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A Short Story by Ian Martinez
“They spoke of maidens, whose voices sang sweet enchantments that would hover over the unchanging sea. It leads mariners of folklore adrift towards their eternal dreaming. And as the sea lay her dark blanket alas, the songs continue on adrift.” -ievm
She wore white, blinding in the settled heat of the FC Covered Walks. She sat alone flicking through some photocopies within the shade of a raised kiosk that her sorority sisters had claimed for themselves. She looked cooly over the students filing through the walks to get to their next class, then flicked her hair casually to one side and arched her back to bring her bored eyes over her photocopies. “Be still my heart! Oh why do nature play such cruel games on man’s fate,” a fraternity member sighed as he sat on the other side of the walk, across the nameless and casual faces of students filing past. “Are you ok, brod?” his skinny companion chuckled beside him. “Ah, I think I know what got your eyes. You’re not the only brod.” “It’s just that… I just can’t… How does she move that way?” He craned his neck over the moving sea of black hair. “Hay naku, drink your coffee brod. It’s getting cold.” “No brod. I mean, look at her.” “I can see her brod. Listen Sep, why don’t you walk over there and keep our sis company?”
Sep shook his head, feigning shock. “Na, just look at her. My God!” “Go ahead, go over there.” “Some other time na lang; unless you’d come with me.” “You’re the one who’s in need brod, not me.” He laughed. He has seen her before, but only now, in the company of other men, did he really notice her. Her face was innocent beauty set upon a woman’s body. Nature has manifested her art upon her, endowing her with curves that graced vertically towards her neck – inviting a thousand kisses. She was art, and his hands trembled to reach out. “Hey! Snap out of it Sep. If you really like her, give her a call. Text her.” “Who has her number?” His skinny companion pointed secretly at their fraternity brother who sat nearby searching out the crowd for a beautiful face – the day’s inspiration. “They’re magkababayan,” he whispered. “Lawrence!” Sep called out. “Oh hey bro.” “Can I borrow your phone?” “Hey, no problem. What’s up?” He reached out his cellphone. “Nothing brod, I’m just gonna get a brod’s number.” “Go ahead.” He grabbed the phone with sweaty paws. “Benzt, how do you work this thing? It looks older than my father.” “Press that button with an “N”.” “I see. But, what name will she be under?” “Press “five”. Go on again. Let me see.” He craned his neck over the one-liner screen of the phone. “Stop. That’s her,” he pointed. “Liz?” he whispered. “Yeah. Short for Lizette.”
“Oh.” He took out his phone and entered the number under “Lizette!” Such a cute name, he thought. He reached out with the phone, “Hey Lawrence, thanks brod.” “No problem. Who’s number was it that you needed?” “Hah? Ah… Dom’s. Yeah, Domster’s. Thanks for that, brod. I’ll text him right now.” “Dom’s? That’s odd. I don’t have his number.” “Well, ah… That’s odd. A… gee, look at that, I need a cigarette. Come on Benzt, let’s buy some.” They stood and walked away, leaving their brother curiously tapping at his phone’s keypad. Twenty minutes late, Sep discreetly slipped into class only to find his professor absent and students milling around attendance sheets scattered in the large lecture hall. He signed his name and took a seat at the front row, to rest and savor the coolness of the air-conditioned hall. With the lights turned down, it was a perfect place to take a short nap. Slightly drifting into sleep, he was jolted by a recollection. He drew out his phone from his pocket and went through the directory. There it was: LIZETTE! 09173776185
His memory conjured her shape – nature’s bequeath that lingered in the back of his mind. Tiredness left him, and he stared intently at her name as a lover would a picture of the object of his ardent affection. He resolved to send her a text message – a sweet one but anonymous. But the question of to what end bothered him. Did he want to impress her to go on a date, be friends, tickle her fancy? What will he send her? Hi? How r u =) ? G’day!? The proposition suddenly seemed ludicrous. To further dampen his excitement, he realized that he might sound like a stalker. What if they did become friends sometime in the future and she asks for his cellphone number? What if she also kept stalker’s numbers on her phone? She will enter his number and bang! “Stalker #8” will flash in her cellphone screen. Disastrous, he thought. Damn technology. But the urgent need to speak out overcame him, for her lips - that was punctuated by a slight mole in one corner, invited poetry. He pressed NEW SMS in his phone and a blank screen with a blinking cursor stared back at him. May I be allowed 3
