Buy One, Take One

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It was the time of President Quirino when the peso was two to the dollar and I was 19 years old and poor as a rat and horny as a dog. Danny and I had drank ourselves blind at Ermit’s bar on Ermita and we were sucking in the night air at Luneta Park. And there she was alone on a bench.

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ILLUSTRATION BY PERRY GIL MALLARI

ILLUSTRATION BY PERRY GIL MALLARI

The park was not a well-lighted place then and it was hard to make her out, whether she was good-looking and all that. But I could tell she had a good body and Danny said she had nice legs and clean feet. Still we could not just go to her and start anything. We knew all about baits by a policeman or boyfriend, or both, who would come out of the bushes and extort the horny innocent for unjust vexation and all that crap.

Having only about P2 between us and smelling like a brewery, Danny and I were ripe candidates for vagrancy or worse. We decided to play the Luneta game. I blindfolded Danny who stood at the foot of Rizal’s statue. I stepped back and started counting to 10 and shouted, ‘Apunten…fuego!’ Danny’s legs buckled from under him and he fell crying out, ‘Adios! Patria adorada!’ She started giggling. It was the signal to strike a conversation.

Danny asked her whether she had been stood up and she said no, she was merely passing the time, breathing in the fresh night air. Danny was about to say that we had P2 between us but I stopped him. I asked her whether a peso and fifty centavos could get us anywhere.
“You must be batty,” she said, not at all angry. “Two pesos, if you like.” I winked at Danny who appreciated my shrewdness.

“Where’s your car?’ she said. There were several cars parked along the boulevard and you could make out the bobbing heads.

It was my turn to call her batty.

“Do we look like we own even a pushcart?” I said.

We looked around. She said she was allergic to cogon grass and so we walked to the seawall. I had seen crawling roaches once while necking with someone else on the wall and I told Danny I would go first and she said that was his very idea for he was afraid I would get cold feet if I came after him. I knew what he meant, after all, we didn’t know where she was coming from, but I wasn’t scared of that, I assured him. There was nothing like salt water for disinfection. And so I went first and then Danny after as I watched out for unwanted passersby and we joked later that it was a case of love gone down the rocks.

“God,” Danny said, “I sting like acid. I thought it’d fall off.”

And I said that was the idea, we were safe. Relieved.

She took some time fixing herself, then Danny asked how she was and she said she felt just fine, only her back hurt a little, and Danny pulled up her dress, looking for bruises. He then took out his hankie and rubbed her back and licked some of the red spots. She giggled and rubbed Danny’s groin.

“What’s your name?” she asked and Danny said Alex, which is my name, and I said I was Danny, although she didn’t ask. She said she was Alma and that was her real, true name.

Danny and I then pooled our pesos and we discovered we still had 20 centavos between us, which was good enough for jeepney fare to Mayhaligue. She looked at the P2 as if she did not know what to do with them. Finally, she said to Danny that she would treat us to icedrops at the corner kiosk. But the night was over for us and we wanted to go home and we just thanked her for giving us a swell time, honest. She walked with us to the jeepney stop and shook my hand and took Danny’s hand in both of hers. We were standing under the lamp post but for some I reason I didn’t want to look at her face but I noted that she really had nice legs and clean feet. A jeepney arrived and Danny and I got in.

Thinking about the scene, I kidded Danny that he must have given her something to remember him by, so what was his secret technique?

“Technique, shitnique! Idiot, can’t you see she’s one lonely human being?”

I looked back and there she was still standing alone at the jeepney stop, under the lamppost, and she would be there, I thought, until the night had swallowed us.

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