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Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category

Chapter 2

It was my “vacant” period, which was supposed to be devoted to studying in the library but of course we found ways how we can do anything but that.

I decided to buy myself something to relieve hunger pangs from the cafeteria before heading to the library. The only other people there were Ryan, the older brother of my new-found friend Reese, and Lewis, the older brother of my not-so-ex-friend, Tracy. Both guys were seniors.

It was Ryan who greeted me, rather airily.

I was about to pay for my brownie and apple juice when I heard Ryan shouting to Lewis to quickly get out as he was about to padlock the doors from the inside.

I hastily paid for my food and ran out of the cafeteria in a flash. I didn’t know why I did .

“See? I told you to move quickly. She got out,” Ryan told Lewis and stopped fiddling with the padlock that was hanging on the cafeteria’s double swinging doors but I did it anyway.

What I figured out was Ryan was trying to lock us both inside the cafeteria.

I looked back at the two seniors. “What is wrong with you?” I asked incredulously.

Ryan just flashed me his wicked smile.

This guy, aside from being my friend’s brother, is somewhat more of an acquaintance. We get to talk on the phone when he happens to answer it whenever I call up Reese. Instead of handing over the receiver immediately, Ryan would chat me up until Reese wrests the receiver from him.

In one of those chats, Ryan complained that I was too aloof and ignore him whenever we see each other in school.

I, on the other hand, shot back that he was such a tease that I don’t really know how react to his greetings in school, which was a cross between a joke and a public announcement. I decided to just ignore those and keep my eyes straight to where I was going.

In one instance, again in the cafeteria, I overhead Ryan’s friends calling out to him and said his crush was there. He happened to be just behind me in the line for the cashier.

“Oh, Andy’s not my crush–,” Ryan said.

I ignored him and what he was saying.

“–the Ice Maiden is just the love of my life.”

I nearly dropped my sandwich in my soup.

You see I’ve been an object of ridicule since sophomore. I’m not oblivious to the fact that I’ve been called the Ice Maiden but I could not get why so I just left it at that.

Last year, when things were still ok with me and Lainey and the gang, a senior was pestering me and later called me an Ice Maiden. The guy, Orville, was a friend of the guy Lainey was dating that time.

I was ignoring his attempts to get my attention and his lame passes at me because guys like him make fun of girls like me who are inept at the whole flirting-dating-sex game.

There was one time I was watching a concert of our resident rock band, Witch Hazel, when Orville’s friend practically pulled the shirt off my classmate Mark’s back and said he should get off the seat next to me because somebody’s bound to get mad.

Later Orville took the seat next to me. I left in a huff.

Orville and his friends often called out to me whenever I pass by the school’s front lobby. Sometimes I acknowledge him with a lift of my eyebrow but oftentimes I just ignore them, especially if the calls were turning obnoxious.

He attempted to walk me home but I said there was no need because I was not sick and I can carry my books. I left him standing on the sidewalk, his mouth hanging wide open.

The final straw was during a school play that I wasn’t part of. This was the time Lainey and I already had a falling out. I was watching by my lonesome when suddenly the seats beside me were seized by Orville and his friend, JP.

I tried my best to ignore them. He was attempting to make a conversation with me by asking why I wasn’t in the play and I snapped back at him by saying I dropped out because rehearsals were eating too much of my time.

I thought he already gave up. I suddenly felt funny and when I turned to my left I caught Orville blowing air into my ear and neck. I was flabbergasted and walked out on them and the entire play.

The next day the seniors were calling me the Ice Maiden.

The name-calling was bordering on bullying but I kept on plodding on. The misery hanging over my sophomore year shouldn’t be carried over to my junior year, which was supposed to be amazing.

But so far, no amazing thing has happened yet.

And then there’s this Ice Maiden thing. To be branded as an Ice Maiden during your formative years—supposedly the best years to go out on dates and flirt like crazy—was anything but amazing. It kills your chances at romance and social life, which were supposedly the most important things for a 16-year-old on this side of the world. Nevermind that other 16-year-olds in other parts of the planet are scavenging for food or already dodging bullets, barely keeping themselves alive.

