"Mommy, mommy, mooommmy, stooorrry!"
I blink and tear my eyes from the rivulets
running down the windowpane.
"Sorry, darling. Once upon a time there was a
Queen who had a beautiful baby daughter…"
* * *
It was cold and wet, drumming, tearing wet.
Typical mid-July weather in Manila. Rain falling with a vengeance, thick heavy
sheets slashing every tree, jeepney and building. I held my shoes in one hand,
the other bunching up my skirt to keep it out of the swirling water around my
knees. I touched the sidewalk with my toes, feeling for open manholes, and made
sure of firm cement before putting my foot down.
Men tied the corners of their handkerchiefs
around their heads, rolled up their pants and bent their heads to the wind.
Students from the nearby university hugged their books and sloshed from one
store awning to another. Street vendors hurriedly pushed their wooden carts
loaded with boiled peanuts, fried banana rolls, barbecued chicken feet out of
the rain, wiping the drops off their hair, arms and hands with a grimy face
towel once they had found shelter. Three girls held hands, counted 1-2-3 after
each step and laughed with their faces to the sky. Cars and jeepneys stalled,
half-drowned on Taft Avenue. Teenage boys pushed what cars still ran across the
flooded street, the drivers only too happy to part with a few pesos to be able
to go on their way. Children frolicked in the rain, throwing empty plastic
bags, watching them ballooning up, then sinking, a glimmer of pink, blue or
I turned my head and the window of a blue
Mitsubishi Pajero slid down.
"Get in. I’ll take you home," Peter Beresford
yelled through the window. He was an American consultant, spending three months
overhauling the computer accounting program for the bank. His cubicle was
beside mine. He was into his second week.
He leaned over and opened the passenger
I clambered in, dropped the shoes and pulled
the skirt over my knees.
"Thanks. I live quite a ways from here though,
in Makati. If you can drop me off somewhere along EDSA, I can take a jeepney
from there. It’s only this bit that gets flooded."
"I live in Makati, too. Just tell me where to
turn from EDSA."
He turned on the CD player and I heard the
first yearning notes of a trumpet.
My shoulder-length hair was plastered to my
scalp and my white blouse was soaked.
"Here, my gym bag’s in the back seat. Grab the
towel and wrap it around you. Sorry, I can’t turn off the air-conditioning; the
windshield will fog up."
I leaned over, unzipped the bag and took out a
blue towel. It smelt of Eau Sauvage.
I rubbed my hair with the towel and said,
"Stardust. Wynton Marsalis. My favorite." I looked at the CD jacket. "I love
this album. But I stopped buying after this one. I don’t like his new
"Why not? Artists evolve. They take us on to
"That’s just the problem. Their single makes it
to the top, they make an album, then they decide to experiment. We like what
we’ve got. So, stick with it."
"Ligaya, we’d still be lighting lamps if we
followed your logic."
"That’s what I mean. We weren’t happy with
lighting lamps, so we moved on to electricity but then we progressed, if you
can call it that, to nuclear energy. Why can’t we leave well enough alone?"
"Other people like Wynton’s sound now."
"Who? You? "
"What’s that supposed to mean?" He turned and
raised an eyebrow at me.
"Hey!" I stuck my hands out in front of me,
shrugged and smiled.
He concentrated on the road. I looked at his
fingers on the steering wheel, long and tapered, almost like a woman’s. His
black hair curled around his small ears, and the round gold-rimmed glasses
perched on a nose any Filipino would have given his soul for. His chin was
square, his lips full.
The girls at the bank followed him with their
eyes, whispered about him during coffee breaks and grabbed every opportunity to
pass by his desk.
"Ang guapo ni Mr Blue eyes! You’re so lucky,
Everyone envied me.
"Turn right here. Then at Berting’s Sari-Sari
Store turn left."
"What’s a sari-sari store anyway?"
"It’s where you can buy a cup of soy sauce, a
stick of Marlboro, a packet of shampoo, a pencil, three beers, whatever. Handy.
Nothing like that in the States."
"No, nothing like that."
The rain was thudding on the roof. I could
hardly hear the trumpet.
"It rains like this till August?"
"September, sometimes October."
He shook his head. "Such violent extremes, such
lightning changes. Sun, then all of a sudden, pouring rain. I’ve never seen
anything like it. This must have been the kind of rain God sent on Noah."
"But doesn’t it make you grateful for rainbows?
And what I love most is when the sun shines while it’s still raining. My mom
used to call me to the window and say, ‘See, Ligaya. Angels weeping.’"
"But angels don’t cry, do they? They just play
harps on their clouds or something, right?"
We looked at each other and burst out
"Here we are," I said through the laughter,
"turn right at the Shell station and a few more blocks and the black gate,
that’s it. Thanks, Peter. See you tomorrow. I’ll wash the towel and get it back
"No, I’ll take care of it."
