Long, long ago, when nothing had shadows, Man was utterly alone when he was shut by himself. Yes, he may have his conscience and his soul intact but neither was visible to the eyes, and hence were not considered true companions.
It was a time where Man married early. Boys and girls, actually. To secure a life long partner, most married long before reaching adolescence. It was an act for Man to feel assured, like buying insurance.
Because little kids had to marry young to compete with others, the parents usually made the decision for them. Arranged marriage was the norm, and parents make arrangements even before the birth of the children. Since affections were uninvolved and the purpose of marriage being merely to reinstate a partner to safeguard Man from being alone, no one was particularly choosy over whom they were to marry.
Still, marriage was a lifetime contract between two persons that was broken only by death. Nothing changed for the kids initially. Even after the terms were agreed, the paperwork done, the children remained with their parents until one of the young couple had secured a job. Then they would move in with each other and form a family. But they were required to go everywhere and do everything together like traveling documents were only issued to a pair of couples and both must be present to validate it.
All these measures, just to prevent Man from being solo. For Man’s mind, when left unhindered was capable of great dreams. And dreams too big and wild had tendency to devour Man, and all that surrounds it.
In that era, love existed not, and could at best be associated to family bond. It was merely a duty, a formality… The people knew not love in the sense of Romance, for their ancestors knew not such alien thing. So no one spoke of love, nor indicate affections for anyone outside the family.
There was then a fine young lad called Love, and a sweet little lady by the name Shadow. They were both married, but alas, not to each other. Like everyone else, they had no control over the partner with whom they need to share a lifetime with.
Love and Shadow were close friends since they were little tots. They would had been married to one another had their parents not had disputes among themselves. Even so their friendship had not been severed. For a marriage was a marriage. Since no one can escape the established rules enforced, there was no fear of contradiction, and no one bothered with the two. They knew not of what was expected of them and was so often together that strangers would assume them as an item.
Love and Shadow grew fonder still of one another. They came to be so intimate that by the time they were in their teens, their parents could no longer turn a blind eye on the hugs and kisses they lavished on one another.
“Shade, do you know what marriage is?”
“No, Love. Why?”
“Dad consulted me. Apparently we are supposed to go where our spouses see fit to, do everything together. As we are now.”
“But we’re not married to each other.”
“Yes, darling. Well, Dad thinks it’s prudent not to show affections to any other but our rightful partners.”
“But I have no care for Peter, as you have none for Mary.”
“That’s what I’m trying to say, Shady baby. We are condemned to spend our entire lives, with someone else. My children are to come out of Mary’s belly. And out of yours Peter’s. But dear me, I only want children that are half yours, and half mine.”
“So why can’t we? Nay, sweet Love. We adore each other too much to let trifles as such bother us!”
Love laughed, mirthlessly. Shadow still had not understood. In her confusion, tears fell and she ran to his embrace for comfort. She sobbed, unable to comprehend the clarity of what Love was trying to present but she had sensed his distress and frustration, and that upset her exceedingly.
“Love, Love! Stop this insanity! Nothing can part us! Surely you know that!”
“Shadow, we both have our duties to attend to. Go now. And not let me see thy face so sweet again…”
Shadow bewildered by his sudden push, burst into a fresh round of tears. Crying still, she asked many questions which Love answered curtly in a clipped tone.
“Love, you break my heart so. Never shall I forgive you. Adore you I still do, and would do so forever. For you are Love, my one and only Love, and I am your dear Shadow.”
She sat weeping for a moment longer, but seeing no change in his demeanor she stopped abruptly. With a few well chosen curses, she then left, stealing a few glances before stomping off haughtily without looking back again.
The parents felt more at ease seeing the children fulfilling their obligations and let the whole incident drop, wiping it slate clean from their mind. No one took too much of a notice on his growing solemn silence or her constant plea for absence to many social functions.
