Last Friday, Kristoff thought that the bench near the train station was rather uncomfortable, and he thought that he couldn’t bear sitting on it anymore. Every time he sat on it, the hole where a nail should have been seemed to suck in his skin and make the bottom of his pelvic bone chafe onto the wood. It felt abrasive and raw. He would not have continued sitting there if not for the doves that flocked in front of the train station, swarming at bread crumbs and the French toast that he has thrown on the black and gray pavement to keep most of the birds cooing near where he waited. The cooing made him feel impervious to the irritation that waiting caused him, bringing him back to a time where all he needed to hear was the sound of Taylor’s giggles.
“Ummm, that’s so sweet of you, Kristoff,” he recalled what Taylor had said as he was handing her a bouquet of roses – a going-away present to wish her luck in her studies in Milan.
“Well, what can I say? I want you to remember what you’ll be missing for four years. Are you sure that you can’t just study here? We have good universities here, too, you know?”
“Oh come on, Kristoff. It’s only four years,” the memory of Taylor in Kristoff’s head went on. “I thought that we are through this? I promise that I’ll come back to you as soon as possible. I’ll come back to you even if I were already in a coffin lined with satin and gilded with roses.”
He thought that she was always morbid.
“Don’t say things like that. It’s creeping me out.”
“What!?! If I die, I want to be buried in a coffin with silver roses as decoration. That’s why you love me. You love my attention for detail! Hahaha!” she joked. “But promise me that you’ll wait for me, ok?”
“Do I even have to? You know that I will. I will wait for you here every day if I have to.”
With mischief in her eyes, she said, “I’ll hold you to it.”
Then, instead of the deep, rumbling of iron train wheels, the sound of flapping wings shook him back to reality. Kristoff let out a deep sigh as the memory faded away. He got up, and headed for home when the last of the sunshine followed the lead of the evanescing thought.
Last month, Kristoff noticed that the street lamps went on at exactly 5:57 PM. He wouldn’t have noticed if not for his cellular phone sounding an alarm. He had set an alarm for that exact time because he had an appointment to keep with Mr. Lathenbaum, the store keeper of the bookstore right beside the station. He had a book from Africa for Kristoff.
“What a chilly evening to you, young fella,” Mr. Lathenbaum said as he was hauling some boxes full of books inside his store when they first spoke to each other back in November.
“Good evening to you, too, sir,” answered Kristoff. “That’s a mighty big box of books you’re hauling there. Do you need any help?” offered Kristoff in all earnest.
Hesitating but feeling his aching back due to arthritis, the old man answered, “I don’t want to bother you. It seems that you’re waiting for someone, but these books are really doing a good job of following the law of gravity.”
“No, I insist, sir.”
“All right. If you insist. The name’s Lathenbaum, Lysander Lathenbaum, bibliophile extraordinaire!”
Without any second thoughts, Kristoff took the box from the old bibliophile and asked, “It’s nice meeting you, Mr. Lathenbaum. Kristoff Jones at your service. Where do you want these to go?”
“Would you kindly put that on the counter? And for your trouble, we’ll guzzle down some vodka.”
Bashfully, Kristoff obliged. Mr. Lathenbaum realized that he always saw Kristoff on the same crummy bench, which he also absolutely disdained for those nails that stuck out.
As he was pouring the vodka, he asked, “What are you doing there in the cold, young man? Oh, youth! Good thing you can still enjoy a crisp evening, so savor it while you can. You see, when you get as old as I am, your bones will not be comfortable with each other. It seems that in my case, my backbones have argued, and now, they’re fighting each other. Oh, flabberfruits! I’m prattling. Where was I? Ah, yes, what are you doing there, sitting in the cold?”
“I’m waiting for a special friend.”
“A lady friend?”
“You’re still sharp. You’re not as old as you think,” Kristoff chided.
