Disclaimer: Final Fantasy 7 belongs to Square-Enix, not me.
He comes here at noon every day, rain or shine, without fail. He has blue eyes and mostly-white hair which I can tell had been blond in his younger days. He is always dressed in neatly pressed white shirts and black pants, with a thin pink ribbon tied around his right wrist. Odd, for a man to do so, I think. He looks to be about seventy years of age, give or take a couple of years, I can't really tell. He buys sunflowers from me every time, wishing me a good day with a small smile as he hands over the gil, and then he walks into the church opposite, three stalks of sunshine in hand. He'll walk out of the church as the sun sets and smile at me in greeting as he passes by. The old man, with that daily routine of his, has come to be a fixture in my life ever since I moved to Neo-Midgar three years ago. And yet we have never spoken other than greeting each other.
I admit that he rouses my curiosity. I am curious to know why this old gentleman comes to the church every single day, even though he does not strike me as the religious sort. And why he buys flowers from me every day before he enters the church. What is the story behind this old man?
So today, I have made my decision. When he comes by later, I'll try to strike up a conversation with this mysterious old gentleman and see if I can abate my curiosity a bit.
There he is, walking slowly down the street, again dressed neatly in a white shirt and black pants. He reaches my small flower shop, gives me a small smile as he says, "Three stalks of sunflowers, please."
I pick out the three prettiest sunflowers I have in my shop, wrap them in a pink translucent wrapping, and pass the small bouquet to him.
"That will be 15 gil, mister." I smile at him. "If it's not too rude to ask, mister, the flowers are for whom? I noticed you have been buying them every day for a long while now."
He looks a bit startled as he hands over the gil for the flowers. I think he does not expect me to ask such a personal question. But he smiles and replies, "It's for an angel."
"An angel?" Now it is my turn to be startled, as I have not expected this answer, of all the answers he could have given.
"Yes, an angel. I met an angel in a flowerbed in this church before it was rebuilt after the Meteor incident." He looks to the side, seemingly faraway in his thoughts. After a few moments, he continues.
"The area where the altar is now was where the original flowerbed lay. It was a sacred place where flowers grew tall and resilient, even though the plates of the original Midgar covered the sky. I met her there, on the flowerbed, when I fell through the roof. Looking like an angel, a beautiful emerald-eyed angel. She smiled at me. I fell in love with her, hopelessly and helplessly in love, there and then. Her name was Aeris." The old man gives me a small grin, his blue eyes looking impossibly young at this moment.
"You know about the Meteor incident about fifty years ago?" he asks, turning his gaze on me. I nod my head slightly, having heard the story from my grandparents. He continues. "She saved the planet's life, but lost her own in return. Because of her sacrifice, life is able to continue flourishing here. I think she is now still watching over the planet, as her protector and guardian."
I remember my grandparents telling me about the Meteor incident when I was a young girl. Aeris was one of the heroes of the group AVALANCHE who had saved the world from the mad Shinra general Sephiroth and stopped Meteor from crashing into the planet and wiping out all life. Unfortunately she was killed during their quest to save the world.
So he was her lover. Cloud Strife, the leader of the heroes. Had he loved her all through these long years, never wavering in its intensity?
"Her death must have hit you very hard, mister."
"It did, very much at first. But the world was in peril so I had to push aside the grief and guilt. After Meteor was saved, it all came crashing back. I came to this church for solace, to see the place she loved most when she was alive, where I can feel her presence most keenly. Sometimes it even feels as if she's right there next to me, even though I can't see her. I come here to talk to her every day, to tell her how much I love her. How I regret not having told her I love her when she was around. How I hate myself for failing my promise to protect her."
I can see the pain and guilt in his eyes. I know it must have hurt him deeply, not to be able to protect the woman he loved most. Tears gather behind my eyes in sympathy.
"I am sure Aeris doesn't blame you one bit, Mr Strife." I say, wanting to lessen the pain I saw in this old man's eyes. He smiles at me upon hearing that, a sad smile that makes the tears in my eyes threaten to spill out.
"That's very nice of you to say that, young lady. Thanks." He looks at the sunflowers that he is holding in his hands.
"She loved sunflowers the most, you know. Said they looked so cheerful, they light up your life. But I always thought it was her, with her beautiful smile, that used to light up my life, not sunflowers." He smiles wistfully. "But she loves the flowers, so I make sure I bring her the flowers every time I come to visit her."
He clears his throat, looks at me with a smile that is a tad too bright, designed to hide his unhappiness. "Well, it's been nice chatting with you, young lady. I have to go now, Aeris is waiting for me." With a smile and a wave, he turns in the direction of the church.
I look at his retreating back, an indescribable feeling rising in me. Is it pity? Or envy? I don't know. All I know is, his was a love so deep, and I could never hope to encounter anything like that in my entire life. Acting on impulse, I call out to him.
"Mr Strife! May I visit Aeris with you in the church? Let's bring her all the sunflowers I have in my shop. She'll love the flowers, won't she?"
He looks startled at my request, but quickly recovers. "Yes, of course. Come along, young lady."
I quickly gather up my sunflowers, lock up my shop and runs over to join the old man in the church.
A/N: I keep having difficulties transcribing all those images flickering through my head into words. This didn't manage to come out the way I saw the scenes play out in my mind, even though I tried my best. Sigh. I envy those of you who seem to write so well so effortlessly.