LOOKOUTS THAT NEVER BE

A Short Story by Samuel Batara (1974) i. THOUGH my eyelids were heavy as lead, my mind’s eye couldn’t welcome the balm of sweet slumber. I reclined and then crept into my bed. I closed my eyes, yet so wild was sleep that the brisk spirit of mine was unable to trap. I glanced into my wrist watch. It had been the third hour after the seminarians, with respective dates, parted from the seminary social hall at a Pre-Valentines Ball. It was the third wee hour in that dawn of St. Valentine’s Day. My head was full of visions. Restlessness ruled the seat of thought. I was sleepless moaning elsewhere in the meadows of the mind. My keen imagination wasn’t meditating about my tomorrow. Not on the fact that the past ball might be my final chance to enjoy a dance before my ordination and exposure to the world as a priest. But it was the carload of memories which kept nagging me. The more the thoughts jogged as I shut my eyes. Slowly, I rose up with a bated breath and sat upon the edge of my bed. I kindled a cigarette and puffed smoke into the gloomy darkness of my room. I looked through the screened window. I could visualize a commanding view from the vantage third floor of the dormitory. A wide range panorama displayed by the moonbeam trying hard to rend the black mantle with her calm and lucid glow. So luminous were the balls of man-made lights hung apart over the blind alleys linking the abodes of weary city-dwellers. Over the shiny housetops and treetops, a peaceful silence enveloped the chilly air. My eyesight dashed across the green calm of scope opely bearing the rhythmic dewdrops from the sheltering sky. A current of thought was thrown faraway, someplace amidst strange gardens of yesterday. The details that got back were utterly framed in tremendous clarity. My mind focused on a highly colored setting that happened within the last six or seven years of my existence. And chiefly Ruby, all that compose her – that empathic sparkle in her eyes, that captivating smile on her ruby lips, those dimpled cheeks, and the long wavy hair flowing down her slim shoulders – all were vividly flashed across my memory. ii. THE brilliant moonlit night Ruby and I strolled and perched on our town’s minipark. A mild breeze made her quiver a bit. She moved closer to me.
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“The ball may have started now, Andy,” she reminded me. So we stood up from the concrete bench we sat on, and navigated the swaying lane leading up to our school. It was the last valentine jubilee during our high school term, the palmy moments of our adoration. Invading the school auditorium, we anchored at the stream of gently flowing tunes springing from the orchestra. I quite remembered, we paired off for a dance or two before we found ourselves back once more in the park. We sat down then on dew-cool Bermuda grass, watching a vigil for the moon ascending her due course to the very pinnacle of the heavens. Ruby suddenly chanted the song, ‘There’s Always Me.’ It was a pop tune I’d attended to numerous times before. But listening to her hum it, as well as she did, inculcated fresh meanings into my heart. Though she was aware that I sang so out of tune, she requested me to sing in reply. “Are you familiar with ‘Somewhere My Love’?” she inquired. It was so lucky a guess that I possessed the lyrics at my fingertips and readily versified them to her. Quiet reigned for a moment, followed by the quiz she tossed. “What lies ahead of my love?” I felt it strike me, so with a rough guess I replied, “If future shall succeed, he will be a priest!” Of course, I was uncertain if those words were to stick to and satisfy her question. She smirked mildly and casted skeptical eyes on my countenance. “Therefore, I’ll likewise become a nun,” she uttered with a giggle. In an instant I thought that nunnery life would be much too morbid for an only daughter like her. She might have put it as just a jest. She indeed missed the seriousness of my earlier declaration. iii. SUCH rare marvelous night was blissfully duplicated at our Junior-Seniors’ Promenade. And, it was replicated at our Military Ball. On these sole occasions, Ruby’s parents shut their eyes and allowed her escape to be my momentary partner. Bit by bit, she came to grasp the sober truth of my plan. We were sat afresh in the park when she loaded my auricles with words of wisdom. She exhorted me to analyze critically two proverbial sayings: “Where you were born, there you shall die.” “The trunk is, so is the fruit.” And she caused me to reflect more and more by saying, ‘Regret comes only at the end.”

