“He looks so gloomy today, too.”
“His mood is kinda scary, isn’t it? Gives you the impression that he’s so damn depressed. I wouldn’t be surprised if, one day, he also decided to do what his sister did.”
“Hush. Lower your voice. He might hear you.”
I sigh as I hear my officemates start to gossip about the same topic again. They just don’t get tired of it, do they? Saying something about a co-worker behind their back is terrible enough, but what these people are doing is much worse than that. Not only do they talk about the guy, but they also do about his sister. About his dead sister.
Pricks. These people are.
At the mention of my name, I stop typing and look up from the screen of my office computer. Staring at me is the current favorite subject of this company’s gossipmongers. Aziel.
He does look tired, I mentally note. What with the dark circles under his eyes.
“I just sent you an email of the report your team manager requested from our department,” Aziel tells me, but I am too busy assessing his weary face to actually listen. “So—” he pauses, probably realizing that he’s not getting any response from me. This time, he speaks tentatively. “Can you please check on it?”
“Oh.” I snap out of my thoughts. “Oh yeah, sure. I’ll do it.”
I flash him a grin in the hope that it will break the awkwardness that I didn’t notice has built up. All I get in return is a nod before Aziel walks out of our department’s office.
A minute has passed, and I can still feel the stares of our colleagues on me. They have been like that since Aziel and I were talking. I pretend not to notice them and focus on my work instead. At least, they never approach me to talk about the guy if it’s not work-related. Maybe they know that I am going to shut them off anyway if they even try. Good thing that they are aware.
I honestly don’t understand these people’s recent obsession with a coworker. I mean, I do know what started it. I know the reason why they gossip about him. But I never get the appeal of talking negatively about someone else’s personal life.
The truth is that Aziel wasn’t always the miserable guy people see now. In fact, he and his sister, Ariel, used to be two of the most promising employees of this company. Both bright and talented, our colleagues had high regard for them. Older ones trusted them; younger ones aspired to be them. It seemed like everything was going well for the siblings. That is, until Ariel’s incident.
A couple of months ago, Ariel was found dead by their parents in her room. The final findings revealed that the cause of death was a sleeping pill overdose. It was a suicide.
Not surprisingly, the incident created a huge buzz in our company. The woman, whom everyone thought was living a perfect life, killed herself for a reason that no one can fathom. Why would someone who had it all choose to end her life? That was the biggest question that went around in the workplace.
Unsolicited opinions were given. Apparently, when someone dies by suicide, people think it’s an excuse for them to judge the dead and call them things like “selfish,” “coward,” “weak,” “crazy,” “sinful.” They don’t even know what that person has gone through, yet they think they do. They always think they know better.
Few people were genuinely devastated by Ariel’s death. Needless to say, it shattered Aziel the most. When his sister died, it was like the old Aziel died with her too. It has been months, but he has never been cheerful again since that time. He’s still smart, still reliable at work, but the liveliness he used to have is gone. He is just like a walking empty shell now.
The drastic change in Aziel gave people, who have nothing better to do with their lives, another reason to make up stories. What if his mind works like his sister’s? What if he’s mentally ill too? After all, he and his sister are very similar in a lot of ways. Is it alright to keep him at work? Can he still function normally?
Imagine how awful all these are for Aziel. He just lost someone very important to him; it’s natural that he would grieve, but instead of helping him recover, people treat him like he has some contagious disease or is someone who will go berserk at any moment. They think his sister was crazy, so he probably is too, especially now that he’s showing signs of being depressed.
There is no way he doesn’t have the slightest idea of what our coworkers whisper to each other every time he is around. I wonder how he is able to put up with all these bullshits going around here.
“Aren’t you going home yet, Hart?” That pulls me back to the present. I look around my surroundings and realize that all of my officemates are gone. A glance at the time on my computer lets me know that it’s nearly 8 p.m.
I smile at the man who asked me the question. “In a couple of minutes. I just need to wrap this one up. It’s kinda urgent.”
“Okay, I’ll leave first then.”
I shut down my computer and lean back on the swivel chair as soon as my officemate is out.
