by Mark Sherwin Castronuevo Bayanito (Fiction)

It was past eight in the dark and the sidewalk crowd rushed against me. I was trying to be careful not to drop the chocolate sundae I bought from Mini Stop and the people were making an effort to be careful too, this time to make sure they make it on the LRT immediately. Sometimes it feels like the world is conniving, that it’s time to go home. So I did. And I hate to cross the street. Really. Vehicles just wouldn’t bother; they don’t see anything anyway.

The jeepney terminal was death in silence. I dug out seven peso coins from my back pocket, where I usually just drop coins and other small stuff. Then as I enter I realized that there weren’t that much people at all. There were just five of us in the inert vehicle. I sat on the corner by the exit, which was my favorite spot since I don’t have to bother myself attempting to reach the handles above and I can rest my back either on the sides or where it normally should be. The others were normally sitting, quite impatiently waiting for the jeep to go off, except for one who was lying down on the far end. It seems like he’s no passenger at all. As usual I was minding my own business again. I finished helping myself with that damn chocolate sundae, which was rapidly dripping, faster than I could eat it. And while eating it I had to move up my glasses back in place again for a lot of times. As I keep the tissue in my pocket, someone called me and sat beside me. “Oh hey,” I said back, “Where’re you heading?”

It was that girl who always sat in front of me in Spanish 11 when I was in first year, second semester. She was the girl I had a crush on and I humiliated myself on that year’s Valentine’s Day confessing my love to her. As I think of it now, it was rather the stupidest mistake I ever made.

“I don’t know,” she replied, “I just feel like riding anywhere.” She smiled at me. I didn’t know what she was really up to, but it was indeed strange. “Cool,” I said. Then I bowed my head and looked down. I noticed that she wasn’t moving away her head from looking at me. It has been three years, and now, as I was thinking in my head, is she trying to seduce me? I felt her touching my chin, then I slightly shivered. I looked back at her. “What is it?” I asked. She just smiled. What was that? I wasn’t raised to interpret her body language. It sure was strange. “How about I sleep over at your place tonight?” she asked. “That can’t be,” I said, “I’m a dormer.” “Then stay over at my place then,” she said with another smile. I could not understand. What was she up to, really? Seeing that I was drowned in my deepest thoughts again, she uttered some more. “Come on, stay over,” she said, “Because I feel too lonely.”

With her words I felt the same loneliness that she was talking about. After she released those meaningful sounds that my mind interpreted as ‘because I feel too lonely,’ I answered her, “For how long do you want me to stay over?” and she replied, “As long as you wanted to.” The engine started since the seats were already filled, and she and I just looked at each other in the dim lights of the interior as the jeepney cruised the avenue. “Then for how long will you keep staring at me in the face?” I asked, somehow being naughty, but I never expected her reply: “Forever.” I felt my eyes grew large a bit as she said that word. It felt like a joke, but then it felt like a trick, a trap, something weird, something bad.

I moved my stare away from her. She moved her hand over mine. I didn’t know what to do. So I just smiled. I made sure she saw that. She placed her other hand over my glasses to remove it. “Carefully, please,” I said. “You look better that way,” she commented. “What are you up to?” I asked her. But she did not listen. Instead, she moved her head back and looked outside the window. The breeze sweeps her straight soft hair towards me. “We’re here,” she said as she slightly raised her hip to pull down the string that will stop the vehicle.

“What are you exactly doing?” I asked, somehow pissed off by this lovely strangeness of her pulling me up the blue Ateneo footbridge and doing all the other things tonight on me. But still I made sure to create an impression that I was already angry. I noticed that she clenched my eyeglasses a little bit harder. I noticed that she was also a bit taller than me too, which made it a lot weirder when she held my face with her both hands. Then she kissed me. Then she moved back. “You’re blushing too much,” she said. I should have known, I’m almost white-skinned and I get drunk red so easily. But I got so carried away that I haven’t felt the blood rushing rapidly within me. I took hold of her jaw and kissed her again.
It felt like time stopped and for a while I thought I lost my hearing. I had not realized that she accidentally dropped my eyeglasses, because, at that time, that kiss was what only mattered.