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She quoted hard sayings which perplexed the seat of reason until I fully fathomed what she really meant. The scheme of mine found no favor in her sight. I seriously canvassed the situation, yet I wasn’t perhaps a double-minded breed. “Ruby,” my accent sought for solace. “My intensified desire to work for God is already a settled conviction. By virtue of his personal call, my whole vocation ought to take on a semblance of reality. I’m afraid nothing can stand to alter this iron will of mine.” It was something to sulk about where she put a sad face upon. But the more I showed a bold front. iv. WE completed our secondary course and donned the diadem of all joy, for we were teen-age sworn friends enshrined in tender affections. And with Ruby’s fair promises, all I hoped and yearned for was she befitted my better half as soon as we would attain our youthful individual goals. As a matter of joint exercise, we often cast an eye to our immediate future. We gleaned prophetic glimpses and groped together a moored block confronting her and me. The more she sprinkled cold water upon my vocation. “Andy, the very moment you enter the seminary might be the termination of all,” she expressed with her eyes passionately staring at me. “Why do you say so, my love?” I soothingly inquired. “I know for sure, Andy, you have no elbow room in a theological school. You’ll find no chance communicating to anybody outside the walls by letter or any other ways. You’ll live a cloistered life and stay in that religious campus within eight years having no respite at all. You’ll retreat to your own self. Hearts can learn, they say. And I tremble you’ll easily break the seal to neglect me.” She mentioned those inauspicious omens while she kept snuffling and wiping her tears away. “I just don’t know. But pin your trust on me. I can never forget you,” was my utterance of comfort and audacity for her. “Confide in me and I in you. Eight years won’t be too long. Please stay for me.” But I had qualms for those stubborn assumptions too. I patently submitted myself to the first impressions that a seminarian was a ticket-of-leave man within the sacred walls, to subsist in a secluded sphere of existence far-off society. “I’ll hold true, Andy,” she declared. “Perhaps more than you do. I will never erase the thought of you.”

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Those words of Ruby donated a pat on my back and pushed me to give myself fully to my studies. v. BY THE relief of our parish priest, Fr. Magno, who in a few sessions previously had counseled me into this holy vocation, my application forms for the seminary aptitude tests were prepared. It was not as fortified as I have expected. The benevolent parents of Ruby, who were devout lay leaders in the local church, magnanimously pledged to be my sponsors. Hours before my departure to the city, I dropped in to seek the directing words of her parents, and be ascertained of their vowed support for me. That was all they conceived. But my visit was eminently to meet Ruby for the last time before I would pack off and be eight years remote. “I learned from your mom and dad that you are to earn a Liberal Arts degree from one of the colleges here in the city capital of our province. Good for you,” I commented. “You just trek four years or so to pursue it. But what will be next afterwards?” She produced no reply. Moreover, I noticed her eyes candid in their raiment of immense sadness. I had previously discovered the clue to those untoward expressions. So I tried to get hold of her queer gestures. At the same time, I laid to heart the protective counsel of her parents. I committed every phrase to memory which would serve as my shield to penetrate the theological wilderness. The next moment, I arose and handed my valediction. Ruby escorted me to the fence gate. “Ruby, you belong to a blue-blooded family,” with an impulse of thrill I did solemnly utter. “Yet it’s amazing you have open-handed parents. Thank you for your fruitful compliment by which I gained ground getting into their good graces.” “Andy,” her cheerless intonation, “soon you’ll be aloof out of reach. My heart throbs you might freely dismiss me from your thoughts.” “No,” I defended quickly. “Please don’t agitate your heart around an improbable action.” Whereas on the quadrophonic stereo, voluminous in the receiving room, was Petula Clark with her song, ‘It Hurts To Say Goodbye’. “Absence sharpens love,” I quoted. “Presence strengthens it,” she continued. Finally I said, “My love is in your world as the sun is in the firmament.”