I lied. There’s no urgent work that needs to be finished. I only said that because I couldn’t tell him that I didn’t feel like going home yet. I grab my coat and walk out of the office. Only one place is where I want to be right now. The rooftop.
It’s dark, as most of the lights in every department I pass are out. Turning at the corner beside the Accounting Office, I pick up my pace. I opt to take the stairs because this is the highest floor of the building. My destination is just above, and I need a little exercise once in a while too.
The first thing I notice when I reach the rooftop is the brighter surroundings outside. It’s a full moon, and the sky is full of stars. I immediately walk to the railing, lean on it, and take in the familiar view of the city. I love watching the scene from up here at night. It always helps when I need to clear my mind.
“Hart?” someone calls, and I almost jump. Almost.
I turn to the source of the voice and find Aziel sitting on the railing. What in the world is he doing?
“Jesus Christ, Aziel. What the hell are you doing there?” I voice out.
“I am just watching the night sky. The city too.” He gets off the railing and walks to me. “And you? What are you doing here?”
I ignore his question. “Stop doing something insane like that.” Maybe I should have chosen my words better. Or I can blame my earlier surprise for not immediately noticing my mistake. “That was dangerous. I thought you—” I halt. Shit.
“You thought what?” Aziel presses, a pained smile forming on his lips. “Did you think I was going to jump off?”
I thought you might fall. Much as I want to reply in defense, I don’t want to cut him off, afraid it will upset him more.
“Did you think I was going to kill myself?” Even his voice sounds distressed. “Level with me, Hart. Do you also think my sister was crazy? And that makes me crazy too?”
I can’t really blame him for being emotional right now. I guess all those shits people are saying about him and Ariel behind his back are seriously getting to him after all. Just how good is he at hiding this part of himself?
There is a long pause before I answer, as I want to make sure it’s safe for me to talk again.
“Look,” I start. I try to sound as calm as possible, hoping it will placate him too. “I didn’t mean it like that. You just honestly surprised me, and I was afraid you might fall. Who sits on the railing of a rooftop anyway? And I hope you know that I don’t think your sister was crazy, nor do I think you are.”
“I’m sorry,” Aziel says, his regret audible. “Things are just really piling up, and... I’m really sorry for taking it out on you.” He looks even more exhausted now.
“It’s fine,” I assure him. “What are you doing here anyway?” In my desperation to change the topic, I forget that the question was already asked and answered.
Thankfully, Aziel doesn’t seem to mind. He turns back to the view below. I follow suit.
“Just appreciating the night scene,” he answers, “I usually come here when things get confusing and messed up. I don’t know but it feels like being up here helps me clear my head.”
A chuckle escapes from me. “I was thinking the same thing before you almost gave me a heart attack. So if you usually come here, why did I never run into you until now?”
Oh, I am actually having a very normal conversation with Aziel. This is the first time. Even when his sister was still alive and he was considered one of the company’s aces, I never had the chance to talk to him like this. We were never really close, to begin with. I remember him smiling at me whenever we passed by each other, but that was it. Despite him being a genial guy before, I always thought we would never hit it off because we are too different from each other. Now that I think about it, the fact that we’re not friends is on me, huh?
It’s not bad, I realize now, talking with Aziel. I wonder if it would feel the same if it were with the old him. But then again, is there a difference between the Aziel then and now?
“The truth is, this is my first time coming back here after Ariel passed away. I didn’t mention it earlier, but we used to come here together late at night when everyone had gotten off from work.”
“Oh.” I am not sure what else to say.
“Oh,” Aziel mimics. Did I just hear a hint of amusement in his voice? I turn to him to confirm, but I can’t get a good look at his expression. I can only see his side profile as he’s looking ahead. “That’s just very you.”
Huh? What does he mean? And why does he talk like he knows me very well?
My silence must have hinted at my confusion. Aziel finally turns to me, and as if reading my thoughts, he explains, “I mean, you’re always so spontaneous, Hart. At the same time, you’re too honest. You always tend to say what’s on your mind, but you never pretend to know what to say when you really don’t.” He smiles. It is faint, but this is the first time in a while that I’ve seen this expression from him. “I may not have told you this before, but I’ve always admired you for it.”
