“In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take,” the phrase repeatedly echoed inside Arthur’s head. He emptied the bottle of brandy in his hand, leaving a burning sensation on his throat. He gently lifted his gaze. His dead brown eyes stared at the moonless and starless sky. Dark clouds hung overhead and shaded the night more gray than the nights before. Few lampposts glowed in the sea of darkness. And besides one of them, he sat at the corner of the road. The busy streets that once buzzed with life, now fell almost dead silent.
Arthur threw the bottle away. A sound echoed as it shattered against the asphalt, breaking the deafening silence. Then a cold breeze blew. The leaves of a nearby tree rustled while his hair danced before falling behind his ears.
A mouthful sigh left his mouth open. He was barely sober, and yet, everything returned with clear retrospect.
Arthur Martinez was born in the summer of 1991 from a young couple in Metro Manila. Carmela, his mother, was only nineteen when she conceived him.
A few months before their marriage. She ran away with Cristian. Her parents strongly opposed their relationship because Christian was a high school dropout. Still, they were happy and she never regretted following her heart. Christian may not be the most handsome or educated, but he was the most responsible and sweetest man she ever met. However, Arthur’s delivery caused massive complications to her already weak heart. After spending a few days in the ICU, she passed away without seeing her son.
Her death left Christian with a broken heart. She was the first woman he loved and probably the last. He was reasonably young, and with enough effort, he could have moved on and found someone else. But he immersed himself with work during the day and drowned with alcohol at night.
As Arthur grew up, his striking resemblance to his mother continued to develop. But Christian looked at it differently. The more he looked at him, the more it reminded him of the pain of her death. His big and bright brown eyes, sitting delicately within their sockets, especially pained him. He looked at him with great regret as anger grew in his heart.
Christian began hitting Arthur at age four. But what started as random blows soon worsened to excessive violence. Until now, Arthur could vividly remember the times his father poured boiling water on his back or the times he burned both his palms and soles with cigarettes. As a child, he failed to understand his situation fully. He could only wail, cry, and shout his heart out as Christian threw countless punches and kicks all over his body.
At age seven, Arthur fled from the grasp of his father with nowhere to go. He wandered the streets for a few months and learned the ways of the world: how to survive on his own; how to fight other homeless children for ‘territory’ where they could beg people for money or food; how to pickpocket; and how to take advantage of other people’s kindness.
Even now, he regretted none of his actions to survive. With nowhere to go and no one to depend on, he had to brace himself and throw away his morals.
A few days after the New Year of 1999, Arthur stood in front of a big church in the city. He narrated an exaggerated version of his short life as he begged people for food or money.
Arthur hadn’t eaten for the past few days, and his stomach grumbled loudly. In desperation, he stripped his dirty worn-out shirt. He showed the scars on his back, unveiling the cruel past that he experienced. Many people glanced at him. Some looked with sympathy, some with disgust, and others with indifference. But he couldn’t care less, the people who pitied him gave him either coins or the food in their hands.
As Arthur collected the fruits of his labor, a couple of elderly people exited from a car and quickly approached him. The expression on their faces couldn’t be painted as their eyes lingered too long than intended. He gave them a puzzled look, noticing that the woman was visibly disturbed, some tears even fell from the rim of her eyes. When they asked him his name, Arthur immediately answered, causing the man to tear up as well. Then they asked him what he was doing on the streets or if his story was true. He told them nothing but the truth, and by the time he finished, the two were barely containing their tears.
After a while, she offered him to live with them. However, he immediately refused. People may think that what he did was stupid. But for a child who had always been depending on himself and trusted nobody, it seemed the best decision. As soon as he picked up his loot, he immediately snatched the woman’s bag and ran away while shouting, “I’m a bad kid. You shouldn’t take me in.”
Arthur raced at full speed, fully believing that the old couple could not catch up to him. But after a few moments, a hand grabbing his wrist stopped him from his tracks. He gasped in horror, nervously turning back. The old man gave him a blank look for a few seconds. Then, he kneeled on the dirty sidewalk and hugged him. “It’s alright. It’s alright,” he said while brushing Arthur’s hair. “We won’t hurt you.”
