The sound of her fingers pounding away at the keyboard was the only thing keeping her awake. Glancing at the time on her computer monitor, she saw that it was already 5:47 PM. She straightened her back and forced herself to focus on the task at hand. It was Friday yet it looked like she would need to stay for a couple of hours more unless she wanted to incur the wrath of her boss. She couldn’t blame him. She was asked to turn her work in Wednesday morning but she waited until the last minute to get started.

Two and a half hours and three cups of coffee later, she picked up her bags and made her way home. She loved Fridays but hated the additional commuting hassle that came with it. Her shoulders ached from hunching over her desk all day long, including lunch time, and from the weight of the bags she insisted on carrying everyday. Her colleagues teased her often about this habit of hers. They told her it made her seem like she was carrying everything she owned. Truthfully, she did not know why she did this too. She did not need the change of clothing, the mobile phone charger, the planner, the tumbler, and the pair of sandals that she kept stashed in her pink-and-white striped bag. On one occasion, she was the butt of jokes for not having a pen with her. “You brought your entire house with you yet you do not even have a pen in either of those bags?” their procurement manager teased her while he reviewed her request for additional notebooks. She smiled at the joke but inside, she bristled. Yes, it was ironic that she did not have a pen with her given the nature of her job but did he really have to point it out to her?

She sat in the rear part of the shuttle and prepared herself for the long ride home. Plugging her earphones in, she was dismayed to find out that the battery on her tab was only at 3%. Drat. No House of Cards for this evening, then. She hugged her bags and observed the people in the vehicle.

She shared the space with 18 other passengers, driver included. In front of her was a young couple with limbs expressing as much affection as the cramped space allowed. She was torn between annoyance and envy at the couple. She remembered a time when she and her girlfriend of nine years were like that couple – when each stolen moment felt like it was the last time they would see each other. She fished out her mobile phone from her bag and sent a text message to Mina. She held her phone for five more minutes and put it back in her bag. Her girlfriend was probably still asleep and won’t be replying until the next day, the end of her shift. It has been like that since Mina got a job as a call center agent in Ortigas and Sam was slowly starting to get used to it.

It was not until the vehicle hit a hump that Sam realized she had already dozed off. Quickly glancing around her surroundings, she saw that she was still a long way from home. She rolled up her blazer and tried to get comfortable again. She had been sleep-deprived for the past few weeks, not just because of overtime work she had to render but because of the series of strange events that have been taking place at home. Nightly, she would wake up to the sound of heavy footsteps on the second floor (she usually slept on the sofa in the living room). Once or twice, she checked on the noise but was met with the view of her sleeping parents on each instance. The next time it happened, she was convinced their house was haunted. She meant to tell her mother about it but kept forgetting. She had no plans of telling her father though, as he would probably brush it off as a figment of her overactive imagination. “Why don’t you just fold the clothes in your closet instead of engaging in silly thoughts?”. Her father has always adopted a pragmatic view on things, including her career plans. She wanted to major in theater arts, but her father scoffed at the idea. “Theater arts? Not everyone can be Lea Salonga or Pinky Amador, hija, Why don’t you study business managament or nursing so you can make money when you graduate? Or how about accountancy? Yes, you will be the first in our family to have a title.” She tried to follow her father’s plans for her and majored in accountancy but did not pass the departmental exam that was handed out every end of the school year so she shifted to management. She did not like many of her major subjects but decided to stick it out as she knew her father would no longer pay for her education if she told him that she really wanted to switch majors once more. She got a job right after graduation and was convinced that she would be renting her own place before her first work anniversary.

She has been working for six years now and still lived at home with her parents.

It was already 11:00 PM when she got home. Her mother was still up. “There’s still molo soup on the table. Eat first before you go to bed.” Aling Letty told her. “That’s okay, Inay. I will just go to bed now. I’m tired.” “Suit yourself. Oh, before I forget, I received the disconnection notice from Meralco. It’s also on the table” Aling Letty added. Sam sighed and told her mother she will take care of it. Her father promised her that she would not be helping out as much with the bills once he got back to work but Sam knew her father’s chances of being hired as a seafarer were already slim as he was already nearing sixty. She changed her clothes, brushed her teeth , and plopped down on the sofa. She was too exhausted, she forgot to remove her make-up.

Thirty minutes later she was awakened by the clomping sounds on the second floor. It happened at the same time every night. The industrial electric fan she set up was not enough to battle the balmy summer heat, but she pulled her covers around her and waited until the sound was gone.

But the sound did not go away. In fact, it grew louder and seemed to be making its way to the stairs. Her heart pounded faster and she grabbed her phone to call Mina. After two attempts, Sam answered. “Hey! I was just on my way to work. Can I call you later?” Mina asked.

