Encore Une Fois

She stirs her coffee absent mindedly as she stares outside the window of the coffee shop, that she didn’t notice her coffee turning cold. She then would glance at the entrance door from time to time just to check if the person she’s waiting for has arrived. She checks the time; 18 minutes has already passed since she arrived. She’s getting more anxious. Whatever might happen, she hopes she’ll be able to act nonchalant as planned. She has waited for two years and eight months for this day. She even practiced how she will act and memorized all the things she prepared to say just for this day. No one approved of her past relationship with the guy, especially her parents who prohibited her to see him or contact him. And today’s the only day her parents allowed her to see him once again, for this might also be her only last chance to see him ever again.She continues staring into the nothingness as her thoughts begin to consume her again. She isn’t aware the person she’s waiting for has already arrived. The guy quietly sits on the chair across her, although he was quite hesitant and shy at first.

“I’m waiting for someone else. You can’t take the seat. Sorry,” she says thoughtlessly without even glancing at him. “It’s… It’s me, Nina.” That voice. Her eyes widen in surprise as she realizes whose voice is that. She still remembers clearly. Slowly, she turns her head to see the guy sitting across her. So it’s really him. She runs her fingers through her hair and adjusts herself in her seat. As if he was a stranger that she has to talk casually to. Unfortunately, he’s far more than a stranger in her life.
“Uh, sorry. Medyo wala ako sa sari–”
“No, it’s okay.” He says, timidly smiling. She opens her mouth to utter something but doesn’t know what to say so she keeps it shut.
“So, uhm, kumusta na?”
His voice would just pass through her ears though. She gets engrossed in studying his face.It’s been years since he last saw this man, since he broke up with her and left her. A lot has changed in his looks. But it just made him more mesmerizing. He has grown facial hair but it looked neat. His hair also got longer but it suited him. She looked everywhere but his eyes. Seeing him again this close makes her feel a familiar swarm of creatures inside her stomach and her heart beat a little faster than usual. And she hates the familiarity of this feeling. When she accidentally looks in his eyes and she catches him staring, her heart pauses for a moment. As if he holds a remote to her heart and intentionally pauses it through his gaze. She wasn’t prepared for that. She tried her best to avoid his eyes but failed. She immediately averts her gaze. She subtly shakes her head, hoping to pull herself back to her senses. She slowly turns to him again, leveling her eyes on his nose just to make sure she doesn’t meet his eyes. “Sorry. Ano nga ulit yun?”
“Kinukumusta kita.” He looks at her with concern but maintains his smile. He can notice that she’s a little uneasy. She used to be really comfortable around him but things are not what it used to be anymore; things have changed.
“Ah. I’m doing well, I guess. Medyo abala sa trabaho pero kinakaya naman.”
After contemplating, she finally gathers all her strength to look him in the eye for the first time since he arrived. She grins, but with a hint of bitterness. “Ang tagal na rin pala, ano? Buti pinayagan ulit nila tayong magkita. Even for the last time. Akala ko talaga hindi na ulit kita makikita.” She bites her cheek wall, trying to ignore the lump on her throat.

“You know me, Nina. Alam mo namang ‘di ko hahayaan yun. I make things happen.”
That familiar line gets her attention. She suddenly remembers her kuya. It was something he would often tell her. How she wishes that he’s with her today. Maybe it would’ve been easier to face this man if only he was here.

 ***

Nina had a bad day in school. So when she got home, she just wanted lock herself inside her room for the whole night. She impatiently knocked on the door. Her kuya opened it for her, and she immediately bolted to her room upstairs as soon as she got inside. She couldn’t help but burst into tears. Her heart was broken that day. She made a confession to his first love but was rejected. His kuya could her loud sobbing. He got worried for his sister so he went inside her room to comfort her. He stroked her hair as she cried, her face buried on the pillow.

