Digging Graves

Revisiting a short story I wrote years ago, for a minor story-writing competition, from which it won first place. Sadly I remember that I did not receive the prize (a DVD of Bleach! D:), but then again, I’ve always been a pirate at heart. Arr!

I remember that the rules of the competition mirrored how articles are written at EPH, in that there are keywords that should be used and highlighted throughout the text. I’ve forgotten what the keywords were, but I still remember that the theme of the competition was about sacrifice.

Digging graves from 2006, White.


The moment time stood standing still, in the single instant the world stood frozen, the colors, somehow escaping eternity swirled around me, spinning faster and faster. And in that one moment before the senseless colors blurred before my eyes, I felt a feeling of inexplicable pain and loss. It was as if the world, still frozen in time, was taken away from me… when all the colors faded away, until all I could see… was white.

It was Sarah who called. She was asking me about our date for our seventh anniversary. She was so excited, talking in that girlish voice of hers about that new restaurant downtown… I had a long day at work, so I just agreed to whatever it was she had planned.

It was not an easy relationship. She was the only child of my father’s business partner, and we were “introduced” to each other when I was still in college. Father had quite pointedly told me to “make a good impression” and to be “careful not to shy away the girl” beforehand, so I kind of expected what was to happen to us.

A business deal. A relationship for profit.

But Sarah was a nice girl. She was charming, witty, and rich, and we got along well, so I just squared my shoulders and got along with everything, thinking that it would all go along well. And for a time, it did. One year passed, then two, then three, four… it was then I realized how pointless all this was—to love someone you don’t actually love. But what could I do? Sarah, over the years, has learned to love me. True, I don’t feel anything for her, but she has never done me anything wrong… I couldn’t break her heart.

It was in a clear day in February when I met Janine. I was going to lunch in the small restaurant below our office, talking to Sarah on my phone. She had me listening to her until I was about to enter my car. Then all of a sudden, I felt a small tap on my shoulder, and I turned my head.

“Excuse me, do you have the time? My watch stopped, and I’m afraid I might be late for my meeting…”

She kept talking in her professional accent while I just stood there, Sarah chatting girlishly in my other ear. I didn’t think anyone could make me speechless in an open-mouthed state at my age, but apparently, someone could. Janine was tall, model-skinny, and wears too heavy makeup, but god

I’d like to think that it was love at first sight, but in all honesty, I would have to say that there was no love between our relationship. Still, Janine and I saw each other for the next couple of years. At first, I had this guilty feeling that kept nagging at me, but I felt that I was too burned out and exhausted that soon I found myself telling more and more lies and more and more excuses about me cheating on Sarah.

And so, there we were, in my car, on our way to some fancy new restaurant, to celebrate our “seventh anniversary”, while in my mind, I was already weaving more lies to excuse myself early so I could meet with Janine later on that evening.

Sarah was talking animatedly, something about wedding gowns and the like—I couldn’t be too sure, I wasn’t entirely listening. Then quite suddenly, she became quiet that it suddenly brought my attention back to her. I asked her why she suddenly stopped talking.

She looked away from me. “Rafael,” she said softly. “Are you happy with me?”

I kept my eyes on the road. “What do you mean?”

It was a long while before she finally answered. “Because if you aren’t… I’d understand.”

I glanced at her, my pulse starting to race. Did she know? “Sarah, what are you talking about?”

She looked outside the window, at the colors trailing blurry lines as we sped past. “It’s been seven years… I know you never did like me when we met. I knew right from the start; I could feel it.” She paused. “But then I thought, `Why not? People change. Maybe he could learn to love me in a couple or so years just as I did.’” Then she sniffed, and I knew she was crying.

Too stiff and hardened by years of lies, I shook my head. “I don’t want this kind of talk. Stop talking nonsense, Sarah, it’s our anniversary.”

But she didn’t stop. “But I guess I was wrong. You never did love me, Rafael. Not even once.” Her shoulders shook, and I kept glancing at her, wanting her to stop. “But I still believed, isn’t that funny? I still loved you. Even now, I still love you.” She laughed, and her laughter came out like sobs. “It’s so funny, it hurts…”

I faced her. “Sarah, what are you talking about?” I demanded.

Then she looked at me, and for the first time in seven years, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from her. “I’ve known about you and Janine all this time, Rafael…”

The sounds stopped. The only thing I could hear was the sound of my blood pounding in my ears. It blocked Sarah’s gentle sobs, the soft humming of my car’s engine, the blaring horn blast of the speeding bus…

Time stopped. And yet, all the colors seemed to spin around me, spinning faster and faster. And then the faded, and then everything was white…

The doctors said that it took me four months to finally wake up. The sunlight was blinding at first after that long period of darkness, but when I looked around, I saw Janine, and so everything was all right.

