The shrill of the phone as I got home from work gave my heart a flutter. Like a launched rocket I flew into the room, grabbed the phone and made sure I sounded calm. It was four weeks since he was gone and he left a void in me that I didn’t know how to fill. His last words were the only balm that kept me waiting and hoping. He had said he’d call.
“Hello, Miss Oliver, please.” It was a woman’s voice.
“Speaking. May I help you?”
“Miss Oliver, this is an emergency. Please come to Makati Medical Center. Room 773.”
“May I. Hello. Hello!” The phone went off.
A bad joke, I told myself as I set the phone in it’s cradle. I took off my coat, threw it on the couch and sat down. For some reason I didn’t understand, I was somewhat bothered. Emergency? Makati Medical Center? Room 773?
I failed to ward off the feeling that something strange might have happened. Then something struck my mind. It must be Timmy. I whispered. I grabbed the coat and raced to the door down the stairs, forgetting to lock the door in my hurry. It was already dark outside and all I could see were the silhouette of houses and tall buildings. The streets were busy with pedestrians rushing to get home from the day’s hard work. I hailed a taxi and ignored the curious look on the driver’s face.
“Makati Medical Center, please. It’s an emergency.”
“Your husband? Boyfriend? Mother?….”
“My friend.” I finished.
I wish I could tell you that Timmy is my sweetheart but it wasn’t like that at all. Ours was just platonic. I met Timmy in a bookstore. We were both looking for the same book by John Grisham and there was only one copy left. He let me have the book but he paid for it. I promised to give back the book as soon as I was through reading it. That was how our friendship started. It was a friendship spiced with laughter, jokes, and care for each other. We never talked about our families. He never asked me nor did I ever try asking about his. It was a world confined within us.
I was surprised when he paid me a visit one evening looking weak and pale. He told me I wouldn’t be seeing him for a long time. He promised to call, but that call didn’t come.
My train of thoughts was abruptly disrupted when the taxi halted. I hurriedly handed the bills, the amount of which I didn’t remember, then rushed to the hospital. The receptionist gave me a wan sleepy smile then opened the log book.
“Room 773. Mr. Timmy Buenafe.”
I didn’t wait for the elevator, just raced up the stairs. I didn’t know how I got to the seventh floor in just a few minutes. The door was ajar when I arrived at room 773 so I pushed it slowly and walked in. Nobody noticed my entrance. Everyone was busy and frantic. I approached the bed and looked at the unconscious form there. Timmy looked dead.
I gave a start. A tall, slim and elegantly dressed woman turned her back to see me. She was a striking woman. Someone I only saw in fashion magazines. Somehow I felt embarrassed for rushing to the hospital. I was afraid my sudden appearance was an unwelcome sight. But the woman opened her arms and hugged me tightly. I was too stunned to say a word.
“Shirley, thank you for coming. I’m glad you came.” She gently pulled me aside and ushered me to the sofa. Her eyes were moist and red from crying.
“He has been unconscious for almost two days,” she said.
I looked at her unsure of what to say. I wasn’t even sure if she was Timmy’s mother or if she was the woman on the phone earlier. She made things looked as if we’d known each other and been together for the last five years.
A man soon joined us. He smiled as he stretched his right hand to grasp mine. He was calm and more composed. He sat down and studied me carefully with Gray eyes.
“We’re Timmy’s parents,” he said calmly. “I’m sorry to get you into this but we thought it would be for his own good.”
“Timmy has brain cancer.” Mrs. Buenafe choked on her words.
I froze and felt as if I was dipped in cold water. I opened my mouth but I failed to utter a word.
“He was 21 when doctors discovered his illness. He had already been operated twice in the US. He’s still too young to go,” she said trying to stop her tears.
I almost asked how old he was. Suddenly, I remembered how we celebrated his 25th birthday in a tiny but cozy restaurant built hanging in Manila Bay. For his birthday gift, I gave him a belt with a short engraving which amused him no end. It said, “You’re naughty but cute.” He laughed and pinched my cheeks when he saw it. I could still feel the warmth of his hand on my cheeks and I smiled over that fond memory. I was transposed to reality when I caught Mrs. Buenafe’s eyes gazing at me intently.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I just remembered how we celebrated Timmy’s birthday.” I felt my cheeks flush.
They looked at each other.
