When I'm Gone

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Alaska

A few months after Beatrice’s bewildering performance, I was flying on a plane on my way back to my hometown. I felt a burst of excitement just thinking about the things I’d get to have again, like the cool morning breeze, the sound of nature’s littlest creatures playing in the night, the rocking waves of the sea, the sun on the clear horizon, my parents, my room, so much more. I was supposed to fly home with my sister, but she had a last minute event she had to attend to. She squeezed my hand when I found out that she wouldn’t be going with me. She’d known how excited I was about it after all. But I’ve grown by then. I have to remind myself that things are not the same as they always were before. I remember how the forces of the world keeps on getting in between a person’s business for every passing time they walk on its floor. It made my stomach churn.

I had already said my goodbyes to Jonathan. It was his idea that I should take a break. He probably sees it in my eyes, whenever I fold scratches of paper into simple planes, that I badly want to visit my home. It was almost Christmas at that time. The wind was howling its chill in the atmosphere, the snow falling on the paved roads, the traffic lights glowing brighter, and the ground looking darker than it usually is. The city seemed a bit peaceful with that kind of environment, and so it was one of those times when Jonathan and I stayed outside, bundled up within layers of coats and sitting on the cold steps outside his workplace as we talked. He’d told me it’s been a long time since he’d celebrated Christmas with his parents. He probably misses them, despite the fact that his pride and his shame are fighting within his system and preventing him from seeing their faces. He pulled out a piece of mail from his pocket. Written on it was an invitation and plead he’d get every year from his mom and his dad – to have him come home even just for the holidays. He’d never responded to them, but I’ve seen a bunch of other mails like that kept securely in a drawer in his place. At least he hadn’t thrown them away.

Looking at it reminded me of home. It reminded me of all the words that curled themselves within my paper planes. It reminded me of anticipation for something unknown yet to happen. It reminded me of the people I left. There was something like that in his eyes, too. He was probably reminded of a lot of things whenever he reads every word in his letter. We talked a few more minutes; I encouraged him he should answer the request this time. When the words escaped my mouth, I didn’t know if I sounded convincing or not. He didn’t speak, but his mind seemed to be talking a lot. He spoke about his brother instead, how in the few years of Christmas they spent together, he remembered every single one of them. He remembered the joy in his parents face, too. He says at those times, he actually felt that they were completely enjoying the hours in their hearts as a family. He also talked about the difference when he was once the only child. He says he’d get presents from his parents then, but he’d have no one to share his happiness with, no one to play those toys with, no one to laugh with, except the ones who’d given it to him. It was fun at those times, but it was a lot better when there weren’t just three of them huddled around the Christmas tree. At least, when his parents would fly somewhere for appointments and business and things he didn’t care much about the next day, he’d have someone at home with other than the maid: a company and a friend and a family, before his parents would come back before New Year’s Eve.

Most of the times when he’d speak about his past, I wouldn’t know what to say. I don’t know if he expects me to say much, but he never complains about it. He says it’s nice that someone takes time to listen to his stories, no matter how silly or sad or petty or whatever they are.

He then told me I should go home. He knows about my family and he knows how much they’d like it if we were together for Christmas. I even told him that if he wouldn’t go to his home, he should come with me, and that my parents are good at welcoming others. I told him how easy it was, even, to be part of my family. I was thinking about Beatrice when I told him that, and he just laughed and told me that was another reason why I should go home – because Beatrice might be waiting for me there, expecting a lovely present from me. He says he wants to meet Beatrice, the girl I was always talking about. I agree with him.

