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The Late Rose (3)

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…..

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The Late Rose (2)

Rain started to fall without warning and people ran in different directions to find shelter but Michelle did not care until her feet brought her in front of the church.  Hesitant though she was, she could no loner ignore the incessant raindrops drenching her whole body and hurriedly walked in.

A thick blanket was wrapped around her as the rain instantly sounded muffled and a warm, glorious sensation seemed to seep through her. She found herself standing next to a large figure and she backed off, not for anything else but shock. Gathering her wits, she looked back at the figure of the Archangel Gabriel with Lucifer at his feet and felt her insides squirm.

“I see you still have a fascination with that statue.”

Michelle slightly jumped at the sudden voice that came from behind her. She turned and saw Fr. Martin smiling as if he caught a child stealing a cookie before supper.

“Should I say a little prayer of thanks to the rain for bringing you here?”

Michelle smiled and touched Fr. Martin’s hand to her forehead. “I was going to see you Father, the rain just made my plan sooner than I—

“wanted?” Fr. Martin interrupted.

“planned,” Michelle corrected and looked back at the figure.

“I remember when you were a child; you used to be really scared of that.”

Michelle smiled at the thought. She would always hide behind her mother’s skirt and tightly close her eyes whenever they passed by the statue. Once outside, her father used to buy her a balloon and tell her that she should not be afraid because she will always be safe with them.

“I’m not scared anymore Father.”

“Neither do you know what you truly feel.”

Taken aback, Michelle tried to deny what Fr. Martin clearly sensed in her. She was very confused and more lost than she thought she was.

The rain has stopped and the sun began to show itself again. Michelle felt the rays of the sun kiss her cheeks and took it as her cue to go home. Fr. Martin knew that she was ready to leave and politely stepped aside. Michelle gratefully bid him farewell but stopped short when she heard his parting words.

“No matter how lost you are Michelle you can always find your way back. He will never give up on you and neither should you.”

Fr. Martin’s words were still ringing in her mind when she reached home. However, before even reaching the door, Michelle became aware that something was amiss. The sight that met her was more than enough to confirm her suspicions and any feeling she had felt vanished the instant she saw her mother sprawled on the floor. Rushing to her side, Michelle half-dragged and half-carried her mother to the bedroom and ran outside to fetch a doctor.

______________________________________________________________________

    Michelle had never been more afraid in her life than she was right now awaiting the doctor’s diagnosis. Unable to sit still, she paced back and forth across the living room until Erik had to stand in front of her to make her stop.

“It’s going to be fine.”

“No, it’s not,” Michelle choked as she sat down. “The doctor’s been in there for over an hour without a word or even an order to bring him something, anything.”

Michelle had run into Erik on her way back to the village.  Upon learning of her mother’s plight, he insisted they fetch the doctor in his tricycle since it is faster than relying on her feet. Gratefully, Michelle let him take the lead and became almost detached to everything until they went back to her house.

When the doctor finally came out of her parent’s room Michelle felt her knees shake. He said nothing but told Michelle everything. Sometimes, silence can also be a dreadful sound.

“How long?”

“You need to understand Michelle that your mother refused to be hospitalized. She also rejected the medications I gave.”

Michelle almost collapsed to the floor had it not been for Erik catching her just in time. Not knowing what else to do, the doctor silently gathered his tools.

“You still have at least three days with her.” With that, the doctor slightly dipped his head in farewell and headed for the door.

For the first time since she arrived, Michelle let her tears flow.  As her sorrow began to take hold of her body, all she could do was hold on to Erik, the man who had been so much a part of her life as a friend and as a lover.

Erik gently lowered her on the wooden sofa and held her tight, forcing his strength into her.

“If I only knew,” Michelle sobbed.

“Don’t torture yourself into thinking that this is all your fault, you mother has advanced leukemia and without treatment, it’s a miracle she lasted this long.”

“You don’t understand,” Michelle countered.

“If you would only explain it to me then I would,” Erik suddenly snapped. “That’s what I was trying to do this morning Michelle but you wouldn’t let me.”

“I can’t—”

“And you won’t. I don’t know why you are trying to be so mysterious but I deserve an explanation. I’m your boyfriend.”

“I never told you to wait for me Erik, I told you years ago to forget about me.”

“I did not think for a moment that you were serious.”

“And all the unanswered letters, all the times I was conveniently busy when you called did not tip you off?” Michelle fumed.

A bright flash of lightning suddenly cracked through the sky followed by the deafening roar of thunder. Without another word, Michelle went to the kitchen to cook a meal for her mother and simultaneously heard the loud bang of the door.

 

A few minutes later, Michelle was carefully balancing a tray filled with a bowl of hot porridge and a glass of water.

“I thought you were sleeping.”

“I couldn’t sleep, especially when I smelled something wonderful.”

