The skies wore a mottled garb of major cirrostratus darkly swirling around the mile-long stretch of Jones Avenue. It was a bright, windy, yet uncertain afternoon. The scenic 4 o’ clock speck last Friday, from the mid-day helter-skelters of rain showers, traced of a tired, boring earlier day. Loiden stepped out from BankWise, near the Shell gasoline station. Clad in beige Oxford long sleeves, dark gray Dockers, and black Bass shoes, he whiffed the remains of the working day. He had a plain-looking folder tucked under his right arm. He waited under the sparse trees dotting the boulevard.
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A drag of mixed cars, a maroon elf truckloaded with auburn-skinned factory workers, some noisy bikes, honking taxis and ubiquitous jeeps passed by. It was a trivial traffic of vehicles and commuting people from his gaze. There were pedestrians idly going on with their world. Loiden waited. He waited for three minutes to be exact.
Finally, he thrusted his left arm and waved at the next vehicle. It was a 04B jeep going to Colon, the oldest street in the Philippines built by the Spaniards -- in 1565, establishing the first Spanish settlement -- during Miguel Lopez de Legazpi's rule. There were four guys, a woman with a five-year old, sad-looking girl staring by the window, and six schoolgirls as he stepped inside. None of them looked Spanish.
He breathed deeply. He took in the toxic spin of the polluted air. He exhaled with a sigh of relief when his butt rested comfortably on the left row inside the 04B jeep. The jeep sped off within a second, while the woman braced her little girl firmly at the sudden forward jolt.
Crazy driver! She muttered.
The public utility jeepney stopped at the P. del Rosario crossing, jolted, and heaved again at the awaiting traffic towards the oldest street in the Philippines. The vehicles crammed in the heart of the downtown street named after Cristobal Colon. He was better known as Christoper Columbus in the English-speaking world.
Loiden does not know that side of history.
Calle Colon was packed with old Chinese, dilapidated scaffoldings, street vendors, Timex-Greenwich-Chowking-Sogo Hotel billboards, houses, mini-malls, office buildings, museums, notorious cruising theaters and 50 years of delayed development all swarming with daily demands. There was no panache here. But you can see yuppie-types of men and women brisk-walking their way against the crowd. The scene was a hectic city street of Old School commerce meets Metro Cebu's current urban lifestyle. It was a bustling convergence of life, drudgery, and anything mundane. Commercialism and squalor co-existed harmoniously.
Loiden stared at the billboards. Somewhere, he noticed, a guy was reciprocating him. Somewhere.
Loiden stared at the red-capped guy. He was wearing a spotless white shirt and a khaki pants. He wore brown sandals. Loiden does not know its brand. The guy smiled. It was obvious that, to Loiden’s right, there was no one beside him. The guy was seated in front of him, some three or four, cramped-sitting position on the right row of the jeep.
Loiden smirked in his mind. Why smile? And what is he smiling at? Why? Smiles? Loiden gripped his folder and placed it in front of his lap. He noticed there was no blotch on his longsleeves. Not yet.
The guy was still smiling, dodging from a conscious effort if someone was observing keenly. The little girl was lost in her thoughts. The mother, or an aunt, perhaps, was staring idly elsewhere. She looked like she was breathing with her eyes in boredom. The other three guys were silent, looking, from time to time, here and there.
The six schoolgirls were noisy but that was a minute ago. There was silence inside the jeepney taunting the mad blast and squeal of Calle Colon’s massive draw of urban-meets-rural chaos.
The smiling guy quickly raised an eyebrow at Loiden. He ignored it. He ignored the guy.
The 04B vehicle stopped at the usual "jeepney-stop" lane. Loiden stepped down ahead of them all. The crowd thickly swarmed like mad hornets. It was a stinging sight of people adjusting, stealing, and moving on to and fro of spaces. There was a claustrophobic nightmare of some sorts: of populace rushing against time, space and machines.
Loiden hurried towards Metro Gaisano mall. He looked back, the guy followed him.
What the… he thought.
The guy was nineteenish. He was clean. He had a calm look in his face despite the hurry and the intentional smiles.
Loiden hastened up. Stepping the flight of stairs and into the entrance, the guard brisked him, touching his tummy and the pelvic regions. Two seconds. There was nothing there.
The red-capped guy was two feet away from him in the line dividing male and female species. Loiden went to the perfumery section. The cute smiling guy was shuffling between shoppers. They were of the same height, about 5’ 7” with different waistlines.
Loiden, this time, nodded at him. He, too, smiled.
The red-capped, smiling, anonymous guy approached him.
“My name is Winch,” he offered a matching handshake to him. “Tsong, if you want, too, that’s my nickname. Call me, Tsong.” He added.
“You were smiling all the time, do we know each other?” He tried to think of that famous “You looked familiar to me” line. But he never met or knew the guy before.
“Nothing,” he said, “what is your name?”
“Lloyd.” Loiden aliased his nickname.
They were locked, in handshakes, awkward smiles, and their own eye-dodging stares from busy, oblivious shoppers.
“Good afternoon, sir,” said the lady at the perfume stand, in full lipstick and light shades of make-up. She flashed her usual "customer-service" smile at Loiden. It was lacking the X-factor. “What can I do…”
Loiden let go of the handshake and everything, trying to avoid the clumsy afternoon meeting.
“Tsong,” Loiden asked and shifted their steps to another corner, “where you from, and why did you follow me?”
“Nothing, I just find you really cute!” Winch was unapologetic with his remark.
Loiden scanned around. The perfumery salesgirl was not looking at them anymore. There was no one eyeing them. They were within the Men’s Underwear section.
Loiden cleared his throat. “Tsong, it’s nice meeting you, but I have to buy some stuff around here.”