to spill the contents of my heart, for thou art so beautiful, and I have not the strength to hold back these words! When he pressed SEND, he was shocked – as would a person that accidentally touches the first domino in a long file of precariously standing dominoes. For an uncomprehending instant, he wanted to undo the action, but seeing the dominoes pilling one on top of the other with such blinding speed, all he could do was watch, and wait. And he waited. Students were filing past him, chatting excitedly about what movies to watch that afternoon. He was in a class where most of the students were freshmen – young and haven’t quite shaken off their high school habit of forming large groups before going off to their unanimous direction. He regretted not taking this class when he was a freshman; it annoyed him to be with such young people. He was in his last year and he knew his face revealed that. Suddenly, his phone gave off two high-pitched beeps and vibrated wildly in his hand. His hands became sweaty as he stared at the “envelope” in his screen. He “opened” it. Who r u? It was from her. He pictured her in his mind, curious and wondering who sent her such a revealing message. He pressed REPLY: I pray fair lady, that thou allow me to keep my anonymity for only within this veil will my soul find its utterance. A dilemma suddenly occurred to him after he sent the reply. Brods usually milled around the sisses’ tambayan. He cringed at the thought of her curiosity edging her to borrow a brod’s phone who may just happen to have his number. If she checked the anonymous number, he would be 4
discovered. What sweet disaster! he thought. He felt a curiously confused reaction at the possibility. Twenty minutes have passed and his phone kept silent. He looked around him and found a handful of students sleeping on their palms scattered far apart from each other. Their brows were worn, and their eyes deep-set. They were not freshmen – their tired expression resembled his. Finding it impossible to nap, he got up and left the air-conditioned comfort of the lecture hall. As he walked towards the sisses’ tambayan, he craned to see through a line of bushes, to find her face among the many that have crowded inside the small kiosk, but he did not see her. He noticed something different about the tambayan. It was crowded more than usual, but there was something peculiar about the brods demeanor. He noticed that they stood and sat apart from each other more than usual, and most stood as if being photographed – back straight and chin up. They spoke louder too, in a manner that resembled that of a debater. As he scanned the crowd, he caught the new faces of what he immediately knew were the sisses’ new recruits. In the instant that he saw the exceptionally pretty face of one of the applicants, everything fell into place. The peculiarity of his brods’ manners he discerned as being an elaborate mating dance, aimed to impress the new recruit. Indeed, it pays to watch the nature channel on cable. It made him smile inside as he walked into the tambayan. “O, brod!” a tall fellow with glasses exclaimed and extended a warm hand. Sep shook the offered hand while he squeezed between shoulders and outstretched hands. He did the traditional rounds of shaking hands and exchanging greetings with all of the men inside the tambayan. With the sisses, he nodded and smiled nervously as he wondered if they knew of his transgressions. As the day wore on, the people in the tambayan dwindled as some went home, while others went to class. Sep sat with arms flung back at the beams that served as backrest. He should be on his way home, but he hoped to at least catch a glimpse of Lizette before having to endure the congested Marcos Highway traffic at peak hours. Two law-school brods were arguing light-heartedly about the law and exchanging stories of grief and dismay towards the approaching bar exams. Their voices were pitched, but in high spirits none-the-less. “Brod, I tell you, a Regional Trial Court Judge can suspend a counsel,” the tall brod with glasses empathically stated. “Tsk! Brod…” the other brod began to counter, “that authority rest solely with the Supreme Court. I’m sure of it.” “Then you’ve got it all wrong!” the tall brod laughed. I tell you, I can show you the provision…” “Then show me your reference!” the other brod interrupted. 5
