Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tabo

I.

My first experiences in a college dorm were ushered in by my three roommates in Yakal.

I had the unfortunate chance of meeting the first two guys we will call X and Y, X was a Chem major, Y was a shiftee from the College of Arts and Letters. X was a chain smoker, he was puffing when I came in the dilapidated room with my bags. Smoking was totally against the rules, but I kept my mouth shut.

“Hello.” I nodded to X.

“Anong pangalan mo ‘tol?” said X.

“Dave.” I extended my hand.

“Ano college mo?” Y emerged from behind the partition. He looked like the emaciated version of Jimmy Santos.

“Architecture.”

“Siya ba papalit kay Mike?” X asked Y, ignoring me. He started blowing smoke rings.

“Dun ka sa taas na bunk, ‘tol.” Y pointed at the only empty upper bunk.

I nodded meekly and began emptying the contents of my bag inside my closet. The mattress was threadbare, it had a very suspicious stain which looked like vomit, and smelled like it to too.

I muttered under my breath to suck it up. Getting into a campus dorm took a lot of effort and I’d certainly save a lot of money because a boarding house cost about a thousand bucks more. I went to UP Shopping Center to buy a bucket and a dipper because the dorm manager required it.

After dinner by myself, I started walking the next few blocks ungracefully with my new bucket and dipper in hand. When I got to the room, it had a solitary fluorescent lamp by the study table flickering; the back of the room was in darkness.

I jumped as the door suddenly opened and an unfamiliar guy walked in. I was afraid I might have gotten inside the wrong room.

“Uy! Ikaw ba kapalit ni Mike?” He smiled.

He moved closer to the light.

Damn, he was cute. He had some sort of chin dimple, and the first thing I notice was that he was wearing maroon shorts that I’ve seen only varsity people wear.

“Ah, oo. Dave pala name ko.” I managed to stammer.

“Harry.”

Turned out we both went to Melchor hall (he took up Civil Engineering and engineering students used the 1st-3rd floors, while the College of Architecture was at the 4th and 5th floors). He occupied the bed at the bottom bunk, just below me, which kind of sent a tingle up my spine.

I was right, he was one of the varsity players. I heard him open his closet and he lifted up his shirt and got a towel. I pretended to read my novel as I faced the other way and tried to ignore him, which was hard really since every time he sat on his bed mine moved.

“Pare, pwede palang humiram ng tabo?”

“Oo ba, nasa ilalim ng study table.” I said, turning around.

I saw him smile sheepishly, shirtless and looking so fine. If my heart was independent from my body it would have leaped already. I didn’t know it, but I was smiling like an idiot for the rest of the night.

II.

The semester went like the usual. Living in the dorm was quite alright, even if I don’t get that much privacy and quiet. Those times when we do architectural plates or if I study for a major exam, I make it a point to work during the wee hours of the morning when everyone is asleep. X and Y can be pain in the ass especially during their noisy guitar sessions, which could have been forgivable if either of them could sing or play guitar.

The bright spot for me was when Harry was there. When I did computations for Elementary Surveying which involved sine and cosine, I asked his help and he obliged. It was in his turf, I guess. It was doubly hard for me because far from being mathematically inclined, he was leaning over, his chin almost touching my shoulder as we sat closely and it was very ticklish where the warmth of his breath would touch my skin (kilig!). He was good with numbers but his hard biceps kept brushing against my arm as I tried to input data into the scientific calculator, I kept messing it up haha.

In return, I swore to become his total slave. Kidding. Well, he wasn’t the usual dumb jock so I couldn’t offer much help except when he asked which shirt looked better on him for a night out. He also had no girlfriend, but obviously he is a catch so many girls flirted with him to no end, luckily the ladies were off limits in the male section of Yakal bwahahaha! I swear if the guys brought home a girl to the dorm I’d scream bloody murder.

One of X’s most brilliant ideas was to hold a party right after Final exams, and by party I mean three bottles of smuggled Ginebra San Miguel with a few of his cigarette butts stubbed on my study table. Y had a classmate over who was in charge of “tagay”. Harry was there, plus me so that made five of us in total.

We were on our third round of passing the plastic cup with pure gin, when I started feeling tipsy. We swapped stories about profs, gossiped about the girls. Well, Harry mostly just nodded along as X spilled the lewd details.

Maybe it was the alcohol I felt so acutely running beneath my veins that made us all chummy. By our fifth round Harry was leaning on to me, there were gin blossoms on his face and he was slurring his words. I was still listening to their stories. We all decided to crash past 2am. X didn’t make it to his bed, he fell on the floor and promptly fell asleep. We left him there. Y and his classmate tried to pass through the window to leave the dorm because they lock the main doors at night.

I helped Harry to his bunk, when he suddenly spoke.

“Tabihan mo ‘ko.”

Uh oh, I know that look. My heart pounded so loudly, I thought the whole dorm would wake up and storm in.

III.

The whole room seemed so quiet, I could hear the soft drone of the traffic all the way from Quezon Avenue. His breathing was soft and whistling. A sliver of light shone partly above his face, and I saw his lips part.

Well, I was so nervous because A. we could get caught, and B. I’ve never really been with anybody (Virginia Lights ang drama!) so I was lost as to what I should do. Being Maria Clara, I settled on laying beside him with my head resting on the crook of his elbow.

For a while there was only our breathing that I could hear, and my pounding heart. Then I felt him move and turn towards me and bam! I definitely felt something on the side of my hip. Juice ko, 2 am pa lang may flag ceremony na!

I got the feeling Harry was giving me an all too clear message even if he was “sleeping”. But I kept my restraint knowing that my imagination usually runs away with me, and maybe I just misinterpreted it and one false move and this guy would beat me to a pulp.

My mouth was so dry (damn that gin) I badly needed a drink of water, but a part of me also felt that if I move away from the flagpole I’d miss the chance of a lifetime haha! So I just lay there like a rock, until I distinctly felt his hand grab mine and did something which was unmistakably the cue for Panatang Makabayan.

I woke up the next morning in my bunk- I did not now how I got there, but thank goodness I was because if X and Y found out about the early morning flag raising that would have been the end of me. The bunk below was empty, and in an instant I felt a flash of guilt. I got my towel, pail, and tabo straight to the showers to wash the Monica Lewinsky-inspired Clorox stain on my ROTC t-shirt I wore last night.

At the canteen I saw Harry with Y and some of the Yakal girls. He was avoiding my gaze and seemed to have amnesia that he ever knew me. Oh well, I thought. I guess I’d have to be especially nice to X and Y in the next few days.

IV.

I went to live in Quezon City for a while during sem break, though I was both missing and kind of dreading seeing Harry again when school starts. I moved back in Friday (the weekend before classes started), and I found myself alone.

I ran into the dorm master, and was half expecting the lady to manhandle me to her office for my crime, but I was just surprised when she told me well have a new roommate because one of my old roommates decided to leave the dorm. She must have read the look on my face because she quickly chimed in,

“Mukhang mabait naman si Mr. Z (hiding their names using algebraic expressions seems like the most convenient for me), sophomore sa College of Human Kinetics.”

I forced a smile, thanked her and went back to my room. I was shocked to see Harry, with his duffel bag in hand.

“Alis ka na ba?”

He gave me a puzzled look.

“Hinde ah. Si X siguro tinutukoy mo, sa Katips na sya nakatira ngayon.”

I sat on the desk, relieved. I guess the distance served us good- I got a vibe from him that the whole episode was behind us.

Our new roommate Z occupied Y’s upper bunk, while Y moved to X’s lower bunk. Harry and myself kept our bunks. The rule was, the newbies get the upper bunk. I didn’t mind as long as I was on top of Harry, chos!

We never talked about that episode again (I guess amnesia works for some guys), but did it happen again? There were a couple of times when we’d change clothes side by side, or watch a VCD on Z’s computer with Harry’s arm resting on my shoulder, or other “hearts-a-leaping” moments for me but none of the flag ceremony moments again.

