When I'm Gone

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A Little Opera Goes A Long Way

It took me a long time to finally make contact with Beatrice again. By that time, I’ve been staying in Jonathan’s place more often than I could with my sister. She’d moved to a different place again. Temporarily, that is, to shoot for a movie. I’d have to get on a plane if I want to see her. Before she’d gone, she told me about a certain phone number. I still wasn’t that quite used to using phones, but when I punched in the digits, the voice that answered on the other side was one that I haven’t heard for a long time. It was a voice that I’ve missed, one that covered me in warmth and brought an immediate smile on my face as soon as the sound reached my ears.

Beatrice was very far away from where I am. We even have different time zones, at least a four-hour difference. It felt strange but amazing at the same time. After all the distance between us, we were still able to talk to each other as if I was close enough to touch her. But of course, seeing her would be more marvelous. I’ve missed seeing her face. I pictured her, but I’m not quite sure if the image I had in my head is the same as what she actually looked like then. Has she changed quite a lot? I’ve been told people look different as their age goes by. Whenever I look at the mirror, I don’t know if I agree or not. I’ve grown taller over the years, but I don’t think I’ve really changed much other than that. I think my sister agrees, too.

Beatrice and I would talk all the time. Usually, she’s the one who calls first. I don’t think I’ll ever be that friendly with mobile phones to touch it unless someone texts or calls me, but still, I was thankful that little device existed. For a little while, at least, while I press it on my ears, it closes the gap that happens to reside between me and her. Sometimes, she’d call late at night. I can’t help but recall the times when we were still young. Those times when I was still waiting for my sister to come home, and Beatrice was the one who occupied her room. I remembered telling her stories until she fell asleep. Both of us are too old for bedtime stories now, but as I’ve grown and lived within the busy streets, I realized sometimes you need more than just stories to put you to sleep. You’ll need comfort, a touch of a friend, or a wonderful memory. You either have those or not. You’ll sleep either way, though, but one of the two is a million times better.

She’d tell me a lot of things, usually about what she’s been going through. I’d gladly listen to her. When she’d call, I’m usually awake because I’m up early in the morning, working on model planes or drawing new ideas, or simply waiting for sunrise. I liked to watch it. It soothes me as it brings up nostalgia. Of course, it’s become a sort of a habit ever since Beatrice woke me up to greet Arthur’s arrival.

Jonathan told me I wouldn’t always have to keep my phone pressed between my head and my shoulder just so I can continue talking to her. Apparently, there was this loudspeaker option on the phone that allows me to listen and work at the same time. Beatrice had performed quite a lot of times while I was travelling the world. She tells me it wasn’t a big crowd, though. It’s more of like a show on the streets, or sometimes in schools and any other event that holds dialogues. She even worked as a prop artist once! She said it was fun. She’d been good at art, after all. I still can’t forget that drawing she made on our last day in that cavern. I wondered where it was now. The sketch book had fallen into the water with her. It was swallowed up by the waves. I wish I could see it again. Though I can remember it perfectly well in my head, I wished I could hold the picture in my hands.

She’d told me about the people she met, too. She said it was busy in the industry. There are people who she’d meet only for a while, and then she’d never see them again. There are those who are friendly, there are those who are rude. She said she didn’t mind, though. She says it must have been part of her work. She wants to do acting, after all. Meeting a lot of personalities isn’t something she should easily fret about. It was all fine to her, but at the same time it also makes it hard for her to find a constant companion. That made me sad. I probably haven’t met a lot of people compared to hers, but there is always someone beside me. I have a sister and a friend that is almost like a brother, even though we do not live in the same place all the time.

Sometimes, I’d read her some books over the phone. Most of it would be about planes, though. Those are the only books Jonathan has in his workplace. I would’ve liked it if I can show Beatrice the pictures in them, but I can’t. When I spoke, the other side was usually quiet. Sometimes, I don’t even know if she’s still there or not. Sometimes I feel like I should stop, but when I’d pause for too long, she’d ask me what’s the problem. And it was at those times I’ve realized that although by then, too many things had happened on our individual lives, some things just don’t change at all. And that makes me glad. That makes me feel comfortable. I hear things from her about our old hometown. Sometimes, she’d go home, for a very short time. Sometimes, Arthur would be home, too. She says it’s quite lonely without me or my sister there. She’d go to edge of the cliff but she’d never go down. Arthur won’t let her. She says my sister still sends letters too. Sometimes, she’d see their mailbox filled with handwritten notes for Arthur. She even peeked once, and told me excitedly that she’d read something about marriage plans. She didn’t press further on, though. If her brother hadn’t told her about it yet, then she wasn’t one who’d want to scoop out information about it. If that was true, then my sister has been keeping it from me, too. They were probably planning on surprising us. I suddenly felt excited. My parents are fine, she said. She’d go to our house whenever she’d visit the town and she’d even sometimes stay for the night. She tells me she’d sleep in my room. She said she could smell a faint scent of me whenever she covered herself in my blankets. Her aunt is doing fine. She was even the one who helped find opportunities for Beatrice’s acting career in the faraway places she’d been to.

