Another minute, and the steamer was under way, going up the river, in the direction in which it had borne her away that same morning.
Ahead of it, the dark summer sunset was rapidly fading; gloomily, dreamily, and iridescently, it was reflected in the river, showing patches glimmering with tremulous ripples in the distance under the sunset, and the flames scattered in the darkness round the steamer went on receding and receding.
The lieutenant sat under cover on deck, conscious of having aged by ten years.
(Sunstroke, Ivan Bunin; translated by Teka Matheson)
We left Cubao going in separate ways. I went to the direction of Mandaluyong; he was to the opposite East Avenue. I kept on asking him whether he still has time to pack things for his flight to Hong Kong at 6 the following morning. It was to assure myself that I didn’t cause him inconvenience. The time was 11 in the evening. Before that we had dinner and coffee together, talked about anything our minds could think of, caught up with what we’ve been missing. And his accent, that accent I could never forget. But time seemed to be mocking us. Before I knew it, we were on the verge of ending it. We both said goodbye and thanked each other for the wonderful time.
But I promised myself not to suffer the fate of the lieutenant in Bunin’s Sunstroke. I did not look back after leaving him. I typed in my cellphone and knew things will have to change from there.
Thanks. I waited for this long, didn’t think it would end like this.
Lykwyz. ‘twas somehow sad coz I didn’t get a gudnyt Russian kiss.
Your flight’s at 6, right? I stay along EDSA. I am not into a spectacular ending, but can we have it this time?
Can I go there now?
Hang on, john…
I’ve known him while I was still a student in Hanoi. I met him in an internet forum, had a brief argument with him, won the argument, and thought it was the end of it. Until he sent me a private message about how he liked the way I wrote my case, how witty my sentences were, and how he was impressed by my ‘futile idealism’. The last part enraged me. I spat invectives at him although in a rather educated manner, not to mention my employment of deadly sarcasm to bring forth my point; the words I used were profane, enough to even make me wince inside. I expected him to back off and to hate me with passion, but the effect was something I did not anticipate.
We became friends. We started exchanging messages about a lot of things – what we felt inside a schloss, his in Lichtenstein, mine in Salzburg; the winter; the rain; his mother; our age (he is 38; I’m 23) and how different we view the universe because of this; his job teaching Clinical Psychology at the University of Hong Kong, mine as a struggling student then.
All this continued without knowing how each other looked like. None of us demanded for this as words were enough.
He felt that without the least faltering he would choose to die tomorrow, if only by some miracle he could return here and spend but this one day with her – if only to have a chance to tell her and somehow prove to her, persuade her of his harrowing and marvelous love…But why prove it to her? Why persuade her? He could not tell why, yet it seemed more necessary than life itself.
How often I’ve found myself gambling with my life just so I could be with somebody I love, and that for me is the most absurd rational thing in the world. We single out the emotions we feel as unique to us alone. This, I believe, is understandable; however, doing so makes us all the more miserable.
But that night, my last in Manila, I knew I did the right thing. I waited for the last train, hopped inside, and marveled for the first time at the beautiful neon lights of the city. I reached Boni, alighted the train, walked slowly to my condominium.
And there ___ was, waiting for me.