this is where we say goodbye (second part)

after i hung up the phone, i was still having a mixed emotion about mother. it happened every time we talked on the phone or saw each other when she visited me in manila.

that morning, i was angry that she remained adamant about accepting my sexuality. i felt inadequate that i could not give her the dozen or so grandchildren that she wanted very much (my sister and her husband only had one child). i was also sad that i couldn't be with her every time she missed me and when she needed my help.

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it was a busy day at the office. the editors and reporters were already preparing for the pope's arrival in a few days. every time somebody mentioned the pope's visit, i could not help but think back about those days in nineteen ninety five, when i was twenty two -- eager for an adventures and all sorts of experiences that i thought and hoped would help me live a meaningful life. looking back, i was wondering if i was right then to have that kind of hope.

because i was no longer with the main section (years ago, i asked the publisher to transfer me to the lifestyle section, where i edited mostly stories about culture, the arts, fashion, food and the cinema), i was no longer part of the planning and the strategizing involved in the coverage of the pope's visit to the country. somehow, i missed those days when i was at the forefront of the action.

at forty two, i no longer had the energy, the enthusiasm and the hunger to be at the center of such events, even this historic visit by the highest ranking official of the catholic church, as my mother had pointed out this morning. i could no longer picture myself running after officials, hopping from one event to another, and then rushing to finish my stories and beat the deadlines afterwards.

staring at the small screen of my laptop, as i tried to finish a feature story about a dubai-based fashion designer who became famous worldwide and was recently given an award by the president as one of the outstanding filipinos working overseas (whatever that meant), my mind kept on bringing me back to those days, two decades ago.

of course i remembered meeting ana for the first time. ana was john's ravishing young bride.


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"before anything else, i want to thank you for coming," ana said, her beautiful face a picture of anxiety. she looked even better in person than on those pictures that john had showed me. in this particular day in february, the twenty-eighth to be exact, she had her long, wavy hair brushed up to one side of her face, highlighting her very mestiza features: round, black eyes, aquiline nose like that of a doll, heart-shaped lips, all arranged neatly in a slightly elongated face like those models in vogue magazine.

she didn't have any make-up by the way, just lipstick. still, she looked gorgeous.

her unmade face was matched by a simple white cotton maternity dress with tiny yellow and blue floral designs that reminded me of the coming summer months. despite her obvious anxiety about meeting me for the first time, she remained poised. her voice was calm. she was seated right across from me in a round table good enough for four people. we were already done ordering our lunch.

the restaurant, in one of the shopping malls in makati, was full with office workers and shoppers. it was, in fact, a lovely day for hanging out. it was sunny, yet the air was cool because it rained earlier.

"the pleasure is mine," i said, not hiding my admiration for her composure and beauty. that was the first thing that i told her when i arrived and kissed her on both cheeks, french style, as if we were long lost friends, the best of friends, that she looked like a movie star. that her photos didn't do her any justice.

she smiled at the compliment, and took it kindly. neither dismissing nor gloating about it. as a former model, she was used to being admired and lavishly complimented.

in contrast, i had always been uncomfortable with compliments. i didn't know how to react or what to say when i was at their receiving end.

"i'll go straight to the point, if you won't mind," she said, looking at my face earnestly, as if studying me. she was probably wondering what it was that john found "lovable" about me.

"go ahead," i said calmly, masking my own discomfort.

of course, i wished she had waited first until i had a beer or two before she proceeded to whatever it was that she wanted to see me about.

it was her idea that we should meet and have lunch. she called me a few days ago at the dormitory, at around ten in the evening. she tried to be friendly, but i could tell that she was uncomfortable. i could see her fidgeting while on the phone. i could even sense some animosity in her tone.

"it's john. he is becoming difficult. he's acting strangely. he is always drunk and goes home late. sometimes, he does not go home at all. but he won't tell me where he had been."

"not with me," i said quickly and meant it as a joke, which i later regretted after i saw the hurt in her face. she was in near tears. i could never stand seeing someone so sad, more so crying, even if she happened to be the wife of the only man i ever truly loved.

