It had been raining non-stop since yesterday morning in the Parke Avenue neighborhood. Now it was almost dark. In an old two stories apartment building that stood along the avenue, sat Jessica in her couch, in her living room, wrapped in her blanket, looking out of her window to the falling rain outside. She had been idle like that for hours; all the time wondering would the rain stop if she fell asleep. She had found herself wishing it would not. She liked it when it rained. She liked the sound of the falling rain against her roof. It carried her worries away.
And so she had sometimes prayed that it would rain every day. She found no troubles moving around in the rain. She would carry her long black umbrella with her to the train station. She would take a ride from there to the next station where she worked. She worked at one of the kiosks there. She wouldn’t even mind listening to people at the train station complaining about the rain. The only thing that bothered her was if the rain stopped.
Outside, the rain had reduced to light shower now. Darkness was quick to cast itself onto the evening. The only source of light for Jessica now was from the street lights along the road outside, yellow and gloomy. Jessica raised herself up from the couch and walked toward her bedroom. She knew where she was stepping without turning on the lights. She knew where her coat was hanging on the wall inside her small bedroom and reached for it. Putting it on, she left the apartment and locked the door behind her. Even as she unclimbed the stairs down and out of that old building, she didn’t realize she had not been out in the streets for four days. Her mind had been occupied, but now as she was walking down Parke Avenue under the steady pours of the evening shower, she felt free.
Folding her arms around her chest, Jessica jogged across the road, stepping on a rain puddle and wetting her shoes as she did it. But she kept on walking. Under a street light quite far away from her apartment building, she finally stopped. She knew the place well. Nearby was a lake she visited often with Leo. She thought of Leo as she made her way to the lake. She thought of his worried face, his sorrowful smiles.
She had been having images of herself jumping off her window over and over in her mind since the day she secluded herself inside her apartment. She had them more vividly when she closed her eyes to sleep at night. But even with all that, it bothered her that she could not cry. Not a tear.
Jessica was standing by the lake with the tip of her shoes almost touching the water when suddenly she thought of calling Leo on his phone. She reached into her pockets and found a twenty-cent coin in the left pocket of her coat. With it, she went to the nearest payphone and called Leo.
“Where are you?” he asked as soon as he recognized her voice on the phone.
“The lake,” she said. Even to herself, her voice sounded distant.
“Are you alone?” he asked, concerned. She replied with a nod, as if he could see her from the distant. She seemed to forget about that. She forgot about a lot of things easily these days.
“I’ll come,” he said when he heard no reply. She waited for him to hang up and waited for the line to go dead before placing the receiver back in its cradle. And then she walked back to the lake.
At the lake, she sat at a bench for a long time and found herself wishing for the rain to start again; to stir the stillness of the lake. It looked dead to her, and she didn’t like it. But she also realized the longer she looked at the lake, the more blurry her vision became. She wasn’t sure what to blame it all on.
“Jessie.” A man’s voice. It was from behind her.
She didn’t need to turn her head to know it was Leo. He carefully made his steps toward the bench and sat beside her. He was wearing his black jacket, his hair messy. In his hand was another jacket.
“You okay?” he asked her. She nodded softly. He played with the jacket in his hands. He meant to give it to her, in case she forgot hers. Now that it had lost its purpose, he didn’t know what to do with it.
“I went to your kiosk the other day,” he said. His voice was partly apologetic. “Helen said you haven’t come to work for days,” he turned slightly to take a quick look at her and played with the jacket in his hand again.
“I’ve been calling you for days,” he said. She did not say anything. Truth was, she wasn’t listening to him. Her eyes were fixed on the lake in front of them. Far across the lake, there were two or three buildings the size of a thumb, barely seen above the treetops. She wondered what the red lights on top of them were. They reminded her of a lighthouse. One particular lighthouse from when she was very young. Its lights rotating and rotating, flashing. She turned away and lay her eyes on Leo beside her. For a moment, there was a frown on her forehead. A question in her mind.
“How do you know you’re going to die?” she asked out loud. Now she was looking down to her feet, hands in her pockets. Leo turned to look at her for a few moments. He seemed to be thinking, tried to choose his words carefully before he spoke. “You don’t,” he replied softly while still looking at her. There was softness in his eyes as he continued looking at her. She didn’t see this. She would have turned away if she did. He waited, knew there was more.
“I feel like it’s going to happen to me soon,” she said finally. When she uttered her next words, they were almost trembling; “I’m scared”.
Leo was now looking at Jessica with a concern that was evidently displayed on his face. But then he took a long deep breath and threw his back against the bench, as if with it came an instant understanding. “You don’t have to be scared,” he said. His voice was gentle, collected. Looking far across the lake, he discovered how a mobile tower above the treetops was hiding itself in the dark of night and created an illusion that its red lights were on top of the thumb-sized buildings behind it. He thought, how pretty, how deceitful. “Living is so much scarier,” he added.
“I suppose so,” Jessica said silently, but only her lips moved. No sound was made. She knew she didn’t need to say it any louder, Leo already knew. Sometimes she wondered what else he knew. She wondered about things like that sometimes. She wondered what direction the wind was blowing if she couldn’t feel it. She wondered if the night was going to turn breezier when she soon came home. Wondered if the sun was going to show up the next day. And if she would see it.
Jessica coughed a few times as she wondered about all these. The wind had made her shiver. The shivers had made her throat feel funny. When her cough had settled, she was suddenly reminded of an old foreign movie she once saw on TV.
She said, “Tamaki said everyone wants to die in the place where they were born in if they could” — the way she said this would make anyone think that she believed it herself. Truth was, she didn’t. In the four days secluding herself inside the apartment that she inherited from her late Aunt Mary, she had tried to believe in something, anything. She couldn’t. But even so, she still thought of that lighthouse. The sound of seagulls in the morning. Thought of herself chasing the gulls away and saw them flapping their wings against the blue sky. And then she saw herself standing at the edge of a window, and fell forward, downward. Her hands became wings.
“Who’s Tamaki?” Leo asked, quite curiously, and Jessica flinched a little. She turned to his direction for a moment, as if realizing she was not alone. She didn’t have an intention of answering him. She thought instead, of Tamaki. She thought of her solemn looks, and then her smile. That one smile she had before she made her jump.
“I need to go home,” Jessica said suddenly, and stood up from the bench in quite a hurry. Tamaki was on her mind.
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