One look at him, and I knew he was the one. I stared at him from the other bench, the wind blowing on my face. He sat alone, somewhat solemn, quite still, and absolutely good-looking. He gazed at the sun with those sad, longing eyes of his.
They looked unusually voided but expectant as if to say this was what he was waiting for. And I couldn’t blame him. Sunsets always fascinated me, especially down here at Baywalk. I recalled one afternoon in particular when I first noticed him. The sun was obscured from view, yet somehow it reminded me of a painting of Monet – Impression: Sunrise, which is a modest and sketchy harbor scene. It felt as if its purpose was to put people in a trance. It was then that I first heard him spoke.
‘Ah, the sun is not in the mood to show herself at the moment, as if to commiserate with me.’ He knew she was invisible, and I had an odd feeling he knew why – aside from the hazy firmament that can be seen that is. I pondered on those words from then on. That was exactly four weeks ago.
I tried to meet his eyes now but he wouldn’t look in my direction. He kept his eyes on the setting sun. So I tried to converse casually.
‘Wicked, huh?’ I said rather more cheery than I had intended to be. I glanced at the sun and was so fascinated that I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
It was glowing red at its best; etching crimson patches on altocumulus clouds that was juxtaposed to the otherwise unaltered adjacent sky. It was like a manifestation of a synthesis of opposite emotions. Nostalgic in an eerie way.
I staggered to look back at him. I didn’t think he heard me. I looked around us. We were the only ones sitting on the benches that lined the cobbled walk.
Almost all people were either taking pictures, or standing more closely at the border of the bay to marvel at the scenic skies. Some of the many children there were blowing bubbles through little plastic sticks; some were riding their bikes, and some just tormenting their parents.
I sighed, resolved to catch his attention. I tried again.
‘This is one of the most picturesque sunsets yet, won’t you agree?’ I said, finally looking in his direction, committed in letting him know I exist. I rested an arm on the armrest of the bench. The sun was bidding her finale. The last of the sun’s rays can be seen lagging behind the mountainous façade on the far end of the bay.
I felt inane but pressed on. ‘You feel it don’t you? I see you here often. You always sit on the same bench at exactly 5:14 p.m. on my watch. I’m not a stalker.’ I added coolly seeing the look of surprise on his face as he cocked his head opposite my direction.
‘You always follow blind guys around?’ He said finally, with a bit of disdain in his voice. He shifted a little bit on the bench, perhaps to make himself more comfortable. I sensed that he wasn’t waiting for an answer because he just heaved a sigh and gazed again at the direction of where the sun had been. Apparently he thought I was intruding.
The sky was now getting darker but the walk was promising a livelier evening. People were emerging from everywhere; some were starting to swarm the inviting outdoor restaurants that accentuated Baywalk; few were taking pictures of themselves beside the statues of historical Philippine icons circulated around the place; but mostly were engulfed in the plethora of entrancing lights that can be seen on the vast harbor.
He was being difficult. I needed something to catch his attention, and in an appropriate way. I hesitated for a moment, carefully weighing my next words.
‘The sun…showed herself despite the unusually ample amount of altocumulus and cumulonimbus clouds…‘as if to commiserate with me’’. I winced at the last words, throwing him a furtive glance. He became stiff, his brows furrowed. I sensed an ‘uh-oh’ situation. I was in a cul-de-sac. No way out, I thought.
‘I see you have quite a good memory. I seem to interest an atypical kind of individual. Convince me you’re not some kind of shadow lurking behind me wherever I go.’ His voice was domineering, yet subtly curious.
‘I cannot convince you that I am not a shadow as I cannot assure myself yet.’ I said timidly. Suddenly I felt completely aware again about my situation, his function, and the plan I was brewing.
He looked at me, or at least he looked exactly where I was sitting. ‘You’re fibbing. You cannot? Or you would not?’ His tone was knowing.
‘Would you help me to?’
‘You help yourself. I am not a do-gooder you just spot from some place and expect to drool over and help you.’
‘I expected this. You realize we’re in the same situation?’ I challenged him. ‘We both hide under our pseudo world; make believe there’s still hope. I mean, you’re a blind man, hoping for a miracle to happ–’
‘And you?’ he blurted out, ‘you’re well-known in your chosen path, and yet, here you are staggering like a feeble soul, asking a blind man for help. Honestly, between us, who is more pathetic?’ He finished with a snort.
I felt my eyes watering with those words. ‘How do you know me?’
He looked away from me. ‘Who wouldn’t? Your voice speaks it all.’
