Apr 19, 2013

When the Fireworks Begin (Chapter XXI)

It’s a beautiful morning.  It was still early but the city is alive and busy.  A lot of people are trying to finish their last minute shopping. Others were looking for round fruits to be used as center pieces for the occasion tonight.  Occasional bursts of firecrackers could be heard.   Tonight is New Year’s eve.

Devon inhaled the faint sweet scent of the air in the small terrace in front of their apartment. The faint smell of smoke made everything more earthy, more real. She smiled a little, while watching their neighbors’ kids play with their horns and rattles, making sure that they will be making enough noise for tonight. 

On Devon’s lap was a brown leather planner inscribed with the numbers 2011.  This was her planner for the present year.  She slowly opened it, allowing her thin fingers to run through the soft pages, rereading the entries she had made earlier that year.

During the months of January to March, the scribbles were written so close together that she could barely read them.  Deadlines, evaluations, schedule for her students’ thesis defense, seminars, organizational activities, mentoring activities.  Everything was written in the planner.  Eventually the scribbles became less frequent. Until the succeeding months became empty.

Devon traced the empty dates. She sighed. But a smile came to her face when she finally turned the page where boldly written were the words: MY TO DO LIST.  Under it were the things she promised to accomplish and places she promised to visit. 

Today, she decided to revisit her list.  She made a check mark on the number stating: visit Boracay.  Another check landed on revisit Baguio.  She also checked the one saying to zipline, and even putting a heart beside it.  She loved the thrill when she ziplined in Davao.  In fact, she did it twice. 

She saw the words Mt. Mayon, and checked it also.  A few months ago, she flew to Bicol and was able to see the volcano’s perfect cone.  The advertising agency decided to send James to a seminar in Bicol. Some adjustments were made so that Devon would be able to travel with him. 

Since James will be preoccupied, Shey and Ivan decided to ditch their work to accompany Devon.  Devon was both overwhelmed by their concern and also livid since they filed absences from their work. Shey and Ivan shrugged off her protests.

“The least that you can do is pretend that you would like to do this with us,” Shey waved a finger at her.  Ivan stood beside his girlfriend and nodded.  

Shey acted like a mother hen during the entire Bicol trip.  She won’t let Devon out since the sun was too hot, the wind too strong, the skies too cloudy. She insisted on bringing a small collapsible chair everywhere to make sure that Devon can sit down anytime. Shey made Ivan carry a big canvas bag which has everything including a first aid kit, a map showing the nearest medical facilities, bottles of water, juices, crackers.  It made Devon so frustrated that she finally threatened to throw Shey and Ivan out of the hotel if they would not stop acting like overbearing grandparents.

Shey and Ivan decided to ease a little. But it took several hours of convincing before they allowed Devon to take part in a cave exploration activity.  But they won’t budge when Devon suggested going to nearby Donsol to swim with the whale sharks.  Shey took out her best debating skills and made a barricade at Devon and James’s hotel door.  

They decided to compromise and allowed Devon to watch the giant butanding from the boat, instead.  The one hour drive from Legazpi and additional travel made every minute out in the water worth it.  Seeing the imposing creature swimming beside the boat was definitely an extremely, exciting experience which Devon treasured. 

She slowly scribbled on the old planner, adding see the whale sharks and placing a check mark beside it.  She noticed that her handwriting was a little sloppy compared with her earlier entries.  She tried to push the sad and nagging feeling away, concentrating on the wonderful memories instead.

She saw another entry, calesa ride in Vigan.  Another blessing in disguise.  Just a month after Bicol, it was Ivan who was given the chance to visit Ilocos Sur.  However, the flight is expensive and they were really trying to come up with a good financial plan so they can fly to Ilocos Sur.  Sam dropped by to give them free tickets.

James initially refused to use them, saying in his sharp clipped voice that they will manage. They always managed. 

Sam pressed the tickets into James hand.  “Just let me be a part of this, whatever it is you are doing.” 

James was hesitant, but Sam pressed. “It’s either you take these tickets, or I am taking her.” With that, James closed his hand on the ticket and they flew to Ilocos with Ivan.     

Devon laid her pen down and closed the planner and leaned back, her tired hands and feet catching the warm sun rays.  Sometimes, she wondered if this trip made any difference.  Sometimes, she wondered if she has become selfish to cause great pain and problems on her dear husband, family, and friends. 

“Already hot?” James asked, peeking behind the doorframe.  “You want to go back inside?”

Devon shook her head.  “Not yet. It’s still early.”

James walked out of the house while wiping his wet hands from a dish towel.  “Just finished the laundry.”

Devon nodded.  She wanted to argue that James does not have to do that, but she can’t. She knows that he would not allow her to do any kind of household chores, besides, she knows that her thin fingers are not that strong anymore.

James pulled the chair beside Devon and relaxed.  “What are you doing?” James asked nodding at the leather planner lying on Devon’s lap.

Devon smiled fondly at her husband.  “Just checking the list.”

James smiled.  “How many are still left?”

Devon shook her head, sadly, but trying to put a smile into her face.  “Face it, we’re not going to finish it all.”

“Ah-huh,” James replied.  “Let me see your list.  Maybe we can do something in January or in February.”

Devon shook her head again, refusing to give her planner to James.  “It’s okay, baby.  I won’t be able to travel anyway.”

