The bus resumed its march and took off at speed, kicking up a cloud of dust that made Sofía cough. When she finished, she slowly opened her eyes and looked around.
Dozens of translucent blue figures walked everywhere, as if they were normal people carrying out their daily activities. But no, Sofía knew it wasn’t like that.
The girl learned that she could see ghosts from a very young age, almost since she had learned the meaning of the word itself. Since she was a baby, she was able to look into the eyes of those entities that, for some reason or other, could not leave the world of the living and move to the next plane. In fact, it was the ghost of her great-uncle who taught her to walk when she was one year old. And her christening godmother, who passed away the same day after the ceremony, was much of the reason why Sofía learned to speak so early. Ghosts were basically her bread and butter.
After looking both ways, Sofía crossed the street that separated her from her new school. In the short distance she traveled, the girl could glimpse the ghost of a small child begging, sitting on the sidewalk, while living people passed by without noticing his presence. Resigned that there was nothing she could do to help him, she shook her head and continued on her way.
The San Juan Alberto school was one of the oldest buildings (along with the First Church) of the long-lived city of Santa Fátima. It had been inaugurated in 1603, shortly after the founding of the city after the arrival of Spanish settlers in what is now Mexican territory. Great historical figures had passed through the school, such as the writer Vicenta Muñoz and the legendary lawyer Juan Pino Sáenz, both famous figures in local and national history. It was obvious that Sofía would study there-like all her ancestors-whether she wanted to or not.
If it were up to her, she would have enrolled in public high school like all her friends. If it were up to her, she would start preparing for a career in literature rather than international business. If it were up to her, she would be in a place far away from here.
As soon as she entered through the great door of the school, Sofía felt as if she had collided with an invisible wall. She stood still for a moment, and stepped aside to let people pass. What had that been?
She had felt the auras of ghosts before, but never one like that. Ghosts, like living people, emitted their own energy linked to their emotions. Some emanated positive or neutral energy: good people who, even after death, continued to do good. And then there were the others (like the one in this case) that emitted negative energy: anger, rage, and confusion.
But this ghost was different. In the first place, their aura reached an enormous distance, since Sofía could not glimpse any blue figure around her. And secondly, she could feel the entity’s grief down to her bones. It was not anger, like most, but pain, a very deep pain. And sadness, that sadness you feel when you lose someone important in your life.
Not fully recovering, but unwilling to make a scene on her first day of school, Sofía rubbed her forehead in an attempt to ease the migraine that had started and headed for her classroom.
For weeks, no matter how hard she tried to search for the source of that sadness, the girl could not find anyone. She had to endure headaches and the gloomy sensation of being chased until, one good rainy day, Sofía managed to catch something out of the corner of her eye.
She was in Reading and Writing class, writing a letter that she would never deliver to the president of the nation, when she felt her headache increase immensely. That could only mean that the source was close, right? It was there that she saw it: a translucent figure standing by the classroom door. Following her instincts, Sofía turned her head, but when she looked there was no one there.
Determined to not miss this opportunity, she asked permission to go to the bathroom and went looking for trouble.
She went up to the third floor, down to the basement, but every time she felt she was close to the source of pain and sadness, it quickly walked away. Exhausted, she returned to the classroom and waited impatiently for the class to end.
When the bell that announced the end of that period rang, Sofía grabbed her things, hurried to put them in her locker, and continued with her search.
Outside it was not raining hard, but not just sprinkling either. The girl could feel the ghost’s aura drift away in the direction of the school’s backyard, and, practically without thinking, she went and ran after it.
The migraine had increased to a level where it was literally impossible to keep walking. The ghost was desperate, she could feel it. Sofía’s vision had blurred, and she was forced to rest against a tree. When she felt better, she moved on.
She came to a small kiosk next to the school greenhouse. Since no one had used it for decades, it was in very poor condition, covered in vines and the paint almost faded.
In the middle, with his back to Sofía, stood a boy-a ghost.
Sofía could not resist anymore: she barely took a few steps towards the kiosk and fell to her knees on the steps, which creaked on contact. The ghost turned around and, changing his expression from regret to one of concern, tried to approach the girl, before being stopped by a feeling of doubt.
So they stayed for a few moments. The ghost standing there, not knowing what to do; and Sofía kneeling on the ground, trying to normalize her breathing. When she finally succeeded, she raised her head and looked the ghost directly in the eye.
“You can see me?” he whispered.
“Yes, I can see you,” Sofía answered, also in a whisper. They both stared at each other for several seconds, until the ghost couldn’t take it anymore and turned away from her.
“It’s impossible,” he murmured to himself. “It is simply impossible.”
“What is impossible?” Sofía asked, getting to her feet with an effort, but falling from her seat again. The ghost turned to her and moved closer again, kneeling to be level with the girl.