"i know that. auntie said john has never showed up at the dorm ever since he went home to ilocos for christmas. i think he is staying with his classmates and friends. every time i ask him, he answers me angrily. we never talk anymore. we used to...."

she stopped at mid-sentence as tears finally fell from her lovely eyes. she immediately reached for the tissue inside her bag and wiped them. but it seemed the tissue could not stop her from crying. i didn't know what to do. nor what to say. i just kept quiet, and let her cry. i didn't even mind the other guests who were now starting to look at us with curiosity in their eyes. probably they were thinking that we were a couple having a fight.

then she stood up and excused herself. she went to the ladies room hurriedly. for a moment, i was afraid she might fall down and have a miscarriage. i didn't want that in my conscience.

left alone, i felt so embarrassed. i could already tell what the others were thinking. that i was a heartless husband who made her pregnant wife cry, and worse, let her go to the bathroom alone.

"i am sorry," she said when she came back and was seated once again. she had stopped crying and i noticed that she had put on some make-up on her face. her way of trying to perk up her spirits. before she continued whatever it was that she wanted to say, she sipped her mango juice first. she must be thirsty because she finished half of it.

i just nodded my head. i still had no clue on what to say to her. still unable to recover from the shock of seeing this gorgeous woman cry.

as it turned out, i didn't have to say anything. after wiping her lips and leaving some red marks on the tissue paper, she said casually, as if nothing had happened: "can you please to talk to him? just ask him what's wrong? i know that he thinks the world of you. he admires you a lot. he will listen to you."

i considered this for a moment. i couldn't help but think: did she know about us? what did john tell her about us? about me?

"what do you want me to say to him?

"just give him some advice. please tell him to stop drinking. to go home. to talk to me. to tell me what's wrong."

"you think he will listen to me? i haven't seen him for..." i didn't know if she knew that i saw john a couple of weeks ago. should i lie to her? i decided to be honest. she was hurting enough. "i have not seen him since we had a drink more than a week ago."

"he will. you have no idea how he looks up to you. if i haven't seen you, i would have thought that you were old with wrinkles and gray hair. that you were the father that he longed for."

at this point, our food started to arrive. we became quiet. i noticed that despite her shaky emotions, she had an appetite. then i remembered that she was pregnant. she was probably thinking of her child. i was hungry too, so i ate a lot. i finished two cups of rice, half of the whole grilled chicken, three-fourths of the vegetable dish called pinakbet, half of the steamed milkfish, and a bowl of sour shrimp soup.

for her part, she finished a half cup of rice, a quarter of grilled chicken, small bites of steamed milkfish, and several spoonfuls of the vegetable dish. she did not touch her soup.

during coffee and dessert (cheesecake, which turned out to be both our favourite), her mood had lightened up. she was smiling a lot. she even told me funny anecdotes about her pregnancy. how she wanted to wear a diaper so she won't have to go to the toilet all the time to pee. she wondered why pregnant women peed a lot. why she craved for certain food.

i just smiled at her. my mood too had improved. i said i didn't know either.  i've never been pregnant and never will be. she laughed. you're funny, she said.

then she asked me if i had a girlfriend, which almost made me threw up. if i did, she said we should go on a double date. watch a movie together. have dinner together. mustering all the acting skills that i learned during a theatre arts subject in high school, with a poker face to match, i told her that i was single at the moment. that i was still recovering from a broken heart. oh, she said, i am so sorry to hear that. she sounded sincere. i hope that you will find the right girl for you soon.

so john did not tell her the truth about us. but couldn't she tell that i was gay? how could she? i always looked and acted like a straight guy. short, military style hair cut. on some days, i would have a three-day or five-day beard when i was too lazy to shave. just like today. i usually dressed up like a typical office man in his twenty's -- long sleeve shirt tucked under dark jeans, leather shoes, belt.

even the way i talk, walk and act had always been masculine. thanks to my military officer of a father, who at an early age impressed upon me that he did not want his only son "to become gay," and to act and dress up like those effeminate men who did my mother's hair and nails at the beauty parlor.

at the end of our lunch, when we said our goodbyes and kissed our cheeks, i promised that i will talk to john as soon as possible.