V.

I’d never forget the Lantern Parade December of 1998, that was the culminating activity before everyone leaves for their province. We spent the last weeks of November working day in and day out in Melchor hall, and that 18th of December was the night of the parade.

Our college won an award for Most Dramatic (yeah, that’s my award alright), and I gave the lantern I was carrying to a buddy so I could find my roommates. I found them huddled near the admin building.

Harry stood up and gave me a hug.

“Congrats! The best talaga lantern n’yo.”

“Thanks. May next year pa naman para sa Eng.” I joked.

Y and Z gave me a pat in the back, and there was this girl I know vaguely from 2nd floor of the dorm, smiling at me.

“Punta kami ni Aimee sa SM North, sama ka?” Harry asked.

“Sige, kayo lang muna.” I said.

Y, Z, and myself walked to our dorm. Y spilled the beans that Aimee was officially Harry’s girlfriend. I was lucky it was dark, because my knees felt wobbly and I felt like someone hit me with a hammer.

“Kelan lang?” I asked.

“Kanina pre. Ayos din mag-timing ‘tong si Harry. Sinagot sya habang may fireworks display.”

They laughed.

After that I just felt like I wanted to bury my head on my pillow. I pretended I was tired and had to sleep immediately. Can’t say I wasn’t affected because I cried a bucket of tears that night.

Well, I guess I should have known flag ceremonies don’t last a lifetime LOL. It hurt too much to stay, so I asked my folks if I could transfer to a boarding house instead. I avoided him altogether in the days before I moved, and even when classes resumed January the following year I’d duck into a classroom if I see him approaching in Melchor hall. From then on, the 1st to 3rd floor were off limits to me, including all fishball stands near Yakal.

Men can be so dense when it comes to feelings. The day I left, Harry, Y, and Z were in the room. I said my goodbyes while I was dying inside (kimi la). The only thing Harry said was:

“Nakalimutan mo tabo mo.”

“Sa 'yo na.” I said as I walked away.

-o-o-o-

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Crush-ed

I.

Youth. This was embodied in the demigod standing on a pedestal, talking with his followers. Even from afar, I could relish the sight of his soft, almost feminine features- if not for that strong jaw and that masculine aplomb.

I was seated at my station, taking calls. While the eight hours of non-stop chatter was immensely dragging, I would console myself by stealing a glance at the Queue Desk to see Larry and his pale face beaming.

I’ve been at my job for about a year now, and his, even less. I belonged to an earlier training batch, but even so, he got promoted to Workforce Analyst in a short period of time.

I felt the need to go to the restroom, so I had the chance to call Queue to inform them (I hoped he would be the one to pick up instead of the girls).

Ring…Ring…

“Queue desk, Larry here.”

“Ah, ahm this is Thad. Break...”

“Ok.”

“Ay, washroom break pala.”

He laughed.

Great. Nice, going Thad.

I got up from my seat and hauled my ass to the restroom.

Looking at the huge mirror, I adjusted the black sweater I bought a few days back from ukay-ukay.

Heaven and earth.

No, heaven and purgatory, I though wryly.

Larry the 5’8 demigod, with his perfect teeth, ruler-straight nose, and sharp fashion sense. Me, (all 5’6 of me) with my tragic outfit that once belonged to someone else, my less-than-sophisticated sensibilities, and timid demeanor.

Ok, so I wasn’t exactly bad looking. I tried smiling at the mirror- open and friendly. Ugh. I looked like a high school kid on meth. I ruffled my hair and tried to look sexy. Fat chance.

I finally exhaled in frustration and went back to my station.

II.

Is it just me?

I could’ve sworn he was looking my way. I turned slyly to my side and pretended to write something on my notebook. Don’t look!

I looked. Yup, he’s definitely looking.

“You’re imagining things, weirdo.” I chided myself.

When it came to my one hour break, I opted not to go to the drop-off like the rest of my mates who went for a smoke. The 12th floor was recently opened, and the new facilities included a billiard table, a foozeball table, and a very cozy couch. I wanted to nap for a bit at the new Rec Room before returning to my toxic calls.

I sat down at the edge of the couch, alone. The recreation room was dark (it was 2:00am) and chilly, so I wrapped my sweater around me and drifted off to sleep.

I had this feeling of something warm next to my thighs. I realized, there was someone who sat beside me. My heart pounded.

The person shifted, causing his thighs to rub against mine. Curious, I stole a glance to his side. The room was only illuminated by the faint glow of street lights below- and his silhouette was unmistakable: short spiky hair, sharp nose, and tiny bow lips.

It was Larry.

His eyes were open, but I couldn’t really tell if he was looking at something. He just sat there beside me in that couch, as silent as he was still.

Eventually I had to get up and get back to work. When I sat down, I still could not shake the feeling that someone from Queue desk was watching me.

III.

“There’s this guy.”

“Uhuh.” My seatmate nodded.

“He… well he doesn’t really do anything like talk with me, but he keeps doing things.” I confided.

She raised an eyebrow.

“He passes by my station on purpose on his way to the restroom, even though it would take him longer versus going straight from the Queue desk aisle to CR.”

“And then I catch him looking at me during the shift.”

“So?”

“Alright, let me ask you this, do Workforce Analysts have fixed breaks?”

“I don’t think so.”

“That’s the other thing! Whenever I take my break- even when it was moved repeatedly during schedule change, he is always at the Rec Room the same time I’m there!”

“Maybe it’s just a coincidence.”

“He sits beside me even when the couch is empty and he could’ve sat on the opposite side.”

Now my friend leaned over in interest.

“Who?”

Our conversation was interrupted by our supervisor who signaled we should leave the locker area and prepare for calls.

We hurried to our stations. I took a seat in a station hidden from view from the Queue desk. Just as I guessed, Larry passed by and spoke to the manager whose station was closest to mine. I tried not to look at his face as he stood there with his hands on his waist.

It was the third night of us playing the you-look-at-me-and-I-look-at-you game.


IV.

I made up my mind. I was going to gather up my courage and speak with him. Make friends, or beg him to stop sitting beside me at the rec room (like a piece of delicious pie I can never have a piece of), anything but this torturous silence of not knowing.

I took calls for an hour, and kept glancing at Queue desk. Larry wasn’t there. Perhaps, he swapped with another Analyst, I thought. Maybe he is to come in an hour later.

At 2:00am I went to take my one hour break. I slept alone in the rec room. When I got back, I tried to casually ask my Team Manager:

“Karen, isn’t Larry supposed to be in tonight (I knew he wasn’t off till the next evening)?”

“I’m not sure Thad.” She said.

But Larry did not show up during that shift. Or the next.

The pantry was abuzz with the latest news. HSBC was hiring, and Larry was among those who were pirated. It was rumored that they offered almost double of what they were earning.

I slumped back in my chair, feeling like I’ve lost something precious. I know it was silly because we never even really talked- I never really knew if my crush also took a liking in me.

When my shift ended I lethargically stuffed all my things into my locker, and walked to the elevator. The door slid open and the handsome chinito inside smiled at me.

“Down?”

“Yes.” I said, revived and smiling like an idiot.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Road to Salvacion

It was dawn, and the sheets felt warm and cozy on my skin, but I knew I had to get up. The bus bound for Salvacion leaves very early at the terminal, so I must be there by six. I had already packed my things the night before, and so I just took a quick breakfast and a cup of coffee before I left. I stuffed a Tupperware full of puto for the trip, and filled my water bottle.

I sat on a wooden seat next to the window, as the bus started its four hour journey to Samar. The events of the last few years flashed in my mind. I was a wreck.

Yesterday, I learned I was pregnant with Ronnie’s baby. I was so excited to tell him, thinking he’d leave his wife like he promised. That day only ended with a heated argument and Ronnie hitting me on the face before he stormed out of the small apartment. He had wanted an abortion.

