Monday, July 4, 2022
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Knocked Out

After three knocks on the door, she entered his office. Her pitch-black velvet cloak glided across the floorboards as she walked towards him.

The man in question was looking out the window, letting sunlight seep into the room as he listened to an old vinyl record. He had his hands folded across his chest as he watched little children, his patients, going for a walk on the hospital grounds.

He broke the silence without looking at her. “Raven, you’ve finally paid me a visit.”

“I was starting to think you were running away from that cup of coffee you owed me,” he teased.

He finally turned around, his sea-green eyes landing on her. He stepped away from the window and approached her. Smiling, he pulled down the hood that covered her face and squeezed her cheeks.

“You don’t actually have to pay me back. Seeing you might be enough,” he remarked.

Raven’s face turned red and she hurriedly put her hood back on. “Jules, don’t. I don’t know how to respond to that.”

He reached out for her hand. “You never know how to respond to the things I say. It’s part of your charm.”

Jules thought back to the first day they met. It was a few minutes past midnight. He had just finished a surgery and had gotten a drink from the cafeteria when a strange young lady, Raven bumped into him. The drink he was holding spilled on the floor upon impact. Knowing that it was piping hot, he immediately checked on the person he hit.

“Miss? Are you alright?” he asked, looking for spills on her attire. Just as she did every day, Raven wore a cloak over her clothes back then, so he couldn’t really tell.

Instead of answering Jules’ question, she stayed on the floor, not moving. She looked visibly confused, her eyes averting his gaze, pretending to not be able to see him.

“Here, let me help you out,” he offered his hand to break the awkward silence.

She took it, felt surprised at the warmth of his hand and stood up. But, before Jules could say anything else, she sprinted away, disappearing into one of the corridors of the hospital.

Raven remembered that day vividly as well. Jules made quite the impression on her, but at the time, she couldn’t tell whether that was a good or bad thing. After that, they had a few more chance encounters at the hospital. She tried her best to avoid him, to not cause any more trouble as she went around, but then came the day that he talked to her again.

She was about to knock onto one of the doors of the private rooms when Jules snuck in beside her. “You’re here to see Lily?” he asked out of the blue, catching her off guard.

“What?” Raven turned to him. “I mean, yes. Well, not exactly.”

Jules chuckled, his curly hair bouncing slightly as he did so. “Family member?”

She shook her head.

“Hmm,” he rubbed his chin. “I suppose that’s about right. I’ve seen you visit a lot of patients here. It’s not possible that you’re related to all of them.”

“Why are you here then?” he asked.

Raven panicked. Was there anything she could say that would make sense to him? She knew that he saw her every day. She knew that he knew she was doing something at the hospital. She turned to her left and then to her life, as if waiting for someone to tell her what to say. Instead, she defaulted to being quiet.

“You must be a volunteer from the foundation!” Jules blurted out when he noticed Raven’s discomfort. “It’s so nice of you to check in on our patients. I didn’t know you did rounds here too.”

She looked up to him. What was he saying? She really didn’t understand the situation but she nodded anyway.

“Well, do you mind if I enter first? I just have to check up on Lily very quickly and then you can visit her right after,” Jules told her.

Raven thought about it. That wasn’t exactly how her protocols worked. She only came for one reason whenever she visited. She looked to the left and then right once again before answering, “Alright.”

If what she was meant to do was inevitable anyway, a few minutes of delay wouldn’t really matter.

However, as she waited by the door, Raven felt something change. She felt a little lightheaded. Two elderly men, both in cloaks, appeared on either side of her. They felt the same way.

Jules came out of the room with a smile. “All yours,” he told Raven.

Raven’s hands were trembling. Something was definitely different. She didn’t have to visit Lily anymore. She didn’t have to knock.

Jules turned his back and waved good bye to her, not noticing her solemn expression. The two men looked at her and then at the doctor. They didn’t understand. For the first time in a century, the task they had been given was cancelled.

Truth be told, Raven wasn’t a volunteer from some foundation. She wasn’t even human. When a cloaked figure roamed a hospital ominously, it was a sure guarantee that it was an ancient spirit or creature. Raven was the latter, a part of the kumakatok, a band of three mythical beings tasked to be the giver of omens, the harbinger of death.

