“Wake up, Jo.” A soft hand tucked a strand of hair from my face into my ears. “We’re about to reach.”
I opened my eyes to see myself tucked comfortably in Xuimin’s shoulders. He was smiling at me albeit sadly.
I suddenly panicked, my breath falling short. A few minutes from now I was going to face what I had been thinking off these last few years. I didn’t know if I was ready. Xuimin rubbed my back and held my hands.
“It will be alright,” he was saying, “No matter what happens, I will still be by your side.”
I wanted to give him a smile and say thank you but I couldn’t. So instead I turn to the window and watch in fascination at the small island that was just below us. A few minutes and then I will see him.
I noticed all the little things from up here that were there before and the memory hits me like a huge tidal wave. A small tear collects in my eyes as I remember the little dream that I had. Was that a memory or a dream? It had been so sweet, so tender and so real.
As the chopper made a final touch down I looked outside and a large group of people had collected there and I could no longer fight back the tears and smiles. The aunties and some of the uncles, the children and some new faces and little babies were all gathered there looking extremely excited. As soon as I had walked out of the helicopter there was a shout of acknowledgement from everywhere especially the kids who were still there and then as though a flood gate has been opened almost everyone moved forward and engulfs me in a huge group hug.
I was laughing and crying as they all came and told me about how they had missed me. These people, I realized were the most loving humans in the whole wide world. They stayed here uncorrupted by the greed and dishonesty of the world and they stay pure and beautiful. I simply wondered why I kept them tucked into the foldings in my heart and not let them out and about, incorporating their personality into my own.
My heart was thudding violently and my eyes unconsciously scanned the entire crowd for a pair of eyes.
He was there in my dreams and his smile was still as beautiful but where was he? I did not find him nor did I see his shadow. Is he even on this island anymore?
The crowd eventually fell apart to go admire the helicopter much to the amusement of the two pilots. They seem to be pretty happy to be here and so was Xuimin. He came to my side and grabbed my hands.
He was being clingy, I noticed. The last time he did this was when I meet up with my high-school mates and he came along. I wanted to beat him up there because he was being ridiculous. I had told him off for it of course and he only pouted and stopped talking for 10 minutes.
“Min,” I smiled at him, “Thank you.”
But no matter what, I owe him a lot and for the time being I’ll just let him be.
* * *
The house we resided in was no longer there and instead some newer houses were built around it. Grandma had taken us all in and served us with hot tea and those amazing coconut sweets.
Some of the older kids were already gone even Jongdae. I had wanted to thank him for the letter some years back. The younger remaining ones were there all shyly trying to peep inside.
Xuimin seemed more fascinated than anything though and it made me smile just looking at him being wide eyed at everything that was there in the small kitchen of theirs. The three of them were talking rapidly with awe and gasps. Grandma seemed to like them a lot and she conversed with them with her booming laugh.
I was sad though, looking at the condition of her kitchen. It was messier than usual. She was advancing in age and surely none of her kids had turned up to look after her. But what about Baekhyun? Did he not care either?
Where was he? I wanted to ask her but with Xuimin looking so happy I strangely did not feel like asking.
They were currently marveling at the fire place and how a black kettle was above it. I slipped out cautiously and smiled at the kids who shyly smiled back at me.
The gulf… my heart demanded but for some strange reason my heart seemed to have a dull throb to it rather than excitement.
The village had changed greatly. Some places were almost unrecognizable and I had to check again and again to make sure I was going the right way.
I reached shortly but it wasn’t what I was expecting. There was no greeneries, no mighty trees trying to touch the water and no flowers. My heart stopped, shocked at the sight in front of me. What had happened here?
It seemed like a regular beach filled with pebbles all over. The roaring of the ocean echoed in my heart and at that very moment I felt as though nothing was right in this world.
My feet took me to where grandpa had been buried. But this time it was not a single stone that marked his grave, there was another one beside it.
* * *
My legs, I realized were rather tired by the time Xuimin came and found me standing there looking intently at the two grave-stones. I was breathing in and out rather heavily and he had to force me to calm down.
He hugged me tightly as I refused to calm down; I was unable to do so anyway.
“Please tell me all that I have assumed is false,” I mumbled against his chest. He only remained silent.
“No… of course not, I’m being delusional.” I pushed Xuimin away and let out a laugh that did not sound like a laugh. “Tell me I am over thinking things again.”
He did not say anything but rather looks at me with eyes filled with pity and I suddenly hated him.
“Please tell me that I am being delusional.” I spit out those words at him. He only came forward to hug to but I pushed him away.
“Don’t hug me. Don’t you dare hug me!”
I went back to staring at the stone but this time I noticed something else. There was a small box kept behind that slap of stone. Only a small portion was visible. I bend down and took that box.
“Oh Jo…” The sound of Grandma’s huffed voice told me that she was here and that she might have walked really fast to reach here.
“Please Grandma,” I begged her, “Please tell me where is Baekhyun.”
Large drops were already streaming down her face as she came over to me and hugged me tightly.
“Are you saying that he really is sleeping here?” I screamed, “Are you saying he left me?”
“Oh my dear,” she was crying, “I thought you knew. I thought you all came back because of this. He died many months back!”
And then as though someone had switched off my lights, I out.