“I’ll show you later.” The other brod laughed out load. “Well what? Do you expect me to lug my books around campus?” “Brod, brod, brod. Let’s not talk about the law today. The bar exams is a month away. I swear, tomorrow, I won’t be doing anything except studying for the bar. I’d be eating, drinking, dreaming and shitting law,” Alvin laughed. “You have to be graphic about it, huh? Well brother, don’t you think you should have started that a year ago?” “Look who’s talking, the Karaoke King!” “That’s my only way to relax brother! Besides, I haven’t gone for almost three weeks now,” Marlon parried the accusation. Alvin’s eyes suddenly lit up. “Say, how much do you still have in your credit card?” “No! No, no, no.” Marlon shook his head gravely. “Tsk! Come on. This will be our last night out before August. The next one will be after the bar. Come on!” “Wala akong pera, brod. I think I only have three thousand left. That’s not enough.” “That’s enough for six brods!” “Where are you planning to take them, a sari-sari store?” Alvin pointed at Sep. “You’re doing anything tonight?” “Count me in, bro,” Sep answered, raising a finger. “How about you?” Alvin pointed at another brod, then at another. “There you have it! Give the junior brods a break.” “Brods, I’d like to treat you all but I only have three thousand in my card. That won’t even be enough for the two of us, Alvin.” “I’ll shell out another three thousand. Will that do?” Alvin offered. Marlon cocked his head to one side. “Are you sure? Putcha, don’t leave me hanging in the air once we get there. I’m serious, I only have three thousand in my Master Card.” 6
“Why would I do that? Tsk! Is that how you see me?” Alvin feigned offense. “Hindi naman sa ganoon. Just assure me your four thousand and we’re off.” “Uh, three thousand,” Alvin corrected. “Make it four. Just in case.” “Where are you taking us? There’s only seven of us; it can’t be that expensive.” “I assure you, you’d like the place. That’s where we always go. I’d rather spend money and enjoy, rather than scrimp and risk being stabbed because some drunk doesn’t like my singing.” “Where exactly is this place?” “Timog.” “Oh, ok. Let’s go,” Alvin motioned to the brods. They got up and left the tambayan. “Wait,” Alvin said suddenly. “Let’s go to the College of Law first. I have to get my money from my drawer.” Sep walked easily along, chatting and laughing with his brods as they dared each other to sing high-pitched songs of Martin Nievera or those by Regine Velasquez. He caught himself scanning the people that they passed. He knew he was somehow hoping to catch a glimpse of Lizette, even as the sun had begun to set. The seeming devotion was odd. In retrospect, he does not even know her last name, let alone what kind of person she is. He doubted if he could recognize her voice. Clearly, he was wallowing in her beauty alone. It was so irrational but somehow felt right at the same time. The paradox tickled his sensibilities. It seemed irrelevant to know that an orchid smells pungent when its beauty overwhelms. Darkness was settling down on the campus as they walked up the road that led to the College of Law. Sep felt an urgency to call her, to hear her voice for the first time through the clarity of phone circuitries. But his hands felt cold and hesitation overwhelmed him. He has nothing to say to her with his spoken words. He grasped his phone in his numb hands and pressed NEW SMS: I thanked God that I don’t know you, and in that I wallow in the purity of your beauty. Fair 7
lady, thou art so beautiful! The taxi pulled-over in front of a garishly lit building along Timog Avenue. They got out leaving Marlon to pay for the fare. Two young women who were standing underneath the Music 21 neon sign stared intently at them as they walked up the blazingly lit entrance. Guards and lady guest relation officers were greeting them cheerfully. It felt alien to Sep to have so much smiles freely and openly dispensed. The group made their way into the lobby, acknowledging the lady guest relation officers with a nod , while thoroughly ignoring the cheerful male security guards with shotguns slung over their shoulders. Marlon walked up the reception and presented two cards, which the lady behind the counter accepted with a wide lipsticked smile. The lobby was blinding – the walls covered with mirrors and glass shelves that carried luxurious bottles filled with volatile beverages. The muffled singing that saturated the air, and the look of drunken satisfaction of roaming guests made the place comfortable. Sep caught himself scanning the lobby. He knew he was again looking for her likeness. It seemed far-fetched for them to meet tonight. Such chance meetings only happen in B-movies, he thought. He suddenly felt ridiculous. If the other brods knew, he knew he would seem pathetic. They were led up a flight