Sofía couldn’t help wondering what the ghost was looking at in her, because he kept staring at her: it was as if he were analyzing her face until he memorized every little detail, every freckle and every eyelash.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Sofía asked, somewhat uncomfortable. This was the first time since she was a child that she had interacted directly with a ghost. He, as if he had barely realized what he was doing, sat down on the ground and leaned back, establishing distance between them.
“You look like someone I know… or knew,” he said, looking toward the school, and avoiding Sofía’s inquisitive gaze.
“Do you know you’re dead?” The question left her mouth before she finished formulating it in her mind. The girl blushed like a tomato and covered her face with her hands.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean that. Well, yes, but no. I…”
“Of course I know I’m dead,” the ghost cut her off. “I remember exactly the moment I died and the moment I reopened my eyes being this,” when he said that last thing he pointed to himself.
“Anyway, I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“You have not offended me.” He gave a small smile, which looked quite strange in his sad expression.
In the surprise of the moment, Sofía had not realized that the headache was disappearing, as well as the fatigue she had harbored while she was running. Feeling better, she ran her hands through her wet hair and through her soaked uniform. Then she realized that the ghost was also wearing the school uniform.
“Were you studying here when you died?”
“I died here,” he replied.
By that time the rain was raging, so Sofía forced herself to get up and go into the kiosk to cover herself from the water. She sat on the ground next to the ghost.
“You know, this is the first time in a long time that I’ve interacted with one of you,” she stammered. “I always see ghosts around me, and I can’t help but wonder if they know they are no longer alive. Or if they know that they emanate what they feel.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Ghosts emit their emotions like a wave of energy. Aura, I think it’s called. Some emanate calm, others anger, and others confusion.”
“Me too? What kind of energy do I emit?”
Sofía turned her head to look. Now it was her turn to analyze him. Although the translucency and the blue tone prevented her from corroborating it, the girl was almost certain that in life he had light brown hair and a flat nose, and although the expression of sadness spoiled his features a bit, she could not deny that he was handsome. She suppressed that thought.
“A lot of sadness. And pain. Can I ask you one last question?”
The ghost nodded.
“You said a moment ago that I looked like someone you knew. To who?”
Sofía instantly regretted having asked. The ghost’s sad expression, already very noticeable, became more pronounced. The boy thought for a few seconds that seemed like hours to Sofía, and finally he replied:
“When I was still alive, and I was studying here, I met a young woman named María. We fell in love with each other, but things went wrong. You are identical to her: the same features, eye color, even your tone of voice is the same!”
“I’m really sorry.” The girl felt the stinging in her eyes that preceded crying, so she rubbed them to hold back the tears. Then a thought came to mind.
“My grandmother once told me that I looked a lot like her paternal grandmother, she was also called María…”
After that confession the ghost turned to look at her.
“What’s your name?”
“Sofía. Sofía Martinez.”
“Her name was María Martínez.” Although he tried to hide it, Sofía could not ignore the emotion contained in his voice. She took a deep breath before answering.
“We’re talking about the same person, I know. My grandmother has told me about you.”
“Well, about my great-great-grandmother’s ‘frustrated love.’ She and my grandmother were very close, and at the time she told her about her great love. You were planning to run away together but someone shot you, right?”
The ghost nodded.
“Her family didn’t like me, but that didn’t matter to us. We decided that running away was the best thing we could do to be together. We planned to go to where her cousin lived. But the day we were planning to run, after school, a man came by riding a horse and shot me three times.”
Sofía put a hand to her mouth.
“That… that is horrible!”
“I died in her arms,” the ghost continued narrating. “I remember that when I fell to the ground several people surrounded me in a circle, but she was the only one who approached me. She dropped to the ground and settled my head on her knees. She was asking someone to come for help, but by the time the doctor arrived it was too late. I was already dead.”
This time Sofía didn’t bother to wipe her tears away. The ghost’s story had deeply moved her. The two of them were silent for several minutes, watching the rain. The girl was sure that the next class period had already started, but she didn’t care. She felt comfortable being there, sitting in the kiosk, away from all the noise and falsehood of her schoolmates, next to …
“And what’s your name?” She asked.
“Carlos,” he said. “Carlos Hernandez.”
A few more minutes passed. The rain had subsided, the sun was rising in the sky, and a rainbow was likely to come out at any moment. How could she have been so stupid? All her life, Sofía had assumed that ghosts were like zombies, entities that walked here and there without sense; entities that were only the remains of what had once been a person. But now, sitting there with Carlos, she realized this was not the case. Ghosts, like living people, had deep feelings and thoughts. She wanted to do something to help him… no, she had to do something to help him. Perhaps it was time to come to terms with what she had denied about herself for so long.
“I don’t know what exists beyond death, but you don’t deserve to be here suffering, Carlos. My grandmother told me that people like me can help people like you, and, if you let me, I can help you move to the next plane. We will find the way.”
Sofía feared that the proposition would offend or frighten the ghost. But, to her surprise, he smiled.
“I would very much like you to help me, Sofía. Please.”
She smiled back at him.