We all have demons that at some point in our lives we must face.
I recognized Richard right away. His hairline receded a bit and he gained weight on his waistline. He still wore glasses.
I pretended to be busy working on my laptop on a table at the farthest end of the restaurant. I wore my Jackie Onassis sunglasses and I had my hair up. I had my hair curled so the stray strands not caught by the large clip fell on my face. The sun shone brightly and sunlight flooded the restaurant. Richard looked in my direction, hesitated before settling on the table at the opposite end of the room. I doubt he could see my eyes looking at him as my head was slightly bowed looking at my laptop.
I had my cellphone on vibrate so that when it rang, the water in my drinking glass stirred. I picked it up as I looked outside. It was Richard.
“Is that you?” he asked not waiting for me to say hello.
“It depends,” I said. “Is that you?” then I smiled and lifted my head so that my face was facing towards him. “Are you here? I’m at the very end of the restaurant, on the corner. Right outside me is a fountain.”
He hang up without saying anything. Then he stood up and walked towards me. He wasn’t smiling. I was.
“Hi,” I tried to put some cheer in my voice, although I almost swallowed my tongue from nervousness.
“How are you?” he asked in Tagalog when he was almost near my table.
I stood up and held out my hand to shake his. I was determined for a tight grip but his was tighter and I said “Ouch!” as I pressed my hand onto my left hand. “Aw!”
“I was fine before you crushed my finger bones,” I said smiling and wincing at the same time. “How are you?” I said as we sat down.
“You still look the same, although you’ve gained just a little bit of weight. You haven’t aged much.”
“Thank you,” I said, sing-songing the ‘you’.
The waiter showed up and I asked him what he would like to drink. He replied still in Tagalog, “a little bit later on”. He was looking at me intently, at my eyes through my dark glasses. “Can you take off your sunglasses?”
“It’s too bright in here. And I'm prone to migraine...” I said as I slid my sunglasses up my hair. I felt naked as he stared at my face. When he didn’t say anything, I said, “Please don’t look at me like I am the ugliest person on earth.” I heard my voice crack just a little bit. I swallowed.
“You’re still pretty,” he said. He pushed himself on the backrest of the chair, his eyes never leaving my face.
I stretched my lips and raised my eyebrows in a playful manner before I thanked him for the compliment. I closed my laptop and put it in my briefcase.
“So why did you want to see me?” he asked.
“I want to mend fences with you, Richard.” I took my glass of iced tea and sipped at it. “I may not have long to live and I don’t want to die knowing someone is angry with me.”
“Why, are you sick or something? Sam said you were okay.”
“Of course I’m okay. And I’m not sick. I’m just thinking, I am old and I can’t wage any more wars with anyone. So I want to call a truce with you.”
“I came back for you. I was looking for you.” His voice was grave.
I stretched my mouth again and drew a deep sigh.
“I lived in the same place all my life before I left for Canada. When I moved, my brother and my father were left there. If you had gone to Malibay, you would have known where I was.” I shook my head a little bit. “Maybe you didn’t look hard enough.”
His face became dark, his eyes burning. “I did, I went back to the office twice and no one could tell me where you were. Maybe you told them not to tell your whereabouts.”
“I never asked anyone to do that.” My voice was now flat and quiet.
It was a relief when the waiter came and asked if we are ready to order. I smiled at Richard and asked him, “Are we going to have dinner or do we want just drinks?”
He hesitated. “I’m okay,” he said to the waiter.
“Beer?” I asked him. “Do you not drink beer anymore?”
“Give me another glass of iced tea, please.” The waiter nodded and went off.
“Sam told me you’re now happily married with two daughters. I’m so glad for you…”
“Are you?” he cut me off. “Are you really glad for me?”
I met his gaze and I leaned slightly across the table and told him, “Yes, I am. And I expected you to be happy. That’s all I ever wanted for you. To find the woman who would make you a happy man. Why is that so hard for you to believe? Do you really think that I am so evil that I can’t wish that for you?”
He pushed himself back, maybe surprised at my display of aggressiveness. When we were young, I would never have dreamed of doing such a thing. I was subservient to all his wishes. But we were no longer young now, and I obviously had grown out of the subservient shell.
“Well, do you?” I said as I slowly leaned back on my own chair.
I suddenly felt very emotional and almost on the verge of crying. My face felt flushed. I drew another deep sigh and took another sip of the iced tea. My hands shook, as evidenced by the tiny clinking of the ice cubes in my glass.
“I know I did something very wrong and I’m ready to ask for forgiveness. But you must be big enough to admit that all of that wasn’t my fault. I didn’t set out to be unfaithful to you, but have you ever asked yourself that maybe you did something that made me act that way? I say I am not perfect, I wasn’t perfect. But did we do enough to correct whatever was wrong with that relationship?”
He didn’t say anything. He sat there, staring at me and like the old times, I could not tell nor read what was in his mind. Maybe that was what was wrong with us then.
“In any case,” I said now with a much calmer voice, “all I want is to be friends with you. You can tell me now, how horrible a person I was. But when you go back home, I want you to think how you can forgive me for whatever sin I had committed, and I would do the same, because, Richard, you did some horrible things to me, too. You probably don’t remember, but you did.”
“Like what?” he said quietly.
“I won’t enumerate them now, because I tried and succeeded in forgetting them. All I want is for you to say, you’re okay, and you can forgive me for whatever it was I had done, and we can be friends again. We don’t have to be chummy-chummy friends, but friends nonetheless.”
“I loved you. I loved you with all my heart.”
I thought he said “loved”. After all it was in the past.
“I loved you then, too, with all my heart. I gave myself to you unconditionally. For God’s sakes, I almost gave up my life for you.”
He looked at me, his eyes inquiring. I held up my left hand and pointed at my wrist. I jabbed my wrist twice. “I didn’t want to live anymore if you didn’t want me anymore. Do you remember that?” His hands moved to grab my hand which I withdrew and placed on my lap, rubbing my wrist.
I looked away. “You know, I had buried that episode so deep in my mind that I never recalled it until after I talked to Sam. I have never told anyone about it. Maybe that was why I never came back to the office. Maybe if I went back there, I would remember what I did that time. It was a horrible thing to do – trying to take my life for a man. A person should never have to do that. I know when I die, that would be the number one thing on St. Peter’s list of my lifetime offences. If there’s a hell, I’m pretty sure that that is where I'm headed because of that.”
It was too late for me to realize my tears were falling down my cheeks.
“I proved myself to you so many times. I gave myself to you. I always believed then that the man I gave myself to was the man I would marry. But I saw no sign of that from you. I felt cheap, used and abused. And yet you thought that I would only hang on to you for the chance of going to the States. You never had the nerve to tell me you were going to leave me. You never paid me the attention you gave your friends. You never gave me the importance I deserved. You said you loved me, but aside from getting me to bed, you didn’t really show it. If I had strayed, did you think I did it on my own? Did you think I planned it?”
Our waiter came. Seeing my face, he tried to sound cheerful. “Folks, anymore drinks? You guys ready to order?”
Richard asked for a beer, any kind he said. The waiter hastily left.
He stared at me for a long time without saying anything while I tried to stop from crying and fixed my face with the linen napkin. But the tears just kept flowing. Tears that have been kept back from thirty years ago. I did not expect it. I honestly thought I would just ask for forgiveness, be told we can be friends, have a decent meal and then part ways. I wasn’t even expecting for him to pay for the meal. I would not even expect him to call me back to ratify us being friends again. All I wanted was to make peace. For my own peace of mind, and probably his.
Saturday April 22nd, 2017
10 hours ago