Pages

Monday, January 01, 2007

NOSTOS





Most of this is real. The sex parts anyway, she swore to be true. In her mother's name. The rest, well, I was the only one who wasn't drinking. We were in Pulilan, it was my girlfriend's nineteenth birthday. It was a moist July. Some hours past midnight (it was a sleep-over party) and Mary, Nikita's floor director in BC 103, after learning I was a writer, asked if her love story was good enough to be turned into a movie. I told her I was a poet. She downed a half-full bottle of neon green lambanog and began pouring her heart out.

Guys, well, you're the only one awake Nikita, but anyway, please don't tell our clique about this. We'll be a clique within a clique. Some of us, I don't know, I guess they're just homophobic. Especially Mikaela. She's nice and smart and all, but I don't want her judging Brian. Or me for that matter. Anyway, here goes.
I was born in Marikina. We lived in a house that was just a jeepney ride away from Our Lady of Perpetual Succor. AKA: Enchanted Kingdom. Elementary I was the best. Valedictorian. First year high school I joined the Dance Club. First year highschool I met Brian. Short, white, always stooping he looked like Igor, Frankenstein’s assistant. But fair smooth skin, and face hair (brown stubbles) to die for. He was a Sophomore, Ate Miren's batchmate. We were buddies during the application period, but he deferred mid-application period. After I officially became a DC member (just before the Christmas vacation), I tracked him down. His mother, this was what he told me anyway, had just been convicted of estafa, and he had to spend his time working at the car wash just in front of school in order to keep on studying.
I avoided him, after that afternoon. But I began walking home after school, to save on the four peso jeepney fare. I don't know, but I guess I do, and it's obvious to you, why I started saving. And when the time came to spend it, to spend it on what I unconsciously saved the money for, I didn't spend it. Over three years, one fourth freshman up to my senior year, and two price hikes. Imagine! But money isn't important.
Ate Miren got into UP. Diliman, mind. Computer Science. So of course super pressure on me come UPCAT day. Can't accuse me of excess grace: turned out I wasn't good enough for UPD. Lousy last days of high school. Still, BS Math, UP Baguio. Pine trees, wool jackets. Plus there was an SM. My sister's words. She said I could shift after a year. So: only two days spent crying, refusing to get out of bed. At least it wasn't for a guy.
Registration's still manual there. I think it'll be computerized next year. But anyway, a month before classes my parents and Ate Miren and I bus up to Baguio to find me a boarding house ("Because dorms will corrupt you," my mother said) and get me enrolled. We finished everything quite quick and we returned to Marikina after a few days. I spent the rest of May sleeping over. The final nights of my high school friendships. My bestfriend and I, we swore under the moon's light that we would be friends forever. Don't ask about him, that'd take another lambanog bottle.
Three days before classes I was at Cubao, at the Victory Liner station. Only my mother with me this time. I was quite alright until we got to the second stop-over. Maybe it was the horrible canteen food, maybe it was because my cellphone went zero signal bars. Whatever it was, I began crying. "Hush," my mother said, "you'll rejoin us in a year."
At the boarding house I had a room all to myself (yes, you guessed right, to fight the onset of corruption). Manang Joyce was a distant relative of my father's officemate. She promised to watch over me. (Her son, James, in highschool at the time, got one of the borders pregnant. That was on my first sem there, but I only learned about it a few weeks ago. The girl went back to Cotabato, apparently. A pity, she always greeted me hello. We were introduced, but I didn't get to know her, and now I don't remember her name.)
"Mary," my mother said before getting on the bus, she spent two nights with me, "Mary, take care of yourself. If there're any problems, just text us. Lots of Internet stations here, I expect an e-mail every week or so." She kissed me on the forehead. "And don't cry. Shout. Punch walls. Dance. But never cry. Especially for a boy." The bus wouldn't leave for another twenty minutes, but when my mother's back disappeared I walked back home to the boarding house. Our agreement. Life isn't a movie. There's no need for dramatic scenes. On the way home I bought two jars of pili nuts. Shout. Punch walls. Eat. My mother's words I never fail to heed.
