The Book of Salamat: March 2009
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LATE AFTERNOONS

Part I: The Park
 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009



Thursday late afternoon. Right after the school had ended for the day the three of them raced their way to the park at the end of the barrio to watch the sunset as they'd always do every Friday and Saturday. There they would be talking just about anything their young minds could ever think of as they would watch the clouds changed color from gray and ivory to orange and purple over the mountains that ran along the base of Cogtong Bay toward the other end, a place more than ninety kilometers east of Tagbilaran City, a place facing the tip of an island province of Southern Leyte, in a country called the 'Pearl of the Orient'.

They might have not consciously agreed, but over the years the park had slowly became part of their lives and was the sole witness of their growing friendship and of how far their imaginations and dreams had gone. They had always thought nothing could change how things were going; they had always believed nothing and no one could ever separate them. What they did not know was that fate was paving another road for them, a road that would split and lead into different destinations.

But that afternoon they were not there just for the sunset alone. And it was not their usual day to go to the park. In fact, it was their very first time to go there on a Thursday.

It was Donald who first reached the edge of the park where three concrete benches faced the view beyond. He was jumping in exultation as he celebrated his victory when Remma arrived, panting. Leandro came last and he, too, was catching his breath.

"You're cheating!" Remma complained between her breath.

"I did not!" Donald, 11 year-old, exclaimed. "It was you who grabbed my arms."

"Because you blocked my way."

"Doesn't matter," Leandro stepped in, still breathing heavily. "You get to learn to find a way to win."

"But that's unfair."

"Hey, look," Donald pointed his arms to the north, toward the sky above the mountains on the other side of the bay. "It's visible now."

They both turned their heads toward where Donald gestured them to look. It was still 5:15 P.M., but the comet was already slowly making itself stood out from being gobbled by the sun's brightness. It was long and beautiful; the head was small but bright, and its tail slowly spread upward. The view was ethereal that they just stood there in silence, engulfed.

"Swift-Tuttle," Leandro said in a voice that's more of a whisper than what he intended to.

"Huh?" his two friends asked in confusion.

"It's what they call it. I've seen the news on TV at Kuya Alberto's house."

"Its name is funny," 10 year-old Remma giggled. "But the comet's so beautiful. I better call it 'Dorele'"

Leandro frowned while Donald cracked into laughter.

"Where'd you get that name? It sounds weird," Donald still couldn't stop himself.

Remma faced him with arms in akimbo and looked Donald flatly in the eyes. "That's our name. I put them together."

Donald paused. "Oh."

Leandro, this time, guffawed.



The sun had already set, and the sky was completely black with the comet graced the eternal beauty of the night sky. It was now farther away from over the mountains, and its light now completely bathed their silhouettes magically. It was the brightest and most astounding among the stars; the celestial body that had drawn them more closely together that night.

"I've changed my mind," Leandro said after a momentary silence.

"About what?" Remma asked without taking her eyes from the comet. In the still silence of the night, it was more like a painting. A masterpiece of an artist.

"I want to study stars," he answered almost to himself.

"Oh, yeah?" Donald reacted cynically as he looked at him. "And what happened to your Geographer thing?"

"Donald," Remma reminded him of his attitude again. But Leandro was not at all pissed.

"It's still there. But tonight I see a more convincing reason for me to study what's out there."

"So you just change your mind that easy. Just because of that comet. What would ever happen if something else comes out? Something different, something not a comet or a star? Would you ever change your mind had we not come here?" Donald looked at the sky again. And, after a while, continued, "You better stick with something you really want, or you'll end up just standing there. Undecided. Dissatisfied."

Leandro stood up and walked farther toward the edge. "I don't know if it's crazy ---"

"It is crazy," Remma stressed the fact.

Leandro turned and faced them. "OK. But it's final. This is what I want. It's who I want to be."

"Right," Donald kicked the stone near his right foot. "As if we have a NASA here or a school for that."

Leandro went silent and thought that his friend might be right. He was too impulsive, too reckless in making decisions like that. He hadn't even heard about NASA, what it was for or what it meant. But then again, his friend might be wrong. Nobody's sure yet. Perhaps, he assured himself, there might actually be a school for that somewhere.

"You ever heard people talking about stars and comets on TV or radio? People like Filipino scientists? We're not even sure there is one," Donald continued.

Silence.

Remma uncrossed her arms, put them at her both sides, and shifted her weight as she leaned on them. "The thing is, if you really want something, like really want it, you can always find a way."

Leandro, 11, turned his head and looked up to the comet above. Then he smiled.



When Remma went home that night, she overheard her mama in the dining room. She was talking to someone, and was talking about her. She slowly and carefully closed the door behind her and tiptoed her way to the staircase. She could see from there her mama and papa, both their backs on her. Her mama was setting the table for dinner, while her papa was making something she couldn't tell what.

"She'll eventually adapt. The first year will not be easy for the three of us, but it's just normal for people moving in," her papa said in a reassuring voice.

Her mama, a grade school teacher for 10 years, sounded worried nevertheless. "She's too young to go there. She may not understand everything," her mama said.

"We've been through this, Eula. That is why we'll help her, as her parents," her papa slightly raised his voice. He turned around and put the bowl on the table as he continued, "Besides, Calgary is not far from Edmonton. She'll get to see her cousins there every now and then."

"You tell her. She listens to you more than to me," her mama placed the adobong manok in the table, next to the escabeche.

"Where is she? It's already late."

"Maybe she's in the park."

"The park? It's not Friday yet." Her papa, a radiologist in a community hospital three towns away, looked straight toward the dining room door and out the living room, then his eyes met hers. She was startled, and quickly climbed up the stairs and dashed toward her room.



"Where have you been?" his nanay yelled when she saw him walked in. "You know we can't start the dinner until we're all at the table."

"I'm sorry, nanay," he apologized. "We went to the park. We watched the comet. It's still out there, you can still see it. It's beautiful," he narrated enthusiastically.

His nanay seemed intrigued, and her voice suddenly softened. "A comet, you say?"

"Yes, and it's beautiful. It's called Swift-Tuttle," he said as his nanay walked out the door and into the yard outside. His two younger sisters trailed their mother excitedly.

He walked toward the table and sat to his father's right. "Tatay, what's a comet?"

His tatay, who had just sat there, took the rice and put some on his plate. "I'm not sure. People say it's some sort of asteroids or meteors or something like that."

"Where does the tail come from? The comet outside, it has tails," he asked with unsuppressed interest.

"I don't know. Maybe small fragments of it. Or maybe dusts," his tatay answered flatly with indifference.

"There's dust in the outer space?" his voiced raised in total surprise as his excitement soared.

His tatay glared at him."I'm only a fisherman, not a scientist. Now eat."

Leandro was daunted, and for a moment kept his other wild questions to himself. His youngest sister, seven year-old Phoemela, noisily rushed in with naked excitement.

"Hey, hey, hey!" their tatay saw Phoemela running toward them. "Stop running. I don't want to see a bloody nose in here. Sit down. Where's your sister? Julia!"

Julia went inside hurriedly. Their nanay followed behind her.

"Tatay, you better take a look!" Julia exclaimed.

