It was the most horrible stench that he almost passed out on the spot. Almost like the time he found the dead raccoon in his backyard. That damn raccoon was there for at least a week, covered under piles of dried leaves.
He knew that smell.
He looked around to see if he could locate the source. At first glance, there was nobody around. It was no surprise; at midday, the sun was blazing hot. The kind of heat that made it difficult to breathe. At the corner of his eyes, he noticed that several uniformed officers hovered behind one of the bungalows. All of them had badges on.
Something is definitely wrong, he thought to himself.
In the quiet peaceful neighbourhood like this, he had never seen any law enforcement officers and now there were, so he counted, more than ten. They were all moving so fast, like ant soldiers on a mission. He could not resist the temptation and walked closer, although the smell was overpowering.
A smart looking man in suit, most probably the person in charge, was barking out orders, “Set up a perimeter around the house.” Two other officers, he presumed to be new recruits, quickly stumbled and unrolled the yellow tape that reads “Police line, do not cross”. There was never a yellow tape.
The police never seem to notice him although he was well within the perimeter. They walked past him as though he was invisible. But then again, nobody ever took notice of him. He continued to walk towards the smell, until he stopped at less than ten feet away. His heart started to beat a little faster.
It couldn’t be, he lied to himself.
From where he was standing now, he could see one officer holding a camera with the huge flash on top, snapping away, while two other were writing down notes. And in between the moving bodies, he saw what he didn’t want to, the body of a shriveled old man lying sideways in a pool of blood. He felt sick. There was blood everywhere. More blood then he has ever seen in his life. He was about to catch a glimpse on the face when he heard a booming voice.
“Excuse me! Nobody is allowed inside the tape!”
By then there were a crowd of people behind the yellow tape. Everyone was curious, after all, nothing really happen in this neighbourhood. Reporters started to swarm in, each with their own versions of truth. How did they get here so fast, he wondered. A mortuary van had arrived on scene, and a stretcher was brought out.
The command was not directed to him, but to a brunette in tight jeans and loose navy blue tank top who was now struggling to break free from the grip of a patrol officer. Tears glistened in her eyes as she begged to see the body. She looked awfully familiar.
Suddenly, the brunette gasped, her eyes fixated at the body on the stretcher, and her body went limp in the officer’s grip. Curious, he turned to look at where she was looking at. His heart skipped a beat as he saw the pale face on the stretcher and he felt his knees giving way.
Startled, the old man woke up in cold sweat.
Just a dream, he convinced himself but he could not shake that pale face off his mind. It looked eerily identical to someone he knew all too well – himself.
He was getting old each day and he forgot a lot of things. That was just the problem nowadays. He could not remember much, for example, right now he wondered where he was. As he swayed gently forward and backward on the wooden rocking chair, his eyes darted quickly around the room.
The room was tiny but cozy. Sparsely decorated with wooden furniture, the most prominent feature was the square dining table with four chairs around it. And right in the middle of the table, an oil lamp. There was a window behind him, which brought the morning rays in. On every other side of the room, there was a door, but at the right side was a door painted in bright red. This room was familiar yet unfamiliar. He felt as though he had been here so many times that he know how many steps it take from one end of the room to another with his eyes closed. Or that one of the edge of the table was chipped off. Yet, he could not remember when or how he got there.
He let his arms hang over the rocking chair and tried hard to remember. All he could remember was his wife, oh sweet Jane. The first time he saw her at the coffee shop. Her long black hair was wavy and it tumbled over her shoulder, covering her slender body. She was wearing a white short dress. As though it was meant to be, she looked up and their eyes locked for a brief moment. She had the most beautiful eyes, the kind that sparkle with hope and love. And those perfect sweet lips of hers curved up in a smile. She was the one, he remembered feeling. Oh, how could he ever forget that face.
It was all coming back to him now. How nervous he felt when he walked over and ask her out on a date, and how exhilarated he was when she agreed. Their first date was a picnic by a lake, the very same spot he had proposed to her that winter, and by spring, they were happily married.
Although the old man tried hard not to let the memory cross his mind, he remembered how his sweet Jane fell terribly ill several years later. Malignant cancer, the doctor had said, and with the limited medical resources at that time, there was nothing much they could do except pray. So he did. He prayed hard but he knew he was losing her. Although she was bed-ridden in the final stages, she had never given up hope. Her smile was weak but infectious. In her last moments, he remembered crying so hard and begging her not to go. Selfish, he knew, but he loved her so much to let her go.
When it is time I will come and get you. She had promised before taking her last breath.
Tears slid down his face. He exhaled deeply as he wiped the tears off his face. He couldn’t quite remember his life after that, the funeral or anything else, and he decided that it wasn’t that important. After all, his life lose meaning after she had left. He decided to take a walk outside. Maybe it would clear his head.
As he was about to get up from the rocking chair, something rustled in his lap. Looking down, he saw the newspaper he was reading before he dozed off. At the top right corner, a tiny print that showed the date 19 June 2013. Jane had left him for almost half a century now. He folded the newspaper neatly, placed it on the table next to him and stood up slowly. He slipped his wrinkled feet into a pair of old sandals and walked towards the red door, he knew, that led him outdoors.
He walked into the woods that was in front of the house. He did not know where he was going, but he kept walking, one foot in front of another. If anything felt different at all, it was that he felt a lot younger and more energetic. To add, he was somewhat surprised when he realized that his back did not bother him anymore.
He must have walked for hours; it was almost sunset when he reached a lake. Not a random lake, but the same lake that brought back millions of wonderful memories. He closed his eyes and let the evening breeze take him away. As he opened his eyes, he saw a silhouette of a slender womanly figure walking towards him. She looked like an angel in the white maxi dress that sways with the breeze.
The figure held out her hand, a motion for him to take her lead. When he focused his eyes on her face, he realized it was the face that he had not seen in a long time – his wife’s.
He smiled, and for the first time in a long time, he knew exactly where he was going.