It was the 14th day of February, yet there I was walking down the stairs from my office feeling jumpy about how the concert I was organizing for the school would turn out to be. I felt as if I was being pulled from every direction, as though a superhero trying to save the world from falling apart. The feeling wasn’t really new to me, not really, not at all.
“I must hurry,” I said to myself. I walked as briskly as I could, determined to accomplish my list. Suddenly, a familiar face came into sight. “Wait! What is he doing here? Who is he looking for? Could it be? No, maybe not. It’s been ten years. I wonder how he is now. Gee…” All these questions reverberated in my mind. I must admit, at that time and even now, I truly miss this person. He was my playmate, my partner in crime, and most of all, my best friend. We used to chat and trade jokes with each other. We would talk about our likes and dislikes, our frustrations, our hopes, our dreams… We made music together — he played the guitar while I sang our favorite tunes.
“Hi Dan,” he greeted.
“Hello, John! What are you doing here?”
With eyes of gray, ever so enigmatic, he said, “I’ve just arrived and will be here until next week. Ah… You see, it’s Valentine’s Day, and I know you are busy right now, but I’m taking my chances anyway. (With a heavy breath…) Can I take you out for lunch today?”
I couldn’t believe he said that. ‘The’ John Lester de Los Santos, who, I heard, is now a very successful architect, flew all the way from Canada to have lunch with me.
“Wow… I miss you too, John!” I sniggered and then we both burst into laughter. “Let me see (looking at my watch). Where to?”
“Well, I miss our old place.”
“The old place… Right! Well, we better go now before my lunch break is over.”
The old place John was talking about is an old cafeteria just right across our school museum. Back in our high school days, John and I loved our peace and quiet, so we spent most of our lunch breaks in that old cafeteria while everyone else was out there enjoying the hustle and bustle of the malls. It isn’t really a fancy place to eat, but we’ve always loved its simplicity. I guess our ‘old place’ depicted so much of who we were — simple and intimate. The food there was great. We loved our rice, tinolang manok, ginataan, pansit, sinigang, pinakbet (oh… the list is endless). Our ‘old place’ had so much to offer in its simplicity. And the people that went there (although there weren’t many of them) were just like us. They weren’t loud and ‘barriotic’. They were very kind and gentle in their ways, which really made the place perfect for me and John. Sadly, though, I never went back to our ‘old place’ since the day he left. Too many memories, I suppose.
“Pinakbet and rice, you still love this combo, don’t you? Sadly, though, it seems like it has changed a lot. No more pork in it, and look at the size of the serving…”
“I heard they’ve changed management, John. And what with our economy at the moment, everyone’s really tight with their money.”
“And what happened to the peace and quiet? There’re too many people in here, and the music… oh, my.”
“Hey, cool down. At least, we’ve chosen a quieter spot, and away from everyone else. You came here to have lunch with me, right?”
“Sorry, Dan. I guess this is me still stuck in the past. I just wanted to bring back good memories again, but… and by the way, I really appreciate you going out of your way in order to have lunch with me today on such a short notice. I know you’re super busy and…”
“It’s alright. Don’t worry about it. But you have to come and see our valentine concert tonight. I’ve put together some really good performances featuring some of our students from glee club and colleagues as well. You should come unless you have already planned something else…”
“Awesome. What time does it start?”
“Just be there before seven. I’ll reserve a table for you. We’re serving dinner by the way so feel free to bring along anyone… your mom, dad…”
John was silent after that. He looked down at his food and started eating. It brought back a familiar disposition in him. He looked like he was going to tell me something big again that’s going to happen in his life. I could see that he was excited to tell me about it, but I could also tell that he was hesitating because he knew that his joyful news would mean the other way round for me. I never did really like those moments, for they always were about John finding something really important in life which also meant being away for a bit of time in order for him to focus his attention on it and achieve it. I hated those moments because they seemed to take John away from me. One time, he told me he was going to join the Math Olympiad. The students who joined this competition were asked to give up their lunch breaks and use them for practice with their coaches. In support of John, I had his lunch packed every time and took it to him so he could have something in his tummy while doing his Math drills. I was very supportive of him that way, even though it meant spending less time with him. I must say that I felt left out every time something like that came up, and it really felt so bad. I knew a lot more was going to come our way, and that at some point, the inevitable moment will come, that very time when he finally finds something much, much bigger than himself, something that he will have to tackle for the rest of his life. And when that time comes, I will have to let go of him. A part of me knew I was stupid to be clinging on to something that was bound to hurt me in the end. That’s why, when he told me that he was leaving for Canada, I stopped hoping. I was going on alright until the day he came back.
“Do you still sing in Church?”
“From time to time yes, why?”
“Nothing. I just remember you and me, back in the days, Glee Club, and you know, leading all the boys in singing the Mass songs.”
“Haha. You were leading the guitarists while I took care of the singers.”
“That’s right, Man! That was a lot of fun. And do you still remember our principal, Fr. Ortiz? Man, he was so strict, I could not afford to talk during the Mass.”
“…Because if you did, you knew he would stop the whole Mass just to give it to you.”
“Hahaha… I’m happy our teachers were strict to us before. I mean, take a good look at where we are now. We have reached this far because of the values they taught us.”
“You are right there, but I also like the fact that they taught us to be critical, to ponder and reflect on things that we do in life. It keeps us grounded, although sometimes I get tired of thinking too much. Too many questions in my mind. Sometimes I want to let go and just trust my instincts. I don’t know. Why do I feel that I will be a lot happier that way?”
John became quiet again. It seemed like he knew where I was heading to. Part of me wanted to be selfish, to break out and challenge him to face the music, to fight for him and let him know what I truly felt. So I started to ask him questions, trying to get down to the bottom of things.
“What made you come back home, John? I mean, it’s been ten years. I didn’t hear from you, so I thought I meant nothing to you. What are you really doing here?”
John became emotional. Both his eyes became watery and I could feel that his hands were shaking. He stood up, came closer to me, and gave me a very warm hug. His embrace was tight enough for me to feel the throbbing of his heart. “What is he doing?” I asked myself. I didn’t want to make assumptions so I held back, tried to be calm, tried not to expose myself.
“I’m sorry I didn’t write to you. I was too confused. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling that way towards you. I thought I was going crazy. I…. I hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me. Dan, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I came back because I realized you’re important to me, and I can’t lose you, my friend.
He must have noticed that I wasn’t responding. He sat back, wiped his cheeks, and made one long big sigh. He paused for a moment and then looked at me again with eyes that seemed to have regained strength. I could see it. He was sure about what to say this time. Could it be?
“I also came back here with my fiancée. I wanted her to see the place where I grew up. We’re getting married next month, I want you to be the first to know.”
My world stopped. I couldn’t feel nor hear anything. What lingered to me were his last words. I tried to move my lips, but they were too heavy. I knew I had to say something, but what to say? He offered me his hanky. Shocks, I didn’t even know that those tiny little drops of water have already started coming out of my eyes.
“Are you alright, Dan?”
“Oh yes (I stammered…), I… I’m just happy for you.”
He reached for my hand and held it tightly. “Glad, you are.”
Today is the 14th day of February. I’ve decided to stay home. As I flick through my mail, I find something I don’t normally receive every day — a card. I can sense a familiar feeling. No, this feeling isn’t really new to me, not really, not at all.
© 2015 The Mockingbird in Me