"It can wait," their tatay was now upset. "I can't believe you're still ignorant at your age," he was referring to their nanay, who was now grabbing a chair.

"It's a once in a lifetime, Mateo," their nanay defended herself.

"Oh, right. Like you've never seen the Halley's comet before."

"What's the Halley's comet?" Leandro quickly asked.

"Keep eating," their tatay warned.

"Nanay, where do comets come from? Why can't we see them every year?" It was Julia.

"They say comets travel a very long route, that's why we don't see them often."

"Is it the same comet that appeared when Jesus was born?" Phoemela asked before sipping the Milkfish soup.

Their nanay shrugged.

"Tay, what do you call a person that study stars?" Leandro asked.

"I have no idea."

"Is there a school here that teaches about it?"

His tatay shut him a cold glance. " I don't know."

"I want to be like them."

"Who's them?" Phoemela asked without looking at him. She was busy deboning the fish.

"Neil Armstrong and --"

"Just keep eating, Leandro."



After dinner, Donald and his parents were sitting on the outdoor metal chairs in the lawn as they were gazing at the night sky. He got all his questions answered about comets and stars and constellations, and his mother told him stories about astronauts while his father talked about the Halley's comet and how big and bright it was. When asked why the sudden interest in celestial bodies, Donald just shrugged. He didn't want to become an Astronomer, as what his father called them, because he knew from his heart what he truly wanted.



The next day, on their way to the park, the two boys noticed that Remma was silent and seemed sad. They sensed something's not right. They were not racing their way there, and that, too, was unusual for them.

"What's wrong?" Leandro asked with full concern.

"Papa told me we will be leaving next month," Remma weakly said.

"Leaving? To where?" Donald asked.

"Canada."

Both the boys stopped from walking. Confused. Stunned.

"Is that for---how long?" Leandro spoke after his shock had disappeared.

"Papa said we'll be living there for a long time," Remma wiped the tears in her eyes with the back of her hand.

"You're not coming back, are you?" Donald asked with resentment in his voice.

Remma said nothing. She just continued walking. Leandro ran to catch her.

"Wait....that's not fair," his voice a mix of sadness and pain.

Remma just kept walking.

Donald just stood where he was, staring at the dirt road beneath his feet. His emotions were stirring and shouting out loud and fighting each other, but he couldn't hear them.



He walked along the gravel path toward the edge of the park that was overlooking the sea, and toward the very spot where they'd always sit together and watch the sunset. Remma and Leandro was already there; his buddy seemed to be consoling her. Remma raised her head and looked blankly far beyond the sea as Donald came and sat beside her.

"So what do you think we should do?" Donald asked after a long silence.

"I don't know," Leandro honestly answered.

"I don't want to go," Remma uttered, her voice started to hoarse.

Donald sighed deeply. "What happens to the promise we've made?"

"Donald, please. It's not her decision," Leandro pleaded. "She can't control it. It's gonna happen, OK? So maybe it'll help us if we just accept it this early. And then let's find a way to enjoy the time left now that we're still together."

"I can't believe you, Leandro. You're acting like it's so easy for you! Let it out, what you really feel!" Donald's anger escaped from his exploding emotions. Anger won the battle inside, and now he heard it clearly.

"Oh, yeah? Like what you're doing now?" Leandro controlled himself. "Do you really think that helps?"

Remma wept. She, too, surrendered to her own emotions.

Silence.

Remma wiped her tears. The silence had grown too heavy for them to handle. Donald kicked the junk food foil nearby. Leandro looked away and into the calmness of the sea below.

"This place has become part of us, y'know," Leandro broke the settling silence. "It's not easy to just let go of every mem'ries we have here. But I think this is how things are supposed to be."

"Don't talk like that, Leandro. Just don't," Donald sternly said. "It's freaking me out."

"I promise to go back here," Remma said.

"Don't make anymore promises!" Donald's anger rekindled. "We promised before, and now we're breaking it!"

"I'm not breaking it," Remma said softly, and then glanced at Donald. "Do you?"

Leandro looked at Donald, too. When his friend didn't say anything, he did. "Me, I'm not."

"And I meant it. I will be back. I don't know when, but I will," Remma interjected.

Donald crossed his arms over his chest. After a while, he spoke. "This will separate us, and who knows? Maybe forever." A pause. "Things will never be the same by the time you leave us."

"I think it's a test to how far our friendship can go," Leandro said reassuringly. "And this will draw us even closer. Friendship knows no distance. It can even shrink time."

"You know too much," Donald quipped.

"You're may be right, Don," Leandro said. "But you know what, now I see it clearly. The promise we had? It wasn't practical at all. We're just bluffing. Nobody can take hold of the future. We dream, we tell each other that. And by the time we grow old, we have to walk our own lives, and by the time we do, we're gonna part ways. That's the way things are. I understand it clearly now." A pause. Leandro seemed to be pondering on the things he had just said. "Yes, I'm certain I do."

Remma and Donald was silent. They didn't know what to say.

"But it doesn't mean we have to forget each other," Leandro continued explaining. "I think Remma was right. We have to promise to ourselves. And we're not bluffing this time."

Donald sneered.

"No matter what happens, no matter how far we go, no matter how time mold us to be, let's promise to go back here once in a while. The three of us. Together," Leandro said as he looked at them in the eyes. From Remma to Donald and back.

Remma nodded, but Donald was expressionless. A long pause. Leandro waited.

"OK," Donald finally agreed and then slowly, he smiled.

All of them smiled, and then hugged each other.

"I don't know what lies ahead of me," Remma whispered.

"Nobody knows what lies ahead," Leandro said.







The photograph used for this entry is from http://www.photographyblog.com/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=40528 Click the link to go to the site.

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LATE AFTERNOONS

Part II: She's Coming Home
 


The first year was too hard for them. It was the year when they had to constantly struggle from pain and loneliness caused by Remma's absence. And the things they'd done together seemed too hard and heavy for them to keep doing without her. They had struggled and poured their efforts to keep everything as normal and unaffected as before, but they knew it from their hearts that it would never be. And so they had felt the need to reach out to her, and she had reached out to them, too, to keep herself from missing them so badly. And that had gone for two years. The year after that, their exchange of letters had become less frequent, and they had started to forget some things they used to do. And, unknowingly, the world had revolved against theirs. Three years after that, they had no longer heard from Remma, and Remma had heard nothing more from them. And they couldn't remember who had stopped writing letters first. And they had thought less of it over time.



"Turn the volume up," Donald, now a fourth year high school student, said as he took a bite from the fried chicken he was holding with his right hand. Leandro didn't hear him clearly because the sea breeze swept his voice and scattered it into the air. Their fishing boat rocked tenderly against the small waves.

"What?" Leandro, who was his classmate and basketball buddy at the same time, glanced at him.

"The volume, turn it up."

Leandro turned the dial of the battery-operated AM/FM receiver. The voice of Gwen Stefani drowned the serenity around them.

"It's 'Don't Speak'," Donald continued. "The band's called 'No Doubt'."

"No Doubt. What an odd name for a band," Leandro commented as he dug himself to the food on the Tupperware that he was holding with his left hand.

