WordPress Weekly Challenge “Time Machine” : Finding You

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“You have come a long way haven’t you?”

The monk’s smile was warm with a slight hint of playfulness as he looked up at me pushing the flaps of the entrance to enter. I made a bow of respect and sat before him, my movements slow and controlled as most people do when in the presence of an important person.

“It’s no bother at all,” I replied with a smile, trying to hide my nervousness.

I took a look around. The tent was dim and filled with the fragrant smell of incense, giving it a mysterious yet peaceful atmosphere. I was surprised by the quietness of the interior, considering that this tent was in the middle of a rainforest. It was as if I had entered a different world, leaving the one that I had just came from behind.

“So, when do you want to start?” the monk asked.

His question took me by surprise. He saw the look on my face, smiled even more and continued.

“You’re here to find someone,”

“Yes…yes I am. I heard that you could…help me find someone,” I replied, unable to mask my surprise and nervousness any longer.

“So it seems. People come to me from far and wide indeed to find that which is missing. Please, don’t be nervous. Relax.”

He patted me on the shoulder and a calming effect washed over me. My breathing slowed, the swirl in my head calming down. I was still anxious, but not as bad anymore. He poured what looked like dark tea into a cup and gave it to me. I took it in my hands, felt that it was warm, and took several sips. It tasted like normal tea but it sent tingles down my body a few seconds after every sip. I wanted to ask him what the drink was but decided against it. I took a few more sips and tingles before speaking again to him.

“Someone I know had recommended that I seek you. When I arrived in this country I asked the locals around and they knew you. They helped point out the way here. You have quite a reputation,”

“It matters not what labels are on me. They mean nothing in this world of impermanence. I just serve humanity. So, when you are ready we can begin,”

I nodded and he offered me another cup to drink. This time its contents were different. It was a light green drink with purple seeds floating on the surface. It looked kind of scary and unsafe to consume.

“Please, drink up. This drink will help open your mind and allow you to seek what you are after,”

I sniffed it. It smelled right, like normal tea. I drank it, expecting a terrible taste but was surprised that it was minty and sweet instead. I finished the drink and sat for a minute or two waiting. Nothing.

The monk continued looking at me with a smile. After what seemed like forever he gently placed a thumb on my forehead. A sudden surge of sleepiness washed over me from the bottom of my body to the top of my head. And suddenly my world was black.

I felt like I was floating in space. I looked around but there was nothing to be seen. I was in a complete void, a world of darkness. And yet somehow, I could see the rest of my body even though there was no light source. It was as though I was illuminated by the darkness itself.

But what happened to me? Where was I?

I started to feel panic creeping all over me but the monk’s voice spoke in a reassuring tone, as if he knew what I was feeling.

“Do not worry. Relax. You are now travelling to where you have to be. Soon you will see a light.”

And I did. It started as a small speck in the distance and over time it grew bigger and bigger. It stopped growing at a size that was slightly bigger than me and then morphed into the shape of a doorway. I peered into it and saw the inside of a room.

I moved towards it and entered. I stepped out the other side and was suddenly hit by a wave of nostalgia.

I was in it…in her room…in my home. But not the room I knew in the present. This was the room in the past.

Had I gone back in time? It seemed like it. The dressing table was still in good condition, the bed was neatly made, the mirror still hung up. The wallpaper was still on the wall, clean and proper. The homely smell of the air that was so familiar compared to the musty smell of an abandoned room in the present. Everything in the room was as it was…when she was around.

And then I heard it, heard the sound that made my heart pound. I turned towards its direction. It was coming from the bathroom.

Slowly I inched towards the bathroom door. It was open. I peered inside.

And there she was, standing with her back facing me, humming her usual song. That wavy hair, that body that was a little chubby, that height…everything was coming back to me.

“Hi…” I said weakly.

She turned around and I was immediately hit hard. I felt as if something was gripping my heart. I placed my hand on my mouth as I couldn’t control my tears anymore. She looked at me with an alarmed look and quickly walked to me. She held my arms, her touch sending my body trembling, and looked straight into my eyes.

“What’s wrong? Why are you crying? Is something wrong?” she asked, worry evident in her voice.

That voice. A voice that I missed so dearly. It was her, it was really her!

