I finally met her husband. Or rather, I met his back, for his back was turned to me when I entered the room where she was admitted. He was lying sideways on the couch next to the hospital bed, facing the wall, and she herself was reclining on the bed, half of her body covered with a white blanket.
The room was semi-dark. I didn’t knock. It was night time, a quarter of an hour before they closed the hospital from all visitors. I did not want to stay there for more than 15 minutes.
We haven’t seen each other for almost two years. She told me then that we should never see or talk to each other again. She said it was for the best. And I believed her. We were faithful to our promise. That is, until that night in the hospital.
I was surprised I was still in her contacts. She said she dialed my number by mistake. She said over the phone, “I’m in the hospital. Would love to see you.” Of course, I knew immediately it was her, so I said, “You’re here now? What happened? Are you hurt? Are you okay? Which hospital?” And she sounded surprised. She said, “Jeremy! I’m sorry, I dialed the wrong number.” And she went on to explain her situation. I thought, If I was already banished from her address book, how was she able to call me? But I didn’t say anything; I only asked her where exactly she was. I didn’t know she was back in Cebu.
The first things I loved about her were her eyes and her smile, and these were the very same things which greeted me in her private room in Chong Hua. I was worried sick the whole day. I did not want to see her again. I certainly did not want to meet her husband. I did not want to see what he looked like. It was such a relief to see him asleep and in that unsightly manner.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” she said. She pushed herself up slowly with her elbows and sat up from the bed.
“How are you?”
“Fine. How are you feeling?”
“How was the surgery?”
“It was fine.”
“Are you still in pain?”
“Not anymore. Just a numb discomfort over my abdomen.”
“Oh, okay. That’s good. I’m happy to hear that.”
She turned to her husband. He did not budge. His bare back glistened against the faint fluorescent light which shone from the bathroom.
“Will is asleep,” she said. “I would have loved to introduce you two together.”
“I would’ve loved to meet him,” I lied.
“You weren’t at the wedding. I sent you the invitation.”
“Yes, you did.” I burned it, I recalled. “But I had to leave the country that week. I could not not attend the conference.” Another lie.
Her husband coughed, but he remained motionless.
“How are you?” she said.
“You already asked me that,” I said, smiling.
“Yes, but what I want to know is, how are you? How have you been doing?”
“Oh, I’m doing good, I think. They made me a senior partner last March.”
“Really? That’s great! Finally. That was one of your greatest dreams, wasn’t it? I’m so happy for you.”
I smiled at her and looked away. I stared at the TV set propped up against the wall. It looked too small.
“Have you eaten? We have donuts at that table over there,” she said.
I thought about giving her flowers, but I decided against it at the last minute.
“Yes, I have. I had my dinner at the cafeteria downstairs.”
“You mean, you’ve been inside the hospital since before 7?”
“No, I just arrived.”
“But the cafeteria closes at 7.”
She found me out. I have been in the hospital since before 7 — in fact, I have been in the building since before 6.
“Why didn’t you came up earlier?” she said.
“I didn’t want to disturb you,” I said.
She brought her knees up and pushed her feet against the foot of the bed so that she could position her back in a more upright manner. I helped her adjust the pillow behind her back. She had that antiseptic scent hospital patients always carried with them.
“Jeremy, please take your seat,” she said. Her voice was a little raspy.
“Jeremy, it’s so good to see you,” she went on. “Will wanted to see you, you know. He was just curious. He was expecting you.”
“It’s good to see you, too. I thought you were based in SG.”
“We were but we moved here early this year. We like it here better.”
“Are you staying for good?”
“Yes, we’re here for good. How are you and Katie, by the way? Did I get her name right? It’s Katie, isn’t it?”
“Katie, yes. How did you know?”
“Oh, someone told me. I overheard it in passing. Will we be hearing wedding bells soon?”
I laughed in a subdued kind of way. “Not anytime soon, no.”
“You can turn on the TV, if you like.”
“No thanks, I don’t want to disturb you guys.”
“Jeremy, can you move the pillow up for me? I’m feeling drowsy all of a sudden. I want to lie down. Do you mind if I close my eyes for a few minutes?”
“Not, not at all. Take as much time as you want. In fact, why don’t you go to sleep? You need your rest. And anyway, I need to be going already. Visiting hours are over.”
“Don’t worry about that. The nurses are not very strict. They wouldn’t mind letting you stay for as long as you want. And I’m okay, I just need to close my eyes for a while.”
“I don’t want to bother you.”
“You’re not bothering us.”
“But it’s late.”
Her eyes have begun to close. Her face was calm and expressionless. She raised her left hand slightly and placed it over the blanket gently. I could now see her IV line.
“Tina, I will be going now,” I said.
She was whispering something under her breath. I stood up and bent over her so that I could catch her words.
“Have you forgiven me, Jeremy?” she said.
“Yes. Yes, I have.”
She smiled and yawned. “Thank you for coming.”
She was asleep before I could answer. I made my way slowly out of the room and along the hallway. A group of nurses were gathering around the nurses’ station, all of them writing, none of them talking. One of them looked like Katie.
I was alone in the elevator on my way down, and I was surprised to find myself alone still in the lobby. There was not a soul anywhere. The place looked too depressing, yet I was elated.