It was a quiet Thursday evening at Big Mike’s Grill, a small bar located along Shrine Hills overlooking the southern suburbs of Davao City.
“Here you go, big mike’s favorite grilled homemade sausages.” Mike Mueller placed the hot plate of chopped sausages at one of the bar’s tables, the two customers watched with anticipated glee.
“Wow, you made this yourself Mike?” Andy asked as he quickly placed a piece of the chopped sausage unto his fork and took a bite. “hmmm yumm.”
“Hey you try it.” Mike goads a rather shy looking Francis into trying the serving. Francis takes a fork and tries out the sausage, he puts up a thumb up sign.
“I’ve been doing this way back in the States. Just got preoccupied perfecting those damn steaks.”
Big Mike was known for its steaks and burgers, the clientele range from expats, retired American servicemen, yuppies. Mike’s local golfing buddies also would frequent the place.
The bar used to be a residential bungalow, Inside are nine tables, the bar's interiors appears plain, generic looking, in one part of the white colored wall a 32 inch LED TV is tuned to Basketball TV showing last night's NBA game.
In the left wall are three large picture frames, Mike’s collegiate basketball team in Syracuse, where he played shooting guard and another frame with the Anejo Basketball team where he once played as an import in the late 1980s. Another prominent frame is a black and white photo of him with his coach Sonny Jaworski.
The name of the bar came from his PBA days when Jaworski would call out his hulking 6’5” import as Big Mike. But to ardent basketball fans who would visit his bar he was known as Mike “the sniper” Mueller, known for his deadly three-pointers.
After Anejo, Mike Mueller retired from professional basketball and worked as a civilian contractor for the U.S. Navy in Hawaii, Six years ago he decided to resettle in Davao with his Filipino wife who hails from Digos. Originally settling in his wife’s hometown, he got bored in Digos and chose the relative excitement of a bigger city.
Mike sat at the table for a small chit-chat concerning the bar’s new menu which involved Mike’s homemade sausages, Andy, a software developer working for a an outsourcing company based in the city is a frequent visitor to the bar.
“Mike, this is Francis. Francis this is Mike he owns the place.” Andy introduces the two.
“So you’re not one of those guys, Andy brings here?” Mike asks.
“This is my first time here, I just came from Andy’s house to look at his father’s pick-up.” Francis answered.
“Ow, you’re buying his dad’s pick-up? Mike asks.
“Yes sir, it’s a great deal. Me and my wife had been looking for a pick-up for our farming business.”
“So you are into farming?” Mike asks
“We grow pineapples at my father-in-law’s farm in Calinan. I used to work in a bank, but decided to become a businessman and a farmer.”
“Boy that’s great, I am currently developing a four hectare farm we recently bought in Toril, it’s planted with durian.” Mike clearly fascinated with Francis' venture.
“He came early evening at the house to look at the pick-up, he liked what he saw, we agreed on the price and asked him if we could go for a chill here and to finalize the transactions” Andy said.
Andy’s dad is selling sold his 2009 Ford Ranger, Francis saw Andy’s for sale post on a Facebook page and immediately contacted him. For Andy, there were a dozen private messages on his account inquiring about his father’s black pick-up but when he saw Francis’ message, he was surprised and piqued. Andy decided to ignore the other messages and only replied to Francis.
Five years ago, Andy and Francis had courted the same girl.
For a moment the topic between Mike, Andy and Francis was the black Ford Ranger pick-up which Andy’s family is selling. The reason for sale -Andy’s elder brother an engineer working in the Emirates has gifted their father with a brand new 4x4 Isuzu D-Max pick-up. The elder brother was the dad’s favorite and showered him with affection, the brother reciprocated the father’s love when he struck it rich in the Middle East through material gifts.
“I hope he comes over and visits your father, it’s different from giving gifts. When was the last time he visited the country” Mike said.
“About six years, he got so many projects there but he plans to come over next Christmas and spend about a month here.” Andy said.