The night had gone colder as we talked, so we went inside and headed to the room where our little project stayed. By the past months, we had already almost finished the plane. The only thing left was painting its surface, and probably giving a name for it. So we grabbed the cans of color from the shelves and started moving. As usual, we had a wonderful time painting the plane. I felt like I was a child again as I brushed on the wood. It felt like I was back at Beatrice’s house, when we filled her room with the colors of the night. Jonathan felt the same, too. He remembered the times when he made art with his little brother, that day when they spilled cans of paint from the top of the stairs, watching the colors blend and fall on each step. I can totally picture a younger version of him explaining to his parents about what happened. I see Jonathan, still wearing a grin on his face as he put the blame on himself, because that’s what older brothers like to do when they’re playing hero. The image is clear in my mind, like the way I showed up in Beatrice’s performance.

After we’d finished, we looked at what we’d done. The plane turned out as if it was born out of the sky. If it were to fly, it would look like the clouds of the twilight were one with it. The whole thing wasn’t that big compared to the ones we send to the companies, it doesn’t even have an engine, but it was our first plane. Well, not entirely ours. Jonathan’s brother is probably laughing up there. For someone like me, who hasn’t gone to public school and was only blessed to be given a job like that, it was an achievement. For someone like Jonathan, who despite being an engineer had built a toy for the sake of a loved one, it was a promise fulfilled. We stood back, looked at our little masterpiece, and shared a high five with huge grins on our faces. I have always loved the fact of having a sister, but at that moment, I thought about how it felt if I’d had a brother, too. It must be wonderful.

That was the last thing I’ve done together with Jonathan before I flew three days later to get my sister. I told her about the things that I’d been doing, and I realized that I haven’t seen her much lately. It was true, she’d been very busy with her work. Then she got the call about a press she’d attend to. I felt disappointed when I heard about it. My sister felt the same. And so because she wouldn’t be able to come home with me, we’d decided to spend the remaining nights the best we could. We watched movies and made popcorn and danced to the soundtracks of her movies and treated ourselves to joy without spending a lot of money. I sent a letter to my parents and told them I’d be coming home. I called Beatrice over the phone but she didn’t answer. Perhaps she was busy, too. I didn’t really know if she’d come home for the holidays, but I decided I wanted to surprise myself. If I’d arrive and find her there, then I’d be stoked. If not, then I’d wait for her and surprise her if she ever does come home. I felt the state of being oblivious was just another form of pursuing hope. I dismissed negativity. I was going home, after all.

So I flew high up, watching the formation of clouds outside within the cold weather. Looking at the softness of those floating puffs, I realized how the all the cities I’ve been in for the past years drained out the energy in me. I only had a wonderful stay in those big places because I was with the right people. But the roads, the work, the movement, took more out of me than I would’ve imagined. Who would’ve thought that years ago, I was thinking of all the possible troubles that I’d come across in moving for much more than five hundred steps away from our house. Now, looking at the wonders of nature, it felt as if those were all just a passing dream. I’ve been apart with the people I grew up with. That was true, but I was happy because it felt as though I never really felt like I left home at all.

And when I was finally riding the bus, I was washed with the sense of familiarity. It was weird, because back then, that same place the bus was wheeling in was the first location I’ve felt most uncomfortable in. Now, I saw it as a mark that I was getting closer to home. Views change, and I didn’t know what to think of the way how it’s part of life. I passed by the theater where my family saw my sister’s first ever performance. I passed by the hospital and I remembered Jonathan’s story. His house and his parents were probably someplace close. I didn’t get to ask him. In fact, I realized I didn’t get to ask him a lot of questions. I just listened to his stories without feeling the need to chime in to know about every detail. When he talks, I can imagine it clearly that questions about what the place looked like or what the weather was like seemed unimportant. I really must have an imaginative mind. I thought about him, how he was still probably thinking over the thought of coming home for Christmas. If he had come with me, then I would’ve seen where he’d get off the bus. And then I’d know where he lived, and probably meet his parents. Many other thoughts and feelings swam over me on my journey home that I didn’t notice I’ve gone asleep. My dreams and my thoughts were one. When the bus finally stopped, I brushed my sleepiness away as if it were easy. I got off the vehicle and inhaled the sweet breeze of air I’ve missed so much. I was back home, and somehow, everything felt the same despite knowing otherwise.

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