Rays of sunlight played with reflections in the water ahead. Two shapes observing the steady flow of the river, a man and a woman locked together.
“Aren’t you afraid?” she asked him where he stood beside her, neither meeting the other’s eyes.
“What is there to be afraid of?” he replied as he often did when she asked him something, with another question.
“Aren’t you cold?” She asked and not for the first time.
He chuckled. “There’s a trick to it, I control my breathing and relax. That way it doesn’t feel half as cold as it is. Besides, the sun is out and summer is almost here.”
She wanted to take his hand, to touch him, just feel the warmth of his skin. She shook her head dismissively. “You’ve been different from the start, you know that?”
“How? Different from whom?” he inquired.
“Huh, I guess there are even things I don’t have an answer to,” she mused. “I don’t know, just different.”
He laughed at her and sat down on the pier and began removing his shoes. Puzzled she watched him as he rolled up his jeans and eventually put his bare feet into the water. “Not as cold as I thought it would be. Why don’t you join me?”
It strode against everything she knew, she just could not see the point of it. She did it, though. She copied him and put her bare feet into the water next to his. “What am I supposed to feel?”
He gave her an odd look, it always struck a chord the way he saw her. “Close your eyes for a moment,” he said. “Banish every thought from your mind and just let yourself feel, it doesn’t matter what it is.”
“I don’t think I get it.”
“You know, for someone who is accustomed to eternity the way you are you have a pretty terrible grasp of the moment. Funny,” he smiled at her. “Considering that the moment is the only thing that’s everlasting.”
She studied him, tried to see what he was made of, tried to see what made him tick and tried to see what made him who he was. There were so many questions, questions she had never asked herself before. In spite of her long existence, if long was a close enough measurement of it, she had rarely encountered someone who made her this curious.
“Does it ever weigh on you?” he suddenly asked her. “I know a lot of people are frightened at the notion, they don’t all see the necessity of what you do like I do.”
She considered his question for a while before she said, “Life is a strange phenomenon, it has a beginning and therefore must also have an end. Sometimes, because of what I do, people ask me what the meaning of it all is. As if I would know, I only know that some things are inevitable and if it was not I who did what I do it would only fall on someone else.”
She followed his gaze travelled across the water as it glimmered like countless diamonds set ablaze in the light of the setting sun. “Life isn’t that strange, or well, maybe it is but it’s not that complicated if you stop for a moment and consider what it really is,” he said.
“What it really is?”
“People always say it’s a journey and that life is all about the journey. They’re not wrong, but I think they’re looking at it the wrong way. Most of them seem to think that it’s something they’re supposed to work their way through to get to the end and when they’re at the end everything will make sense, or some shit like that.” He ran a hand through his brown hair and grinned. “Life is music, we’re supposed to dance and sing while the music is playing. If the end was the point people would make concerts composed of a single, ending note.”
“What makes you say that?” she wondered. It was one of her guilty pleasures and one of the reasons she stuck around him. He had some intriguing views on many things she didn’t understand herself.
“Well, look at how we build our lives as a species and as a society. It’s always that next thing, the reward. Tomorrow, you’ll get it tomorrow. Ha! Just look at education, first there’s kindergarten and then there’s the next level and another level after that all the way to university or college. While we’re being herded through the system it’s always the same mantra, it’s coming, that great thing is coming. What a scam. It’s the same with jobs, when we find ourselves halfway through our lives and we finally reach that promotion or whatever it was we went through school for we stop and look around and go, ‘what the hell do I do now?'”
He burst out into a fit of laughter for some reason. She smiled together with him. “But you are not halfway through your life.”
“Oh? That’s reassuring to hear, I think.” He paused. “I have always liked these moments, you and I just talking. You’re the only one I know who has always been there with me, at my side no matter what kind of wrong turns I did. I don’t know if it’s mutual, I hope it is, but I consider you a friend. Someone dear to me.”
“I -” she began but he cut her off.
“You don’t have to answer, I know you have to see things a little differently. As long as we can just sit here for a while I’m happy.”
After what she assumed was quite a bit of time, she really had no notion of such things but the sun had climbed low, closer to the horizon, he turned and looked straight at her. “One thing,” he said. “One thing has been eating at me since the first time I saw you. Your eyes, there’s so much loneliness in them. Never once have you said something about it nor have I pressed the matter.”
She raised both eyebrows and tried to think of something to say. When she couldn’t she just shrugged and let him continue.
“It pains me to see eyes like that,” he reached out towards her hand but let his own hover just above it. “You’ve never touched me, not once. I figured there was some reason for that so I won’t push it. What I’m trying to say is that it’s okay, you can if you want to.”
He let his hand rest on the pier next to hers and once again she felt that strange warmth she didn’t understand in her chest. “I,” she began but faltered. “Hug me,” she managed and met his eyes.
He pulled her into an embrace. The warmth she had been feeling grew hot and even though she wasn’t built to feel such things she did anyway. She felt alive. The steady rhythm of his heart filled her ears and in spite of herself she let the universe tend to itself for just a moment, and time seemed to stand still.
“For as long as I live, you will always be welcome in my arms,” he whispered. “When my time is up, I don’t want to know in advance, just embrace me like this and take me into whatever lies beyond this life.”
“I promise,” Death replied and nuzzled herself deeper into his arms. She wanted nothing but to be an ordinary woman, a human like him, if only for a short while. The rest could wait, she had an eternity for that after all.
The rest can wait.