As I lie here, dying
My life force ebbing away
I look back, crying
Over words I’ll never say
“Shit!” I cursed as the first heavy droplets of rain splashed on my head. I hastily zipped my leather jacket as I jogged towards the nearest building, which happened to be a diner, where the bell rung when I opened the door. It was unsurprisingly empty, considering it was one in the morning. Feeling bad for staying inside without ordering something, I signalled at the waitress to bring me a cup of coffee. A couple of minutes elapsed until it was brought to me. Not bad, I thought after gingerly taking my first sip.
Thunder claps and lightning bolts pervaded the black sky as the heavy downpour worsened by the minute. Lonely cars passed by once in a while and since I had nothing better to do, I tried to memorize from what I could see on their license plates. I chuckled. Look at me, I mused, when did life get to this sorry state? I continued memorizing the license plates until I got bored. Then I switched to observing the street lights and estimating their lengths. Twenty feet? Twenty-five? Ugh! Who gives a damn?
Thirty-five years on this insufferable planet, five years bearing the consequence of my indecision. This burden has reduced me to a shadow of the man I once was. If only I had done something, if only I had said something…
But it doesn’t matter now. None of it does. This guilt and regret that I carry will forever haunt me and hound me to my grave, and there’s nothing or no one that can do about it.
The ringing of the bell roused me from my reverie. A man dressed in a white shirt, black Levi’s and black boots stepped in. He was on the tall side, I supposed, no more than six feet tall though. He had this middle-eastern look that reminded me of the Tv show ‘Tyrant’. He couldn’t have been more than thirty. My eyes widened in alarm when he looked at me, cocked his head to one side and smiled. At first I thought, terrorist, but then I chided myself because he wasn’t carrying or wearing anything that would have confirmed my fears. Who would blow up a diner at one a.m. anyway? I’m such an asshole. Thanks Fox News.
I was still wary though. It’s not everyday you get strangers looking at you like an object of interest, or an intriguing experiment. Even more alarming was when he sat opposite from where I was (still smiling in that pleasant manner) and said, “Your coffee’s gone cold.”
“I’m sorry?” I replied too quickly which made me look nervous. There goes my macho card.
“Your coffee. It’s cold.”
“Let me order another one for you,” he said cheerfully.
“It’s really not…”
“Two coffees please!”
Two steaming cups of coffee were set on the table shortly after while my first one was taken away. He took a sip, while still staring at me with those dark brown eyes. I could have sworn his eyes were laughing. Is that even possible? He nodded at my cup, gesturing for me to take a sip. I swear to God, never had I tasted a better cup of coffee than the one I had with the stranger, and I still haven’t tasted a better one until today!
So after finishing my cup, I was more relaxed than I had ever been in five years. I resumed our dialogue:
“Who are you?”
“It doesn’t matter who I am, what matters is why I’m here.”
“Okay, why are you here?”
“Because you called me.”
“I…don’t…ever…” I faltered. I checked my phone to make sure I didn’t drunk-dial anyone (did I mention I’m a raging alcoholic?), which I didn’t. I was confused, a sentiment which I voiced to him. His smile abruptly vanished, his face devoid of expression, but his eyes never lost its pleasantness.
After a moment’s pause, he began, “You called me here because you have something you want to say. I look at you, Mr Reese, and I see all the pain and self-loathing you keep in that fragile heart of yours. You’ve kept it for so long. It’s time to let it out.”
All the while he spoke, he never left his gaze on me. I drowned in those eyes, a sea of brown. I couldn’t fight the control he had over me, I didn’t want to anyway. I tore from his gaze as soon as he finished speaking, but I could still feel it on me. I took a deep breath, exhaled, and opened the floodgates of my memories. “I tried to bury it deep inside, but I remember it like it was yesterday,” I said with a mirthless chuckle and a dry smile…
“Kevin, I have news to tell you,” Sophie started. I looked at her, God she was beautiful. With her black hair and eyes the colour of a stormy sea. She always knew how to brighten my day, even if she didn’t know it sometimes.
“Please don’t tell me you’re pregnant, as much as I love kids, I don’t think…”
“I’m going to Haiti,” she interrupted, “I got a call from the CDC last night. They said they needed my expertise in fighting this new strain of flu virus. At first they thought it was manageable, but things have gotten out of hand and it’s all hands-on-deck at the moment. I’m supposed to leave tonight.”
I was dumbfounded, to say the least. I didn’t want her to go, but it was selfish. Sophie was an ambitious woman, she finished her PhD in virology last year and was a rising star in the field of biomedical science while I was just another accountant punching his clock from nine to five. She had this belief that she could save the world. I, on the other hand, didn’t know what I wanted, but that was before meeting her. As soon as we clicked, there was nothing that I wanted more. I was happy.
