Illustration by Xene Cabahug
“Excuse me,” I say to the person in front of me.
Christmas is four days away and the city is now bustling with the season’s tempo. Up, down, left, right, front, back. You would have thought the counter was giving free jewelry. The person ignores me.
His shopping cart is blocking the line and my patience is swiftly dwindling. Up, down, down, down. I poke his back; he doesn’t turn. I snap. I tug his shirt a little too strongly and this time he faces me.
He looks at me, stares, then asks, “C?”
His voice is rich, authoritative; like it’s meant only for worthy ears. My tongue folds on itself and my mouth fumbles for coherent words.
“I-I, um, your cart …it’s nice.” I turn around flustered and walk briskly to the counter furthest from where the person was.
I scan my head for any memories of him. A friend from high school? A neighbor? A bartender, perhaps? I don’t know. Behind me I hear a deep chuckle – I walk faster.
One, two, three – One, two, three, – One, two… I like three.
It complements my name, both the third of a procession of thoughts. But letters have always been considered superior. Numbers are just too… countable.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,” my mom used to tell me that counting is good to get rid of stray thoughts, so I do it now.
At the count of forty-six, the person’s face from yesterday starts to blur. At seventy-eight, his voice begins to fade. At ninety-three, his chuckle goes on loop and at ninety-five, his face comes back like flashflood – I count faster.
She doesn’t remember me.
“Good morning,” my voice cuts the silence in our house. I left here shortly after everybody else did. I was eighteen then.
My mom died four days after Christmas, my dad left us six days before she was diagnosed and Three, he left me after I told him I’ll go, said the ocean was too distant and I’ll need the space to heal. He never believed in crossroads – he only saw parallels. And he was nineteen then.
One, two, three; seven years have passed and Christmas still smells of Three and Mom and eighteen birthday wishes. I close my eyes and count.
One, two, three. One, two, three. One… the doorbell rings. His face has been stuck in my head, burned like an afterimage
“Yes?” The memory of Monday’s mishap paints itself on my cheeks. “Hello, C.” His voice sounds like the way it did last Monday, but now up-close, I hear it as an echo of a sound I used to love.
“Umm, you are?”
“Three,” he says.
Somewhere between quiet recognition and momentary shock, my mouth found the sense to start talking, to say “hello” and “come in” and “how are you” and – smile. And sometime between him talking of years and me catching his words my eyes drifted downwards to the ring laced in his finger.
He is happy now.
So I let the hours sink my resolve to fix what was broken and watch my Christmas ghosts tell stories of what might come after.
I start counting; One two three One two three three…Three.
You never called me – I wish you did.