The Day You Saw the Shadows
shabu - (sha-BOO) also called "poor man's cocaine" because it's a lot like coke but much cheaper
"dirty ice cream" - ice-cream sold in quaint, painted carts pushed through the streets by men ringing bells. because it's classified as street-food, it earned the (totally unfair) nickname of "dirty ice cream". but "dirty ice cream's" really good, if you give it a chance.
Do you remember the first time we met?
It was that day Mang Ago shot himself. I was standing at the edge of the crowd of gawkers when I saw you go pale and stumble out of the crowd. It couldn't have been the sight of blood on the sidewalk and three dead bodies being carted out on their way to the morgue. Most people survive such things without looking as if they were about to collapse, the way you were. You wandered back somewhat unsteadily toward your family, then after a while walked toward the corner store.
I followed you, and I more or less introduced myself to you. You seemed a bit surprised; I told you I was Maritess' daughter, and you thought that Maritess was Tito Bernard's wife, which should logically make me his daughter, but I looked nothing like him. I was charmed by your confusion, and the way you tried to mask it by being carefully polite. Your naivetÃ© was something rarely seen in Sta. Rita--or practically anywhere else, for that matter.
We talked about what happened to Mang Ago. You were so upset by it, asking over and over again how he could have done it, when he seemed like such a nice guy. He didn't even have the decency to leave his girlfriend and her sons alone if he was going to kill himself anyway. And I saw in my mind's eye the way the shadows had swarmed all over the place, covering half the street in writhing black. Caught up in your emotions, you leaned forward and asked me why things like that had to happen to people...
And I couldn't answer, even if I knew what to say. It was the first time I got to look into your eyes, and it was like falling into a pool of the clearest, most crystalline water. There was no hint of darkness or malice or deceit in your eyes. Nothing but innocence, and a sweet sort of kindness. I had never seen anything like it, and it frightened me more than the sight of the shadows. I shivered and looked away, and you must have realized the awkwardness of the situation because you blushed and stammered something incomprehensible. I mumbled something just as inane, made an excuse and left in a hurry.
Nevertheless, we became friends after that. I'd still watch you from the window, but it felt so much better watching you now, knowing that any minute you were going to look up and wave at me and ask me to join you. We'd hang out at the store, or I'd watch you play basketball, or we'd sit around outside and talk until evening. And you gradually grew accustomed to the way of life in Sta. Rita Street. You learned to take in stride stories like how suitcases full of shabu was discovered in Mrs. Cruz's house during a raid. And how everybody knew that the "dirty ice cream" man was really an undercover cop staking out an illegal weapons' syndicate. And how Judge delos Reyes' daughter had gotten herself pregnant twice--with a different man each time--all before her twentieth birthday. And how the explosions we'd heard at three a.m. were gunshots from a shootout between two men who'd found out they were sleeping with the same woman.
Things like that.
Sometimes though, I'd think to myself, hey, maybe there's a chance you like me, too. Maybe it wasn't just me. Whenever you smiled at me and I smiled back, whenever we walked down the street and our hands brush against each other, whenever I sneaked looks at you from beneath my lashes only catch you staring at me, too...Maybe you felt the same way I did. Maybe you were just gathering up the nerve to tell me, to ask me if you could court me, the way the other girls were being courted. I'd drift off in rose-tinted fantasies that never became anything more than that. But that's okay. We were friends. That's what mattered.
I never forgot about that first time I looked into your eyes. That incredible clearness, and the shock I'd felt. It didn't happen again; the next time I looked, your eyes were as normal as the next guy's. Still, it puzzled me for months.
Just a little while longer. Let me stay here beside you a little while longer. Let me say what I need to say, and I'll tell you about the shadows. And if you smile at me again, I'll tell you anything you want to know.