Everything, except for Sarah.

“Nurse,” I said, calling the blonde lady replacing my dextrose. “What happened to the lady who was in the same car with me?”

She straightened, thinking. “Oh, you mean Miss Wong. She woke up five days after the crash. She had minor cuts and bruises, but her left leg is paralyzed and the doctors had to take away her eyes.”

I sat up straight. “Why? What happened?”

“The glass shards from your broken windshield penetrated her pupils.”

I felt guilty. All those years of unfaithfulness piled up and weighed down on me like a heavy boulder on my shoulder. “Is there… can anything be done?” I asked softly.

The nurse faced me and shook her head sadly.

Curiously enough, it was Janine who suggested I should go and visit her. Funny, people would think if they knew, I know, but after hearing about what happened to Sarah, all I had was this empty feeling inside, a numbness that crept from feet up to the top of my head.

I visited her the next day. They cut her hair short—to stitch up some cuts on her scalp, possibly—and besides the bandages wrapped around her eyes, she was practically the same.

I sat down beside her quietly. “Sarah.”

She jumped slightly at the sound, and tilted her head towards my voice. “Rafael?” she said. “You’re finally awake? How are you? How are your injuries?” even then, I could still hear the love in her voice.

“I’m all good,” I managed to say.

A big smile crept across her face. “I’m glad,” was all she said.

Over the next two weeks, I made good recovery, Janine visiting me every day. I also visited Sarah, but it was becoming less and less frequent. Sure, I’m heartless… but what can I possibly say to her? After all, all of this was my fault, and I couldn’t think of anything to atone for it, except maybe love her back.

“Don’t be stupid,” Janine snapped at me one night. “Do you really think she’d like that?”

“What do you mean?” I asked glumly.

“She’d been suffering since you and I started seeing each other. Now you want to continue with your relationship even though you know you still don’t love her? My god, Rafael!” She placed her hands on her hips. “Tell me honestly. Do you love her or not?”

I couldn’t answer for the longest time. “I don’t know.”

“See?” she said. “That proves exactly what you’re feeling. If you love her, you’d say yes without a moment’s hesitation.”

I swallowed. Is that true? Is what she’s saying is true?

“Besides, think about it,” she went on. “She’s basically bed-ridden, and not to mention permanently blind. I’m very sorry for the poor girl, and not meaning to be rude, but… she’s useless now, Rafael.”

She then sighed and went over to wrap her arms around me. “Look, I know it’s hard for you both. You’ll just prolong that pain if you decide to go on with your relationship with her. She loves you, Rafael; she’d want you to be happy. So, be happy.”

And so, I did. I decided what would make me happy. The very next day, my release papers were signed, and I went to Sarah’s room for one last, final visit.

“Hey,” I said.

“Rafael!” She exclaimed happily. “I’m so glad you finally decided to visit. I thought perhaps you’ve forgotten about me.”

I laughed softly. “How could I possibly forget you, Sarah?” I walked over to her bed and sat beside her. “Sarah, I have something important to tell you.”

Her body stiffened.

“I’m very sorry about what happened. It’s my fault you’re like this now.”

She shook her head. “It’s not your fault, Rafael. No one wanted this to happen. I don’t blame you for it.”

I was silent for a moment. “They released me today.”

She turned her head to me. “Really? That’s great! I’m afraid I’ll be stuck here for a while, though,” she made a face. “My leg muscles aren’t responding to the medicine they’ve been giving me, so the doctors are looking for alternatives. But it’s wonderful that you’ve fully recovered—”

“I’ve decided to go on with Janine.”

She stopped completely, the smile falling from her face. “Oh.”

I took her hand and squeezed it lightly. Strangely, she did not pull away. “I know I should have been honest with you right from the start, but deep down, I honestly believed that we could make it work. Believe me, Sarah, I tried. Honestly, I tried.”

She nodded but didn’t say anything.

“I guess we were too young when it all happened,” I sighed. “Had we met at some point in our adult lives, perhaps we could…”

“It’s all right, Rafael,” she whispered.

I lifted my head and looked at her. Her face was calm, almost set in stone. Her breathing was measured; her voice unwavering. It was as if she knew all of this would happen at some point, and she had practiced all those nights of loneliness about what she was going to say.

Sarah knew me all too well.

“I understand perfectly.”


She turned to my voice and smiled. “I also tried to fight for you, but I guess I lost…” she said sadly. “It’s okay. I understand your decision. Be happy with her.”