“We had wanted it held at the Philippine Plaza Hotel but he refused. He said he would celebrate his birthday with someone very special. Someone whom he never told us about.”
“How did you know about me?” I asked.
“I looked into his diary. I wanted to let that someone know whatever is going to happen to him.”
“Does he know about it?”
“No, but I’m sure he’ll be very happy to see you.”
I didn’t answer. What else could I say? I stood and went beside the bed. He was very thin. The hands I held were cold and lifeless as stone. I hardly got any sleep that night. I sat down beside the bed. Mr. and Mrs. Buenafe slept on a bed in a corner while I watched Timmy, touched him and asked a miracle from God. The silence of the night gave me an eerie feeling sitting awake and alone. The monotonous ticking of the clock was the only sound that pierced my ears.
A little past midnight, I thought I saw his eyes flutter. I waited. It was like a decade of waiting and then I saw his eyes blink and stare at the ceiling. I called his name but he didn’t respond.
“Hi, Timmy. It’s me, Shirley.” I tried again.
He tilted his head to look at me quizzically then a smile slowly formed on his dry lips. That was all. We held hands tightly without any words.
It must have been a miracle as Timmy recovered and regained his strength. He was still bedridden when he proposed to marry me. His parents didn’t raise any objection. I was too embarrassed. Our difference was that of heaven and earth. I have learned that they’re one of the richest families in the Philippines, while I was a poor farmer’s daughter. Yet they accepted me with all their hearts.
The wedding was a fairy tale. I was Cinderella and Timmy was my handsome prince. It touched everybody’s heart, a dying man’s wish come true, bliss and happiness in his remaining days on earth. Frankly speaking, I wasn’t sure if I was happy or sad.
At four o’clock in the afternoon just after the wedding, we were headed straight to the airport, boarded the Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong for our two weeks honeymoon. Dr. Frank was with us, He has been the family doctor for over twenty years. We sat silently on the plane enjoying each other’s nearness. My hand was clasped tightly on my lap. A gold ring studded with diamonds adorned my left ring finger. It was a beautifully hand-crafted Christian Dior ring ordered from Hong Kong 24 hours before the wedding. I imagine it cost a small fortune. I would have preferred a simple inexpensive ring.
“Hey, have you left your heart in Manila?” Timmy said softly as he gently circled my shoulders. “I’ve got a story to tell you.”
I smiled and nodded.
“Two of my friends and I once got arrested in Germany.” He began. “We alighted from a street car without paying and it’s all because no one among us knew how to speak German. Just like boarding a bus in Manila you’ve got to pay your fare to the conductor when you get on the street car and another guy collects the tickets. None of us had tickets so we got arrested on the spot. The police collected 40 Deutsche Marks which is about Php300 from each of us. It was a most embarrassing experience for all of us. Well, at least I’ve got something to tell to my friends and my family.”
I laughed when he finished his anecdote. I didn’t find his story funny but I just wanted to laugh. It was the first time I laughed in a month’s time.
I studied his face and wondered why fate is sometimes so cruel. He was one of a kind, so sweet and kind I would have gladly offered my life to save his. I turned my head away, afraid that he would see the tears in my eyes. But he knew. He tilted my chin, kissed the tears away and smiled.
“Promise me not to cry if I suddenly leave you one day,” he said.
“No, Timmy. You’re not going anywhere. You’re going to live long. You like children and we’ll have them.” I said with tears rolling down my cheeks.
“Fine. So, stop crying now. Remember this is our honey moon and we’re supposed to be enjoying ourselves.”
Our plane soon made its way to Chek Lap Kok Airport. From the window, I saw the glittering lights of Hong Kong from the sky. I’ve never seen so many lighted buildings before.
Timmy was amused watching me appreciate the beauty of Hong Kong. There was too much to do. We went sightseeing at Peak Tram, then we went to Ocean Park to watch the Dolphin Show and rode in the cable car. We took the Metro Railway Transit and enjoyed the ride end to end then boarded the ferry boat to Tsim Sha Tsui; sat by the water and watched the boats go by. I didn’t want to leave the place. I wanted to just sit beside Timmy, share pleasantries, jokes and laughter, but we did leave.