As I gazed at the bruise on my cheek in the mirror, my face stained with black tears from the mascara, I tried to pick up the pieces of my life. The relationship was over, and so was his financial support. I would have to move out before the month is over.

The floor of the bus creaked loudly, and the passengers filled in at every stop. I looked out the window to the winding path ahead. The road climbed steeply and into the heart of Samar’s mountains. The winds still had a cold tinge.

I first met him during a seminar at the university, and he was among the group of speakers. Charming and boyish, he went out of his way to be kind to me. I saw the ring on his finger, but I paid no heed. I was smitten.

He was the kind of man a girl would be proud to bring home to her family, that is, if she still had a family who would accept her. I smiled sarcastically. It’s been two years since I last saw my parents. They wanted me to stop schooling for a while because of financial crisis. I was sick of it, so I left. Ronnie was my hero, he got me an apartment and paid the bills. I became his mistress.

“Some hero.” I muttered under my breath. I felt nauseous again. I felt vomit starting to rise.

“Ummph.” I covered my mouth with my hand and stuck my head out the window, as the contents of my stomach emptied through my mouth. There was vomit on my hands, my dress, and the side of the window.

The bus had stopped, and the passengers looked at me curiously. The old lady beside me took pity and handed me a cloth to wipe myself. I washed my face and hands with the water from my bottle.

I was nervous as it is to go home like this. And now I reeked of vomit. The bus started again. The wilderness was giving way to rice fields, and I saw the vast flat lands ahead. We were two towns away from Salvacion.

My stomach knotted. I was tired. The bus slowed down as it reached Balangiga, and stopped in front of the cathedral made of stone.

Below, I saw passengers scramble and make their way to the bus. A young woman with an infant in her arms was carrying a large carton too heavy for her to lift. As the conductor went to help her, our eyes met for a brief moment. She smiled.

In the last hour of my trip, I finally saw the familiar fields and unpaved roads of my hometown. I got off on the dusty road, holding the bag close to my chest. In the distance, I saw my parent’s house. I walked the final steps toward the green rice fields.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Requiem for my Mom

It must have been a dream because you died yesterday.

You faced the ocean and the pink sky, fiddling with your camera. The pink t-shirt and pants were the ones you wore on our last trip to Marabut. You glanced at me and waved.

“Mama...”

The cold of the dawn bit my face, and the hair on my arms stood. It was my idea to wake up at 5am to take pictures of the sea at sunrise. As I walked towards you, I felt the sands shift beneath my feet.


My feet hurt from walking around the hospital in uncomfortable white shoes. My clinical uniform was dirty, and 30 minutes before time off I wanted to scream. I had been in school since 8:00am, and now it was very late in the evening.

A thousand miles away, Mama was at the ICU with IV and heparin drip. When we spoke over the phone last night, she sounded weak as ever. She coughed a lot, and everytime she did, I closed my eyes and prayed.

“Please God, please.”

I tried to sound cheerful. I got 90% on my Cord Care PRS. Not bad Ma, right?

You said you were going to get better. You said they were going to move you to a regular room later that day.

Oh Ma, it hurts to see you like this.


Ted was also up, his hair unruly. My brother was shirtless despite the cold. He walked barefoot on the sand.

The surge of the tide washed gently on the shore. You were looking at the horizon, your face glowing from first rays of the sun.

“You never left, haven’t you?”

You turn to look at me and smile.

“Of course not.”

“I miss you.” I said, my voice breaking.

“I’m always here.”

The world seemed so silent, with only the sound of the waves in the background. My Mom was smiling at me. The kind of delight that lights up her eyes, much like a child whose arms are outstretched and face eager as she is about to be picked up by her parent.


The phone call. I knew what it was after the first ring. My heart pounded as I rushed to the living room.

“Hello?”

Silence, then I heard someone breathing.

“Hello?”

“Kuya…”

It was my brother, and he was crying so hard I could barely understand his words.

I sat on the couch. My brother said something but I didn’t hear anything. Tears welled up. So this was it- I never even got a chance to say how much I loved her.

Hours later, I would still be unable to move from the couch.


Then I was filled with grief, for I will never see you again in the waking world.

You wiped my tears with your hand.

“I am never gone because I’m always in the hearts of whom I love.”

You smoothed my hair, like you always did when I was very young. You always wanted us to be neat and clean, and people always remarked how well behaved we were.

“I had wanted to call you again after my duty, but I was so tired. I thought you’d be better. I have so much I need to say-”

For a moment I felt your hand, warm against my face. And you started to walk away. You turned and gave me a smile.

I looked for a trace of sadness in your eyes, but there was none.

Mahagnao

There was once a tribe of ancient warriors in the forests in the town now known as Burauen. They were fierce people, and their men hunted wild animals in the mountains. Strangely enough, there were only few women in their tribe, and were mostly aged.

One day, a lone warrior named Guapo wandered into a fern-covered patch of the forest, where a clear spring was flowing from the rocks at the side of the mountain. He set his bow and arrow on the soft grass, and drunk water from the spring.

“Who are you?” A soft voice said.

Guapo turned to where the voice was, and saw a beautiful nymph dressed in a moss-colored robe. He was stunned because she was the first young female he saw, not unlike the elder women in his tribe.

“My name is Guapo, from the tribe of Hagnao”. He said, standing up.

Jiga, the nymph fell in love with the broad-shouldered youth who had just entered her domain. She never wanted him to leave.

“I am hunting wild boar to bring back to my tribe.” He said.

“I know of a place where there are a lot of animals to hunt.” Jiga said. She had a plan. She picked up a basket of essences and in one of the bottles she collected the potion that could put any person to sleep.

“First you must eat some fruits from my forest and drink to keep up your strength.” She picked delicious red fruit from the trees and gave them to Guapo.

Guapo sat on one of the rocks, marveling at Jiga’s beauty as she picked up a shiny goblet and dipped it in the spring. The nymph secretly put a few drops of potion on the goblet before she handed it to the young man.

“Which tribe do you belong to?” Guapo asked.

“I am alone here,” she answered, “This is my forest.”

The young warrior started to become drowsy, and he fell asleep on the soft arms of the nymph. Jiga smiled as she took him into the depths of the forest, never to return again.

Back in the village, there was a gathering. The elders thought Guapo had been captured by an enemy tribe, and therefore they must fight to get him back.

With their torches, swords and spears, the Hagnaos marched toward the forests of the mountain. When they came upon the clearing where a spring nearby flowed from a rock, they met a strange old woman.

“Go back to your village!” She said.

“The lady of the forest has taken the young man as her husband, and he will never return.”

Wasting no time, the elders struck with their spears. But their weapons only struck her garments. The old woman had disappeared.

Suddenly, radiance filled the forest. It was Jiga, the nymph, who appeared before them and she was angry. She struck the warriors with madness, and turned all the women blind.

The men slaughtered their own women, and went on searching madly for their lost comrade. To this day, they say, one can still hear the voices of the warriors as they roam the forests of what is presently known as Mahagnao.

Gunboat Adventures

Coron, Palawan
11th of October

The metallic hiss of my breathing was coming in gasps. The corals were gone now, and I was slowly being swallowed by the murky darkness around the ominous sunken gunboat.

I couldn’t speak- or scream for that matter to get anyone’s attention. There were only three of us diving, and both men were ahead of me. My bounding pulse sounded like drumbeats signaling impending doom as I struggled to catch up. I saw the bright yellow fins of the Divemaster a few meters ahead of me, and looking up I saw but slivers of light coming from the surface- but growing faint as we went deeper.

The muscles of my legs were beginning to ache. I tried wildly to signal to my Divemaster that I was having trouble, but he was almost beyond my reach and I couldn’t just inflate my vest to float to the surface suddenly- my ears had to adjust constantly to the pressure underwater and if I surface very quickly it might be harmful for me.

