Change

You know what complete lack of criticism feels like? Indifference. Like someone trying hard not to see the bad things happening around them. And that’s a problem, because, you know, it won’t really end well for everyone. Have excessive tolerance and we would be surrounded by horrible things. This is why revolutions happen. This is why drastic changes had to be done sometimes.

I see nothing but change every time I look back at my seventeen-year-old self. And I know you’re now thinking that I shouldn’t talk about things I know next to nothing about, but let me tell you what indifference is like: it is like inviting a crazy person to do crazy things in your home. Maybe the crazy person is like a relative, your recently orphaned cousin. A victim of a mental illness he’s unaware of, let alone had control of. You tried telling your mother that this is a bad idea, that you want him out, but your mother wouldn’t hear it. Sound familiar?

You get into a slight argument with this person, and what does he do when he senses that you got the upper hand? He opens the fridge, tears the bag of cornstarch open and stuffs as much as he can in his mouth. He — for the lack of a better word — processes this powder in his mouth until it becomes a sticky, white-yellow paste, while you watch, dumbfounded. By the moment you collected yourself enough to yell “Stop that!” it would be too late. He already spat the sticky cornstarch paste on your face, and your tears now mingle with his morning saliva. You thought you also tasted a hint of phlegm in there, but you didn’t want to entertain that thought any further.

What does your mother tell you? “You shouldn’t provoke him.” Of course, it’s your fault. It will always be your fault. Once, on a breakfast table, you saw him spread butter on his tongue using the knife. You tried to tell him that it’s bad; he should stop. Besides it being gross, he could cut his tongue. What does he say? “Fuck you, bitch.”

You get into an argument. He gets angry and punches you in the gut then runs to your mommy.

You tried to explain the situation. All he got was “Lowell, what you did was wrong, okay, honey?” To you, she says, “I told you to never provoke him, Jenna.” Un-freaking-believable. What the hell should you have done?

Things went on like this for years. Always your fault, never his. Do you get what I meant now by lack of criticism? We were given a sense of judgment for a reason. Well, some people are fortunate enough to have the sense to use them, I mean.

You grew into your teens together. Being the only child, you went through puberty alone, without an elder sister to guide you through the changes in your body. Of course, your cousin was useless — you can’t really talk to him about menstruation, you see. Your mother’s there, but she was always so busy with work that she barely had time to explain that having blood on your vagina means you’re not pregnant. Yet. That’s the gist of it. But oh well, this is the age of the internet, and you learned what you needed to learn.

Your body… swelled in certain places. You got a monthly visitor. Suddenly, taking a bath was the most intimate thing; the most private moment you could ever have. You learned to… play with your body whenever you thought you’re alone.

You know how your senses are acutely aware of every little thing when you’re doing something… inappropriate? That’s how you almost knew. Almost. You were in the bathroom, rubbing your fingers on that sweet spot between your thighs, trying hard to suppress the sighs that you really want to just let out, but didn’t. All you could manage was a low “Mhmm-mhmm…” while on the throes of lust. You were close to finishing when you heard this quick, scratching sound.

In your panic, you stopped, trying to figure out what the sound was. You really didn’t see anything and so maybe you figured it was just a rat scurrying, feet scratching the ceiling. You brushed the thought aside and continued on with your business.

This was your life. School, home, masturbation. Oh, and taking care of a crazy cousin. You didn’t really have a lot of problems; in fact you had life better than most kids your age, but you felt like this cousin of yours is your punishment for being born into a well-off family.

You’re older now, and so your mom gave you some responsibility. You were asked to check if he wasn’t choking on some damned plaything while you were gone for school the whole afternoon. You prepared food for him and was forced to sit on meals with him because the company will “do him a lot of good.”

It was on one of these lunches that you found out. You were eating adobo with him and halfway through the meal this dumb-as-nails creature just casually blurts out: “I like your new dildo. Pink is nice.”

What. The. Fuck.

You would later find out that that scratching sound was made by your crazy cousin, who was crazy enough to bore a needle-sized peephole in the bathroom ceiling. Ever since that incident, he told you that he had been watching you do your thing — all while smiling like the complete maniac that he is.

You cried. You wanted to scream, you wanted to slap him, to punch his face a hundred, a thousand times. You wanted to kill him. This bastard, who gave you nothing but misery and pain all your life, had the gall to… treat you this way. To degrade you, to think that he is entitled to watching you cure his basest of needs. The thought of him…. the very idea of this beast in your home drove you nuts. It disgusts you. He disgusts you.

You were covered in shame, and it’s like you didn’t want to show your face in public anymore. Is being broken in the head a free pass to do… crazy things? You had insisted many times before that your mom should just leave him in a mental facility to rot, and what did she say? “Oh, let’s take care of him, honey. For your auntie Ida. Come on, he’s not that insane.” My god! He’s insane enough to peep in on me while I was taking showers, mom! you probably thought.

