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CLEO went back to her station and was disappointed to see at the lobby a familiar yet unwelcome face. “Her again?” she grunted and immediately sat at the reception desk, affecting a busy look, avoiding the person’s eyes. It would have been better to hide, but who knew what things this visitor told Dr. Rivas? Cleo did not want to lose her job.

“Hi, hello, hello!” Maya de Alano greeted her but she pretended not to hear. The girl did not mind and flung her upper body on the marble counter, her arms supporting her weight as her feet dangled. She got a good look at the computer monitor. Too late for Cleo who did not attempt to cover it so as not to look guilty of anything. “Hmnn…So strawberries can now be harvested in Manila? That’s new to me. Has a lost cow wandered in your farm lately?”

Ha. Ha. Cleo faced the girl with a bored expression. “And what do you harvest in your Farmville?” she asked snidely.

“I don’t network, I don’t blog. And even if I do, I doubt I’d play that. I’d hate the waiting and the routine. Plus, does anybody still play that? Ugh.” Maya let her feet touch ground again. “I like games that give me ‘adrenaline rush’,  fast games – races, DotA, Temple Run, Counter Strike, World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Clash of Clans…I do enjoy games for the brains, don’t get me wrong. Word and trivia games make me happy, especially when there’s time limits involved. I’m happy to announce that the Hangaroo rarely got hanged and that I often get the Final Jeopardy answer right. Classic, but great games. Oh, and Scrabble and chess and card games,…though I really prefer playing on actual boards and shuffling real cards. I do like Spider,” went the annoying litany.

“Spider. What’s that? Ah, let me guess. Spiders invade town and you blast as many insects as possible?” Cleo remarked sarcastically. She was not about to appear clueless in front of this girl. If this girl thought –

“Uh, no. It’s a Windows card game, remember? Like the online Solitaire? You have that automatically downloaded in your computer.” Cleo remembered and wanted to slap herself. In her desire to be smug and sarcastic, she only embarrassed herself and not Maya, who had more to say about the topic, apparently.

Maya continued, “A spider’s not an insect, anyway. It belongs to the Class Arachnida, Order Araneae, so it’s an arachnid. Insects belong to the Class Insecta, various Orders. They always have three segmented parts and six legs, each pair of legs for each part, one pair of wings. Spiders on the other hand – ”

“Stop. I know spiders,” Cleo interrupted. Wouldn’t this girl just shut up?!! “I know what spiders look like. So they’re not insects. Okay. I get it.”

Cleo logged out from her account. She could not log in to anything else, not while Maya was around. Even chat sessions had to wait. So to busy herself, Cleo stood up to attend to the white board hanging on the wall beside her and began scrubbing away old reminders. She tried to wipe away all the marks on the board but grunted in frustration. As usual, she had the unfortunate mistake of using a permanent marker.

Maya The Great was soon behind her with a suggestion. “Cotton and alcohol. A bit wet and messy, but that works.” Surely, this irked Cleo more; she scrubbed more profusely yet unsuccessfully with the board eraser. “Alright, wait, wait. Here, let me.” Before Cleo could protest, the girl pulled her gently aside and grabbing a board marker, began writing over the visible marks.

“You’re making more mess!”

Smirking, Maya then took the eraser from Cleo and scrubbed away until soon, most of the marks were gone. “Voila!” Satisfied, the younger girl handed the pen and eraser to a slightly humiliated Cleo.

“Hmp. Such a waste of ink,” Cleo mumbled, going back to her seat.

“Hmnn…You’ve got a point. Next time, buy a dry erase marker for situations like this. Anyway,…” Ms. Know-It-All began to explain how it was possible to erase, but Cleo cut her off, asking rather rudely what she needed from them. Maya beamed a smile. “Good. I thought we’d never get to that. Actually, can I talk to Santi?”

Dr. Rivas is busy.”

