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We were both stuck in the rain

We were both stuck in the rain. Me, because I had decided, on a whim, to buy a drink. Her, because she had gone out on her scooter and hadn't thought to bring any cover. There had been no warning of rain, save for a sudden gust of wind immediately followed by a steady spray of water.

We sat on plastic chairs at a table pushed against the frontage of a closed store, thrown together by our need for shelter. I was on my phone; she was on another stick of cigarette.

I had my back to her, not wanting to intrude or be intruded on, but she spoke, her voice thick and raspy from, I could tell, years of nicotine and tar and smoke.

"You have a nice belt," she said.

"Sorry?" I replied.

"You have a nice belt," she repeated.

I turned around. She was a beautiful mestiza: creamy skin, dark brown eyes, a tiny sharp nose. Makeup-free, as far as I could tell. She was wearing a pink spaghetti top and short denim cutoffs. Her brown hair was put up in a messy high ponytail. She was ten years older than me, she would point out later, past 50.

"Thank you," I replied, and before I could stop myself, I added, "I like it too, because it's made of recycled materials and it's good for the planet ... Earth." I tapped on my phone, an effort to rein in my rambling. Beautiful people, in general, make me nervous.

"It's nice," she said, "you don't need holes on it." She quickly ran a finger on the weave of my belt, an intrusion so swift I didn't have time to flinch.

Is she trying to trick me or something? I found myself thinking. But instead I mumbled, "I hope my underwear isn't showing," and I tugged at my jeans. She assured me it wasn't.

I took note of my belongings, almost immediately feeling bad for thinking with malice. There were other people around us; the people manning the store next door knew her by name. But I turned my back anyway, making a show of being busy on my phone.

It was still raining; I had nowhere to go.

"Have you seen the movie Glorious?" she asked, her voice straining through the silence I was spreading between us. "That was some kiss he gave her, with his tongue all out."

Is she trying to pick me up? I found myself wondering. I'm not good at reading sexual cues, and I didn't mean to be assuming, but I'd seen Glorious and how did the subject shift from my belt to a movie about a 51-year-old woman who, after years of fearing she had turned frigid, reignites her sexuality with a young lover?

But I had made a resolution to be generous with my attention, so I decided to give her an audience, at least for as long as the rain would last.

She told me the story of her best friend, a woman in her fifties who had a twenty-one-year-old boyfriend. The boy was crazy about her friend, she said, and he wanted to marry her, but she wanted to keep their relationship secret because he was younger than her youngest child.

Besides, they couldn't marry because she had been married before, years ago, to a mason, the construction worker who looked like Panchito whom she had chosen over her rich American journalist boyfriend and another American suitor who was based in Hong Kong and took her to five-star hotels and gave her a package with 24 bottles of different expensive perfumes.

Her best friend and the boyfriend are going to Leyte together soon, to meet her family and make the relationship official.

She also told me the story of her uncle, an engineer who worked in Dubai as an airline mechanic. He was pirated by a competitor once--asked to name his price, he quoted four times the amount he was making, and they gave it to him. The woman said they tried to set him up with her best friend, but she loved her Panchito then, so they ended up setting him up with her best friend's maid.

The uncle fell in love with the maid. He married her and built her a mansion in Pangasinan. He was infertile--everyone knew this--so when he found out that his wife was pregnant, he knew the baby wasn't his, but he accepted it because it was the one thing he couldn't give her.

The second time she got pregnant, she tried to get rid of the baby. She ended up bleeding heavily, non-stop. She almost died. He flew from Dubai to nurse her back to life. The baby didn't make it.

She eventually left him for a policeman from Urdaneta. The uncle came home unannounced and caught the lovers in flagrante delicto. On their bed, in the master bedroom in the mansion he had built for her.

Her uncle had been tempted to kill his wife right then and there, the woman said, but he calmed down and told himself that it was pointless to kill such a terrible person. Let her suffer the consequences of her actions, he said, life will get her back.

