I am sitting alone, here in Mom and Tina’s, eating my mini bacon and spinach quiche alongside a cup of vanilla-flavored café americano. I ordered those two items on the menu because it sounded light yet satisfying. I realized later that I ordered them, too, because it made me sound a few digits more sophisticated. The same way it felt when I asked for pepper because my tongue felt that the quiche needed a bit more bite than it had.
My table is at the center of the restaurant on the second floor of the classy Regis Building along Katipunan. Facing me is my laptop, my date for life, and the guidelines for the final exam Sir Serrano made especially for us seniors in his class, namely just Sarah and I. To my right is a woman wearing a pink collared shirt and a pair of run-of-the-mill jeans. Her bespectacled head with a ponytail is bowed down looking through notes placed on top of an open book. I sneaked a peek at her ID before she sat down. She works for Miriam College’s “School (or was it College) of Arts and Sciences,” most likely a teacher. Behind me are some people who don’t necessitate exposition. At 10 o’clock are some people discussing business matters, but again, no need for exposition. But to my 1 o’clock––that’s where the magic is: refrigerated shelves of pastries, from pies to brownies to cupcakes.
I think the people at 10 o’clock just reached an agreement.
“Sabi ko nga sa sarili ko, all these comedy sitcoms, they root from FRIENDS.” A college girl’s voice from 8 o’clock tells her friends. I haven’t actually had a good look at them. But I’ve been eavesdropping for the past thirty minutes––technically for the whole time I’ve been here.
A waiter walks on by to my side, carrying a glass of red iced tea on his tray. I hear the tinkering of dinnerware (why do they call them dinnerware when you use them for breakfast and lunch, too?) behind me.
This girl in a block top and a gray skirt and black socks and black flats and long black hair just took a good look at the pastries on the shelves. She walks towards the counter––how cute, her top’s a sweater, worn over a collared white shirt, classy––and she orders something. I don’t know. Writers can’t eavesdrop that well.
But back to the girls at 8 o’clock. Another voice: “And I was like, ‘yung namatay ‘yung [something, something, I couldn’t quite catch it],” then she half-squeals-half-screams, “BAKIT SIYA NAMATAY? BAKIT SIYA NAMATAY?!”
“Ang dami nang naka-pila sa book list ko!” another one complains.
Now, talking about some book called, “The Man Who Laughs.”
And some employee walks on by towards the restaurant door pushing a cartful of pastries he just emptied in the kitchen.
The people at 10 o’clock are just chit-chatting now. Probably some kind of S.O.P. after serious business discussions.
“ME TOO! ME TOO!” cries one of the 8 o’clock girls.
A mother and her daughter is now seated at the last table to the right, beside bespectacled woman in pink-collared shirt. They look through the menu. The mother is elegant. The daughter is gorgeous.
“I have ten books lying around na hindi ko pa nasisimulan!” “Kat, Kat! I have to start reading Spanish books, too!” 8 o’clock girls gabbling away.
“Order na po sila?” says the waiter out of nowhere to the beautiful mother-and-daughter to the right. Oh, and two of the people from the 10 o’clock business meeting are standing up, leaving now. And so are the 8 o’clock girls, they just stood up and walked out. Oh, wait, no, they’re still here, oh, no, wait, they’re just here to fix their––oh, they’re gone. Three out of the five 10 o’clocks are gone. Maybe they just went to the bathroom (the business people, not the girls, the girls are definitely gone), because their things are still here.
“Kuya, doon kami,” says the graceful mother, pointing towards the 8 o’clock table, to the waiter. And they move there. Tables emptied and filled just like that. And the table was taken apart––the 8 o’clock table were two tables put together (there were four girls in that table), and now taken apart, another tandem comes in to sit on the other table. “Do what you’re supposed to do!” is the first thing one of them says, in a mocking way. Maybe she’s mad at someone, and she’s ranting to her friend, whose back is facing me.
I can’t keep up anymore.
I was having a leisurely merienda at Mom and Tina’s this afternoon, when I happened to start picking up words from the conversations of this group of four girls southwest of me. Writers listen in on everything, you see, but the topic of one of their conversations caught my attention. They were recounting the significant events that happened during their stay in Ateneo de Manila University. In other words, they were my schoolmates, most likely graduating, too, just like me. I doubt the underclassmen would be so easily stricken by nostalgia. I also happened to hear them talking about getting to read books that they actually want to read, finally.
So I listened to them enumerate those events: H1N1, Ondoy, the 5-peat victory of Ateneo’s basketball team in the collegiate championships, Harry Potter…among other things, I’m sure, things that even my writer’s ear could not catch. And as I heard them mention each event, in the fullness of words, images flashed in my head, bringing me back, for a split second, to those days past. How they all scared us (to death) at the time and how we now look back to them with a grave gaze. How they all lifted us to the highest of heights and how we now, jealously, constantly turn back to look towards them from the feet of those mountains.
And looking ahead made no difference. I looked ahead, in time, if that’s even possible, and I see nothing but peaks to climb and pits to evade. I see days ahead of me, coming closer and closer––my first day of freedom, my first job, my first paycheck, my first leave of absence, my first resignation––and then farther and farther, others––a better life, a better job, or simply a good life. What is a good life, really?
Tell me, if you can, in the valley of the present moment, in between mountains and graves, heaven and hell, space and gravity, tell me––what do you do when you realize every moment is an in-betweenness? Something came before and something will come after, all the time, and the tenses mix––something will come before, something came after, something comes before and after. Tell me, where is in-betweenness? or rather––when is in-betweenness? When is now when now is slipping from is to was and will be the very moment the tongue tips the teeth then lips part to round to oval to give birth to “Now.”? Now. Now. Now. Three utterances, three nows. Now. Now. Now. Now. Now. … Uttering it, writing it down, as if ink can snare the moment and hang it by its legs. Now is everywhere every time. Now. Now. Now.
Tell me. Now.
Please. Tell me. Something. Now that I’ve caught you.
Because I can’t catch up forever.