"Did you hear the rumor about the Spice Girls?" Donald asked.

"What about them?"

"That they're a bunch of gays?"

Leandro looked at him and frowned. "No way."

"Just a rumor," Donald shrugged and went back to eating.

"I have a crush on Posh."

"Nah. Too sophisticated. I like Baby Spice," Donald remarked.

"Oh, yeah, she's hot," he agreed. "But too innocent-looking."

"What, you like Samantha?" Donald laughed. "She's hot and liberated."

"From Section B? Get out," he frowned and shook his head.

Donald chuckled.

Silence.

Leandro pushed the oar, which was lying on the floor, aside and took a bottle of Coke from the styropore and gave it to his friend. Then he took another one for him.

"When you ever start courting a girl?"

Leandro didn't look at him. He acted like he didn't hear him. "What?"

"Okay," Donald sighed deeply and slapped the outside walling of the boat with his left hand in exasperation. "Here we go again."

"You know my answer, and you're gonna hear the same now." He opened the bottle with his teeth, and then gulped some soda.

"C'mon, be serious. School will be over in two months and you haven't even told me yet about your crush at school."

"I found nobody I like yet. Maybe in college," he threw a piece of the fried chicken to the water and watched enthusiastically the small school of fish that began feasting around it.

"You're unbelievable."

"That's me."

"You're completely honest?"

Leandro nodded.

Donald looked at him for some time, remembered something, and then suddenly smiled to himself.

"Do you still have Rem's picture?" Donald asked him casually.

He hesitated. He couldn't sense where the sudden change of conversation was leading to, but he took some precautions. "Uh-huh."

"Where'd you put it?" Donald still didn't look at him. He just continued eating.

"In my photo album. Where else?"

"I don't know. Your wallet?"

"I don't have one, and you know that."

"Oh, yeah," Donald said, nodding. "But Julia said she saw it in your bed."

"She's lying."

"She is?"

Leandro gave in and rolled his eyes, and said that once or twice he took it from the album and held it when he sleep.

Donald's stifled amusement erupted into laughter.

Leandro realized what it was about.

"Hey!" he said defensively. "It's not what you think. I know you still think about her, too. Admit it."

"Yeah, but not like sleeping with her pictures in my hand."

"It's not what you think."

Donald's eyes narrowed teasingly as he looked at him, and then nodded amusingly. "Oh, yeah. Sure."



After their lunch break they proceeded to the site where they had submerged the fish nets, circled around it once more to scare the fish and eventually lead them into the nets. When they came to rest and waited once more, Donald said he was in the mood to swim.

"Do you ever wonder how she's been?" Leandro asked as Donald took off his shirt.

"Yes, sometimes," Donald replied. "But not as often as you do."

Leandro threw a chicken bone at him. Donald winced.

"Stop that."

"It's true?"

Leandro did not answer. Instead he went on. "It's been three years since her last letter. She seems to be forgetting us already."

"Well, the thing is, we stopped writing her, too. It's either she forgets us or we do," Donald looked at him in the eye, and then went on to fold his shirt.

"I still miss her."

"You see? It's not ordinary anymore."

Exhausted, Leandro said, "Okay, okay."

Donald grinned victoriously. After he placed the folded shirt on top of the styropore cover, he spoke seriously, "Write her a letter."

"I don't know what to say."

Donald squinted his eyes and spoke knowingly, "Oh, you know exactly what you're going to say."

"Maybe you should write her, too."

"I have nothing else to write except consuming the whole page explaining why we stopped writing her letters. But you, you have something to write more important than that," Donald said as he unzipped his pants.

Leandro leaned forward, pressed his elbows against his knees, folded his arms between his legs, and said, "Her grandma said they've changed their address."

"I'll take care of that. I'll go ask Lola Dorya for the address."

"You're gonna do that?"

"Uh-huh."

"Gee, thanks."

"Nah," Donald dismissed it by waving his right hand forward and down. After a while, as he stood there naked and the boat rocked under his weight, he asked, "You sure you ain't swimming?"

"The sun's already high. You'll get sunburn."

"Well, not only me," Donald said and then threw himself into the water in an awkward angle on his attempt to dive headfirst but lacked enough height. When he resurfaced he hit the water with the base of his right palm, which then sent a shower of seawater toward Leandro enough to wet his shirt.

Leandro protested, but Donald just kept laughing.Then came another one. And another. He quickly undressed himself and went after his friend who was now boisterously laughing. The echoes of their yelling and laughter tore the quietude of the afternoon sea.



During recess at school, if not chatting around with his classmates or sitting in the cafeteria with his best friend or in the gym doing a basketball round, he would consume the whole thirty minutes digging himself on books. Sometimes he would excuse himself from his group of friends, and some other times he would go in the library with Donald. But that was rare, for most of the time Donald would just go with him if he felt like reading, which seldom happened. But Donald knew where to find him every time he's not around with him, just like today.

Leandro found an empty table next to the huge west window, which was visible from the main door, and from the strict, man-eating librarian. He was flipping pages of an astronomy book, found the page where he stopped during his last visit, and then continued reading. Beside him was an unopened encyclopedia.

He was reading about space explorations when he noticed someone walked toward him and stood in front of him. He looked up and saw Leah, his classmate since their first year but were never close. He didn't ask himself why, for he never had the slightest urge or reason to. They had different group of friends, dissimilar interests, different taste on most things. They just knew each other as casual friends. But today he was completely surprised to see her in the library, alone.

"May I sit with you?" she asked.

"Sure," he said with inquisitive look.

"You don't mind? I'm not disturbing you?"

"No, it's OK."

Leah grabbed a chair and sat. "Is that an Astronomy book?"

He darted his eyes from her to the book and back to her, and then smiled faintly. "Yes, the only one here."

"Astronomy is interesting."

"You think so?" he was surprised to hear that, but was skeptical to believe her.

"Uh-huh," Leah affirmed. "Why don't you share it with me? What you're reading now."

"You serious?"

"Yes. Tell me something about stars and comets. Those, I'm more fascinated with," Leah managed a smile.

After thinking about it for a while, he nodded and said, "Alright." He paused, and then went on, "The comet we saw back in '92, remember that?"

Leah nodded. Yeah, she remembered.

"It was the only comet believed to come into contact with our planet," he said, knowingly.

"You mean collision?" Leah's forehead wrinkled.

He nodded. "But, that's the basic theory. After some recalculations and study they said it might not happen at all."

"That's scary," Leah said, expressing her pure concern.

"Well, not in our lifetime at least."

"It's still scary."

Leandro thought for a moment, trying to scan his memory for something more interesting to share.

"The first recorded collision between two objects in the solar system was with a comet named Shoemaker-Levy 9 and the planet Jupiter. And that happened 4 years ago. During our first year here."

"OK. That's too scary for a start," Leah laughed nervously.

He laughed, too.

The librarian looked at them and hushed them. Silence followed.

"I know I'm not a nerd, but you think I'm a geek?" he asked in a low voice.

"No, you're not," she said while shaking her head. "Not at all."

"You're being nice?"

"I'm being honest."

Another silence.