Shadow suffered naught except the disease of missing her Love. She had stomachaches induced from her own desire to be sick. Her headaches were of pin and needles stabbing into her. She feigned nothing but had brought her misfortune to herself in her wretched state of desiring Love. She could not sleep properly at night, haunted by nightmares. Shadow began to feel like she was living double lives. One awake, one asleep. But she wandered through both of it in a dazed indifference. She saw no point living on without her Love. She found no comfort from the maze she was straying in, aimlessly. She had no goal, no future to look forward to…
Of course, Love gathered his senses quickly and did not grief as much as Shadow. At least on the surface. His heart too felt torn, and he teared often. He was pained but because he was conscious of his duties, mindful of his responsibilities, he could face it better. Unlike Shadow who could not appreciate why Love had abandoned her so unceremoniously.
Time passed. While others thought her healed, Shadow worsen. She began to be obsessed with the idea of being with Love at all times. She started to stalk him. When they were not in class, she followed behind him around in the school, her broken heart burning in jealousy if he spoke to any other girls. But it was when he spoke to Mary did she feel the flaming rage consuming her entire being.
Even after school, she trailed him. To his home, to the diners, to the fields, everywhere… She continued her habit, even after both their marriages being official (i.e. moving in with their spouse).
Peter was vaguely aware of his wife’s actions. But he chose to be quiet about it. He loved not Shadow and was not hurt in any way. They were both just living up to expectations. He took care of the family and since Shadow did the same, he saw no reason to object. She accompanied him as she should, and that was sufficient.
Eventually, Mary passed away. Although widowed adults were given consent to remarry, Love did nothing of that sort. And Age came, as it always does, unwelcomed. Soon Love too laid on his deathbed. It was only then he felt the one emotion his ancestors had tried to protect him against: Loneliness.
The hollowness in him, like someone scooped his inner organs empty and he felt only his heart reigning over him entirely. His heart, pumping ever so hard, ever so loud… It was as if the heart was an alien creature residing within him, now seeking an exit to rip out. Love gasped, his breaths becoming shallower, and shallower still.
At such crucial moments, Shadow thought it only fair she revealed herself.
“Love, Love! Come back to me.”
“Shade, is it you? Oh, Shady! Hug me and bestow me your sweetest kisses. So that I may rest be assured of your affections.”
“Love, I never stop caring for you, wanting you. You’re the visible part of my heart and soul. You are so much a part of me but I could do naught but be with you always.”
“Oh, Shadow my dear. Hold me now, I am cold.”
In the fit of passion, Love died gradually in Shadow’s arm.
Anguished, Shadow shook Love’s form disbelievingly, and bid him to await her.
Spying glass on the floor, she stabbed that to her heart, yet not dying quick enough, she bashed her head against nearby rock for an immediate death. The instant her soul escaped her mortal shell, she seek her Love. Instead, she found herself surrounded by millions of shimmering figures, all frowning down at her.
Are these angels then, she thought, are they angry at my suicide?
But her worry for Love’s welfare got the better of her tongue.
“Where is my Love?”
“Your Love? He’s gone on to the next phase. You are quite a gutsy one to kill yourself with our sister as a weapon for your sin.”
“Yet, sisters, have a look at her. Could she be one of us? Her heart glitters so!”
The figures mumbled between themselves. Shadow was surrounded by stars, real live ones. Apparently the rock that had ended her life was the corpse of the stars’ dead sister. The stars were kind creatures. When they heard of her story, they wept too and nearly put themselves out.
However, one of the elder stars dried her tears and hailed Shadow.
“The strength of your feelings for Love shall be tested. Take part of my soul, when you are fully aglow, you will travel to find your Love. You will be his Shadow once more. A follower that stay by his side forever, keeping him company even without something as redundant as a marriage. You will be bound to him, from his first breath, to his very last one.”
“It is a curse though, girl. For you will have no form, no body, no mind, no soul, no heart, just a blank dark image of him. You can neither speak, nor hear, or have any senses at all. You might not even be able to remember your Love. We know not, for you will be the first of your kind.”
Shadow smiled and took the star powder to be consumed.