It was ten in the morning when Charles woke up to a hot and humid Saturday. He did what heâ€™d always do every morning â€“ Check his wall clock to see if he had over slept â€“ luckily, he did not. He checked Messages that he missed while he snored the night away. Finally, he reviewed his daily calendar to see what commitments he had to do. There was
|Escolta by J.X. Nulud|
only one thing scheduled for him to do for that hot summer Saturday, and that was a trip to Manila. Charles had loved the city ever since he first gazed upon the city hallâ€™s clock tower. His favorite part was entering the city through the Quezon Bridge while riding in front of a Jeepney. He would wait longer than most commuters; looking out for that Jeepney that had no one riding beside the driverâ€™s seat. He could have used the transit, it was just a ride to MRT Taft station and then on board the LRT going to Central station, right in the heart of the city. It was faster by transit, but he enjoyed the torrid heat of the Jeepney engine, rumbling and shaking his body, the hustle and bustle of the street, rather than the sound of an air-conditioned coach of the train in which one hears the rolling of the wheels against the line, and the occasional commuters who played loud music instead of using headphones because they felt their music could make someoneâ€™s day a little bit better, but Charles hated this, it was a nuisance to him. He got out his messy room â€“ a small, cramped, space he called his world. Everything in it was in his liking â€“ four acoustic guitars, of which three were already broken and had been collecting dust. On the left side beside his door was the computer table, he saw it as his â€œwork tableâ€ as he had spent countless, sleepless nights recording his written compositions, all about the comedy and tragedy of his love life. Across it was his bed, which had four old pillows that offered no comfort to his sleeping, and its sheets that were seldom changed. Above it was his books, stacked with a complete collection of all the novels of F. Sionil Jose, which he accidentally discovered while he was at a bookstore looking to buy a novel but couldnâ€™t afford the one he wanted so he picked a random one because he loved the bookâ€™s sky blue cover. He also had countless books he had randomly picked, because he felt that he would read it, but in reality he only read his favorites. His shelf was full and a few more would mean that it would fall directly on his head, killing him instantly. He thought it was quite a way to die, death by a thousand words. He made iced tea when he got to the kitchen, a drink he had a love-hate relationship with because it gave him acid reflux, but he couldnâ€™t resist it because he loved its taste, and so he would suffer heartburns shortly after downing a glass or two. He usually took quick baths, but this time he took a long one, he wanted to be thoroughly clean because it was a day in Manila, and also because he knew he would be at the mercy of the summer heat, it was only the second Saturday of April. He called his bath time â€œthe shower of regretsâ€ because heâ€™d often remember all his frustrations in life â€“ his career which he felt like a whore, giving in to every request of his clients. The stupid things he did in high school, and his college sweetheart who left him a few years ago. Charles was a lone wolf, he was comfortable in doing things alone, but at the same time he wanted to belong to someone, but it always didnâ€™t work out, he was too good at being alone â€“ heâ€™d often watch three straight movies at the cinema every Sunday, buying a bucket of popcorn while hopping from one cinema to the other. Back in his room he got ready, he wore his favorite blue shirt, his favorite travel shorts which had six pockets, and his hiking sandals that he never used for hiking. He bought it for the comfort that it gave his feet. In his locally-made, cream-colored sling bag was a face towel, tissue paper in case of an emergency that he had to go number two. He also had his camera with him, bulky as it may seem, but he preferred it than shooting sights using the phoneâ€™s camera. One thing he canâ€™t leave home without were extra shirts, at least two, because he had sweat glands that were too active for a human being. Packed and ready to go, he hailed a tricycle to bring him to EspaÅ„a where he would ride a Jeepney across the Quezon Bridge and into Manila. It was past lunch when he rode the Jeepney, he felt not only the rumble of the engine but also the rumble of the critters inside his stomach, telling him that he had skipped lunch. But he deliberately delayed lunch, he wanted to eat at his favorite Mami and Siopao place in Quiapo. It was always his first pit stop when taking a trip to his beloved city. He hopped off Quiapo Church and against the crowded alleys of the market he braved the swell of people to get to the restaurant. It was inside a run-down, old building