“Kuya hates seeing you in tears, diba? Ano ba ang nangyari?”
“I was dumped kuya. Ang sakit! Mahal ko na siya kuya eh. Gusto ko lang naman maranasan magkaron ng boyfriend. At gusto ko siya na yun,” she said in between sobs. The only thing her kuya managed to do was shake his head at his young and innocent sister. She was just 19 and he was 23.
“Yun lang ba gusto mo? Maranasan ang magkaron ng boyfriend?” She stopped sobbing and just stared at her kuya. She weakly nodded.
He chuckled at his adorable sister then kissed her forehead. “Don’t worry. Kuya will make it happen.” He wiped her tears and smiled at her.
“But how?”
***
She sips on her cold coffee. “I know. Kaya nga I’m glad na dumating ‘tong araw na ‘to. Who knows, baka huli na ‘to. Babalik ka na rin ng Italy diba? And you might stay there longer or probably forever. I don’t know.” She shrugs.
“Nina…”
“Eh ikaw pala, kumusta ka naman ngayon?” She places both of her elbows on the table, hands clasped together, and her chin resting on top. “Hmm, naging masaya ka ba? Naging mapayapa ba buhay mo dun? I’m interested to know how your life have been.” She was beaming the whole time but her voice contradicts the smile plastered on her face. Her voice is quivering a bit. He knows her well. He knows that she’s possibly close to being emotional right now.
“Okay naman ako. Sa unang taon simula nung naghiwalay tayo, syempre nahirapan ako maging masaya. Pero ayun, eventually nakaya ko din. But to be honest I had a hard time feeling at peace kasi naiisip kita. Pero ngayon siguro medyo okay na ako.”
“Okay. Good for you naman. Ako kasi when you left me, I was so miserable. I didn’t know what to do or how to handle myself nung nawala ka. I have no one to support me during those times. Even mama and papa. They’re still mad at me, lalo na si mama. Pati mga kaibigan ko tinalikuran na ako. Ang hirap, August. Ang hirap.” Tears start to pool in her eyes but she quickly wipes it away and maintains her smile. He tries to reach for her hand on the table in an attempt to comfort her but she pulls it back and glares at him. “Don’t try to comfort me. Okay lang ako. Di naman kita sinusumbatan. I was just telling you how my life have been since you left.” She takes another sip of coffee to calm herself. She notices that he doesn’t have a drink yet. She decides to excuse herself, making him worry.

“Aalis ka na?”
“No, I’ll just buy you a drink. Then we’ll talk.”
“Ha? Nina, ako na bibili.” He attempts to get up but she pushes him back to his seat.
“I insist. Just please stay there as I buy you a drink.” She turns her back at him then walks to the counter and queues. She felt the need to get out of there for a while. She needs to breathe, to calm down herself, to pull herself back to her senses. She almost lost it. She almost broke down right then and there. Seeing him in person reminded her how he missed him, how she cried every time she counted the days since he left. God, she missed him so much. She just wanted to throw her arms around him and forget everything but she can’t and she shouldn’t.
She hates him. So much. But she loves him too. Just as much.
***
As soon as Nina woke up, she immediately reached for her phone on the bedside table to check for anything she missed while asleep.

Unknown Number:
“Good morning! :)”
“Let me start your day by telling you how precious you are.”
“Never skip a meal, okay? So get up now and eat your breakfast. Get some sunshine. This day deserves to be as lovely as you.”
“Hehe. I love you. (rose emoji)”
Me:
“Aw, ang sweet mo sana”
“kaso boi wrong send ka.”

Unknown Number:
“Hahaha Nina naman eh. Wag mo sirain yung moment. Makisakay ka na lang sa pagiging sweet ko.”
“Wag kang ganyan sa boyfriend mo. (wink emoji)”

Me:
“Gago maghanap ka ng ibang malalandi mo kung sino ka man.”
“Ib-block ko number mo. Hindi ka sa Rico kaya tigilan mo ‘ko.”

