A bolt of lightning flashed across the gloomy gray-blue sky and was followed by a loud sound of thunder. It frightened Luna for a moment. Her eyes shifted towards the southbound lane to check if the bus was coming. She saw nothing. The sky was beginning to turn dark over the horizon. It seemed a storm was coming. She took notice of dry leaves fell from the trees and rustled gently on the sidewalks with the breeze.
She needed to get a ride home fast. Her mom was waiting.
The heavy rain began to fall. The unsettling wind blew harder towards the bus stop corner where Luna stood. She was startled as she lost her grip on her red umbrella. It hit a metal post and was thrown to the main avenue’s sidewalk. She ran after it, but the wind was quicker by the minute. She found its handle stuck on a drainage’s metal railings across the street. As she made a great effort to remove it, an act that remained futile – a passing sedan car splashed the murky rainwater on her.
Furious, Luna screamed to high heavens, “AARRGHH!!!”
She looked at her sports trainers – white as clouds an hour ago, now wet and filled with sandy dirt. She was flabbergasted. Her old pair of ripped, faded jeans and her cotton shirt was drenched in water. She struggled to release the umbrella’s handle from being stuck in the sewer drainage. She was all wet and soggy and to make matters worse, she did not retrieve her precious umbrella, a gift from her mother. Cold and exhausted, she gave up.
She stood outside the candy shop and waited for the rain to stop. Apprehensive and still a bit shaken from the cold rain, she glanced at the candy shop’s display glass window. The writings said, “Tooth Fairy. Store Hours: 10 a.m – 7 p.m.”
Then she saw her reflection. Her hair dripped in rainwater, her appearance looked like a starved and abandoned alley cat. There was a small speak-easy café nearby. Luna sought refuge and ordered her favorite macchiato drink instead. It soothed her from her unfortunate dilemma.
A familiar female figure in a wide flowing dress trudged inside the café. Something made Luna stop on her tracks. She mused upon the person for a few seconds and tried to remember her name.
In shock, she blurted out, “Oh my God!!! It’s… it’s… Jasmine!”
“Hey, wait!” Luna shouted at the frail-looking young woman.
The woman indeed looked like someone Luna knew – her old friend Jasmine whom she hadn’t seen for a while. She made a quick move and followed her inside. She swung the door open while the wooden and metal wind chimes hanging on the door made a pleasant tinkling sound. Luna smiled at the female person at the counter and searched for her inside the café. She didn’t find her there. She looked around and checked the restroom down the hallway and waited for a brief moment outside.
There was no Jasmine insight.
Am I having a déjà vu or something? Are my eyes playing tricks on me? Luna thought.
She honestly saw her with her own eyes. The speakeasy café’s door opened and Jasmine went in. It was merely next to the candy shop where she was standing. How can she missed her?
“Have you seen the woman with long hair and wearing a crumpled grey dress, came in a while ago?” Luna inquired about the woman at the counter.
“Nope! Haven’t seen her. You’re the only one.” She replied as she continued cleaning the cups.
Confused, my eyes turned towards the glass door. Luna saw her walked by outside the cafe and crossed the street. She dashed out of the café and felt a slow drizzle outside. Her steps became quicker. Her heart pumped. Her eyes were not blinking so as not to lose her again. She saw her turned around a corner.
“J-JASMINE!” Luna shouted at the top of her lungs.
The woman uncannily moved her head. Instead, she continued to walk down the streets as if she was looking for something… or somebody. When Luna reached the same corner, she was nowhere to be found.
“JASMINE! JAS!” She called out in desperation. The young woman appeared behind a huge tree.
“JASMINE! Hey!” She repeated.
Her call fell on deaf ears. Luna ran fast. Still catching her breath, Luna finally caught up with her.
“Hey, Jasmine Kobayaki, right?! Don’t you remember me? We met in Japan three summers ago and became roommates at Nagoyi Computers.”
The woman stared at her with a hint of bewilderment. “Huh?” “ Oh,” she answered. Yet, she smiled at Luna.
Luna gestured to shake her hands. “It’s me, Luna. How are you?”
The woman was hesitant at first, but she reached out her hands. Luna felt her hand was cold and clammy. It must have been the coldness of the weather outside, although she didn’t seem wet with rainwater. Her expression seemed peculiar – like she didn’t know Luna before, nor heard about her. But she just willingly played along like an old friend.
“Oh, I am fine.” She whispered. “You’re wet.”
“Ah, yes! I was on my way home when it rained. I just came from the gym.”
“I see.” She hinted.
“Are you in a hurry? Would you like to have some coffee or juice? I inquired.
“It’s fine,” Jasmine responded.
Inside the coffee shop, they sat across each other. The steaming cups of coffee Luna ordered made her warm and comfortable. She dried herself using the restroom’s hand dryer and changed her shirt. Luna noticed Jasmine’s crumpled plaid grey dress appeared to be out of fashion. It seemed odd and gave her the impression of somebody from another era.
