Friday, November 30, 2012

...starry starry night...

Rachel leaned back casually, putting the weight of her upper body on her two outstretched arms, and giving her legs freedom to move about in front of her. She let a soft night breeze touch her cheeks, as she closed her eyes and raised her head into the sky above. The moon shone like a bright beacon high up in the cloudless, star-filled night. She opened her eyes to the hope that a falling star would dash across the sky towards the horizon for her, because in her heart she was harboring a wish she so dearly wanted – no, needed, to be fulfilled.

Rachel felt the metal of the roof beneath her start to send its chill up her arms. The soft wind was also licking her bare shoulders. Her strapped dress was no help in covering herself from the cold that was slowly creeping inside her. But it wasn’t the wind or the roof that felt the coldest. It was the sense of uncertainty that she was facing.

Towards the east Rachel could identify the constellation Orion. She remembered it well, because Chris taught her how to make an imaginary line across the heavens so she could find her zodiac, Aries. She could imagine his finger pointing to the stars that guide her from one point to another, and she could still hear his voice as he patiently directed her to Aries, the Ram. They would spend countless hours together, including those on that roof just being lost in each other’s thoughts and arms and lips. Tonight she was tracing the stars alone.

Rachel closed her eyes again, but this time to stop a tear from falling. And in the utter darkness that followed, she saw Chris. His face, his eyes, his smile… Rachel never wanted to open her eyes again because she knew that he wasn’t sitting next to him anymore.

Two weeks ago was the eighth of the month, the day both of them had dreaded for the last three months and never wanted to come. It was the day they knew would be hardest, because it was the day Chris would leave for another country and stay there for good. He had accepted a position with the company and he was taking his wife and kids with him.

Rachel loves Chris, despite everything – him being married, she being in a relationship herself. And now that he is gone, she was longing for him even more. She felt, as the clichĂ©-ic line went, more than a woman when she was with him. He knew all the things that Rachel wanted, and he gave them without reservations. Theirs was the materialization of a love that could have been, given the right circumstances. But fate wasn’t on their side, and now she was left alone to watch the night sky like they used to do together.

Rachel lit a cigarette, and the burst of light from the match stick momentarily blinded her. The tear that was swelling in her eyes had dried. She let go one heavy heave of smoke into the air, and formed like thin clouds blurring the moon. She knew she will always have the night sky with Chris. She could never share this moment with anyone else, not even her fiancé.

Rachel gave up in her search of that one shooting star. Her wish stayed unwished, and she closed her eyes for that one last cry. No tear fell, but her heart was breaking. Around her the world is starting to stir up, and the sky was slowly turning deep blue, telling her that a new morning was at hand. The moon was fading. She whispered her last wish to the moon, that someday, somewhere, and somehow, her life and Chris’s will be one again. But for now, she decided, she will leave the stars alone.

Her phone rang; it’s Mark. She knew it won’t be easy, but this phone call would be the start.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

...must have been... (May 16, 2005)

There’s only a single piece of pickle in his hamburger, Luke noticed. It’s not fair. There’re two hamburger patties between two slices of hamburger buns. It’s only right that there should also be two pieces of pickles. Luke protested wildly in his mind while examining his dinner. He had been eating slowly for twenty minutes now, trying to delay the burger’s fate until later, and he was on his fifteenth bite when he discovered the injustice. It was a symptom of a man nearing the conclusion that he’d just been stood up.

His handy pocket watch that oftentimes doubles as his cellular phone showed 6:03 - one thousand nine hundred and eighty seconds past their agreed time. He had already noticed the coming and going of several groups of college students from a nearby school. He’d already heard many stories about the latest biology assignment, of how the professor looked today, and of what Mariah might be wearing in her upcoming concert. The store’s CD had gone two cycles already and is about to make a third. And the hapless burger is the current target of ire of a nearly desperate man.

But she said she would come. And because he knew her, he believes she will.

He took a sip of his soda, now tasting more like water. He wondered if sodas could go stale like the chocolate drink his brother forgot in the ref for two weeks. He took another sip, and hoped that he will not have to wait in that store long enough to find out. At least the soda’s still fine. And the burger’s nearing the end of its existence as he was on his twenty sixth bite, which resembles more a rat nibble than an actual bite.

