Karell, a fellow Filipina student, gave Margaret her first guitar. She didn’t want to buy it as she had used up her budget on the pots, pans, and other items that Karell had sold at bargain, rush-owner-leaving prices. Margaret had secretly wanted to play classical guitar all her life, but never got around to doing so. She had traveled all the way to Toronto to study literature, not music, she said to herself, so she turned down the irresistible offer that Karell made.
Late one afternoon Margaret heard a light knock on the door. She opened it and there Karell was, holding the guitar with a huge red ribbon tied around it, and beaming happily. “Meg, I’d like to give this to you as my welcome-to-Toronto present. I hope it brings you good luck, ” Karell said.
Margaret laughed and replied, “Kay, being a renewed Christian I don’t usually use ‘hope’ and ‘luck’ in the same sentence. But thanks, this is so generous of you! I guess nobody wanted to buy it, huh.” They both laughed at this, and then she let Kay into her room and listened to Kay’s last-minute tips on how to survive life as a Filipina student in a foreign land. Then they bid each other goodbye, exchanging email addresses, as Kay was set to fly back to Manila the next day, having finished her master’s degree in political economy in just one year.
After closing the door, Meg felt a little sad. Kay was the first friendly face she met upon landing in this country, as the former was part of the Filipino community’s welcoming committee for her.
Classes started soon, however, and Meg became too busy trying and learning new things to feel lonely and sad. Besides, she chose not to entertain such negative feelings. She was, after all, starting a brand new life. The guitar thus gathered dust under her bed, a place she only got to clean occasionally.
She became more disciplined than she had ever been in Manila. She went to mass everyday, as she deliberately chose a university from the internet that was accessible to church. She swam ten laps thrice a week, signed up for jazz classes, and hit the books like she had never done all her academic life. She hardly made real friends as she was always busy rushing from the library to the gym, the church, or the pool. She preferred to eat alone and when she had nothing to do, she slept. She oftentimes dreamed of her family back home and called them up weekly.
Meg thought she was functioning properly, and was making good progress at her studies, when she read one email that got her curious. It said that the university was offering free guitar lessons to enrolled students as part of the campaign of the new dean of the Conservatory to revive interest in music, which up until then had not been a particular strength of their school.
As if to maintain her interest in the offer, while having her coffee during breakfast one morning, she read the university newsletter and chanced upon an article about the new dean, apparently one of Canada’s more famous child prodigies who could play the violin, flute, piano, drums and guitar, but who decided he was just fed up with performing and wanted to try teaching, to impart the gift of music to more students. They forgot to insert a recent photo of this interesting young dean, she thought, as she finished her coffee.
How one so young could become dean was something she thought about while walking to the library. It made her decide to make a detour and pass by the College of Music. She was sure the slots for the free guitar lessons were already filled up, and anyway there was no way she could fit that into her schedule, so she didn’t know what she was still doing there. She looked for a bulletin board, but when she couldn’t find one, she decided to try her luck at the Dean’s Office.
“Can I help you?” she heard a baritone voice behind her. She turned around and knocked the Starbucks coffee that the man behind her was holding, spilling the hot brown liquid all over his crisp white shirt. ”Oh no, I’m really sorry,” she managed to mumble, and spent precious seconds wondering if she should offer to wipe the coffee off his shirt. She decided against it. She looked up and noticed he had deep blue eyes. He said, “Don’t worry I’ve got an extra shirt inside, just in case a beautiful dark-haired girl would decide to do this to me on what would otherwise have been another boring day”.
Despite her embarrassment, she looked at him indignantly and said, “If you go around giving women lines like that, you would surely be asking for coffee and all sorts of hot beverages on your clothes everyday! I hope you have an exciting life!” Her budding music career forgotten, she stomped off in the direction of the exit to the building. “Men!” she muttered to herself, as she fought off all urges to look back and see if he was ok. She heard the office door open and close, which was good, she thought.
She didn’t know why she was still fuming as she was running down the steps. She was astonished to see the same guy – who must have changed shirts faster than that blue-eyed superman – running ahead of her and then jogging backwards, to talk to her across the field. “I’m sorry, did I offend you? Please stop running.”
Meg stopped running. She said, “Ok, if you’re trying to show me that indeed you have a new shirt, well I’m glad you do. Congratulations. I’m also glad to have saved you from boredom. Now please get out of my way, I have tons of readings to knock down next.” She was surprised at her own responses. Something’s wrong with me, I’m definitely sick, she thought.
“Whoa, whoa, hold on for a minute. Why do you turn psycho on me every time I try to start a decent conversation? I was just curious what you were doing outside my office.”
“Your office?”, Meg asked, wondering why the words “young dean” didn’t register to her earlier. Of course. She had just spilled coffee over, and then proceeded to insult the very person she needed to ask help from; aside from walking, rather, running away from him in the middle of that ridiculous conversation.
It didn’t help that his eyes turned a lighter shade of blue under the sun. Meg suddenly felt dizzy. Her knees threatened to give way any minute now…
“Yes, my office, Miss... I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name. My name is William King."
