The gaunt figure that inched its way slowly towards the medicine counter looked old and haggard.She had grey hair and her back was hunched. One look at her and all I could think was \" poor girl.\" She looked so stressed and miserable.\"
Her dreary-looking outfit did nothing to conceal her bleak and depressing demeanour. Anyone who looked at her, would have thought she carried the world’s burden on her shoulders.
Quietly, she sat on one of the chairs and waited like the rest of us, for her number to be flashed on the digital screen. She fidgeted with the piece of paper in her hand as if she was in a rush.
I was rattled. She looked so familiar. I knew I had seen her somewhere before ; a younger, happier version. There was no way I could be wrong. Like an arrow released from its bow, the buried and forgotten memories pierced my heart with an unknown intensity. I gasped as if I just woke up from a terrible dream.
It had to be Elena , my best friend in secondary school, Garden International School in Kuala Lumpur. Then again, this person looked old, much too old to be 28. I summoned enough courage and went towards her. As I walked closer my heart thumped faster.All the memories running through my head, the laughter, tears and adventures we had. Happiness devoured me again , as it did every time I saw her. A smile was painted upon my face but deep in my heart there still was that curiosity wandering \"Why.\"
Hearing my footsteps, she looked up slowly. The flash of recognition in her sweet blue eyes told me I was not wrong. I was ecstatic that she remembered me.
“It is you, Elena Jane Chan , is it not?”
She nodded her head silently as if embarrassed “Hello, Alex, You are looking good.” Her voice was sweet and soft like the taste of chocolate.
Even though she looked as if she had aged a century, her voice remained the same. Still sweet and lovely like a little girl. Her remarks reminded me of how beautiful she had been once. Elena had been the school beauty. Everyone had admired her for her looks, her brains and her beautiful character.
Her dad was Chinese and her mother was Spanish, Being a mixed girl she had such an exotic look. She was different.
She was perfect from head to toe. Even I was jealous of her beautiful, long, wavy, dark raven black hair and her amazing sea blue eyes with her pink lips and cheeks ; I could stare at her all day , I did in fact. Every girl in school wanted her sumptuous figure.
Not only was she beautiful , but smart too. Elena was the teachers pet, passed all her exams with flying colors and was the school valedictorian. I used to wander why she was even friends with someone average like me. However, being around her made me idyllic. Such a lovely , enthusiastic , bubbly and social girl. You could never say anything bad about her ,she was an angel.
Many had said, rather enviously, that God had worked overtime with her – making her one of his masterpieces.
One day, Elena had stopped coming to school. Devastated, I had gone to her house, only to find it all locked up. Checks with neighbours proved futile. No one knew where the Chan family had gone and why they had left so suddenly.
Her leaving so suddenly had pierced a hole in my heart. I felt empty without her. As school came to an end I missed her presence more and more. She was not there, standing next to me during prom and graduation and soon she just seem to disappear from my heart.
Taking a seat next to her, I wondered what had happened to the ravishing beauty I had once known.
“Why did you leave so suddenly, Elena? Why?”
She looked at me nervously, clasping and unclasping her hands in her lap. I could sense that she was rather reluctant to talk, reluctant to expose a part of her life which had probably caused her a great deal of pain and suffering. A prolonged silence ensued. Finally, she inhaled deeply and started telling me her story.
Her mother had been diagnosed with end stage of liver cancer and there was nothing the doctors could do. They said that she had only three months to live. Her father thought it best to return to their hometown, to let her die in peace in the surroundings she had grown up in.
Her father, devastated by his wife’s death, started to neglect his own health and three months later, he too died of a broken heart, leaving Elena in the care of relatives.
Tears rolled down Elena cheeks as she related the difficult years with her aunt.
I wanted to hug her and comfort her as she had once done for me when my nana had passed. I patted her back gently.
The old widow treated her badly, forcing Elena to quit school and to work as a dishwasher in a restaurant. The cruel old lady often beat her, and her cousins, jealous of her beauty, were more vicious than their mother.
Now that the aunt was old and suffering from cancer, her three children had deserted her when they realized she needed special care. Despite her aunt’s ghastly treatment of her, Elena felt sorry for her.
“I cannot leave her. She has no one else,” she said. “I have promised to take care of her till the end of her life.”
I looked at Elena and saw her goodness. Instead of seeing a gaunt and weary figure, I saw an amazingly beautiful human being. Her beauty within.
Looking at her again I realized she really was an angel, a blessing from god. I cursed myself for not telling her how I felt about her when we were young. I loved the girl, I cared about her so much I could feel her pain. I wished I had been there throughout everyday of her life to protect her and tell her not to worry , that everything would be alright.
My heart went out to her. Just then her number flashed on the screen. She got up and collected the medicine which, I understood, was for her aunt. Never had I felt so helpless and wretched. Her story reminded me of something my late nana used to say,
“Life is like an onion: You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.”
Before leaving, Elena turned and smiled sadly at me but I did not see this sad old Elena I saw the young beautiful Elena and I knew in my heart that girl was still somewhere in there.
I wanted to run after her but my legs wouldn't move. I tried to scream after her but it was too late she was gone.
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