Nobody wears tiered raffled dresses these days. She thought.
The pale shade of her skin was somewhat lacking in vitamin D or desperately needed sun exposure. She looked gaunt and appeared to be sickly. Her long, slender hands showed several thick veins that ran through her fingers. But Luna was amused by the way her candle-like dainty fingers held her cup.
Like an old spinster lady-in-waiting who is having her three in the afternoon tea ritual. She pondered. Her wavy, jet-black colored hair – was longer than the last time she saw her. A faint trace of dark circles and bags formed around her eyes. Luna can’t help but ask.
“Are you not feeling well?”
“No, I’m okay. Don’t worry. Why do you ask?”
I decided not to be nosy for a moment. “Uhm, nothing. Just take care of yourself.”
“Thanks.” She replied but seemed disinterested. She stared at a distance for a while. Her mouth pursed and tried to say something, yet no words came out.
Luna felt the inconvenience of the long silence between them, so she asked, “Are you heading home?”
Jasmine fiddled with her fingers on top of the table. “Not yet. I am still looking for somebody.”
“Someone very close to me.”
“Why? What happened?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
Jasmine never responded to the rest of Luna’s questions. She might have been annoyed by her untimely inquisitiveness, just by the mere expression in her eyes. A strange look showed in her face. Far from the way Luna remembered her back then – she was full of life and so vibrant. It was as if something terrible happened that sucked the life out of her. She began to wonder, what could have transpired between the long years they haven’t seen each other.
“I am so glad to see you, Jasmine.”
“Me too.” She replied without making any impression. She didn’t even look at me. Her mind drifted somewhere far away.
“It’s getting late. I need to go.” Jasmine said.
“Hey, before you go. It’s my son’s birthday this coming Saturday. I am inviting you for lunch.” She mentioned.
“Yes. Well, if you only have the time.”
“I’ll come.” Again, she replied with a stoic expression.
Luna reached for her backpack and handed Jasmine her calling card.
“Call me, okay? Where do you live, by the way?”
“I lived six blocks away from here, near the old church.” She replied. She reached for the napkin and wrote something.
“Here’s my address.”
“Okay, that’s cool. Be safe then.”
She stood up without responding. She glided across the floor without effort. Her ankle-length old dress swayed gently as if she was floating.
She lost so much weight. She used to be a busty young woman – something that I envied so much. She mused.
Luna took one last glance and kept the napkin between the pages of her notebook.
From the glass window of the café, Luna saw Jasmine sauntered along the busy main avenue without looking back nor enjoying the sights as she passed by. She must have been bored seeing the area a thousand times, and nothing seemed spectacular anymore. Luna felt an uncanny feeling about her, but she cannot put it into words. She paid the bill quickly and bolted out of the café. Her roving eyes followed her until she saw Jasmine reached the old church at the end of the long road and disappeared from her sight as she turned right to the next corner.
I heard a loud “beep” and a squeaking sound from a stopping vehicle.
A bus finally came.
Luna’s birthday luncheon party for her son happened a month ago. Jasmine didn’t show up nor Luna receive a call from her. She had been busy with work for weeks. Her brief encounter with Jasmine and her non-appearance at the party slipped her mind.
It was two days before the Pesach or the Jewish Passover…
Luna’s hands were full for the coming holiday. She began the intensive house-cleaning process. She decluttered her old stuff. She had done spring cleaning rituals in preparation for the Seder dinner celebration. Any traces of chametz or leavened grain or food were removed and discarded.
On the kitchen floor corner, several shopping bags from the kosher supermarket sat silently.
She bought new kitchen utensils, several pots, and pans, two sets of plates – one for a dairy dish and another for a meat dish, a variety of kosher food products, and another bag full of groceries needed for the whole week of Pesach.
Luna removed the old pile of boxes from the top cupboards of her apartment kitchen and placed them on the kitchen floor. She scrubbed the cupboards with soap and wet cloth from the top to the bottom. Things no longer needed were sorted out – either to be given away, kept in a storeroom, sealed in a cabinet, or to be reused next year.
An hour into the activity sweats trickled down Luna’s face and neck. Her shirt was faintly damped against her skin. Even if she didn’t go to the gym, cleaning felt like a good form of exercise. Her favorite honey-lemongrass- cucumber concoction was ready and poured herself a glass of her energy drink. She reached for the glass and drank the juice down. As she finished her drink, she saw the reflection of a box wrapped in red Christmas foil inside the small bookshelf beside the cupboard.
Curiosity got the best of her. She reached for the red box, placed it on top of the table. Stunned, Luna dug for the contents inside.
Old family pictures. Letters. Christmas cards. She didn’t have any recollection that she placed it there.
