You see, I fell in love with her when she walked by. When she struggled for spare change outside. Waiting in line. The look of wanting painted on her face- “Jesus let me have a break” echoing in her crooked brow, her pained lip. Alienation is not being able to afford the things you’ve made or worked for, the dreams you dreamt. And that was how she looked. Like Marx’s martyr waiting for her revolution… The one that never came, not fully. (No pun intended. This time I mean it.)
Like a longing for something else.
A striving just to make it somewhere.
A gun waiting to fire. (And I sort of wanted to pull the trigger but I knew it was her prerogative. And only hers. I respected that.)
/Yes, I fell in love with her./
And then, so easily, I forgot her when she left.
And then so easily, I fell in love with someone else- the next in line, the second sad soul of the day.
Intensely but momentarily.
I gave myself. And then I regain it. All of me. The whole of me. Leaving but a lock of hair in a clinching fist, in a clinging memory.
Knowing there’s always more to give. Unafraid of this type of losing.
It’s the best sort of romance:
To love completely but only in bits of time. Intensely in contained moments. At least, until I can fathom ‘forever’.
I’m going to make art for the rest of my life. I’m going to make silly, obscure little things because it feels right, because when I do, it’s when I’m at peace the most. I’m going to pursue something I love. But when all is said and done, I secretly hope, that because of my obscure, little triflings with words and scribbles and lines and ink, social change is produced as collateral damage, an unintentional by-product. How’s this for wishful thinking? How’s this for dilly-dallying with grandeur?
It starts in an empty music hall: Cold hardwood floor- polished. Rows and rows of silent seats with semi-worn out cushions but still very functional. A grand piano in the middle of an even grander stage. Red curtains- parted like a sea, delicately so that Moses would’ve been proud. The old place calling like a tug, a wanting.
And then she sneaks in. Takes a deep breath from the place. Keeps the air in her lungs and then releases it. Worn out rubber echoing against shinning wood. Footsteps having a touch at grandeur. She’s never seen a grand piano like that before, only from the movies. Old, fuzzy black and white things, intermittent with static that replayed in her head ever since she could remember.
She reaches out. Hesitates. For the longest pause, she waits, holding her breath. And then she leaps.
Dirty fingers scandalously caressing ivory keys. Smudging against a perfect black.
“So this is how it feels.” She whispers to her self, under her breath, over her head. “The real deal”
She taught herself to play: 13 years old, lounging unwantedly in a junk shop with a collection of discarded but still generally useable musical instruments, a shabby place that doubles as a sari-sari store along Recto, in a building that seems as though it doesn’t belong there anymore. Stealing hours until finally the old boss offers her a job. She cleans and then when everyone else was away, she plays. Reading the books, peeping at the music sheets beneath every body else’s busy noses. Having her way with the dusty, beaten up keys. Crooked but in tune.
They don’t mind her. No one minds her. Maybe because they don’t notice, maybe because raw music and childhood dreams are relics and they were surrounded by too many relics already.
She’s 17 now. A student at the conservatory. Full scholarship. Still no parents.
She takes a seat. And then she takes in the moment. Letting it linger. Filling her lungs with memory.
And then she begins to play. Slowly. Sheepishly. Audaciously, in a grand hall with a faint trailing of an abandoned essence: memories of the people that had played there, the countless faces exalted and consumed by time, the protégés of then, the makers of a dying age, of a lingering blues and a lonely Jazz. Hollow shadows haunting or blessing the old place. (No one could really tell which).
“Lady sings the blues so well…” She sings. “As if she mean it…“
“As if it’s hell down here. In the smoke filled world.“
“Where the jokes are cold.
They don’t laugh at jokes. They—“
All of a sudden, heavy breaths bottling up a saline storm enter. A shaky voice whimpers in the dark. A red nose, flustered cheeks, wet eyes outline themselves bit by bit.
She stops herself from playing. Dumbfounded. Round eyes. An open mouth. A rather idiotic expression like a cow caught in the headlights—off guard and defenseless.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think anyone was here.” She wipes her face, collects herself. Inhaling deeply, exhaling sharply with an expression just as surprised but twice as idiotic.
