GIVE EACH OTHER HOPE


Why do we fall, Maria?

We fall so that we can fly, Papa, she would reply to her grandfather. And we fly because we are scared of what's below us.

She hadn't understood that when she'd been little. Her grandparents had been very philosophical, saying crazy things like it was normal. And for her, it had been. It had been strange at school when she'd say things like 'when you're thirsty, it's too late to dig a well' and nobody understood. Her classmates had either ignored her or teased her for it.

It had been confusing for her. Then she'd gotten older, and understood that not everyone memorized little phrases that they heard or read or came up with on their own. And when she'd been little, she hadn't understood the messages, only the situation in which you say certain phrases, and not much more. When she'd come up with her own, they were just elegant words woven together, to sound nice. But her grandparents had loved them.

Her Mama had a scrapbook. It had some photographs. But every page was covered in quotes, from Bibles, from books, from TV and movies, from ads and videos and memories. Poems and songs and declarations of love and hate, proverbs sharing space with limericks.

She had the book still. It was hidden on a high shelf, where her little brother's Marco and Petro couldn't get to it. She took it out late at night sometimes and filled the next pages in with pictures of her own. Trying to match her Mama's neat, typewriter perfect lettering, decoding her grandfather's messy yet gorgeous scrawling cursive.

She still quoted things, every day. In the mornings, when Petro complained about school, she'd tell him that while the smart man designs the gun, the uneducated man who shoots it. It was a very morbid quote if she was truthful, but it always did the job, getting him to shut up and eat his porridge so that she could correct her homework in relative peace.

When Marco lost games or races, she'd tell him that while the early bird gets the worm, the second mouse got the cheese. When her elderly neighbour, Mary-Anne, complained about the crashing and banging her upstairs neighbour made, she'd quote Max Lucado at her, reminding her that their apartments weren't heaven, and they should not expect them to be. Mary-Anne usually would scoff at that, and then inform Marie that she would be going to Heaven soon, and shouldn't tempt her to leave early.

She didn't have a quote for what to do when you're stuck at home, essentially locked in an apartment for an undetermined amount of time with two four-year-old boys and can't leave because of a virus. Because nobody she knew had ever gone through something similar. Sure, the war, in England, they had to hunker down in bunkers, when there were bombings, but she didn't have a quote about that.

Her grandparents were pretty iffy about the war, more or less trying to forget it. She could understand. Nobody liked to think about bad things.

That thought was what woke her up at four in the morning, after she'd put the boys back to bed, after a 'sound riot'. It had been an hour of endless banging and shouting and loud music. At three in the morning.

The surprising part had been that Mary-Anne had joined in. Sitting on her balcony, she'd been praying endlessly for the entire hour, speaking as loudly as she could without yelling. Maria wasn't religious herself, but she had to admire the woman's dedication to learning the prayers.

The noise had swirled around the courtyard. Before, it had seemed small. Only five stories high, the space was tiny and cramped. Small enough that you could throw a baseball from one side to the other if you threw hard enough.

Maria had put the boys back to bed, and tried to fall asleep herself, spread out across her mattress, staring at the small window that led to the outside. It had been four days, and she'd only left the apartment once, leaving the boys in Mary-Anne's care while she left the community for a small shopping trip, getting supplies for both herself and Mary-Anne.

But she hadn't fallen asleep. So when the thought came to her, she sat up and started to think about it more. And then, within fifteen minutes, she'd gotten dressed, and was seated at the kitchen table, laptop open, a stack of blank printer paper in hand.

She started to write down every single quote she could come up with, in large, tidy letters, handwritten so it covered the page, and then she piled them on the table. Slowly, the blank papers became less and less, and the pile of finished quotes became bigger and bigger. But even looking through her Mama's notebook, looking down at the picture of her mother's expression the day she'd gotten a job at the local hospital where she'd meet her father, a doctor, Maria could not find the quote she was looking for.

She turned to the internet. Finding quotes upon quotes from anywhere and everywhere, she wrote them down, still searching for one that rang with her. Rang with the situation.

She finally found one. It was also seven in the morning, and the sound of an opera singer had just started. Maria knew it was live. The woman had done the same thing every day, waking everyone up with the sunrise. But she was far too focused on the quote she had before her to care.

Nothing about these times makes any sense. Nothing. Putting it to words only makes it sound too simple.

"Maria?"

She looked up to see Petro, standing at the doorway, in rumpled Spider-Man pyjamas.

"What are you doing?"

Maria searched for the words to explain her idea, unable to find them. She finally spoke, after a hesitant pause.

"We're going to deliver a message of hope to everyone."

"We are?"

She nodded and closed the laptop. "Go get the eggs, Petro. We're going to have breakfast."

They ate scrambled eggs for breakfast to the sound of opera singing, and they ate on the balcony, listening to the music. Like so many other residents, around the tiny courtyard that the apartment complex was built around.

"You should feel lucky." Maria told the boys. "Most people would pay a lot of money to go hear an opera singer sing. And look at us! It's free!"

Marco wrinkled his nose. "It's very high."

"That's how it's supposed to be. Do you not like it?"

"I like our music better."

She laughed. And then Petro spoke. "When's Mom and Dad coming home?"

Marie swallowed, searching again for an answer. It came in the form of a quote her grandmother had told her when both her parents had been on the graveyard shift at the hospital, and she'd been sleeping over. That had been right before the pregnancy announcement. Marie had been perhaps twelve at the time, maybe slightly younger.

"We stand here, sit here, wait here for someone to come home." she began. She was fairly certain Mama had come up with the quote on the spot, spewing nonsense. But as Papa had always said, the nonsense makes the best brain filler, because we always come back and try to figure it out. "And they will come home. Maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow, but one day we will see them again, no matter if on Earth, or in the high clouds of Heaven."

