The story begins in a sparkling city of Japan, where blinding night lights outshine dreams and truths and evening stars. Once upon a time, goes the proverbial introduction of storytellers, a Japanese master chef fell in love with a beautiful Filipina maiden.
So deep and pure was their love that one day, the gods were believed to have looked down from the heavens and decided to bless the couple with a precious, little gift of life. Imperial jewel, she was called. Lips red as rubies, skin fair as snow, and hair dark as ebony.
They named her Anna. And she believes in many things—God, love and miracles, included.
“I believe in love because of my mere existence,” she reveals to me as we sauntered into a sleepy corner street on a Sunday night.
Really? I asked rather vaguely. “My parents have made decisions I don’t understand but I know, because I am still here, that they love me and that love is real.”
Were your parents married when they had you? “No, and that’s why we had to come home to the Philippines when I was almost four. We needed to secure documents so my parents could finally get married.”
And for vacation? “Yes, we could say that. That was supposed to be my first vacation in the country. The plan was that we all come and then leave home together.”
So they did—Mama, Papa and young Anna, arrived in a city that sparkled less, where night lights flickered and struggled incessantly. Forgetting, perhaps, that every city is both a promise and a curse, a beginning and an ending.
“My dad had to return to Japan first because of his work, but he was expected to come back for us when all the documents were ready. They decided that it was best for my mom and I to stay longer so I could discover more of our culture.”
How did you find the Philippines? “I don’t exactly remember now. But I remember stories about how they always had the urge to pinch my cheeks, how people found me cute, especially because I could only speak in Japanese and never the local language. Of course, I was born and raised in Japan, and that intrigued people.”
What’s the funniest Filipino thing for you? “Maybe the word ‘ihi’ because I had a hard time remembering it and my playmates got confused every time I excused myself for it.”
So did your father come back? “Yes, he did. But when he did so, my mother had rekindled old ties with her true love.”
The year was 1996, but she says it could also be 1997. It is hard to remember really, because dates are quite daunting to recall. And how important is knowing when oblivion, even in its slightest degree, is the antidote to the pain of certainty?
“One of my last memories with my dad was visiting my mom in the hospital the day she gave birth to my half brother. I’ve always asked myself how much pain he had to endure being in that situation. Now, though, I have a very good relationship with my brother and my mom has never been prouder of me. I remain thankful but the truth has its own way of kicking in … and I remember that I still have a very absent father and a father figure that’s only good in theory.”
Are you mad with anyone? “I am mad with the government, some politicians and injustice. But beyond them, there’s no one I’m mad with.”
Do you regret anything? “Well, yes, there are things that I regret. I always ask why can’t I just learn things the easy way? Why must I still be inflicted with pain? But the things that come with the greatest pain are the ones that really make an impact on your life. I always try to be mature and accept that truth every day.”
The story begins in a sparkling city of Japan, where blinding night lights outshine dreams and truths and evening stars. But it doesn’t end there. Nor does it end anywhere.
Once upon a time, goes the proverbial introduction of storytellers, a Japanese master chef falls in love with a beautiful Filipina maiden. But this is not their love story. And so we learn that even a love so deep and pure cannot prevail over a love so true and meant.
One day, so they continue to believe, the gods looked down from the heavens and decided to bless the couple with a precious, little gift of life. Imperial jewel, she was called. Lips red as rubies, skin fair as snow, hair dark as ebony, eyes fiery like the cities she comes from.
They named her Anna. And if she could still believe in many things—God, love, and miracles, included—it is almost impossible to understand why others have already given up.
Sarah feels different today. The kind of different that’s not quite bad, but not quite good either. The reason being? She thinks she looks like a good girl in a vintage floral dress. A figure, a character she absolutely feels disconnected from.
“Don’t you think you are a good girl?,” I asked as I shifted my attention from my phone to the girl who woke me up at 6 o’clock on a Saturday morning, mind you, to watch a feature on carbs and vinegar.
Sarah stared back at the mirror, blinked about twice before combing the short length of her hair. “Is good different from being nice?,” she said in return. I pondered for a while as I have not given the question much thought before. Silence filled the air at almost the same rate curiosity whisked in.
By the time I resolved an answer, Sarah has also finished doing her make up. She emerges from the bathroom all dainty and lovely, her bright pink lips putting the look so well together. “Yes,” I told her, an answer that’s becoming more generic to our friendship.
“Then I’m not a good girl,” she declares.
For some time now, all Sarah has made me do is to say yes to her.
Spa date? Yes. Bawl our eyes out for KathNiel? Yes. Feelings for breakfast? Yes. Boxing tonight? Yes. Book a ticket to Singapore? Oh my god, girl, yes!
That’s the thing about breakups. No one wants to go through it alone. In fact, no one wants to go through it at all. So the moment anyone dares to offer their company, you grab the chance without so much as second guessing. You develop a mechanism to cope up and call it #YOLO or #SoulSearching or #Healing with who ever crazy enough to tag along.
And that’s the other thing about breakups. No one refuses an aching heart. Vulnerability creeps in and the power of “no” vanishes into thin air.
But for what it’s worth, Sarah wants more than any of my, nay our, yeses.
Oh what she would give, I wonder, to go seven months back. Before the messy breakups and rapid choices, the lies unravelled and truths unsettled. Just those seven months that have come and gone so abruptly, and Sarah may finally be left alone and happy.
