Brian skates down the street, rehearsing his speech, stuttering, feeling pain, and imagining the light-flooded stage. In the nick of time, he walks onto the podium, pauses for a moment absorbing the audience’s warmth with glowing eyes. He captures the girl’s cheery face standing at the bottom end of the hall, returns the smile as if she were noticing. It lights his heart up. Like with a magic wand, stutter and pain have gone. Brian comes closer to the microphone finding a smooth distance making his voice tender and his words spread over the air.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you are my heroes and witnesses of a new era of…”
Suddenly, out of nowhere, his voice peters out, all the lights go off. The unbearable feeling of a lump in the throat prevails.
Brian wakes up half dreaming and staring at an imaginary picture. The girl has the same gleeful face, searching for the right place in the painting. Brian struggles to grasp the meaning of the intangible play. As if they were allied with each other, fear and terrible headache hold him hostage and remind him of the coming speech at the big event in Hawaii. The clock is ticking; barely three weeks remain until he lands on this famous tiny piece of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. After this awakening thought, he enters into the peculiar world surrounding him. A last elusive image of him admired by a large audience vanishes in the light through the window.
“Brian, you are quite eloquent; you have a way with words. Why don’t you become a pro and rock the stage?” Philipp wondered, hanging out with his best friend at Luigi’s Espresso Lounge last week and spending some time honing the speech.
Suffused with embarrassment, Brian looked away and felt the cold shiver run down his spine. Like a nasty mosquito, the thoughts were buzzing around his head:
“Why do folks overestimate me? I’m going to have a go at it, sure! In front of such a big crowd? Why did I accept the invite? Why?”
Like at the movies, a new scene arrives and replaces those beliefs. The picture of the constant fleeing the dreadful bullying in school for quite some time pops up.
“I wanted to become a scientist, inspire people, and travel around the world, but they took it from me,” he reminisces about his childhood.
“You are brainy and nerdy, but you are not cool. You will never be one of us!” an odd episode comes into view as if in front of Brian now. Questions, questions, and more questions!
On his way to the office, last night’s dream crosses Brian’s mind again and again and again. Except for the weirdness, there was nothing to relate to.
“I’m just exhausted and going nuts, like the whole time today,” Brian sneers at himself, searching for an explanation dismissing reason after reason for the lingering dream.
Arriving and entering the front door, the usual silence of the office building breaks by the doorman and a young man in his twenties, holding a skateboard in his colorfully tattooed arms, clashing over each other. Obviously, because of his appearance, he was denied access. Weird! Brian’s avid desire for tattoos arose when he was seventeen but had gone out of him after his father’s awful temper tantrum. Caught with a tiny blue mark on his arm and scared to death, Brian had been stuttering for almost five years, beating himself up for all that happened. He looked up to his father, a successful lawyer adored in the entire community and did not want to let him down. He felt flawed and unworthy of love.
“Why have I never told him that? I should have, yes, I should have!”
Booting his computer up and sipping on the fresh espresso, his madness holds him back from editing the speech. In lieu, the bullying scenes in school until he turned fourteen arise over and over. Fortunately, imagining arriving soon in Hawaii replaces the childhood awfulness he would rather forget.
“Back to work, dude!”
Brian takes a deep breath and empties his head. It lasts for a short time only, though. Fear overcomes his mind, although he pushes and challenges himself to zero in on the script.
“The pain in my dream, the pain!”
Brian spills the espresso over his desk – accidentally or not – the coffee puddle shifts into a heart.
“The girl in my dream, the girl!”
“Eighteen days until my speech, I cannot, I must not fail at my single chance in life! I should talk to someone!” Brian barely keeps his cool and reckons.
Last night’s dream – he wished it were a chimera – unfolds before his eyes forcing him to act. After all, he makes an emergency appointment with his best friend Philipp, fortunately, his doctor and therapist.
“Philipp, I messed everything up and have to reveal the truth about me.”
Looking surprised, Philipp wonders what happened between last week and now. White with anxiety, Brian rushes his words like a waterfall. All at once, the stuttering comes back.
“Bullying at school, my father’s treatment, my boss’s…ss pressure, colleagues, society, the fact, nobody loves me, all damn performance mania, all, all that is my fear, my angst! Do you get it, Philipp? Don’t you? Please, help me!”
“Sss…elective sss…e…rotonin ree…uptake inhii…bitors”, stammering, Brian relies on his scientific background, begging Philipp to prescribe him this kind of drugs he needs to survive the speech and start healing from the past.
Ultimately, Philipp rejects his plea, gives him something else, sedating and calming him down temporarily. Sinking smoothly beneath a veil of memories, a last embarrassing bit of his past emerges. For a moment, Brian feels belittled again, but the desire for sleep dominates.
Seventeen days left. Brian wakes up and goes to his office, feeling light and airy, thinking about yesterday’s appointment.
