"How do we get out of this labyrinth of suffering?
This was the question running around in his mind all night. He looked at the old, dusty clock hanging on the wall. It was ten past four. He'd just finished reading which was now his new favourite book, John Green's Looking for Alaska. The labyrinth of suffering he thought. It had been an overwhelmingly exhausting couple of weeks for a 14 year old. He was tired, but there was no way he was sleeping that night. Not with that conversation with her still fresh in his memory, and all of it accentuated after finishing that absolutely humdinger of a book.
Thirteen nights ago, almost to the hour, he'd pressed the red end call button for the second time that night, and suddenly there was silence. He could hear his heart pumping, his thoughts going haywire inside is head, looking for a way out.
It started out with her calling him once, twice and thrice, which woke him up with a jolt and he looked at his phone and saw "Three missed calls" and a bunch of texts asking him to get up and call him back on Skype. It was their thing. They didn't talk to each other on text, not on phone calls either, just Skype. Rather reasonable if you consider the insanely huge phone bill hours and hours of it would generate on regular phone calls across two continents.
So he composed himself, went to another room and Skyped her. Without missing a beat, there she was. Sitting in front of her laptop in her room in Manchester, wearing her favourite black full sleeve tee which read awkward. She looked radiant.
But something felt wrong. They hadn't decided to talk that night. Because of the time zones, they usually spoke well past midnight, his time. Pretty much every night. But she'd texted him earlier that evening that she wouldn't be able to talk night, something about her not feeling great.
So it was odd, at the very least.
And she didn't even pretend to hide it. She was upfront, as she always was. No breaking of ice. Just breaking the news.
She spoke for a couple of minutes straight, throwing a plethora of medical jargon at him without pausing to take a breath.
The only words that he heard and could make sense of, were: leukemia, stage four, terminal.
His first instinct was to hang up the call. He needed a second to compose himself. He took a minute but his entire system was going haywire. And so he just called her back. The rest of the conversation was a blur, he was never able to exactly recall it even years later no matter how hard he tried.
Thirteen nights since that conversation, and Green's analogy of the labyrinth of suffering seemed more relevant than ever. All he could do that night, was lay on his bed and think back on the day they'd first met.
A hot summer's day in the middle of May and he was lazing around at his neighbour's place, playing some video game, and in walked a Caucasian man in a black suit and alongside him, a teenage girl. Presumably his daughter. Curly hair, half a smirk, brown eyes behind rectangle glasses.
He introduced himself and then her father suggested it would be a great idea if she could join the both of them playing whatever games they were playing, and so they did.
They got to talking, and seemed to immediately hit it off. It felt like a movie script. And so things escalated, they became good friends, and the next day he took it upon himself to show her around this incredible city. And just like any typical 14-year-old teenager would, the first place he took her, was the Marine Drive. They grabbed a cup of coffee, found a relatively quiet spot at the promenade, and gazed at the sunset, telling each other about their lives.
It was easy. The easiest friendship he had ever had in his life. The easiest relationship with another human being he had ever had in this life. And all of six months later...
A tough couple of weeks. And he knew it wasn't going to get easier. It was probably going to get worse before it ever got better. But he was starting to come to terms with it all. Make peace with the fact, so to speak.
He didn't know what was going to happen, and he didn't care for it. He resolved to be strong, for himself and for her. She was still here, alive. The same person he saw for the very first time and couldn't take his eyes off. The same person he spoke to more in that space of few months, than friendships that had lasted many, many years. The very same person.
And for the next four months and a bit, he did everything in his power to make sure the last four months of her life, were up there with the best she had ever had. He just hopes he did okay.
Green was right when he said, "It is very beautiful over there. I don't know where there is, but I believe it's somewhere, and I hope it's beautiful."