We didn’t anticipate the darkness. We didn’t know that the sun could go dim without killing us. We didn’t see far enough ahead to think that this might not last forever.
When the sun rose red one day, everything stopped. Clouds once fluffy and white now loomed in the sky, towers of ash in constant, red twilight. Where once there was deliberate effort to improve, now all that stood was locked in survival mode.
Fear cripples the greatest of men.
I lit a cigarette in the rain. My lighter wouldn’t strike, so I pulled a matchbook from my pocket and flipped it idly in my fingers while I surveyed the sky. Most didn’t even look up anymore; I refused not to.
Even the rain was thicker than it used to be, leaving behind grey runnels of ash sediment. A silver lining for every puddle. It spat at my matches and I needed three.
In the dim light, I saw a man approaching. A cigarette hung from his mouth too. Nobody talked about health issues anymore. When you’re surrounded by anthills, it doesn’t make sense to kick them over.
“Beautiful day,” he said as he neared. His voice growled like he smoked more than he should. I blinked at him.
He repeated, “Beautiful day.”
I spat on the ground. “Not to these eyes.”
The man didn’t reply to that, just regarded me with deep eyes over end of glowing vice. He didn’t look angry, or even sad, but he wasn’t easily impressed either.
“People forget,” he said at last.
“What?” I snapped, annoyed at him, annoyed at the rain, annoyed at the ash staining my boots.
He waved his cigarette around him to gesture at our surroundings. “People forget, it’s only been this dim for two weeks. You’re all acting like it’s going to last forever.”
Two weeks? It was longer than that, wasn’t it? It felt like years since I’d seen the sun.
He winked at me and dropped his cigarette into an ashy puddle. “Nothing lasts forever, kid.” He took another cig and smiled at me around it. “It’s a beautiful day.”
I just blinked at him.
He laughed, and I realized I hadn’t heard laughter in what felt like years. “Should I stop and stare at clouds and rain when I know the sun is still shining where the sky is less polluted? This life isn’t easy,” he stopped to gesture at his own smoke, “But it is good. And if it is good, then I can’t stop and cry every time the sky does, can I?”
This time, I answered with a heavy drag on my own cigarette.
He put a gnarled hand on my shoulder. It looked like it had been worked harder than it ought to at his age. “Kid, you’ve got eyes only for what’s wrong, but if you’d stop to look at what’s actually real, you’d see that the sun still lights up this city. You’d see that the rain doesn’t drown your cigarette. You’d see that today is only ever worth having because of tomorrow’s promise.”
He looked me dead in the eyes and concluded, “Life is not about what hurts. Life is about getting up again every time you fall. If the sun decides to be dim for awhile, live on, it won’t last forever.”
And just like that, without a goodbye, he continued on his way, leaving me to wonder why I was smoking. And for the briefest of moments, I swear I saw the sun flicker through the clouds.