One Last Breath

Prologue: Times Dream

A simple breath; the beginning of life, the foundation of existence, an effortless yet natural action which spells the beginning of all – love, loss, joy, sadness, truth and lies. But without it all will cease to exist.

The street seems strangely empty as David climbs out of the small taxi van door, grabbing the sides with his hands to steady himself. Standing outside the reception venue he takes a deep breath and begins the long, slow walk up the winding path to the large oak doors of the reception hall entrance. As he walks he looks around at the stunning gardens of the venue. Evergreen trees of all shapes and sizes and brightly coloured flowers – roses, hydrangeas, tulips and geraniums – line the entrance paths. Small wooden benches decorated with intricate iron patterns are placed neatly around the gardens to provide relaxing rest spots for anyone wishing to take in the peaceful surroundings of the garden.

David stops to catch his breath. He is old and tired and the walk from the taxi through the gardens and to the entrance of the hall, although barely twenty meters, is all but impossible for his aging bones. He had come to a small but sturdy wooden bridge over a small river that transverses the gardens and he grasps the railing of the overpass to recover from the short walk. Looking around the gardens he wonders how his life ever got to this point. Almost sixty years ago he would have laughed at anybody who would have painted this picture for him – an aging, lonely old man, living in a nursing home with no family or friends to speak of. He sighs a long, deep sigh, the peaceful surroundings of reception venue's gardens a stark contrast to his troubled and restless mind. After a few moments David continues across the bridge and up the three marble steps that line the perimeter of the hall.

The swing doors at the entrance to the hall are fixed in a locked open position and the entrance is adorned with a large, welcoming banner reading 'Merry Christmas' in fancy calligraphy-like writing. David scoffs at the irony of the banner. "Ha, Merry Christmas," he mumbles, "not so merry if you ask me and probably the other 199 people in this stupid place."

David continues to the entrance shuffling behind the slow-moving crowd. He strains his neck over the crowd to see into the hall where he and the other people will sit down together for a massed Christmas Day banquet. This is just one of many gatherings across the country put on by local councils for the poor, homeless and just plain lonely folk of the city. The crowd is made up of people of all ages, races and backgrounds. Some 200 people would be attending here today just a small fraction of the almost 5000 people attending such events across the country. David spots a few other people from the nursing home where he lives but makes a mental note to stay away from them for the day. "After all," he thinks, "they don't pay any attention to me there anyway." Small cliques of people begin to form around the room, chatting and laughing happily; happy to have other human contact on this allegedly significant day of the year. David could not remember the last time he actually thought of Christmas Day as a jovial event but knew that anything was better than spending another day alone in the nursing home.

Finally David gets to the door where a young woman is standing greeting the guests as they arrive. "Good day to you," comes the high-pitched, overly friendly voice. "Please take a seat and instructions of the day's activities will be provided to you soon."

"Sure," David speaks attempting to adjust to his surroundings; he was not used to being around so many people. "Will any seat do?"

"Yes just grab a chair anywhere."

David scans the isles of seats to find an empty unassuming spot where he can blend into the background. Some people had taken their chairs and he spots a corner table where a couple of young women, wearing old second-hand clothing, are sitting, a single empty chair next to them. David thinks this is the perfect location and limps to the table, sitting down next to them and introducing himself.

"Hi I'm David." He offers his hand to the girl. They look at each other for a second before the one on the far left takes his hand, shaking it firmly.

"Hi my name is Maria and this is my friend Bridget."

"I hope you young ladies do not mind me sitting here for this meal."

"Not at all," Bridget replied, signalling with a wave of her hand that David is welcome to take a seat.

As a young, confident man, David had always found it easy to talk to strangers, especially young, attractive women, putting people at easy instantly with the flash of a smile or a warm shake of a hand. Even though much time had passed he was still able to call on these skills when he really wanted.

David takes his seat just as volunteers start to bring out the food, each volunteer carrying several plates loaded with roasted chicken covered in gravy and mixed vegetables. They walk up and down the aisles placing the freshly arranged plates in front of each welcomed member of the public. As David, Maria and Bridget consume their meals he stops to listen to the girls chatter. Both are poor, living in community housing and working small jobs here and there, barely scraping to get by. They speak openly about their situation, willingly accepting that is just the way things are. David feels almost envious of their seemingly effortless tolerance of their situation.

"So what brings you here tonight?" Bridget finally asks David.

"I was alone," David simply replies.

"That's really sad. What about your family? What are they doing tonight?"

"I don't have any family left." David looks at his plate fighting back a tear. "Man where are these pathetic tears coming from? I've gotten soft in my old age," he thought to himself.

Bridget looks at David intently, almost studying him, making David feel pretty uncomfortable. She was a pretty girl, no more than twenty years old. Her mousey brown hair was knotted and tangled as if it had not been washed in a very long time. "Don't you have a wife or children?"

"No sorry I don't," he pauses to consider his next words. "What about you do you have a boyfriend or other family? What brings a beautiful young woman like yourself to a place like this?" he finally enquires deciding it best to redirect the topic of conversation away from himself. David no longer liked being the centre of attention as he had as a young man.

"Not really," Bridget remarked, blushing at the compliment made by the much older man.

"She wishes that a guy would go out with her," Maria teases, poking out her tongue at Bridget's obvious embracement.

"Don't Maria," she protests, pushing her fist against the arm of her friend in a mock punch.

"Why not, who exactly is he going to tell?" Maria enquired, ignoring the threatening gesture from her friend.

David looks on trying to follow the teenage-like conversation between the two girls but after a short time realises that his teenage years are long gone, gives up and shovels another mouthful of food into his mouth.

Meanwhile Bridget continues to argue with her friend, "Well I don't care who he may or may not know," she sulked and then surrendering, turns to David, "I have a crush on this Jaiden guy, you see, and he knows it but just won't ask me out or anything. You see, his family is rich and well... well...," Bridget waves her hand in the air indicating her dishevelled clothes and general destitute look, "well I'm not as you can well see."

"So why don't you ask him out?" David enquires with true interest in his voice.

"Didn't you hear me old man, I said he is rich and I am poor," Bridget repeats, slowly articulating every word loudly and clearly as if he were deaf.

This makes David smile as some of his adventures as a young twenty-something year old come to the forefront of his memory. He chuckles at the irony of it all and says, "Ah don't worry young girl, the right man will come along one day and he will treat you right just make sure you take the opportunities as they are presented and always make the most of it."

Bridget stares at David, her mouth wide open at the sudden honesty and sincerity of his summation. Maria elbows her friend and the ribs and teases, "See, see I told you so, just move on already."

The two girls continue to squabble but David's mind wanders off into his own little world. Looking long and hard at the two girls before finally speaking, he interrupts their argument. "Now you didn't hear me young lass. You know I was once young and in love but I discovered many things about love and trust. Would you like to hear a story?" he offers his knowledge.

"Sure," Maria replied and Bridget just nods still reeling about the conversation with her friend and trying to swallow a fork-full of food.

"Then let me start", he said slowly, taking a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment and considering how he could tell the tale of life and love, loss and betrayal. He smiled at the girls, took a final breath releasing it from his nostrils and begun.