Sam shook her head and realized it was silly since Mina could not see her. “No, please. Talk to me. Just talk to me.”

“Mahal, what’s going on?” Mina probed, disturbed. Sam opened her mouth to tell her what was happening but noticed that the sound had already stopped. “Nothing. I’ll tell you tomorrow. Take care. I love you.” She hung up without waiting for Mina’s response and lay in bed for hours.

She wanted to sleep in but her mother nudged her awake at six o’clock in the morning; she was in the way of her mother’s cleaning schedule. She figured she would just pick Mina from work. She was already on the bus when Mina sent her a text message saying she and her workmates had a team building activity and were already on the North Luzon Expressway. Cursing under her breath, she sent an angry reply to Mina then turned her mobile phone off. She did not have the time to deal with a fight this early in the morning.

Her mother was surprised to see her at home. “I thought you were on your way to see your friends?” Her mother still did not know about her sexual preference and was still hoping their neighbor would work up his courage and finally ask her daughter out. Sam mumbled an excuse and got herself a glass of water. “I guess I’ll just go back to sleep,” she told her mother.

“Yes, you should do that. Your Tatay and I are concerned with the number of hours you’ve been putting in the office. I hope they recognize you for the hardworker that you are.”

Sam just shrugged her shoulders.

“I mean, you’re always tired that you sleeptalk and wake us up in the middle of the night.” Aling Letty added.

“What? When?” Sam asked.

“Every night now, for the past two weeks.” her mother responded. “Last night, you even sleepwalked. Your father was on his way to the bathroom and saw you standing at the bottom of the stairs. He almost jumped in surprise.”

“Inay…” Sam began cautiously, “Does tatay remember what time this happened?”

“Around 11:30 PM. He had just finished watching the late night news.” Her mother answered, matter-of-factly.

The hairs at the back of Sam’s neck stood on end and she nearly dropped her glass.

(To be continued…)

My 2014 In Review

If the past year can be encapsulated in a single statement, it would be called “the year of major changes”. For so long I yearned to get out of my comfort zone and the chance or chances to do so finally cropped up in 2014.

January – Got accepted as a headhunter at TeleDevelopment. Took me three days to realize that no matter how good the pay is, my interests do not lie in human resource development.

February – Aaron and I celebrated our fifth year of being a couple, we also went out on out first Valentine’s dinner date together and swore it would be our last (that stuff is overrated!)

March – Threw our church wedding plans to the wind and decided to get married in a very simple civil ceremony with only two people in attendance. This, of course, prompted others to ask if I was pregnant. Like, seriously? We’ve been engaged since 2012 and some people still think we rushed into it?

April – Prepared a three-course meal for the family and no one was rushed to the hospital for food poisoning. Yes, this is a monumental occasion that deserves to be included in my 2014 highlights.

May – Changed careers by applying for and getting the Research and Advocacy Specialist role at Employers Confederation of the Philippines

June –  Learned that Josh got accelerated to prep. Hurray for natipid na tuition!

July – Work cancellation and class suspension meant days dedicated to series marathons

August – Was regularized early at work and given an increase whoo!

September – Went on my first travel abroad – Cambodia – to represent the employers sector at the NSSF Workshop on Good Practices and Implementation of Employment Injury Insurance and Health Insurance Schemes

October – Had my very first exposure to quantitative research with the Corporate Compensation Survey 2014

November – Finished my audit classes and formally enrolled in course work in graduate school

December – Organized an 80’s Christmas party for the office

2014 was a year of firsts for me and despite the nights of wondering what the heck I was doing with my life, the decision to get out of my comfort zone was definitely worth it. I’m looking forward to more positive changes this 2015!

Of Coffee Cups and Pyramids

The message came from a high school classmate I have not talked to in years. “Free ka ba ng Monday?” she typed. Thinking it was a message meant for another person I replied, “Wrong send ka yata?” She said she wasn’t mistaken, that the message was meant for me and that she wanted us to meet for coffee. Being burned one too many times by invitations such as this, I bluntly asked her “What for?” to which she answered, “May ipe-present kasi ako sa iyo baka magustuhan mo.

Just as I thought, another Multi-level marketing (MLM) pitch. I graciously turned down her invitation and resumed my office duties.

