Thursday, August 21, 2008

Kiss of Death

kiss of death

The look in his eyes was one I have not seen—or hoped to see—before. Anger. I have not seen this side of him even if we’ve had a more than fair share of arguments. I felt, for a brief yet seemingly the longest moment in my life, afraid that he might hit me. That could hurt, really, since he was brawny—his hands were solid, like that of any other guy who was intimidating just by looking at his hands. My jaw could break. I could lose a tooth. But more than the fear of physical pain, and that of public humiliation, I feared that our meeting might be the last. Everything could end. I tried to ignore the nagging feeling but each time my eyes met his, I miserably fail. My heart raced so fast it hurt. I wanted to make something up, to not go through the ordeal. But I could not bear to run away from it, it had to be over and done with—whatever it was.

He was silent. He has been silent since he walked in the room. He tried to avoid my eyes, as I did his. He would roll his eyes, and pretend to look at the painting on the wall, but the glint never escaped my noticing. His breaths were deep, like he was trying to draw air from inside him. Neither of us spoke. I felt a warning of the impending demise of our friendship. How long has it been, anyway? Three? Four years? It didn’t really matter. The silence was not as the cliché went, ‘deafening’; if it was anything, it was nerve-racking.

I couldn’t take any more. If another minute passed in silence, I might lose my mind. I cleared my throat, and he brought his eyes to look at me. “Your—” I started, almost stuttering. “Your glasses,” I smiled, although anyone who’d have seen it could clearly say it was forced. He nodded, without even trying to force a smile; his face remained calm, somewhat devoid of any emotion, yet his eyes still nursed the anger that I saw. I looked down and drew circles on the table with my finger. I wished he’d spoken up. I wished he’d said, ‘Yeah, your gift on my birthday. Looks good on me, doesn’t it?’, then everything would be OK, and we’d start talking and laughing. He looked out the street. And I tried to scan the array of pastries behind him.

I’d given him a pair of glasses for his birthday a month ago, and he has never worn it until now. Remembering the look on his face when he opened the box almost succeeded in making me smile—a real smile—but out of defence of some sort, my lips could not afford curving. I knew my smile would not be returned. I was not even sure he remembered his reaction when I’d given the glasses.

He wore glasses. He couldn’t live without them. He couldn’t read without them, anyway. His old glasses were beginning to grow on him with its thick frame, so when we visited an optical shop some months ago, I tried to hint on which glasses he liked. He preferred the D&G glasses on the top of the shelf. It was a rather simple pair of eyeglasses; it had a thin black frame which had an almost invisible D&G logo on either sides.

The barista smiled as he approached with our order. It was when the barista was putting our coffee and the cheesecake on the table when I caught him looking at me. He rolled his eyes right away. "Thanks,” we said. And after the barista had walked away, he took his iced coffee and started to sip. I looked at him intently, wondering if there was ever going to be a conversation or if he just wanted some company for coffee. Of course I knew the second one was out of the possibility. Even if he hated dining or having coffee by himself, he sure would not have called me after what had happened the night before if he didn’t plan on talking about it. He could have called his friends to join him. So why is there heavy silence between us? I didn’t look away. I kept me eyes fixed on him, as if studying a stranger I have never met.

He had brown eyes, almost greenish if you let your eyes fool you. His face was that of a poster boy. Patrician nose, button eyes, thick eyelashes, a cleft chin. His skin was of a light tone, and his cheeks sometimes looked pinkish under the sun. His lips were red, although I still couldn’t quite figure out how it stays red given that he was a heavy smoker. He was fairly tall at five feet-nine inches with a faultless posture. He even looked too stiff, if you asked me. His upper body, while appearing gym-toned under a shirt, was actually just average—not too muscled, not too loose when bare.

He was beautiful. He refused to own the fact, though. He always thought he was just ‘your average looking guy’. And I liked it that way. He was beautiful, and sometimes, as the cliché went, it hurts to look at him.
I began to salvage the whipped cream on my coffee with the black straw. He finds it amusing how I refused to stir the cream with the liquid, and would have it scooped out with the straw. I felt his eyes on me. And I could have been dreaming, or hallucinating, but I saw a fraction of smile escape his mouth. It was brief, but if it was in fact there, then maybe last night was not a complete screw-up.

I struggled to look him in the eyes, yet again. This time he didn’t look away. I was melting before him—slowly, painfully. I felt weak. Neither of us blinked. I looked away as my eyes began to hurt. “Listen,” I began, summoning all the strength I had left. I stopped. I didn’t know what to say. I felt him stare, and all focus to think of words to utter paled into a sigh. I let out a faint sigh. I didn’t realize the anger that had earlier consumed his eyes was gone. I felt a relief pat me on the shoulder.

