White roses, black horses.
Koré opened her dark brown eyes, only to discover that she didn’t know where she was. Strangely, she couldn’t even remember coming to that place. For one thing, she couldn’t register her surroundings since it was very dim. But somehow, the place was awfully familiar, as if she had been there before. Only she couldn’t recall.
Even in the dark, she knew that something different, almost magical that refused to reveal itself was present. It was very quiet, peaceful, as a pleasant kind of stillness lingered in the air. And suddenly, ever so swiftly, the world seemed to be waking up from a deep sleep as the sun rose up to greet the morning. And for the first time, Koré noticed her environment, an attention grabbing terrain in a new light.
The grass was a rich color of deep green and the heavens were a tremendous shade of baby blue. There was a small lake in the center of the clearing, a mirror of the vast sky. And tall trees, which stood like crooked pillars, surrounded it. Not far from the lake was a wooden bench situated under a cherry tree.
Koré saw sparkling dewdrops glistening in the sun. She heard a faint sound of a running stream and smelt a tantalizing fragrance of white roses blossoming. Very soon, she began to hear songbirds making music in the air. One wonder after another unveiled itself, and the sights and sounds of it all fascinated her. It was the most beautiful place in the world, she declared.
All of a sudden, the ground began to shake and Koré heard a soft yet distinct sound of running horses that grew louder and louder by each second. The noise was magnified and even the birds stopped their merrymaking and chose to run and hide.
Koré had the bizarre feeling that something big was heading for her direction. And her attempt to prepare herself for whatever was coming her way proved to be useless. Out of the thickness of the trees, emerged a group of horsemen on strong fierce looking black stallions. She was so scared that she even forgot the idea of turning her tail and run. The horses stopped within a few inches from her and Koré almost fainted clean away.
She nervously watched as a tall handsome rider got down from his horse and walked steadily, confidently towards her. The playful smirk on his face was the only thing she needed to feel foolishly brave and downright insulted by the way she was treated. Those hooligans almost made her jump out of her skin. Before she could launch a verbal attack, to her surprise, the stranger bowed courteously and spoke.
“Greetings, I am Lord Iruka of the castle of Azure. Welcome at last, Lady Koré.”
Koré was speechless, a wave of bewilderment swept over her. Out of politeness, all she could do was nod her head in acknowledgement and smiled uneasily. Iruka as the stranger called himself, raised his right hand and all the other men took it as a signal to leave the two of them alone. As fast as the wind, they sped off, leaving hoof prints on the grass.
“Come with me, Koré and I’ll show you whatever you wish.” It sounded more of an instruction rather than a suggestion. But he had a domineering quality about him, an aura of authority that made it impossible to refuse him. And Koré, half reluctant and half confused followed him as he took her for a walk
Iruka was amazing. He managed to capture her interest with his knowledge as well as his charm. The topic of their conversation varied from art to music, sports to food, nothing in particular and everything altogether. He listened intently to her opinions and even though they argued a lot, they were all in good terms. Iruka surprised her, he intrigued her, but most of all he bedazzled her with his mystifying qualities. And pretty soon, Koré began to feel something funny inside her heart, some kind of a silly pounding every time he looked at her with a smile so generous that it reached up into his eyes. They glittered like a pair of blue topazes shining brilliantly in the clouds. Something strange was happening, something wonderful was on the brink of taking place.
After the walk, they rested on the bench under the cherry tree. Koré was thoughtful for a whole minute. She was busy evaluating the situation. It happened so fast without her realizing it. There was something about him and this place that filled her with a weird sense of familiarity. But, something wasn’t right. He was still a stranger, since she hardly knew anything about him. Oddly, they only talked about certain things and about her for that matter, but never about him. It seemed that neither thought of bringing it up.
“Tell me about yourself, Iruka. Tell me something from your past.” She requested.
In that instant, his face changed. There were traces of sorrow in his eyes; a kind of forlorn discontent covered his face. He spoke softly, almost dejectedly.
“I don’t have one.”
“What do you mean you don’t have one?” Koré looked at him, confused and frowning. He was hesitating, anxious all of a sudden and somewhat distraught. But the pleading look in her face compelled him to reveal the truth.
“You didn’t create one for me.”
The statement hit her with a force so great that it almost made her collapse. And then slowly, everything seemed to fall into place. The white roses and the black horses; the bench and the cherry tree; and most of all Iruka himself. They were too perfect, too wonderful and too unbelievable to be real. Now she knew why, this was just a dream.
Koré felt her heart sank and her eyes burned with unspoken sadness. The truth had always been painful. But why didn’t she realize it sooner? Before he showed up, before she even had the courage to believe in him. He was just a figment of her imagination, for crying out loud. She had conjured him, and he didn’t even exist. Koré knew that there was only one thing to do. She must return to her real world.
“I can’t stay here anymore. You and I both know why, this is just a dream. It’s not real and it won’t ever be.”
The words tasted like poison in her mouth.
“But you can. You have a choice. Stay here and be with me, don’t leave and you’ll be living your dreams.”
He pleaded with gentle warmth in his eyes.
“No, I’ll just be dreaming. I don’t belong here. We are not meant to be. I have to go back. It’s the only way.”
He swallowed bitterly before he nodded understandingly.
“Close your eyes, and when you can hear me no more, open them and you’ll be where you’re supposed to be.”
Silence fell upon them like a blanket, burying and suffocating her. Iruka prepared his horse for departure. Koré just had to ask one final question, out of love, out of hope.
“Will I get to see you again?”
He mounted his horse and spoke.
“Maybe yes, maybe no, we’ll see. I’m always here, waiting for you. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in me anymore, Koré. The important thing is, I am alive because of you. Even if it’s a dream, dreams do come true in the end if you believe in it.”
Before she could say anything, Iruka disappeared out of her sight. Somehow she understood. She closed her eyes and savored the sound of his black horse speeding off into nowhere until all that remained was a gentle whisper of the wind. She opened them and smiled with gladness at the smell of white roses blossoming. And she instantly knew that she was exactly where she belonged.
July 22, 2002.