“Fuck! I’m going to die here…”


5 Feet

“Boss, I-try nyo mag scuba diving.” The man from the resort said.

“He doesn’t swim,” I told the guy of my beau. “I can, but I’ve never dived before, and doesn’t one need certain hours of training in a pool before they allow you in the open sea?”

“Ang Discover Diving, sa mababaw muna mag-start tapos dun kayo tuturuan ng basics. I-try nyo po, Php3,200 lang para sa dalawang dives. May kasama ng lunch yun.”

And that’s how it started. Early the next day, we found ourselves in a small outrigger boat speeding into the sea for an hour to reach the dive site: a Japanese Gunboat which sunk more than 60 years ago during the Japanese-American war.

The boat anchored near the shore. The Divemaster fitted the equipment and threw them overboard. I watched the tanks strapped to the backpacks floating despite its heaviness. “Take pictures of me.” I said to my beau as I got into the water. I was wearing a wet suit and I thought I was so cool.

The Divemaster taught us the basics in the shallow water: how to breathe using the regulator, retrieving your regulator, what to do when your mask gets foggy, and the most important thing: hand signals. You certainly can’t speak underwater, so you rely on hand signals to tell the Dive Master certain things- if your oxygen is low, if you’re okay, or if you’re in trouble.

We were ready.

15 Feet below Sea Level

We descended slowly. The British guy was ahead, followed by the Divemaster, and I lagged behind. The corals were stunning- an explosion of colors and exotic creatures (which you never really appreciate that much when you just snorkel).

The Divemaster turned to me questioningly, and I gave him the signal for “Okay”.

We went deeper.

A couple of Lionfish swam past, towards the corals. I floated about cautiously, admiring their splendid spikes that made them look unearthly. The muscles of my legs started to cramp a little bit- but if I stopped doing flutter kicks I’d sink to the depths.

I felt the pressure on my ears- I equalized just as the Divemaster had taught me. Three people in a giant soup- that was what we must have looked like. Suddenly, the seafloor disappeared from view- what appeared to me was just darkness below. I felt a slight flip of my stomach.

30 Feet below Sea Level

My mouth and throat felt dry from the oxygen, but I dared not to swallow and let some saliva moisten it- I could accidentally let go of the oxygen regulator- and at 30 feet underwater- that can’t be a good thing.

I followed the gaze of the Divemaster and the British guy- just ahead, illuminated in a ghostly glow was an enormous gunboat. It looked as dead as it was dreary, seemingly foreboding as it threatened to swallow us.

There were less corals now, and only but a few fish swimming past. It was as if living things avoided the desolate spot.

The Divemaster turned to us and signaled “follow me”.

The was no sound except for the constant hiss of my regulator and the gurgling sound of bubbles as they rose to the surface. We swam deeper towards the boat.


50 Feet below Sea Level

It began as a whisper of fear. A slight knotting of my stomach, which suddenly spread to the rest of my body. To my horror, I recognized it as a sign of a panic attack.

I began reciting prayers in my head to try and calm myself down, while trying desperately to swim towards the Divemaster so I can signal that I needed to surface.

“Oh God, oh God.”

My legs felt like lead, and one of my fins were loose. I finally was able to grasp the Divemaster’s ankle. In the dim light, he turns to me questioningly.

Shit! I racked my brains- what was the signal for distress? I couldn’t think anymore, all I wanted to do was get out of that place. I was hyperventilating now, and I could see the oxygen bubbles swirling about.

He signaled CALM DOWN.

I continued to struggle through his grasp, wildly signaling and pointing up. Take me to the surface!

“Oh God, he doesn’t understand. Take me up!” I screamed in my mind.

I remembered what he said during the lesson: do not inflate your vest so as not to rise to the surface rapidly. Fuck it.

I began to kick. Kick and swim towards the surface. Finally, he understood. He signaled to the British diver, grabbed my vest, and slowly pulled me upwards.


At the Surface

I had never been so happy to see the sun, and the wind whipping my face. I let the warmth flood through my body. I bobbed up and down on the surface of the water, and the Divemaster and the British diver went back underwater.

I swam to where our boat was.

At lunch time, while we had our portions of food, the British guy’s wife told me, “You know, one of the best ways to overcome your fears is to get right back on.”

“Oo, nga Sir. Meron pa kayong isang dive. Turned out I only consumed barely half of my previous oxygen tank, and had another for the second dive, which was already paid for.

They all turned to look at me for my reply. It was, by far, one of the craziest things I’d ever done- I smiled and said, “Sure, where’s the next wreck site?”

Monday, June 2, 2008

EB

He undressed hurriedly and looked almost comical. Like one of those Bugs Bunny cartoons where Bugs wears a costume to taunt the little guy with the moustache, then speeds away leaving the clothes.

He was tipsy, and had a hard time removing his belt. My fingers felt for the buckle and helped him undress. He was quite drunk. I on the other hand, drank only enough beer to lower my inhibitions, but my mind was a sharp as it could be. I could remember every detail of his condo: mattress on the floor, a divider which held the large TV and Playstation, and the bathroom door just opposite the kitchen.

Ok, I told mysef. His clothes are off, and now it’s your turn. Don’t be self conscious, you look great! Stop storyboarding the whole scene. Stop looking into his eyes, damn it!

His hands held my back and we were kissing. His hair felt nice on my fingers. I massaged the back of his neck a little.

Remember, this is just about tonight. You are not going to marry the guy. I reminded myself. So I dove in.

He was quite athletic. We did it standing up, sideways, supine, prone- you name it. Minutes later, he was already softly snoring. I pulled the covers up to look at the guy beside me.

This EB thing has really gotten old, I told myself. The usual line they say afterwards is that, “We should see each other again.” And then close the door on you. I know the routine- this is the nth time I’ve done it with someone I’ve met over the internet.

It upset me before; how guys get intimate with another person then just walk away like nothing happened. I’d usually have this quiet time in the nook of his arms just thinking if the romance could go further. How could they do it? Have sex and not have this emotional attachment?

His lips were bow-shaped. It made him look cherubic. Did I really think I’d find the love of my life over the internet? He stirred, and then opened his eyes.

“It’s late, I have to go.”

“You can sleep over.” He said.

“I have an early day tomorrow.” I started putting on my clothes.

“Ok then.”

I looked at the yuppie in front of me, and felt no usual pangs of separation anxiety. I smiled and walked to the door.
“Call me sometime.” I said, and meant it. This one’s a great lay and I wouldn’t want to miss out on that cute butt. Anyway, another chatter also wanted to meet up with me this weekend.

I closed the door and walked towards the elevators. Congratulations, I told myself. You just had sex like a man.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Long Weekend Part II

I.

The styrofoam cup felt warm on my hand, but the coffee was still scalding hot. I stirred it some more, careful not to spill its contents on my lap.

It is 7am in the morning, and I am sitting at the pre-departure area at Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport in Tacloban. I had called my best friend the previous night, and the conversation went like this:

“Tatat! I’ll be in Manila tomorrow!”

“Bitch! Why didn’t you inform me sooner so I could have arranged a schedule swap. I have work tomorrow.”

“That’s ok, no need to pick me up. I know my way around town, thank you. So where’s your new apartment?”

“Near Shaw.”

“Can you just meet me at the MRT Station at around 10am?”

“Alright, twinnie.”

“See ya.”

It was a sunny morning, and Cancabato Bay was visible through the glass windows of the airport. Seemingly hypnotized by the glistening waves, my mind drifted to the events that happened the past two years- my leaving the company, returning to the province to study, and of course, Eric.

Two years of self-exile hadn’t erased a single bit of memory of him. Yeah, I still see him if I close my eyes: neat, sharply dressed in long sleeves and slacks, and that sexy grin he has when he’s telling a joke.

I last saw him during the trip to Sagada. I took a sip of my coffee, and set down my glass. I wonder where he is now? Does he still work for Info? I had yet to catch up on the goings-on of my previous office.

