I felt the sun’s warmth dance across my skin as it made its way through the tree leaves, its trickles swaying like the waves on the checkered blanket. My legs were starting to fall asleep from being stretched out for so long. I dusted my hands and grabbed my book, pen hovering over the sheets as words escaped me. Just then, like a curtain falling on the stage, my sight was blinded.
“You’re late.” I bit out, trying to stop my lips from lifting to a smile.
I felt his slight breath near my ears, “And how should I plead for my forgiveness?”
I pushed back my elbow, catching him off guard in a slight jab. He fell back to the tree trunk and a wince graced his face, though his eyes were alight with laughter like always. I stood up and walked towards him, jabbing my finger on his chest. “Hmm, that should be enough punishment for now.”
We both smiled. Time was still for that moment. The colours of the setting sun played on his face, it was then that his eyes started losing the light. He sobered up and stood up straighter, opening his lips as though to say something.
“You have to go.” I felt my heart beat faster in my chest.
“I have a duty.” His lips said to me, but it was his eyes that pleaded with me to understand that broke me. I could feel a little moisture start to form in my eyes, but I was scared to blink in case he disappeared. It was when his fingers lifted to my cheeks, brushing off the tears, that I realised I was crying.
“You’ll come back?” My voice shook.
He cupped my cheeks, “Always.”
Beep. Beep. Beep.
It was dark. I dare say it was cold. Every now and then, I’d try to lift my eyes open. Most of the time it continued to remain dark. But once in a while, slivers of light slide past the impenetrable doors of my eyes. They would always be followed by this sharp sensation that crawled all over my skin as though I was dipped in burning oil. I would moan out in pain but I couldn’t even hear myself.
Pain. It was a constant. Sometimes I want to just go to sleep. But the pain reminded me I was alive. It reminded me of his promise. And so I’d just try again, writhing in pain inside to let the little fireflies dance behind my eyelids.
Today, however, was different. It was no longer just light sliding past my eyes, for today, for the first time in a long time, I heard human voices.
“It’s been so long… Do we know anything about what’s going ....”
I wanted to speak up, maybe my body has more surprises in store for me. But even as I willed my lips to move, they stayed frozen like stone.
“I’ll be honest with you... Medically there is no explanation… how she is alive now. All of her systems are shutting down… She is just in constant pain… She should be dead, but somehow her mind is holding on… ”
There it is again, fire in my veins. It flowed as though destruction was its only goal. I tried to fight it, but it was a losing battle. I slumped back inside and took it, broken beyond imagination in a way only my mind could be. Maybe… maybe it's time to go to sleep. It’s been long…
“You know how important promises are to me. You know I want to, but what if… just what if I can’t hold onto my promise? I can’t do that to you.”
I traced his chin in a light caress, a small smile on my lips. “I know. That is why I am asking you to. Because then I know no matter what, you’ll find your way back to me.”
He chuckled lightly. “Okay. I promise I’ll come back to get you.” I jumped into his arms and he laughed, twirling me around in a circle. He then set me on the ground, the trills of laughter slowly carried away by the wind, and he looked earnestly into my eyes. “Promise you’ll love me until then.”
I cupped his face, “I promise to love you forever.” He snorted and I slapped him lightly. “What?”
“You are a writer, are you not?” He pushed a strand of hair behind my ear. “Forever is so cliche. Weave your promise into a beauty just like your tales.”
I thought deeply of how I could say it but turned up blank. Just then the setting sun hid behind the western horizon, casting dark shadows from behind. It was then that I struck gold. “I promise to love you until the sun rises in the west and sets in the east.”
My eyes almost hurt when I first fully opened them. The pain almost blinded me at first. It was a white room, except for the orange, red and purple shades that danced across it. I tried to raise my hand and realised that I was attached to some tubes. It was then I came upon the realisation of where I am. I looked around to see the heart monitor beeping incessantly and next to it was a wheelchair. I pulled out the tubes from my hand and dragged my withered body to the edge of the bed slowly. When I couldn’t do it anymore, I tried rolling into the chair and by the grace of whatever stars chose to shine upon me today, I made it. It was then I noticed that the room was getting darker by the minute. The sun was setting.
I pushed myself to the balcony door, opening it with all my strength and rolled myself outside. The shades were just like the day I saw him last. I’ve watched thousands of these moments, and yet not one of them granted me the only wish I’ve ever asked of them. I closed my eyes and felt the dying warmth light up my skin in shades of red. There was peace and quiet here. Soon, the earth was shaking, wreaking havoc over my broken and dying body. Or at least that's what I thought but then I realised it was just me sobbing in pain. I could think of nothing else.