How long are you going to put up with this?

Turns out, not long enough. “This has to stop. I’m telling mom when she gets home,” you said to him. In the meantime you decided to go to your room and get some sleep.

You know you can’t really sleep, but covering yourself up with a blanket while in the fetal position helped. You were alone with your thoughts. You were alone, which is just what you wanted most of all, anyway.

At least for a few minutes. After that, you heard your door creak open. You saw your cousin on the door. “I locked that,” you said, confused.

“I have key,” he said in his low voice.

“What, how did you—”

“Jenna, you’re bitch,” he said. “You tell auntie Glenda I look at you? I know what I do to you, bitch.”

“Out! OUT OF MY ROOM, NOW!” you screamed.

“No, Jenna, I want now. You tell auntie Glenda, it’s over,” he said as he rushed towards you. Remember how you grew? Yeah, he did that, too and now his muscles are overpowering you, pinning you to your bed while his nasty form hovered above. “I want fuck, Jenna.”

Tears streamed from your eyes. You tried, but it was futile, you can’t really do anything now. “Lowell, no, please… please don’t…” you begged.

He tore your shirt apart and exposed your bra. Those came off pretty easily with a brush of his fingers, too, and your chest was exposed.

“Lowell, stop, please! I won’t tell, I won’t tell, I PROMISE!” you screamed, crying.

You can tell he wasn’t listening anymore. He was working his way through unbuttoning your pants.

“HELP! Please! STOP!” you shrieked.

That was when you heard the rush of footsteps on the stairs and a split-second later, the door opened. Your mom was standing there at the scene, aghast.

“Jenna? OH MY GOD, Lowell, what are you doing?!” Your mom ran towards the hunkering beast, grabbed him by the hair, and slapped his face, hard. “You bastard!” She screamed as she slapped his face again, and again, and again. All the while the imbecile was just shielding her blows, until he got far enough away to run out of the room.

I wanted to continue the story, but I don’t really know anything more after that because, as you know, you kicked me out immediately after.

I just wanted you to know that I remember everything after all these years, which I hope will give the purpose of this letter a little more validity, I mean, for what it’s worth.

But, yeah, I deserved being kicked out. It turns out that no matter how tolerant or forgiving she is, even tita Glenda can’t ignore the attempted rape of her daughter. Good on her, she finally had the backbone to send me away. But I still thank her that she did not leave me on the streets, and instead sent me to a mental healthcare facility. At least there are people here who actually know how to deal with me.

I was seventeen, then. A lot of advancements had been made through the years; my rehab has been going well. They actually found a way to teach me how to develop my motor and verbal skills. Social cues and context aren’t such foreign concepts to me now, as well.

They even allow me to write now, see? I’m coherent enough. And I think I wanted to use this newfound skill to first and foremost say that I am sorry.

I am sorry, Jenna, for everything that I have put you through. You and your mother did nothing but guide me, and be good to me, even through those final moments when I was at my most disgusting. I will not be hypocritical and deny that a part of me loved and enjoyed what I did, but I am thirty-three now, and please believe me when I say that that was not the person I am today. And I realize completely that everything my past self did was wrong, and I am sorry.

I know the things I did could be unforgivable, but I have to let you know how deep in regret I am… hoping to give you whatever little comfort it brings. My only wish is that you turned out well despite all of that. That you have a beautiful life right now. If you have that, then I’m alright, Jen. I can die smiling, I will have the redemption I’m looking for.

To tita Glenda, if you had the chance to read this, thank you for honoring your sister — my mother — long after she was gone. You took good care of me, and I never paid you the kindness you deserved. I have been but a burden, but right now, please let me know if there is anything I can do to make up for what my situation has done. I will do what I can.

It would be too much to ask for you to come and visit me, but… it would mean a lot to me. You are the only relatives I know. You probably hate me still, but I would really just love to see you both. You two are always on my mind.

So ends the very first letter I ever wrote. Hope this gets to you. Thank you for everything, and I hope you could forgive me.

Lowell.

***

— A. P.

Ballerina

Memory is a beautiful thing. A lot of things can happen in a year, and you could as easily forget about all of them. Those little moments on a day you really, really love, though… now, those are the ones you don’t readily forget.

Take for instance, this girl I’ll be telling you about. I met her one Thursday afternoon when I decided to spend my time on the rooftop instead of on the track. I would have loved to join the sports team, but my P.E. teacher wouldn’t allow me because of my asthma.

Nearly short of breath, I just sort of walked in on her when I opened the door to the muted five-thirty sunset. Her back was turned on me, and her long black hair was flowing freely in the wind.

I wasn’t really planning on talking to anyone, so I just walked to a corner opposite hers with my head down. My buttocks felt the mild warmth of the sun as I sat down on hard stone; the rooftop’s just cooled enough to be bearable.

