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29th March, 2013
They fight and claw, desperate to be seen, to be heard. The wretched display of emotion can do nought but pray and hope for acknowledgment, for isn't that what all things want? From the tiniest mosquito-wasp, to the great Lion Turtle, all creatures want that simple voice, the one that can scream in the night and say, "Notice me, for I am here!" Alas, I am no exception, despite the many times my presence has been lorn. The dull, dreary colours that were my life turned bright when the intrepid motley band arrived—although, it was never a life to begin with. The harlots and debauchers that dictated the actions of those around me affected even my hardened shell, until nothing but a demure smile was seen—it was all there was to see.
It was with this group that I found myself. Literally and figuratively. I learnt more of the world in the small time I spent with them than in any of my lessons. They had not prepared me for a world entrapped in a godforsaken War, where the enemies were strange men with no face and no name—always Them. They never came to my small home—and why should They? My family had power and prestige, but even that was futile in a world overrun. I was nothing to them, as small as a lowly peasant and not worth much more; I was just a blind child, unknown to all but a seedy earthbender and piteous maids.
I had followed a mantra in my life, you see. Children should be seen and not heard. How I loathed the despicable man who thought of that. A blind child can do nothing but hear, yet he wished to take the one thing I knew to be Truth and hide it from me. Hide me. I was kept in the dark, an omnipresent suffocating lack of light that succeeded to further seclude me from those who understood. But, there was the mantra again, a different one.
Reality is frequently inaccurate.
This I had taught myself; after years of waiting and listening, I discovered that the world was not all it seemed. Demure maids were vicious, loathsome things who had nothing better to do than gossip. The security guards did nothing more than keep me locked in. They were not tasked to keep those who would seek to hurt me out; my parents didn't know what would hurt me. They allowed bald, fat men in the house without a second glance; "Ahh, Toph! This is Hyung, he is a very wealthy business man, lost his wife some time ago..." I was ten.
But, then I fought. I fought against my parents, against who they thought I was. I fought waves of earthbenders, and I fought the oppressing Loneliness. It threatened to consume me, but still I fought. I was Toph Beifong; I was not weak, and I was not a quitter! For two years I trained, I practised. The soft blind girl became hard, harder than even I could have predicted. I almost lost myself. On the edge of a knife, ready to fall from one side at the smallest tilt, I felt Him come. And I walked away.
I had always been worthless. Guards would follow me around like lost goat-dogs, my Father's friends always had a condescending tone, a patronising word. When I was younger, I would look towards my father, hoping, praying, that he would defend me.
Was it any wonder I grew into a bitter child? My own father agreed with the people who looked down on me. So when He came, I found it ludicrous that the Avatar wanted my help. Me! A poor, small, weakly child; "She's blind, poor thing," the voices would whisper. And then he defeated me. I had a moment of clarity then. The epiphany one would never wish upon themselves. I was worthless. Scared. Weak.
But he came back for me; no less than three times he approached me. I felt something break, but when it healed I felt whole. It was as though something had shattered a long while ago—something I hadn't even realised I needed—and not healed quite right. But, now it did heal, and I was stronger for it.
I showed them, my father, my friend. I showed myself that I couldn't be controlled, I couldn't be bought and I couldn't be defeated.
But still, he tried to subdue me.
So, I ran. I ran faster than I ever had before. I was running from the desolate Loneliness, from the father who never wanted me, from the mother who could hardly stand to be in the same room as me. I ran from my fears and my worries, and I ran to my friends. My new family. I ran to hope, and happiness and freedom. And love; for what does anything mean if there is no love?
It was difficult, at first. It seemed to me as though they had been through a lot. The boy, the airbender; a goofy child with the weight of the world pressing down on him, never allowing him to escape, for there would be no world without him. A waterbender, forced to grow up too soon, yet a petulant child when the stresses of her friends cracked her hardened exterior. But, it wasn't hard like me. I was as hard as rocks, and less emotive. She was hard like boiled candy. Sweet and rewarding, being in her presence made one feel better about themselves. And the nonbender. The warrior. The one who had loved and lost, yet had to be reminded of her every night. My heart ached, but it wasn't for myself anymore. I had people to help, people to empathise with. People to love; and I did love them. We defeated crazed half-men, with limbs of steel and a head of fire. We defeated the unconquerable, and the undefeated, and you know what we found underneath the evil that had plagued the world for over one hundred years? We found love.
They found love.
I found love.
I loved the world. I loved my friends, and they loved me. I loved learning pai sho from a strange old man, once a feared general, now a feared opponent. I loved my blindness, for it defined me. And lastly, I loved myself, for if I had been anyone but, I would not have succeeded. I wouldn't have found my place.