that was glorious in the 1960s, it was one of the first shopping centres of the country, but bigger malls soon took its patrons and now the building dusted away, waiting for condemnation. The restaurantâ€™s furniture was also decades old, like a blast to fifty years back every time Charles dined in there. But he had always wanted old stuff, he loved antiques, he loved the history behind all of it, the technology available at that time and how people lived before internet and mobile phones were even invented. The menu also hasnâ€™t change in almost a century; it was the same recipe that Charlesâ€™ forefathers tasted. The Mami tasted funny but its broth had character that made it distinct to other restaurants, making it a best-seller. The experience wouldnâ€™t be perfect without their handmade siopao â€“ its rough and imperfect bun made it not the best looking siopao around, but inside it was grand and splendid, a recipe made for royalty. Charles would always put crushed pepper to the Mami until the light brown soup darkened. And in an unusual fashion, which he saw with most of the old folks who ate there, he would put siopao sauce in the soup, which made the taste funnier and sweeter at the same time, it was common practice there, a sort of a niche culture that only patrons knew. With every bite of the siopao and slurp of the noodles, he washed it down with the restaurantâ€™s classic drink called â€œsuicideâ€ which was a mix of orange, cola, root beer, and lemon. He salivated â€“ bit, chewed, and swallowed until he was stuffed, until his soul was rejuvenated, and his stomach critters fell silent. Charles was now ready to go, he again rode in front of the Jeepney and as it sped across the Quezon Bridge, he shut his eyes and smiled. â€œWelcome back, Charles! And hello Manila.â€ he said to himself. The Jeepney driver asked if he was an overseas worker who had just gone back to the country, to which he declined. Charles alighted near the old and abandoned Metropolitan Theatre reached for his wallet and bought Lucky Strike cigarettes. He lighted one and inhaled nicotine into his lungs as if breathing in new life, and then he exhaled heavily, making sure the smoke only occupied his lungs for a few seconds. He walked toward Binondo where Chinatown was. He walked across the Jones Bridge and always thought how beautiful it was before it was destroyed by the past great war. It was indeed the most beautiful bridge in Manila â€“ It was heavily ornamented; two statuaries of boys riding dolphins, balustrades, finials, and even the lampposts were ornamented. It had four tableaus of allegory themed after motherhood and nationhood. Its intricate design made one feel like walking into a bridge in Paris. But today Charles can only appreciate it on a historical reference, because what was once a beautiful bridge is nothing but a yellow-painted, sub-standard concrete bridge that had plastic lampposts that wonâ€™t even turn on during the night because its wiring had been stolen by thieves, selling it to junk shops for a coin or two. He was now near where he was scheduled to be, he took a right after crossing Jones Bridge â€“ It was the historic street of Escolta. Some 50 years ago it was where the rich men and glamorous belles went for a good night out. Commercial establishments, fashion, food, and all sorts that money could buy were once in this street. Today, all Charles could see was rusting building bars, demolished lots that have been made as parking lots. Street children playing out in the sun, small shanties that clung beside the old buildings, made by poor residents whose stories Charles could only speculate how they ended up there. A creek full of trash clogging the waterway gave a foul stench to passers-by. But it didnâ€™t matter to Charles, he loved Manila for what it was, the smoke-belching Jeepneys, the busy street, the street food that so many lean on as a livelihood that youâ€™d never go hungry walking around the city. He loved the rush of people trying to get to their destinations and he often wondered why people were so much in a hurry in life that the end of it all led to one point which was death. Charles didnâ€™t have an ideal Manila in his mind, he loved what he saw since the first day he crossed the bridge and saw the clock tower, Manila was his own city, it was not pretentious, it didnâ€™t hide its stench, it didnâ€™t aspire to be other cities, it had everything it needed â€“ that was how Charles felt about himself. Charles was indeed a lone wolf not because he didnâ€™t have friends, but he looked into things in a different perspective. One that didnâ€™t need approval to anybody, he didnâ€™t need one; he was sure of who he was. Escolta was just short of a kilometer in length and Charles walked near the end under the scorching heat of summer, finding whatever shade he could go under to. His head was in a pool of sweat, just like how he predicted, good thing he had his face towel