Nope, amazing things happen to svelte, beautiful girls like Kirstin Lopez, the epitome of how a girl is supposed to be. The poster girl for All The Things A 16-Year-Old Should Aspire For.

Then there’s just me. No amazing thing happening.

I promise you that.

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Chapter 1

It really was a foreign language to me.

But I tried—tried so hard to arrive at solving x but for the life of me I could not understand how I wasn’t able to.

I could feel a wave of panic coming over me as I suddenly had an inkling that my Trigonometry teacher was about to call me next to solve the problem on the chalkboard.

I have to execute my exit plan. Now.

I made a move towards the door and proceeded to slip away on the pretense that I would be going to the little girls’ room.

It was lucky of me that Ms. Luna chose to write on the board that instant.

I slinked my way out the door and after I extricated myself out of the stuffy room into the corridor, I tried to walk as nonchalantly as I could and made my way to the bathroom.

And pretended I had not done a misdeed.

Well, it wasn’t really…I really had to go, you know.

Once I got to the lavatory, I washed my face vigorously and stared at my reflection and eyed the water slowly dripping from my chin. I stared at my heart-shaped face that was framed by my long, straight black hair, highlighted by a pair of somewhat almond-shaped eyes.

I fished inside my jeans’ pocket for my handkerchief to scrub down my face devoid of make-up, as if my sole purpose in life that moment was to erase memories of my harrowing Trig class.

I really couldn’t help it. I had been bad at math for as long as I can remember. In grade school, my mother had to hire a tutor for me just be able to get through all my math subjects. The humiliating thing was I was an honor student who was bad at math. My sciences and my English kept me afloat until middle school.

Once I reached high school, I eschewed all ambitions to run for honors and—to heck with it—I vowed to myself I will try to survive without a math tutor breathing down my neck year in and year out. So far so good, I am already a junior and I haven’t managed to come home with an F  in my math.

Just as I entered one of the bathroom stalls, two pairs of well-shod feet suddenly barged into the room and a shower of giggles permeated the air. I recognized one of the voices as Lainey Grant’s, the self-proclaimed queen bee of our grade.

“Can you believe that guy had the gall to ask you out? Who does he think he is?” asked Jen Wheeler, Lainey’s equally evil twin sister.

No, they’re not really twin sisters but they could have been in another life.

“Maybe he felt that he was already God’s gift to women after he had his braces off,” Lainey replied.

“Yuck, that Kevin,” the other girl commented.

That moment I wanted to hurl my bag at the two airheads from inside my stall, but of course I didn’t have it with me so I just had to content myself by imagining other things that I would just love to do to the two girls, if I had the chance.

The funny thing here was I was friends with them during my sophomore year. By the second semester, they made it clear they didn’t want to be friends with me anymore and decided to just dump me. The rest of the gang took Lainey’s lead by ignoring me and stopped inviting me to hang out.

At first I was oblivious to what they were doing to me but somehow I felt something was off. My suspicions were confirmed when I accidentally eavesdropped on Lainey and Jen’s conversation inside the bathroom while I was in one of the stalls. They were talking about me and how dense I was for not taking the hint.

Funny how bathrooms turn out to be the best places to confirm rumors and whatnot.

Yeah, I had some issues—and who didn’t have issues at 15?  Inferiority complex was eating me alive at that time, which was, unfortunately, confused as superiority complex. Was a loudmouth most of the time to mask that complex. To top it all off, I was also going through an identity crisis, which was—surprise, surprise—was sparked by hanging out with them.

But real friends talk you through your troubles, right? They just don’t dump you.

To sum it up, I had a miserable sophomore year.

As the two girls’ voices started to fade away, I got out of my hiding place and quickly went back to my Trig class. Ms. Luna may have skipped me already.

-oOo-

Eddie Vedder was serenading me that night while I was trying to balance my chemical equations on paper. For some reason I wanted to do well in Chemistry and not just pass the subject. I was about to pencil in my answer in number 8 when there was a loud knocking on my door.

I turned off my cd player and yelled, “Yeah?”

“Phone!” my sister Kate shouted from the other side.

I got out of my room and grabbed the cordless phone from its cradle that was hanging on the wall of our second floor landing.

“Hello?”