“Pleased to meet you, Dean King. I’m Margaret Gonzales. I come from the Philippines”, Meg replied in a small voice. “You have the name of a prince and yet you are a king,” she added before she could stop herself. There must be an institution for people like me, she inwardly shuddered. She was on a roll today. Must have been the coffee she drank that morning.
“May we go back to my office now? I have no weapons; the hot coffee has now safely been disposed of, thanks to you.” He was smiling. How could he smile at such a time as this? Is he making fun of me? She was still suspicious, and growing crazier every minute.
She walked back to his office with him. In silence. He opened the door for her. She could see coffee droplets on the doorknob and the floor, actually all the way to the garbage bin where he must have hurriedly shoved the empty cup. She mentally stopped herself from wiping off the evidence of her graceful nature.
He asked her to sit down. She sat down, and immediately noticed something she loved on his table. He was reading “Pride and Prejudice”. Ahh, she knew it. An artistic, soft-spoken guy could not be presumed to be straight in this day and age. He noticed her staring at the book lying on his desk, and he immediately explained, “It’s for my niece, I’m writing a book report for her.”
“It’s ok, you don’t have to explain. You don’t have to invent an imaginary niece either.” She couldn’t believe she said that! She just insulted a stranger twice in less than thirty minutes. She was going psycho, she concluded.
To her horror, he laughed. It was a deep, baritone laugh. “I had better ask you matters of business before you make this day my most interesting yet since I went back to the academe. So, let’s start over. As you can see, my secretary isn’t here yet. She’s a working mom and some days she comes in late. What can I do for you, Margaret Gonzales?”
Of course his eyes were dark blue again. Indoors, dark blue. Outdoors, light. She realized he was waiting for her reply, and she said, “Honestly, I was just curious about the free guitar lessons…”
“Can you play the guitar?”
“No,” she said. She thought of adding, "otherwise I wouldn’t be here for free lessons", but before she could speak he shot another question. “Can you play any musical instrument?”
“No, uhh, if that’s a requirement then I guess this was a bad idea…” she said.
”No, no, it’s perfectly fine. Let’s wait for my secretary so you can sign up. Or you can come back, as you seem to be in such a hurry.” He finished his sentence, then started rubbing his temples. “I get a headache if I don’t have my coffee. Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to remind you.”
Before her big mouth could get her into real trouble, the dean’s secretary buzzed that she was in, and very sorry as her toddler refused to be left at the day care center. He buzzed her back to come in. He instructed her to show Ms. Gonzales where to sign up for the guitar lessons.
Relieved and eager to end that encounter before she said one more bizarre thing, Meg wordlessly followed the secretary. After she was finished signing up, she heard a voice behind her. “You owe me coffee.” She whirled around, with her bag and her hair whirling with her, and faced him.
“Haven’t you had enough excitement for one day? I am a walking disaster. You have not been exposed to the worst of my antics.”
“I love a good challenge. And I need my espresso, pronto. Shall we?”
Margaret had sworn off men. She hated men. She left her country because she was tired of men. She didn’t need this.
But she owed him coffee, and he was kind and helpful enough the whole morning despite being on the receiving end of her tactless outbursts.
“Just coffee,” she said. But of course they talked for hours. She ended up volunteering to write the real niece’s book report, as it was something she could whip up in minutes. It was easy to talk to him, she realized. He could take her insults with smiling, sometimes even amused, eyes. A girl could get used to that.
So amused was he by her, in fact, that he played the flute for her one day at the library. It was totally unheard of, but to have the famous new dean courting a Filipina was enough excuse to disturb the silence of the academic halls.
He disturbed the academic pool too, when he played the violin for her as she was doing her laps.
He showed up during her dance class and played jazz favorites on a portable piano, to the delight of her classmates and the amazement of the entire gym.
His music inspired her to write. He gave her strength to explore fresh ideas and express them passionately. He could have already gotten away with her heart through all that, but he still decided to bring in the entire school orchestra to play for her. She looked out her dorm room window and saw them, with their stools and music stands and music sheets, playing under the baton of their dean, with songs that gave her a new home.
During their wedding reception, Meg surprised William with a performance on her guitar. She played Pachelbel’s Canon in D. And he surprised her with this poem, which he wrote faster than he could have written the book report, had he been the one to finish that.
In that little package
That stood waiting-
To ruin my shirt,
To waste my drink.
That little fire threw me out
Of the prison of my boredom.
Music came alive
Within me when before,
Only notes were played to perfection.
Her hair is dark,
Her tongue is sharp,
A wild, fearful heart.
I wanted to tame her
With my every song.
Now tender, now sweet,
She still is fire, waiting
To ruin more shirts,
To waste more drinks--
Until death do us part.
As the guests clapped at this wonderful piece of poetry, the university orchestra played, the jazz dancers performed, and the couple kissed.
Smiling in her seat is Karell, who enjoys a happy ending as much as the next fairy godmother.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Author's note: I wrote this after a night of God's Love, Lingkod QC's most unique CLP yet. We had music, poetry, stories, sharings, fellowship, pica-pica, mingling, greeting. It was a blast. And we talked about all kinds of love. Well I love music and poetry, and I believe they should get married, and the rest as they say is history.