Sunday, June 27, 2010

Coming Home: Matthew's story

The problem with long trips is they give you too much time to think.

Yes, there is always the scenery. But you could only find so much of it that would really interest you. Boredom steps in after a while. And then there is nothing else to keep you from thinking… and remembering.

It was what she had always wanted, a wedding on an island in a lake. And I tried to make it as perfect as she wanted it to be.

I would stand there, waiting for her, in my white cotton kurta and loose white cotton pants, like a prince waiting for his lovely princess bride.

Then she would come, walking as if in a dream, in her flowing white gown, a simple hand-tied bouquet of white calla lilies in her hands, treading lightly on the carpeted aisle strewn with white rose petals.

She would stand there before me, I would hold out my hand, take her hand in mine, and lead her to the altar where she would stand beside me.

And she would say…

The blabbering wakes me from my dreamy state. The bus isn’t moving and the driver is saying something about something being wrong with the engine. Everybody else is either ranting about the delay this will cause, looking outside the window for a place to grab a bite or take a refreshing sip, or excited at the souvenir photo opportunity that this misfortune has presented. I join the line of passengers getting out of the bus.

I heave a sigh as my feet touch the ground. I look around for a place where I could sit whiling away the time. I fix my sight on a log under a large shady tree. That would make a comfortable seat.

Thirty minutes is such a long time to wait doing nothing. But not as long as waiting for even only a few minutes for that most cherished moment in your life.

How could this be?

I wait here for the fulfilment of my dream, for the fulfilment of her dream… but here I am… alone.

Everyone has left. I asked them to. I need time alone to comprehend this, to understand Catherine’s words.

“I am sorry, Matthew… I need to give myself the chance to really be happy… and I know deep inside that that chance is with him… I would be unfair to you if I went ahead with this wedding. I would be lying to you, and lying to myself…”

“I love you, Catherine…”

That was all I could say while letting go of my grip on her hand, letting go so she could be happy with this stranger who, by some form of incomprehensible enchantment, stole from me the only woman I have ever Ioved.

Yes, I love her so much that I have to swallow the pain of being left behind so she could be happy. They say you have to fight for someone you love, if you truly, deeply love that person. But you could only fight so much for that someone, only so much as she herself hasn’t totally extinguished the remaining embers of the flame that once warmed both your hearts.

I blink to keep a tear from falling. I reach inside my bag as I sit on the log, and pull out my Rubik’s cube. Here is something that I have total control of, not like life with all its painful surprises. I start fiddling with the cube, twisting and turning with my hands, as the sound of rustling leaves betray someone coming near.


It is a woman’s voice, sweet, carrying with it the sound of a warm friendly smile. I nod and keep playing with the cube.

“Would you mind if I sit here?” she asks.

“Suit yourself,” I tell her.

I sit there, keeping to myself and my Rubik’s cube. I sense her looking at me, perhaps wondering if I find more sense in solving the cube’s puzzle than in talking to a stranger who’s trying to be friendly.

I want to be just as warm and friendly, but fear is holding me back. Fear of the closeness that causes so much pain when broken. Fear of getting sucked into that circle of uncertainties that could be so devastating.

“Are you from here? I mean from this province?” It was her again.

“No,” I answer back.

“Oh, so are you having a vacation? Visiting a relative or something?”

“No,” I say again.

“I’m Sab. Sabina actually, but most people close to me call me Sab.”

Perhaps I do not look as much a snub as I think, or this girl with the sweet, lilting voice is just plain stubborn. She extends her hand, and I briefly touch it. It was soft and warm.

“Matthew,” I introduce myself, pulling back my hand.

“Can I call you Matt?”

“Sure,” I say, still focused on my Rubik’s cube.

“I’m no good in that game,” she says.

“This game is easy,” I tell her. “You just have to know the pattern and everything will fit just right.”


“Yes, most of the things in the world revolve around patterns. Just like the cycle of life, we are born, we undergo a series of stages in our growth. We marry, we have children, we nurture them, our children marry and we see our grandchildren, we
play with them and then we die. When a pattern is followed and fulfilled, everything ends.”

There, perfect. All the same colored pieces together in their own place, just they way they were meant to be on that cube.

“You’re good.” I feel the sincerity in her voice saying that. I feel some kind of warmth inside, something I haven’t really felt in a long time. I smile.

“Do you live here?” I ask, glancing at her.

“Yes.” There was pride in the way she said that.

“You’re place is nice,” I tell her.