Brian re-entered my life right after I got into the Dance Troupe and before I joined LFS. Yes, the League of Filipino Students. Don't be so shocked, I didn't use to be this coño. Mid-November I was, like, always wearing red! But this was early November. Because I had already been a UP student for a sem the powers that be decided I didn't deserve the privileges of a freshman anymore. Yes, yes, you're old, so you know how it is: the longest lines ever. Like it was at the BIR or something. I was enlisting Walking for Fitness and this dark-skinned bald man was waving at me, shouting, "Miren! Miren!" I was second in line and he was like the thirtieth and everybody was staring at me. I smiled and waved back. He was with this other guy, fatso in shorts, and he left him to come to me. I thought: great, some freak wanted to pretend he knew me so he could cut in line.
"Miren!" He held my shoulders. "You spent one year avoiding me? I thought I was the only EK native here!"
"Excuse me," I said, "do I know you?"
"Miren, it's me, Brian! Ah, but I put on weight, of course!"
He told me, when we started going out, that right after he had said he was Brian tears started forming in my eyes. I don't believe this, and you shouldn't too. Just thought I should tell you two about it. What I remember is, my jaw dropped, but after a few seconds I was hugging him and saying, "It's Mary, stupid, but yes, finally there're two EK natives in Baguio!" I don't know why I hugged him, you'll probably say it was an unconscious desire, that even then I wanted him in a special way, and I might agree with you. I do know that when I hugged him it felt like I plugged a charger while barefoot and wet. It was titillating. 
It was orgasmic.
It was love at first sight.
Then the fatso went over and Brian said, "Hector, my boyfriend." Yes, Alanis Morisette, it was ironic. And I hadn't talked to him in, what, three years? And where did his hair go? (The improved posture, though, was an improvement.) No, he wasn't the man of my dreams. And certainly his "wife" wasn't beautiful. He was a connection to Marikina, a breathing, perspiring, living connection. That's why I exchanged cellphone numbers with him. That's why I was polite to Hector. I sent them both back to the end of the line, though. No one was going to use me to cut.  
If you have to ask, no, none of us got into the Walking for Fitness class.
Because he was an Engineering major taking up Engineering classes, I didn't see him again until December. I started spending more time with the DC because one time those, I mean we, activists, LFS leading, bussed to Quezon City to declare Gloria a fascist and I almost got bludgeoned. Quick reflexes, I protected my head. Here, see? The proper use of elbows. I thought my mother would see me on TV!
Anyway, Brian was there, sitting at one of Blues Skies's benches, while we were all jumping up and down playing charades. The afternoon air was moist. I pretended not to see him, he was sulking and talking to his Coke, stroking his bald head. Apparently I wasn't the only dancer he knew, because three or four of my friends came over to him and invited him to play. He was put in my team. Kismet, yeah. It was a tough game, Filipino movies, the titles, my God. Don't you raise your eyebrows Nikita, it was hard! I mean, Talong, tell me, how do you act that out? We won the game of course, my team, but we, Brian and I, scored the winning point. Anakan Mo Ako, is there really a movie like that? I was the one acting, went over him and started offering my crotch. He guessed it in about, what, fifty seconds, one minute time's up, and then our team was cheering and we were hugging. Over dinner he told me he and Hector broke up. I asked, and yes, you don't need to lecture me, if he wanted a bus mate, for going home. He said yes, and we were textmates from then on. It was a lovely Christmas vacation, we met at that McDonalds I met you at, Nikita, near the park with the cement cows. Carabaos? Okay. He gave me that toe ring you're always trying to borrow. I didn't get him anything, but he said it was alright. My friendship was enough of a gift. I can't believe I fell for a line like that!
Back at Baguio he did more than give gifts and deliver lines. He was growing his hair back. And: he joined the Dance Troupe. At least, he applied, wanted to become a member, so tried to join, he got rejected, thanks to me of course, but that comes later in the story, I'm getting ahead of myself. He was a great dancer. I was at this Marikina dog contest once, there was this dog that jumped through hula-hoops. He had more grace than that dog. He could, like, jump through a hula-hoop. He was a stunt man. He was Fred Astire and Lisa Macuja’s long lost gay son.
