I’m going home. It’s been six months since I last saw these beautiful fields of my hometown. That’s quite some time. I miss the green fields, huge mountains, tall trees and most of all the feeling of stepping on real ground, the soil, the earth.
The people inside the air-conditioned bus are mostly asleep. I look outside the window and see birds flying in patterns. They are so graceful, like ballerinas flying in the air. I get my camera inside my bag hoping to take a good shot of the gorgeous birds in front of me when the bus suddenly stops.
“My apologies to everyone. The engine conked out. We are sorry, but it might take us about thirty minutes to fix whatever damages we have at this point.” It was the bus driver saying sorry for the inconvenience. Something’s wrong with the bus’ engine. I hope he could fix it fast.
“This is unbelievable! They better make sure we won’t be stuck here ‘till evening,” says an old woman who’s carrying her half-filled sack of dried corn.
Everyone starts to get out of the bus. Some are really pissed off. Others are excited to take pictures of the view outside. I’m not really amused with what’s going on. I just want to go home. I miss my mama and papa. I miss my siblings and most of all, I miss my room, my favorite teddy bear, Paolo, and the rest of the things inside my little niche.
The bus is already when I take my turn to go down. The fresh breeze kisses my cheeks and welcomes me as I slowly step on the ground. Oh, I love it. I wish life can be this simple. No confusion, no expectations, just pure warmth and peace.
I look at my watch to check the time. It’s five in the afternoon. I look for the other passengers nearby. Some are taking their snacks at the mini-stores not far from where our bus stopped. Some are refreshing themselves on benches on the other side of the road.
I’m not hungry yet and all the benches are taken. I look for a place where I could just sit and enjoy the scenery. I notice a huge tree a few meters away from the spot where I’m standing. Below it is a big log. That would make a very convenient seat. I notice a man sitting on it. He’s alone, I guess. Perhaps I could join him.
“Hi!” I greet him with a smile. He nods at me in return, the lousiest reply ever. Anyway, I ask him, “Would you mind if I sit here? “
“Suit yourself,” he says.
I make myself comfortable on the log. The man beside me is silent, busy playing with his Rubik’s cube. Looking at him closely, I notice he’s an attractive man. I think he’s 27 or 28. I’m not sure. His skin is smooth and brown. I love his long and thick eyelashes, his nose like those of the handsome male models I see in magazines. I love his hands, with his long fingers and well-trimmed nails. I look at his eyes once again, to see if he is really a serious person or just isn’t in the mood for conservation. I notice his eyes are round. Then suddenly, I picture him as a little boy playing in a field with his kite. A boy so free, so young and so full of life. I force myself to blink so I can go back to reality. I hate it when I suddenly imagine things. Things I could not control from popping in my brain. I study him again. This time, I see a lonely man. So lonely that I regret I ever looked at him.
“Are you from here? I mean from this province?” I’m trying to make a conversation.
“No,” he replies.
“Oh, so are you having a vacation? Visiting a relative or something?”
Now that was two consecutive NO answers. But I’m not giving up.
“I’m Sab. Sabina actually, but most people close to me call me Sab.” I extend my hand hoping I can get some positive reaction.
He briefly touches my hand. “Matthew,” he says
“Can I call you Matt?”
“Sure.” He doesn’t look at me. His attention was still focused on his Rubik’s cube.
“I’m no good in that game,” I said without any intention of disturbing him.
“This game is easy. You just have to know the pattern and everything will fit just right.” That was the longest statement I got from him so far.
“Pattern…” That was all I could say in reply.
“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.” His fingers stop moving. I look at his cube and I see that he has finished the puzzle.
“You’re good,” I compliment him with sincerity.
“Do you live here?” he asks.
I’m starting to have a feeling that he’s loosening up a bit and I feel happy.
“You’re place is nice,” he says.
“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.”
Matt lets out a controlled laugh and it makes him look younger.
“I think cruising is cool. I’ve never tried that.”
“Cruising is nice. But travelling by land is better.”
“Why?” he asks
“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.”
Matt stares at me warmly. I look at his eyes for the third time and it feels like it was the first time I’ve ever stared at those captivating eyes.
“What?” I ask him with a little smile on my lips, trying to get over the thoughts I have about his eyes.
“Nothing…I just like what you’ve said.”
“Thanks. Do you love to travel?” I ask.
“Since last year, the road has become my life.”
“What does that mean?” I ask him, a little confused. How can a road become somebody’s life? I mean, travelling is tiring, at least for me.
“It’s a very long story, Sab.”
It’s the first time he says my name. I don’t now what is going on with me but I love the sound of my name on his lips. It’s like a different Sab, a different me. I just want him to say my name over and over again.
“Are you running away from something?” I’m not supposed to ask that question. Anyway, I already said it.
Matt gives a deep sigh.
“I haven’ talked about this for a year,” he says.