Free me of my promise, I don’t think I can take this anymore.
Just then, I started to feel warm again. It was slow, so slow I didn’t realise what was happening. But soon it started to get quite warm so I looked up to the west setting sun. Only, the sun wasn’t setting anymore. It was rising.
I must be dreaming. I must be. But the pain throbbing behind my eyes told me this was real. In the distance, against the backdrop of a rising sun, I saw a silhouette walk towards me. I raised my wrinkled hand as though I could trace the shape. It couldn’t be.
It was him.
He looked just the same as he did the day he left, maybe just a little bit more rugged. His smile, the one that made his eyes seem like they were laughing on the inside, it was his smile that told me it was him. I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t see that he was within reach now. I almost reached out to touch him, but stopped.
It's a phantom.
“What convoluted explanation are you concocting in that pretty little head of yours now?” he asked with a grin. I couldn’t stop myself. I had to know. Before long my fingers grasped his jacket, the feeling same as every summer afternoon of my youth under the shade of our tree. There was no doubt about it.
“You are back,” I whispered.
He bent to level his eyes with mine, “I promised you didn’t I?”
I don’t know where I found the strength from, but I jumped into his arms. He caught me like always and twirled me around, laughing heartily. I was sobbing into his neck before pulling back and cupping his face, “You really are back,” I whispered teary-eyed.
He set me down, holding onto just my palms now. “I kept you waiting for too long, my love.” He raised my fingers to his lips and kissed them, “Will you forgive me?”
“Come now, I want to show you something.” He tugged me behind him. I was expecting the pain once again when I stood on my own, but my legs moved just as naturally as they did in my youth. We were running through the fields and slowly the scene changed from the desolate stretch to the sprawling green from sweet summer afternoons. The sun was overhead as we rushed to the waterfall, dancing around its lap to cool off the heat. We ran about the park, chasing after each other as the sun moved towards the east. So lost in the moment were we that when we finally fell face first into the checkered blanket under our tree, the sun was almost at the eastern horizon. We were both panting, trying to catch our breath, chuckling now and then at each other's antics. Just when the sun started to disappear behind the eastern stretch, we finally caught our breath. We sat there watching, the silence comforting in a way it's only been between us.
“Hey,” he broke it at last, turning towards me, “do you remember your promise?” His eyes were glinting again, but there was a sadness about it this time.
He sat up straighter, dusted his palms and latched his arms around his knees. “The sun,” he looked back, “it rose in the west today and set in the east...”
The full weight of what he was trying to say hit me.
I promise to love you until the sun rises in the west and sets in the east.
My voice shook, “You-you are not really back, are you?” He shook his head. “B-but what about… ”
“I kept it, didn’t I? I promised I’ll come back to get you.”
The air was quiet but for the wind rustling through the leaves. “It’s true then? I am dying.”
His smile was the saddest I’ve ever seen it be. “You’ve held on for so long. But now you’re free of your promise. You can let go now.” His voice faltered towards the end.
My head whipped towards him. “That’s why you really came back, isn’t it? To convince me to let go. That’s why you gave me today. To soften me up to accepting your lies.” I screamed and stood up to walk away. My legs felt stronger than before. I looked down to see my supple hands, life flowing through them.
He was quiet, one leg stretched out before him. We kept staring at each other, until he broke from my gaze. He walked towards me, stopping just a hair's breadth away. “I came because you’ve held on in pain for so long. I came to relieve you of your promise so that you could finally have some peace.” He reached down and cupped my cheeks. “I came because I couldn’t fulfill my promise until you let go and allow me to come and get you.”
His words whirled around my head, until they finally started to make sense. “You’re dead.”
He smiled, flicking my nose, “For someone so smart, you sure are slow.” I jabbed him slightly before resting my hand on his cold chest. He breathed in deeply, “I’ll be waiting on the other side, my love,” he let my hand go, “you won’t keep me waiting long right?”
It was quiet in the white room. The sun’s colours were long gone. The beeps of the heart monitor were no longer heard. Footsteps ran across the hallway into the room, skidding to a halt. “It’s finally happened, she’s finally gone.”
It felt weird at first. The pain, my companion in life for so long did not follow me into death. It almost felt like I was light as air. I twirled around at the sound of footsteps, his face reappearing in my sight. “What now?” I asked him.
He grinned, “You’ve kept your promise, now allow me to keep mine.”
He tugged my hand once again, the scene changing from the cold and desolate white room to the sprawling greens of my eternal summer afternoon.