Beautiful butterfly. So precious, so fragile. Its wings colored in orange, red, white and black. With a determination worthy of heroes, the little creature kept flapping its wings, flying with the strong wind that blew from the sea.
Charaxes brutus natalensis. A species that didn’t belong on that continent. But that was a miracle no one noticed. How it got there, a question no one bothered to ask.
Ships were coming to port. The sky had turned grey, covered with a curtain of angry clouds and a bizarre tension hovered in the air, making the sailors nervous. It was going to start raining soon. The old ones could feel it in their rattling bones.
Beautiful butterfly, its small wings proof of God’s mastery and passion.
High waves were smashing against the docks, enclosing the shore in a quivering embrace. White and black collided on the surface of the water. Seagulls seemed to cry for help, their empty prayers shuddering in the air above the port. A storm was coming.
Beautiful butterfly, its rainbow colored wings a miniature canvas, flew among cars and pedestrians, circling the commotion and despair of modern day society. The delicate insect entered a building, hoping to find shelter. It was one of those bars the sailors used to go to. People’s chatter trembled within thin walls. In the dim light, a cloud of smoke and alcohol vapors stained the stifled air. Black wooden tables were covered in a shroud of bruises and scars. Ash flakes soundlessly fell on the linoleum floor as people at the tables drew imaginary circles with their hands.
Beautiful butterfly, its tiny body quivering because of the terrible commotion and noise inside the bar.
The insect settled on one of the tables. It raised its wings above its body as it slowly began to move towards a steaming cup of mint tea. It stopped for a moment, moving its antennas in all directions, sensing the world around, the loud voices that reverberated across the table’s scratched surface.
And then it happened.
The butterfly twitched its wings a couple more times before a hand flicked it off the table.
“Anyway, as I was saying… I’ve been sailing for more than you’ve been alive,” said Clark, wiping his right hand on a paper napkin. His swollen face contracted into a smile aimed at the two men sitting across from him.
Both men nodded.
“I bet you have some stories to tell,” one of them said.
“A few,” Clark replied and took a sip of hot tea.
The aroma of mint and exotic fruits began to fade as the third man lit a cigarette. He exhaled the thick smoke into the stifled atmosphere above the table. “I’m sure they’re all fascinating tales,” he said and flicked a few flakes of ash off the sleeves of his shirt.
“Twenty three years of calm seas, William. That’s not what fascinating tales are made of,” Clark said.
“Do you hear that?” William raised his hand as to stop everyone from talking. Thunder clashed against their ears. Rain drops began to fall on the roof and sing a chaotic symphony.
“I told you that it was going to rain soon,” the captain, Clark, said with a condescending tone in his voice. He rubbed his hands together, his eyes staring at the raindrops that were sliding down the windows’ glass surface. “Every time it’s about to rain, my knees hurt.”
“Rain is never bad,” the third man said. His eyes had a strange shine, his voice a strange tone.
Back in his room, William sat on a divan, reading a book. The Persian rug that covered the floor caressed his naked feet. Books lay on shelves, on the small table that served both as a desk and as a dinner table, on the black wooden floor. Books sat in cardboard boxes, quietly waiting to be read.
Darkness collided against the small windows. The rain had stopped, and the clean smell of fresh air sluggishly made its way inside the room. The town was quiet. In the distance, somewhere on the sea, a ship’s beacons flickered.
William put the book on the floor, rose from the divan and headed toward the table. He took a cigarette out of the pack that lay upon it. As he tried to light his cigarette up, the lighter fell from his hands, dropping into a glass of water that lay besides the packet.
It is a sign, William thought, and the strange occurrence made him smile. He was startled by a tapping at the door. Another tap followed, more urgent in tone.
William opened the door and saw his friend standing on the pavement with his body arched and his hands on his knees. He was gasping for air.
“My friend,” he said and the words stopped there. In the dark silence of the night, inside that suspended moment, his voice chuckled, faltered and shattered. “Clark had a terrible accident earlier.” Cold air invading lungs, hearts beating like fists inside chests. “Everyone died.”
“What kind of joke is this?” William asked, disgusted.
“I assure you, it is not –”
The man shook his head. A few words fell over the tip of his tongue. Fragile words, melting in the night, sluggishly travelling on the breeze. “Accident. Fire. Death. Coast Guard.”
William ran his fingers through his hair. “His wife? Does she know?”
The man stared at his feet for a few seconds. “I have to go,” he said. Without uttering another word, he walked away. The lamps made his shadow twirl and dance and caress the wet pavement. This contorted ghost disappeared into the night.
William closed the door to his room and began to obsessively rub his arms and shoulders.
Then the most extraordinary thing happened. The glass of water that stood on the table fell on to the floor, water slipping onto the floor and rug. William ran across the room and raised the glass and looked at it as if trying to inspect it, as if he was looking at the most bizarre of things.
It was just the wind, he thought. Just the wind.
He took the remote control from the table and sat in his divan, the warm embrace of the soft fabric taking away the chills that were still running across his back. He turned on the TV, hoping that someone knew more about what had happened with his friend’s ship.
Outside, the sea was as gentle as a sleeping mistress.
With his eyes half closed, William walked on the thin line between reality and dream. His head flopped back and his arms dangling loose around his body.
Second after second ticked from the clock that hung on the wall, melting together in the stillness that insulated the room.
As it often happens, time began to flow less and less fluid, becoming more and more viscous until it stopped flowing altogether.
“Captain Clark Lee…” These three words that seemed to come from far away were enough to make time tick again inside the clock.
In an instant, William was on his feet, his eyes wide open. But what he saw on TV made no sense. Footage from a plane crash. In the corner it wrote: Tragedy in Florida.
Bits of information made their way to his brain. “Captain Clark Lee and all one hundred and twelve passengers died in a tragic plane crash earlier today.” William shook his head as if he tried to get rid of a bad dream. “Flight twenty three was headed for New York when…”
He turned the TV off.
And he stood there for a while, his hands resting on his waist, head bent, staring blindly into the night. “This is just stupid,” he muttered. “A stupid, stupid coincidence.” He sighed. “Flight twenty three, twenty three…”
His feet seemed to pierce through the floor. Tragedy and stupid coincidence had reduced him to a mere statue. His heart pumping blood with amplified beats, beats that faded away inside the void of his chest.
As he walked around the room, hands behind his back, he kept saying: “Just a coincidence, just a coincidence.” on and on like a broken jukebox that plays the same song over and over again.
In the thick silence that covered the room, the clock ticking sounded insanely loud. But it was not volume that truly made William nervous, but rather its monotonous tone. Constant, never flinching, the clock measured the passing of time, and stopped for no one.
Then he glanced at the clock and saw that it was past midnight. A mere minute past midnight, sixty seconds into a new day. And the sound the clock made after every second that passed smashed against his ears like a sledge hammer against a brick wall.
Life barely beating inside his chest as seconds fell inside his head like grains of dust inside an hourglass. The ticking had invaded his mind, and his thoughts revolved only around the new day that began to slowly envelope the dead city. The cold air around him felt contaminated by a poison he could not understand. A new day was engulfing half of the world and he was the only one that wanted time to stop. The only one that wanted to go back.
His hands were shaking and his chest felt empty. His nostrils dilated, he blinked every time a new second from the new day passed. Every second counted with precision by the clock on the wall.
He shook his head. Twenty three. This was all a coincidence. A morbid one indeed, but it was all a coincidence.
A sick joke, he thought and laughed.
But nevertheless, it was his twenty third birthday.
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