The Sign

 Hilda had really restrained herself for some time. An agitation started to creep in. Without warning, all her past experiences came flashing back. She tried to distract herself but that didn’t work. For some reason, a thought that everyone at Meet cafe was staring at her uneasy demeanor gripped her. She tried to calm herself but that only lasted a few seconds. It was too much, she had to check her watch.

 “3: 35 !” She exclaimed out loud. A few people stared at her, but she ignored them; they were supposed to mind their own business. She could not believe it; Derick was supposed to meet her at the café at 1:30 pm. Having taken two mugs of coffee, Hilda knew she couldn’t have anything else; otherwise, she would be… he must have ordered something special, she mused, and she would hate to disappoint him.

 But would he show up? Her fears were building faster than she expected. 

Sadly, it was not the first, second, or third time Derick had shown up way after the agreed time of their date. Several times, he stood her up.

“I’m so sorry, Sweetheart, for an emergency call from work,” he had apologized in one of the instances, only for her to find out that it was just a business deal that had gone through and, you know, the manager wanted them to ‘plan their next move’. It was on a Saturday; hence, it could have waited till Monday. 

‘I’ll make it up to you, Hilda dear, you know I will.’

And making up to her, he did; in fact, he was very good at it. He would surprise her with very well-wrapped orchid flowers, her favorite,  make a bow and then apologize. At times he would do it in a very dramatic way, like in a park, leaving her with no choice but to forgive him ‘fast’.

 “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it is not easily angered.” She guiltily paused at that one. Although she was a staunch Christian and had read this portion of scriptures many times, her patience was being put to the test way too much, and her anger pushed its way, having the better of her. 

But this was no ordinary date—not like the ones they had had for three years now, or so she thought.  Since mentioning two weeks before that he had something really important he wanted to ask her, concerning them, she knew this was it; he would pop that important question. 

The thought of it first brought mixed feelings: excitement, uncertainty, and expectation. 

90%. Excitement.

10%. Uncertainty.

Ironically, it is the 10% that bothered her. Like a constant irritating nag, the thought adamantly lingered on. Relentlessly.

There were several times Derick had broached the subject of them settling down, especially when he realized how Hilda got excited about weddings and kids, but like a maze, he meandered with words so much that she could not forthrightly read his mind. It bothered her. However, like any sweet date, he bought her flowers, chocolate,  took her to dinners, complimented her, and celebrated her achievements. He loved her. I mean, you don’t do such things to ‘just a friend,’ do you?

She had to fight this cloud of fear that stubbornly pitched itself on her mind. When she says yes, this evening, she would jeer at the thought.

“Is that you, Hilda?” called Lisa from a reasonable distance, bringing Hilda back to the present.

“Hi Lisa, good to see you, it has been long.” She said, feigning a smile.

“I know that smile, Hilda,” she blurted fretfully, barely sitting down on the reserved seat.

 “ You are upset about something… it’s him, isn’t it? Late. Again. You know what, with all due respect, I have never liked that boyfriend of yours…”

“ Hush! Everyone can hear you.”

Being friends for nearly a decade now, Hilda understood her friend’s unpretentious concern.

They looked out for each other. Derick knew that Lisa didn’t quite warm up to him but had decided not to pay attention to her. She was too possessive and a little sophisticated; two values that he didn’t particularly admire.

“I really hope he’ll not stand you up, because if he does, I’ll…”

“ Ladies.” called a deep male voice from behind Lisa. In her agitation, she had missed Derick’s oncoming loud footsteps. Hilda had seen him coming but didn’t know how to alert her friend.

“Hilda, dear, I am terribly sorry.” Lisa couldn’t stomach that annoying cliché.

“I beg to be excused. I’ll call you, Hilda.”

Without waiting for a reply, she marched towards the exit of the café. Derick followed her with his eyes until she trailed off.

The two lovers glared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. Speechless.

“ As I was saying, honey,” he resumed apologetically, scrutinizing everything about her.” I am terribly sorry.” 

She remained quiet.

He had done this several times. Not on purpose though, something always came up and he just didn’t have the guts to say ‘No’. And fine, maybe he wasn’t as excited as she was about weddings, kids, and such stuff, but if they were really important to her, then he would be happy for her and probably even give her the thrill of enjoying them herself. 

“ On my way here, my sister called requesting me to deliver some meds to her daughter at…”

“Derick, please, I don’t want to talk about that now.” The explanation would have made things worse. It was better shelved for a while. They would revisit, lay down the ground rules,  but only after he lets out what she thought the date was all about.

What got her this agitated? Troubled Derick wondered as he took his seat. It must have been that good-for-nothing friend of hers that had poisoned his girl. As far as he was concerned, she was always so patient, forgiving, and most of all, understanding.

Hildah, for the very first time, looked intently into her boyfriend’s eyes. Searchingly.

 Like one engrossed in searching for a piece of a difficult puzzle among a thousand others, she sought for an answer for which she thought she had all along; did he really love her? Or was their relationship just convenient, the lets-just- have-a-good-time kind. Was it her ever easy-going nature that he took advantage of or…

‘Hilda,’ he called his voice barely anything above a whisper. 

She flinched as one who had just woken up after having a terrible nightmare.

‘I know I have hurt you, and I’d understand if you are really cross with me.’ 

That one caught her attention. For the three years, they had dated, it was the first time he had used the word ‘understand’ on himself. In all the other instances, he asked her to understand or expected her to, and she did. 

Her father’s favorite line for young people came to mind in all clarity, ‘People get into relationships for various reasons, ensure your motive is right.’ 

Was his motive right? 

Unlike other times, he observed, his girl was cold and distant, disturbed, but not outrightly furious. He prudently decided to speak less. 

It was already 4:30 and the couple hadn’t spoken much for the last 30 minutes they had been together. 

Out of nowhere, Derick went down on his knees. Would he beg her for forgiveness again? Then he was on one knee, pulled out a ring, and, ‘Will you marry me, sweetheart?’ he asked, mastering a lot of composure. He was hoping this would do the trick. This would appease her anger and frustration. She must have been waiting for this day, and she was.

She went blank. No shouting or excitement as she had always expected she would. On the contrary, she gazed at him like he was doing the wrong thing. She stood up. The sign had been there all along, she just didn’t want to believe it and accept its bitter truth. She knew her answer. There was no doubt about it.

‘ I am sorry Derick, goodbye.’

She would not trade hope, and what the future held for her for fear of losing one who did not value her for who she really was.

By Phyllis Kennedy

Phyllis Kennedy creates Inspirational stories and poems that impact lives. She also has a great passion in teaching English and Literature. She can be reached on for personal coaching and professional engagements.

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