What Could’ve Been


She looked at someone else – like she usually does.

“She’s so lucky, she led a comfortable life with a family to protect and guide her. I had to weather so many wars alone,” she said in her head.

Bitter tears of envy and admiration leaked out of her brown eyes. She angrily tried to hold it back; she wiped her cheeks fiercely as if despising herself.

As if on reflex, she pulled out an old photo – probably the only one she has of her complete family left. It was a good 20 years ago when she had that. She was still a toddler and her parents held her adoringly. Her smile – she was happy.

Youth is life yet left untarnished by tragedy.

She remembered the accident. She remembered the cries of the ambulance as if it wailed along with her to God for mercy and grace. She remembered falling behind the adults as they rushed into the emergency operation theatre. She remembered everyone else crowding around her, but she could not feel any company. She remembered standing in the crematorium; her heart and eyes already dry of tears but they still kept wrenching. She remembered watching the flames of truth burn her pillars of strength away as she stood as a little child.

She remembered she was all alone – she had to grow up now.

“Why is everyone else crying?” she thought in her head. “This is all happening and no amount of tears can bring my family back.” Unconsciously, one tear welled up.

“Why are they all weeping?” she asked herself. “They are not going to be feeling the loss in a few days. I’m going to feel this for life.” She started to get angry, “Pathetic adults.”

Everyone was drowning her in condolences that were utterly empty.
“You’ll be alright, little girl.” How do you know? You don’t know me.
“You have to be strong! You’ll be fine.” Not like I have a choice. It’s either be strong or perish.
“You’re the little miracle that they left behind.” I don’t want this miracle – I want my life back.
“You still have us!” No, I don’t. Which of you will love me like your own every single day of my life? None.

From silk to rags – overnight.

20 years later, she keeps on turning around to look at the roads she regretted that she took.  

He gently wiped her eyes with a tissue.

Snapped back to reality, she looked at him.

“You’re crying. Stop thinking,” he said and smiled.

She was still in church, the pastor was still preaching. The lady whom she looked at was still smiling at everyone congratulating her on her success and her parents enveloped her happily.

“I know that lady,” he said as she squeezed her hand. “She led a fairly sheltered life; all she had to do was to perform academically.”

No answer from her. Just a silence he regarded as her cry.

“You had to do much more than that,” he continued.

“I could’ve been like her. With my family, leading a normal life,” her tone was filled with yearning yet scorn. Not so complicated.

“I would’ve gotten so much further than where I am right now,” by here, her voice was choked with tears.

Living a life with no one you could really call your family; no one you could really trust to hold your hand when you fall.
So many times she fell and tried reaching out to someone – only to remember that there was no one there for her anymore.

Everyone else had someone to care for already. She was just charity.

Have you ever entered a roomful of people but left so alone?
She felt like that her whole life.

“Why do you want to be like her?” he asked her that question a million times. “Why do you want to be normal like everyone else?”

“Because then life will not be so goddamn difficult to continue living,” she snapped and glared at him. She was angry.

Instinctively, he did not turn away from her – instead he gripped her hand that much tighter.  

“I’ll tell you what could have been,” he was not fearful of her anger like others. “It doesn’t take a genius to guess.”

He caught her attention.

“You would be a spoiled brat. No doubt, you’ll be going down the academically gifted lane as planned. You’ll outshine everyone else and the world will be your oyster… but you’ll live to kill. Anyone that doesn’t please you gets killed. You won’t be helping people and making them happy like you do now. You’ll be only living for yourself because that was how you were brought up.”

It was true. And although they were terrible things to say about a person – she felt a little bit of consolation that she had an inkling of the other life she could have led.

“Not only that, I’d never love the other you,” he said coldly. “You won’t be warm, nice and bubbly. You’ll be just a scheming, materialistic bitch.”

“Well, if I led the other life – I wouldn’t have even known you. Ignorance to the happiness you give me now will immune me from the pain,” she retorted.

“True, but does that lady in front of you look happy with her lover?” the glint in his eye told her that she had lost.

As if on cue, the lady was seated down and next to her was her equally successful lover who seemed totally indifferent to the whole scene. It was like they lived in separate worlds but slept on the same bed.

“They’re together simply because both of them think they match each other’s ‘success rate’. You would’ve been like that. And you wouldn’t have chosen me from your legion of suitors,” he smirked.

For the first time during the entire church service, she smiled. And he was reminded again of how much he loves the person she is.

She knew what he was thinking and she said sweetly, “Thank you for loving me.”

“I love you for who you are and whoever you will be… not who you could’ve been,” he replied. “We’ll get you out of the pain, I promise.”

“But what if…”

“Life is filled with ‘what if’s’. I know yours has been unpredictably scary, so you always want to know the end… but as long as I can, I will always love you.”

And just like that – for the first time he saw the look in her eyes, like she was glad things were not what they could’ve been. 

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