He was in some of my classes and probably the least noticed among the others. He usually sat way back the mob, across the corners, completely apart from where I always was. Yet he had his eyes about the room. And there was something in them, which set him apart from those who really had nothing to say. For in them, I saw questions, hungry for answers even the trees from outside the window he always sat by never gave.
‘What was I doing here?’ could that be it? It had been twice that day since the last time I saw him staring blankly in the oblivion. How much I wanted to ask him of it yet he seemed unbearably selfish about his space. And I hated him a lot – until that smile. Oh yes, he had one that made me go weak at my knees that rainy day. I was on my way, late for classes, when at the bend of the corner I hit my head on his shoulder. ‘Was I imagining things?’ I narrowed my forehead to what seemed to be a thousand echoes inside my brain about how again our walk led to the conclusion that he was actually asking for my number. And I gave it?
It had started there. The moment my bedroom phone rang, my heart beat faster and faster at the sound of his voice and mine stuttered at each question he gave me. I almost threw myself against the walls each night, hating myself for doing such a great job, flirting with a guy I barely knew. But what he showed me the days after taught me more than what passion in this world really meant. And I actually loved it.
Though sometimes I could not understand why I had to fall for all of him, I just thought I didn’t have to for he was there and I was happy all those times. And I never cared to imagine how things would come to an end if the road suddenly branched out. And so it finally happened.
“MOVE IT LADY!”
I widened my eyes to see a long road in front of me and shook my head to forget all those thoughts that seemed to haunt me in my mind. I continued driving, not knowing whether the journey was all worth it. I hadn’t seen him in half-a-year and I was driving a couple of miles just so I could hear him say how he would go out of the country the way his friends told me? I must be crazy! Though I knew I was already five hours late for the start of his going-away party I pulled over the next stop and breathed so deeply it felt like I was catching for breath. Then I stared at this huge candle he gave me, resting at the passenger’s seat – quiet, ever-reminding me of him for its scent.
“A candle?” I almost chuckled when he handed it to me after class. I stayed behind the room, not expecting him to be there. He laid it upon my lap; I almost collapsed because of its weight. It was a foot high with the size of a dinner plate. It was so huge that its scent filled the air and I had remembered it for the rest of my days.
He smiled and sat down with me that hour. “I just thought I had to give you one.” He said.
“What am I doing?” I yelled and shook the memory off my head even before it began to creep through my spines. I sat there, inside my convertible, wondering if the last half-a-mile would be worth the drive. What would I find when I get there? A few feet of air between us, waiting to be expanded even more? That was exactly what I feared.
I felt raindrops fall upon my arms and as I looked up, my face too, became crowded of water. I quickly hit my top-down button yet it didn’t work.
“Damn it” I hit my wheel and grabbed it hard. Now was I soaking wet? After all the trouble and pain he’d caused me before saying goodbye for the first time six months ago over the phone, I still bothered to be here. But one had to admit that things were actually different now. He’s going to leave the country in the next two days and the least I could do was give him back his candle.
“It’s so cold!” I complained over the phone that stormy night. I looked out the window after the lights went out and lit the pink candle beside my bed before lying down again.
“It’s meant to be cold tonight.” He whispered. Though until this day I hadn’t understood what he meant by that, I remembered it clearly, “Light the candle.” He added.
I smiled sweetly, forgetting he couldn’t see it. “Already did.”
“I want you to remember this,” he sighed, “this night when you know that everything should not come to an end. This feeling of,” he stopped and for a moment then I thought I lost him, “of fulfillment. I need you to hold on to this until you could say that you’re all worn out of the memory.”
Somehow it had not been very easy to grow tired of a memory you want to bring back over and over. And I wondered each night if I ever will be tired of it. There had to be a way to bring them all back, to give justice to the love that never had the chance. And there was only one way I could think of.
I continued the drive, not minding the cold drops of rain pouring over me. I sped up and felt the winds get colder and painful.
