A firm and warm hand took mine with affection as it guided me through the streets, filled with humans and aliens during the carnival in the city. I found myself wondered by every light with traditional decorations, by every being who was dressed with colorful and extravagant suits, and by the food with exquisite shapes and scents. Citizens from the Earth and other thousand planets were reunited to enjoy the popular festivities. My great-grandfather, Arturo, bought me everything that made my heart skip, although I always just asked for caramelized apples; it was the only delicacy I could never resist. When the parade began, he made sure to carry me on his shoulders despite how hard it would be for him, as he was ninety six years old. All so that I could enjoy the show. He was tall, and for me, he was as tall as the buildings around us, which seemed to touch the sky itself. Arturo always managed to be on the first rows because he never backed down from anything regardless of how difficult it was.
I loved him, and he always showed me how much he loved me. Ever since I could remember, this story repeated itself in every festivity, bringing me countless smiles. That is, until I had to face the bitter side of life.
It was March, two thousand ninety five, when I was walking through another carnival with my great-grandfather. He slowed down his pace because my tiny legs couldn't catch his, but Arturo's patience was never affected by this. He enjoyed everything as much as I did. I was still able to remember the way that his head, which in my eyes it seemed to be miles away from mine, turned around to look kindly at me, accentuating the wrinkles on his face in a funny way. His cheeks were rosy, he had a pointy yet soft nose, and his eyes were sparkling with love.
"Life is a wonderful gift, Melisa, to humans and to any other being in this universe. Yughnöuns, Malmors, Tonogars, Pastirs, Etletnyts, Cagros, and many more," he shared, his hand crossed the sky to point out all the stars and planets, which were hidden to me by the evening sun "You must never waste it."
"I like life," I said, sincerely, with my high pitched voice "Life makes me happy."
"It's good that you think that way, because there are many who don't."
"Why would someone no like life?" I grimaced after realizing my words sounded strange, I tried to fix them "Someone wouldn't like life."
My great-grandfather laughed, aware of my little obsesion of trying to speak better than the rest of the kids my age. It was my mom's fault, who insisted on making me learn to read as soon as I uttered my first word and corrected all of my mistakes.
"Wether you believe it or not, my little girl, there are plenty of people who dislike it."
Everything in my life had been perfect since I could remember: the universe had a series of wonderful stories, species and cultures, that I couldn't help but feel moved by every being and object who crossed my path, and the affection and gentleness from each person I met! I'd always received an amusing grin or a friendly comment from everyone
"Well…" he frowned, deep in his thoughts.
A female scream caught our attention. In the center of the street, where a couple of citizens started to scandalously walk away from a couple, lied on the floor a caucasian looking woman, shaking her dark, long and curly hair. Her body trembled with violence, her right hand raised in front of her, as if it could protect her from her darkest and most feared enemies. The expression of her face was of pure horror; she was living a nightmare, the kind you'd never even want to be mentioned. Before her stood a man, tanned skin and aquiline nose. He looked at her, his face distorted with anger, and pointed a black object towards her: a gun. The lady cried histerically, begging for mercy. The guy wasn't alone, I sighted a group of men behind him, who were watching the crowd from the carnival.
My great-grandfather realized way before me what was about to happen. Actually, everyone understood it but me, so the frightened crowd started to run away. Arturo took me in his arms in less than a blink of an eye, and while he rushed away, the man pulled the trigger and two thunders resonated in the air, then a couple of holes appeared in the woman's body. She fell on her back, lying motionless on the ground like a statue, dark stains appeared on her clothes.
Six years: that was my age the first time I saw someone die.
Arturo ran between the madden crowd, whispering to my ear that everything would be alright, that I shouldn't be scared, that he would always protect me. In the midst of the chaos, my eyes flew everywhere, scanning the faces of strangers and the fear that consumed them. I heard so many thunders...
We went inside a local with another group of people and we hid behind some tables he knocked over. My great-grandfather, finally, left me on the ground more roughly than I expected. I thought he'd start crying, since he was taking me by the shoulders, shaking, with his gaze on the floor. I didn't know what to do to make him feel better, the mean men had disappeared from our lives now, why was he sad? Around us, people bursted into tears and quickly began talking through their phones. The thunders on the outside seemed to go on forever.
