A low-density residential enclave of the old rich with plants (e.g. Calachuchi, Macopa, Sampaguita) for street names. Flanked by NCCC Mall to the north, and the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Davao Grade School and High School to the east. The century-old Philippine Women’s College sits in its heart. Some of the streets are unpaved and will be muddy after a drizzle, and impassable after a downpour. Notable for its inoffensive domestic architecture, many of the houses are single-level structures, with wide front lawns, low fences, and grottoes of the Virgin Mary. A striking exception is the abandoned Ampatuan mansion (one among many), with its twenty-foot perimeter walls hiding its insides from outside view.
We met at a party at one of the lines of townhouses on D-Street. The facades were identical, and it took me two wrong tries – I didn’t know what the host meant by the third unit, whether it was third from the left or the right – before I got the house right. I buzzed and you opened the gate. I was greeted by your 5’11” wiry frame and wry smile. Your blue shirt was soaked in sweat from playing beer pong, and you took your thick black-rimmed glasses off, betraying your deep-brown eyes that only showed itself if the light hit your face. You led me to the host, grabbing my arm then letting go of it once you realized your slip-up. It didn’t take much to find her, with her long pink hair and chrome hoop earrings. She was leaving for the Netherlands and she invited all of her friends, which were mostly college freshmen and sophomores. I was the oldest one there, having been in university for over six years.
I couldn’t hear anyone through the electro music, but I couldn’t talk to anyone anyway. Everyone was engrossed in their own little worlds. A couple were playing Jenga, some were playing beer pong, yourself included, and the rest were just sitting on the giant plush couch talking (or at least trying to) to each other. Save for the host, I didn’t know anyone. I excused myself outside to smoke. I could hear you shout about something (probably beer pong-related) as I went out the door. I haven’t made up my mind about you. I wasn’t even sure if you were like me. Half a pack of Marlboro Lights and a mug of beer passed by, and I went upstairs to one of the bedrooms, looking for a quiet spot to lie down. A boy and a girl were there, your friends, also looking for a respite from downstairs. “Come here,” the boy said, tapping his hand on the bed. “Let’s talk.”
The boy majored in political science at Ateneo de Davao, the girl, interior design at Philippine Women’s. We were talking about things we had in common – music, movies, how we hated it downstairs – when you walked in. You were obviously drunk and the boy helped you to the bed. You said something about going home and not letting your mother find out before passing out. The boy removed your glasses and emptied your pockets – car key, wallet, iPhone – and placed everything on the side table. I grabbed your phone and thumbed through it. You had Hozier and the soundtrack to Across the Universe on your Spotify. I saved my number on your phone and placed it back on the side table.
Jollibee – Ulas Branch
A fast food outlet situated right before the highway fork to Toril and Calinan. Serves typical fast food fare – burgers, fries, sundaes – but better known for its fried chicken and burger steak rice meals. Caution must be exercised though when crossing from the other side of the four-lane highway as there are no pedestrian lanes and ten-wheeler trucks and buses often pass through. Frequented by college students and people from the nearby Adventist-run hospital. Fast Wi-Fi and comfortable seats. Open 24 hours a day except on midnight of the first and third Monday of the month for store maintenance.
After the first few awkward text messages (“Who’s this?” “I’m the guy from the party.” “Why is your number on my phone?” “Why do you think?”) we started texting more often and casually. I found out that you didn’t like horror movies and I said that was a shame because there’s this Argento film about witches I wanted us to watch together but I could probably think of other titles. Not that you’d want to watch movies with me.
“So, how’d you find out?” you texted.
“Find out what?” I replied.
“You saved your number on my phone.”
“I took a chance.”
It was past midnight and I invited you out to the new Jollibee in Ulas and you agreed. Besides, we were both craving for their burger steak. I shaved my day-old stubble just before I left my apartment.
