NINE MONTHS BEFORE JIN´S DEATH
by Rosa María Carmona Plata
Day was drawing towards evening when she felt ready to meet him. She left everything and headed towards the harbour. Though her pace was slow, her heart was pounding strongly as she saw the definite moment become nearer. She had an irresistible desire of being with him.
The cliff. She did not know why he had chosen that place to meet her. The marine breeze and its particular odour filled her completely. There, standing, Jin´s figure seemed to face Mother Nature itself. He was contemplating with his intense and warm glance the last sun breathing before dying against the horizon.
At his sight she knew she could not resist living separate from him; she knew that her soul would die with his. Silently she prayed and from her eyes, nearly always inquisitive, poured tears of desperation. She tried to call his name, but no word came out from her lips. She tried to hug him, but her arms did not want to obey. She tried to open her heart to him, but respect prevented her from doing so. It seemed that even if her veins could explode in her temples, nothing would change.
Only the violent sound of waves choking against the cliff contrasted with the rhythmical balancing of branches pushed by the wind. She was leaning against a tree while looking at him. She was unaware of everything but him. She had not even noticed that her cheeks were wet neither that her body was shaking with cold. She was only conscious of the important moment she had to face. She had to take advantage of that miraculous instant she had been offered. She had to talk to him. She had to tell him how important he was for her, how meaningful were his friendship, his help, his understanding, his backing...
They had known each other for a long time. He was her coach. A hard, firm, exigent coach... He had trained her sportively and morally. He was at the same time father, friend, teacher, judge... She loved him, she needed him.
Suddenly she was conscious of how openly she was showing her emotions. She had to hide that from him. I do not want him to see me crying. He does not have to discover that I know the fatal truth he has been hiding from all of us.
Jin, how long have you been here?, she questioned.
Her voice sounded rather shy and tremble, but he did not appear to notice. His attention was focused on the beauty of the landscape that surrounded him.
I had not noticed you were here, Hiromi, he replied.
Do not worry. I arrived a minute ago, she said as she tried to dry her tears without his noticing.
He turned to face her. His face transmitted a sensation of placidity and remoteness.
I wanted to show you this view, Hiromi. I have adored it since I was a child. I remember how scared I was when I first heard the sound of the waves choking against this stone wall. Don´t you find it fascinating?
Yes. There is great beauty around here, she replied.
It is the strength of these waves that amazes me, he continued, Their perseverance. Have you noticed that even the most resistant rock is beaten under their continuous push? When you play tennis you are like this superb and determined cliff... but at the same time, you are that brisk, destructive wave. Do never lose those qualities, Hiromi. You have innate skills that can guide you to tennis summit. It is you, Hiromi. Everything is in you. Do never forget.
Why are you telling this to me, Jin?
It is said that after the cruelest winter, always comes a lovely spring. You have been born to resist whichever dashing that hits you, Hiromi. You have been born to be a survivor. You have to fight for our dream whatever it takes, he said closing his eyes.
Your dream is mine, Jin, she said lowering her eyes.
She was not sure he had understood what she really meant. Nevertheless now that she had found the strength to speak she could not restrain herself.
I remember how we met, she continued. At the beginning I practised tennis to escape from routine, but very soon I began to feel really interested. A strange impulse obliged me to continue practising until exhaustion. Tennis gave me a new life. Was it only that? I have made me that question a hundred times and it is today when I am ready to give a sincere answer. It was not only tennis, it was you, Jin. You were always by my side. You had faith in me. Our training sessions were exhausting, but you did not let me give up. Whenever I won a match, I was always searching for your eyes, they told me whether you were satisfied or not with my playing....
She lifted her eyes and observed him. He was looking at the sea again. His expression had not changed. Nevertheless, his jaw seemed tighter and his glance was growing greyer at a time.
You are my very best dream, Jin. I am in love with you. I would have never told you so if I had not known...