“Thank You. It’s been some time since I’ve seen this place. I worked on a passenger ship for six months. All I could see were bodies of water during our cruise and I was really starting to get sick of it, not to mention the rough seas that turn my stomach upside down.”

I let out a controlled laugh. Here is someone who worked on a ship for six months, and she says she can’t handle the rough seas. Wasn’t she supposed to have seen that coming?

“I think cruising is cool. I’ve never tried that.”

“Cruising is nice. But travelling by land is better.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Maybe it has something to do with the kind of element involved. In cruising, you see waters. Water is cool and refreshing but water can also be cold, freezing…lifeless. When you travel on land, you see trees, mountains, flowers, birds, you see life. You feel warmth. You live life.”

I look at her, and for the first time since she barged into my solitary life, while I mechanically worked on a solution to the self-created puzzle on my Rubik’s cube under that large shady tree, I notice she is beautiful.

Her face is angelic, with beautiful dark eyes and long eyelashes. Her thin lips look soft. Her long raven hair glistens at the kiss of the fading late afternoon sun. I feel calm just looking at her, calm and yet kindled.

“What?” she asks with a smile. It brightens her dimpled face all the more.

“Nothing…I just like what you said.”

“Thanks. Do you love to travel?” she asks

“Since last year, the road has become my life.”

“What does that mean?” There was confusion in her voice.

“It’s a very long story, Sab.” For the first time, I say her name. I feel the now so familiar twinge of pain that wells inside when I remember Catherine in her flowing white wedding dress, but somewhere in the midst of it is a soothing sense of solace. Perhaps it comes from saying her name, Sab.

“Are you running away from something?”

I have to go… I cannot stay here. This place is just too filled with memories of Catherine. Beautiful memories that only make it all the more painful to realize that she is gone… perhaps, forever…

We sort of built this place together, dreamed about it actually, every nook and cranny, practically every single element that is here. She would tell me about what she saw in her mind, in her dreams, and I would draw it on my sketch pad for the engineers to see.

This was going to be home… It cannot be home now… How can it be home without Catherine?

I haven’ talked about this for a year,” I tell her.

I feel the pain gnawing inside me again. The pain that I thought I could leave behind when I left home. The pain that I have so much tried to run away from, but cannot escape because it has made my heart its home.

“I was supposed to get married last year to…to the only girl I’ve ever loved.” I hear my own voice, calm, steady.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” I sense the sincerity in her voice once again. It is as if she herself is pained by my hurting, that she wanted nothing more than to comfort me.

I smile.

“What’s her name?”

“Catherine.” It was a name I haven’t said to anyone but myself in pained whispers during moments of agonizing solitude.

Silence engulfs us.

“We’ve been together for three years,” I continue despite the pain. “On our wedding day, she realized that she can’t marry me, that she’s in love with a man she just met twenty minutes before our wedding.”

Sab remains silent, as if she trying to comprehend that heart-rending event which has kept me moving from one place to another. Then she speaks.

“Matt…I know it was painful for you…but...maybe it was meant to be that way…I mean, who knows…maybe you’re meant for something else…or…for somebody else…Somebody who could really love you and could truly make you happy.”

“I appreciate that, Sab, but… since that incident I made it a point that I would refuse to become a slave of expectations.”

She laughs slightly.

“You were saying that you’ll have no more expectations, which means no more needs or wants or desires. Is that some kind of autohypnosis you’re talking about? I mean like, lowering your blood pressure or speeding up your own enzymes. You can’t do that. No one can.”

“I can’t stop now, Sab. I can’t stop moving from place to place, travelling…those things.”

“Sometimes, you just have to face things. That’s the only way that you can be free from all the things that keep you from being happy. If you can’t stop now, maybe someday…when you get tired and you see new things that would give you a reason to live again.”

As she speaks, I sense the pain is still there, inside me, real. But there is also something else, something different. My fear of that pain has kept me moving from one place to another - up north to Batanes, to Laoag and then Vigan, and now south to Albay. And here on the road to my new hiding place, sitting beside Sabine under the slowly fading light of the late afternoon sun, I seem to feel relief, assurance that I need not fear that pain.

“How old are you?” I ask her.


“You sound as if you’ve experienced a lot,” I say with a smile.

She laughed. “You know what? I really don’t know where those things come from. You say things and then I feel it, and suddenly, words come out. Just like that.”

“It’s okay… it’s… it’s good,” I tell her.

My eyes stare at the horizon. It looks peaceful. Shades of purple are starting to invade the sky. It’s almost sunset.

“What’s your story, Sab?”

“There’s nothing really special about my life. You won’t be interested in it.”

But I am.