She must have sensed my presence because as I was opening the book I was planning to read, she called me.

“Hey.”

“Hi,” I smiled. Her eyes seemed to smile back, but if she was happy for the company, her lips were not giving a hint.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Mark,” I replied. “What’s yours? Also, I’m sorry if I’m interrupting anything.”

“No, not really. I’m just not used to people being up here. I’m Ella.”

“What do you mean? I come up here all the time. I should be the one surprised,” I said.

She finally gave me a smile. “Okay, you got me. I have only started wasting time here since earlier this week.”

I nodded. “Well… okay,” I said, not really knowing what to say next. I started to turn my attention on the book I brought with me.

“I was checking out the perimeter,” she told me.

“Okay,” I replied, not taking my eyes away from reading. “I’m sure you found it nice.”

“It is, indeed,” she said. “So, what are you doing here?” she said as she walked to wards me.

“Would just read. I don’t have P. E.,” I said.

She sat a few inches in front of me.

“What’s it called? What are you reading?”

“‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,'” I said.

She chuckled. “You haven’t read it yet?”

“Not yet.”

“I like that story because it’s not about Charlie, and it’s not even about the Chocolate Factory,” she replied.

“Yeah?”

“Yep. It has always been about Willy Wonka, right? It’s like a coming-of-age story for people who did not have a chance to come-of-age.”

“Yeah, I guess…” and I do not appreciate your spoiling the story, I thought to myself. I closed the book, knowing that I’m not going to get any reading here today. “What are you doing here, again?” I asked.

“I’m checking the perimeter,” she said.

“That’s a weird word to use. Perimeter for what?”

“To practice my ballet moves.”

Come to think of it, she was not wearing the school uniform. She wore tights and I noticed that she was barefoot. “Oh, I see. And your shoes…?”

She pointed to a corner near the door to the stairs.

“So, you practice ballet here?” I asked, genuinely interested.

“Yeah, I try to.”

“Show me.”

“Nope, sorry!” And with that she turned her back on me, walked towards her shoes, put them on, and proceeded to go down the stairs, closing the door behind her.

I had no idea what to do after that, and I sure as hell wasn’t in the mood for reading, now. I stood up and rushed after her, hoping to catch her again. “Hey!” I shouted as I ran through the stairs. “Ella?”

Down, down, down… after working my way through five flights of stairs, there she was, waiting for me on the ground floor. “What?” she asked.

“I, uh… nothing,” I said. “That was weird, you just leaving like that.”

“Sorry,” she said. “I hope I wasn’t a bother. I knew you were trying to read,” she said as she walked away.

“No, no, it’s okay… Hey, are you free this afternoon? I was thinking we could get some ice cream,” I said.

She smiled. “Well, this is a surprise.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing,” she said. “Yeah, I guess some after-school ice cream wouldn’t hurt.”


“…and so there I was, scared as hell for my life while this mammoth of a snake had its way with my legs,” I said, telling her about the time when my friend showed off his pet snake. “I could feel myself shaking the whole time.”

Her chuckle was light, but it was not because she was trying to subdue it. I could tell that it was genuine mirth, and it’s not just about the ice cream, too. Never have I felt more confident around someone, like I could share the most ridiculous experiences I could think of and she would just laugh it off with me.

We sat in front of each other at a 7-Eleven, a white square table being the only thing that separated us.

“So… why did you decide to practice on the rooftop?” I asked.

She gave me a smile. “It’s for my last performance. I wanted to focus on it as hard as I possibly can.”

“Last performance?”

“Yeah, I had been taking ballet classes since I was a kid, but I figured it really wasn’t for me,” she said. “After this, I’ll quit.”

“Whoa, now… don’t give up that easily. If you took it since you were little, I’m sure it’s something you really love?”

She scoffed. “Yeah, sure, it’s something my mother really loved.”

I understood. “Hmm. Well. At least you got some ice cream for it?”

I sensed a sudden sadness, and a split-second later I saw it on her face. “I really, really hate ballet, you know. But I did not want to break my mother’s heart. This is her dream for me.”

I wasn’t really sure what to say. “You know what? You could just tell her. How bad can it be, right? I’m sure she’ll understand.”

Never mind their being mother-daughter, it’s just not right to force a person to do unnecessary things, especially if the person doesn’t really want to do it.

“I’ll get through it. As I said, it’s going to be for my last performance,” she replied. “Enough about me, though. What about you? Any hobbies other than stalking girls on rooftops?”

“Hey!” I said with a laugh. “You’re the one who invaded my space today! Right,” I added, “besides reading books, I love going to churches.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Hmm? Why?”

“Oh, uhm… yeah, our family is religious, but me, not so much. They took me enough times as a kid to get me fascinated about the way they’re built, though,” I said.

