“Oh? Looks like there is still a spark of life in you after all,” a lazy voice observed. “Camomile tea?”
I looked up and blinked, disoriented. “What? Where am…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude. I was thinking about something and I guess I just wandered into your shop,” I explained hastily to the lady sitting at the table.
“That’s what people do when they have a wish and they are looking for someone to grant it. I’m that someone,” she replied before taking a sip from her cup. “Are you sure you don’t want any camomile tea to calm your nerves?” she repeated as she glanced at the cup of tea opposite her.
I frowned. “I’m sorry, but who are you?”
“Oh? We just met. Surely you haven’t forgotten my name?” Again, she had a knowing smile as she assessed my blank look.
“I am ‘The Witch’. Or ‘The Djinn’. Or ‘Fairy Godmother’. Names, to me, are like clothes. Some are more commonly used, some are used only on special occasions and others you don’t even know how or why you got it in the first place,” she set her tea cup on her saucer with a firm clink. “But you will notice the demeaning ones usually have the article “The” attached to it, for some reason. If you don’t want tea, why don’t you take a seat?” she gestured at the chair opposite her at the table.
I took her advice and sat down. In front of me, besides the offered cup of camomile tea was a crystal ball and a candle. “I’m sorry, but are you a fortune teller?”
“You don’t listen well, do you?” she smiled shrewdly. “I’m not a fortune teller. I’m ‘The Witch’. So tell me, what is your wish?”
“I-I was just thinking,” I stammered, not sure if it was due to her persistence or my insecurity. “I don’t have any wishes.”
“That is itself a wish as well,” The Witch replied. She arranged her shawl before she gazed at me. “Very well. Maybe this will help you in your wish to think.”
She stood up and walked over. Producing a match seemingly out of nowhere, she struck it. The head of the match burst into a bright ball of flame, like all matches do when they are first struck. Then the flame became so small it almost went out. Finally, it settled into a hypnotic steady flame. She lit the candle with that flame before blowing it out.
She set the extinguished match in front of me, beside the tea. The lavender aroma from the candle was relaxing, first soothing my body then my mind. Her movements were practised, like she had done this many times. The match left a wisp of smoke and for some reason, that calmed me even further.
“Relax. Breathe evenly. Look into the crystal ball. The scent of the Old World from the candle will do the rest,” she instructed as she sat down opposite me.
Conscious of her amused expression, I did what she instructed. I relaxed and soon, my wish was granted.
I look over the edge of the block of flats I am standing on. It does not look as high as I thought it would be. Suddenly, I am able to see everything in great detail. The startling clarity of the trees, the squirrels, the birds, the people and the cars lies bare below me. One step forward and it would all be over.
What have I got to lose? At the age of 25, I should be out there enjoying life, not up here debating death. When people face a problem, they attempt to solve it. But when the problem becomes too much to handle, they run. I face a lot of such problems.
Perhaps that is the coward’s way out; perhaps that is a tired soul’s way out. But undeniably, standing on the edge gives an exhilarating sense of thrill. The gentle caress of the wind. The familiar sight of the neighbourhood. The breathing sounds of the city.
I lean forward and fall.
You know how survivors of near-death experience mention that their life flash before their eyes? And they suddenly understand what kind of person they are? And they wish that if they can start all over again, they would do things differently? I do not have any of that experience. Understandable, since I choose to die and do not expect survival.
However, I see things. I see a lot of things. I guess death does open the eyes of the living. On the 12th floor where I live, I see Mrs Gunderson pacing in her living room, worried sick because her drug addict of a son has not come home for 2 days. Through the window next to Mrs Gunderson’s, the model couple of our neighbourhood, the Randys are having a major fight because of Mr Randy’s extra-marital affair.
As I continue my plummet, I notice a single mother outside her flat struggling tiredly with her groceries after a night shift while her autistic son is sitting on the other side of the door, apathetic to his mother’s plight. The mother gives a tired smile and mutters a quick greeting to a young lady who is wheeling her father out. The young lady returns an equally tired smile.
They may live opposite each other but circumstances do not allow them to exchange anything beyond that. They are blissfully unaware of the other’s situation and are hence, envious of each other. The young lady and her father are going to the hospital for another expensive round of chemotherapy session.