“You said you worked on a ship?”


“How was it?”

“I enjoyed it during my first few months and then later, after getting what I want, I got bored. Now, I’m just glad I’m coming home.”

“So, what was that thing you want that you got in the end?”

She heaved a sigh.

“I was curious about the life on board a ship, what it was like. I wanted to meet people, know them, learn from them. I got what I wanted. Now, I can get over it and move on.”

“You said you were bored…”

“Uh-huh…I easily get bored with things.” Her voice was slow, like she doesn’t want me to hear her answer, or she was intimidated by this stranger wanting to know more about her life.

“Maybe it’s because you still haven’t found the thing that would satisfy you.”

She looks surprised.

“How did you know that?”

“I still haven’t found mine, too.”

She smiles yet again. “I think I still have a long way to go…What do you think?”

“There’s beauty in waiting.”

“I’ve always been an impatient one. I hate waiting, it wastes my time,” she says matter-of-factly.

“Waiting is like a journey,” I say, waxing philosophical. “You see new things, you learn about them, you mature, you grow. That’s the beauty of waiting. You learn from it, you experience things, people, and most of all, you experience life. If everything can be achieved in a snap of a finger, then everything would be meaningless. A simple smile would lose its worth, a simple tap on the back, a simple hello, a simple hug…These things are all part of waiting.”

“Don’t you get tired?”

Her question betrays her stubbornness in seeing my point of view.

“Of course I do. But I cannot force fate to give me what I need now.”

“So what do you need?”

“We do not know what we need until we find it.”

“Do you really believe that?”


For a moment there was silence between us. I wonder what she is thinking. I hope she is not bored.

“Tell me something about your life on board,” I say to her. I really want to know how this woman who, by her own admission, can’t stand the rough seas found life on a ship.

“Well, it was okay…I had great friends, nice room, good food.”

“What do you think is the most interesting thing on board?”

“The people.”

“What about them?”

I look at her intently, waiting for her to continue her story. She really looks so beautiful.

“I learned that most of the people working on board were running away from something. My cabin mate ran away from a married man she fell in love with. My friend who works in a casino ran away from his father who wanted him to live a life he didn’t want. My other friend wanted to forget the pain caused by her ex-boyfriend who cheated on her and the only way to ease the pain was to leave.”

“Were you also running away from something, Sab?” I ask still looking at her beautiful face. She blushes.

“Maybe…I don’t know…” For a moment she sounds unsure, lost, vulnerable, fragile.

“So, where are you going?” she asks me.

“I don’t know.” I really had no specific destination in mind.

“Legazpi is a beautiful place. You can stay there if you want.”

“Do you live there?”


“I’m actually planning to visit Ligao but I’m not sure about it yet.”

“Ligao is a good place too. Albay is a beautiful province. You can choose whatever municipality you want to visit.”

“Do you cook?”

“Yes, and I’ve always loved it.”

I see in her face as she answers that she has a passion for cooking. Her beautiful face brightens, and her bedimpled smile makes her all the more lovely.

“What’s your favorite dish?”

“Bicol express and laing.”


“Am I making you feel hungry?”

“Definitely yes.”

The bus horn beeps. Everyone starts to get inside the bus. Sab and I follow. Inside the bus, I sit beside her. Outside the window, I can see the darkness slowly covering the purple horizon.

“Does your family know you’re coming home?” I ask Sab.

“Of course! I don’t want to surprise them. I want them to prepare a banquet for their princess.”

“Yes, for their fair princess.” I smile at her.

“Your family…where are they?” she asks.

“They live in Quezon City,” I tell her.

“Did you grow up in a city?”

“Yes. You grew up here?”


We are silent for a few minutes then she asks, “Why did you choose Bicol as your next road?”

“I don’t know…”

I really have no reason in particular for choosing Bicol. That is the truth.

Sab laughs. “You don’t know? That’s strange.”

“Yah, strange…”

And it has always been that way since I left home a year ago. I go to a place just because. It isn’t the scenery that lures me, not the history, and definitely not the promise of comfort and ease. I never found them once. The pain was always there, consuming me, silently. But this trip, this road, it is different.

I notice Sab holding her arms to warm herself.

“Feeling cold?”

“Yah…” she says.

I take my dark blue jacket from my bag and place it on her back. She looks so vulnerable, and I feel the need to protect her, shelter her, care for her.

“Thank you,” she says.

“Do you easily feel cold?”

“Yes, and I hate it.”

“You should always bring a jacket with you.”

“I know. The problem is I always forget.”