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“My love never dies,” she still muttered as I commenced to pedal my bicycle home. vi. I ignorantly reached an emerald seminary community. I arrived at a paradise setting in the midst of the restless city of Manila. I was housed with fellows in a 3floor dormitory within a subdivision of fruit bearing trees, verdant beds of beautiful flowers, well-kept grounds sporadically head-dressed by meticulously trimmed ornaments. The place could be considered the last bastion of American occupation in the country with the presence of a large proportion of white Yankees on the staff. A real taste of a stateside life I had only read in history books before. Moreover, I made much of the golden opportunity for writing Ruby. I did pen a letter offhand: “I want you to disabuse your mind and get rid of the perspectives about seminary situation which first troubled you. Believe me, I discovered a family well-involved in the outside world of service. People who have their hands full with the affairs of mankind. An institution of academics who are ceaselessly imagining of the mutations of humanity, trying hard to apprehend how the world has happened to exist to these days with enmity and hunger all around.” Her retort denoting full astonishment came to my hand at once: “I’m very glad to have heard that you are enjoying a typical state of schooling with all the modern facilities greasing your way, possessing a liberty at a full swing of your duty. It seems to be a reality contrary to what we both initially assumed. I am very happy indeed!” In course of time, her inseparable shadow was the garment and garland I wore which remained to graze a dream. We maintained a sharp lookout for each other, expressing our hopes and fears through the efficient arms of paper and ink. The postage became the relied messenger who bridged the countless miles separating us, utilizing the faculty of written symbols. And she ever assured me of her flourishing love that would never shift. I also gave the same assurance to her whom I ever held dearest. “Ruby,” I frankly admitted, “you impart nerve, mirth and inspiration that make my way, and move heaven and earth to accomplish my career.” Ruby’s loving parents, likewise, maintained my financial sustenance, knowing full well my family couldn’t manage. All of these fortunes gave me incentives and vigor to firmly grind through scholastic rigors.
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vii. “I ABIDE in an up-to-date, very modern metropolis, therefore I go with the trend of contemporary living,” I boasted when Ruby and others were apparently shocked to see me during my first vacation. Not so much on the belief that I could have no academic cessation at all, but more on the fashion I had adapted and the hippie inclined extension of my hair. “It no longer conforms to the style you exhibited when you left our locality,” I heard almost everybody remarked. It was true; my bearing was so distinct from the fad ordained after the direction of our diocesan bishop, reinforced by his creed on how seminarians particularized a classical style. Every vacation – semester break, Christmas recess, and the rest of the summer after a six-week field education program – were gala days for Ruby and me. I served at the mass and she sang with the choir in our local parish church. Extra moments were designed for the splendor of cupid’s desires. Ruby and I met many a time to revive a forsaken bosom friendship, rephrasing together the forsaken notes of promise. We ever resumed a sojourn in the old nest of attachment in order to catch a spark of the ember, and fan it in full measure into a torch. A flame ever glowing we were to pump ablaze by the rhyme of matched heartbeats. We aimed to install a deeply-springed fountain that could cling to abundantly sprinkle the seedbed of a seemingly lasting partnership. She furnished me with sumptuous stimuli and fortified the surety of her precious love. Those were the days which seemed not to elapse to the bitter end. viii. A COUPLE of years ago was Ruby’s graduation. And as expected, she obtained a grand degree with eminent merits. Unfortunately, a couple of months had lapsed when we personally met. “Due to my summer field work I wasn’t able to attend,” I swore to her, “granting no regard to your summons. Too hurtful because the bidding note untimely reached my hand only when I arrived from a pastoral assignment at a Medical Center in the Visayas.” I tried to vindicate myself by explaining the cause to her. However, I could detect the cold manner of her response. “Don’t worry, I understand,” she boasted. Who am I in a pig’s eye that I should feel prostrate? When in truth your obligation in the seminary is more
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paramount than me. Should I censure you for attending to a duty compulsory and obligatory? No, Andy. And that’s my love for you.” I was tempted to rely on those seemingly fair words as a sincere pronouncement of wise understanding rather than of a foul tongue. Her genuine accent deceived me while she dawned to act a double part. She continued to write back, but remarkably lacked the savor and melody that had addicted my auricles in her previous letters. I considered the circumstances with boldness and endeavored to adjust my heart as Ruby inclined to play fast and loose with me. She compelled herself gradually scarce within my world, and in the nucleus of my sensitivities. The warm embraces suddenly turned into the cold arms of a stone statue. Ruby hated me for reasons so biased and fatuous. And ultimately the laughter ebbed into silence, deep as midnight upon a grave. The grave of tender voices in her lips – songs, promises and dreams. ix. IT WAS last year, just around the commencement of summer, when without bodily fear, Ruby sent me a nuptial invitation card. A gold embossed joy-size card that revealed so much of lavish plenteousness in this age of want. And inserted was a brief rusty rhetoric inscribed and signed with that childish scrawl of hers: “Andy: A second petition to you. Hope you won’t make a slip this time. I wish to see you in cassock to assist Fr. Magno at my wedding. Thanks. Rebecca.” I marveled greatly if she indeed knew what she was doing. A practical joke intended to poison the ears! Nonetheless, I notified her on the spur of the moment: “Ruby: Thanks for the invitation! I’m very sorry but by the designated date, I’ll be down south to undergo a Clinical Pastoral Education Summer Training at a hospital in Zamboanga City. Though physically absent, I’ll be present spiritually. Congratulations and Bon Voyage across the sea of matrimony! Andres.” I ought to confess that unlike to her first request, I made a lie this time. I had long arrived from my summer field assignment and was supposed to be on vacation at home on her altar date being a June bride. I just remedially treated it that way sighing at the same time to myself: “Who am I to bear the brunt? Should I pay her respect in order to eat my heart out? Yes, I ought to serve her since her parents and specially herself laid me under obligation to get even with. I owe the family a great measure. But I regret, I can’t endure to swallow a gratuitous insult.”
