Most days, it just feels like I’m passing time. I sit motionless in my house, surrounded by clutter and procrastination. I make a mental list of things that need to be done: wash the dishes, take out the trash, sort the laundry, feed the cat… My mind runs through these things as though I were a stranger peeking into my kitchen window. This is not my life. It can’t be this mundane.
As I soak the dishes in soapy water, I hear my phone vibrating from somewhere on the couch. I run towards it, wiping my hands furiously on my t-shirt. Busy? asks the man I’d been waiting to hear from. And just like that, the dirty pots and pans, the bags filled to the brim with garbage, the shirts and socks from too long ago, even the cat – that poor innocent cat – they all disappear.
No, not really, I tell him. Hey, even heroes need to be rescued now and then. He texts me the address to a restaurant on N. Domingo. It’s a little far but with the traffic, I think I can be there in half an hour. He says he found himself all alone in the middle of a beautiful restaurant and it was such a shame to see so much food go to waste. His voice sounded hushed but you could still tell he was smiling. I hang up, my lips equally spread into a grin.
I rush to the bathroom and I am a whirlwind of soap, shampoo, and conditioner. I was stupid to doubt him, blasphemous to even think he’d forgotten that night we shared a drunken kiss. I scrub my armpits a little harder than usual and trim my pubes just to be on the safe side. Within minutes, I am throwing clothes on my bed.
My head feels messy while I decide what to wear. I think of the green shirt I wore when we first met. I’m sure he’d forgotten all about that day but I remember it pretty well. I think of the purple dress shirt I wore that night we made out. I just got promoted. He was just fired. He said either way, we both needed a drink. I think of the maroon golf shirt he lent me that day I got soaked in the rain. He asked for it back a couple of times but I would always forget to bring it. How could I return it when it’s the closest thing I have to holding him? Or rather, it was the closest thing I had to holding him. The same grin finds its way back to my lips and just for a second, I relish it. I put on a fresh pair of chinos, the maroon shirt, and some speed as I fly out the door.
The cabbie sings along to the radio and though it usually bothers me, tonight I just let him. It is drizzling. The windshield wiper keeps rhythm to a misplaced song. My left leg shakes like the bass to a random club hit. My fingers tap an irregular beat on the pleather. What could he be doing right at this minute? Are his thoughts as fevered as mine? Do his legs fidget as mine do?
Ser, the cabbie calls out to me and I am awakened from my little daydream. It takes me a second to realize we are parked in front of the restaurant. My palms feel clammy as I reach into my back pocket for my wallet. I whip out a crisp bill and tell him to keep the change. In the dark city light, I see his face light up. Meri krismas ser, he says before he drives away. I place both sweaty palms on my head to cover me from the quiet December drizzle.
He was right. The restaurant is beautiful. Couples filled every corner and I am glad I chose a shirt with a collar. Everyone looks like they are posing for some Italian fashion magazine. I scout through rows of neatly dressed people looking for him, my anticipation feeling more like an asthma attack than a natural reaction. I find his table in a quiet corner by the window. I walk towards him, the dinner crowd blurring like bokeh. I think of the hello I practiced in the mirror, the one that sounded cool and casual when suddenly, a dripping woman in a hurry rushes through me and almost knocks me to the ground.
Sorry! I’m sorry. In a panic, she apologizes. I’m just super late. I’m sorry. I smile at her to tell her it’s okay, although I could think of quite a number of things I’d rather be saying to her. I pick myself up, the maître d’ shoving a napkin and some club soda in my face. I look up and my date is rising from his seat. Oh God, he saw everything. He was squinting and I dove right back into where I lay. I see the hurried woman pacing towards him and the next few seconds made me wish the dusty restaurant carpet would swallow me whole.
He offers her a handshake but she gives him a kiss on the cheek instead. They sit on opposite sides of a small, round table. The flower arrangement in the middle made the scene a little too contrived. He offers to take her jacket, the fringes dripping from the rain. She hesitates at first but there was something about his smile that uneased her and so she sheepishly hands him the wet ball of fabric in surrender.
I’m sorry, she says. It was raining cats and dogs in Alabang and I just… I came as soon as I could.
My phone vibrates in my front pocket and I am reminded that I was still there, that I had not vanished into thin air when she stepped into the room. Three missed calls and five new messages. My fingers scroll to the last one he sent.
I really hope you’ve been getting my messages. No need for the rescue. Date’s on her way.
I get up, dust myself off, and walk towards the restaurant exit. It is an effort to walk straight as my knees feel like they’d been sawed off while I wasn’t looking. I had no reason to be there. I had no claims on him, nothing to keep me in his life. And by that virtue alone, I know it shouldn’t really hurt as much as it does right now. It doesn’t really hurt as much as it does right now.
♫: Tracy Chapman | Never Yours (2005)
8: Tracy Chapman’s Never Yours