“About last night,” I blurted out, watching the second hand on my watch turn. “I’m sorry.” I looked up and found a hint of claim on his face. I had to continue if I wanted to know what my weakness had cost me. I was sure then he wanted to talk about it.

“You’re sorry,” he repeated flatly. He reached for his cheesecake and lifted his fork. He began to take a portion of it as I fought for reasons. Why did I cross the line? I couldn’t find the appropriate words. Hell, I couldn’t make up an excuse.

“I really am. I don’t know what had gotten into me.” I was clinging to words suspended in my consciousness. Words I didn’t know whether to trust or not. And by the looks of it, the words were empty.

He remained silent, his elbows on the table, his hands clasped together. His eyes were distant. “You’re sorry.” he looked at me intently, and then looked away.

“Um,” I couldn’t think of anything else to say. My head spun around. I half-expected him to speak—to complain about my saying ‘um,’ which he always did—but instead he looked down and sighed.

We were silent for a few minutes. I saw him scratch the back of his ear—something he did when he was feeling impatient, irritated, or excited. But I didn’t know why he scratched then. I shook from within, feeling a cold war about to happen. A war I was not prepared to fight.

         I had taken too much tequila, and it shot straight from the throat to my head. It seemed as if my stomach could no longer admit any alcohol and was therefore forced to refuse the rest of the shots that came its way. The only route for the tequila to take was the one headed up my head. Five bottles of Jose Cuervo has obviously been too much for me and three friends. Finals night, we were too happy that the gruesome and sleepless nights of review was over, and that the exam we painstakingly took was no longer a thorn in our neck. We decided to celebrate at a local bar and before we knew it, the only girl in the group was flirting with the waiter who looked a bit like Paulo Avelino. And while the two boys argued about the current political condition of the country, who was prettier—Scarlett Johansson or Jessica Alba—and who was more likely to have invented post-it, I was desperately trying to make out the names of the bottles that lined on the bar. I wanted to check if I was still capable of reading, which would only prove one thing: if I was actually drunk or not. After I made out the names of all the bottles, and realized that I had practically no one left to talk to—our girl friend had managed to follow the waiter to the counter, and the two boys were still busy arguing—I decided it was time to call him.

        I could not remember, however, how the phone conversation went. How I even managed to convince him to meet me outside the bar because he hated it when I called him up under the influence in the middle of the night. But I remember the look on his face when got out of the car. He looked amused, and with a bit of scorn he motioned me to rise from sitting on the pavement and said, “Babysitter’s here, big boy. Let’s go.” I was not motor-challenged then, but my mind was beginning to go down the pit of drunkenness.

        “And what a cute babysitter I have.”

        He laughed, patted me twice on the back and opened door of his SUV, “You little slosh ball.” I raised a brow before he winked and slammed the door shut.

        “I didn’t think you’d push through with it. Thought some of your friends couldn’t make it.”

        “Yeah,” I surrendered my head to the leather seat with eyes half-closed. “But Jessie wanted to do it anyway. And Ralph didn’t want to go home. Were you taking a shower when I called? It sounded like you were in the bathroom or something.”


        “At midnight?” I was shocked that I lifted my head to give him a look.

        “What? I couldn’t sleep,” he had earlier suggested grabbing coffee before he dropped me home, to ‘wear the alcohol off’, he had said. He insisted I stay in the car while he ordered. “I can’t have you making a scene in there,” he joked when I said I wanted to stay in the shop.

        From in the car, I looked out and watched as he walked to the shop. I couldn’t help myself from getting the jolts. I actually liked him, in a special way, and I'd been trying hard for ages to contain it. And I had a strong, persistent feeling I was going to tell him exactly how I felt. Never mind that it could blow everything away. I was going to come clean, and I've made up my mind.

        He was different. Unlike any other guys I’d met. He was stubborn, yes. He was temperamental—something we both shared. He hated how I talked about books as much as he liked my appetite. He was, in a way, childish—he liked watching cartoons so much we'd argue over his Tom and Jerry obsession—which I secretly found adorable, yet he was mature enough to talk about grown-up things, like the deeper aspects of existing.

        As I was waiting for him to come out of the coffee shop, I felt a stabbing feeling. I knew I wasn’t being true to myself by hiding what I felt. It was against who I was. It was retarded. It was a pile of crap. It was too melodramatic, in a weird way at that. I saw it coming. I felt it slowly possess me, and I didn’t do anything to rid myself of it.

