There was no light in the sky. True, scientists never expected the pole star to go supernova, and yet it so unceremoniously blinking out of existence seemed anticlimactic. One minute it was there; the next minute, it wasn’t.
“Does this mean we are no longer meant to find a purpose?” wondered a woman.
“Of course not; it means a new north awaits,” assured her friend, but her voice wavered.
Fallen autumn leaves skipped in loops across the quiet street. To the onlooker, Umeed was stirring his coffee and pondering on their fate. But his eyes never left the shapeless stain on the glass and the world outside the window remained a passive blur. Sitting on an isolated mahogany stool, he heard the women but thought nothing of it.
The words flitted past his ears; they bumped into him and hung around a little while, hoping to solicit a nod if not a response. Little did they know of Umeed having to bury his north beside an old oak the year before.
Umeed didn’t need to muse over the fallen autumn leaves; he was them, drifting aimlessly, waiting to be erased by time. Coffee, from anywhere but his home or office brewer, was his therapist’s idea, as was the journal that lay blank, gathering dust on his cluttered desk at home. Leaving a ring of espresso at the bottom of his cup, he stepped outside the quiet little café. He longed to go home, his demon by his side, to the cold arms of the ghost of Nora, his Nora.
At the square, where the town road met a wishing well and forked in two, there was a delicate yet firm tap on Umeed’s shoulder. He stopped.
A woman, cheery and made of curves, stood before him.
“Not interested,” he said, irritated, and turned to leave.
“But I’ve been following you since you left your apartment this morning,” she pleaded.
Umeed stared at her. The universe was playing a cruel joke if it thought a stalker would strip him of his wounds and kiss away his scars. He loved Nora. He would always love Nora. And his demon was witness to that love.
“It is not what you think,” she smiled. “I would’ve gotten hold of you before work, but you looked busy. I would’ve joined you at the coffee shop; it looked warm, but you were in need of solitude.”
Jaw hard and lips a line, Umeed scrunched his brows.
“I just wanted to tell you that I love the music you make,” she said.
Brows still knit, his jaw relaxed and his thin lips came undone. Umeed wanted to think, but his mind groaned and snapped. “What music?” he finally asked.
She tittered, “Oh, come on!”
Umeed shook his head, his lips still parted and brows slightly raised.
“Hmmm,” she hummed, gazing into the deep brown of his eyes. “Troubled lover, come lie by my side; troubled lover, don’t you give up your light. Troubled lover, come lie by my side; troubled lover, I promise, it’ll be alright.” She sang in base, snapping her fingers, her shoulders alternating in rise and fall, and her heels clicking the pavement. She sang until a wisp of life appeared under Umeed’s skin, until his soul peered through his dull eyes, and until a smile started to linger on the inside of his lips.
“That was fifteen years ago,” he said. “I was twenty and it was at a college fest.” It was before Nora too, but he didn’t say that.
“Really?” she contended; her eyes narrowed. “Feels like yesterday to me.”
A smile bled through his eyes. It was strange, that feeling bubbling in his heart, but he didn’t mind. Having been submerged for so long in a sea of regular, he liked the irregular, for after all, there wasn’t pity in her eyes or an apology on her tongue.
The church bells rang seven.
“It’s late and I’ve been gone a long time,” she said with sudden urgency, taking a step back. “I should go.”
“Wait, at least tell me your name,” urged Umeed, taking a step forward.
She puckered her lips. “There are many, I like Stella the best.”
“Stella, it’s pretty,” mused Umeed. “Are you going to be following me again?”
Stella beamed. “I don’t think I need to!”
Umeed hesitated. He thought of Nora. As ink invades the water, guilt unfurled its ugly claws and perforated his veins, its cold dark essence consuming his blood. He wanted to ask if he’d ever see her again, but struggled to spit the words out of his mouth.
“If you know where to look, you’ll find me,” she offered, and he nodded, grateful.
Stella smiled and started running away from him, her yellow satin dress flowing behind her, and her hair, dark auburn curls, bouncing away. As Umeed watched her disappear into the crowd, his demon crept back to him. “Hello, old friend,” he muttered, and together, they walked back to his apartment. Umeed kicked away his shoes and turned on the television while the demon climbed off his shoulder and nested himself in the musty sun-deprived walls.
The newscaster couldn’t contain his excitement. “In a surprising and extraordinary turn of events, the north star or Polaris, presumed to have died earlier today, has reappeared in the sky at 7:07 PM EST, after almost an eleven-hour disappearance. Scientists are unable to explain the phenomenon, but we certainly are relieved. Jillian, what is—”
Umeed had stopped listening. “Polaris,” he muttered. “Stella… Stella… Star. Polaris. Polar star!”
The demon screeched in contempt at Umeed’s burst of laughter, and fled the apartment to the sound of him humming ‘Troubled Lover’ through the evening.