and extra shirts with him. Under a white-washed, pre-war building he found what he was looking for. It was an art fair that he had waited for two weeks; it had all sorts of art, from stickers that listed Manilaâ€™s historic districts, to paintings by young artists. It also had old vinyl discs and old stuff that were popular decades ago - Old bottles of Coca-Cola, an old cassette player, hand-made diaries and even basketball trading cards. He loved collecting old stuff because of the history behind it, he knew the importance an object possessed to a generation he never lived in. He would often show these possessions to his officemate. Heâ€™d bring out whatever he found during the weekend and tell him all about its history, but his officemate would rather talk about movies and music than the old, dusty and rusty things Charles loved. He entered and swept across the art fair, looking at every corner, and searched for things that spoke to him. He went through old issues of magazines, old music, the paintings â€“ both the beautiful and â€˜modern artâ€™ that could pass as a modern-day trash. As Charles went through these things he started coughing up from all the dust that went up to his lungs, he stood up and coughed up some more. When he couldnâ€™t handle the dust, he went outside and lit a cigarette. But that only aggravated the coughing more. He coughed and coughed, starting to spit out and he sat at the ledge of the street when someone patted his back to help him clear his lungs out. â€œWhat a great way to die, eh?â€ said the woman. â€œYeah, well Iâ€™m not in a rush to get there, thanks.â€ Charles responded. â€œSoon youâ€™ll realize that dying is all we really look forward to in life. Well, take it easy, fella!â€ The woman left and entered the art fair. Charles looked up and all he saw was her back, and the red dress she wore, and how her wavy hair with curly tips toward the end flung against the wind. Charles thought that it was such an elegant dress that effortlessly flowed through her body, she had picked his curiosity. He had stopped his coughing now and finished his cigarette. He stormed back to the art fair but not to look for something, but for someone. He went through the shop alleys, looking for the girl in red, he swam across the sea of people in the fair, it was a hot, crowded, Saturday and the sun was just retreating into the horizon. Frustrated that he wonâ€™t see the lady in red, he gave up, who was she to him anyway, just another passer-by in his life. He glanced to his side and saw an old Vinyl of The Beatlesâ€™ â€œJuliaâ€; he instantly grabbed it and haggled to pay for what itâ€™s worth. It was Charlesâ€™ favorite song from band now he has it, even if he doesnâ€™t even have a vinyl player to listen to it, itâ€™ll be part of his collection, and it was to be proudly displayed inside his room, beside his collection of books for all to see. The song meant so much to him, it was his ultimate love song to the woman he hopes to marry someday. For him, to sing this song to a woman meant that he was ready to be with her for the rest of his life and never look back. He almost sang it to his college sweetheart until she broke up with him, Charles was devastated after that, retreating to his room for months, he had quit his job and didnâ€™t talk to any of his friends. He frequented bars to drink until he was too drunk to drive and hoped that a car crash would ultimately end his misery. Charles didnâ€™t want to share his pain, or even talk about it; he didnâ€™t want to be someoneâ€™s emotional burden. He didnâ€™t want to be seen vulnerable, but inside, his soul was ripped to pieces and was left on shambles, it trembled and crumbled into the abyss of despair. He was satisfied of what he had in his possession; he had the song he wanted. But a different melody tugged his feelings that afternoon; he couldnâ€™t get the lady in red off his mind. But now she was nowhere to be found and so he decided to watch the sunset at Jones Bridge instead where he always watched when he was in college. He got to his spot at the bridge just at the corner where the small boats were anchored. He watched the sun slowly dive into the horizon of the Pasig river, with the rays of the sun turning gold while it sets, he also watched tugboats pass by, heâ€™d wave to the boatman and they would respond by blowing their horns, Charles would also listen to the Calesas behind him, these were the music to his ears that he only heard when he was in Manila. While he looked at the calming sunset, Charles took out the vinyl he bought from the art fair. He carefully looked at the detail of the cover, he held like a child, he smiled and lifted it as if to show everyone that he had a treasure in his belonging. While he lifted his most precious find, a passer-by bumped him and he lost grip of the vinyl, sending it spinning down the Pasig River. Charles watched his favorite song enter the water and flow through the current of the river and out of his sight forever. He stared at the water with his eyes wide open as an owl and his jaws hanging in the air. â€œOh my God, I am so sorry!