This is an excerpt from one of the stories included in the anthology, Silver Linings: Stories of Love, Hope, and Courage in a Pandemic Setting. If you liked the story, please consider supporting the writer by buying the book.
“Now showing: Pandemic Heroes,” she read silently before she entered the movie theatre together with her husband. Cheerful greetings and warm smiles welcomed them as they went inside.
They arrived thirty minutes before the start of the show. An ample time to choose a seat that is a perfect distance from the screen. They can taste the sweet and salty flavor of the popcorn from the aroma coming from the snack bar. The air conditioning made the temperature chilly, but a welcome break from the humidity outside.
She sighed as she settled in her seat. “Finally,” she uttered, a wide curve forming on her lips. “Everything will be fine.” She was smiling, but tears filled her eyes.
“It will be,” Ronald responded. He reached for her hand and squeezed it. Then he clasped it tightly. “It’s over, Elena. We’ll be at peace.”
She nodded before her gaze shifted to the newcomers. She gave her warmest smile to them and Ronald did the same. She knew them. The old couple were her patients. They took the seats beside Ronald. The woman with her daughter were homeless people she used to help in the past. They sat beside her.
“I’m excited to watch.” The young girl exclaimed, her eyes glowed, and a contagious beam plastered on her pretty face. “I’ve never been to the cinema, so this is my first time but I know for sure, the Pandemic Heroes is the best show in the universe.” She couldn’t agree more. The show was all about paying tribute to the heroes who fought against the unseen enemies which killed millions of people around the world. Who could have thought wearing protective gears—masks, gowns, and gloves could save humanity?
“It’s about to start,” Ronald told them.
The lights went off. The noisy crowd quieted down. Everyone’s attention focused on the wide screen as the opening credits played. Every person in attendance was savouring every scene. They see glimpses of the world they lived in, but one they cannot see anymore.
“Doc, Sir Ronald, it’s you! It’s you!.” The child announced excitedly. Her mother could not admonish her seeing the twinkle in her eyes. Her eyes reflect the same pride and happiness.
Elena and Ronald entered the scene. He was wearing a hat, a crisp blue uniform, his badge and, shiny shoes. Elena wore a white coat, a stethoscope around her neck, and her hair in a tight bun. She looked like an angel who always offered a genuine smile to her patients.
They were the fallen heroes who served the country, who sacrificed their lives to save people. The people, the country, and the world needed them and they didn’t turn their back on the pledge they made even if it meant turning their back on the person they loved most—Emmanuel, their only son.
Elena remembered how Emmanuel begged her to stay at home and leave her job because she might die. But she didn’t listen. Ronaldo didn’t listen. They didn’t listen because it was their obligation to serve the people who needed their help.
She cannot forget the face of their son when they fulfilled their duties. Emmanuel trembled liked a child. His eyes dripped with tears that rolled down his cheeks and drenched his shirt. It made Elena’s heart shatter into pieces, but she had no choice. They had no choice.
“Emmanuel…,” she let out a soft cry when the face of her son appeared on the screen. He looked stunning in a tuxedo. The way he stood was like his father, full of authority but very charming, while his grin was identical to his mother, angelic. “I’m sorry if we can’t go back home. I hope you understand.”
The saddest realization about the pandemic was the most painful. “You will die alone if you get infected by the virus.” It was true. No families and friends will bid them last goodbye. It happened to her.
The last patients she took care of were the old couple sitting beside Ronald. She recalled the heart-breaking image moments before the old couple died. There was only one ventilator left to use due to lack of medical supplies. The old man said he didn’t need it anymore. He will be happy if his wife will use it. But the old woman refused, too. She claimed she’d already enjoyed her life with her husband and was ready to face death.
After that tear-jerking scene, Elena’s world had turned upside down. The result of her swab test was positive. This time, she would use the ventilator. It failed to save her.
One day, she woke up in a place called ‘Mid-World’. It is the boundary of heaven and hell. Souls who left unfinished business inhabits this limbo. Souls who cannot let go of the past. Mid-World was like Earth except was there’s time runs differently here. Money does not matter, and everything was free—food, house, cinema and the likes.
“Emmanuel has a good heart and a smart kid. I’m sure he understands,” Ronald assured Elena. She broke down, and he held her while rubbing her back.
Emmanuel was the reason the couple refused to go to heaven. After she died, Ronald got infected and followed her immediately to the grave, leaving their son on his own. They can’t live peacefully in heaven knowing that their son suffered alone, so they stayed in Mid-World.
The old couple, the mother and daughter, declared that they would also stay in Mid-World together with Elena and Ronald until the pair achieved their peace of mind.
“Please stop crying,” the child said. The small hands of the girl wiped her tears away. “Kuya Emmanuel will be sad if he would see you crying.”
The words of the girl soothed Elena’s aching heart. The little girl never ceased to make her smile. When they were still alive, the girl was always wandering around in the streets, begging for food. She asked her to come with her so she could live a comfortable life, but the girl refused politely because the child’s mother was sick and her father was gone. She didn’t force the child to come with her, but she always helped the girl in her own little ways. Unfortunately, the mother and daughter died, not because of the Corona Virus but because of poverty.
“From the way he looks, I’m sure he understood the situation very well,” the old woman commented.
Elena diverted her attention back to the monitor. The President offered a handshake to Emmanuel before he gave the award to him. The award was a recognition of his efforts as one of the young scientists in the country who helped discover the cure for the virus.
When asked for a speech, Emmanuel uttered only a few words.
“Mom and Dad, thank you for your sacrifices. I love you both. And thank you to all front liners, because you gave your all and served our country amidst the pandemic. I salute you all. You are our true heroes.”
“We didn’t die in vain.” Elena said while her tears kept rolling down her cheeks.
Her husband hugged her. “I’m so proud of him.”
At last, they could go to heaven without nursing a guilty heart for leaving their son. Elena and Ronald never regretted their decision because it was the best choice they ever made. Yes, they failed to save the country. They failed to come back home for their child.
But their son saved the world.