The Blackout

Iqra Fatima

Charlie was a lost cause.

A potential ruined.

A constant reminder of his workaholic mother’s first alcoholic mistake.

A teenage slob with dirty blonde hair that looked like a broom dried in a very wrong angle and a pair of dull hazel eyes which would pass as of a drunkard’s in his most sober state.

In his point of view, Charlie was a total waste of space: with his identity lost somewhere in the world of comic books and K-pop, disguised under the veils of his Mathematics and Science books. Barely scraping the mark of an average student in class, jostling somewhere on the borderlines of loner-ism and I-am-not-popular-but-I-still-have-a-few-friends-that-are-not-imaginary in school, silently fitting into the status quo and keeping his eyes closed to all the injustice around him. And in all honesty, he was fine. Just fine

Until one day, when his mother sent him for grocery shopping.
He was sitting on his bed, reading a comic underneath his Biology homework, pigging out on a bag of family sized crisps, when he heard his mother shout, “Charlie Benjamin Parker! Come down this instant!”

He felt his heart momentarily stop and then start thundering inside his ribcage as he hurriedly shoved the bag of chips along with the comic, under his bed, and wiped his hands on the sheets. He knew when his mother called his full name, she meant business and there was no getting out of it.

Instantly his feet rushed him down the stairs and towards the kitchen where he saw his mother simultaneously chopping beans, sautéing the shrimps and keeping a constant vigilance on the milk that was threatening to boil over but not quite making a move to do so.

“You called mum?” Charlie asked, running a hand through his hair, trying to making himself look a little more presentable but miserably failing.

His mother scoffed, “Called?! Charlie I’ve been screeching for ages! Where were you even, what were you doing?!” His mother shot questions in her usual dramatic demeanor.

Charlie leaned against the doorframe, replying, “Mother, you called once and I’m sure the neighbors heard it. I was in my room doing Biology.”

His mother finally added the beans with the rest of the vegetables and pointed at the dining table with her now free hand. “There’s the money and the list, be back before eight! Mind you, don’t get stuck in good-for-nothing dilly-dallying there’s gonna be an hour long blackout today something in the name of Saving Energy. If you get lost it’s on you,” she turned, gave him a long cold stare that broke into a kind smile as Charlie nodded looking a little too pleased for an introvert who was being thrusted into the world outside.

“Yes mother!” Charlie exclaimed, swiftly pocketing the money and rushing outside—thankfully wearing the right pair of shoes that were miraculously not smelly, for once—before his mother could remember the change money. Usually when his mother sent him on these shopping sprees, Charlie kept the left over money for himself and indulged in the happier parts of his blatant life—like Music Albums, Comic Books, Video games or Chips!

Bluebells was a small town near Virginia that resided mostly older people, or those rich ones who wander place to place in search of serenity and fall in love with Bluebell’s picturesque surroundings. But that is what people said and the books read. In Charlie’s eyes Bluebells was a waste of youth, a town full of prying eyes, had one too many trees, an over enthusiastic mayor and a lake that just sourced more mosquitoes and crickets. The supermarket was nearly out of town and had unreasonably high prices on things as cheap a Boomer. Charlie wanted to do something about it, but then he realized he was an inherent coward and should stick to his comic book heroism.

Comic Books! There was a new Iron Man comic that managed to hit the stores in Bluebells eight years after publication and Charlie was not to going miss out the chance of reading it, before the owner kicked him out for scrounging.

By 8:30 P.M. Charlie was on his way back home, lost in a trance of magical universe, when the clouds thundered and his coward heart went pitter-patter. He hugged the shopping bag close to his palpitating chest and suddenly there was a blackout. Pitch black dark with no eye to foot visibility.

Though a small town, Bluebell’s Mayor made sure the townsmen participated in all the social and cultural activities that a big city would hold. The Mayor’s enthusiasm annoyed the older folk to an unbearable extent but what more could they do than grumble and indulge into society’s desires or risk being unappreciated. Such an event, a bonfire, was being organized by the town’s committee, tonight, where all the adults were likely to meet up and discuss about mid-life crises and things Charlie wished he could never relate to. Charlie’s mother was expected to show up at the event as well.

