I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked the same. Nothing has changed for twelve years. My clothes are the same because I don’t have anything else. They used to be a khakhi brown. Now they are a dirty brown, shabby, torn in numerous parts, and just plain dirty. I checked my hair one more time and went downstairs. There’s Mrs. De Souza hobbling around trying to get breakfast for her son and herself. I have never met Mr. De Souza. I think he had died a couple of years before I met Hilda, or Mrs. De Souza. Hilda must have been about fifty when I first set eyes on her. And her son was a teenager at that time, a difficult, unruly teenager who poor Hilda had a hard time raising. She was a widow, struggling to be a good mother while juggling a few jobs. There were many times when I wished I could have just stepped in to help her. I think the house was all that Mr. De Souza had left her. Thankfully he had paid for it before his death. My understanding is that they had planned to move in to their new home together but he had died in an accident just a few weeks before the move. I got all of this from conversations she had with different people on the phone. She rarely had visitors.
Luckily, Ron, Hilda’s son shaped up quite nicely as a successful and pleasant young man. He now works in a large corporation, and is a responsible son. He takes care of his mother very well, and I am always happy to see him when he comes visiting every two weeks or so. He lives in the city. He usually comes on a Friday night, and stays the weekend doing this and that for his mom, getting the house in order. Hilda still believes that she can do it all by herself but her arthritis is so bad that some days she can barely move around. So these days the house which used to spic and span when she was younger is a little higgledy-piggledy and unkempt. Ron would help clean up while grumbling good-naturedly about his mother’s stubbornness when it came to getting some help. He is a good son, I must say.
This weekend he appears to have a guest. I was up in my little room in the attic when I heard voices late last night. I knew Ron’s and Hilda’s voice but I also heard a sweet female voice. I didn’t bother coming down to take a look at the guest but it sounded like the voice belonged to a young woman. Ah! Nice! Ron finally has a girlfriend. I think it’s about time. He spends too much time working or with his mother. The young man needs to get a life of his own. I am curious to see the girl. Ron was about the same age as my Dianne would be now. My heart sank as I thought of Dianne. I haven’t seen her in twelve years. The last time I saw her she was about thirteen, and turning out to be a pretty young woman. Thinking about Dianne always made me think about her mother Jillian, my Jilly.
Jilly was my childhood sweetheart. We literally grew up together in the same neighborhood. We went to the same kindergarten, the same elementary school, and then high school. But I gave up studying after high school. I was a little bit like what Ron was before he turned around, rebellious and not exactly the ideal student. I bummed around a bit, much to my parents’ distress, got into trouble with the law a few times, and then drifted into construction. Fortunately, I was good at it, and started making good money. I stayed in construction. Jill on the other hand went on to college in another city. She was always smart, and beautiful, hauntingly beautiful. When she moved we lost touch. She became a nurse and settled in the city where she studied, and so I thought I would never see her again. I didn’t think about her for some years. The truth is that I was a little miffed, I must say. I felt like she thought she was too good for me. Certainly her parents thought that way. They stayed in the same neighborhood but they would never speak to my parents, or even look at me. I guess I didn’t exactly do much to make them change their minds. Anyway, we went our separate ways for a couple of years, seeing different people.
Then one day I saw her coming out of her parents’ home. She was visiting. I thought I had seen an apparition, the most beautiful apparition I had ever seen in my life. I was driving by, and it so happened that the sun was just setting, casting a golden hue on everything, and there she appeared, wearing a white dress with the sun shining down on her beautiful long black hair which cascaded down to her waist, laughing at something someone inside the house had probably said. I fell in love in that moment with that apparition. It was only later that I realized that I had fallen in love with Jilly. I was determined to marry her, and so I did everything I could to win her. I found out where she lived and I visited her there. Initially she was surprised to see me but my Jilly was always a wonderful warm human being. She welcomed me happily, and we reignited the old friendship we had. And soon we were gloriously in love. She didn’t care that I hadn’t gone to college, and she didn’t care that I had been in trouble with the law a couple of times. She looked at me as a man who would do anything to make her happy. I was floating in air. Her parents of course felt that she was making a mistake but they accepted me. And before long we were married. My parents, like me, felt like they had struck the lottery. They couldn’t believe that their son had actually found a beautiful wife who loved and valued him despite his checkered past. Everything was perfect. We had our daughter, Dianne, after a couple of years, and I became a successful contractor because I always worked with Jilly and Dianne in my mind. Jilly worked as nurse and our little Dianne grew up to be the perfect little girl. We soon bought our home. Life could not have gotten any better. And, I guess that’s why it ended so soon.