Two things can be taken from the paragraph above: One – I should not be opening my Facebook account while in the office and two – MLM is a pandemic that shows no signs of slowing down. I am pretty sure that one in three of my Facebook friends have been propositioned for a coffee meeting and perhaps some of them might have even been gullible enough to take the bait. I can’t blame them, these people seem pretty sincere when they’re asking you how you are and telling you how they are excited to see you after all these years. You might even enjoy the conversation, but then comes the sales pitch and you find yourself doing all sorts of diva hands just to reinforce that you are not interested. “But it’s a pretty foolproof way to earn money!” they argue. “I have not even been doing this for two months but I’m earning thousands of pesos per week.” For chrissakes do not, under any circumstances, give in to the get-rich scheme. If that person really has been earning tons of cash per week, then he/she should be inviting you to a steak dinner and not to measly cup of coffee with no refills. I do not blame the Juan de la Cruz who gets sucked in to MLM scams. Every one of us dreams of being able to pull in millions without so much as a sneeze. But you have to draw the line between dreams and reality.

Weeks ago, I was talking to a co-worker who said she has joined a lot of networking businesses. I almost fell out of my seat laughing when she said that one of the products she had to sell were special sanitary pads. Now I’m a person who hoards sanitary pads and I use three types per cycle so you can say I have no problems doling out cash for breathable covers and wide wings, but the product she mentioned was ridiculous. It claimed to regulate hormones, prevent pimples, and all sorts of stuff. Maybe it even prevents cancer, I can’t be sure as I was too busy laughing. On a more serious note though, the extent in which some people stretch themselves for multi-level marketing has gone borderline cult-like. My co-worker was lucky to have snapped out of it early enough but others are not so lucky. Here are people who do not care if they burn connections as long as they tell anyone and everyone on Facebook that their brand is the holy grail of health/weight-loss/skin-whitening/vagina-tightening products. They’ll even cite celebrities to back up their claims. Though I do not doubt that these celebrities use, and at some point, endorse their products I don’t think they do it as zealously as some of our Facebook friends. To be fair, the products these people are selling are quite good (hence, the expensive tag price), but the manner in which they are distributed is kind of shady if you ask me. Instead of focusing on selling the products, the heads of MLM schemes prioritize the recruitment of people who need to cash out for membership and training. Then, when they’re on the inside, they are also tasked to recruit other people who, depending on the program, may or may not contribute to the upline’s (recruiter’s) income. This system really perturbs me, what happens when they hit market saturation?

Is this really the way to earn money now? By being “exclusive distributors” and by building pyramids where only the people on top get to enjoy the riches? Should we dedicate an entire business program in colleges to study this format? Is it just a fad that will run its course or is it something we will all catch, one coffee cup at a time?



The combination of caffeine crash and cold medicines has led to my being a Debbie Downer this evening. It doesn’t help that I’m cramming a paper for my IR class now. Sorry, I can’t help it. I have just arrived at the shocking realization that going after your dreams is scarier than watching The Exorcist alone on a dark, stormy night.

I am seriously freaking out. I have a thousand and one questions, all of which can be condensed to a single query, “What if I’m not good enough?”. They call it the Impostor Syndrome, a psychological phenomenon in which a person doubts his/her own competence. Unless you have the confidence of Kanye West on amphetamines, every grad student will come across this experience. It’s no fun, especially if you are financing your way through masters. You come to a point where you wonder if you should just throw in the towel (and save money) or keep plowing through.

We have the term phobia to describe a person’s irrational fear of certain things, but do we have a word to describe the fear that we have for our dreams? Maybe we do, and it’s called insecurity. Just like love, our dreams can inspire or paralyze us. A few weeks back, I read an article on how you should not allow fear to be your motivator. Though I agree with the author, I think that it’s also very probable for a person’s ambitions to be mingled with fear. When you want something, you give up your time and a little bit of your sanity in pursuit of it and fear comes with the territory. When you have invested in something for quite sometime, you start to wonder if it’s all worth it… then worry what will happen if it isn’t.

To give up would be easy, justifiable even, but how will that make me feel? I have seen people who used to be good at what they do settle for a life of mediocrity and I think “If only he/she pushed him/herself more…”

So here’s to gritting my teeth and a couple more years of reading and writing. As my husband said, “Even if grad school doesn’t work out, you still have additional knowledge. Panalo ka pa rin.” Trite but true. Now let me go back to my paper and let me swear on my empty coffee cup that I shall never cram again.

First of Many

My son just confessed that he has a crush on someone. I don’t know how the topic came up. We were just watching episodes of 7th Heaven when I suddenly felt the urge to ask him if he liked someone in school. A sheepish smile broke across his face and my heart stopped a little. “What’s her name?” I asked. “Or his name”, I added for good measure. He replied that the girl’s name is Zayna… or maybe it’s spelled Xena as you know parents cannot be trusted with giving their kids uncomplicated names.

So kailan ko siya makikilala?” the nosy mother in me asked. “Punta ka ng school para makilala mo siya“, he answered. Poor boy, he doesn’t know what he is suggesting. He went on to say that we should keep it a secret and I agreed.