She pushed my head back, and apologized. “You can go home now,” she told me, as she picked my eyeglasses from the cement floor, and fortunately it was not broken. “But why this all of a sudden?” I asked, as I wore the glasses again.. She said that she’ll walk me home. “What about you?” I said. She just looked at me for a while. “What are you thinking?” I asked again. I didn’t mind asking another question after an unanswered one. “You don’t want to know that,” she said. “Why do you want me to stay with you?” I asked, once more. By the way she looked it seemed to be inexplicable. “Remember the time you told me you love me?” she asked me. “Yeah, of course,” I replied, “You practically humiliated me in the face of the whole CAL lobby.” She looked at me again, straight into my eyes. I somehow felt a strange kind of attachment to her whenever we look at each other. It was different, peculiar. It was – “wanted you since then,” – wait a minute. “What? What did you just say?” I said, because I haven’t heard what she fully said. She said she wanted me. For real? “I said, I wanted you since then,” she repeated, “but we haven’t seen each other in a long while so I somehow forgot about it myself.” I felt my blood rushing again all over my body. She is one too peculiar.

As she spoke to me those words I felt her loneliness again. I realized that I was also lonely all this time, and by being together maybe we could fight it off. I held her hand and we sat in the middle of the footbridge, and gazed at the sky, at the road, at each other. Everything seemed to be silent. And this silence had been the best of all.

Happy endings are so passé. It was rather unattainable. As I thought, there would be not any happy ending for us, because we will last forever. But then, I realized that the last clause of the sentence should be simply cut off. It’s not real. It’s not forever. It’s not a happy ending either. We’re not gonna end up together.

5.42 PM
There’s just too much people on a Friday afternoon at the Faculty Center waiting shed. I decided to take a seat on one of those green slabs since I won’t get in any jeepney just yet anyway. There’s just too much people.

It’s been almost two months from now after we broke up. Yes, that odd girl from Spanish 11 of first year, we broke up. I thought we’d be happy together, viewing the entirety of Katipunan avenue on that blue Ateneo footbridge, holding our hands forever, sitting beside each other, simply listening to what’s around us. But it was just a realized pipe dream. Those happy memories of time long gone just haunt me, like how it scares me to death to see a dead cat on the roadside or how it almost broke me to lose my wallet on my first Lantern Parade when I had just got my seven-thousand peso Christmas money from Dad. It’s all gone and lifeless.

Should I even think that it broke my heart? From that morning she called me on the phone to tell me that she wanted to break up with me, I have never been so unstable as before. It’s when everytime someone leaves you, you just get lost all of a sudden. Equilibrium lost me, too. I didn’t know what I was thinking then, really. I was doing silly things like throwing my phone on the garbage container even if she had not hung up the call yet, crossing the road without even looking out for speeding cars, and accidentally breaking my eyeglasses when I was hurriedly running to class and I hit it badly on the corridor wall. Wearing contact lenses now just adds up to my carelessness problems, since I often doze off without any clue. I suppose it wasn’t being bitter. Perhaps it’s from being shocked instead, that even for the last person that I would want to love would still leave me hanging in this world by myself.

6.04 PM
Daylight flees to give way to the other celestial illuminants, and I’m still here sitting in the ugly green slab waiting for the people to go off. I know that I should’ve walked to the terminal near Benitez Hall instead, but I’m just too tired and at least I could rest my feet for a little while. Besides, it reminds me of our strolls and those other memories that I had junked into the garbage can along with my cell phone, that I just wanna have in my hand again, scroll to the never-erased messages and cherish the events I had marked in its calendar, and stare into the gallery’s photographs and remember those days. Sometimes, I regret it. But maybe it’s just what it should be.

Okay. So I might just have exaggerated it. Ever since that incident I had never been to Katipunan Avenue ever again, nor rode that red-roofed jeepney. So under the banner of moving on for a cause, I decided to go to Katipunan to spend the whole weekend at my best friend’s place. I’m not so sure if I had actually moved on. Yes, I’m getting my life back from being disoriented. It’s roughly eight weeks, and a lot of things had already happened. There’s nothing to look back. There must be nothing to worry about. It’s not like I cried over spilled milk. Tears have dried even before they came out. It’s over. We were over.

6.07 PM
The jeepney is surprisingly spacious on a Friday dusk. I feel very tired that I just want to sleep, but ever since I was independent in going places, I’ve been always bad at sleeping while on a trip. If I attempt to sleep at this very moment, I might just repeat what I did when I was in third year high school that the driver even have to wake me up at the terminal, which was, by the way, too far from our house. Good thing I’m listening to music from my iPod. By paying attention to the music I can kill the drowsiness and let it die away.

Two months isn’t that long anyway. It still feels like the usual Katipunan ride that I always take every Sunday to eat out or to go the Cubao or Marikina. It’s still the usual thing where it’s too seldom to see anyone I know. It’s nothing new. It’s – Wait. Is that her? She sure became prettier. We practically tried to avoid each other somehow and now she seems to be running to this jeepney. Oh no. Man, no. Okay. She successfully got in, and I can’t hide. There’s no way I can hide even just my face. Oh great. She sat beside me. How fated was that.

