By Daniela Villegas
The first few years were unsettling. It would be quiet for days, sometimes weeks. Then
chaos; alarms blaring, people screaming, panic creeping in. I remember I would stare at the sky.
Sometimes it went dark, sometimes it went red. I remember I could not understand. I remember
Mom being sad.
“Why are they running?” I would ask her, watching the people go by.
She looked at me with teary eyes and held my cheek in her hand.
“Because they want to live,” she would say. Then she would take my hand and we would
go back inside, only to come back tomorrow.
One day, when the clouds were a bruised purple and the stars were teetering and about to
fall, she sat me down, and taking a deep breath she asked me:
“Do you know why they are running now?”
“Because they want to live.”
“But do you know why they want to live?”
After a second of thinking, I shrugged.
“They want to live because they have seen death. They want to live because they are
afraid, but also because they are not done here yet.”
“When will they be done, then?”
“Not until there is life after death.”
We did not go outside after that day.
The morning when she did not wake up, the world was quiet. I sat there beside her,
waiting. If you asked me for what, I could not tell you. I wasn’t sure. I know I did not run. The
days went by, blown by the wind like dust. Then the water came, falling one drop at a time. It
tickled in between my toes. At first it was sweet. Then it grated at my skin with its salt. I thought
maybe this would be it, but then the water carried her away. At least it was gentle, so I couldn’t
complain. But as she floated away, I started to sink.
The water stung my eyes, and I remember some of the pain from it filling my lungs. At
some point the light stopped filtering through the surface. For a while, there was nothing. It was
nice because I didn’t have to do much. There was no up or down, there was nothing to see.
Nothing to think about. There was only my heartbeat that had grown louder in my ears the
further down I went, and so I used it to measure the time. Then, after 806,400 beats, there was
sand. It felt fine beneath my fingers. I would like to believe it would have been the whitest sand I
had ever seen, made from the prettiest shells, the shiniest rocks. I would trace figures on the
sand; loops and lines and stars and butterflies. It helped me think. I would think about what she
told me. I would think about why they were afraid. I think they knew of their guilt. They knew
their time was up, their turn was over.
Not until there is life after death.
There might never be a life after death. Or maybe they already found it but forgot to tell
me about it. Maybe this is what it looks like; empty, peaceful. Maybe this is how it was supposed
to be all along. Maybe I should keep looking.
I had long ago lost count on the heartbeats when I decided to stand. I took the first step. It
was slow and clumsy, but it felt good, so I kept going. Sometimes I would see things. The blue
would lighten, or something would move in the shadows, but then it would be a reef, or a rock,
or seaweed dragged by the currents.
One day, the current rebelled. It seemed bothered by me. Angry, or upset. I remember it
pulled at me blindly, threw me and turned me inside out. Then it ran me aground.
Then I remember there was something bright hurting my eyes. It took me a second to
realize what it meant. That there was light, and warmth. A sun in the sky. There was air. I took a
deep breath that cracked open my chest. There was also something nuzzling my hand. It was no
bigger than my fist, with a graceful but tiny beak and feathers as white as the clouds, and it just
sat there looking at me. I tried to hold it, but then it took flight, circling me one, twice, and then
leaving me behind.
Life after death.
This time when the water came, I floated away.