“I was just…” She gestures to a past that isn’t there, to an excuse that hasn’t revealed itself, groping the air for a believable alibi.
“…I was looking for something…”
She remains silent, sitting behind the piano. Minding herself. Believing silence will reveal sufficient responses when she couldn’t find any.
“Um…” She says. She wanted to ask what but that was all that came out. She had forgotten how to speak.
“…I can’t remember when I last had it.“ She pretends to look around. “San na ba ‘yun…” she murmurs to herself. And then she looks at the girl, staring at her. “Uh, you’re… you’re a student here aren’t you? I… I saw you at registration the other day. Freshman ka ba?”
She shakes her head.
“So, uh…how… how do you like it here? One of the oldest Universities in Manila. The oldest if I’m not mistaken… What’s your major?” She tries to hide her shaking hands by covering it up with shaky gestures.
She blinks. Twice. Dumbly and awkwardly. A tad bit apologetically. She points at the piano.
“Oh. Nice, nice.” She smiles as she rubs her hands on her jeans, sweaty palms causing up a flood. “Very nice. I… I’m a student too. Graduating. Supposedly. But well…” The memory irritates her. She tries to hold her composure but it wouldn’t let her. “Profs here can be real assholes.” She smiles wryly. Hands fumbling nervously. She remembers something else- wounds by old time, scorned history, tainted futures, coldness. “And so can a lot of other people.” She rolls her eyes. Flashes the same hard, wry smile.
“Oh.” She manages to choke out. “Sorry.”
“I… I don’t mean you a! Christ, no! I… it’s been a long day that’s all. Sorry. Jesus! Must think I’m crazy. I’m not. I just… It’s been a long day. This rarely happens, I promise. Fucking Christ! Sorry! Look at me using saintly words like a sailor. Holy names make the best curses, I guess.” She laughs nervously. She on the other hand, smiles politely, a nervous gulp stuck in her throat, getting impatient.
“Sorry, that was inappropriate, wasn’t it?”
“Ok lang.” She shrugs.
“I’m… I’m normal, I assure you. But then again, what’s normal? Aren’t we all a little mad?” She jokes and laughs loudly, uncontrollably, painfully at herself. The girl behind the piano doesn’t. The nervous gulp releases itself.
“Sorry.” She clears her throat. “I’m… I’m normal. I promise.”
“I’m sure.” She doesn’t sound so convinced but she humors her.
“I am. I’m…n…” She bites her tongue. Closes her eyes and holds herself down. “I’m Kat.” She smiles again beneath her breath. She reaches out her hand. They shake hands uncomfortably.
Some shuffling of body weight. Loud gulps here and there. A long pause without any breaths or breaks or ease.
“Um…ano hinahanap mo? Maybe I can help…” Jo realigns her voice box. It can work again.
“What are we all looking for, really?” She says with a sigh and a troubled expression.
“Philo major?” She teases.
“A, no. I just tend to say the weirdest things on the longest days.”
She smiles understandingly. And then she sighs.
They both sigh.
Jo looks at her and then at the piano and then at her again and then to the rest of the empty hall. Kat stares at her, at the big instrument wedged between them. She gets the cue. Finally.
“Oh. Oh! Sorry. You’re… you’re obviously rehearsing and I… I guess I’ve got something to do too. Senior and all. Busy. Lahat tayo busy.” Sweat builds up like rosary beads on her forehead. She wipes it with her hanky. Learning to pray as she does. “I…I’ll leave you. I… I’ll go.” She mumbles. And then she walks off stage quickly, heels clanking against the boards.
“Uhm…” Jo stands up.
Kat stops abruptly. She turns and then she looks behind her. “Nice meeting you.” And then she makes her way again. Her embarrassed form eaten by the shadows of backstage.
Jo doesn’t know what to make of that encounter so she shakes it off. Ignorance can be bliss in certain circumstances. She continues her little indulgence. She continues playing the song stuck in her throat, in her fingers.
