By Leo Li
Evelyn could still smell the medicinal stench stuck in her late father’s ward. Barely recovered from the passing of her mother, Evelyn was now left alone. Scurrying down Nathan Road – the avenue narrowing into a mere hospital aisle – she was alarmed by something petrifying, almost paralysing, lingering in the air. It was all her imagination, she thought, or a remnant of a nightmarish memory.
Traffic lights blinked in place of bemisted star lights – red, green, red, green. Ecstatic neon lights and metallic streetlamps exacerbated the night winds’ coldness. Nathan Road extrapolated indefinitely forward. It disoriented and perplexed Evelyn. She never seemed to be moving onwards…despite both physical and mental effort. Evelyn was sent interminably backward into a dark alleyway between Humphreys Avenue and Carnarvon Road, which doesn’t exist on map.
Evelyn was born and raised here, she knew every road and junction and street and corner by heart. This time, however, she had totally lost her way, disoriented by her father’s death. She looked to the entrance of the alleyway – it vanished into a dead end; behind her a risky road extended into a boundless darkness. Father’s death leaves me no exit.
She could hear, faraway beyond the ever-heightening whitewashed walls closing in on her, clamours of the excitable crowd. They were new-year raptures tinged with an ancient and inextricable wistfulness – lamentations for the dead, the bygone and the to-be-forgotten. These vivacious voices of the living diminished as the darkness of the alleyway deepened and densified.
The fireworks are sure to come soon, she thought, I have to get out of this cruel cul-de-sac. She turned and plunged herself into the darkness ahead. Livid, irresistible currents of night gales bore her irrevocably into oblivion.
‘Eve.’ Evelyn heard a mellow calling emitted from beneath the cold earth. The notes of the mysterious voice enveloped her like thousands of snowflakes – everblooming petals of winter flowers. ‘Eve.’ Mum…! She knew, by a daughter’s instinct, that the voice was her mother’s – and no one else but her mother called her Eve. Evelyn tried to reciprocate, but she was muted by something fiercer than fear.
Unnerved, she began frantically dashing forward, further and further into the enigmatic endlessness. She panted for breath, straying further and further away from sanity. Till a nexus of anxious breakdown, she crouched on the tear-soaked ground and shouted at the void: ‘can you not hear me, mum? It’s me, Evelyn…!’
But only silence prevailed. And the darkness, both within and without, waxed ferociously. After all, you’re just my imagination, she thought, you’re long dead. So is dad now, dead like a doorknob. And only I remain. But will I remain? Or not? Tomorrow is another new day – a new year, even – for everyone but me. Because your deaths detain me in your past. And I can’t move on, alone, I’m tired. I want to sleep, alongside you, like a child guided by lullabies to a long slumber. I don’t want new year or new anything, but only for what belonged to me to reappear and stay by me forever. Am I asking too much?
She closed her eyes, intuitively, and immersed herself in an internal darkness. Through this she commingled with the alleyway’s darkness, becoming one. It was something her mother taught her: ‘whenever the weight of the unknown exercises itself onto you, close your eyes and face it like you face me, with an open heart of grace and acceptance.’ Evelyn let darkness seep in; she also let herself seep in the darkness. Then she chanted her prayers in forgiveness: mother, guide your daughter from the pitch-black unknown, bring me to a new precipice and let me witness the light beam of a new beginning.
Suddenly, a long gone and concealed memory struck her – her mother was lying dying beneath an angelic white blanket. It was a winter evening, when the world was still reminiscent of Christmas. Evelyn, feebly weeping, asked the only question left to ask: ‘mum, why do you always call me Eve? It’s Evelyn…isn’t it, my name?’ With gentle authority she explained to Evelyn: ‘Eve is our common mother. She is, like Janus, a symbol for both history and future. She ingests both virtues and vices, and bears both risks and possibilities. And that’s what I want you to be.’ ‘A Christian? Or a mother? A rebel? A fool?’ young Evelyn retorted rebelliously, a sign of morose grief. ‘None of those and all of those. I want you to be your own hope, through finding a strength that throbs within you with which you strive against all of life’s stringencies. Even when I’m no longer with you… You shall be the Eve to the breaking of a new day…’
Another facet of memory, pertaining to her father: ‘I named you Evelyn, much against your mother’s will, back during my frenzied devotion to Evelyn Waugh… “…the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all…” he once wrote. That’s a common lesson for all of us little people struggling to find the cause of living. And I think I have a solution. Not the solution, but should be ample for the time being. My girl, remember: always learn from history and forgive its cruel imperfections. Then you’ll learn to live with the past which has shaped you and will continue doing so, so that the future forgives your crude imperfections.’
Because I am both the past and the future, she thought, while standing up to the faint ray of light blended in the shapeless darkness ahead. Because I have both the darkness to forget and destroy and the light to remember and create. I am Eve, a twilight of possibilities…
The fireworks sounded at the end of the alleyway – a long tunnel which existed purely for Eve to temporarily return to her Earthly Garden of Past Delights. Exiting the alley, she saw the sundry patterns of probabilities blossoming on the nightly canvas, skyful of ashes and smokes obscuring fleeted mischances. The crowd cheered on the Harbour-side in celebration of the advent of a new year. She too, clasping her hands, joined in the ecstasy, celebrating the rebirth of a new Eve.
Illustration by Verity Laycock