I smile at her. “You’re only 22 and you easily forget things. What more when you turn 30? I bet you’ll suffer a sudden amnesia without even banging your head hard.”

“Is that your way of making fun of me?” A slight smile and the glint in her eyes telld me she isn’t pissed.

I laugh. “Of course not. I’m just stating possibilities.”

“What do you do Matt? Well, aside from travelling?” she asks.

“I paint, I draw, I make sketches…But I haven’t done them for a year now.”

“Nice…How many women have you painted?”

“I don’t usually paint women, only those whom I have the desire to paint.”

“Like Catherine?”

“Not even her.”

“Why not?”

“We didn’t have the chance…I was planning to paint her after our wedding…at the beach…”


I stand infront of the empty canvass, holding the brush in my hand. The site of the stone house with its thatched grass roof standing on a hill against the blue Batanes sea looks to rustic, so peaceful, so calm. It is a view I have always wanted to paint. I touch the paint on the easel with the tip of my brush… and I just stand there, tears clouding my eyes, blurring the view.

How can I paint amidst the painful memory of that day that come suddenly rushing back to me? How can I find inspiration in a view that reminds me of Catherine’s dream wedding, of our dream wedding, on a chapel on an island in a lake? How can I not see her coming towards me, soaking wet from the rain, her wedding dress muddied, teary-eyed as she touches my arm with her cold, trembling hand, saying…

“You should start painting again…” It is Sab again.

“I know. Just a little more time…” I answer with a smile.

I look outside the window. It is dark, but the moon is there… full, bright… and the stars, they’re like diamonds in the sky… There is something seeming magical in this night… the moon… the stars… and…



“Is there someone waiting for you? Someone special?”

I hold my breath as I wait for her to answer. I wish, no, I silently pray that she says…

“If you’re asking if I have a boyfriend waiting for me to come home, the answer is no,” she says with a laugh.

My heart jumps. I feel kindled inside yet again. I nod. “Good.”

We cross the last bridge. We’re almost at the bus station.

“Matt, are you sure you don’t want to pass by Albay? We’re close to the bus station.”

“Uhmm… Maybe next time…”

She smiles. “Yah, next time…” Is that a twinge of frustration that I sense in her voice?

“But would you mind if I get your address? In case I can drop by Legazpi… Maybe I could visit you,” I tell her.

I pull out my notepad and pen and hand them over to her. She writes down her address.

A few minutes later, we are at the Legazpi bus station. Sab says goodbye. I smile at her.

“You take care now…” I tell her.

“You too. Thanks for the jacket.” She gives me back my dark blue jacket and leaves.

I sit on the terminal bench holding the travel guide in one hand and my mobile phone in another. All hotels I have called are fully booked for the night. This isn’t really a problem. I have gotten used to spending the night on bus terminals, fiddling with my Rubik’s cube until the wee hours of the morning. I seem to have somehow found solace in that, even though how shallow.

But now I sit restless. My Rubik’s cube is just inside my bag, waiting to be twisted and turned in my hands once again. Yet, that doesn’t seem to comfort me. It is not enough… it will not be enough anymore after Sab.

Sab… Why is she doing this to me? Is it something in her eyes that glint with glee when she talks of the things she loves? Is it the genuine sound of affection in her lilting voice when she speaks words of care? Is it the soft warm touch of her hand or her smile, that smile that exudes contagious radiance each time it appears?

Or is it because I see her as fragile, vulnerable, who needs someone to protect her, shelter her, care for her? That’s why she needs to come home. But am I any different? I feign strength. I feign courage. But all this time I have been running away, afraid to face the painful reality of living a life without Catherine, a life where the radiant rays of hope has faded.

Today I looked at the sunset with Sab. I saw the dying light, but dying only to be born again. “This old world must still be spinning round,” said the song in my head as I watched that beautiful sunset. “You can close your eyes, it’s alright.”

I reach inside my bag, but not for the Rubik’s cube. I pull out the notepad where Sab wrote down her address, and look for a ride.

I need a place to stay, a home. Perhaps I could find it where my feet are taking me tonight.

I muster all the courage I can find inside me. I feel my heart beat fast as I lift my hand and knock on the door. There was only silence. Maybe I shouldn’t have come, maybe they were already sleeping. I am about to turn when the door opens.

I see Sab’s angelic face once again, beautifully crowned with flowing raven hair, her beautiful dark eyes with long eyelashes sparkling with glee, her thin lips breaking yet again into a bedimpled smile that made her all the more lovely. I feel calm just looking at her, calm and yet kindled.


Caloy Bautista, May’09

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