“They laugh at tragedies …” She sings. “Corner street societies…“
“But they believe her. They never leave her—“
Clicking heels tap against the floor. “Wala ka bang nakitang ano—” Kat comes back. Loudly.
Surprised, Jo accidently presses the wrong keys. She swallows the phrase she was about to sing.
“Sorry, you were rehearsing. I’ll come back” She begins to walk away.
Kat stops and sits behind the piano next to Jo.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you… It’s just that…”
“Okay nga lang.” She says with more emphasis and a condoning smile.
There is silence. One that’s relatively easier now, more comfortable, less daunting. Jo looks around the hall smilingly. Kat looks at the piano pretending to examine it.
“You… you like the piano?”
She nods. “It is my major after all. Be a shame if I didn’t.”
“Right. Silly question, sorry.”
“Sorry ka ng sorry.”
“Force of habit. I like the way remorse rolls off the tongue.”
“Di ka talaga Philo major?”
She smiles and shakes her head. “Sorry.”
Jo chuckles quietly. “Nothing wrong if you were.”
“What’s your major then?”
“Uhm… you were looking for something…”
“Ano nga ba hinahanap mo? If you don’t mind me asking”
“It’s personal. Sort of”
“Condom?” She grins teasingly.
“HINDI!” She says embarrassed.
“I was just joking.” She laughs. Kat laughs too, sort of.
“Not looking for anything that promises to make something safe when all it does is lessen risks.”
“It lessens I guess, but not sufficiently.”
“Oh.” She pretends to understand her.
“I’m looking for something else. Less pretentious, more honest.”
“Akala ko naman tipong ID hinahanap mo.”
“Pwede din. Identity. My self- di ko pa nahahanap ‘yun.”
Jo gulps nervously. “So you’re looking for metaphors?” She humors her.
She stares at Jo. She blinks. Twice. More dumbly and more awkwardly. She nods faintly. “I guess?”
“That’s kind of hard to find.”
“Aren’t you looking for anything?”
“Yung registrar’s office.” She laughs softly. Kat laughs partly.
“Sorry. Must think I’m so strange…”
“Hindi naman. Sakto lang.”
One more pause.
“Okay lang sa’yo lahat ng bagay noh?…” Kat starts.
“Kanina ka pa okay lang ng okay lang eh.” She smiles.
“A. Eh, ikaw kanina ka pa sorry ng sorry.”
“I told you I like remorse.”
“And I like reassurance. I guess we all have our favorite phrases”
Kat smiles. Her eyes still relatively wet, cheeks still flushed, a pained expression mildly imprinted on her face.
“Okay ka lang ba?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is there any other meaning to the question?”
“Okay lang ako.”
“Are you sure?”
“No one’s ever sure of anything.”
“Never a straight answer with you is there?”
“I don’t like anything straight. Ang pretentious din. Parang condom.”
Jo laughs. And then Kat laughs. “I mean…”
“I understand. Sort of.”
Kat sighs smilingly. The sad, troubled expression remaining on her face.
“Could you be frank with me, then?” Jo says rather authoritatively. “I’m a stranger, the type that can keep secrets and the type that doesn’t have to matter. Ano nangyari?”
“Wala. Small things wrapped up in a long story.”
“I’ve got time.”
“I don’t know if I have the trust.”
“You don’t have to trust me. You’re just telling me a story.”
Pause. Contemplative. Pros and cons dangling.
“It’s… my friend.”
“Nothing. It’s just… It’s funny, how we all have this sudden compulsion to talk about our “friends” when our secrets are involved.”
“It’s my story…”
“I’m sorry, go ahead.”
“It’s my friend…”
“What happened to her?”
“Shit. But then again, shit happens to everybody.”
Jo stares at her smilingly urging her to go on.
“She… well… she’s pregnant and she got delayed because the professor who got her pregnant is an asshole and she… well, she’s having the longest day of her life.”
They both sigh.
“I thought it was about small things in a long story?”
“Well that was relatively big and brief.”
“I rewrote it.”
“I’m sorry.” Jo mutters.