Sensing my distress, she quickly added, “But if you don’t want me to go just say the word and I’ll stay.”
Look at her, sacrificing what she loved doing for my own sake. I couldn’t let her do that to herself. So I got rid of my sullen expression and replaced it with a cocky grin instead. Then I said, “Psht! As if I’m not glad you’re leaving! I’ll have more space to myself, some me time, hang out with my buddies. I’ll be fine,” then I added, “How long will you be gone?”
“Two weeks, by my estimates.” She replied.
“Well it’s not like you’ll be gone forever right? I won’t even notice your absence. It’s not like I love you that much.”
“Sure you don’t,” she winked and embraced me. Then we spent the next hour with my head on her lap while she played with my hair, talking about anything and everything.
The day quickly slipped by. It was almost eight when the taxi arrived. I helped her with her luggage as she gave me her contact details, which of her colleagues to call in case I couldn’t reach her. All the while I was staring at this beautiful creation, marvelling at her grace, confidence and overall goodness. I was sad to see her leave and simultaneously anticipating her return eagerly. She then hugged me, promised she’d be back and whispered “I love you”. I wanted to stop her, hold her, tell her not to leave me because she was my world. I was about to tell her all of this, but I stopped. I couldn’t say those words. I wouldn’t.
I closed the cab door when she got in and soon the car drove off, leaving me forlorn and dejected. A sense of foreboding invaded my heart, a sense that I’d never see her again, but I dismissed this as anxiety. I reached for my pocket and took out the diamond engagement ring that I was going to give her before she broke to me the news. What a pretty thing, I thought as it twinkled with the reflected streetlight. After a few minutes of silent brooding, I went back to my house with lead in my heart and a cloud above my head, a cloud that could only be dispelled by my beloved’s radiance, all the while praying that she came back safe and sound…
“But she never came back, did she?” The stranger asked quietly, a question we both knew the answer to. He still hadn’t left his gaze on me, though the pleasantness in his eyes was gone, only to be replaced by a mixture of sorrow and understanding. And he did understand, I could tell. However, his sorrow wasn’t just for me, but for the countless other souls that were going through the same thing that I was. I hadn’t even noticed the tears that created streams on my cheeks. I didn’t even realise I was crying while I was recounting my dark past. I attempted to wipe my face with my shirt, but he quickly produced a tissue which I gratefully accepted.
I took a shaky breath, then I continued, “No, she didn’t. A fortnight had passed and she still hadn’t come home. I called her colleagues but no one was answering. That’s when I get a call a month after she had left, from the CDC, telling me that Sophie unfortunately contracted the virus from one of her patients. She didn’t last long but she died a hero because her research and experiments led to them discovering a cure. My baby died a hero.” And with that, a fresh wave of tears burst forth. I sobbed loudly and miserably for the next ten minutes, after which he produced another tissue from God knows where, which I not-so-gracefully accepted.
“She practically saved the world, but I lost mine. After her death my life took a turn for the worse. I was riddled with guilt and regret for not making her stay. I regretted even more for not proposing to her there and then. I’ll never get over the fact that I should have done something, said something that would have stopped her from leaving. Maybe I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
A short pause followed, then he said, “You’ll forever be haunted by the words you never said and never will,” in a matter-of-fact tone. Then he continued, “But you don’t have to be. Anyway, I must leave now, duty calls elsewhere.”
“You’re leaving?” I asked in a disappointed tone. “I was…kind of enjoying your company,” I added rather meekly.
He held out his hand and I shook it, then he clasped my shoulder with his other hand. Suddenly, I could feel all the pain and grief I bore for the past half-decade leave me, like a heavy burden being removed from my heart. For the first time in five years, I had a sense of faith and optimism that became foreign to me ever since I learned of my Sophie’s death. I could feel a spring coming back to my step and a smile on my face, a smile of relief. The kind of relief that comes when you’ve held on to something for so long and finally learnt to let go. While this was happening, I saw the stranger’s dark brown eyes grow even darker until they became jet-black. The amount of pain and suffering I saw was indescribable. Thousands of tortured and grief-stricken souls saw those eyes, and thousands more will see them, I was sure of it.
“Who are you,” was all I could say after this moment of magic, because it was a moment of magic, there’s no other explanation available.
He just smiled that pleasant smile of his while his eyes returned to its normal colour. He cocked his head to one side, winked knowingly, turned and left. Just as mysterious was his entrance, so was his exit (considering the fact that it was still raining heavily outside and he had neither an umbrella nor a raincoat).
All that was left was me in an empty diner, wondering if I’d ever see this strange figure again.