Borrowed Time | By: joan clarence mańalac | | Category: Short Story - Love Bookmark and Share

Borrowed Time

I knew I loved him even before I knew him. The first time I’d dreamed about him, he’d crept inside my room through my window and he sat beside me in bed. The first line he told me was

“Can you show me love?”

I’d been dreaming about him for months now. He’d been taking me to places. He’d ask me what I wanted and he’d give it to me, anytime, anywhere. He always knew what I needed. He was perfect. I still remember the first time we met. It was when I was in college. I was waiting for a public vehicle and it started raining. I felt someone move a little closer to me but I didn’t protest; I liked the warmth. I was about to look at him when a public vehicle arrived and everyone clamored to enter. I knew I had to get the ride, I had to get home or my parents will go ballistic. I ushered myself into the middle of the stampede and into the vehicle where there was a warm seat waiting for me. As I opened my bag to get my purse, the vehicle started to move. Out of instinct, I looked back and saw him standing in the middle of the road, holding his bag high up above his head, trying to shield his head from the cold mist of the rain. That one glance was all I needed and I knew that he was the man in my dreams; that he was the man I loved.

After that night, I wished many times that I’d see him again; perhaps at the same place at the same time. I purposely delayed my ride home just so I’d end up at the same place the same time I did when I saw him. For many months I waited, he didn’t come. He didn’t visit me in my dreams too. It was like he deserted me. I felt like a fool. For weeks I prayed that someone would come just so I’d get over him; so I’d forget that I even thought I’d found the man I was going to marry. It was stupid and lame.

But then, one day, as I was going to school, I saw him. He was seated on the sidewalk and he was holding his right ankle. My heart leapt with joy. I didn’t know if I should come near or if I should go the other way. As I stood there on the spot, not knowing what to do, as if on cue, he looked up at me and smiled. He smile took my breath away. I approached and asked

“What’s wrong?”

And he answered

“Nothing. I just twisted my ankle.”

His voice was heavenly. His voice alone could put me to sleep in one second. And then, quite suddenly, he stood up to leave. Maybe it was the way I looked at him or maybe it was the way I smiled too much but he glanced at me one last time and gave me an awkward smile. I was struck for a moment, unable to move as he limped away. And then, as I was pulled back to earth, I started to walk after him. He was moving at a rapid pace, even for an injured person. But that did not hinder me so I walked even faster. But then, when I was only an inch away, the most incredulous thing happened; he broke my heart. A girl from behind walked up beside him and when she placed her arm on his back, his arms automatically moved to her shoulder and they stared at each other as though nothing else existed. I was devastated. I know a couple when I see one. It was a sharp blow; I thought he was my soulmate. I thought we were meant to be. I thought he loved me the way I loved him. I was so wrong.

That night, as I lay in bed, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t forget the look he gave that girl. It was the look of a man in love. How could a perfect love story suddenly end so badly? The pain I felt was more than I could handle. Death seemed less painful that night. And so, I got up and walked to the bathroom. I took my shaving kit and extracted a razor blade. As I stared at the blade in my hand, I thought that maybe if I felt pain other than the kind of hurt I’ve been feeling, maybe, just maybe, I’d stop feeling the heartache he gave me. So I sat on the floor and I pulled by pajamas down. I closed by eyes as the blade pierced the skin on my thigh; and then I started crying. I wanted to stop crying, I didn’t want to cry for him. So the more I cried, the more I cut myself. And with every stroke of the blade, with ever y cut I inflicted on myself, I felt more powerful but less humane. The rush of blood from my thigh did not stop me from being a cutter, it empowered me. I was strong, I wasn’t weak. There’s nothing I could handle. Nothing could bring me down. I was the master of my own life.

For almost a year I did not see him. I did not see anyone; I didn’t want to. It’s not like I was waiting for him. It’s just that, I couldn’t stand getting myself in the same situation all over again; not anymore. I thought I was over him, I didn’t cry anymore. I’d stopped cutting myself every night just so I wouldn’t think of him. And then, just when I was back on track, he comes back to crash my world once again.

It was a Sunday. I normally go to church but this Sunday, I didn’t. I offered to stay home and tend the house. The garden was a mess so I volunteered to clean up the mess. I was in my gardening clothes when I realized we were running low on equipment. There was nothing I could use to clean what needed to be cleaned. And so I got up and headed to a hardware store. I was getting pretty unlucky that day so I wasn’t surprised when I found that the hardware store nearest our home was closed. I had to go all the way downtown to get what I needed. The money I had with me was just enough for the items I need to buy so I decided to walk. The main road was full of smoke so I decided to take another route. I circled ‘round the back, where no cars usually pass by. As I was walking, I noticed a woman walking alongside me. She was wearing a black dress. She looked at me briefly with bloodshot eyes and continued walking. I was bothered and so I asked

“What’s wrong Ma’am?” Where are you headed?”
“To the church”
“Why are you dressed that way??”
“My daughter died last week.”
“I’m sorry..”
“She was so young, and so pretty. She looked a little bit like you actually.”
“Why are you walking? Why don’t you take a cab?”
“That’s how she died. Her boyfriend was supposed to take her home but he called on the last minute. He said he couldn’t make it so she had to take a cab.”