“I hope you weren’t offended; I was just surprised,” she said.

“Yeah, I get it. That’s why I only tell my closest friends about this.”

“Got it.” She leaned forward and added, “So, I’m one of your closest friends now.”

I met her eyes as I said, “That would be nice, yeah.”

“I’d love for you to take me to church one day,” she replied.

We talked about everything, as I was not planning on ruining an impromptu date by running out of things to say. I had expected that she would be silent for most of the time but no, she was never shy. It seemed like she’s used to dates, or talking to guys for that matter. She considered me an equal, not a potential suitor who asked her for ice cream because I thought she was cute.

She was very… mature, and she treated me like an adult. I loved that for once, I could hold a sensible conversation with another human being for so long.

I wasn’t really surprised that we did not end up being weird, or awkward. When we were finished, she stood up, grabbed her bag, and said “I really should go. Thanks for the ice cream!”

“It was really nice. Hope we could do it again sometime,” I said as I stood.

“Yeah, sure. Let’s exchange numbers?” she said. And why the hell not. I fished out my phone as we walked through the door.

I would have insisted on walking her to wherever she would catch a bus or jeep on, but I thought that that would be too much for a first date. Besides, it turns out that our homes were on separate ways.

But you know what? If I knew that I was never going to see her again after that day, I would have insisted.


I dreamt about her that night.

We snuck into the school very, very late, almost midnight. Just the two of us, trying to get to the rooftop. Our rooftop.

After what seemed to be like five infinite flights of stairs we found ourselves out there with the open sky; mild sweat glistening in the moon, catching our breaths, but smiling. She looked at me and said, “I’ve always loved it here.”

She took a few steps away from me. “Watch,” she said.

She raised her right hand as she arched her back, and how perfect her form was at that moment. She twirled once, twice, thrice and she drew closer and closer and closer to me until she was just a few inches away. And then she pushed me hard, my back against the door as it closed with a bang. She wrapped her arms tightly around my body… she was so close. Too close. I can feel her breasts pushing against my chest. I can feel her heart beating. I can feel the warmth of her breath on my neck. Her eyes gazed at me, as if those deep rings of abyss were trying to drown all of me.

And then she kissed me.

Her lips were soft, and so sweet… perhaps because of her lipstick. It was the most marvellous thing. I felt my body heat up as she let her tongue glide along mine. My mind was nursing a hundred-thousand explosions, my mouth but a slave to the movements of her very flesh. My eyes were closed and everything should be black but instead I saw splotches of color playing along the nothingness of my vision. I let my hand glide from her shoulders and cupped her breasts. Our lips parted for a moment as she gave a light moan.

Her left leg stepped back as she kissed me again, not letting go of me, urging me to follow. Another step back, her right this time, and I realized she was leading me into the most erotic dance I will ever experience in my entire life.

We spun. My tongue ran on her neck and she was wet and I was so lost in ecstasy that I did not realize we were nearing the edge of the roof top. I only opened my eyes because for the first time in this whole crazy thing she let my body go and pushed, and there I saw her, standing on the edge of the rooftop.

Smiling, like I just gave her the happiest night of her life.

“Thanks, Mark. It was beautiful.” She said. And then she jumped.

I was too shocked to move.

Everything went black.


The next day, I tried to go through my routine as usual, thinking nothing of the weird dream I had (although I woke up crying, scared as hell). Of course, I was looking forward to seeing her again but, as I told you earlier, that would never happen.

It turns out that she was not kidding when she said it was her last performance. She called me that afternoon, saying that she is scheduled to perform at an event at some mall, and after that, she’s not planning to go back to school. She explained that her aunt from overseas offered to take her for a year, and she saw it as a chance to get away from her mother, and ballet, for a while.

“It’s a now-or-never thing, Mark. Sorry, I really should’ve told you, but that would ruin what we had yesterday,” she explained.

“I understand,” I said. It made my heart heavy. It hurt. My ears rang.

“We could still call each other,” she said.

“Yeah. Hey, listen… I got to go to class soon,” I said. I just wanted to end it before she hears the slightest hint of a sob.

“Okay, bye. Call me later?”

“Sure.” I hung up.


We spent the next few months just talking to each other over the phone, trying to make… something, anything, work. Eventually the calls started to drop in frequency: from daily, to twice a week, to once a month… to never.

Six years later, she met her husband at an art fair she attended. It turned out that her passion were for paintings, and she met him at a time when she was just starting to discover that passion. They got married a couple years after that.

I sat at my rooftop with my laptop in hand, browsing through her Facebook posts. She has two kids now, a boy named Mark and a girl named Jayne. I couldn’t do anything now but be happy for her as I browsed through the pictures of their yearly family vacations. They planned to visit famous churches around the world every year. They went to St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, saw the Westminster Abbey in London; this year they’re planning to see the Notre Dame in Paris.