‘I have to leave now,’ I said standing up. ‘There’s so much to say yet a great deal to risk and give it away in one go.’ He didn’t say anything, so perhaps he was relieved I was leaving. He wouldn’t be for long though. I was determined to pursue my plan, especially because he already knew my identity and probably my turmoil . That saved me the effort of explaining who I was, and what the hell I was talking to him for. I headed on towards the side of the road to wait for a taxi and go home to my feigned territory.
I walked inside my room and clicked the TV on out of habit. Maybe it was because of the unusual wretchedness I felt, but I was irritated as hell when I realized that the program currently on was about a lousy dating game, where the hosts called the ex-girlfriends of the guys and grilled them about “reconsidering things”. It was stupid and fatuous, no matter how you looked at it.
‘Idiot box.’ I angrily turned it off, recalling a band’s song about their contempt of television. Ironically for me, it was one of my favorite songs. After I changed my clothes, I headed directly for my piano just outside my room. It was a gift from my mother when I was six and just starting to practice the ivories.
I sat for a moment, and then plunged into Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turka, then a transition to Beethoven’s Fur Elise, a crowd favorite. My mind was at ease finally as I hit the keys. For the first time since I arrived home, I felt free. After Fur Elise, I did Schumann’s The Merry Peasant, which I knew by heart since I can remember. I call playing my piano a therapy, something I could escape to when everything around me seemed blurry and unreal. People who surround me, however, call it virtuosity. They called me Gifted, Child Wonder, Genius, etcetera. They were always flabbergasted that I knew all these classical pieces when I hadn’t attended one piano lesson. Moreover, their reactions were quite amusing when I tell them I didn’t even know who these classical masters were until I was in 5th grade.
‘You haven’t an idea who Mozart was..?!’
‘You’ve played Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee since…six?!’ Family friends often tell me how gifted I am that I got to the point where I thought I was God. I would approach a weeping cousin, comfort a lonely friend and tell them I can mend their soul by playing to them. It was soon after when my best friend died in a car accident that it hit me I was incapable of such things. I was ten years old then and already solitary. Suddenly my world fell apart, and I retired to playing again. Playing pieces that I wasn’t even aware existed, but according to many, were definitely opuses of history.
I stopped playing when my cell phone rang. It was my cousin Jeremy, one of those preppy college girls who hang out almost everyday at Libis. I turned my unit off, feeling certain that her reason for calling was to persuade me again to ‘hang out’ with her. I did once, and how chaotic it was. People literally swarmed around us to introduce themselves. Perhaps they thought I was some kind of rare animal you can only goggle at, someone who was unaware of any human language known to man. I vowed after that never to receive another call from her despite of her perpetual apologies. I could never understand idolatry.
It was breezy, but warm the next day at Baywalk. It was only 3:30 pm but I was getting a bit anxious that he would not turn up. I busied myself into watching tanned kids swimming near the shore of the bay. Sitting on one of the only two unoccupied swings, I observed the kids while they playfully dodge the gentle waves. They looked so blithe, and trouble-free – qualities I that would love to attain, someday.
One boy of about five wearing only shorts joined me on the wooden swings. He sat on the opposite one, and swung as hard as he could. He almost fell over, but no trace of fear or regret was on his face. Instead, he smiled at me and managed a little giggle. I had to smile back.
‘Are they your brothers?’ I pointed on two other boys fishing with a wooden rod a few feet away from us. They didn’t seem to know what they were doing, but nonetheless they were having fun.
‘Yep. They’re a couple of imps, of course.’ He said it with a hint of pride, and he smiled mysteriously. I resisted the urge to laugh out loud. Kids. They amuse the heck out of me. I wished I had a normal childhood. I would have preferred playing outside in the rain, learning how to fly a kite on a windy summer day, or discovering that tadpoles turn into frogs and caterpillars into butterflies rather than being admired by people when you can barely talk properly yet.
I said good-bye to the boy and headed to my hopefully cathartic mission. I have never anticipated something so much as much as now. When I got to the familiar benches that served as witnesses to my anguish, I settled down uncomfortably, and occasionally busied myself with counting the times certain couples would pass by. I decided that an elderly pair of about sixty-five to eighty won when I counted their astoundingly twentieth time. Good bones, I thought. I checked my watch and saw that it was already 5:10 p.m. Four minutes left. I recalled the things I was to say, like a student recalling a prepared speech for an impromptu. Ironic but unavoidable because of nerves. Suddenly I had this gnawing feeling again that he was not going to show up. I brushed that thought away. Nah, it would torture him somehow to fracture his routine. Especially today, I thought glumly.