Later, we were walking hand and hand the sidewalks of Repulse Bay, watching the big elegantly built houses in which many wealthy people dwelt. Timmy pointed to a house. “I like that house. It’s beautiful. That’s the kind of house I’m going to build for you. It will be six bedrooms with a terrace, a swimming pool, a lawn and a playground for our children to play. We will have four children, two boys, and two girls. They will be as beautiful and handsome as you and me.”
I looked into his face and felt tears stinging my eyes again. I knew Timmy wouldn’t last long to fulfill his dreams.
The next day, we went shopping at Ocean Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui. I was amazed at the wide array of shops and brand names of products, many of which I could hardly pronounce. The assortment of things Timmy bought for me was too much to my sight. I almost complained as we sat unwrapping each item and sorting them out. I handed him the things I bought, a pair of jeans, a YSL T-shirt, and a Bally belt. He tried them on excitedly while I watched. He looked like a little boy who was just presented a new toy.
“I want to wear these clothes when I go to heaven one day,” he said then pointed a finger up. He said all those things casually.
It was our last day in Hong Kong. The next day was our scheduled flight back home. That night, Timmy complained of exhaustion. It was the first time he complained in almost two weeks. I was worried.
At seven o’clock in the morning, I started to panic when I tried to wake him up and he didn’t stir, I quickly rang Dr. Frank from the other suite.
Dr. Frank looked at me sadly. “He’s very weak,” he said.
We sent for an ambulance and rushed Timmy to the nearest hospital. I made an overseas call for Manila.
“W-what happened?” It was my mother-in-law on the line.
“We brought Timmy to the hospital.” I murmured.
“W-w-what? Where? The hospital. The ad-dress. Oh, no. W-w-wait. We’ll be right there.”
“I’ll meet you at the Sheraton Hotel,” I said and stared at the phone in my grasp.
I met my in-laws at the hotel after only three hours. They were both very worried. We took a taxi and headed straight to the hospital. Timmy was up and smiling when we arrived. He squeezed me and laughed.
“You shouldn’t have brought me here,” he said simply.
The doctors and the nurses who attended to him earlier were the most amazed when they witnessed Timmy’s display of strength. We were booked for an afternoon flight on that same day.
At six o’clock in the evening, we were home at Forbes Park. A crowd was waiting for us inside the vast Buenafe’s residence. An array of food was waiting to be served on the long table. It was like a party but a party that was not because when I looked around me, each one seemed to be struggling for a smile. It was worry and sadness that painted their lovely faces. Timmy for one was cheerful and was enjoying his dinner. Just after dinner, he made an excuse for us to rest early.
At ten o’clock, Timmy was squeezing my hand and saying, “Shirley, I won’t ask you not to find another man after I’m gone. Just take care of yourself and make sure you’ll be happy.”
“Please don’t say anything, just hold me,” I said and sobbed.
“Don’t cry my dear. Please promise me not to cry. Remember, I love you very much. I’m very tired. I want to rest,” he said then closed his eyes.
I looked at him and knew exactly what was happening. I quickly pressed the alarm. Everybody came running.
Everything was like a dream. The chance encounter, the friendship, the whirlwind romance, the wedding, the honeymoon, his death.
We were at the Loyola Park. I watched as the long box slowly made its way into the pit. I grabbed a fistful of the freshly dug earth, sprinkled it over the casket and dropped a bouquet of flowers then I turned my back and walked away. I didn’t want to cry. Timmy, I was sure was watching over me. He wouldn’t be happy seeing me cry.
The spacious room was cold and empty when I got inside to pick up my hand-carry suitcase. I looked around the room for the last time.
The lovely room that was once our bedroom has now turned into a ghost room. In one corner hung a beautiful frame of our life-size wedding picture, one that was a tragic sight at that moment. I closed my eyes, slowly walked to the door and closed it.
Mrs. Buenafe was waiting in the receiving room when I got down the winding stairs.
“You won’t change your mind?” She asked, tears brimming her eyes.
“No. It’s final,” I answered.
“Will you promise to call? Visit us?”
She stood and came to me. She hugged me tightly and sobbed.
“Remember, this is your home and you’re a part of the family. The door is always open for you.”
I studied her face for a long while. If only all rich people were like them? I told myself. We hugged each other for quite a while then she slowly released me.
“Go my child and take care of yourself,” she said softly.
I walked out and didn’t look back. I went straight to the waiting Limousine, dumped my suitcase at the rear and leaned weakly.