        The sooner I tell him, the easier it is. It should end tonight, I thought as he approached the car carrying tall paper cups in both hands. I felt stupid, really, at the mere fact that I was actually deliberating about it. I could just live with it in silence. I could just fake it. And besides, he was not showing any signs that he knew what I was feeling. But he was not actually a moron to not notice, he must have noticed, of course. So what now?

        “Hundred and eighty bucks,” he handed me the coffee, and laughed.

        “Jesus,” my eyes widened although I knew it was a joke. “Charge it on my card.”

        “Listen,” I started as he took a sip. “Thanks for picking me up.”

        “It was not like I had a choice,” he joked. “Don’t want to wake up to the news that some drunken ass got hit by a truck.”


        He looked at me quizzically.

        “Why do you not want to wake up hearing I had gotten hit by a truck?”

        “I don’t want to risk you haunting me at night when you’re dead. And besides, if you don’t die from being hit by a truck, you’re most probably going to stay in the hospital for too long. And I would have to visit you. You know I hate hospitals.”

        I laughed, almost hysterical. “Oh, shut up. You just don’t want to lose me. Plain and simple.”

        “Yeah! Whatever,” he placed his coffee on the cup holder, and yawned. “Hey,” his tone was ecstatic. “Guess who I saw at the mall this afternoon.”

        “Ely Buendia?” I said, feigning excitement in my voice.

        “Yeah,” he said sarcastically. “No. Matt.”

        “Eww,” I gave a disgusted face. He laughed so hard, I thought he was going to cry.

        “Why do despise him so much, anyway?”

        The alcohol had started to wear off. It helped that the AC blasted a fierce cold air to contrast the heat I felt in my body. We both rested our backs on the seats and gabbed about random things. He had a fondness for random talk, and he loved how I satisfied it. Our aimless talk reached silliness that we both gasped for air from laughing so hard. Then, after we exploded into a boisterous mirth after he burped, there was silence. I could hear only the sound of the AC humming. I glanced over to see him staring at me. I gave a sneering face, and he cackled. I stared at him for a few seconds and it was then that he looked at me, puzzled.

        “Shitface,” he said, somewhat expecting me to laugh. But I didn’t. I looked him in the eyes. His face turned blank. I felt my legs and hands shake as I moved closer to him. It was a slow, dragging movement. He blinked. I didn’t.

        There was practically a breath between our noses. His brows crossed for a few seconds, then relaxed. I held my breath. My chest pounded, I could hear it. And with a blink, I pressed my lips to his.

        The soft touch felt extremely delirious. It felt like my lips touched jelly. We were motionless for the shortest time, and I felt his breath on my face. Warm. It made the hair on my arms stand. I pressed my lips harder, our eyes locked into each other’s. Then I felt his lips move, slowly open. I closed my eyes and felt his mouth cover mine. It felt awkward, consuming—nothing like any kiss I’ve had.

        I cupped his jaws with my hands and felt his hands on my chest. I was sure he could feel my heart race. I ran my hands to his ears and to the back of his head. We kissed for what seemed the time it took a little bud to bloom into a rose. A soft, warm, seemingly endless kiss.

        Almost as if on cue, we opened our eyes at the same time. And in the dimness of space, with only the neon lights from the dashboard as illumination, I could clearly see his brown eyes. We continued to kiss briefly with our eyes open. Then his hands gently pushed me. He stared, and then sat straight on his seat. I wanted to say something, but clearly there were no words to speak. I felt a thick air of silence descend as he took in deep breaths and started to steer the wheel.

        All I could do was look straight at the road, the head lights that beamed. I took sideways glances and found his eyes set on the road. His lips looked wet, glossy—I could still feel it on my lips, something I was sure I could never feel again.

        I felt a sudden crash inside as he pulled in front my house. I did not want to get out; I found it hard to pull the door open. He looked my way, just as I stepped out. My throat seemed to have dried up. I couldn’t open my mouth. With one last look, he gave a slight nod. I nodded back and closed the door.

        I watched as he sped off. I could feel the sinking feeling get the better of me; I wanted to cry. But my eyes were deprived of tears. I felt a mix of happiness and regret. But the latter held a bigger part. Soon, I thought, I would have to face the consequence of what I’d done.

I could not bear to take another sip of my coffee. There so much I wanted to say yet my mind could not find anything logical to explain what had happened. Maybe there was no logic behind it. Maybe it was supposed to be left that way.

“I suppose that wasn't all you wanted to say,” he cut my thoughts from wandering.

“I guess.”

“You guess?” I could not place his tone.

