The company I worked for was quite special. Every Saturday, it conducted an optional activity for all employees to take part. The other week, it was a potluck at Grisham’s park. Last week, it was a trip to the city fair. This Saturday was a one-day trek to a nearby hill station. I didn’t attend the previous activities, but this time I prepared for it, for I liked being with nature. My eyes sparkled with anticipation. I just didn’t expect that the drive would be a nightmare.
The van that picked me up had seven people in it. The driver liked his music loud and so did the rest of the passengers. I tried getting the volume lowered. At first, the driver listened. But with others protesting, I felt like I needed an urgent ear transplant as soon as I got back to the city.
One hour later, we arrived at the trekking base. We parked next to a bicycle. I expected to see the company bus, but only two other vans were parked at the opposite lane. Their passengers gathered next to a shed. I joined them in an attempt to meet someone less annoying.
Unfortunately, my Saturday seemed to be destined for misery.
Three men, holding bottles of energy drinks, stood below the entrance arch. I wasn’t sure if they were my colleagues, for the trip was open to all departments. But I had a feeling that they were in the wrong place and I was with the wrong people.
They read the lines that were written on the arch aloud, in unison.
“Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but pictures. Kill nothing but time.”
One of them faced the rest of us and screamed, “Hiyah, trekkers! I’m not gonna leave any footprints here, but I’ll surely leave this!”
At that, he lifted his bottle up and dropped it for everyone to see. It rolled three steps down. Some laughed at what he did. A few shook their heads in disbelief. But I wasn’t amused.
With clenched fists, I came forward. I tried to be as polite as I could and asked him to pick the bottle and take it with him for recycling.
“Why don’t you pick it up and recycle it yourself, Miss Environmen-tal?” he said, roaring with laughter. The other two joined him.
I was going to collect the bottle and throw it back to him when someone behind ordered him to pick it up. The voice sounded like coming from a military commanding officer. Fierce, strong, and authoritative. A voice that made people fall silent.
I turned around to see the source of the voice and found him eyeballing the litterer. I had to raise my head, for he was over six feet. His khaki shirt and cargo pants hugged his body perfectly. I could tell that he was an athletic man. His corded muscles rippled as he kept his backpack on his shoulder.
“Pick it up, John!” the friend nudged the litterer.
As though nothing happened, John smirked and picked up the bottle and kept it inside his bag.The crowd cheered. Some clapped their hands; while others blew whistles. Moments later, eyes shining with excitement, everyone started the trek.
I faced my hero of the day to thank him.
“You were brave to stand against those buffoons!” he blurted out.
“Not that brave, really. I was trembling inside. Many times I tolerate such stupidity, but sometimes I just can’t.”
“I know. I’m Allen Hill, by the way.”
We shook hands. I noticed that he wore his watch on the right hand.
“It seemed like your colleagues left you with no choice but to trek with me.”
I smiled. “I don’t mind. I can trek alone. But you don’t need to get yourself stuck with me. Your friends might be wondering what happened to you.”
“I’m a lone trekker. But I don’t mind being in good company.”
I laughed, and my eyes went to the bicycle that was parked next to our van. “That’s yours then?”
I shook my head in admiration, chuckling. “Nice!”
Just like that, I already liked the guy. I thought Allen was heaven sent to ease my misery. I smiled at the thought.
Allen and I hiked together. We stopped at some places to take some pictures of birds and wildflowers. We marveled at the distant snow-capped mountains and rejoiced at every animal we saw in the forest. We talked about work and hobbies, among others. I found out that we were passionate about the same things -Earth’s fate in the hands of apathetic humans. As we moved further, I grew fonder of his company.
“Birds of the same feather flock together. But it seems like yours is colored differently,” Allen remarked.
I chuckled. “Yeah. I even got in the wrong van.”
“Maybe you should change your vehicle type!”
“Right! I’ll probably settle for a bicycle from now on.”
We both roared with laughter.
We had been hiking together for two hours and I enjoyed every minute of it. Looking at Allen, he seemed to have no regrets in having me for a company.
Resting under a huge tree, Allen proposed to take my picture. He had observed that I had not taken a single picture of mine.
“You appeared to have forgotten that you are a beauty yourself!”
“Ha! Ha! That’s a lie!” My heart danced, even so. I felt my cheeks turn crimson. “Best we should take our picture together,” I proposed this time.
“To seal our new-found friendship! Great idea!”
By the time we joined the group at the turning point, many of them were already heading back. Allen and I stayed a little longer. We talked, laughed, felt each other’s presence in silence, took pictures and laughed again. It was only a few hours ago that we met, but it felt like we had known each other for a long time. I was that comfortable with him.
