With Your Last Heartbeat
The bell on the door of Café Alba rang once again, announcing that new customers were coming in. In this case, an elderly couple, the now only customers in that completely empty room.
"Good afternoon," said the woman.
From inside, a blonde girl at the bar rushed to serve them.
"Good afternoon. Sit down, please," she told them politely.
They both took their table and placed their order. A boy with short black hair prepared their drinks, and the same girl handed them to the customers.
"Here you go. Two coffees and four croissants. Sorry for the delay, we're short one person today," the employee apologized.
"Thank you, no problem. Ah, can I ask you something, young lady," the man asked.
"Sure. What is it?"
"I'm curious about the name of the place. Why is it called Café Alba?"
"Ah, that. The owner isn't here today, but I can ask his grandson. Hey, Hikaru! Come here a minute!"
The boy, after being surprised by her coworker, left his work and approached the table.
"What is it, Sofia?"
"They want to know about the history of Café Alba."
"Oh, that," he said smiling almost instinctively.
"Huh? Does it really have a history," the lady asked excitedly.
Hikaru looked touched, as if he had remembered something completely unrelated to the café. Then, he smiled full of peace, and started narrating.
"Of course it has a story."
I was pushing the pedals of my bike as hard as I could, just a couple of minutes after my day started abruptly. The morning was beautiful and the weather was ideal, and in the warm morning sun I was speeding through the streets of the neighborhood. With my backpack on the back, my short summer clothes, my bouquet of flowers in front of me, my childish face and my yellow bicycle, I felt like a racing driver driving his supercar. And leaving everyone behind, I couldn't stop thinking. This time not about my bad luck... but about something very special.
"Alba was the name of my grandfather's wife. In other words, my grandmother," Hikaru continued.
That day, exactly, it was one year since I had bumped into that girl on my way to college.
"She was a very cheerful, happy and loving woman, who loved my grandfather, Jairo, from a very young age. She was somewhat absent-minded, but very funny and sweet."
"I overslept again. God, why am I late on such important dates," I thought to myself.
"When they met... my grandfather wasn't having a very good time. He had very little money, he was alone, and he didn't know what to do. But... my grandmother was always there for him."
Undoubtedly, that day I couldn't stop thinking about that girl who had changed my life so much. That girl who, for the past year, had taught me what love was and made me grow as a person. And while I was thinking about it, I noticed that the next traffic light was about to change.
I braked my bike gently, until it slowly came to a standstill. Ahead of me, a green line bus, the one whose drivers I knew, was speeding past. I sighed in relief.
"Ha... I think it's better to wait. I would rather take care of my life rather than trying to speed up. After all, I only have one," I said, smiling.
"That's how together they opened this cafe, and quickly were able to recover. My grandfather always gets emotional when he thinks about how much my grandmother helped him. Not just for lifting him out of poverty, but for encouraging him and taking care of him when he needed it most."
As I drove through the neighborhood, I thought of all the times we had shared. So many times, I had helped her, and so many times she had helped me. From huge things, to things as simple as bringing a smile to each other's face. That undoubtedly brought a tidal wave of feelings to my head.
"My grandparents started to become very loved by the people in the neighborhood, who saw them so much in love. They were so cute when they were together, people told me."
"Hey, Leo," Doña Irma and Don Hugo greeted me.
"I'm sorry, I'm really late today, I'll see you later," I answered without slowing down.
"Leo, we're first in the championship," celebrated Carlos, the butcher, when he saw me passing by his store.
"Of course, we are! Let's go, burners!" I cheered him on.
"And so, they lived a life full of happiness, in which they had a beautiful son, whom they cared for with much love. But... one day, my grandmother became very ill. My grandfather did not leave her side for a second, and tried everything he could to cure her, but nothing could be done. Just a few days later... she died."
I got off my bike and parked it at the entrance of my destination. From the small gap between the handlebars and the seat of my bike, I took out a bouquet of white roses. The ones she used to love so much.
"My grandfather was very sad for a while... but he realized that this was not what she would have wanted. So, he moved on with my father, who was still very young. And it was at that time that he thought about the name 'Alba.' It meant ‘light’... that light that a person gives you when you meet them, and that never fades away, no matter what. My grandfather felt that Alba was going to accompany him forever, from wherever she was”
I started walking to the front, crossing that big black metal gate. I walked along the paths that bordered that park, and I saw something that caught my attention. I knew I had to go there. I approached until I was only a few steps away, and contemplated what was in front of my eyes with a great mixture of feelings.
"But then he found out it also had another meaning. 'Alba' means 'dawn'. That dawn that comes out after the cold, dark night, and when it comes out...
I moved even closer, to the point where I was only a few inches away. That's when I decided to stand right in front....
... shines brighter than anything in the world."
