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I should’ve known that this day was going to happen sooner or later.
Elizabeth and I had an unorthodox friendship. She was from a well-respected wealthy family and I was a son of a barely-tolerated poor tailor. She was a woman and she was 4 years older than me but we were inseparable. Our friendship was frowned upon not only from our families but from society as well.
We first met when she and her sisters were out for an afternoon stroll around town. She was 14 and I was 10. When we met, it was a rough time for my family and I. My parents had just given birth to my second younger sister and they were constantly finding themselves short on money. I tried to help the only way I could – by stealing.
I’d seen Elizabeth as the easiest target because she was the youngest in her family and she was the only one carrying a handbag, a handbag she was carrying loosely.
I waited until they were in a crowded area before I snuck up to Elizabeth, purposely bumping into her roughly and taking the purse right from her hands.
I ran home as fast as I could and handed the bag off to my parents. They were uncharacteristically angry with me but there was nothing they could do but take the money. They couldn’t give it back because they didn’t know who it belonged to, I didn’t know who it belonged to.
My parents scolded me and gave me a strict warning to never do such a thing again and with that, I thought I had gotten away with it. Until the girl came by the shop with her father the next day. She was dressed in a beautiful green and white dress and she had an orange in her hand. She’d smiled at my father when he greeted them and I knew she was the Mira I fell for long ago in Athens. Her dimpled smile quickly faded when her eyes caught sight of my mother, holding my baby sister in her arms as well as the stolen purse. Her eyes snapped to mine and we stood there staring at each other. I feared she would tell her father what I’d done and I would be in grave trouble but she surprised me by dipping her head in greeting and introducing herself.
From that day onwards, we were the best of friends.
Our bond grew more and more until it became something greater than friendship. We never explored it more than what was proper, but we both knew.
We knew there would come a time when Elizabeth would have to marry. She had managed to convince her parents into not marrying her off until she was 23, but in society, especially with the wealth Elizabeth and her family had, she was expected to be married of to a Lord no older than 23.
Two weeks into her 23rd birthday, Elizabeth was engaged to Lord Peter, a man who was 8 years older than her and not nearly as blessed in good looks like she was.
From the announcement of her engagement, we hadn’t seen much of each other because it was improper and because she was busy planning for the wedding.
On the eve of her wedding, Elizabeth had snuck to see me. She proposed that she and I run far away together. She said she had lots of money and we could go anywhere and be together, where no one knew who we were or where we fit in into society.
I’d declined. I knew how much Elizabeth loved her family and how much they loved her and I couldn’t take her away from them. I knew we were soulmates, but what soulmate would I be if I selfishly took her away some of her happiness?
She begged, cried and pleaded but I held firm. I was usually weak to her but not this time. I couldn’t do it.
Elizabeth had kissed me and ran back home. It was our first kiss and only kiss. It was long, passionate and desperate. We put our souls into that kiss.
I couldn’t bring myself to attend the wedding.
Elizabeth couldn’t bring herself to see me before she and her husband moved away to his estate.
When I was younger, it was an unspoken rule that Sunday mornings were reserved for church - no excuses. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise that now, even in my adulthood, I wasn’t to expect anything different.
Nana and PapPap must’ve been the most popular people at church because it seemed like everyone wanted to talk to them. When there was a break in the conversation and I had had enough of standing awkwardly around and smiling, I gently touched my grandmother’s shoulder, leaned into her ear and whispered that I was going to find us some seats.
Finding seats was easier than usual because the turn out today wasn’t too much. A little less than half the church was filled up.
I scoured the church just to see if I recognized anyone when my eyes fell upon Niska and Logan. They sat two rows ahead of me and were huddled together in conversation. They both had beaming smiles – Niska’s three dimples getting deeper and deeper from her happiness by the second. Niska puckered her lips and Logan happily leaned in to kiss her. It was a quick peck, but when he leaned away, he dove right back in to give her a couple more pecks - not only on her mouth but on her cheeks and neck, causing Niska to smile harder.
“We’re in freaking church, dammit,” I muttered as I looked away from them a little sick of their overly affectionate behaviour.
“Such a lovely couple aren’t they?” a older woman said taking a seat by my side.
I shot her an obvious fake smile and turned my head to look at the opposite direction of her. She looked somewhat familiar but I didn’t really care where I knew her from. I just felt a bad vibe from her.
“Mind if I sit beside you dear?” she asked, sitting a lot closer to me than she was a second ago.
“Not at all,” I told her.
I stood up when I saw my grandparents making their way down the isle to their seats. The woman didn’t stand up to let them pass, but she did move her legs to the side so that her knees weren’t in the way.
“Oh, hi Elanor!” my grandmother said to the woman. “Idris, shift along so I can talk to her.”
“Oh that’s alright,” the woman said grabbing onto my bicep and stopping me from moving. Her grip was surprisingly strong. “I wanted to talk to your grandson anyway. I haven’t had a chance to speak to him ever since he got back into town.”
Nana narrowed her eyes and gave her a tight smile. “Well, can it wait?” she asked. “They are about to start soon.”
“Not for another ten minutes,” Elanor said smiling back just as tightly. “Plenty of time for Idris and I to catch up.”
“I don’t know you,” I told the woman bluntly.
