“Never have I imagined that you would be here,” he opened. “Not at a time like this.”
“Do I look like a ghost to you?” I laughed.
“Nah, nah. Of course not,” he replied. “But you act like one, not only to me, but also to everybody.”
He finished watering his orchids and did exactly what I imagined he would do — he fixed his thin, silver hair with only a sway of his fingers, walked through the door even if his feet were covered with mud, and pushed two heavy couches which he thought he can never move around. Usually when he does this routine, he would complain about his backaches, which would worsen after cleaning all the serious mess he has made on the floor. In the end, the job will inevitably fall into my hands.
But today, he was different. He grabbed a wet mop and proceeded with the cleaning. Looking at all the sweat hurrying down his face, I knew he was too exhausted, so I attempted to grab the task by gently wrapping my palm around the handle. He glared at me and continued moving — which was another way of saying, “I don’t need your help, moron!”
The night turned quieter and colder. He exhaled deeply as he shielded his arms with his loose jacket. He handed me a scarf, which I only placed on my laps.
“I didn’t even ask how you were doing,” he said. “My apologies.”
“No need to apologise,” I replied. “Besides, my answer will always be the same.”
I stared at him intently and said, “Nights will swallow the days; sweet arrivals lead to bitter departures.”
He sipped freely from his cup of coffee and rested his back on the couch. He did not speak, but I believed he knew what I meant to convey.
My sight began hopping on every bulb of the differently-colored Christmas lights that ran across the walls of the room. The speakers sang the tunes of common Yuletide hymns, albeit in their classical versions. I saw the Tree standing like a tiny, defenseless child being driven into a corner.
“I’m sorry about the tree,” he commented as we walked around it. “It’s been years since I last installed it. Look at all this dust …”
Afterwards, I sat on the floor and examined each box neatly covered with costly wrappers. I shook some of the boxes in an attempt to guess the contents. Most of them I guessed correctly —watches, shirts, earphones, and body essentials. The names of the recipients were individually written on tiny gift notes glued atop each box.
I stood up, walked towards the table, and drank all my lukewarm tea in one shot — just like how I treat cold liquors.
“Your name’s not here,” he said, as he held the two smallest boxes. “I’ve got too many things to apologise for.”
I beamed a smile. “Haven’t I told you before? I don’t expect receiving anything from anybody. Not even from you.”
“I know. It’s always okay for you.”
“And if jealousy and/or envy arise from within me due to materialistic thoughts, I will seal them away … just like what I actually do.”
He then leaned on his couch and shifted it in such a way our eyes cannot escape the force that drove us to continue the conversation.
“You’ve always been different, Josue,” he mumbled. “But your uniqueness makes me sad and enthralled at the same time.”
“Why so?” I asked.
“Because what you have always wanted couldn’t be fit into any of those boxes; they can never be demanded.”
“Is it love?”
“What is it?”
For a moment, he paused as if he was trying to find any affirmation from within his reach over my soul. He slouched, motioning like he had arrived with a very specific answer.
“Healing,” he said.
My mind went blank. I moved silently to divert my attention and proceeded to pour another round of tea into my cup. Some of the tea spilled on the table like a stream of mossy river that led to a green sea near my toes. The cup fell on the floor as my hands instinctively and desperately searched for paper towels.
“You’re always like that,” he continued.
“What?” I replied.
“You’re always like that,” he repeated. “Like a cup of tea — you are often prone to spillage and breakage. And yet, no matter how many times you break, you still try to pick yourself up and look for your missing pieces …”
“And each attempt is a disappointment,” I replied hastily. “And each day is an opportunity to bleed and to nurture hatred.”
“I am a duality of love and hatred.”
He did not reply and appeared to be waiting for what I will be saying next. I finished cleaning all the mess and threw shards into the trash bin.
“Some say that love and hatred are polar opposites. But, in some instances, they can coexist and complement each other.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Every time I try to love, reality further drowns me,” I answered as I sat. “It’s like an ocean that has its own hands to pull me underneath until I can no more breathe. But by the next day, I’ll find myself on the shore, still breathing, having realised that the scars I had have renewed to become wounds—some of which are much deeper or more serious than their precursors.”
For a moment, I stopped. My lips failed to connect more words to the previous ones I uttered. I inhaled and exhaled, as if the air that went in and out of my lungs gave me more courage to speak. I knew he wished to talk, and yet, he remained silent.
“That’s why this one here never healed,” I said, as I lightly thumped my chest. “Because every time I try to love, the pain becomes much worse. And that pain breeds more hatred.”
“I understand,” he replied, as he removed his eyeglasses. “It’s like a part of what you’ve always been saying.”
“”Nights will swallow the days; sweet arrivals lead to bitter departures.””
I smiled and gave my short reply. “Indeed.”
He stood up, grabbed a new cup, and poured tea on it. He carefully placed it on the wooden table in front of me, as if he was encouraging me to invite more caffeine into my system. I nodded and took a sip.
“I must say that you’re right,” I said. “Healing is all I needed; and it can never be demanded. I don’t know whether it can be found through love or through something else, but I’m sure it’s there. It may take a long time, but I know it’s reachable.”
The doorbell rang repeatedly. We both smiled when the voices of the children singing Christmas carols reached our ears. We took our purses, launched ourselves to the gate, and gave the children some coins. I checked my phone and realized that it was already past nine, so I quickly bade my farewell.
“Bye, John,” I said.
“I won’t demand you to return soon,” he replied. “But I wish you’ll have the best of healing this Christmas. Take care of yourself.”
“I will,” I answered.