By @S F Brooke
The Note of Kindness
The fireworks were turning into monsters. The bright colors into the shock of gunfire. Shai willed himself not to react as the people around him were awed by the Fourth of July celebration. He swallowed as he had to go through a crowded area, the movements of the other people making him jumpy, to say the least.
Having just gotten back from his second tour in Iraq and Kandahar, he’d thought he’d be fine to be with his family for the Fourth of July parade and celebration. It had been set for the following day that he had gotten back home. He’d dressed in his Army uniform at his parent’s insistence and had been fine for the first half of the BBQ. His family had overloaded him with stories about his nieces and nephews that he missed, his father wanted to know every single thing that had gone on overseas and his mother was trying to fatten him up. Another loud boom from the sky and Shai closed his eyes as a shrapnel bomb went off in his mind’s eye. He hurried his pace as he felt his pulse skyrocket, his blood pressure just a little too high for him to be able to relax. He walked around the surrounding buildings to the park, searching for something to anchor him as he struggled not to put his hands over his ears like a four-year-old. Finding an alley he pulled away and leaned against the wall. A puddle of something showed his reflection. He looked close to panicking, face pale and brown eyes wide. He ran his hands through his short hair before finally giving in to the urge to cover his ears. He’d probably walked a half-mile in his near panic yet he could still hear the explosions of color and gunpowder. He shut his eyes and tried to focus on hearing his breathing, as shallow as it was. Shai leaned against the building and inhaled a few deep breaths. It was just fireworks, he told himself. However, his mind wasn’t saying that. It was saying that he was under siege, bombs close and enemies closer. He started quite badly when someone touched his arm, bringing his hands down in a defense position.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!” A woman’s voice told him, her tone sincere in her apology.
Shai opened his eyes, seeing a petite woman standing near him. She was wearing a grey sweater and a shorter black pencil skirt with the same color leggings, ending the look with short grey heeled boots. She had a sympathetic expression on her face, dark brown eyes looking up at Shia’s. “I didn’t mean to scare you,” She started again, holding out a hand in explanation. “I was trying to get your attention.” She held out her phone to him. “I was wondering if you wanted something to listen to instead of the fireworks.”
Shai blinked at her, wondering why she was being kind enough to notice him.
She must have read his look because she gave a hesitant smile. “I get panic attacks too,” She told him, shrugging. “I have anxiety.” She turned on the phone and from her bag that Shai just noticed was on her arm she pulled a pair of over-the-ear headphones. “My name is Akari, it means red pear tree in Japanese. What’s yours?”
Shai again just blinked at her, wondering if she knew what a good job she was doing at distracting him enough to lessen the panic that had been building in his chest and stomach. “Shai Davari.” He answered her question in a whisper.
Akari smiled, showing teeth this time against her pale pink lipstick. “That’s a nice name. What does it mean?”
Shai shook his head a little, “I don’t know.” He breathed out a small laugh. He was startled a little when a pair of headphones were pulled up close to his face.
Akari smiled calmly, moving slowly as she put the light blue headphones over his ears. “Here, calm down, you’re okay.” She soothed, somehow making Shai’s hands stop shaking. Akari put her phone in his hands, the music app already open. “I have tons of music on here, feel free to choose anything. I got Classical, Rock, Country, Gospel and Christian, Pop, Jazz, you name it. Anything you want?” She asked, voice slightly muffled by the headphones.
Shai shook his head, “Just anything to block out the fireworks.” A small shudder went through him as another loud boom went off.
Akari nodded, quickly picking something and turning it loud enough to block out the fireworks. Classical music filled his ears and he took a breath. Shai wigged out when a cannon was incredibly close to his eardrum.
*****! Oh my God, I’m so sorry. That’s Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture, it has cannons in it.” Akari rushed to explain, pressing the skip button as quickly as possible. She bit her lip and quickly chose another classical artist. “Okay, here’s this one. I’m so sorry.”
Shai looked down at the music and laughed a little, the absurdity of a piece of classical music having friggin’ cannons in it and just happening to be the first one he listened to made him snort out a laugh. He calmed a little more as the sweet notes hit his ears, the music loud enough that he could give this wonderfully kind woman a thumbs up. He leaned back against the building, closing his eyes as he started to feel calmer as the firework sounds were blocked out by violins and piano.
Akari nodded in acceptance, pulling out a book from her bag and together they stood there waiting until the firework show ended.
Shai didn’t know how long he stood there next to this stranger, but what he did know is that the silence was comfortable and without her he surely would have been in the middle of a panic attack. He must have been gone in the music further than he thought because when a gentle tapping at his hand he opened his eyes and was surprised to feel that his body was calm enough that he was sleepy.
Akari gently took off the headphones, letting them hang around Shai’s neck. “The fireworks are over, they have been for a little bit, but I wanted to let you have a few more minutes.”
Shai nodded, giving her a grateful look. “Thank you for what you did. You were very kind.” He said genuinely as he took off the headphones and wrapped the cord around the phone before handing it back to Akari. “I wouldn’t have been able to block them out without the music.”
Akari took back her phone. “I saw you and I wanted to help. I understand having a panic attack at the worst moments and for people to not understand.” She put a hand on his arm. “I think that music is a problem solver, even from something like this.”
“Thank you, I won’t forget this.” Shai promised, grateful that her act of kindness and the music notes had been able to repeal the demons that he was facing.
Akari smiled, shaking his hand firmly. “It was nice to meet you, Shai.”
“It was very nice to meet you, Akari.” Shai said, watching as she smiled at him once more and turned to walk down the sidewalk heading no doubt back to her own friends or family.
With a deep breath, Shai was able to do the same.
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