Charlie heard his mother’s voice ringing in his ears, ‘be back before eight! I’ll be out! You’ll be on your own!’ as he took baby steps in an unknown direction. The crickets merrily chirped in the open fields beside the road and Charlie tried to think of anything but pessimistic thoughts of getting kidnapped or tripping and choking himself to death. So, being an eternal genius, he sat in the middle of the road. This is such a bad town! Who decides to cut off all the power at night?! There are so many mosquitoes! Why is someone throwing pebbles in water? Wait...that’s not water, that sounds like solid ground… someone approaching me?! What’s that constant tic-tic-tic noise? Is someone trying to kidnap me? I’m not even rich!
His brain went on a full blown rant but his lips sewed themselves shut as his breath quickened. Someone was threateningly close to him.

“Hello? Is somebody here?” A voice called out, a sweet, almost melodic voice to which Charlie could not resist replying with a, “No…?”

There was a chuckle. An innocent but musical chuckle. Charlie gulped and shot up.

“Oh, Okay, I thought we could help each other since it’s a blackout. I was heading down to Luster Street, block 2. But if there’s no one, then I’ll be on my way.”

“Wait! Stop! Will you help me? I’m Charlie,” he begged her to stay, hands flailing blindly to grasp anything but air.

Charlie heard her small giggle, as he felt his haphazard hands being stilled and fingers intertwining gently with his. “A fool,” She whispered to herself and with a smile.

Charlie grew up in a love-less home with a silent childhood and comics as his only companions. He was awful at making friends because he was too fat (His mother would fight to death to call him chubby but he begs to differ) and had no family apart from a single working mother. He was alone but never felt lonely because he had his realm of fantastical reality to indulge in and he was fine. Until a stranger, whose voice felt reliable, whose laugh was comfortable, held his hand in the dark and he felt like he was home.

Charlie walked in an awkward silence until he heard the weird tic-tic-tic going on again. “Do you think someone is following us?” he choked out.

The girl smiled in reply, “No, I don’t think so.”

“Are you not scared of the dark? Or death? For all you know, someone might be stalking us!” Charlie questioned in bewilderment.

“The only thing I’m afraid of will always protect me; and the human body gives off a tiny amount of light that’s too weak for the eyes to see, but we can feel its warmth. If someone was there, I’d know,” was her firm reply.

Charlie frowned in the direction he felt she was in. “You’re weirdly optimistic. Are you always like that?”

“You’re annoyingly pessimistic. What do you get out of it?”

“I’m not a pessimist!”

“Optimism gives me happiness and a reason to appreciate myself and life. It gives me perspective, something you surely don’t appreciate.”

Charlie scoffed, “You are quick to judge,” he mumbled at her joke.

“Do you hear the crickets chirping?” was her sudden question while Charlie was busy grumbling something about ill-luck.

“Yes, and they are maddening!” Charlie’s reply was passionate.

A melodic giggle.

“I think it’s the birthday of a cricket and they are all singing him a birthday song!”

Charlie stopped for a second, both intrigued and baffled. “Well what if it’s a she and it’s her death day and they are singing her a death march!” Charlie retorted amusedly.

The girl grinned, “Always the pessimist! At least you have an imagination. We can work on that!”

She began swinging their hands as she continued, “Scientists estimate that nose can recognize a trillion different scents, something as strong as feelings of sadness, joy and disappointment as well.”

“Then I’m sure you can smell my awe in the air, if it’s not already clogged by irritating honking of the cars on the border.”

“Oh sure I can, but believe me when I say that these cars are not honking irritatingly. I presume they are in a secret conversation of their own!” She skipped a step that startled Charlie off his foothold.

He turned around to hear the honking more clearly and instead saw the faintest glow of the bonfire. His mother must be there now.

“Why can’t the cars be quarreling? Surely they wanna outrun each other…” Charlie dragged out unsurely. “We are heading in the right direction, the bonfire has started. Are your parents there too?”

“The drivers are already spreading hatred and negativity so I assume…the cars are complimenting each other to earn brownie points and avoid collisions!” She clapped at her quick wit then locked their hands again. He heard the something go tic-tic-tic again.