I tried to stop the woman from crying. I stopped asking her questions but she kept on talking. She must’ve been lonely. Maybe she didn’t have anyone to talk to so she wanted to pour her heart out to me so I walked along with her and I listened.

“It wasn’t raining that night. I don’t know what went wrong. The cab driver was a good fellow. He told me what happened. He said they were almost home but, unusually, she wanted to take another route so the cab driver obliged. They passed through a bridge. They were in the middle when the car slithered out of control. He said my daughter tried calling me, to tell me she loved me. The car fell off the bridge and into the water. My daughter couldn’t swim.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“What’s your name?”
“ Aliah.”
“That’s a nice name. Come to church with me. Come visit my daughter. You would’ve been friends, I’m sure. She would’ve liked you.”

And that was how I saw him. As we entered the church, the mother invited me to sit with her up front. I felt embarrassed, I was wearing gardening clothes. No one seemed to mind though, everyone was preoccupied. I stayed there for a couple of hours and as I got up to leave, I saw him. He was carrying a bouquet of white roses and tears were pouring down his cheeks. If he ever saw me, he gave no notice. My lips trembled as I too approached the casket. It was her; it was the girl. It was too much; I couldn’t handle any of it. I excused myself and walked of the church. I took out my pocket mirror and smashed it on the floor. I picked up the sharpest piece and rammed it hard on my chest. As the blood gushed out, I felt better. And then, I left.

5 months later, as I was walking along the school corridor, I had an accident. I tripped and I plummeted down the stairs at deadly speed. As I felt my ribs break, I screamed for help. Some people carried me carefully and rushed me to the hospital where I was taken to the emergency room. I had my eyes closed because the pain was excruciating. But when I felt soft hands hold my neck, my instinct told me to open my eyes so I did and there he was, staring right at me. I couldn’t believe it, he was a nurse! He must’ve remembered me because he smiled and asked how I was feeling. It was the best moment of my life. I smiled and felt something painful down my chest. He told me to rest and to wait for the doctor so I did. Before he left, he promised he’d come back. And that was all I held on to until now; that he’d come back.

For 2 years we became friends. We’d call each other when we had nothing to do. We’d go out at night when the world seemed lonely. We’d call up each other at night when we had good news. For 2 years I’d been waiting for him to say that he’d been dreaming of me too; that he loved me too. But he didn’t. Maybe I was insane for thinking I loved him; that he was the one I’d been dreaming about. I was so full of questions and he had all the answers but he wouldn’t give me any. But then, one day, he started answering.

It was my on graduation day. I was supposed to sing, I loved to sing but I always thought I wasn’t good enough. But on that day, just to show how special that day was, I asked the administration if I could sing before we were declared official graduates. I was at the backstage and my hands were so sweaty. He usually kisses the palms of my hands when they get all sweaty but of course, he wasn’t there that day. He had other matters to attend to. As I heard the dean introduce me, my heart felt like it would burst. I heard the crowd call my name and I walked out of my hiding place, into the cold blaze of the morning. Everyone was staring at me; 500 pairs of unwavering eyes. As I held the microphone close to my chest, I gave a tentative smile and I heard the crowd roar. I signaled for the music to start playing when all the lights suddenly went out. I was about to run offstage when the lights went back on and focused on me. Hundreds of rose petals rained down on me and I felt like the most beautiful person on earth.

“You ARE the most beautiful person on Earth. I love you.”

It was all I needed. I whipped around and there he was, standing behind me, a guitar in hand. I raised my eyebrows in confusion and that was the first time he asked a favor from me

“Sing for me Aliah.”

And so I did. He played and I sang. I sang with all my heart. I sang a love song for him. It was the best day of my life. It was the day we became more than friends.

It’s been five years now since I graduated. We’d been together for the next two years after graduation but afterwards, I never saw him since. See, he moved away. He had to, it was inevitable. I tried to stop him but he said he said he can’t. He said the only choice I have is whether I’d come with him; or not. I tried to explain that he was just moving to another state, it’s not like we wouldn’t see each other forever would we? Things could work. We just had to try. I loved him and he loved me, that’s all we needed. We just have to keep loving each other and things would work out well.

I guess it didn’t. Before he left, he promised he’d come back; he promised he’d come for me. He told me to wait and I promised I would. He told me to wait until the day he comes back and when he does, he’d marry me then. I asked him when. He told me I’d know. I asked him how. He couldn’t answer. He just said when the day comes, I’d know and then I should go to the right church where he’d marry me. I asked where and once again, he said I’d know. I didn’t understand him then. Or maybe until now, I still don’t.

It’s been 3 years since we parted ways and here I am, still waiting. I didn’t know if today was the right day. He said I’d know but I don’t know how I’d know so I just went. Maybe he was there already, waiting for me. I didn’t want him to wait long so I hurried. And then, he wasn’t there. He didn’t come. For 2 weeks I kept coming back but he never came. Maybe I went at the wrong place at the wrong time. Or maybe I went to the right place at the wrong time. Or maybe I went to the wrong place at the right time. That was all I could think of because there was no way he wouldn’t come. But then, I ran out of excuses, because he never came back.

