Twelve years ago, I would have shook my head at a young person for dragging their feet. Today, however, when I heard footsteps shuffling down the hall, I found myself smiling. They stopped just outside my door. By the time she knocked I was already opening it.
"Good morning." I said, bowing my head to the person I assumed was before me. "Are you my therapist for the day?" I asked.
Her voice cracked a little, a sure sign of some nervousness. "Uh, yes I am. Can I come in?"
"I'm kidding, come on in. What's your name?"
"Oh I'm sorry. I'm so scatter brained today. My name is Inara."
I heard her sleeve rustle, and knew she had extended her hand. I extended mine in turn and soon felt the softness of her palm. "I am Paul. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Her lips parted, and bubbles of air in her saliva burst between her gums and her lips as they were pulled taut by her smile. "Tell me Inara, do you smile often?"
"I'd say I smile as much as any other person."
"Ah but we don't all smile as often as one another now do we?"
There was a silence as she thought for a moment.
"I guess I smile more than most."
"I thought so. What is it that makes you smile?" There it was again, the nearly inaudible pop of her lips parting.
"That's a good question. That's why I'm here aren't I? To try and tell you about those things?"
By now I had seated myself on my cot and motioned for her to seat herself in the chair facing me. I heard it's wooden joints creak briefly under her meager weight.
"Go on then, what is it that makes you smile?"
"Oh yes, sorry. Um."
She thought a moment, scratching her head, or perhaps her shirt; I couldn't quite tell which.
"Well, what is it you're interested in hearing about Paul? I can tell you all sorts of things that make me smile, but that doesn't mean they'll make you smile."
"Indulge me. Think of the first thing that comes to mind that makes you smile."
"For some reason it's harder to think of it now that you're asking me to."
"I know the feeling. It's like when someone asks you what you're thinking about! Suddenly all you can think of is that they're asking about what you're thinking of. Then you're just caught in a closed loop."
"Yeah. Well talking to people makes me smile almost every time, how's that?"
"That's not a bad one, good answer."
"Alright Paul, your turn. What's the first thing you can think of that makes you smile?"
I lowerd my head, and removed the black lenses they gave me to hide my eyes from the world. A relic of memory sparked from the sensation such as it would have felt years ago when I removed a pair of sunglasses and ignited the vision of a bright sunny day in my mind. I smiled.
"What are you thinking of now?" She asked.
I turned, and although my ears heard the echo of concrete and my nose smelt the moldy stench of a dank basement, my eyes saw the bluest of skies. There in the distance was the fiery disk of the sun.
My smile vanished.
That burning ball of fire expanded in my mind and consumed my sight as did the fireball of the thermonuclear warhead that detonated at twenty thousand feet those eleven years ago.
"What's wrong Paul?"
"Nothing, I'm sorry. I just got carried away."
"What were you thinking of?"
"How old are you?"
"I asked your age Inara."
She adjusted herself in the chair as it creaked away. "Um, I'm twenty three, why did you want to know?"
"You don't look to be much older than me Paul."
"I'm thirty three years old. I was just about twenty one when the world burned. You, you were a mere twelve."
"Do you remember where you were?"
"Paul, they say we shouldn't talk about this, there's a different therapist for that."
"You were there, we're merely talking about a shared event between the two of us, aren't we?"
She took a sharp breath. "I was at school."
"Was your city hit by the first five?"
"No, we heard about it on the news."
"They lied a while, about what was coming, but eventually the truth got out."
"There were more weren't there. Do you remember how many?"
"That's right. Forty three warheads in high orbit, just sitting there waiting to rain down on us like the White Horseman; Red, Black and Pale just a day or so behind him. Where did you hide?"
"Our city wasn't hit that hard, most the people who were indoors at the time were true survivors, at least until the diseases came and took the touch and taste of those who survived the infections."
There was a moment of silence. "Your turn." She said. "Where were you?"
I hesitated. "Do you want the truth or a lie?"
"That's a silly question. Who would want the lie?"
I couldn't help but laugh a little. "Most people here want lies Inara. Why do you think they came here?"
"Where were you?" She asked again.
"I was in a prison yard, it was physical activity hour at the penitentiary."
I heard the chair creak again. "Were you..."
"Yes, I was what many called a 'rebel, a 'freedom fighter... a 'traitor'. In the end though, does it really matter? We're all traitors aren't we? Traitors to civilization herself; to let her break down to the carcass she was before she finally choked up her last breath."
"Well what do you call this then? Civilization is still here."
"No Inara, this is an echo. This is the fruitless effort of those too afraid to see what changes need to be done to truly survive. This is nothing but an exercise in futility against a far greater foe than anyone can do battle against and survive."
"What do you mean? People look at the war and see what we did wrong, they're changing for the better. The world can be rebuilt out of the rubble of our past, and be made better."
"Young, and naive."
"I'm blind and even I can see that human nature will always win out. Someone will want to be the ruler of this utopia you speak of, and soon it will be infested with the villainy of greed and pride and will fall into itself; a broken house. History has a way of repeating itself and it seems to me like the cycle becomes shorter every time. Greece, Rome, the British Empire, The United States and then us. Soon there won't be enough time between world ending events to even take a crap and wipe ourselves."
"I've had enough." She got up off that creaking chair and stormed toward the doorway. She stopped there and I heard her heels grind into the concrete as she turned toward me.
"I knew you were blind, but if you can't see the happiness in anything at all, then you're not only blind, you're hopeless. I can't help the hopeless."
I felt the warmth on my lip as the door slammed; I tasted the bitterness of that single tear and shrugged it away.
To hell with her, she's just like the others; blind.