As morning dawned, Michelle could not help but feel as though she woke up to a different world. Her heart was light and she felt very refreshed.
Her mother insisted on having breakfast with her the right way, on a chair and table. After eating, she made sure her mother would keep her word and not get out of bed unless necessary, and went to the church.
This time there was no hesitation, and a smile kept playing at the corners of her lips as she entered the building. She could see people either kneeling or standing, all with their hands clasped together, their hearts speaking as one. Near the altar, she could see candles flickering gaily as more people came up to light theirs and give thanks. Michelle stepped forward and added her candle. She then went to the back of the church to where Fr. Martin’s office is.
As if fate became her dearest friend overnight, she saw Fr. Martin on his way to his office while talking to one of the gardeners. She patiently waited for him to finish before approaching and she was spared from having to call to him when he turned and saw her.
“You seem different today.”
Michelle smiled and once again touched Fr. Martin’s hand to her forehead.
“I heard about what happened last night; I’m sorry.”
“I haven’t really thanked you for the letter. If it wasn’t for you—“
“I only did what I had to Michelle. Your father is my best friend and for me, that makes you the daughter I will never have. Tell me, what changed your mind?”
Michelle fell silent, an emotion she had come to hate until now.
“When I received a scholarship to study in Manila, I felt like I hit the jackpot. Finally, I had a chance to make something of myself but when I arrived there everything changed, especially me.”
Michelle faltered but only for a moment. She sat down and Fr. Martin sat next to her, ready to do nothing but listen.
“I became one of the damned as life left me one after another; I didn’t care. I was too absorbed in myself, scared to be alone and unloved. Scared to be a probinsyana, scared to be me.”
“But last night, after Inay told me that she loved me no matter what, I felt the need to pray. When I did, I felt like I was given another chance to live a life. A life where I won’t be afraid to be alone, as long as that meant I am true to myself.”
Fr. Martin looked reflective as he listened intently to Michelle. He did not need any elaboration from her. Clearly, Michelle had done it all on her own and a confession was no longer necessary. For what was an act of contrition done to a priest when compared to a heart-felt apology done directly to God?
“Late repentance is seldom true; but true repentance is never too late,” Fr. Martin thought to himself although he said it louder than he intended to.
“Walter King Venning,” Michelle replied promptly.
“Huh? What did you say?” Fr. Martin asked as if coming out from his own reverie.
“Late repentance is seldom true; but true repentance is never too late, Walter King Venning said that. I didn’t understand it then but I know perfectly well what it means now.”
Erik did not know what to make of Michelle’s message. He was out when she went to his home and looked for him; she found his mother there and instead left a note for him.
Upon receiving it, he immediately went to the cliff, their favorite place since they were children and there she was, more beautiful than the last time he saw her. She was smiling as they hugged but there was something in her eyes that made him nervous.
“I’m sorry—,” he began but Michelle cut him off.
“I know I haven’t given you the time of day since I arrived; I did it because I didn’t want to hurt you. I love you Erik, more than my life but at the same time I have to stop loving you.”
Erik started to say something but closed his mouth when he saw that there was more and he feared he would not like whatever it is.
“I’m not the same girl you loved, I’m different now and I don’t just mean the city-girl type of different.”
Pausing, as though she herself feared what she had to say next, she took Erik’s hands in hers and clasped them tightly.
“Two months before the end of my second year in college, I had an abortion and that was not the last.”
Erik gasped and took his hands from her. He did not believe her. How could he when every time he looks at her, every time he hears her voice all he sees is the same Michelle he had known and loved all these years?
“I know how easy it is for me to say that it wasn’t my fault, that I’m just a victim; but I also know that if I said that then I’d be fooling myself.”
Michelle continued but try as he might, he cannot understand anymore of what she is saying. All he wanted was for her to stop, to say that this is all a joke, that she just made this up for him to finally leave her alone.
“That’s why I didn’t return. It did not feel right for me to come back knowing that I am no longer the person I was then; I became a woman although not in a way I would have wanted to,” she paused, as though searching for the right words to describe the grim reality of her experience. “I got lost Erik.”
Overhead, the distant flapping of an eagle reached their ears as it hunted for its prey. Butterflies flew from flower to flower, unmindful of the life that is slowly ending.
“Why are you telling me this? To show me how wrong I was to continue on loving you?” Erik cracked. “To show me how stupid I have been?”
“To show you that the love you have no longer exists. I’m no longer the person you love. Stop loving a dream.”
“Then you’re asking me to die.”
Michelle blinked her eyes as the birds broke into a song and the trees rustled to the arrival of the wind. Her tears fell unchecked into the ground, happy never to be held back again.
“I am asking you to live.”
To be continued…..