Forever And A Day
Zach could predict his day right down to the second, but he never saw this coming: the elderly Acara that he so often brusquely bumped into day after day was nowhere to be seen. Without helping her cross the road, he couldn’t reset the next part of his day. In Zach’s mind, this was a catastrophe.
“Have you seen her?!” he asked in a panic to the other pedestrians weaving around him. “Where is the elderly Acara? She wears a blue shawl! SOMEBODY, HELP!”
But no one came to his aid. Zach was left alone to figure this out. Suddenly, the arrogance and pride he once felt at outsmarting time fell away as swiftly as it set on.
Then he remembered: she carries a bag of fruit. Thinking to himself, he seemed to recall a fruit stand not far from this crosswalk. Zach turns on his tail and sprints to the fruit seller.
Two rows of baskets sit in front of the stall, each one stocked with fresh produce in every shade and colour. Plump Altadorian grapes pile high in varying shades of green and purple, while bright yellow organic bananas seem to smile at the customers that walk by. None of that caught Zach’s attention, as he had a far more pressing matter.
“Excuse me sir,” he huffs, bent over the fruit seller’s counter. A green Blumaroo wearing a red-striped apron turns around and smiles at Zach.
“Hello sir, I’m Thomas. How can I help you?” the Blumaroo replies.
“There’s an elderly Acara, wearing a blue shawl,” Zach says in between heavy panting, as he tries to catch his breath. “I think she buys fruit from you. Do you know her?”
Thomas scratches his chin for a moment, as if to show that he’s deep in thought.
“Ah, yes! That’s Mrs Holland,” Thomas says. “I don’t think she’s coming by today.”
Zach is panicked. “Why not?” he asks, hoping that Thomas would hurry up and dispense some useful information.
“She called this morning,” he replies, as he continues to sort through a crate of Purpples. “But she did place an order earlier, and I was going to have it delivered over in the next hour.”
This was Zach’s chance. “You look busy Thomas,” he said, careful not to let his voice give away any urgency that he felt. “What if I helped you deliver it? I was going to bring her something as well.”
Thomas, who was eyeing a Purpple in the light, paused to look at Zach. Finally, he continues admiring his Purpple.
“Yes...yes...sure,” Thomas replies with an absent-minded tone, clearly distracted by the polished sheen that the Purpple gave when held underneath the sunlight. “The order is in that corner, with the address written on the note next to it.”
Thomas nods towards the back of the store. “I’ve put it on Mrs Holland’s tab, so you don’t have to bring any money back.”
Zach retrieves the bag of groceries from the back corner. It’s a mixture of peaches, cherimoya and sporkleberries.
After walking three blocks, Zach arrives at Mrs Holland’s home. It’s a modest building, with two floors. The exterior is painted in a vibrant shade of pink that resembles cotton candy, and outside the house, a cherry blossom tree sways gently in the breeze. The windows are painted in a soft whisper of grey, and each windowsill has a planter of flowers, all blossoming upwards in a riot of colours.
Zach knocks on the door. “Hello? Mrs Holland?” No response.
He tries knocking again, and in the distance, he hears soft footsteps. The door creaks open slowly, and a curious face peeks out from behind the large grey door.
“Who is this?” Mrs Holland asks, coughing a little.
“I’m Zach, Mrs Holland and I have your order from Thomas here,” Zach replies, holding up the bag of fruit.
Mrs Holland’s expression picks up and opens the door wider. “Come in, come in!”
As Zach enters, he gets a better look of Mrs Holland. She is the same elderly Acara that he’s seen for the past many days. Granted, she looked a bit more frail than usual, but there was no mistaking her or her blue shawl.
Zach set the fruits down on her kitchen counter. Her house was done up in a warm, cosy fashion. Photo frames depicting happy memories hang all over, covering her daffodil-coloured walls. A soft smell of lavender hangs in the air, and the sound of old records playing in another room adds charm to the house.
“Would you like some iced tea, Zach?” Mrs Holland asks. Zach politely accepts a glass from the smiling Acara. He notices that she’s holding a tissue in her hand.
“Are you alright Mrs Holland?” he asks, sipping on the refreshing glass of sweet tea.
“Oh, I’ve been ill all day today Zach,” Mrs Holland replies, sighing as she lowers herself onto a chair. “I was supposed to make a little fruit salad for when my grandchildren over later, but I don’t think I have the strength to”
Zach watches the elderly Acara as she fiddles with her skirt. Clearly, she’s feeling rather down because she was looking forward to spending time with her grandchildren, but she can’t make them a sweet treat for when they arrive. He gets an idea.