“I’m so sorry! Have you been here long?” the familiar voice said as the body to which it belonged seemed to drop miraculously on the seat in front of him after having appeared from nowhere. It had a face not peculiar of the words ‘I’m so sorry’ but more of ‘I’ve got fantastic news for you!”

Luke hesitated for a moment. He knew that he has the ace of anger and have every right to play this card. But the curiosity brought about by the excitement on the intruder’s face was irresistible. A good lashing of where-the-hell-have-you-been could never win over a round of okay-spill-the-beans-what-have-you-done at a time like this. He chose to play the jack of shits instead.

“No. I just got here myself.”
“Oh good! I would have hated myself for making you wait very long.” the woman said. Luke suddenly felt the pang of the ace wanting to be played. He felt the strong urge to say ‘go right ahead and hate yourself!’

“You won’t believe who I was with just this morning! Remember the guy we met last night at Chito’s party?”

Luke examined the woman in front of him, and asked himself why he was her friend. The answer came in a series of flashbacks which he swore was like when one’s about to die. He saw himself almost two years ago, slumped in his faded Levi’s Type 1 Jeans and his favorite John Lennon shirt that he found and bought in Mindanao. He wore his tattered Chuck Taylor sneakers. He was holding a bottle of beer in one hand, and a lighter in the other. He doesn’t smoke, but he knew the girls around him in that bar do. He was completely different then from what he was now. That night, he was out to have fun notwithstanding his friends.

The music was blaring, and clouds meander through the thick smoke that filled the small nearly overcrowded bar. He saw her sitting in one corner with her friends. She was wearing her sexy white shirt that read Norma Jean. She was no blonde, but a hottie just the same. He was a patient man; before the long arduous waiting in the burger joint, he had watched her every move that night, like an eagle keeping eye on a prairie dog. Then the opportune moment came. Armed with the lighter in his one hand, he swooped in for the kill when she picked up a cigarette from her purse. It was as if Popeye saved his damsel Olive from distress. He asked her for her name but she gave him her number as well. They parted for the night only to become together again a week after, when the story of how they met ended, and the story of how they became friends began.

She was a free bird, meant to fly high and soar the skies. Luke surrendered to this conclusion after four or five dates with her. He could never have the heart to be the cage that keeps her wings clipped. Add the fact that she would not permit him to be either. Luke, however, realized that flying high she runs the danger of the hunters that mean to shoot her down. The long hard fall is a risk Luke knew he could not prevent her from taking. And so he receded into the background and patiently weaved the protective net of friendship with which to catch her just in case. They went out, did things together, and bonded like Dharma and Greg, except that Luke knew he wasn’t Greg, and she wasn’t Dharma.

The years swiftly passed by almost unnoticed. Luke’s shoulders became witness to many of her wet eyes, and countless beer bottles had been emptied to drown her otherwise pathetic love life, or the lack of it. Her spirited heart still remained uncontained. Father Luke had given numerous homilies and written hundreds of “trusting for dummies” and “the complete idiot’s guide to love.” She heard every sermon, and had every copy. But her altitude must have really masked any sound, or caused understanding difficulties.

Then one night, on the eve of their 516th day of knowing each other’s existence, Luke was preparing his comfort net for her when he slipped, and fell himself. Though he would still bear the net and spread it every time the hunter hits her wings, he would never look at her the same way again.

Until today, when his trance was broken by her loud shriek, “Are you even listening?!”

Luke almost bolted suddenly from his sleep like jolted by high voltage. He searched his surroundings for landmarks that might anchor him back to reality. He secretly bit his lips to check if he was still alive. He is. But telling from an ignored woman’s sudden outburst, he might not soon be.

“Yes… I… you… you were talking about how good ATC looked today. Was that Francesco or Cardams where you went in?” Luke repeated her last few words, hoping he had heard them correctly. She had been telling her tale for the past fifteen minutes or so already. Luke thought that maybe flashbacks on the last day of his life would last much longer.

“Oh! He’s got to be the one, Luke. I just know he is!” she was turning red with excitement, like the bouquet of roses she once got from Luke last valentines day when she decided against a valentine romance. “He’s everything I ever dreamt my man would be. And he knows how to cook. I like a man who cooks.”