She could not continue. She could not hide her emotions much longer and burst into tears. Her body was shaking in convulsions when she run to hug him.
Why didnt you tell me that you were very ill, Jin? Why have you deceived me during all these years? I trusted you...
He hesitated. He looked at her and saw so much anguish in her face that his barriers began to break.
Hiromi, my dear girl...
Veins in his neck tightened. Fists closed. His entire body got ready to fight against the invisible enemy that threatened their happiness.
Calm down, Hiromi. Easy. There is nothing to worry about.
Once she heard him speaking that way she felt not in front of the person she loved but of the coach she was accustomed to obey.
Forgive me, Jin. Maybe it will be better if I go back home.
There is nothing to forgive, Hiromi, he whispered. His face was full of tenderness.
Nevertheless she felt that under his self-confidence he was really scared. She perceived that he was vulnerable, that his spirit was crying in agony. That he could not accept his terrible fate.
But... I cannot accept it! It isn´t fair!, she shouted while abandoning their embrace.
He smiled at her with a mixture of puzzlement and compassion.
Hiromi, maybe if I were your same age, I would think the same as you do. When five years ago, doctors told me I had leukaemia, I felt defeated morally and physically. But I found peace again when I marked myself a new aim. That goal was you, Hiromi. I decided to drive you to the summit of tennis. I wanted to transmit all my knowledge to you, to make you the reincarnation of my own dreams. You gave me back Hope, Hiromi. How do you think I feel when I sense that bitterness in your words? If I happen to die, I will always be by your side. You will feel, live, play in my place. We will defeat Death, because we will always be together, fighting to reach our common illusions. Death cannot annihilate something as powerful as human hope.
With shaking hands she grasped his mackintosh. Her eyes reflected great despair and fury.
How can you talk of dying so easily?, she shouted, What will I do if you ever abandon me? How could I play if you are not with me? How could I even live without you?
Jin looked at her intently. He frowned showing much anger and deception.
Never say that again, Hiromi. Never, ever talk like that again. Do make me a promise if you really love me. Promise that you will never stop fighting, whatever happens.
She shuddered. For some minutes, there was only silence between them.
I promise you I will never give up tennis... for you and our dream, she pledged.
He laughed with pure joy and hugged her softly, as if she were a baby needed of care.
Why, my God? Why do I have to leave here when life ahead appears to be so marvellous? I have been preparing myself for departure during these past five years. But I cannot let her suffer. I do not mind if I die, but I do not want her suffering.
When he sensed her breathing smoothing, he released her. There were tears in her eyes, but she seemed far quieter.
It is very late, Hiromi. How about going back home? I...
Unexpectedly he became dumb. His heart began pounding restlessly. He could not even breathe. He tried to relax but pain was unbearable. Under Hiromi´s incredulous eyes he fell down.
Jin!!!, she shouted as she knelt beside him, her hands on his.
Though his eyes could not focused her properly and sweat covered all his body, he tried to sit down.
Don´t worry Hiromi. I will be OK, he mumbled.
Hiromi posed his head on her shoulders and dried the sweat that covered his face. She heard his breathing smoothing. Seeing him so weak made her very tender. Slowly she approached him and gave him a kiss. It was a very slight kiss but full of emotions. He gave her a sad look.
I live a step behind Death, Hiromi. Can´t you see it?, but as he was speaking he understood how invincible her confidence was.
I am no longer a little girl, Jin. I love you
He tried to convince her once more.
Try to understand. What sense would your sacrifice have?, he asked.
Sacrifice? I love you. Is it too difficult to understand?, she stated.
She took his hands and posed them on her cheeks. He smiled in delight.
Hiromi, you are the best thing that ever happened to me.
She returned the smile while she helped him to stand up.
You will recover Jin. I am sure. And whenever you feel healthy again, we will go together to compete for the Queen´s Trophy.
He closed his eyes. Her confidence was contagious. For an instant he believed everything was possible.
Of course, we will, he whispered as he kissed her ear.