I looked around me. There were people everywhere; couples cuddling as they walked; children squealing as they run about the place; and a few elderly smiling at each other as they huddled close sitting either on the benches or near the harbor. There were tons of them, and yet no sign of the one person I was fairly certain would show up. I looked at my watch again. 5:15 p.m.
‘Oh shoot!’ I said in surprise as someone spoke right behind where I sat. I turned around and saw him.
‘It’s been exactly a year.’ He repeated stiffly.
‘Good afternoon to you , too.’ I greeted sarcastically, checking the pulse rate on my wrist. He gave me quite a shock. I watched him as he fumbled with his cane to find and sit on his usual bench.
‘I know how long it had been. But for a quarter of a millisecond I thought you would stand it up.’ I gave him a look of sympathy, although I was freaking sure he wasn’t aware I even moved.
‘It’s been a year,’ he sighed, ‘since I went through the tragic fate of losing my sight. Right here. At 5:14 p.m. It was…uncanny.’ He sighed again.
‘I – I…know it’s hard to lose something so important t you.’ I echoed the same words my mother told me when I lost my best friend. It still haunted me sometimes.
‘No, you don’t. I doubt if you ever lost something that cannot be replaced.’
‘You’re right. Every thing can be replaced. But when you lose someone, it’s a bit hard to find a substitute, isn’t it?’ I tried to keep my voice from shaking, and the tears from falling.
‘Don’t pretend to understand me, your case is different,’ He grunted.
He was being difficult again. ‘One does not need to have cancer to analyze its symptoms.’ I stressed on the words to intensify my meaning.
He looked more composed. Then finally, he related again how it happened. How the sun was perfect that afternoon, and his camera ready for a supposed-to-be another feast of astounding snapshots of emotions, of nature, of people, of life. He lived for capturing every emotion, and instilling them in photo papers, preserving moments of anger, awe, beauty, loneliness, tears, and heartbreaks. It happened in an instant, he said. He was readying to cross the street when his vision blurred momentarily. Overlooking the all too familiar incident, he managed to cross halfway. When he got to the other half, he checked his watch — 5:14 p.m. Then he suddenly saw nothing but darkness. He stopped dead on his tracks as the traffic lights went green.
‘They never caught who hit me. They told me it was impossible because it was someone well-to-do, and you can never trust the police to investigate a case if the target could wipe you off the society in a single flick of his finger.’ He finished for me. I suddenly became interested in staring at my feet. This was the moment I dreaded the most. I’d never known the side of that story from the horse’s mouth. It was the contrary on the newspapers. Especially on the tabloids. It was their specialty to make every somewhat paltry story juicy and more shocking than they seemed. I felt rotten more than ever, like a vermin within a vermin. The worst of the worst. How now am I supposed to tell him what I came here for, I thought.
‘Three months after I was released from the hospital, I saw the world in a whole new light – or darkness rather.’ He scornfully stressed on the last three words. ‘This was the first place I went to when I was released, much to the refusal of the people who helped me cope with my disability. I told them that sight was not the only thing I lost in here. I lost my soul, and I came here that day to seek it again. The one thing I loved doing the most was filched from me in a moment of darkness. Everything was gone. It was before sunset when I came here asking desperately for my soul. I guess He didn’t see much use for it, though. It’s been exactly a year now.’ He repeated for the nth time. He cried out aloud his woes, as I silently did mine. It was eating me alive from the inside. Suddenly comprehension dawned on me.
‘He did answer.’ I mumbled. ‘Until now, I never knew why most of the time I end up here sitting next to you at 5:14 p.m. I was meant to see you again.’ I couldn’t bring myself up to utter my real reason. That I was being tortured for something I had inflicted upon him without meaning it. That I caused his misery because of one moment of blurry delusion….
I looked at my watch and was shaken to see that it was still 5:14 although the sun had almost set. It stopped again, I thought nervously. The slight breeze earlier that afternoon had developed into a squall as if to indicate that something I feared had finally come true. Nevertheless, both of us didn’t budge. I had to tell him now who I had been in his life and who I could be now. He sat quietly, not minding at all the silence between us, which was devastating me.
‘I’m sorry.’ Tears fell from my eyes as I painfully said the only words worthy to be spoken on such a fragile topic. ‘I…never wan–ted to hurt any–one, let alone cause someone this much…a–gony.’ I sobbed my remorse with difficulty.
‘What are you talking about?’ was his response.