I just stood there, crying. I then hugged her tightly, hugged her so tight that she started to call out that it hurt. But I didn’t want to let go, I couldn’t let go, I wouldn’t let go.

“Hey! What’s wrong?! You’re hugging me too tight!” she said loudly this time, tapping at my sides with her trapped arms.

Reluctantly, I loosened my hug and looked at her. I couldn’t believe it. She was there, standing before me. It was a miracle. It just couldn’t be.

I buried my face on her chest, tears streaming from my eyes.

“You have no idea how much I missed you.” I said between sobs and chokes.

“Seems like you really did. All I did was ask you to go buy me some milk.” she replied.

Same old sense of sarcasm. It really was her. And just like her, I felt her gentle hand on my head as she patted me to calm me down.

“There there. It’s alright. Everything’s okay.”

After a while I managed to compose myself. I looked back at her, wiping the tears off my eyes.

“It’s just that, life hasn’t been the same without you. All these years.” I said.

“What do you mean? I only saw you this morning before you left to the store to get milk.” she replied.

“What day is it? What year?”

“Day? Year? The calender is there on the wall.”

She pointed at the wall to my side. I turned, saw the calender and took note of date. I had indeed gone back in time. Several years back in time in fact. Several years before it happened.

“Wow, I am back. Back in time.” I said.

“What? Back in time? What do you mean?” she asked.

“I mean…I’m not from around here.”

“What are you talking about? Hey! Are you taking drugs? Sniffing that nasty thing? I swear if you took that nasty stuff back home from those pushers I’ll hit you!”

“No! No! It’s not that! It’s just that…it’s…”

I had to stop. I realised that living in my present timeline full of sci-fi stories about time travel, I have learnt and read theories of messing up the continuity of time.

If I were to tell her what I knew, I might alter the future, possibly for the worse. Or could it be better?

I was lost. I didn’t know what to do. On one hand I wanted to tell her so much, on the other hand I couldn’t bring myself to do it; and on the back of my mind I just couldn’t be bothered. I just wanted this moment to last forever, here and now. Just me and her, together again.

“Tell her. Go ahead.”

The voice made me jump. I looked around, searching for the monk but he was nowhere to be seen.

“Where are you?! I can’t see you!” I called out.

She looked at me in confusion and asked, “See who? What are you talking about?”

The monk’s voice continued, “I’m speaking directly into your mind. I know that you want to tell her everything. Go ahead. Tell her. It’s alright.”

“Tell…tell her? Is that okay?” I asked, still searching.

She was now looking more confused and a little scared that I might be losing my mind. “Tell her? Tell who? Tell me? Are you alright? You’re scaring me now,”

“Do I tell her?” I asked again.

The monk’s voice replied, “Yes, go ahead.”

I looked around one more time before looking at her. She was practically on the verge of calling the hospital.

“Who are you talking to?” she asked.

“I need to tell you something,” I said.

“Okay…sure…”

Gently I took her hand in mine and led her to the living room where we both sat down. She was still looking at me like I needed medical help. I tried to compose myself by taking several deep breaths. I didn’t know where to begin.

“I’m not from here,” I started.

“Yes, I think we’ve established that apparently you’re not from here.” she replied. I swore she was so tempted to roll her eyes.

“I’m…from the future…”

“Okay…”

I could see it in her face that she didn’t know whether to think I was crazy or burst out laughing at this terrible joke. But she allowed me to continue and I did.

“I went to a monk to ask for help to find you. Things have changed in the future.”

“What happened?”

“You…passed away…”

“Well, okay. I mean, we all eventually get old and die.”

“No. I mean, you passed away too soon. A few years from now, you will die.”

She was silent this time. I could see disbelief and a hint of fear in her eyes.

Silently she asked, “How?”

“Cancer…”

I gently placed my hand on her, where her womb was.

“Uterus…cancer of the uterus…”

She was silent again. I didn’t lift my hand up from where it lay. I then looked down, and took a deep breath and continued, this time tears flowing down my cheeks.