“Andy, hi. It’s Jay. Jay Macmillan” My eyes flew wide open and gripped the phone tighter. I quickly went back to my room and quietly shut the door behind me.

Jay is my Chem lab partner.

“Listen, obviously you know I had missed a couple of days and I was wondering if I could ask you if we have any homework or quizzes I should know about?”

“Sure. We’re scheduled to have a quiz tomorrow. Balancing. I’m just doing my homework now. I could dictate to you the problem sets.”

Jay is, well, a revelation to me. I had been hearing a lot about him since we were freshmen but I couldn’t get what the girls saw in him. He was not particularly handsome or rich or anything. He just has a bad boy persona that I thought girls were attracted to. I wasn’t really a fangirl so I just ignored him like the rest of the boys in our class.

One day I had with me a lyrics of a Lisa Loeb song I had written down to memorize. It was probably unfortunate that I had chosen Chem period to do my humming while reading my handwritten lyrics. It’s easier to memorize it that way. I was leaning over one of the lab sinks when Jay, who was opposite me, grabbed the sheet from my hand and inspected what was written on it.

“Really, you like this song?” he asked in mock disdain.

“Hey, who asked you to criticize my music choices?” I protested.

“Really, Lisa Loeb? This belongs to the garbage can,” he said, then pretended to throw the slip into the bin adjacent to our sink.

I reached out desperately, trying to keep him from throwing it. But I couldn’t so I went round the long lab table to pry it from his hands. We might have looked stupid then, which I realized was Jay’s intention all along.

My dignity was worth more than that piece of paper so I stopped and went back to my seat. Seeing that the fight had already died in me, he flipped back the lyrics onto my desk.

He just did that to annoy me. He does things to annoy me every Chem.

They say if a guy always teases a girl, he likes her. But why isn’t he making any move at all, like ask me out?

Then there’s this phone call, which is totally utilitarian. Nothing romantic.

After giving him the problem sets, he just said, “Hey, thanks. See you tomorrow.”

That’s it.

Though I didn’t give him our home phone number, we are listed in the phonebook so it’s no biggie. It’s not as if he really had to comb through a haystack to find my number.

Wait, why am I flattering myself? I don’t even know if I like him or not.

Although it’s already 1994, I still wouldn’t make a move to find out if he’s interested or not.

-oOo-

One of the things that really changed when I turned junior was that I’m no longer hanging out with a big group and most of the time I just kept to myself. I made a few select friends from my classmates who kept a low profile. Not the party-going, mall-hopping type. Most of the time when we have free time, which  mostly falls on Friday afternoons, we just watch movies in our house, which was near our school. Et voila! That’s my social life.

I prefer it that way, I guess, lest I run around school again as the overacting drama queen I was back then. Maybe it was the company I kept? I don’t know. I spent half of my sophomore year analyzing what went wrong. I don’t know why I had to be overacting. I don’t know that I was already overreacting to things. It’s not that I want people’s attention. It’s just—me. You can probably blame it on hormones and the pain of going through adolescence but I really don’t know how to control my emotions. And the volume of my voice. It’s LOUD by default.

So now I always have my guard up and tell myself to keep a low profile, be quiet and don’t stand out.

Memories of being at the end of snide remarks and the cold shoulder treatment I received from former friends and mere classmates keep me in check.

It was probably one of the reasons why I didn’t have a boyfriend from school. I may be interesting at first but when boys discover what I really was, they start to back off.

No, no, Andrea, you’re letting your insecurities eat you up again, I told myself. Stop it. You are capable of attracting guys. They even confess to love you. Look at Jake.

Yeah, Jake from last summer. I spent my summer vacation in my parents’ hometown in the West and there was Jake who at first tried to woo me at the urging of his friends but later on he claimed he genuinely fell for me. We went out and his friends and my cousins hung out for a while. When summer was over, I went back home and had not been in touch. Jake, on the other hand, kept writing me letters, asking me if I love him in return.

I was not being unfair to him; I told him from the very start that I can’t commit and I’m not really sure about my feelings for him. Let’s just enjoy the summer and each other’s company for a while,  I told him.

