I must have been around 12 back then. Monday. I was supposed to go to school but Papa didn’t let me. “We’re going somewhere,” he said. He had a stern expression and an unnatural seriousness about him; and if it wasn’t for that, I would have complained. Unlike other children my age, I was precocious and I valued studying as much as a kid would with playing.
We left home around 5:30am. Only the distant crows of roosters and subtle sounds of people in their homes preparing for the day marred the silent air. No rowdy neighbors, no busy streets; our neighborhood held a certain sophistication that real estate subdivisions had. Cold air embraced the town despite the morning sun. Leaves swayed ever so slightly, letting dew slide down like beads of precious stones. The tinted window of the car filtered the sunrise but it still looked as immaculate as it should. Our speed changed and blurred the scene outside but it stayed frigid, like a golden coin tossed into heaven and stayed where it rightfully belonged. It felt like an anchor to reality, to the world, which—given my age—was incomprehensible to me.
Papa drove a white Honda Civic and cared about it like it was his child. He cleaned it himself almost every day and kept the surfaces scratch-free. I liked the car too so it never struck me as an odd thing. Hours passed by and we still made our way along the road. Forward. Without a hint of hesitation. I wrapped my hands around the book—the only thing that I brought—and sat back.
“Are we there yet, Papa?” I asked, all fidgety.
“Almost there. Just wait a bit, okay?”
The cityscape slowly changed into a place that I didn’t recognize anymore. I had never travelled this far outside the city. When we arrived, it was already around 4pm. Far removed from the city, the surroundings was choked by trees and random greeneries that concealed most of the distant mountains in the background. Papa directed the car into the parking lot of a building that strangely looked like a hospital and a cozy home at the same time. White paint washed almost all of its façade adorned with occasional roughly-laid sundried bricks and glass walls. I took Papa’s hand and held my book tightly across my chest as we entered the building and walked straight to the reception desk. The lobby had a quiet ambiance and the smell of medicine and miscellaneous chemicals accurately emulated the atmosphere of a hospital. The people that wandered around, though, were mostly elderly people on wheelchairs or walkers guided by younger people clad in light blue or green uniforms. The image of flowers carried by their branches and leaves came into my mind.
“Long time no see, Mr. Apostol,” the receptionist said. Beaming a smile that revealed uneven sets of teeth. Her hair was tightly pulled into a neat bun. I could tell that they knew each other well—which was unsurprising considering Papa’s outgoing nature. Papa smiled back and then bent over toward me. “Papa’s just going to the restroom. Go somewhere and play for the time being and I’ll meet you here in a minute. That okay?” I rarely ever played in my younger days. Books were enough to keep me entertained. And I think Papa and Mama knew that.
I nodded and ambled about the lobby. A glass wall with huge swing doors led to a lawn covered in green turf. Old people on wheelchairs and benches sat leisurely letting the afternoon sun wash their bodies. Some of them read books and magazines. Some of them were even taking their naps. But a certain Lolo caught my attention. He sat on a wooden park bench, alone, dressed in striped, light blue pajamas and a thin towel draped over his shoulders. On a closer look, he was gaunt and weak-looking but he had a certain energy suspended around him that made him look pleasant and approachable. His hair were all white and his receded hairline made his forehead broader than normal. He fixed his gaze on the afternoon sky and the glare of the sun made him squint every now and then. His demeanor was calm like the sea on windless days. I needed a place to sit and read my book so I sat on the other end of his bench.
“Hijo…hijo,” the Lolo said, now looking at me, eyes sunken deep into its sockets. I didn’t notice him at first because I was engrossed in my book almost instantly after I started reading it.
“What’s that you’re reading? Is it fun?” A warm smile that reminded me of the dewy sunrise was plastered on his face.
“It’s called A Different Place in Time. I really like it.” I said, showing him the cover.
“I see. What’s it about?”
“Time-travels and stuff like that,” I answered with a hint of pride and politeness. This was the kind of books that I was really into. Science fiction became a part of me and had helped me grow up to the man that I am now.
“I see,” he said and paused. He averted his gaze back to the sky like he was thinking about something. Finally, he continued. “Y’know, I too, had travelled through time.” I closed my book and responded with silence and underlying interest. As precocious as I was, I hadn’t dismissed the possibility of things that happen in books so I was curious.
“It was about 30 years ago, or was it 40?” Honestly, I was surprised that he was about to tell an obviously long story to some kid like me. “On an excuse of going overtime at work, I stayed—“He stopped and looked at me again. His eyes were like lenses of a camera zooming in and out with me on the frame. He shrugged and continued, “I stayed at a woman’s house. Another woman. Not my wife. I was so sure everything was gonna be smooth that night as I did it many times before. But that time, my wife was pregnant with our first son and was nearing her due.” Occasionally, Lolo had to stop and take his deep, long breaths.
“In the middle of the night, my wife called me and said that she was going into labor. And out of panic, I immediately took off and left some of my things at the woman’s place. Heavy rain poured down, suddenly, like a sign from God, and made the roads slippery. That’s when it happened, I drove past a red light and a 16-wheeler truck hit the car I was in.”
I noticed that elderly people really did like to talk about things from their lives. Normally, it bothered me whenever this happened, but for some reason, Lolo’s story held my interest tight. There were lapses in the meaning that I had gathered from his words but I understood the general idea. I felt something inside me snap. Like a cable connecting my thoughts and words was cut. Unable to say anything, I focused on the sun that was oddly entirely visible from where we were sitting. It was already starting to set. Its color that ran from yellow to nearly orange rinsed the clouds and looked like brushstrokes of a painting. Birds flew among them, in a formation that looked a lot like the letter V, finally going home to where they came from.
“The next thing I knew, I was already in a hospital bed, more than ten years into the future. I never even saw my son being born. I didn’t even know if he really was born into this world. After a few days, though, my wife came to visit me, I knew she would look older but it was different from what I had imagined. Ten years had been a really long time and things were bound to change. She was with a little boy, looked a lot like you, and seeing him made me happy. She knew about my affair with the other woman and because of that, she treated me coldly. If not for the fact that I got into an accident, she would have been angrier. My son knew I was his father but he grew up never really relying on me. Not that I didn’t deserve it, it was just…sad for me. Years flew by and my wife died before I did. And now that a long time has passed and I feel like I’m nearing the end too, I wanted to see them for the last time. I want to see my family for one last time.”
Lolo’s voice was trembling, along with his entire body. It was subtle but noticeable. It was like he was already used to bottling his emotions inside but everything was finally on the verge of spilling out. I stayed silent. What could a twelve-year-old kid could possibly say in these situations?
“Can you tell me your name, hijo?”
“Timoteo Apostol, Jr.”
Upon hearing this, he smiled, and finally, the tears that had been welling up in his eyes slid down his cheeks. I didn’t understand what was happening. The situation made me uneasy and I felt helpless.
“Teo?” Papa’s voice came from behind. With incredible synchronization, both Lolo and I looked at Papa. Silence fell upon us and no one spoke for a moment. Lolo’s expression changed, as if trying to untangle emotions that struck him in a single blow. That was when it all came to me.
Ivan is a BS Architecture student in the University of the Philippines Mindanao.