A YEAR after I saw him last, I saw Mark again, at Matzuzakaya’s Cubao. I was with friends. He was alone. It was his back I saw actually – a tall, lean figure in a yellow knitted T-shirt, still sporting close-cropped hair, leaning on the counter. “That is somebody I know,” I said, with a curious pounding in my heart, and walked straight to him.
“Hey,” I said, “fancy seeing you here.”
“Hi,” he replied, his head turning and I saw the familiar face – the rose-rimmed thick eyeglasses framing his slightly myopic gaze. He had a ready smile. When he said “Hi,” the mouth curved into an easy smile – a very familiar smile.
“I thought when I saw your back it was you,” I said. To which he countered, “I saw you coming in, too, and I said to myself, I know that body and that walk.”
We both laughed aloud. Then I said, “You would not have approached me?”
Very casually, he answered, “I was talking to the saleslady.”
I had a funny feeling but I found myself offering, “I’ll treat you to a cup of coffee.”
“You are with friends,” he answered.
There was a pause. Then I said, “I knew when you came back. It was more than a year ago, wasn’t it?” When he smiled, I added, “We’ve got mutual friends, you know.”
He stood looking at me – what was that look in his eyes? Finally, he said, “So nice seeing you again.”
“So nice seeing you again,” I repeated after him.
He asked for my office number, then, “I’ll call you up.”
“Okay. Goodbye,” I said, waving my hand.
I’ll call you up. The words had a very familiar ring. He had uttered it several times before. Before he left for abroad on a government scholarship.
“What the hell are you going to do there?” I had asked.
“Oh, learn the language of the people, their culture,” he answered.
“What the hell for?” I insisted perversely.
He left on a June day, two years ago, without saying goodbye. He didn’t even send a postcard.
ONE FRIDAY in April two years ago, we all went out in a Blue Corvair — Christine, Frank, myself and somebody I had met for the first time, whose name was Mark.
Mark Anthony? I asked in jest, when we were introduced. No, he said, just plain Mark.
We fell into an easy conversation, which was a surprise, since I was never at ease with people I hadn’t known for a long time.
It was as if we had known each other a long time, which was probably true in a way.
We had gone to the same school, he graduating only a year ahead. In fact, it turned out we had a few mutual friends. He had even heard of me.
Honest? I asked.
I knew some of his fraternity brothers.
In a single swift turn of the conversation, I learned he was married and realized I hadn’t given it much thought, took it as a matter of fact and asked not a single question.
You’re cold? He asked. I was bent on the chair, my arms hugging my body, consciously imitating a nude Jane Fonda pose.
I had left my sweater in the car, I said apologetically.
I’ll get it, he said, rising to go, but I said, no, never mind, really. It’s all right.
It was dark and cold and cozy inside the club. I was feeling romantic and perverse and it thrilled me. He was
very attentive — not in an adoring, fawning sort of way, which appealed to me.
I was beginning to feel and act drunk though I wasn’t.
Drunk with a single order of Tom Collins? He insisted that I try Campari. But I said I was familiar only with its fantastic ad layouts in Time and Asia Magazines.
You’re tense, he said, while I was laboring with fork and knife and the chicken. And you eat chicken with your hands, you know. He laughed, and I thought to myself, Why, I like the quality of his laughter.
We went some place else afterwards. It must have been past nine o’clock. To relax, he said. You eat and then go some place to relax.
He sounded as though he thought I was a kid and didn’t know much about such things. Which was probably true. I was pushing twenty-two. Two years out of school and not terrifically attractive.
Then it happened. Or it must have been happening the past few hours probably.
He had set the proper mood, had asked the leading questions which led me to disclose my insecure self.
What do you want from life? He asked, and I answered, Nothing. He said, You don’t go out much and you don’t have a boyfriend. You don’t enjoy your life but you won’t do anything about it. Yes, I said.
What do you want to do then? He asked in a voice, which bordered on a tone of love. I said I wanted to write but it was hopeless. Why? Because I can’t. So? So I keep a notebook, a journal of despair because I want my despair recorded.
It was terribly cold. The band in front was playing dance music. We were seated in a lounge. It was dark and he was very close to me. I felt his hand on my shoulder.
He was looking at my face, my eyes, my mouth. Why? I asked. I felt him breathing heavily. I don’t know, he answered. Why? I asked again. You are not by any chance falling in love with me, are you? And he said, I don’t know. I’m attracted to you, I guess. I laughed. You’re a sucker for my type, huh.
He still kept looking at me with the same intent, unsettling way and I looked back in return, curiosity, amazement rounding my eyes.
There was silence and I felt him holding my hand. It felt terribly cold. Coldness from the glass of beer his hand had clasped earlier.
Of course, this will pass, I said. As soon as the night ends. No, it won’t, I’ll call you up. Of course not, I said. And he said, you think it’s going to be that easy?