Michelle smiled and set the food on the end table and pulled up a chair. She helped her mother to a sitting position and was about to reach for the bowl when Aling Miding gently admonished her.

“You’re not thinking of treating me like a baby do you? I’m not that ill not to be able to eat by myself.”

It was all Michelle could do not to break into tears as she handed her mother the food.

“Inay?”

Aling Miding put the spoon down and looked at her daughter. She motioned for Michelle to sit beside her then kissed her cheek.

“Whatever it is, forget it.  I don’t care what happened and why you did not come back for so long.  You’re here now and that’s what counts.”

Michelle hugged her mother, feeling guiltier by the moment.  Why won’t she let her apologize?  At least that will make her feel a little better.

“I’m a mother Michelle; mothers love their children no matter what.  To others you may be bad or ugly or too perfect but to me you are just Michelle, my daughter.”

 

The rain continued to pour as Michelle silently slid next to her mother.  As she closed her eyes, she felt a strange emotion invade her body.  As her mind recognized a long forgotten feeling of tranquility, a sudden urge burst from her heart as it guided her hands together in prayer.  Tonight, the voices did not come.

To be continued…..

The Late Rose (1)

Silence, sometimes it can be deafening and at times a most welcome sound. However, to someone who has dwelt for a long time in it, silence is also chaos.

______________________________________________________________________

           “Hell found me and redemption is but a whisper of a dream,” Michelle reflected as she gazed into the darkness.

All around her people were wide-awake. It was exactly 9 o’clock in the evening; there was still an hour left before the bus reached its destination but they did not seem to care. Maybe it’s weariness, maybe it’s boredom or maybe it is the triviality of things that have caused them to be oblivious to everything as long as they arrived at their destination. Not to her, no, to her this is anything but trivial.

“Eight years,” Michelle thought aloud then quickly glanced to her side. The man sitting next to her looked like nothing happened, that he did not hear his seatmate speak to herself.

She is finally going home. It pained her heart to realize that if Fr. Martin had not written, telling of her mother’s illness, she would still be in her cramped apartment taking in half of the Metro’s polluted air.

I don’t know if I will ever find my way again,’ she thought as she tried to see past the gloom that had descended upon the deserted rice fields.

______________________________________________________________________

    The house was dark, save for a single candle holding its own against the onslaught of the cold breeze. The stars above shined like a million newly polished mirrors set against a black cloth. Peeking from the branches of a large willow tree is the moon, strong and silent as ever.

Michelle could barely see her mother’s figure inside the house. She is sitting on a kitchen chair, her hands clasped together on the table.  A shawl is wrapped around her shoulder and her head is bent down.

Careful so as not to awaken her mother, Michelle gently turned the knob and pushed the door inward. She winced as it gave a slight creaking sound that only got annoyingly longer as she continued on her slow push. Throwing caution to the wind, she dragged her bag inside and gave the door a hefty blow.

Satisfied, she glanced at the kitchen and saw her mother still sleeping soundly. She quietly approached her and planted a kiss on her cheek. Her mother stirred and Michelle sat next to her.

“Michelle?” Aling Miding asked softly as her eyes tried to focus.

“Mano po, Inay.”

Her mother smiled and caressed her cheek. How often had she dreamt of this, of once again being able to see and touch her daughter?

Having her daughter there, sitting right next to her is more than a dream that has finally come true. Michelle, with her straight black hair, olive skin and light brown eyes covered by long eyelashes is a treasure she had longed for everyday. And tonight indeed, is a good night to live.

Misinterpreting her mother’s delight for distress, Michelle took the tired yet steady hands and kissed it lightly.

“I’m here now, for as long as you need me.”

Her mother’s heart was singing as she led the way to her daughter’s room. It was obvious her mother had worked hard all day so the room would look exactly like the day she left for college.

Michelle felt her soul leave her body.  There was no doubt; tonight she is sleeping beside her mother in her parent’s bedroom.

 

It still turned out to be a restless night for Michelle as she tossed and turned in bed, trying frantically to escape from the voices that seemed to reach out to her, voices that seemed to come directly within her. It began slowly and grew steadily until she can take no more.  It was trying to engulf her and it was succeeding.

“Stop, please,” Michelle begged as she struggled to surface. The voices only grew louder and stronger, intensifying its determination to imprison her.

When she finally opened her eyes, the warm glow of the morning sun greeted her. Beads of perspiration mingled with tears wet her face as she tried to calm down.  She reluctantly got up and headed for the kitchen.

“Good morning anak,” her mother cheerfully welcomed her.

Michelle stopped short and felt her throat constrict at the sight of the familiar face that met her.

“I didn’t know when you were coming,” Erik remarked as a way of greeting. “I would have met you at the bus terminal if I did.”

