Margaret, with her butterscotch umbrella walks on that serene cobbled street of Vigan, beneath the shadow of old ancestral houses. She is meeting someone. Someone she has never seen for a long time. She doesn’t know what to expect today. She’s not even nervous. Perhaps because she cannot feel anything. She’s just totally numb.
Only a few more steps and she’ll reach the coffee shop where they will meet. A few more steps and she’ll come face to face with him again. Five years have passed. She should not be feeling anything right now. Not now. Not ever.
Samuel glances at the coffee shop’s door when he hears it open. A woman wearing skinny jeans and a white top is standing at the door in front of him. It’s her. With her long black hair and her pretty smile, she looks so natural and…perfect. She still got that slim figure that she had way back in college. How he missed her.
It’s him. Margaret walks her way to Samuel. He’s wearing a gray polo shirt that looks so good on him. And he looks good too. So good she doesn’t want to look at him any longer. He still got that preppy look that he had way back in college. How she missed him.
Samuel stands up to greet Margaret. “Hi.”
“Hi”, Margaret replies.
Samuel pulls a chair and lets Margaret sit opposite him beside a glass window.
“Hot milk and oatmeal cookies?” he asks.
Margaret smiles. He still remembers her favorite snack. Since college, she loves to crave for hot milk and oatmeal cookies. She would dip her cookies in her hot milk before she takes a bite at them. Samuel on the other hand loves cappuccino so much he would die if he didn’t have a taste of it. She can still remember the times she made cappuccino for Samuel. She would make it taste as perfect as possible. She didn’t want to destroy her reputation since the day Sam told her that her cappuccino was the best he has ever tasted. She doesn’t want to remember those times anymore, when she had given her heart fully to one person, without condition, without doubt, without fear, but in the end found herself lost and broken.
“Did I make you wait?” Margaret asks.
“No… You’re just in time.”
“It’s a good thing the rain is not too strong today.”
Margaret stares at the glass window beside her. The water drops run slowly down the glass. It looks so serene and comforting.
“Do you still love to bathe in the rain?” Samuel asks.
Margaret laughs. “How could you imagine a twenty six year old woman bathing in the rain?”
“You will always look like an eighteen year old girl to me, Garey.”
Garey. Samuel is the only person in the world who calls her that and it still sounds good and familiar.
“Oh Sam, I’ve already grown eight years older and your flattery doesn’t make me feel younger at all.” Margaret smiles.
Sam. Most people call him that but it has always been different with Garey. It sounds sweeter, lovelier.
“Honestly, you really look lovely today, Garey.” Samuel sounds a little serious this time.
“So, what keeps you busy these days?”
“I’m working on a publication. Were coming out with our next issue next month and I’m kind of excited about it.”
“Is that some kind of a magazine that you’re publishing?”
“Yah…It’s an Asian magazine actually. Our focus is on Asian art and culture.”
“Cool. Do you like your work?” Samuel is staring at her closely.
“Yes.” There’s confidence in the way she said that. “At last, I’ve found it. After a long time of testing waters, I finally found what’s meant for me.”
“I’m happy for you, Garey.”
Margaret smiles. “So, until when are you staying in the country?”
“'Till next month.”
Samuel is a mechanical engineer. He works in an international cargo ship that travels around the ports of Asia, Europe and Australia. He was away for five years. Five years. Five long years of living his life on a ship, five years of not seeing Margaret.
“Did you find what you were looking for, Sam?”
Samuel stares at Margaret. He cannot utter a single word for an answer. Her question keeps echoing on his brain. Did he really find what he was looking for?
Samuel has always dreamed of becoming a successful engineer. He dreamed of working in an international ship, earn big, and finally become financially stable at a young age. And now, he got everything that he has ever wanted. But is he happy? The answer is no.
“Yes, I found what I was looking for. But…but sometimes when you get something big, you tend to lose certain things…precious things.” His voice is low.
“We just can’t have everything. On earth, perfection doesn’t exist.”
Samuel looks at Margaret’s eyes. They look sad but strong. Then in an instant, he felt something inside, something that crushes his being. Is it guilt, guilt of causing her pain…before?
The young waitress approaches and serves their orders.
“You’re still the same Garey I’ve known,” Samuel says while looking at Margaret’s hot milk and cookies.
“A lot of things have changed in my life except for these.” Margaret slightly laughs, “They’re like drugs to me.”
Samuel takes a sip of his cappuccino.
“How much cappuccino have you consumed on board?” Margaret asks.
Samuel puts his mug on the table. “I’ve never drank cappuccino since the day I left.”