â€ said the passer-by. Charles was about to lose his fuse, but when he turned around, it was the lady in red. They met each other in the eye, Charles realized there were butterflies still residing in his stomach â€“ waiting for the right time, the right moment, the right girl to make them spread their wings. Her eyes were glazed by the sunâ€™s dying, golden light; he noticed how radiant and sedative her face was, her cheeks wreaked havoc to his senses, she blinked a few times with her round eyes and it was like a gush of wind that blasted through him, she smiled and at that moment Charlesâ€™ heart skipped two beats. He was in a trance, stunned and unable to move, even just to bat his eyes. Charles thought that he should be mad at her but he just couldnâ€™t, she defused him. â€œJulia, and you are?â€ she broke the silence. â€œYes, Julia. There goes Julia.â€ said the stunned Charles. â€œWhat do you mean?â€ she asked, and it snapped Charles back into reality. â€œOh, nothing! Iâ€™m Charles. Hi, Julia. Iâ€™m Charles.â€ He quickly responded. â€œIâ€™m sorry I bumped you, I was looking at the other end of the street looking at the post-office building. And that vinyl, how much was it? Iâ€™ll repay you.â€ she offered. â€œItâ€™s ok, it didnâ€™t cost much, really.â€ he said politely. â€œBut there must be something I could do to repay you, I feel so bad.â€ â€œItâ€™s nothing really, I donâ€™t have a vinyl player anyway.â€ â€œWhy donâ€™t you come with me, Iâ€™ll treat you dinner in Chinatown, I know a place.â€ â€œItâ€™s really fine, no need to treat me.â€ â€œI insist!â€ argued Julia. And Charles reluctantly nodded his head in submission. They walked toward Chinatown. All Charles was thinking about was that he didnâ€™t know if fate was playing him or was it just coincidence that the reason for his misfortune was also named Julia. They would look each other in the eye from time to time while walking but they wouldnâ€™t say a word as both were nervous to the misadventure that was taking place in their lives. Little did they know that it wasnâ€™t coincidence that brought them together but a slight routine change they made during the day. Charles took a longer bath than usual and Julia had to pick up the dress she wore because she sent it to the tailor for repairs for it was too big for her and had it adjusted. Somehow they already felt connected with each other despite the short conversation they had on the bridge, there was chemistry not in words but in the way they looked at each other. As if they were lovers in a different lifetime. They walked and Charles finally started a conversation. â€œSo whatâ€™s with this place youâ€™re taking me into? Are you going to kill me with vetsin-flavored food?â€ â€œHa! Ha! No, itâ€™s my favorite noodle place, they serve great noodles, I frequent that place whenever Iâ€™m in Manila, and I donâ€™t think they use vetsin there.â€ she responded. Chinatown in Manila during night was a lot different during the day â€“ From the noise of Jeepney barkers and fruit vendors during the day, there was a serene feeling â€“ No blowing of horns, no traffic enforcers blowing their whistle to direct traffic, the Calesas parked quietly at the side of the street, vendors had retired from a long day of shouting and selling commodities. It did not look like a bustling district during nighttime but instead there was only calmness and the street lights that painted the district. Charles always thought that it was romantic to stroll around its streets while the moon watched over the city. When they arrived at the noodle house, he recognized the place from a distant past. Theyâ€™ve situated themselves in direct of the air-conditioner. His head sweated profusely and he excused himself to the comfort room to change his clothes. He looked into the mirror and stared at himself, thinking if it was a good idea to come along with a beautiful stranger. But he had a taste for danger. He finally emerged from the comfort room refreshed and ready for dinner. â€œWow, you had a costume change, but still in blue, huh?â€ Julia quipped. â€œBlueâ€™s my favorite color, I donâ€™t even have a red shirt, or green, even black.â€ â€œI love blue, too. It actually suits you, but I like red better, makes me look on fire, blue makes you look cold, frigid, and icy. Are you the â€˜cold kind of guyâ€™?â€ She asked. â€œIâ€™m not really sure about that, but I love blue, like the sky and the ocean, two ends that mirror each otherâ€™s color.â€ â€œAm I the sun? The fire between your worlds?â€ she jokingly asked. He wanted to say yes, that since the moment they met in the eyes, he knows she had captured him, that she is now the curse residing in his heart. He had never fallen so fast with anyone before â€“All it took was just one look straight into her eyes and she took his soul for her own. Charles was in a spell he couldnâ€™t escape. â€œThis place must be here for decades already, huh?