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I knew full well that Ruby contributed a lot to my success. “Those encouragement she shared me in many ways,” I tried to summon anew into my bereft head. “Those highly esteemed affections that spurred me which made possible my plain sailing into a wide ocean of service and open the gate for my ambitious marching to the border of the worlds! Although she prematurely disregarded her promises and unfaithfully broke off our affairs, I should still be grateful that her parents remained loyal to fiscally back me up.” Deep in my heart was a cry of gratitude which no word could hold to depict. Yet I realized that what she charged of me – to serve during the Holy Matrimony – was very exorbitant a price to refund them. It was too much a demand that my lean pocket couldn’t afford. Inside me, the hope of gain drove me to bargain. “Because they paved before me an avenue to no end,” I decisively considered. “They should also allow me to tread on the heels of some wandering breeze blowing to the distant end of the earth where the moon must rise and hurl some beam over the bodies of lifeless men who still may come to life. Confidently daybreak finds the ministrant sun dispelling the gold of the earth on a spot where no tears are.” “Perhaps it is the best way in which I can manifest to them this immense feeling of indebtedness,” I held myself in esteem, “soon that I finish my course. I shall lay my whole life on the altar of dedication. I shall love and honor beside their family other members of the household of God. I shall minister as much as I can to their several needs and share with them the good news of life.” And those personal foresights could merely be my tribute to Ruby and her parents. The expectations and projections of mine that must come true before the portal of my last home bids me welcome to pass my eternal sleep. x. RUBY once quoted, “A man should not waste his time brooding over the past when even the future lies doubtful for him.” But for me, it is a profound error to let bygones be bygones. Even though I labor hard to kill the memory, I am always in vain. I cannot dispatch everything into the baseless abyss of oblivion. Again, I would allow the ghosts to frolic just in the premises of my own selfrecollections, just like how it came to pass by chance last Valentine’s morn. But the valentine card I received from Ruby by mail later at noon time that same love day induced me to take pen in hand.
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These recurrences of our yesterday yield no considerable pain to me any longer since they occur with overwhelming certitude that somebody else owns Ruby’s heart and will never be mine. I would hope, however, that this should not be made a gesture of solemn farewell. Ruby must put in mind that I could now be hers if she ever needs my modest ministry and service. I feel contented to have learned a great deal and advanced in intellectual stature because of her. Also with her I experienced a fullness of living in the beauty of dreaming. I never possessed a bad blood against Ruby, only a predominant or pervading feeling that was hard to temper at one particular instance in the not so distant past. I need to love her unconditionally, and everybody else for that matter, as there is someone who really cares for me: God the source of all love. I was pleasantly surprised to receive that valentine note from Ruby! Anyhow it didn’t rip up old sores. And regarding the inset invitation: yes, I have firmly made up my mind. Ruby must give credence this time. I will go to be a godfather to their first child. Truly, I see its necessity too, to run in the same groove myself. I hope to receive my degree in theology this graduation season, and confidently by the date set in the invitation, I’ll already have received my priestly ordination. And perhaps, it wouldn’t be bad if I’ll be the one to officiate in the Holy Baptism service. ###

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