The speaker sounded. “PR 175 bound for Manila, now boarding.”

I shook out of my reverie, collected my bags, and made my way to the gate.

-o-o-o-

A blast of warm air hit my face as I left the Centennial Airport. Damn! I remembered Manila was like this- warm, crowded, and utterly polluted. As if on queue, a bus drove by, spewing a cloud of soot from its exhaust pipe. I gritted my teeth and kept walking.
“Taxi!” I waved frantically with my left hand.

“Shaw?”

The driver shakes his head. My bag was getting heavy, I was eager to just pay extra just so I could get to my destination without the hassle.

“Or you could just drop me off at the Pasay MRT Station.” I said, getting desperate by the second. He agreed.

The air conditioning hardly calmed my impatience as the car made it’s way through the traffic. I was relieved when I finally saw the huge Pasay MRT Station.

“One ticket for Shaw Station please.” I handed the amount to the cashier.

It was strangely comforting to be at the crowded station waiting for the train. How many days have I gone to catch the early morning train after my shift? I notice a couple of yuppies joking talking amongst themselves near a bench. I almost forgot how cute most of the guys were in Manila. I ruffled my hair self-consciously.

Ding! The train’s sliding doors open and out came the passengers. The crowd parted and lo and behold! A tall guy emerges, and he is no other than the guy who broke my heart.

“Hey Eric.” I said.



II.

He wore his hair the same way the last time I saw him- spiky, and fashionably styled. I had always been a fool for men with nice hair. He looked at me, mouth agape, for a moment.

“Gabby?! Hey, how have you been?” His eyes showed his surprise, and possibly, delight.

“I’m good. I just arrived from the airport.”

People had started to board the train, so we moved away from the crowd. He gestured at the nearby bench.

“That explains the traveling bag then.”

I laughed. “Yeah, I’ve been lugging around this heavy thing since early morning.”

“Where do you work now?”

“I’m not employed, actually.” I said. I was suddenly aware of my rumpled shirt. “Ah, after I resigned I decided to study again full time in the province.”

“Really?”

“How about you, still with Info?”

“Yeah. Six years and going strong.” He sat next to me on the bench.

“Up for another promotion?” I asked.

“Nah, not really. The teams I handle have not been doing well. Besides, I doubt if they have openings at this point.”

We were silent after we discussed work-related things. I smiled awkwardly.

“I guess I’d better be going. Tatat is waiting for me at Shaw Station.”

“No kidding. She left months after you did. Without much dramatic flair though…” He teased, referring to how I left the company years ago.

“Forget about that. I was a little crazy.”

“So you’d join us again at Info?” He smiled.

“Unlikely. I’m done with that industry.” I said, standing up.

“Hey, want to go out sometime, while you’re still in town?”

“Sure Eric.”

“Your number?”

I gave it to him.

“It was great to see you. I’ll call you sometime.” Standing up, he towered over me. He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed.

My heart gave an involuntary leap. “Alright.”

I walked towards the train, turning around and giving him a wave just as the doors started to close.

As the train started moving, I was once again lost in my thoughts. Seeing Eric today, on my first day in Manila made me realize how much I had missed him. I’ve always wondered if I had made a mistake, leaving Info. I would have just settled to being one of his friends just so I could see him everyday.

You’ve already made the decision, I told myself, so stick to it!

In the distance, I saw the morning rays cast a glow to the city skyline.



III.

“Twinniiee!!”

Uh oh. I know that voice. I turned to face my best friend, honorary twin sister, and partner in crime, Tatat.

Hug, hug. Kiss, kiss.

“You look fat!”

She pouted. “Bitchy as always.”

“Are you still with CVG?”

“Old news Gabby dear.” She scoffs.

“I’m training with Dell right now.” She removes a pack of Marboro Lights and offers me a cigarette.

“Still a chain smoker, I see. Honey, your nasty habit is wrecking havoc on your skin!” I said, pretending to examine her face.

“That’s a load of bull.”

“Seriously! Anyway, guess who I bumped into earlier.”

“Who.” She said disinterestedly.

I paused to take a breath. She looks into my eyes, reading my thoughts.

“No!”

“Yes!” I said, “I bumped into him by accident.

She grabs my phone.

“Hey! Give that back!”

“I don’t like this.”

“If you are looking for his text messages there’s none.”

She looks at me. “You erased them?”

“No. Because I don’t even have his number.”

“Somebody’s going to get hurt.”

I looked at her seriously. “I promised myself I’d never again be in a situation like that. I’m not stupid Tat.”
“Just make sure you don’t see him again, because I already know how this is going to end.”

Bzzz! My cellphone vibrated. 1 New Message.

“Hi Gab, it’s Eric. Remember that place at Eastwood where we had Chiqui’s birthday dinner? I’m craving pasta right now. Want to meet me there? My shift ends at in about an hour.”

“Who is it?” Tatat asked.

I look her in the eye. “My mom checking on me if I’ve arrived safely.”

“I brought some binagol, by the way. Give some to Cricket.” I showed her the delicacies I had brought from Tacloban.

“Yipee!”

That’s Tatat, she loves her food and loves her boys.

“C’mon, I need to leave this bag at your place. I need to leave right away.”

“Got somewhere to go?”

“To Megamall. I need to buy some toiletries.” I lied.


IV.

I had been waiting at the table for twenty minutes. I changed into a polo shirt and jeans and practically bathed in my favorite scent.

I saw Eric outside through the window. I wave at him.

“Sorry I’m a little late.”

“That’s ok. I just arrived a few minutes ago.” I smiled.

“Somebody smells nice.”

I laughed nervously.

“I needed to get the airplane smell out.”

The waiter came with the menus and took our order.

“So Eric, do you still travel?”

“Yeah. Went to El Nido last summer.”

“Was it expensive?”
“Not if you stay at the town instead of the resort. You?”

“Just around Leyte. We have great beaches there.

“Who’d you go with?”

“Where?”

“Your trip to El Nido. Your girlfriend? Jen?”

Eric laughs. I have no girlfriend right now, and Jen got married last year.”

“Really?”

“To Royce, of all people.”

I giggled. “No way! How did that happen?”

“They met on a company team building and started going out.”

The food had arrived.

“Smells nice.” I said, having a wonderful time.

“Try my seafood pasta.”

I took a bite.

“So?”

“Better than sex.” I laughed.

“I’m taking a trip to Galera tomorrow. Wanna go?”

“Hmm I have some things to take care of, and I don’t think I’d have enough money.”

“I’ll take care of the accommodations.”

“Talaga? Who else are going?”

“Just us.”

I knew I was breaking my own rules.

“What time do we meet tomorrow?” I asked.






V.

The wind was chilly and I felt it sting my cheeks.

“You’re late.”

Eric was waiting at the bus station.

“Sorry, traffic.”

“At Four Am?”

“Tatat and I had a little argument.”

“About what?”

“Forget it, we do these things.” I said dismissively as I boarded the bus. I was quiet on the way to Batangas Pier.

Tatat did have a point, Eric was like a bad habit I have. This time, I hope she isn’t right about the ending.

The sun was rising in the horizon as the boat drifted in the water. I looked at the man beside me and smiled. He was a little older, and I notice new lines on his face I haven’t seen before.

He had a few freckles on the bridge of his nose, and a laugh line that would show itself now and then.

“All aboard!” Eric said, with anticipation in his eyes.

-o-o-o-

I was massaging my slightly sunburned neck as we walked on the sand. We had joined a group of Korean students snorkeling at high noon. Bad idea- even with sunblock lotion, Eric and I were as red as beets because of sunburn. The sun was now setting, and we were on the way to the bars.

“Aww.”

Eric laughed. “Who’s idea was it to join those Korean kids?”

“Better than just stay in the room. There was nothing else to do earlier.”

“Then stop complaining.”