Bittersweet, isn’t it? See, memory is a beautiful thing. It stays in your head, it lives, it takes up space, but you can’t really do anything about it other than… to remember.

I wonder if she still remembers me from time to time.

I wonder if she still remembers the boy who ended up chasing her off of a rooftop.

— A. P.

Until the Set Lasts

Until the Set Lasts

Perhaps, of all the feelings, the hardest to ease is frustration.

There’s nothing like a frustrating situation to get your patience tested and your spirits all worked up. I mean, I guess what’s infuriating about it is that you don’t need a lot to go wrong — just a little bit of the unexpected could send you spiralling into a place where… you’re not really completely helpless; it’s just that you keep holding on to that very little possibility that things could’ve gone better, if only.

I found myself dealing with the same as I arrived at The Glow one night, drenched in January drizzle and greeted by an unreasonable amount of tobacco smoke and muted red light. The Glow is actually pretty decent — one of the many spouting places dotting this particular road in Metro Manila; similar, even, with the exception that it has an in-house band. To be frank, I didn’t really care, so long as it’s a place where a guy in his late 20s could vent out his frustrations in peace.

I went straight for the bar and ordered a beer just as the band played through the opening chords of Up Dharma Down’s “Turn It Well.” I was about to sit at the barstool nearest to the speakers when the barkeeper called.

“Sorry, sir, seat’s already taken.”

Of course. This night couldn’t get any worse, I thought.

I reluctantly took the one seat next to it, and tried to think of something else. But, damn… damn Armand and his boss.

It was my first time visiting Manila in a long time, and my friend and I had already planned an evening out. We’re supposed to go around the city, hitting bars at every turn, drinking and having awesome foo—

“Excuse me.”

My thoughts were interrupted by the woman who was about to take the seat next to me. “Excuse me,” she said in a steady voice. Unsurprisingly, the first thought that went through my mind was: wow, she’s beautiful.

Okay, I’m an animal, and I’m no good with articulating every feature of a woman’s face. Besides, I can’t really make out most of her features clearly because it was a bit dim, but I can confidently say that she is, plainly, beautiful. She has fair skin, black hair dressed in subtle curls. Perhaps not as subtle as the hint of a smile playing on her lips, although I have to admit it was dark and I might’ve imagined the smile, too.

Outside, the rain poured harder. I straightened myself up and muttered, “Sorry, yeah, please.”

She smiled (I didn’t just imagine it this time) as she took her seat, holding a bottle of light beer.

“Why Light?” I asked, grasping for conversation.

“Sorry, what?” she replied. I can feel that this night is going to be a rain of “sorry’s” competing with the relentless one outside.

“Why Light?” I asked again, this time raising my voice a bit so it could be heard above the bass lines of Peryodiko’s “Tayo Lang ang May Alam.”

“I mean… girls do love their light beers, but I never really understood why.”

She managed to give another smile, not hiding her surprise. “Well I suppose it’s a cosmetic matter. There’s just something un-ladylike about a woman trying down a Stallion, isn’t there?”

“True,” I found myself agreeing. “Some girls do prefer heavier stuff, but I guess girls would look at least a bit more decent with a Ligh—“

“…but I don’t believe that at all,” she continued. “I drink Light because I like how it tastes. I do drink Stallions occasionally, but today’s really not so bad that I’d need it.”

“Right.”

The band finished their cover of Peryodiko, and the vocalist mumbled something over the silent gap.

“Oooh, I love this one,” my… new friend, the woman, said. “Watch the keyboardist.”

The opening passages of Up Dharma Down’s “Indak” played shortly after, and I found myself looking at how the keyboardist played the piano lines.

“He always loves to play this one,” she added.

And it’s true. I may know jack about musical instruments, but I can recognize if a person is really “in it” or just doing it for his next pay check.  I was more surprised about my friend’s comments, though.

“Do you know them?” I asked.

“You could say that. I come here often.”

“Well, thank you for robbing me of the opportunity to ask.”

She laughed. “I’ll be here until the set lasts,” she said, though I noticed a bit of seriousness in her tone.

I’m sure there was something important that I should be dealing with right now, but funnily enough, all I wanted to do is to keep this conversation going.

“Right, then,” I said, fumbling for questions.  “Why do you come here often?”

“A nice cold drink after a shitty day; maybe even on not-so-shitty ones.  But mostly I want to solve the cold mystery of life.”

Is she serious? “Cold myster— what?”

“The cold mystery of life. Why we do what we do. Why you’re sitting here next to me right now. Why I keep coming back here instead of the numerous bars dotting this stretch. Do you like mysteries?”

“I suppose I don’t hate them.”

“Alright. I’ll be your mystery tonight. You will have to solve me, but you have to ask the right questions.”