I almost jumped as soon as I got to the hotel. I ran inside and up the elevators, not minding how heavy and huge the candle was in my arms, hoping to find someone who had the answers. I stopped and stared at the hallway. It seemed so quiet and peaceful. The party had really ended. Nevertheless, I walked slowly towards the door of the party room and held the doorknob so tight I felt like crying. But I wasn’t going to give up now, was I? I twisted the knob and shockingly the door opened. All the lights had been out but I walked right in.
Through the empty space I heard nothing but the ticking of an old clock, the busy speeding cars and pouring rain outside, and the blowing wind that passed the curtains of an open window. Chills ran through my skin so I quickly placed the candle unto one of the tables and moved towards the window. I stood there, curtains touched my skin, and saw the world a few floors below me with all its lights and beauty.
“Oh how I wanted to share this with you, Scott!” I said then hugged myself.
“Cold, isn’t it?” I almost jumped and turned around at the sudden sound of the voice. From the dark, there emerged movements of life. And I saw him beneath the shadows. His face – ever-waiting, ever-questioning, “I knew you’d come.”
I stood a few feet away from him as I always had. I tried to speak but the moment my mouth opened, no words came out. I breathed deeply and looked down, “I thought you’d be gone by now.”
He chuckled and at the moment his lips curved, I wanted to kiss him so bad, “Is that why you’re here?” I didn’t answer and he must have realized that I was serious. He cleared his throat, “I looked for you at the party ‘cause I wanted to tell you that – I need to talk to you. When I didn’t see you I –“
I cut in quickly, unable to believe what I was hearing, “What are you doing here?” I was rather harsh, “How did you know I’d even be here?”
“I didn’t.” his answer was quick. Then slowly he said, “I just supposed – since we haven’t seen each other for so long – well, you’d want to see me before I go.”
“I do.” I looked around and showed him the darkness, the silence, the echoes of laughter long since gone, “But not like this.”
“Then why are you here?”
It struck me to think that even he realized that I wouldn’t have gone there if I didn’t want to see him. And I tried and hoped so hard to be there and he knew it.
“Why are you soaking wet?” he asked rather calmly, “Did you walk in the rain?”
I turned away and held my shoulders, realizing I was cold enough to shut the window. And at that, silence became more deafening. “No. I – “
“I see you brought the candle.” He said, eyeing it on the table beside me.
“Yeah, I wanted to give it back.”
He nodded and pulled a chair. He sat on it backwards, placed his arms on its back and rested his chin on it, as if he was a kid staring at something so wonderful. “You don’t want it anymore?”
Do I? I had remembered its scent completely from the day he gave it to me and it reminded me each night of him. Somehow, it became torture, especially the night he said goodbye. I intended not to hold on to that pain until perhaps when he comes back again. “I just thought I had to give it to you, that’s all.”
He nodded again. He reached out his right jeans pocket, held out a lighter and lit the candle. “Sit with me?” he offered the chair opposite him.
“You said you wanted to talk to me?” I sat, trying to calm the whole of me.
“Needed.” He corrected me, “I am going away, and I suppose you already know that. I just needed to go and fix something.”
“I believe I already heard that… six months ago?”
“And I failed. But I have to try again.” He added quickly to prevent me from saying anything that might add to the tension between us.
He was sad and I saw it beyond his eyes. Somehow, it might be the shattering of a dream he once gave everything for. And I shared that dream with him, remembered it clearly until this day.
He sat at the hood of his car under the starry blanket above us. “Come here.” He pulled me close to sit between his legs, his arms wrapped around my body for heat. “I want you to sit so close to me. Like this.” Then he let out a heavy breath.
And I did for the longest time – until the night turned to a lovely dawn. “I have to remember this for the rest of my life.” I said and he held my arms tightly.
“Someday, I would want to see you bearing my children – 8 of them!” He said and I laughed along with him. “And I would want to see you in my big, big home, waiting – smiling so sweetly – and loving me. Someday, when everything I have hoped and worked hard for bear fruits. Someday, when I see myself at my greatest.”
