This story is by Vienselin Lim and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The past is a history; something for me to learn from. The present is an adventure; something for me to live in.
”Remember to drink the medicine twice a day: before lunch and dinner.” I pat the little boy’s head. “Hope you’ll get well soon!”
Dusk is peeking from the horizon when the boy and his mother leave the cozy little house I share with my mother and little sister, so I start cleaning up the table and preparing to close for the day. I am thinking of what mother will cook for dinner when a nicely-dressed man in his thirties appears on the doorway. He strides in to one of the vacant stools and sits down without waiting for my response. Rude, but still a patient. Might as well treat him before closing.
“Good afternoon, Sir. How may I be of help?”
The man grins.
“Well,” he says. “I heard that you used to make potions.”
My smile tightens as I scan the male in front of me.
“I know it’s been a while since you last made one, but,” One of his hand goes to the inner pocket of his coat and produces a hefty bag. A sinister smile adorns his sleazy face. “I’ll pay you twice the amount of the potion if you make one for me now.”
Memories of my past start being played in my mind. If my past self were the one offered this deal, I believe she’d take it without thinking twice.
A few years ago, I wasn’t who I am now. I was unscrupulous, a wrongdoer. I used to work as a potion maker and accepted all kinds of potion requests so long as I was paid. Among the ones I made, a certain potion was quite popular—the charm potion, which caused the consumer unable to resist whoever gave them the potion. I had never asked what the customers would use it for, never, because I knew that sometimes it was better not knowing. I turned a blind eye to the ordeal because I needed the money to support mother and sister—both living faraway and unaware of my line of work.
My business put a strain between me and the society. People often stared at me warily whenever I was within their sight. It wasn’t that bad, except when I went down to the village for shopping. The villagers would stare me in either fear or disgust and none of them dared to breathe the same air with me, no one save for Isabel. She was a sweet sunshine who reminded me of my sister. She approached me despite of the villagers’ warning and got to know me first before judging. She used to drag me around the market, helping me to get what I needed when the seller wouldn’t spare me a glance. Since then, I always looked forward to shopping day, until that particular trip.
The villagers were dressed in all-black, as if they were mourning for someone. Unease crept into my ribcage. I tried looking for Isabel, but the girl couldn’t be found. Then, I heard a furious shout and suddenly a woman was shaking me.
The woman—Isabel’s mother— looked devastated and desperate. She had red-rimmed eyes and tear-streaked cheeks. Her dark dress was in a disarray. She looked like she had aged decades since the last time I saw her. The woman started wailing. Isabel’s still nowhere to be found. I dared to ask the hysterical woman. Instead of getting an answer, I felt myself being dragged to a house with a garden of blue irises—Isabel’s house, I dazedly realized. There, lying on her worn pastel yellow bed, was Isabel, looking unperturbed and serene.
My mind was still trying to catch up with the situation when Isabel’s mother threw a familiar object to me. The empty bottle clattered to the wooden floor. I felt my breath got caught in my throat. The woman started recounting the story in her shrill voice. “She didn’t return home when it was dark already. We looked for her. We searched to every crook of the village. She was found at the edge of the woods, life long gone from her breath. And this was found next to her.”
I had never expected this to happen. Maybe it was foolish and wishful thinking, but I had never expected Isabel to be a victim of my corrupted work, had thought that she would never touched the uglier side of my world. Now, Isabel was gone, and I contributed in her death—or did someone intentionally do this to me? I didn’t even know which customer used the potion on her—could someone really be that heartless and used it against Isabel? I couldn’t pin the blame on anyone but myself who made the potion—the person who used it was guilty as well.
Everything became overwhelming. Ugly thoughts swirled in my mind. I couldn’t breathe properly, especially after Isabel’s mother yelled at me with that haunting voice of hers, “What if it’s your sister instead?!”. I left Isabel’s room, bumping into a few of the mourning villagers that had gathered in front of Isabel’s house. There were voices, but all I heard was the buzzing noise of their angry words. I felt trapped, constricted between the villagers’ accusing stare and the narrow space of the village square. I ran.
I hid inside the weathered walls of my shack for days. Appalling thoughts assaulted my mind, crumbling any remaining semblance of being collected. Among those thoughts, I felt guilt and worry the most. My mind kept drifting to my sister—if she was okay and if I should go check on her, but I didn’t want to worry mother with my sudden appearance. In the end, I couldn’t bear the stress anymore and visited them.
Home was safe and warm. My sister was fine, and I sighed in relief as I patted her head. Mother knew something was off but didn’t push me to tell her. I stayed for days, helping around while shoving the guilt every time it tried to resurface. Sometimes, the guilt was too much for me to handle and I would curl up in a corner and try to curb down my anxiety. I kept it that way, until a night when I was tired to the bone and feeling rather melancholic. Mother was cooking dinner when I asked her, “What if I have done something unforgiveable?”.
Her movements stilled, before carefully answering, “I will be disappointed, mostly sad, but I believe that it’s possible to be forgiven if you have admitted your wrongdoing and make up for it.”
I remembered her last words before my little sister barged into the room. “Know that you are my child and I will be with you regardless of what you’ve done.”.
Days later, I traveled back to my shack. In the end, I didn’t tell mother what was plaguing my mind, but her words were enough to ground me. On my way back, I was passing through the woods near the village when I saw a man attempting to force my potion down on an unwilling woman. Petrified and shocked as it was my first time witnessing it, I was reminded of Isabel and screamed for help. My shrill cry was enough to wake some of the villagers up. The man cursed and fled. I ran to my shack.
Recalling the woman’s scared face, I made my decision. I finally accepted the ugly fact that what I was doing was wrong, and I needed to put a stop to it. Leaving something that I had been doing for the last few years would be hard, and I was bound to face struggles, but I had to do it before my potions were used for anything like this again.
That was in the past and I’ve learned my lesson. Now, I have been helping mother to expand her herb selling into making medicine. I try my best to help people instead of endangering them like what I used to do in the past. I try to regain their trust in me, slowly convincing them that I am not who I was. My past is never a good memory, but it serves as a reminder for me to never stray to that path again.
Talking about straying to that path, the man sitting in front of me is still waiting for my answer. He looks certain that he has appealed me with the tinkling gold inside the coin pouch, mistakenly taking my silence as considering his deal. I turn to the open window facing the garden, where mother and my little sister are tending the fussy herbs while enjoying the orange hues in the horizon. Those two’s happiness and love for me are more appealing than any gold coins, and I’ve sworn myself to never go to that path anymore. I turn to face the grinning man and confidently say,