"Everything is going to be ok, Melisa, I promise you," he said, still gasping. The wrinkles on his face and the veins in his arms had never been so strongly visible to me before, "Everything will turn out just fine."
I felt safe with him there, and I believed him, but I thought about the woman that might still be lying on the floor, waiting for someone to save her from the evil man. I knew weapons could hurt you, they were really dangerous in videogames, would she be alright? Was someone going to help her? How painful it must have been to be shot? Did no one else thought how sad it was that she was so scared? Back then, I coudn't really comprehend the concept of death, so it never occurred to me that the lady had passed away already.
More thunders resonated in the air and I heard so many screams that my own heart started to beat uncontrollably. Were they going to hurt me too? Was I not going to be able to escape from them? No way, mi great-grandfather was going to protect me, he'd promised me and he never broke his word. That was one of the things that made him special.
"Melisa," he caught my attention, "There's something I want to tell you."
I looked at him and realized we were both shaking. The affable expression he usually weared had now changed to a mask filled with grief and disappointment. His white, short hair was disheveled and his breathing was hectic, a tornado of emotions leaving his body and then reentering every second.
"This is the reason why many people hate living," he explained, a few drops of sweat sliding down his forehead "because there are some who want to hurt you, with our with no apparent reason"
I nodded, swallowing. Still, I was unable to digest the idea that there was evil in the world.
"There are many in this world with fear. They're sad, they're broken, they feel defeated, and cursed," he told me, and by the way he stared compassionately at me, I had the feeling he used to be a part of them, "They want to end their lives because no one will let them see how beautiful they truly are."
I felt my inferior lip twitching and felt myself at the verge of tears. I wasn't able to imagine a world where someone lived like that. He glanced at the people hidding in the store with us, then glanced back at me, and placed one hand over his chest.
"But us, the ones who remain strong, must help them... we must fight to save them all, no distinction. Aliens or humans. If it's possible, we must try to make them realize their mistakes," he bit his lip, his eyes showed me nothing but suffering, "I know you're scared, and that's ok, but you must be brave too."
"What if the mean men from before hurt me?" I asked, not hiding my fear.
Yes, I also wanted to save those people but, what could I do?
When the shooting was closer and the crying from the innocent got louder, Arturo brought me to a nearby window, which led to an alley, and broke it with a chair. He was preparing an escape route.
"We're gonna get through this," he shook me gently, then his eyes quickly scanned the street before coming back to me, "Don't ever doubt it, 'cus when you do, it's like you're preparing yourself to fail, got it?"
"What am I always saying?"
"My fears only limit my abilities," I knew that phrase as well as my own name.
If my great-grandfather had a business card, you could bet that half of it would be used by that phrase. He could repeat it until you ended up hating it.
"Very well, very well. That's my girl," he congratulated me, tossing my hair. I saw him shed a tear and I put my hand over it, feeling its wetness spread under my palm. We stared at each other, "Melisa, whatever happens... you have to be strong, work hard and fight more than I ever did. I'm old, I don't know how many years I have left, or weeks, even days! I'm going to leave soon and there'll be nothing else I can do, but you'll still be here. You and your brothers can do so much more."
I nodded again, and he hugged me a moment later. When I felt his warm body against mine, I cried silently. I wasn't able to imagine a world without my great-grandfather, without the man who made me smile just by mentioning his name. Besides, it was still hard for me to understand what was happening and why; back then, I didn't know that, sometimes, evilness doesn't even have a reason to be.
"I wish I could have told you this under different circumstances," he mourned, moving away with a sad smile, "But, I guess that... the most important lessons are learned during the hardest situations"
We heard the thunders even closer, and that alerted him. He took me in his arms and we exchanged a worried look. In a low voice, he called the rest of the civilians inside the local to follow us to the exterior using the window. Through the picture window in the front, I saw men in black wandering the streets, shooting civilians and checking every local. Only then I understood that we had to leave immediately, it woudn't take long for them to find us. Then, when Arturo was helping me out the window, I saw one of them peeking inside the store, with a machine gun pointing at us.