I was just being honest to myself. Before the summer was over I told him to forget me and go on with his life and I to my own.  There was no point in prolonging the agony of something that could never be. Harsh, I know, but I had to be realistic. How can you keep a long distance relationship at 16 with only expensive long distance calls and letters posted in between? Plus, I couldn’t really decide if I was really in love with Jake or not.

Probably I wasn’t. I was a little heartbroken when summer was over. I was a ghost floating around our house for a little while but I got over him once school started.

So I wrote him, telling him that I wasn’t in love with him so the letters would stop.

Cruel? I was just being honest. I wasn’t ready for a serious relationship and a long-distance one is too taxing for someone as fickle as me. Maybe if I were crazy in love, I would have moved mountains to make it work out.

The problem is I wasn’t.

It’s more cruel to let him dangle and hang on. I had to say goodbye.

-oOo-

I probably got an A- in my Chemistry quiz so I was feeling great that morning. Despite his absence for a couple of days, Jay decided to still take the test even though Mr. Port was ready to cut him some slack. Anyway, Mr. Port reminded us to bring our lab coats the next meeting because we will be conducting some experiments and put our theoretical balancing to the test.

“Hoooo great! A chance for Andy to blow up the lab!” Jay hooted. Then he and Randy Gomez laughed their way out of the room.

Jay can be cute sometimes but today he is just plain annoying.

I shoved my stuff in my bag and reminded myself not to take him seriously. Ok, don’t overreact. Don’t overreact, I keep muttering under my breath.

I was vacillating between liking him and not liking him at all. Today I feel the latter.

I went up the stairs to get to my next class, Literature. On the way, I suddenly felt the urge to write “Kick Me, I’m a Hip-Hop god” on a paper with a Sharpie. I got a small roll of tape from my bag and stuck the tape on the sign. When I got into the classroom where we will be having our Lit class, I searched for Randy who was talking with Heather. Luckily his back was facing me. I talked to Heather with my eyes and put my index finger on my lips to tell her not to give me away.

Then I taped the “Kick Me” sign on to Randy’s collar at the back of his shirt.

After the deed was done, I settled in my usual seat and pretended nothing was out of the ordinary.

At the corner of my eye, I saw Jay, who I think witnessed everything, sneak up on Randy and kicked him behind his knees.

“Owww! Man, what did you do that for?” cried Randy.

“It says here!” and Jay ripped the sign off Randy’s back and showed him.

“This practically gives me the license to beat you up.”

They continued their friendly bickering while I tried to read up on some of the Shakespeare sonnets we will be taking up today.

Two shadows fell on my textbook. I looked up and feigned innocence.

“What can I do for you?” I asked Jay and Randy.

“This,” said Randy, holding up the offending sign for me to read.

“So, what has it got anything to do with me?”

“Everything. It has your name at the back of the paper. It has your doodles, idiotic woman,” Jay said, laughing.

I’m an idiot, alright.

Jay then quickly wrote my name at the bottom of the “Kick Me” in bright red ink and ran out of the room. I followed him and saw him pinning the sign on the Juniors’ bulletin board. On a place I couldn’t reach. Jay was wayyyy taller than me.

“Hey! Get if off!” I couldn’t reach the sign. Of all the days to wear a skirt.

“If you weren’t an idiot, this sign wouldn’t have been here in the first place,” Jay said while parrying my attempts to rip off the sign.

“Well, how come it’s you who’s taking the revenge when Randy is supposed to be the offended party?”

Jay was tightly holding both of my wrists. “I am his friend and this is what friends do for each other,” was his jolly answer.

The third period bell rang and Ms. Natural suddenly materialized and was walking down the corridor to our classroom.

-oOo-

The raindrops kept tap-tapping on the rooftops outside my window, in a rhythmic pattern in sync with my heart—the heart that has been pounding with such force that i was afraid my veins would just burst.

After a few seconds this lump of muscle broke into a canter and it slowed down to a cadence an old man could follow.

Then it exploded and tore into a million pieces.

I wonder if I should pick them up from the floor. Should I try to put it back together? I stared at the ceiling above me. The fat raindrops outside morphed into a deafening downpour. The raindrops somehow found their way into my eyes and cascaded down at the sides of my temple. The flow just wouldn’t stop, much to my annoyance.