After a while, Leah spoke. "Look, this Friday's my birthday, and I'm inviting you to come."

He looked at her, waiting.

"I know this is kind of unusual, but yeah, I'd like you to come."

"We're not that ---"

"I know. I'm just hoping you'd still come," she sounded nervous with her seemingly controlled yet heavy breathing. "You can bring Donald along, if you want."

He thought about it for a while, and then shrugged as he pouted his lips. "Okay."

"Really?"

He nodded.

"Friday then?"

"Sure."

After staying there for a couple of minutes, Leah stood up, collected her things, and said goodbye to him.

When she walked past the librarian and into the door, Donald came in with his duffle bag hanging from his right shoulder. Leah smiled and walked past him. Donald went straight to him with a curious, questioning look.

"What's going on?" he asked with a frowning, smiling face.

"Nothing."

"You're lying," he grabbed the chair previously used by Leah, put his bag on the table, and then sat. "No secrets, man. No secrets. C'mon, what did I miss?" he asked as he bent his body forward and leaned with his arms folded on the table.

"She invited me to her birthday," he said, expressionless, as he continued reading.

"Ahahaha!" Donald exclaimed. "I knew it!"

The librarian heard the noise, glared straight at them, and warned, "Silence!"

Leandro glanced from the librarian to his friend and muffled his giggling.

In a hushed voice Donald continued talking. "I knew something's up with her. I just couldn't tell then. Now I know it. I think she likes you."

"Nah. She's just being friendly," he reasoned as he flipped a page.

"You're unbelievably insensitive!"

"I may be unbelievable, but not insensitive," he flatly said as he continued flipping some pages.

"Whatever."

Donald turned around to check the librarian, and then turned back again to look at him. He moved his head more closely toward Leandro. "Guess what."

"What?" he asked with less interest, his eyes still on the book.

"Try."

"Christine's pregnant?"

Donald grimaced. "What the --- get lost!"

"Tell me."

"I've already talked to Lola Dorya."

"Now, this is conversation," he said jokingly and shifted his attention to his friend. "You got the address?"

"Uh-huh," Donald answered almost like hurriedly. "Here's more, she said Rem's coming back."

Leandro was speechless for a while. "No bullshit."

"I'm serious," Donald pressed. "And guess when?"

"When?"

"In May. No specific date, but most probably before the fiesta," Donald grinned widely, and raised both his brows rhythmically.

Leandro went back to reading. And smiled.



That evening when Leandro went to bed, he turned the battery-operated AM/FM receiver on and lied there staring at Remma's picture. She was 12 years old in the photograph; young and innocent. Her smile was pure and contagious, which made him smile, too. After quite some time he went to sleep when the radio played the song of Richard Marx.

Donald was just staring blankly at the ceiling in his bedroom. It was already past midnight, but he still couldn't force himself to sleep. His mind was traveling far away into an unknown distance. Wandering. Searching. Discovering. Drifting away with thoughts and images and memories. He was dreaming wide awake.





The photograph used in this entry is from Chokkolat's Flickr page. Click here to go there.

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LATE AFTERNOONS

Part III: The Reunion
 



Leandro had started counting down days from the day he heard the news in January about Remma's coming. He couldn't really satisfy his own question why, but he knew something more intense and more important than that had lived and occupied a place deep inside him. He began to think of her more often than he usually did, and couldn't help but wonder how much had changed in her looks. He hadn't receive any more pictures from her since his sixth grade, and he hadn't received any response yet to his letter that he had sent in the second week of January. He was anxious and thrilled to see her, but today was already the eight day of May and still no word or news of her. Her grandma, Lola Dorya, didn't know either what date they would arrive. But Lola Dorya had long since prepared herself and the house for Remma and her parents.

The Friday late afternoon was cloudy and shady, and the sea breeze swept the shore with mild, cool air. After their eleven-hour stay at the sea fishing, they finally decided to go home. They had already collected their catch and put them in the big white styropore filled with ice, and they were now rowing their way back to the shore.

"So when are you planning to go to Manila?" Donald, who seated at the other end of the boat behind him, asked.

"I was advised to be there by the end week of this month," he answered. His hands on the oar, still rowing. "But I asked them if I could stay here for the fiesta and go there first day of June instead. They said OK."

"Well, at least we could still play basketball or go fishing for two more days after the fiesta," Donald said.

He took a deep breath. "Yeah," he agreed. "Or be with Remma for two more days."

"Uh-huh."

A pause.

"I'm gonna miss you, you know."

Leandro looked straight away toward the shore. He stopped rowing. "Same here."

Donald stopped rowing, too, and looked away blankly to his far right. "So, I guess we're finally parting ways, huh?"

Leandro sensed something funny and chuckled for a short period.

"I'm serious."

Silence.

"This has to be, right?" Donald went on.

After a while, Leandro spoke. "Do you still remember that day when Remma told us she's leaving?"

"Who can ever forget that?"

"And I said we have to part ways and walk our own lives?"

Donald went silent. A moment after he sighed, he continued rowing. "So it's happening now."

"But I still keep the promise," he said, and then turned his head toward his friend. "You?"

Donald did not respond, but after a while he nodded.

When they reached the shore Leandro put his oar aside, jumped off the boat and into the knee-deep seawater. Donald followed and helped him push the outrigger boat into the shore.

"I have heard about this thing called the Internet," Leandro said as they pushed the boat. "Is it also covered by the course you choose?"

"Yep," Donald quickly replied. "I asked the Dean last April when I was enrolling in, and she said Web Designing and Programming will be covered. Computer Science is broad. Said it's a new entry to the curricula."

"Cool. Never seen what Internet is like, though. No idea," he said. A pause. "You've already found a boardinghouse in Cebu?"

"A dorm, yes."

Leandro straightened up as he went to unload the styropore. Donald went to get the oars. At that very moment, with their backs facing the seaside road, they heard a woman's voice behind them. Donald turned around to see who it was. Then he froze. When Leandro noticed that his friend was not moving, he looked up and saw his friend staring at the woman, transfixed. He darted his gaze to the woman and he, too, froze.

"Hello guys," Remma flashed the smile they'd last seen six years ago. The very smile they could never forget.

She was almost totally different now. So much had changed in her looks. Her hair was long and was smoothly swaying against the breeze. She was taller than they had expected, and her skin was white and rosy. Though her eyes were the same, something in her told them that time had molded her so beautifully. She was no longer a girl; she's already a woman.

"Mind if I hop in?"

They had just docked the boat and was about to leave, but none of them could refuse.

"Sure," Leandro heard himself said. He freed himself from the styropore and offered his hand to her as she took off her sandals and waded her way to the boat.

After Donald went to the boat to load back the oars, he turned around and commented, "You look so different now."

"Negatively?" she asked, smiling.

"You're stunning," Leandro said.

"Oh!" Remma almost lost her balance as she pulled up her right foot from the water and into the boat. Donald and Leandro went to catch her.



"It's Friday. I went to the park before I came here," Remma began when they had finally went off to sea with Donald and Leandro sitting at both ends of the boat, while she sat sideway between them. "I thought you were there." Her voice and face showed no emotion of any kind.

"Well, we are fishing today," Donald explained.

