A vivid story of death and the loss of innocence by Valencia Santhara.
By Valencia Santhara
The attic was spectral and cavernous. Moonlight shone through the cracked stained glass, casting dark blue and red shadows on the wooden canvas of the floor. The pock-marked and battered eaves stretched upward towards the rounded roof, which caved into the centre space to reveal a forgotten, broken, dusty dollhouse.
I crept towards it, careful to not wake those slumbering below and lifted the hatch. Metal creaked, grown rusty with age, as I forced the old hinge open. As I peered inside at the jumbled heaps of discarded, tiny furniture, my gaze focussed on a crumpled photo, carelessly discarded on the top of a miniature bed. Two faded, young faces beamed at me from the background of a children’s colourful playground. Memories came pouring back of Matthew and I. It seemed like a lifetime ago when there had been the two of us together.
The playground was our ocean. We would swirl in the massive dark, broiling sea of the spongy astroturf. A brightly painted boat suspended on poles was our vessel. It would creak and groan, swinging on its chains making us feel as if it was on the verge of capsizing. Young children would pull on metal stays in a futile attempt to keep the deck upright, as others playfully pushed their fellow crew into the black vault of the ocean’s bodice. We imagined waves, white and frothy, thrashing against the gaudily painted portholes of the lower deck. It was always best in a storm. When the wind roared and howled, it felt like an angry beast was lashing at us wildly, threatening to rip a child free and send them whirling into the vortex. But of course, we were never allowed outside then; we would be scooped up by the harried teachers and rushed back inside.
Matthew, otherworldly Matthew. He always seemed unfazed by the imminent danger as he leaned into the winds battering his tiny body. Even as electrified strands of lightning forked through the darkened sky, even when the young trees strained and bent almost to breaking point, and even when the rain drove sideways in a frenzy of rage. He would stand, young and free. His hair was wild, his black eyes alive, and his mouth split into a grin of pure delight.
We would play games on our boat on the high seas. Imagining sea monsters lurking beneath us. Something was coming, quiet but deadly. Something was there, humming and gliding. Something was coming. We would scream and shout imagining colossal, scale-like fins piercing through the ocean’s surface. We would dart and cower from imaginary fangs that gleamed ghostly white and great curved wings which towered above us. The wicked serpent was our bounty. The sea dragon. The sound of our shrill shrieks would pierce through the oppressive humidity. We answered his battle cry with our own spears, our puny sticks held upright in the air. One. His neck would rear up. Two. We’d load our weapons. Three. He’d charge at us and we would respond by firing our lethal array of weaponry against him. Tiny, sharp stones. Matthew was our brave captain, he’d steadily manoeuvre his boat weaving through the assault outwitting its predator. The air would be heavy with the jubilant shouts of excited children, united, as the boat cleaved through the deep blue towards the sea dragon, intent on deeply gouging his vulnerable belly. We were too naive, our hearts and minds fixated on childish desires - games, make-belief and imagination. She stared at us darkly with a malicious leer.
I can vividly remember where I was when my father came to me that day. I was playing with my doll house, rearranging the furniture in the miniature rooms to fit my ever-expanding collection. A plane had crashed, he told me. There were no survivors. It was a Malaysian Airlines aircraft flying from the Netherlands destined for Malaysia, both countries at peace. It ended over Ukraine, a nation torn in two, ripped from the air by a jet shot out of the sky, most likely by Russian-backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. On that ill-fated morning, 298 people tumbled from the sky. Innocent victims. Matthew was one of the 298 victims that day.
Everything went dark and cold. Children are not supposed to know about death’s embrace, how she can prey on the innocent, always only a breath away. I often wonder if I made the most of my time with dear, sweet, brave Matthew. I was always thinking of what game to play next, what lay ahead in our future, unaware of how easily life can be taken away from us, so randomly, so cruelly. I look back on those bittersweet times fondly and know that even though Matthew isn’t here today, he lives on in those memories eternally.
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