She went out of her room and headed to the dining area to eat her breakfast. Their parents were at work so the only one left is her kuya who was preparing her cereals and sandwiches. Her kuya was unusually cheery that day as he greeted her.
“Ba’t ang saya mo ata masyado?
“E ikaw, ba’t ang lungkot mo masyado?” He sat on the chair beside her and turned it towards her. “Di ba dapat masaya ka kasi may boyfriend ka na simula ngayon?” He showed her a toothy grin.
She snorted at him. “So ikaw pala may pakana nung nag-message sakin kanina? Sino ba yun? Barkada mo?”
“Keep guessing.” He wiggled his brows. “Dali, hulaan mo.”
“I’m not in the mood today, kuya. Sabihin mo na lang kung sino yang nauto mo para magpaka-boyfriend sa’kin. At pakisabi na rin na tumigil na. Si Rico ang gusto ko.”
“E kung sabihin kong ako talaga yun?” Her eyes widen in disbelief. She was speechless so he just continued what he was saying. “I’ll be your boyfriend habang naghihintay kang may totoong manligaw sayo. Ayaw kita nalulungkot, Nina. Lahat ng gusto mo ibibigay ko. Kung gusto mo ng boyfriend, ready akong maging pansamantalang boyfriend mo.”
“But that’s disgus—”
“Walang malisya to, ha? Ipaparamdam ko lang sayo kung paano magkaroon ng boyfriend and I’ll exclude the intimate acts like kissing kasi kadiri yun. Di naman tayo talo.”
***
She walks back to their table holding a cup of coffee she ordered for him.
“Thank you.” He says as she places his coffee on the table. She doesn’t respond and just goes back to her seat. When their eyes meet, she looks away. No one uttered a word. She tried to focus her attention outside, observing the people passing by while he just taps his hand on the table as he drinks the coffee; both didn’t know what to say; both were waiting for the other to start the conversation again; both weren’t brave enough yet to tell the things they wanted to say, the things they have prepared for this “special” day.
When he’s halfway through his drink, he finally decides to talk. “I actually missed you, Nina.” It gets her attention, of course. She turns her head to look at him. “Sana sulitin na natin ‘tong huling araw na ‘to… maybe to catch up, to tell each other the things we wanted to say. Anything. Everything. Basta mag-usap tayo. Ayokong sayangin tong araw na ‘to kasi ang tagal ko talaga ‘tong hinintay. And I missed your voice. I wanna hear you talk, please.”
She pinches her fingers under the table. Don’t you dare cry in front of him, Nina. Don’t you dare, she warns herself. Keep your cool. Act as if you don’t miss him as much anymore. She takes a deep breath.
“Okay. So anon a pag-uusapan natin?”
“Do you still think of me?”
“Hindi na. Simula nung umalis ka, kinalimutan na kita. Nilibang ko ang sarili ko sa kung anu-ano para di kita maisip. It was very easy for me to forget you. I don’t miss you anymore—sana ganun nga, pero hindi ganun ang nangyari. Kahit di na kita nakikita, kahit di ko na naririnig ang boses mo, kahit wala na kong alam na kahit ano sayo, sa loob ng dalawang taon at walong buwan, inaalala pa rin kita. Kaya galit na galit ako sayo.” She avoids his gaze and fiddles with her cup. “Kasi iniwan mo na nga ako, pero parang kasama pa rin kita. There’s just so much memories almost everywhere I look. Nakakainis lang.”
“Nina…”
“Don’t worry, August. I’m okay. I’m still thankful for the memories we shared. I was truly happy noong panahon na naging tayo, kahit palihim lang. Siguro kaya ganoon ako kawasak nung iniwan mo ko kasi sobra-sobrang napasaya mo ko nung tayo pa. And for that, I thank you. Thank you for the love and the memories.” She flashes a smile—this time a genuine one—as a tear escapes her eye. She places her hands on the table and he gets this opportunity to reach for her hands and hold them tightly and plant a kiss on it. She wanted to pull her hands back, but she decided to just let him for this might be the last time she’ll feel his touch. And she missed the warmth of his hands too.
He looks her in the eye, her hands still tightly held by his. “I’m sorry, Nina. I’m really, really sorry I left you. But believe me, I treasured every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every month that we were together. I loved you so much—but I had to leave because I got scared.”
“Scared of what?”
***
On the first two months of their relationship role-play, everything was normal. They did the things that most couples do except being too intimate. The most intimate thing they could do was hold hands. And this was Nina’s favorite part of that relationship role-play. They would bravely hold hands in public, not minding if anyone they knew would see them like that. It wasn’t something they had to hide anyway. They weren’t doing anything malicious. And there weren’t feelings involved. They would often just laugh about it. It was plainly a relationship role-play thought by August for his sister Nina.
But one time, being a clingy and sweet siblings that they were, they exchanged I love yous out of the blue. But it didn’t feel the same as before; both suddenly felt something strange. Something was indeed different in that exchange of I love yous. But they just dismissed the strange feeling thinking that it was nothing. Not until that day she decided to stop the relationship role-play.
“Kuya, tingin ko okay na. Pwede ka na siguro tumigil.” She told him inside the car one afternoon while they were stuck in traffic.
“Ba’t naman biglang ayaw mo na? May nanliligaw na ba sayo?” She looked away and nodded.
“Okay,” was his only response. And for some strange reason, they remained silent all throughout the ride until they got home. Before he entered his room, Nina showed up behind him just to tell him, “Kuya, si Rico nga pala yung nanliligaw sa’kin. Gusto ko lang ipaalam sayo.” Again, he just nodded at her and entered his room without saying anything to her.
From that day onwards he became cold to her. He would avoid her as much as he can. She missed him. Not only as her kuya but as her role play boyfriend. She thought she’d be happy that Rico was finally pursuing her. But she wasn’t. Whenever she’s with Rico she’d always feel something lacking. And she would find herself wishing that it was her kuya again and not Rico. So one night she decided to go to his kuya’s room and ask him why he had been avoiding her for the past few weeks.
