Of Shadows and Boxer Shorts

 

My mind had been completely blank. There had been so much to think and write about, but I hadn’t found the motivation to engage myself to thinking and writing. I was sure something had been terribly wrong with me. And then out of the clear blue sky I met you. Almost as perfectly as a mother’s love all the words had since begun to flow like a river through its bends to its estuary—on paper (read: screen, for Twitter babies); the thought of you had since begun to smell of heaven it had awoken me so still and inspired all throughout the following nights to compose my thoughts—even in my dreams; the thought of you had since begun to breathe life to my ailing, hopeless, useless, dying spirit—my prose. Everything, from my senses to my purpose, had at last come to full flower again, as if the world were a ginormous, endless, eternal experience of spring in which sweetness was the smell and the sound I could only find, so sweet that all I could get my mind to think about was cake, ice-cream, soda, Nutella, Leche Flan, and that I was so ready and willing to surrender immortality in exchange for diabetes and obesity. Life was once more so much worth-living after a year, and so filled with meaning. And it had started the very moment I heard you ask me, “Pwede ba akong tumabi sa ‘yo?” (Can I sit beside you?)

It was humid that Friday afternoon and everywhere everything smelled of and looked like Good Friday. The cells in my body and the atoms in the air were seething, despondent, and confused, and behaving so tensely and tearfully it was like a celebration of All Saints’ Day on a scorching Good Friday noon. But the forces of nature had had some other plans for the sensual, rather forlorn, dispirited me. They had conspired to bring me to a place that was neither heaven nor hell but was both heaven and hell nonetheless. At first, I was torn between going in or leaving the place alone, the way I’d always felt my reasons fight with each other in a few times I’d happened to pass by the place. After a few good minutes of doing some in-depth conscience-examination and rationalization, I finally yielded to my humanness. I paid the entrance fee and, my blood on fire with moral perplexity, ran towards the door and went in apprehensively. Nature must have hidden a gem inside awaiting my discovery, I persuaded myself to believe. Maybe there I could meet Hume or Berkeley talking among the crowd. Once inside, I chose to survey the place with an owl-eyed curiosity, and stood for a few, long minutes in one corner. Immediately, almost as if I was seeing things for the first time, I was in awe to see the world unfold before my eyes, its rejects and not-so-beautiful beauty walking by, reflecting with accurate precision the ugliness I’d been keeping inside of me, reminding me of how quickly, and without too much thought on my part, my life had passed me by. It was entertainment of some sort, a dangerously honest one at that, a movie at which I was the sole audience.

There in that corner I stood a little longer, waiting for nothing but for time to pass. And then, when my legs could no longer bear me and the weight of my earthly concerns, I decided to sit in one of the chairs arranged like a stairway to heaven. Just as quickly as my decision to sit down to rest my tired feet, I heard some squeaking of chair behind me. It was you. One, two, maybe five, or seven, long minutes passed before you, with your back and head a little bent over for my ears, let out those Tagalog ice-breaker words, so beautifully spoken I can still see them as if they were dancing in the air. Strangely, I liked the sound and form of those words that I’d have normally found offensive and rude. The Fates must have performed a trick of the light and they served my gullibility quite effectively that when you moved next to my seat I tried so very hard to fake my aggressiveness in order to hide my anticipation. For a few seconds or minutes the world halted between us, no movements, nothing. Afterwards, courtesies and formalities followed. And we talked and stage-whispered. We joked and laughed. Before we knew it minutes and hours had flown. We forgot that not so long ago we’d occupied two different worlds—you were in the back, I in the front. We acted like we owned that whole sleazy planet—we couldn’t have cared less if our loud voices could wake up the dinosaurs and demons long dead. I kissed your hand and said, “You have the most beautiful candle-like fingers.” And then I heard your heart giggle, the way my heart did. I kissed once more, and I felt your spirit envelop mine. It was so good I’d rather die if I couldn’t kiss them one more time.

Days had passed since then. I was washing my boxer shorts when the memory of it came flying above my usual forgetful head. I don’t know why but the washing (the smell of detergent, the whirlpool sound, the darkening water) made me remember what had happened that Friday afternoon so very clearly—your face that had stayed hidden in the shadow yet looked beautiful in that scarcely-lit room, your touch that had felt in my hands and my back, your voice that had aroused me cerebrally. All of a sudden, I remembered everything.

Oh, while the memory stayed ablaze in my head, I heard some racket outside my room. While knocking excitedly at my door as loudly as her small wrists could allow, my niece of eight shouted at the top of her voice: “Tito, I’ve brought my medals with me to show you!” My brother-in-law and I drank to that achievement in the veranda while his daughter, my niece, who was seated beside me on a bamboo chair, played with her dolls. As the summer wind gently blew my boxer shorts neatly pegged on the washing line visually close to where I sat, casting shadows against the parched earth, I was all smiles.

I still am.

 

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