of stairs and through a maze of corridors lined with framed pictures of famous guests. The lady, carrying a pair of microphones and what seemed to be a large remote control, pushed open a door with her hips and cheerfully invited them in. The room had low couches lining the walls, except that beside the door where a large-screen-television sat in its throne of chrome and laminated wood. They were motioned to take their places in the couch. The lady placed the microphones on the low wooden table and plugged the wires into a fancy chrome box that sat under the television. She momentarily fiddled with a few knobs and switches before she turned her attention to them again to take their orders of beer and fingerfoods. “A…miss,” Marlon called out to the lady as she was about to leave. “Is this ok now?” he asked, pointing at the remote control. “Yes sir. It would just take a moment while they program the system downstairs,” she beamed. “Oh…ok,” he said with a shrug. After a while, the screen lit up and Marlon lunged for a microphone. “Brods, this song is for me,” he declared. “Go ahead, brod,” Alvin laughed. He passed three large books of songs and their corresponding code numbers for the remote, to Sep – who in turn passed the rest to the other brods on the opposite couch. 8
The screen flickered for a moment, then a view of a grassy field emerged and a song began. After a while, the beer made Sep’s head light. The air-conditioner was permanently set on high and the cold dry air made you thirstier the more you sang. Fortunately, there were three untouched beers on the table that demanded more songs to be sung. After singing “Portrait of My Love,” Sep excused himself to go to the bathroom. In front of the bathroom mirror, he remembered he had a Saturday class at 8o’clock tomorrow morning. He wondered if he would make it, seeing that it was half-past-nine in his watch. Rather than returning to the room, he sat on the low couch along the corridor, not far from where his brods were. It was not as cold in the corridor as it was in the room. He stretched his neck back and slumped on the soft fabric of the couch. The air was permeated with different muffled songs – some cheerful, while others mellow in their feigned sadness. With his head light from the beer, and with the confused mix of songs that filtered from the many rooms that lined the corridor, he felt disoriented from where he sat. He was not sure if the ladies of the establishment noticed it as they passed by him with trays of beer, but they flashed him smiles nonetheless. He lit a cigarette and tried to gather his thoughts, while the Spice Girls stared out at him from their large portrait that hung in front of him. Again, he felt the urge to picture the woman that had been bothering him all day in his mind. He closed his eyes for a moment and saw her, sitting in the tambayan, brilliant in white and beautiful with her long black hair as it was whisked by the warm afternoon breeze. The thought, like gravity, brought him back to where he sat. He immediately reached for his phone in his pocket and pressed NEW SMS: Fair lady, thou hath sent a spark into the chambers of my heart, and there’t ignited. Nay, not to consume but to set mine spirit free! Thou art so beautiful.
He tried to imagine her in her bed. He wondered intently how she looked lying on her belly, while her hair cascaded over her shoulders as she clutched her phone. He took in a deep breath and sank deeper into the couch, while his phone remained silent. Suddenly, his phone gave off two short beeps and vibrated in his hand. In his screen, a red envelope stared back at him. He “opened” it. 9
It wud please me much m’lord if u wud tel me wer u got my #.
M’lord? He wondered if she was mocking him. He pressed NEW SMS: M’lady, allow me my anonymity! It is not mine intention to strike fear in thy heart, that thou should begin to seek the nature of this man who have sent his… …devotion. Never have I meant harm! Not to thee, oh such beauty. He got up from the couch and walked back to the room where his brods were. When he opened the door, he found his brods singing Frank Sinatra’s “ My Way,” with the vigor of young men with large hopes and even larger dreams. He took his place on the low couch and grabbed a beer. He too sang out loud and found it invigorating. Amid the ruckus of singing and palms being slapped on knees in time with the song’s beat, he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. Ur dvoshun I seek not. Fear s inevtabl, sir, as I know u not. He knew exactly what to text back, and this made him smile. Her replies enlivened him and made him confident. Indeed, he must be doing something right, he thought.
