“One, two, three”. With both of us at either side, we lifted the metal plate upwards opening up the manhole. The stench of the sewer immediately engulfed our noses. I swear it even made our eyes sting. We set the plate down on the side and hurriedly ran far from it to get a dose of breathable air again.
“Don’t tell me we’re seriously gonna do that?” I asked Dan, pleading him to say “No”. The guy just smiled at me though, like there’s no way we’d be backing out now.
“Come on. We’re already here. Don’t you wanna get your keys back? Finally get that sleep?” He reminded me and I groaned. If I didn’t lose my keys and got locked out of my own apartment, I would be sleeping soundly by this time. Instead, here I was playing along a complete stranger’s plan.
“I don’t know.” I said shaking my head. I was perfectly comfortable here, appreciating the feel of clean breathable air into my lungs. And, there had to be another way for me to get inside my locked apartment, right? Maybe, the landlords do have copies of my keys when they arrive tomorrow afternoon? We don’t have to go down there. The possibility that we’d actually find my keys in the depths of the sewers was so far-fetched.
“Come on now” He was back by the manhole, unbuttoning the few top buttons of his shirt. I saw the brown of his abdomen lined by a shadow cast by the nearby lamp post. He sat down and patted the ground next to me, inviting me to sit with him. I felt my feet move and before I knew it, I was sitting down by his side. Ugh, why was I so turned on at this moment, even at such a disgusting setting?
I sighed, pretending to give up like I didn’t have a choice but to follow the guy. The smell of the sewer was still overpowering and I saw Dan covering his nose with the halves of his open shirt. I did the same thing with mine.
“How do you even get down there?” I said and I swear, you could hear the sarcasm from my muffled voice. Looking down, we couldn’t see anything, but pitch black. We could smell everything though, the kind of ungodly mixture of garbage, piss, sht and what I swear were dead rotting animals. Dan whipped out his phone and turned on the flashlight.
“Let’s see.” It was completely useless. The darkness seemed to be absorbing the light from Dan’s phone. He didn’t give up though and put his hand lower into the hole. I didn’t even think there was a bottom. We were both busy, with our heads deep within the opening of the hole, when I suddenly noticed something furry by my arms.
“Is that your arm?” I commented as I felt it rubbing against my folded arm. What’s with the funny business? I thought we were focused on a mission. This guy was a slick one.
“What do you mean?” He looked me in the eyes and answered. I popped my head out of the manhole and saw the beady eyes of a giant rat caught right between my arms trying to escape.
“What the hell?” I panicked, pushing my body right into Dan who’s head was still deep within the manhole. No, they’re definitely not cute. So much for being our friends! The rat scurried off under a nearby car and disappeared from view.
“Sht” Dan hissed, putting his entire upper body into the hole. What was he doing? I grabbed his torso pulled him back into the surface. He was breathing heavily and his eyes were still laser-focused on the hole.
It was only when I heard the faint plop echoing from deep within the hole that I knew what happened. Oh God, I was ruining this guy’s life. Should I leave now? This guy didn’t know me and I may have just robbed him blind. He’s gonna kill me isn’t he? I deserved it. He could just fit my dead body right into the hole and drop it down the sewer waters. Nobody would ever find my body down there. I even mentioned to him how I didn’t have any friends or family here in the city. I may have just made myself into the perfect victim for murder.
“I just dropped your phone” I admitted, getting myself ready for the horrific events that may come next.
“Yes, you did.” He said staring back at me. I was already imaging how he was gonna do it. Will he beat me up bloody first or just trap my body down there until I suffocate and get devoured by sewer rats.
“Well, enough of that. Help me close up this hole.” What? He seemed calm like his frustration quickly melted away.
“You’re not getting your phone back?” I asked.
“Dude, nope. That drop seemed long. I don’t know if we can even find out way back up if we go down there.” He added.
“Oh”. I was kind of disappointed for second because we failed on our mission. I did have to admit that this turnout was more of a relief. “I’m sorry about phone. I’ll have it replaced, I swear. You can even use mine in the meantime”. I was guilty. I caused nothing but trouble and inconvenience to the guy. Why was he still trying to help me?
“Nah, that’s fine” He seemed pretty chill about it.
“Sorry about your keys though” He said, kind of looking embarrassed to have suggested the entire idea in the first place.
“That’s alright. Hopefully the land lords may just let me in tomorrow. I mean, if they’ll recognize me”. I looked at my shirt, covered with sooth and grease. I looked at Dan. His entire upper half was sticky with grease and sweat. “They’ll probably think I’m a homeless person though.” I just realized how things couldn’t possibly get any worse than this. The universe really had it in for me tonight, huh? I should be so depressed given that I’ve finally hit rock bottom, but instead I burst out laughing. This took me by surprise. Dan laughed along with me until we were both out of breath.
“We’re complete fcked, aren’t we? Well, at least we’re stuck with each other, right?” He said.
