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We first met at the Acropolis of Athens in 431BC.
I was there to pay tribute to the goddess Athena at the Parthenon.
There was a war occurring and father had ordered my brothers and I to act like men and proudly serve our city by joining the army and fighting against the Spartans. My mother was against it but she had no say when it came to father, none of us did. He was the leader and authoritarian in our household and whatever he said, we did.
I was the youngest son in our family. Only 17.
There were a total of five children in our home, my two older brothers and my two younger sisters. My brothers were stronger than I was. They were men of tall great build and lean muscles. They would be honourable soldiers. I, on the other hand, was of short height and made of mostly soft muscles. I was never meant to be a warrior. I would not survive long in this war.
“Serve us proud,” were my father’s parting words when my brothers and I had finished gathering the little belongings we had and were ready to head out to Acropolis of Athens. Though father was stern and strict, he was not cruel. I could see the pain and yet pride in his eyes as we stood before him ready for war, in a week’s time. We would stay in the Acropolis for a week worshipping and praying to the gods for strength and success in the war, and then go off to battle.
“May the gods return you all to my arms,” my mother had said to us. She had tears in her eyes but she kept a strong face. She embraced each of my brothers and gave them a two kisses, one on each cheek. When she embraced me, she softly whispered, “Stay close to your brothers. I shall miss you, my little warrior.” She was so beautiful then.
The journey to Acropolis of Athens was a rather short one. It took about three hours on foot. By the time my brothers and I got there, there was a crowd of people. There were some people praying, some eating and some talking amongst themselves. There were children playing and running around unaware of what I was about to go through in a week’s time.
“Let us rest here and eat,” my eldest brother Tiberius suggested. “We should pray afterwards and perhaps practice our swordsmanship.”
Our mother had packed us more than a week’s worth of dried meat, vegetables, fruits and grain.
We were in the middle of eating when a beautiful dark woman walked by brothers and I. She was dressed as a modest middle class woman and she carried a basket of oranges with her. When our eyes met, she offered a shy smile and lowered her gaze.
“She is a beauty,” Tiberius announced. “And she has an eye for you.”
“What are you saying?” I asked, a rosy colour appearing on my cheeks. “We only saw each other just now.”
“Ever since we sat down, she has not taken her eyes off you. I’ve been watching her watch you,” Tiberius explained.
“Well nothing will come out of this,” I said shoving a piece of bread into my mouth. “I will never see her again.”
“What does it matter?” my other brother Augustus asked. “You are here now and she is here now. Get to know each other.”
I turned around and watched the woman walk away. Oblivious to her, one of her oranges fell down from her basket.
“That is a sign from the gods themselves,” Tiberius said kicking me in the knee, “go on and speak to her.”
It wouldn’t hurt to go speak to her. I put my bread down, took a deep breath and ran after the woman. I picked up her fallen orange and lightly tapped her on the shoulder. When she spun around, I gave her a soft smile and said, “I’m sorry but you seemed to have drop this.”
“Thank you,” she said taking the orange from my hand and putting it back into her basket.
“You’re welcome,” I replied.
The woman gave me a blinding smile that caught me off guard. It was the most unique smile I had ever seen in my life. Most people with dimples had two, some had one, but it was unheard of to have three. Yet, that was what she had. She had three deep dimples, two on her left cheek and one on her right. I watched her and memorized her smile. I memorized the way her lips parted, the plushness of them and I memorized the depth of her dimples.
“My name is Maximus,” I said offering her my hand.
Instead of shaking my hand, she plopped an orange into and grinned. “I’m Mira.”
The loud ringing of my alarm abruptly woke me up from my dream. With shaking hands, I turned it off and buried myself deeper underneath the covers. I wish I could just stay at home with my grandparents, not go to work and get paid. Unfortunately, that was not how the world worked, so I ripped off my covers and made my way to the bathroom to brush my teeth and take a shower.