One fine morning I dropped Dianne in school and Jilly at the hospital, and made my way to the construction site on which I was working. I worked all day as it was a busy day. When it was time to pick up Dianne from school, I walked back to the site office to grab my stuff, and left my safety helmet there before making my way to my car. Just as I was about to get into my car, one of the guys called out to me because he had a question. I had about five minutes to spare, so I walked back on to the site where some guys were working on the ceiling. I was just there for a minute, and then I turned around to go back to my car, and the most ridiculous thing happened. One of the guys who was working on the ceiling dropped his hammer and as luck would have it, or as bad luck would have it I often chuckle to myself, I was exactly beneath him and it came smashing on my head. I had been in construction for almost fifteen years and that was the first time there was an accident on the site where I was working, and it had to happen to me. The last thing I heard before I went crashing down was, “Look out Jim!” The hammer smashed my skull, and I dropped dead.
I didn’t realize that I was dead until of course I saw my crumpled body with blood everywhere and people crowding around it, and it took me a few days to come to terms with the fact that no one saw me or heard me. For a few days I wandered around frantically, literally a lost soul. I went home and saw Jilly distraught with grief, and I tried desperately to speak with her but of course I couldn’t. And then I saw Dianne crying herself to sleep, and felt so completely helpless because nobody knew I was around. I stayed in my home for a few days, sat by Jilly and Dianne, and attended my own funeral. It was heart wrenching to see Jilly sobbing while Dianne sat close to her holding her hand. Jilly’s parents came and looked really grim. I don’t think they were unduly upset that I had died but I think they felt deeply for their daughter and grandchild. My own parents just sat crumpled and worn. Some years before that, they had lost my sister, and so this was a horrible blow to them. I felt completely helpless by the grief that I had caused so many people. There were so many things that I wanted to say to each and every one of them, so many things that I wanted to apologize for and to explain.
I stayed in my house for a few weeks after that. Jilly kept crying a lot. She stopped working and spent many days just curled up in bed. Her parents moved in to care for her and Dianne. I stayed by her side most of the time. Sometimes she would look around like she felt I was there and I wanted to tell her I was. I wanted to think that she felt my presence. Then one day, I saw them packing up. I didn’t quite know what was happening initially but I soon realized that my wife and daughter were moving out of our home. I was powerless to stop them, and so I told myself that it was for the best. They will forget about me. The thought broke my heart but that was the best thing I could do for my Jilly. I had to let her go. As I watched her gently caressing the walls and then take one last look around the house before she turned her back on our home forever, I felt the tears rushing down my face. I desperately wanted her to stay but there wasn’t a jot I could do. I didn’t follow them. I couldn’t risk spoiling the new journey that they were going to take.
After that I wandered here and there, wanting to rest but unable to because my heart was not at peace. I didn’t know why but I felt like I had to wait for something. And, it was at that time that I saw Hilda. She was visiting her dead husband’s grave. She looked so dignified and stoic. She stood silently by the grave for a few minutes with her eyes closed, and then she turned around and walked away. For some reason, her calmness drew me. There was something so stable and peaceful about her that I followed her home.
When I entered her home, a sense of quiet filled me, and I wanted to stay. And, that’s how I ended up staying in Hilda’s house, up in the attic, for twelve years now. I don’t know if she senses or feels me in the house. Maybe she does, because sometimes when I am careless and knock something over, she looks up almost directly at me, and then shakes her head and smiles. Maybe she can see me. I could never tell. Although I am the ghost, I am the one who gets nervous when this happens. I am not sure what she is thinking of if she is thinking anything at all. I hold still for a moment and then dart back to my little haven in the attic. Maybe she can see me. If she can, she doesn’t seem to show any fear or concern. But then again, I am not interested in scaring anyone. I am just waiting to rest.
The smell of coffee is so enticing. I didn’t need to drink coffee anymore but I still love the smell. It reminded me of my parents’ home. My mother brewed some real good coffee. Hilda’s kitchen smelt fantastic this morning. There was bread baking in the oven and coffee and she seemed to be cooking something on the stove. I jumped up onto the counter and sat there with my legs swinging and watching her move about painfully. But today there was a spring in her step, a tiny one at least, given her arthritis. She looked happy. It must be Ron’s girlfriend. Or, maybe he is getting married. I felt Hilda’s excitement. My own Dianne may already be married, she should be about that age.