“You should have gone out with the caterer to your sister’s birthday then.”

“Don’t be silly! And don’t ruin this moment for me; help me out here. Pretend you’re happy for me.” She said, with the teasing eyes of a little sister asking him to let her take the car for tonight. He didn’t like it.

“Well, I’m not. Not this time. Don’t you think you’ve had too many of these things to last you your lifetime? Why don’t you find someone who’s really meant for you?” Luke mustered some strength to say those words. He could have acted enough to merit some sort of award. With this, she looked him in the eye.

“And who, may I boldly ask, would be that ‘someone who’s really meant for me’?” She had her arms akimbo, and Luke prepared himself incase of an assault, as most women were wont to.


Silence, as most people would claim, has very little effect on the deaf. But for those who can hear, silence can be deafening. The one that fell between them was worse. For seconds, everything stood still. Luke felt like the twilight zone suddenly took over. They were both frozen in a stare into each other’s eyes. His eyes searched hers for any hint – perhaps a glimmer, or a squint in the sides - that could give him a clue of what was going on inside her mind. There was none; either Luke didn’t see it, or he totally didn’t know what he was looking for. Like all silences, this one had to be broken.

“No. It just can’t possibly be.” she whispered under a soft breath, following a heavy heave. She broke eye contact, and turned the other way. “I have to go.”

“But you just got here. And what about that movie you said we’d be seeing?” Luke tried to break the ice, desperately trying to hide a smirk in the corner of his lips.

“No. I really have to go.” With that she took her glasses that she laid on the table in front of her. She hurriedly put them on and stood as fast as she could. She stormed out the door and disappeared from his sight. The body to which the familiar voice belonged was gone as suddenly as it had come.

Luke looked at his burger. There was no more sign of the lone pickle that brought him a great debacle earlier. Only a small part with patties and buns remained. Luke held it closer. With a big, satisfied smile pasted like fresco in his face, he placed the last piece of burger in his mouth as if to say, ‘fate has been sealed’.

...indecision... (May 16, 2005)

She felt suffocated. Her heaves were getting heavier by the minute. She could imagine beads of sweat forming on her forehead. It’s the indecision that’s killing her now. She was moments away from making a life with someone, or breaking an almost perfect and happy relationship with that someone.

It was the morning after a very wonderful date. The hangover of a seemingly love filled night was at its peak. She still had that sparkle in her eyes, the same sparkle she thought she must have worn the night before when he was a breath away from her. In her eyes she still bore the battle scars of a failed attempt at a first kiss. She could not remember whose fault it was, but surely both of them held back when it was about to materialize. She was hesitant; he didn’t have a clue what was going on.

She looked herself in the mirror. There was a hint of uncertainty in her deep brown eyes. She wanted to ask herself if she actually and finally felt love for this guy, or was this simply an extension of a high school infatuation. She had to know.

She scoured her face in the mirror, looking for a sign she might be somebody different from who she knew she was. Perhaps a hint of loneliness was trying to surface, or something missing was making its absence felt. She failed; she was the same woman she grew up with. She was pretty, she knows it, and she was leaning a bit towards vanity. But that does not make for an excuse to want the company of this man. No, there was no loneliness. At times, she would go to places alone. But never was she lonely. She always managed to be happy. And no, there was nothing missing in her life. Yes she must have had a few relationships gone sour, and the one man that gave her the best gift she has now wasn’t man enough to be with her. But she considered every past experience a lesson to be learned, and not a hurt that should clutter in her closet. She had her life ahead of her. The face that’s staring at her through the mirror was the one face she was striving to keep a smile indelibly painted on. This thought did, and it was a smile of satisfaction.

She could breathe well now. The sparkle from last night was gone. In its place was the brilliance of determination. She had to let him know. She had to tell him this whole thing would not work.

Her phone rang. She picked it up and listened. The voice on the other line was incredibly familiar; she felt tingles down her spine. It was he. He was calling for the morning after. She listened. He spoke. His was simply all the pleasantries of good morning's, hi’s, and hello’s. Still he managed to make her knees weak, and a terrible urge to speak to him ensued inside her. She held back, for fear she might say the wrong words, and give him the wrong message. She wanted to say what she had just decided upon moments ago about them not working together. But her tongue was stopped by her intent on continuing to listen to his voice. And then he noticed.