â€ said Charles. The noodle place was damp and warm. It had an open kitchen where diners could see how their hand-pulled noodles were being made, to show that they served clean and fresh ingredients. The open kitchen may be impressive, but the dining furniture lacked spirit, tables were made of old marble and dust had settled in the cracks. The wooden chairs would creak with each movement. The waiters were seasoned, almost all of them looked like theyâ€™ve been working for the noodle house since it was opened â€“ but as old as they may be, they were masters of their craft. They were impressed of how they carried large trays with bulk orders with only three fingers. And they moved fast and with finesse. After a few minutes, their order arrived â€“ Two Beef Kan Pan La Mien and twelve pieces of steamed dumpling. â€œNow thatâ€™s what I call value for food!â€ Julia expressed her satisfaction. A single La Mien order was almost enough for them, the saucy noodle filled the plate with huge chunks of beef spareribs as topping, it came with a separate bowl of beef soup that was best sprinkled with spring onion. The steamed dumpling was soft and inside it was Kuchai mixed with grounded pork. Julia urged Charles to take the first bite. â€œHereâ€™s what you do, take a bite with the noodles and then follow it up with the soup, then take a dumpling.â€ Charles followed as instructed. Charles watched Julia eat, when she noticed he was looking, she smiled to break the awkward situation. He saw her wide round eyes and again he skipped two beats. He thought that her lips were a trigger, and a bullet kiss would be a killer. â€œItâ€™s really good and tasty, I love it!â€ said Julia. He didnâ€™t answer, he didnâ€™t need to. Her smile was all he needed, she came in like a lightning that struck his heart and gave it new life. There was so much energy and positive vibe that Julia brought into Charlesâ€™ senses. He thought it was impossible for him to feel this again â€“ He was in a sweet disposition; arms spread wide and gravity not doing its part. His heart felt whole, and it never felt like this in years, but Julia made it possible in just a single day. And Charles knew he was in danger, but he loved being vulnerable, his heart had taken risks before that ended in desolation. But he didnâ€™t care, for in the pain he felt after each failed love, he knew that he loved true. â€œSo have you eaten here before?â€ she asked. â€œNo,â€ he quickly replied. â€œSomething tells me thatâ€™s not entirely true, câ€™mon! Spill it out.â€ she teased. Charles had second thoughts on sharing about his life, but Julia had a way in him that he couldnâ€™t resist her. â€œI used to go here with my girlfriend but it was years ago, and ever since she left I came here alone. She was the first one I brought here, there were many fun memories of itâ€¦â€ As Charles spoke about her past relationship, he started feeling the thorns that remained in his heart, grasping with every recollection. With every happy memory came the bitter ones that dragged him into his self-destruction. He remembered being drunk every night for months, hopping from one bar to the other, talking to strangers, staring at the moon for countless hours trying to sober up and waking up inside his car at midday. He frequented the bars burning throughout his savings so he could forget her for a moment. â€œI got depressed, and I took my whole life down to the shithole. I was alive, but I had no purpose. All I knew was loving her and thatâ€™s what I was best at. I was a better man when she was around, I felt infinite, and I could have done anything because I knew she was behind me.â€ Charles said. Julia had stopped eating, she was surprised that he had suddenly become emotional. He was like a dam that couldnâ€™t handle the water anymore, he started to show cracks. Charles looked broken, he stared at his noodles, aimlessly playing with it, it froze him to a point that he didnâ€™t remember he was with somebody. Julia held his hand and it brought him back to his senses. â€œHey, are you ok? What happened? Why did she leave you?â€ she cautiously asked. He looked at her with a blank, soulless stare and for a moment she thought he might have been offended so she let go of his hand and continued eating. It was a few moments before Charles responded. â€œShe just got tired of suffering, she couldnâ€™t suffer anymore.â€ â€œWhat do you mean?â€ she asked. Charles slouched and drank. â€œYou know the feeling that you thought you had everything planned in life? That you thought youâ€™d reach this milestone in your relationship when you get to a certain age. But then life gets in the way, these little and big humps in life kept me off track of my plan? I had a lot that.