“I, uhm-” I gave a tired grin. From one exchange to the next I’ve never been in control. And I’m not used to not being in control. “What’s your name, then?”

“Rina. Yours?”

“I’m Al,”

“Hmm,” she said over the chorus. “So, what brings you here, Al? Haven’t seen you around before.”

“I thought I was supposed to be the one asking questions.”

“You’re not very good at it.”

I chuckled. “Of course. See, I’m not from around here. I just came to visit and I’m supposed to meet a friend, but his boss had to make him work overtime tonight. Says it’s an emergency and there was no one else. We’ve planned this for months, too.”

“Huh. Definitely shitty day,” she said. “You need that beer.”

“Not more than anyone else, I guess,” I replied. “How about you? Any particular reason for that bottle right now?”

“Nah, same old. I almost always come here after work to listen to the music. It just calms me. Besides, I have to.”

“You have to?”

“Yeah… I have to.” I can tell by her tone that she doesn’t want to talk about it any further.

“Okay, then. Cold mystery, indeed,” I thought as I finished the last of my bottle. “I’ll have another one, man,” I gestured to the barkeep.

Then, silence. She seemed to be intent with listening to the music now.

That’s the weird thing about conversations in places like these. Because of the music and the constant chatter, you never really notice the silence, the subtle pauses. But you can feel them. And I tend to pay attention to silences like that; if they were any more meaningful than the ones you have when you’re alone.

I didn’t want to remember why I chose to visit The Glow in the first place. All I know is that there is someone sitting here next to me, a… mystery, as she says, waiting to be solved. I never cared much for puzzles, but she is the kind of puzzle that draws you in and makes you believe she’s worth solving.

Perhaps, I thought, I could liken her words to the thinnest clouds, blocking the sun. It’s really easy; you can feel that everything will be clearer with just the gentlest touch. But of course, you would have to have means of reaching the clouds first.

Not that she’s straying far too high. “Hey,” she said as I took another unmanly gulp, never taking her eyes off the stage. “Do you have someone? Back Home?”

“Sorry, what?”

“Do you have a girlfriend back home, I’m asking.”

“Oh, sorry, no. How about y-”

“Surely you’ve had exes?”

“I did. Three.”

“How did it feel like, letting go?”

Now, to be honest, I don’t remember completely. One thing for sure is that I was not relieved; in fact I remember pleading for another chance with one. But I suppose one tends to forget the details when things run the risk of being traumatic.

“I don’t really remember,” I just said.  But wow, she really doesn’t pull her punches, does she? I never thought that coming here to relieve my frustrations would lead to someone asking me about my life’s decisions.

“Hmm. Fair enough,” she said.

“Why do you ask?”

“Because I have someone. A boyfriend, I mean.”

Oh.

Well that’s… just great. Thank you for telling me that just now.

I felt really light-headed, and… a bit more frustrated. The beer did not help. I barely mouthed a pained “Oh, okay…”

She smiled again, a smile that I would now consider murder. “I’m sorry,” she said.

Despite the little prickles of hurt I managed to chuckle through my words. What the hell did I expect, anyway? “Nah, you didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I know, but I might’ve given you the false impression,” she replied. “I just… needed someone to talk to. There’s a reason I was asking you how it felt like to let go.”

“Hmm? Why?” I asked.

“If you’re tired, that’s one thing you could do, right? Let go,” she said as she stared at the stage.

I can tell she was soaking in the music as she lets herself be absorbed; her every word strategically spoken so as to accent the rhythms.

“I guess,” I answered. I never thought I could feel even a bit of happiness for this impending demise of a relationship, but I did. Is she waiting to be saved? And why did I even think that I can be the one that saves her?

I tried to rid myself of guilt and said, “Of course, I don’t really know what you’re situation is, but I suppose you could still try and fix things between you and-”

Tears begun to well in her eyes, and although her expression did not change, she let them flow. She still stared at the stage as she said, “I always sit here. I love listening to them play. Reminds me of older days. Happier days.”

I did not know what to say. “For what it’s worth, I’m really glad I met you, though.”

She gently wiped the tears from under her eyes, trying hard not to let anyone else notice. “I’m sorry. I guess… I just… I have been keeping this inside me for a while and you just happened to be here. It’s not right; I just ruined your night.”

“It’s not that bad. And I don’t mind, really,” I answered. She could’ve asked me to drive halfway across town to get her a bouquet of roses and I know I’ll do it; I wouldn’t have minded.

“I can’t believe I just poured my baggage out to a stranger,” she said with a mild laugh.

“Hey, people are only strangers until they start to get to know one another, right?”

“Right,” she said.

We spent the rest of the night awkwardly trying to know each other. She really loves music; so passionate about it, even, that it’s easy to see how she got through the nights just soaking in music alone. Why she prefers this particular place or this particular band still escapes me, however.