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two days after our lunch, i decided to see john. but not without agonizing about it first. after meeting ana, i was restless. i could not sleep at night. i was torn between helping her and not doing anything at all. i was also afraid that if i saw john again, then i might not be able to control myself. that i might, as he had suggested during our last meeting, agree to runaway with him anywhere, away from her.

god, i told him, i could never do that. i could never be happy and live with the thought that i hurt someone, much less a pregnant young woman whose only mistake was to fall in love with him.

on friday, at quarter past seven, i was at the gate of john's university. hoping to see him. ana had told me that on mondays-wednesdays-fridays, john's last class was at seven in the evening. so he would probably be at the gate by seven fifteen, she said. how could you tell? i asked her. i just knew. john was not the type of student who hung around at school. right after class, he would be out of the campus with his friends and go straight to bars. fine, i said. i knew she was right. after all, i knew john too.

a few minutes later, a familiar figure emerged from the gate. alone. walking slowly. unmindful of the other students who were walking briskly past him. he had that look on his face as though he did not know where he was, what he was doing, and where he was going. was he drunk? stoned? but unlike our last meeting, he looked better. i mean, he had cut his hair short again, shaved his beard.

a big smile escaped from his mouth the minute he saw me. like a little boy who saw his mother at the gate after class, he ran towards me.

"what are you doing here?" he said, then embraced me so tight. i felt conscious. we were in a crowded place. some of these people probably knew him. "i can't believe you're here. i never thought i would see you again."

"nothing," i said, pushing him away gently. he got the message, but he was still smiling. then he looked at me from head to toe.

"is that really you?"

"who else?"

"you look great!"

"you too," i said. "let's go."

"where? victoria court?"

despite myself, i laughed. he tried to put his arm around my shoulders, but i pushed him away.

"silly. we're going to our favourite bar. i need to talk to you."

"about what?"

"about a lot of things."

"like what?"

i looked up above. it was full moon.

"like why does the moon keep on shining."

"don't they know it's the end of the world," he started singing.

we laughed just like old times.  we continued talking while we were walking. then at the jeepney stop, i hailed a taxi.

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"so ana finally talked to you?"

we were now inside our favourite bar, the place where i thought i would never set foot again. but here i was, two weeks after i made that promise, having a beer, and our favourite sizzling sisig, with the man whom i thought i would never see again.

"yes," i said. then  added very quickly before i lost the nerve to say it: "john, she loves you. you mean the whole world to her. you should give her a chance. she's pregnant with your child. it won't do her any good if she continues to worry about you. she has a lot on her plate right now. school, the baby, the  papers for your migration to australia, then you."

he took a deep breath.

"you think i didn't know that? you think i didn't care about her or about our child? that's exactly the reason why i don't want to go home because i don't want to upset her. every time i see her, i get mad. i can't help it. i still think that she tricked me into marrying her."

"then talk to her. tell her how you feel. but whatever you do, please assure her that you love her. that you love your child. giving her problems might affect the baby inside her. "

"it's not going to be easy."

"nothing in life is. but please try to be there for her. stop being selfish. stop thinking only about yourself. you're married now and you will soon become a father. stop blaming her. it's also your fault that she got pregnant. you could have at least been careful. you should have used condoms."

"like i care about condoms. you know that i hate wearing it! it's like eating lollipop with a plastic wrapper around it."

this made me laugh. i was reminded of how we always argued about it.

"she's a very nice lady you know. very pretty. very sensible. i know you will be very happy with her if you give her a chance. she loves you so much. please don't push her away. you might miss your chance of being happy if you let her go. if you let go of your child."

"what about us? why can't we build our own family?"

"how? you think society will accept us? your parents? my mother? stop being childish, damn it! think. think about the future. think about your child. think about......."

"stop! please stop. you are not making any sense. stop treating me like a child."

"then stop acting like one!"

we became quiet.

a typical friday night, the bar was crowded. surprisingly, i did not see any of his friends or classmates. they might be busy studying for the finals, john said when i asked him earlier.

we consumed more beer. smoked more cigarettes. stared at each other. sometimes, we smiled at each other, at the queerness of the situation. here we were, former lovers and still obviously deeply in love with each other, but the other person was urging the other one to be with someone else. somehow, it sounded like a plot for a dramatic movie worthy of a famas award.

"are you done?" he broke the silence.

i nodded my head.