I looked at him as if tears were about to burst out of my eyes. I loved him so much and it was beyond me. Throughout the coldness and dim surrounding us, he never failed to let me feel how much of him was there for me. And in the silence I heard his beating heart – stronger than any wave from the ocean right in front of us. It made me feel so happy that I never wanted it to end.
“What are you thinking about?” He broke my thoughts. His face shone as if all his emotions became visible. The candle light between us brought too much of a moment that words became harder to find. Somehow, gazing at his eyes became enough to make a memory.
I jerked my head, “Nothing, I – “
“You understand me, don’t you?”
I sighed, “Do I have any other choice?”
He let out an impatient breath, “Why do you love deliberately misunderstanding everything that I say? You know damn well I have to do this!”
“Why? Why do you have to do this?” I asked. “As far as I recall, we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about you, your problems, your pain… you always make things hard for me!”
“This is harder for me.” He said lowly. “Somehow, I know I can’t go – at least not until letting you know how much –“
Then he stopped and stared at me for a while. He looked away. He breathed deeply as if saying what he wanted to, cut so deep. He had always been like that – silent about everything he wanted to let out.
I caught breath as I stood up. I walked away from him and the heat of the burning candle. I walked towards the window. Somehow, I didn’t want him to see that until now, my yearning calls for him. Tears flooded down my cheeks, ‘Please tell me that you love me.’ I screamed inside of me.
“You better hold on to this candle.” He said. “You’ll need it.”
“Why do you have to go?” I turned to him again, begging.
He stood up and faced about the room. “Please don’t do this.”
“What? Don’t do what, Scott?” I stopped. “I love you.”
He closed his eyes and sighed heavily. “Don’t say that!”
“Why the hell not? Because you can’t? Is that it?”
He must have lost his temper as he knocked the chair nearest his arm, “Because I can’t go!” His voice echoed about the darkness, “I can’t go, knowing there is someone who loves me back – waiting for me. Zoey, I don’t know if I’ll ever be back.”
“But you promised –“ My voice faded slowly as I felt my body get weaker. I sat on the floor beneath the candle light, waiting for someone – anyone – to rescue me.
“I have to go.” He kneeled in front of me.
I heard his breathing as his face rested inches away from me. He held either side of my cheeks and wiped its wet dampness. The pain I felt at the moment was nothing less than what our bitter past held. I was supposed to be a part of his dream – “I was supposed to.”
And he knew exactly what I was about to say, “As I was supposed to be with you. But things have to be this way.”
“It’s even more painful for me to watch the distance between me expand and I cannot do anything.” I whispered.
“Then maybe you are meant to not do anything.” He said, “You believe in destiny. You, above all, should understand.”
He stood at his feet and reached for my hand to help me up. He then held me close and kissed my forehead. At that, I really didn’t want to go yet time was so cruel, so fast in keeping us apart.
“It’s really late,” he looked at his watch, “we better get going.”
But I didn’t move a muscle. I stood there, as he moved away to stare at how much I have grown – grown to be a woman. And I looked back at him – waiting, hoping he would soon change his mind.
“You really are so beautiful.” He sighed.
“Would you –“ I hesitated and tried to find the right words. Somehow, I know I could never ask if he will be back. “- find me?”
He handed me the candle that shone so brightly between us, “That is why I want you to keep this candle. I want you to light it each time you’d want me to be there. By that, I’ll find you easily, as you keep it lighting in cold, dark nights. But if fate prevails and I didn’t come in time for that candle to still have something left for lighting, then I am really not meant to be back. In that time, you sure will be worn out of the memory. In that time, you sure will be able to forget about me.”
I cried in bed that night as hard as I could, as if nothing in the world was as beautiful as what it used to show me. I cried, not because he had to go, but because I had to stay with the mere memory of how much we used to have. I knew I wasn’t strong enough for this, but I also knew I had to.
I looked at the candle beside as its flames danced to make shadows. I sat up, held out my palms for heat and watched the pouring rain out the windows. And yes, in time, I will learn to let him go. In time, I will forget about him. In time… in candle lights.
(First published: OBRA 2004, Tarlac State University Literary Magazine)