With his “are you still there? what’s going on? are you alright?” she hanged up. She wanted a much better time for him to listen to what she had to say.

The seconds passed unhindered. Time cannot be stopped from doing what it does best – pass by. It is the only thing that survives by spending itself away, and no matter what happens, time will continue to pass. This too, she decided, must pass. So she dialed his number. When he said his hello, her first words were the four most dreaded and fateful words in the English language, “we have to talk.”

And she told him. She unleashed her thoughts. She made sure he knew she wanted this to stop, before it gets any worse. Every word that transcended from her thoughts through her tongue hit its mark on him. And she felt he understood everything. His silence was her confirmation.

At last she was done. The conversation seemed to last an eternity. Goodbyes were always the hardest times, and the longest. She was not ending their relationship because she didn’t want him. It was because she was afraid she might soon. Deeply. Inescapably. Eventually. She could not afford that, not just yet.

Just before she felt triumph over herself for accomplishing what she set out to do, he had his final words to her. After a long pause that marked several ticks in time, he spoke. And the sound that followed was the indifference of the telephone line being cut. He had hung up. Still holding her phone against her left ear, she could hear his words echoing in the abyss he had created in her mind.

“Don’t ever let yourself be miserable. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you’ll be short-changed. Coz you’re one woman worth losing life and limb for.” She knew this meant something very complex, and her self-beliefs were shaken again. These words came from someone she almost fell in love with, and who doesn’t have the slightest clue what was going on.

The mirror showed another face, one that was breathing heavily. The indecision has brought the suffocation back.

...union... (May 16, 2005)

In her mind raced thoughts of him as she stepped off the car. It had been three months now since she last heard of him. And now was the day they both feared would come, but eventually looked forward to. This was the day they promised each other to meet again, to take that one last chance, because tomorrow is goodbye.

She fidgeted and hesitated a bit before entering that small surfing resort up north. She had braved the five-hour journey just so she could be at the right place at the right time. And indeed she was, she remembered the place. But as composure returned to her, she could not remember the face of the name she had come to say goodbye to. Her heart knew better, and it sensed his nearness. With eyes beaming with hope and an ardent uncertainty she searched the crowd now gathered to look back at her.

Then he was there.

He waved at her, and solicited a deep sigh of relief from her. She offered him a smile, of which he indescribably returned. A few steps and they were again within arms away from each other. Her face radiated the joy she felt just being with him again. She had loved him, indeed. But not anymore, or so at least she thought. And this thought was something she had three months to convince herself was real. She had promised herself the night before that it was indeed goodbye. She came there for a purpose, and she wasn’t about to sway from that purpose. She had come to say goodbye.

But he was so near. She could smell him, and her arms yearned to reach out and wrap him again. Her lips certainly missed his, and she wondered what the price would be for another taste of his kiss. He was exactly the man she remembered him to be, the same masculinity that again made her heart thump wild. While saying her pleasantries, she looked at every part of him but his eyes. She knew that if she did, then she could never do what she came here to do.

He too was there for the same reason, but without that which held her back. And as she wrapped her arms around him for one last time, she knew. Three months had changed a lot. He was different now, as was she. Only, she wanted more convincing of the truth, he already felt the truth. Her hopes of rekindling their love went unreciprocated.

Her embrace tightened as she whispered her last few breaths into his ears. The word goodbye flew swiftly, and she held back the tears bidding to fall. She dare not let them. She had coerced herself to be tough. She had psyched herself for this. This is only goodbye, nothing more. There will be no regrets, she said. And she turned around. With head held up high, she walked away from him.

In her mind raced thoughts of him as she went into the car. It’s another five-hour journey home. There’s plenty of time for the tears to fall.

...yes... (May 16, 2005)

Jeco looked at himself in the mirror. He spotted something wrong with his eyes; it was proclaiming a sense of apprehension, squirming whenever he looked straight at them. Shy eyes, he thought. But he could not flatter himself too much as to hide how he really felt. He was indeed hesitant about something. He was inside the men’s room of a known restaurant, and just a few steps away, Stephanie was waiting for him to return to their table.