Arthur looked up as the old man continued to brush his hair, trying to stop his tears from falling. For the first time after escaping from his father, he cried helplessly in front of an old stranger. Amid the busy streets of the city, he cried until his eyes couldn’t produce any more tears, savoring the kindness that the world deprived him for years.
The couple brought Arthur to a luxurious restaurant when he calmed down. Some customers gave him weird looks, wondering what a homeless child was doing at such a fancy place. The couple didn’t care about them, however. They didn’t want to ruin this opportunity that reunited them with their only grandson.
If Arthur had not escaped from his father, they’d probably wouldn’t have known about his misery. If only they supported their daughter, maybe their lives wouldn’t lead to this. Both of them fumbled over these things, but they pushed it away because none of their regrets mattered.
The couple then led him to a wooden table near the window and ordered a lot of food which he didn’t even know exist. They shared the food with him, not minding his dirty appearance. The two happily watched as Arthur ate to his heart’s content and relished his innocent smiles and laughs.
What happened next was a blur to all of them, though Arthur could remember that they brought him to a mall after the meal and bought a lot of clothes for him. By dusk, they arrived at a large mansion that would become his home for the next twenty years of his life.
The old couple, Renato and Clarissa, sheltered, fed, and clothed Arthur. They treated him with great care. When they found out that he had never gone to school, they immediately hired a home tutor since it was almost the end of the school year. By May, a month before the new school year began, he had already learned most of the elementary lessons about Language, Math, Science, and Social Studies.
One night, a week before his eighth birthday, Arthur, Clarissa, and Renato were comfortably sitting on the couch. They were watching a newscaster told a story about a drug-buy-bust operation in a nearby City. As they flashed the images of the suspects, Arthur immediately spotted a familiar face.
“Dad?” he blurted out.
The other two in the living room immediately looked at him. Clarissa tenderly embraced him while Arthur stared somewhere unseeingly. He could only hear the following passages of the news. The police caught Christian selling marijuana, shabu, and cocaine.
In hindsight, Arthur failed to understand his emotions. Was it joy, sorrow, ease, fear, hate, or pity? He didn’t know. Christian had never been a father to him, but he told himself that his father still fed and clothed him for the first seven years of his life.
He wanted to cry but couldn’t, for there was only an indescribable emptiness within him.
On his birthday, he received a lot of gifts from the couple. They took him out to a family restaurant and announced that they wanted to take his legal custody. He couldn’t react right away, thinking that since his father was in jail, he wouldn’t have any guardian to look after him. And even if he’s free, he would never live with him again. In the end, he agreed with a little hesitance washing over him.
When Arthur began attending school, the couple also started to ask him to call them grandma and granddad. All this time, he had been addressing them as Sir Renato and Ma’am Clarissa, even though he already knew that they were his grandparents. It was initially awkward, but after a couple of years, he felt thrilled to have people he could call family.
The first time he called them Lolo and Lola, he saw them turning away while wiping their eyes. Since Arthur was a little mischievous, he pulled a chair, climbed over, and playfully kissed their cheeks. They both smiled and embraced him, and he knew that they truly loved him.
Before the end of 1999, his grandparents completed the adoption papers. They wanted to file a lawsuit against Christian for child-abuse but decided not to push the case. They wanted Arthur to move on from everything he experienced, and bringing him to court could bring him more misery. Soon, Arthur Martinez changed to Arthur Florencio Mondragon, and for them, that was enough.
Responsibility and pressure came with the comfortable life they gave Arthur. Clarissa and Renato were retired biochemist and doctor, respectively. Learning that, Arthur always strived to be the best in his class. Both of them never pressured him, but he wanted to prove his worth. He didn’t want them to regret adopting him.
Throughout his elementary years, he mostly spent his free time studying and rarely went outside. When his grandparents realized that, they talked to Arthur and told him that they’d love him no matter what. Still, he continued because he enjoyed studying and reading.
In fourth grade, Renato introduced him to archery. He initially found it boring. But as he learned more about archery, he grew very fond of it. Soon, it became his and Renato’s bonding habits.
