It was autumn again. Sucking in the warm morning breeze, Mary smiled as she stretched her arms wide, as though embracing the beauty of nature. Jumping up and down in glee, she swirled around in the garden, with her long silky jet-black hair dancing behind her. By anyone’s standards, she was beautiful. Her cherry lips often gave way to smiles and laughter and her eyes a beautiful shade of blue.
She let the wind sting her cheeks as she ran around the garden, shrieking in joy, when she skidded on the fallen leaves only to find herself resting on the strong grasp of a hand. Opening her eyes, her heart momentarily stopped beating as she came face to face with a freckled-faced man. He grinned, revealing a row of yellowish teeth, and then opened his mouth, sending out a weave of nasty stench which smelled like a thousand rotten apples. Mary widened her eyes in horror, shocking the man as he lost grip of her and she fell on the floor.
Moaning miserably, she got up slowly from her supine position and grunted, flinging expletives at the bewildered man. But he only looked down without a word. “Are you mute! Can’t you even say sorry!” Mary cried out in frustration and stomped off. The man sighed and shook his head, picking up his broom to continue sweeping the fallen leaves.
The next day, Mary sat under a tree in the same garden, burying her face in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably. Suddenly, she felt her nose twitch as an unbearable stench gushed into her nostrils and she looked up, only to see a white handkerchief.
“You again” she folded her arms, obviously annoyed. The man lifted his right hand to the side of his forehead, an indication that he was sorry. He then pointed to the handkerchief, motioning her to wipe her tears. “A-Are you really… mute?” Mary stammered, afraid to know the answer. Instead, the man smiled, and distorted his face using his hands so he looked hilariously frightful. Mary laughed, and he whipped out a piece of paper from his back pocket and started scribbling. Like this, a few hours passed.
“If only my boyfriend was as understanding as you, John…” She mused sadly and continued, “But it doesn’t matter anymore.” And they sat in silence in the middle of the garden where brown leaves scattered, and where a beautiful friendship was already blossoming.
Day after day, Mary would look for John in the garden, where he would be sweeping the leaves. They enjoyed each other’s company immensely, even if it meant communicating through scraps of paper. Many a time, Mary did the talking and John, the listening, always ready with a handkerchief to chase away her sorrows. Whenever Mary was feeling down, John would bring her to the fields in the outskirts of the city where sunflowers bloomed its prettiest and hatred never existed. He would urge her to tell her unhappiness to a tree and then carve a tiny happy face at that portion of the trunk. Months soon passed, and this humble tree was soon filled with many happy faces. This was their paradise.
Unfortunately, their love was soon put to the test. It was past midnight. Mary was returning home from work and had taken the short cut through a deserted alley when two big burly men appeared before her. They had similar nasty stench drifting out of their mouths and snorted furiously like demented bulls.
“Leave John alone! He’s better off without women! He belongs with us to the underworld!” One of them boomed. Mary, frightened, shrieked and closed her eyes, muttering a short prayer as she anticipated her life to end at this juncture. Seconds passed, and she gingerly opened her eyes, to see an outline of a familiar figure wrestling with the two burly men. John was punched and kicked about like a rag doll. Blood trickling from his nose and forehead, he was sprawled on the ground, defenseless. “That’s what you get for betraying us,” they smirked in satisfaction and swaggered away.
“John!” Mary cried out, lifting him up and hugging him tightly. Examining his face carefully, she realised that like those burly men, he was filthy and smelly, but unlike them, he had the kindest and most beautiful eyes ever. She had come to love this man for who he was. It was a love that needed no words. Garnering the last ounce of strength in him, he took out the white handkerchief he always carried and held it out to her. She received the handkerchief with trembling hands. Inhaling sharply, she let Niagara Falls come.
“Promise me you’ll never leave me no matter what happens” She whispered. With quivering hands, he took out a scrap of paper and pen. “I’ll always be with you” He assured her. “I swear”. Smiling, she held out her last finger in which he hooked against his and they hugged.
Although belonging to different worlds, one a law graduate from Harvard and the other from the underworld, they never mentioned about their difference in status. Instead, their love only grew stronger after that fateful incident.
One day, Mary was on her way to the garden when a gush of fluid was flung at her face. Instantly, she felt a burning sensation in her eyes and the flash of light was soaked up by the spreading dark patches before her eyes. Her ear splitting screaming reverberated to John’s ears as he sallied forward towards the sound, only to see Mary already unconscious on the ground, and he knew it was the work of the two burly men.
Mary was rushed to the hospital forthwith but it was too late. She was to lose her sight. Her family was devastated and wailed in pain and anguish. Guilt-ridden to have caused misfortune to befall Mary and her family, John made up his mind. He knew what he had to do.
Packing the essentials, he decided to leave and quitted his job as a sweeper in the garden. Looking at the blissful pictures of Mary and himself, he sighed and threw them away.
“Mary! Can you see me?” Aunts jostled towards the weary girl and waved before her. The image she saw was a blur and she felt groggy. However, it was a great blessing that Mary had regained her sight. Looking into the mirror, she was startled to find that her eyes looked somewhat different. They were the same shade of blue, but now they exuberated great warmth and compassion.
Unfortunately, Mary soon realised that John had left her and was devastated. She bawled her heart out and pinned for him day and night. Thinking back on the promise he made to her, she hated him all the more.
One day, she decided to visit their place of paradise to relieve their happy days together. She walked to the tree where she used to pour out her unhappiness and leaned close to the trunk and touched its rough surface filled with happy faces. She wept uncontrollably as she ran her fingers down the trunk. Unexpectedly, she saw the words ‘I’ll be with you’ engraved on the foot of the tree trunk. Glimmers of hope began to light the darkness as she looked earnestly around, but what she saw left her dumbfounded.
On the bench sat a man with a pair of sunglasses and a walking stick. Under the scorching sun, he was sweating profusely and fished out a white handkerchief from his back pocket to wipe the perspiration. Coincidentally, a photo fell out from the pocket as well. With manifold feelings, Mary picked up the photo and looked at herself in the picture and was shocked. The man groped his back pocket for the photo and became flustered when it was no longer there. Slowly, Mary walked over and placed the photo in the man’s hands. It was only then that she tasted the warm salty wetness of her own tears and realised how hard she was crying.
The man bowed in gratitude and flashed his yellowish teeth which glistened in the morning sun.
“I’ll always be with you… “
Looking at the man who loved her so deeply, she smiled. Touching her eyes which were once his, tears streaked down her cheeks. His eyes brimming with her tears.