Walking With the Spirits

October 23, 2020

Graphic by Lindsay Bartol

“Don't go outside at night, for the evil spirits are at play.”

My late grandmother's warning always resounded in my head as I prepared to trek to the bus stop that would take me home after late-night exams. The commute was not an arduous one, but I dreaded it every time in the after-hours. My petite stature, pepper spray, and short Arabic prayers were the only things to defend me during these fifteen-minute journeys.

Despite my qualms, the first steps outside the dreary buildings of campus always overwhelmed me with relief rather than fear as my eyes peered towards the night sky. Captivated by the eternal deepness of nightfall, I admired the calm skies and the gleaming stars, feeling somewhat envious that the spirits could experience this time of day freely.

Before every walk, I looked skyward with wonder. Astounded that a polluted orange-hue did not coat the sky in Austin like back home, I felt as though I was witnessing magic. I entered a trance-like state, for a myriad of stars painted the skies, so clear that I could connect them with my fingertips to draw the constellations. A sense of harmony arose from the emptiness found within the darkness, filling the gaps in between their glowing bodies. The vastness of the sky comforted me, and, for a brief moment, all my fears and anxieties felt minuscule. I began to question if this was a playground for the evil spirits like my grandmother warned or an encapsulation of the mind’s curiosities.

Graphic by Lindsay Bartol

Boundless and full of vigor, I wanted to stargaze indefinitely. In those extraordinary moments, I felt as though the night sky lent me its power and unwound my entangled thoughts. My mind had adopted a perpetual cycle of overthinking and overworking, always racing through the daytime. Seldom did I have the chance to take a breath, as my anxieties for the future felt comfortable in occupying my breaks. The noisiness of my surroundings and the constant habit of placing surmountable expectations on myself felt suffocating. Yet, I was too afraid to let anything go, gripping onto everything like a balloon on a string. It was only in the night where I felt I could open the palms of my hands. As everything floated into the eternal darkness, I tasted a passing sense of tranquility.

Keeping Google maps open in line with my peripheral vision, I knew I had to recuperate myself and make it to the bus in time. The journey was fairly straightforward, but the path was frighteningly quiet. I rarely saw anyone else heading in the same direction. I passed by the familiar lampposts and trees, and I waited for the crosswalk lights to flicker despite no cars or people being in sight. Instead of looking up, I vigilantly kept aware of my surroundings, and the same sky that offered me a sense of comfort engulfed me with eeriness. I contemplated if these were the moments that my grandmother cautioned me about— the times where an unfortunate encounter with an evil spirit could transpire.

My paces quickened as my paranoia kicked in since I knew my pepper spray wouldn't affect unearthly bodies. As a result, I usually made it to my stop with a few minutes to spare, keeping an eye out for the bus as the cars swiftly passed by me. The well-lit bus stop felt like a safe base, where no evil spirits could tag me.

So, there I stood, gazing upwards at a scene indiscernible from art. A catharsis of fear from the daunting walk made it back into the glistening stars, restoring a fleeting sense of peace. When the bus arrived and swung its door open, I boarded along with my tangled thoughts, wondering when I would walk with the spirits again. ■

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