“Kuya, let’s talk.” She entered his room without knocking and just stood there in front of his door. He lazily dragged himself to get out of the bed and walked towards her.
He crossed his arms against his chest. “Ano ba yun?”
“Ba’t mo ba ako iniiwasan?”
No matter how obvious it was, he still tried to deny. “Di kita iniiwasan. Nagiging busy na din kasi ako sa work ko. That’s all.”
“Bullshit.” She angrily pointed her finger at him. “You were so cold to me!” She mockingly grinned. “You were avoiding me all the time! I keep asking you questions and all you do was answer yes or no. But most of the time you just ignore me. Nakakainis! Ano ba nagawa ko?”
He sighed and looked away. “Sige. Iniiwasan nga kita. Pero hayaan mo lang muna ako please. Para sayo din tong pag-iwas ko.”
He wasn’t giving her the answer she wanted. She covered her face with her hands and sobbed out of frustration. “Kasi kuya namimiss na kita. Please naman, sabihin mo kung anong dahilan para maayos natin.” His expression softened. He hated himself for making her cry.
He removed her hands covering her face then cupped her cheeks and looked her in the eye. “Baka kasi hindi mo magustuhan pag sinabi ko sayo. Mas mabuti na yung wala kang alam. Kaya please, hayaan mo na lang.” She threw his hands from her cheeks and lightly punched him in the chest. Tears stream down her cheeks. This is the sight is that he hated the most. He hated seeing her beloved sister in tears.
She continued the light punches on his chest as she cried. “Nakakainis ka kuya! Ang unfair mo naman e.” She said this over and over before he finally told her the reason.
“Sige, sasabihin ko na ang totoo.” She stopped punching him and lifted her chin to look at him. “Bahala na kung magalit ka sakin. Pero kasi Nina,” he paused for moment. Tears were threatening to fall so he quickly wiped it away. He took a deep breath. “May iba na kasi akong nararamdaman para sayo. And I think it’s not a brotherly kind of love anymore. I think I’m seeing you as a woman now and not as a sister. At alam ko ang gago nun. Please don’t get scared of me.” He couldn’t read her expression but he continued anyway. ”Pero wag ka mag-alala. Baka nalito lang ako. Baka nasanay lang ako na tinuturing kitang girlfriend. Kaya iniiwasan kita. Maybe I just need to stay away from you for a while. Makakalimutan ko din to. Wag ka mag-alala kasi pipilitin ko na mawala agad tong nararamdaman ko. I am trying my best to save you from me. I don’t want this feeling to consume me and make me do irrational decisions. So please, hayaan mo muna ako iwasan ka. And I hope you do the same. Stay away from me, Nina.” He turned his back at her and was was about to walk back to his bed when he held onto his arm and pulled him towards her.
She intently looked in his eyes. “What if I tell you that I feel the same, kuya?”
“Nina naman.” He shut his eye and lifted his chin as if begging, praying to the Lord for mercy. “Stop tempting me from breaking my morals just for the possibility of us… kasi bibigay agad ako kung kasama kita dito.” He looked at her with pleading eyes, hoping to convince her to stop this—or maybe to stop him from giving in to her. “It’s so wrong and selfish kasi kasiyahan lang nating dalawa ang iniisip natin kung itutuloy natin ‘to.”
“I don’t care. I also feel the same. Akala ko ako lang nakakaramdam kaya pinilit kong ibinaling ang atensyon ko sa iba. That’s why I entertained Rico kaso wala din pala. Ikaw pa rin pala. So let’s do it. Let’s be selfish together.” While one hand is holding onto his arm, her other hand sneaked its way to the back of his neck, pulling him close. She stood on her toes to kiss him; he wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her back. That’s when they started to forget all their inhibitions, all their morals, everything, and everyone for that moment—for that kiss.
***
“Scared of myself. I was so scared of the things I can do for us. My love was starting to consume me. Natakot ako para sayo. Natakot ako kasi patindi nang patindi ang pagmamahal ko sayo sa araw-araw na magkasama tayo. Natakot ako na baka makagawa ako ng maling desisyon, maling galaw. What if we get tempted to make love? What if you get pregnant? I don’t want you to suffer the consequences of a wrong choice. That love will destroy us. I want you to have a good, normal life.”
She closes her eyes and shakes her head in disagreement. “Anong silbi ng good, normal life na yan if I’m not happy kasi wala ka naman? August, I’m suffering more than you think. Ang lungkot-lungkot mag-isa. Naiwan ako dito sa Pilipinas habang ikaw nasa Italy. Mag-isa lang ako, August. Wala akong kakampi kasi lahat tinalikuran na ako. Lahat diring-diri na sakin. Kung tignan nila akong lahat, akala mo nakapatay ako ng tao. Nagmahal lang naman ako e. Yun nga lang sa kapatid ko pa.” She wipes her tears using the back of her hand. But her tears continue falling. “I felt so lonely, so alone. I almost harmed myself pero hindi ko tinuloy, thinking that one day you’ll come back for me. And you did. But you came back only to tell me that you’re leaving for good.” She chuckled as more tears stream down her cheeks. “Ewan. Basta ang alam ko I miss you, August. Pero miss na miss ko na rin yung kuya ko. Yung kakampi ko kapag parang pinagkakaisahan na ko ng mundo.” He places his chair beside her. The proximity only made her more emotional. She missed having him this close to her. “I need my kuya to come back home. Kahit siya na lang yung bumalik. Kahit hindi na si August.” She mumbles against his shoulder while his arms are tightly wrapped around her.
He kisses the top of her head and tells her, “Nina please stop making it hard for me to leave. I need to leave for your own good.”
“But I miss you so much kuya.” She sobs harder. “Please come back home with me. Kuya…”
He leans his head on hers. “The moment you decided to love me as August, as a man, kuya disappeared. He will never come back home again because you abandoned him the moment you chose to see August over your brother. Di na natin kayang bumalik sa dati, Nina. Di ko na kaya maging kuya sayo.”