“I have missed the forest for the trees!” he convinces himself, and energy comes through his entire body.
“No time to waste anymore!”
Booting up the computer sounds like a chirpy melody while the espresso flavor sets the day in motion. Focusing on the speech delights him. For a couple of hours, it works like a charm. Amidst plenty of famous names researching on the challenge for decades, Brian recently designed a simple drug formula for alcohol addiction treatment with breakthrough results. The idea remarkable; pace and outcome mind-blowing. The Hawaii conference’s organizers invited him to share his invention.
Still enjoying the easiness of today’s flow, picturing coming across those prominent people he has admired for a decade, throws a tiny shadow of fear but cannot overcast the brightness of a fruitful day. Brian’s ambition to become a leading scientist and a prominent speaker showing his parents and the world he has long grown up and been on his own still drives him.
“Once I get it, I’ll marry you,” he also often put his girlfriend off till the following year, hoping to succeed soon and finally settle down with a future family in a big New York house.
On his way outside, Brian remembers the dream and still puzzles over it.
After leaving the building and dawdling for a while, today’s outcome puts his mind at rest. Almost, except for digesting what took place. The insights of the past unravel the calamity of his life, Brian is convinced and continues to ponder. He blames his childhood for his trouble and asks himself how to fix it.
“Yes, there is no mistake in bridging the time gap by taking pills until the speech is held,” he soothes himself.
As if on purpose, a squirrel zig-zagging crosses his path. Going in the same manner throughout life, Brian has always tried to please his parents and everybody else. Now, raising the veil from his self feels like a breath of fresh air. Meanwhile, the air outside begins to cool off, and he manages to pick up the medicine at the pharmacy before getting home.
Unlocking the door of the house, a billboard attached to the adjacent building’s roof catches his attention.
“Skateboarding, your unique lifestyle?” the inscription tells.
Ingenuous happiness overcomes Brian, shortly followed by the upcoming storm making him hurry into his apartment. Entering the warm living room and looking through the window, he freezes, his eyes straight ahead. The boy on the billboard and Brian at that age resemble each other in such an uncanny way!
“That’s eerie!” He suspects plots against him but discards it right after as paranoia.
Staring at his own face at the other side, Brian gets startled when his mother’s voice suddenly sneaks in.
“I don’t want to see you in the hospital with more severe skateboard injuries,” she yells, gasping for breath when Brian came home one day from school after getting road rash while skateboarding.
He reluctantly surrendered to her wish, but at the cost of what?
One week vanished, Brian had to persuade himself of possessing the stamina needed to cure the self-esteem pain caused by a topsy-turvy past. Ten days left, the message of the speech gets more precise and apparent. Challenge nearly solved by a no-name guy from a small town.
“Wow! One year to ten and more years! They will doubt me, for sure!” he plagues himself but gains some confidence in the recent healing revelations.
“Never mind!” he whispers but then thinks, “A cushy job perhaps would have kept me worry-free,” the emotional rollercoaster is still there and cannot go up in smoke quickly.
Finally, talking with Philipp in the afternoon settles Brian’s soul in more peace. Even the break-up with his girlfriend one year ago finds its place in the jigsaw puzzle of the olden days. Everything seems plausible, the speech not anymore at stake. The better he can explain all weird and wonderful, the worthier he feels.
“My new ploy for the sake of success,” he smiles. “All in jest?” Brian asks as he tries to comprehend himself and everything around him.
Three days left! Dwelling in joyful anticipation, Brian throws his suitcase into the trunk of Philipp’s car, takes a sip of air, holds it for a while, and releases it as if willing to capture precisely this moment of heading to something hazy but crucial.
“What’s going on in my head,” Brian wants to find an answer as Philipp starts the car drowning out the emerging thoughts.
“Buddy, go get them!”Philipp goes whistling and light-hearted, cheering his best friend up and heading to the airport.
A bit early for the hurricane season, a few dark clouds curl across the sky. “Hopefully, the take-off is just in time before it gets stormy,” both of them say as if in chorus and laugh.
“Break a leg!”
Philipp hugs his edgy fellow, eliciting a smile, and lets him finally check in, waiving and rooting for everything to come.
As luck would have it, and the captain’s trustworthy voice clangs with smooth assurance, the machine is up to take off very soon as wet and stormy weather makes itself noticeable.
“Hawaii is waiting; buckle up!”Brian’s nervousness and excitement convert into a self pep talk.
Passengers are still calming down after the hustle and bustle of the boarding. Brian is waiting for the magic words “Boarding completed” as the door of the plane is still opened. His impatience disappears soon as the last passenger goes on board.
Only now, Brian notices he finally has a seatmate acknowledging her presence with a slight nod. Turning his head to the window, Mila, the name tag on the backpack, catches his eye.