Remma seemed dissatisfied with his answer. She continued, "What happened to the park?"

Donald and Leandro were confused. "Why, what about it?" Leandro asked.

"It's so different from before. It seems --- deserted."

Donald silently glanced at Leandro.

"We still go there once in a while," Leandro reasoned. "But since I voluntarily took over some of the responsibilities of my father, I do the fishing every weekend and every summer."

"And I volunteered to help him do the job," Donald quickly added. "And it turned out to be more fun than I thought it would be."

"Your parents, they're not against it?" she asked Donald.

"No, not at all. As usual, they see the positive side of everything than otherwise."

An awkward silence wrapped them for a while.

"Can we go to the park, the three of us?" she asked to no one in particular.

"Sure," the two replied in unison.

Remma poked her fingers to the seawater as the boat rowed away toward the center of the bay. Ripples and small waves trailed behind her fingers. "What else happened while I'm gone?"

Donald rested the oar on his side as he answered, "Leandro and I still went to school on the same section. We played basketball alot, won some tournaments at school and outside."

"He plays soccer, too," Leandro added.

"Really?" Remma asked interestingly. "I thought you're scared of soccer."

Donald shook his head and grinned. "Not anymore."

Remma retrieved her fingers from the water and straightened up. She turned her head toward Leandro. "What about you, Lean?"

Before he could answer, he heard Donald spoke.

"He graduated valedictorian from grade school," Donald answered. "And from high school, too."

Remma's eyes beamed. "You're amazing!"

Leandro, all of a sudden, smiled shyly. He was aware of it, but was already too late to stop himself. Before he could make a statement, Donald went on.

"Last year he got a scholarship, full scholarship," Donald dramatically paused. "Guess where?"

Remma turned her head from Leandro to Donald and back. "Where?"

"University of the Philippines. In Diliman."

Remma gasped in disbelief. "UP Diliman? Wow!"

"Last April he went to Quezon City to enroll."

"What major?"

"Astronomy," Leandro said.

"Astronomy," Remma repeated with a smile as she nodded. "So you really are now up into living your dreams. I'm so proud of you."

Hearing her said that, Leandro felt happy like never before.

Moments later, Remma stared at the oar that Donald was holding as he was rowing and maneuvering the boat. She sat there watching him, mesmerized.

"Teach me," Remma said.

"Huh?" Donald asked, confused.

"Teach me how to do that."

Leandro watched in amusement as she tried hard to keep the boat moving. When the boat drastically changed course and back, she screamed and laughed and clapped. They were all laughing. As they maneuvered the boat back to the shore, he couldn't help himself from looking silently at Remma.

The wind played with Remma's hair, which swayed and cascaded toward her right. Leandro looked at her squinting her eyes as she scanned the vastness of the sea and the mangroves not far from them. Not far from where they were she could see the park a few meters above the shore. She could clearly see the unfinished lighthouse, and the benches below it.

"Look," she pointed toward the park.

Donald and Leandro turned their heads toward where her finger was pointing.

"It looks so different from here," she uttered.

"It's bushy," Leandro commented.

"It's beautiful," Remma praised.



Friday late afternoon the next week. They didn't go fishing. He had told his tatay the day before that he would be at the park with Remma and Donald, and would skip going to the sea just for one day. Now, as he was hurriedly walking toward the end of the barrio, he saw Leah in the distance walking toward him.

"Hi, Leandro," Leah smiled when she was near.

Leandro smiled back. "Where you goin'?"

"I'm actually going to your house," she said. "I'm looking for your mother."

"She's at home when I left. She was about to go to the town, though. But you may still catch her," Leandro said as he looked past her into the far end of the road, which intersected with that of the park's.

"Oh, yeah. I better be hurry," she said with a trace of urgency. She started walking again but after a few steps she stopped, turned around, and called him.

He turned around. "Yep?"

"Next week I'll be leaving for Cebu," she said. "I just want to say goodbye."

Leandro thought about it for a while. "You won't be coming back for the fiesta?"

She shook her head. "After enrolling I'll find a part-time job. Tourism is expensive, you know, for me. But it's what I want."

"That's good," he said. "I'll be working part-time, too."

"Yeah, I've heard," she smiled. "So you're leaving first day of June?"

He didn't had the chance to wonder how she knew about it for he was too busy to free himself from the conversation so he could go to the park on time.

"I've heard she's back," Leah casually said.

"Huh?" He didn't quite get who she was referring to, but after a short while he did. "Oh, yeah. Friday last week."

"You seemed so happy."





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LATE AFTERNOONS

Part IV: Like the Old Days
 



Remma and her parents wouldn't be staying long in the country; they were scheduled to return by the 31st of May. Completely aware of the reality that time was too short for them to waste, they had spent as much time as they could with Remma. From rowing boat to fishing to watching sunsets to having road trips on Donald's Honda motorcycle, the three of them were like back in their younger selves: happy, carefree, and not caring about the world around them.

They were at the park on the 23rd day of May. It was Saturday, and they were there by 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon. Leandro spread the blanket over the grass, after which Donald unloaded from the bamboo basket their sandwiches and sodas into the tray that he placed at the center of the blanket. Remma unfolded the big outdoor umbrella and positioned it to shield the afternoon sun.

"Did you bring the bottle opener?" Donald asked Leandro as he placed the basket at one corner of the blanket, and sat sideway next to him.

"Yup. I put it in there," he answered as he gestured toward the basket. Donald looked for it and found it under the tissue paper.

Remma was standing by the edge of the park, and looked down at the white crests of small waves below. It was ebb tide. Not much disturbance in the waves. She felt the pure, rural air.

"Do you know who's coming here this 29th?" Donald asked.

Leandro, who was lying on his back with arms folded behind his head, turned his head toward Remma but didn't say anything.

Remma, who was half listening, asked, "Who?"

"Cesar Montano," Donald answered so casually that Leandro almost wouldn't believe it.

Remma gasped as she quickly turned around. She was a fan of Cesar Montano since their grade school years.

"No way," she asked with evidence of excitement in her voice.

"Yeah way," Donald said as he picked a sandwich.

Remma glared at him and snapped, "Don, we've just arrived!"

Donald almost instantly dropped back the sandwich into the tray as Leandro laughed out loud.

"Okay, okay," Donald surrendered and jokingly raised both his hands upward.

Remma went back to the blanket and sat with them. She leaned on Donald's back, and then looked at Leandro. "Is it true?"

Leandro shrugged. "I have no idea."

Remma laughed at this, cynically. "Do you really believe that? I mean, would he ever come to a rural place this far?"

Without looking at either of them, Donald spoke, "He's spending a few days in Baclayon, then our Mayor, who's close to Cesar's father, personally invited him to come over. There's a rumor he's going to endorse something."

"I doubt it," Remma interjected.

"But you sounded excited just a while ago," Leandro insisted.

"Yeah, " Donald agreed. "An I bet you, Leandro, she'll be the first person to hang around the stage waiting with a poster."

The two of them laughed as though they were conniving.

Remma spanked Leandro in the leg. He grimaced while he continued laughing.

