The day is bright, the weather is warm. Everything seems perfect like what Sophia has been imagining and dreaming of for the past six months: colorful and fluffy cotton candy, colorful balloons, simple-flavored ice cream, hotdog and fish ball stalls and a gorgeous view of the waters of the bay.
Wearing her slim-strapped slippers, she walks lightly towards a vendor selling cotton candy. She picks a pink bunch. Before she could open the thin plastic cover to take a bite, a little boy appears in front of her holding the soft cloth of her gypsy skirt. The little boy looks adorable. He has a creamy complexion, black curly hair, big round eyes, rosy cheeks and cute tiny lips. He reminds her of cherubs, Sophia smiles.
“Don’t tell Daddy I’m here,” said the little boy, with brightness in his eyes.
Sophia gives a little laugh, amazed with what she’s seeing. “Ok, I won’t tell Daddy but you have to tell me why you are hiding.”
“This is part of our game. Don’t worry, Dad will find me. He always does,” the little boy winks and Sophia’s heart melts.
“Ok, I have to look around to see if Dad’s coming and you have to stay at my back. Are we clear?” Sophia smiles, enjoying the game the little boy is playing.
“Ok,” the little boy smiles.
Sophia turns her back. She feels the little boy’s grip at the back of her skirt. Immediately, she notices a man coming towards her and her heart beats fast. The man is tall and he looks very neat with his pink-striped polo shirt and khaki jeans. He looks so good and she knows him... so well.
The woman in front of Luke is beautiful. With her long curly hair, porcelain skin, gypsy skirt and short sleeved top, she looks like a real gypsy woman...a very beautiful one. His heart is beating fast. He knows her...very well.
“Hello Sophia,” his smile is light but his eyes are lit with surprise and happiness.
“Hello Luke,” It’s good to see him again. After three long years, finally, they meet again.
“It’s good to see you...again,” he says. His smile doesn’t fade.
Sophia smiles staring at those charming eyes that have captivated her heart for some time.
Suddenly, Sophia’s skirt moves. Luke looks down and stares at Sophia a little confused.
“Oh, there’s this...”
“Daddy!” the little boy exclaims and pops out from behind Sophia before she could finish her statement.
Luke and Sophia are both dumbfounded. They look at each other knowing the answer without even asking.
“I knew it, Daddy. I knew you would find me,” the little boy says sounding so happy his Daddy has found him.
“Of course, sweetheart...of course I will find you,” Luke says.
“I was about to eat my cotton candy when he suddenly grabbed my skirt and started to hide,” she says unsure of what she is feeling.
“He always does that,” he replies also unsure of what he feels.
“He’s a beautiful little boy,” she says.
“Thank you,” the little boy says with a glow in his eyes.
Luke and Sophia laugh.
“What’s your name?” Sophia asks the little boy.
“My name is Gab,” the little boy replies.
“I’m Sophia,” she smiles extending her hand
Gab accepts her hands.” Hello Miss Sophia.”
Luke looks at them with a light heart. His son... and Sophia.
“Are you with somebody?” Luke asks Sophia.
“Would you care to join us?”
Should she say yes?
“Sure,’ she says.
“Daddy, I want that balloon,” Gab says pointing to a round blue balloon just beside the cotton candy stall.
Luke buys the balloon and gives it to Gab.
“Thanks Dad! Can I play? I promise I won’t go far,” Gab gives a sweet smile that Luke could not say no.
“Ok,” Luke says with a smile.
Gab starts running, holding his blue balloon with his right hand.
“He’s adorable,” she says.
“I would like to stress- I’m the father.”
Sophia laughs, “You haven’t lost that humor of yours Luke.”
“Are you staying for good?” he asks and they start walking.
“No... I’m here for a two-week vacation. I’ve been working for six months straight. God knows I need this break and I really miss home.”
Sophia hosts an Asian travel show. She’s also an international model and a writer. Like her gypsy skirt, she’s a gypsy herself. Always moving, restless, unsatisfied.
“How ‘bout you? How’s work?” she asks.
“I never thought work could be so addictive,” he replies.
“Maybe you’re enjoying your work, that’s why.”
Luke smiles, “Well, I definitely am”
They both sit on a bench. Gab is still enjoying his balloon.
“I read your name on the newspaper the other day. I always knew you would be a successful lawyer,” she smiles and looks at him.
