There She Was (A short story)

Drawing of a typewriterAnd there she was. When I turned around and glanced outside the fast-food restaurant, I saw her. She saw me, too. I knew it was her in an instant, and for a moment I didn’t know whether to smile or not. But she did not look away, unlike old acquaintances who often ignore you as years pass by. She looked at me without blinking her eyes, so I smiled, and she smiled back at me.

But after a moment I looked away. I stared at the lighted menu in front of me. I studied the items under “Sandwiches” and tried to decide whether I want the classic chicken burger or the Zinger. Would she enter the store and say “Hello” to me? That is extremely unlikely. But nevertheless I waited for her, from the corner of my eye, just in case.

A couple was queuing in front of me, but they soon stepped aside and called out to their kids, a boy and a girl, who were waiting for them around a small table inside the shop.

“Come on, Bennie,” the father said. “We’ll go back here the next time I get my salary, okay?” The little boy frowned.

I waited for her, but she did not appear beside me. The cashier took my order, and I stood in a corner, beside the glass window, to wait for my food.

I gazed outside casually, but she was no longer there. The street was bare.

I stepped outside the restaurant holding the burger with my left hand and with my other hand I held on to the bag of groceries that I bought from the supermarket earlier that afternoon.

If I walked faster, would I have caught up with her? Was she pleased to see me? Did she want to say “Hi” and speak to me?

And there she was, inside the coffee shop, all by herself. She was looking down at her phone and was adjusting her seat. Should I have slowed down my pace a little and waited for her to look up so that she can see me and so that I could have a reason to enter the cafe and approach her? She did not look up and I walked on.

I passed by the baggage counter. If she looked sideways she would’ve seen me, and if I looked sideways I would’ve known if she did. But I fixed my eyes straight ahead at the supermarket entrance and walked on faster.

The last time that I’ve seen her was many years ago in a conference organized by the Philippine Medical Association. It was just after our PGI-ship and we were busy complying with some of the requirements for the board examination. The function hall was full and we sat next to each other at the back of the room. We were not even classmates but we’ve become friends after we met each other in a club somewhere uptown. That night, I was with my friends and she was with a friend. She looked stunning, and we chatted briefly near the counter and comfort rooms, our voices barely discernible from the noise of the people and the music.

Shortly after that, I saw her in front of a hospital. She was crossing the street while I was making a U-turn at the end of an island. For a few seconds our eyes met; I waved and smiled but she looked so surprised to make any kind of response.

I walked past the supermarket and went inside a bathroom. I washed my hands and face and examined my reflection in the mirror. Then I walked out of the mall and into the parking lot. It was late afternoon and the glare of the sun was mild.

I drove out of the lot and purposefully drove around the mall to see if she was still inside the coffee shop. My heart raced within me in anticipation.

And there she was, in her blue scrub suit, still in the same sitting position, still looking at her phone. Did she want me to see her there so I could go up to her? Did she wait for me?

I drove on and never saw her again.

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