First and Last

No matter their nature, at the end, souls end up returning home. But what happens to them between life and death?

Graphic by Joey Bruce

After our universe was created, time was invented. Past, future and present were only one. Nothing existed for there was no consciousness that could label the magnificent events taking place. There were stars, galaxies and planets unaware of their existence and the single thing they shared in common; energy.

Big stars die with passion, creating elements never seen before, which would later create stardust and a massive amount of energy. That is how, from death, human life was created. 

The mind we hold is unique since it is capable of contemplating itself. And then, there’s the soul, made of everlasting energy. Some have been incarnated a thousand times and thus every life they are a little more exhausted. Fortunate are the ones who get to interact with a fresh soul.

No matter their nature, at the end, souls end up returning home. Bones are composed of calcium and blood could not exist without iron. We share more with stardust than what we think. We are all made of supernova fragments. 

This is the story of a young lady, close to her thirties, in the midst of her last life. She works in a small office answering phone calls from rude, unsatisfied clients every day from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon with only a thirty-minute break for lunch.  When she finishes her shift, she heads straight home with a headache, aching knees and a sharp pain in her neck. 

She takes bus 51 from Queens to Grand Avenue. On its route, it always stops at the same spot due to heavy traffic in front of The Contemporary Art Gallery. The modern building reminds her of the dream she buried 12 years ago, of a white canvas, paint containers, and brushes.

For this very reason she avoids looking at the gallery. She instead focuses on the moody drivers, the keen children seated on top of their mother’s lap and she smiles at them but they always end up crying. Why does her everyday route have to pass by that building?

Today she allows herself to look at the gallery for the first time and a lump forms in her throat and every sound around her falls silent. She hears her breathing and her heart beats in her ears. She shakes her head and quits watching as the bus starts moving forward again.

When she gets home, her cat Agatha greets her. She checks her voicemail, clicks the play button and listens while she pours a glass of cold water. The machine plays her mother’s raspy voice message “My dear Sofía, I hope you are doing okay. Please return my call when you have time.” 

The young woman feeds Agatha and pours fresh water on her plate and proceeds to lay on her bed without changing into her pajamas. Sometimes she forgets to eat, but when she does not she swallows a steaming bowl of instant noodles and goes back to bed until the next morning. 

Saturday morning she cancels a breakfast to which she had been invited to by her highschool best friends. She does not feel like listening to their life updates and marriage announcements. Instead, she puts on a light pink dress with floral  print, puts some blush on her cheeks matching the dress’ color, ties her hair in a low ponytail and heads to the gallery by herself. 

The lady behind the ticket desk informs her about the new exhibition featuring pieces from local young artists. She finds it intriguing and visits it first. 

The room is full of people and exhibits more pieces than she expected to see. They are hanging on the walls, a pale light illuminates them making it easier for her to identify the colour techniques used. There’s a crowd in front of a piece she can not see so she moves closer to get a clearer view. 

Sofía shakes and her eyes open like never before when she sees a painting of her, looking outside the window of bus 51. 

People from the crowd do not realize they are standing besides the muse and continue their way to the next room. The painting features eyes denoting a melancholy she had never identified with. She has her hair down and the artist has drawn tears on her cheeks, a subtle yet charming detail. In her eyes, her appearance is insipid, contrary to the woman in the painting.

The last time she had a haircut was last summer so the ends of her hair are damaged and they already reached her wrist.

Her skin has been dry during the colder seasons causing her cheeks to look rose-coloured. On top of that, she also has dark circles around her eyes due to the lack of sleep.

The painting is signed ML. 

“Well, this is awkward,” says the guy next to her “At least tell me you like it.” He looks down at his hands after asking. She turns to him, he is younger than her and wears a suit. A card with his name hangs from his neck. 

“Miles Larson,” she murmurs. “Me?” 

“I wanted to portray human emotion,” he explains. “Everywhere I went people were numb. I asked them to pretend to be sad, excited, or even mad but they were fake. You were the only one real to me,” he says looking at the painting while she stares at him perplexed. 

“What emotion did I transmit?” she asks. A thin layer of sweat begins to form under her clothes.

“Don’t you see?” Miles points to her face on the painting. “I added tears falling down your cheeks that you were obviously holding back. When I saw you I thought you would start to cry at any moment,” he says.

Sofía then remembers the only time she had turned her face towards the outside of the bus’ window and what was going through her mind. That was the Sofía that captivated the artist. 

“I have to go,” he gasps and smiles, she returns the gesture. “Your name?” he asks as he walks away.

“Sofía,” she replies.

“Sofía.” He nods. “What a beautiful name,” he said before walking away towards a well dressed couple.

This is his first life… 

He just graduated college. He lives in a well-sized apartment and pays his bills on time. Once a month, he drinks beer with his landlord. 

Miles volunteers as a part-time art teacher at a public pre-school. He plays games with the children and compliments their drawings no matter how abstract they look. He runs after big bubbles, holds them with care in his hands and looks at them, fascinated by the rainbow that forms on the surface. He paints with his fingers using watercolours and glues macaroni pasta on paper sheets with the children. He inflates balloons but gets dizzy easily so he tells the kids about his weak lungs, they laugh together. He gets home in the evening and heads to the room he designated as a studio. It always smells like a combination of solvent and oil. He opens the windows, the cold air flows, and gives him chills. He works for an hour before having a frozen vegetable lasagna for dinner. 

This is his first life… 

Once a week he drives three hours to a small town on the outskirts of the city where tall buildings do not exist.

The main street he takes to get to his destination was paved no more than 10 years ago. 

Habitants recognize his car already and greet him with smiles whenever they see him around.

He leaves the apartment late at night and when he gets there, he looks at the sky full of stars. He unfolds a blanket and lays on the grass with his hands on his belly. 

He feels connected with the universe above and tries to make sense of the star’s arrangement, as if they have something to communicate to him. 

This is his first life… 

Vanilla is his favorite ice cream flavour. Every time he licks it off the cone, he makes a mess. He then wipes the stains with his shirt sleeves. Fireworks amaze him, he can not eat without moving his hands from the excitement that food provides to him.

He pets chickens, donkeys or dogs no matter how bad they smell. Paint makes his heart race and dilates time around him, and when he sings, words sound like poetry.

This is his first life…                                                                                                     

After discussing with his teacher the requirements for The New Talents Exhibition, he heads to the art gallery where he would present his first public piece. Once there, he sits on a bench in the adjoining garden. The paths are made of concrete and every two meters there is a flowerbed accompanied by a large tree. He drinks the last sip of his green tea from the bottle, it has already cooled down and he laughs out loud.  

In the main street, a bus stops. A woman is laying her head on the window. Her gaze is absent, lips are drawn downwards in a somber expression. He finds beauty in the transparency of her emotion and sketches her on a blank paper sheet and when he is done, the bus finally moves forward and the woman disappears from his sight. He hopes to see her again but until then, he can only see her through a drawing that does not do justice to her charm.

This is his first life and he lives it with his eyes wide open. Therefore, only he could embrace the nostalgia that haunts Sofia’s soul.

This is her last life. Her soul is blue everywhere she goes and for the first and last time, someone has noticed and loved her.

For the rest of their lives, they have become one without forgetting their own singularity. They have become one and still, they are two.