“They’ve been playing here long before I frequented,” she shared. “I just came for the drinks, but eventually they grew on me. You can tell they’re good right? I love them.”

While we’re being careful not to touch on that earlier subject again, it’s really hard to steer the conversation away from what one really wants to say. You can talk about the weather all you want and all, but you have to get to the point inevitably. At one point, I just couldn’t help but ask.

“Why… why are you thinking of letting go, again? What’s wrong…?”

“I told you this place reminds me of happier days; yes, I was alone. But I just realized I’m better off alone than pretending I still love someone I really don’t anymore, you know?”

“I can understand.”

“He used to be a great guy. And it may be a tired old cliché but it’s true, he’s just so good to me at the beginning. So sweet, so… he was my happiness, believe me. But now, we couldn’t go through a decent lunch without fighting over something. It’s ridiculous.”

“Do you hate him?”

“No, but I can tell I don’t love him anymore. It’s the first time I was this serious about a relationship and I’m just… too scared of sudden changes. Too scared to let go. I keep telling myself, most nights, ‘I am gonna do it tonight. I’m gonna leave him,’ but I never had the courage.”

I nodded. “I hope you find your courage, soon. You asked me earlier how it felt to let go; I remember now. It’s the easiest thing in retrospect, and it probably was the best decision we ever could have made in that situation. However, pain has a way of masking things, of amplifying and exaggerating things, of not seeing the forest for the trees—or something. ”

“It’s painful.”

“The most painful thing in the world. It will make you into another person, believe me, it will change you. But you’ll realize, in the long run, how you’re a much better person than you were in all those days past.”

“You seem to really know a lot about this stuff.”

“I’ve had three breakups.”

“Why, though? You seem like an okay guy… are you a cliché, too?”

I shrugged. The vocalist on-stage announced that they’re ending their set. Too soon, I thought.

“Oh, they’re done. I’m gonna have to go in a bit.”

“Yeah,” I wrote my number on a piece of tissue paper and tried to give it to her. “Please, take it. I would understand if I couldn’t have yours, but if you ever need someone to talk to…”

My heart skipped a beat as she took it. “Thanks.”

I was staring so intently at the way she twirls her hair that I did not notice the approach of the band’s keyboardist, who is now standing in front of us.

“Hey, you’re done. Awesome  set, as always,” she said to the guy. She had put on the sweetest smile as she stared at him, too; a smile I never saw before. It was radiant—perhaps I’ve had one too many drinks or it’s just the lack of music now, but… that’s genuine joy if I ever saw one.

“Al, this here’s Chris, my boyfriend. We were just talking about how beautiful your playing was, babe,” she said matter-of-factly.

Wow.

“I- uhm… yeah, that was awesome. I love your flourish on that Feist track,” I said.

“Thanks, man,” Chris said. He then turned to Rina. “Listen, babe, we have to go home early. Can you cook us a mean dinner? I asked Ronnie to come and join us for beers. Come on.”

“Sure, sure thing, yeah,” Rina said, that smile still on. It was unbelievable. She was like a different person. “Bye, Al. It was nice meeting you.”

“Thanks for keeping her company, man,” Chris said.

They got their things, left The Glow, and… I guess that’s that? What the hell.

I’d like to say that I managed to touch someone’s soul tonight, but after that… transformation, I’m not so sure anymore. Did I really know her? Did I really know anyone?

Needless to say, I stayed for a few more beers after that.

On my way back to the hotel, I received a text as I was about to fall asleep in the cab. Unknown number.

“I’m gonna do it tonight,” the message said.

***

I should probably tell you that I overstayed in Manila after that incident, and each night, I spent in The Glow. Armand was with me the first couple of nights, but he eventually dropped out after the third. I was there every night for two weeks, but I never saw Rina again.

I did see Chris, though, still playing as beautifully as before, and I wondered what kind of asshole hides behind that graceful veneer. I think I saw him with a different girl once or twice. Musicians get all the fun, it’s unfair.

***

Yes. Perhaps, of all the feelings, the hardest to ease is frustration.

I keep going back to that night. It’s been months since I left Manila for home, and I still keep thinking about what I could have done to make the outcome better. I keep drawing a blank. I texted her number too, and got no reply (I’ve been as persistent as a clingy bastard, believe me).

There were nights I lay awake thinking about Rina; how, if I had only come earlier in her life I would’ve saved her. But the truth is, it makes no difference what I do. She didn’t need saving; she needed someone to reaffirm what she already decided is true. She made up her mind, I suppose, and if using me as a sounding board helped her finally achieve freedom from her burdens, then so be it.

But damn it, I did try. I tried hard.

***

I woke up to the sweet sound of birdsong one fine October morning. I checked my phone and saw that I have an unread text. Rina.

I was smiling like a madman the whole time I read it.

“Hey, I heard there’s a new band playing at The Glow. Wanna come see? I heard they’re really good.”

