It’s been raining here all morning and my cup of joe’s getting colder for each time a raindrop falls. What a good way to start my birthday. Sitting by the window in a sweater watching the rainfall while the steam from my Caramel Flan Latte floats before my face. I was thinking about going somewhere to celebrate my birthday once the rain stops. I’m so thankful that today was made into a holiday and that my boss did not assign me to guide any tourists this week. Where should I enjoy my special day without being cramped inside our windy home?
Perhaps to the place I love the most. The museum. The last place on our bucket list.
I took the bus going to that particular place — the museum. The place where he promised to propose our engagement; at least that’s what I thought he would do. I remember myself acting stupid waiting for him to say “Will you marry me?” at every place we went.
“How many times have I been to this place?” I asked myself knowing that I’ve been a tour guide for the past few years.
I took a piece of folded paper from my wallet. I felt the crumpled texture run through my fingers and it was rough as if it was scrunched up just yesterday. It was the bucket list that we made back then. The same piece of paper he used to prove his selfishness. The same piece of paper I threw in front of him while I was crying last year. It’s been with me since he returned it and I have seen his great effort to go to every place in this long list. But at the end of it, just below this particular museum’s name, is a blank line with an unmarked checkbox. What could have been this place? Was this somewhere we’ve never been to? Perhaps just an option just in case we wanted more.
I approached the counter to pay for a ticket. I took a bill from my wallet and handed it to the cashier.
“One ticket, please.”
“Good afternoon, Ma’am!” the cashier said. “We appreciate your offer, but admission is now free!”
I was a bit surprised to hear the news. I looked around to see the large and noisy crowd walking along the museum hall. And that is when I realized it’s true; this place would never be as peaceful as it used to be.
“Really? Thanks! I’ll just leave my bag here.”
I still couldn’t believe admission is free. Why would they allow this to happen? It’s like they’re desperate for someone to come and see these artworks without assurance if they’re going to love them or not. Everywhere I look, I see the curious faces of teenagers having no idea what they’re looking at. I see groups of young kids foolishly posing beside a serious sculpture and older kids standing alone heads down on their phones. I couldn’t bear what I was seeing. How could they not appreciate what’s inside?
A lot of things have changed in this museum. The walls of the gallery have changed in colour. The beautiful paintings have changed their spots. It wasn’t like the place we used to go. But I still tried to enjoy the atmosphere despite all these drastic changes.
I went to the gallery of Juan Luna’s paintings — the same place where we last saw each other a year ago. I tried to isolate myself from the crowd, but I kept on being distracted by the flashes from their cameras and the voices from their mouths. Can I at least enjoy this moment of solitary?
In the midst of the noisy crowd inside the gallery, I heard once again a familiar voice.
“I always knew this was your favourite room.”
Is it I think who it is?
Before I knew it, he was already standing beside me. He was wearing the same jacket that I gave him for his birthday years ago. His facial hair grew longer than it looked the last time I saw him. It’s been a year since I last saw him and I’m surprised to see him here. I thought he won’t be bothering me anymore; not even in my mind.
I tried not to look at him and I spoke to break the ice.
“I never thought you’d be here,” I told him. “At the same place. At the same day. One year later. On my birthday.”
“Am I not allowed to look back at what made us?” he asked.
“No,” I replied. “But what good would looking back do if what was lost had already gone?”
I looked at him in his heavy frozen eyes and somehow felt the burden he was carrying. I didn’t know what to say next.
His presence was colder than the air-conditioning in this room. His presence was colder than the cool breeze that wrapped me around frozen in loneliness and solitude. His presence was colder than the storm that hit my face and destroyed my heart as he left. His presence did not give me the warmth that I’ve been longing for. Instead, his warmth just made me colder.
“So…” I whispered. “How are you?”
“I’ve been a bit busy lately,” he sighed. “Currently working on a project with my colleagues back in the studio. Took the opportunity to relax today. You?”
“Me? I’m doing great. Been enjoying life travelling from one place to another. It’s really fun, actually.”
