At some point you’re gonna have to give up. When you’ve exhausted everything... sometimes the voice inside of you telling you to keep digging or holding out or keep doing whatever it is you’re doing because eventually you’re going to break through—sometimes that voice is wrong. Dead wrong. Or straight-up lying to torture you or to get you in BIG trouble.
It isn’t mine to find or look into. It isn’t mine to stick my nose in. But I can’t help it, something inside of me keeps telling me I have to look. I have to know. What the hell is in that thing… and why is it just sitting there?
It rained heavily yesterday and all throughout the night. The heavy rainfall on my roof was thunderous, like a torrent of hail hitting a metal roof for hours on end. Not exactly a good combination in the middle of the night. I kept thinking about the thing—how it must be getting crushed and soggy with all the beautiful and wild madness happening outside, turning from a caramel brown color to a sopping, fibrous, dark chocolate.
I lay there just thinking about it all night. My mind went to all sorts of places; it’s a wad of cash, something illegal, trivial, a long-lost secret, about some forbidden love. It’s not like anyone would know that I took it, and besides, he’s long gone. But whoever sent him that seductively blank kraft mailer must have not known that.
My neighbor told me to look out for his apartment, said he’d be gone for a long time and didn’t know when he’d return. He’s been gone for over six months now. We’re all the way in the back of the building, on the ground floor. Fenced in by raven wrought iron and shrouded by a large oak tree, maples, and elms, our front yard (which was also our back yard) was like our own little secret garden that only we had access to.
In the middle of the grass, he—on his own accord—placed a circular, mosaic glass table and before he left for the tropics, we had gotten into the routine sitting out there, by the lilacs and marigolds, and talking about the latest news. I started it. I saw him sitting and asked to join him. Eventually, it just became a thing.
We also started a kind of book club book, our first book being The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. We never got to finish it before he left, as he left in a hurry. He made it seem like it was an emergency business trip. In truth, I had no idea what he did. I hadn't asked. All I knew was that he talked to someone on the phone every single morning at around four. I couldn’t tell what he was talking about, the best I could make out was gibberish—incomprehensible yet serious-sounding murmuring—which woke me up on a few occasions. The wall between us, while thin, was apparently thick enough.
The package is still there, on the right side of his door. It reminded me of a lost child whose parents neglected all too often. At about five to six years old, its mother was cruel and overbearing and its father cold, unfeeling, and possibly an avoidant alcoholic and so it ran away, hid, and started begging. It was desperate to be taken in, it wanted your attention but didn't ask for it outrightly.
It looks the way it looked before it rained, so, my imagination was very wrong this time; I pictured it crumbling after last night’s storm but that didn’t happen. The awning protected it.
Note to self, not everything you imagine is real.
It’s not like he’s coming back tomorrow after being gone for six months. Although it’s possible… that happening is highly unlikely. Why in the hell would he come home right after I decide to open it? Of all days? After it’s been sitting there for, I assume, nearly five months—untouched? But then again, life can be a cruel jokester like that.
In the event that he does, I can just tell him about the crazy rainstorms we’ve been having, and that I was concerned about his package potentially getting damaged so I took it in. I’m sure he won’t mind… he’d even be grateful. He’ll never know—if I open it—they sell these kraft boxes at the store anyway and besides, I could just put it back the way I found it.
In the shadow, sitting under the awning on a bright, sunny day, I extend my index finger to its brown, lifeless, body. It's lukewarm and dry to the touch. There’s nothing particularly special about the box except that it lacked any labels or markings like a normal package would have; it was plain as if whoever sent it dropped it off themselves.
It was also unexpectedly very light, almost as if there was nothing inside. I shake it and... nada. I could smell a hint of the storm on it, as if it retained whatever specific minerals were in the rain in its fibers after it dried. It almost had an earthy, musty scent—nothing overt or overpowering, more so a subtle nuance than your average cardboard box. I thought to lick the box just for investigative purposes, but as that is probably unhygienic, so I decide not to.
I look beyond the bushes, the hanging branches and leaves of the trees, and past the iron fence. I see nothing and no one. I consider the possibility that he’d been home this entire time and perhaps have missed the small package all these months (it’s only 6 inches long and 4 inches tall and wide) but I’m certain he would’ve knocked. The motion-detecting camera on my front door caught no recent sighting of him nor whoever delivered the package, so I quickly dismiss the foolish thought. Just as quickly, another pops up: Am I being pranked? Is this a test to see if I am a trustworthy neighbor or person in general?