Petro pouted. "That's not an answer, that's silly words."

"They'll be home soon," Marie promised as the opera singer's notes rang even higher. She leaned forwards, tilting Petro's chin up. "And when they come home, we'll be waiting to say hello and we love you, am I right?"

"Right!" Marco chimed. While he was more on the fantasy side of quotes, Petro was the realist, not so willing to believe Marie's 'silly words' as he called them. "And we can play Mario Kart together!"

"Can we do Mario Kart today?"

"No." Marie said, collecting the plates and starting to put them in the sink. "We're giving everyone hope."

They spent all day colouring the papers. Cartoons, scribbles, bingo dabbers, sketches. They wrote quotes and drew images, and let them dry if they were wet. The boys did all the art, and she folded each rectangle, following several different patterns, making origami animals with the paper from their origami set, and paper airplanes and gliders from all the rest. They spent all morning doing it until their fingers hurt and their eyes watered, but they kept doing it after lunch, listening to YouTube videos Maria played on the TV to keep the boys entertained.

Finally, after supper, just before sunset, they finished.

They lived on the top floor. In the middle of the building. That gave them the best vantage point to send messages to everyone via their plan, which was paper airplanes and origami animals. So Marie got the boys to put all the airplanes in a laundry basket and recorded them doing it.

"You want to tell everyone what we're doing?" she asked. Marco perked up, holding up one of the airplanes.

"We're giving everyone hope!" he said and waved it around like it was flying. "We're throwing airplanes at them!"

She couldn't help the scoff that escaped her. "You want to tell them why we're giving them airplanes?"

Marco launched into a slightly crazy explanation that went along the lines of 'people are sick, we're not allowed to go outside, people are sad, we're throwing things at them'. All whilst grinning like a maniac. By the time he was done, all the airplanes had been gathered into the basket. Maira gave the camera to Pedro, and took the boys outside, setting the basket on the balcony. Then, she took the camera back and started to instruct them.

"Choose someone you can see," Maria ordered, preparing her first airplane. "And remember to throw straight! On three."

Petro leaned slightly over the railing, arm cocked to throw. Marco stood further back, near the wall, on a chair, also ready. Marie aimed at the far side of the courtyard, where several people were on their balconies.

"One. Two. Three!"

They all threw their airplanes, and three darts went in three different directions. And then, one by one, airplane by airplane, they threw them over the railing. Most, predictably, went into the courtyard, falling flat. But the two people down there, walking their dogs, started to pick them up, and throw them to the first floor balconies.

The origami they dropped straight down, and they landed on balconies. They shouted for the people to pass them on, and most of them did, only a few keeping them, reading the quotes. The creatures they'd created went down and sideways, tossed from person to person, sheep and swans and turtles and people, multicoloured creations.

And it didn't take long for people to find the quotes. Within minutes, the air was filled with shouting, people calling their quotes to each other.

"The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall!"

A teenager was sitting between balconies, perched on the wall, on a small shelf that came out of the building, legs swinging below them.

"If life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavour!"

A girl with a parrot on her shoulder leaned forwards, waving a flag just like Marco had, rainbows and suns painted on her cheeks.

"When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on!"

A dog barked many, many, many floors below, and another animal returned the call with shouts of their own.

"It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light!"

Marie turned, eyes widening as she saw Mary-Anne on her balcony beside them, sitting on her chair, and the older woman spotted Marie looking over at her. A cocky smile formed on the woman's face, and Marie felt herself smile in return.

"Nothing is impossible, the word itself says, 'I'm possible!'"

One of the youngest children around was leaning over the railing of their balcony as best they could, waving a plane back and forth, laughing with excitement as the noise levels rose.

"The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me!"

Words on words on words on words and she had it all filmed. Marco leaned over the railing, waving a small flag they'd found somewhere in the closet. He bellowed his quote. "I GOTTA FEELING!"

Marie laughed as the two boys started to yell quotes they remembered earlier in the day, amid the insanity of the paper airplanes. Everyone was throwing them now. Some of them were the ones that the siblings had made, others had been hastily constructed by the people who launched them. Within minutes, airplanes were flying all over, and voices filled the air once more, after a pause of chaos.

Marie let out a small sigh of content as the sun set, dipping below the horizon. She knew how words worked, how they sounded on the page, how people might react to her quotes. But the shouting was the most beautiful thing she'd ever heard, and she couldn't have ever predicted exactly what had happened.

The noise was loud, ever so loud, and Marie could barely hear the individual words as they piled on top of each other, but she didn't care.

She called out a phrase of her own, remembering her parents, who hadn't been home since the entire situation had started. She understood why they were gone. Why they couldn't be home for her and her brothers, why they had to go heal others. "For all those helping to fight this virus!"

Someone started to clap, and then someone else joined in, and then more and more people were clapping and cheering and the applause rang even louder, shouts and whoops and cries of joy.

Later that night, Marie would create a YouTube channel, and post the video, titling it as COMMUNITY IN LOCKDOWN GIVES HOPE TO EACH OTHER. Overnight, it got hundreds of thousands of hits and was on the news. Internationally.

Marie added the quote of that day to the notebook, and finally explained to the boys what the quotes and book had meant to their grandparents, and meant to her. Both Marco and Petro began to start every day by running out to the balcony, and calling at the top of their lungs (if nobody was singing or anything, and if someone was, they waited), "GIVE HOPE TO EACH OTHER!"

And if people started to put that everywhere, well, who was Marie to complain? She had started it, now hadn't she?