That evening, Mr. Lathenbaum learnt of Kristoff, Taylor, and the tryst that should have happened a year ago. Since they weren’t strangers anymore, Kristoff always made it a point to say good afternoon to his elderly acquaintance before he sat patiently on his waiting bench. And as such, the two acquaintances became friends. Just like that, Mr. Lathenbaum came to know that Kristoff was looking for a book about Anansi and other African legends.
That month, Kristoff was accompanied by the tales of Anansi, the wise, mischievous spider from Africa. He was so amused of Anansi and the adventures that he totally forgot the alarm that he set. On the next day, it sounded again, and magically, the street lamps went aglow.
“Coincidence?” Kristoff wondered, so he didn’t put out the alarm on his cellular; for a week, he monitored, and for a week, the street lamps never failed him. They all went on at exactly 5:57 in the afternoon with or without darkness.
A few months back, maybe four or five, Kristoff noticed that the bench paint was wearing out. It was wearing out on the left side, the side where Kristoff took out a nasty nail with its exposed head irritating Kristoff’s behind. With pliers that he took out of his tool shed because of sheer irritation, he awkwardly tried to pry out that dastardly nail out of the wood, trying his best not to attract the crowds that poured in and out of the train station. With all his effort, he was able to succeed in taking out the nail, but to his surprise, the hole left by the nail on the wood didn’t make it comfortable in any way.
After pulling the nail out, Kristoff’s waiting bench offered him a dilemma – to sit on the right side where there was another nail sticking its head out to irritate those who unwittingly sit on it or to sit on the left side where there’s a vindictive hole on the wood that is Kristoff’s punishment for tampering with the bench. In the end, Kristoff decided to own up to his actions, be a man, and accept his punishment. He always sat on the left side of that bench ever since. With the help of the doves, he was able to tune out the irritation and wait patiently. He just noticed the fading paint because he had to avoid some bird droppings that landed on his usual seat.
However, today, Kristoff didn’t leave the bench anymore. He didn’t say hello to Mr. Lathenbaum. He didn’t feed the doves that kept him company. He didn’t draw close enough to notice if the ladybugs have eaten all of the aphids off of the rose bush. He wasn’t even able to stand up from the train station bench that was especially painful on his buttocks.
He just sat there staring with the help of the flickering 5:57 street lights, staring at a telegram he was holding. It read:
Dear Kristoff,“I am not late, but where are you?” he asked as though Taylor was standing right in front of him.
Guess who’s finally coming home at 5:30 PM, March 18? Train station. Don’t be late.
All my love,
Earlier this morning, this telegram made him run to his kitchen and cook an especially hearty breakfast. He cooked a cheese omelet, toasted some bread, and indulged on cottage cheese. Then, he prepared for work, and he took some changing clothes excitedly out from his closet. He folded them nicely to avoid roughing them up for this much-awaited reunion. When he was ready, he dashed down the staircase, side-tripped to the kitchen, and snatched the two telegrams that he fished out of the mailbox.
With giant but gleeful strides, he sped out the door. He made quick work of his lawn, reaching the sidewalk in only three seconds when it usually took him a minute to get there. With briefcase in hand, heavy with paperwork and clothes, he fumbled for his keys to lock his gridiron gate.
The day went so fast that he forgot to read the other telegram until he got to the bench. He got there at 5:28 PM. He sat patiently until 5:30, but when 5:31 came, he was fidgeting. He took out Taylor’s telegram to pass away the time. He looked at it until he couldn’t see the letters anymore. He was thankful when 5:57 came; with the aid of the street lights, he’ll be able to read the telegram again.
As he was holding the piece of paper, he realized that he hasn’t read the other telegram, so he took it out. After reading, the street lamp beside him seemed to have read the telegram, and its light flickered. He couldn’t tell if the lights dimmed, or if he blacked out. He wasn’t able to read the entirety of the message, but he got the message clear. He should be at the train station at 6:00 PM to meet a white mahogany box lined with satin and gilded with silver roses.