“It’s ok, Lloyd, I can wait.” Winch said.
“You mean?” Loiden had a different stare. It was not provocative, but more of a perplexing attitude.
“I’d like us to dine after you’re done buying your briefs.” Winch smiled his cutest one so far.
“Ha?” Loiden was cut short somewhere. “What… I mean, how did you know I was buying one?” He asked him.
The red-capped guy trailed his eyes towards his right and somehow pointed the blatant signage, like there was an arrow in them.
Both of them smiled. Loiden shook his head in disbelief.
“This is crazy. And I find you funny.” He confessed at Winch.
“It’s really obvious,” he shifted again from Loiden’s smiling stares, at the signage, and back to him again. But I am not stalking you.” He affirmed.
“Why?” Loiden asked.
“Let’s talk later during dinner, ok? My treat.” Winch grinned.
Later, Winch and Loiden took to the nearest Chowking fastfood chain outlet, ordered spareribs, chicken meal, Emperor’s Congee, a sweet and sour pork platter, ice tea and pineapple juice.
“You working, where?” Winch asked Loiden.
“Nope…” Loiden pressed.
“But you were in front of that bank.” Winch added.
“First job interview.” Loiden simply said with a shrug.
“Really, how was it?” Winch was smiling and taking a biteful of his first spareribs.
“Kind of OK. Maybe. Tough!” Loiden shrug. He was not eating yet. He was intently looking at Winch with mixed reactions.
“Why late?” Winch asked some more. “Hey, you better eat.”
“I was among the fourth batch," Loiden uttered, then munched on a chicken skin. "There were twenty of us this afternoon.” Loiden continued. “It’s really hard to find a good job, you know. What do you do? Are you a student?”
“Yes, sort of. I came from Manila a month ago. My parents decided to continue my studies here.” Winch said, never stopped looking at this new dashing prince who kept on staring at him too. He slurped the steaming Congee soup. He swallowed its century egg.
“Which school?” Loiden trivially asked. He was getting bored and excited at the same time. He felt he didn’t want to eat. He was hungry and tired. However, his spirits were alive.
“La Salle.” Winch said, sipping the ice tea. “I took up Management there. What about you?”
“I see,” Loiden shifted... "Me? Oh, I finished Occupational Therapy..."
"That is interesting!" Winch smiled. He rubbed his right shoulder blade.
“Why did you follow me?" Loiden hot seated him. "Really now!”
“You’re really cute. I find you nice. And friendly, maybe, I guess you are. You ARE really cute. No kidding.” Winch shrugged. He continued indulging his Congee.
“Tsong, what’s the big catch here? Are you...?" Loiden stopped in between his helpings and looked at Winch absorbedly.
“We can be friends, you know. I am still new here.” Winch winked.
“No worries. It’s ok. Thanks. But I am just overwhelmed with your sudden moves,” Loiden remarked. “What’s on your mind anyway?” He continued as he hastily ate a tablespoon full of cooked rice. Then...
Silence. The world passed by in split-seconds. Inside Chowking, it took them a thousand hours to sit and eat there.
“Do you have a place? Your own?” Winch broke the cold silence.
“Um, yes, why?” Loiden continued. He guzzled the pineapple juice.
“Maybe we can go there after this, or watch a movie…” Winch suggested. He was almost done with the siomai, the waiter later delivered that additional order during their conversation.
The waiter looked like Derek Ramsey. But they forgot the celebrity’s name which associates the hunky waiter’s enigmatic face. They simply forgot he was cute after all.
“Oh, no…” Loiden cut Winch.
“I don’t really go to these movie houses around here.”
“No, that’s not what I meant.”
“Let’s just hang out in your place and watch something.” Winch pulled out a something from his pocket. It was a video compact disc.
“Porn!” Loiden exclaimed, almost choked a bite off his chicken thigh, and turning around as another couple caught his stare. He managed to laugh.
Both guys laughed.
The night crawled slowly. It was a room somewhere in Talamban; in a fourth storey, glass-encased house. From its bluish curtains, the night stars gave way of the evening's deepest mystery blocked by the transparent window panes. They were Mysteries of the night's tempting musk and heightened, new discoveries.
Inside his room, Loiden glanced at the clock an hour before midnight. He smelled of Boss. A guy cleared his throat somewhere. He abruptly turned 180-degrees from full view, a couple's picture trapped in a 5R frame: of a sweet girl hugging a beige-Oxford-long-sleeves-dark-gray-Dockers-and-black-Bass-shoes-clad guy. They were both smiling against a cerulean studio backdrop.
He placed the vcd on his player rack, turned on the TV set, and sideglanced...
Winch was lying down on a soft, warm bed. He was drying up his "one-length" boyish hair with a dark blue towel. The cuddly pillows (in varying blue pastel colors of seashells), and a thick blanket stuffed with wavy line arts, all in different blue tones, were all too hypnoptic. Loiden switched his National aircon to Super Cool.
A trance rendition of a familiar music spiced up coolly in the background...
"One day, we came to meet... Happy! I am feeling so haaaaaappppppppy... I-want-to-be-ha-ppy-with-you-MA! Ba-by! Happppppyyyy, I'm gonna be happy..."
The TV screen screamed unashamedly, reeking of heterosexual pornography. It didn’t ask for more. The TV moaned from one orgasm to the next.
Winch and Loiden covered themselves under the drapery of the light purplish blue blanket, against the illuminations of a velvet incandescent bulb on the ceiling.
The aircon steadied with its frozen air. Deep inside, their bodies rocked with convulsive, volcanic hormones waiting for the first move. They were stiff in the thoughts of this profound, unlikely male meeting. In their minds, rather, they will be flowing tonight.
Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary. -- Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) English photographer