I’m waiting for his next statement. I’m not sure if this is considered as eavesdropping on other people’s lives but I’m really interested in Matt’s story. There’s something in his eyes that gives answers to so many questions of hurt, of pain and of solitude.
“I was supposed to get married last year to…to the only girl I’ve ever loved.” His voice is calm, relaxed. I’m not sure if he is just good in pretending he’s okay and that he can take it or that sort of thing.
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
Matthew gives a pained smile.
“What’s her name?” Do I really have to ask that question?
“Catherine,” he answers.
We fall silent.
“We’ve been together for three years,” he continues. “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.” His voice is strained.
I don’t know what to say. How could that woman leave this man. This man so gentle, sensitive and so attractive. Maybe she’s got reasons. Reasons only she can understand.
“ 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.”
I laugh slightly when I hear him say that.
“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.” I’ve never been good at stuff like this before but I’m sure those statements of mine came somewhere inside of me.
“How old are you?” he asks.
Matt smiles. “You sound as if you’ve experienced a lot.”
He’s right and that made me laugh. “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,” he says
Matthew’s eyes suddenly stare at the horizon. He makes me look at it myself. 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.”
It is an honest answer. I really don’t find my life interesting at all. Except for the stories that I keep in what I call my magical box.
“You said you worked on a ship?” He is insistent.
“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?”
I never expected that question.
“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…”
His questions scare me, I don’t know why.
“Uh-huh…I easily get bored with things.” My voice is low. I’m not sure if I find his questions too personal or I’m just guilty with the negativity of my answer.
“Maybe it’s because you still haven’t found the thing that would satisfy you.”
Is he a fortune teller?
“How did you know that?”
“I still haven’t found mine, too.”
His honesty makes me smile. “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.”
I never learned to be patient. I hate queuing in a long line, I hate waiting for the bus to arrive at a bus station, I hate waiting for my order in a restaurant. I just hate waiting, period.
“Waiting is like a journey. 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?” I ask.
I’m still in the process of accepting his preposition.
“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?”
He sounds so sure and I hate it. I wonder why men are always sure about what they say. Does it have something to do with their hormones or their psychological frame up?
“Tell me something about your life on board.”
I know he’s interested. He’s just good in making himself sound as if he has nothing more to say.
“Well, it was okay…I had great friends, nice room, good food.”
“What do you think is the most interesting thing on board?”
“What about them?”
He looks at me intently and I forget to breathe for a couple of seconds. How could those eyes stop my respiratory system from functioning for few seconds or so?
I go back to my senses.
“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.” He’s looking at me and I can’t move. I think I’m blushing.
“Maybe…I don’t know…”
I really don’t know the answer…Perhaps yes. Perhaps I was running away too.
“So, where are you going?”
“I don’t know,” he replies.
“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.”
Cooking is like an art to me. You mix ingredients, make use of seasoning, sprinkle it with love and you’ll get a masterpiece.
“What’s your favorite dish?”
“Bicol express and laing.”
“Am I making you feel hungry?”
The bus horn beeps. Everyone starts to get inside the bus. Matthew and I follow. Inside the bus, I sit on the same seat where I was seating. Matthew sits beside me. Outside the window, I can see the darkness slowly covering the purple horizon.
“Does your family know you’re coming home?” Matt asks.
“Of course! I don’t want to surprise them. I want them to prepare a banquet for their princess.”
“Yes, for their fair princess.” He’s smiling at me.
His smile warms me. How can that be possible?
“Your family…where are they?”
I didn’t want him to lose that smile for me but I couldn’t breathe any longer. It hurts my lungs so I have to make little adjustments.
“They live in Quezon City,” Matt says.
“Did you grow up in a city?”
“Yes. You grew up here?”
We are silent for a few minutes then I ask, “Why did you choose Bicol as your next road?”
“I don’t know…”
I laugh slightly at his answer. “You don’t know? That’s strange.”
I start to feel cold and I hold my arms my arms to warm myself.
“Feeling cold?” Matt asks.
He takes a dark blue jacket from his bag and places it on my back.
“Thank you,” I say.
“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.”
Matthew smiles. “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.” He’s teasing again.
“Is that your way of making fun of me?” I’m not pissed, just enjoying him teasing me.
Matt laughs. “Of course not. I’m just stating possibilities.”
“What do you do Matt? Well, aside from travelling?” I ask.
“I paint, I draw, I make sketches…But I haven’t done them for a year now.”
He’s an artist.
“Nice…How many women have you painted?”
“I don’t usually paint women, only those whom I have the desire to paint.”
Where did that question come from? Am I affected by her being part of his life? I’m not even jealous. Why would I be?
“Not even her.”
“We didn’t have the chance…I was planning to paint her after our wedding…at the beach…”
“Oh…” I wonder how Matt would paint the woman he loves. Perhaps he would paint her with sweetness, tenderness, love. “You should start painting again…”
“I know. Just a little more time…” Matt smiles
I look outside the window once again.