He looks at her too and cursed himself for ever looking. Sophia is still the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. Looking at her now, he’s not sure if he made the right decision before. If given a chance to turn back time, would he still choose to let her go?
Sophia glances away and looks at Gab. He is laughing while he slowly lets go of the balloon and grabs the string again before it could fly away. Luke stares at him too.
“How old is he?” she asks.
“He is so young and so full of life.”
“Yes... someone I’ve never been for a while.”
“Where’s his mother?” something inside her suddenly bursts. Is it hurt? Jealousy? She doesn’t know.
“She’s at home. Gab wanted to go out for a walk, but her relatives came to visit so she couldn’t join us,” he says with stiffness in his voice. It’s not easy to be talking about your wife to your ex-wife.
“Does she work?” Sophia doesn’t want to ask anything about her but she needs to know.
“No,” he replies.
When they were married, Luke wanted Sophia to stay at home. He wanted her to be there when he comes home, to take care of him, to be always there for him. But she couldn’t be that woman. She was and still is a gypsy girl. Her system was made to move, to go to places, to explore, to wander.
Perhaps his wife now is his perfect woman. Someone who could be there for him and give him what he needs.
Gab runs towards them.
“Daddy I’m hungry!”
“What would you like to eat?”
The three of them have some hotdogs. Gab is excited about them.
“Gab, let me tie your balloon to your wrist so you could eat properly,” Sophia says.
“Ok, Ms. Sophia.” Gab smiles
Sophia starts tying the string on Gab’s wrist. Luke looks at them. Sophia could have been Gab’s mother. They could have been a family spending time together on this beautiful afternoon. But she never wanted a child. And that decision never changed until it was time to let go and move on.
“There...” Sophia smiles, gazing at Gab.
“Thank you, Ms. Sophia.”
“You’re very welcome, Gab.”
They start eating at the coffee tables just in front of the hotdog stall.
“Do you also have a baby, Ms. Sophia?” Gab asks.
Luke and Sophia look at each other. They are unprepared for Gab’s question.
“No,” she replies.
“Why?” Gab asks again.
Because I don’t want to have one. Because I’m scared . Because I hate responsibilities.
“Because I don’t have a husband Gab, and if a woman doesn’t have a partner, she cannot have a baby,” she forces a smile.
“Is that true Daddy?”
Luke and Sophia look at each other again. They were one of the few couples who haven’t had a child in their three years of marriage.
“Yes, sweetheart,” Luke says.
“But can I play with your baby if you will have one?” Gab stares at Sophia with sweetness in his eyes.
“Of course, Gab,” she says, knowing that it’s not going to happen.
Luke’s gaze is on her. He knows she’s lying. Then suddenly the pain of the past starts hurting him again. Before he and Sophia got married, Sophia has been honest with him about her not wanting to have a baby. She grew up in a poor family with many siblings. She has experienced the horrors of poverty and the cruel realities of life. Having experienced all of those, she grew to despise responsibilities. She said she was sick and tired of them. She just wanted to be happy with him and with the things she loves doing. He had accepted her decision hoping that she would change her mind. But she didn’t, and then it was time to leave.
Sophia’s decision was final. She didn’t want to have a child. She had told Luke about her principles. For her, having a child is a form of self-inflicted suffering. You give birth to suffer. You raise a child to suffer still. She had heard criticisms from her family and friends about her view but she was and still is a stubborn woman. She doesn’t believe in total happiness. Whenever she sees and hears a mother who says she’s happy with her baby, she always thinks it’s a facade. Because behind those smiles she can feel fear, anxieties, uncertainties, regret. They are stuck in the hex of motherhood. They have no choice but to accept it. Maybe she’s wrong with her judgement but she doesn’t care. We all live and die. Causing an additional suffering to one’s self is foolishness.
But despite her hesitations about giving birth, she still enjoys being with children and she still adores them. She just doesn’t want to have one. That’s too much for her. Issue closed.
They finish eating and start walking again. Gab takes out two little toy robots from his pocket and plays with them.
“I watch your show whenever I have time,” Luke says, “It seems like you’re enjoying your work too.”
“Yes, I am,” she smiles, “I guess it’s in my blood... working and doing a lot of things.”
“What’s the next country you’ll be featuring?”