I tried to stop crying. I told him everything then. A year ago, I learned the terrible truth about my best friend’s death. Accident, they said. What a sham. Everything they told me about what happened that day was a lie.
It was suicide. He had hidden a suicide note beneath the passenger seat and put superfluous amount of sleeping pills in their driver’s mineral water bottle. In the letter, which was found shortly after the ‘accident’, he apologized for his decision especially for involving their driver. No one thought it was possible. An eleven-year old boy came up with such a plan to annihilate himself and their most loyal help? It was utterly insane, yet it happened. And it almost made me mad. Nearly ten years of not knowing the true story, and then it was spewed out just like that.
I got my father’s priceless Lamborghini and went to take a drive down at Roxas blvd. still deeming about the absurdity of the truth and crying my heart out. I didn’t even realize that someone was crossing the street. I stepped at the brakes too late. I had hit someone.
‘I’m sorry.’ I repeated although I was quite sure that it was useless. I wouldn’t forgive me if I that happened.
‘It’s funny that you have to cause my blindness first before you were able to see.’ He said calmly. Why was he taking it so coolly? I expected otherwise It was killing me more.
I continued. ‘I didn’t know what happened after that. I woke up at the hospital a week later. It was as if nothing had happened. My father assured me that everything was taken care of, and my mind was too worn-out to rebut him. Instead, I went on with my life not knowing the person whose life was shattered because of me, or if he was still alive even. Not until four weeks ago did I even notice you here. I just knew there was something about you. You should be enraged with me, your placidity is making me feel even worse.’
‘It’s useless. We have to look forward to the future instead. If there’s one thing I had gathered through this, it’s everything is a blur. Nothing you expect is ever going to happen. You should’ve realized that too, considering all the things you’ve been through.’ His tone was suddenly kind, unlike when I first spoke to him.
‘I can’t. I’m a criminal, and you, above all, knows that.’ I didn’t know if I was saying those things to make myself less guilty or to infuriate him. I wasn’t sure what was worse, his serenity or my insecurity.
‘Aren’t we all? Our imperfections are what make us human. If we were any less flawed, then that makes us godlier than God.’ I can’t believe he was saying those words. I was flabbergasted.
‘Are you serious? Frankly, this attitude of yours is worsening my state. I really wanted you to know what really happened. I want you to get angry, and tell me that it was all my fault.’
‘Didn’t you ask for my help yesterday? Didn’t you say that we both hide in our pseudo world, and wait for a miracle to happen? Well, guess what. A miracle did happen. You divulged what I already know, and I think that that’s the most excruciating thing you could have done.’ He said still calmly.
‘You…what? You already know that it was me who hit you? How?’
‘I don’t know. I just felt it. From all that had happened, do you think we could still ask for a plausible explanation for everything? You’re asking for a miracle within a miracle.’
‘I—I …don’t know what to say. You are taking this way too lightly. All this time I was haunted by guilt…’ I sighed.
‘There’s no need for that now. And if you’re pitying me right now, then you can just walk away because that’s the last thing I need in the world. I just–want…’ he faltered.
‘Yes? What is it? If there’s one thing in the world I want, it’s what’s best for you. You’re wrong, you know. I don’t pity you. On the contrary, you’re everything I wish I could be. Your fearlessness during the lowest point of your life was something I never would or could have done.’
‘I just…I just want you to stop blaming yourself. I think it served both of us right. We both had to face the reality that the world doesn’t go round for us. We go round with it. We both had our share of misery from this. I don’t take any offense from what happened. I’ve had enough of everyone remembering me because of that tragedy. I believe I was more than that before the accident happened and that I should be remembered for it instead…’
Accident. That’s how he looked at it. Mere accident. I was too overwhelmed to respond. I looked at him and instead I saw his silhouette.
The sun was on her finale, bidding everyone good-bye and promising a new tomorrow for those fragmentary dreams. She was expressing that we had to move on after what happened because there’s always something more. I knew then what I had to do. I wasn’t going to dwell on the tragedy, instead celebrate what I learned from it. I smiled at him, and surprisingly, I saw him smile back. We were okay.
I looked at the sun, not really expecting to see anything unusual. But normal was not at all I saw. It was the most beautiful thing in the world. It was the painting of Monet- not just something like it. It was exactly how it’s supposed to be, including an elderly man standing on a boat with a long wooden rod completing its façade and magically delivering the painting to life.
Who knows what could happen next? We got our whole life ahead of us, but only a fragment of it to really experience it.
(original post date: November 10, 2004)