Couple of minutes later Ron came into the kitchen and kissed his mother on the cheek. Hilda smiled. “Is she coming down too? Breakfast is ready,” she said. Ron nodded. “She’ll be down in a minute, Mom. There’s no need for such an elaborate breakfast, Mom. You shouldn’t put yourself though so much trouble,” said Ron. Hilda merely smiled and said, “No trouble at all.” Just then, I heard the sweet voice again, from the stairs. “Hello! Where’s everybody?” And then she appeared. She was a little young, just about twenty-one or twenty-two. She wasn’t exactly pretty but there was a calm sweetness about her that was lovely. I immediately loved this young lady as I would my Dianne, and I wished her all the happiness in the world with Ron.
It was a wonderful morning with laughter and chatter that was otherwise always absent in this silent house. Most days it would be just Hilda and me. It was so quiet you could almost hear Hilda’s heartbeat. She spent most mornings meditating in front of her little altar in her room or watching soap operas with the volume turned on so soft that I wondered if she could hear anything. But this morning she was laughing and talking with the young lady, Anne. I loved the name. Anne was my mother’s name. Ron and Anne were getting married. They were talking about the arrangements and where the wedding was going to be held, and the food and the guests. I could feel the energy and the excitement. I couldn’t wait.
In the weeks preceding the wedding, there were comings and goings of friends and cousins and relatives of Hilda. Everyone was pitching in to help her with preparations, and Hilda was a different person altogether. Her arthritis seemed to be a lot better. She moved around faster, and laughed a whole lot more. Then one morning she seemed to be very busy cooking. Ron had come the night before to help. Mid-morning they even had two cleaners come around to help with cleaning the house. I discovered that they were expecting some very special guests, Anne’s family. I was excited too. I wandered around the house expectantly while checking in on the cooking every now and then. I used to have a weakness for food while I lived. So I still loved the smells of different types of food. Most days Hilda didn’t cook. She always had tv dinners. She cooked when Ron came by, or they would order in.
When everything was ready, and while we were waiting for the guests to arrive, Anne stepped into her room and brought out an album that she had brought with her. I guess she wanted Ron and his mom to get to know her family at least by sight. I was curious too. The first few pictures were of her parents. Her mom had died while she had been about five and she was raised by her dad, a wonderful man according to her. He looked like a nice chap. Then she spoke about the woman her dad married, the woman whom she referred to as the best thing that had ever happened to her dad. Anne had a step-brother, born to her father and this woman, and a step-sister who was the woman’s daughter from another marriage. She was about to show us a picture of this amazing woman but before she could, the guests arrived. We all turned expectantly to the door when the bell rang. Ron jumped up to open the door. Standing outside were Anne’s father, her step-brother, and my Jilly. The amazing woman whom Anne had spoken about was my Jilly, dignified and graying but still lovely.
I felt a rush of joy and sadness, exhilaration and despondency, and some inexplicable jumble of feelings. I just stood there looking at this woman who had once been mine but was now another’s man’s wife, and the mother of two children who had nothing to do with me. I looked at the man, smiling kindly and disliked him intensely but when I looked at her, radiant and happy, I was thankful to him. My Jilly was alright. She had gone on to another, and maybe better life without me. I looked past them to see if my Dianne was there. She wasn’t but through the muddle that was my mind, I thought I heard her name mentioned, and I listened anxiously. Dianne was arriving in time for the wedding from Paris where she lived with her husband and children. I could barely contain my delight. Anne was beaming when she spoke about “her older sister”.
The day of the wedding arrived bright and sunny. The wedding was to be held in the little yard at the back of Hilda’s house. She had wanted that because she felt like her dead husband would have wanted that. I was looking out for Dianne. I just needed to see my little girl, and I knew I would be at peace. A limousine pulled up, and out of it stepped my Jilly and her husband, and after them, my Dianne and her family. She was as beautiful as I remember her, just like her mother was when I first set eyes on her outside her parents’ home. I looked at the family, my wife’s new family, and I felt like I was looking at my fulfillment. They were complete, and so I was content, and finally at peace. I didn’t feel like a lost soul anymore. I didn’t stay for the wedding. I wished Ron and his bride all the happiness, and silently thanked Hilda from where I was. I had to rest now. It was time.