That was the most unbelievable statement Margaret has ever heard in her entire life.
“I do not understand. Cappuccino is a part of your routine. You’re terribly addicted to it,” Margaret asks in confusion.
“It’s not going to be the same cappuccino when it’s not made by you.”
Samuel’s eyes are on his mug. Margaret wants to see those eyes. She wants to see more than what she has heard. But on second thought, she asks herself, what for? What for?
They are silent now. Silence is good. Margaret stares outside the glass window. The rain is still pouring. Even the sky cries. But for what reason? Human beings cry because they either feel pain or happiness. They cry because there’s an overflowing emotion within them that needs to be poured out and crying helps them find relief. Does the sky also want to be relieved from something, something that overwhelms it?
“Garey…” Sam breaks the silence.
“I want you to have something.”
Samuel puts a lilac box tied with a sage ribbon on the table and pushes it lightly near Margaret. It is bathed with pinkish pearls and glittering gems with the color of a blue sky. The box looks so pretty she couldn’t help but drool over it.
“You need to open the box to see what you’ve got inside,” Samuel smiles.
“Oh Sam, it’s so beautiful and I’m so scared to touch it.”
Samuel looks at Margaret and sees brightness in her eyes. Suddenly, Margaret is eighteen again, the eighteen-year old girl who used to smile at him, laugh with him, comfort him, love him…He will give everything to take her back…
“You are a good person, Garey. You deserve to enjoy beautiful things in life. Open it.”
Margaret slowly unties the sage ribbon. How she loves the silkiness that she feels on her fingertips. She opens the box and sees a round-shaped porcelain with a painted picture of a woman dressed in kimono. She takes the porcelain from the box. Samuel is staring at her, but she’s not aware of it. She’s so drawn to the beautiful thing she has in her hands. When she realizes that it was not just plain Japanese porcelain, she opens the locket and sees her reflection inside.
“I bought you a mirror so you could see how ugly you are,” Samuel says with a controlled grin.
Margaret laughs. “I hate you Samuel.”
The truth is Samuel wants Margaret to see the face of a woman who has been lingering in his mind for the past five years. He wants her to see how beautiful she is and like a precious porcelain, he wants her to know that she will always be the most precious person in his life.
“Honestly, I like it. It’s classical and very unique. Thank you, Sam.” The brightness still lingered in her eyes.
“You’re welcome, Garey.”
A calesa passes by their window making them look outside. The rain has stopped and the sky is starting to turn brighter and warmer.
“Do you want to take a walk outside?” Samuel asks.
“I’d love that.”
The ground is wet and they could still smell the scent of the after rain. They slowly walk down cobbled Calle Crisologo lined with old Spanish houses as if savoring every step, every gesture and every second that they’re together. They both know that soon, they’re going back to their respective worlds, to the worlds where each of them should belong.
“How long have you been working on that magazine?”
“Two years,” Margaret replies.
“We haven’t seen each other for five years. How did you spend the remaining three years? If you don’t mind me asking.” He sounds so interested.
I spent the remaining three years mourning for my loss after you left. I worked abroad so I wouldn’t see this town for a while. Every corner, every street, everything that I see in this town reminds me of you and I couldn’t take it any longer. I cannot die over and over again. When I came home I immediately looked for another job to keep myself busy, but I was never satisfied with what I do. I was never satisfied with my life after that magical dream of yours took you away from me. Until I found a new light, a new hope, a new life…without you.
“I was just busy with other stuff, stuff that didn’t really satisfy me.” Margaret forced a smile. “How about you? How was your life in that gigantic ship of yours?”
It was good. Everything was falling in their proper places. I had everything that I’ve ever wanted. But I always end up feeling lonely, empty. I tried to fill every hole with my life’s luxuries but I ended up needing you, and now it’s too late.
“It was great.” The sadness in his voice belies his answer.
Margaret smiles at Samuel.
“Where’s your head office by the way?” Samuel asks.
“Are you taking a break from work?”
“Yes…I thought your family moved to Bicol. What made you visit Vigan?”
“I wanted to see you.”
For the first time since they left the coffee shop, they fall silent. After several steps, they pass a vendor selling colorful flying balloons at Plaza Burgos near the Metropolitan Cathedral. Margaret looks at them with a smile on her lips.
She remembers when Samuel would buy her a yellow balloon after mass. He always picks yellow, her favorite color. Then, she would get a little piece of paper and a pen from her bag and start writing her wish for that day. She would stick that little piece of paper in the balloon and release it to the sky.