“I don’t know what to say. I’ve got ears but no advice, no consolations.”
“Wasn’t asking for any.”
“Do you want to cry?”
“I do… well I did. I do…”
“Well you were here and I ran out of places to run off to.”
“Sorry. I’ll leave.” She stands up.
“NO! DON’T! I mean… don’t” She pulls her back. Her eyes are tearing up again but nothing really comes out.
“Okay.” She sits back beside her. They both stare at the piano. Still. Soundless.
One last pause.
“Why the piano?”
“I don’t know. It felt right when I first played it. It’s sad but not too sad. And it can be happy when it wants to. I just like it.”
“Must be nice finding something that fits.”
“Do you play?”
“No. I’m not really into music.”
“WHO ISN’T INTO MUSIC?!”
“Of all the ridiculous things I’ve said, you get riled up about this.”
Jo laughs. They both laugh.
“It’s not that I hate it. I guess, I haven’t really heard something I took a liking to, you know? I can live without it, that’s all…”
“No wonder you have such long days!”
“If only music could make them shorter.” The melancholic expression resurfaces.
“You’ll be fine. You’ll know what to do when you really have to do something.”
Kat stares at her. And then she laughs bitterly. A loud bitterness.
“I’m sorry. Did I say something wrong?”
“No.” Kat says between heavy breathing and loud laughter.
“You said it so convincingly.” She stops herself, breathes deeply and regains control. She sits up straight and fixes her face. “I almost believed you there.”
Jo stares puzzled.
“You said I’ll be fine.” She laughs again.
Jo just looked at her understandingly. “I meant it.”
She almost broke down into sobs but she stopped herself. She gave out a rather melancholic laugh instead, a sheepish, apologetic laugh. “I’m sorry. I’m… I can be weird sometimes.”
Jo laughs. They both laugh. “Okay lang.”
Kat breathes deeply. She pulls herself together. “I should go and you should get back to your piano. I’m sorry. I… I’ll go. Sorry. A…and thanks!”
Kat smiles and then she gets up and then she makes her way off stage.
Jo looks at the piano and then Kat as she walks away, and then the piano again. She smiles. She closes her eyes and she sings the blues like Spektor’s Lady.
A heaviness eats the room. A tune swallows everything. Ringing in the halls: a melody that allows itself to be felt. Electric. Controlled, contained and yet spontaneous. A denied climax that is sufficiently enlivening. Beats twirling. A pulse clicking in precise eruptions. Passion. Not stunted but exercised. On cue. In heat. A bordered mess. A collected infinity.
A lovely sadness. That was how it sounded. That was how she sounded. She fades forgetting everything as she plays. The world is only music now, only notes in the air, only her in the dark, only Jazz, only blue. Only night. Only dream. Only slow and steady time, pouring.
Kat stops herself before leaving the hall entirely. She turns back. She sees Jo. She walks near her, quietly. She watches her.
“While she sings she make them feel things.”
I can sing this song so blue…”
“That you will cry…”
She opens her eyes and sees Kat directly in front of her.
“In spite of you.”
She looks at Kat. Her eyes glistening, nose still red, cheeks still flushed. She stares her down.
Kat forgets herself and she kisses Jo abruptly. She sits beside her, her hands sliding everywhere, softly but hungrily, uncontrollably. She slides her fingers beneath Jo’s shirt, playing her like an instrument. Calling the bluff of her blues. Things she doesn’t know take over her. Heavy breaths, wild panting. Primal feeling, overcoming her. And the saline storm releases itself.
Jo sits there motionless. Her lips kiss back but the rest of her remain unmoving. She takes everything. And she gives herself. The whole of herself.
They give themselves completely, unknowingly and openly. For a moment their hearts weren’t theirs. For a moment their selves weren’t theirs but each other’s. For a moment, they were selfless.
The music continues to play. A saxophone rises with its tune; a wailing trumpet makes its way. A soft piano continues to prance. The saddest note, the loveliest dance.
“Jo? You in here?” A stranger yells, a figure in the dark, somewhat unwelcomed.
