It was bound to happen any minute now.
I took a peek at the old, brown grandfather’s clock sitting behind me; us alone in the dining room under a light as glorious as a mountain’s sunset, as old as the age I was about to turn into.
It happens once every year, once the clock reaches twelve and I become a year wiser (yet closer to my unpreventable death), I would hear a fickle of the faintest footsteps at my door, like that belonging to the feet of a little girl no older than five, but as I slip into my warm robes and rush my way downstairs, the girl would have been gone for good before I could even catch a single glimpse of her, and all that was left was a birthday gift in a parcel, on the white pebbles of my doorstep.
The thing about the gifts that I have received and kept all these years (fifteen of them, precisely) is that they had shared a certain similar peculiarity to them. There was often a part of the gift that was notably missing, incomplete, and prevented it from becoming whole.
On my twenty-third birthday, I received a dead blue butterfly inside a white envelope, but its left-wing had been perfectly plucked off so meticulously as if the butterfly itself had put its own wing down. I got about three yards of fairy lights the next year, but less than half of them would light up when plugged. Then there was the Carpenters album with a notably missing B-side the following year.
I never knew what these gifts had meant, why I keep getting them every year, and who was the little girl who kept delivering them to me; but this particular night and this particular birthday, my thirtieth birthday, there was a beating in my heart whispering to me that I was going to get fragments of an answer to these questions, or at least I hope I would.
The outside autumn wind had crept through the window crevices that purposely I had left open; combing my hair so gently like it was my own mother.
This neighbourhood was a remarkably quiet one, all husbands kissed their wives good night less than an hour before midnight and the only sound you could hear at a time like this was a few stray dogs barking tamely at the shy red street lamps.
The clock struck midnight and my feet rose from the dining room chair the same second the needle enticed twelve; frantically I sprinted towards the door, twisted the knob, and almost sprung out into the lawn like a mad man.
There standing on the white pebbles of my doorstep, was a little girl in a diluted pink dress with a white ribbon at the chest, standing about three feet away from me. Her face and the rest of her body however had been invisible and the night silhouette had been her only skin.
“Wh- who are you?” I asked albeit tinged by nervousness.
Even without her eyes, I could feel her staring at me in grave silence.
“Why do you keep bringing me all these gifts and what do they mean?”
She broke the silence that connected us, “These are memories, and someone wants you to have them every year so you won’t forget about them, even if they aren’t with you anymore. My job is to bring them to you every year.”
Her words came out from the part of her face that would be her mouth, had it been there.
“Then why is there always something missing from these gifts? Who’s keeping them from me?” I gently asked.
“That’s precisely how memories are made. Nobody owns a memory entirely to themselves; there would always be a part of the memory that belongs to somebody, or something else. I could only provide you with the parts that belong to you and for the rest, they aren’t yours to keep.”
The girl walked over to me, took a piece of photograph out of the pocket in her dress, and dropped it in my hands.
“This is your birthday gift this year. I’m afraid this will be the last gift that you’ll ever receive from me. I won’t be coming again next year, and in the years to come. This and all the other gifts before; I’ve given you all the memories that you need to keep.”
I took a good look at the photograph. There was a fair-skinned boy in green pyjamas in the photograph, happily riding a bicycle in a park while donning the cheekiest smile. I immediately recognised that the boy was me. Then running alongside me was a figure of a girl in the same pink dress that she had worn; her face and the rest of her body still covered by invisibility in the picture.
Even though her face was missing, I could feel that she had masked a similar expression as I did and was just as jubilant as I was. I looked up to face her and proclaim a few curious words, but she was already gone and took all traces with her by the time I did.
It was like she had never been there at all, missing as if she was a piece of memory that wasn’t mine to keep.
Syazwan Sharani, an engineering student from UKM who secretly disguises as a short fiction writer between lab reports.