I grew terribly rude and sarcastic.
Bastard, bastard, I kept saying. You know, I didn’t know you could be such a stupid bastard, falling for me because it is a cold April night and I am looking so lost, so fragile, so directionless and more or less love-starved, shall we say? So, we are evolving the story of the love-starved kid and the cool, protective male who happens to be married, who is cool, protective and, therefore, attractive precisely because he is married. Quite to my disadvantage, wouldn’t you agree?
Of course you don’t mean it. Of course it’s a game you want to start and I’m sorry I have no strong propensity for games.
Go on, go on, he said. I knew he was angry by now, utterly disgusted hearing me say such things, but I was enjoying my lines.
He saw me home at one o’clock in the morning.
What a night, he had said, which sounded to me like an angry lament, a summation of the moments of madness we had run into that evening, an early requiem for some madness that was to ensue and last for quite a while.
He called up the next morning to ask, how are you?
Why, fine. Were you able to sleep last night? Like a log, and you? No, I slept badly. And why? The mosquitoes wouldn’t let me. Not very funny, ha, ha!
Then he said, I want to see you today. Oh, what for? I want to talk to you. About what? Then I added, you feel like protecting me, like loving me even?
I saw him in Cubao at six o’clock. At New Frontier’s where the record albums were.
You’ve been here long? I asked, addressing the lean tall figure in white polo barong and dark pants.
Hi, he said. We walked outside. Where to? I asked. La Pacita, okay? Okay. I like the way he walks, I thought crazily. I’m even likely to fall in love with him solely on that account. Oh, yes, it’s the body, really — the lean, frail body, really.
We fought our first war — wasn’t it the second rightfully? — over supper of flaming chicken with candlelight.
It was because he had started to be tender with me. He was stroking my arm, looking at me so long and hard — so lovingly? — with his myopic gaze behind the rose-rimmed glasses, murmuring my name, which sounded to me like a subtle attempt to put me under a spell.
Or wasn’t it more accurately a subtle attempt to seduce me? But uttering my name was like uttering a plea.
Hey, I said, don’t look at me like that. I want to, he said. I don’t want you to, I hate anybody looking at me that way. Why don’t you hate me then? Hate me, get angry with me.
His hand was stroking my neck. Hey, I said, hey. You’re coming with me, he said. Where? Some place where we can be alone. But we’re alone here. We’re not. Please come with me. Please. I want you. Want what? Sex?
You want to touch my body? Am I to understand that every married man hankers for something extra-marital?
No, I want you, I want to love you. No, I’m going home. It’s almost ten, and for your sake! Fiercely, which rather jolted me, he said, When we step out of this room, you are coming with me. I am going home, I said. I am taking the bus.
It was a taxi we hailed. I was surprised when the direction he gave wasn’t going to our place. But I decided not to fight about it. He was very silent.
Hey, I said, hey, speak up. He was breathing hard and we were quite apart. Hey, I said. He held my hand. And tried to kiss me. Please bring me home now, I pleaded.
We were zooming along the highway. A motel loomed in sight and I heard him say to the driver. Go inside. No,
I said, no. Please go straight ahead. We became very silent.
I was furious as hell. I broke away from him and stared straight ahead with fury and indignation written all over my face. He tried to hug me back saying, I’m sorry, it’s all right. But the long, icy silence prevailed.
The taxi roamed along Ayala, Buendia. We reached Ermita without uttering a word, our bodies perfect strangers.
Nice meeting you, he said when I got off. Terrifically sarcastic, of course.
Nice meeting you, too, I answered.
He didn’t call up for days. I marvelled at his will power. I thought with a touch of sadness how I was missing our fights, my rhetoric, and most of all, our sadness, the quality of sadness every time we were together.
The call came exactly a week after.
Hello, it’s me. Yes. Are you all right? I am. Shall we see each other? Certainly.
The same place. Almost the same time, the same order in the menu even, and the same utterances of madness.
He said I had been fighting myself. That I loved him, too, only I was holding back.
Why wouldn’t we give ourselves a chance?
He asked if I realized what I was doing to him, how I was making him suffer, how I was destroying him, how I had let him go that far only to say, okay, that’s how far you can go, that’s where you stop now. Did I realize what a sadist I was, what a bitch I was? Why wouldn’t I help him?
Why do you come when I ask you? Because it would be cruel not to, I answered. No, it’s even more cruel when you come. Because you haven’t got anything better to do?
Why don’t you give me up, why don’t you absolutely give me up? he asked. An utterly stupid question.
He started to plead again after a moment of silence. I started to pity him so much, to be saddened by the hopelessness of everything. I thought I was going to cry.
Please, I said, holding his arm, can’t we put an end to this?
He began to tremble. I started to feel frightened. He was terribly tense and it looked like he was going to cry.
