Monday, June 1, 2009
word polaroids by Maria Alina Co
It was twelve midnight when Sol started kissing me.
I know I cannot be precise, with all the alcohol that swirled in my head and the smoke that clung to the ceiling last night. But it just felt like twelve o’ clock.
And when he started tugging on my blouse, I was surprised to feel…well, surprised. As if it was my first time. Of course, it wasn’t. Sol and I, we’ve done it in 1993, thirty-two years ago, and I can be precise on this.
I had met him in an elevator in one of the few buildings in Ortigas, boasting of high tech doors, shiny windows and modern elevators. He had always pressed number 9, while I stayed behind for the 10th floor. He had the crispiest suite, the tidiest lump of thick hair held by a fragrant gel. His nose was as forward as his posture. But what I found sexiest was when he cleared his throat. He did this all the time, thrusting his flexed palm above his mouth, just before stepping out of ninth floor.
And exactly 6 o’ clock in the evening yesterday, I heard that same clearing of throat. Only it was gruff, husky, the kind an old man gets when he’s either too tired to smoke, or too much smoking made him tired.
I was one step out of the mall clutching two plastic bags of grocery, just enough for my week’s needs when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the gesture. But the tight flexing wasn’t there any more. It was a weak, withered hand of a 60-year old man. Sol was one step into the mall when I shouted his name, “Solomon Cruz!”
I was happy to see him, of course. God, thirty-two years and I haven’t heard anything from him! The last time I heard he still worked in that damn advertising office, and rode that same elevator six days a week. And the last time he heard of me was that I had two new things or events in my life. I had a new boyfriend, who was a film director and a new job as Production Manager in a commercials production.
“You still look beautiful,” he told me this while I was about to drink from my cup in Willy’s coffee shop in Alimall. I was blushing terribly behind my cup--I drank a lot in one gulp. “You look good too,” I said, drinking in his now thinner and definitely whiter hair. Sol smiled, it hasn’t changed a bit. The same cute crumpling beside the edges of both eyes. He is an attractive old man, all right.
Then came the topic I always expected would be raised. I’m not irritated with it. It’s just that I’ve been through this question before, and I’m tired of saying my usual answer, which is exactly this: “Well, it just happened. Or rather, didn’t happen. I was happy with my life, skipping boyfriends as I would stones. Plus I had other things in my mind. My career, my dreams. And I was forgetting it, delaying it year after year, when suddenly I found myself like this: beautiful and single.” This statement is guaranteed to elicit light-hearted laughter from a listener. But this time, I was determined to respond differently.
“Why didn’t you,” I asked back. Sol’s eye crumples smoothed, lost in thought. Finally he answered, looking straight into my eyes, “Well, I met a woman who broke my heart. And I wasn’t able to get over.” I slapped him gently on his shoulder, “Oh Sol! The truth!”
Laughing, he said, “Ay I’m just too tired answering the truth. Well, I guess I delayed marrying one girl after another, until marriage passed me by. Sad truth noh? How about you?”
I struggled for an answer. Until finally from the farthest corner of my mind, I grabbed a line I must have gotten from a movie. “I guess it’s single-blessedness for me.” Sol smiled at this, content with my answer.
Our conversation was going well, really well. Turns out he’s still working part time in a car company as Sales Consultant. He quit his job in 9th floor shortly after I quit mine. He was surprised when I told him I just retired.
“Why? I don’t mean anything, Lucllle. It’s just that I saw you’re the type who wouldn’t stop working until you die,” he said, turning the corner to Kamias road. We were inside his car by this time after I invited him over for a decent dinner. I didn’t see any wrong in this. After all, we are already adults, and even way beyond that.
“I guess I got…tired. It was really hectic, the PM position. Before I left, the place was crawling with new graduates and young people with two years experience. Believe me, I was the oldest there!”
“So what do you do now?”
I told him I basically did what I wanted to do, what I thought I was left to do. I read all the books I didn’t read before – self-help books I never read while working, surreal, magical realist books, books about and for women, interior design books, the history books I skipped in college, even novels that I skipped in high school (I resorted to summary books). And yeah, I read and enjoy Harry Potter. When I paused, we were already sitting in my sala by this time, I looked at his expectant face. I resumed: I also write. What else? I take my time in everything, taking a bath, sipping my iced tea outside during a hot afternoon. My buying habits also changed. Like for example, in buying a new pan, it’d take me one week or more!