Some secret it was, he told Aaron and Mama five minutes after. I asked if he already shared his “secret” with any of his classmates and he nodded his head… there’s that coy smile again. Drat. He told Zayna/Xena herself. “Anak, wag ganun. Girls like it when you keep things cool.” I advised my son. Just then, my mother piped up, “Hindi, okay lang. If you like someone, you let that other person know.” I looked at Aaron to back me up but he was engrossed with his tuna carbonara that time.

Man, I wasn’t ready for this. I thought he’d start having crushes while he’s in grade school but the heart wants what it wants eh? Oh well, in a couple of years we’re going to have “the talk”, whether he’s ready for it or not.

Oh, and Zayna/Xena? We shall see each other soon.

Ten Signs You’re Getting Older


I just celebrated my 28th birthday and while everyone was reminding me that I am two years shy from hitting the big three-oh, I kept a demure smile and told them that I still feel 23.

At times though, certain things remind me that I’m not as youthful as I would like my cells to believe. In my opinion, the following items are experiences familiar to people inching towards their 30th year:

1. You can no longer pull all-nighters.

Remember when you crammed a semester’s worth of lessons into three hours of rapid studying and memorizing? Yeah, so do I. You probably had time to party after the exams. Try duplicating that while you’re making a presentation for your boss and see if you’re not asleep after the first hour of cramming.

2. You get exasperated at kids who don’t dress their age.

My eyeballs immediately roll at tweenies dressed like twenty-somethings, forgetting that at one point, I also tried to pull off the party girl look while waiting for puberty to hit.

3. Sunday is becoming your favorite day of the week

I used to hate Sundays because they herald the coming of busy Mondays yet now I appreciate the sense of laziness that comes with this day.

4. Fast food is something you avoid as you can immediately see its effects.

Don’t you just hate that you can no longer eat a burger without it showing on your gut?

5. You forego the hip and trendy club for something more relaxed.

Who cares if they are offering beer at 50% less? Well, I don’t drink so this never mattered to me… but yeah, I want to be in a place where I can actually hear the other person talk!

6. You take more chances…

…because you’ve seen people your age die and you realize you’re lucky to be alive, you should be making the most out of life.

7. You begin to realize that your parents have their own life stories.

I went through the whole “My-mother-does-not-understand-me-at-all” phase too but now I am beginning to see that my mother has her own history – her own reasons for being who she is, for thinking what she thinks, for saying what she says. I used to respect her (grudgingly) for being my mother but now I respect her as an individual.

8. Your role during the holidays has changed.

The feeling of  getting excited over Christmas Eve dinner and opening the presents are now distant memories of your childhood. You don’t know exactly when or how it happened but you suddenly became in charge of cooking dinner and shopping for presents.

9. You don’t feel the need to read every book that is trending on social media.

Who cares if the author is being touted as this decade’s Dan Brown. If it isn’t your genre, you pass up on buying it and letting it collect dust bunnies on your bookshelf.

10. There’s a particular thing you spend a lot of money on.

For others it’s shoes, for me it’s perfume. It’s not about being pasosyal, it’s merely realizing there is one thing in your life that you won’t make compromises with, even if it means shelling extra dough .

The Ugly Side of Love


She looks at you from across the room, your heart beats just a little bit faster while you recall the lovely afternoon you spent by the seaside. A slow smile spreads across your face as she mouths the words “I love you.” Right that moment, you feel everything is right in this world… and that there’s no way you’ll love like this again.

Seven months later, you’re cursing the day she was born. This, ladies and gentlemen is not a story of love gone bad. This is the true story of love, with all its fats and trimmings. If you’re sixteen and still optimistic about the idea, do yourself a favor and stop reading this; you’ll just be disillusioned. On second thought, maybe it will do you some good to stick around and learn a lesson or two. Brace yourself, oh innocent one, you’re in for the shock of your life.

Many definitions have been attributed to romantic love. We have the oft-repeated slam book phrase“Love is like a rosary, full of mysteries”, the highly-clinical “it is a feeling commenced in the hypothalamus”, the cynical “It is the best excuse to make a complete ass out of yourself” (oh wait, that’s my personal definition), and the one lifted out of Antoine de Saint Exupery’s book, “looking together in the same direction” (mostly used by men who want to sound smart while trying to get into your pants). I won’t even get into the details of the different levels of love by Plato because this is a blog, not Philo101. What am I trying to point out here? Your definition of love may not always be in congruence with that other people. For example, I know of a woman who is happy even though her husband has fathered children outside of the marriage. As long as she and her family are well-provided for, she is content with the idea that her husband is a loving and responsible man. What may seem like utter foolishness to you is sweet, tender love to others. Just like religion, it’s useless to argue about it. We each have our own ideas. Don’t think that this is the ugly part yet, I’m merely reintroducing the basics.