In front of me, as beautiful as ever, was Clara, my angel, looking as surprised as she was full of love. She jumped off the bench she was sitting on to hug me tightly.
"What are you doing here," she asked me excitedly.
"Surprise, haha," I said with a giggle, "Here you go, they're for you."
Clara was surprised to see the white flowers in front of her, just like she did that time in the cafe.
"Thank you, Leo."
In the midst of her excitement, she stood on her tiptoes and leaned over to give me a kiss on my lips. One so quick it was just like the one I had given her that time on the beach. It took me completely by surprise.
"Huh? O-out here," I asked with a completely embarrassed face, looking like a tomato.
"It's okay, no one is watching us. Besides, you know these are my favorite flowers. You're so cute”
"Well, well. So, how was your first day of college, Miss future pediatric doctor?"
As we were talking, we started walking toward that metal door, which acted as the entrance to the medical school.
"It was great! The subjects are very interesting, and I'm really looking forward to taking care of children in the future. I met a lot of very interesting classmates, and the building is huge," she said as she gestured at something big, "But you know, there was one moment that caught my attention. We were in class when, while they were explaining some diseases...
"Well, as you may know, there are also congenital pathologies that are not so common, even very rare, that can occur in children," said the teacher, "Did you know that in our country one of them was discovered and treated very recently? It's called... Crystal Heart Syndrome, also known as Talos Syndrome. Had anyone heard of it?"
No one seemed to have heard of it, but I knew very well what it was. I smiled and simply raised my hand.
"Huh? I see. Well, it's great that many lives can be saved now that the reason is known. Eduardo did a great job," I told her.
"Yes. Besides, now it seems that the hospital received a lot of funds thanks to him. Who knows, maybe he will be the next general director," she said smiling brightly.
"Sure, he could be."
In the middle of that pleasant chat, we came to a street where there was no one. It was just us in the middle of nowhere. And just then, I remembered something.
"Clara, can you raise your arms?"
"Huh? Like this," she said to me as she did so briskly, with the bouquet of flowers on her left hand.
I looked all around, and since there was no one nearby, I leaned in a little, hugged her around the waist, and just like that time on the beach, I placed my ear over her heart to hear her heartbeat. Again, she flinched a little.
"Huh? E-e-eh, Leo, what are you doing," she said extremely embarrassed, looking in all directions.
"It's okay, no one is watching us," I returned her line.
"It's just that... exactly one year ago was when I met you, remember? That day when your little heart failed again."
"I remember hearing your heartbeat that night on the beach. And I told you that your heartbeat was so beautiful, just like you. It was so sweet of you to let me do it."
"Y-Yes, but..." Clara was saying, embarrassed, but gawking.
"And from what I'm hearing now…
Boom boom. Boom boom. Boom boom. It sounded like a normal heart, just a little racing because of the moment. It still seemed unbelievable that that was a machine.
... it's still just as beautiful,” I raised my sight to her, “And of course, you're still the same Clara I met. Thank you for loving me since your first heartbeat too. I love you so much, Clara."
Clara seemed crushed by my message. I think we remembered together that moment when we looked at each other for the first time after the operation, with her still in bed, so excited that we could not restrain ourselves from giving each other a big hug, although taking care not to touch her in the area of the operation. That moment when I knew that Clara had definitely won. After a few seconds, she seemed to come to her senses.
"You're still too mushy, Leo. You silly, haha," she said as she hugged me with all her might and kissed my cheek repeatedly, at the same time I laughed.
"So that's the story of why it's called Café Alba," Hikaru concluded.
"So Alba had a meaning, huh," the woman asked.
"Yes. And since then, everyone in my family has names with some meaning. For example, my name is Hikaru, which means 'light' in Japanese. And thinking about it that way... I think we all have names that mean something, and they're put there for a reason."
"Where do you want to go, Clara?"
"You came to see me, so you better have a plan," she chided me.
"How about... to the moon?"
Clara again started laughing uncontrollably, this time leaning her body over me as she walked.
"You're a fool, we can't go there."
"Huh? But I promised you when we went to the aquarium."
"Speaking of the aquarium, how about we go there," Clara proposed, with both her hands behind her back, leaning towards me.
"Okay, let's go. But next time we'll go to the moon."
"Hahaha, silly. I love you so much," she would say to me with a chuckle.
"Wow, I had no idea it was something so deep. That was a very nice story," the man said in delight, sipping his coffee.
Hikaru seemed enlightened by that comment. He looked at Sofia, who was also the same way. They both smiled at the same time, with slightly red cheeks and a goofy grin. As if... they had remembered another story, which had nothing to do with Alba. As if there was a story of one, or maybe two people, that illuminated their lives in the same way. Or as if Café Alba had illuminated them.
Hikaru, remembering that light he received, smiled again with a lot of warmth.
"It sure was, wasn't it?"