I held on to her hand for quite some time, wanting to say more, but oddly not finding the words to say what they were. At last, I sighed heavily, murmured a useless apology to her, and walked out the whitewashed hospital room, never to return.

A year has passed since then, and many things have happened. Sarah’s father, my own father’s business partner, died of a heart attack after finally breaking down because he couldn’t take the condition of his only daughter. And with Sarah still unfit to take over her father’s responsibilities, everything reverted to me, now the boss of the company. Janine, now my fiancée, quit her former job and worked for me since then.

Then late one night in December, I received a phone call from the hospital.

Ms. Sarah Sophia Burnett Wong died in her sleep.

I put down the phone slowly and stood right there beside my bed, my shoulders slack. Janine, who was in the showers for a quick hot bath came out and saw me standing still. “Honey,” she called out to me. “Who was it?”

“Sarah died,” I said numbly.

She stopped toweling her hair and took a small breath. “Oh,” she whispered.

Over the next few days, Janine and I decided to take care of her funeral arrangements, have a talk with her family lawyers. Janine personally made sure her lawyers worked out her holdings, and how it would be legally divided with her cousins and family.

I then went to her lonely apartment to gather up her documents, and some other things her family might need or want to keep before her things were taken away. The ghosts of the memories of the few times I spent with her there kept accompanying me I was walked from room to room, imagining how she once lived and talked and cried there.

Until I finally ended in her room, and in front of her dresser where her phone stood, where she spent so many nights talking to me, asking me when I would visit, what I’d like to do for the weekend.

I took whatever things I might need, and, sweeping one last glance over her lonely apartment, I went out the door, locked it, and put the key inside my pocket.

The next day, Janine and I went to meet her lawyers in their dimly-lighted legal office.

“Everything’s organized and prepared, sir,” said the oldest lawyer. “Her properties will be given to her family after her funeral.”

“That’s good,” I nodded. “We want to make sure everything will go smoothly.”

“It will, sir; Ms. Wong was a very organized girl. She had prepared for this moment years before.”

Janine sighed beside me. “Still, it was so sudden that she died. I thought she was recuperating still in the hospital.” She turned to look at me. “Did you manage to get the autopsy reports? I’d kind of like to know exactly how she died.”

“The doctors gave us her medical records,” said another lawyer, fishing for the documents and handing them to me. “Here, sir, take a look.”

I took her hospital records, which almost became her second life and scanned through them. It was stated that her heart stopped one night in her sleep; no overdose, no heart attack, no complication whatsoever. It was almost as if it was just her time to die, and so, she did.

Janine sighed again. “So she really died in her sleep…”

I nodded absently, flipping through the pages. There were lab reports, medicine intake reports, progress reports from her leg exercises…

And then to the second to the last paper in the bundle, I stopped.

There was a note attached to a special paper. Please don’t let Rafael know about this…

I felt the breath that I had been unconsciously holding leave my body.

It was in my hands. Agreement of Donor for Eye Transplant.

I couldn’t understand.

There was a phone on the desk. I snatched it and dialed the hospital’s number. The receptionist answered. “Hello, I would like to request for Doctor Smith, please? Tell him it’s his patient—Rafael San Diego.”

Minutes ticked by, and Doctor Smith greeted me on the other line. “Hello, doctor? May I ask… what were my injuries after the crash a year and a half ago?” I asked, the anticipation evident in my voice.

He said to wait until the computer had retrieved my records. Growing tense by the minute, I was about to suggest me coming there myself when he finally spoke again. “Let’s see,” he said. “You had three minor cuts in your head, one cut with fifteen stitches, bruises all over your body, severe traumatic concussion…”

I was holding my breath and was not noticing I was doing so.

“…and eye surgery. Had to take out your eyes due to glass shards penetrating the pupils.”

In the dim light of the table lamp, my hands trembled as they clutched the document that proves Sarah’s love for me. After everything that has happened, after everything that I’ve done, she even managed to give up her own eyesight just so I could have mine back.

The sounds stopped. The only thing I could hear was the sound of my blood pounding in my ears. It blocked Janine’s worried questions, the soft humming of the lamp, the droning voice of the doctor on the other end of the line…

The moment time stood standing still, in the single instant the world stood frozen, the colors, somehow escaping eternity swirled around me, spinning faster and faster. And in that one moment before the senseless colors blurred before my eyes, I felt a feeling of inexplicable pain and loss. It was as if the world, still frozen in time, was taken away from me… when all the colors faded away, until all I could see…

Was white.