One evening, she spoke to me about her first ever grand performance. The nights before that, she’d stopped talking to me. Apparently, she was very busy, and even if she wanted to call me, the stress and pressure from her rehearsals would put her to sleep. There was something in her voice that night; I could easily tell that she was nervous. She says the performance is getting closer and that the very thought of it makes her heart beat faster than usual. She told me it wasn’t just acting, there were dancing and singing, too. I told her she’d be fine, and I told her that I missed her. I told her that I badly want to see her performance, if only we weren’t miles away. I wanted to comfort her then, tell her personally that she’d do great. I remembered those times when she’d practice in her room, and I’d sit on the floor and watch her do her gracefulness in front. I remembered the things I drew on her bedroom wall. She’d told me she wanted to paint pictures there. I wasn’t as good as her with my freehand, I was more inclined in lines and curves using rulers, but at least the figure I created looked like humans. After a few weeks, her bedroom was enclosed in a mural of stars and planes and the sea. When she’d arise from her bed, the first thing she’ll see is a silhouette of a little boy and little girl. The girl’s head is rested on the boy’s shoulder, and overhead there was also silhouette of a boat. A memory was carved on her wall. A memory we both created.

She was still talking to me as I remembered all this bits of the past. She was telling me about her fears and about her confidence. I listened to her, and I spoke of the memory I had just reminisced. I told her that she shouldn’t be afraid, and that somewhere, I’d be watching her. I told her that I can see her now, in the back of my mind. She was probably huddled up in her blanket, the night light illuminating the shadows that fall on her face. She told me I was right, and that I should be a psychic. I laughed at her comment, and I told her I just knew her. I wished she could see me then, and I wished I could see her. I could imagine her smiling upon hearing my laugh. It made me feel comfortable, and I wished she felt the same, too.

I heard some shuffling on the other side, and she’d told me she freed herself from the bundle of blankets she’d enclosed herself in. She spoke to me still. And in my mind, I see her rummage through her apartment room and turn on the lights. She told me she’d practice some lines and I told her I’d listen like I was in front of her. After a few moments of silence, I heard her speak with such gentleness and style. As I listen to every word from the phone, I imagine her stride on her room. I smile through it all. I close my eyes, picturing the magic she was probably doing on the other side. And when I open them, I saw a silhouette of a boy and a girl embedded on the wall. And then I saw her, too. There, right in front of me. She continued to practice. I didn’t know if she was oblivious of my presence or not. I didn’t know what was happening, perhaps I missed her too much that my mind actually registered her distant presence into my vision. Or perhaps I was dreaming. But then she noticed me, too. She’d stopped for a while to entertain the confusion she held on her face, but then that disappeared rather quickly. Perhaps we were both dreaming. At that moment, she’d spoken and she’d moved with much more confidence.

I stood up to see if she was really there or not. She never stopped her act. Her eyes were fixed on mine. She was dancing then, she probably reached that part of the play. She held out her hand and I took it. It felt familiar and comforting, like finally cuddling up on your bed after long years of lying on cold floors. When our skins touched, that was when the real magic happened. Back then, I didn’t understand a lot of things. The change of atmosphere the moment I held her was one of those things. See, Beatrice’s room vanished – replaced by a vast expanse of space with polished floors and high ceilings. Our clothes became different, too. They were grand, as if I was a prince in an old castle, and she was a dream who descended from heaven. When I looked at front, I saw rows of chairs filled up by thousands of people. The balconies were full of them. I can feel it and I can see it – the joy, anticipation, and satisfaction in their eyes.

I was still holding her hand, and she was still dancing. No, we were both dancing. This whole stage had materialized out of thin air for her grandiose performance. It seemed to go on forever, which was fine, because somehow I didn’t want it to end. I was within the same stage when Beatrice sang. I saw her glow, I saw her bring magic to the lines that have only been written on paper. I’ve seen curtains falling, scenes changing, people running and changing clothes, and before I knew it, I was suddenly by her side, and we looked at each other with longing, with joy, with awe, with victory. She put her hand on my face and our faces slowly moved, slowly closing the gap between us. I’ve never seen her so beautiful like that. The tension between us was too much. I was close to Beatrice, but our faces had never been that close. I can see myself in her eyes. She can feel my heart beat with my pulse. We were close still when the curtain fell, followed by a sound of mighty applause. I got one last look at her I saw a tear in her eye. I didn’t know what that meant. Perhaps all the wonder we’ve felt when we shared a look condensed into a single droplet.

The next thing I knew, it was morning.

That was a dream after all. But then that afternoon, Beatrice called again. She told me the performance was a success, and that she’d never felt so alive in front of a crowd. She’d told me the weirdest thing, that perhaps I was maybe a psychic at all, that I was right when I told her that I’d be watching her somewhere. She said she saw me there. She told me that her costar suddenly looked like me, became me, and that was why she’d gained more confidence than ever. I could not speak. I was so confused, but she continued to talk with all her emotions dressing up the air waves, reaching my ear in a state of ecstasy. She’d told me she’d added the last bit, because in the script she wasn’t supposed to hold her costar’s face at all. They were supposed only to stand side by side and wait for the curtain to fall, but the director said that was fine. She noticed I wasn’t answering, and I noticed that, too. So I sat on my bed for a while wondering what I should say. In the end, I told her I had a dream where I saw her. I told her everything I witnessed through that night, starting from that moment when she called me about how nervous she was.

As I told her about it, I realized how impossible everything was. I told her we were both probably in the same dream, because how could I suddenly appear on her bedroom as she was practicing to herself and while we were still talking on the phone. And how could time jump so fast that the rehearsal resulted into her final performance. I was still confused, but she just laughed. For some unknown reason only Beatrice could make, I smiled. After all, what she told afterwards was right. We were on different parts of the world governed by different ticking hours; I had simply slept at my midnight while she was performing on her stage four hours earlier than mine. How could I possibly say that the two of us were just dreaming the same dream?

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