Thursday, May 10, 2007

Opportunity Doesn't Knock Twice

I dug this undated story from my files tonight as I was looking for any unfinished piece I could work on just to be able to write something entirely from my imagination.

This story is entirely a figment of my imagination. I think I wrote it sometime in the year 2000. I know I should date my work but I'm too lazy. I can't even write like this anymore. I've just lost the touch.

Opportunity Doesn’t Knock Twice
Ella del Rosario

We grew up together, Joshua and I. He was my quiet, sickly seatmate in first grade who wiped away my tears when he saw that I could not color within the lines. My world was falling apart because I felt like everybody else was doing well in their seatwork, whereas my workbook was such a colorful mess. He offered me some Sunkist orange juice that his Mom had prepared for him in a Voltes V thermos. “My Mom always gets thirsty after crying,” he wisely said as he handed me the red cup. I took it and asked if he could do my seatwork for me. He smiled and then colored my flowers in beautiful, even strokes.

When I got home, I told my mother about it and she packed some M&M’s for me to give to that “nice little boy classmate” of mine. The next day, however, Joshua was absent. Teacher said he was sick with asthma. I didn’t know what asthma was so I asked Teacher if my M&M’s could help Joshua. She said I had to wait until he got well before I could give it to him.

I waited again the next day. I heard the bell but I waited outside the classroom just in case Joshua got in late, clutching the little brown package I had for him. Teacher took me by the hand and said that Joshua was going to come soon. But he didn’t arrive that day. Or the next. I was so sad that I tried to color within the lines, so I could show it to him when he came back. My tears began to flow when it appeared like the elephant I colored became the ugliest elephant in our class. I wished Joshua were there to help me.

He came after a week looking thinner than I remembered him. I waited for recess and readily gave him the treasure that was meant only for him. He said he wanted to share the M&M’s with me, but not with the other children. So we hid from our classmates who were all in the playground and stayed in the classroom with Teacher. She smiled at us as we ate the candy piece-by-piece, one for him and then one for me.

We became inseparable after that. I often ended up giving him all my baon because I wanted him to get a little fat so he wouldn’t be sick again. He, on the other hand, showed me all his secret hideouts in the school grounds where he would go during recess. The other boys called him names and bullied him because he was the smallest among them. He never fought back and even stopped me from calling names on his behalf.

When we were ten years old, his parents enrolled Joshua in a swimming class. He got better and grew stronger after that. Our girl classmates all had a crush on him. I could not imagine having a crush on him; it was simply a ridiculous idea! He was my friend!

He told me he wanted to be a doctor someday because he wanted to heal sick people. I did not know what I wanted to be then, so I joined his dream and planned on becoming a doctor, too.

Our classmates started to tease us in fifth grade. On Valentine’s Day, they sent me a card and signed his name on it. I knew he didn’t send it because that wasn’t his handwriting. I showed it to him and he laughed so hard. To my surprise, seeing him laugh made me feel worse. I didn’t expect to be disappointed, but I was! The Sunday after that, I saw him and his family. I was seated at the first floor while he was at the balcony of the Church. We used to make faces at each other whenever Mass got boring. Joshua tried to catch my attention then to but I ignored him.

I did not want to be teased about him. But I didn’t want him to laugh at the teasing. Puberty caused so much confusion that I decided to ignore Joshua indefinitely. This went on until we graduated from grade school. He never made an effort to talk to me, either. He was busy with the swimming team and all his fans. I could not wait to graduate and move to a different school!

I didn’t hear from him for two years. Until we had a class reunion and he was there, looking taller and more handsome than I gave him credit for. He told me PLDT finally reached their subdivision and he could now call me. He recited my telephone number, which he said he had memorized all those years, even though he had never called me on the phone before. I was delighted to learn that and gave him permission to call me.

We burned the lines after that, picking up where we left off. No day was complete without us talking for at least three hours. My sisters could not wrestle the phone from me, as I carried it even while doing my errands around the house, describing to him in detail what I was doing. We got so familiar that he could already tell from the swishing sound whenever I stood in front of our washing machine and I could tell from his “Hello” if he was sick. He consulted me about his crushes – how to charm them, what gifts to give them. We talked about a different girl every week. He would also interrogate me, like a strict kuya whom I never had, about boy classmates who visited me at our house. He always had an insult ready for every boy I told him about. And yet, when I went on our graduation retreat, he gave me a Palanca letter that sent me bawling because he wrote there that I was the best friend any man could ever have.