***
Nina plopped onto the bed after a hard and loud slap from her mother. His father was just holding her mother from behind. She angrily threw a stack of polaroid pictures in her face. It was their polaroid pictures. She knew she hid them well under her clothes so she had no idea how her mother found them.
“Nakakadiri kayo! Ganyan na ba kayo katigang ng kuya mo para patulan niyo ang isa’t isa, ha?”
“Ma hindi po! Wala kaming ginawang ganyan ni Aug—ni kuya.” Her mom turned her back at her and shook her head in disappointment. She couldn’t believe what she just heard.” She looked back again at her daughter who was crying so much that her shoulders were already shaking.
“So August na din ang tawag mo sa kuya mo? Bakit, talagang mag-kasintahan na kayo? Grabe. Grabe!”
August arrived home from work. The moment he stepped inside the house, he heard their mother shouting upstairs. He knew something was wrong. She might have found out their secret relationship already. He was so nervous. But more than that, he was so worried that Nina’s facing their mother’s anger all alone. He went upstairs and saw Nina looking very helpless as their mother vented out all her anger on her and his father was doing nothing else but hold her wife. He immediately ran to Nina and wrapped his arms around her to cover her and protect her. She buried her face in his chest as she shook from crying. The mother couldn’t believe the sight in front of her. She was so disgusted to see their children romantically in love with each other. She walked out of the room. The father patted his son’s back and told August to follow him downstairs to talk, then he went out of the room as well.
August tightened his arms around her. That was the only thing he could do. He didn’t know how to comfort her. He knew from the very start that the love they had for each other was wrong. “I’m sorry it had to be like this. I’m sorry if I can’t do anything. But always remember that I love you, Nina June.”
“You are the world to me, August,” was the last thing she said for that night. He waited for her to fall asleep before he went downstairs to talk to their father.
***
When she finally calms down, he unwraps his arms around her and fumbles in his pocket.
“Nina, may kailangan akong sabihin sayo.” She doesn’t like the tone of his voice. So she tries to prepare herself. She anticipates for the possible bad news.
He shows her a ring. Cracks. She heard cracks inside her. Her heart beats fast but this time it didn’t feel good. Not even a bit. Her hands turns ice cold. “Ano yan?” She asks, hoping a different answer from him. But she knew. She knew.
“I hate to tell you this, but I’m already engaged.” Tears start to pool his eyes. He knows how this is going to hurt her. His breathing gets heavy. Hers too. “Sabrina is a nice girl. She wasn’t hard to love. But believe me, mas mahal pa rin kita. Walang kayang pumantay sayo.”
She just stares at him, silently crying. She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know what to react. She hates him. How can he love somebody else when her love for him never wavered even a bit?
“Di kasi ako papayagan ni mama at papa na makipagkita sayo hanggat hindi ako nakatali sa ibang babae e. At hindi na ako makapaghintay ng mas matagal pa bago ka makita. Desperadong-desperado na ko makita ka.”
She massages her temple, trying to grasp everything that was said. “So nag-propose ka dun sa—ano nga ulit panagalan nun? Sabrina?—para lang makauwi ka sa Pilipinas at makita ako?” She bites her lower lip so hard it could bleed. It’s painful. But nothing’s more painful than what she’s feeling right now. “Ang tanga-tanga mo, August. Ang tanga-tanga mo. Ang tanga-tanga!” She looks away. She saw the people looking at them. They became the center of attention. But she doesn’t care. Too much thoughts are already running in her head. “E pano yan, huling pagkikita na natin to.”
“May tyansa pa ulit tayong magkita,” she looks at him, “kung magmamahal ka ulit ng ibang lalake.”
She rolls her eyes at him, pulls her hair, and curses under her breath. God, she’s so frustrated at everything. “Tangina, August, mahal na mahal kita. Tingin mo ba kaya pang magmahal ng iba? Di ako gaya mo na kayang makahanap ng iba pa.”
He squeezes her hand. “Nina, yun na lang yung paraan para payagan nila tayong magkita ulit. Kung kinakailangan kong lokohin ang sarili ko na kaya ko na magmahal ng iba makita ka lang, gagawin ko. Basta payagan nila akong makita ka.”
***
“Nina June, kahit bawal, kahit di tanggap ng mundo yung ganitong klaseng pagmahahal, mahal na mahal pa rin kita. Pero kailangan na natin tapusin to.”
“August naman e. Sumusuko ka na ba?
“Di ko alam. Di ko alam kung pagsuko ba ang tawag dito. Basta ang alam ko lang, you’ll have a better life without me. The society cannot and will never accept the kind of love we have for each other. Tatanggapin ko na yung job offer sakin sa Italy. Nina, para satin to. Kailangan natin maghiwalay at lumayo sa isa’t isa…”
“I love you so much, August. I don’t care what people think of us. Please stay.”
“I love you so much too, Nina. This love scares me. That’s why I can’t stay.”
***
He stands up and gets a folded piece of paper from his back pocket. He places it on the table. Nina looks at the paper then back at August. “Sinulat ko yan kung sakaling ito na ang huling beses na papayagan tayong magkita,” he says in tears.
“Aalis ka na?”
“Our parents sent someone to watch over us. I can’t stay for so long. Baka mas lalo silang maghinala.” She doesn’t say anything. She just bursts into tears again right then and there, not minding everyone witnessing how miserable she looked.
He tilts down to wrap his arms around her shoulders once more, so tight she couldn’t breathe. She holds onto his arm, so tight her nails are almost digging on his skin. His chin rested on top of her head. Both wished for the time to stop and just let them stay like that. Both were afraid to let go.
But eventually, one of them took the courage to do so. Because if that person didn’t, no one will.
***

