The rain was falling so slowly. Truly, it was such a fitting weather for this day. It was tricking down and softly knocking on my tinted window. I put my heavy head to lean on the cold glass and the coolness instantly helped to relieve — if only a bit — the pain that kept on bugging me since this morning. I released a deep sigh. I closed my eyes and tried my best not to think of the things that happened. But as the glass was getting warmer due to my body heat, the memories surfaced again and with it, the regret as well. I released another deep sigh and put my forehead on the steering wheel in a gentle thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. How could I do that? I asked myself. But of course, there was no answer to that question as I had asked myself the same thing for I didn’t know how many times and I still couldn’t find the right answer to it. Thud. Thud. Thud. I shut my eyes tight and released another deep sigh. I could feel the telltale sign of tears welling up behind my tightly closed eyes. Just when I thought that I couldn’t hold it anymore and that the tears would fall, I heard a loud knock on the window from the passenger’s side of my car.
I turned my head and saw my best friend’s face frowning and signing at me to open the door. For a whole minute, I just stared at him blankly. Then, I frowned but slowly opened the door to let him in.
“Thank goodness. It was crazy out there. This rain doesn’t seem like much from here, but it was absolutely pouring outside, I tell you.” That was his first sentence after he sat on the passenger seat and successfully created a wet patch on my car’s seat.
“Thanks for the wet patch,” I said softly.
“Huh? What?” He looked around and then his eyes fell on the patch that was quickly forming on his seat. “Oops?”
I sighed and massaged my head slowly. I could feel the headache returning. “Just —,” I took a deep breath to calm myself before continuing,” just spill.”
He practically beamed at me. Sometimes I really envy his bright and bubbly personality. I wished I could be more like him instead of being all gloomy and introverted all the time. This guy really could see a positive aspect on every problem that he had encountered. And he’d encountered a lot — not that anyone would know seeing how he usually behaved — I should know since I was with him when he faced his demons. We really went way back. I didn’t even remember how I first met him, but I was glad I could call him my best friend.
“Are you listening?” he asked. His hands were stopped midair in some kind of a grandiose gesture he used to explain whatever he was explaining — not that I would know what he was explaining since I didn’t listen to any of his chatter since quite some time ago, being so lost in my own mind.
“Uh, yes?” I said. I hated that it turned into a question instead of an affirmative that I was aiming for. I really was a bad liar. And I wasn’t even sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
His hands dropped and he huffed in annoyance. “You really should learn to be a better liar if you want to be one, you know. You clearly didn’t listen to me.”
“Well, why’d you ask if I was listening to you if you’d known that I wasn’t listening to you from the start?”
He looked at me with his signature ‘demeaning/disgusted’ look and sighed. “Fine. Whatever. My brain couldn’t even fathom the meaning of your sentence just now.” I scoffed at that because this kid was a genius. Sure he was a weird genius, but weren’t they all?
“Right. So?” I asked.
His eyes just got wider at my question, a definite proof that he had forgotten about my little mishap and was ready to start his story again. And so he started again with his story and super animated gestures. I couldn’t help but smile a little seeing his antics. Most people would never understand why he would talk so excitedly over literally everything, and how he could be so positive about anything, and they would ask me. I would stare at them with a blank expression because I didn’t know it myself. I knew he was like this since the first time we met and it was a long time ago.
“And….you’re absolutely not listening to me again,” he huffed.
I chuckled and sighed at the same time.
“Okay, what’s wrong?” he asked.
“What makes you think something’s wrong?” I asked him back. I didn’t like to be put on the spot. I loved to hear people talk, but I didn’t like talking myself.
“Your mind is absolutely running wild in there so that you didn’t hear what I said. Twice,” he deadpanned. “And you were always a great listener, so spill it!”
I stared at him in wonder. He knew me so well. No wonder I called him my best friend. He was the one who knew me for who I really was, without the false pretense and the mask I carefully crafted and perfected for the crowd.
“It’s just…I shouldn’t have…,” I choked. I just couldn’t continue. His question relieved me because it meant that I could finally let it all out and told someone, but at the same time, it re-evoked that feeling of despair, guilt, and regret I tried to suppress because it was him who asked. “Gosh…I’m sorry.”
“Hey, hey, hey…,” he looked so concerned. He stroked my back softly, gently. He was such a gentle soul. I stared at him and looked deep into his eyes. He was so trusting and kind. “What’s wrong? Tell me.”
“Yes you can. Come on, tell me.”
I looked at him again. I couldn’t help but think of that horrible day and I saw the splash of red on the coarse road and lifeless body next to my own. The headache returned with a vengeance, I clutched at my head and tried to get rid of the painful memory.
“Come on, you can do it. Talk to me. It will help,” he coaxed me gently, still with his hands on my back softly stroking.
I couldn’t stop the tears from falling even if my life depended on it at that moment. It fell. Hard. I sobbed and wailed.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” I kept on chanting the words, but I knew that it was all too late. Three years too late.
“Sorry for what?” he asked still with his soft and gentle voice. He sounded so calm.
“I can’t. Don’t make me say it, please.”
“Yes you can. Come on. You’re strong. You can get through this. You always get through anything. Talking about it will help.”
I shook my head so hard it worsened the headache, but I sealed my lips shut. I heaved and sobbed and wailed some more. My tears just didn’t stop.
“Talk to me, Em. Let it all out,” he said.
I looked at his face, so gentle, so trusting, so him. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry…I let you die.” I couldn’t even see his face properly at that moment; my view was so blurry with tears. I choked and sobbed.
But he beamed at me so radiantly like he usually did. He smiled at me and hugged me so tight I could feel him all around me. And he whispered softly in my ears while stroking my head. Then with a final gentle kiss on my cheek, he was gone.
I jostled awake with a start. My heart was beating so hard. My blood was rushing and I looked at the passenger seat next to me. Empty. I felt tears welled up again, but I took a deep breath and stopped it just in time. I wasn’t sure if it was all just a dream, but it felt real, and even though the rain had stopped, the passenger seat was empty, and there was no wet patch on the seat, I still felt his last peck on my cheek, his warm hug, and his gentle stroking on my back. And most of all, I remembered his hushed whisper in my ear.
“You didn’t let me die. I chose to so that you can live. So, live.”
And with that I grabbed the bouquet of yellow roses from the back seat — his favorite flower as it signified our friendship —, dried my eyes from unshed tears, and got out of the car with new determination to pay my tribute on the death anniversary of my best friend.