She kept the house and everything in it. He left for Dubai. He died a few years later. "Sa kaiisip," the woman said, pointing to her head and twirling her finger. Death by overthinking? I wondered, but I was thinking of myself.

"Do you have children?" she asked. She had two. One was 37, a daughter. She was single.

"No," I replied. "I don't have a husband either." But I have other things I think too much about, I wanted to say, like presbyopia and falling hair, whether I keep misinterpreting sexual cues from men, and even women, and whether I talk too much and say the wrong things. Basically, a slow kind of death by overthinking.

"You want a smoke?" she asked. I shook my head.

In another life, I would have said yes and continued the conversation. I would have made a new friend--a beautiful, chain-smoking, scooter-riding momma with a raspy voice and colorful though sometimes tragic tales.

Also in another life, this would have been a meet cute. She would have been a handsome, single man instead--or at least our genders would have matched.

In this life, it had stopped raining. "Well," I said, "I have to go home now." I said goodbye, and that was that.

Sunday rest for the restless

I love Sundays, especially if I've spent Saturday out. It's still a day of rest for me, though rest now takes on different appearances, such as doing the dishes or folding my clothes or trying out a new recipe.

I learned recently that the rest I need after a busy week doesn't necessarily mean resting the body. It's more of resting my mind, and that can happen when I labor on other things I don't think about on the other days of the week.

I also learned recently that I actually enjoy making things, no matter how little talent--and patience--I have for crafting.

My mother and I (but mostly my mother) made a princess skirt for Kiara to play with last December. I took some scraps and made a matching skirt for her Minnie Mouse toy. The stitches were messy, the fabric was crooked, but you can bet I was proud of that little thing!

Emboldened by the relative success of my little project, I decided to finally make the prototype of that infinity scarf with a secret pocket I'd always wanted to make. It took me perhaps a total of twelve hours, including not just one instance of taking my creation apart because I'd made a mistake, but I was satisfied with my latest endeavour.

Take a look! I'm not so crazy about the print, but I'm happy with the outcome.

That strip in the middle is the secret pocket.

Basically, a few years ago, I bought a few meters of the cheapest stretch fabric I could find so I could learn to work with it on a sewing machine. It was a pretty advanced plan, as I had never used a sewing machine in my entire life.

I still haven't learned to use a sewing machine. I made this scarf by hand, using the only two stitches I remember from Home Economics class: the running stitch and the back stitch. Then I sewed on the secret pocket with a zipper using, well, my common sense. Somehow it worked.

I think I'm going to make more scarves on more Sundays of this year. I'll probably want to get my own sewing machine, if I learn how to use the tiny portable one that we have. At the very least, I'm definitely going to improve my running stitch and back stitch.

My theme for 2019: good intentions

To be clear, it's living intentionally, but I wanted to use a noun, or noun phrase, as has been the tradition.

This theme snuck up on me when we got home after Christmas Eve dinner with my brother-in-law's family, as I was tidying up in the living room before going to bed.

I'd noticed that the Christmas lights were still on the table, and the branch my mother and our helper had painstakingly cut off from our podocarpus tree--which had, incidentally, borne fruit for the first time ever in 2018--was looking forlorn in its dark corner in our tiny patio.

That was our Christmas tree, still unfinished. It had to wait until Christmas morning to be completed, and it would have only one Christmas night to sparkle in its full glory.


We'd had a good night with family, and in the spirit of the season, I switched on the lights. I watched them twinkle on the table, many of them still coiled, and thought to myself: here lies our good intentions.

But what we had really intended was to have a light, happy evening. We had intended to not be so tired from unnecessary preparations that we'd be cranky or exhausted before midnight. And that's what we got.

So, here's to living out all my good intentions this 2019!

***

It took a while to come up with this theme. I'd been thinking of making lifestyle changes, like simplifying my life further, speeding up my pursuit of minimalism, and going for zero waste as much as possible.

I was on a jeepney a few days before Christmas, and I noticed this boy in front of me. He was dressed in casual clothes--t-shirt, shorts, sneakers, no socks--and he was probably a university student. He had an arm up and on his wrist was a phrase tattoo: "mise en place" in cursive.