After establishing what love is for you, you decide, or maybe not (good for you!), to experience it for yourself. Perhaps the warning you got from your parents or your already-hitched friends weren’t enough, or maybe you’re into self-inflicted pain, I don’t know; but you still go ahead and plunge into the world of relationships. Excited, you can’t wait for that first hit of love. As is often the case, you take the first thing that remotely looks like love and take it for the real thing. Sex is usually the main culprit why you stick around for something fake even when your friends are telling you you have the cheapest taste in women or that you’re in need of new prescription for your eyeglasses. After a while, you get a hold of yourself again, and you call it quits. It hurts, and you make a big deal of showing it to other people. They, however, aren’t sure if you’re really in pain or bemoaning the fact that you won’t be getting laid until further notice.

But the the gods are good, and you find yourself falling again. With renewed vows to make it work this time, you pour all your energy into making sure your partner feels what you feel. Everything seems so beautiful. The sun is shining just a bit brighter. There is a spring in your step. You forgive people easily, even wishing them a good day as they mutter apologies for smashing your face with their bags while getting out of the MRT. You feel that the moon is casting a glow on your face just to mirror the radiance within.

You insufferable narcissistic twat. Not everything is about you, as you will learn in the succeeding months. You’re in for a very rude awakening.

I will let you in on a little secret that rom-coms conveniently leave out in the script: Love is a messy inconvenience. Yes, despite the headiness that you feel during the first few dates and the rush of excitement that comes after finding out you listen to the same bands, you will still come into the realization that love is ugly. If you can delay this as much as possible, well and good. But once you stumble upon this revelation, there is no turning back. All the things you once found attractive in your partner become the very things you will hate his/her guts for. Then comes the make or break part. You decide whether you can leave with these imperfections (because if you are anything like the deluded cretin writing this post, you would assume that all  the issues in your relationship are through no fault of your own), or you can decide to stay and wade through the muck.

Love is ugly and you know what makes it uglier? The fact that you would have to go through crap like this many times before finding someone who is willing to stick it out with you despite your own hideousness. And even if you are lucky enough to find that person, both of you will still go through repugnant things that will make you question your sanity.

Why am I telling you this, you ask? Because I feel like finishing a draft that I made three years ago, that’s why. Also because I feel it is my duty to remind humanity that except for Meryl Streep, nothing is perfect and everything needs work – including you, me, and relationships. So whether you are posting “Single Is Sexy” status updates to convince us (more like yourself) that you’re okay with being single or wearing one-half of a couple’s shirt (in which case, I am judging you), please be reminded that having a Valentine is more than someone give you three pieces of Ferrero. It takes utmost courage to plow through the ugliness of a relationship to finally see its beauty.


“Tell me I’m beautiful,” she told him while she played with the buttons of his shirt. He was always amused when she asked him to do this. It was as if she was not the confident woman that many men fawned over; it was as if she was a woman-child, unsure of herself and her power.

“You already know you are,” he said, unzipping her skirt and letting it fall to the floor. He kissed her as he worked on unbuttoning her blouse. “Yes,” she said breathlessly. “But I still want to hear it from you.”

He trailed kisses from her jawline to her collarbone and acquiesced. “You are beautiful,” he said in between kisses “and your mind makes you even more beautiful.” It was true, he found her attractive because of her passion for anything and everything intellectual, it was just a bonus that she also happened to be aesthetically pleasing. He could hardly believe his luck when she agreed to go to his place on the pre-text of checking his book collection. He knew she did not drink and hated the glass of light beer he ordered for her. In fact, she hardly even touched it which was probably a good idea as it assured him that she came to his flat unadulterated by liquor.

They were already naked and he reached behind her to turn off the lights. She turned them back on. “No,” she said rather firmly, “I want you to see me. And I want to see all of you.” They were hardly gym buffs and their penchant for rice has taken a toll on their bodies so he was rather perplexed by her request. All this faded away though, when she finally opened her body to him. He forgot all his questions, all his inhibitions about his beer gut, and all the rumors he heard in the office that soon, his boss will be giving him his walking papers. She was the only thing he could see, hear, and feel right now.

She felt him shudder and knew it was over. She looked at him with the same wide eyes she had looked at him before they had undressed each other and saw his expression change from ecstasy to exhaustion. His eyes remained shut for what seemed like forever. They finally opened and they were on the ceiling, the glass on the table. the clothes on the floor. They were on everything but her. She was not particularly surprised. He always found it uncomfortable to look at her and she never bothered to figure out why.

Slowly, she disentangled herself from him and put her clothes back on. He lay in bed, both mesmerized and disturbed at the way she methodically put every piece of clothing on. “Did you…” he need not have asked, she already knew what was on his mind. “Yes, I enjoyed myself.”