And so, I decided to move to another country. The day I was about to leave, there was a commotion at the airport. I didn’t understand what they were saying, I was lethargic. I kept looking behind me, half expecting to see him running towards me and stopping me from leaving. He didn’t. No one did. And so, I proceeded. I went to a faraway country where I knew no one and I could start a new life. I went to Canada.

I lived there in peace for 6 months. Yes, I was peaceful but I wasn’t happy. I was lonely. I met a lot of people but they weren’t him. When I moved here, I thought I’d never see him again. But it’s kind of funny sometimes how the hands of fate can turn your life completely around, just to make ends meet. It was a sunny day and I was on my way to work. I normally take the cab but that day, I decided to enjoy nature’s gifts so I walked. While I was halfway up the street, along a park, it started to drizzle. I continued on walking, thinking it would go away. It didn’t. Just as I was about to cross the street, it rained so hard. It rained like there was no tomorrow. I looked around and the only shelter I could find is the park. I ran for cover while looking around me. There were no other people in sight. How did they seek cover so quickly? I picked an old tree and waited for the rain to stop. I felt cold. I missed him more than ever. It wasn’t long before I realized I was crying but I didn’t mind. I let the tears fall. And then, the rain stopped ever so abruptly. I noticed my garments were soaking wet so I faced the broad tree trunk and tried to fix my clothes in such a way that no unnecessary skin would be seen. And then, I don’t know why I did it but I looked up and found, at eye level, a carving on the tree. It looked old; almost a decade long, maybe. I looked closely. It was my name. The tree had my name carved on it. I looked more closely, looking for the “I love you” part but there was none. And then, it hit me. This was the day. This was the day I was to be married. I don’t know how I knew, I just did. He said I’d know when and where and indeed, I knew.

I turned around and ran. I hailed a cab but none would stop. I couldn’t wait to see him; I needed to see him. So I ran. I knew the church was far away but I didn’t care. All I ever wanted was to see him again. I was too preoccupied, too busy that I didn’t foresee what was about to happen. I realized my mistake a second too late. I didn’t even see the man; all I saw was the little girl. I saw, through my peripheral vision, how the girl opened her mouth to scream and how the man raised his gun to shoot. I didn’t know what I walked into until the bullet pierced my chest and I fell to the ground and that was all I could remember.

I don’t know what it was but something woke me up. As I started to open my eyes, I felt someone gently blow against my neck. I knew who it was before I even saw him. I looked sideways and he smiled at me. His smile looked better than ever. He was perfect.

“I’m not perfect darling. No one is”
“Where have you been?”
“I’ve been here, waiting foryou.”
“Why didn’t you come when you said you would?”
“I can’t. I had saved your life.”
“Excuse me?”
“Because I saved your life, you had to live long enough for this day.”
“Are we married then? I can’t remember anything.”
“We’ve been married since the first day we met.”
“Can you show me love?”

He laughed and I was delighted. So he knew! Had he been dreaming about me too? I jumped off the bed and pulled him close to me. I hugged him real tight and I felt him melt against my arms. It was the best feeling ever. Somehow, I knew, I just knew that we’d be together forever. So this is what a happy ending feels like. I loosened my hold on him and he took my face in his hands and he kissed me. And then he said

“Oh, and by the way, welcome to heaven love.”



He was practically running, trying to catch the flight back to the Philippines. He had to get home. He had to keep a promise. Someone was waiting for him. While he was on the way, he felt that something was wrong. Something was not right. At the airport, he kept looking around but everything seems to be in place. Maybe he was getting nervous. Maybe he was overreacting so he let it go. At the plane, the man beside him seemed restless. He kept jittering around. When he asked what was wrong, the man signaled that he didn’t speak either English or Tagalog. How the man knew that he spoke Tagalog, he never knew.

He wanted to sleep but he couldn’t. He couldn’t wait to go home. He couldn’t wait to see her again. He smiled and the man beside him looked at him strangely so he asked

“What’s wrong sir?”
“Why are you smiling?”
“Because I am happy; I am going home to my girlfriend and I’m going to marry her”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible.”
“Why is that?”
“Because you wouldn’t get home; none of us will”

He looked at the man and he knew that the man was right. They wouldn’t get home. Something was not right. He looked out the window just in time to see one of the plane’s wings break. Fear gripped his bones. He couldn’t think; he couldn’t move; he couldn’t breathe. He knew he was going to die. Oddly though, while everything was in chaos and they were going down, he approached a flight attendant and asked her something. When he heard the answer, he smiled sadly and went back to his seat. He smiled at the man beside him and closed his eyes. He was going home.

“Excuse me Ma’am. Is this plane scheduled for another flight sometime soon?”
“Yes sir it is. It’ll be used to travel out of the Philippines.”
“2 weeks from now Sir.”
“Where’s it headed?”
“To Canada.”
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