Remma fetched the guitar that Leandro had brought along and gave it to Donald, and asked him to pluck any song. Leandro rose from lying, and then thought of something to suggest. Donald was starting to strum More Than Words when Remma said she wanted to sing something else.

"Baby Come To Me," Leandro suggested. "By Pattie Austin."

"Oh, I love that song!" Remma gasped with delight. "You still sing that song, too?"

"Sometimes, when I'm taking a bath," Leandro grinned.

"That's not a cool song for a picnic," Donald protested.

"But it's beautiful," Remma defended.

"You know the chords?" he asked Donald, who nodded in affirmation. "Okay. Let's sing it, the three of us."

"I just told you what I thought about it."

"Don, don't pour water into the fire."

They were in the middle of the song when he caught Donald staring secretly at Remma as she was singing her part of the song. It was brief, but he saw it. And it was a stare very unusual to come from his friend. Something mysterious, something deeper. Suddenly Leandro felt an eerie moment, but immediately dismissed it. When he looked away and focused back on singing, Donald glanced silently at him.

After playing and singing two more songs, Donald announced, "I'm starving."

They were halfway eating their sandwiches when Remma, on her second sandwich now, said she needed more soda. They had brought only three.

"We should have brought some more," Donald sounded regretful.

"It's OK," Leandro said as he stood up. "I'll buy one."

Remma sheepishly took back her word. "No, it's Ok. Really. Never mind."

But Leandro insisted.

"Gee, thanks, Leandro," she said, beaming.

He nodded and started to walk away when Donald called him.

"Use my motorcycle," Donald said, and then tossed the key to him.

When he returned after a few minutes, the mood had changed: Remma was silent and Donald couldn't look at him straight in the eyes.



Three days before the fiesta their barrio started to get flooded with balikbayans and relatives from other towns and cities as far as Manila, the UK and the States for a short vacation aside from the fiesta. This is the usual event every year during fiesta as though it was a vow they all should respect and observe. There were many people now in the streets; people he'd never seen before, and people he'd only seen way back in his younger years. Strangers and familiar faces mingled in the streets exchanging how've-you-been's and personal stories.

His aunt and two cousins from Mindanao wouldn't be in their barrio until the 28th, the day before the fiesta. But it was Phoemela's birthday today, and his nanay cooked pancit and calderetang baboy. Phoemela invited only a few of her classmates and friends, and there were enough food left to give some to Remma. He knew she liked pancit, and he was sure she missed eating them, too.

When he pressed the doorbell of Remma's house, her mother, Mrs. Eula Olandria, came out. After exchanging hellos and handing to her the pancit for Remma, he learned she was already out with Donald for some rowing. Earlier that day Donald borrowed one oar, but he had not asked who would be with him.



Donald was pushing the boat when Remma saw him coming.

"Hey, I thought you won't be coming," Remma said, apparently surprised.

Donald turned his head. "It's good you're here." When he was satisfied the boat was already afloat, he faced them as he continued, "Changed your mind, huh?"

Leandro dug his hands to his pants' side pockets. "I figured there was not much thing to do after my sister's small celebration. Julia took care of the cleaning."

"Good," Donald said. "Hop in."

Remma was staring at her feet when Leandro offered his hand to lead her toward the water and into the boat. She looked up and smiled, and then took his hand.



"Not all Filipinos there are living the life they'd come to experience. Many struggled, too. Financially and all," Remma went on telling the story of what it was really like living in Canada.

Leandro, sitting at the hind end of the boat with his oar, said, "But the government there is giving support to the people, right? Even give or help find a job for them."

"If you lost your job, yes," Remma added. "But even if you already have a job, sometimes it can't provide you a long-term stability."

Donald, without turning his head to them, said, "And yet, when they come back here, those jewelry dangling around their necks are shouting and bragging their 'affluence' out there."

"Because that is the perception that our society here engraved in the minds of its people," Leandro quickly explained. "That if you're working abroad, you are successful and life is far better than here. And when you go back here, you are expected to share your affluence with the community no matter how you struggled and suffer overseas."

Remma agreed.

Leandro rowed a few times before he continued. "And because of our nature to brag, we chose to let that kind of perception to stay and not even try to change it because in the end, it's what we wanted, that people will look up to us."

Remma cleared her throat and was about to speak when Leandro spoke again.

"But I'm not stereotyping the Filipinos abroad, Rem, OK?"

"I know," Remma answered. "And you're right."

A momentary silence.

"How far is Nova Scotia from Alberta?" Donald asked from out of nowhere.

Slightly baffled by the change of topic, Remma, who sat sideway behind him, looked at his back. "Very far. It's in the Atlantic. We're somewhere in the middle of Canada."

"It's where Mafia originated, right?"

"It's Sicily," Leandro said, amused. "It's in Italy, not Canada."

"Oh."

Remma giggled.

"OK," Donald appeared hurt. "I'm not that smart."

"Drop it, Don," Leandro frowned.

Donald raised his oar and rested it beside him inside the boat, and then turned to sit facing them. "How cold is it there during winter? Is it as cold as getting out of the water naked?"

Chuckling but clueless, Remma answered, "WAY colder. Below freezing."

Leandro stopped rowing and placed his oar beside him, too. He sensed where the conversation was leading to. He muffled his own amusement to Donald's silliness.

"Oh, yeah?"

"Uh-huh."

"Is skinny-dipping a hype there?"

"What?" confused, Remma's forehead wrinkled.

"This very spot where we are now, right here?"

Remma looked around suspiciously, her face questioning. "What about it?"

Donald smirked. "This is the skinny-dipping zone, and everybody's required to observe it."

Remma, who found it hilarious, started laughing but remained reluctant and cautious.

Leandro was shaking his head now, chuckling.

The boat rocked wildly as Donald stood up. Remma shrieked as she balanced herself by holding at both sides of the boat's frame. She was terrified but still laughing.

Donald started stripping and summoned Leandro to do the same. He dared Remma to follow them. Remma shook her head wildly as she closed her eyes. She kept laughing and shrieking hilariously.

Donald and Leandro were now naked, with both their hands cupping over their groin. Remma shrieked even more when she saw them naked and shut her eyes closed again. She covered her eyes with her left hand.

Then the two boys take a loud, noisy plunge.



Not so far away from where they were, at an abandoned wharf near the base of the elevated road going up the church and the plaza, stood Leah. She was there for quite some time, watching quietly at them, observing their activities and absorbing their laughter.



By the time they rowed back to the shore, with Donald and Leandro exchanging positions in the boat, Remma glanced at Donald and kept her eyes at him quietly for a long time. Donald looked at her, too, then to Leandro's back, and then looked away onto the wharf in the distance.



The day after next. After lunch he decided to drop by at Remma's house before going to the town. His nanay asked him to buy some groceries for tonight and for the fiesta tomorrow, the busiest day of their barrio, and there would be no time for eleventh hour errands. And besides, this evening would be the arrival of his aunt and two cousins from Butuan, a city in Mindanao. And his nanay was planning to cook something to welcome their arrival.

When he was about to go out of the house, he saw his sister Julia coming in. His sister asked him if he had time to drop by at her friend's house on his way to the habal-habal terminal. Said she forgot to give back to her friend Sally the pocketbook. But he was in a hurry. He said he'd be dropping by at Remma's house, too.