“How about I help you?” he asks, setting down the now-empty drinking glass. Instantly, Mrs Holland perks up.
“Can you? That would be so wonderful!” she replies with a joyful lilt in her voice.
Zach takes out the peaches and the sporkleberries from the brown paper bag, and he picks out a handful of oranges and lemons from Mrs Holland’s fruit bowl on the counter. He begins working on the fruits, carefully slicing each one up into bite-sized morsels.
“My grandchildren love fruits salads,” Mrs Holland chuckles as she sips on her cup of warm dandelion tea. “They have this silly idea that fruits come from the faeries and having a fruit salad is a sure way of inviting some faeries to join us for tea. Can you imagine that?”
Zach laughs. “Actually, I quite like the idea of that. A faerie-attracting fruit salad!”
There’s a quiet that settles for a moment between the two strangers. Mrs Holland is content sipping on her warm tea, and Zach finds himself enjoying the process of putting together a salad. It reminds him of when he was a younger Bruce, training to be a chef.
“Actually, Mrs Holland,” Zach says in a careful tone. “You want to hear something crazy?”
The elderly Acara turns to face Zach. Though ill, her expression is friendly and warm, as if assuring you that everything is well in the world. “Yes, I would Zach. Tell me more?”
As he begins to dice the sporkleberries, Zach slowly explains the head-spinning turn of events that he’s been through: how his day has been replaying itself constantly until he shows an act of kindness, and that as frustrating as it is for him, he’s learning to choose patience over temper. He also tells her that he’s never told anyone else.
As he recounts his story, Mrs Holland remains quiet. Occasionally, she nods or hums in agreement, but she lets Zach finish his story. After the tale is told, Mrs Holland straights her shawl, and she smiles at Zach.
“That’s not a crazy story at all Zach,” she says in an assuring reply. “But can I ask you a question?” Zach puts the knife down on the chopping board and looks up.
“Go on, Mrs Holland.”
“Why did you choose to be angry in the past?” Mrs Holland asks, fixing her sight squarely on Zach, who responded with a flabbergasted expression. Up until that moment, he hadn’t realised that every time he lost his temper, it was a decision he made.
“I...I...” Zach struggled to find the right words. Nothing came to him. He paused for a moment.
“I guess when I was a child, I was often bullied,” Zach offers up meekly after a while. “You see, I was always the smallest Bruce on the playground. I didn’t make friends easily because I was a shy child, but that also made me an easy target for bullies.”
He looks down on the chopping board, at the heap of sporkleberry cubes he’s been cutting. “I told myself that I would never let myself be voiceless again. So, when I began ZapZap Foods, I had to remind myself that being a boss isn’t being a pushover, and I wasn’t going to stand to be taken advantage of.”
As these words came out of Zach’s mouth, his gut felt a pang of regret at the way he used to behave. He thought about all the people he had hurt along the way, all the nasty things he said that were unnecessarily mean, and how he often acted with his own interests at heart.
Mrs Holland seemed to comprehend his guilt. Slowly, she spoke up. “Being strong isn’t about being loud Zach,” she replied, her gaze softening. “Strength isn’t about being right. Sometimes, being strong is about knowing that you’re right, and choosing to be kind anyway.”
Those words rang like bells in Zach’s head. No one had ever dared to tell him how to act or what to do, but these words were exactly what he needed.
“Sometimes, it’s better to set out with forgiveness,” Mrs Holland continues. “Because you never know what someone else is going through. We only see one side of things, but underneath, they may be struggling too. Showing them some kindness could make all the difference for them.”
Zach’s hands are trembling. He knows Mrs Holland makes strong points for him to learn, and the tinge of shame he feels gets Zach emotional. Sensing this, Mrs Holland goes over to Zach and places a comforting hand on his arm.
“There, there,” she says, patting the back of his hand. “Don’t live in the regrets of yesterday. Just make tomorrow count.”
Zach finishes up the fruit salad and leaves it in Mrs Holland’s refrigerator to chill. It’s been an emotionally fulfilling afternoon, and as he leaves her house, he’s suddenly filled with a sense of fear.
“Mrs Holland?” he asks, as he prepares to leave her house. “I really enjoyed our talk today. If the day resets tomorrow, I hope you won’t forget me because I’ll always remember what you said.”
Mrs Holland laughs and gives Zach a hug. “I would never forget you Zach, and you’re always welcome to stop by for cake and tea,” she replies. “Just remember: choose kindness.”
For the first time in a long time, Zach returns home with a heart brimming with contentment.
To be continued…