The ambience of mothers sobbing and trains whistling fell deaf on the young man’s ears. He was completely and utterly focused on the dear faces in front of him, attempting to absorb every detail of their faces. It was of the utmost importance that he remembered those he held closest to his heart as accurately as possible. He could not—and would not—let the memory of his family and friends become dark and dim. To do so would be the most heinous, the most egregious error he could ever commit.
They were standing in front of them—all four of them. None of them spoke nor cried. They were silent, resolute, having accepted the lot they were given. Or so the young man thought.
He looked first at his father, an austere, bearded man. One might have mistaken the father’s composure as dispassionate or even apathetic, but the young man knew better. Staring deep into his father’s eyes, he could see a glimmer of pride. There was no regret, he knew, for his father was a man of few regrets and misgivings. He clapped a rough hand on his son’s shoulder and looked at him in the eyes. The faintest trace of a smile could be seen on his face. “My son,” his father said, his voice deep and rumbling. It was all his father said, and it was all that needed to be said. His father was proud of him, and that was all that mattered. He would not let his father’s respect of him be lost. To have gained respect in the eyes of his father was worth more than all the gold in the world. He was not a boy anymore. He was a man.
Standing next to his father was the one who had brought him into the world. She was his mother and friend, his teacher and guide. She stood there, her eyes red, fists clenched, but she did not cry. The man knew she was trying to be brave for his sake, which cut him more deeply than he thought possible. He embraced his mother, long and hard, his shoulders shaking as he cried out to the heavens for the strength and comfort he knew that she would need in the days ahead. She returned the embrace fiercely, but did not weep. When she pulled back, she mouthed the words, “I love you,” and said no more. He nodded, but did not speak.
As he moved on, his eyes fell on his childhood friend—the one who was the brother he had never had. Since his second year of school, the two boys had been inseparable. No matter how many arguments or fights they had, they made up at the end of the day and continued to support the other through everything they went through. They were more than just friends, the young man thought. They were not even just brothers. Their relationship was deeper…more meaningful than just that. It was as though they were connected by some invisible cord that bound them together, allowing them to feel what the other felt, to know what the other knew—to be who the other was. And now, as he had to leave, that cord would be stretched to its limit, but it would not snap. He would not allow it to break. The man looked at his friend, who pulled him into an embrace, a gesture that he had hardly done, and the finality of the situation once more washed over the man, who could say nothing at all. But what was there that he could say?
Finally, the man looked at the slight woman with auburn hair and golden eyes who was matching his gaze just as evenly. She stood straight, tall, determined. He thought that she had accepted their fate, but she had not—she was merely resigned to it. But as he looked at the woman that he wished to spend however many years he was given, he realized that all he wanted to do was stay behind and love. He wanted to love his mother and father and his friends, and live. He knew that he did not just want to survive. He wanted—he needed—to live. And while all these thoughts raced through the young man’s mind, the woman pressed her fingers to her lips and touched his lips with them, whispering, “I believe in you, you hear me?” He nodded, once. He knew that he could say nothing, as it had been with all the others. Instead, he embraced her briefly and turned to walk away.
And as he stood on top of the train’s steps and looked at the four people he held closest to his heart, his vision began to blur, and he was suddenly terrified. He had been worried and afraid, he had been bitter and angry, but he had never been terrified. To realize that he might never see any of them again was the most horrific prospect of the whole ordeal, and he was not sure that he could begin to understand the enormity of the unknown. So what could he say before he left? The sudden weight of pressure to say some final meaningful words that would be remembered if he were never to come back pressed on him so heavily he found it difficult to breathe. But he had nothing of the sort to say, and even if he did, how could he say it without breaking down now? They all knew that he loved them, and that he would never forget them, so what?
Then he knew. He realized that there was but one thing to say, and that everything else had already been said. That one word would say everything that needed to be said. And so he said it.
Less than three,