Manila really is a busy place. The streets, the people, the vehicles.
How noisier can these people be? If only I could yell that out — waiting for the traffic lights to turn green so I could finally cross the street and rid my ears of their misery.
73, 72, 71, 70. The red traffic lights count down. I feel annoyed. By my side stands a random woman tense and shouting at her teenage son about his failed grades. Her voice is so loud that even the trained-to-be-deafening yells of the jeepney barker, she topples off. For goodness' sake, the sun has just set! Couldn’t she just talk about it at home? Or at least save her son from the embarrassment of her air-voiding screams? Perhaps being annoyed is an understatement.
These are the slowest seconds ever. I could almost draw the numbers in my head in serif and calligraphy and time will still not pass.
61, 60, 59, 58. The red traffic lights continue. I just bow my head down, my face already frowning.
Still, a stretch of uneasiness crosses me. I can see them. The crosswalk lines: long and bold, white yet stained, straight but chipped on their sides. I’ve felt this before — stuck, frustrated, vulnerable. My heart starts beating faster. I couldn’t think coherently anymore. I never would’ve expected triggers to take shape in thick, filthy lines that people just walk on with their slippers after stepping on dirt, would I? I looked down further and I could see my knees trembling.
“They’re just lines,” I shakily murmur to myself.
Taking a deep breath, grinning after a sigh — I decide to just shut my eyes.
As my eyes close and my lashes brush upon each other, it all starts to come back. I shut my eyes and I start to remember everything — even her.
The dark green pine trees. The cold and starry nights. The hills so grueling your legs will tire before you even reach anything. The misty sun in the summer of May and its rays you wouldn’t feel the heat of because of the chilly air. And of course, her — Jill. My girlfriend.
Baguio City had been her dream trip ever since we started dating at 16. And so, when I got my first car at 17, I promised to celebrate our 2nd anniversary there when we turn 18. My father always reproved the idea, but he still offered me condoms weeks prior to the trip. Perhaps it made sense to him that his son is now growing into a man — and into a better driver than he is. So, inevitably, he gave in.
Days before hitting the road, Jill had the parks, the angles, and the exact poses planned for her photographs. Don’t even get me started on her itinerary on buying the souvenirs and pasalubongs. Sometimes, I felt like we just went there so I could be her driver or photographer disguised as a boyfriend. But how could I ever oppose her? She uses Puss in Boots’ begging eyes. Any man would budge seeing how adorable those are. Nonetheless, I knew then, that so long as she’s happy, I’m as ecstatic as a clown can ever be —
— Honk! Honk! My eyes are still closed but my trip down memory lane gets interrupted by the sound of horns. Back to the real world. Oh, Manila. Can’t y’all see that a young man here is reminiscing some of the beautiful memories of his life? How unfortunate, if only I could yell that out, again.
I close my eyes — I’m smiling. My eyes are closed but I’m smiling. I realize people around me might think I’m crazy, but who cares? It’s rare to reminisce memories from 3 years ago and feel like they were only yesterday, given the squawks this random woman’s mouth still emits beside me.
I shut my eyes once more, constrict them tighter, and suddenly I’m back in Baguio — driving through the mountain roads, hands and heads sticking out the car window. I can see Jill again, brushing her hair, buttoning her jeans, asking me to put on her eyeliner with a winged tip on each side, and telling me how funny it is that I could both be her sister and her boyfriend because I drew on that eyeliner on her better than anyone ever did. Well, that's what she said.
In a flash, we’re out on a lake and she’s hugging me, holding me stiff out of her fear that our little boat might flip over.
“Paddle evenly, Matt, please don’t let it flip. This lake, it’s 10 feet deep.”
I never understood the thing with girls. Riding a small swan boat at the most famous park in the city was one of the highlights of her plan — at least that’s what I saw on her list — now she just chickens out. But if I could go back there? I would have told her that if we were to fall and flip over, I will swim my limbs out of those murky artificial lake waters just to save her. That was only our second day there — or third — or maybe fourth? I’m not sure anymore, but we enjoyed the city for 2 weeks. 2 weeks and she packed clothes of a month’s worth. I know. Girls.
As I press on my eyes harder and try to remember deeper, I can already feel her kissing me in the car. I parked it on a quiet hill so we could see the city lights. Alone, peaceful, starry, and romantic. It was our last night on the trip — the same day as our 2nd anniversary. I could still recall how nervous I was because we just ate a load of buttered crabs at a fancy restaurant for dinner. What if I give out a burp and she gets a whiff of the scent? I mean, I know she loves me — you would know this if you already fart in front of each other. But then, I realized that I did gargle mouthwash after eating. But I already forgave myself for missing that. Sex just makes people forget things.
I kissed her more, the rich vanilla scent of her flawless neck awakened something in me. We were making love. Her silky black hair was sliding along with the dripping sweat on my chest. Our bodies synchronized like an orchestra of sensuality, the balance of yin and yang — fair and tan. She was as breathtaking as an Egyptian goddess riding a golden stallion throughout the hot, blazing desert. She was sexy and incredible. I looked at her round eyes and plump lips, she was so beautiful. The love of my life.
She kissed me one last time — on my forehead — and asked me to go with her to the market for a walk. It was yet an early night. She was wearing casual clothing: white shirt, black shorts, and scarlet shoes. Walking, we were silent. Holding hands, we were connecting. It was as if she knew what was on my mind and as I to hers. Our souls forever entwined. But then, she let off a joke. Obviously, I laughed — I didn’t understand anything though. It was so corny I would have cringed if I was a stranger. Nevertheless, I was thankful. I would laugh at anything if it meant seeing her smile and giggle. Anything for her happiness, I thought. She kept going on and on with her jokes as we walked, as did I with my guaranteeing reactions.
