Maya sniffled quietly as she sipped the water Richard got from the barista for her. He also offered her his freshly laundered hanky, instead of the table napkin at the cafe.
“O, Maya enough na please, baka akala nila, masyado na kitang inaapi!” Richard teased her, when he returned to their table with the fresh cups of coffee and some pastries he ordered when he got her the glass of water.
“Ikaw kasi eh. Here I was, thinking na strong na ako for a closure with you, tapos heto, hindi pala kaya ng powers ko ang mga sasabihin mo. Hayan, lumabas na ang balde-balde kong luha!” Maya good-naturedly bantered, like they used to. “I’m just so happy, Richard. Tears of joy naman ito!”
“Me too, Maya. I feel so complete right at this moment, with you here, us talking, clearing the air, and knowing that we still love each other after all this time.” Richard said. He feels his heart will burst from sheer happiness.
Maya looked at him with love in her eyes as she sipped her coffee , and Richard was doing the same. They were lost in a world of their own in a busy coffee shop.
“Where did you go in all the time that I was trying to find you?” Richard asked after a while, still holding Maya’s hand, while they sit side by side on the sofa of the cafe. They moved there so they can be more comfortable and so that they sit closer.
Now, it’s Maya’s turn to gather her thoughts and tell Richard her journey.
“When I boarded that taxi, I felt like my heart would literally stop. It hurt so much. I managed to get home without really realizing how I got there. Manang Fe saw me in a very sad state and helped me get to bed, without asking questions. My system just shutdown and before I realized it, it was already morning.
The next day, it felt like something was propelling me to make all the decisions I have made on that day, fast! I just needed to get away as far as I could. Yes, you could say it was my way of coping, maybe a coward’s way out, but I needed to do that at that time. I talked to my boss and appealed to her to allow me to leave the company without serving the 30-day notice. Despite the fact that she is a slave driver and a perfectionist when it comes to work, she turned out to be a very compassionate person and she allowed me to apply my unused leaves as my terminal leave.
The following day, I packed my bags, closed the house, arranged for it to be rented through a friend. Manang Fe and I went to San Nicolas, me to say goodbye to Kute, my mom, and Mamang, my grandmother. I told them I will go away and would just let them know where I am as soon as I am settled. Mom objected, as she has always been very protective, especially after we lost Dad. But surprisingly Mamang and Kute supported me. I told Kute afterwards I needed to get away to heal my broken heart. She didn’t ask much. She is like that, but I knew had I asked, she would have been there for me. Had I wanted to talk, she would have listened and comforted me afterwards. When I thanked Mamang naman for supporting me, she told me, she understands and that she will pray that I get pass whatever I am going through. Manang Fe, on the other hand, told me to be strong and magdasal parati. I think, she had an idea that the whole situation is about you.
The fifth day, I was out of the country. I have some money of my own. When my dad died, he left us comfortably off. He also had separate savings accounts made for me and Kute which we were allowed to access since we turned 25. So, it was okay if I don’t work for a while. First, I decided to go to Singapore for several days. It was the first country I thought of as I had enjoyed my stay there before. But of course, every where I went, I see you, especially when I am in cafe, watching people streaked by, seemingly so sure of where they are going. Me, I am just lost, thinking of you, what couldn’t be, and what will I do to pick up the pieces.
While going about my routine of going to the Botanics Garden and then to the coffee shop I frequented, I bumped into someone I was so happy to see, my friend Megan whom I have not seen since our university days but have stayed in touch from time to time through e-mails. It turned out she is on vacation, first in Malaysia to see her sister who works there, and then Singapore for some alone time before she head to India and then back to Aghanistan where she is a working with one of the non-governmental organizations doing work for children affected by the unstable situation there. I was so surprised to see her as I know it was not easy to go and get out of Afghanistan at that time.
We talked and talked and I confided to her why I was in Singapore. Megan was a very good listener and despite the years and the distance, a very dear friend. Do you believe in that Richard, that friendship does not end with the physical distance or the years apart between true friends? It is like that with me and Megan, as if it was only yesterday when we last saw each other! There was no awkward moments. She said if I am open to working in Afghanistan, they can use someone like me in their team. I said yes promptly since I was at a loose end and I needed to do something to forget you. But taking the job also started my journey into I guess, growing up some more, maturing up, healing and finally accepting that you are with someone else.” Maya sipped her coffee, resting a bit from her narrative.
“Hindi ba dangerous doon, Maya?” Richard asked as he recalled news about Afghanistan, and all those times, Maya was there!
“It is really a completely different world than I was used to, what we are used to. But I like the fact that I could be of help there in my own little way. Seeing the situation there and the way people were coping, my situation seemed so light compared to theirs. And slowly, I have learned to accept that you are with Alex. And that I was lucky we even met and shared what we shared! I threw myself into working for the group, went everywhere they sent me, working long hours to keep myself busy and not miss you too much. Megan was very passionate about the things we do and it rubbed off me in a big way. She love the people we assisted unconditionally and wholeheartedly. Then, it ended six months ago, when she became a victim of the violence there.” Maya tried to stop her tears, but though she had accepted what happened she still feel very sad remembering her vibrant friend.
“What happened to her?” Richard asked, though he knew it was something bad for Maya to look so sad.
“I was supposed to be with her, but I got sick, so she went without me to the village where we set up a temporary school. The village was attacked by a militant group and she tried saving some of the children she has come to love by shielding them. Help arrived but Megan was already badly hit. She was airlifted to Kabul and died several hours after. I was with Megan when she was dying. Even on her last breath, she thought of me. Told me to be happy. She also told me not to be sad at her passing as she had lived her life, however short it was, the way she wanted and that I should do the same! She said life is meant to be lived!” Maya wiped the tears from her eyes, as she took another sip of water.
“Oh God, Maya, I could have lost you there. Gone forever, without you knowing how I feel about you.” Richard said with his voice cracking.He embraced Maya tightly and kissed her on the forehead. “Maya, I love you. I am so thankful for this moment that I can still say that to you.”
“Richard, I love you too. I really never thought I would hear those words ever, and say it back to you! And I would never get tired of hearing you saying you love me. When Megan died, I felt very sad and lost. I wish you were there to comfort me, to talk to. But it was also the moment I have completely accepted that you don’t belong to me in a way I want and the way you will be, always in my heart. Megan taught me that it is possible to love someone without expecting to be loved back, and that if you are loved back, then you are the luckiest person in the world. It just don’t happen always. At that moment, I just wish to see you, talk to you and probably see if we can still be friends. I was given another chance by not dying there. I decided that it was time to go back to the Philippines to see my loved ones, to see you. On the way home, my topmost plan was really to look you up and talk to you. So, here I am. Here we are!” Maya said as she touched Richard’s face and leaned her head on his shoulder. She thought she will never have the chance to do or experience this.
They stayed like that for several more minutes, just savoring the moment, unmindful of the other patrons who started looking at them curiously.
“I guess, we should get going na.” Maya told Richard as she extricated herself from his embrace. “Kanina pa tayo dito. Parang iyong nangyari sa atin noong una tayong nag-coffee.”
“Oo nga, tayo na yata ang nagsara ng coffee shop dati! Sige, I will take you home na, but first let’s go for a walk. I don’t want our day to end yet.” Richard suggested as he helped Maya up. He didn’t want his day with her to end. If he had a choice in the matter and if it is possible at the moment, he does not want her to be out of his sight ever. He does not want to lose her again.
They left the cafe with their hands intertwined.