“It’s going to be Bhutan. We’ve already started researching about the country and it’s kind of interesting. Actually, all the countries in Asia are interesting. If you just learn to appreciate even the smallest details about each country. You see, they’re different from each other and that makes them unique and interesting.”
Sophia’s face brightens while she talks. Luke stares at her again. Sophia is happy with what she does. Her smile is genuine and her eyes are sincere. Maybe she is really meant for a place somewhere away from him, somewhere where she can truly be herself.
“Every time I travel, every country is a new haven of experience, a new adventure. I see people, I see new things and I’m happy.”
“I’m glad you’re doing well, Soph.”
She was Luke’s greatest love. He had fallen in love with her since the first day he saw her eating fish balls with her friends here at this very place. She had the sweetest smile and a laugh that could melt his heart again and again. She was beautiful, enchanting.
“I’m also happy for you, Luke,” she smiles, her gaze on the view in front of them.
Just like what he had always wanted, Luke has a good job and a happy family. He was her first love and the only man she had fully given her heart to. It’s impossible for her to count how many times she fallen in love with him. He had taken her heart many, many times. She had gone dating for the past years. But she could never feel the same emotion, the same longing, the same need that she felt loving Luke. It seemed like he has taken away with him all the love that she has and she could ever give, leaving her empty with nothing more to spare. He was her only love, but perhaps love is not enough. It isn’t enough for two people to stay together. They have to compromise and consider each other’s needs. From then, they would know if they’re really meant for each other.
“Gab,” calls Luke, noticing the boy’s shoe lace is loose. “I’ll fix your shoe lace first. You might step on it and bruise your knees.” Luke bends over and ties Gab’s shoe lace.
Sophia looks at them. Luke... and Gab. They look sweet, and then a thought crosses her mind. What if she said yes when Luke asked her for a child before. Gab would have been her son...their son. But her heart was cold, frozen. She wasn’t ready for that kind of responsibility, even until now.
“Daddy, I’m tired,” Gab says.
“Would you like to go home now, sweetheart?” Luke asks hoping Gab would say no.
Good. “You want to sit?”
Luke carries Gab in his arm and approaches the nearest bench facing the sea. They sit and look at the calm waters.
“Isn’t it beautiful Dad...Miss Sophia?”
“It’s beautiful, Gab, very beautiful...”Sophia answers.
“Where do you live, Miss Sophia?” Gab asks.
Live? The last home that she had was her home with Luke. After that, she didn’t have a home anymore. She continued to travel, moving to different places. But it was okay. After all, she’s a gypsy. A gypsy doesn’t have a home so it doesn’t matter.
“Right now, I live with my parents in Tagaytay,” she replies.
“Is that far from here?” Gab asks again.
“Can we visit you, Miss Sophia? I’ve never been to your place,” Gab said, sounding excited.
Sophia could not answer. She looks at Luke trying to ask for help.
“Sweetheart, Miss Sophia is very busy these days so maybe we could visit her some other time, okay?”
“Okay Dad...,” Gab yawns.
Sophia touches Gab’s head, “You look tired, little Gab.”
“You can sleep on my lap,” she says, smiling.
Gab smiles too and lays his head on her lap. In a few seconds, Gab starts to close his eyes and falls asleep.
Luke and Sophia are silent. Nobody wants to talk first. Maybe it’s fear that stops them. Fear of talking about the past and ruining this moment of silence and peace just sitting beside each other.
Sophia is just happy she meets Luke again. She’s glad that he’s happy having his wife and Gab.
Luke is happy too knowing that Sophia is living her life the way she wants to, with happiness, satisfaction, and all the freedom that she wants.
But they had lost each other. That was the price that they had to pay for choosing their own ways, their own perceptions on how life should be lived. The question is, is everything worth it? They do not know.
“Are you with somebody now?” Luke asks in a low voice.
“I can’t believe a beautiful woman like you doesn’t have somebody at present,” Luke says, a little happy knowing that no man is kissing or touching her.
Sophia smiles, “I guess this is the kind of life that’s meant for me, Luke. Until a man would accept the kind of life that I live, I will not start to love again.”
Luke glances at Sophia and sees the sad look on her face. He had hated her before for being selfish. But despite that, he still loved her all these years. He had proved that when he saw her this afternoon looking so beautiful as always.
Sophia looks at him too. “I’m sorry Luke...I’m sorry if I couldn’t be the wife that you wanted me to be.”