He had excused himself two minutes ago when he felt there was something suffocating in the air. Maybe it was the wine, he reasoned. No. It couldn’t be the wine. He had had more alcohol in one night before. There was only one other logical reason why he suddenly felt his world turned faster than it ought to. It was Stephanie.

She was intoxicating. And that made up for all the mysteries he was experiencing. He secretly took a peek out into the dining area from the small opening in the door. From afar he could see her. She wore nothing more than a simple shirt, a pair of jeans that fit nicely with her stunning figure, and that indelible smile of hers that seem to be just pasted on her lips. The sight made Jeco’s heart skip a beat. “What the hell am I doing here?”

Jeco remembered her from as far back as his high school days. It was a story to tell his grandchildren. He was a greenhorn then, a nobody, in a school where you first learn how to run before you learn how to walk. She was a somebody; everyone wanted to have a piece of her. He was walking back to his classroom one fine day in July when perchance he decided to walk through the canteen and up the stairs to the second floor. She, perhaps also by chance, decided to take the same way coming down from the second floor. He met her; she didn’t mind him. Jeco stood there half spellbound as she walked down the stairs, with her hair laid down and blowing in a sudden gush of wind like the kind you see on scripted Hollywood movies. Only this was real life, or surreal life for Jeco. Time seemed to have moved in slow motion and everything suddenly burst with colorful auras. Then as suddenly as it had come, the moment was over. She walked past him, and a brush of her hair against his right shoulder was enough trophy for him, a trophy he cannot display.

Jeco straightened his shirt, unbuttoned the topmost button, stroked his hair one last time, took a deep breath and opened the door. I’m ok now, I think, he said to himself. He walked slowly towards Stephanie waiting at the table. “Are you ok? You took so long in there… I was worried you might have felt sick or something.” She was being polite. Knowing her, he would have half expected a more teasing remark. “Am ok. I just needed some… a…” He tried to suppress the words “fresh air” from coming out of his mouth because where he just came from she surely would die laughing if she heard those words. He frantically searched his vocabulary for something that would fit what it was that he needed in the men’s room. “…cold water for my face.” And he was saved.

“Would you care for some more wine?” he offered her. “No, but thanks. I’m really not a big drinker, you know that! Wait, are you trying to get me drunk again?”

He knew exactly what she meant. A smile started sprouting on Jeco’s face when he remembered the last time they went drinking. It all started nicely, like both of them were pretending it was a date of sorts. But it was not. It was just two friends out for the night in the city. They watched a movie, had coffee, and powered by a dare, they tried the rides in a known amusement park. At three in the morning they bought a couple of beers and consumed it by the bay, while sharing each other’s life story. It was an intimate moment indeed; both telling tales one never thought would be sharing. While the pages of their history were being laid down, the alcohol in the beer was taking its toll on a girl with very low tolerance for it. Stephanie was drunk before the last bottle was even half empty. And she only had two. Jeco almost had to carry her back to the car and into her apartment. But she managed, saving some grace for herself. He swore he’d never seen her like that before, and would love to see her again in the same state. And it was purely for fun.

“No, I wouldn’t want to have to carry you again!” and a chorus of laughter between the two of them ensued.

“So, what was it again that you wanted to say to me? You did have something to say right? That’s why you asked me out…” Jeco thought he heard bells ringing, and a spotlight was directed at him, like it was time for him to answer the jackpot question in a noontime game show. If only it was a matter of choosing between the money and the box, life would have been simpler. But no, it was a beautiful girl in front of him asking him to reveal a secret that up until now he never had a chance to tell her. He wanted to, but only now did courage decide to accompany him.

“Well… I think you’re wonderful…and I’d just want to ask you something… would you like to…” The bells rang again. This time, they sounded very familiar. Jeco suddenly snapped into reality when he realized it was her cell phone that sounded off.

“Oh! Excuse me… I’m sorry, but I have to take this call…” Stephanie politely turned the other way. Jeco thought it was because she didn’t want him to hear whom she was talking to, or what they were talking about. It was none of his business anyway. But curiosity took the better of him, and he carefully leaned over a little. In mumbled words he heard her say, “…oh that’s so sweet of you…I’ll be home soon, ok?…yeah, bye, love you!”