We settled at a popular hangout called Peter’s. After dinner, we started a round of cocktails.

“Eric?”

“Yeah.”
“I’ve always been curious. How did you react when you found my letter that night?”

He looks me in the eye.

“A little sad.”

“Just a little?”

“I was sad because I lost a friend.”

We were silent for a while. The sound of the waves drowned my thoughts. My Margarita tasted bitter.

I asked him quietly. “Why did you invite me here?”

“I missed you.”






VI.

Early the next day, we had to return to Manila because of a 911 situation at work and Eric was expected later in the day. I myself needed to get back to Tacloban the following day. We were walking along the shore, waiting for the boat to take us back to Batangas.

“So, how do you like the shift in career so far?”

I make a face. “Sucks.”

“But you don’t want to go back to the Customer Service Industry either.”

“I told you, I’m done with that already.”

I nudge him on the stomach.

“Aren’t you tired of the night shift?”

“It’s alright.”

“Ah, what a great ACCM you are. Six years and still going”

“What time is your flight tomorrow?”

“I’ll have to check my ticket. I left it in Tatat’s apartment.”

“Gab, I appreciate your coming with me.”

I laugh.

“Ang pormal mo naman.”

“It’s hard for me to say it sometimes.”

“Say what?”

“Goodbyes.”

“In my book, I always get to decide the ending.”

He looks at me. His hair blown by the wind, his face tan, and that little laugh line showing itself again.

“And how does this end?”

“The good guy gets the guy.”

He gives me a wide smile that was almost a laugh of delight. He grabs my hand and pulls me in the direction of the boat that was now moored to the shore.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Recipe for a Heartbreak

3 cups sugar, melted into clear syrup.

“Raise your legs ‘cause I want to see you.”

“What?”

My cheeks were flushed, and I was breathing in short gasps. I still had my shirt on, but I was naked from waist down. I kept pressing my legs together as I lay on the bed but my lover pulled them up to his shoulders.

“No!”

“Come on, I want to see you.”

His fingers traveled incessantly. Down my stomach, lower and lower as he kissed my cock.

“Oh god.”

Suddenly he grabs my legs and spreads them as wide as he could. He licks my inner thigh slowly, making tiny circles. I place my hand on his head and try to get him to stop.

Oh god.

But I didn’t make a sound.


1 box flat dough, kept moist.

To him I was as rare as a Mediterranean desert dish few people ever tasted. I thought it was a wrong match, from the start. He was twenty four years my senior and while I was still struggling with what predicaments young adults have, he was already accomplished.

He liked fine wine and luxury. Dinner was always a blur of gourmet food, fine china and table napkins to match. My idea of good food was simply a cup of rice to go with any viand. I retch at the taste of wine- too sickly sweet for me.

“More Baklava for you?”

“No.”

“You barely touched your pasta.”

“I’m a little full.”

“Alright.”

There was only the sound of the stereo crooning a lovesong. I pushed my food around in my plate, and noticed the hair on his forehead was already receding.


1 pound walnuts, finely chopped


“What’s its name?” There was a twinkle in his mischievous eyes.

“Who?”

“Your penis.”

I laughed. “It doesn’t have a name, it’s just part of me.”

His fingers held my cock while he examined it.

“You have a mole.”

“What?”

“You have a mole on Junior.”

I giggled. His other hand kept rubbing my side and I was tickled by it.

“What does it mean then?”

“It probably means you are a maniac.”

He kneeled in front of me, naked. I ran my fingers through his brown skin, and held his face. He had the tiniest bow lips which parted slightly when he made a sound. His eyes were dreamy.

I moved my face close to his and licked the borders of his mouth. He sighed. Then he wrapped his arms around me and held me as we kissed.

“Alright, I’ll name it then.”



Slather unsalted butter on the flat dough and make five layers.

The car made its way through the traffic. We were seated at the backseat going over the details of my trip.

“What time will you be arriving?”

“Maybe 9am.”

“Are there people picking you up?”

“Yes.”
I shrugged off the questions, becoming more annoyed by the second. I detested being treated like an eight year old. The luggage made a thumping sound in the back compartment of the car.

“Alright then.” He said, adjusting his seatbelt.

We had a strange relationship. He provided every possible material need for me, yet somehow other than gratitude I felt nothing more for him. I rarely show a touch of affection. No kiss, no pat on the shoulder, nothing more than a friendly smile.

As I stepped out of the car, I turn to him. “Thanks again, for everything. I needed this trip to unwind.”

The glare of the sun reflected on the glass of the car window and it was hard to see his face as he sat in the dark interior of the car. Had I stayed a second longer, I would have seen the pained expression on his face as a cloud momentarily blocked the bright sun.


Add layers of chopped nuts & syrup.

“The heat here is unbearable.”

“Is that a compliment?” He laughed.

I stroked his chest.

“More of a complaint. Sweat has been dripping off me since yesterday at the airport.”

He put his arm around me and teasingly licked the lobe of my right ear. “I’ll make your stay worthwhile.”

The sheets were moist and the sun had set on our second day together. Jon was, in every way the perfect man: a young, cherubic face that could turn heads with a body for sin, but best of all, he was as young and impulsive as I was. But there was, of course a catch. Jon was already committed in a five-year relationship.

I took a drag of his cigarette and exhaled slowly, letting the smoke linger for a while in the humid air. .

“I didn’t know you smoked.” He said, taking the cigarette from my fingers.

“I don’t.”

“Are you upset you’d be leaving tomorrow?”

I swallowed.

“Yeah.”

He kissed me again. I tasted the cigarette on his lips, slightly bitter, but the kiss was sweet.

“Fuck me again.”


Set the oven at 300° C and bake for 90 minutes.

The landscape whizzed past as the bus made it way through the rural landscape. My phone buzzed repeatedly.

Him: “Where are you now?”

Me: “Still on the road.”

Him: “Were your hosts good to you?”

I felt a frisson of guilt slowly working its way up my stomach.

Me: “Yes.”

Him: “I should thank them for taking care of you well.”

Me: (no reply)

Him: “Still there?”

Me: (no reply)

The bus seemed to spin. I took a breath and gathered myself, and decided to come clean.
Me: “I slept with Jon.”

Him: (no reply)

Me: “Are you there?”

Him: “You went there with the full intent of going to bed with him, didn’t you?”

Me: “No! It just happened…I-”

I could feel his anger mounting, and with good reason. It was getting difficult for me to breathe.

Me: “I’m sorry.”

Him: (no reply)

“Jon, I need to talk to you now.”

“You told?”

“Yes.”

“So sorry, buddy.”

I felt tears well up again.

“I did see our photos when we went around town. You looked hot!”

“Jon.”

“This’ll blow over in a few days, I promise.”

I held the photographs in my hand. Jon and me in his favorite coffee shop, one of us having dinner at that vegan restaurant I loved, and that photo of us kissing.

The kiss. I could still feel those lips and those arms around me.

“Hey, I need to go. The old ball and chain needs me.”

“Right.” I said.

I saw the colors bleed as my tears wet the photo of us kissing.


Let cool a few minutes and serve.

The Long Weekend

I.
The styrofoam cup felt warm on my hand, but the coffee was still scalding hot. I stirred it some more, careful not to spill its contents on my lap.

“What time is the bus leaving?” My bestfriend was smoking her third cigarette for the day.

“Probably at 7am. Ugh! Why did we arrive so early?” She scoffs.

I was with three friends- Tatat, my bestfriend, Eric, a fellow Team Manager and my long time crush, and Jen, who I just met weeks ago. We all worked in the same office, except for Jen. We were headed to Sagada, Mountain Province for a three-day stay. Presently, we were huddled together in a corner in Dangwa Bus Station in Baguio, as we wait for the first bus to Sagada.

“Gab, do you already have your QA scores for the week?” Eric asks. I took a sip of my coffee. “I don't have them yet. I'll phone Malou of Queue desk tomorrow and ask.”