That is news to me. I try to find the right response to give, but I still can’t.
It seems like Aziel is not really expecting one as he continues, “Even when Ariel was gone, everyone had something to say. Some even dissed her upon her death and then talked bad about me behind my back, questioning my mental stability as if demeaning my deceased sister wasn’t already too much. Sure, some tried to console me, and I know they meant well, but it all felt pointless. At some point, their concern started to smother me. Words like “cheer up” and “be happy” began to make me feel worse. Because I couldn’t cheer up. I couldn’t be happy. Not because I didn’t want to. I simply couldn’t, no matter how much I tried. And that’s something they never understand. That I’m trying.” I hear Aziel sigh, his next words come off broken. “I’m actually trying.”
How is one supposed to react to this kind of situation? This must be the first time Aziel has opened up about this to someone, but why me? As I said, we’re not even friends.
Unsure, I blurt out, “I’m sorry.”
It earns a chuckle from Aziel which surprises me. Awed, I stare at him. The guy is laughing, but why does it sound so sad?
“For what?” he asks.
Exactly. For what? I am not sure either. It just felt like the right thing to say at the moment. But is it okay to tell him that?
I keep quiet.
“You’re different, Hart,” Aziel says, continuing as if he didn’t ask me a question. “You are the only one who never pretends to understand. And you are the only one who treats me the same, then and now. You never pry into my personal business. Even now, I’m the only one who’s bringing all these up. Maybe I’m wrong, but I somehow find it considerate.”
I’m lost. Considerate? I don’t know what he is talking about. I don’t know who he is talking about. How he perceived me is different from the kind of person I know I am.
“What if I tell you you’re really wrong?” I ask. For me, not clarifying this equals lying, and I don’t understand it myself, but I don’t feel at ease just thinking about deceiving this person. “What if I tell you I’m not being considerate? I just don’t care,” I tell him honestly. I never realized how true the statement is until now that I am admitting it out loud. I wonder if other people have the wrong idea about my personality too. “I just don’t give a shit or two about people’s lives.”
I search for a way to say the next words without sounding like a total asshole. “When your sister died, it came as a shock to a lot of people, but I didn’t feel anything. I just thought it was normal. Hey, we are all going to die one way or another in the end. And I never talk to or about you because I always think it’s none of my business. You’re not any of my business.”
Gauging Aziel’s reaction, I pause. He doesn’t seem upset at all. If anything, his knowing smile tells me he expected everything I said. Weird, I think, I’ve been seeing his different smiles since earlier.
“Cold, aren’t I?” There’s an emphasis on my question. “Now, don’t you think I’m heartless? Don’t you think I’m worse than those who at least pretended to give a fuck?”
“But isn’t that how it is supposed to be?” The confidence in his tone reminds me that, once upon a time, Aziel was someone who always slayed his presentations. “Isn’t it normal to not poke your nose into someone else’s business? Especially if you don’t even know that someone well?”
There is that knowing smile again. Maybe this intimidating part of him is still the same after all.
“You said at least those people pretended to give a fuck, but what do I need their fuck for if they’re all empty fucks anyway?” I never thought I’d witness the day when the polite Aziel would repeatedly utter profanities in a single sentence, but here we are.
Before I have the chance to answer him, his phone rings. Aziel picks it up, looks at me apologetically, and walks a few steps away. I can’t hear every word he’s saying, but I figure he is talking to his mother.
The call lasts over a minute. When Aziel returns, he immediately apologizes. “I’m sorry. My mom wants me home, so I need to leave first.” He returns the phone to his pocket and stares at me. “Let me just make something clear, Hart. I don’t think you’re cold. I never did. Would you have put up with my ranting if you were?” He smiles again. This time, it looks like a real one. “I’ll see you later.”
Then he’s gone before I can reply to him again. For a moment, I stare at the door where he disappeared before I look back at the full moon.
“Their concern feels suffocating, huh?” I mutter, remembering what Aziel said earlier. “I guess I know exactly how it feels.”
I understand. I know what it’s like. But if I told him that, would he have thought I was just pretending too?
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