“I got it! I got it! I am finally moving to Switzerland!” I remembered him telling me at lunch break. We had just finished a really difficult training session that morning.

“Oh my gossssssssshhhhh! Finally! I’m so happy for you!” I gushed over my spaghetti alfredo.

I was really happy for him, that’s the truth. But sad for myself. The words echoed within the hollow depths between my ears. The words were like an ice pick that lodged itself somewhere between my heart and lungs. I couldn’t breathe.

Brandon finally got the promotion. The parent company is moving him to the headquarters.

I guess this was God’s reply to my prayers. I’ve asked Him to take away whatever I was feeling towards my friend and colleague because it was killing me.

I broke off an engagement that was going nowhere because of Brandon. Because I thought–just a hopeful thought–that he will see me. Really see me.

Of course he doesn’t know. No one knows. He will never know. Only I know.

And I will take this fact with me to my grave.

“So when will the move be?” I almost choked on my pasta. I pretended to squeak in delight instead.

“December. Boy, am I so excited by this!” Brandon squeezed my shoulders. It was painful, the squeeze. I just couldn’t decide whether the pain emanated from his over-enthusiastic arm or from the ice pick that stabbed my gut.

“Good for you!” I said. “As for me, I am finally making my way to Davao with my new assignment.”

I lied. I was just making it up. But I guess it will become a reality after today. I will raise this to my boss.

“Yeah. Probably it’s for the best, after you’ve been through,” Brandon said, pertaining to my sham of an engagement. Sham of a relationship that was just floating along in the Dead Sea of relationship hell.

Maybe, just maybe, I should’ve let my engagement go on as planned? Maybe I should have…

No. I was flogging a dead horse.

I stopped staring at the ceiling and flicked open my mobile phone. I read and reread all my past Viber exchanges with Brandon.

I resolved never to read them again. Never. Even though these made me happy, even though these became my raison d’etre, I had to stop this illusion.

The gray matter inside my head should take over. It has saved me a million times from disaster in the past. It will keep me alive still.

What about my heart? Shall i pick up the pieces on the floor? Probably I should leave it where it lay.

Because my heart does not understand. Mi corazon no entiende.

###

Stuffy. So stuffy.

I had to get out of the windowless hotel room that was to be home for 8 days. A craving for cold milk tea pushed me out of the room and into the humid night.

My search for a convenience store brought me to Chinatown Food Street. It was 10 pm and the nearest kiosk selling a variety of drinks, from Coke to Tsing Tao Beer, has just put up a sign saying it was closed. But the street was still teeming with mostly tourists dining al fresco.

I sat by a vacant table with a bottle of empty Tiger Beer on it after buying my 2.70-dollar milk tea from the nearby 7-11 and took photos of the food street. I was a non-tourist tourist after all.

“Excuse me, this is my table,” a guy with a thick European accent spoke behind me.

“Ooh sorry,” I turned around and saw the guy with ash-brown colored hair smiling at me. Scandinavian probably.

“It’s ok. You’re Filipino, right?”

“How did you know? I always get mistaken for Chinese or something else.”

“I always know. I work with a lot of Filipinos in our ship. They’re a jolly good lot. I’ve always liked Filipinos.”

The writer in me was curious. “Oh yeah, there are a lot of Filipino seafarers. So how long are you staying here?”

“I have a couple of hours before we leave. Thought I spend it outside my cabin and take a break from dealing with all the numbers,” he said. Definitely Scandinavian. Norwegian probably.

He was a first-engineer, whatever that was. Told me he was working on the German ship’s engines, for a German boss who was so gruff and stiff. Oh, the British are also stiff, I countered. No, the Germans are more stiff and are scowling a lot, he said. “That’s why my Filipino crew loves me, I am more relaxed than our German boss.”

Christien. His name was Christien. He had prodded me to give him my name. Lisa. Took me a while before I responded. Because I just wanted us to be nameless. Anonymous. But he managed to get it out of me.

I lit a cigarette. “Sorry, I should kick this habit but I still hold on to this vice to keep stress from eating me alive.”

