By RG Alama
“I’ve just been through that stage, 5 months and counting. 6 months and that’s permanency” Joy scribbled in her blue tickler, writing her journal discreetly away from the prying eyes of her co-employees.
“Oh eto Joy.” Sheila handed to her another set of tightly packed peso bills that were taken from the day’s transactions, and which would be recorded in the balance sheet. The money bundle reflected the flurry of the earlier banking hours.
Joy took hold of the bundle consisting of different denominations, placed it on her counter and immediately began tallying the deposited cash and placing the figures on an appropriate ledger; amidst the occasional chitchat and small banter Joy doggedly homed in on her work.
4 p.m. glancing across the glass counter Joy could see the long pile of vehicular traffic in front of the bank. Trucks and cargo vans of different sizes had made their last supply run before calling it a day; unloading and loading merchandise along the rows of mercantile establishments in the middle of Chinatown. The swirl of dust and dirt had added to an increasing riotous clutter.
In the comforts of her office, away from the heat and grime, Joy is in the midst of harmonizing the day’s transactions unperturbed by her boisterous officemates. As if she was purposely trying to transform herself into a heavy-duty industrial workhorse.
“Hoy Joy you might just become our bank manager someday” Sheila kidded her younger co-employee noticing her quiet industriousness.
“Dili daw uy” Joy reacted with a faint smile.”
“ Kain tayo ng inihaw na saging, ma’m Joy “ Maila called out, the scent of grilled banana topped by melted margarine and sprinkled sugar permeating across the office.
“Sige lang, thanks” Joy answered, foregoing a daily afternoon ritual.
“Ah sus, nabuang na dyud ka sa imung gugma, dili na makakaon unya sige’g hilak” Sheila said as she gently tapped the young lady’s frail shoulders.
Joy could feel the comforting tap of her ate Sheila; she had done that several times before, shortly after the break-up. She remembered how her Ate would dutifully remind her how it will come to pass. And if she asked when, her Ate would just say, “sa iyo na iyan kung gaano katagal.”
Inside the counter, all Joy could see was the figures of numerals printed and etched in the denominations and currency in the ledgers. Each amount measured by its corresponding value written in numbers.
“Could these numbers give value to the love I have given? Could it measure the hurt inside?” Deeper than the figures, her mind had betrayed her machine-like efficiency, memories of a not-so distant past intruding like a restless phantom.
“Nung nakita kita sa party na-realize ko. di ko talaga kaya na mawala ka.” His words resonated like the gentle tinkle of a Chinese chime. He said it to her shortly after their tumultuous break-up. He wanted to reconcile for the umpteenth time, but these were the first and the last words she had wanted to hear.
“It’s all over asshole” was all she said, the strongly worded expletive had completely shocked her and had also taken him aback. From that day she had redefined the line between him and herself.
It was June the 22nd; she remembered it as the day of infamy, when she had to start paying the price of her certainty.
“This is DJ Johnny, welcome to the On the Spot, an hour of great music, where we will put the spotlight on your favorite artists. Our artist for this hour is no other than Mr. Pure Energy himself Mr. Gary Valenciano”
Joy could hear the soft blare of the radio being played, the cleaning crew had arrived and so has the night-shift guards. A late afternoon routine was to switch on the office’s stereo component.
Brrrrrggg. The vibrating alert of her 6600 jolted her than the long-winded DJ talking on the radio who seemed to talk endlessly about Gary V.
It was Suzette, inviting her for an afterwork cup of coffee and a light sandwich meal at Figaro’s. Suzette was Joy’s trusted confidant. When everything dismissed her as the most stupidest-person-to-fall-in love-in-this-face-of-the-earth, Suzette’s ever-reliable shoulders were still there for her. When pain was unbearable she along with Leng and Mark were her much-needed anesthetic.
“Ayaw ko mang saktan ang kanyang damdamin, Ngunit kailangan malaman… Puso'y kumakaba, Sana'y matapos na di' makapag-umpisa… Ngunit kahit nais ko man pilitin 'Di na kayang ibigin… Paano ipadarama sa 'yo sinta na puso'y ari na ng iba wohh-wohh- wohh-wohh-wohhhh”
The lyrics slowly seeped into Joy’s ears, dissecting every word of that old Gary V. hit as if it was trying to command her to remember.
“Wala nay uban station ‘nong? She asked one of the cleaning crew.
“Unsa may gusto nimo’g istasyon ma’m?” asked one of the familiar faces.
“Ah kanang guwapo ug sounds gud.” She replied, making an effort to smile at the cleaning crew.