The lights open. The door of the hall opens and the secret releases itself, stops itself before it becomes someone else’s. The moment ends. The two stop before anyone else steals their time. Their sacred time. And they retrieve their selves once more. Collecting the whole they’ve offered.
Both of them red and breathless. Flustered and undone.
“I… I’m sorry.” Kat says beneath her breath, over her head.” She swallows hard. Her face hot, salty. Wet.
Jo smiles subtly. “Okay lang.” She says for old time’s sake. She let’s out a soft laugh, the softest laugh, and painfully, the sweetest. “I’ll see you around, I guess.” And she stands up and slowly walks away, towards the light, towards the stranger.
“What was that?” The stranger asks as they walk towards the end of the stretching hall.
She looks behind her seeing Kat, looking at them but not really seeing anything- silent and confused like a cow caught on the headlights, off guard and longing.
She lets out the same laugh: subtle, innocent, the softest and the sweetest—utterly cruel.
“Nothing.” And then she walks away.
And in our drunkenness, we vomited words.
Secrets really, the type that clung to the bone like hellfire.
Our heads were spinning in the crowd’s backlash.
Are people this rabid?
This repressed and pretentious?
Even when the night is fresh and the alcohol kiss had stuck itself onto everyone?
No one was ready for our honesty.
It was an unwelcomed stranger- even at the beer pong table where shots outnumbered the gun- everyone pulling triggers. Hitting marks.
Even at the kitchen sink where unfamiliar faces gathered together- lobbying to ease their loneliness. Weeping beneath smudged faces and sticky fingers.
Nobody likes to hear themselves revealed and undone. It makes for one nasty hangover the day after. And no one wants that.
Tonight, I am a cliché.
Charcoal fingers twitching.
Lips holding (a)
Mixing with French music.
“I don’t understand it but I like it.”
Those rare occasions where everything is
It makes you want to sob.
So this is what it feels like?
Rekindling a forgotten sensitivity.
Or perhaps, I’ve never known…
Contentment could be like this.
A pencil in one hand.
A sketch pad on the other.
Don’t touch it!
Leave it be.
I like this mess.
As mine as anything can get (which means it ain’t really. In fact, it’s the other way around).
This is how it feels like.
I’ve forgotten this.
And now, I’ve known it—
I’m forgetting myself.
Must be a good day.
And on bad ones:
I forget everyone else.
But it’s alright.
Sometimes faulty memories are assets
When we want the world to go away.
I keep repeating it.
So this is what it’s like:
To say something and mean it.
I think I might like it.
It’s too early to tell…
But I might like it, in fact, just as much as my melancholy.
Now that’s saying something.
You shouldn't trust anything that makes a living out of making things up. They're dangerous things.
But aren't we all make believing anyway?
We're not children. Make believe is for children. We've got to grow up sometime.
No one really grows up, I think. We'd like to believe we do but we don't. We only grow. And sometimes we shrink. But we never grow up. Now, that's just everybody else playing make believe while calling it something else.
Takes another puff from a joint.
"What’s the word for it? Ngilo."
"You know, at the dentist when they drill at your teeth and there’s this gnawing sensitivity, this sensitivity we all get when holes are drilled into us— it isn’t pain or pleasure… it’s there dwindling— a new sensation. Nasty feeling."
"Well, when I go to hell, if I go to hell which I kind of think I will, if not for anything for the company, I think that’ll be it for me. A lifetime of drilling and making holes, a cold, gnawing sensitivity. That’s hell. It’s a liminal feeling."
"To think you’d be used to liminal things when you live in a country like this. With a culture as ambiguous as this."
"It’s not the ambiguity of liminality that kills you, it’s something else. I don’t know what it is. But hell is a feeling. And that’s my peace."
"Hell is a place."
"Hell is person."
"Hell is a social invention."
"Everything’s a social invention with you, Bogs. Don’t know if there ever is still anything natural for you."
"Leaves. Organic leaves. Oh and dirt. Dirt and dirty things. Natural."
Everyone shakes their heads.
This is the mess we’ve made. Do you see it?