Andy remembers it well, after his near-fatal suicide attempt, having broken with his long-time girlfriend Mara. When his brother came to personally talk him out of it. Six years his senior, Kuya Tonyo served also as his closest friend and boyhood idol. Whatever Kuya Tonyo says he listens and follows much to the chagrin of their parents.
The following year, Kuya Tonyo played matchmaker he asked his college buddy John to match his cousin Isabel with Andy after learning through social media that Isabel a few months back had broken up with her boyfriend.
Andy remembers their first blind date, his Kuya Tonyo sent money into Andy’s bank account to answer for the expenses during the date which consisted of a dinner at Marco Polo and coffee at the Matina Town Square.
“Excuse me I had to go over to my friends’ table, was nice talking to you guys, hope you’d enjoy the food.” Mike excused himself as his golfing buddies’ had arrived and settled at a table in the edge of the bar.
“Ey thanks for the time mike.” Andy pats Mike’s firm broad shoulders.”
“Nice food, the sausages were great.” Francis shakes Mike’s large hands.
“Thank You and congrats with that pick-up, you’re one lucky guy.” Mike winks at Francis.
Andy and Francis called out the waiter to order another round of beer, Andy was near tipsy, he taps Francis arm on the table.
“Bay, do you remember five years ago?” Andy asks tapping Francis arm.
“About Isabel?” Francis answers knowing that topic would be touched upon during the night.
“Isabel Mae Lee. The love of our lives then.” Andy places his right hand on his chest gently pounding it.
“Tagal na nun. It’s been years bay” Francis tries to downplay Andy’s actions.
“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten her?” Andy stares into Francis’s eyes.
“No I didn’t”
“You know, I was really angry, when you entered the picture. I felt I was really doing great until you came along.” Andy said giving out an awkward laugh.
“You two were exclusively dating?” Francis asked, a bit uncomfortable with Andy’s questioning.
“We were going out on dates, that was just it. How did you come to know her?” Andy took a gulp of beer and ordered a plate of sisig. The supposed a-few-bottles-of-beer at Big Mikes had took a different turn.
“I met her at the hospital, where she used to work as a nurse. I was admitted for dengue and my room was one of her evening rounds. She was a caring nurse who would find time to talk and comfort her patients, I remember she would cheer me up during her rounds. I was awfully sick that time. After discharge, I asked for her Facebook account and added her up. We would chat often after that, I guess that’s how it started. Francis reminisced.
“Yeah she is really malambing, her friends would say many men would misinterpret her being so sweet and caring as something else and end up falling for her.” Andy said.
Isabel Lee, was born in Cebu to a mestizo Chinese father and a mother who hailed from Davao, Her parents separated when she was 8, her mother took the children to her hometown.
The two would recall how Isabel would talk glowingly about her mother who ventured into several businesses just to support her three children. Her fervent dream of going to the United States is to work as a nurse to help her mom.
“Francis, do you remember, when her mother was a computer supplier for a government project and there was a delay in the payment, she was not able to take the college exams because the school did not honor the promissory note. Whenever she tells that story tears would flow from her eyes.”
“Ay oo. I remember that. It’s a sad story, good thing that their I.T, business prospered and they were able to get many projects, I heard her mom is a bigtime supplier with projects even in the Visayas.” Francis said.
But even her mother’s business successes didn’t change Bel’s outlook in life. She yearned for the day when she would be in the US and work hard enough for her mom to retire.
“That is why she is careful entering into new relationships.” Andy said.
“I heard she has lots of suitors.” Francis asked.
“Daghan jud. It’s not surprising.”
Her fair complexion she took from her mother but her chinita eyes showed her Chinese lineage. Bel was above average tall, long-legged and svelte, during her college days she used to dabble in ramp modelling so she could have extra money to spend for school, however she stopped when her boyfriend Gary disallowed her.
“I think Gary was her first boyfriend.”
“Who is Gary?” Francis asked.
“Gary Natividad, he’s a doctor now, he was an intern at Davao Doc when they met, she was a student nurse then” Andy said.
“She never tells me about her ex.”
