The yellowed envelope in her hand was an open door to her past. Just looking at it had brought back the bustle of the streets in the afternoon and the faint smell of wine at night. She stared at the back of the envelope, her name preserved in black ink. Two stamps with Dr. Jose Rizal’s familiar face covered by a Manila cancel, dated February 20. In the corner, the last thing that caught her eye was the name of her lover. She traced a finger over the neat cursive, following the strokes that had written one of her many fabricated names. She had two more since then, but her face never aged.

          A part of her did not want to open it, to slip the paper out and unfold the letter like she had done many years ago. She stared at the open flap, the jut of the folded paper inside. This was the last, and most importantly, unread, letter in her belonging, and there had been many. Strewn around her were unfolded letters on top of their corresponding envelopes, a few from lovers she would like to forget and many from friends she would want to remember. The one in her hands had stayed untouched until the rest had gone read. She slid the letter out of the envelope, cautious of the old paper. Setting it down onto the floor, she held the paper in both hands. She remembered who she had been at the time, and who she was now. Then she unfolded it.

      She felt the shadow of a touch, and could almost smell familiar rosy cologne in the air. The glint of a warm smile and bright eyes dancing around her. It was not that long ago when she had been in love, the most thrilling feeling. She should not have been as kind to herself as she was then, but she had learned nonetheless that it would not be anything but pain. She remembered the desperate voice that called her name the night she ran. Yelling at her to stop, to listen, to wait for a while. She did not expect the impact that those words would have on her, but she did not look back. 

      She remembered the easily exchanged smiles across the room, the lightness in her chest whenever she laughed. Entwined hands in the dark and sparkling gifted jewelry. A simple chain glinted on her throat as a reminder, its pair long taken by time. Her Manila lover was far more than just any lover. Much more than just a reminder of the city and an old name. It was pecks on the cheek that left lip marks, walks that lasted longer whenever they strayed from their path. It was the memory of the first meeting at the back of a cabaret, one out for a cigarette and the other out for fresh air. It was the feeling of receiving a telegraph and sending one back with a soft smile left on her face. It was a goodbye kiss that had lingered far too long in her memory. 

      Isabel had never gotten closure, but she had tried her best to. Dozens of telegraphs and notes slipped under her door until one day they stopped. And that was the end.

 

“Dearest Carmelita,

 

      Sometimes I still dream of you running away from me again and again. By the time I arrived home that night, my voice had been hoarse and my mama asked me why. I could not tell her it was because the one I loved ran away from me—or the fact that I had fallen in love with a woman no less. I am married now, to a face that you might be all too familiar with. If you did not run far, and I pray you did not, you would hear the news of my papa’s arrangement. I even have children. My son is nearly 5 and my daughter is only 3. I named her after you. Wherever you are, I hope you have found a home, but I pray that you have not found another love. Selfish, I know. I hope this finds its way to you, no matter what. And in spite of everything, I will love you always.

 

Forever yours,

Isabel”

letters of the past

BY gabbi bella