“C” is for CHAPTER and for today’s A to Z Challenge, I present the long-overdue next scene of my story’s third CHAPTER. I will need to alter the look of the texts some other day. A few translations to follow soon.
For past chapter pages, CLICK HERE
CHAPTER THREE: REUNIONS (Scene 6)
SHE was blabbering, Maya knew she was, as they settled at a table near the windows of the deli. She was well aware of this, very nervous that she even had a moment of dilemma simply deciding with whom to sit (she chose Santi who happened to be nearer). She knew, too, that they knew she was agitated. It could not be helped for their souls were too connected to hers. Whether that was an unfortunate thing or not, it was not helping at the moment.
“…and I remembered you once told me to take culinary lessons so that I could be a chef since I wanted to learn, so I took your advice—well, almost, because I decided to do my own stuff and create anything I wanted, so since Santi, here, didn’t want to join their family business, I decided maybe I could be a secret business partner of the family—”
“This is yours?” Gabriel addressed Santi from across the table.
Maya answered for the doctor with “I just told you, he didn’t want to be a part of the family business, so technically, it’s not really his. Mine would be a better way to put it, although,” she suddenly realized she was not supposed to talk aloud about it and whispered, “it’s a secret, really. Santi is the only one who knows and he coordinates with his lawyer for me and the lawyer coordinates with the Rivases. And when there are meetings, I need only log in to Skype for a voice chat.” She looked around the place to make sure no one had heard her careless storytelling. It was a good thing peak hours were not there yet.
“Congratulations then, I’m happy for you.” He really did not sound like it. “I just wonder, if you’re not business associates,…?” The unfinished question still sounded malicious.
“We’re really just friends, like she said” Santi replied coldly, matching Gabriel’s forced smile. “As I suppose you two are, correct?”
“Hmnnn….” was the response coupled with a little sneer that seemed designed to annoy.
“Mga loko!” she exclaimed. “You’re both not my type!”
“That’s not how I remember it,” Gabriel added with a wink at her then a glance at Santi that he made sure was not missed.
Santi took the bait, saying, “Maybe that’s not how she remembers whatever it is you’re remembering.”
“Is that so?” her old friend asked, now addressing her with raised brows and the sneer still pasted on his face.
Maya pretended to be unaffected. “Ay, ewan ko sa iyo! Anyway, we’re here to eat so why don’t we order? I know! I’ll order your favorite for you, Gabi—“ she caught herself, “—Gabriel. I’ll order for you the Puto Bomb! That’s my own style of puto bumbong. Isn’t that funny?”
“Isn’t that supposed to be available only during the Christmas season?”
“Not this one. And that’s a silly idea to get stuck with, anyway, when we can have it all-year round. Ours come with syrup that you can pour on it or dip into, if you don’t want it the regular way. We’ve got caramel, choco and honey to choose from.” She was blabbering again. “Then how about coffee? We’ve got barako, obviously. But maybe you’d like to have a taste of our rice coffee or corn coffee? We’re the first coffee shop to offer those, as far as I know. Or how about hot choco? Ours are made from actual tablia.” Mentioning those things somehow gave Maya a sense of calm, like they were familiar territory where both she and Gabriel belonged.
Without waiting for his approval, Maya stood up and went to the bar to give their orders. She realized she forgot to ask for Santi’s, but she knew he would eat anything she gave anyway, he would not mind. He would understand how preoccupied she would be with Gabriel as there would be a lot of catching up to do. He knew she missed her old friend very much for she had told him this time and again, like a broken record.
She took a look at their table and saw the two men barely talking, seeming to be eyeing each other intently like competitors would. Ah! This was not what Maya wanted, not how she wanted to introduce them, and very much not how she wanted them to react. Why she expected things to be different this time, she did not know. All she knew was that she was not ready, and surely, Maya would have a lot of explaining to do.
But not this soon!, she almost said out loud when Santi approached her to say he had to go as she received her change from the barista. Instead, she said, “Going? But we just got here!”
“I’ve got work to do, you know that. I just got a text.” He produced his phone from his pocket as a way of showing that he did get a text, except he put it back almost as immediately. Maya supposed there wasn’t any text to actually show. “And I’d like to use your potion on the bones already, which I couldn’t do with him around.”
“Aaaw…I really wanted you and Gabriel to get to know each other more. I want my bestfriends to be bestfriends, too.”
Santi had a serious, unrelenting look. “Sorry, Maya. It doesn’t seem likely to happen. I don’t think he likes me.”
“Or maybe you just don’t like him?”
He ignored what she said. “Besides, I know he’ll be more interested in finding out what you have been up to all these years and perhaps, you know, rekindle old memories that he remembers with you…”
“You don’t believe that, do you?” Maya took his left hand in hers and squeezed it to give him reassurance.