Jeco felt the opportune moment to tell her that he liked her and how he always thought of her slipped past him and out into the front door. It was like the host of his imaginary noontime show telling him, time is up! He knew he had lost much. But she was polite. She pretended she didn’t notice, and Stephanie reached out for his hand on the table and softly said, “you were saying?”

The spotlight was back on him again. But realization took the best of him. Even if he did say it, it wouldn’t matter. It dawned on him, with just that very recently concluded phone call of hers, that he had absolutely no clue what he was about to get himself into; and that this was entirely simply a high school infatuation. “I just wanted to ask you if you would like to…to…join our company party this coming Friday.”

He felt his lie seething through the grits of his teeth. He felt his heart burst little by little. He had no other choice. He judged that this friendship with her is a great treasure, and he would not in any way attempt to ruin it with something so selfish as him saying he loves her.

“Hey. No man takes a girl out to a fancy dinner just to ask her if she could come to a company party. You should have known me better than that to think I wouldn’t know. But I do know. Do you want to talk?”

It was like his secret was out. She was psychic, he thought. Either that or she had very good investigating team working for her. She simply was a girl who knew him too much, and one that could not be lied to. She is his best friend. She is her love. She is he. All these he thought under an eye that cannot look up to meet hers. And she continued…

“Look, you’ve been so nice to me. You’ve been everything that a woman could ever want from a man. There’s nothing I wouldn’t want more from you. You’re my best friend. But…” she picked up her cellular phone, and showed it to him. “…that was my son. He’s waiting for me tonight. He said he can’t sleep, and I have to be there. I hope that explains it. I’m not really good with words…”

“What did I say? Look, if I said or did something to upset you, I’m sorry already. I was just simply trying to… a… invite you.” He pushed his lips to conjure a timid smile, unsure if such an action might break some ice. She smiled back, but with head bowed down and looking in a different direction from his. It was enough, and a feeling of contentment settled down within him. “Steph…”

She raised her head a bit, and her eyes looked at him. From his viewpoint she was intrepidly charming, almost disturbingly. He cannot afford to buy one more reason for him to fall in love with her. What he has right now is enough. So he looked away.

“I was wondering. I know we’ve been through so long, did some things we both didn’t even imagine we could do. You know I like you. But… do you like me enough to make you happy?” It was a shot in the dark. Her answer could make or break him. He was at her mercy. He felt weak in the knees, and a sudden need to excuse himself to the men’s room surged in his will. With loud thumps, his heart raced as cold sweat began to form in his forehead. He was never this nervous before, even with a hundred cups of coffee.

“Yes…” she replied, fumbling with her fork. “Too happy in fact, that I don’t want to ruin it by letting you be like this.”

Jeco wiped the sweat from his forehead with a napkin from the table. He knew that a victory in this situation would be short lived, and wouldn’t be so sweet.

“Would you let me continue making you happy then? You know how I feel about you. I don’t have to say it, you just know. And I’m spending all of my energy just so this courage of mine could be here for me to ask you this. Will you let me make you happy? Would you let me in to your life?” That was it, the culmination of this night, the question that had been waiting to pop. His adrenalin had done their part, and his heart is overworking.

“I don’t come alone. I have a son. I don’t want to burden you with him. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, and I suggest you stop before you even start.” She was near tears. Jeco offered her a napkin. He could see little crystals of tears forming in her eyes, bickering to fall. He reached for her hand, held them and gently squeezed then tight.

“I know. I want you, all of you. I’ll do my best to continue making you happy. And little James could use somebody to play with.” He smiled, amusing her and himself. “Just say yes, Stephanie.”

“Yes!” she answered with a burst of happy laughter amidst the tears in her cheeks. Jeco knew she was for real. And the two of them glimmered with a blissful look, even if faced with the uncertainty of tomorrow.

“So, what’s the first thing you want to do in our new life?” Jeco asked teasingly, as he leaned over to give her a kiss on the forehead.

Still sporting her vicious smile, and her indelible charm, she said, “Let’s have dessert…”