“Sure, whatever you say,” Charlie’s lips morphed into a lazy smile.

“Did you know that your eyes detect a candle flame 1.7 miles away? They are the only organ more complicated than the brain but the easiest to use,” the girl blurts out.

“That’s what is said, but I think otherwise. Eyes are one of the hardest organs to use.” Charlie retorted.

The girl scoffed. “Hardest to use? What’s so hard to see from your eyes?”

“The world. Eyes are your lenses to the world. The way you see yourself and others. They define your perspective. Isn’t that something you value?” Charlie asks.

“Your perspective is not something you can see, Charlie, it’s your outlook towards life and it needn’t be actually seen.”

“I don’t understand,” was Charlie’s flat reply. Tic-tic-tic…

“Who are you, Charlie? Can you see and tell me that?”

The girl’s question startled Charlie to a standstill. Who am I? A normal high school guy? Or A reject? A mistake? A person easily forgotten? A…burden? Who was he? Did he even know himself? What was the answer? What could he see and tell her?

“Common, tell me. Who are you, Charlie?”
Charlie did not know and he voiced it out loud.

There was a small smile on the girl’s face. She let his hand free and pointed at his chest. “You are what you feel about yourself Charlie. You don’t have to see to know it. Within your heart—it’s your dreams, your values, your likes, your dislikes, your aspirations, your self worth. Don’t let your eyes corrupt your perception. The way you assess yourself is the way you know yourself and love yourself. You may be named ‘Charlie—the fool’ for all things, but I know that you have humor, wit, kindness, imagination and acceptance, Charlie, and that’s what makes you—you.”

They were walking again, but Charlie was in a stunned silence as the girl silently led the way. She called him kind, accepting, funny and witty! All Charlie thought of himself was his disappointing existence, how he was a burden on his ever working mother, how he could never make friends…but the truth is—did he ever try? Or did he just compare himself with others and drew baseless conclusions of his incompetence and accepted defeat. Charlie knew he was a coward…but how does he knew himself without even trying?

“W-Who are you?” Charlie stuttered as they suddenly stopped and the girl turned to face. He heard the tic-tic again and as soon as he turned towards the direction of that obnoxious stalker sound, there were lights again.

Charlie squinted at the nearly blinding lights as the girl sighed in a pleased voice, “Ah! The lights are back again!”
He turned to face her, only for his jaw to be left unhinged. “You’re b—”

“Brave, yes people call me that sometimes, because of my name. I’m Valarie, though, nice to meet you Charlie!” She held out her hand for him to shake.

But Charlie just could not move; his eyes were stuck on her thick black glasses, unsure movements of her head and the hand that held a walking stick. She struck it against the ground, thrice, and it went tic-tic-tic. “You here, Charlie?”

“Oh yes! I’m—I’m sorry, I just lost focus. I see that we are on Luster Street, my house is the fourth one.” He shook her hand, looking left and right, anywhere but at her blinding smile.

“It’s a block down, don’t worry I’ll make it without dashing myself into a drain.” Valarie joked cheekily.

“I—I could help…you?” Charlie questioned awkwardly.

“You know, not being able to see—gives me perspective. What normal people tend to ignore is what I see and feel. It widens my horizon and I love it! Being able to feel every small thing, I’m grateful for a unique perspective and I make the best of it. I’ll see you around, okay?” She waved at him, and skipped ahead, her blonde locks swaying along with the skip in her step.

Charlie leaned against the wall of his home and realized something. Bluebells was beautiful at night. Though the sky was cloaking them like a dark blank canvas and there was no bright star to guide the abandoned, though there were insects and honking—there was fresh breeze dancing with the trees, the people merrily singing across the bonfire and beautiful flowers scenting the gardens.

He rushed back to his room.

There was him. A try-hard with a choked perspective.

He slid under his bed and dug out a dusty folder.

An average guy just exiting so negatively.

He opened the folder and took out the cartoons and sketches.

An artist with a said silly dream.

In the darkness where the Fool and the Brave were equals—blind to everything around them; Charlie held onto the positivity she emitted and realized the good in himself, his silly dream and his life.

He was not a waste of space.

He was not a potential ruined.

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