He took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes and I thought I heard a stifled moan. It moved me so much. I touched his arms and asked, what’s the matter? He looked at me, his face naked without the eyeglasses.
I looked at his eyes as though I would never see them again. They were terribly hurt eyes. What I would have given — if only I could — to kiss away the hurt in those eyes.
How I love to write and utter your name and the crazy thing is I don’t even love you.
How sad, but to love you would be unbearable pain.
Or is it that I’m not capable of loving?
I am a person who has been tortured by a desire, a longing to love, and now I seem to realize I am not capable of doing so. Or is it because as always, it is the wrong man?
I have written about every meeting of ours, reconstructed in my mind and saved for myself the memory of everything that has happened, every talk we’ve had, all the hurt we have caused each other, all the utterances that have come from each of us, the lies included, if there were lies . . .
I let this go on because I want sadness enough, madness enough. I want sadness always because it is the only state of mind I feel at home with. Isn’t that in itself a very sad fact?
“Seek yourself in sadness” — goes a line in a poem. That suits me well. Sadness becomes me, do you know? I should have been a poet, do you know? Poor would have been writer me. Some weepy artist wallowing in self-despair.
It is night and I am feeling the languor of a summer night. That must explain the lyricism. I think I won’t forget all my life that I met you — somebody who loved me and whom I could have loved — shall remember with great sadness and pain and gratefulness that we knew each other.
Feared, I waited for his call; but he did not and what relief.
Today we had the unmistakable look of summer. Cloudy summer day with hint of rain; subdued sunlight. I finished a book — The House on Coliseum Street by Shirley Ann Grau — “The course of one’s summer involvement with sex detailed with precision,” the book jacket says. A beautiful and sad and painful book. Joan Mitchell – could I be her?
The author describes summer with a loneliness and moodiness and pain which is one of the most memorable I’ve ever read. Summer. Summer and smoke. There is smoke, but no fire in my heart.
The sun took on a pale and gentle color a number of times today.
He hasn’t called up for days now. I had an impulse to call him at five o’clock, but if he had been trying with much great effort to cure this disease, I would not be helping him any by making the call.
Maybe I should really, honestly give him up. After all, I do not love him. He is not the kind of person a woman like me would need.
He must call, we must still see each other. I want a final word, a formal goodbye. Come what may, I won’t forget him. That, at least, I have to tell him.
It’s June. What are we doing here? Wasn’t somebody supposed to have said goodbye? He hasn’t called up in more than two weeks. I thought of calling him yesterday but decided against it.
I realize I am beginning to love his memory. I am still saddened by everything, but I don’t regret it happened. It was the end then, that time.
The end of an affair? Where does it leave me now? What have I got? The entries in my notebook? There was no wound to heal, only a space in the air when it was over.
Sadness over him. Could he have left? It was torture all day thinking, hoping he could still be around. Maybe I should have tried calling him. Shan’t we see each other anymore? Have a last sad talk, say our goodbyes?
This is getting sadder than I thought it would be. I feel like weeping. The sadness of my world since . . .
I DIDN’T SEE him again. He didn’t call. I knew he was leaving sometime in June. He had mentioned it before. On a scholarship grant. He would be away for a year. I remembered him saying, if I don’t leave by June, if I’m still here by June, then it’s lost. It was June now.
I had occasion to meet friends who knew him and I always found myself asking, is he still in town? Has he gone? Yes, he is still around. I wondered if he never really had the desire to lift the phone and call me. It was so easy then, after all, so easy.
One day, not knowing if he had left or not, I dialed his number.
Hello. Hello. You’re still around. It took him a few seconds to identify the voice. Or was it pretence?
Oh . . . yes, it’s you. Yes, still here. How are you? Fine, I answered.
Then I asked, You never called? No. Well, that was quite tough. When are you leaving? By the end of the month. Which means you’ve got only a week or so to go? Well, yes, I’m quite busy with my papers.
There was a brief pause.
Then I heard him say, I would like to see you. No, I said, not today. You’re going somewhere else? No. Has somebody made an invitation ahead of me? Oh, no. Which bastard would extend an invitation? He roared with laughter. Never on Thursday? He teased. Yeah, I suppose. Come on, girl, he insisted. No, I said, and added, how about tomorrow, if you can make it? I’ll be terribly busy, he answered. Well, sorry. Okay, he said and sounded like hanging up.
Hey, I said, hey, wait, you wouldn’t have called? I mean if I hadn’t called, you wouldn’t have called to say goodbye? No. Well . . . Well, goodbye, anyway, I said, and do have a happy trip.
I never saw him again nor heard his voice.
I never knew exactly when he left, but he left all right.
Two years later, I saw him at Matzuzakaya’s, Cubao, in a yellow, knitted T-shirt, lean, tall and frail, leaning over a counter, and I thought to myself, that is somebody I know.