Nearing the market, we stood by the intersection’s curb — waiting for the traffic lights to turn green. 73, 72, 71, 70. The red traffic lights counted down. Straight away, she laid out another joke, and she was firm. She insisted that I count the lines on the crosswalk as I approach the intersection, and after I have completely arrived at the other side, she shall start to go across and tell me a joke about it afterward. She claimed it was going to be the funniest yet. I said yes, predictably. With a face that beautiful and filled with excitement, only a heartless man would say no.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The lights turned green and I started walking across the lines. I used my strides to count them all one by one. I could even remember missing some as there were other people walking with me and I figured how embarrassing it would be to be seen like a child playing on the road.
I was nearing the end of the crosswalk. I was starting to smile out of the excitement of hearing how thrilled Jill’s giggles will be. I was looking down, counting the remaining lines. But even before my right foot treaded a step on the final line — I felt a gush of wind rage behind me. It seemed close, fast, and tremendous as my shirt swooshed with air like a balloon. It blasted like a whirlwind. For a split second, I was baffled. I was nervous. But then I heard screams. The shrieks split my ears like a katana does to an apple. Howl. screech, shrill, squeal. Call it what you want! All I heard was noise — and I was petrified.
I turned my head around and a passenger bus was in front of me. I assumed it hit somebody, just inches away and it could have been me. I rushed back to the other side of the street to return to Jill; she was not there. I tried to skim all the space I could see and looked at the road once more. Turning a glimpse upon the accident — there was a girl. White shirt. Black Shorts. Red shoes.
It was her.
My love, Jill. The amazing extension of my soul.
She was laying lifeless, face down, her underside soaked in the puddle of her own blood on the road. The crosswalk alternated by black and white lines were splattered by the remnants of her blood. Those lines: long and bold, white yet stained, straight but chipped. I’ve never felt this before — stuck, frustrated, vulnerable. My heart started to beat so fast that I turned blank, hollow, and empty of thoughts — devoured by the shock.
“That body is not hers, she does not look like that.” I tried convincing myself as I stared at her earthly body with a veiled indifference. Numb. Speechless. I was not even able to notice that people were already circling around her body. All I felt was everything I’ve never felt before.
“Was I the one supposed to get hit?”
“Why was she behind me? Did I walk too slow that she had to rush to me for that joke?”
“What was that joke, Jill? I want to hear it. I want to hear your voice again.”
Regrets drove in haste. I should’ve made it known to her that her smile was already enough for my happiness. That just being with her makes me the happiest man. Her jokes were filled with joy, but I didn't need them then. I just wanted her to come back. To grow old with me. To have children of 2 little girls to raise. To fulfill our dreams, dreams we’ve flashed the moment we stared at each other’s eyes, together —
— in the real world, I suddenly open my eyes. Manila, yet so loud and discordant. I could feel how the sweat moistened up my body in just those seconds of reminiscing, my head moving slowly like in the movies where the main character holds his head and frantically moves in slow-motion as the camera focuses diagonally using a fish-eyed lens. I am vibrating. Literally.
It’s been 3 years; people think my grief has already shrunk. No. The pain barely went away. It’s the same feeling, it’s the same closing-your-eyes at night to the stop tears from escaping. Yes, my life has grown bigger, yet inside tarries a pitch-black, corrupted grief hiding under the illusion of my ever-expanding circle.
I’m trying to close my eyes as firm as possible again. I want to go back and remember more — wait — I’m not sure — of course I am — I want to.
I free myself of the sound of Manila and focus on that night once more, and just like that — I could hear the noise again, but this time, the screams in Baguio.
I’ve been reluctant, but I’m transported back. I remember how I sat by the curb, beside the ambulance. The police — with masks, gloves, and those yellow tapes. She was there. Another accident to feature on the news. Another dead body for people to sympathize with. Moments ago, I was just laughing with her. Now? strangers are zipping her body in that white sheet, covering her face — the icon of death. I wept softly as reality murdered me.
There was longing. There was something bigger than the both of us I knew was lost. But I was certain of how those 2 years with her would last me a lifetime. Each time I remember her, I remember everything. Her memories will last with me, those I would yearningly reminisce till my time comes as well. The sun on her face. Her lips against mine. Her goofs and giggles. The places we have been to. The summer days and the frigid nights. The fights and the hugs. From black to ivory, white to ebony. Everything we made — and everything we never had.
But remembering is not enough. A memory is beautiful, but it stays alone inside your head. Gone is the one you’ve shared it with, the sole one to celebrate it with. Not even a picture to see — never going back — never the same — never happening again. Memories are merely there to make things feel enough. They’re the absolute totality of our remaining possessions — what we have left. And their purpose is solely to help us move on —
— for the last time, I’m back to reality. I finally open my eyes and feel a tear streaming down. The red traffic lights are now almost becoming green. The people beside me 73 seconds ago are now ready to cross the other side.
Suddenly, it’s quiet. I notice the random woman beside me already stopped screaming at her son, the jeepney barker’s tone lowered. My chest feels relaxed, my heart beats normally. I wonder how I was able to remember everything in those seconds. I feel so much better.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1. From red, the traffic lights turn green. Everything is peaceful and serene.
Passing the crosswalk, I hint of hope. Ahead, I —
— a powerful force crashes the left side of my body, eventually billowing through the whole of my corporeal form. Fleshy and Mangling.
The lights are glaring, blinking, and flashing. The people, ever with their screams.
But I smile and picture her face.
I shut my eyes the last time. Then finally, darkness.
I can see her again. Eternally, this time —