It's five fifteen. I pack my stuff and leave from office. I check my phone to see if there is any message from him, or if he has called and I missed it, but there is nothing. He has disappeared like a whirl of wind, and my inside is in a chaos. A mess. Something is so wrong, so invalid but I cannot tell. Everything is so confusing, just like a jumbled set of puzzle. A puzzle that I don't know how to solve. Under the dove grey sky I drive through the traffic and reach home.
Wintry trees stand as ballet dancers poised to show the world their grace and strength, showing in how they remain so still in the seasonal gusts. Now that the leaves have fallen, they are so proud, as if their silvery brown skin was their glory all along. I drive through the traffic and reach home.
I open the locked door and a bunch of people are waiting for me and looking at me with saddened and worried face and among them Mrs Brown, his mother is looking straight into my eyes with tears running down her cheeks. I remain stationed in expectation to hear from them. Alex, his brother walks up to me
"Care" his voice is clipped and quiet, and my scalp prickles inauspicious.
"It's Charles. He's not back from university"
"What? What do you mean?"
"He has gone missing, the hostel manager called, and it's been eight hours now."
"Charles?" I whisper as all the breath leaves my body. "No!"
The thought of losing him pressing on me as I fight the urge to turn around and walk towards the fireplace. My footsteps echoing sharply, sounding overly loud in my own ears, like the booming heartbeat of a condemned prisoner.
Mrs. Brown stops in my tracks and taking me in her embrace whispers, "Care, don't worry, we are searching for him at all the possible places he could visit."
I am not able to say her anything except staring like a dead in her eyes. The light of my life missing is such a violent attack to my soul that I can marginally articulate any word.
"Hmm" and leaving her hug I start going to the fireplace. And someone wraps my shoulders in a blanket after I am seated on the rocking chair. I am too obsessed with him missing that I don't turn and see who it was, that covered me in a blanket.
I stare at the flames, mesmerized as they burn the dry wood. The glowing embers dance and twirl bright blazing orange with tips of cobalt blue in the fireplace in my apartment. And despite the heat pumping out of the fire and the blanket draped around my shoulders, I'm cold. Bone chillingly cold.
I'm aware of hushed voices, many hushed voices. But they're in the background, a distant buzz. I don't hear the words, their whispers are barely audible over the crackle of lively flames. All I can hear, all I can focus on, is the soft hiss of the gas from the fire.
My thoughts turn to the talks we had yesterday and before that. All the dreams we saw together reel in front of my eyes. I'd like to make myself warm in his arms in front of a real fire. I'd like to kiss him passionately in front of a real fire. Yes, that would be fun. No doubt, he'd think of some way to make it memorable. Where is he?
The flames shimmy and flicker as they blacken the wood into the hot ribbons of light, holding me captive, keeping me numb. I focus solely on their flaring, scorching beauty. They are alluring.
"You are my world Care. You have captivated me." he said when he confessed me his feelings
I wrap my arms around myself, and the world falls away from me and reality bleeds into my consciousness. The creeping emptiness inside expands some more. He is missing.
"Care. Here," Jenny, his sister gently coaxes me, her voice bringing me back into the room, into the now, into the torment and agony. She gives me a glass of water. I take the glass gratefully, but my shaking hands betraying the balance.
"Thank you," I whisper, my voice hoarse from unshed tears and the large lump in my throat.
Mr and Mrs Brown sits across from me on the large couch, holding hands. They gaze at me, pain and anxiety engraved on their lovely faces. Mrs Brown looks older, a mother worried for her son. I blink dispassionately at them. I can't offer a reassuring smile, a tear even, there's nothing, just blankness and the growing emptiness. I gaze at Alex and John, Charles's best friend who stand around the breakfast bar, all serious faces, talking quietly. Discussing something in soft subdued voices.
I am not able to cope up with the fact that he's missing. He's been missing for eight hours. No sign, no word from him. It's just too dark. And we don't know where he is. He could be hurt, hungry, or worse. No!
I offer a silent prayer to God. Please let Charles be okay. Please let Charles be okay. I repeat it over and over in my head-my mantra, my lifeline, something concrete to cling to in my desperation. I refuse to think the worst. No, don't go there. There is hope.
"You're my lifeline." his words come back to haunt me. Yes, there is always hope. I must not get disheartened. His words echo through my mind.
I close my eyes in silent prayer, rocking gently. Please let the rest of his life not be this short. Please, please. We haven't had enough time ... we need more time.
Oh, I love him so much. I love him so badly. I will be nothing without him, nothing but a shadow-all the light eclipsed.
Oh, please, let him be okay. He cannot be gone. He is the center of my universe. An involuntary sob escapes my throat, and I clutch my hand to my mouth. No. I must be strong.
Mrs Brown rises to join the boys, distracting me. That must be the longest she's sat still. Jenny comes to sit beside me, too, and grabs my other hand.
"He will come back," she says, her voice initially determined but cracking on the last word. Her eyes are wide and red-rimmed, her face pale and pinched from lack of sleep.
On the richly carved mantel stood an exquisite plate-glass clock, the chimes of which were just striking eleven, heading toward midnight. Damn time! With each passing hour, the clawing emptiness expands, consuming me, choking me. I know deep down inside I am preparing myself for the worst. I close my eyes and offer up another silent prayer.
I remember sitting in Starbucks weighing up the pros and cons of Charles and I staying away from each other. All those cons melt into insignificance now. There's just him and whether he'll come back. Oh please, Lord, bring him back, please let him be okay. I'll go to church ... I'll do anything. Oh, if I get him back, I shall seize the day. His voice echoes around in my head once more.
I gaze deeper into the fire, the flames still licking and curling around each other, blazing brightly. Then Mrs Brown shrieks, and everything goes into slow motion.
I turn my head in time to see him. He's dressed in blue jeans and white round collar t-shirt and he's holding his denim jacket, shoes, and socks. He looks utterly beautiful.
Charles. He's alive. I gaze numbly at him, trying to work out if I am hallucinating or if he's really here.
"I thought I'd never see you again," Mrs Brown whispers, voicing our collective fear.
"Mom, I'm here." he replies
"Where have you been. How come you are standing here. Why haven't you informed us that you were coming. You had us so worried" she interrogates
"Mom, I will answer all your questions but first let me say hi to my girl now," he tells his parents. Both of them nod, smile, and step aside.
He moves toward me. From somewhere deep inside, I find the strength to stagger to my feet and bolt into his open arms.
"Charles!" I sob
He hugs me and presses me tightly against his chest. There is something so warm, something that feels right, smells right. I let my body sag and muscle become loose. He's cherishing me like a little child. In his embrace I am loosing all my worries. I can feel him brush my hair back with his piano playing fingers and kissing it gently.
"I thought ... I thought-" I choke.
"I'm here. I'm here ..." he murmurs and kisses me chastely again.
"Are you okay?" I ask, releasing him. He's back.
"Yes, I am okay. Perfect."
"Where have you been?, What is going on?, How come you are here?, Why haven't you informed any one of us about your return?, I ask a series of questions and he does not answer any of them except constantly starring at me.
The time clocked twelve, and a clear night illuminated only by the glint of starlight and the radiance of a bright moon approached.
"Happy Birthday, my love" he says, and I stand still and surprised not moving, my feet glued to the floor. I am not able to believe my fate, my destiny. My wish to see him with me, on my birthday has really come true.