Kissing him lightly on the mouth, she bid him farewell. It was the last they would see of each other. He would always think of himself as one of the many men she ensorcelled but it could not have been farther from the truth.

He was her only indiscretion and that was already enough.


The sun peeked from the sky’s dark curtains and was getting ready to make its majestic entrance. In a few minutes her alarm would go off and she could choose to hit the snooze button or get up from her bed. Her eyelids fluttered and briefly, she fought the urge to go back to sleep.

Maybe today she would finally accomplish the things on her to-do list, or maybe not. Either way, she was getting up to face the day

Daybreak. In a few more minutes, sunlight would stream through her window and spill over her pillow. She opted not to be there when it happened. She chose to welcome the dawning of a new day outside.

Si Juan At Ang Bulubundukin


Tanghali na nang nagising si Juan ng araw na iyon ng Lunes. Palibhasa disoras ng gabi na siya nakauwi mula sa isang pagtitipon sa Malate. Buwisit na buwisit man siya sa kung sino man ang nag-isip na idaos ang pagtitipon doon, nanatili pa rin siya upang uminom at makihalubilo. Bigatin kasi ang panauhing pandangal at gusto niyang magkaroon ng pagkakataon na obserbahan ang anak ng mayor na pinagkakaguluhan sa siyudad kung saan siya nakatira. Sa totoo lang, hindi niya maunawaan bakit maraming babaeng nagkakandarapa sa lalakeng iyon. Hindi naman siya katangkaran, wala rin siyang taglay na kagwapuhang gaya ng kay Piolo, at kung paniniwalaan ang mga usap-usapan, hindi rin naman daw matalino at idinaan na lang sa donasyon ng building ang pagtatapos sa kolehiyo. Nahuhumaling pati ang nobya ni Juan sa lalake at kahit medyo naiinsulto siya sa tuwing kilig na kilig na kinekwento sa kanya ni Stephanie kung ano ang kinain ng anak ni mayor sa kainan kung saan siya nagtatrabaho, tinitiis ni Juan sapagkat gusto niya rin malaman kung ano nga ba ang kinakain ng mga gaya ni Linden Gregorio.

Malamang maiinggit si Stephanie kapag nalaman niyang pumarty kagabi ang nobyo niya kasama ni G. Gregorio at nagkapalitan pa sila ng kaunting salita. Nagtanungan lang naman sila kung saan gumraduate at saan ang probinsya ng bawat isa pero para kay Juan unang hakbang na iyon para maging malapit ang loob niya sa lalake.

Minsan napagkamalan na siyang bakla dahil din sa pagnanais niyang mapalapit sa kaklaseng lalake. Nagalit pa siya noon sa pinsan niya dahil isa pala siya sa mga tumawa noong napag-usapan sa canteen kung naka-panty ba si Juan sa ilalim ng uniporme niya. Matapos niyang hamunin ng suntukan ang mga chismosong kaklase, namatay na ang usap-usapan at bumalik na sa normal ang buhay ni Juan. Hindi na siya muling niyayang magbasketbol ni Freddie sapagkat natakot etong manumbalik ang isyu at machismis kay Juan. Hinayang na hinayang siya noon. Hindi dahil sa may gusto siya kay Freddie kung hindi dahil hindi siya nagkaroon ng pagkakataon namakasakay sa mamahalin nitong kotse.

Natapos sa kolehiyo si Juan ng walang parangal pero malaking karangalan na sa kanya ang pagkakaroon ng nobyang nakasabayan si Sandara Park mag-apply sa Star Circle Quest. Ni hindi umabot si Stephanie sa lupon ng 12 manlalahok pero sapat na para kay Juan ang nadaanan si Stephanie ng kamera at pinag-usapan sa eskwelahan ng dalawang linggo.

Tumunog ang telepono ni Juan at dali-dali niya itong dinampot. May mensahe galing sa kaopisina niyang si Martha at tinanatong nito kung nasaan na siya. May pulong sila at ng kliyente nila ng ala-una at siya na lang ang inaantay. Panandaliang nag-isip si Juan kung magmamadali na ba siyang maligo at magbihis pero sa huli, naisip na lang niyang magdahilan para hindi makapasok. Nag-text siya kay Martha at sa kanilang bisor, “Sorry di ako makakapasok ngayon. LBM po.” Bumalik siya sa pagtulog at nanaginip na anak rin daw siya ng mayor.