The jeepney down to Ulas took too long waiting for it to fill up so I rode a cab. Even then, I arrived ten minutes later than I said I would. I could see you looking out the plate glass window as I walked across the small parking lot to the entrance. You saw me and I waved. You waved back and pointed at your phone and disappeared from view. “Let’s meet downstairs,” you texted. You were already at the counter when I came in and hadn’t read your message yet. My phone buzzed and showed you your text. “I just read your text,” I said. “No shit,” you replied.
We both ordered the burger steak but I had Coke Zero with mine and you had pineapple juice with yours. I thought of paying for the both of us but you handed the lady behind the counter your money before I could decide. She placed our food on one tray and you carried it. “Where do we sit?” I asked. “I left my stuff upstairs,” you said.
I caught myself eating too fast and I thought you too slow. I asked you how your day went (“Tiring,” you said rather succinctly) and you asked me how was mine (“Tiring too.”). You asked me about my family and you about yours (one brother, overbearing mother, absent father). I then asked you why you didn’t like horror movies.
“It’s not that I don’t like them, but I get scared very easily,” you said.
“We’ll watch a mild one, I promise,” I replied. “Argento’s films aren’t that scary.”
Matina Town Square
Entertainment and nightlife hub. Filled with bars, restaurants, and an assortment of shops, Matina Town Square is one of the most popular spots in Davao. A bazaar is held every weekend, selling everything from clothes to books. A short walk from NCCC Mall and situated directly across Ateneo de Davao Grade School, Matina Town Square is hard to miss. Parking space is limited, however, but there’s no shortage of taxi cabs and jeepneys. Bars open at 6:30 pm, and close at 1 am due to the city liquor ban.
We had been together for barely a month when you asked me if I wanted to meet your friends. You’d only met my two best friends – themselves a couple – a week before and I didn’t know if you invited me to meet your friends because you wanted to or because you felt had to. We only saw each other during the weekends and I wanted it to ourselves. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to meet the people you spent most of your time with. I agreed and you said you’d already booked a table at Stairwell even though I remember telling you I hated that place. Whether you misheard me (although I don’t know how one can misunderstand “I’m never going back there”) or you had completely forgotten, I had no clue.
I got a haircut and my eyebrows threaded at my usual place and asked my roommate to look through my closet and assemble a decent enough outfit. He laid on my bed three options for me to consider. You had a meeting at school so I told you not to pick me up. I waited instead at the café across Stairwell where I could catch up on some e-mail or maybe do some light reading. While I’ve never been a big fan of coffee, I’ve always liked hanging out in coffee shops.
You texted that you would be an hour late but your friends would already be at Stairwell so maybe I would just go ahead and meet them without you.
“Can I just wait for you?” I replied.
“Go ahead. They’re waiting.” you responded.
“It’ll be awkward for me. I don’t know them.”
“It’s going to be okay. They’re upstairs. Go.”
I went upstairs and saw a couple of hands waving at me. I didn’t recognize any of their faces but they obviously recognized me. I approached them, still unsure if they were yours or someone else’s.
“He’s told me so much about you,” the rotund girl said. “He can’t stop talking about you.”
“Really? That’s good, I think,” I replied. They laughed.
I turned down their offer of beer, opting for canned juice instead. I tried to employ the same old tactics – shared interests, knowledge, people – but found none. I tried to laugh at their jokes and listen to their stories. While I did enjoy their company, I wouldn’t want to be stuck with them either.
“I can’t make it. I have paperwork to finish tonight,” you texted.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I replied.
I excused myself from your friends and went home.
Ateneo de Davao University – Jacinto Campus
Private Jesuit research university in Davao. A monolithic wall of faux marble and blue plate glass windows along Roxas Boulevard, one of Davao’s main thoroughfares. The Jacinto Campus houses the undergraduate and graduate schools of the Ateneo de Davao University. The university has five undergraduate schools that offers 46 undergraduate programs, as well as a College of Law. Situated in the central district of the city, Ateneo de Davao has a student population of around 8000.
