NOTWITHSTANDING NOEMI’S hopeful expectation and insistence that something would develop between me and the American, no such romantic thing ensued all through that summer that I attended the Bible study class with her. No electrifying current ran through my heart, and I supposed it was the same with Butch.
The last Bible study session I attended became a kind of despedida for me as well as the Singaporean couple who were leaving the following Sunday. And I found the leave-taking with everyone almost overwhelming. That last week had been swift and filled with encounters and goodbyes with the rest of the staff workers. Mrs. Newbold gave me a Bible and some guides and promised to keep in touch. The staff got my name and address, at the same time giving me names, addresses and phone numbers of CCC workers I could keep in touch with once I got back to Manila, which was a week from now. They were very concerned that I should be able to join a group where I could continue to experience the same fellowship, the afternoon prayer meetings, the Bible study in the evenings.
Butch gave me a book For Such a Time as This on which he wrote: “I hope that you will become a woman ‘after God’s own heart.’” (Acts 13:22)
There was also a quotation from the Ephesians (3:20 Living Bible) which I liked very much: “Now glory be to God who by His mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of – infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hope.”
I thanked him, whispering, “Butch, my spiritual parent!”
He blushed. And delightedly laughed. “Who told you that? Mui-Ying?”
“Noemi. She said you are my spiritual parent!”
He gave me the lightest kiss I ever had.
“Keep in touch,” he said whipping up a calling card from his jacket, looking at me straight in the eye as he reverentially handed me the card.
From the corner of my eye, I had a glance of Noemi looking at our direction, her eyes transfixed as though witnessing a kind of horror, a blank, inscrutable expression on her face.
THE LAST WEEK of May, and my last week in Baguio. From the corridor, I looked out and contemplated the panoramic vista of the College overlooking the thick clusters of pink, orange and white bougainvillea and bright yellow bells, the towering pines serving as backdrop, past the slope of concrete steps, past the Convention Center amidst a setting sun as my students struggled through my finals. The summer session was almost over. I would be spending the next two or three days grading the final exams and term papers and computing the final grades, and then take the first bus to Manila.
Beholding the oncoming dusk, I heard somebody greeting me – a new faculty at Noemi’s Nat Sci department, an occasional corridor nodding acquaintance. It surprised me that she knew about Noemi and I being roommates at the dorm this summer. Even more surprising when she turned out to be one of Noemi’s housemates in the apartment along Pacdal Road. Surprising, and disturbing too was the sense of urgency in her voice, the sense of providence with which she imbued our having crossed paths right at this moment, when the summer session of the academic calendar was about to end.
She asked about Noemi, and the first thing I said was how we seemed to have become total strangers, since that night at the Newbolds a few days ago. For reasons I couldn’t decipher, I had found her cold and distant the past few days. It seemed to have started that night at the farewell party at the Newbolds. She had been excruciatingly silent in the taxi back to the dorm. And she hadn’t spoken a word since.
She found it hardly surprising. Noemi was a “whacko,” didn’t I know? She was “nuts.” Didn’t I notice? Of course she was harmless. But they wanted her out of the apartment.
She was a Jesus freak. In Diliman, during her undergraduate years, she was known to wake up practically one whole wing of the ladies dorm on most mornings. Her voice would reverberate as she sang praises to the Lord, imposing her songs on everyone, as it were, and her bliss.
The sound of her reciting her prayers would be heard outside her room, along the corridors, as well as her pitiful, incongruous sobs, crying out her frustrations. Occasionally she would be lashing out at God for hating her when she had done all that she thought would be pleasing to Him.
And the guy at the department, her co-faculty who was just several tables away from her and the one who she said had come to be so mean to her because she didn’t respond his affections? Crap, all crap. It was all in her mind. She had displayed this persecution complex time and again, and all her stories of guys falling for her were all hallucinations.
And that the guy was thinking of leaving the department just to escape her. She had been placing all sorts of things at the guy’s table: notes, fruits, chocolates, cards.
I told her about the tale of my lost Levi’s two weeks ago, and hesitated mentioning about Noemi’s suspect, but I felt I had to disclose it now, for there might never come another chance to do it.
But before I could start to talk about the suspect of my stolen Levi’s, she had her own disclosure to make: She had once seen Noemi wearing a pair of Levi’s some two weeks ago, and when people in the department noticed how she was wearing pants for the first time and such nice pants, Noemi smiled proudly, saying it was a gift to her and of course she had to try it for size. She was never seen wearing it again.
Two months later I heard that Noemi was no longer connected with the College. She was recommended for dismissal, a recommendation that was sustained. The week previous to that, a violent confrontation transpired at the department. Unprovoked, it seemed, she began throwing things at the guy in the department. Which included blunt instruments, staplers, scissors and cutters, anything she could get hold of. And then she began spouting expletives at him, ruthlessly driving him to eternal damnation even as she feverishly recited verses from John and Mathew and Luke, and the Book of Job, the Psalms and the Book of Revelations.