Note: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to reality is mere coincidence.
I met her by sheer coincidence. By then I had moved on from the fact that the first true love (in the sense of eros) of my life had found someone else, more than a year by then, but at times I still used her name when asked by the barista what name to write on the cup. Force of habit. It was not that I was still hoping that she would come back to me (she got married the next year) – it was just her one-syllable nickname was easier to say and spell, and anyway, if it was my suki barista who’s on duty, he automatically used the one-syllable nickname for me, never batting an eyelash to indicate that he found it a little funny that an obviously male person would have a clearly female one-syllable nickname.
So it happened. The barista called out for the coffee for me. Or so I thought. I stood up and she also stood up. She was nearer the barista so she reached him first. My view was blocked by her body so I did not know what coffee was being served, but I clearly heard the one-syllable nickname I routinely used, and I thought it was my coffee. So I wanted to see what kind of coffee was being served, to check if it was mine.
It was then that she turned her head. She must have found it funny to find a complete stranger behind her back, trying to see what coffee she had. She smiled. I finally got to look at the coffee. It was not an americano, but a frappe. Not my coffee. I felt awkward, managed a silly “I’m sorry”, and wanted to quickly retreat. Just then the bartender called out for coffee again, using the clearly female one-syllable nickname. She nodded her head, as if she understood everything, and went to her table. I got my coffee and went to my table.
I was reading through some printouts of Supreme Court decisions on the indispensability of the testimony of the poseur buyer in drug cases (it is not, see People v. Perondo, G.R. No. 193855, which was the latest jurisprudence at that time) and was trying to differentiate my case from the decided cases, but the funny way she nodded her head kept ticking me off. What did she mean by that? A while later she stood up, went outside the coffee shop, and lit a cigarette. (This was before E.O. 26.) I did not smoke, but the curious cat in me wanted to know why she nodded her head that way, so I left my notes on the table, went out towards her and asked if I could use her lighter. Then I motioned as if I was looking for my cigarettes. Obviously I did not have any with me, and she gladly offered one from her pack. Bingo. Small talk.
“So how long had you been smoking?” she asked.
“Not until right now,” I wanted to say, but I kept my cool and said, “I’ve been smoking since I cigarettes were three sticks for two pesos.” I completely made that up because to be honest, I did not know how much cigarettes cost.
“You’re lying,” she said. “It does not show on your fingernails, and you hold the cigarette funny.” Damn small talk.
“Anyhow, I find it funny that you have such a girlie nickname. Who christened you that? Your boyfriend?” So that’s why she had that “knowing’ nod. She thought I was gay!
I wanted to say something, but the smoke was blasting through my system – not in an “Ice Blast” way, but in a really painful way.
“It’s OK. I have lots of male friends who could pass for Most Eligible Bachelor – not that you are anywhere near that category – but are complete sword swallowers through and through,” she continued.
I got the Game of Thrones reference. “Do you like GoT?” I managed in an attempt to continue the conversation.
“As much as you like penises.” Then she had the heartiest laugh that I have seen in a little while, a laugh that conveys a soul burdened by the cares of the world, but had found something funny in some trivial concern.
“I am not gay,” I was finally able to say.
“Right,” she curtly replied. She was done with her cigarette. “See you around.”
That first encounter led to a second, and a third, until we’ve met so many times I lost count. I could not even remember when I was able to convince her that I am not gay, but it was at the back of her car. No, we were not doing anything funny or sexy. The car was parked precariously close to the edge of the road, she was vomiting the insides of her stomach due to too much Red Horse, and I was holding her by the arms while her world was spinning and the calamares and sisig we ate for dinner (and the Red Horse, such a waste) got out of her system. She was not in a position to say no when I told her to admit that I am not gay. Probably she remembered that a year or two before, in almost the same place, a love affair between an elected official and a married woman ended in a tragedy.
Not that I was an elected official, or that we had a love affair, but she was clearly a married woman, or at least someone with a child.
On her way home, when we passed by a McDo on board her car (I did not have a motorcycle yet by then), she always bought a Happy Meal, and would always inquire for the latest available toys. I once inquired from her about that, but she seemed secretive about her personal life, so I dropped any inquiry into it. I also figured that in case we really did the act (you know, the sexual act), I could honestly tell the court that by then I did not know that she was married, in case we were prosecuted for adultery.
In fact, there were a lot of times that we were almost tempted to do the act. For a couple of times, our eyes met and our lips coalesced and time stood still, but then we were back to the reality that I still had cases to attend to the next day and she had… well, she had whatever business she did. One time she drunkenly blurted out how fate could be so cruel to have us met under the circumstances – but it was raining, and I thought she was referring to the rain so I simply told her we could stay in the nearby 711 store instead of inside her car.
Then all of a sudden, she stopped responding to my late night calls and my text messages. We had never been friends on Facebook, per her request, but I have searched for her name, or what I thought was her name, and had seen her profile before. Now it was gone. I checked for her profile using my other Facebook accounts, but it seems she could not be searched anymore. (It would have been impossible for her to know all my fake FB accounts by then, which there were about 30. Alright, this was early 2015 and I was using my fake FB accounts to bully critics of Duterte. I’m sorry. The bulk of these accounts were blocked by Facebook itself in mid-2016, although there are still two or three left active.)
Finding and locating her became an obsession. I knew that she lived in the Lahug area, because she went to church on Sundays at the St. Therese Parish Church. When we went up the Busay area and she dropped me near Mabolo afterwards (I was then residing in Mandaue City), she almost always made a u-turn and went back in the general direction of Lahug. I tried recalling the MV file number which stood as her plate number, but it was too long, and anyway, I had no insider at LTO to help me trace the registered owner.
I bought a motorcycle to try to go to places we frequented. (Going up and down Busay using a habal-habal quickly caused a strain on my budget.) My eyes darted to every gray Toyota Avanza which passed by, hoping that it was hers. I was losing sleep over her, and the unattended cases were piling up. I lost a couple of clients because they thought I was not giving enough care about their cases, and it was all true, because I was obsessed in finding her.
Finally, almost a month after our last contact, I was drinking alone in a beer house in Mabolo when three burly guys sit on the three other chairs on my table. I was telling myself, okay this is it. My comeuppance in representing cases where other lawyers withdraw has now caught up with me. And I don’t have an insurance policy on my life yet!
But there were nice and friendly. They told me of my youth, and the beautiful future still awaiting me. They told me of nice other girls I could pursue, beautiful women who are unattached. I got the point. Plus they paid for my one set of Red Horse, and did not flinch when I asked if I could order a sisig on their tab too. And the sisig was with two eggs.
But I never knew her real name, only that she has the same nickname as my first true love.