He was not an echo of lost love. Though that is how he would describe it.
They met one summer morning. She was new in town. He was the treat all around. It did not stop her. She saw his shadow, the hunching back, the words unspoken, hidden behind fragile glass. Though more than often, he was seen talking to another girl. Always another. Seductive. Tempting. Dangerous.
So she loved him. She loved him from afar. She loved him though she did not know she did. She loved him so, that he never noticed. She loved him so, that neither did she. Just enough. She was just the girl at the park, it was her truth.
“Excuse me, may I have the time?” It was her turn. She knew it would come. There were not, after all, many girls this early to run. Eventually, he would ask her the time. That same lame line he asked all the others.
“6:35,” she said. He was always on time. No matter the day. No matter the weather. No matter the light.
Such a waste of a line. And yet… her heart raced. Her stupid weak romantic heart raced like the imbecile it was. She couldn't help it. She hated it for that. She hated her own heart. But oh, she loved him from afar.
“Thank you, I’ve been losing track of time. It happens when it is too warm.”
It happens every time you ask. He’s trying. Perhaps I should answer. But why can’t I? Is something stuck in my throat?
“Well… see you around!” He resumed his jog. She resumed hers.
There were two more after her. Perhaps more she never saw. But it was like an addiction. She couldn't help it. She knew he could not be trusted. That is why she stayed away.
Summer went. Another summer came. There he was. Same old face.
“Hi! Sorry, I forgot my watch, can I have the time?”
“Oh, I need to pick up my phase then. Have we met before?” he stared at her with his not-so-innocent eyes while he bounced, keeping warm. She did not answer. She did not know what to answer.
“Tell me a story,” the words just flew out of her mouth. She tried to stop them. Too late.
He stared at her. Unsure. She knew. He stared not knowing what to answer. Her unforeseen words breaking his almost psychotic pattern. He reached behind his head. Making hi messy hair even messier. Stop it.
“Forget it,” she made a big mistake. She should not wait for an answer. She turned around and resumed her morning routine back home.
She met a guy. A nice guy. The type of nice that makes you wonder about a house and kids and putting on pretty dresses. The type of nice that makes life unbearably perfect. She met him at a bar. A typical, ordinary, perfect bar.
“Use it or lose it,” her friend advised her after the guy asked for her number.
She wondered if the guy at the park thought like that. She wondered if she should have given him her number. She wondered if he even remembers her. She realised she did not even know his name. Did he found a story for her? What kind? Was he still at the park?
They broke up shortly after. Not out of lack of commitment. But out of lack of use.
Use it or lose it.
Another summer coloured the park back to a festivity of greens. She began to run again. This time she would not run away. There was no sign of him, not at 6:35, nor at 6:45. Maybe he stopped. Maybe he found the one. Maybe he was looking for the one all along. And she wasn’t it.
“I knew an old lady once,” the words stop her on track. The voice behind her sounded out of breath. Her heart skipped faster than the cardio was supposed to. But she did not turn around. Like a kitten, she was afraid he would run again. Oh, wait. That was her.
“She was small,” he laughed. And his laughter was like a song. “Her husband, just as old, was twice as long. But he took care of her every day. I would bring them the newspaper. Typical job for a sixteen-year-old. I was saving for new wheels. She sat on the porch, smiling and waving at everyone, including myself. Her husband always came out on time to pick the newspaper. Exact time, every day. 6:35. He brought her tea. He nodded at me and I would go on with my route. One day she was not there. He did not come out. But there was a cup of tea next to the empty chair. Still steaming hot…”
There was a prolonged silence. She waited.
But there was nothing else. Instead of doing the thing that a decent sane person would do, such as turn around and ask him to continue, she resumed her jog. He jogged behind her. But always remained behind. She wanted to turn around, just once, but she was afraid. Afraid that if she took just one look into his eyes, she would fall into his trap.
What the hell am I doing?
She must be crazy now. Running just like that, without a word. He must definitely, absolutely and undeniably believe her to be unquestionably crazy. What she did not know was that in his mind, the exact same thoughts were running wild and fast, just like her.
She ran away because she thought I was crazy.
Home sweet home. Rather not sweet after all. She tried to take him out of her head. This, however, proved an impossible task. He was following her, through the path, through the house, and into her dreams at night. The running never stopped.
She wanted to know what was next.
Was she dead? Did he comfort the old man? Did he pay his respects? Why was she even thinking she is dead in the first place? Does she have such a grim look on life? Maybe it was a happy ending.
Maybe he knocked on the door to see what happened. Found the old couple happily laughing and making breakfast. Breaking out of the routine. They invited him in and they shared the morning. Forgetting all about his newspaper route. He probably got penalised for it.
But no… she knew life did not work like that. If anything, they were both probably dead. What if he cried when he found out? What if he cried when he told her and that is why he could not speak? She could not shake her guilt away. She returned to the park, though it was late. Very late. Twilight late.
I must be crazy.
She loved him. She loved him from afar. In that distance black hole between time and space. She loved him so that she did not know.
Of course she would not see him. Not like that. 6:35.
So she did the next best thing, she waiting for sunrise to begin.
Sunrise came. With the sun, the shadow of a man. 6:35. Just in time.
She realised she never saw him out of running clothes. Imagined a thousand things about him. When did he get up? What does he have for breakfast? Does he even like breakfast? What kind of job he does? How would she fit in his life?
Sunrise was upon them and the silent world deeper than their mutual silence.
He stared at her, alone on the bench.
She stared at him, alone in the world.
He approached her with a casual stroll. As if they knew each other decades ago.
“Hi,” he said.
“What happens next?” she asked instead.
He was not an echo. He was not a dream.
He was a comet.
A comet crossing a black hole through time and space.
She dragged him in. Like a black hole does a comet.
The echo of a dying star.