This always happened.
In each life, Mira, now Niska and I would meet and I wouldn’t remember her until she smiled. It always came down to her smile. Maybe it was because I fell heavily in love with it back in Greece. After all, it was the only thing about her that never changed. She always changed. We both did. No matter how tall or short she was, how much she weighed, what race she was, her smile never changed.
After taking a shower and wearing my uniform, I went downstairs to join my grandparents for breakfast.
“Morning,” I greeted them while making myself a cup of coffee.
“Hello dear,” Nana returned spreading butter on her bread before putting it into the toaster oven. I cringed at the sight of it. “Oh hush now,” Nana said after she saw the look on my face. “I like it this way.”
“I’m just saying, it taste better when you toast the bread first and then put the butter on it.”
“Let it go, Idris,” PapPap said whilst pouring an copious amount of sugar into this tea. It was a miracle he didn’t have diabetes. “I’ve told her the same thing every day for 50 years and she still doesn’t listen.”
“You two need to accept that I just like my toast made a certain way,” Nana huffed. “I bought three crates of strawberries this morning at the farmer’s market. Help yourself, Idris.”
I looked over at where Nana had left the strawberries and I couldn’t help but laugh. Sometimes, these things happened. After I’d recognize Mira, now known as Niska, I’d always have a dream or flashback to when we first met, then after that, I’d remember things slowly. Not always in order of when we first met to present day, but it all came back eventually. Even the little things, like how strawberries were her favourite things in the world. Niska loved strawberries in every life. In one of her lives, she developed an allergy to them and I’d never seen her so miserable.
Breakfast was the same as usual. Nana would tell me all the about the television program she watched the night before, completely disregarding the fact that I watched it with her, PapPap would read the newspaper and summarize everything he read, even the comics.
I was in the middle of suggesting to my grandparents that we should see a movie tonight at the theatre when my alarm went off.
“Which one is that,” PapPap asked jerking his head to my phone.
“It’s my ‘finish food’ alarm. I need to be out of here in five minutes.” I quickly inhaled the rest of my food and took them to the sink to wash.
“Leave them,” Nana shouted. “I’ll wash them for you.”
“No it’s I alright,” I replied. They were letting me live with them rent-free; the least I could do was wash my dishes.
I was done and out the door with strawberries in hand just in time for when my ‘drive to work’ alarm went off.
When I arrived at the parking lot, the scenery looked exactly the same as the day before. There were a group of officers standing around, enjoying their coffee and chatting away. The sight made me panic a little. It would be awful if there was another meeting I’d missed. I’d checked my email about 5 times last night.
I was opening a package of gum when my, ‘get out of the car” alarm went off. I carefully cradled the crate of strawberries out of the car and made my way to the station. Unlike yesterday, I didn’t bother to look around at the other officers and wave at them. I wasn’t trying to humiliate myself two days in a row.
Niamh was at the desk typing into the computer when I approached her.
“You don’t have to come to the front desk every morning, kid,” she said without looking at me.
“What if I want to?” I asked flirtatiously. “You are, after all, my favourite co-worker.”
“Am I?” she asked raising her eyebrows, still not meeting my eyes. “And what did I do to receive such a high honour?”
“I got your email last night,” I said giving her a smile once she finally looked at me. “I really appreciate you taking time out of your day to write me the meeting minutes.”
Niamh silently stared at me for a few seconds before she slowly blinked, smiled and said, “You’re welcome. Now get to work,” she ordered shooing me away.
She acted all tough but I knew she liked me.
The email Niamh sent was a detailed note on what happened in the meeting I missed. Basically, in the past three days, there have been families calling and reporting their children missing. However, in each situation, the child was found safe not far away from home. The chief said that he wasn’t sure what was happening but we should all keep an eye out for any unusual behavior.
I walked over to my desk which had a plastic plaque with my name written on it. Because Niska and I were partners, our desks were placed side by side.
