His last chance, her last day. Time is unkind, and waits for no man. "This is goodbye."
“I’ll be back soon, I promise.”
He ran. Images flashed through his mind. The reporter’s voice kept ringing in his head, nagging at him. Faster, faster! Fly, you fool! It laughed at him mocking tone. You cannot make it, you would not!
He shook his head to clear his mind. he stumbled, he tripped, but he could not wake up from this living nightmare. Television on display in an electronics shop had informed him of updates in the disaster area.
Another earthquake. Sichuan, China. Countless dead, even more missing. He had to run, to fly, to use all his strength. Faster! He urged himself, as if getting there sooner would ensure her survival. He ran, leaving the others who had gone with him staring at a cloud of dust in a daze.
Time kept on ticking. He pushed himself harder than before. No, no, it’ll be alright. She promised. She wouldn't leave him. Not now, not when he had just… He shook his head again. It seemed to take him so long to go just one step. No matter how hard he ran, how much he tried, he just could not get any closer to her.
Not now, not now. Please! Don’t take her away from me! His thoughts rang loudly in his head, a hammer pounding against his mind. But time kept on ticking. It trudged on, cold, uncaring. Not giving the slightest thought to him, to his effort.
He stumbled to the site. Tents had already been set up, workers rushed to and fro, bringing food and medicine to the injured. It had already been a few days, he should have given up. He chided himself. How could he think that when she had never given up on him?
Time kept on ticking. He rushed around the place, asking for her. Excuse me, excuse me, miss. Have you seen..? The workers ignored him. Tired, defeated, he stumbled into a tent. Perhaps she was already gone. Perhaps he could search where all ends meet. Perhaps... A group of children stared up at him. He stared back. Her voice sounded through his mind.
“Hey, when I grow up, I will help all the needy kids I can.”
“I'm going to Sichuan to help the orphans there.”
“I’ll be back soon, I promise.”
He continued staring at the children. Orphans. Sichuan. Something clicked in his head and a spark of hope re-lighted his determination. He reached for his pocket, why couldn't his hands move fast enough? They fumbled, and couldn't stop shaking. Gingerly, he handed her photo to them and asked “Have you seen her?”
Time seemed to slow down. Maybe, just maybe, it had some pity for him. The children chattered, full of energy. They beckoned for him to come closer, further into the tent. He followed, hoping for an answer. An old lady looked up at the sound of the children calling for her. She sat in a wicker chair. The photo was passed to her by the children's clumsy hands. He almost called out, afraid that they would have torn it.
“Ah, yes… she was quick-minded, smart and athletic…” the old lady’s voice trailed off. He paled, did she say ‘was’?
“She managed to get all the children out, but she…”
“She couldn't save herself.” He finished the sentence for the lady. His vision blurred, he fell to his knees. Devastated, he looked over at the children. She spent her life for them, they must have been so important to her. But that sentiment took her away from him. It was over. His time had been up from the start, his world had stopped a long time ago. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of someone lying on the bed behind. Someone with auburn hair. Her auburn hair.
Time restarted. He rushed over to her, grabbing her cold, clammy hand in his. Please, let her see me, he begged in his mind. Just once more. There were so many things he haven't told her. Oh, how he loved the way her hair shone in the sun, how he loved her smile, ever so bright, how he loved the things she say, and her sweet, sweet voice...
“The rescue team found her. She hasn't woken up in three days,” the old lady hobbled over to him and put a hand on his shoulder, hoping to comfort him. 'I'm sorry', those two words hung in the air unspoken. But he knew what the old lady meant. She may not survive.
Time was running out.
“Please… Rochelle, please wake up,” he begged, his tears falling down on to her hand. “You promised.”
He squeezed her hand and breathed onto it, hoping to give her some of his life. Anything to let him speak to her again. Anything to let him hear her voice once more.
A light cough.
“...I guess I did, huh?” Her eyelids fluttered open and she managed a weak smile. “It’s been so long.”
He almost fell over from the joy. It rushed through his veins, the adrenaline that he used to associate with seeing her face. She was alive! There was hope! But time was running out. He opened his mouth to speak but he did not know what to say.
"Oh, Rochelle. Rochelle! I—" Tears threatened to spill over. They were tears of happiness. How he had hoped! Maybe now they could finally...
Life was not as kind. She knew it, too. She took one—last—look at him and shook her head.
“I'm sorry, Alex.” She pulled her hand from his.
He looked at her, dread gnawing at his insides. “Sorry for what?”
Time had finally ran out.
“This is goodbye.”