Today is Saturday, picnic day. The children are playing in the park, as usual. The mixture of flavors from the vegetable sandwich we had prepared, along with the smell of freshly cut grass in the park, had made me addicted to this fragile moment of peace.
“Now it's my turn!” the children shouted.
Even their shouts added charm to the atmosphere because, after all, it was our day off.
“The drink is finished, are you going to get more?” my wife asked.
“Do I look like a delivery person?” I sat up from my comfortable position. “Alright…”
Nonverbal communication was her strong suit; a raised eyebrow was enough for me to understand that she wasn't in the mood for jokes. I got up, put on my shoes, and started walking towards the nearest store.
“Give me your phone, mine ran out of battery,” she capriciously demanded.
I wasn't going to make her raise the other eyebrow, so I obediently complied.
“As you wish,” I bowed. “Where are you going?” my daughter asked when she saw me leaving. “Can I come with you?”
The little one, who was right behind her, repeated the same question, although I could barely distinguish the syllables.
“I'll be right back, stay here and don't make too much noise.”
Half of the sentence was carried away by the wind, as they barely paid attention. The adrenaline made them run towards whatever had just come to their minds. That's how picnic Saturdays were: fun, spontaneous, and ordinary.
As I left behind the pleasant sounds and smells of the park area, I welcomed the pollution and hustle of the city. Traffic forced me to make increasingly longer pauses to cross the streets. People gathered in front of the pedestrian crossing, waiting for the moment as if the starting gun for a race was about to go off. Now! But when I started walking, the rest remained still. For a moment, I doubted if the traffic light had turned red. It seemed so strange that I stood there perplexed, in the middle of the road, not knowing how to react, so I continued on my way.
I entered the store, one of those neighborhood ones that resembled a Pac-Man maze, but without ghosts or magic pills, at least not that I knew of. Even blindfolded, I could find my way to the beverage refrigerator, which made a terrible noise with its fan. I grabbed a soda and headed to the counter.
“I'm taking this,” I placed the bottle on the table.
The shopkeeper didn't pay attention; he seemed engrossed in his mobile phone, looking down.
“Hello?” I said. No response. I stopped to observe that he wasn't making any movements with his fingers.
“Sir, are you alright?”
Getting no response, I hurried to the other side of the counter. When I placed a hand on his shoulder, he was completely cold… It couldn't be true. I tried to stay calm. I searched my pockets.
“Damn, my phone!”
Of course, today had to be the day my wife's phone ran out of battery, right? But the shopkeeper, or whatever was left of him, had a phone in his hands. Maybe if I grab it from here…
“Oh my God!”
I managed to grab it in time; a rather unpleasant-looking spider crawled out from the sleeve of his shirt. It wasn't huge, but any arachnid was enough to make an impression on me. Could it have been a bite from that creature? It's better to put some distance.
As I walked back to the other side, as far away as possible from that man, the classic sound of being offline could be heard without even bringing the phone close to my ear. The emergency number was supposed to connect to any provider's repeater. I approached the entrance, which was right in front of the lifeless body of the shopkeeper. The door wouldn't open, it was stuck.
“Come on, holy shit.”
To make matters worse, I could see through the glass door the pedestrians I had crossed paths with just minutes ago. People remained standing still in the same spot. Was this some kind of prank? I tried the door handle again.
“Open up! Come on!” I insisted, struggling against the door itself. “Shit!”
I gave up on my attempts. The sound of being offline continued. Although I promised myself to stay calm, my heavy breathing betrayed me. What is happening here?
“Now you'll see…”
I grabbed the fire extinguisher hanging on the wall and struck the glass door with all my strength. A jolt ran through my arms, causing me to drop that heavy object abruptly. It had bounced off the glass as if it were bulletproof. Was I locked inside this place? With that lifeless shopkeeper? On that street full of motionless people?
“It must be a prank, that's all.”
I looked up at the ceiling, searching for the surveillance camera. I waved.
“Hello,” I gestured with both hands. “Having fun? You can open up now, my family is waiting for me at the park.”
But I only heard my voice, drowned out by the distant sound of the beverage fridge's fan. Drawn back to it, I approached again. When the intensity of that sound reached its peak, I opened the fridge door, dumbfounded.
“What is this?” I asked aloud as I grabbed a disturbing object.
It was a bottle of pills. I shook it, it was full. What does this mean? I read the label. It was medication I hadn't read in a long time. It was the medication I used to take for…
“Hello?!” I exclaimed.
I began to feel confused, out of place. The sound of the fan overwhelmed me. The mobile phone started ringing. My phone number appeared on the screen. Is it over now? Is the prank done?
“Yes?” I answered.
“Darling?” It was my wife's voice.
“What is all this about?” I asked as I walked towards the counter. “Just give me a second.”
I didn't need to get too close to see that the shopkeeper had disappeared, just like the people on the street.
“Darling, where are you?” she continued.
“Hello! Can you hear me?” I grabbed the phone tightly while covering my other ear to escape the sound of that fridge.
“Where's daddy?” My daughter's voice could be heard. “When is he coming back?”
Then, as if on cue, my son repeated his sister's words, unintelligibly as always. It was predictable, it filled me with tenderness; in fact, it was part of a routine I couldn't say goodbye to. I resisted the thought that those picnic days had come to an end.
“So, this is how it all ends, right?” I responded, knowing that no one would hear me.
A deep melancholy, disguised as nostalgia, completely overwhelmed me. Just when it seemed like everything was back to normal, I was abruptly faced with reality. The fragility of happiness was like that. Life is a fleeting moment, full of chaos and uncertainty.
“I love you, never forget it,” I said goodbye and hung up.
I knew what this meant. It tormented me that I couldn't say goodbye the way I wanted to. I tormented myself for missing the chance I was unable to seize that day, before they left for school. “Never say goodbye without saying 'I love you,' you'll never know when it's the last time they can hear it directly from your lips.” That phrase I hadn't said in a long time slipped into my mind like a subliminal message.
The sound of the fridge grew intense, unbearable. I dropped the phone to the ground. The lights in that neighborhood shop began to shine brightly until I was engulfed in a blinding glow.
“Snap out of it,” someone said softly.
I wanted to respond, but I had no strength. My throat was blocked.
“Hello? It seems like he's coming to,” the voice repeated with the same tone as before.
An intense light moved back and forth, hovering over my pupils like a flying saucer. Everything started to take shape around me. It looked like a doctor, and I had the feeling that I was in a hospital room. I could feel uncomfortable tubes placed in almost every orifice of my body.
“You finally woke up, Miguel.” The doctor turned off that luminous pen-like device. “Welcome back. Take your time, a doctor will come to talk to you in a few minutes.”
And without saying anything more, he left. Although I didn't want to, I was forced to take all the time in the world. My eyes moved slowly, clumsily. My muscles didn't react. I think my plan to reunite with my family didn't go well at all, at least not as I had hoped.
“So, you've awakened after all this time,” a new voice interrupted. “I am the psychiatrist of this hospital, and I believe you and I have a pending conversation.”
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