“Morning,” I said greeting Niska with a bright smile.
Just like the other day, Niska gave me the cold shoulder and barely a response. All she offered me was a short nod.
“What are you working on?” I asked as I peered over her shoulder to see.
Niska quickly hid the sheets of paper from my view and shot me a hard dark look, “None of your business,” she answered coldly.
“Okay,” I suspiciously said stretching out the word. This isn’t the first time Niska has been rude or distant to me. She was worse during Ancient Egypt. The pharaoh shows you a slight bit of interest and suddenly you think you’re untouchable.
I smile to myself and remember how much of a brat she was then.
“So,” I sighed sitting down and placing the crate of strawberries on my desk. “Are we just driving around today as well?” I deliberately took a strawberry and slowly ate it. It was hard to keep the smirk off my face with the way Niska was eyeing the strawberries. When Niska didn’t immediately reply, I asked, “Well are we?”
“Are we what?” she asked snapping out of her strawberry daze.
“Driving around today?”
“No,” Niska said turning on her computer. “Today we’re just going to be in the office and help some of the other deputies fill out their paper work.”
“Sounds like we’re doing the jobs they don’t want to do,” I joked.
From the look on Niska’s face, I could tell that I hit a nerve so I quickly excused myself from my desk to escape her glare.
I took a brief walk to the breakroom to make myself my second cup of coffee for the day. The breakroom wasn’t much. There were four round tables and each table had four chairs around it. There were also two vending machines, a refrigerator, a coffeemaker and a microwave.
Niska’s fiancé was making a cup of coffee and beside him was a box of donuts. There were about a five donuts left in the box.
“Hey man,” I said standing next to him and grabbing a mug. “I’m Idris, Niska’s partner.”
“Okay,” he said in a monotone voice. “What does that have to do with me?”
“I just wanted to introduce myself since we’re coworkers now.”
“We’re not coworkers,” he laughed harshly. “You’re just the new guy at the bottom of the food chain. I’m on a whole other level, rookie.”
“We’re literally wearing the same uniform, have the same title and we drive the same cruiser,” I said lazily pointing my index finger at him.
“Don’t get smart with me,” he sneered getting close to my face. He pushed me a bit but still stepped closer to me. Our noses were almost touching.
I gave him a tight lipped smile and he actually growled in my face. Like a dog or some kind of wild feral animal.
I honest to God thought he was going to punch me when Niamh opened the door. “Hello boys,” she said walking towards the coffeemaker. Niska’s fiancé stepped back, gave me another dirty look then stormed out of the room.
“He’s really nice,” I told Niamh sarcastically.
“A real charmer,” she said in an even more sarcastic tone than mine. “Niska sure knows how to pick ‘em.”
“Thanks for intervening,” I said ignoring the fact that Niamh just hinted that Niska has a bad reputation of boyfriends.
“I’m just here for a donut,” Niamh said making a show of picking up a donut and taking a huge bite out of it. Somehow, I doubted that.
When I returned back to my desk, the crate of strawberries was noticeably smaller. I looked over to Niska and she had a guilty expression on her face. Also, her cheeks were puffed up because she was hiding a piece of strawberry in her mouth. “What happened to my strawberries?” I asked.
She shrugged and I grinned.
“Here.” I took the crate off my desk and handed it to Niska, who grabbed it red stained fingers. “I actually brought this for you.”
“Really?” Niska mumbled.
“Swallow first,” I said.
“Really?” Niska asked again, this time with an empty mouth.
“Yes,” I answered. “I thought you might like them.”
Niska smiled at me. A real smile, all three dimples and all, and shoved another strawberry in her mouth. “Thank you,” she mumbled again, mouth full.
“Here,” she said reaching into her desk drawer and pulling out a bag with about four oranges. “You can have these in exchange for the strawberries.”