She turned to me with somewhat dark look and said, “don’t you remember dear? I own that little candy store you loved. You used to come by every day after school.”
As soon as she mentioned the candy store, I remembered. From what I could remember, she used to hate me back then. She was also a very nosy person.
“So, how was life in the states? How was New York? Tell me everything and don’t leave out any details, dear.”
“It was fine,” I said.
Elanor’s smile dimmed a bit before her body perked again and she said, “well what about your -,”
“Sorry but I just don’t feel comfortable discussing my personal life with you just yet. I hope you understand.” I turned my body away from her as a silent and final way of telling her that I was done speaking to her.
From the direction my body was angled, I was in clear view of Niska and Logan. They weren’t intimately huddled anymore but they were talking to each other with adoration in their eyes. It made my heart drop a bit.
Niska and I weren’t always together. In fact, about half of the time we weren’t together the way we wanted to.
Watching Niska and Logan looking so happy, it quickly became a harsh reality that we wouldn’t be together in this life, just like we weren’t in 1850 and 1976 . She already seemed to hate me, she barely spoke to me and besides, she looked very happy with Logan – her fiancé. Just because we were soulmates didn’t mean we would be together – not this time at least.
With each life, Niska and I were always different. We were always different races and ethnicities. The only thing about us that carried with us through each life were our unique features. For Niska, it was her three dimples and for me, it was the star shaped birthmark on the left side of my lips. The mark is a perfect star but half of it is on my top lip and the other half was on my bottom lip so when my lips were closed, it made a complete star.
The choir comes out and sings a few songs, my Nana humming along with them. I can’t bring myself to pay attention to anything other than Niska. Before I know it, the sermon has began. The priest reads some text and I really do try to listen but I find myself trying to remember times when Niska and I weren’t together. I have hundreds of different timelines of our lives, but they’re not clear.
This always happens. The memories don’t all come at once. They come slowly. Sometimes, I see or hear or smell something that triggers a memory or it comes in a dream, but most of the time, the memories come as they please. One thing I know for sure is that no matter how many memories I get, there are always holes. There are some global events and time periods I know I should remember but can’t, no matter how hard I try, I can’t remember. It makes me feel like there is something greater at play.
My mind is so far gone that my Nana must notice because she roughly jabs her elbow into my side. I shoot her an embarrassed smile.
As I’m turning my attention back to the priest, my eyes catch the red haired boy that went missing a few days ago. He sitting in between his mother and a man who is undeniably his father because they share the same coloured hair. I smile to myself happy that he’s been reunited with his family and that they seemed okay.
“Now, from the text what we learn is that children need to be kinder and better to their parents,” the priest says. My eyes automatically shift back to the red-headed boy just in time to see him squirm in his seat. “No one will love you like your mother will, like your father will,” the priest continues. The boy shuffles closer to his mother, who lovingly puts her arms around him and kisses the top of his head, the father looking on serenely. “Be good to your parents and respect them because they brought you into this world and they dedicate their lives taking care of you, no mater your age.”
I huff and roll my eyes at the priest. Nana taps my knee gently and I quickly grab her hand and place a kiss on it. I keep her hand in mine until the service is over.
We are outside the church doors when I get a text from an unknown number. No one ever texts me so it’s a bit of a surprise. It’s an even bigger surprise to see it’s from Niska. ‘Idris, tomorrow night at 7 I’m having a birthday party. Would you like to come?’
I ignore how and where she got my number and quickly text her back that I would love to come to her party.
She immediately responds with an address to a bar.
“He’s a wicked man,” I told Carolina as I pulled her closer into my body. “He’s going to do something bad. I can feel it.”
“I think you’re overreacting,” she laughed. “I know things are rough right now but we’re all fighting and things will change for the better.”
“I doubt that,” I told her honestly. “We’ve had to hide our relationship, my rights have been taken away and they’ve arrest Nelson for treason…again. I don’t see things getting better.”
“Well,” she sighed turning around and facing me, her soft hair brushing across my face. “You’re here aren’t you.”
“Only because of my mother,” I swallowed. “When they start realizing I’m also my father’s son, they’ll take me away too.”
It was already 28 years into the apartheid and it seemed like nothing was getting better. Things were only progressing worse and worse.
Unlike my fellow black people, I was treated a little bit kinder than they were because my mother was white. Though I wasn’t immune to the harshness of the whites and the racism, it wasn’t at a much larger scale like my counterparts.
Carolina tried to be supportive and help me protest things but we were only high school students and we felt like we couldn’t do much. We could barely help ourselves let alone all of South Africa.
Carolina was the love of my life and I knew I couldn’t be with her unless I helped fight for the rights of myself and my people, so when I heard about the protest that was going to happen at a high school in Soweto, I jumped at the chance to go.
I snuck to see Carolina before I went. I feared I would never see her again and she smiled widely, displaying her dimples and told me not to worry, she had a strong feeling that we would see each other again. She gave me a kiss for good luck before I left.
Soweto was much more worse than I thought. The protest was broken up by the police who came with tear gas flying bullets. From the moment my eyes started burning from the tear gas, I knew I would never see Carolina again. The pain of not seeing her again was greater than the stinging of my eyes.
It was the bullet that ended my misery.