We talked about my life as a writer and the adventures I had that were later shaped by my words, read by an unknown audience. I was in the city for training for my newish job. He talked about the 10 weeks circling Asia and 10 weeks going around the Mediterranean Sea, hopping from Genoa, to Barcelona, to Valencia, to some North African ports–places I could only pinpoint on the map. He talked about the absurdity of piracy in the 21st century, of having British body guards to keep them safe, of being locked up inside their ship for days or weeks at a time to protect them from those pesky pirates.

Of things in-between our struggles to keep our sanity intact: I in a landlocked concrete hell, he in an endless blue stretch of nothingness.

I painted a rather touristy picture of Cebu and gave him reasons why he should skip Manila, where I spend hours just driving to and from work. That particular dreadful, drizzling night that I was stuck in traffic for four hours. Why a tenth of our population endure months or years away from family. How they kept our economy afloat during the worst and best times.

He said that in his present company, he can be at sea for 2.5 months and 2.5 months off and anything longer than that would drive him crazy. But the Filipino crew, oh it was a different story. The guys told him they’re ok even if they’re 9 months at sea. They needed the money. They can endure, his crew said. That’s why he loved Filipinos.

Christien said it’s hard to keep a relationship when one is often away at sea. Yeah, I could only imagine the hardships my compatriots were going through. He was looking at me with sad smiling eyes. Guessed that he was 35 years old, pegging it on my age; no crinkles yet at the corner of his eyes. He felt flattered so I adjusted it to 40. He was crestfallen. Ok, I said, it was somewhere between. Let’s settle it at that.

“You are very beautiful. Who would’ve known that I would get back to my table to see a beautiful woman sitting there?” has said as he slowly slipped his hand into mine. “Why is your hand cold?”

“It’s from my milk tea bottle,” I said. I bought it two hours earlier.

“So it’s 12 midnight, what now?” Christien asked.

“I have to go back to my hotel. I have to go to our office to work tomorrow,” I gingerly took my black bag from the table.

“Can I come with you to your hotel?” His eyes were still smiling.

But mine felt like huge saucers at that moment. “Umm, no, I don’t do that. Besides, I’m already committed.” I offered him my hand for a handshake.

“OK I understand,” he took my clammy hand and kissed it. “You really are beautiful.”

“Are you sure you’re OK? How will you get to your port? Cab?”

“No, I can walk. It’s just 20 minutes from here.”

“OK bye then. Really nice talking to you. Had a nice time.”

He embraced me. Can’t remember if he planted a kiss on my cheek or on my forehead.

“When are you going back here?” he asked after he released me.

“I don’t know. It depends on when my bosses will ask me again to come back.”

“Will I see you again? Is there a chance that I will see you again?”

“No. Probably not.”

“Are you OK, just walking by yourself?” he called out as I took a few steps to the direction of my windowless hotel room.

“Yeah, it’s just two blocks away,” I said. “Bye, Christien.”

My head was whirling. What was that all about?

I tapped my hotel room key card on my door knob and flopped on my white sheets five minutes later.

I smelled sweet masculine perfume on my cold, clammy hands.

###

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She has always loved the sea.

Staring at it makes her feel like the world is finite…but there’s something that lies beyond what her eyes can see. Something massive and unreachable. Making her restless.

Yearning for something indescribable.

Adrienne continued to stare at the lights winking at her just past the Flyer. Skyscrapers, like sentinels guarding the city’s wealth, were beautifully lighting up the hot, humid night.

There were several teenagers awkwardly doing skateboard tricks on the pavement while cyclists whizzed past her. She then looked at the footbridge wrapped with purple fairy lights, leading pedestrians from Gardens by the Bay towards the Esplanade.

It’s a long walk. But then I have the whole night, Adrienne thought. She just didn’t want to go back to her hotel. Not just yet.

Four hours ago she was frantically typing on her phone, chatting with Rhodora as she sweltered under a canopy next to the domed building, which was one of the government initiatives to make up for the city’s lack of natural attraction.

“He said he would be late. He was just finishing up something in the office,” Adrienne remembered typing on her phone.

“Ok. You’ve been there for 30 mins already. If he doesn’t come it’s either: 1) He’s too chicken to show his face because he still feels something or 2) He has moved on,” Rho replied.

