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  • Writer's pictureAvani Venkatesh Kumar

Cortana

The evening sun was setting in the sky, leaving a trail of red infused with gold and streaks of orange. The wispy clouds seemed to trail on the surface of the sky aimlessly, strange freedom and loneliness associated with them. Cortana walked along the margin of the lake, the cool wind whipping her face. Her dress billowed around her and her loose curls hit her face, tickling her. She stopped along the edge of the lake and looked into its glassy surface. The setting sun was captured in the ripples like a glowing apple.

The deep colors of the sky shimmered in the lake, its beauty increasing tenfold. The lake was surrounded by grey boulders, the lowest ones moist with the touch of the gently lapping waves. There were oakwood trees all around, their leaves rolled and wilting in the autumn air. The sound of wind whistling through the leaves was soft in her ears like the soothing tone of a friend. The mild crooning of the birds was like a lullaby, promising her everything would be just fine. She sat with an ease of a person who had been here often, too often.

The scene around her may depress others with the loneliness hanging like a blanket over the very air, but for her, it meant liberation, even though it was brief. To her, it meant a few moments, alone with her thoughts, the time she allowed herself to think for herself. Cortana had been twelve when her parents had expired in a car crash, leaving a home full of five kids, the eldest being her.

Neither did she have an aunt, uncle, or a godfather who could take her parents' place, nor did any of the people in the town volunteer. In a flash, Cortana was required to grow up, to become the caretaker of these kids when she was still a child. Her dreams, her fantasies had to become a past, a past she could never truly return to.


She had learned the trick of singing lullabies, the firmness in her voice commanding to be heard, the gentleness of patience, the protective instinct of someone who was entrusted with the duty of four siblings. She had learned the deceiving nature of people, the resolve it took to not show how afraid she was, the fact that every step she took ahead was with a thudding heart. She had learned the likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses of all of them, the way each was different, the fears and nightmares of them all, the words she could use to comfort them.

She had started earning, first by accepting jobs to clean homes of sympathetic people, then when she was desperate, she accepted offers of physical labor, not letting the scars stop her. The sweet innocence of childhood had left her long back, replaced by a toughness and determination to survive.

Today she was sixteen. In four years, she had gone from screaming and yelling about the injustice of it all to a constructed calmness that shook at times but never broke. In her heart she knew things could have been different, she could have been an excited, giggly teenager with dreams of owning the world, experiencing the adrenaline course through her as she met new people, the carefree happiness of someone who had no need to worry about making ends meet.

But the possibility of that reality had faded through the years, now it was like a dull sting when she thought of it, but it didn't pain as it had before. All her siblings went to school, through the money she earned by working at the baker's. He was kind, sympathetic, and safe. It was a fairly engaging job and most importantly it made her able to run the house.

The sun had almost set now and through the dim glow of a lantern hanging from a tree branch, she saw a boy and girl laughing as they sat on the terrace ledge of a nearby house. A stab of envy mingled with bitterness raced through her heart. Cortana had never known what it felt like to have friends because friendship was a comfort, she had never gotten the chance to savour. It was hard to not blame life, for this unfairness. But how long could you? Someday, one day, you would have to learn to forgive. Because in life there could be so many things that could have been but weren't reality. The futility of chasing a desire of an ideal reality could crush you. So, it was better to accept and move on. If you let bitterness corrupt you, it might relieve you of the pain, but it won't set you free. A life of freedom in your own limited way was the best thing you could choose sometimes.

At least you could make a new reality possible, one where there was hope. One where you could find peace and weave a life for yourself through the thorns. It wouldn't be a perfect life but the realization of that would give you more peace than anything else. The realization that life wasn't meant to be perfect. If anything, it was like a risk, a gamble with every choice you took. There were things of course that you didn't choose for yourself but the ability of choosing a way to strengthen your life around those things was a choice that everyone was offered, a brave choice but one that meant salvation over destruction, peace over hatred, and most importantly satisfaction over bitterness.

It was hard knowing that many people out there had a better life than you but if there was something you could do; it was making your life fit. If you found satisfaction in your life, it meant that YOU had created that life through all the struggles, and that fact would be the most empowering fact of your life. Cortana got up as the first signs of darkness appeared in the sky. It was strange that in this darkness, she had found light. In the place most people lost hope, she had gained it.

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