Part Two – The Growing Years

The second time that I saw him, I was a teenager down in the dumps, feeling trapped like a bird in a cage. All the people around me were talking about career choices, responsibilities, and a million other things that seemed to rush past me like an unstoppable bullet train to destination unknown.

I felt lost and alone, not knowing what my place in life might be, or if I was already capable of making that choice. It all seemed so farfetched, deciding at seventeen what you wanted to do ten years from now, and it scared me that there seemed to be no one else thinking the same way I did.

All I wanted to do was break free from all the voices, roar like a wild animal and yell at them to stop. I didn’t want to be put in a box and labelled so-and-so; another child neatly tucked in a niece. I wanted the chance to be me.

So, I did the only thing I could think of.

I ran.

I ran till my feet found their way back to the one place that still felt comfortable; home, to hide upon our flat rooftop, overlooking the glowing festival lanterns taking up into the sky, filled with so many wishes and dreams.

There was nothing more soothing, nor magical.

And there must have been magic in the air that day, for as I hid, sobbing with my chin upon my knees, the soft shuffling of footsteps an-nounced another presence. Before I knew it, an old man with tanned limbs and a straw hat tipped low over his eyes sat down beside me, a sky-lantern in his hands.

I blinked once, twice, disbelievingly, and when I looked again, I found the old man looking back at me, really looking at me, as if he was drinking me in; seeing all my confusion and insecurities.

We sat like that for seconds that slipped into many more minutes, while my tears dried and I kept stealing glances at the wiry arms and wrinkled face. Memories from my ten-year-old self tumbling down into my mind, warring with realisation as I began to understand the truth: a legend can only live if it stays alive.

My thoughts must have been evident on my face, for the old man started to smile – a sight that instantly warmed my heart – and his eyes lit up like twin fireflies when he produced a lantern gently held between arthritic fingers.

“Read the words and set it all free,” he said, before tapping the brim of his hat and scooted closer to the edge; to be seen by other children who needed to see him.

Tentatively, I had reached for the note, sticky-taped to the lantern, and on that piece of folded paper I found scribbled the most important life lesson of all; ‘Believe in yourself.

And I did.

I stopped listening to others and followed my own heart.

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