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’.