He saw her sitting on the parapet, legs dangling lifelessly in the moist spring air, inadvertently waving to passers-by 20 floors below. He’d seen her before—she lived in 2D, the apartment below the one he was renting. She had beautiful eyes, he knew. Beautiful, sad eyes, which were now fixed on a point in the not-too-distant future when at last she would fly.
So we’re here for the same reason, he thought.
He walked up to her. He wasn’t sure if she had noticed. Her eyes—those beautiful, sad eyes—continued staring absently into the open skies.
“Hey! I’ve seen you before. I live one floor above you,” he said.
After a moment’s hesitation, he added, “Do you want to talk?”
For the first time now she made eye contact with him, yet her lips remained motionless and her face unreadable.
“I think we might be here for the same reason,” he said in a slightly shyer tone, his head dropping low as he did.
She turned towards him, hesitantly, with a thoughtful, measuring look.
“You’re here to end the pain?”
“Yes, I suppose that’s one way of putting it,” he agreed.
“How would you put it?” she wondered.
“I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. I never thought about it much.”
“Didn’t you leave a note for, you know, family and friends?”
“Not really,” he admitted. “No family. And as for friends, I doubt if I even have any. Real friends, you know?”
She nodded in slow motion.
“Yes, I can understand that,” she said at last. Her manner suggested there was more to follow.
“My friends all live so far away. And I have a love-hate relationship with my family. But I thought it’d be good to leave them a note, just so they can get some closure.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you.”
A hint of a smile spread across her face. Her features now appeared softer, more vulnerable. He felt something inside him give way.
She sensed it, too, and quickly put up her defenses.
“You know you’re not going to change my mind,” she said as her face turned back to face the void.
“I don’t intend to,” he assured her. “I’m pretty determined myself, you know. I’ve given this a lot of thought.”
“Yes, so have I.”
They both sat quietly. He spoke first.
“Do you mind if I tell you a bit about my life?” Pause. “I mean, I don’t suppose it matters much now anyway. Still, I feel it’d be good to have someone to talk to—even if it’s just for a few moments.”
“I suppose so.” Her face betrayed a hidden warmth. “Perhaps you’d better start at the beginning.”
That evening, he told her of his childhood, growing up, moving to the big city, college, and work. By the time he was finished, she knew more about him than anyone ever had.
She listened patiently, compassionately. She never interrupted him. She never flinched or recoiled. She just sat and was present.
At last, the late hour of the night was starting to have its effect on him. He checked his watch and looked at her remorsefully.
“I’ve been talking about myself all this time. I’m so sorry. That’s rather selfish of me, I assume.”
“It’s OK,” she said. “I don’t mind. I actually quite enjoyed it. Perhaps I could tell you my story, too,” she suggested. “But it’s much too late now. Maybe we can just put it off until tomorrow.”
“I’d like that,” he said.
“Tomorrow night, same time, same place?” she asked.
He smiled in agreement.
The next evening, he found her on the rooftop again. She was leaning against the parapet, wrapped in a fleece blanket, the evening breeze lifting strands of her hair like a curious child.
“I made myself comfortable,” she announced simply when she noticed him. “The other night was a bit chilly.”
“I’ve been thinking all day about what I should tell you—where to start and how to convey it all in a way that makes sense. You did such an outstanding job last night. I feel like my story is going to sound much more chaotic and the events of my life a lot more opaque, I’m afraid.”
“I’m not here to tell you how to tell your story,” he reassured her. “I’m here to listen—just like you did yesterday.”
She measured him cautiously with her eyes, pursing her lips momentarily.
“Very well, then. I’m going to give you a series of scenes from my life, if you don’t mind. They might seem disconnected at first, but I promise you there’s a thread that holds them together. I mean, there’s got to be one, doesn’t it?”
He tuned his ear to her voice and listened, occasionally interjecting, sometimes stirring, but mostly just nodding slowly, thoughtfully. His face changed with each scene. Its initial curiosity gave way to sadness, then concern, frustration, and shock. This soon melted and he bounced back to curiosity, then understanding, and—finally—amazement.
“This might sound strange, but I think I want to say that I am very proud of you,” he managed to get out at last.
She tilted her head slightly. Her face was as inscrutable as it had been the day before.
“Perhaps you misunderstood my story?” she suggested after a while.
“On the contrary,” he argued, “I think I understood it better than if you had told it the same way I told mine.”
“I’m not sure about that,” she said in a quieter tone. She seemed—what?—a little perplexed? Or was it just his imagination?
“Why don’t we give it another try tomorrow,” he proposed. “I’ll tell you what I’ve heard and you can tell me if I got it right. What do you think?”
She nodded, got up, and walked off, eyeing him curiously. He couldn’t help but smile again. “That’s the second time I’ve smiled today,” he observed. He left equally baffled.
The next evening, he brought a thermos with tea. “To keep us warm and hydrated,” he explained.
She motioned him to sit down. “What did you mean yesterday?” she asked without any preamble. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day.”
“That makes it two days in a row,” he quipped.
That night he told her how he understood her story. The next night, she explained to him how she made sense of his narrative. He’d brought tea, she’d brought some cookies. They shared the blanket. When the conversation ended, they both stared over the parapet at the endless rows of high-rises that spread out before them.
“Well, I guess that’s it,” he said when they had sat down without a word for some ten minutes. “It’s been good talking to you.”
Her eyes were watery. They sat together in silence for another ten minutes. Then, at last, she spoke.
“I don’t know what to say,” she attempted, hesitantly. “When I came here the first night, I was convinced there was nothing but pain in this life. Pain I could not imagine living with for the rest of my life.”
“The pain is still there, but somehow… It doesn’t weigh me down so much. It doesn’t feel so overwhelming. I’m not sure what it means.”
He looked her in the eye.
“Perhaps we don’t need to decide right now. Tomorrow?”
She nodded as she watched him leave.