Alvin caught Sep’s smile. “O, ano yan? What’s that brod? That smile can only be caused by a woman.” The other brods in the room were distracted from their singing. They took up the cue and hooted teasingly. Sep dismissed their taunts by waving a palm down and shielded his phone from their eyes. “I knew it! Our brother here is in-love!” Alvin announced and everyone laughed. “What the… Leave me alone brods.” “Sino yan? Come on, tell us,” Alvin insisted. “ Wala brod. It’s nothing,” Sep smiled coyly. He got up and started for the door. His brods were roused and they cheered him on teasingly. “Ay naku. Dyan na kayo! I’m going to the bathroom.” He finished off his beer and went out. Back in the couch – fronting the Spice Girls portrait – he pressed NEW SMS: Sweet lady, flowers seek not devotion, but nevertheless, such are showered to them by the eyes of passers-by. A group of swaying, smiling men passed by him on their way to the bathroom. He liked this place. Everyone seemed generous with their smiles. It must be the songs that they have sung, and the alcohol that they have drunk – alcohol to break the boundaries between people and loosen their inhibitions, and songs, the window from which the soul could call out to the world and make known its pains, joys, hopes…love. His phone suddenly beeped and vibrated. N sir, as such, they liveth a life f fear that they b plucked frm their mothr’s breast – to withr. He desired so much to call her, to explain to her that she has nothing to fear. Suddenly, he 11
wanted to lose his anonymity. All this time he has not mentioned her name, or made any reference to where he saw her or what clothes she wore, so as not to make her think she was being stalked. But of course, he was not stalking her. He was only an admirer. But, as he stared at his phone, hesitation overwhelmed him. What if indeed she was mocking him all this time? The whole situation may become the most embarrassing thing that ever happened in his life. He settled to become more patient; to build a friendship through the medium of text messages. He knew he had to be subtle – a gentleman – and avoid becoming solicitous. He tried desperately to find words that would ease the fear in her, to show his sincerity. But he cannot as yet, reveal his name. That would turn the tables against him! He cringed at the possibility that maybe she was not really the one sending those text messages, that it would be a housemate or worst still, another sis! He sank deep into the couch as he searched his mind for the right words to text back. He pressed NEW SMS: If it pleases thee, sweet lady, though it be painful and a death to my soul, I shall release thy number into the night sky. I pray that it be not, for my… …heart doth overflow, and my soul desires speech. He cheered the outgoing “envelope” in his mind. He knew that that message would ease her fears. This is such a cool beginning, he thought to himself. The last swig of beer has finally made it into his head. He felt overly tipsy and he promised himself only one more beer for the night. His phone displayed 23:12. He wondered if he’d make it home to sleep even for an hour or two, before having to get up to ready himself for his 8o’clock class. As he got up to rejoin his brods, his phone called his attention. He sped through the controls. I tnk u 4 ur considrashun. B tru 2 ur word 12
gud sir. Rlease my # in2 d nite sky as I dsire. What have I done! his mind screamed. He went through the phone’s controls and reviewed what he had sent her. He stared at her last message for a moment with such sorrowful disbelief. He pressed NEW SMS: Alas! I’ve come undone. The reply came quick. B tru 2 ur word, gud sir. It wud b 4 d best.
Would it really be for the best? He hated himself for shutting himself out. He searched his mind desperately for a way to reverse the situation. There was no way out of it – other than becoming crass. But that was out of the question. He cannot beg, that would do injustice to himself. There was no way out of it for a gentleman. He pressed NEW SMS: As you wish fair lady. I shall release thy number into the night sky… Pray I, that thou’ll keep my number to kindle a hope in my expired soul as it liveth… …through its eternal nights. He may have closed the door, but sorrow made him wish that at least a blind would be left open so that he may still see into the house. It afforded hope. Her reply would open that blind, and he 13
waited inextricably on the couch for it. His phone remained silent. He sat heavily, rubbing his brow. He decided that he needed a drink – more than the one beer that he had promised himself. He got up and followed a lady of the establishment who carried a tray full of beers. She headed for the room where his brods were. She pushed open the door with her hips and the loud singing inside escaped into the corridor: “The co-co-nut nut is a giant nut…” His brods were singing euphorically inside, and the song that they sang made him laugh at himself. “It’s the co-co-fruit… of the co-co-tree… of the co-co-palm family!”
Final Draft 2001
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