Fifteen Minutes

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Nine fifteen in five.





People can be so unreliable, thought Jake as he blankly stared at his watch. He shook his head and tried to remove himself from the brimming smell of brewed coffee and hot pancakes of McDonalds by watching the comings and goings of the people around his table. The very ambiance reminded him of the not-too-stellar breakfast of dried longganisa, egg and rice he had eaten thirty minutes earlier.

He hated having to get up early that morning and he would have hated having to go to school alone even more. Who goes to school on a Saturday morning anyway?

Two minutes later, Sara arrived at the front door sporting her favorite white sleeveless blouse that he had given her as a present for her 17th birthday a few months earlier. She appeared to be in a bit of a hurry when she came in, as she should be. Her shoulder length hair was still a bit messed up, held back only by a white plastic clip and the hooks of the slim frame of her eyeglasses that outlined her sleepy, chinita eyes.

Sara was pretty in her own, happy-go-lucky way. Her bubbly personality and her baby face that sports a perpetual smile has bagged her more than the usual share of admirers in school.

Deep inside, he probably was one of the admirers too. But then again, he has a significant other already. Or at least, used to…

"Didn't I tell you that we would meet at McDonald's at nine?

Sara stared at him, panted a while to catch her breath and then flashed her miniscule analog watch, pointing at the black hands imposed over a plaid while circle almost perfectly forming a right angle between twelve and nine.

“What is it with you and that stupid watch of yours? FYI, to the rest of the country, it’s only nine in the morning – as your royal clockness ordered.”

An honest mistake, really.

Jake knew exactly what she was talking about. But she couldn’t begin to understand. To him, no one could ever understand. So he stared at Sara for a while, bat his eyelids once, and finally rose from his seat that he had been holding for more than forty five minutes now.

Even being a Saturday morning, the station was just as crowded. Train frequency is usually reduced to half to cut operation costs during weekends so the same amount of people still had to wait and, when it’s time, cramp up into the train cabins.

Not to mention it was a very long wait.

“You think we’re gonna be late?” doldrumly asked Jake.

Sara patted him in the back in a mocking fashion. “No, we won’t. And besides, so what if we become late? It’s just make-up class for PE. What, you’ll add another fifteen minutes to your little watch again?”

“Don’t go there, Sara.”

Sara was going for seconds with the patting but immediately withdrew her hand as though it was about to be burned by something.

“Touchy! You know, if you would just tell me the reason for that silly watch of yours, I just might stop chiding you about it; if it’s that important, really. And ‘sides, who’s your bestest best friend in the whole wide world?!”

The train finally arrived -much to Jake’s relief and he felt his anxiety slowly ooze away. The flux of people going out and planning to get in the train had practically saved him from the rather uncomfortable conversation that he was having with Sara. She just had a knack of making him feel uncomfortable whenever he least wanted it, but that was probably the only aspect of her he couldn’t tolerate. They managed to mangle through the jumble of bodies by the entrance of the train and found a position by the rear end of the first cabin.

Window view, nice share of air conditioning – perfect. Or was it?

The train started moving already. They really weren’t going to be late. But as a self-confessed pessimist, he was expecting the worst.

“Hey, you’re avoiding my question again, aren’t you?”

Jake wasn’t off the hook after all. So much for backdooring the issue, he thought.

It was then that Sara changed the tone of her voice from her usual carefree blabber to a deeper, much more serious undertone.

“I really wouldn’t bother you with your own eccentricities, Jake. But your little habit is becoming more of a vice. You keep on chasing time that’s going nowhere.”

For the first time that morning, he heard something that made sense – sort of. Amidst the loud chattering of the two schoolteachers a half a meter away from them, he heard Sara’s words.

You keep on chasing time that’s going nowhere.

Then, a loud screech from the train’s brakes caused people to panic and get thrown towards the front of the cabin shortly afterwards. Jake hung on the railings for dear life while he felt Sara hanging on to him for hers. Suffice to say, his idle thoughts had been broken in the most surprising manner possible.

Then he realized that he was clutching his friend one step too daringly as people started staring. She was holding him very closely by his now-crumpled polo shirt while he had firmly clutching the right side of her rather well outlined bosom by pure accident.

Hands caught in the cookie jar, caught on camera, and framed on a wall - the two jumped like frightened cats away from each other and then blushingly pretended that nothing actually had happened.

Jake looked away, as with Sara.

“Err.. sorry about that.”

“It’s nothing, really,” quickly retorted the raspberry-red Sara in a raspy voice.

Jake noticed the way she blushed. It looked all too cute, even for a friend.

A friend.

It was then that Jake realized that he was really starting to fall for Sara. It was no rocket science to know that Sara also had her eyes set on him for a long time already, but in vain. He had read her diary a few months earlier and was once confessed to by a very drunk Sara two Christmas parties ago. To him, it was just smack ranting from a romanticist who’s read one too many Daniel Steele lines.

He had of course, fallen in love with another girl – Isah. And since Isah was conveniently Sara’s cousin and close girl-bud, she knew more than to stay away to some unknown degree of pain or inconvenience to Sara.