“The years after you died, were torture. I was lost. I didn’t know what to do. You left too soon. I missed you so much. I tried to pick myself up but things were not the same after that. I forced myself to continue on. But slowly things started to go downhill.
Life without you was a life that was meaningless. You were the reason for me living. When you were gone, I just didn’t care anymore about anything in the world. I even contemplated suicide. I struggled through college and nearly dropped out. But I somehow managed to graduate. I got a job but it wasn’t working out too well either.
Changed a couple of jobs, all of them I left after having trouble with the management. The pressures from the household didn’t help either. In my current workplace, things are starting to get a little sour. But something happened.
One day, a colleague of mine returned from a trip. Like me, she lost someone dear to her years ago. But she heard of this monk that I told you about that could help her find what she was seeking. That trip she returned from was her finding him. When she came back she was a different person. She advised me to seek him and that he could help me. And I did…and here I am…”

She was silent as I told her everything and remained so when I finished. I wiped my tears between sniffles. The silence seemed to last an eternity. Finally she spoke up.

“I knew…”

“What?”

“I knew. Somehow I knew. I always knew my time would come.”

“What do you mean?”

She placed her hand on top of mine that was still resting on her womb.

“I always knew that there was something wrong with me. I felt weird here. My womb didn’t feel right. But deeper than that…I felt something in my gut. That somehow…something was going to change. Something really big was going to happen.”

“You knew you had cancer? Even before you got the doctor’s report?”

“No…I mean, physically my womb felt weird. But instinctively, perhaps it’s women’s intuition, I felt something was coming. And something inside of me told me I didn’t have much time left. That I needed to make the best of my life. And that I had to make a difference in the lives of those who mattered…”

This time it was my turn to be quiet and contemplative. What she said sent me down into a spiral of thoughts. Perhaps it was true that women had this instinct that guided them well. Intuition was a gift women had quite a natural affinity towards. But why didn’t she tell me?

“Why didn’t you say anything? That you were feeling weird?” I asked.

“I couldn’t bring myself to. I couldn’t let you worry.” she replied.

“You could have told me,”

“I didn’t want you to worry,”

Again I went silent. I then spoke up.

“The doctor…when you came back from the checkup. The doctor said he found a growth in your uterus. But he was hopeful. You went for chemotherapy. At first it seemed to work. But the cancer relapsed. And soon after it spread all over, first your liver, then to various parts of your body most. You were hospitalised.
The pain was unbearable. You had to be on strong drugs just to go to sleep. The days before…before you passed…you suddenly couldn’t speak anymore. I…I…”

Tears started to well up again.

“I was at your bedside. I was there when you let out your last breath. The gaps between your breaths started getting longer and longer, until it finally stopped. I kept looking at your chest, hoping it would rise. The stillness of your body. It’s an image that I can never get out of my head. It was haunting. I’m so sorry for not being able to save you. For not taking care of you.”

She held me close and gave me a reassuring pat.

“It’s alright. You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not your fault.”

“I’m so sorry. But..but now, now that I’m here, we can set things right. We can change things! We will find a way! A way to cure you!”

She looked at my face, my red puffy eyes betraying my happiness and hope.

“I don’t know. This is just so much to take in. So much information. I just…I need time to think about it.” she said.

“Sure sure. I mean, we have time now. We have time. We can do this.” I replied.

We both sat in silence, hand-in-hand. It was a moment so wonderful, to be able to see her again. To talk to her, touch her and know she was there. That she was real. I didn’t want to let go of her. I couldn’t.

I looked around and saw, hanging on the wall, the picture of a man. Suddenly, anger surged through me as I stood up and walked towards it. I took it off the wall, gripping the frame tightly, hatred filling me up.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“You know…in the future, some of the people I spoke to, they told me that cancer was a sort of self-destruct mechanism of the body. That is it activated when your body is in a dire state of incredible stress and negative emotions. This man…this man is nothing but trouble. He’s the devil!” I explained.

She was quiet as she walked up to me. She rubbed my shoulders gently. I was still gripping the picture frame tightly.

“You know, I’ve always wondered,” I asked, “Why did you not leave him? It could have just been us together. Just you and me. Why did you stay with him?”

She let out a resigned sigh.

“Sometimes, a person has to do what a person has to do. Even if it’s painful…” she explained.