The thought seemed so funny to me. To spend forever with Dan, just like this. We’ll be roaming the streets, looking through garbage cans and hopping into sewers. We’d be the cutest homeless couple anyone would ever see. We’d take in street children into our makeshift home out of used wood and discarded campaign tarpaulins. We’d probably even die of starvation, trying to fend for our adopted children first. We’d take our last breath together like the couple in The Notebook. We won’t die of old age though, just at the same time. But that’s alright, because isn’t forever just the rest of your life? The rest of your life until you die.
To imagine a future where I wasn’t alone, even if it was just a fantasy or a quick though brings a single tear down my cheek.
“Hey, why are you crying? It’s not the end of the world. There many ways out of this situation”. He quickly came to my side and put an arm around my shoulder, slowly patting it to give me some sort of solace.
“No. It’s not that.” I said laughing. He looks at me with the cutest look of wonder in his face.
“This is really funny, you know? All of this. You, especially. I just forgot what it felt like to be with someone” I said softly.
“Be with someone?” Dan said with a curious look on his face. Gosh, that came out wrong. He might be getting the impression that I think we’re already in a long term relationship. Way to go, Sam. Now, you completely just blew up that possibility.
“No. That’s not what I meant.” I said almost too fast to make out the words properly.
“It’s just” I sighed defeated. I might as well say it. The truth was always there at the back of my mind. And, as much as I tried to distract myself and try to deny it, doesn’t mean I can keep it buried. It was always going to fight its way back to the surface. If I gave in now, will this pain ease up even just for a bit?
“I don’t have anyone. When I told you I was alone, I meant that in a literal sense. The people in my life have left me behind.” I was scared of the words that were coming out of my mouth because this was the first time I was actually hearing myself say it. I tried to continue seeking some explanation why I was exactly like this.
“You see, I don’t think I’m a good person. I’ve done some things, had some thoughts that I’m not proud of. Do I even deserve forgiveness?”. It was painful as the memories come rushing back into my mind like I’ve cracked one of those big aquariums in Ocean Park or Sea World. I can see the cracks spreading in all directions until the pressure’s too much. The glass breaks and water comes gushing and I let it take me out. “I just don’t want to put anyone through that kind of hurt and pain again”. I said through more tears pouring out of my eyes.
“We can’t change our past but we can learn from it. We always have the chance to do better.” Dan offered, trying to see light in my situation. I knew that and wasn’t that exactly what I was doing by staying away? I’ve caused too much trouble so it was better to be isolated, to contain myself.
“So now, I just live quietly. I removed myself from the people closest to me and started a new life on my own. I try to limit my contact with people, to not form any relationships with anyone. I bring misfortune to people I let into my life so I just don’t. I mean” I lay my arms outward like it could not have been more obvious. This entire mess was my fault because I’m clumsy, because I make the wrong choices and I drag people to suffer the consequences.
“This wasn’t your fault. First of all. You lost your keys accidentally and trying to find them was my idea.” He reminded me, but I was still convinced like in some way this was still my doing.
“And what do you mean? You don’t talk to anyone at all? I find that impossible.” He kept the questions coming. His eyebrows were furrowed like he’s pissed at me. I didn’t blame him for being angry, now that I’ve told him the truth.
“It’s easier than you think. I go to work and then, I go home. I keep my head low and try not to look anyone on the eyes. I’m barely remembered.” I said like I’m somehow letting him in on a little secret. I kind of slipped with Dan though. The first thing I saw were those big eyes of his and I was instantly drawn in, but I never thought we’d actually spend all this time together.
“I don’t know what to say. You seem like a really great person, you know? I feel like a anyone would be lucky to have you into their life.” He said with a hint of frustration in his breath. This was definitely not true, but it was sweet of him.
“Thank you.” I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t know if his words actually meant anything. Did this change anything? After today, will my luck change? Will I have the guts to step out of the quiet life I have gotten so used to living? Yes, it was miserable being alone, but was it worth the risk of hurting people and just having them leave me behind again?
Dan sensed that I was still lost in thought. He sighed and moved closer. He was too close now. He held my cheeks and lifted my face to look at him, right into those captivating eyes once again. “Hey, you don’t have to be alone. I’m here. And from now on, I can be your friend. Okay?”
He said waiting for me to acknowledge the promise he was making. I nodded my head slowly. I would give anything in the world for that to be true. If only could believe it.
Then, he hugged me so tight, holding on like he was afraid I might disappear into thin air any second. Why was that? I was just a stranger. I did nothing, but embarrass myself, ridicule the guy and drag him along the mess that I am. It felt so nice though being in his strong arms. If I could just freeze time, it would right here at this moment. But of course, this has to end.
He let go and looked at me. “Alright. Let’s go to my place” Wait what? That suddenly brought me back to Earth and away from the foreign planet that is my drama.
“It’ gonna be a long ass ride so we should probably just do it here” Dan muttered under his thick breath. I was confused. What were we going to do? Right here in the streets? Outdoors? I’m a lady.