Sol was laughing, but it wasn’t tainted with mockery. Later, after a dinner of beef and mushroom and mashed potatoes, he confessed he laughed because he can relate with me. We were sharing a bottle when he spoke up. His tone was different, deep and smoky, as if it a strange sound bouncing on my living room’s walls.
“I know what you mean when you take time buying your pan.” I asked him how so.
“It’s like this. When we were young, we try to make things fast. We were all excited and hurrying to grow up, graduate, work, make money. We have hot asses from too much stress, too much…hurrying up. We wanted promotion, we wanted success, a new car, everything, we wanted all the pans!” Sol was gesturing with his hands, his right hand swinging, stressing words here and there. He didn’t have this gesture back in the 9th floor.
“…We hurry to have boyfriends, girlfriends. We wish to stretch the years automatically to get married. We wanted it all, successful families. But then, look at us now, suddenly things are just slow…we want them slow.”
And I couldn’t have agreed more. For a moment, he seemed as if he wanted to add something more. Instead, he searched for something in the pocket of his pants. It was a pack of cigarettes.
“Do you mind,” he asked. I said no, and asked for a stick as well.
Me and Sol, we didn’t run out of conversation. Yes, there were pauses, a second or two. But they never lasted. We always thought of something. Mostly, we talked about his and my former officemates in in 9th and 10th floors. What happened to Tina, a copywriter then, whom they secretly called Tinae for her shitty copies? Did Elaine and Bert marry? Is it true Mr. Jerome Remulla, a manager then, is a registered nurse now in the U.S.? Who are the deceased? Who “died” in the advertising industry?
By this time, I was dizzy. My eyesight was blurred both with tears from too much laughter and too much smoke. I hardly saw Sol sitting beside me, shaking with laughter. He was still in a shaking state when he posed the most serious question of the night, a question that poked me then and is still stinging me now.
“Lucille…don’t you get lonely sometimes?”
The clouds of tears blocking my view suddenly parted. I tried absorbing the question, which ended up a new version in my mind. Am I lonely?
“I am. I live alone. ‘Course I am.” Suddenly, I felt the cloud of tears forming again. My eyes hurt, and my chest welled up with a stinging pain that rose up to my throat and caused me to sob horribly. “I am, I am,” I said.
I told you before, I felt it was twelve midnight when he kissed me. It was dark in the living room, with only a single yellow lamp lighted beside me. The air tasted like twelve o’ clock. Sol planted at first a soft kiss on my cheek, then another, then another. I kissed him back, my wet face pressed into his. The pain in my chest welled. Suddenly, I thought of a house, a two-storey house, with me and Sol in the foreground. Sol kept on kissing my face, until my lips gravitated towards his. As if it’s the most natural thing in the world, he kissed me back. In my mind, there’s a kid on the porch, perhaps two. Two cars in the garage, three maids in uniforms. Sol’s embrace made me think of the interior of the house. It was warm, big and lonely at the same time. And perhaps old. Old. The word lingered in my mind as Sol pressed his body on top of me. He was surprisingly light, lighter than he was thirty-two years ago.
I was caressing his back as he tugged on my blouse. I felt awkward, tugging his shirt back. Instead, I touched his face. I was trying to get a grip of myself, wondering how sex at the age of fifty-eight would feel like my first time, when I felt a twisted pain on my back.
“Aaawwww….” I grimaced. Sol kept his body pressed on me, kissing my neck.
“Sol, Sol, I have a p-pain, cramps…”
Sol stopped, raised his head and looked at my face, contorted with pain. “I’m sorry, “ he muttered under his breath.
He stood up suddenly, smoothed the crumples of his shirt. His eye crumples was extra smooth as well, lost in deep thought. I massaged my aching back, whispering, “I’m sorry, Sol. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, Luce. Your back okay now?”
“Umm…hurts a bit.”
Sol took me in his arms and carried me. “Where to?” he asked. I pointed to an oak door ahead.
I smiled up to him, “thank you. You don’t have to do this.” He slowly placed me on my bed. Sol looked down on my miserable mass of a body, a former sex goddess-turned-old spinster. Oh…but his eyes were sweet, caring, I knew this in the back of my mind.
“Good night, Luce. I’ll call you tomorrow.” Before stepping out of the room, I heard it. The sexiest sound—Sol’s clearing of his throat.
Now that’s taking everything slow, even in this, I thought before dozing off to sweet slumber.
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