“No! This man here did nothing but hurt you! He left you sad and hurt while he chased other women! While you silently cried at home and kept it in your heart!
When he was angry he took all out on you, on us! He took your money to spend on himself and his mistresses, those whores! He didn’t care about how you feel!
That hurt in you manifested into cancer! Why did you let him do that? Why didn’t you leave him? For all we know, while you’re here he’s probably at the office now chasing some skirt!” I replied angrily, my voice raising and on the verge of shouting.

“Please…please calm down…”

“How can I calm down?! This man killed you! Took everything from us! He used you!”

I threw the picture at the wall, shattering the glass. I felt her arms wrap around me as she held me tightly. I could hear her crying and struggling as she spoke.

“I just couldn’t. I stayed for your sake. I was scared too. I was afraid I was incapable once I left him. I was afraid we had nowhere to go. Please…please don’t be angry…” she said.

I felt angry tears welling up in my eyes. I gritted my teeth, clenched my fists, breathing hard.

“I’m not angry at you…I’m angry at him…” I said.

“I know dear. I know…” she replied.

“It’s just that…for all you’ve done for me, for the family. I want you to be happy. And I want you to be alive. You didn’t deserve to go. It’s not fair…it’s just not fair…”

“Sometimes, life isn’t fair,”

“No…this must change somehow. You are a good woman. You deserve better. If I had a chance I would kill him.”

“No please…no.”

“Why not?”

“Because he’s your father! No matter what he did, he is still your father!”

“I don’t have a father like him who treats his family like this! Who treats you, mom, like this! I will kill him! He took you away from me in the future! I won’t let him take you away now that I’m here!”

“Please don’t!”

She held me tightly, as if hoping that it would quell my growing hatred.

“Please…please…for my sake, for your mother’s sake, please don’t do anything terrible…”

She was now crying harder and it snapped me back to my senses. What was supposed to be a mission, a journey to go back in time to find her ended up in this situation. I turned from a man on a quest to a broken soul who became a person no better than the man who betrayed his wife and family.

I couldn’t bear to see her crying. Seeing her in that state shattered me. I collapsed to my knees and hugged her tightly, crying as well.

“I’m sorry mom. Sorry. Please forgive me…”

“It’s okay son…it’s okay…”

I guess I was being unfair to her. Here she was, being overwhelmed by the news of her demise and I was giving her a hard time. She had so much to handle and yet she was still being a loving peaceful mother to a raging son and wife to an ungrateful husband. I was amazed by her display of courage and strength in the face of immense adversity.

I felt ashamed at my weakness and my attitude. I was not keeping calm and being the man I should have been. But could anyone blame a person who lost the very thing that mattered to him.

What would any normal person do?

But that was the beautiful thing about her. She had the world on her shoulders to carry and yet despite all that she still found it in her to forgive my father. She sacrificed her own happiness for the sake of her son. I could not have asked for a better mother to have taught and raised me.

My mother gently took my head in her hands and held them so that we were looking at each other.

“Remember son. You must be strong. Whatever happens to me, you must grow up and be strong. I will always be there with you,”

“I will. I will do my best. For now I’m just happy to see you again,”

“I’m happy too. It’s good to see you too,”

“I love you mom,”

“I love you too son,”

We hugged each other and remained embraced in silence. I wanted this moment to stop and stay still forever. To finally be with her again and never lose her. I felt that my life was whole once again, complete as it was before her passing.

There was something truly comforting about being in her embrace. Nothing in the world had ever made me feel so safe and secured. Soon I was calm again.

But suddenly a thought came to my mind. I realised something that I had not realised when I first saw her upon my arrival. I guess I was too overwhelmed then with emotion to really care. But now the thought started to bug me. I pushed away from her and looked her straight in the eye.

“Can I ask one thing?”

“What is it?”

“How did you know it was me?”

“What do you mean?”

“How is it that you can recognise me? I mean, now that I think about it, this is weird!”

I stepped back, this time feeling a little creepy.

“At this point in time I was still a teenager. But here I am as a young adult, with a changed look. Why aren’t you acting like you can’t recognise me? You’re not supposed to recognise me as I don’t look the same now as I did as a teenager in this time period,”

“What do you mean? You still look the same to me!”

“This is weird! I’m different looking mom!”

“No. You still look the same,”

“You are the same to her no matter what…”

The voice made me jump. I looked to my right to see the monk standing before us.

