They say a picture’s worth a thousand words.
But sometimes, it’ worth a little bit more.
Sometime, it’s worth a thousand memories, a thousand emotions, and a thousand tears.
And for her, the picture’s worth just about her whole life’s happiness.
The first few rays of the sun sneak in through the tiny cracks in the shutters of the window, illuminating the cold, dark room. Suddenly, what had appeared as clumps of darkness take shape as a scruffy cardboard box, a few chairs piled messily on top of each other, spines of fat, old books lined with fine dust, a small, worn out bed with the sheets neatly tucked in and the pillows arranged peacefully, and a small girl in white, crouched over something, sobbing in a dim corner of the room.
Her sobs aren’t needy, they don’t carry with them grief or remorse. They sound more like the girl had come to peace with something, had come to terms with the fact that something as selfish as remorse cannot bring back what has been lost. For her, grief didn’t make up for mistakes, and anger didn’t solve longing. Sadness was something she couldn’t, unfortunately, control; and she had agreed to let all the sadness drain out of her, until she was left dry of any emotions.
Her hands tighten around a small photograph, as if letting go of the photograph would mean letting go of memories, letting go of what this photograph meant for her. She brings it up to her and sniffs it, because she knows, that somehow, the familiar odour not only makes her feels at home, makes her imagine that everything will go back to as it was, everything will be alright. She can smell the faint stench of dust and oldness, as if the picture was once preserved dearly between pages of an old book. She can smell something pleasant, maybe a certain perfume, maybe the smell attained from residing on the door of the refrigerator for years, alongside grocery lists and souvenir magnets.
She runs her tiny fingers over the picture, lingering at the beatific smile of a lady; a smile that goes all the way up to her eyes and seems like it could brighten a dark room. She gazes softly at a face she has memorized, a face she can never forget. Her eyes stray to the man sitting beside the lady, smiling broadly at the camera. Always the most photogenic of us, she thinks, smiling to herself. His hands lay calmly on his sides, but she knows how jittery he was, nervous that one tiny mistake could ruin their annual family picture. As she notices the beautiful, flowing dress of an older girl with a laid-back smile, it brings back memories of earlier that day; how her sister made her sit and watch her try every single piece of clothing she owned, in an effort to choose just the most perfect one. How her sister remained unsatisfied with every hairstyle she tried, and finally settled on simply letting her hair fall down to her back, like a stunning waterfall. Finally, her gaze landed on the little girl sitting at the end, holding her sister’s hand eagerly.
She puts the picture away. It’s like looking at a different person, She thinks. Looking at a different smile, a smile she can no more find within herself. Looking at a happiness that is lost forever.
The picture is like a fairy-tale, a story where everyone lives happily forever and after. Where everyone fights the troubles and shines through, a happy ending waiting for them. Everything fits together perfectly, not one piece seems out of place. But that’s what it is, a fairy tale. Far from real life, far from the harsh reality. The picture seems so perfect, like one of those photos that come fitted inside photo frames in shops. But then again, they’re always temporary, sitting peacefully inside until someone slips them out and inserts their own happy picture. Kind of like her life.
She throws the picture across the room, where it hits the walls and settles near the door.
She isn’t ready. She isn’t ready to accept that there was a time they were so happy, accept that now all that shadows her life is gloom. She isn’t ready to understand how, just how, a family so straightforward and simple can deserve anything of such sort; why she doesn’t deserve a happy ending.
She hears muffled voices outside the door, and hides behind the bed, wiping away tears. The door opens silently, and two stout ladies step in.
“Look, just look at this room,” sighs the first one, glancing disaporvingly towards all the discarded boxes and papers. “How can I expect anyone buy this house if it looks like a landfill?”
The other woman snorts. “As if anyone would look at twice, even otherwise. It’s a sorry excuse for a house, I tell you.”
“Now, come on. The family who owned it lived here for years. It probably has lot of memories.”
“Of course, because that will get us buyers.”
“Do you have to be so-“
“Take a look at this.” The woman picks up a worn out photograph, lying on the floor. She runs her finger across it, and feels something she hasn’t in a very long time. Sorrow. Not pity, not anger, not jealousy. Just plain sorrow, shooting through her in small doses.
Her compamnion notices this, and in a softer voice, she says, “That was the family. They were so…they were always so happy. Nice neighbours. What happened to them was unbelievably unfortunate.”
“And what was that?”
“Well, they were out on a road trip, and their small car ran into a truck…you know.” She shrugs, unable to continue wothout feeling as if she could never justify their story.
“The parents,” She continued, pointing to the couple smiling gracefully in the picture, “They died on spot. But their daughters were badly injured and admitted to the hospital. The older one, she’s still in a coma. Well, the doctors are not really positive, but you can always hope for a miracle…”
“And this younger one? Look at her! She looks as if there is nothing that makes her happier than having a picture taken! What happened to her?”
“She was in the ICU until yesterday. But early today, she…”
Gulping, she continued. “Early today, she passed away.”