She and her two other companions knock on a person’s door to warn them of the death that would befall them or their family. Although they don’t take anyone’s life, just being the messenger of death merited its own air of gloom. They are often seen as creatures of the dark because their knock, whether entertained or not, would mean someone’s demise no matter what.

 That was why, when she first met Jules, she had a feeling that he was extraordinary. He was able to see and touch her, something that was supposedly impossible according to the divine laws of Bathala. He wasn’t able to do the same to her companions but she felt like that counted for something.

Moreover, because of their earlier encounter with Lily, Raven became certain that Jules was special. She believed that he prevented death itself back there. She was about to knock on Lily’s door to seal her fate when he interfered and suddenly, the patient’s destiny changed. With this newfound realization, Raven resolved to find Jules the next day.

When they met again, it was three in the morning. Jules was coming back from an operation he just finished. Raven was waiting outside his office.

“Who are you? What do you do?” she whispered from the shadows.

Surprised, Jules jumped at the sound of her voice. When she realized that it was the familiar lady he saw around the hospital, he sighed of relief.

“I guess it is about time to introduce ourselves if we would be meeting this frequently,” he joked, approaching her.

He continued speaking when she didn’t reply. “I’m Jules, a pediatric surgeon. You are?”

“Raven,” she replied. “I call myself Raven.”

She glanced at her companions who were lurking in the sidelines. They weren’t there on official business so they didn’t really have to come together. But they were curious about the human and were even more curious about what Raven was going to do.

She then turned her attention back to Jules. “How did you do it?”

“Do what?” Jules asked back, rubbing the nape of his neck.

Raven stepped closer to him, lifting her hood off, and intently inspected the man in front of her. There must be something that would give away if he was gifted or blessed by the gods. However, as she was peering into his ear lobes, Jules did something unexpected. He brought his hands near Raven’s face and pinched her cheeks. For a moment, they stood there, frozen in that minute, looking at each other.

“Sorry,” Jules spoke up, releasing Raven and stepping backward. “I couldn’t resist. You were so cute and for some reason, I was really happy to see you again.”

She stepped away as well. That was new. She assumed people would never be happy to see her if ever they did. Then again, he didn’t really know what she was.

Raven cleared her throat. “I’ll pretend that never happened. Instead, listen to this proposal I have.”

“Proposal? Aren’t we moving too fast?” Jules faked a gasp. When Raven didn’t entertain the joke, he apologized. “Sorry. Go on.”

“I need you to do something for me,” she told him.

Contrary to popular belief, Raven found no joy in what she did and in who she was. She understood the principle behind death, why it had to happen, why it was necessary. But it killed her to be the one to deliver the news. In the hundreds of years that she had ben doing this, she had witnessed multiple people break their hearts and lose hope because of the message she brings. That was the worst part of the job, seeing the light of the people who will be left behind dim into nothing as their loved ones are taken away from them.

If she had a chance to be something else, to do something else, she would grab it.

“I need you to be by my side. Whenever you see me about to enter a room, go to me. Enter that room before I do and the do whatever it is that you do as a doctor. When you’re done, exit the room. That’s it,” Raven instructed.

“You want me to visit the patients that you’re supposed to?” Jules confirmed. “If you give me a list of their names, I can ask interns to do that for you.”

Raven shook her head. “That’s not how it works. It has to be you and me. It has to be you.”

Jules looked at Raven’s expression. Her eyes told him that she was serious, desperate even. Despite not understanding the favor asked of him, he agreed. “Alright. I’ll do as you say.”

For the next two months, Jules honored their agreement. Whenever he saw Raven, he entered every room that she was about to enter.

Some of the patients were not his and he didn’t really know what he could do to make them better. Instead, during these brief visits, he simply talked to them and their family members before leaving and meeting Raven outside the room.

Each time, she would look happier and more radiant than she did the last time they met. That made Jules happy in turn. Although still perplexed, he had a gut feel that he was going something good by doing favors for Raven. She seemed to be so passionate about her cause that it made him believe and trust in her. Also, he grew perfectly content with their strange new dynamic and the comfort they found in each other’s presence.

The only down side to what they were doing was that Raven only had a few minutes to stay right after Jules finished his task. During that time, she would still need to be convinced to hangout with him. She would often look to her left and right or to a random corner before going along with him.

During the times that she did go with Jules, she would join him for a break or for a walk around the hospital. They usually met when it was after midnight already so a stroll in almost empty hallways was relaxing.

