By: Mehreen Ahmed
What they said or didn’t say, was hardly an issue. Courtney Justice wasn’t the kind of a person to be bothered by such trivialities. Her concerns were different. Even she didn’t know what her concerns were. She was bookish and friendless. She lived in her own world. When she walked past someone, she showed disdain or even disinclination for people around her. She never looked at anyone with any interest. Just happy, in her own world of imagination. Committed to her fantasies alone.
She didn’t like anyone touching her. She took great trouble trying to avoid touch. Male, female, animals, it didn’t matter. Her body swerved like a dancer, when she walked, trying to avoid the slightest bump with anyone on the road, or public transports. Her gait was cautious. Her steps conditioned and measured. She would go to any lengths to avoid a clash with another living being at any cost. This way, she felt, she could remain pure.
This was Courtney Justice. For church, however, she was a regular; never late, especially on Sunday morning sermons. She sat in the corner, right at the back, where most people would miss seeing her. Insignificant, she was, but that was the life she chose. One Sunday, though, as she came out of the church, a young girl walked across the lawn toward her. She nodded at her and she nodded back. Courtney’s simplicity was her beauty. She had cute freckles on her buttoned nose. They shone in the sunlight, today.
“Hi, I am Sara Knightly,” the young girl said.
“Courtney Justice, nice to meet you.”
“Cool. What do you do?” Sara asked.
They started to walk. But Courtney kept her distance, a gap in between the two abreast.
“I am a cashier.”
“Downtown, The Blue Cafe.”
“How about you?” Courtney’s turn.
“Oh, I am a student. I am doing creative arts.”
“Pretty cool too,” Courtney said.
“Do you like your job?”
“Yeah, I do okay. I work in the back office.”
“Neat. It’s quiet in there, yeah?” Sara asked.
“You could say that,” Courtney responded with a nod.
“My boyfriend and I may drop by at your cafe, one day.”
“Great, do that.”
Sara Knightly walked away from her saying goodbye. She was carefree and wild. Sara walked and ran, all at the same time, colliding with people, frisking about, no big deal. Courtney kept up her pace steadily, until she reached the train station. On the platform, she heard a sharp cry of mirthless laughter. She turned around, and saw Sara; Sara Knightly amongst her friends. She appeared to be at the butt of some joke. They teased her, poked at her, even pushed her around a bit, too close to the railway track. Sara cried out in pain sometimes. She saw Courtney looking at her. Courtney thought Sara needed help. What should she do? Should she walk over and rescue Sara? Courtney couldn’t decide. But remained calm and undeterred. She stood like a thorny puritan, judgemental, and aloof.
No one deserved to be bullied. Even Courtney understood that. Whether or not, on railway platforms or school-yards. But the fact that she, this church going puritan, didn’t even lift a finger to help, baffled Sara. However, the train arrived and they all embarked. Courtney escaped to the far end of the carriage, and sat down on a single seat, by the window. She combed through her actions just this while back, and felt confused. Perhaps, she should have helped her. Or maybe not, since that would involve touch. She may have felt defiled afterwards. That was God’s plan.; She felt assured in her chastity. She liked playing the Madonna very much, just one aspect of Michelangelo’s Pieta, being immaculate, but childless.
When the train stopped at the platform, she was last to get out. And as the train took off, she looked behind to see Sara, giving her a cold, strange look. But Courtney shrugged it off, and continued towards her flat. When she arrived, she found a few letters necking out of the letter-box slit. She grabbed them and pulled them out. There were nothing remotely interesting. However, she found one of interest. It had been sent from the church. It was an invitation to a fundraising event, to which the church asked her to attend. She felt an uncanny thrill run through her.
Later that evening, her sterile, stark flat, offered her solace. She would never have a room-mate of any sort. She ate dinner of roasted potato and bacon rash. And contemplated on the fund raising event. She could bake a cake, she thought. Or perhaps a proper turkey roast. One way or the other, it had to be something that everyone liked at the church. Not because she wanted to treat them to goodies, but she thought it would please the priest and in the end Jesus. Her thoughts got distracted. The bell at the door rang. ’Odd, she thought, who could that be at such an hour?’ She opened the door, and a little boy stood outside. He looked like an urchin.
“Who on earth are you?”
“I live around the corner with other homeless kids.”
“Why did you knock on my door?” Courtney asked.
“Because, I saw you just come in.”
“You saw me? Did you follow me here?”
“I guess I did.”
Courtney, didn’t feel any pity for the boy but curious. She wouldn’t let anyone in of course, no matter what.
“What do you want?” she asked aghast.
“Could I have some dinner? I am really hungry.”
“Dinner? No, no, I can’t let you in, I don’t even know you. Besides, you have been following me.”
“Please,” said the boy, and extended an arm toward her to touch her hand. She stepped backed nervously, and shut the door to his face. The boy stood by the door, dumbfounded for a few moments, and then left.
Courtney brushed her teeth, prayed and went to bed. Rugged up under the blanket, she thought about her church, and the upcoming event until she passed into sleep. A door opened at dusk. A little girl stood, on the threshold, and watched the last rays of the setting sun in semi-darkness. A woman sat on an inky floor. The floor wavered. She was surrounded by three other women. They beckoned the little girl to come inside. She did; a gale came right through the open window, and shut the door. The women smiled and asked the little girl to give a shoulder massage to the women sitting in the middle; with her knees, while they watched. All these women sat on an inky floor, which was not solid. They sat on water. The little girl stood over them and complied. She bent her knees on the woman’s shoulders, and rubbed them, while standing on water. The silk-water overwhelmed her. The women spoke amongst themselves. They said, ‘only the first born could heal this pain. Where no doctors succeeded, she, this little girl, could.’ Then it was over in a whiff. Courtney screamed and woke up. Her sweat dripped down. She lit the bedside table lamp, and got out of bed.
The sun had not nearly come up, yet. Just like her dream, she sat in the fluid darkness, and waited for its full bright light. Let there be lights. Untested virtue, what was it? What was goodness without any tests and trials? Good for the sake of being good? Courtney never cared for any living creatures, great or small? However, she waited patiently. She wanted to go to church and pray. As soon as the sun rose, she put on her clothes and set off for the train station. Out on the street, she thought, she saw the boy from last night disappear around the corner. ‘They wake up early, those crazy urchins,’ she mumbled.
The train was late. A pedlar’s song drifted through the silence of the morning. She felt refreshed in the first air. Alone on the platform, she waited for the train. Then it came. It was an empty phantom train. The pedlar vanished. The singing stopped. Ghastly haunting, she was surprised that there weren’t even a train operator. When it took off, it slowly picked up speed; it went far too fast. She was on her way to church. Then the train stopped. She saw Sara Knightly again. She stood in white, on an empty platform with a picnic basket in her hand; the little urchin and a newspaper. Sara let go of the newspaper. It blew in the hard wind. Courtney got off the train. The newspaper landed at her feet. She picked it up. It was an old newspaper from two years. Courtney wondered why would Sara carry an old newspaper? It had a picture of a derailed train, and a few scattered bodies. Those were Sara Knightly, and the urchin. When she looked up, they had disappeared. The winds whispered something. Courtney listened. It told her earnestly to rethink about her life. To wake up to the smell, of the true scent of goodness. Now or never, for she may not get a second chance.