His expected date for their graduation ball backed out at the last minute. He told me about it and on the same breath and in the same sentence, asked me if I thought my father would allow me to go to the grad ball with him. Caught off guard, I said that I would have to ask permission first. He said it was ok and moved on to other topics.

That night, I told my Dad that Joshua needed me to be his date and explained that it was too late for Joshua to get someone else so I would be the most logical person to bring. Dad looked at me intently and asked if I wanted to go. I said I did, because I pitied Joshua. My Dad said that he would not allow any of his daughters to be anybody’s consolation prize. He said he only would allow me to go if I told him that I was not expecting anything more than friendship from Joshua. “Of course, Daddy,” I assured him.

I tossed and turned in bed after that and wondered how honest I had been to Daddy. I remembered how fast my heart beat when Joshua asked me to be his substitute date, even though he did it so matter-of-factly. I also nearly palpitated when I thought Daddy wouldn’t allow me to go. I realized I didn’t like where my thoughts were going.

The next day, I jumped every time the phone rang. I couldn’t wait to tell Joshua that I could go to his grad ball with him. When he finally called, he didn’t ask about the ball immediately. He talked about the summer outing he and his friends were planning in Batangas. I prayed that I could play it cool until he brought the dreaded matter up. I lost my balance when he said, “And oh, Dawn said she would go with me to the ball after all! Isn’t life great?” I felt as if ice-cold water was poured into my heart. Trying to control my voice, I told him I had to put the phone down because my sister needed to use it.

How insensitive and dense could this person get?! I planned a future without him shortly after that. I went to a different university and did not even take up pre-med. Yet he called me long distance everyday just to tell me about his campus and the many women he met in all their college parties. I gave up hope on us and eventually had my own boyfriend who was so loyal to me that he didn’t mind the mandatory one-hour conversations with Joshua that I couldn’t let go of.

One day Joshua asked to meet with me for dinner. He said I should look my best because he had something important to say. As I was preparing for that, I planned how I would break off with my boyfriend so I could be with Joshua. Of course that was where all these were leading to, I concluded.

I arrived early at the restaurant. When Joshua walked in, someone was with him. He had his arm around a pretty, pale-looking girl. When they reached me, he said, “Catherine, this is Annabelle. I wanted you to be the first one to meet her! She’s THE ONE I’ve been telling you about.” I got confused because there were around 12 women’s names I could remember from our recent conversations. Who was this and what planet did she come from?

I endured that dinner, witnessing a different Joshua. My friend looked wonderfully happy. Every bite I took was tasteless and I wanted so much to throw up.

I broke off with my boyfriend anyway and moved on with my life.

Six months later, I got a call from Joshua. Nothing unusual with that, as we had kept in touch. He asked me to sit down and not to get mad and to just say yes. I didn’t know which to do first so I just froze on the spot. He said, “Will you be part of my wedding entourage?”

WHAT? Run that by me again, please! It was a few months before college graduation and Joshua got his pale-faced girlfriend pregnant. How stupid of him, I blurted out. I told him I did not want to be present at his wedding and he could waste his future without my participation.

On his wedding day, he sent his brothers to pick me up at my house early in the morning, when I had no plans of getting up from bed. I wore a plain dress and would not have worn any makeup if my mother did not insist on it. His two younger brothers treated me as their Ate and in consideration of their innocence, I behaved well on the way to Church.

We arrived before everyone else. Joshua was restlessly pacing in front of the Church and upon seeing me, ran to hug me. I didn’t hug him back. I went to the Blessed Sacrament and prayed the rosary. After I finished, I saw his Mom helping Joshua with his Barong Tagalog. She saw me and beckoned for me to come nearer. “Did you believe it when he told you, hija? My little boy is going to be a husband and father! Oh, my makeup!” Just like that, and then she rushed off to wipe away her tears, leaving Joshua with his Barong hanging from his upraised arms. I finished the deed and buttoned it for him. He was just looking at me the whole time. I was thinking of our childhood and how his had to end that day. Finally he said, “Thanks for coming. I really need you to be here.”

“I hate you, Joshua,” I said. I didn’t elaborate any further.

“I love you, Catherine,” he replied. I didn’t ask him to elaborate on this, either.

After the wedding, I rushed to the ladies’ room and locked myself in the cubicle. I cried without a sound. Nobody ought to hear. Nobody ought to know.

Shattered were my dreams, and his. Joshua never became a doctor.

I, on the other hand, never recovered from that day. But nobody heard. And nobody knows.

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