Santi gave a little laugh. “I was just joking. It doesn’t matter what I think, really. Also, who am I, anyway? He’s been your bestfriend since forever, like you said. Compared to how long you’ve known each other, it’s like you and I just met…” She could not think of anything immediate to say to that as memories flooded her thoughts. Santi pulled his hand back and checked his watch. “I do need to get back. I’m honestly sorry I can’t stay long, but I’m also glad to give you more time to be with your friend. I am sure you’ll have many things to talk about.” With that, he gave her a little wave, nodded to Gabriel who was watching them, and got out of the place.
Maya gave out a silent, exasperated sigh. There was just no way to avoid the inevitable, she might as well brace herself. She arranged for a takeout of the orders she made for Santi instead, then Maya went back to her seat to wait for orders she made for herself and Gabriel.
Now that they were alone, neither of them spoke. A certain awkwardness hung in the air. The surprise brought by them meeting again was initially a pleasant experience for her until realization began to sink in. Nothing was pleasant the last time they were together. Would it be worth delving into? Would he even want to discuss it? She was not sure if she did.
Fearing a confrontation, she decided to break the silence, anyway. “Wow, it’s been—what?—ten, fifteen years?”
“Twelve,” he said. She knew that, but the idle talk was supposed to break the ice.
“Can’t believe you’re an NBI agent, of all things. That’s good. A very productive way to spend the years. I’m sure they have made full use of your warrior skills.”
“Not quite the way you put it. The work is very well-tamed.” He looked straight into her eyes. “You’ve been busy as well. I see you’ve reconnected with old company.”
And so we start. Can’t we just talk about my new car and the fact that I’m actually driving??? “Well, you’ve lived this life as long as I have, so you know that’s bound to happen in every generation, whether we like it or not. It’s not going to stop unless our breaths do. I’ve learned to live with it and accept it, no matter how people turn out to be.”
“Sure! Did you see the receptionist?”
“Yes. She is Cleo now. Looks different, but still very pretty, as she always has been the family beauty. People change face, but we recognize them just the same like it was yesterday. Every reincarnation, though, Sanwani is mean to me. It’s like she has decided to hate me for eternity.” Maya genuinely gave a little laugh.
“Sounds exactly like your sister.”
“Well, I don’t know how to break that cycle so I deal with it by just being happy to be with my sister in this certain Sanwani-lifetime. Now, Tilsa, guess where that kind sister of mine is. A convent! The habit suits her well.”
The talk was interrupted when their orders arrived: barako coffee and puto bumbong with all the syrups for him, just a simple cup of corn coffee for her.
Gabriel was still not in the mood she wanted him to be in, unfortunately, and had been thinking of something else. “What’s between the two of you?” he asked once the waiter left the table.
“Tilsa?” she asked back, taking a sip of her coffee.
“You and that guy.”
“Your Dr. Santi.” If looks could kill, Gabriel’s could have already killed her.
“Nothing!” To her own ears, she sounded defensive. “You should know that.”
“Do I really know that?”
“Why, don’t you know me by now?”
“That’s just the problem. You are like an enigma to me. I don’t know who I’m really looking at right now, his Maya or the Asyama’iya I knew?”
“There’s a difference?”
“Definitely. For one thing, you were a suicidal wreck when I left you and now, you’re this bubbly, talkative girl with her high-tech gadgets, a driving license and a new boyfriend.”
“He’s not—!” she snapped and caught herself. Maya took a moment to calm down then told him to eat his food before it got cold. Gabriel picked up his fork but absent-mindedly poked at his food. “If you’re not eating that, then I will.”
“So what are you two, really?”
“Does it matter?” she snapped again. She expected this, but hated it just the same.
“I think you owe me an explanation.”
“Why? You’re not my lover, either. If I remember it correctly, you said you could never love me.”
“That was not how I said it. Besides, I am not the issue here.”
“Why should there even have to be an issue with Santi then?”
“You know very well why!”
“Don’t snarl at me. Can’t we just enjoy each other’s company like old friends should?” Gabriel seemed to want to say something more then decided not to. Instead, he decided to eat his food.
Maya took that as another opportunity to restart the conversation, to clear things up. “Santi…Well, we met when I saved his life from…you-know-what. To make things short, I found out about his work and thought he could help me in catching ‘them’ through that.”
“And you catch them because…?” Gabriel did not even look up from his food. She did not answer. “I see you are still on the same destructive path.”
“How is that destructive? Isn’t it your job as an agent to catch bad elements? Me, too, just other kinds of bad elements.”
Gabriel stopped eating altogether and stared her in the eye. “How is it your job exactly?” She did not reply again. She knew where this was going. “The problem with you, Maya, is you never learn. And you’ll never learn until you let go of the past. You let it keep haunting you, and you keep hunting, and now, you’ve let another past back in your life…Good luck on your future, that’s all I can say.”
And with that, Gabriel put down his fork, stood up and left Maya half-regretting seeing him again.
*“Mga loko!” – “Crazies!”
*“Ay, ewan ko sa iyo!” – “Whatever!” or to be more literal, “I don’t know about you!”
*puto bumbong – steamed, violet-colored Filipino rice cake
*tablia – cocoa tablets