So what’s it that I’m gonna do now? All of a sudden I feel like a dork. I let her break6 up with me without even listening to what else she was about to say in that call, particularly the reason why she broke up with me. I feel so stupid for eliminating contact with her even if it might appear to be alright anyway. I can see globules of sweat over my arms and I can feel the butterflies in my stomach. This is all so crazy. Damn, it feels like what Miley Cyrus “felt” in Party in the U.S.A.

6.12 PM
“Oh, it’s you,” she says, finally noticing me after a few moments of my sweating from anxiety. “Oh, yeah,” I reply, finally looking at her face too, but just in a short glance. “It’s been a long time since, isn’t it?” She tells me. Yeah, I know. I’m sorry. “I’m sorry,” she says some more. How come she tells me what I’m about to tell her? “Sorry for what?” I ask, acting like I had totally moved on and forgot that even for some four months we were together. Yeah, that was actually short to remember much of but I definitely know what a lie it would be. “For that call,” she then replies, holding my hand that restlessly lies above my left knee. I turned my head back at her. W-why? I wanted to ask her why but I no sounds come out of my mouth, and instead I just gaze at her face, seemingly looking for the answers that obviously were not there.

“Forget it,” I crack out, even though I really want to know her own reasons. “Yeah, I guess so,” she agrees, and finally I see her smile again, that smile that for a lot of nights I’ve been missing so much when I’m lying in my bed reminiscing about the past, about our happy yet short memories, or that for some times in class I look out the open AS door and gaze at the sky that’s peeking through the trees that reaches out to it amidst their constant fall of leaves. “So where’re you heading?” I ask, trying to change the mood that we immersed ourselves into. “I’m going to Manila,” she replies, “to a friend’s party.” I simply nod at what she had just said. I did not listen at all. Or I am unable to, since beside the jeepney is a speeding truck that distracts me from paying attention to her voice, the voice that even in the shower I thought calls me, the voice that even talks to me in my sleep when I’m in the Main Library – General Reference Section just after I send the crammed term paper of 6 sleepless hours to my professor’s Gmail account.

6.25 PM
It’s a Friday evening and we all know how Katipunan becomes a depressed sink hole of cars every now and then. And now I’m beside her again, and I deeply pray that this jeepney would run slower than everyone else, just so I could savor this moment, the only moment that’s happening, which may not happen to us ever again.

I catch her staring at me. “What?” I ask, thinking if she was waiting an answer from me to an unheard question. “You seem to be so bothered,” she says, without any other extra feat, just her lips artistically opening and closing at certain lengths. “Sorry,” I apologized, “I guess I wasn’t paying that much attention to anything.”

6.38 PM
The slow flow of traffic is really getting to my nerves. I feel very uneasy right now, especially that I’m beside the woman I loved, and lost. For a long while there was no questions, no remarks, no voices. It becomes awkward around here as the minutes go by.

“It gets awkward, huh?” she says – how come she knows what I was exactly thinking? “Uh,” I reply, “yeah. It does seems like.” Then she smiled as I looked at her for a bit. Then her smile made me smile. Then my smile made her do a little laugh. Then it made me laugh a little too. Funny, as it is, that it becomes a game without us noticing it.

6.40 PM
“Hey,” I call to her, “I wanna know why.” “What why?” she replies, and I laugh. “Why you broke up,” I say. “I thought you just want to forget about it,” she says, and that reply just seemed to be silly to me. Or it made me feel like I’m silly. Of course I told her that we’ll forget that. Of course I’m moving on, forgetting that myself, and that’s why I’m hanging out with my best friend instead, finally after a lot of busy weeks that we had. Of course, what am I even thinking?

In a little while I’ll be going down this jeepney and I might never see her face as close as this again. This might be the last time that I would fall for her, for the smile and the eyes and that sweet little face that I had missed for so long. Maybe it must all boil down to something. Maybe the feeling really should fade away. And maybe we don’t have to stick together too just like what we usually do. Maybe this is just the way it is.

6.42 PM
“I’m leaving you now,” I tell her, as I already see the blue Ateneo footbridge and the other establishments around, “someone’s waiting for me.” She smiled, as I expected. I pulled the string on the ceiling of the jeepney to signal the driver to hit the brake. “Goodbye,” I say. Before I could even raise my body to move out of the vehicle, I’m very sure that I heard her say “I miss you so much.” I know. I must know that. I missed her too. And I probably will miss her still.