I really wanted to say no and tell her that the strawberries weren’t for trade, but love for oranges were legendary so I took the bag and bit my lip to stop myself from smiling like an idiot.
After Mira and I introduced ourselves, I asked her if she’d like to join my brothers and I for our remainder of our meal. To my surprise, she shyly agreed.
By the end of the meal, we all loved her. Tiberius and Augustus loved her as a person and like another sister, I thought I did as well, but as time went on, I loved her for different reasons, in different ways.
Mira was supposed to leave the temple after that first day we met, and she did, but she returned the following day claiming that she really loved praying and worshipping the gods. Tiberius said that she only came back to spend more time with me and to worship my body.
Mira and I were never apart. We grew incredibly fond of one another. Our personalities were compatible with one another. I had never felt so strongly about another person in my life.
I realized I loved her romantically when I noticed that instead of praying for myself, I prayed for her. Instead of asking the gods to protect me and my brothers in the war and, I was asking them to protect her, to let her live a long and happy life, to let her have an abundance of strawberries, to let her always find beauty in things and to never stop laughing. To never stop smiling.
As expected, compared to my brothers, I was the worst when it came to sword fighting. Tiberius was the best out of the three of us. Mira would always watch us when we practiced and I hated her seeing me so weak and uncoordinated, but she’d always smile and encourage me on. Even on my lowest days, her smile always lifted my spirits.
When the week had ended and day to leave and join the war arrived, I could barely eat. “You must gather your strength,” Mira said urging me on to take a bite of sweetened bread.
“I will miss you,” I said instead. “I will miss your smile.”
“You shall see me again,” Mira said confidently. “I will meet you right here, at Parthenon. We shall –,”
“Maximus, it’s time,” Augustus said cutting Mira off.
I slowly arose from the ground where Mira and I were sitting and she arose with me. I quickly embraced her so she wouldn’t see the tears in my eyes.
When I had my composure, I slowly let her go. “I love you,” I said gently cupping her cheek with my hand.
“I love you too,” she returned grabbing my wrist and kissing my palm.
“I swear to you, with the gods as my witness, that I will love you for eternity. I will always return to you, in this life and in the next. You are my soul.” With that, I kissed Mira with all the love I had to offer and I parted.
The war was the most horrendous and brutal thing I had ever witnessed. Every day, was a struggle. As a person who believed that each life mattered, I hated myself for being responsible of the end of human lives.
The Spartans were tough. They were born and bred to be warriors. It was a miracle I’d survived as long as I did.
I had just ended the life of a boy who looked to be my age when I saw a Spartan creeping up behind Tiberius. Tiberius was doing exceptionally well in the war. He and Augustus were respected amongst the army. I was moderately respected simply because I was their brother, not because of any skill I had.
“Tiberius,” I yelled rushing over to him.
“Tiberius!” Augustus yelled also, seeing the Spartan approach. “Maximus!”
I got in front of the Spartan warrior and his sword just in time before he could pierce Tiberius. I saw Augustus kill the Spartan before I fell down to my knees. I felt two strong arms hold me before my entire body hit the ground.
“What have you done, little brother?” Tiberius softly asked as cradled me to his chest. He hadn’t called me little brother in a while, ever since we left home. I doted on the nickname.
“Maximus,” Augustus said laying his hand on my shoulder. He must’ve seen that I wouldn’t make it because he kissed my forehead and said, “You have fought well.”
I softly smiled at him and raised my head to smile at Tiberius. In my heart, I knew they’d both survive this war. We all knew that if one of us were to die, it’d be me. We just never spoke of it.
“Mira,” I said choking on air.
“We will tell her how well you fought. How you saved my life by giving up your own,” Tiberius said holding me closer.
I closed my eyes and thought of Mira and my promise to her. We wouldn’t be together now, but I knew that we’d meet again in the next life.
And in the life after that.
Tell me, what's your favourite fruit? Mine are strawberries and pineapples.
Thank you for reading!