“I’d love to. I found myself getting acquainted to the scene when a certain someone taught me to appreciate it,” I replied.

“Come by Wednesday, then. And don’t worry, I’ll stay long after the set is over.”

I may have imagined it, but I thought I caught the sun smile.

**

—A. P.

I’ve Been Talking to Somebody’s Ten One Hundred Diaries

Appropriation: in sips of swiftest beak, the fish asleep, the careless deep too tired to weep. She takes in little whiffs of pieces of memories contained in china, the bubbles beneath reflecting the waves; resonant, merry; hollow, empty. One by one they grew thorns that lodged on her throat, the back-channelling cavern grate sating her moat, grout in the linings of her pulpy core, mouth asana’d into vomiting. The corners of her lip twitched and curled toward the sun like some wicked feng-shui, her tongue taking paths of least resistance. I wonder, this girl of unknown aches, living alone in shuffled states smiled in stillness, in reserved rate while talking late on the phone. She types, she waits. She closes her eyes, debating whether to let others’ intellect devour her walls, that her body may rest.

Insinuation: I dreamt about her as soon as I was allowed nightmares in the nightmarish hours of sleep. I say dream because she is. She is a dream. She is a dream amidst the nightmare, like a bubble reflecting rainbows in a wasteland where the only light source are luminescent reactions from chemical whatnot. I asked her questions. She answered them. She never asked me questions. I was the only one curious. But over the course of my shameless digging I found out about her age. I found her wants and whims — only a little bit. As little as she would allow. I found out how she dreamt of journeys and parks and caves and flying and beaches and streams; anything, really, to break her windowless room’s claustrophobic seams.

Situation: Even the most graceful of swans need deep water to hide their awkward feet. I took cover as her words rained like sleet, emotionless pieces of petrichor hitting the dead emptiness that is my street. Even the most graceful of swans need sleep. Even the most graceful of swans weep. Sometimes I feel like I am too shallow or selfish to contain the almost outpouring of emotions — and she can sense it. She hesitates, and decides not to spill, after all. Perhaps I presented myself too shallow a glass, and for all the facades that say she does not care, she did care a bit. And that’s saying something. Little hints of twitch, of tiny vibrations on the string, of gale in the perceived airless echo chamber — this is the essence of feeling. Like notes on a glockenspiel, she wrote melodies monophonic; one must collect them and feed them in the delay and recourse and round and round and round and round and round and you get this beautiful cacophony, chaotic and tasteful; rich.

Speculation: Perhaps I presented myself too much of a person when she did not need one. I have been talking to ten one hundred diaries, the weights of which cannot even equal what discourse the millions of words could present when I wished for it. Perhaps I am not ready, but perhaps I have been using the word “I” too much here. Listen, listen, listen. This is not about you. This is about the careless deep too tired too weep. It is about the tongue in this particular path of least resistance, the subtly calloused smile in uncomfortable asana. I (there it goes again) have been content having dots for eyes. I dot my I’s. Cross my T’s. Perhaps she did not need me to; perhaps she disliked rules. Perhaps she learned long ago that rules never really help. I also use the word “perhaps” too much here, indicating my uncertainty.

Conclusion: Keep in mind that when you wish for someone to open up, make sure that you are ready for the rain. Make sure you can contain the outpour. Make sure that you are a ready vessel. It will rain. It will pour. It will rain like hell and it will pour like it had never poured before, and you should make damn sure that you never wish that you never wished for rain because you will destroy yourself in this storm, in this hurricane you asked for. Worst of all, you will leave her empty — without even the slightest connection or empathy with someone to show for it. In the outpouring spring you must both be drenched, bathed in this belonging, and tell her that yes… you *feel.* You feel again. If you’re going to ask for rain and run away to leave her halfway, then you might as well kill her.

Conversations: I have been talking to somebody’s ten one hundred diaries. I have only been getting canned responses, like a harmless horcrux I pursued in some random avenue. I know what I wanted, and I am a ready vessel.

It’s always weird when a significant part of your being gets yanked away *snap* just like that. it’s always weird, like, you know you will eventually be okay and maybe that decision to let go was better in the long run, but it always feels like you’ve made the greatest mistake of your life.
 
We’ve all felt it some way or another; everything is stale, nothing is interesting anymore, and it’s like you’re almost always on the verge of crying. But in-between those moments of loss you convince yourself that yeah, you know… it probably will get better. For everyone involved. And you convince yourself that you did the right thing and you’ll probably laugh about it some months or years later. But it’s always weird, that moment of… disconnect.
 
It’s like, suddenly there’s this bubble of void that you now have to spend the rest of your existence in. You could find solace in writing, reading, or whatever your thing is… maybe even sleep, but after all that is done, you’re still not sure if you could get out of that bubble.
 
It’s been a weird night.