I still love you. It’s always you.

Let’s be selfish together once again. Let’s fool the world so we can be allowed to see each other again. Let’s continue secretly loving each other. And until our last breaths only us will know that no one succeeded in trying to break us.
But if not, I just hope you’ll find a man who’ll love you as much as I did. And I hope you learn to love him too. But I hope you’ll continue to remember the love we shared in a short period of time. Because I’ll always do. I’ll always remember you.
I love you, Nina June.

—August

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Takbo

Isa na naman iyon sa mga umaga kung saan yayayain mo akong tumakbo dahil wala kang kasama. Agad naman akong sasagot ng “oo”… syempre dahil ikaw ‘yan — at alam mo naman hinding-hindi ako makakatanggi sa’yo. O sige, siguro oo na din pala, pero isang beses lang yun. At ibang kwento na. Pero sa ibang mga kagustuhan mo, asahan mong laging “oo” ang isasagot ko.

Malayu-layo na rin ang natakbo nating dalawa. Hindi ko na napigilang mapahinto. Nanghihina na rin kasi ang mga tuhod ko. Sasabihin ko na sana sayong tumigil muna tayo saglit ngunit wala ka na pala sa tabi ko. Nagpatuloy ka sa pagtatakbo. Hindi mo na namalayang saglit akong tumigil. Nanatili ako sa aking kinatatayuan habang tinatanaw ka, nag-aabang kung mapapansin mo bang wala na pala ako sa tabi o sa likod mo. Napalingon ka sa tabi mo at natigilan. Tinanggal mo ang earphones mo na halos pasabugin na ang mga tenga mo sa lakas ng tugtog na nagmumula rito. Sa wakas, napansin mong wala ako sa tabi mo. Agad kang luminga-linga para hanapin kung nasaan na ako. At sa layo ng distansya nating dalawa, nagawa pa ring magtama ng ating mga mata. Nakita ko ang pagsalubong ng kilay mo at mabilisang pagsimangot. Agad ka naman tumakbo pabalik sa akin; ako’y naghihintay lang hanggang sa makarating ka. Habang papalapit ka sa akin ay unti-unti ring bumagal ang pagtakbo mo, hanggang sa dahan-dahan ka na lang na naglakad; ang ‘yong bawat hakbang ay maiingat.