“What do you mean?” James countered softly. “Of course you can, you’re a fighter.”

Devon smiled lovingly at her husband. “I am just too weak to travel next month.”

Silence passed between them. James was pressing his lips together.  Sooner or later he has to accept that fact, Devon thought.  Devon reached for his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. 

“We both know that it will come to this,” Devon tried to remind James. 

James bowed his head.  “But it is just too soon,” he argued.  Devon sensed that his words were not for her. 

“Nothing is too soon,” Devon reassured him.  “Everything has its right time and place.”

James looked at Devon. A sad smile appeared in his lips. He pulled Devon’s hands towards his lips and gave it a kiss.  “You make me look like a wimp,” James weakly joked.

Devon laughed.  “Well, we also both know that you really are a weakling.  Aling Edna’s two year old grandson is braver than you.”

“And how is that,”  James dared.

“Oh, dear husband, let me remind you how you screamed and ran out of the bathroom when you saw a spider” Devon replied.

“It was this big,” James answered back, showing his fist.  “I did not scream, I yelled. There’s a big difference in that.”

Devon laughed.  “Do you want me to remind you about...”

 “Enough of this insulting conversations,” James announced, pulling himself up, standing straight.  “My dear wife, even though you insult my manliness, I am still an ideal husband which is why I have a gift for you this New Year’s Eve.”

“Really,” Devon said. “Where is it then?”

“But since, you have made fun of my manhood, you will have to wait until tonight,” James countered.

This made Devon more curious, and James became more secretive.  The comic banter continued between them. The past few days have been hard for them, but their laughter and Devon’s sunny personality has made things easier to bear, somehow. 

Later that night, Devon and James visited her parents’ home to celebrate New Year.  Just like every year, Ivan and Shey spent the evening with Devon’s family.  It was an hour before midnight when Devon started to give James glowering looks.

“What?” James asked, jokingly.

“Well?” Devon replied. “You said you will give something.”

James chuckled and clucked his tongue.  “You are very impatient.”

Devon tried to pinch him, but James was able to move away from her fingers.  “Let’s watch the fireworks.”

Devon nodded.  James stooped down and carried her. “Hey we’re going to watch the fireworks,” shouted at Shey and Ivan.

James carried Devon straight to the car. She protested. “Hey, you said we’re going to watch the fireworks.”

“I know,” James answered, smiling. 

Shey ran out of the house and shouted. “Where are you two going?”

“We’re going on a date,” James shouted over the increasing noise.  “We’ll be back later.”

Before Shey could react, James drove his car.  Devon knew instantly where they are going.  Of course, they are going to their most favourite spot. Their hill.

“I almost forgot of our promise,” Devon said as James pulled into the grassy hill. He immediately laid down a blanket. 

“Let me carry you,” James offered. 

“You’ll hurt your back if you keep doing this,” Devon protested.

“Hey, are you insulting me again?” James said, pretending to look hurt.

He sat down beside Devon and watched the dark sky. Fireworks lit the sky, booming noises can be heard.  “I almost forgot our promise to spend every New Year’s even here,” Devon slowly shared.  She took a deep breath, and tried to take every scent, scenery, and moment in.

James placed his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close to him. “Are you cold?” James asked.

Devon said no and laid her head comfortably on the crook of James neck. She loved sitting like this. 

“Here’s my gift,” James said, pulling out a thick book behind his back.

It was wrapped with a pink ribbon. Devon smiled and pulled the ribbon off. It was a hard book cover, it looks like a coffee table book. 

“What is this?” Devon asked.

“Open it,” James urged.

From the lamppost light, Devon could see a gold engraving on the dark red cover.  It says “Memories.”  Devon opened it and felt her chest thickening. Inside were glossy pages containing their photographs together.  There was a part when photos of them as kids, photos of their families appeared. 

“How...” Devon was lost for words.

“I asked Ivan, Shey, Inay and Itay for some of your photographs. And of course, we were taking pictures together during our trip,”  James explained.  “I made the layout myself, whenever you are asleep so you won’t see what I am up too. And then I asked one of the agency’s publishing houses to print it for me. Cheap, of course.”

Devon looked as her husband’s beaming face.  She remembered waking up late at night, realizing that James was not lying down beside her but was hunkered in the front of the computer, probably finishing the layout of this fabulous book.

And then loud bang interrupted her thoughts and several fireworks started shooting up into the sky, at once.  Devon pulled her husband close to her.

“I love you so much,” Devon whispered while hugging him. “I was probably a very good girl to deserve someone like you.”

They continued to watch the fireworks.  When there were only occasional bursts of light in the sky, they decided to go back to Devon’s parents house.

“You should stop carrying me,” Devon protested.

“I want to,” James reasoned.

“The reason we bought a wheelchair is for you not to carry me around,” Devon reasoned back.

“Are you trying to imply that I am not strong enough,” James answered,  trying to appear angry.

But Devon only laughed at him and made more fun of him.  James carried her inside the car.  The wheelchair, tucked in the back.  Devon has been in the wheelchair since October, which is why they stopped travelling.

After their Ilocos trip, Devon lost her legs.  She just woke up one morning, unable to move them.   Devon, unable to walk, surrendered to the fact that she won’t be able to finish her bucket list anymore.


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