You were bogged down by your work and we haven’t seen each other in over a week so I decided to surprise you by going to your turf. A friend snuck me in, pretending my business was at the Admissions Office, and even lent me his spare uniform so I could blend in better. Seeing myself wear that blue and beige uniform made me wonder how different my life could’ve turned out had I studied there.
I knew you were in a classroom in one of the newer buildings (you said so yourself and I had your schedule) but I was unfamiliar with the place so I let my friend guide me to where you were. Walking through the grounds, I thought people were looking at me as if they could sniff that I wasn’t one of them. I tried not to think much of it.
We arrived at the room you were supposed to be in but when I peered in through the door window I saw that it was empty. I texted you asking where you were. You replied with the same room number you were supposed to be in. I then tried calling you but you rejected my calls, afterwards replying that you were in the middle of class and couldn’t be disturbed. I showed your texts to my friend who couldn’t muster anything but a shrug and invitation to the cafeteria. I didn’t understand what was going on.
I was juggling whether to call you out or not. I tried weighing the pros and cons, rationalizing what or what may not happen, and whether it was worth the fight, yet another one in the four months we’ve been together. We’ve fought so many times over so many things but I haven’t fully adjusted to the thought of it. It just seemed unbecoming. Unbecoming of you, of me, of what we had.
“You’re lying,” I typed, staring at the screen for a bit before hitting send.
“What?” you replied.
“I’m here and your room is empty.” I wanted to be angry but I also wanted to believe that this was all just a big misunderstanding. Maybe you were in a different room, a different building, and I got it all wrong. Ten full minutes passed after I hit send when you called.
“What are you doing there?” you said.
“There? Where are you?” People stared at me as I uttered those words over the phone. I tucked myself in a corner.
“Are you following me? What is wrong with you?”
“Why are you even angry? You’re the dishonest one here.”
“Fuck off,” you said before hanging up.
Public park in the heart of Davao. Formerly the old dilapidated PTA grounds, the area was transformed into an urban park ornamented by rainforest trees, large sculptures by local artist Kublai Millan, ponds and waterfalls, among others. The park covers an area of 4 hectares and is dotted with more than 1,000 species of plants from all over the world. Beware of the photographers inside the park for they usually take advantage of tourists and other visitors by charging extortionate prices. The pigeons aren’t afraid of people and you can approach without them flying away. Popular destination for locals.
You agreed to meet me at the park after careful negotiation: A short meeting, just before dusk, around the time the tree-hung lanterns started to light up one by one as the crimson sky gave way to the night. I waited at a bench at the tiled grove in the center of the park. I was staring at an old man in a fedora feeding the pigeons when you tapped my shoulder. It had been the first time we’d seen each other in almost a month. We never “officially” broke things off, everything just sort of fizzled out. I wasn’t sure what to do, whether to embrace you or not. I didn’t stand up and you took the seat beside me. The grove was deserted apart from the old man and his pigeons.
You inched closer and grabbed something from your bag. I caught a glimpse of a pack of Marlboro Lights. I tried to snatch it but you wouldn’t let me.
“When did you start smoking?” I asked. I smoked, you didn’t. At least I thought you didn’t.
“I’ve smoked for years, but only casually. I got good at hiding it.” I wanted to not be surprised by your offhand admission.
“What’s in your bag?”
You handed me a black unmarked DVD case, in it an unmarked DVD.
“I finally watched that horror film about witches. It wasn’t that bad. A bit corny though.”
A woman walked past us. You recoiled to your side of the bench.
“Anyway, I wanted to thank you,” you continued. “I watch this film a lot. Not one of my favorites, but I like it enough. Maybe you’ll like it too, maybe not.”
I moved closer towards you. I wanted to rest my head on your shoulder. I asked if I could. “Not here,” you replied. Your phone buzzed. “I have to go.”
“OK,” I nodded. “You’ll keep in touch?”
You nodded in return, before walking away. I stared back to the direction of the pigeons.
T.J. Fujikawa is a BA English (Creative Writing) senior at UP Mindanao. He’s currently writing a novel.