“You! What are you doing here?! I’ve never met you during this period. How is it that you’re here?! When did you come into our lives in the past?!”  I asked, beginning to feel really freaked out.

“That’s because we’re not in the past,” he replied.

“What?”

And suddenly the room disappeared and I was back in the dark void world. The monk continued to speak.

“We’re not in the past. We’re still in the present. Your body is still here before me in the tent. You are now in a different conscious state. You are in your memories that have been hidden in the deep corners of your mind.
You see, with each passing day, layers of new experiences and memories replace the old ones and the latter is pushed to the back of the mind. Memories made are never lost, only forgotten. We only need to recall it for it to resurface again. This memory was the one your mind decided to enter and manifest.”

“So, my mother who I was speaking to, she’s just a memory? But how is it that she can talk to me with a high level of consciousness? It’s as if she were alive!
And also, during this time she has sent me out to get milk. How am I back in the house when I shouldn’t be having a memory of it as I’m out. I can’t be speaking to a memory of her that I do not have as I’m not around to have such a memory,”

“Your mind has manifested the house the way it is as a stage for you to move around within this memory. And you are indeed speaking to her. She is your mother.”

“I don’t understand…”

“What I have done is put you in a state of trance and clarity of mind. The drink that you drank altered your state of mind in a way that eased the search for a memory.
Once the stage has been manifested from your memory, I then called upon the soul of your mother to come visit you here. I bound her to your soul so that you can communicate with her.”

“But I’m different looking now though than how I would have looked during this period. But it seems that to her, I never changed. I still look the same,”

“Yes. You see, the reason why she does not see any changes in you now is because to her you will always be her child. It matters not what the child looks like. Her child will be her child. Such is the power of a mother’s true love for her child. Such is a bond that is never broken. You will always be her precious one, even until death do you part.
She does not see you with physical eyes the way mortals do, but with the eyes and perception of a soul. Souls see the world differently. She sees by feeling the bond between you two. Her image of you is manifested by that bond and what you mean to her.
An example would be the sight of blind people. They ‘see’ things differently in their world. Just because their world is darkness does not mean they don’t see. They just have a whole new definition to ‘seeing’ using their other senses. It’s just a matter of perception. Your mother’s soul sees by feeling the strong bonds between you two.”

“But how is it that I can see her in her full physical glory? I can feel her, hear her, smell her. She’s so real. It’s as if she were truly alive and right there.”

“That’s because she manifested herself from your memories of her. Her soul used your memories of her as a ‘vessel’ to appear before you. The way she looks like, feels like, sounds like, smells like in this period is just as how you remembered her.”

“But if it was truly her soul, she should know and remember of her demise. It’s as if her soul never went past this period in time. She didn’t know of her final days dying from cancer.”

“When a soul leaves the body to go to the new realm it’s supposed to go to, it sheds all its memories. The bond that you have with her allowed her to reconnect back to those lost memories by letting her ride on your own memories when your souls connected.
But as the memory that was chosen by you to be the stage for this meeting was during this period, only memories from this period are accessible to her. You could have chosen her deathbed as the stage but I’m sure you wouldn’t want that.
Your mind chose this particular moment, probably because it was the most intimate and happiest moment in your life when she was around.”

It was true. It was during this period that I was indeed the happiest. Because soon after, she would be visiting the doctor to do that checkup, and she would then return with the news, trying to hide her fear of death from the silent killer that was growing within her.

The years to follow after that was a torrent of torment for us as she approached her final days. It was an emotional roller coaster. I tried to recall back and realised that throughout those dark moments before the end, she still held her head high and kept on putting up a smile in the face of impending death. Even though I have caught her crying silently in her room all by herself. And the chemotherapy made her sick, causing her so much discomfort, constantly throwing up.

My father was still himself then, philandering around, even when his wife was dying. Although her death later changed him in some way. Perhaps out of regret? Who knew. Never knew the devil could feel remorse.

But the devil he was indeed, for he got worse. He got more unstable in his emotions. Soon after, his business went bad and he took it out on me. Arguments were common, sometimes breaking into physical altercations. He soon brought one of his mistress into the household and she just added to the misery and complication of a life gone wrong. She toyed with his heart and played a twisted game of emotional politics. It was indeed terrible, affecting me in my everyday life. I was surprised I hadn’t gone insane.