“You should not talk to strangers,” stifling the desire for small talk, Brian oddly could almost hear his father’s past lecturing voice accompanied by the present take-off noise.
“Who was I, and what have I become now? Have I ever asked myself what I truly want?”
The questions arise while passing through the clouds. The dazzling smile Mila spreads as the machine levels off to normal flight position melts with the sunshine through the window. Two worlds, side by side.
After a while, suddenly, the plane quickly dropped – out of thin air – precipitously descending for many seconds.
“Holy cow! Why us?”
Brian knew in a flash what the rare case is about, recognizing the anvil shape of a cumulonimbus cloud and knowing the captain is trying to escape from severe turbulence. Threatening chaos with hysteric screams and holding hands at 37.000 feet praying to the universe, followed by the stillness of death! No feeling of time. Eternity. In it, a light. Brian sees himself skating along the shiny sidewalk near his parent’s house wearing a tattoo and whispering a song with a contagious buoyancy. His followers are waiting for him and cheering. Surrounded by the joyful crowd, he speaks of what free choice, passion, and liberty are.
“Just be!” he ends his speech.
“Just be,” folks chant, muffling the tone of his shouting parents.
The crowd disappears as if it had never been, his bonds fall off. A glimmer of light again.
In a bit, felt like infinity, the captain’s alleviated voice brings life back again, “We are out of the woods!”
While the sound fills the cabin with aliveness, confused and astonished, Brian finds himself in Mila’s arms. The passengers around are awakening, relieved from the incubus. Still frightened, he mumbles, turning back in his seat,
“Aloha!” she replies in a Hawaiian manner, with tears of excitement in her eyes and dodging the question.
“We are good! It’s over! You are Brian! Aren’t you?” she looks at him, hiding from him what happened during the incident.
“We are with the same company; we have never talked!” Brian quietly remembers, feeling life back in his veins,
“Mila from the second floor? The famous virologist?”
With a bright smile, she looks into his eyes.
“Yes, I’ve tried to save the busy and strange world. Now the world is on its own, and I am on the way back to my roots in Molokai.”
“With a one-way ticket, my backpack, and a bunch of stuff to reflect on,” she continues.
“How do you mean? Forever?” Brian wonders and looks through the window as if reassuring himself all goes well.
“You bet! But I will be in the audience for the event. It’s a home game for me. Once a scientist, forever a scientist,” she charmingly grins, takes a deep breath, and leaves her place. Gazing at the void seat, Brian, for the first time, recognizes the emptiness of his life.
“Who am I? Do I want all that?”
Seeing Mila returning to her seat, Brian interrupts the rumination and renews the conversation as if interviewing her.
“I chucked my career for connecting with my roots in Hawaii,” Mila says, adding the search for a purpose.
“But that has not come out of the clear blue, has it?” Brian wonders.
Interrupted by the announcement of landing soon and imagining the imminent performance, he feels butterflies in the stomach. During its final descent, the plane approaches Mila’s new chosen destination, and in Brian’s head, an unknown one tries to be discovered. Mila’s voice breaks the silence.
“Brian, I have to reveal something to you,” she hesitates for a moment.
“During the incident, you were dreaming and reciting your speech but changed the topic quickly. You spoke to humankind,” Mila’s voice drops to a gentle tone. “I’ve never been more mesmerized by words. The terrified passengers admired you as if forgetting about what happened. You began to cry tears of joy and pain, and I had to take you in my arms.”
Then she sighs.
“Just be,” Brian briefly remembers the crowd chanting.
His whole life unfolds as if directed by a mightful force while passing through the clouds approaching the island.
“Do you live to others’ expectations or your burning desires?”, he cannot comprehend why he never asked himself that question!
There is no time for more answers; the machine has just touched down.
The big day has come. Brian is walking onto the podium, pauses for a moment, absorbing the audience’s warmth with glowing eyes. He captures Mila’s cheery face standing at the bottom end of the hall, returns the smile while she enchants everyone with her magic charm. It lights his heart up. The audience gets excited as Brian reveals a new generation of world-changing medicine. The audience applauds him with hand waves and calls for an encore. Brian comes closer to the microphone finding a smooth distance making his voice tender and his words spread over the air.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you are my heroes and witnesses of a new era of humanity. I discovered a drug formula saving lives, but yesterday, I ended up founding a simple life formula – Aloha – the breath of life. Just be! A deliberate decision that has saved my soul! Just be and act on your choices!”
Brian then goes down the stage and takes Mila with him as a door opens to let them follow a new chapter of an unwritten book. Aloha!
Dr. Manol Roussev is a passionate trilingual, author of scientific articles, and co-author of an academic book. After achieving leadership and research expertise, he is now sailing to new shores, mesmerized by language’s impact on identity, inspiration, and writing aspiration. Manol recently endeavors to put his creativity into captivating short stories and essays.