"Remma?" Julia asked. "She's not in their house."

"How d'you know?"

"I saw her and Donald on his motorcycle just a while ago."

"Where d'you think they're going?"

"I don't know."



On his way to the terminal, he saw Christine, Donald's girlfriend and their classmate as well, walking toward him. She smiled when she saw him.

"Where you going?"

"To Donald's house," she said. "He must have forgotten that he's supposed to take me to the town."

He hesitated for a while, and then said, "I think he's not in their house now."

"Where is he?" Christine sounded hurt and angry.

"Uhm," he was frantically looking for an explanation. "He went off to the next town. Said it was urgent."





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LATE AFTERNOONS

Part V: The Tempest
 



He needed to know. He needed to understand. He needed to reassure himself. That's because lately he sensed something was up among the three of them. He felt and knew there was something else going on, something that only happened when Remma came. Something unintelligible. Something he had yet to find out.

He understood that the three of them were just trying to cope up from the long time they had lost, and he knew they were just enjoying the time they had now. And whatever came in between, were just manifestations of their happiness of being together. But there was also something else that's unfolding along with it in the shadows. Though he forced himself to dismiss all his doubts and suspicion, his mind was dictating him, urging him to discover what his heart and soul needed to know and understand.



29th of May, the barrio fiesta. He was not supposed to go out of their house. He was supposed to be helping his family in preparing foods and the table for their visitors from other towns, relatives and friends alike, who would be flooding their small house by noon time, after the 10 o'clock mass.

He was supposed to be with his two cousins whom he hadn't seen since his second year in grade school. But when Donald went to him to borrow his boat, saying Remma insisted on going out to sea for some rowing for the third time this week, he offered to come along. Donald was vaguely reluctant, but Leandro felt it.

Remma was waiting down at the foot of the gradually elevated road near the shore and not faraway from where the boat was docked. They were descending halfway down the road when he remembered the oars. He forgot to bring it with them partly because he was in a hurry to go along with Donald, and partly because his mind was pre-occupied by a thought he couldn't clearly comprehend.



Remma was standing at the left shoulder of the gravel road, the side that ran along the shore. She was facing the row of boats anchored at the shoreline, idly watching the waves that were wildly rushing in for the high tide, the white crests colliding and splashing against each other and against the dark sand of the shore.

When Donald arrived and stood next to her, he said, "He's coming with us."

Remma looked away from him to her right, toward the far end of the road. She just stood there, occasionally brushing her hair that the strong wind had swept wildly over her face.

When he was certain that Remma wasn't talking, he asked, "What's going on, Rem?"

Silence.

"Rem---"

"There's something I need to tell you," Remma said after a while, loud enough to resist the blowing of the wind.

"Alright."

Remma turned her head and looked at him. "Lean wrote me a letter last January," she said with a blank expression.

"I know."

"He said he loves me," Remma continued.

"It's true," Donald looked away and darted his eyes to the rushing waves.

Remma looked ahead past the mangrove forest to the distant mountains beyond the sea. "Why didn't you write me?"

Donald didn't answer because, he realized, he didn't know the answer at all.

"It was your letter I so long to read. I kept sending you letters, but you stopped responding," her voice now sounded hurt and faltering.

Donald slowly looked at her. He looked down at the ground beneath his feet and then at the waves. His heart was pounding hard not because of something else but because of fear, his fear of something about to happen or come that he couldn't foresee. He could hear Remma's emotional turmoil, but not his own.

"Part of the reasons why I wanted to come back was to see you again," she continued. A pause. She was fighting over her own emotions, too. After a while she glanced at him, and stayed. "I love you, Don."

Flabbergasted, it took a while for him to comprehend. Donald shook his head as he closed his eyes. "No."

"I knew it since we were still in grade school."

Donald shook his head again, and then looked at her. "Oh, Remma, please. I've already told you how much he dreamed of this day to come. I don't want to hurt him."

"Hurt him?" she asked in disbelief, her voice filled with pain and anger. "What about me?"

"I can't betray him, Rem," he pressed, his voice heavy and harder to come out. "He loves you, so much."

Remma's emotion exploded. "But I don't love him! All I want to know is if you feel the same way to me. Make me feel what you really feel inside."

Remma moved closer to him and held him in the face with her both hands. "Look at me, Don," she said in a tender, passionate tone. "I love you."



Holding the oars with both of his hands, Leandro was walking round the bend when he saw Remma and Donald in the distance facing each other. He was about to continue walking when he saw Remma kissed his friend. His chest suddenly tightened, his face redden, his anger soared while his heart shattered and drowned.

When their lips parted, he swore Donald must have said something that caused Remma to step back, quivering as she walked away from him, sobbing and crying like the world had fallen and collapsed around her, and then dashed hysterically toward the sea and into a boat he didn't recognized. Fear crept swiftly all over him, and instinct told him to ran after her and save her from the lurking danger, waiting to devour the broken woman. The only woman he loved.

Donald frantically called out for her and ran after her, but fear and confusion crippled his soul and slowed his body. Leaving the oars behind, Leandro was running faster than he could muster and jumped into the air and landed on the water. Donald was shouting and telling her to come back and stop what she was doing, but she had already boarded the boat, and rowed it furiously and wildly toward the open sea. As panic and fear wrapped around him, Donald dashed along the shore looking for a boat with an oar. The waves were bigger than those in the days before, and she was a woman not born to row a boat.

"WHAT"S GOING ON?" Leandro screamed with fear and confusion, demanding answers from his friend.

"I DON'T KNOW!" Donald unfocused, shouted back, as he continued looking for an oar from the other docked outrigger boats. "THE OAR. WHERE ARE THE OARS? YOU GOT THEM? HURRY!"

Leandro realized he had thrown it away. Focused and determined to go after her, he helped his friend looking for an oar from the other boats. When he found one he quickly jumped into a boat and maneuvered it as fast as he could toward the open sea and after her.

Donald was running after him, the seawater loudly and wildly shooting everywhere with his every thump. "HEY, WAIT UP! WAIT UP! WAAAIT!"



She was fifteen or twenty meters away from Leandro, her boat arcing up and down the waves. When her shoulders and arms started to get numb, she stopped rowing and instead sat there crying loud. She heard Leandro calling out her name, urging her to come back. She stood and turned around to face him.

"LEAVE ME ALONE!" she screamed, her voice faltered and her throat began to sore. The boat swayed furiously under her weight and, when a series of bigger waves slapped the left side frame of the boat, she lost her balance. Her left foot caught the fishing nets lying on the boat floor, and trailed her as she plunged into the water.

Leandro's eyes opened wide in horror.



That night, when the plaza was packed with anticipating audience and screaming fans, when Cesar Montano climbed up the stage and caused so much excitement and pandemonium, when people where pushing forward and each other, the three of them where stuck in the four white walls of the community hospital in the nearby town.