The man responded by pressing the component’s auto-program button.
“Constantly, you're on my mind, thinking about you all the time, I can't sleep no matter what I do, I just keep on thinking 'bout you” The crystalline voice of Juris Fernandez wafted through the air.
Arrgggh buwiset! That MYMP song, Joy remembered how he loved that song and would make an effort to sing it to her. I’m in no mood to drift into memory lane, what next? Nina’s version? She said to herself.
Within a few minutes Joy had punched her time card to the bank’s Bundy clock, it was 7:30 p.m. with the rest of the bank officers having left the building, and it was time to leave.
Darkness had enveloped Monteverde street, the bustle gone, the streetscape drastically altered into a transforming ghost town. The last of the traffic enforcers had left, except for a few passing cars and an occasional taxicab. The street was a pale shadow of its daytime buzz.
Joy saw herself standing at the street all alone. Suzette would be meeting her at Figaro’s; she would have a sip of latte and nibble some Chicken Focaccia to stave off a slight pang of hunger. Or she would invite Suzette for a bite at Pizza hut.
“Wait lang talaga baby, I’ll just finish my beer.” She remembered one night when she waited for him. The nerve! It was 7 pm and she! All alone in a near-desolate City street, had to grudgingly take a cab in a long ride home to Buhangin. Hours later another one of their fights would have began.
“Ano ka man uy! Ako lang mag-isa sa kalsada na iyun ba!” She raged at him.
“Hindi mo ako hinantay, papunta naman ako!” he answered pleading his case.
They would reconcile later, and Joy would be back in love, admiring her man, laughing at him especially in his funny jigs at the Liquid dance floor. And such was the usual case.
I have gone to heaven and I went to hell with him, how many times more? Perhaps I do not know.
“Joy just think about it, it doesn’t seem good. You have to draw the line,” Suzette said to her during one particular evening at Karl’s. “You can’t be this way forever; it’s becoming stupid and you know that.”
Suzette was right. Joy had felt it, but the biggest price was letting go. She knew she had loved him, no questions asked.
For everytime Joy would draw her line, it was quickly overwhelmed. As if she would start all over again, Re-loving, re-hoping and re-dreaming as if things would be better. An attribute her friend Mark would often compare to the blind obedience of a pet poodle.
“Dili na ma na gugma, mura na kag iro ana!” Mark would admonish her everytime she would seek solace after one of their many skirmishes.
Joy would reminisce how many times she had to seek comfort and fortitude, trying to search for answers only to come back with more questions.
“Ate Shei, is it right to give him another chance?” Joy would ask Sheila .
And Sheila would then fish out a crisp one-thousand peso bill out from the bundle, to illustrate her point.
“You know what Joy, hindi ako ma-surprise pag na-imprenta ang mukha mo sa perang ito”
Joy felt that her ate Sheila’s patience was wearing thin; she was being compared to the images of heroic martyrs printed on the bill. And this is no complement. The difference was that they were heroes who became martyrs, suffering then dying for a gallant cause, while she was…
“Pero nasa sa iyo yan, I’m just saying from my perspective, you just have to learn, I cannot teach you how to disengage from him, ikaw lang ang may sagot niyan, be prepared to fight for what you believed, but also be ready to give up when you know that it is hopeless.” Sheila said.
Joy remembered the words well, one day in the midst of her depression she had looked into the mirror in her room. In the mirrored reflection stood herself looking like every inch an angel, an angel fresh from the chaos of apocalypse, battle-scarred and weary.
She remembered the day when she said it was all over. When she finally strode behind a solid demarcation line, no more turning back. But the days were marked with sadness and pain, often finding herself quietly weeping in pained agony.
Joy had prayed that someday it will come to pass. “Have faith. God hears the desires of our hearts, He knows exactly what we want yet He would only grant us what’s best for us because God alone knows what is right for us.” She remembers putting it in her journal.
All alone along Monteverde Street, Joy had decided to take on foot and walk to nearby Sales Street turning towards Chimes and to Figaro Cafe. She felt hungry, suddenly craving for a hearty meal of burgers and pizzas. “It has been a long while, perhaps upon reaching Figaro I would just tell Suzette to momentarily forego her diet and join me in one big food trip.” Joy said to herself.
The sodium-lit street is virtually empty; Joy took in brisk evenly strides the steps towards Sales street about a hundred meters away. Behind the glare of the streetlights she could see the sparkle of distant stars.
“The expanse between our hearts is as distant as of the farthest stars,” her heart whispered as she gazed upon the starlit sky. A fact slowly entrenched in permanence.