Before parting that day, we exchanged phone numbers.
Sunday morning, Allen called and asked if I would be willing to go for a date with him at 8 PM. I answered yes, of course. He told me the place and hung up. I felt like I had won the lottery.
Wearing a floral frock and sneakers, I took a taxi to Seventh Haven. My first date after six months and I didn’t want to be late. I arrived ten minutes earlier. I waited. I never took Allen to be a tardy person, so when the clock struck 8:05, I felt disappointed. I never liked waiting. But I waited ten minutes more before I picked up my phone and called him. His phone kept ringing. I dialed again. The same result. When the waiter came back to my table to ask for my order for the third time, I decided to leave the premises. I couldn’t explain my feelings. I felt like I was being played and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it because the truth was I expected him to come. I expected to see him. My fragile heart wished more than what the man could deliver. His behavior was beyond acceptable. No phone call. No messages. Nothing. Zero. I was disappointed. No! I felt dejected. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry, but no tears fell. I didn’t even realize I was scowling and mumbling until a taxi stopped in front of me.
I got in and gave my address. Tears flowed down like the first rain of May as though they knew I was alone, not so literally, but maybe they thought that the taxi driver wouldn’t mind.
“Are you alright, Miss?” His tone sounded concerned.
“I’m fine,” I answered between sniffles. I didn’t think I would be this affected. I had myself to blame for liking him.
Engrossed in my own misery I didn’t notice that the taxi had turned towards the opposite direction of my home. Only when it stopped did I realize we were in front of Kinsburgh Hospital.
“Why are we here? This is not the address I gave you!”
“I know, Miss! Now go inside the hospital. Don’t bother about the fare.”
Puzzled by his statement, I got down and stood facing the entrance to the hospital. My family lived in a different state, and I was terrible at making friends so I had no clue about who would summon me to a hospital.
A nurse, who rushed towards me, cleared my confusion.“Come, Miss Green. He’s waiting,” she said.
Frowning, I asked, “How come you know my name? And who is waiting for me?”
“My what?” I felt dizzy. Too many events happening to me in one night.
She led me to an alley that ended in an operating room. Watching through the glass panel, I could see the activity inside. The surgeon was stitching someone’s head. I still couldn’t guess who was being operated.
“He has been on the operating table for an hour. He had bleeding inside his head. Good thing he was brought to the hospital soon after the accident. We immediately put him to surgery. The operation will be over soon,” said the nurse.
She left me for a while and came back with a wallet and a watch. The watch looked familiar.
“As soon as he arrived at the hospital, he requested me to send a taxi to Seventh Haven and pick up the beautiful woman in the picture in his wallet, which is you.” She handed me the picture and continued, “He said he lost his phone in the accident. He said he had a date with you and you will be worried about the delay.”
The moment I saw the photograph, my eyes welled-up.
“You said he was in an accident. How did it happen?” My voice was croaky.
“He was near Seventh Haven when it happened. A driver who was too drunk to notice the red light back-swiped Mr Hill’s bicycle throwing him to the sidewalk. Good thing he was wearing a helmet. But he will be fine.”
“I hope so too!”
The nurse held my hand. “Now that you’re here, he will be. I leave you now.”
I thanked her.
From the information that the nurse gave me, it looked like Allen didn’t ditch our date. I felt relieved. But the accident worried me. It had been three hours, but the light at the operating theater remained red.
I was sipping my second cup of coffee when one of the surgeons came out of the operating room. He informed me that Allen was out of danger and doing well. He will be on his legs in no time. I felt ecstatic.
“But he won’t be waking up until tomorrow, so you better go home and come back later,” he said.
The following morning, I arrived earlier than the visiting hours allowed. I waited at the lounge. When the clock struck 9, I was already at the door to Allen’s room. I knocked. My heart was beating like a thousand drums. The butterflies in my stomach danced wildly as soon as I heard Allen’s voice ushering me to come in.
I puffed a breath and pushed my way in. His eyes lit up when he saw me. We said ‘hi’ to each other in unison. I smiled. He smiled. For a moment, only our eyes talked. Then Allen spoke.
“I am sorry I missed our date!”
We both laughed.
“Yes, you did!” I said and went closer to him.
Allen tapped the side of his bed, motioning me to sit next to him. When I did, he took my hand and said, “Would you mind having a date with me here for a few days before we can go to a real date?”
My face beamed and answered him with a loud yes!
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