“I’m sorry too...I accepted your decision of not wanting to have a child...I thought...”
“You thought I would change my mind,” she continues.
Sophia looks at Gab as she softly runs her fingers on the shiny curls of his hair. He looks peaceful sleeping on her lap. She hadn’t thought of changing her mind even for a minute. She had been thinking of not giving birth since she was sixteen. She had seen how her mother’s life turned miserable raising her children. From that moment, she thought, why would she choose to sacrifice when she can always choose to be free from responsibilities and be happy? For Sophia, happiness is subjective. It has a different meaning to different people. A person may find happiness in having a child but it’s different with her. She finds happiness in travelling, meeting people, learning new things and loving herself...and Luke.
“It was entirely my fault, Luke. I was a coward.”
“You’re not a coward. Soph. You’re just stubborn.”
He hates her for being stubborn and loves her all the more for being one.
Sophia gives a little laugh. “I think that’s an understatement. I’m more stubborn than you think.” I could even trade the love of my life for it.
Luke laughs and turns his gaze to Sophia. Do you want to hear something funny, Soph? I love you. You are stubborn more than I could ever imagine, you have hurt me so bad, and I still love you.
“I’ve learned from someone that love is like a bridge between two worlds: the worlds of uncertainty and understanding. As long as the bridge is present, two people could sustain the need of acceptance and giving,” Sophia says in a sad voice.
“Have we broken our bridge so bad, Luke?”
“I don’t know, Soph...,” he says in a whisper.
“I guess we did...”
They are staring at the horizon. It’s almost sunset.
“What do you plan to do now, Soph?”
“You mean, with my life?”
She smiles. “Nothing...I love my life the way it is. It’s lonely sometimes but this is what I want and this is the kind of life that I chose to live. I guess I’m not really meant for a traditional relationship, the kind that requires children and a family. I can’t do it, Luke. But one thing’s for sure, I can love and I loved you.” Until now, but I love myself more...I’m sorry....
Loved. She loved me...before.
“I hate you,” he says in a controlled voice.
“I hate you.”
She couldn’t speak.
“I hate you for always getting what you want. I hate your principles, your views and the way you think. I hate you for being too smart and too practical about life. And I hate you for being so happy now without even having the slightest regret about not having a child, my child. And I hate you for leaving... forever.”
Sophia knows she deserves to be hated by Luke and she accepts that possibility that she could be the most self-centered woman living. But those do not make her feel better at all. Luke still hates her and it pains her heart.
“Honestly, I still can’t believe you’re gone. I turn on the television and I see you on your show, I go to bookstores and see you on the covers of different magazines, and when I want to buy something to read, I see your books displayed in front of me. I’m not mad, Soph. It’s just that you’re always there and I hate it.”
Oh, how she loves him. It’s not him who’s gone wrong here, it was her. It has always been her.
She still couldn’t speak. She doesn’t know what to say. She feels as if no single word would make sense at all.
“It took me years to comprehend, Soph... Why you can’t want a child, why you can’t stay at home, why we can’t stay together and why can’t we be happy together. And then I realized love isn’t enough, because each person has his or her own needs, and the only way to make themselves complete is to sustain those needs because if they don’t, they would end up losing themselves and become miserable for the rest of their lives,” Luke’s voice is calm, sad.
Sophia gives a serene smile. At last he finally understands, “Thank you, Luke...”
It’s his turn to smile. “You made me miss you for so long, Sophia.”
She smiles. I missed you too.
“Can you promise me one thing?” he says.
“In case you change your mind and you decide to marry again and finally start a family, please don’t let me know...that would definitely kill me.”
Sophia bursts into laughter and realizes Gab is sleeping on her lap. “Luke, stop making me laugh...”
“You promise me first...”
Luke stares at her and she stares back. How could she explain to Luke that it’s impossible for her to marry again, and that finding a new love is even harder?
“I promise I won’t...”
He gives a contented smile. They slowly turn their gaze to the horizon once again. It’s already dusk. Sophia holds Gab on her lap. It’s time to say goodbye for the second time. But it would be heavier this time and more painful knowing that they still love each other after all these years. But love is not enough, and it will always be not enough for the two of them. He’s a resident, she’s a drifter. Nothing more, nothing less.
They look at the sky and see the stars shining bright.