Dapit-hapon na nang nagising muli si Juan at nakita niyang tatlong beses na palang tumawag ang kanyang nobya para magpasundo. Gusto na rin sanang magdahilan ni Juan kay Stephanie pero naalala niyang kaarawan nga pala ng kapatid nito. Naligo siya at nagbihis, ginamit niya ang mamahaling cologne na nangangalahati na pero hanggang ngayon ay hinuhulugan pa rin niya sa kanyang kaopisina. Inabot ng isang oras ang byahe ni Juan at pinilit niyang ngumiti para kay Stephanie pero sa loob-loob niya, nagrereklamo siya sa layo ng pinagtatrabahuhan ng nobya at nanghihinayang siya sa pamasahe samantalang pwede namang magkita na lang sila sa bahay nila. Sumakay sila ng taxi papunta kanila Stephanie at doon kinwento ni Juan ang kanyang napuntahan kagabi.

Walang regalo si Juan para kay Sandra pero gaya ng mga nakalipas na taon, nangakong siyang ibibili niya ito sa sweldo. Tumango lang si Sandra pero natatandaan niya ang mga bag, sapatos, at cellphone case na nauwi sa drawing. Hindi niya alam bakit nagtitiis ang ate niya kay Juan. Mabait naman siya, lalo na noong umpisa, pero ngayon parang wala nang inatupag kundi maglagay ng larawan sa Facebook at Instagram. Minsan na rin niyang tinanong sa ate niya kung bakla si Juan pero matapos niyang mahuli ang kapatid at si Juan sa may labanderya, hindi na siya nagduda pa.

Pumwesto si Sandra sa tabi ng lamesa kung saan nakapatong ang kanyang handang ispageti, barbecue, pritong manok, at mocha roll. Sabay-sabay naman siyang kinuhaan ng letrato ng ate at nanay niya. Rinig na rinig ang buntong-hininga ni Juan. “Jologs talaga”, sabi ni Juan sa sarili. “Pagkatapos niyan lalagay nila agad sa Instagram tapos may tatlumpung hashtag.” Hindi niya napigilang ibahagi sa kasintahan ang kaisipang ito na sinagot naman ni Stephanie ng irap. “Ano ba pakialam mo, e kaarawan nung tao? Ikaw nga walang pumapansin sa mali-maling spelling mo sa mga caption mo eh.”

Tumahimik si Juan at panandaliang napahiya. Pero pinakalma na lang niya ang kanyang sarili sa ideyang makakahalubilo na naman niya ang anak ng mayor sa Sabado, kung saan inimbitahan siya ng kaibigan ni Juan manood ng konsiyerto sa Subic. Hindi gusto ni Juan ang mga bandang tutugtog pero dahil halos lahat ng mga naging kaklase niya sa kolehiyo ay pupunta sa mala-Woodstock na okasyon, minabuti na rin niyang tanggapin ang imbitasyon. Nangutang siya sa nanay niya para sa tiket at pambayad sa hotel na tutuluyan nila pero hindi niya inamin sa nanay niya kung para saan ito. Sinabi na lang niyang na-holdap siya. Ang kanyang ina naman niyang naawa, pinamili pa siya ng mga personal na bagay gaya ng shampoo, sabon, at deodorant.

Umalis si Juan bago mag-alas dose ng gabi. Nakiusap si Stephanie na doon na lang siya matulog pero ayaw ni Juan kasi walang wi-fi ang kanilang bahay. Kailangan niya pang kumonekta sa internet para maka-chat si Linden na kaka-tanggap lang ng imbitasyon niya sa Facebook. Nagpadala din siya ng imbitasyon sa malayo niyang kamag-anak na ngayon ay nagtratrabaho na sa ABS-CBN bilang manunulat pero hanggang ngayon di pa rin niya ito tinatanggap.

Kasabay niyang umalis ng bahay si Sandra na hindi pinayagan ng opisinang ipagliban ang pagpasok sa araw na iyon kahit kaarawan niya. Gaya ng nakagawian, tinanong ni Juan si Sandra kung bakit hindi ito nagsasawa sa pagtrabaho ng napaka-iregular na oras at sinagot siya ni Sandra na sanay na siya dito. “Ayaw mo bang subukang magtrabaho sa amin, kuya? Sigurado matatanggap ka agad magaling ka pa namang mag-Inggles.”

“Ayoko. Hindi ko kaya yung oras ninyo,” ang isinagot ni Juan pero ang katotohanan, ayaw niya sa call center. Nababaduyan siya. Pinagmamalaki ni Juan ang titulo niya bilang “researcher” pero kung aaralin ang kanyang ginagawa sa opisina, kinokopya niya lang ang nakikita niya sa internet at nilalagay ito sa Excel. Si Martha na ang nag-aaral ng mga numero at gumagawa ng mga suhestiyon base sa impormasyong nalikom. Hanggang ngayon, walang nakakaalam kung magkano ang kinikita ni Juan kada buwan. Wala pa ito sa kalahati ng sinasahod ni Sandra pero mas gusto na niya yun kesa tawagin siyang ahente.