"just please go home. be there for her. be nice to her. take care of her and your baby. study for your finals. that's all i am asking you. that's all she wants from you."

"that's a lot, if you ask me."

"one thing more thing. be happy."

"are you?"

"i will be once you do what i say."

"why are you so good to me?"

"because i love you."

i reached for his hand. we held hands a while. oh how i missed him. how i longed to kiss him.

"because i know what's best for you. there is no future for us, john. there is no permanence. who knows, after our passion has passed, we might not even want to be friends. i have seen a lot of gay couples ending up as strangers after just a few months. with ana, you have a future. you have stability. i know that you still love her. right now, you're angry. it's that anger that's clouding up what you truly feel for her. she is a lovely woman. you are lucky to have her."

i didn't know if he believed what i was saying. if i believed them myself. honestly, most of the things that i told him were the opposite of what i believed in.

"how did you know that i still love her?"

"because you married her. if not, you won't. you are too hard headed and stubborn to be forced to do something that you don't want to. i know it the moment i saw you the last time that we met. but you felt so guilty. you thought you betrayed me. that's why you were angry. that's why you refused to accept the fact you still love her. more importantly, that you love your child."

"will you be alright?"

"i will be."

after finishing our beers, we said goodbye. when a taxi stopped, he let me go first. inside the cab on the way to the dormitory, i almost regretted my decision to finally set him free. i knew then that it would take a while before i could forget him. i almost asked the driver to stop the cab so i could run towards him. he was still standing in front of the bar where i left him, smoking and waiting for a taxi.

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"what about it?"

the other editor's voice startled me. woke me up from my reverie as though he sprinkled a very cold water on my face. he was seated at the desk right next to me. loads of newspapers, bond papers, printed stories piled up on his desk. i had always told him to please clear up his clutter because they were distracting. but he won't listen.

"what about what?"

"helping me edit some of these stories about the pope's visit. that is, if you are not busy.'

by this time, i was done with the feature story on the fashion designer.

"sure. send them over."

"i already emailed one story."

"you're fast."

he laughed.

"before you change your mind."

i opened the story. it was an eight hundred word feature about what the pope's visit means for the country, currently plagued with massive corruption in the government and still recovering from two strong typhoons that hit some parts of its islands in just a year.

"who wrote this?"

"very good no?"

"it is. very economical too. he said a lot in just eight hundred words. and the quotes. my god! they're divine!"

"good enough for a pulitzer?"

"even an oscar!"

we both laughed. bit louder. oblivious of the fact that it was deadline time and that we were probably disturbing other editors and reporters who were deep in their stories, fingers on the keyboards, eyes on the screens. but when i looked around, nobody seemed to mind. nor noticed. they were all buried in their own world, in their own stories, thinking about their deadlines.

i continued editing the story. correcting a few grammars, a few spellings. shifting some paragraphs. in doing so, memories of the pope's last visit stayed with me, like an old bertolucci movie. memories of john, ana, and our landlady surrounded me.

while rewriting a few sentences, i was reminded that a month after their graduation, john and ana flew to australia to start a new life. i had not seen them ever since.

a few months after, i received a letter from ana. i could not remember much of about what she wrote. but the most important ones remained carved in my memory.

first, she apologized for taking john away from me. even before we met for lunch, she already knew about my relationship with john. no, she did not trap him into marrying her. in fact, when john asked to end their relationship, she agreed. a month after, she found out that she was pregnant. so she told john about it. john decided that they should get married. later on, he changed his mind. so she asked around, including our landlady. that was how ana learned about john and i. so she decided to let him go.

somehow his mother learned about her situation. probably john's aunt told her about it. the distraught woman asked ana to spend the holidays in their home in ilocos. ana  refused. she didn't want john to think that she was forcing herself into him.

john's mother assured her that he won't be home. that he would spend the holidays in manila. so she agreed. she needed his mother's advice. she needed her assurance that whatever happened between her and john, she will still be there for her. she was surprised when john picked her up at the airport. it turned out that his mother had other plans. she wanted john to marry her. again, she refused. she only relented when it was john himself who asked her to marry him. so that their child won't be borne out of wedlock.

the letter was a bit long. but that was the gist of her story.

did i believe her? does it still matter?

(end)

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