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Beautiful Sunset
Week #12
Across Time: The Future (Part 2)

“Morning Nat! When did you come-in yesterday night? I didn’t even hear you… Everything ready for the launch on Monday?”

“It was late-late. Past midnight. Everything I could think of is ready for the Launch tomorrow morning but I’m sure there’ll be something we missed. As long as it’s small, we’ll be fine” I responded with a yawn. My body wasn’t ready to get out of bed yet.

 

“Why are you up already? It’s barely 6:30”

 

“Oh… no special reason. It’s just the normal routine, you know.”

 

“You going to join the group for Sunday coffee then? Everyone will be excited to see you. It’s been about a year since you came last.” Katie watched me intently as she asked in an innocent tone. She already knew the answer.

“No… I have to get laundry done and mentally prep for tomorrow. I’ll skip today. Maybe next week.” I tried my best to sound nonchalant.

 

While Katie was getting ready to leave, I put my laundry in the washer and made a smoked salmon sandwich. I was slowly munching the sandwich when Katie came and gave a one armed hug before leaving.

“Nat, I know you don’t want anyone butting in to your business but be safe at the park. I know you are waiting for me to leave so you can go without me nagging you. But you know I worry, right? You’ve thrown yourself to work and you have a lot to show for it. But rest of your life came to a grinding halt a year ago. I’m worried you are wasting away and I can’t do anything to help.”

 

“I’m ok Kat. Don’t worry. I have six days working right, it’s only this one day that I waste. I just need a little time and I’ll get it back too. For some unexplainable reason, I just can’t stop missing him. I know it’s all in my head.” I muttered, fighting the tears that filled my eyes as I hugged back.

 

I quickly got dressed and walked out with an entire loaf of bread as soon as Katie had left. Lately I’ve spent four to six hours feeding the geese. The bread gave my hands something to do as my mind lamented for what has never been - the million conversations I’ve had with him in my mind. They kept replaying to a rhythm of its own.

Even from afar, I saw the shimmering air wall in front of the lake. The anomaly brought the memory from a year ago forward and I hastened my steps. It had been the closest thing to a time portal my limited vision had grasped from the experience last time. My heart hammered and I broke into a run across the length of the park.

 

Soon as I crossed the shimmering wall of air, I heard his voice. It was only a whisper of an old man, mumbling to himself.

 

“Nat, where are you? you promised we’ll meet again today. I didn’t mess up the day or time, did I?”

 

I wasn’t sure what I had expected once I reached the bench, but I hadn’t expected a wrinkled old man with white hair and a lap blanket. He was gazing at his hands that were picking on the edge of the large brown envelop he was holding. Even though obviously past the prime of health, his back was still straight and his white cotton shirt and easy denim exuded quality. I stopped in front of him to catch my breath.

 

“Nat? Are you really here?” He asked leaning forward and reaching out with his left hand.

The eyes that looked at me still held the spirit of the young boy I had met at this bench an year ago. They were wiser and calmer, yet still full of a carefree curiosity. The face that framed those eyes had many a wrinkle and a plethora of age spots but to me it was instantly familiar. Infinitely beautiful. Some part of my mind immediately recognized him, like it had carried a memory of every line and contour this face will ever go through across time. I knew this is a face that didn’t exist in the timeline of the world yet. But it still fit in the timeline of my life. I took the hand he had reached out with, as I walked over to sit next to him. For a long moment we sat staring at each other. The look on his face mirrored how I felt - it is what a man dying of thirst feels when given a sip of water. I had to consciously loosen my grip worried that I might hurt him, but he tightened his grip instead of letting go.

“Nat?”

 

“Oppa…”

 

“You are really here. I’ve missed you every moment of every day of the last year.” Oppa’s voice trembled.

 

“I missed you all of last year too. I waited for you to come find me but you never did. What happened?”

 

“Hmmm… You mean in your time last year…”

 

 “Oh… you meant your time last year, didn’t you? I keep getting my time mixed up. But I had almost given up meeting you again. I was thinking I would have to buy a ticket and wait in line among your endless sea of fans to catch a glimpse of you again... I wondered a million times if you would recognize me after 20 years even if I was standing in front of you.” I couldn’t keep my voice from breaking in the end. The last year had been painful.

“I’m so sorry Nat. I really tried. I came back to the park that day soon as I realized I never asked you where you lived or what your last name is. But you weren’t there anymore. After that I came every Sunday for a year, rain, shine or snow. Even when there were no geese to feed, I would come at the same hour and sit and wait for a bit hoping you would show up. After that first year my mom thought I was losing my mind so she gave me chores every Sunday morning. I still tried to come once a year, every 3rd Sunday in April. But we never met for the next 20 years.”

 

“So you gave up?”

 

“Not exactly. But I accepted that perhaps we weren’t meant to meet for another 20 years. So instead, as I started traveling for work, I searched for a Natalia everywhere I went. You know what I learned? I learned that Natalia is the 2439th most popular name in the world. It’s been in regular use since 1890s but there’s a record of a Natalia from as far back as 4th century. In the US, the more common form of Natalie is the 41st most used girl’s name... So, end of the day, the lesson was that there are too many Natalias in the world for me to find you randomly. I remember how desperate I felt then. I thought I had lost you and will never again find you…” Oppa’s eyes had turned to the horizon as he recalled what was the distant past for him. Unconsciously he had picked up our intertwined hands and pressed mine against his cheek.

“But we meet again then?” I could barely breathe as I whispered. The rest of my life hung on his next words.