Inside, Remma was stable but asleep. A doctor was there as well as her parents. Outside, under the big, old mango tree, the two of them faced each other in silence. Leandro was leaning against the tree trunk, while Donald was leaning against the concrete perimeter fence of the hospital. Leandro's mind was spinning like a tropical storm, while Donald's was drifted somewhere else, in a place where he felt like crawling down a dark pit into a sea of red, fiery lava. But the volcano inside him was threatening to spit him out with all its might.

"You owe me an explanation," Leandro broke the eerie silence.

Nothing. Donald just stood there, calculating everything, weighing his every move and words.

"TALK TO ME, DAMN IT!"

In the darkness, Donald looked at him. He couldn't see in his friend's face the anger, but he could feel it in the still air. He looked away.

"She told me about your last letter," he began, but it required his strength to let the words out.

Silence.

"And I told her that it's true, what you've told her."

Silence.

"She said---" he paused. It was so much harder that he thought. Oh, how he'd wished he could just disappear and be somewhere else.

"Tell me," firm and heavy, Leandro's voice was dark and menacing.

"She said she don't love you," Donald close his eyes. He didn't want to talk anymore.

It took a while for the words to settle in. And it took a while for Leandro to speak another word.

"That's not what she said," he said, trapping his mind from such poison.

Donald said nothing.

"Tell me."

"I'm so sorry, Lean."

This caused Leandro's turbulent emotion to break into a perfect storm. "DON'T YOU EVER FEEL SORRY FOR ME! DON'T YOU EVER FEEL SORRY! YOU'RE LYING!"

"I never lied to you."

"Then why she's acting like that? WHY SHE WAS RUNNING AWAY LIKE THAT? WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?"

Donald told him, and then hold his breath.

Leandro dashed so fast toward him that he was startled and, before he could evade, Leandro punched him in the face and wrapped his arms around him and knocked him down.

"BUT I DON'T LOVE HER, OKAY! I DON'T LOVE HER! STOP IT!" Donald was screaming at the top of his voice, needing to be heard, needing to be understood, needing his friend to believe him.

But they kept struggling; Leandro kept punching him. But he didn't resist, he didn't fight back. He never wanted to, so he just raised both his arms in total surrender. His friend cursed him with hateful and painful words, but he said nothing back. He swallowed everything Leandro had said to him.

After a while Leandro left with anger still clouding his face, leaving him lying there, feeling the pain crawled all over his body. Physical pain, and something much deeper.





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LATE AFTERNOONS

Part VI: The Confrontation
 



"Julia, is Leandro here?" Donald asked when he saw her as he arrived at his friend's house two days after the incident. He decided to let the tension to subside before talking to Leandro, but he also realized it would be too late for the three of them to wait that long.

"No, he's not here," Julia said and walked away from her two cousins and toward him. In a hushed voice, she asked, "What's going on? He seems not with himself today."

Donald chose not to talk about it with her. Rather he said, "Nothing. I need to go. I need to find him."



For whatever reasons he didn't find Leandro at the park; instead, he found him below it. He was sitting on a boulder less than a meter away from the base of the shallow ridge, his feet submerged in the seawater. It was where they used to pick sea shells when they were younger. And it was where he was saved by Leandro from drowning.

"Lean," he said, uncertain how not to disturb him.

"I need to be alone," Leandro said without turning.

"Lean, you're not like this. This is not you," Donald said, "Please, let's talk it over."

Silence.

"I don't understand," Leandro began. "I have never felt like this before in my life. This is my very first time to feel what it is like to fall in love. But it's being snatched away from me."

"I didn't---"

"You snatched it away from me," Leandro said in a pressing tone, and then turned around and looked at him. "Why?"

"Could you please stop it?" Donald slightly raised his voice, exasperated. "I don't love her, OK? I'm not taking her away from you."

Leandro looked away.

Silence.

"I can't believe that after all these years you still don't trust me," Donald sounded hurt and resentful.

"Just leave me alone."

"Look, I can't live like this."

"DON."

Silence.

"OK," Donald gave in, sighed, and walked away. After a few steps, he turned around and said, "Remma is leaving today for Canada. In an hour. I thought you should know."



When he saw in the distance the SUV pulling from the Olandria's garage, panicked crept all over him and triggered him to ran after it. He was only a few meters away when the SUV rolled into the street that leads toward the highway. He ran even faster with Donald trailing behind him.

"REMMA! REMMA!" Leandro cried as he ran after the vehicle. "REMMA, WAIT! WAIT!"

The SUV kept running as though oblivious to his cry and presence. He nearly outrun it; he was running almost alongside it and slapped its hind side over and over as he went yelling, "REMMA, STOP THE CAR! STOP THE CAR! DON'T JUST LEAVE US LIKE THIS, REMMA! REMMA! STOP THE CAR!"

The SUV suddenly pulled over and Remma's father got out from the passenger seat and then faced him.

"Please, just leave her alone," her father said in controlled anger. "She's breaking apart, and she needs time to heal. Not this one. Not this."

Leandro was begging, but Remma's father was all stone to him. He climbed back to the SUV, drove off, accelerated, turned around the bend, and was gone. Leandro was left there standing, heartbroken, and devastated.

After a long while he turned around and stormed past Donald without looking back.



June 1. Leandro was standing under the waiting shed a few blocks from behind their house, right along the main road that leads toward the town. He was waiting for the bus that would take him to the city. Today was his schedule to go to Tagbilaran and take a flight for Manila. Though the wounds was so fresh and his heart was still broken, he had no choice but to leave this place emotionally shattered.

He was standing there with his bags beside him on the dirt road when Donald came. They were standing side by side without saying a word for several minutes. None of them had the courage to talk nor the strength to listen. They were just there feeling each other and watching people passed by. A deafening, eerie silence wrapped around them.

After a long while, Donald spoke. "I hate to see us part this way."

No response.

"We don't even have the chance to talk about it."

Silence.

"Lean, talk to me, for Christ's sake. This isn't easy for me to see you go like this. Please say something. This is killing me."

Leandro grunted, and then faced him. "What do you want me to say?"

Donald closed his eyes and sighed in exasperation. "Jesus, Lean! Stop acting like that. If you think this is my fault, I'm sorry. I told you I don't love her! I ---" he stopped himself. He couldn't do it. He couldn't say it. Because at that moment he couldn't understand why he was about to say it, or if he meant it at all, or if it was what his heart had wanted him to say all this time. He stopped to question himself. He stopped because he realized that the emotions within him was trying to surrender him and spit him out with all its might.

"What else do you want me to do?" Donald went on.

"Bring her back."

"This isn't going anywhere," Donald said while shaking his head. In the distance, the bus appeared and rolled fast toward them.

"You're right," Leandro. "This is not going anywhere."

"Lean, please," Donald said. "Think it over. This is shattering us, please listen to me."

Leandro said nothing as he waited for the bus to come to a stop.

"Come back home once in a while, OK?" Donald said. "Promise me."

Leandro reluctantly nodded.

"I'm gonna miss you, man," he was about to hug him but Leandro bent to pick up his bags and walked into the waiting bus.

Donald was left behind, staring at the leaving bus. It was the last time the two of them see each other.





The photograph used in this entry is from Arun Kumar Sinha's Flickr page. To view the owner's webpage, please click here. Thanks!

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