I returned, eventually, and found more love waiting for me, in the form of a distraught father, a weakened mother, and a small bundle of fat and skin. And I loved them.
I won't be presumptuous and say it was easy. I won't say that the Loneliness left—oh, how could my good friend leave? No, it merely abated, never rearing its head but poking out from my heart at opportune moments, as if to say, "I'm still here, because there is no-one else". Still, I couldn't let it disable me as it once had. I travelled, hoping to find the companion I knew was waiting for to take its place. I never forced it to leave, for He was a part of me, and yet I hated him. Oh, how I hated it, being alone. So, I stayed with friends. I fought bands of rebels with my family, and enjoyed parties with them. The Loneliness seemed to know what I wanted before I did, because He began to show up around one person. One idiot.
Of course, I never acted on the nudges He gave me. The Loneliness loved being with me, yet I knew that should I find someone to replace him, he would leave with no fuss, off to guide someone else to the one who would fill their life as my friend did. It wasn't enough to merely be around him, though I never voiced my feelings, nor gave any indication. Four years of friendship could not be ruined by one stupid move.
And so, I waited. My neutral jing, perfected now, forced me to stop for the right moment to strike. I would know it, but all could be lost if I rushed ahead with no thought for propriety or consequences.
It was the eve of my seventeenth birthday that he came to me, oblivious to the date. Drinking, crying, playing, he refused to say what brought him to my doorstep, until finally he was snoring, although not peacefully, drooling into my tunic. I hadn't the heart to move him, nor the will, and so we slept in the arms of each other. At once, the Loneliness jumped up to urge me on.
He awoke, with a groan and a sniffle, jumping away and breaking my heart. I learnt, during a breakfast of bacon, turkey eggs and interrogation, that his tie with the island warrior had been broken, and I felt the Loneliness slowly stitch up my heart as though waiting for the next inhabitant.
He had given me the best present I could hope for. He gave me a chance.
Yet, he still grieved, not for the loss of the woman, but the loss of something he felt he needed. He never questioned why I helped, and I never brought it up. Seasons passed, and still we did not split; I knew I couldn't leave him, the bubbling affections growing into something ugly and mutated—yet it was good. Perhaps it was a good thing I was blind, for I didn't have to see how despicable, how weak those emotions looked. I soon replaced the void in his heart, and I felt the Loneliness once again writhe in my own, the desolation and despair that he could never hope to understand me, never hope to love me forcing all rational thought from my mind.
Yet, I still waited.
Seasons changed, and soon I was twenty—a spinster, according to my mother. He was still around, and I couldn't deny the feelings I felt for him. I never had, really, yet I felt something change. It was the fourth anniversary, the eve before my twenty-first, that I noticed it. He had been sick the week prior, and so we had stayed inside drinking warm mugs of cacao and playing a modified version of pai sho—a favourite, we had discovered during a particularly oppressive thunderstorm. He grew quiet, and I found with a surprise that the Loneliness brought a friend—Fear. He would be leaving, I convinced myself, never once asking the issue. A stupid mistake for adolescents, yet that was all who I was—a lost little girl, fighting for possession of her own heart.
It was some time later I worked up the nerve to ask. I had never been a coward, and even if it had taken until the gloomy moon had descended behind the speckled horizon, I would have asked. The answer had made me laugh. He really believed I needed a present? The presence of his earthy smell of a post-rainstorm forest and the memories he had given me were enough.
Perhaps the waiting was over?
Questioning, I discovered he felt dreadful, akin to pouring salt in my cacao (which he had done, and which I had beaten him for), and so offered himself as a present. I could command him to give me anything, take me anywhere, buy me anything.
I knew my answer, although it was best to appear unsure. I pondered for a while, before closing the distance. Perhaps he hadn't meant that? Or, perhaps it was what he wanted to do, but was too fearful to suggest.
Leaning into him, suddenly he was upon me, and I knew that he had wanted to kiss me too. I felt the Loneliness tip his hat; his work was done. I smiled into his mouth as a new friend moved in, setting off fireworks in my heart and setting out panda lilies. Complete, the new guest of Love made sure to stay outside my heart until we broke apart. She then said her greetings, and nestled deep within my heart, coming out when I was near my friend. My lover.
A/N: Just a fun bit of information–I developed this idea whilst doing my grocery shopping. True story.
Also, the quote 'Reality is frequently inaccurate' is from one of my favourite books, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.
For the collective works of the author, go here.