The angry hiss of the hot oil increased as Aling Miding added more ingredients. The restless clatter of the ladle as it made contact with the bottom of the frying pan contributed to the aromatic smell that permeated the kitchen and little points of oil merrily shot up as she continued to mix the food.

Michelle immediately proceeded to take over her mother’s work and efficiently added seasoning to the mix. She felt Erik’s eyes boring into her back then heard the shuffle of feet as he passed by her and reached for the plates.

______________________________________________________________________

           “This is so beautiful,” Michelle remarked as she and Erik arrived at the cliff over-looking their town. The birds sang unceasingly and the trees danced energetically with the wind. The grass was like carpet to the feet and was dressed in different colored wild flowers.

Michelle breathed deeply as she tried to take in as much fresh air her lungs could hold and a pinkish tint colored her cheeks.

Giving in to the magic of the moment, Erik suddenly hugged her from behind, unintentionally ending the thrill that she felt.

“What is it you wanted to talk about?” Michelle inquired as she loosened his grasp on her waist. Taking hold of his hand, she led him to the nearby Narra tree and motioned for them to sit.

“I missed you.”

“I haven’t returned since I was 19 Erik.  It’s been eight years.”

Erik stood up and dusted dirt from his pants. “I did not put my life on hold and be stupid enough to not know how long it has been.”

Michelle sighed. How is she going to tell him that she cannot love him anymore? Erik is the only man she has ever truly loved but no matter how much she still wants to love him she knows deep in her heart that she needs to stop.

She and Erik had been inseparable since the day they met in first grade. Yes, they were childhood sweethearts in every sense of the word but as in real life, everything can change in the blink of an eye.

Michelle hugged him tightly, trying to let him know her love; wishing that he could hear her heart speak. She bit her lip as tears began to form in her eyes when she felt his arms encircle her.

“I never stopped Michelle, not even for a moment. Not even when they told me you were never coming back.”

Michelle brushed the tears from her eyes before it could have a chance to fall. “You should have listened to them.”

She broke their embrace, walked towards the end of the cliff, and looked down.

“What do you mean?”

“You heard me.”

“Not really.”

Birds suddenly flew from the trees and the wind started its gentle lullaby. The sun turned to a light shade of orange as the sweet toll of the church bells reached Michelle’s ears. The next thing she knew, Eric was gently turning her to face him.

‘Stop loving me Eric, stop loving a dream,’ Michelle’s thoughts screamed in her head but she could not say it. She had to, that she was sure of but she did not know how.  Nor did she have enough courage.

She desperately found a way to escape, to get away from him and from the life she had always wanted. Unable to explain, Michelle snatched her hand from him and dashed down the cliff.

To be continued…..

Never Alone

It was all so sudden. Aileen still feels like she is in a nightmare.

“May God welcome him into his kingdom…” Fr. Valdez looked sober enough while saying those words but was all those true?

Memories of the past flooded her mind. They were coming home from the grad ball. The sky was sparkling with stars; the wind was warm enough to excite the senses but had a bit of a chill for some cuddling with that special person. It was one of those nights that people read in books and watched in movies.

Next week was the graduation but it was not the only reason why her spirits were up. That night, under the diamonds of the sky, Jeff proposed and she accepted.

She wanted to decline at first but looking in his eyes she saw her future and all else faded. This is her destiny. Then, in a horrid twist of fate, she was robbed.

“Why did he have to arrive at the exact moment we made a turn?” Aileen wondered aloud. Her voice was full of hatred and tears welled in her eyes.

“It was that damned drivers fault. Him and his damn truck and damn alcohol.” Aileen said as she absent-mindedly beat the gravestone with the flowers she brought. Hopelessly, she lay next to it and tenderly traced Jeff’s name.

Tonight was the same night as last year but now, she’s alone. All alone with no one to comfort her. Weeping silently, she gazed at the stars twinkling brightly at her. She hated those stars; their seeming cheerfulness feels like they’re mocking her.

Suddenly at the corner of her eyes she saw something different. It glowed brighter than the rest but something in it seemed to comfort her. It felt like it was watching over her as if it were her very own star.

“The north star,” a voice behind her said.

Aileen carefully stood up and smiled at Mang Pedro, the cemetery caretaker.

“The north star is the brightest of all the stars,” he continued. “It doesn’t sparkle that much but it offers comfort to those in grief.”

Aileen stared at it, feeling hope surge through her for the first time since the tragedy. “Could it be my star?” she shyly asked. “My guiding light?”

Mang Pedro smiled sympathetically and lightly touched Jeff’s gravestone. “It can be anything you want.” Winking, he turned around and headed towards his cottage.

Aileen sighed and looked back at the once nameless star. She still feels empty inside but the star was starting to warm her heart. She knew now – she will never be alone again.