“Wasn't your team the highest last week? Your team has been consistent with high marks. The Quarterly Evals are coming up, and it looks like a big bonus is coming your way.” Eric smiles as he sits on the bench opposite mine.

“I hope you're right on that one.” I reply.
Eric and I were batchmates- we were among the pioneer reps in the company, who at that time merely had forty employees. In a span of four years the number of employees had grown exponentially, with its present count almost reaching a thousand. Both of us now held higher positions, and are both up for evaluation.

Eric was tall, mestizo, and well educated- a combination rare among guys. He graduated Cum Laude from Ateneo, and if that wasn’t enough he also happens to be well off and incredibly nice. He became known as “the office heart throb”, who elicited stares from girls and gay guys alike at work.

I call him “the impossible dreamboat”, for I was among those who secretly had a crush on him. It was such an irrational infatuation, that I always get mad at myself whenever I think of him. Every time I have lunch with him at the pantry, I would silently curse myself for enjoying his company.

Let me explain: First of all, Eric is a straight guy, and that alone should be enough to deter me. A straight- gay relationship is a paradox; it will always be one way since he can’t return the feeling. Second, let us say, if in a parallel universe I was a girl, he would still be way out of my league. He is well bred, well off, and sophisticated. And me, well, all the schooling at UP Diliman will never change my provincial ways. Third, he is my friend, and in that respect should be off limits. It would be such a waste to throw that friendship out the window.

“Here comes the bus.” Jen said.

Tatat turns to me and whispers. “I didn't know she could speak.” I made a face. “Hey, be nice to her. She's Eric's friend.”

With our luggage in hand, we board the bus. I take a seat next to the window, and my friend Tatat sits on the adjacent seat. Jen and Eric took the seats on the next row. There were hardly any passengers except for an old woman who brought with her baskets of vegetables, a boy with a stack of newspapers, and an old man in the back.

The rickety bus finally moves as its engine sputtered to life. I ready my camera as I lean out the window, enjoying the cool morning breeze. Tatat lit another cigarette.

“How many hours was it again to Sagada?” I nudge her.

“Seven years.” She replies, waving her hand for emphasis.

“Aww C'mon Gab, just enjoy the sights. The views are spectacular, and the last time I was here, I took a lot of great photos.” Eric chimes in.

“The ones posted on Friendster?” Tatat asks.

“Yeah, I think I saw those. Where are we staying again?” I ask Eric, who had been to the place before. Gosh, he looked so cute in his navy sweater.

“St. Joseph Resthouse. It’s a really cool place, and their common area has a fireplace. Plus, it’s really cheap. The amount you spend for a three day stay in Bora can last a month here.” Eric said.

“Sounds good!” I look out the window again. I could only see mountains, as far as my eyes could see.

I remember a scene that happened a week ago in the office…

II.

“Guys, I have some very exciting news!” Karen, our diminutive Assistant Call Center Manager, was practically jumping up in her seat. She always gets like that when she’s about to make some grand announcement, I thought. I had an idea on what it was about.

“The higher management has opened two new posts for the ACCM position. Excited murmurs filled the room. I turned to my seatmate Iona, who also handled a team, “Let's apply!”“Hmm I would decline for now. My team has been stuck in the early morning shift for a long time now; I still have a lot of improvements to make... You, on the other hand, are a contender. Go!”

“Are you kidding me? Maybe Eric. He seems like the ACCM type.” I whispered.

Eric was seated at the far end of the table, looking sharp in his crisp white long-sleeved shirt and grey dress pants. His satin tie was the same shade as his pants. He was chatting with Jet, one of his buddies in the evening shift.

“So Gabby, any plans?” Karen turns to me.

“Uhm, I’ll have to think about it Karen.” I say. “I’m really happy with my team’s performance. At this point it’s almost effortless for us to get good stats.”

“Which makes it the perfect time for you to move up. Don’t you want to challenge yourself and apply your brand of leadership on a larger scale?”

“Give me a day or two to decide.” I smiled.

The meeting ended at around 7am. My shift was already done. I gathered my things and made my way to the elevator.

“Gab! Let's have breakfast at Delifrance.” Eric catches up to me.

“Who's going?” I ask. Eric places his hand on my shoulder. I felt a tingle in my spine. Damn, that happens every time! Why am I so affected? I wondered.

“Jen, Jet, Mavic.. I don't know the rest. So are you coming?” He smiles.

Aww I wish I could just freeze this moment. If I tell you how I feel Eric, would you still treat me the same way? I smiled sadly.

“I'll just drop by the 14th, it might be Tatat's break already. I'll see you on the 12th floor.”

“Okidoki.” He hops off the elevator, upbeat and without a care in the world. The elevator closes as it ascends to the 14th floor.

“Tatat!!” I exclaimed as I approached Tatat on a transfer station.

She waves her arm, signaling that she is still on the phone.

“You will never guess what happened. What time is your break?” I ask.

She presses the mute button. “I'm already on break, actually, but this caller won't end the call. Grrr!”

“Relax, you'll have a coronary. Just have your break adjusted.” I pat her arm.

“Thank you, and have a great day!” She says sarcastically on the phone, with her eyes rolling. Like any call center veteran, she knew how to be sarcastic while sounding pleasant over the phone.

“You really are a good actress." I laugh. "The others are going to have breakfast at Delifrance, wanna go?"

“Nah, I'll just go down and have a smoke. So, what's the big news? Is this about Jon, your cute CSR?” She waves a finger at me.

“No! Eric asked me earlier if I wanted to have breakfast. He touched me on the shoulder it was so kilig.”

“Hmp, if I'm not mistaken, he already has a girlfriend. Why don't you go out with Alexis' CSR?”

“Are you kidding me? He is a lot more effeminate than me. Tat, I'm not a lesbian, ok? Come on, let's go to my station. I need to get my things.”

We make our way to the 12th floor. The CSRs have already transferred to the 11th floor, and there were only a handful of busybodies left- a few TMs and some maintenance people.

“Gab!” It was Eric, walking from his station. “Let's go. Hello Miss Tatat!” He says to my bestfriend.

“I like your tie.” Tatat says.

“That's Hermes.” I whispered.

“Gab, are you applying for the ACCM post?” He asks as he sits on my chair.

I open my pedestal and took out my phone and my mug. “I'm not sure.. It seems like a stressful job to me.” I reply, hardly looking at him.

“I know just what you need- a fun weekend. A couple of friends of mine are going to Sagada.” Eric said.

“In Mountain Province?” Tatat asked.

“It’s a great place. Gab can make up his mind up there.”

“Are you applying for the post?” I ask him.

“I already submitted my application form and resume.” He winks mischievously.


III.

The bus made its way through unpaved winding roads, but the bumpy road was no trouble at all. Eric was right- the views were spectacular. We stopped at a roadside store, and we all hopped off to stretch.

“How was your interview yesterday?” Tatat asked.

“With Ravi? It was ok, I think. I held my composure all throughout. I felt like a beauty contestant!” I joked.

“When is your interview with the Call Center Director? I had mine with her and she’ll really grill you over hot coals.” Eric adds.

“As soon as we get back. Hey Jen, how are you doing?”

Jen smiles at me. “A little exhausted, but enjoying the trip so far. Let's buy food!”

We boarded the bus for the final leg of the trip. At 2:00pm, we finally arrive at the quaint village perched on top of a mountain. It was beautiful.

“Whew! Finally!” Tatat exclaims.

“Let’s get our things to the resthouse and start exploring.” Eric says.

“Yes, captain.” I called after him.

Eric and I ended up sharing a room, while the girls stayed at the adjacent room amidst my protestations to Tatat.

“Do you want them to share a room?” She hissed.

“You have a point there.” I said. And so I finally agreed.

I set my bag on the small bed. “The rooms are small.. But I guess its cozy, and the receiving area looked really nice.” I said.