Too bad, though, that there’s no such thing as going back and amending. You make a decision, take an action, or say a word once, and you change a life forever.
“At least, this made us. And we’ll be in better version of ourselves the next time we give our hearts out again,” she says when she remembers. And she remembers a lot lately. All dates and details still vivid and precise.
This is not what I was supposed to write about Sarah. There are more interesting versions of her that I could have easier trailed—Sarah the traveller, the leader activist, the not-a-good-girl, the “brainmother” of Out of the Box, a non-government organization for media literacy which she operates with friends.
But even today is a strange day for writing and so I borrow words from the different and the disconnected.
The shy August sun is about to go, which means that we’ve walked, talked, laughed and sighed our afternoon out the unusually grey streets of Taguig. One more final pitstop though before the well-deserved rest be taken.
“I appreciate simple things, you know,” she shares as we retraced footsteps on a certain bookstore. “I’ve never been the one who asked for so much. I think I’m more adaptable than not. But I don’t know how that’s interpreted and why I’m always told I’m complicated or demanding or something like that.”
If only Sarah knew.
In a generation of casual one-nighters and assholes, he calls himself a nice guy. The rare breed of them with presumed moral ascendancy and genuine willingness to take the extra mile for every woman they choose to love. And nice guys, he says without so much batting an eyelash, “are often taken for granted.”
Of course, there are girls in his stories. All loved and lost by Napoleon—or simply, Nap—to chance, choice and circumstance. An ex-girlfriend who never thought the boy he was cheating on would leave her. A girl who loved him so much but not to the extent of becoming more than a friend. An old fling who magically falls in love with one of his older flings. A girl who gives more than what he could take. And some more interrupted dating and stalking in between, while “other” guys.. well, we know what they are up to.
Suppose he is right about the twisted fate of being him, or being nice in general, and we sulk with him politely, we still could not help but notice that Nap’s cellphone does not, for a minute, stop buzzing from people checking on him. A quick survey of his social networking sites show various posts from friends and anons fond of making him either their object of desire or ridicule, the latter still done endearingly. Perhaps, especially since when he found himself “in a relationship” with an online personality he has never meet in person.
There is action and reaction where Nap is concerned. A pause when he talks, silence when he sings, and even the faintest smile can take the curve of our lips when he laughs that strange and loud laugh of him. So does he really know a thing or two about being taken for granted?
“Life is ironic,” he says. We keep on longing for that feeling of being wanted or chasing love to no avail, only to end up running to the opposite direction once opportunity presents itself to us.
Still, let the gentleman deserve the benefit of the doubt.
The first time I rode his car was when he said to me that, “Raine, if you fall in love with us first, you lose.” That was sometime in June, three days after our first introduction and still barely comfortable with each other.
I laughed because it rendered me speechless and I did not know that the sad sorcery of caveats can eventually become funny. “Try me,” I mustered to answer many seconds after. Careful, distracting and insulting to the past this guy is. Yet, how could remaining friends with him go bad?
After all, Napoleon, as we have already established, is a nice guy
For someone who has been exposed to all sort of news as a journ student, and for someone who is trying to be an expert regarding Philippine diplomacy and global politics, I have gotten used to associating words and meanings to systems of governments and to certain groups of people. Say for example, people who work for and with the government.
From my vantage point, I have seen them defined and limited by these common descriptions. Trends, surveys and papers dictate that our institutions continue to be stuck on doing the same right things wrong, and wrong things right. I favored none, but I believed what I saw, heard and read. To which I largely blame my usual pensiveness and cynicism.
The universe, however, has its own way of surprising us. One day, we just wake up and realize that there is indeed a different depth and dimension to these people, administrations and issues unfolding in our society, even. That surprise for me was this internship, the close encounters I have had with #TeamBamAquino.
Of the many valuable lessons this experience has given me, the virtues of optimism and patience are the ones that I will treasure the most. Optimism because my “officemates” showed me that there are still people in the government who selflessly want to work on having and seeing a better country than the one we all inherited. Patience because as in Project Wasak, the many times I have watched Senator Bam exemplify it on the floor and in life in general, good things don’t come in easy.
It has been weeks, but there’s no easy way to move on from this great experience.
I wrote a story in Angkor Wat.
One that was penned with my heart, and once done writing, sealed in a safety box in my mind.
In the story, I wrote about seeing faces. Lots and lots of them. In the streets, in the corners, in the walls, in the paintings, in the hands of a lover, in the smiles of strangers.
Some faces had voices. And some of these voices wondered where I came from, how long have I been traveling, where was I heading next and sometimes, if I had a dollar to spare them. I learned to answer with laughter and with a language that was different from my own. “Same same” means the same, “no have” means nothing, “picture” means please stop.
There was a love note for that moment between when the sun was at its highest, and the rain at its strongest. I am a tropical child so used to warmth and daylight, to strong gusts of wind and rain. But, it was only in the midst of that temporary gloom that I saw the beauty and grandeur that lived within the temple’s soul.
Strange, but it is all meaningful to me.
Perhaps, there was a secret prayer, too.
Gratitude for when there is silence for retrospection, humility after receiving, and safety in change and movement Gratitude for believers, non-believers, and crossroads.
I wrote a story in the most beautiful place I have ever been.
It has been more than a month since. I am happy to have come back home to tell you about it.