An hour went by and Adrienne sweated profusely. Something important might really have come up, she argued to herself.

Ping. Ping. She looked at her phone.

“Sorry I can’t come. Still fighting this nasty flu. Have to stay in the office.”

There, it was final. Nail on the coffin.

She can recall tasting her salty tears behind her sunglasses. Then came the bitter aftertaste.

She copy-pasted Matt’s text message to Rho.

Ping.

“Sorry, Rienne. I don’t know what to say,” her friend said. She could feel pity behind those black pixels.

A few days back, Matt was agog to play host after she told him she would be coming to the city for business. He told her he would fetch her from the airport. They would be going to some watering hole and catch up. After all ten years is a long time.

She was not the one who sought him out. It was Matt all along who planned her itinerary in the city. Wait, wait, don’t worry about me. I have business to attend to first, Adrienne told him. No no, I have to challenge you to a drinking contest, just as I promised before, he said.

Ding-dong. “In fifteen minutes we would be closing…” the public announcement system rambled on, bringing Adrienne back to the present, back to the steel bench she has been occupying for heaven knows how long.

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Her feet led her to the concrete steps of the footbridge with purple fairy lights. Where would I go? Ah, to the weird durian-looking thing, she decided. Might as well check out life on the other side of the Bay.

But why am I still here, Adrienne asked herself as she looked past the old man on a bike, peddling LED trinkets to tourists. Why am I torturing myself?

She rummaged through her bag for her phone. Nothing. Eerily silent. Damning silence reverberated through her consciousness.

A jogger brushed past her, almost making her lose balance. Yeah right, I haven’t eaten anything since lunch, Adrienne suddenly realized. She took the nearest seat and then she found herself sitting across the regal-looking Fullerton building. Uncannily similar to the Old Post Office back home.

With all the the strength she could muster, she fired up her phone and went to search for her Notes. Scrolled. Copy. Paste on the message field:

“Matt,

What I wanted to accomplish on this trip was supposed to be something that I should have done a long time ago. I left so many things unsaid.

I wanted to tell you over bottles of beer that you were an itch that I had to scratch. And scratch I did. The problem is it took me a decade to do that. I wanted to tell you that I fell in love with a ghost, a ghost that never went away. You were with me but you had never been with me. I didn’t know it then.

I buried you by jumping from one relationship to another, without knowing that it was you who I wanted. I thought of taking a job in this city but I could not figure why I had to abandon all that is familiar to me. I thought I was running away from something I could not fathom. But it was only much, much later that I realized I wanted to run to you. Which sucks, by the way, so I have to get you out of my system.

I do not expect to gain anything from this except maybe closure. I need to move on.

Goodbye and have a happy life. Don’t go looking for me.”

Sent. To Matt.

She remembered a few days ago Rho told her that the note was cruel. “WHAT DO YOU REALLY WANT TO ACCOMPLISH WITH THAT?” she told her friend, in all caps. “YOU ARE A SELFISH LITTLE B*TCH. Now Matt will become unstable. Think of the consequence!”

“I don’t know. I just want peace. I want to move on and not hang on to somebody that was never mine and will never be,” Adrienne said with finality.

The ghostly facade of Fullerton was taunting her. Well then, I accept your challenge, old girl. I will walk up to you, she thought to herself. Adrienne was already strolling across another foot bridge to where the Merlion has reigned for so many years when suddenly the Sands’ top flashed its green laser across the bay. Oh, they were starting the lights show, Adrienne grinned to herself.

Ping. Ping.

“I don’t know what to say,” the message from Matt said. Adrienne sucked in her breath. Her world stopped.

“To be fair,” Matt continued, “Yes, I was crazy about you then. You can even ask my family about it. The letters, the exchanges we had were precious to me as well. But then one day you told me that you just got a boyfriend. I told myself, I will give you time. Plenty of time. Then life got in the way. We both went our different ways. Choices made. But there were never regrets.”

The laser multiplied and danced across the Bay.

“Haha, this is awkward. But really, I wanted to say it to your face,” she typed frantically. “I just wanted to be free of you. Close the book. Move on.” She didn’t know if she made any sense at all.

The eerie music accompanying the dancing lights made her hair stand on its end.