The law of gravity continues to exert its influence on me. For the briefest moment, I entertain this idea: Does the law of gravity ever get paid for all the time it is working to keep everyone in place?
Then I spy another neighbour whom I get along with. A cheerful lady, Janet, who never seems to let anything get her down, not even the death of her newly-wed husband. She is bending over the photo of her deceased husband who died in a tragic accident 2 months ago, silent tears making its way down from her eyes to the photo, the only connection they have now.
Embarrassed by this intensely private moment, I turn my head away. At my final destination, Mr Tennyson is sitting on a bench by the road. We call him the old eccentric fellow because of his pugnacious nature. Every little thing seems to set him off.
With a sudden flash of insight, I realise he is trying to get attention. And right now, as he sits alone on the bench, he is looking at the distance, waiting for his son and daughter-in-law to visit him with his grandchildren. He has been alone for so long that any form of communication, even hostile ones, are welcome. I am surprised by my dispassionate observations through this short journey.
Then my journey inevitably explodes into a world of pain. Is it natural? I always believe that it is quick and painless. It feels like that time when I was 11. I ran too fast on the track and fell, twisting my ankle as I went tumbling. Except right now, I do not just twist my ankle. It feels like I twisted every joint in my body.
I can’t breathe! It feels like that time when I was 8. I drank my cough syrup and quickly washed it down with water but it went down the wrong pipe and I choked. I coughed and all was well again. Reflexively, I try coughing, then realise I can only manage a few gasps. I am drowning in my own blood! Is this how the fish feels when it is out of the water?
Dimly, I notice that people are looking at me now. Mr Tennyson who is on the bench opposite me. Mrs Gunderson who is peeping out from her window. Janet who is on the phone calling for ambulance. The young lady who is wheeling her father on the pavement is now holding her father’s hands. The single mother who is hugging and covering the eyes of her screaming son. The Randys who are shocked by the interruption to their fight.
In front of them, my problems fade into insignificance. And everyone is probably thinking, He has such a bright future! What problems does he have to commit suicide? My problem is probably insignificant compared to his.
As they pay more attention to me, I realise: I don’t want to die! I want to live! But now, I can only lie on the ground in world of pain, choking on my own blood - the very life given to me. What a befitting punishment from the divine forces! I try gasping for breath again but it eludes me.
“Oh? Looks like there is still a spark of life in you after all,” a lazy voice broke my reverie. “Camomile tea?”
I gasped for air and starting coughing. “What? Where am…” Disoriented, I looked around. Then I realised The Witch was sitting in front of me, her legs crossed as she sipped from her cup. “A-are you a fortune teller? Did you just…?” I did not continued. For some reason, my lungs hurt, like I had been swimming underwater for too long.
She took another sip before setting the cup down. Then The Witch gave me a slightly amused look. “You tend to ask the same questions over and again, don’t you?” she observed. “Don’t you get tired of doing that?”
I tried replying but only managed a raspy breath.
“Drink some camomile tea. It helps calm the nerves,” she advised. As I drank from the cup, she continued. “So, tell me. You have experienced an inexplicable event, haven’t you?”
I opened my mouth but before I could reply, she raised her hand to cut me off. “You don’t have to explain to me. In a world as vast as ours, there bound to be things that cannot be explained. They are what we call supernatural events. What you have just experienced is yours and yours alone. You can choose to believe it or not. Unwittingly or not, you have found me to grant your wish. And I just did. What happens next is up to you.”
Unable to meet her steady and knowing gaze, I looked down and nibbled the insides of my lip. Unconscious, my eyes settled on the burnt match in front of me and I noticed something I missed the first time. The flame might have died but there was still a steady, albeit faint, glow in the matchstick.
Well, this is a story I wrote a while back for a prompt requiring the use of “match” in the story. I’m now in the process of reviving my passion for a character I created long ago – The Witch. It’s time for her to emerge from the dusty attic to face the world again.
I wanted to explore the idea of “be careful what you wish for”, because I’m fascinated by mythology and fantasy. Slowly, I outlined the Witch’s morally ambiguous personality and decided she would grant wishes whether it is to the benefit of her recipients.
I hope you will enjoy this story. I will also release another story of her soon.