He was suddenly taking off his shirt and then, he grabbed the bottoms of mine to raise it above my head. I lifted my arms up. He had a bit of trouble which gave me a bit of time to think. What the hell was I doing? Once he got my shirt off, I blurted. “I’m sorry. Don’t you think it’s too soon and totally inappropriate?”
“What do you mean?” He said whipping off his sweat with our shirts. I took a note to never wash my shirt after this night. He opened up his back pack and took out a fresh new shirt to change into. He tossed one to me too.
“I don’t know if this will fit you. Might be a bit tight. Dude, you’re kind of huge.” He said laughing. I stood there embarrassed. Yes, I was crazy and I should be more cautious with the places my thoughts were headed to.
He was still smiling, waiting for me to finishing changing. I put on shirt on and looked away. Well, at least he didn’t catch on with what I thought was happening. Thank God, I didn’t physically overreact. This was the only time I actually kind of saved myself from embarrassment tonight.
We grabbed our stuff and made our way towards the bus station. It was quiet, but it didn’t really bother me. It was a comfortable silence and I didn’t feel the need to anxiously fill it in with words. We had the open air and that was enough to keep us connected. We seemed to be going at the same pace, in the same direction.
“Hey look. It’s the morning already.” I looked at the sky and notice that he was right. The sky was slowly changing colors as we walk one step after the other. The roosters started with their cockledoodledoo’s and we were met with the welcome morning breeze. Dan seemed to notice how I was suddenly chilly so he went closer and put his arm around my shoulder, pulling me closer to him. No words were necessary. We just walked, our eyes watching the horizon lined by the city’s towering buildings as the sun made its way further up into the sky.
We caught the last bus, right as it was about to take off. There was only one seat left, and Dan let me take it.
“Are you sure, it’s okay for you to stand? It’s gonna be a long ride, right?” I asked.
“Yes, it’s alright. And one of these people might get off in a few minutes so I can just wait for that.” He said.
“Oh, okay. Just lean into my chair so you don’t put too much pressure on your legs” I said.
Dan looked at me weirdly. Ugh, might he be starting to notice how I was slowly crushing on him?
“I feel like I’ve seen you before. I just don’t know where.” He said.
“Oh right. We were in the same bus earlier.” I almost forgot. That seemed like forever ago even when it was actually just last night.
“We were? I can’t believe I didn’t notice. Isn’t that funny?” He said amused like the universe played a trick on him that he was a fool not to see coming.
“Yeah, it is. Who knew you were actually a nice guy?” I said teasing.
“Hey!” He acted insulted, but he was clearly trying to hide his laughter.
“Just kidding.” I said. My eyes suddenly felt so heavy and I yawned a big one. I was exhausted and I felt my entire body drop like it couldn’t keep going anymore.
“You better get to sleep already. Don’t worry. I’ll wake you up when we’re near.” He said and I didn’t even get to respond before I was completely out of it.
I woke up with a big thump. My head crashed right into the seat in front of me.
“Ow”. I just said, not even fully awake yet. I wiped the drool from my mouth and slowly opened up my eyes.
“Hey are you okay?” I couldn’t see clearly, but I heard worry in Dan’s voice. I wonder if the guy even got any sleep. Wasn’t he at all tired from everything we did last night?
“Oh, I’m fine, Dan. I’m kinda hard-headed. Just literally, not figuratively. Haha” I said trying to rub the sleep out of my eyes. Too early for my corny jokes.
“Dan?” He asked.
Only when I was able to see him clearly that I see the confusion in his face. I quickly looked around me. We we’re still in the bus, but it was dark outside. Wait, what if I made a mistake? What if this guy’s name wasn’t Dan at all? Are we still on the same bus, the bus I took coming home from work? Was all of that actually just a dream? Did I make everything up in my mind, a love story that was too good to be true?
I was suddenly aware of all of the other people surrounding us, strangers from all walks of life. Of course, I can’t get my answers from them. I tried to think, but my mind was foggy and it hurt like pins and needles. I pinched my forehead and tried to dig deep for a possible explanation. What were my next steps? I needed to get out of here. I mentally fixed myself up and tried to regain whatever composure I had left.
“Oh, sorry I’m sorry about that”. I said to the guy calmly with my head facing right to the front of the bus again. Don’t make eye contact with anyone. That’s when I saw that we were approaching the light at the end of a tunnel. Wait, we were passing through a tunnel? The bus reached the exit and light poured in from the windows. It was morning, but I didn’t recognize the surroundings at all. How long was I asleep for? Did I miss my stop? Where the hell was I going?
I shifted my head around and around, more confused than ever. Let’s not panic now. I tried to steal a glance at the guy sitting next to me. He caught my gaze far too easily and I was immediately locked in. His stare was incriminating like he saw me, like he never stopped looking.
Disclaimer : This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Prado Arturo Navarro Bognot
You know what? I think you should consider creating a tutorial for short story writing! Haha
And I am here again reading your stories haha Part 3 looks good. I’ll be reading part 4 now 🙂
iba din kakiligan eh ano. til part 4 lang ba ito? bitin naman yan.. will read pa lang part 4!!
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