“It is said that a fantastic bird lives in the far-off land of Arabia. It has a tint of a bright crimson and a beautiful cry. Legend has it that this bird, Phoenix, has a life span of 500 years, and when it gets old, it burns itself in a pyre made of its own nest and from the ashes emerges a new Phoenix.”
Ever since she was a child, Grandma would tell her about the ancient legends and folklores. Jenna would listen to them, with her head on her Grandma’s lap, with rapt attention. She liked getting lost into the world of mythical creatures and kings and queens. However, out of all the stories, she found the legend of the Phoenix the most interesting one.
“It is said that a fantastic bird lives in the far-off land of Arabia. It has a tint of a bright crimson and a beautiful cry. Legend has it that this bird, Phoenix, has a life span of 500 years, and when it gets old, it burns itself in a pyre made of its own nest, and from the ashes emerges a new Phoenix.”
Grandma would tell her the story countless times and every time, Jenna would listen to it with the concentration that she wished she had in her calculus class. The years flew by. Grandma was now only alive in the stories that she had told to Jenna. Being so close to her, it was hard for Jenna to move on from the loss. She engaged herself in college and studies and later on, submerged herself in her job. The stories of kings fighting dragons and the phoenix emerging from the ashes lay repressed in one corner of her mind that she would rarely visit. She had found a stable job as a financial consultant in one of the MNCs. She did not complain about the mundanity of her 9 to 5 job, rather, she did not complain about anything at all. Every other day, someone would trip her trash all over her garden but she never uttered a word. She would pick up all of it and keep it back again. A lot of times her coffee orders would get messed up but not once did she complain or ask for a new one. If someone bumped into her, intentionally or otherwise, she would be the one to say sorry. She was the typical passive person who never knew how to say a “no”.
On one such usual nights, she was sitting with some of her friends at a bar down the block. These were the times when she would unwind herself from the ever-increasing workload. She was on her way to get a refill when she bumped into a guy.
Instinctively, she said, “I am so sorry.”
“Well, a sorry would not do. Make it up to me and dance with me.”
Jenna looked up to see a man in his late 20s, with thick brown hair, bear stained mustache and a wide grin on his face.
“I am sorry, what?”
“Be a sport now, come let’s go.”
He took Jenna’s hand and walked her to the dance floor. He held her around her waist and kept her hands on his shoulder. Jenna felt a little awkward but she did not know how to react. The man started swinging her around to the rhythm of the music. Hesitantly, Jenna looked up at this strange man. He was looking at her with eyes as soft as rose petals.
He whispered, “My name is Mike and you had my attention the minute you entered this place.”
“I am Jenna. Sorry, I didn’t notice you before.”
“So now that I do have your attention, will you be interested in going out with me?”
It was too much for Jenna to process. In the past five minutes, a random guy bumped into her, took her to a dance, and asked her out. Being her usual self, she started stammering.
“Uh, I don’t know, I mean..”
“Oh common. Give me your phone.”
He took out Jenna’s phone from her jeans pocket and entered his number.
“Now you have my number. Text me whenever you are free.”, he winked.
With that, he left the bar with Jenna in a dazzled state. Her friends came over absolutely excited to know about the encounter.
“You scored quite a hot guy, Jenna.”
“I am so jealous of you right now.”
“Did he just give you his number?”
Jenna was ambushed with questions from her friends whose answers even she wasn’t sure of. Nevertheless, she did text him and they went out the next weekend and then the next and then again.
“What is that on your elbow?”
“Oh, its nothing. You know how clumsy I am. I must have got this bruise by falling from my bed today.”, Jenna said nervously while smiling at her co-worker.
“You are getting these injuries a lot lately. You are a mother of a four-year-old, not a four-year-old yourself.”, her co-worker laughed.
“Yeah, I’d better be careful now.”, Jenna replied shyly.
After a year of being in a relationship, Mike and Jenna had got married. They were blessed with a beautiful baby girl. Jenna was still continuing her old job but Mike lost his. Resources were scarce and they had a child to take care of as well. Jenna was juggling between motherhood and a tiring job, but she still had no complaints.
“I am home”, Jenna announced as she entered their house.
Lily came running to hug her mother and all of Jenna’s worries melted in that moment.
“Where is Papa?”, she asked her daughter as she picked her up in her arms.