“Did you see the fireplace? Hurry, let’s go to Echo Valley, then to the hanging coffins and then Sumaguing Caves.” He could hardly contain his enthusiasm.

We trekked the entire time because there were no means of transport- no tricycles or pedicabs in sight. It looked like people walked here all the time. The girls and I trudged along as Eric, the most athletic was in the lead. He was wearing shorts and rubber shoes, with his camera strapped on his shoulder.

“Eric, where to next?” I called out from way behind him. I was panting and so were the girls.

“Sumaguing Caves. We'll get a guide.” He says.

It was almost sundown when we arrived at the mouth of the cave. It was huge, the mouth seemingly eating up all the light that passed through it.

“Oh dear, it's getting dark. I think I'll just stay outside.” Jen says.

“Yeah, it looks creepy as it is.” Tatat nudges me.

“Eric, can we just go in tomorrow? I'm not familiar with the place.”

“Relax Gab, I’ve done this before. The girls can go ahead, come on, let's go! I'll take care of you.” There he was again, being charming to get his way.

“Fine, but let’s make it quick.” I say as I hand my backpack to Tatat.

The guide led us further down to the mouth of the cave. I heard flapping of wings, and I realized there were bats on the cave. Eric was animated, humming to himself, walking with ease.

The ground turned to jagged white stones. Water flowed in the crevices and I struggle to keep my balance. I turn my back and saw nothing but blackness; the only light now came from the kerosene lamp the guide had brought.
“Eric, wait.” I said nervously.

He laughs. “Are you afraid Gab?” I grab his arm and pretend to box him. I was starting to enjoy it actually. The guide’s face was just impassive as we went further down. He has done this a thousand times, I thought, and he couldn’t care less.

“What happened to your friends who were supposed to come with us?” I asked.

“Something came up at the office and they couldn’t make it, except for Jen.” I realized I’ve been holding on to his shoulders for a few minutes now, as the ground began to slope downwards. And then there was just shadow in front of us. As the guide drew closer, I saw that the ground dropped several feet and there was a thick piece of rope hanging.

I walked too far down, and there was no turning back now. I swallowed as Eric made his way down.

“This is called rappelling.” He says.

“It doesn’t look like fun. How deep is the drop?”

“Around 8 feet sir.” The guide says. Great, and below it is solid rock. I just hope I don’t go “splat!”

Shakily, I made my way down. I had taken off my sandals for more traction on the rock, which was wet. It was getting cold, and I imagine we were about three stories below ground level, deep in the earth’s bowels.

“Pretty cool, huh?” He grins.

“I’m wet!” I say, examining the camera. Luckily the case was waterproof. We take a few pictures of the rock formations. The guide points to a pond-like structure. We wade to the point where the icy waters reached our knees.

“It's cold out here. Let's go back up.” Steam came out of my mouth as I exhaled. Gosh, the temperature must have been really low. And I realized it was already nighttime.

“One last thing.” Eric says, he takes off his shirt and hands it to me. He walks over to the deep part and immersed himself in the water.

“Are you crazy?” I was panicking already. I imagined some sort of crazy cave monster lurking somewhere.

His laughter echoes through the cave as he grabs his shirt and puts it on. He was shivering.

“You're really losing it.” I said. He wraps his arms around me. “Whooo! The water is ice! Good thing you’re warm.”


IV.

I was starting to get confused with the way Eric was acting. It was about 8:30 in the evening and I was washing the dirt and dust off me from the day’s trip. I was thinking aloud.
Eric and I are pretty close. He shares his personal matters with me, and we share a lot of passions… He even persuaded me to apply for promotions. Earlier, I could have sworn he was giving me signals. Is there a possibility there could be more than just friendship here?

I rinse off quickly as the warm water began to cool. I enter our room and Eric is lying on the bed wearing only his boxers. Uh-oh. I pick up my clothes from my bag and put my shorts on. Then my t-shirt.

His wet clothes from the trek earlier hung at the back of a chair.

“Gab?” He asks.

“Yup?” My eyes squint as I try to see him through the dim light of the lampshade.

“Let's have a drink tomorrow.” He grins sheepishly.

“Sure.” I said. I haven’t had the chance to fill in Tatat of the recent incidents. Earlier at the Yoghurt House restaurant, we only talked about the caving trip that they missed. I turn off the light.

The moonlight filtered through the curtains. I could still see the silhouette of his lean body. I turn in my bed, and closed my eyes.

We spent the following day trekking to the waterfalls. I was feeling good, and Eric was in high spirits. The girls on the other hand, didn’t share the same sentiments. The treks were exhausting, often off the road. We made it home just in time for dinner.

“So, do you think you nailed the interview with MAD?” I ask.

“Pretty much. My stats speak for itself.” He said, taking a swig of beer.

“Ang yabang nito!” I laugh. I was feeling a little tipsy already. We were in the middle of our fifth bottles of San Mig Light.

“Can I ask a personal question?”

“Shoot.”

“Would you consider dating a guy?”

Eric laughed. “What a question. Why do you ask?”

“I'm in love with you, Eric.”

He just looks at me intently, silently.

“Just kidding. Forget what I said.”

I was trying to make the light of it, but my eyes said it all. Making him understand would be a futile effort. Oh Eric.

I took another swig of my beer. We became silent. Eric turned his eyes toward the window, his face unmoving.

We made our way back to our room. Eric was so hammered he just fell on his bed. I watched him for a while as he slept, and then I lay beside him, lost in my thoughts, until I drifted off to sleep.

V. We were silent inside the crowded bus that took us back to Manila. Eric and I hardly spoke to each other since we left St. Joseph hours ago. I glace to my side, Tatat was asleep, with earphones stuck to her ear. I decided I’ll just tell her about it when we get to Manila.

We finally arrived at about 4:00 am. We got off the bus, exhausted from the trip. Tatat hails a cab, and we say our goodbyes to Jen and Eric. I meet Eric’s eyes as the taxi moved away, I had the feeling it was the last time I'll ever see him.

The night I returned to work, I went to see my ACCM.

“What?” Karen exclaimed.

“Are you sure about this Gabby? You have a good chance of getting the promotion, you know.” She looks at me disbelievingly.

“It’s personal Karen.” I said.

“I’m saddened, but it’s your decision.”

I take a deep breath as I sign the document. I walked slowly towards my station and pick up my things. I had one more thing to do- I pick up a pen and a piece of paper and wrote:

Hi Eric,

I guess I should probably start with an apology or an explanation, but something tells me you already know so I won’t. Like what Tatat said, all anyone had to do was see the way I look at you to know that I have feelings for you. Hey, you didn't tell me at the start of the Sagada trip that Jen was your high school girlfriend, so that makes us even.

I regret doing this, but I feel like this is the only way. Unlike some people who can just move on from such an episode and dismiss it as some interesting anecdote later on, I obviously cannot. I’m still in love with you, actually. Haha! That’s so hilarious to hear, even to me. But I guess I couldn’t help it.

I’ve decided it was really time for me to go. If I remain here I'd probably get sent to the clinic every night for recurring heartaches. I’ll never forget that you’ve always been nice to me from the start and sorry if I caused you a headache.

“The only true paradises are the ones we’ve lost.” Now I know what that line means. Thanks for the four years of great friendship and company, I’ll always remember that. Those memories are like secret beach coves I alone know about- and they’d always be beautiful.
Congratulations on your promotion. Malou told me about it. I’ll bet you’d make a great ACCM.
Gabby
I fold the paper and tuck it under the keyboard on his station. I walk towards the elevators and take a last look. Beep! The glass door opens, and I step out.

“Are you ok?” Tatat asks gently as she steps out of the elevator.

I shook my head and I felt my eyes blur.

She squeezes my hand and takes my paperbag. “Ikaw talagang bakla ka.” She makes a face. We both burst out laughing as the elevator closes.