Kitang-kita ko sa ekspresyon mo ang pagkairita. “Bakit naman hindi ka nagsabi na huminto ka pala? Sana sinabihan mo man lang ako, ‘di ba? Ang layo na ng narating ko, yun pala di na kita kasama. Huminto ka na pala dito. Kung gusto mong magpahinga, sabihan mo agad ako kasi hihinto din naman ako. Hihintayin kita,” ani mo. Halu-halo ang emosyon sa mga mata mo. Hindi ko alam kung paano ilalarawan. Pero isa lang ang malinaw: ganyang-ganyan din ang emosyong pinakita mo sa akin noong unang beses akong humindi sa isang kagustuhan mo.

“Nagpahinga lang naman ako saglit. Ang bilis mo rin kasing tumakbo kaya ‘di na kita agad nasabihan. Di na kita tinawag. Hinayaan na lang kita,” paliwanag ko. Bumibigat na ang paghinga mo. Napairap ka sa sinabi ko. “Yan ka na naman e. Hilig mo talaga sa mga ganyan, ‘no? Yung wala kang pake kung iniisip kong kasama pa kita pero yun pala ako na lang mag-isa. Di na pala kita kasama…”

Alam ko na kung sa’n patungo ang usapang ito. Hindi na ito tungkol sa pagtakbo natin. Patungkol na ito sa dapat na laban nating dalawa na naging laban na lang ng isa dahil sa pagbitiw ko sa’yo.

“Bilis mong sumuko e.” Kita ko ang pagtiim-bagang mo, para bang nagpipigil ka ng emosyon. Gusto kong sabihin — o isigaw — na napaka-babaw mo para magtampo sa isang napaka-simpleng bagay. Ngunit alam ko rin naman kung ano ang pinanghuhugutan mo. Mahigit isang taon na ang nakalilipas ngunit sariwa pa rin sa’yo ang lahat. Sa akin rin naman…

“I want to replace your surname with mine. And it pains me so much na sa dinami-dami ng mga tao sa mundo, nagkataon pang pareho tayo. At kung ipagpipilitan ko pa ‘to, it will be my ever greatest sin. Ikaw na yung nakikita kong maglalakad nang dahan-dahan papunta sakin, habang naghihintay ako sa may altar.” Wala na siyang paki kung umiiyak man siya harap ko. Desperado na siya. Desperado na din ako pero kumpara sa kanya, mas pinapanindigan ko kung alin ang tama. “Gustong-gusto kitang pakasalan. Ikaw na yun e. Oh God, I love you, but I love Him too. Pero kung kasama kita sa laban na ‘to, handa akong baliin lahat ng paniniwala ko, lahat ng prinsipyo ko; ipaglalaban natin kung ano ang nararamdaman natin. Sabihin mo lang, please. Sabihin mo. Di mo naman ako kayang tanggihan ‘di ba?” inabot niya ang kamay ko at hinawakan ito nang mahigpit na mahigpit. Pinanood ko ang pagtakas ng luha sa kanyang mata.

“Oo, tama ka. Di kita kayang tanggihan. Pero kahit ngayon lang, maglalakas-loob ako. Tatanggihan kita. Ito ang unang beses na hi-hindi ako sayo. Hindi kasi ‘to laban e. Walang laban kasi wala tayong tyansang manalo. Simula pa lang talo na agad tayo. Alam natin yan pareho. Habang kaya pa, tapusin na natin ‘to. Sa mata ng lahat at ng Diyos, mali.”