DT has three initiation nights, one per month of application, then the final initiation rite, which was scheduled for May, because finals were set for April. Brian, he, well, he said something, on the first initiation night, January 17, I hate myself for remembering the exact day, he said... Well first he was asked, which of us DT members would he marry? It was George, one of the macho shit oldies, you'd think there'd be zero homophobes in the Dance Troupe for the love of God, but he, George, and many others, knew, or suspected, that Brian was gay, and he asked him that, snickering. And Brian said, almost before the question was finished, he said he wanted to marry me.
They teased me, everyone laughed, even the other applicants, except me and Brian. Someone said I was blushing but I was cold. It was cold, I could see my breath.
That was when I knew I was in love. It explains all the hugging and texting, yes? He walked me home afterwards, he was always walking me home after dance practice those days, and bumping into me during lunch hour. It was cold, and I was hugging myself, and at the gate I said good night and he said he loved me.
And I felt warm.
And I said to him, "What about Hector?"
And he said, "He loves LFS."
I wanted to cry. So I was a Hector-substitute! I wanted to kick him! I was going to kick him...
But then said, "And I love you."
Our first kiss was salty because of my tears. Or maybe because of his tears. Our tears. I accidentally bit his tongue!
I didn't brush my teeth that night.
The whole Dance Troupe knew the next day. I don't know how, maybe someone followed us home? I didn't care. I loved him. He loved me. We loved each other. That Saturday, he took me horseback riding.
And on the second initiation night, February 14 yeah yeah yeah, he took me home. Manang Joyce had suffered a heart attack earlier that day, he and James had a shouting match. Whole family at the hospital, and all the other boarders were out. Anyway, I had a room to myself. At the gate, again, I asked him if he could come inside, for a while, just to make sure there weren't any ghosts and he said cut the Cinderella crap and so I said I wanted to have sex. And we did! For almost a month people were teasing me, asking what do I do with a gay boyfriend to have fun, do I have to dress up in boots and keep my voice low to turn him on, and things like that. I was having doubts too but that night they skyrocketed away. Of course, his penis entered my vagina from behind, he said he wasn't used to penetration face to face except when entering a face, and I understood this. He fingered my anus a bit, force of habit, what can I say? I liked it.
And he sucked my breasts like he was getting milk! And grabbed them the way he did my ass. He said they were like soft lavender. I asked him what that meant, breasts like soft lavender. He said it meant my body was the color of life. My nipples were erect for days!
No, no, no Nikita, we did not have anal sex. And no, I will never believe you and Janus here are telling the whole truth.
It was in March that he became... cold. Less texting. Hugs not always warm. And he started missing dance practices. That should have been enough to convince me. But you know me. It was George, in the end, who told me, but again the whole of DT knew. I was the last to know. I didn't believe George when he told me. Didn't believe the entire Troupe when they confronted me one night when Brian failed to arrive. You want proof, they asked. Yeah, I said. They took me to the proof.
See, after me and Brian became a we I told him he had to move out of his boarding house. Because, even though he and Hector no longer spoke, and Hector barely came home, electing to sleep at some activist's hovel, they were still roommates. I didn't want them mating by force of habit. He did as I asked, moved to a boarding house twice as expensive and farther away from the Engineering building.
George led the way. I got it, midhike. We weren't heading away from the Engineering building. We stopped at a shanty, a two story shanty's still a shanty, a block away from Brian's college. I got it. George banged at the gates.
Then my fellow dancers started shouting.
Shouting, "Hector! Hector!"
It was Brian who came out. He was in shorts, and he was sweating.
George started the chanting, "Confess, confess," and the others picked it up. Midway I joined them. I was crying. He was crying. A gate was a stupid place to break up.
I'll spare you the details. Hector got bludgeoned, no elbow defenses there, at, yes, a rally. At Manila, on the way to Mendiola. Stupid police! If they hadn't done that me and Brian would still be together. You're damned, you know, when you believe in a cosmic order of things, destiny, everything falls into place, and then everything falls to pieces. Hector was bleeding, bleeding, when he met with Brian near the end of February. Bleeding, with his activist friends with him, pleading for Brian's care. He said, he claimed, that at first it was just for the sake of their past friendship. Even for humanitarian reasons, he was the only one who could nurse Hector back to health. After that, at first, he said at first, after Hector healed, Brian would go on with the life he carved out with me. Didn't happen. They kissed one March afternoon, when the air was humid, and that was the end of the hugs and texts and dancing.