“Papa isn’t home. He picked me up from school and then went away. I am hungry Mom.”, Lily replied with her eyes brimming with tears.
“You haven’t eaten anything since morning? Come I’ll make you something. Don’t cry now.”
Jenna made mac and cheese and fed her. She was angry. How irresponsible he could be, leaving his own child alone, hungry; anything could have happened. She made Lily’s bed and tucked her in safe. She sat down beside her bed, stroking her hair to make her sleep.
“Tell me one of those stories, Mom.”, Lily requested softly, half-asleep.
“I’ll tell you about my favorite one today. It’s the story of a magical bird known as the Phoenix. It has bright red and yellow feathers, just like that of a flame. When it dies, it burns itself in a fire to give rise to another Phoenix, a younger one.”
“I want to be a Phoenix, Mumma.”, Lily mumbled in her sleep.
Jenna smiled at her innocent daughter. She continued her story until she fell asleep. She looked at the clock. 10 PM. Still no sign of him. She sat down on the couch with a bowl of salad when her bruised elbow rubbed against the wall. She flinched in pain. Looking at the bruise, she reminisced about the fights she had been having with Mike for the past one year. It all started when he lost his job at the warehouse. His frustration led to excessive drinking and abusive behavior. That one year felt like five hundred years of torture and abuse. Every other day she had to wear glasses or full sleeves shirt to hide her red-blue marks and cigarette burns. One time, she had to take a full week's leave because the marks were too evident. She started thinking why she was bearing the pain and misery, and then reminded herself that it is because she still considered him a good man who would only hit her when he was angry or drunk or both. He was also Lily’s father and she loved him dearly. How could she separate her from her father? For the most part, she did it for her little daughter. Jenna’s painful trip down the memory lane got interrupted by Mike’s arrival. He was drunk, as usual.
Jenna plucked up the courage to ask him, “Why did you leave Lily out here alone?”
Mike answered with visible irritation, “Who’s Lily?”
“Our daughter Lily! How drunk are you to forget your own child’s name?”
“Oh, that brat. Yeah, I went out with a couple of friends. What about it. She is old enough to stay alone.”
“She is barely four, Mike. She was hungry all day!”, Jenna said with angst.
She knew she had beckoned the monster within him by screaming at him. But, she couldn’t bear to listen to anything against Lily. She was the reason that Jenna had remained silent all through the abuse but if it’s her on the line, she wouldn’t tolerate it.
“How dare you talk to me in that tone. Do I need to remind you of my power? Or should I show it on someone else?”, Mike said smugly, pointing at Lily’s door where Lily was hiding behind the curtains timidly.
Jenna hadn’t noticed that Lily had woken up. While she was processing the threat that Mike just gave, Mike crouched down to Lily and took out his lighter. He flipped the lighter open and placed it way too close to her palm. Lily cried with pain as her skin got charred by the blue-yellow flames. Impulsively, Jenna pushed Mike away from her daughter and the lighter landed on the curtains blazing them in seconds. Mike fell down in Lily’s room, just behind the burning curtains. He was so drunk that he couldn’t even get up on his own. Jenna took Lily in her arms and latched the door shut which had also caught fire. All through the years, she had remained a mute witness of the tragedy of her own life but her daughter gave her the strength to fight back. She knew this was the only way out of the hell hole of her marriage. She picked up the diamond necklace she had got made for Lily from the safe and a few other valuables while Mike was frantically shouting from behind the flaming door. She took a final glance around the house, and grabbed a crying and confused Lily. The fire had spread to the adjacent room. They both exited the house and stood in the front yard.
“Don’t you worry now, Lily. Everything is going to be fine. Do as I say, okay?”, Jenna told her frightened daughter.
“But what about Papa?”
“He is receiving his punishment for hurting us, baby. You are safe now.”
Lily silently nodded and held on to her mother’s arms.
The fire brigade came after a while as the neighbors reported a fire. Jenna and Lily were being given first-aid while the firemen were extinguishing the flames that had spread all over the house. As her surroundings were going haywire, Jenna couldn’t help but think about the Phoenix, how it would burn itself and its own nest to bring another Phoenix to life. But this time, the Phoenix didn’t have to burn itself. This time, it was the enemy’s pyre from where the Phoenix had risen to life, where she had found her voice and will to live.
The next day’s newspaper report read:
“Man sacrificed himself in a fire to save his wife and daughter.”
Jenna could not agree more.