“I can’t figure you out,” Raven blurted out during one of their walks. “I’ve been around you for quite a while now and I still don’t get it.”

“What kind of magic do you have?” she asked. Right after doing so, she covered her mouth. She didn’t mean to phrase it that way.

Jules laughed. “Magic? Do you mean when I visit the patients?”

“I just talk to them, just like how I’m talking to you right now,” he answered her.

Just like… Something clicked in Raven’s head. He talked to them like he was talking to her right then.

She stopped walking and closed her eyes. Taking a deep breath, she tried to feel for any subtle change, in the atmosphere and in herself.

As she continued breathing and paid attention to herself, she realized that she was feeling a strange new sensation. Something warm was welling up inside her chest. Her heart, in a slow and steady pace, was beating. That was something she’s never experienced before.

Raven opened her eyes and turned to Jules who was watching her. She took off her hood and smiled at him.

“You make me feel alive,” Raven said, color reaching her cheeks.

In response to Raven’s sudden declaration, Jules moved closer to her and cupped her face.

“Don’t say that. I was trying so hard to hold back,” he said before leaning in to kiss her.

Now, in his office, Jules looked at the same woman he kissed that night. Her complexion was glowing, her hands were now warm and, if it was even possible, he loved her even more now than he did the day before.

He brought her hand that he was holding to his pounding chest. “Look at the effect you have on me, Raven. I’m crazy about you.”

Raven took off her hand and let go. “Jules, we need to talk.”

She watched as his expression went from teasing to serious with those five words. She hated what she was about to say but she should’ve known that meeting someone as bright as Jules was too good to be true for a creature of darkness like her. The universe was never kind to her dreary fate.

She thought back to all their moments together, all the chance encounters, all the favors and visits. If she could do it all over, she wouldn’t even go near him. She wouldn’t ask him to do what she thought was a good idea. She would go on with her immortal life, living a soulless meaningless existence if that meant that she didn’t have to say what she was going to say to Jules. After all, there could only be one reason why she visited him that day.

“Do you know why I became a doctor?” Jules asked, out of the blue.

Taken aback, Raven didn’t respond.

He continued speaking. “My parents forced me to be a doctor. They wouldn’t acknowledge me unless I became one.”

“It was a difficult career. I hated myself most of the time but I kept at it. Maybe I didn’t know what else to do. Maybe I was afraid of starting over. Eventually, I just got used to it,” he told her.

He reached for her hand once again and said, “I don’t pretend to understand the universal design of things but I know there must be a reason why I became a doctor. Right now, I love my job. I think I’ve loved it even more when I met you.”

“What about you, Raven?” he asked. “Do you love your job too?”

Lips trembling, tears were forming in Raven’s eyes. She shook her head. “No, not right now.”

Jules pulled her close and hugged her. “It’s okay. I know why you came today.”

He had heard her knocks before she entered his office.

“No,” Raven sobbed. “No, you don’t.”

“Please no,” she looked up at the sky, begging. “Please, I can’t do this. I can’t lose him. This is my fault! Take me instead!”

Raven collapsed on the floor, crying loudly. Jules knelt down beside her.

“Shhh, no don’t say that,” he patted her back. “I figured it out after a while, who you were, what we were doing. I understood the change you were trying to make and I fully supported it.”

“Just promise me this,” Jules whispered to Raven. “In the next lifetime, bump into me again.”

Raven looked up and nodded. She would, even if it took a whole millennium, she would stay on Earth and wait for Jules to come back.

With that bittersweet promise, Raven’s companions, the two other cloaked men appeared beside her and brought her up. Their time was up. They had to go to their next assignment.

Raven turned to look at Jules one last time. He was smiling at her. He always smiled at her like that, like he was excited to see her again. In their last moment together, she tried to remember as much of his smile as she could before finally looking away and walking through the doorway.

Pauline L. Navarro
Pauline Navarro, 26, is a senior high school teacher at an international school. Outside work, she pursues creative endeavors through her blog (www.pollenpiggy.wordpress.com), YouTube channel, and podcast (Madness to the Method). Her essays, “Food Trip (Binondo),” “How to Love a Nation,” and “One Mosquito and Three Beds” have been previously published in national newspapers, while her short stories “Spirit of Christmas Karaoke Past,” “Christmas Reunion Version 2.0,” and “From Her Perspective” have been published in different literary anthologies.

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