That Christmas was a white Christmas for Wallace. He stepped out of the hotel to be greeted with a cold chill and swirling of snowflakes. He was on a business trip in New York for his company, their company. He hadn’t minded even if Nic had insisted on going in his place. What was there to look forward to really aside from the typical, traditional gathering and the gift exchange routines? Though he had barely remembered enjoying that night two years ago with Nic and Yvonne–and the Wang couple, it wasn’t like he wanted to repeat it again. Not this year. Not because he didn’t enjoy their company. It just reminded him too much of who was missing. So they thought he had healed yet he knew it was never over until he took off the ring. And he still didn’t want to take off the ring, ever.
He let out a deep sigh and proceeded down the sidewalk. Down another block, he noticed some people were staring at him. It was like he was crazy. It was the peak of winter–or getting there soon. Any normal human being would seek shelter at that moment, not going toward the wind and snow. But he needed it. The heat inside was too suffocating. Warm places reminded him of home and home meant just the opposite of him because he knew it would never be complete without Tammy. Shaking his head once more, he focused on his surroundings, taking in its sights instead of the memory it brought. Yet it was useless because another block made him stopped dead. The sight was not frightening but just suffocating. More suffocating than ever. What was it? A couple on a set of swings at a nearby park. He remembered how he had set up the swings two years ago just to experience what it was like. The trail of lights was also exactly like what Tammy wanted it to be. In fact, his whole garden had been decorated by her. He only altered a section of the garden to put in swings and the lights. After she died, he refused to shut down her flower shop at first but had to let go in the end. What mattered was their house, right? And he had kept it exactly like the way she used to keep it, except for the new flowers and plants he would add in occasionally.
“Excuse me, sir,” Someone nearby mumbled just when he was thinking of crossing the street and heading toward the park.
Wallace moved back and allowed that group of people to pass. He reminded himself to be patient since that group did ask, unlike some people he encountered earlier–who were just shoving past him and the rest of the pedestrians without a care.
When he returned to the street corner and reached for the red button (for the crosswalk), he spotted a familiar silhouette across the street. Shocked, he blinked once just to make sure he wasn’t suffering from the constant flashback since two years ago. No, she was still there. Pressing the button two more times, he kept his eyes on her, his patience running low. The excruciating minutes finally passed and he was allowed the usage of the crosswalk at last. Yet it was too late. Blocked by some crowd and the time to separate from them, she was no longer there when he stopped at the spot where she had stood minutes ago.
“Am I going crazy?” He mumbled to himself as he stepped into the park.
The swings were now abandoned since the couple had moved on. He felt the string and relived the memory as he settled down on the left swing. All he could think of was that night when Nic and Yvonne were by his sides. Was he losing touch of her? Yet that was definitely ironic because he’d imagined her standing by the swings minutes ago. How could it be possible?
“Mom! I want to go on the swing!” Some kid yelled out among the crowd.
“It’s occupied now,” A woman’s voice returned. “You’ll have to wait.”
“I want to go now!”
Wallace finally got up. There was no point lingering when he had no companion to share that moment with. As he was walking deeper into the park, he heard the kid crying out happily since the wait had ended–and he was somewhat envying that kid because that little kid only had to wait for his turn at the swing, not an eternity for a reunion that would never happen.
More outcry and echo of laughter were heard the deeper he made his way into the park. His initial thought of people viewing him as a maniac for staying out in the cold night vanished then. Perhaps it was his own paranoia. Or perhaps the others were wondering why he was alone. Did he look that pitiful?
“Excuse me, sir,” Another considerate person said, allowing him time to step out of the way once again.
Then when that group passed, he spotted the familiar silhouette again. She was standing right there, smiling at the scene in front of her. Some people were lighting firecrackers and laughing among themselves, chasing each other back and forth, enjoying the holiday.
“Tammy!” He yelled out, not caring if he was crazy.
The girl turned then, her smile disappearing from her face. It was just a second later that she changed her expression to confusion. But he knew from her look that it was a sign of recognition. She was just covering up that sign with the pretense confusion. Or was she?
“I’m sorry, sir,” The girl spoke in perfect English. “You’ve mistaken.”
It was that voice. It was her voice. How could he be wrong? As he was about to approach her, she took off, running deeper into the park, zigzagging every way, running for her life. And of course, he had taken chase–to even know her every move. Running on ice was already a crazy idea but chasing someone like a maniac on Christmas night? If he was caught for stalking, he wouldn’t even defend himself of his action. I’m sorry, Officer, I thought she was my dead wife. A good defense? Even he wasn’t convinced.
“Wait!” He yelled out, wanting to end it all.
She had to stop and tell him off, not run like that. Running only confirmed his suspicion–even if they all knew Tammy was dead. And it was impossible that she was here now, right? But the girl continued to run. She ran until they reached the exit of the park–until Wallace knew it was impossible it could be Tammy. Not just because Tammy was already dead, but her speed was too unbelievable to be Tammy. Yet he continued to give chase. He did not know why. He just wanted to. If there were no people, it would’ve been a lot faster to catch up with her. But he knew she’d done it on purpose, running by places that would guarantee somewhere bordering between a crowd and a mob.
Wallace finally found a break when they reached a hotel entrance. It was just one of those big hotels in this big city, not anywhere near his. His was way across town, which meant he had to catch a cab back to his later. As he slowed down, not wanting to frighten her, she stopped running–as if she had encountered someone. He moved back a distance, searching for a place to hide–if just temporarily.
“What happened?” Another familiar voice asked, stepping out of the shadow of the hotel.
He gasped then but kept to his hiding place–and waited for the conversation to continue. The person who just spoken up had used Mandarin. He was sure.
“You all right?” The other person continued to ask, helping her friend toward the hotel.
The girl who looked like Tammy turned around and scanned the direction in which they had come from a minute ago. Then she returned her attention to her friend. “It’s Wallace.”
“Where?” The other girl asked, her voice alarmed now. She even looked in the direction her friend just did a routine scan like seconds before.
“I lost him in the crowd.”
“Let’s get out of here before he catches up.”
Wallace was alone in the dark after both girls disappeared into the hotel. He did not know why he couldn’t just go in there and confront them. It wasn’t like he didn’t have a right to. He had every right to. He did. But why couldn’t he muster up the courage to do so? Was this his Christmas gift? The truth?
© Saturday, July 2nd, 2011
Posted: Friday, February 24th, 2012