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One Christmas Eve

by Sheena Fabunan

Fran concentrated on sprinting. Her sneakers loudly padded on the concrete while she hoped for the world to slow down, taking little notice of the vibrant Christmas lights that made her city glitter brightly in the night. The rest of the world became a blur in her blinding speed; her mind barely registered the aroma of freshly baked bread lightly wafting in the air on the Christmas Eve.

She skidded to a stop near a lamppost. Her breathing hitched and fogged in the cold. She could somewhat feel an asthma attack coming but she forced herself to control her breathing. NOT the time, she scolded herself. Sweat was forming on her forehead as she frantically tried to recall which street to take to get to the church. Mass was going to start in two minutes, and tardiness was an abomination. This was the last mass of the night and if she didn’t make it in time, her Simbang Gabi wouldn’t be complete. It was a necessity that her series of midnight masses would be completed to perfection. A very important (albeit stupid, she later thought) wish was on the line.

Decided to finally turn right, she darted past the crowd and ran across the streets ignoring the stitch forming on her side. She concentrated all her efforts on running. Please God! She frantically prayed in her head as she darted past every person she saw. Just this one time, delay the mass! Delay the mass! Delay the mass!
Over the horizon of some stands, she could make out the outline of the church ahead of her. She felt adrenaline surge through her veins as her legs moved faster and her heart pounded in her chest as newfound power emerged.

And just as quickly as hope had come and as close as she was, Fran realized that she wouldn’t make it. She felt her chest tightened, her heart beat faster and her breaths coming in long drawn out wheezes. She was having an asthma attack and apparently, one has to slow down when those things happen.
The girl had no choice but to stop moving. She patted the back of her jeans for her inhaler, only to realize, to her horror, that it wasn’t there. She forcibly shrieked a curse to the night sky above as she lowered herself down, punching her fist hard against the concrete floor. She closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing; it was the best she could do.

How could she forget her inhaler? She felt her eyes flowing with tears, not from the asthma attack, but from the sheer failure of her plan and yes, perhaps also a little from her stupidity. All her effort to wake up early for Simbang Gabi was futile.

On the side of the street sitting 200 meters away from the church, she felt the loneliness of her situation and remembered why she went through all the trouble of completing the Novena. It’s a boy, she thought, It’s always a boy. And this particular boy, to her, had a heart that she felt she should win over. Perhaps, her desperation drove her to think that completing a series of Eucharistic celebrations would finally make that possible.

She snorted through her asthma thinking that that was a very desperate move even for her already rock bottom standards. She heard herself emitting dry sobs as her breathing worsened, barely aware of the happy Christmas songs distantly playing in the background. She reasoned putting her head down between her knees; maybe her motivation to go to church wasn’t as pure as God would like. Her asthma has never flared this bad before.
Fran resigned to her situation and was seated basking in her moment of failure when she felt a light tap on her left shoulder. Her eyes slowly traveled up and met an open hand extending to her face. In that hand was an inhaler. She looked up to thank the kind person who would ever consider offering to a complete stranger (who could be rabid for all they knew) a personal artifact such as an inhaler.

His brown eyes met hers. She felt her heart beat slightly faster and her breathing dramatically improved, even without the use of an inhaler. She would recognize that face even if she died three deaths in a completely different universe. The boy smiled down on her and extended a gloved hand to help pull her up.

“Lucky I have asthma too, huh?” the boy said laughing, “At least it became useful this time. Are you going to church? We can go together. I think the mass was kind of delayed,” he prattled while helping her dust off.
Perhaps, fate was kind tonight.


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