You never really talked a lot when you’re together?” Andy asked
“Well when we’re together, I am always the one who talks a lot, it’s not that I love to talk about myself, but she always asked me questions about myself, so I end up talking about me and she would just intently listen, sigh that’s what I missed about her.”
“ Really, it would be the exact opposite for me. She would talk more about herself, especially her ex, perhaps because I came at the time when she had just broken up with Gary. But yeah she is a sweet and caring person; she always asked me if I am ok na. If I had moved on. I guess she helped me moved on.” Andy said.
“I remembered the time, when I saw my ex-girlfriend’s photos on Facebook with her new boyfriend, I told Bel about it, how I felt. It was on a date, she took out her phone and asked the waiter if he could take our picture, she put her arms around me so the photo looked liked we were a couple. She posted it on her account and tagged me on her photo, my friends got curious even my ex, the next morning I received a message from her, asking me if she is my new girlfriend and expressing happiness for me. Man, Bel was game.” Andy recalls laughingly.
“Why did you not become a couple?” Francis asked.
“Because of you hahahaha. Seriously after her breakup with Gary Bel became too prudent in going into relationships. She enjoyed our dates but cannot commit. Bay, I tried everything to change her mind. But she was deadset.” Andy answered.
“Me?? Hahaha, but sorry about that bay. I only knew when I was told by a common friend, that you were going out with her, you were not yet a couple, so I took my chance. Well the thing with Bel is when I’m with her she makes me feel that I am the only man in the world.” Francis said.
“Uy what do you mean by that?”
“Her attention is fixed unto you. She would avoid distractions, keep her phones in her bag and listen intently to you. Those kind of stuff.”
“So why did it not prosper?” Andy asked.
“Well honestly, I hope you won’t get angry, I am telling the truth, Bel told me she liked me.”
“What putang ina bai, is that true so what happened? You two were M.U.?” Andy was surprised by the revelation.
“But, yeah she was dead-set in not committing into a relationship. She told me about her dream of going to America, working there, settling there and having a family.”
“Since she likes you, did something happened between you? You lucky guy?” Andy asked, feeling mischievous and the same time envious.
“Hmmm, we kissed. There was one date, I tried to make a move, I kissed her, she kissed back. Then she pushed me away and said no. I dropped her off at her house. That was the last time I saw her, she never replied to my messages, never responded to my invites. One day got a message from her, she said sorry and told me we should stop seeing each other, saw her once in Gaisano Mall, wanted to approach her but she was with you. I never got the chance to talk to her before she went to the States”
“Sayanga uy, you nearly got into first base. Me, I was friendzoned” Andy said laughing.
“Bitaw Andy if she would have chosen either one of us, it would have been different, she would have been still alive.” Francis stared into Andy’s eyes. Andy replied with a nod and drank his beer.
Four years ago Isabel realized her dream of going to the United States. There she met and later married an Americano. One day Isabel was found dead in her home in Vermont.
“Addict yung asawa.” Andy describes Bel as a victim of physical abuse a year after their marriage. Her husband Dwight was heavily addicted to meth, a condition which he hid till a year into their marriage.
“Grabe it was all over the news,. It happened a month before my wedding. I was shocked, couldn’t even think straight for days.” Francis recalled.
“Her husband was already suffering from psychosis an effect of his addiction. Bel hadn't known really that guy including his addiction, I heard it was a whirlwind romance, that guy swept her off her feet.” Andy said.
In one of their violent fights, Isabel Lee-McGill finally had enough and threatened to file for divorce, Dwight went inside their room took out his pistol and shot Bel multiple times. A responding police officer was also killed when the husband resisted arrest and engaged the police in a shoot-out. Dwight is now serving double life sentence in a Federal penitentiary.
“So sad, how she was so careful in giving out her heart, only to end up with a monster.”
“What can we do, Francis, that was her choice, sometimes life is a like a bet. We gamble with the choices we make.”
Andy took a last sip of his near-empty beer bottle and signalled to the waiter for the bill.
Mike seeing Andy’s signal to his waiter excused himself from the already boisterous conversations with his golfing buddies to rejoin Andy and Francis.