* * *
It was nighttime by the time I woke up. Xuimin was sleeping beside me, his hand holding mine. I was probably sleeping somewhere in Grandma’s house.
I look around and saw the small box lying in the small table beside the small bed and then it hit me so hard on the face that my worst nightmare had come true.
I choked and my tears came flooding out. This cannot be. This cannot be.
Maybe everyone is playing a prank on me or this is all just a nightmare. Maybe Baekhyun is still out there somewhere, hiding from me waiting to come out shyly.
My tears blurred my vision and my head swam but I quietly took off Xiumin’s hands and went outside.
The sea was still roaring and the wind was still blowing but my heart was no longer beating.
I walked where my feet led me. I walked the path which we took when we first came down to have dinner with them and sat down on the place where we watched the stars. I couldn’t cry, I noticed. It was only my tears that kept blurring my vision.
Then I stood up and walked up the hill I had walked a hundred times with him. My heart felt like it was being torn apart again and again and all I could do was walk. I reached the place where our hut once stood. I laughed thinking about the good times we shared looking at the empty and lonely spot. But then soon that laugh turned into a heart wrenching sob.
My feet than took me further away where the rocks were – the Eastern side where he fished and I watched him.
I was sobbing as I walked the path, tumbling down many times. My body felt frail and my bones felt like it was melting away but I walked on and on till I reached our spot where we saw many sunrises.
I sat down where I always sat and looked at the place where he sat and then I cried.
I did not care, I realized regardless if he loved me back, I didn’t care anymore because I still loved him. I did not care if he had moved on because I still haven’t. It did not matter whether he still remembers me because I had not forgotten him. It only mattered if he was still alive and breathing which he wasn’t.
I could not scream nor sob out loudly because I felt spent, like I had done labor work anhundred days in a row. I could only silently sob, lamenting his loss.
Why, I questioned, why is that his life was such a wreck? The only sunny day he saw ended his life. This island was the only thing he was happy about and yet he was buried here.
The wind was biting cold and I only had a shirt on. I bought my knees up and wrapped it with my hands and that was when I realized that I was not wearing my shoes either.
Why did he die though? How? When? Where? WHY?!
I sat there for a long, long time just crying and crying and crying. What if I had come a little earlier? If only I had the guts earlier… just a little earlier. I would have been able to say goodbye to him right?
“Why did you leave me? Did you not say you will be waiting for me?” I ask him as he sat there in the front with his line in the water.
He did not turn around to look at me, just simply sat there watching the dark waters below him.
“I came back…” I choked, sad that he was refusing to even turn around to look at me. “… But you are not here.”
He twitches slightly but still did not turn around.
“BAEKHYUN!” I screamed out loud. This time he did and I in my breath looking at him. He was there staring at me with those eyes that haunted me everywhere I go but this… this was the saddest I had ever seen them.
“I’m still here…” He whispers and the wind bought it to me.
“No,” I shake my head, “You are not. You lied to me. You said you’ll wait.”
Then he smiles his beautiful, heart breaking smile and says, “I am still waiting. You came, now I can go.”
“No. Don’t go again.”
But he turns around and he looks at the sun that was starting to rise. And for the last time he turns around, gave me his brightest smiles and mouths ‘I love you’ before completely disappearing.
This time I screamed along with the birds that screamed above me. This time I cried out loudly and this time I really felt pain that I thought was not possible.
Through my blurred vision I saw a ball of yellow rising from underneath the sea. It suddenly took me back to the first time we had ever seen the sunrise.
“It’s like a miracle, isn’t it? The sunrise represents a new day for us every morning as it wanted to tell us that the darkness is gone and now there is light. Live your life and everything will be okay because even if it’s dark again I will come back. I think sunrises are the most profound and beautiful things ever.”
I looked at the yellow sun but it felt lonely. The sun hangs there for millions and millions of years all alone. Did I believe in what I use to believe anymore? Why was the sunrise not comforting like it uses to be?
“Baekhyun…” I mumbled, “Baek… dear Baek… I think I am dying. Does it hurt as much as when I left you here? I’m sorry you had to go through all of this. I should have stayed with you. I should have given you the happiness you deserved.”
* * *
Xuimin came and grabbed my shirt and he looked like he was crying as well. He was mad, from the look in his eyes but then he simply leans down and puts his forehead on mine while taking long deep breaths.
“I thought you had done something stupid,” (3 shouts at me, “Do you know how long I have searched for you? I went through every part of this island for you. I thought-I thought…” He trailed off, out of breath. Then he simply stopped talking and hugs me tight.
“Aren’t you cold?” He scolds me and rubs my exposed hands. I noticed he was also only wearing a shirt and that he had goose bumps all over.
“Min…” I finally speak, choking, “I’m sorry…”
I began crying again, “I’m sorry.” I mumbled to him again and again even after he told me it was okay. But then it wasn’t only Xuimin I was apologizing to. I was also asking for Baekhyun’s apology for being too late.
* * *
“He may have died of cancer,” Xuimin says as we get lifted up into the air, “It seems his old wounds acted up. Maybe he was beaten up much in the past so it’s easy to form blood cancer from all the bad blood in his body.”
I had stopped crying and functioning. Xuimin was the one who did every