Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Dignity of A Woman's Heart

[Part 4 of 6 of "Once There Was Anne"]

BECAUSE IT’S BEEN SEVENTEEN YEARS since the day I last talked to Anne, some people might start to believe, my mother the first of them, that, perhaps, I have already learned my lesson, as though by some unknown device or artifice time became the greatest teacher the world has ever produced and I am but another willing apprentice. Sometimes, though, I reckon I was born to prove everyone wrong every minute of every day, Anne most of all, because when I told her who I was supposed to be in her life she could not help but smile and cry at the same time. I thought she didn’t believe me.

“I’m supposed to be the only reason in this world why you’re turning into water,” I said. Today, I wish I never have allowed those words to escape my mouth. Yet I’m fairly convinced now, however, that reality will eventually have its way regardless of what I’ve actually told her that day.

The following afternoon, after the day when, under the acacia, I saw her cry for the first time after a long, long time, Anne and I were back in that beach in Nasugbu. She insisted. There was something rather strange about her that day. I couldn’t quite put a finger as to what it was. Perhaps it had something to do with her hair, cut down to her shoulders, which was, as far as I can recall, the first time she ever did so. Maybe it had something to do with the make-up on her face that she rarely ever wore back in college, to which she said, “I want to be the most beautiful girl today.” “You are, Anne,” I said, “you’ve always been.” Or it could have been the way the skin on her hands was unusually soft and moisturized, enough to make one think that there never was a time when she had to lift her fingers to perform even the most rudimentary tasks in life, as though she was born barely an hour ago. And when we reached the shoreline where we once were before she left for Tokyo, the first thing she said was “So, do you now have the name of that island?” “Of course,” I said, “I decided to name it after you.” Then she said, “Not bad for an excuse,” and we walked along the shoreline.

That moment, we no longer talked about her life in Japan. I tried to breach the subject early on, asking her if she ever had a boyfriend there, but it seemed clear that she was not willing to make another excursion down her memory lane about a foreign place that used to be her home for some time. Instead, she preferred silence, and kept walking.

Sometimes it’s unbelievable how several years can undo a place. Small cottages stood near the waters where nothing but rocks used to be, as were the wooden fences in lieu of the mangroves that were few and far between. Flags of different colors flapped like confused wings against the backdrop of coconut trees spread out as though they were yet to take further root underground despite their apparent maturity. In the distance, the faint sound of slow reggae music shared the air with the song of the waves, but nobody was dancing. Certainly not the seagulls that were nowhere to be found, nor the trees that were cleared in order to give way to the enterprise of the times. It was only then that I realized that it was no longer the same beach we were afoot.

Anne stopped on her feet. I turned around, saw a sad look on her face, walked back to her, and when I was in front of her she hugged me. I didn’t know what I did to deserve that embrace other than to be the same person I’ve always been — the boy who was just as confused as her and who was too shy to say anything in the face of her cousin’s question: “Are you her boyfriend?”; the boy who wrote and sent a hundred letters, maybe more, expecting a reply other than the one from the mailman, the perfunctory “It seems no one writes to you”; the boy who bruised his fingers to break another man’s face who broke the dignity of a woman’s heart, and who, in the end, would lay the blame on the stairs that will never be built; the boy who, after confessing that he loves the girl, got his reprieve by way of a sigh. I didn’t know. Only Anne knew.

“Herson,” Anne whispered, her head pressed against my chest, repeating my name over and over. Her embrace was tight. Tighter. And tighter I could almost feel my life escaping through the pores on my skin, my lips on her forehead, Anne sweating profusely but for the life of me they had no taste, not salty, none, and her skin seemed to be losing its color, her body becoming pale, soft, softer, until the last light from the setting sun began to pierce her as though she was becoming invisible, and I saw that she was, her body fluid as the sea, and then she became water slipping through my fingers and hands and arms until all I was left holding were her clothes, wet as though the waves have sent them over from the lonely island across the waters. Like a souvenir. A memento for someone — of someone — who will no longer return. It was at that precise moment when she was finally gone for the rest of my life. But if my mother is to be believed — or just as well, if all of them are to be believed — there is nothing fancy about this even if, all the same, there is no finality in something that is yet to happen.

Seventeen years later, I have yet to learn the lesson they think I deserve.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

1 comment:

kae said...

Why does it have to be so heartbreaking? ;(