“You’re afraid of me,” he taunted.
“No way. I’m not afraid of anything,” she said, looking with an odd mixture of infuriation and curiosity at the person before her. He was not handsome in the traditional sense of the word, a dark and brooding man with the remnants of a gash on his jaw and maybe just maybe, some chips on his shoulder.
“So why don’t you want to go with me to Sagada?”
“Because what? You were perfectly excited to go until you found out from your friend a few minutes ago that he was backing out.”
“Just because I don’t want to go with you alone doesn’t mean I’m scared of you.” She then swerved her head subtly, looking for her gay friend.
“You remind me of that lead character in that short story. Kerima Polotan, was it?’ The virgin‘?”
She knew that story perfectly well, one of the great classics of Filipino contemporary literature. The spinster character who uses condescension and self-righteousness to conceal an aching, unexplored sexuality. Then a carpenter comes the way of the mousy Miss Mijares — “walking with an economy of movement, graceful and light, a man who knew his body and used it well” — and she responds by enumerating everything that is wrong with him.
And then comes the famous explosive ending. Studied over and over by many a freshman literary class.
“With her ruffles, wet and wilted, in the dark, she turned to him.”
“Will you and your ruffles come with me to Sagada, Miss Mijares?” his voice broke her reverie, needling her, teasing her.
“I am not Miss Mijares!” she responded icily. “And what is in Sagada anyway?”
“Big caves, brewed coffee, cold nights, nebulous clouds, morning embraces.” The last part, delivered with an alcohol-laced but gentle grin.
“I don’t do that.”
“Morning embraces? Fluid relationships? My desire — right now, in fact , at this very moment, HERE if possible — to worship your body without claiming ownership over it?”
“This is a conversation a decade too late. We’re not in College, we’re not in Sarah’s, drinking beer to the strains of some pimply-faced boy’s guitar where mindless e.e. cummings-esque fucking is supposed to be cool and intellectual.”
“And because you’re a lawyer now, “mindless e.e. cummings-esque fucking” — to quote your vulgar, unlawyerly language — is out of the question? Hmmmmm….how about Keats lovemaking?”
“Not with you. Not with drunk strangers trying to impress me with Comm 1 knowledge.”
“Hmmm… wala nang Comm 1 ngayon. Anong student number mo, Miss Mijares?”
And they smiled together, hers more tremulous than his, both of them knowing that it wasn’t because of the lame age-related joke, before she retreated back to the safety of her shadows, where decisions need to be made.