It’s dark outside. It’s a good thing there’s a moon… It’s full and bright… and the stars, they’re like diamonds in the sky… What a wonderful night… the moon… the stars… and Matthew…
Oh, how I love the sound of his voice…
“Is there someone waiting for you?” His voice is low.” Someone special?”
That question is not new to me, but hearing it from him made me laugh. Maybe because of the possibility that maybe, just maybe…he’s also interested in me.
“If you’re asking if I have a boyfriend waiting for me to come home, the answer is no.”
Matt nods and says, “Good.”
We cross the last bridge. We’re almost at the bus station.
“Matt, are you sure don’t want to pass by Albay? We’re close to the bus
I don’t know if I’m just playing the role of a hospitable Bicolana or I’m just not ready to see him leave… not yet…
“Uhmm… Maybe next time…”
That was the most frustrating answer I ever got in my entire life… It’s not that he’s like turning me down but I think it’s more of him leaving…
I smile to hide my frustration. “Yah, next time…”
“But would you mind if I get your address? In case I can drop by Legazpi… Maybe I could visit you,” he says.
He gets his notepad and his pen and hands it over to me. I write my complete address.
A few minutes later, we are at the Legazpi bus station. I say goodbye to Matthew. He gives me the sweetest smile any woman would want to keep.
“You take care now…” Matt says.
“You too. Thanks for the jacket.” I give him back his dark blue jacket and leave.
I’m on a tricycle. I’m thinking about Matthew’s destination for tonight. Where will he sleep? He didn’t mention any hotel where he could spend the night. I really wish for his safety though, and for me to see him again.
At home, everybody’s excited and I’m really happy to see them all. They cooked my favorite food. We talk about a lot of things over dinner. I tell them different stories about my experiences on board and they are so amazed. I’m just so happy I’m home again.
It’s ten in the evening. Everybody is asleep except for me and my Mama. I go to the living room to turn off the lights when a knock on the door startles me. Who could that be knocking at the door at this hour? I open the door and I see Matthew standing on our threshold. He’s smiling at me with all tenderness. I couldn’t speak. I’m just totally shocked that he’s in front me.
“Hi,” Matt says.
“Hi,” I reply
“I’m just wondering if I could stay here for the whole night. All hotels are full and it’s really hard to find a place to stay at this hour. Is it okay?”
“Come in…You can take my room. I can stay with my sister in her room.”
Mama is standing behind me, a little disoriented with the situation.
“Ma, this is Matthew, my friend… Matthew, my Mama. Is it okay if he could stay here? Just for tonight? Matthew is a good man. We don’t have to worry…”
Mama stares at Matthew, but not in a bad way. Perhaps she’s just trying to assess this man who will sleep over in her house for the whole night.
“Okay… You take care of him, Sab… Goodnight.”
“Thank You ma’am,” Matt says.
Mama smiles in return.
She kisses my cheeks and goes straight to her room.
“Come I’ll show you your room…”
I open the door to my room. It’s clean, dainty and pinkish. I’ve always loved pink since I was a little girl. My curtains are pink, my bed sheets are pink, my pillows are pink. Almost everything inside my room is pink. I love it that way.
“Well, starting tonight, you should start loving pink.”
Matt laughs. “Yah, I guess I should.”
“Goodnight, Sab… I can’t thank you enough for this.”
“Don’t mention it. Just give Mama a sample of your sketch. She’s a frustrated artist. I’m sure she would appreciate it.”
“You take a rest now…”
“I really had a great time with you today…,” he says.
I need to go to my sister’s room and sleep. This closeness between us is unbearable. His presence makes my heart beat faster. I hate it…
“So, I’ll see you at breakfast.” Saying that was the only way that I could break whatever spell he has on me.
“Ok… Goodnight, Sab.”
I left him outside my room. Just before I could touch the knob of my sister’s door, Matt called my name…
“After breakfast…will you come with me somewhere? Somewhere where I can draw your pretty face?” His voice is like a whisper. So soothing, so perfect, so right…
“Sure.” That is all I could say…
We both go inside our respective rooms. Now, at last, I could breathe properly. I lay on my bed and think of Matthew.
Can I ever give my heart to a man like him? A man who’s broken, lonely… Can I ever fill the void inside him? Would we be enough for each other?
I’ve never given my heart to any man… If I give it to him… would he be worth it? I don’t know…
All I know is that there’s something about him that makes me feel at peace. When I was with him, I felt secured and… happy…
I can’t tell if he’d already moved on from Catherine. I’m not even sure about what I’m feeling right now… I guess I’ll just have to give myself a try and learn to live and not waste every chance there is to be happy.
For now, I’ll gamble with my heart and I’ll make sure I’ll win.