“Yes, yes we meet again. It’ll be soon Nat. I promise you, when our paths cross next time I will never let you go. Never again, for all your life.”  Oppa’s soft kiss on my knuckles felt like warm butterfly wings, carrying my soul soaring to unimaginable heights.

“When?.. and How?... What do I need to do so you can find me?”

 

“Here… You asked me to give this to you. You said everything you need to know is there.” Oppa offered the large brown envelope he had sitting on his lap before.

 

“Uhhh… I’m not following. Did you say I asked you to give this to me? But I’ve never seen this before.” I felt extra dense as I looked down to read the handwriting on the outside of the envelope. It was clearly my handwriting and it read, grandfather paradox needs a little nudging… “Oh, you mean this is from the future me?”

“Hmm… you gave it to me an year ago. You said it has everything we’ll need.”

 

I turned the envelop over to open it, a challenging task with one hand but I was determined to find out what I had left to myself without losing the warmth of Oppa’s hand.

 

“Nat, can you keep that for when you go home? Please be here with me for now? Today is the last time I have with you.” The soft pleading in Oppa’s voice was enough to make me move a mountain.

“I’m here Oppa. I’m not going anywhere.” I promised. “I will never let this hand go as long as you want me to hold it.”

 

“Huh… It’s funny you say that. I wonder if this is how it all started…”

 

“What’s funny? What started today?”

 

“You had this rule from the very beginning. You will always walk and sit on my left side and always hold my left hand, like you are doing now.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I asked you that once. You said, because your right hand was made to fit my left and that you had promised you would never let it go. So, after that I never held anyone else’s hand with my left. Not even in the movies. I remember driving a few directors nuts because of it. After a while, I ended up putting it in my contracts so I didn’t have to make excuses about it.”

“Sounds like I was a lot of trouble.”

 

“Oh, no doubt about that. You know, I remember you also laughed at me and said that my left profile is better looking and you always wanted to see me in a good light so you are sticking to that side.”

 

“Sounds like I got over being star-struck in time.”

“Nat, there was nothing that could dazzle you about the world I lived in. Even when we met in your time you were calm and collected. I remember being so excited when I finally met you and I was practically running to get to you but you were standing there completely composed with absolute confidence. You were even more perfect in that moment than I had ever imagined in the 20 years before that.”

“You dazzled me when I met you from 20 years ago. You dazzle me today even with all the wrinkles and age spots. I’m certain every day I have the privilege to stand in front of you and gaze at your eyes you will dazzle me Oppa. If I didn’t tell you that before, I will make sure to tell you in my future.”

 

I automatically reached out to wipe the tear that rolled down the corner of Oppa’s eye. He laid his cheek on my palm and closed his eyes murmuring. “I missed you Nat. I missed your voice and your touch and just waking up next to you every morning and laying down next to you every night. I missed you so much.”

 

“Oppa… I’m here now. I’ll stay here as long as you want me to.” I whispered back. I missed the warmth of his cheek the moment he raised his head. But I was glad to see the slow smile that spread across his face.

 

“You were always my bedrock Nat. Everything I did, even the first 20 years without you by my side, was all because you were the voice in my head that believed in me. Once you were there in person, I got to see the genius in you. I remember, my manager was scared of you because you’d make him do all kinds of industry comparisons and find all the places where he could improve terms. You could connect dots and see the dominoes like no one else. Everything I became was because I had you by my side Nat.”

 

“So, I was a good business partner?”

 

“You had a knack for it, yes, you could solve anything. But you were so much more to me. You are my conscience and my happy place Nat. One smile from you made everything in the day melt away. When you slip your hand in mine, I didn’t need anything else… that is why the last year was so hard.”

 

“I’m guessing that means I’m not there anymore?”

 

“You passed away exactly one year ago, today. But you made me promise to come here and wait for you. It was important that you got the envelop.” Oppa whispered. The tear rolling down the side of his face looked as lonely as he sounded.

 

I couldn’t take the heartbreak in his voice any longer. I threw my arms around him, desperately wanting to ease his aching heart and was instantly enveloped by his arms.

 

It felt like I was finally home.

“I love you Nat and thank you for every moment you gave me. They made my life worth living.”

 

“I love you too Oppa.”

 

We stayed like that until Oppa’s watch started beeping. I could hear an alarm blaring in the distance at the same time. Looking up I could see people running towards our bench.

 

“Oppa, what’s going on? What’s the alarm? Are you ok?” I could see Oppa’s face slowly losing color and his breath coming hard.

 

“It’s time Nat. Today is my last day and I’m so glad I got to see you one last time. We’ll meet again in the next life. Till then, remember I always love you.”  Oppa whispered with his last breath.

 

“No…” I tried to hug him one last time but his body was no longer tangible. He was an insubstantial shadow of colored smoke.

 

The people who had run over when the alarm went off reached us and I noticed they were of the same shadow world. One of them picked Oppa up and started walking back towards where they came from, which looked like the backyard of a country mansion complete with a swimming pool, a gazebo and all the trappings of luxury. Though I tried running with them, hoping to see what happens next, I couldn’t keep up. The smoke and shadows slowly dissolved. The mansion and the people scattering like smoke tendrils in a strong wind.

I was once again standing in the middle of the park, on my own.

I slowly walked back to the bench to pick up the envelop. The sun had passed the peak indicating it was early afternoon. It was time to get back. But I needed a moment to gather my thoughts and compose myself. I sat back down on the bench and let the tears fall.

The place felt more desolate than all the other Sundays in the last year. The loss of Oppa’s presence settled like a heavy blanket around my shoulders as the tears continued to fall freely.

Continue the story... Read Part III of Across Time: The Letter

   

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