She took a glimpse of the old pictures. A sweet smile formed in her lips. Those were happy times of the past – especially the photos of her parents and grandparents in their younger days. At the back of the pile, she noticed a recent photo album. She scanned the pictures and …
“Jasmine!” Luna blurted out. “Oh my God, my pictures with Jasmine. I looked okay back then, but she was rather beautiful!”
Luna rose from her seat. An idea came to her mind. Her big brown eyes showed glee. She kept three pictures for herself and placed it inside her phone pouch.
A week later…
That one sunny day in April, Luna left the gym early. On her way out of the parking lot, she caught a glimpse of the speak-easy café’s huge signage and a quick flash of smile was written on her face. She trudged the main avenue in a certain rapid manner. She knew where her feet were heading. She mused upon it for several days, even during the Passover.
It was a long walk, but the way to the old church was pleasant and scenic. How could she not enjoy this? She finally reached the old Gothic-styled church. Her eyes searched around the area where Jasmine lived. She walked a few more steps further beyond the hedge and found nothing.
The rugged path led her to a dead-end road.
Hands on akimbo, Luna felt something was not right. There were no houses near the old church. Beside it was one big piece of private land with several evergreen trees, a variety of pines, and Eastern red cedars. It has a tall concrete fence and the surface was covered with dark-green moss plants. From her vantage point, Luna couldn’t see what was inside behind the fence.
She walked back to where the century-old church was. At the gate, she saw an elderly man came out of the guardhouse.
“Good morning, Sir.” Luna greeted.
“Yes, how can I help you, madam?” The old man questioned.
“I am looking for a friend’s place.”
“Do you have the address?”
Luna took another glance of the papernapkin in her hand.
“Ah yes, she said… Spring Heights. It’s on 28th Street.”
“You got the place right, Miss.”
Luna’s face showed a sign of puzzlement. Her eyebrows furrowed. The side of her mouth raised.
“So, if this is the place where can I find 28th Street then?”
“Come with me, I will show you. Come inside, please.”
Once inside the church, we ambled past the long cobblestoned garden path. Behind it, we went inside a steel gate – a secret passage behind another hedge.
And there it was, in front of her very eyes – a big arc made of stone and painted in white, blue and grey appeared.
SPRING HEIGHTS MEMORIAL PARK.
Wait! A cemetery?! She thought.
Her heart pounded with fear. She felt a big lump in her throat. Her legs felt weak and noodly.
Luna hated cemeteries.
The elderly man then uttered, “Follow me, please.”
She noticed the trees which she saw visible behind the tall concrete fence. We made few turns to the right, then two turns to the left, and finally a long straight road.
They suddenly stopped.
“This is 28th Street.” He said. “There was only one person buried here. You won’t get lost.”
Still confused and hesitant, Luna made a few steps forward. She read the name on the headstone.
In Loving Memory of a Dear Loved One
Margareth Betty Hays
Born: October 2, 1873
Died: June 24, 1901.
The name she just read added to her confusion.
“Who is she?”
“A rich Victorian lady who died from head trauma when she and her husband were involved in a car accident. The husband was in a coma for several years before he succumbed to his injuries. They said, the last words Mrs. Hays’ uttered before she died,” Where is my husband?”
“B-but Sir, it had a different name. My friend’s name was Jasmine Kobayaki. Besides, I am visiting my friend’s house, not a tombstone. There must be a mistake in the address. Or if not, she might be working here.”
“The church has no staff by the name of Jasmine Kobayaki. I started working here even before you were born, Miss.”
Luna apologized and in haste, left the strange place.
That night, she tossed and turned in bed. She removed the photo from her phone pouch. She looked at it several times. It was a group picture. She got out of bed, reached for the telephone and dialed a number.
“Roger, do you remember Jasmine Kobayaki, one of our colleagues from Kyoto Computers?”
“Ah, Jasmine? Hmm… Kobayaki, right?” Roger replied, but made a long pause. “She died from cervical cancer a year ago.”
Her heart sank.
“W-what? J-Jasmine was dead? Are you sure?” She demanded.
Her mind swirled from the shocking news. She felt goosebumps all over her body. The memory of that one fateful rainy afternoon made a sudden flashback in her mind.
“But I saw her a few weeks ago.” “W-we even h-had coffee. Seriously.” She ascertained Roger.
“I was at her funeral.” He declared.
She felt her heart skipped a beat for a second. She also remembered the way Jasmine look. Her face, her clothes, and stoic expressions. The address written on the napkin gave her chills all over. Luna realized, the elderly man at the church was right after all.
“How can you explain the eerie incident, Roger?” Luna queried.
“Perhaps, you experienced a rare case of a paranormal phenomena.”
“W-what do you mean?”
“The haunting of a spirit doppelganger.”