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Torrential


"The human memory is treacherous," the professor said.

That is to say, the mind plays tricks on us, so much so that we cannot always rely on its accuracy, especially for things as important as wills. Notarial wills require the signature of at least three credible witnesses, on each and every page thereof, signed in the presence of the testator and each other.

That much he knew, that much he remembered.

He also remembered how, one night in September, some twelve years ago, he received a call from a girl at 10:23 in the evening. He can still vividly recall the annoyance in his mother's voice when she told him that someone called, that a girl called, that a girl called him at this late hour, that a girl called him at this late hour in the middle of the storm.

"Hello?"

"Hi." 

Of course, there were preliminaries that had to be asked. Where she was, why she was out at half past ten, why she didn't stay inside her dorm, what led her to the sari-sari store a few blocks away. He could hear the downpour from her end of the line; he could also hear the chatter of a few inebriated men.

"People are still drinking in the middle of the typhoon?"

"The human spirit is unsinkable. Or rather, the distilled spirits are."

It's been approximately eleven hours since the power went out; miraculously the telephone lines seemed unharmed. She had always been afraid of the dark; and always wary of admitting it too. But it's been three hours of hiding under her blanket, of pretending that huddling beneath the sheets cancels out the darkness outside them. She mustered the courage to crawl her way to the door, and finally out the building. She didn't have time (nor the visual capability) to put on decent clothes; she had only her hoodie on - nothing underneath, not even her bra. Which is information he didn't want her to be sharing at that instant — not because he didn't like it — but because she's a beautiful twenty-one year old girl, all by her lonesome, in a neighborhood that was not exactly known for its safety. And he couldn't be there to protect her.

But of course he couldn't bring himself to say that. At least not yet. 

"So did you have anything to eat?" he asked.

"Oh shoot. See, I forgot to have dinner. That's how shit scared I was,"

"Don't you have a stash of Sky Flakes in your room?"

"I ate it all the other day after my mom sent me a jar of strawberry jam from back home."

Before he met her, he didn't think there were people who came from Baguio. He didn't think Baguio could be someone's hometown. Which is so incredibly naive of him, and actually a bit racist too. "How Manila-centric of you," she'd say. For him, Baguio was just home to two things: the Americans who settled there, and the sunflowers. Oh, and the Ifugaos too. That makes it three. It wasn't a theme park. But he had no idea why it didn't occur to him that regular folk lived there too. 

She wasn't just a regular girl.

That much he knew, and that much he eventually kept discovering long after that phone call. They got together, fooled around a lot, exchanged cassettes, held hands while studying. They made it through school, through the bar, through work. They made it to blockmates' weddings and best friend's kid's baptisms. They made it through her father's death, and through his sister's depression. They even made it to Court, before a judge, just she and him, and a few family and friends. It was raining that day too, and he almost didn't make it. But he did. They did.

And it was raining that night he went home and found their condo empty. He found her ring on the dresser. The lipstick his officemate left behind a few weeks ago lay beside it. She found out. She had gone back to Baguio, to her sunflowers, to her home.

"I miss home. All my cassettes are there," she said to him, after telling the sari-sari store owner she's extending for fifteen more minutes.

"I have some you can borrow,"

"But you listen to Boyz II Men. And Ginuwine."

"What's so wrong about that?!"

"It's... cheesy."

"Oh please, don't tell me you don't listen to cheesy music. Goo Goo Dolls? Dave Matthews?"

"Hey---"

"I'd give up forever to touch you? Ginuwine's a better poet than that Rzeznik guy!"

"You take that back. Take that back!"

And it went on for hours. No, actually just a few more minutes. (Or half an hour more? Now this he can't recall. Treacherous, indeed.) She had to go back to the dorm because the rain was starting to pour heavily again, and the ale wanted to close up shop. But he wouldn't let her put the phone down until she admitted that "Differences" was a pretty good song.

So good that, she claimed a few days later, it got stuck in her head all night. It kept her company in the dark. Enough to keep the monsters under her bed from grabbing her foot, or something. He was glad to have helped. He had half the mind to brave the typhoon and go over to her place. Knock on her door, hold her hand, cuddle with her under the sheets. Bring his brother's guitar, learn to play Dave Matthews for her. Tell her that maybe home is not a place, but a person. That Manila could be home, that he could be her home. And home meant having someone to hold, not having a place to hold you.

As if on cue, lightning flashed so brightly, bringing him back to the present. 

"Where was I?" he asked his students.

"About the human memory, sir."

"Ah, yes. I remember now."

And he does, he does remember. Every little thing, every freckle, every blister, every song on the radio, every time he forgets his umbrella, every time he signs his name and realizes she was right to not take his after all. The professor still remembers. His head reminds him, the pangs of pain crawling across his chest remind him. The knot on his stomach. It's been years. She is happy now, a mother of one; he has been in and out of quasi-serious relationships since. He has taken girls home, one of them a former student, two of them other co-faculty members, none of them he has asked to be his girlfriend. He is in a better place too; time has been kind, he'd like to think, and he is thankful. But sometimes, on days like today, the clouds decide to connive with the deep recesses of his memory, playing dirty tricks on him again. And before he knows it, before he can even try to resist — cue guitars and violins swelling — it's the opening chords of Satellite he's hearing in his head somehow. Satellite in his eyes, like a diamond in the gray, monsoon sky.


___

(I have Spotify and Typhoon Luis to thank for the choice of songs and the sudden impulse to write.)

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