I conclude that deceptive tests are inaccurate measures and finally decide to take the package with me for safekeeping. Thus, I am a very good neighbor for protecting my neighbor's parcel from the harsh forces of nature until their return.
I gently place the package on my Spanish Cedar dining table. Feeling parched, I pour a glass of chilled Hibiscus tea and drop a couple of ice cubes inside. It is so quiet, I feel like a sinner. I pretend it's no big deal and I’m just doing my neighbor a favor, but as I take a seat to face it, I am well aware I ought to open it.
The truth is, I’ve been sick with concern about him. He’s always been a loner and a mystery, but I feared for months after not hearing anything from him that he’s dead in some brightly painted motel room, somewhere in Asia.
The cool, tarty, and semi-sweet tea brings me back to life and into my body—it’s a scorching day, the bright red liquid refreshes and awakens my throat and all the fleshy pipes inside of me, like coolant. It’s exactly what I needed; it was so hot I almost couldn’t breathe.
The muffled chirping and conversation of birds and grackles right outside of my window make me feel even more guilty. They sound disappointed in my course of action, as if they’d been betting on what I’d do and wouldn't. I quickly get up and shut my blinds and close my curtains, in case the nosy birds can see. This way they’ll never know if I opened it or not.
Carefully and deliberately, I slowly pull the paper tape off its long edge, making sure to keep it intact and fully intending to maintain the box's original state. I lift up its opening flap. My heart beats faster and the knots in my stomach tighten. Well aware of my huge crime and thinking God will never forgive me, I pause and ask myself:
Do I really want to do this?
Why yes, I do. I might as well. I already opened it.
Inside was a white piece of paper, rolled up loosely to fit perfectly in the box. The rest of it?—Air. Nothing but hollow, empty, air.
The roar of a distant engine races past our building. I could hear a couple of kids some distance away screaming in delight; I imagine they’re playing tag or tickling one another mercilessly while their mother watches protectively over their already scarred knees and elbows.
The piece of paper, still curled in itself, is water-damaged on the sides. Feeling both curious and ashamed, I stick my finger in the side of the box and wriggle it underneath the crunchy water-damaged edge of the paper, pinching it with my index finger and thumb. Lifting, it glides smoothly and effortlessly out of the box and I can’t help but question why I’m being so careful with such a seemingly insignificant thing. There was no name on the box anyway, so as far as I’m concerned, it may as well have been left in front of my door.
There is nothing special about the paper itself. It’s the same kind you find in every office, every printer, every store. It’s the kind you give to a young toddler holding a jumbo crayon in their little hand when they ask for paper, remnants of Nutella and cracker crumbs all over their chubby cheeks.
I turn it over. Still curled on itself, I take its top-left corner with my left hand and careful not to get a paper cut, I unravel and unroll it as my right hand glides down to its bottom-right corner. It's crunch and feels less malleable than normal, hardened by the evaporated rainfall.
As I take in the words on the letter, my jaw practically drops to the ground, or rather, my lap. An emotion I’ve never felt in my life before surge within and through me—starting from my gut, deep inside my small intestine, born of an electric shock my own body created as a response. I have no words or labels for this.
Something warm and increasingly hot and hilarious well up from the tip of my tailbone, consuming the entirety of my pelvis. I feel pulled to my seat, my seat to the center of Earth. I’m speechless but I feel like bursting out into unintelligible sound consisting of awkwardness, vulnerability, relief, fear, humiliation, and... love. I can’t believe him! How did he know I would? It said:
Made you look.
Listen, I’m in love with you.
If you opened this (and I think you will), you must love me too.
I’m working on rental properties in Siargao and then Cebu and then in Phuket. I wish I had the guts to ask you to come with me.
In the meantime, don’t forget about me? I hope you don't meet anybody.
I’ll think about you every day I’m gone. Don't you know? Those mornings we spent together just sitting there sipping coffee or tea and talking... you saved my life. I was drowning.
In the off chance you don’t feel the same… do me a favor -
I know you wanted to move to a new place with better air-conditioning. Do that.
Do that before Christmas this year, before I get back.
Because it will be really fucking weird if you’re there and you saw this and…
Crap. I didn’t think this through. Better not put it back and then pretend you never saw it!
I love you but that would be CRUEL.
If you don't love me back, go. Move. It'll be good for you. And less embarrassing for me.
Hope to see you soon.
Hopefully… in a new light.
P.S. I’ll know you read it if the package isn’t where I left it.