Mise en place is a French term associated with the culinary arts. It means "set up" or "putting everything in its proper place" to make cooking easier, especially for professional chefs.

But it's also a philosophy that extends beyond the kitchen. Here's a nice short article on it.

It almost became my theme for the new year--my life, after all, is a complete mess--until I felt the need to go bigger. I mean, did I really just want to put the elements of my life in order? Or did I also want to start creating new things as well, even as worked on having mise en place?

***

Speaking of mise en place, I was reminded of the term yet again when I met up with my old friends Eric and Donna for our annual Christmas meet-up.

Eric, me, and Donna

We were talking about our shared lack of desire to have our own children, and the conversation zoomed in on the whys: some sort of fear, some form of laziness, and perhaps what others would misconstrue as selfishness, but what, I think, is really a question of readiness.

"Do you make your own bed when you wake up in the morning?" Eric asked. If even that takes too much effort, what more the work of parenthood?

Maybe I'll still be a mother. Or maybe not; time is no longer on my side. Or maybe I'll be a step mom. Or perhaps an adoptive mom.

I don't know.

But what I do know is that that's another level of mise en place. I wouldn't mind putting on the work, really.

Good intentions, 2019!

Justin

I have cousins whom I met for the first time in 2015, when one of them, the only girl among four siblings, got married and I flew to the US to attend the wedding.

Jessica and I had written each other when we were young, but all I knew of her brothers were their names, how they looked as children based on some pictures from the 70s and 80s, and the occasional news my mother shared with us. But I thought of them a lot when I was growing up, because for many years my brothers and I ate all our meals at home on personalized plates Auntie Anna had sent from the States. Many times, after I'd see my name underneath the rice, I'd think of theirs: Justin, Steven, Jonathan, Jessica.

The first time I met Justin, the eldest, was at the wedding rehearsal, I think. He was seated on a pew at the back of the church, and someone mentioned food to me. I can't remember what exactly, but it must have elicited delight from me, and when he saw my reaction, he smiled, brown eyes sparkling, and said something like, "We're related, alright!"

We met a few more times after that, and it struck me how kind and warm he was, and how witty too. I found myself wishing we'd grown up close to each other, the way my other cousins and I had.

The longest chat I must have had with him was when he drove me, Sherwil, and Ruth back to my Aunt's home in Bergenfield, after a fun day spent on Jersey shore with his wife Michelle and her sister Cindy. Traffic was bad, but he kept us entertained and told us it was okay to sleep.

I'm grateful that we had that moment, and with my dearest friends too. It was like a catch-up barkada trip, and a big brother was bringing us home.

Once, on Facebook, I posted a picture of my ballpoint pens and said that I hoard them and some other office supplies. He left a comment, something like, "You're family, alright!" Then he posted pics of drawers and drawers of his own stash.

I'd been looking forward to more similar discoveries, to more visits. We lost Justin today. He was lovingly surrounded by our family in the US, and held in the hearts of our family in the Philippines. 

We will miss him always. We will love him forever.

I imagine he is being welcomed in heaven by our grandparents, especially Lolo Lino, and his father, Uncle Justino. And his beloved dog, sweet, sweet Buzz.

How we learned Tagalog

When we moved to Manila, my brothers and I still spoke Cebuano. Ivan was six, I was five, Dot was three. We would speak this language in the household for at least four more years as school and the neighborhood gradually whittled us down into ManileƱos.

In my mind, I credit Batibot for teaching us Filipino, but that's not the entire truth. This, I remembered at dinner last night.

While eating at Provenciano with Ivan and his fiancee Ana, I noticed the blue and white enamel plate a dish was served in and remembered I had coveted the same plate as a child because of the 1980s TV series "Yagit."

"Ang mga batang yagit" would eat fluffy, loose rice and dried fish on their blue and white enamel plates. They ate with their hands and with so much gusto--especially the fat boy named Tom-tom who was credited as Tom-tom, so I wondered if he was a real batang yagit--that I associated their enamelware with a good and happy meal despite the direst of circumstances.