Hindi na siya natulog pag-uwi at baka tanghaliin na naman siya ng gising. Lutang siya ng Martes, Miyerkules, at Huwebes pero nagising ang diwa niya noon Biyernes, nang ipatawag siya sa opisina ng kanilang bisor.

Pang-ilang absent niya na pala yung noong Lunes at huling pagkakataon niya na pala iyon. Naalala ni Juan na mayroon nga pala siyang pinirmahan na papel na nagsasaad na kapag nahuli siya ng dating o lumiban ng trabaho, maaari na siyang alisin sa puwesto ng kumpanya. Maraming terminong legal na ginamit si Juan at nanakot pa siyang magsasampa siya ng kasi sa DOLE pero walang pagbabago sa reaskyon ng kanyang amo. Padabog na umalis si Juan ng kwarto at nilinis ang kanyang lamesa.

Hindi siya makaimik buong gabi. Hindi niya alam paano niya sasabihin sa nanay niya kung ano ang nangyari. Malamang mahihirapan siyang maghanap ng trabaho dahil hindi maganda ang dahilan ng pagkakatanggal niya. Nagkwento ang nanay niya ukol sa napanood niyang telenovela pero imbes na magkomento si Juan sa kabakyaan ng nanay niya, gaya ng ginagawa niya sa tuwing nagkukwento ito sa mga napanood niya sa telebisyon, tahimik lang si Juan at tinapos ang kanyang hapunan.

Ibinalita niya kay Stephanie kung ano ang nangyari. Noong una may simpatya pa sa boses ni Stephanie pero noong nalaman niya ang dahilan kung bakit sinibak si Juan, nagalit siya sa nobyo. “Ano ka ba? Di ba pang-ilang beses ka nang sinabihan tungkol diyan? Bakit ba hindi ka nagtanda. Paano ito ngayon, paano tayo?” May takot sa boses ni Stephanie sapagkat hindi pa rin siya dinadatnan ng kanyang buwanang dalaw at kutob niya may nabuo sa huling pagtatalik nila ni Juan.

“Ewan ko. Pwede ba huwag mo akong sigawan? Hindi na nga ako makapag-isip eh.”

“Palagi ka namang hindi makapag-isip eh, pero kapag sosyalan ang bilis bilis mo gumawa ng desisyon. Sige sabihin mo paano ngayon yan pag nag-background check ang mga susubukan mong kumpanya?”

“Ano bang alam mo, waitress ka lang?” angil ni Juan.

Tumahimik si Stephanie sa kabilang linya at naipit ang kanyang mga salita ng mga hikbing nabuo sa kanyang lalamunan. Pinatayan niya ng telepono si Juan bago pa niya ito marinig na umiyak. Hindi na sinubukan ni Juan na tawagan siya. Kinuhaan na lang niya ng litrato ang tiket ng konsyerto bukas at pinaskil ito sa Facebook at Instagram.

“Pare ang tagal mo, nauna na sina Michael at Linden.” reklamo ni Abet kay Juan pagdating nito sa lugar na napagkasunduan.

“Pasensya na tsong,” sagot ni Juan. “Yung mom ko kasi ang tagal sa banyo.” Mama talaga ang tawag niya sa nanay niya pero “mom” ang sinsabi niya kapag nasa harap ng mga kaibigan.

“O tara na.” yaya ni Abet. Inabot ng apat na oras ang dapat dalawang oras na biyahe papuntang Subic pero hindi pansin ni Juan ang oras. Hindi niya rin pansin ang siyam na mensaheng pinadala ni Stephanie. Ngayong gabi, mayroon lamang siyang tatlong hangarin: ang makinig ng musika, maging kabarkada si Linden, at malasing.

Punung-puno ang hotel kung saan sila nagpareserba at mahina ang aircon. “Hindi ito nangyayari sa Manila Pen,” pabulong na sabi ni Abet. Sinegundahan siya ni Juan kahit na ni minsan hindi pa siya nakkakatungtong maski sa garahe nito. Bumaba sila at pumunta na sa konsiyerto kung saan lasing nang tumatalon sina Linden at Michael. Aksidententeng nabuksan ni Juan ang mensahe ni Stephanie kung saan tinawag niya si Juan na “Becky Sharp”, pero agad itong sinara ni Juan para makuhaan ng litrato ang banda.

Bukas pa mababasa ni Juan ang iba pang mga mensahe ni Stephanie. At gaya ng nauna, buburahin niya lamang ang mga ito sapagkat hindi naman ito dapat pag-aksayahan ng panahon. Uunahin niya munang kuhaan ng larawan ang kakainin niyang agahan.