Well, that was true. In the few years that Cleo had worked for them, she had known him to be quite a dedicated worker. She found him rather handsome and from what she knew – or rather, hoped – he was a very single bachelor. What he was doing hanging out with this girl Maya, she could not really guess. Dr. Rivas seemed rather formal at work and she thought him serious based on that. This girl, however, could be too naughty, informal, irritatingly perky, or generally just plain annoying. And yet, Dr. Rivas seemed to enjoy Maya’s company for some reason. Again, as far as she or anyone else knew, they were just friends.

Hmp. She’s not even really pretty, Cleo thought. Not sexy. And what’s up with her usual boyish outfit? Maya always wore a shirt-jeans-and-rubber-shoes ensemble. And she always carried around a hooded sweatshirt – one with sleeves during cold weather and one without sleeves during warm weather. She traveled light with a sling bag and always carried with her a pair of arnis sticks. Due to this, Cleo just could not fathom just what kind of relationship Dr. Rivas and the girl had exactly. They never seemed intimate. Close as close friends could be, maybe, but not intimate.

Hoooo-kaaayy…,” Maya continued, “can I talk to Dr. Rivas anyway? It’s just important, like – uh – ‘a matter of life and death’, So can I?”

Normally, people contact him with ‘matter of death and bones’. Besides, do you have an appointment? From what I know, every appointment is relayed to me.”

His assistant probably forgot to tell you.”

Maya lied. Cleo knew she did. Raising an eyebrow, Cleo sat down and phoned the assistant to confirm. As expected, the girl had no business there.

Ms. De Alano, I suggest that you just wait for him here. I’ll call them for you later, maybe after thirty minutes. Dr. Rivas is presently entertaining an important guest. You sit and you wait. You know what to do.”

Maya pouted. “Aaaayyy…And here I was excited to show him my new car, riiiggghht there, across the parking lot.” Despite her irritation, Cleo took a peek at the said car through the transparent doors. In a bit of surprise, she spotted a blue-green Beetle with wavy white lines painted across the sides. Cleo could not believe that with all Maya’s affectations of being young and hip, she would get a slow, old-fashioned car.

Kotseng kuba!” Maya said out loud and tapped Cleo’s forehead not-so-gently. Then she made a sloppy salute.

Cleo was not amused and made no attempt to hide her annoyance as she sat down once more. “I thought that joke died in the ‘80s along with that type of car.”

It’s vintage! Besides, don’t you know it’s been revived? Therefore, it is just fitting to revive the joke. This car came back with cooler designs in the last decade. Because the US finally lifted its ban against the Volkswagon, and the reason they banned it in the first place was – ”

I’m not really interested, can’t you tell? It’s a kotseng kuba, so it’s baduy.” There was a pause and Cleo thought she finally had the last say. But Maya crossed her arms and bent down a bit to look closely at her. That made her uncomfortable. “What?

Have you always been like this?”


You know, angry at the world?”

I’m NOT!!!” Cleo felt herself turn crimson. Somehow, those words struck a sensitive cord in her. “Could you please just sit down!” Surprisingly, she was not anymore forced to engage in another silly exchange and the silly girl sat at the waiting area across her.

You know,” the visitor finally said again after a few seconds, “you remind me of my sister. In fact, if I look hard enough, hmnn, you could be my sister.”

You wish. “I thought you were an only child.”

Sometimes,” was the weirdest answer to this that Cleo had ever heard. The more that she decided that she really, really, really hated this girl. 


*“Voila!” – French for “ta-dah!”

* “Aaaayyy…” – sad “Aaaawww…” in this context, sounding regretful as if something has gone to waste

*Kotseng kuba – In the past, this was the street term for the Volkswagon or Beetle in the Philippines. It literally means “Hunchbacked Car.” There was a silly kid’s game played where players tried to see who could spot this type of car the most and the fastest. Whoever it was would have to be the first to slap the forehead of the others before anyone could, shout “kotseng kuba!” and make sure to be the one to make a salute first in case others spotted it, too, and beat him to it. Sometimes, one would do this outside a game, to the annoyance of the unsuspecting.

*baduy – ill-fashioned or unfashionable; if it’s a person, it means someone lacking a sense of fashion or is a fashion-misfit


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