“You did not come here just to relax, didn’t you?”
He paused for a moment.
“You remember this day, don’t you?” I had the feeling.
“Happy birthday,” was his cold greeting.
“What’s your present this time? Are you going to return that jacket?”
“No,” he sighed. “I am here to tell you some things I should have said before.”
“Ahh,” I pretended to understand. “Sure, I’m all ears.”
“I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I have been stupid,” he started talking. “But let us put the past away and why not start a new life together? No more crying. No more leaving. Just love. And a whole new bucket list to complete.”
I put out the folded piece of paper from my wallet, our bucket list, and returned it to him.
“You mean this?” I said. “You mean this act of selfishness?”
He looked puzzled.
“You know what,” I called his attention. “Those places on our bucket list, I’ve been there too. But all by myself; without you. And you know what I’ve learned when I was there?”
“I learned what you have failed to learn — to love me from inside.”
“I know back then we were inseparable. But what made us bond with each other? Was it love? Or were we just attracted to each other?”
“I don’t get what you mean. I loved you for who you are.”
“But you don’t know who you fell in love with.”
“If you really knew me,” I continued. “You would have known when I needed you the most. You would have never let me cry.”
“I knew who I was to you. I knew how much you need me. I tried my best to be myself to you. But I guess to you that was never enough.”
“It seems like you are not a traveler. You are just like everybody else in this room: a tourist. Someone who just comes and go to a beautiful place for pleasure. You didn’t even try to fall in love with where you went. And if you ever did, I never felt enough of it.”
He did not say a single word.
“Remember what you told me a year ago at this exact same spot? You began doubting yourself. You began doubting a future with me. You didn’t even think about staying and calling me your home. I felt like a tourist spot with free admission. Taken for granted.”
“At least I enjoyed our time together.”
“At least. But you were selfish. You left. I waited. But then I gave up eventually. Because I know that even when you come back, you will never be the same guy that loved me.”
“Within those years,” he spoke. “I tried to know who I am and who am I to love you. Within those years, I searched for that one thing that all the places in our bucket list had in common, hoping to find something that would tell me you’re the one. But within those years I also failed.”
“Because you did it alone,” I ended his statement. “We made that list so we could be together. What you were looking for was love and companionship that only the two of us can give each other. And you failed to see that.”
He looked down in disgrace.
“I never really cared about that damn list,” I continued. “All I ever wanted was to be with you. Just the two of us. Together. That’s it. Because love means doing things together no matter where you go. But that’s not how I feel anymore. Because, as you said it, it’s over.”
“Was I gone for too long?” he asked.
“Yeah, you were. You had a vacation that took you years to end. And within those years, I realized you were never worth waiting for.”
“Then, I wish I never left,” he looked at his wristwatch.
“I also thought about that,” I sniffed. “But you were so damn stupid.”
“Don’t be sorry. You enjoyed your day-off.”
He told me the words he should have told me a long time ago. And I just gave him the response that he deserved.
“We could still be friends, right?” he asked.
“Of course,” I told him. “We’ve always been friends.”
Beneath this noisy crowd were two persons. One who wanted to get things back. And one who doesn’t. One who was about to cry. And one who’s standing still. Both of which were hurt. But I won’t tell you which is which.
He turned to look at the paintings and did not say another word. A few moments later, he began to walk away.
“Where are you going?” I asked him as he started walking.
“Somewhere we’ve never been to.”
I recalled the blank space at the end of our bucket list. I was a bit curious, but knowing that mysterious place was none of my business.
“Are you going to leave me alone again like what you did before?”
“If that’s what you think…”
“That’s good,” I paused. “Go somewhere. Somewhere you will never take for granted.”
Even if I had an idea what that place might be, I don’t care. I just wanted to make sure that I won’t see him again anywhere.
As he walked away, I felt the rush of warm blood running through my face. Was I happy? I don’t know. But all that I could ever do that time was to whisper.
“And don’t come back.”
Read First: Our Bucket List
Featured image by jy.khryztle