For every sigh of the wind that yearned to extinguish the candle’s flame, there was a vacuum, an emptiness between them that sucked in every hope of survival. In the darkest hour of the night when even the shadows crawled back to hide, the soft warmth of the candle burning away on a weather-beaten stump of a dead tree filled the forest with desperate hope. The morning was not far away. But will the candle last?
We must do what we are born to do, Mariana remembered the Colonel’s words. We must pay our debt to this world. With our gifts or with our lives. Do you not agree with me, little girl? Oh, it’s that face again. You rebellious child! The entire nation trembles at my voice but you doubt my words. My Maria, always against me. Why must you pain your poor grandfather’s heart? The Colonel would then carry her on his shoulders and together they would walk through the sunset by the sea. Mariana would stare far into the horizon until the sun had done what it was born everyday to do and she would feel sorry for him. One day I will set you free, she would quietly promise. Sipping the coconut water the Colonel would buy her, she would sit by the rocks towards the north of the beach, under the swaying coconut trees, with the salty wind rushing past their skins and gaze at the twinkling stars that slowly fill up their sky.
There was a moon once, the Colonel had told when he first showed her the sky. Big and white, she had guided mankind in darkness. The Colonel was not born when the moon was lost. She could never find any mention of it in any of the old books in her grandfather’s study and none of her friends had heard of the moon. Sometimes, she thought that the Colonel was just making it up. But on evenings like these when every fibre of her tiny being was charged with the rapturous sights of the glorious pebbles in the dark sky, she thought about the moon. The stars have been here longer than me or grandpa haven’t they? Maybe they miss her. To be so fair, so pure and so beautiful, she must have been very lonely. Maybe she did what she was born to do and we didn’t need her anymore. Now the moon’s gone and there’s no one to guide us in our night, the Colonel was talking to no one. He had begun to drink. We now plunder, we now kill…we are lost, oh Maria, we are lost! Wiping his tears he would take another swing. Mariana would sob quietly as she struggled to take the bottle away from him. There will be a moon again grandpa, I promise you, so please don’t cry. I will bring her back. I will make everything all right. I know Maria, my sweet Maria, I know it! We will get our country back from the butchers! They will pay for what they did to us! To you! Oh Maria, they will pay for my wife, my son..they will pay! Mariana, you are my moon, you are the moon of my world and no darkness can take that away from me! Yes grandpa, I will never leave you. Let’s go home now. It will be all right.
It would take her hours to help him back to their house at the south of the beach and then she would take out his coat, put him in his bed, pull out his shoes, unbutton a couple of buttons of his shirt and cover him with a blanket. She would light the candle, place it away from the half-open window and close the door. Standing by the open window of her room, she would gaze at the sky again, staring at the blackness where there was a moon once. And, in silence, she would cry. She was twelve when one evening she had lighted the candle and put the Colonel to sleep the same way she had always done. The next morning she found the candle spent and the Colonel never to wake up. She never cried again.
In the dusty haze of war where souls are lost and devils are made, the sight of a lone pair of fists ravaging through the entire western coastline was recounted ages hence, first as it is, and then as a myth that grew word after word, brick after brick, until it was no longer just an image, a story. It ceased to have a beginning, it ceased to have an end and in darkened valleys under starless skies, when shadows of the night lurked within waters shallow, forests quiet and weakened hearts, it became the moon in their sky. As newer generations walked their streets, they would find statues on every important square of the most beautiful and the most daring General on her exquisite mare, both of them ready to bring hell on..someone, with her piercing eyes gazing at their skies as if to tell them..something. They did not know her. The plaques in front of the statues had long been victims of weather and graffiti. Soon the statues too fell to the vicissitudes of time. As it is with legends that grow too large, they transcend from truth to myth and are slowly banished from the realms of possibility so ages hence they eventually rest within the distrustful memories of the older generations.
What starts as a gentle selfless thought, a irrepressible cry from within, for someone else – a parent, a grandfather, a country, something that consumes an empathetic life in a mission for a greater cause – to fill the vacuum with which the world is writhing, which is sucking its soul in, becomes a ferocious tremor that shakes the very earth beneath the force of oppression and ends without any recollection of what that life had wanted to do, before that first selfless thought, for herself. There are paeans written for the overwhelming soul that manages to save their world from the brink of extinction, or dies trying, flowery wreaths adorn her stony grave of gallant splendour and mellow grace and tears leave every blade of grieving grass moist with pregnant gratitude. As the evening dew starts to settle over the quaint town and the mourning crowd disperses into the nightly shadows, the sacrificial valiance begins to fade around the everyday humdrum of an ordinary life until it is no more than an afterthought, on shiny bricks or in the deepest recesses of memories. An afterthought, which is left to fight for its existence against the relentless vagaries of life and the unstoppable flow of time, a fight it was never meant to win. A fight, which was never asked for. A fight, which would one day, be forgotten. The failings of the world, as they have since time immemorial, bestowed upon a family, a community and country, a whirlpool of tragedy that, having devoured honest lives in an age of calamity, did not stop until a young girl decided to right the innumerable wrongs at the altar of her own budding dreams.
A soldier was born to serve. A chicken was born to feed others. A candle was made to burn. The wind may sigh to extinguish the candle, to save it from ending itself, the candle too might not want to burn itself out today, but will the vacuum of the world allow that?