He’s taking too long and she couldn’t wait anymore, so she slung on her backpack, tied a sweater to her neck and got out the door, into the cool of the night. Walking nonchalantly in the semi-darkness, with only a faint light coming from the only two lamp posts that illuminated the long street, she kept her eyes on the street corner. The neighborhood dogs never bark at her, she thinks it is because they think of her as kin. She saw him walking in a surprisingly leisurely pace, a second after the light from the sari-sari store right in front of the town’s only waiting shed hit his dark face. She continued walking, waiting if he will recognize her face in the darkness. He does, and she laughs.
“You couldn’t wait anymore?” he asks.
“Well, yeah,” she says with that hearty little girl laugh she has.
And they walk together back.
“What path did you take on the way here? Here? Here? Or there?” motioning to him with her chin.
He answers her with a “Here” right after the two of them turned the corner. Here was a long dark, flooded when rainy, path right by a humble but pretty resort named after the Palawan pheasant, and it is the path they almost always take to go the beach to swim or to go to the hill. There was the path that winded through nipa huts and grazing land that they are forced to take when the tide is high or the other path between the never-been used but already falling apart from neglect and disrepair Japanese-owned 15-million resort and the only DTI-accredited resort in the town proper and the only one listed in the Lonely Planet travel guide too.
He lets her walk in front of him, lighting her way with his flashlight. She has none of her own. The sea breeze and the sighing surf greeted her face as she emerged from the path with a jump on the sand. She ties her sweater closer to her body as they continue to tread the beach. They come to a big boat tied on the shore blocking their way.
“Wuuh, the water’s cold!” she say, laughing ever so softly as she waded in ankle-deep water to get to the other side. He ran to the other end of the boat and squeezed himself through.
“I can’t wade in the water. I have a wound,” he says apologetically after they both come around.
“Is the water deep over by the bridge?” she asks knowing that they are almost about to reach the bridge.
“It is about waist-deep if you wade in the water. I crossed the bridge on my way,” he answers. Most of the time the water is ankle-deep, and there are stone steps one can use to cross it. She finds it disgusting sometimes to wade in the water, as it is the canal water coming from the hills, rushing towards the sea. The bridge is two coconut trunks laid onto two concrete slabs two meters apart, with no handles.
They come to the bridge and she sees that wading is out of the question, but climbing up the bridge is also difficult since her knee is weak. He senses her dilemma and climbs first. Standing over her, he holds the lamp flashlight in one hand and holds out the other to her. She looks up at his big hand, almost black in the darkness, and places her hand in it. His hand is warm and soft, and hers is small, delicate and smooth. For three seconds, they both feel this union of hands, soft but firm, and it seemed to them both that the whole world was but those two hands. It has been a long time, she thinks, choking a little sob at the back of her throat. He lets her hand go and walks in front of her, holding the lamp at his back to light her path. She gingerly treads her way on the planks. At the end of the bridge, she sees that it is too high for her to jump on her own in her weak knees. He is already on the sandy ground, looking up. She pauses. He holds out his hand again, and she takes it before jumping, landing firmly on her two feet on the sandy ground a meter below. Two seconds of soft warmth. Only in two instances will one ever feel this kind of tingling sensation brought about by a million tiny nerve endings stimulated, neurons jumping one after the other, faster than the speed of light. The meeting of two tentative lips, and the meeting of two trembling hands.
He lets her hand go, if hesitatingly, it was hard to tell. Maybe he let it drop, or maybe he just lost touch, but her hand fell to her sides. She walks on, smiling slightly in the darkness, and skips cheerily on the soft gray sand. He walks behind. The path is still long, and winding. They share a long silent walk.
At the bottom of the hill, he opens the gate for her. She walks in and walks past the bar door that leads into the workshop and heads straight to the wooden staircase and climbs up. The wide expanse of verandah greets her, a sungka is set atop the wooden table in the middle of the verandah. A bamboo seat is leaning on the wall right next to the door. Amidst the rustling of the coconut palm fronds, a gentle breeze caresses her face warmly.
He comes out of the door from the kitchen carrying a tray with two cups of steaming jasmine tea, sets it in the middle of the chair where at the right far end she is now sitting and leaning comfortably, staring into the sea, and he takes his place on the far left side. She takes a cup and utters her soft, childish thanks which he immensely loves and often imitates. She sips from her cup just as he brings up his to his lips. They both stare into the darkness of the sea.
“Where did we go wrong?” she asks.
“It was wrong from the very start,” he says ever so softly.
“Well, I thought it was rather cute…” she says with hurt in her voice, staring into the darkness where the sea is.
“Don’t you think?” she asks, almost in afterthought. As if she had suddenly decided that it mattered that he shared her thought.
Cute. She used the word cute. He looks at her profile in the darkness as he ponders on the word that she had used to refer to the night they first went out. It was far from cute, he inaudibly mumbles, just to himself, only to himself.
Written September 12, 2005