Kung anu-anong malulutong na mura na ang pinakawalan niya. “Mahal ko Siya, pero ngayon wala muna akong paki. Di naman ako naghahangad na maging santo e. Di rin ako umaasang sa langit ako mapupunta. Kung sa impyerno ako mapunta, okay lang. Di naman siguro ako maiinip dun e. Sigurado magkikita-kita kami ng tatay ko, ng mga kapatid ko, ng mga tropa ko dun.” Nagawa niya pang magbiro. Hinalikan niya ang kamay ko. Isa, dalawa, tatlo… hanggang sa binitawan niya ito upang ikulong ako sa mga bisig niya. Rinig ko ang munting mga hikbi niya habang nagsasalita. “Isang beses lang tayong binigyan ng pagkakataong mabuhay. And I want to spend this lifetime with you. Kung pagkatapos nito, sa impyerno na, ayos lang kasi at least nung nabuhay ako, ikaw naman yung nakasama ko.”

“Mahal din kita. Pero pasensya na, dun pa rin ako sa kung ano ang tama. At ang tama ay iwan ka na kasi yun ang mas makakabuti sating dalawa.” Kumalas ako sa yakap niya at umalis na.

Ilang buwan rin kaming hindi nag-usap matapos ang araw na iyon. Isang araw nalaman ko na lang na may girlfriend na siya. Saka lang rin niya akong kinausap muli. Ayos lang sa akin. Masakit man, masaya pa rin ako para sa kanya. Pinilit naming ibalik ang kahit “pagkakaibigan” man lang. Pinilit kong makuntento sa kahit ganun na lang.

“Akala ko ba masaya ka na sa buhay mo ngayon? Bakit parang kung kelan ka makakuha ng tyansa, sinusumbat mo lahat sakin? Di ka pa napapagod?” Hindi ka sumagot. Nanatili lang ang mga tingin mo sa mga mata ko. Pilit kong binabasa kung ano ang nasa isip mo. Pero wala. Ang tunog ng cellphone mo ang bumasag sa katahimikan nating dalawa. Tumalikod ka sa akin at sinagot ang tawag. “Hey babe… Hmm?…uh, yeah I’m with…” napahinto ka at muling napalingon sa akin habang sinasabi mo sa kanyang “I’m with my cousin…”saka ka muling tumalikod at lumayo pa nang konti. Hindi ko na narinig ang iba niyong usapan. Nang matapos ang tawag sinabi mo sa aking malapit lang siya sa lugar kung saan tayo ngayon at maya-maya lang ay papunta na siya. At gaya ng inaasahan, nagpakita matapos ang ilang minuto. Pumulupot ang braso mo sa bewang niya nang lumapit siya sa iyo sabay halik sa pisngi nito. Matapos nun ay nginitian niya ako na ibinalik ko naman sa kanya.

“You know what? I’m thankful na pag wala ako, ikaw ang kasama nitong boyfriend ko. At least wala siyang ibang girls na kasama kundi ikaw. You’re his cousin, kaya kampante ako pag ikaw kasama niya,” aniya at pabiro pang tinapik ang braso ko. Ngumiti lang ako kahit sa totoo lang ay gusto ko sa kanyang ibato ang hawak kong bote ng mineral water. Narindi ako dahil parang paulit-ulit niyang sinasampal sa akin na pinsan mo lang talaga ako at siya yung pwedeng-pwede talaga para sayo. Nagpasalamat ako na nag-aya na siyang umalis kayo. Inalok niya pa akong sumama sa inyo pero agad ko iyon tinanggihan. Di ko kaya.

Naghiwalay na tayo ng direksyon. Kayo sa kaliwa at ako naman sa kanan. Tumakbo ako. Yung mabilis na mabilis. Yung takbong mapapahabol ang isang aso dahil akala niya masamang-loob ako.

Nakakalungkot pala talagang tumakbo mag-isa ‘no? Ako yung unang nang-iwan pero ako pa rin itong mag-isa, hindi matakbuhan yung nararamdaman ko para sayo. Mula noon hanggang ngayon parehas pa rin, e. Kahit anong pilit kong pagtakbo, hindi ko pa rin talaga mahanap-hanap yang finish line ng damdamin ko para sayo.

Pero masaya ako para sayo na may nahanap ka nang iba. Masaya ako pero kinailangan kong lumayo. Yun na ang huling araw na nakita mo ako. Sana maintindihan mo kung bakit wala man lang pormal na pamamaalam. Kailangan ko lang hanapin ang sarili ko sa lugar na malayo sayo.

Mahal kita at miss na miss na rin kita.

Hayaan mong sabihin ko yan dahil ito na ang huling beses na kakausapin kita sa mga sulat ko. Ibabaon ko na ang papel na to sa ilalim ng lupa. Dun sa pinakamalalim na mahuhukay ko. Dun sa hindi ko na mahuhukay muli para balik-balikan ang huling alaala ko sayo.

(Posted: January 15, 2016)