When she was a little girl, she believes that when you stick your wish on a balloon and let it fly to the sky, God would easily know your wish and He would immediately grant it.
“Start thinking of your wish for today,” Samuel says.
He approaches the vendor and picks a yellow balloon. Margaret follows Samuel.
“I don’t have a pen and a paper,” she says.
“I do.” Samuel winks at her and Margaret smiles.
She starts writing her wish for today. She wishes for Samuel’s happiness. She wishes that he would find the best thing that would satisfy and make him feel at peace. She folds the paper in half.
“Done?” Samuel sounds excited.
“Yah…” Margaret sticks her wishes in the balloon held by Samuel.
Margaret nods with a smile. Samuel hands over the balloon to her. Margaret slowly lets go of the string and both of them look at the balloon flying higher and higher until they cannot see it any longer.
“Do you want to go inside?”
“Sure,” Margaret replies.
They enter the imposing creamy white baroque church with a feeling of familiarity and sadness. They sit on the center row. There’s no mass today. But it’s still a good thing because they would find time for each other, one on one in this church.
Their eyes are on the altar with hammered-silver panels. They could not speak. They could only feel.
Margaret and Samuel had a pact. They promised each other that they would be married in this church. They would say their vows and would promise to take care of each other ‘till death did them part. But that’s not going happen anymore. Not now. Not ever.
“Do you love him?” Samuel asks in a strained voice.
He already anticipated that answer, but it still hurts hearing it from Margaret herself. Samuel knows he shouldn’t have asked. She married him, so she must love him. What’s the point of asking?
“I’m happy for you, Garey.”
Margaret and Samuel stare at the image of the crucified Christ in front of them. Even Christ accepted pain. Who are we to expect immunity from it in our lives? Who are we to run away from it?
“I’m sorry, Garey,” Samuel says in whisper.
“It’s okay Sam…it's over.”
Margaret smiles and a tear falls down from her eye.
“I had to leave for my dreams. When I finally got it, I wanted to come, back but I was scared, scared of coming back without you to come home to. Now it’s too late.”
“It was meant to be that way,” Margaret says
“You never left my mind, Margaret.”
The emotions welling up inside her are too much to bear. She doesn’t want to hear any more. As if all the pain that she felt when Sam left are all coming back. Suddenly, she becomes a slave again, of solitude, of loss and of a broken love.
“I have to go,” Margaret says, wiping her tears.
“I love you.”
Years ago, Margaret waited for Samuel to come back so she could talk to him again, hold him again and hear those words again. She never thought it would be very painful to hear him say those words now. It’s more painful than the moment he left and never came back, more painful than waiting through long years hoping that they would be together again. How could love be so cruel?
Margaret looks at the altar. “God knows I did.”
Samuel looks at Margaret. Her eyes are still fixed on the crucified Jesus. He stares at every detail of her pretty face, the pretty face of a girl he would never have forever.
Margaret looks at Samuel. “It’s okay Sam…You’ll find your own happiness and everything’s going to be fine.” She smiles with tears in her eyes.
Samuel looks at the tears falling on her flushed cheeks. Is he allowed to wipe those tears away? Is he allowed to kiss her forehead and hold her so she would stop crying?
Margaret stands up wiping her tears. Samuel follows and they both make their way out of the church.
“You take care now,” Samuel says
They stand in front of the church. The weather is warmer, better.
Samuel doesn’t want to move, to walk. If he does, he will never see her again. For now, he is savoring the remaining time looking at her.
“I really want you to be happy, Garey,” he says.
“How can you say that to my face when you’ve just made me cry a few minutes ago?” Margaret gave a little laugh.
Samuel smiles. “I guess I will miss you for the rest of my life.”
Me too. Margaret smiles.
“Good bye, Sam.”
“Good bye, Garey.”
Margaret slowly walks away from Samuel. Her steps are small, light. Today, at this very hour, she’s closing her heart’s doors from the man she had first given it to. It doesn’t feel good, not at all. It’s like walking away from a very special part of yourself, of your heart and of your soul. But the decision is done. She has to let go of Samuel and be grateful for the good life that she has now.
Samuel looks at Margaret as she slowly walks her way out of his life. His tears blur his vision but he could still see Margaret. The wind is blowing the dark strands of her hair and it looks beautiful, very beautiful. Leaving Margaret was his biggest mistake, his biggest regret. He cannot undo those things now. Not now. Not ever. The decision is done. Margaret is at peace with her life now, so he has to find his own peace too.
Wiping his tears, Samuel turns his back and walks away.