“You hate me,” I stated, hoping to provoke what exactly it was that ran through his mind. I could no longer play around with possibilities. He kissed you back, you moron! I scolded myself. And it wasn’t a quick, vacant kiss.
It seemed he was trying to tiptoe around being elusive. God, say something! I sighed. Confusion swirled in my head. One moment I could feel his eyes sink into my eyes, and the next he looks as if nothing had happened. I wanted to choke him to spill his thoughts. But given what I’d done, given that I prompted it to happen, it seemed too much. It was the least I owed him.

“You hate me,” I repeated.

He shook his head. “You’ve never been this inarticulate.” I saw a smirk escape his mouth.

A load had been lifted off my chest. I knew too well what I heard. I knew too well what I saw. Of the years I’ve known him, he wasn’t the type who lets everything out in one snap. He chooses to wait until the loud beating has subsided into a steady hum.

I smiled coyly. And his eyes flashed with a playful spark.

"Slosh ball," he said before he took another sip of his coffee.

I let out a giggle. I didn't know what to make out of it but it seemed enough to see him smile at me after what happened. I didn’t know why I saw anger in his eyes, and what it meant. But I knew it was not what I’d perceived it to be. I had questions. And I hoped, as I watched him eat what’s left of his cake—as he swallowed a bite with his gaze on me. I would find out the answers.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Breaking Platform

Sprawled in bed, I stared at the fluorescent light hoping its brightness would hurt my eyes and leave me devoid, even for a brief moment, of any sentiment I was feeling . My head was in total chaos. Confusion and emptiness had settled in my recesses. I lay silent for minutes, staring blankly at the light. I could not seem to figure out what was wrong. I rolled over and felt the usually comforting mattress envelop me in nothingness. I closed my eyes and tried to shake the feeling away. I tried hard. Harder. Even harder, but failed. Every second ticked with mental torture. It felt like my chest was filled with pillows. And, as if some unknown entity had claimed temporary residence in my body—and I was stripped of consciousness or will to protest—I found myself on the street hailing for a ride.
The night was young, but the air felt bitterly cold. The sky in its velvet shade seemed to sympathize with the emptiness I was feeling, for its vastness only had the moon shinning. It seemed tragic that I would have to spend the night underneath a starless sky, but I surrendered nevertheless and let the unknown force take me where it wanted.

My feet granted wandering at the mall. It was like walking drunk, as if I was literally walking on the clouds. I stopped at the atrium of the building, watched as people passed by. I hoped to see familiar faces that could help shake consciousness and control back to my head, but all I saw were empty faces. Strangers. They were all strangers. But for some reason it gave me comfort. I didn't have to talk to anyone; I didn't have to smile.

I stepped out into the street, feeling a bit aware of what was happening. The unknown entity seemed to have started to waive its control over me so I decided to visit a holy place—the adoration chapel—to let out a silent scream of resignation. For the first time in a long time, I felt helpless, like a child lost in a carnival. I prayed. I prayed that God would rid me of what I was feeling. I asked for guidance—something I rarely did. I was tired and I needed some help.

I headed for the coffee shop that was just a stone's throw from the cathedral. The security guard stood up from his chair as I approached. "Good evening, sir," he greeted as he pulled the door. I expected to see at least a table occupied, but the place was empty. I picked an alfresco spot facing the street, and took my first cigarette before my order arrived. I put on my earphones and set the volume high, hoping to drown out the Bosa music that came from the speaker above me. The sky had grown darker; the moon looked as if its sole purpose was not to illuminate but offset the blandness of the sky.

A girl in her white Isuzu cab arrived, followed by a guy who pulled a huge travel bag, and they both looked at me before entering the shop. They sure must have noticed my feet up on the chair. I didn't mind. I didn't mind the guy looking intently at me when I traced my lips with my fingers . I didn't mind him staring me down when I came out of the loo with jeans unbuttoned. I don't really mind people staring at me. What other people think of me has always been the least of my concerns.

I was oblivious of the jeepneys and the tricycles speeding by, of the people crossing the street. I caught myself staring aimlessly into space. It was not after my fifth cigar when I took a sip of my coffee. I was on my seventh cigarette , and Melissa Etheridge was confessing "I'm alright, I'm alright. It only hurts when I breathe,” when I felt my eyes fill with tears. My vision started to blur, but I was able to hold the tears from rolling down my face. I let my sentiments out on the table. I knew it was the only way to assuage my condition. I thought about the things that kept me paralyzed, and that I had to free myself from them even if it meant breaking the platform I stood on for years.

I decided to leave after making a rose out of table napkin, thirteen sticks, and a dead phone. There may have been things I was not able to wrestle with but I was sure there would some other time. What mattered was that I could feel my heart beat in my chest again. Though I was still a child in the carnival, I was no longer lost but was in fact enjoying the roller coaster. At least for the time being.