Or at least the selves we’re reduced to now.
Now… (It rolls off the tongue this word. It rolls off fluidly.)
Now we are tattered beings with carved out chests.
Such dirty things.
Out of place.
Hiding in shabby motels.
Forced to play hide and seek with a propriety that wants nothing to do with us,
With a virtue that had given up.
With a pride still counting one to ten.
With a husband that’s murderously nice but sometimes too violent (I don’t blame him. He’s utterly too kind for his own good.)
With unborn children that never stood a chance.
There’s no growth in this. No future. None in this sweetness.
In this great dream. I think we’ve known that all along.
But we’re idealist just as much as we are massochists.
So we booked the room and said “why not” (A lot of Why’s lingering in the background. Momentarily dismissed. Unhealthily. But aren’t we simply children?
Stealing ice cream when the parents aren’t looking. Uncaring if we might spoil our dinner…
Now, I think, perhaps, we have. And it’s a dreadful ache in the gut—what we’ve done.
We’ve overstayed our welcome.
treading hollow words,
lost love letters, eaten by history…
… and on…
trailing… Like a never on the tip of a wanting tongue.
…We’re a spoilt intimacy that had spilt itself-
That’s what we are!
Spilt sourness passing itself off as a bittersweet
Breathing in an empty apartment
With a heavy nostaliga
Clicking like a sad wrist
Waiting for its lover’s kiss.
Moldy. Dusty. Breathing.
Vices covering up the taste of stale cigarettes.
Festering in a deep dark.
This is us.
Tangled in a stained sheet.
Drinking too much bleach
Because we want to feel the whiteness again.
But, you see? Love stains just as much as it corrupts.
This silly thing.
This destuctive hum.
Stuck in our heads.
It’s the best and worst song all in one.
What do we do now?
How do we clean ourselves up?
I’ve forgotten how to clear away the sticky web we’ve seemed to weave ourselves into
And the cleaning lady had gone.
I don’t know how to pick up the broken shards
Of a dream. Not anymore.
These sharp things, cutting everything up.
Lying on the floor like a thousand mirrors
Reflecting a thousand lives that could have been.
(It’s sad isn’t it those words… “could have been”
Lives, that never did. Never could. (Perhaps, that’s sadder. Never could. Utterly sadder.)
And to make things worse, I’ve misplaced the heavy duty gloves.
I’ve misplaced the dust bin collecting
And we’re running out of rags to soak up the trailings of our former selves
Us- before this feeling had chewed us old and spat us out.
Just another thing to add to the grocery list- with all the other things we’ve misplaced
All the other things we’ve forgotten about-
The milk, the eggs, the bread— everybody else—the cleaning tools!
You don’t seem to know where all the cleaning tools have gone!
I’ve no clue, either.
Maybe the land lady had taken them away.
That clever woman making her way, meeting ends meet.
Stealing inconspicuoulsy parts of our story, selling it to the neighbors as gossip.
(Just the other day, the guard downstairs had looked at me funny. Or maybe that’s how he looks at everybody? This thing with conjectures and a Best Buy record book where he keeps his thoughts about the people that come and go. This bored dreamer killing time. Maybe he’s more of a mess than us, huh? Maybe this is a haven for messes, pieces waiting to be swept away by a rolling clock and sand dune, wind pan, gathering. Dripping in an hour glass. Ticking hypnotically into forgetfulness.)
Hmm… The room smells of age, and of damp musk, now.
This is us. This mess. This scent.
What do we do, now, lover?
What do we do?
Maybe we should clean ourselves the way people usually clean themselves up…
With a cold shower and an ending.
And then the clicking off of a switch. Lights turning off. A doorknob turning. A door clicking behind us. Us- closing. Walking away. Separately, with a sealed goodbye. Onwards to echoing halls branching towards a lonely dark. Obscure.
(But there’s growth in this obscurity, in this loneliness. There is growth.)
We’ve got to choose sometime. Go back and home.
It’s the only thing left to remedy the stain in us, you see? (Do you understand?)
Ending. (Maybe that’s the saddest word of all.)