SHORT STORY | Five Time Zones Away

It was a Sunday afternoon. The skies above the towering skyscrapers of Annapolis Street were a gray blanket, and the rumors regarding lockdowns in hospitals throughout the Metro were spreading like wildfire inside my workplace.

I tried to ignore them all. When I finished my deliverables for the day, I opened WhatsApp and saw a message from Eylul. Her name, which was the Turkish word for September, signaled the start of the beauty and splendor of autumn.

However, that kind of climate didn’t exist here in the Philippines at all. Here, it was heat, cold, rain, and everything in between.

I met her two years ago during my last year of college at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. I first saw her at a psychology conference; I was awestruck by her disarming smile.

Even though I was shy, I gathered the courage to get her number. I never regretted that decision.

Instead of replying, I called her.

“Good morning, mahal ko!” 

Gunaydin canim!”

“Rashid, are you excited for the engagement?”

“Yes! Did your family in Istanbul book the venue for the engagement already?”

“They have just booked a restaurant in Besiktas, facing the Bosphorus.”

“Wow!”

“Are you okay? I heard that there were two recent cases in your place.”

“Err…”

Ne oldu? Soyle sana, canim!

“Apparently, the same guy went to the prayer hall before. Alex told me about it after.”

Eh-heh? What did you do afterwards?”

“I went home and basically bathed myself in alcohol and anti-bacterial sanitizer. I also sprayed Lysol on the clothes I’ve used earlier in Greenhills.”

“What’s next, then?”

“I don’t know what good it will do, but I don’t look forward to getting sick.”

“Do not worry, if God wills it, you will be fine, mahal ko. Be careful!”

“I will be careful. O sige na, I need to go back to work, love you!”

“Love you too! Ingat!”

I put down the phone with a smile on my face, knowing that there was someone who cared for me halfway around the world.

*****

Later that night, I received a call from Eylul via WhatsApp.

Merhaba, my love. How are you?”

“I’m fine, mahal ko. How’s life there in Turkey?”

“We’re all fine. No signs of the disease here. Everyone, even the old, still goes out to the parks and drink tea.”

There was a pause.

“Do you think they will stop all flights from your country?”

“I hope not. But the government here is planning to do so.”

“Can you change the date of your ticket earlier?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” I told her. “I don’t want to delay our engagement any further.”

Canim, they are not answering. What should we do?”

“It’s okay, let’s wait for a bit, maybe they’re just busy. Hey, have you seen this picture?”

“Wow, they’re so cute mahal!”

Online chatting seemed to be the new normal. The only way we could communicate with each other was through WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram. Long gone were the days when we held each other’s hands at the top of Galata Tower, a sixty-seven-meter medieval stone tower in Istanbul, or took a picnic in the city’s lush, maze-like forests.

Legend said lovers who would marry each other climb the tower together and spend time there. It might delay our planned engagement.

*****

A few days later, I woke up to an email from the airline.

“We will need a couple of days to process your request. We are currently working with national governments all over the world regarding this CoVid-19 pandemic.”

Oh, well. Life went on. I couldn’t just live my life in complete fear.

Later that night, the national government declared an “enhanced community quarantine,” which meant that they allowed no one to go in or out of the metropolis.

For me, it was the physical representation of my worst nightmare.

I called Eylul via Zoom to tell her the news.

After a few moments, her face appeared on the screen.

My girlfriend had a Greek nose, an angelic face, and a sweet voice. Of course, it helped that her skin was white. I was lucky despite everything. 

As for me, I was trying to keep a stoic face and a slight smile, though my heart was bleeding deep inside.

Mahal, how are you?” she asked.

“I am fine, canim benim,” I replied. To be honest, I felt terrible. But at this point, everyone was having a hard time during this time of quarantine. “They have just banned us from flying abroad. It seems that we won’t be together this summer.”

“Don’t be sad, mahal, everything will be okay. As they say, patience is tested at the first stroke of a calamity.”

“I miss you. I do not want to be trapped here forever. I don’t know when the government will lift this ban.”

I miss you too, kaya natin ito,” Eylul said. “We have already endured a lot of tests in life together—and apart.”

“What do you plan to do?”

“We will try to change the date of our reservation to June. Hopefully, it’s going to be better by then. You know, you’ll have enough time to get a new suit.”

We both laughed at the joke. Yes, I needed to get new clothes for the engagement.

Once we finished talking about our master’s degree and exchanging notes on how to learn our respective languages, we both ended the call.

I looked out towards the street. It was as empty as the reality that I’m facing: I was stuck here in the heart of Manila at the mercy of the novel coronavirus.

I was 100% sure that she was crying right now, alone in her room. How I wish I was there to comfort her.

We will endure though. I swear by God, we will.

*****

After two weeks of self-isolation inside my room, I finally got my clean bill of health. In other words, I was free of the notorious CoVid-19 disease that already infected thousands and claimed the lives of hundreds of people in the country.

I received a quick call from her.

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing. I just wanted to call. How are you?”

“I am fine. Two weeks have passed.”

Alhamdulillah, I told you na, eh. You don’t believe me!”

“When do we meet each other again?”

“I don’t know. Anyway, my parents already moved the date of the engagement towards the end of June.”

In Turkish culture, the girl’s parents were the ones who spend on the engagement, while the guy’s parents need to spend on the wedding ceremony itself.

“I hope that the restrictions will ease up by then, Eylul.”

Inshallah, hep beraber, we will see better days!”

“God willing, mahal ko. Okay, I need to finish my assignment for my master’s degree classes.”

“Take care and don’t forget to stay hydrated!”

“You too! Seni seviyorum!

*****

It had been almost more than a month and a half since the lockdown started. It was the month of Ramadan, and fasting wasn’t easy at all.

Without warning, nighttime came, and I saw the news flash via Facebook: “The Tourism Department just declared that Filipinos aren’t allowed to travel abroad until further notice.”

I thought about calling her, but she already beat me to it.

“Our government here in Turkey doesn’t plan to allow international travel anytime soon.” Then, she added, “I cried a lot when I heard the news. But I believe that better days will come. More prayers, lang! I love you, don’t forget that!”

I didn’t know what Destiny had in store for us, but I’ll wait. After all, she’s the one for me. It’s difficult. But I can do this.

*****

It was May 6, 2020. As I scrolled the internet, I saw a news item from one of Turkey’s newspapers: Both the Turkish and Philippine governments planned to open international flights this July. I texted her on Messenger and sent the link.

Mahal, did you see this news?”

“Wow, really! Yaaaaaaaaa!”

“It seems that we just have to wait a bit more, my love!”

“Yes, Rashid, there’s finally an end to our wait! I just hope that people will come to the engagement ceremony.”

“I am sure that they will! Don’t put too much salt on the coffee!”

The prospective fiancé needs to drink a cup of salted Turkish coffee in order to prove his devotion to the lady. As it was, coffee and salt made up for a very bitter concoction.

Out of nowhere, I said, “Mahal kita.” 

“You’re corny.”

“I know that you like it naman eh!”

“I love you too!”

Until then, I’ll keep safe and try to make her smile with pictures of food. And also play lots of online games together.

Yes, lots of them.

Earl Carlo Guevarra

Earl Carlo Guevarra is a 26-year-old writer from Zamboanga. He is an English teacher at a private school in San Juan City. When he's not teaching writing or grammar, he likes to dabble in poetry while drinking fruit shakes.

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