Ivan told me I could find old enamelware being sold online. I replied that I probably wanted those plates only because of my yagit fantasies and those aren't exactly nice fantasies to have.

Ivan explained to Ana that when we were growing up, our helpers would watch Yagit and other afternoon TV dramas. Our mother didn't like it--we weren't allowed to watch local TV--but they still did when my parents weren't home and, by default, we did too.

That's how we learned Tagalog.

One day, Ivan was angry at one of the helpers and he called her one of the first insults we had picked up: patay-gutom. She cried, responding in the same way a TV character would, and I was stunned by this real-life drama happening before me. She may have packed her bags and left.

We got a scolding, I think, for watching local TV, but so did our helpers. That didn't stop them. And, by default, us.

In grade 5, I got laughed at for pronouncing "palda" with the accent on the second A. I had long given up calling my brother Manoy Ivan because some of the neighborhood kids teased me. By then, I was struggling with English too. But I had a growing Tagalog vocabulary! Yagit, dukha, sampid. Mangangalakal. Patay-gutom. Hampaslupa. And my favorite: tulisan.

Goodbye, yellow brick road


I didn't grow up listening to Elton John. He was already a big star when I was born, but the first grown-up songs I listened to were from vinyl records my parents, both born in the early 1950s, had in our record player. It was mostly music from The Carpenters, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Peter, Paul & Mary.

What I did grow up with, as far as Sir Elton John is concerned, is this line, forever carved into the road in front of our house, under the streetlight: "GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD."

For as long as I can remember, it has always been there, a curious phrase I'd stumble upon every now and then--first, in my younger years, when I had friends to play with in the streets; these days, when I occasionally venture out into the world and pause to look at my feet.

At first I didn't know it was a line from an Elton John song. I initially thought it was merely a The Wonderful Wizard of Oz reference, and I wondered about the boy--I just assumed it was a boy around my age--who dared write the words in wet cement and managed to not leave a single footprint. We had read the same book; if I we met, would we become friends?

When I was a little older, I started imagining it was a message from someone who knew the truth about our neighborhood: that underneath the rough concrete, made even rougher by tiny potholes and bits of dried cement left over from various house extension projects, was an actual golden road that led to the magical Land of Oz. They, whoever they were, had covered it up so nobody could find it, and yet one of them wrote the line so somebody magical--hopefully, me--would.

But then I grew up and the Internet happened, and one day, I typed the words in my computer and learned it was an Elton John song. Or maybe I grew up and videoke happened, and one day, I heard someone singing the words, recognized them, and discovered they were from an Elton John song.

I'm not really sure anymore how I made the connection. But even after I did, it took me a while to really listen to the song, and an even longer while--only tonight, in fact, when I was taking notes for a short story I am trying to write--to paint in my mind another picture of the person who may have written it.

He must have been one of the workers who built the road in the late 70s or early 80s, the period our subdivision was carved out from grassland and sold in lots to people who came in from a scattering of elsewheres.

He may have wanted to leave a mark on the product of his heavy labor. Instead of writing his name or the name of someone he loved on the drying cement, he must have settled on a line from his favorite song.

Listening to the song now, I wonder: Was he being quite literal, saying goodbye to the road, to the construction project, to the temporary job?

Or was he really feeling the song, wishing he had stayed on the farm, listened to his old man? Was he planning to go back to his plough? Had he finally decided that his future lay beyond whatever was his personal yellow brick road?

How much do you love me?

This morning, I asked my niece Kiara how much she loved me. "Eleven times," she said. "Only eleven?" I asked, and she said, with finality, yes.

I normally tease her until she gives me a bigger number, but she is four now, developing a mind of her own, and I decided to accept what she was willing to give.

This afternoon, as I was walking away from their house after dropping her off, she ran to the window and called out, "Auntie Dat!" "Yes?" I shouted back.

"I love you one hundred two times!" she shouted from the top of her tiny lungs, so loud the entire block could hear, "I miss you! I love you!"