Adrienne heaved a sigh. “Well thanks anyway for not being weird about this and all,” she typed. “I’ll be going home tomorrow. Have to sleep now. Goodnight.”

The lights finally made their encore, with the buildings below the Sands all lit up and the green and blue laser lights beaming out across the dark water. As if they were all trying to embrace Adrienne.

Ping. “Goodnight.”

The streetlights dotting an already sleeping Manila were like orange poppies blooming in the black velvety meadow, which was suprisingly bereft of the smog that has constantly blanketed the city.

Adrienne has never seen Manila this beautiful and peaceful.

A few minutes later the plane landed smoothly on the runway and taxied its way to Terminal 2. She stared at her phone as the other passengers scrambled to get their stuff overhead or under their cramped seats.

Any moment now Adrienne would be stepping back to her familiar world that has changed a million times since she left three days ago.

Her fingers flicked and swiped over her phone’s screen. Matt’s number and the rest of his contact details appeared.

Delete.

She would be getting a new phone number.

###
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The only light source right now is the laptop’s LCD screen. Quite ghastly, if I may say so but it’s perfect right now. I feel like a hundred bombs have been thrown my way and I am removing a thousand pieces of shrapnel off my flesh one by one. Ghastly light source and badly broken self go hand in hand.

God told me to let go and that He will catch me. He told me that several times over the years but I was too stubborn to heed His call. I told God, “I can handle this, I am strong, I came from a family of strong women.”

Idiot.

God could have slapped me in the face then to bring me to my senses but He didn’t. He waited patiently. Oh, so patient that I am surprised by His tenacity and faithfulness. But then I shouldn’t be.

The earthly body is weak and human capacity for bearing so much pain and beating is only this much that I was already leaving a trail of my crap all over the place. My innards were hanging from my open wounds for all to see. I was making so much mess that I am so ashamed of showing my face but there He was–He took me in His arms and rocked me to sleep until I whimpered “I surrender”.

Then I finally gave in. I let go. As I fell from the 22nd floor of my hotel room in Hong Kong, my last thought was, how bloody can this be? Will I see my body chalked on the pavement? Again?

I have seen that done to me a couple of years ago when I was reunited with Him. I was so battered and broken that I wondered how my body can heal again. He just said, “Leave it. I will build you another one.” So there was I, staring at this forlorn figure sprawled on the burning pavement of Manila while His angel carried me over his shoulder. I saw the policemen cordoning off the scene with yellow tape but they were too busy to see that the bystanders had already eviscerated my cadaver.

Then I saw my old self. It was empty.

I clutched at my chest. A huge beating muscle was there. A heart of a mother that is capable of infinite love for her children. I am still alive, I exclaimed. Then the angel flew higher to get me the 1.5 version of me. The 2.0 version would have to wait, God was still perfecting it, the angel said.

Fast-forward. As I was falling from my hotel room to slam onto the concrete below, I wondered how my 1.5 version could take the impact.

Bam!

It was tougher than I thought. My head was made of fiberglass though so that’s the first thing I lost. But my heart was encased in some kind of carbon-steel alloy so at least that was safe. Or so I thought. However, a huge piece of titanium from my right arm managed to pierce through the heart through several chinks that I have managed to make in the course of my usage of version 1.5. So I pay the price. Heart is bleeding profusely and O2 sats and blood pressure are dropping fast.

Then a 16-wheeler lorry ran over v. 1.5.

Yep, it was bloody alright. Que horror! I could still stand, albeit with a lot of pieces missing here and there. But I am still rooted to the same spot so all I could do is wait for the paramedics to pronounce me dead or alive. And wait. Then darkness enveloped me once again and I now only have my laptop’s LCD screen as source of light. Ghastly, I know but what choice do I have?

Then I could hear the distant sound of flapping wings. Angels.

Then God whispered in my ear, ever so softly. “Version 2.0 is almost done.”

He has taken my world apart to build me a new one.

1 Peter 5:10 “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

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life in business journalism

crazy. exciting. boring to some but hey, you get to understand the world better when you're a business journalist. you learn to be patient with tons of documents, make sense of numbers and charts. all geeky stuff. this is my story, behind the scenes.
May 2018
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