heat, and oppressive, claustrophobic surroundings. It could be a bubble for all I know, a lifeless and empty bubble holding me prisoner in this atmosphere-less existence.

 Not hearing him, I continue to look ahead. Fixated. Taking in the rows and rows of white flowers of every kind, laid out perfectly to nestle their images so respectfully on top. A wall of white to counteract the darkness of the room. Candles burning to each side of the loving faces, illuminating subtle smiles with ethereal glow, and yet it all feels so ugly and wrong. They shouldn’t be here.

I don’t respond, unable to move, or breathe, and gaze emptily at the two shining faces staring back at me as though devoid of all ability to move. My heart aches physically, inside my body, and my stomach hurts with splicing pangs, yet nothing comes out, and my face is bone dry. I’ve lost the sensation of my limbs so that I no longer feel attatched to my own body and stay as I am, lifeless and still without blinking, unaware of how my legs shake to keep me upright. I have no concept of time or how long I have stood here. Only that I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now.

“Thank you for coming. It means a lot to see you here.” Jyeon’s mother’s voice flitters around behind me. Strained and low as though she’s been crying endlessly. Talking to all who come by to show their respects and yet I can’t turn around to see her. She pulls the voice away from me and mutters some other words of comfort, and thanks, and it fades out to the same eery nothingness of before. Locked on and focused only on dark brown eyes, the flawless complexions, and warming smiles of the faces I want more than anything to climb out of that frame and exist in my reality. I want their voices, their laughter, even their anger. I need to have them reach out and touch me just one more time.

“Sohla…. We need to move. It’s time.” Jyeon’s voice comes through this time. A gentle touch on my elbow as he delicately tries to break my trance, and I’m pulled out of my own head. Startled into sense by his breath lingering by my right ear, tingling my nerve endings so I shudder. The husky safe tone of the source of support this past week, and I turn my face and blink at him. Dazed in my surreal surroundings. Seeing nothing but a blurry image before me and yet his presence is wanted compared to everyone else. He’s been Jyeon of my childhood. Jyeon that I missed to the point of despair without ever knowing it. The dependable and caring Jyeon who was with me for every milestone of my youth. The soothing voice and mature words. The kid who would take my hand and help me keep up with all the boys he hung around with, without ever letting them use my gender to diss me.

“I can’t leave them here. They don’t belong here.” I utter breathlessly, whimpering, staring hopelessly into those dark eyes which mirror my own pain and sadness. Jyeon’s heart is broken too, maybe not to the same depth as mine, but we share a pain that has held us together these hours and I’ve come to depend on his presence to get through this today. He’s been grieving in a silent and strong way, never showing me how truly broken he is so that he can instead be what I need to stay standing. Without him nearby, tending to me, and sticking close, I would have collapsed hours ago.

“I know. You can’t stay here though. You haven’t eaten all day and you haven’t moved from this spot to drink or rest. It’s late, you need to come home with us. Please.” Jyeon slides an arm around my shoulders and attempts to move me, but I hold firm. Inwardly breaking down with the thought of no longer having them with me, of having them there when I go home. If I go, then they will lay here without me for God knows how long. This is really, truly, the last moment with them, the last physical connection and then they’re really gone. Just thinking of walking away steals my breath away and closes my lungs.

And home? Where is that and what is that now? Is it a building of brick and mortar which holds my every memory since birth, or is it the place where my parents went? How can I go somewhere that doesn’t exist anymore? I’m alone now. There’s isn’t anyone there that I want to go home for. It’s just a word, an empty meaningless word without them there to warm its core.

My heart erupts into a fireball of agony, and the tears, which have held at bay for the last seven days, break through as my face crumbles. I sob out loud, in a gasping and agonising way, searching for air as my legs give out and Jyeon pulls me into his arms to catch me before I fall. Cradling me close and rubbing the back of my hair as my emotional floodgates crack. He sinks with me to accommodate my body weight, so we end up crouched together.

“I want my mom……. I want my mom, Jyeon. Bring her back to me. My dad…. my dad, Jyeon… How could they? Why? Why did they leave me? Give them back to me. Please…. just give them back. I’ll do anything. I’ll be good, I won’t argue…. I’ll do whatever they say, whatever you say. Please, just help me.” I wail and sob senselessly, and cough and wheeze, trying to get the words out that break my soul in two. My brain a scattered chaotic mess and each word falls out of my mouth, rambling of its own accord. My whole world crashes down around me as every part of me gives up the fight to stay in control and he gets my full outpouring. The realisation that this here are the final moments with my parents, and connection between me and them in the real world will never exist again. Their bodies will be ash by morning and nothing but my broken heart will hold them near. I haven’t got it in me to let them go. I’m only sixteen years old. I need my parents still. I’m just a kid.

“I would if I could, Sohla. I swear. I would do anything to give them back to you.” His words are forced through his own emotional trembling and wavering voice. Holding back his own need to cry too because that’s who he is. Jyeon squats down with me so we both end up on the floor properly. Me in his arms and curled up tight, clinging to him, while he hovers and balances to keep me close. His knees on either side of my body so I’m encircled in his protective space. Letting me cry it out while he rests his cheek on top of my head, pats my back, and sways me side to side as though I’m five years old once more. Cuddling me like he used to when I had fallen, distraught with a grazed booboo, or was crying over spilled ice-cream, or someone had been mean to me.

“Why did they leave me?” I howl through my muffled tears, covering my face with both hands, so desperate to stop this pain that’s wracking my body. Unable to find relief as it only builds and grows to levels I can’t handle. Immersed in this darkness that’s pulling me down.

“It was an accident. They would never choose to leave you. They loved you more than life, Sohla.”

“I should have been with them…..I shouldn’t have stayed home. They asked me to go too…..why didn’t I go?” My guilt at letting my parents leave that rainy night to go watch a movie weigh like a steel ball on my heart. The regret at staying back for that one night, because I was tired and didn’t want to spend the time with them after getting home from finishing school in London only days before. Resentful that they made me go, and wanting to give them the cold shoulder for making me live away from home for a full three months. I had been punishing them by refusing them my company and now I can never get that back.

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