I put the towel on the seat, rummaged in my
shoulder bag for my keys and waved good-bye. Home at last. It was small but it
was mine. Everything was wood and rattan and batik. I locked the door and
looked through my CDs.
"Play it again, Wynton."
I slow-danced to the bathroom and followed
Stardust in my head while I showered and when I stepped out and could finally
hear, I was just behind him a few bars. Not bad. One day, I’ll get it
The next day the sun shone brilliant; angels
wept; then rain pummeled the city at dusk.
Peter and I worked until six, then he said,
"Come on, I’ll drop you off."
He put Stardust on again, winking. "For the
"Thanks," I said sarcastically.
One night I said, "Want to come in? I’ve only
He grinned and parked the car.
"Coke? Beer? Gin and tonic? I make a mean
"OK, let’s try it."
He sipped and said, "Aaah! That hits the
"May I?" as he stretched his long legs and
leaned back on the couch.
“Ligaya, what does it mean?”
“My name? Happiness, joy. My mom was
optimistic. She didn’t know what a handful I’d be.”
"You live alone? Not even a maid? That’s
unusual for here, isn’t it?"
"Yes. My parents raised hell about me wanting
my own place, but once I earned enough, what could they do? And I don’t need a
maid. Someone does the housework twice a week and someone else comes and cooks
over the weekend, enough dishes for the week. I just take what I need from the
freezer. So, ready to try some home-cooked Filipino food?"
I smiled and stepped over his legs. I got the
adobong baboy and the stir-fried cabbage from the fridge and
put them in the microwave. I put the leftover rice in the steamer and turned
the stove on.
He stood up. "Set the table?"
"Spoons and forks right hand drawer. Glasses up
there." I pointed with my lips.
He laughed. "Is that a Filipino thing? I get
directions with a jerk of the head, a moue. People greet me by raising their
"Hey, who needs words?" I jerked my head for
him to sit. He laughed again and pulled out a chair.
“Mmmm, what’s this? I like it.”
“It’s pork marinated and stewed in soy sauce,
vinegar and lots of garlic. Some people say it’s our national dish. I call it
my no-fail dish. It never fails to please, especially first-time
He laughed. An open-throated laugh.
It became a regular thing. Drive and dinner.
And Wynton’s trumpet.
"Ligaya, I need a new suit. Can you help me
pick one out? Then we can have Italian at my place afterwards."
"You can cook?"
"Man of many talents. Try me," and he gave me a
We headed off to Makati and the boutiques. The
first one didn’t have his size; the second one was too conservative; the third
one had a grey silk Armani. He went to the fitting room. "Ligaya, come
I pushed open the black velvet curtain that led
to the fitting room and saw myself walking towards him in the mirror. The room
shrank to two pairs of eyes in the glass.
Then softly, "Perfect match, don’t you
I was drowning in blue.
"Is it OK, sir?" The salesgirl called from
behind the curtain.
Holding my gaze, he said, "Just what I’ve been
He paid and we ran to the car. It was raining
again. He unlocked the door and helped me in. He got in, turned the key in the
ignition and looked at me. I stared straight ahead. He sighed and put the car
He lived in one of the new expensive
condominiums. His flat was on the 15th floor. Marble floors, leather couch,
lamps on tables. Browns and deep oranges. Behind me, I heard ice clinking into
glass. Felt eyes warm on my back. Too warm. I grabbed my shoulder bag from the
couch and turned, back to the door, back to where I had come from.
"Ligaya, please." He was still. Everything was
still. "Stay," a whisper.
I had not looked at him since the eyes in the
I held my bag tight against my side, my other
arm across my chest, holding on to the strap.
"I make a mean gin and tonic."
I let go of the strap and the bag fell. I
huddled on the edge of the couch. Feet, hands and knees pressed together, I
stared at the mud on the toe of my right shoe. The sibilant hiss of a CD, soft
yearning notes. He placed his hands on my rigid shoulders and gently pushed
them back against the soft leather. I closed my eyes and his fingers combed my
hair. A long time. Then I felt his weight next to me. He placed my hand in the
palm of his and a finger caressed the base of my wrist to the tip of each
finger. I opened my eyes.
"Sssh. I know. I’ll be gentle."
And he was, infinitely so.
In the shower, I told him to sing Stardust in
his head and we would see who could follow Wynton closest.
"Shoot! I was in daa", humming high, "and he
was already in daaaa," humming low. "Will I ever get it right?" I looked up.
He shook his head, ruffled my hair and said,
"Child and woman, and all mine."
I felt the heat on my cheeks, remembering. I
buried my face in the towel.
He laughed and hugged me.
The days were too long, the nights too short.
Time was running out. One more week. Then the day came. His flight was at
I stared at the clock in my living room. As the
hands marched to 12, I looked out the window. The angels wept.
* * *
"… and they lived happily ever after." I
closed the storybook.
She snuggles down contentedly, yawning.
I smile, tuck her in and kiss her blue eyes
All mine. And only mine.