The last ten years had come to this, with her crammed on the old sofa in a box of an “apartment,” her body aching in various points from having slept in odd positions and where the springs poked through the couch’s thinning faux leather cover. This dying piece of furniture and a couple of carton boxes plus two duffel bags were all that was left of her marriage to Jacques.
Ten years had come to this. Just this. Sally could have kept everything they’d acquired together. Jacques would not have put up a fight. She could have taken the imitation bone china that she dearly loved, bought four Christmases ago on a visit to Strasbourg. Or the luggage set they had bargained for less than a hundred Euros in a street market in Venice the summer after their wedding. Authentic leather. Better than Louis Vuitton, really, the seller had said, his accent thick like the many cups of ciocolatta calda they had shared on that trip. She could even have taken Levin, their overweight beagle mix who, she now realized, would not have fit in this new space anyway.
Sally stretched her arms, careful not to knock over the stack of boxes that stood precariously overhead; her eyes, sticky and sore from oversleeping, adjusted with difficulty to the harsh midday sun that seeped in through the only two windows of the apartment in one of the many obscure little alleyways snaking through Uyanguren.
She gave her new home a sweeping look, examining the water stains on the ceiling and the imprints of dried up adhesives on the wall, feeling alien and gigantic in this tiny space. It is no wider than the full length of Jacques’ arm span; in its entirety it amounted to just a little over the size of their conjugal bedroom. Not that the house she had shared with her almost ex-husband was big – it was a humble two-bedroom bungalow in Ulas that they had moved into right after their wedding. It’s just that this room was small. The couch would have to go if she ever wanted a bed.
On one corner was a plain, industrial-looking aluminum sink with two floating cupboards above and two underneath, and next to it the door leading to the toilet and bath so small there was no point buying a shower curtain. On the other end of the apartment was a small built-in cabinet with a few layers of shelves on one side and a narrow space for hangers on the other; at the bottom a lone, boxy drawer with a missing handle. The closet left barely enough space for the door to open fully.
And on what little space she had left on the floor was her assortment of odds and ends, boxed and bagged remnants of her recently ended marriage. It had been days since she moved in. Her luggage was still strewn on the floor in various stages of disarray; next to it the heap of her used clothes, exposing the haphazard abandon with which they were tossed. There were a million things to be done – the cupboards were empty, the closet dirty, and she did not have a working internet connection. She needed to get some pans, maybe find a bed and some real pillows to replace the neck pillow she’d been using, buy a refrigerator that would fit, change her digital passwords and get her own bank account – things that a couple of years ago had excited her so as a young girl fresh out of college. She had felt like a true adult for the very first time then, going through the aisles of the home needs section of the old NCCC not far from where she now lived, carefully calculating and stretching what her first job’s salary could get for her first apartment. Doing these things filled her with dread now, imagining what people must think of a nearly middle-aged woman buying cutlery and tableware for one and the smallest rice cooker on sale, filling a house that was not even a house. She dreaded it so that she had settled only for whatever the supermarket offered her by way of home trappings, leaving the rest for when she had gathered enough confidence or need, whichever came first.
He had insisted that there was never an affair; that he never even touched her beyond polite handshakes and friendly hugs. This, even when they had spent many out-of-town trips to the South, and late nights together at work. He had described her only as a friend, a new colleague at the firm where he worked as a consultant for an international NGO. Yet, no matter how generic and harmless his descriptions of her were, there was no denying the twinkle in his eyes when he spoke of her, betraying the smile that his mouth had managed to conceal.
And then there was the silence and his inability to look her in the eye when Sally had finally summoned enough courage to ask him if he loved this woman. That was all she needed to see.
You should have tried harder to keep him, she was told. Should have been more adventurous in bed. That’s what white men love. As if coital acrobatics were all that was needed to secure a marriage’s success.
Maybe you’d let yourself go – foreigners get bored with plain wives, they said. You should have shown him you’re fun and liberated, wore more revealing clothes. It’s always the losyang ones who get jilted. And yet in the same breath they also said, but did you cook him great meals? The way to a man’s heart, you know. They choose Pinays because we are traditional and domesticated.
“Like submissive lap dogs?” she had wanted to ask.
Did you fight for him, tell him you’d love him better if he picked you? Did you even give him a chance to choose? He would surely have picked you, he is too decent not to!
And yet, they also said, Sally, you’re so lucky you can actually divorce him. Getting annulled in this country is its own circle of hell.
“Lucky. Yes, I must be lucky,” she thought.
Did you try therapy? They pried some more.
They did. They spent thousands of pesos on couples’ therapy sessions. Sex heals, the therapist had said. Try it when you’re ready. She was just short of telling Sally to fuck her husband back to loyalty.
Still, they tried. She and Jacques had spent one long evening in the middle of those tumultuous months, lying side by side in bed, hands just close enough to feel the other person, before Jacques made a move on her. He touched her, his long, bony fingers gently sliding along her forearm. Up and down. Up and down.
And then they kissed, first in small reluctant pecks on the shoulder, the neck, then on the mouth, like two teenagers exploring the act for the very first time in their lives, seeking and calculating before succumbing to ones of more animal greed, of tongue against tongue and skin and hair.
Then Jacques stopped and sobbed. His body shook as he clung on to Sally, his fingers gripping her bare clavicle. Sally laid there under Jacques’ clutch, half-naked and motionless, fat tears rolling down her face in full recognition of this finality.
To be continued…
Hannah Rae Villarba was born and raised in Digos City. She currently works from her home office in Davao City.