But then, ‘it’ just had to happen…

The yellow emergency vehicle of the MRT arrived on scene, sirens flashing and the whole caboodle. To Jake, worst case was actually happening already. From the whispering of the people passed on from the driver’s seat, there was a problem with the rail and it wouldn’t be fixed in another fifteen minutes or so. They were going to be late.

“Ah Jesus. We’re going to be late,” Jake spoke in a very nervous tone, “late I tell you!” Sweat started forming around his head and he felt his heart would jump out of the ribcage if it could.

Sara knocked her shoulders into his. “Knock it off, panic pants. You’re not helping here.”

“I can’t be late. I can’t be late. You know I can’t be late.”
“Well, It’s not like we can do anything about our predicament now can we?”
“We can walk.”
“Or we can just sit here, relax and wait for the train to move again. Relaxing is good.”
“No, you just DON’T understand!”

Several curious passengers looked at Jake, wondering why he was shouting. Jake saw Sara had been taken aback by his shouting. Was he lashing out on his bestfriend? Most certainly he did not mean to do so. But then again…

“Well now that you’ve mentioned it,” Sara said matter-of-factedly,” No, I don’t understand at all.” She took a deep breath and threw Jake a strong glare. “Because you always keep things on your own you know? It’s you and that lone rebel attitude of yours.”

At that point, Jake’s thoughts stirred violently in his head. Was it okay to start talking about it again? If he didn’t the situation would just repeat itself sometime in the future. And they really wouldn’t have other things to talk about anyway. Even worse, Sara was probably going to do another gossip-spelunking on her again about the watch.

Jake sighed and decided to jump the gun. She was his best friend after all. She above all people should understand. He proceeded to tap the snooping Sara by the shoulder. It was time to pass on the ball to her court too.

“Do you remember the day that Isah… died?”

Sara’s expression changed from farcical naivety to poker-faced seriousness. She bit her lip, with the familiar look of knowing a bit and probably dying to know all about the rest of it.

“December thirty first three years ago, Rizal Day bombing,” Jake recalled.

Sara stared outside the window as though she was the one who wanted to avoid the topic now. “I’m her cousin, I should know that too, don’t you think?”

Jake took one deep breath. This wasn’t going to be easy.

“Do you want to know the real reason why she happened to be in that train?”

“Because she was supposed to be going to the mall with you, right? I know it’s really painful for your side but what has that got to do with anything?” replied Sara as she obviously tried to keep the conversation light and detached.

“She happened to be in that train because I told her that I was going to be fifteen minutes late. If I hadn’t been stupid enough to wake up late that day she would’ve boarded an earlier train and she would still be…” shakingly narrated Jake.

Sara was staring at Jake now, still poker-faced. “Go on.”

“Anyway, it was my entire fault. I hope you understand why I never told this to anybody. I figured the only way to atone for something like that was to make sure to never make the same again. That, and bear the memory of those fifteen minutes that could have…”

“Saved her life?” interjected Sara in a roughly raised but partially controlled voice. People were beginning to notice the conversation but didn’t give too much damn as the repairs went on outside.

“Don’t be stupid, Jake. Flowers that bloom twice as beautifully last half as long. She was a very good person. Perhaps,” Sara stopped to catch her breath as she continued with hints of tension, “Perhaps, it was just God’s way of calling her to His Kingdom already. Things like that happen for reasons –reasons much deeper than a late boyfriend. She loved you up to the last moment Jake, and that’s what important.“

Love? And as much as Jake wasn’t a devout Catholic, for once he wanted to believe in what she was saying. Perhaps she was right; perhaps her religiousness actually had some purpose in life.

“But, I just can’t forget something like that. You just don’t understand that,” defended the rather exposed Jake. He had never been so clothed and so naked in his entire life. “We didn’t exactly part on the best of terms. She didn’t really love me anymore at that point.”

“No, I don’t understand, but I don’t think you do either.”
“And why is that?”
“N-nothing, nevermind. You shouldn’t be afraid to forget, Jake. If God didn’t want us to forget then he would have turned us into elephants instead. There has to be a reason why memories are not meant to last.”

Jake sniggered back to his usual contemptuous self. Elephants do forget. Men forgive but don’t forget, at least, not the things that they didn’t want to badly. That’s what separates us from animals, he thought. Silly Sara.

"I know how hard it is to forget mistakes because I.."

Jake's ear strained to hear the trailing words he was expecting but for naught. He didn't have to hear it to know but perhaps for once he wanted to get it from her sober self. Sara found her second wind all too soon and forgot all about what she had said.

"So what are you planning to do now? We're going to be late and there's nothing you can do about it," said Sara.

Jake was speechless. She's right; there wasn't anything that he could do. And to think that it was he who had brought up the topic voluntarily! He was bound to be late again. Fate has conspired against him.

He recounted that fateful day. Ironically, the real reason that they were meeting was that they were both ready to throw in the towel. Perhaps it was just for formality but Jake knew that it was over for both of them. Six months in, the sparks stopped flying and they were already looking at opposite directions.