"We're going," he said, no mercy, this was our next to last conversation, and in front of our friends, he said, "we're going to a rally tomorrow. Would you like to come?"
I kicked him. I kicked him at the crotch. Whump, and he was on his knees. He vomited. It was a cold night and I could smell his dinner.
The Troupe and I, we marched away.
Disgusting? No, this is what's disgusting.
I finished that sem concentrating on my grades. At first, I wanted to shift to Diliman because my sister was there. Then, this was late February, I didn't want to anymore. And then, March: I wanted to again. I was running away from my situation, yes, but my family, they still believed I was going to shift for the original reasons. I never told my mother, or Ate Miren. I wanted to keep my heart the only one broken.
Hey, get this: thanks to Brian's betrayal, I got focused enough to be a University scholar. One point two five average, believe it or not.
It was May when I saw him again. I had packed my bags late March, but I needed one more paper signed by one more stupid bureaucrat. My mother had wanted to come with me but, maybe the universe was telling me something, she came down with the flu the morning of our departure. I told her it was going to be alright, six hour bus ride, get the final signature, transient at a dorm if the red tape got bad, or sleep at a hotel if need be, definitely finish the next day, six hour bus ride again, and back in her arms. Safe and warm.
I slept on the bus and was hungry when I woke up. It was a quarter after eleven, and I knew that stupid whoever I needed to sign the piece of paper I had in my bag was going to lunch early, so I ran to the registrar's office and ignored my stomach clamoring for lunch.
I got there in time.
I was so happy I didn't realize I was at Blue Skies until after I finished paying for my lunch. There weren't many people there, summer classes having ended the day before, as I found out. And I saw him. At the same bench where I saw him that night of charades. He was bald again.
He waved to me. Hesitant smile. He was eating soup. The cup of coffee by his bowl was steaming. I should have ignored him, yes, yeah, that's what you would do Nikita. But we're not the same person. Or: we weren't the same person yet. Then. So I joined him. We ate in silence. He finished at the same time I did. Funny, he always finished earlier, when we were a couple. He was always picking his teeth, teasing me, trying to embarrass me so I'd eat faster.
Then I realized: it wasn't that he ate slowly. It was I who ate a lot faster than I usually did. Because I was hungry. You're going to love my realization: I realized that I still loved him. I still do. Kick me in the crotch I still do.
"Going home," I said, standing up.
"Take you to the bus station?" He was picking his teeth.
I nodded.
He offered to carry my bag, but I shook my head. At least there were things I could refuse him.
We walked. It was long march, and it was May, but it was also Baguio. I had wanted it to last longer.
When we were almost there he said, "I tried calling you."
"I threw my phone away."
The silence gave me the strength I needed.
We got to the bus and we just stood there. The bus, call it fate, was recently cleaned. Shining my friends, shining. I stared at our reflections, smaller versions of us seemingly painted on the bus' side, just under the red letters spelling Victory Liner. I said goodbye. It was the last thing I ever said to him. I got into the bus, lucky thing too because the conductor said we were going at that very moment.
I sat on the window side. I thought I was going to see his back, getting smaller and smaller. He was just standing there. The bus was making noises but wasn't moving. His mouth was moving though. Like he was shouting something. Vendors abound, selling pili nuts and strawberries. I wanted to tell them to shut up, so I could hear him. But that was pointless. The bus was air-conditioned. I wouldn't have heard him even if I were the only passenger there.
It occurred to me, as it might occur to you now, that either I could have got off the bus, or he could have got on, and what needed saying could have been said. But instead he was making these crazy gestures, jerking his arms and legs. I couldn't make sense of any of it. He was touching his knee, wagging his ass.
I gave him the finger. 
That stopped him.
After that he just stared. I stared right back. I didn't know if he was crying, but I wasn't. After that March night I never cried for him, and have never, and will never cry for any man, boy, ever again.
The bus started moving. At that angle I couldn't see him anymore. It was just as well. I called to a vendor, and bought some pili nuts. Two jars, for my mother. Both were empty by the time the bus arrived at Cubao. 

Though by this time I was half-asleep (I had turned my recorder right after she described their first kiss), I couldn’t help but feel pity. She appeared in my dreams.  

A Different Voice: Fiction by Young Filipino Writers, edited by Vicente Groyon
Manila: UST Publishing House, 2007