By Filipina Storyteller Sol Iglesias (artwork and text)
I drove Miguel to the airport this morning. After an awkward silence, I decided to bite the bullet.
“So, are you going to be okay?” I asked.
He half-shrugged and turned his face to the window. He still didn’t want to talk about it. I tried not to sigh. Damn it, Ana.
As usual around this time of day, the cars inched forward like a race of unruly snails. The aircon was acting up a little, eking out only a thin and feeble relief from the afternoon sun that beat down on the car’s roof. The heat from the asphalt radiated through the floor, bringing up a soporific of gasoline and exhaust.
Apace with the traffic, Miguel’s head bobbed up and down before settling at a rude angle. It will be painful when he wakes up, I thought with some concern as I studied his sleeping face. All month long I observed Ana and him surreptitiously.
Miguel, like my daughter Ana, was an only child. We lived next door to Miguel and it was just natural for them to fulfill their sibling fantasies with each other. As they got older, his parents and I started watching more carefully from the sidelines. Miguel’s mother and I made the occasional phonecall to compare notes.
When the children turned fifteen, we were invited to Miguel’s house for dinner one night. That’s when his family told us about their plan to migrate to the US. They promised Miguel he could come home to Manila for a visit in maybe in two, three years.
That was six years ago. Miguel had spent almost a month with us. I knew from the first week or so that trouble was brewing. Ana grew more and more distant, toward the end she was almost hostile. Miguel became my responsibility soon enough. Nobody told me anything. Nobody needed to.
I finally pulled into NAIA. He shook himself awake and gathered his things. As we hugged goodbye, he gripped me as tightly as he contained the grief and anger within him. I looked into the wall of tears that glistened in his eyes. I stroked his hair like a mother would. Then I kissed him, as a woman.
He stumbled backward, confused. A thousand thoughts sifted through his face.
“Puta!” he decided, stumbling as he half-ran from me. He kept screaming and he pushed himself through the crowd. “Puta! Puta! Puta!”
I walked away from the searching, shocked faces as quickly as I could to the safety of the car.
He poured her a cup of coffee. “Thank you so much for being here” he told her.
“Of course, Jim.” She smiled at him. “I know what Ella’s going through. But she is strong. Stronger than most.”
“All of you at the women’s clinic have just been so supportive. We have been relying on you too much, maybe. It’s just that… here in Manila, we’re a little cut off from her family in Masbate and mine in Chicago.”
“Round-the-clock care is what she’ll need for the first month or so. Just that and the people who love her.”
“I really appreciate you staying over last night. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
She patted his hand. “You just focus on Ella and that beautiful boy of yours.”
He blinked back sudden tears.”While you were reading to her yesterday,” he said, “I took Basti to the playground.”
He stood up and walked to the counter that separated the kitchen from the family room. He watched the boy roll trucks, ambulances and police cars through a makeshift highway of assorted books. The TV lights flickered in staccato.
“I ran into a neighbor who Ella had always been friendly to.” Jim continued to watch Basti, who played without smiling.
“We were talking about Ella’s condition for a long time while Basti played on the swing and on the slide. Then, we suddenly noticed he was crying. He said that his tummy hurt, but I think he was upset by what we were saying. Children are so sensitive…” He trailed off and seemed unable to speak any further. She finished her coffee and left soon after.
Later, when she got home and showered, she thought about Jim. How she had hoped that he would sneak into her bedroom last night. Kiss her awake with his scratchy face. Fuck her without undressing. He would slip in and they would just fit. She would be warm from slumber and so, so wet. He would be thick and not too long, and he would be strong, muscular, compact.
Maybe she wouldn’t have let him fuck her all the way, she thought, as she lathered soap over her arms and legs. No, she would. But silently. Silently. At the end, he would touch her cheek, hoist up his pants and she would know by the subtle creaking of the floor and the bfft of the door that he would be gone.
When you sipped wine out of my glass, possessively, it startled me. You took a drag from my cigarette and gave it back. Damp, like before.
The whole gang decided to play the silly games we used to play after work. We would strike up random conversations with unsuspecting people at the bar. We would lie blithely to their faces about being a doctor or an NBI agent or a call girl, whatever; then we would return to the group and report.
“My turn,” I said, walking up to a red-faced guy. I kept my back turned to you while he slobbered and blabbered. He told me that he was from Australia and worked at a bank in Singapore. He was in the Philippines for a little surf, sun and sex. I just kept smiling and nodding, a little unsure of how to play anymore. Then the guy started to grab me, and I backed away. I fled to you and you took me in your arms. Possessively.
“We’re having another baby,” you told us earlier. When we were still sober. And I made the right noises of surprise and happiness along with the chorus.
Well, actually, I have more than a few questions. And I want you to be honest. You were miserable with her before–how could that possibly change, four kids and 16 years down the line?
You told me that you were never happier, never, than when we were together. When we turned to each other, away from her and away from Carlos. Away from our misery.
We swam in the crystal blue waters of Boracay, in the bright summer sun. And we swam into each other under the cover of a million stars, and the moon. Was I so wrong to think that we could have gone on like that, day and night, month after month, for another 16, 20, 30 years?
The last time we saw each other, Boracay was a distant memory. You said it had to stop. And I said that I would excise you from my life. I sent you a letter with 100 pesos worth of stamps on it, so that there would be no doubt you would read what I wrote a hundred times: I don’t ever want to see you again.
Years went by and so we let bygones be. And here we are again, in the midst of our good friends. The aging youth troops from the heyday of the Ramos administration, before Erap got elected to shit all over our social reform agenda. When Ana was just five. When Carlos and I had just begun to hate each other.
We all drink, eat, laugh. We recount our stories. We get up-to-date. As if nothing ever happened.
Yet a separate track runs through my mind, playing on repeat:
Just say the word, and I’ll be yours again. Possess me, possess me.
Sol Iglesias is currently pursuing a doctorate in Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, where her research focuses on militia violence in East Timor. She left Manila for love in 1999 and found herself stranded in what is probably the Philippines’ political, economic and cultural antipode. She remains in the process of returning home someday.