“Listen, Sara,” Jake said, “about Isah, I don’t think you know everything about what had happened.
That time we were supposed to meet was supposed to be the very last one before we agreed to let people know that they’re no longer together. We agreed to break up the night before. It never happened, however, to my regret, if only for the burden it cast on me. You don’t break up with a dead girlfriend. She’s simply dead, along with any closure I could have gotten. “

“It was like that huh?” Sara shook her head. “That’s not how I saw it, Jake and like I said, you don’t understand just as much because you keep things to yourself. See, she talked to me that same night about what happened. “

“What was it that she said?” Jake pounced on Sara’s words.

“She told me she had one big regret in her life,” Sara said sheepishly, as though she was embarrassed of divulging words that were not her own. “She said she wished that she could’ve done more for your relationship, but there were some things that could be easier redone than undone. She wanted out, but she only did so thinking of you.”

“So you knew all along about it?”
“Sorry, I promised Isah so I couldn’t tell you until you told me yourself your side.”
“Ah, I guess it’s alright. You’re just being a good friend.“

For Jake, it was like a revelation. And with his realization, the train started moving again, to the relieved sighs of all the passengers in the cabin. Not that it mattered to Jake now. Why were they meeting one last time anyway? What could Isah have thought of? He remembered her last message to him on the night they had a fight. It was the one message that didn’t fit their argument. “Tomorrow will be a new day. Let’s settle our differences after we’ve slept on it one last time.”

Tomorrow came, but it never left.

“So you get it now, don’t you?” Sara said, “She agreed to the breakup because she honestly believed she wasn’t the best person for you. She wanted you to try again.”

Jake’s eyes felt the sudden beckoning from tears. Old feelings. Feelings long since sealed off by the bitter memory of Isah’s death suddenly welled up and sprang forth Jake’s heart. “But I’ve always thought, it was I who… I can’t possibly… not when…”

Sara grabbed Jake by his shoulders and gave him a hug. She leaned towards his ear and whispered.

You shouldn’t be afraid of making the same mistake twice. The harder you try to avoid making the same mistake, the more likely you are to commit it again. Mistakes are a part of life, because even if you’re falling face first while walking, it still means you’re moving forward. Instead, learn the art of getting past the consequences, lesson learned intact. She loved you until the final moment and she wanted you to move forward. At the very least, you should keep that in your heart.

Sara loosened her hug. Jake grabbed her and hugged her back, but she slowly pushed back. She didn’t speak again for the rest of the trip. Her gaze floated idly along with the streaming background. Jake drowned in his own thoughts as well.

The train coasted to a stop at the final station. It was ten already. Jake was late for the class and he had accepted the fact already. Mistakes are bound to happen again after all, no matter how hard we try to avoid it.

And maybe it was that moment, or maybe it had already been so many, many months before, that he already knew it deep inside what to do and how to feel about it, but it was only then that he had finally accepted the rest of his life.

Jake was smiling as he got off the train. He has finally learned the real meaning of Isah’s parting words.

“I guess we’re really late now, huh?” said Jake in a challenging but much more carefree tone.

Sara placed her hand in her forehead. “You and your stupid watch. It’s only nine forty five. We’re only a ten-minute ride away from school. When will you ever learn to tell time properly?”

Jake didn’t snigger, his smile, his warmest in years. Just now, Sara – a thought that he kept to himself. Just now.

"Let's go. You don't want to be late again now, do you?" said the stammering Sara as she offered an inviting hand.

“Wait a tick, I need to adjust my watch first.”

Jake smiled at her and turned towards the train tracks. He took one final breath and finally pulled the adjusting pin of his watch. Fifteen minutes frozen in time. Turn the knob slowly he did so, for he was letting go of something he thought he could never part with within a lifetime.

Those fifteen minutes that could have changed his life with Isah slowly faded away at for each part of a rotation.

Fifteen minutes - one final turn and they've all gone. Jake felt so much lighter after that. He knew Isah would have wanted the same. She always knew what was best for him. Looking down from the bright sky above, she was probably smiling too. A sentimental tear flowed down Jake's cheek in acknowledgement.

Eleven thirty in the morning was the time in the watch - a quarter of an hour earlier than his former life. Jake dashed up the ramp caught up with the tapfooting Sara. He casually placed his arm around her shoulder like he always used to and gave her an out-of-the-blue light smack on her
heat-flushed cheeks.

"I'm feeling a bit adventurous today. Why don't we go catch a movie instead?"

Still a bit in ecstatic shock, Sara could only wonder what had gotten into her best friend as they were walking towards the station exit. "Did the heat inside the MRT get to you or something?

"Nah. But I’m great. I feel happy.“

“Now aren’t you glad you talked to your bestest best friend in the whole world?”

Jake laughed. “Maybe. I just feel that we've got all the time in the world now."

And they did.

Memories are little treasures that we borrow from time. They are never lost, only returned.

Fifteen Minutes.

author's note: Sorry Matt if this didn't make it to your exercise. I wanted to enter this one too, but I didn't get access to it until today. Anyway, I might as well post it. I started writing this story October 2004. Lack of inspiration, a short attention span, and bad recall for where I store my files kept this from being finished. But now, at least I get closure. Finally.

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