During his last two years in primary school, Arthur divided his attention to the bow and books. And his hard work paid off. He won some minor competitions when he was twelve and also graduated in elementary at age thirteen with the highest honor.
The first two years of his high school life wasn’t something interesting. Nothing eventful happened aside from the fact that he entered many Archery competitions. He won some but also lost more.
In the middle of his junior year, a girl named Claire Hernandez transferred into his class. She was petite, standing a few inches shorter than Arthur, who already reached 5’8″. She wore black eyeglasses that made her look smart, though she didn’t particularly look nerdy. She wasn’t a girl that would make every guy in the room turn their heads. But when she beamed a timid smile in front of the class, slightly bowing her head, everything changed for Arthur. His heart pounded. Sweat rolled down on his back as he swallowed a mouthful of saliva down to his parched throat.
Arthur was delighted when he learned that Claire was also an archer. It was a nice coincidence. Because of it, they became friends after a few weeks. As they got to know each other, they found themselves very similar. Not only their friendship grew, but his feelings also became stronger with each passing day. He tried to hide it, but it only became obvious. It was funny to think that the whole class knew his feelings, and only Claire was oblivious to it. Days, weeks, months passed, and the situation stayed the same.
Arthur wanted to confess, but there’s also a large part of him saying that he should forget about it and move on. “I had no time for romance,” he kept telling himself. Believing that, he immersed in his studies and archery. Arthur also limited his interactions with her, avoiding his feelings to develop deeper.
Arthur won two national competitions in archery and graduated in high school as the valedictorian, again. “Many things worked out in the end,” he convinced himself.
As he started pursuing a degree in Biochemistry, he fully believed that he would soon forget about her. But the wheels of fate played a game with him.
The two accidentally bumped into each other in the university library during their freshman year. Arthur could only curse at the back of his mind as he realized the same effect of her smile to him. They exchanged phone numbers. Though they have different programs and departments, they managed to meet and hang out a few times.
At the time, it was especially hard for Arthur. It always occurred to him that he shouldn’t waste his time. He wanted to confess, but fear consumed him, so he kept on making excuses.
It was both stupid and amazing, but the same thing repeated itself for years. For more than a decade, Arthur loved the same woman and never dared to admit it. The only time he could muster the courage to confess, a single text tore it apart. “Hey, Art. Look, I’m getting married,” it read with an image attachment of Claire’s hand and a ring.
Tears continuously flowed from Arthur’s eyes as he read the text repeatedly. He couldn’t breathe. His knees faltered while his whole body trembled. There’s nothing he could feel but searing hurt and an enormous regret.
He distanced himself from her after that. He didn’t even attend her wedding. Claire tried to call him a few times, but he ignored all of it. Amid all the pain, he could only blame himself for all of it.
One day, he received a phone call from Claire’s sister. As he pushed the answer button, a sudden chill ran down on his spine, as if he already knew that something happened.
What awaited him on the other line shook his world to the core. Arthur immediately raced his car to the hospital, but when he arrived, Claire’s family was there, weeping, crying, and bawling. He wanted to shout, but he had no right. He wanted to cry, but no tears fell from his eyes.
“It was my fault,” he kept muttering to himself.
Claire’s husband was a drug addict, and he became violent whenever he was high. That day, he was so high on drugs that he planted dozens of stabs to his wife.
Yeah, it was my fault.
Arthur couldn’t stop blaming himself. Those many times that she tried to contact him, maybe she was trying to seek help.
If he had only confessed to her, maybe they would have been together, and she wouldn’t die in the hands of that man.
Arthur ran out of the hospital and started his car. He needed a drink. Anything. Anything that would make him forget. Funny, however, even though he had already drunk so much, his mind could still clearly remember.
Arthur stood from the sidewalk and approached his car on the other side of the road. He was barely carrying himself, and everything slowed down. He blinked, but when he opened his eyes, the blinding headlight of a truck came into view. A loud horn resounded through the streets as he covered his eyes. He tried to run away, but his body wouldn’t budge. His feet felt heavy, and he just wobbled in the middle of the road. For a moment, extreme pain ran over his body, and after only half a second, his consciousness faded out.