A Thousand Steps Home [An Excerpt]

The pilot announced the upcoming decent. Far-reaching thoughts got me through the long hours of flight and lay overs. 8 years ago, I would have shuddered in fear at the mindless suggestion of coming back home. Being here is a tease of genuine mockery from whatever higher power waiting for my demise, for we all know my chance of coming out alive is clearly microscopic. There is just this certain itch to find out about the truth that I cannot seem to outlive. I am finally here to close this certain chapter of my life that was left unsolved and unanswered for as long as I can remember. I was away but the ghost of this place has haunted me both in my sleep and through every waking moment. Since then, my heart has been a phantom, wandering through the earth in denial of its renewed state. It seems to not find peace, unable to see the light.

The plane steadily touched down. I can feel its wheels briefly skid through the runway’s rough pavement. The tropical sun crawled through my skin as if a greeting or perhaps a warning of what’s looming ahead. Calls slewed in from one phone to another. “Ma, I am here! Meet me in front of Gate 7″, the lady next to me whose clothing seemed to had just defied the Colorado winter, gasped in elation. She appeared incapable of containing her excitement and her unpreparedness to combat over 100 degrees of warm weather. I glanced at my own reflection against the glass window and wished that for once, I can be incognito amidst this throng of passengers. I was relieved to finally arrive intact and motion sickness-free.

The humid air was the old familiar sensation that welcomed my body the moment I stepped out of the enormous aircraft. Up above, the sky was a sharp image of blue with white cotton-resembling clouds hanging from the blazing sun. Meanwhile, the view to the northeast is a gray umbrella of smog fitting for the industrial park it hovers beneath. I refused to take a whiff of that black exhaust coming out of the white taxi cab and so I held my breath a minute at a time. Slowly, I wheeled my luggage towards the car waiting to take me to my hotel. It was hard treading through the crowd while avoiding possible pickpockets that could yank my blackberry phone any second I lose sight of it. I was hailed by a dark, slender man in a white dress shirt. The name on both our card boards was my own, Aydel Ann M. To my superiors, I am in town on a strictly business agenda, an excuse to put on a straight face and confront the malevolent monster that incessantly hinders me from anticipating the future. The man led me to the back seat. When he finally drove off, I allowed myself to fall through the contours of the arm rest. Blame this exhaustion to another set of baggage I bear within, questions rusted over time. The minute I decided to come here was when I admitted that I was falling short of excuses. My supposedly heart of stone was a fake attempt to fool people, for one cannot make a rock out of paper.

Philippine roads appeared to be caught up with the technological advances of the Western nation. I sort of missed the dancing traffic enforcer that has been replaced by the lights in every intersection. They finally put up street signs on fancy looking posts as well. Grateful for the spare time, I thought of this perilous return. The truth is that before Aydel, I was Ruby. She has been six feet under to many or as what the townsmen were led to believe. Ruby was laid to rest after a big fire engulfed her family’s estate, leaving no casualty. I need to come out from that death that was my lone protector from the odds of being tracked down. The corrupt government will not hand me the justice that I deserve. Wealth and power from the same clan who wanted my disposal is holding the system by the neck.

As expected, images of Benjamin flickered like a light bulb in my head. He was my one great love that never was. The bruises faded away almost at lightning speed, as if they weren’t there to begin with. Incisions were easily approximated by the sutures over time. That too, left only slivers of matured scabs through a swift and pain-free process. The tangible manifestations of its outcome weren’t hard to lock into oblivion but the mental and emotional tortures glued to those experiences were. Recollections of that fateful night were like reruns from a scary movie- a zombie one. Thoughts of Ben have given me hope all these years to one day come back and find him even if that meant crossing paths with the unknown entity who pulled the trigger.

I was headed to my first stop and maybe my last. A lush of green vegetation appears to be eye-catching just a few miles from the access road as we were nearing. It had white crosses planted evenly on perfectly demarcated squares. St. Peter Memorial Park had a complete facelift to maybe conform to the standards of the new housing development of its rich neighboring towns. I began to wonder what my grave looks like and if someone still remembers to visit, or even cared. My headstone seemed to be an interesting thought at the moment. Without a care, I stepped out of the vehicle. I smelled fear but continued on. I see familiar faces, seeming onlookers to my grand arrival. They may already have recognized me or have awaited my return. Someone may have seen me from the airport by a probability of 4 out of 5.

Then, there it was, the Montero mausoleum. I went in through an unlocked metal gate. The burden rooted from their tragic end is still heaping on my weary shoulders until today as I remember them. Each year, there has to be an imminent progress like for instance, no longer crying in my sleep, but that was it for the last 8 years. In reality, my state of being had to improve anyway because I fell down the bottom of the ravine and there was nowhere to go but up. I often cursed my existence for staking my parents’ and my sister’s. There are no words to describe an obscure set of emotions of having to feel responsible for my family’s death. I have scorned myself to the very edge. I resurfaced from the sorrow but not without a mask to conceal the wound that never mended with time. I continued on to search for my grave as the pathway led me to the back end of the enclosure. From about 6 feet away the scent of freshly picked roses and white orchids cloaked the air. Someone has just visited, I was hoping. I closed my eyes for the remainder of the time while I inched nearer to the source of the sweet aroma. I became aware of another person’s presence but I refused to open my eyes just yet. I was confused. Fear and excitement often educes the same butterflies, as well as that old familiar knot in my stomach. I could not tell one apart from the other. All these years, this insatiable hope to see him and finally be able to feel his warmth has only fueled the hunger in my soul.

I can smell him now. The scent of the only man I loved has been carved to my memory. I opened my eyes as time was set in slow motion. I can even sense every muscle fiber in my eyelid retract to get this senseless task done. It felt like a struggle when I finally did. Benjamin’s silhouette came to view but it was blurry. It was as though I was looking through murky waters or through a fog. I supposed the glowering ray of sun disturbed my vision. I can hear my heart’s palpitations in my head, “lub-dub”. It’s him even with the haziness, I was certain. My heart exploded like a festering wound deprived of air. This love must hurt so much; I can feel it in my chest. I would have run straight to him and wrap my arms around his beautiful stature but my feet were weighing me down. I was struck with sudden weakness, so much so that I dropped on both knees.

He came closer and my heart ached again. I mindlessly traced the root of this stabbing pain and clutched my free arm around it. My body jolted. Again, pain sprung out of my chest like an electric current. The surge made me gasp for air. At the corner of my eye, my fist was soiled bright red but I was more conscious of Benjamin standing over me. My blood was pooling around me now but his sight ached more than the gash on my torso. I was able to look at him more vividly. He was still so youthful except for the tiny creases on his temples. For a second he was as always, so powerful with making me feel that same impeccable feeling I cannot put into words. It did not matter what may or may not happen next after everything turned pitch black. All I know was, “I am home now”.

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