And now…

I was silent, swimming in the pool of thoughts and memories. Trying to make sense of everything. It all seemed clear now. As the storm of information started to settle down, a sudden wave of sadness swept all over me. I started to cry a little.

“I really thought she had come to life again. This is almost cruel. To be able to talk to her, but to find out she isn’t really here. Well she is, but not fully here.”

“You are here because you had to hear what you needed to hear. As death is inevitable, so are there reasons for things that happen and will happen.” the monk replied.

“And what was it that I needed to hear?”

“A reminder of a legacy she left in you. That she will always be with you. That she loved you and did the things she did for a reason and that reason was you. She sacrificed everything – her happiness, time, life and energy for the person she loved more than anything in the world, even herself.
Make no mistake, you have indeed spoken to her, the real her. I brought her to you to speak what she needed to speak. She has now returned to where she belongs, a place where mortals can’t go. But a part of her is in you always. You will always be her child. She lives in you. That bond between you two is proof of that.”

The monk allowed me my tears as I was overwhelmed with emotion. One could never really fathom just how deep a mother’s true love was for her child.

After the tears were over, I remained silent as I allowed the fact to sink in. She was truly gone. I mean her soul was around but no more in the physical realm where I belonged. I had lost her once again. So close yet so far. Still out of reach.

I sighed.

“I really thought I was in the past. I really thought I had gone back in time, and perhaps maybe I could change something. Change her fate. Now I have to wait until the end of my life to see her again.”

The monk’s gently replied in a voice that made me feel he was smiling as he spoke.

“Consider instead that at any given moment things just happen instead of looking at it as something that is quantifiable like time. As you lose her so shall you meet her again when it happens. You will realise then that time has no hold on you in the sense that you know it.
Time as you know it does not exist. It’s a concept made up by men. Do not be bound by such a concept.
An example would be the famous phrase “time flies when you’re having fun”. It’s simply because when you’re having fun, your mind is taken out of the cage of counting or observing time. And before you know it, you suddenly realise years have passed you by.
Look at your age right now. Isn’t it amazing that you’re at your current age now, that all those years just went by without you realising it?
Only when you stop and take note of how much time has passed you by do you get trapped by the man-made concept of time. Imagine yourself three years ago saying ‘three years is so long’ and suddenly, those years are gone and you are here right now. Where you focus your mind is key.”

I was dumbfounded and yet strangely, it started to make sense. Instead of being upset and depressed over losing my mother again, I was starting to feel amazed and filled with a sense of wonder for the revelation I just had.

Maybe perhaps time was indeed just an illusion. Eventually things that have yet to come will come to be and then, it will come to pass as well.

“So what now?” I asked.

“Now, we come back to where we are supposed to be. And we continue on with our lives doing what we must do.” the monk replied.

I looked at his blank expression as he continued eating his pudding, rocking his body back and forth, humming and spewing the occasional gibberish. I then looked up and around.

It was a beautiful cloudy day. The main courtyard of the care center for the elderly was filled with many people.

How many years has it been since that visit to that monk?

I couldn’t tell really. I lost track of the years. I guess time does fly by when you’re not looking and scrutinizing it constantly. I looked up at the clouds, smiling a little.

“Mom…wherever you are, I’m continuing your legacy of love and compassion. I do what I can. I’m not perfect, I’m no saint. But I do what I believe you would want me to do.”

I looked back at him and smiled with a slight smug.

“Silly old man. You’re lucky to have had a wonderful wife and mother who raised her child right. I can’t forget what you did, but I do this for her.”

Maybe…just maybe, I could learn to forgive him. Not forget, but at the very least, forgive.

I kind of felt sorry for his state. Dementia had taken over his mind. No longer was he the man I knew. He was now lost in his world that no other mortal could go. It was a world only he could perceive.

I looked back at the sky. There were no grey clouds, only beautiful fair weather cotton puffs. The sun was hidden behind them bringing the promise of a cool beautiful day, perfect for being outdoors.

“Mom, one day. One day, when I die. I’ll look for you. I’ll find you up there in heaven. I promise. I’ll find you and we’ll be together again…”

…Forever…

– The End –

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