On my left foot, the white sock with blue stripes is paired with a plain yellow sock. I’m wearing my favorite pair again. The left sock is made of a cool thin cloth, while the other one is heavy and warm.
I can still imagine my mother’s face when she first saw me wearing this pair when I was still in elementary. She was quite hysterical when I told her I wanted to go to school wearing them. My father was very strict about being organized. A perfectionist, you might say. I remember him pointing out that a young man must dress accordingly to earn the respect and trust of his peers. His deep solid voice and few words were enough to make me agree. I never showed them the pair again.
Dress accordingly, follow tradition, and honor my ancestors. Those are only a few of the many one liners my father would emphasize from time to time with a grave face, making every phrase imperative and unbendable. The elitist Chinese blood flowing in his veins was very strong. It is no wonder our family was named after the Chinese term for “great” – Wei. I often wondered whether I also had the same passion and capability my father expects me to have.
My mother, being a Filipino, kind of neutralizes the Chinese within me. I may not be very vocal to her about this matter but I really appreciate the fact that my mother convinced my dad to stay here in the Philippines. I don’t even bother wondering how things would be like if we lived in China.
Being the only son, I was raised with the stern upbringing a Chinese father is expected to give to his son. In return, I was determined to follow all of his instructions. I would do everything to “uphold the family honor”. I was willing to please him in every way but I held my breath after hearing the order: “Marry this girl.”
I can still remember my father’s face that moment. His deep set eyes were cold and staring. It was a different kind of stare, it wasn’t his casual glare but this time it was a very intense glare as if I had hit his face. His wrinkled face was unmoving. It was clear he wasn’t going to talk further about it.
One afternoon, I took off to meet with Jade, my best friend. I found her in our usual bench near the statue of Ramon Magsaysay in the park named after him. I couldn’t help but admire the way she looked. The friendly afternoon sun was shining in her face as she sat there looking at me.
“What’s with the long face?” she asked, not missing a hint.
“Nothing,” I said. “You look good today.”
“What’s wrong? You don’t look good.”
“Nothing, it’s about my father. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Okay. Hey, will you come with me?”
She took my hand and led me straight to the small open chapel near the edge of the park, overlooking the Davao Gulf. I felt a gust of wind in my face as I watched Jade’s long straight hair gracefully dance to the breeze’s music. We sat on one of the pews with faded white paint.
We sat there for a moment looking at each other. I couldn’t help but wonder how grown up Jade looked now. We were only around eight years old when we announced to each other that we were going to be the best of friends in the whole world. I couldn’t help but smile at the thought. She and I lived in the same subdivision near the school and would always walk together. Our yayas were also friends. My days were never complete without Jade. We even decided to swap our socks. She took one of her dad’s old socks; I did the same, and we traded one for the other. After that, it was never the same again with those two pairs.
When my family moved, our friendship became stronger than ever. Luckily, we went to the same high school and until now in college, though of different courses. At least I get to see her everyday.
“What? How could he do that?”
“He just did, Jade.”
“And you’re just going to let him?”
“I don’t know. What would you do?”
She was silent. I wasn’t used to Jade being silent. Most of the time, she could actually talk nonstop for a whole day. She’s very outspoken and aggressive at times. I can actually tell whenever she’s upset. And right then, I suppose she was.
Sadly, the notion of arranged marriages between clans within Chinese communities is still observed here in Davao. I always have a choice, my mother would say. I don’t know. I haven’t exactly tried disobeying my father. Sure I made a couple of mistakes, but never intentional. And never to father.
“We’re in a chapel, right?”
“Stop fooling around, okay? It’s not funny.”
“I mean it, Chin. Let’s do it.”
The world was whirling. Everything was suddenly new to me. I didn’t know this girl I was with anymore. What was she talking about? I never did toy with the idea of me and her together. She was like a sister I didn’t have.
Her brown eyes searched for mine as I tried to look at her countenance. I could only vaguely see the Jade that I knew as my friend. This Jade was a woman. Her face was so near me that I could actually smell her breath. I noticed how her body has developed. I could see the roundness of her breasts and could imagine the firmness of her long legs inside her tight jeans.
I shook off the image.
“Jade, you’re crazy. Just drop it.”
“Why? Don’t you love me?”
“You know I do but it’s not like what you’re thinking.”
“So you’d rather marry someone you don’t even know?”
“No. It’s just that…”
“Do you love me?”
It was probably the most peculiar afternoon I ever had. Jade decided to renew our promise back when we were still young; only this time, we agreed to be each other’s lifelong partner. In that very chapel, I was “married” to my best friend. I was glad. I was confused. But most of all, I was scared.
Of course, it wasn’t a real wedding. It was simply an agreement. A mere understanding between two friends. Or lovers? Yet I would never fully understand what that meant.
After that day, I didn’t see her anymore. It just wasn’t the same anymore. She wouldn’t return my calls and text messages. Whenever I passed by her at school, she would simply smile at me. That haunting smile! Terrible and wonderful. Jade was no longer Jade. Not my friend, sister, or “wife”. She was now my perfect stranger.
I look at myself in the mirror, all dressed up for the wedding. The wedding to a woman I will see for the first time today. Father will be so proud. I will face him without shame as I uphold the family honor. I am dressed accordingly for the occasion.
I smile as I look at my feet. On my left foot is a white sock with blue stripes. On my right foot, a plain yellow sock. I decide that my favorite pair of socks goes well with my shiny black wedding shoes.