â€ Charles explained. â€œI had so much of that, I did try my best, stretched myself to make everything work out, but it beat me, it beat our relationship and I couldnâ€™t let her suffer anymore because my failure destroyed us. It was all my fault, I wasnâ€™t enough for her, I couldnâ€™t do the things she wanted us to do. I failed her. And it hurt so much when she said that I should let her go because I loved her more than anyone in the world. I loved her with all I can, but it wasnâ€™t enough, and I feel that if she already had the best version of me, who would ever love this person now? This version of me is so dark and full of regret. Dying tonight wouldnâ€™t be the worst thing for me now.â€ Charlesâ€™ voice cracked. And like water held in a dam, the gates opened. Tears became waterfalls and he sobbed quietly inside the restaurant. Julia didnâ€™t know what to do so she just sat in front of him, petrified. Julia finished her meal but Charles barely touched his. The dumplings had gone stale. â€œIâ€™m sorry, I couldnâ€™t control myself.â€ Charles said. â€œHey, itâ€™s alright, everyone fights their own battles, you know. Do you want to take a walk?â€ she asked, to which Charles agreed. They got out of the restaurant and slowly walked toward the granite-built Binondo Church without saying a word to each other, in front of it was San Lorenzo Ruiz plaza to which they entered and sat in one of its benches. It was past 8 oâ€™clock now and the streets were nearly empty, they could only hear the distant Jeepneys going across the bridge, street children swimming by the old fountain at the plaza, and the flickering of the traffic lights. The night was windy and the summer breeze was unusually cold. â€œIâ€™m sorry about what happened back there.â€ Charles finally broke the silence. â€œItâ€™s just that Iâ€™ve never talked to anyone about it, just now.â€ â€œIâ€™m not that far off to what youâ€™ve experienced in love.â€ She replied and lighted two cigarettes and gave the other to Charles. â€œYou see, love is illogical. You canâ€™t really quantify why you love a person, right? Do I love someone because he buys me all the chocolates in the world? Drives me around with his luxurious cars? Or even buys me the most expensive house around? Thatâ€™s not love! Those are material things, and love canâ€™t be contained in an object,â€ she explained. â€œLetâ€™s say you love the laziest person in the world, will you leave her because she is lazy? Or do you make a way to help her get up on her feet? Do you leave her because you know you wonâ€™t get anything from her? Or you stay with her and take the risk of being ridiculed by the world for staying with her?â€ she challenged Charles. â€œOf course Iâ€™ll stay, I love her.â€ Charles responded. â€œYouâ€™re a hopeless romantic, arenâ€™t you?â€ she quipped. â€œAre you?â€ He asked her. â€œWell I am, the idea of being there for just one another, no need for the luxury, all I need is that one guy whoâ€™ll be crazy enough to accept my faults, my physical imperfections and my crazy mind. A guy whoâ€™s honest, even if it leads to fighting, because it only means that he is scared to lose me and that he cares for me.â€ â€œWell, youâ€™re not that bad.â€ Charles reacted. But what he really meant was that she had the most beautiful smile in the entirety of the universe. He wanted to say those words for quite some time, but he was shy. For years he went by on his own, healing wounds from a past love that he hoped for but never came through. He thought at that time that she was the one, but she broke his heart coming as fast as a bullet, piercing his heart and leaving him gasping for air, fighting to survive. She was the greatest pain heâ€™s ever felt. And now, after being with this woman for only a few hours, it felt as if his heart was healed and ready to go for it again. For the first time in a long time, he felt the walls of his heart slowly being demolished by Julia. â€œWhy do you have a blank stare at me? She finally asked. â€œNothing, you have beautiful eyes, did you know that?â€ Charles answered shyly. â€œMy Ex-boyfriend, when we broke up, told me I had a disturbing face. He wouldnâ€™t have noticed me if I didnâ€™t talk to him first. And he said I was stupid, not the right one for him.â€ â€œYouâ€™re joking right?â€ Charles chuckled. But he received no reply, she just watched the street vendor pass by. He realized she was telling the truth and Charles felt guilty for chuckling to what she said. As the darkness enveloped the summer night, so did his heart. He was falling for her. He felt alive again, and she was the reason. â€œHow can they be so happy?â€ Julia conversed. Charles lit two more cigarettes and gave the other to Julia. â€œLook at those couple, they live in shacks, they scavenge for bottles to sell to junk shops for a meager price. Then they buy a bit of rice and packs of noodles as their dish, then sharer it among to the countless children theyâ€™ve spawned together. And then tomorrow, theyâ€™ll do the same thing over and over again.â€ she continued. He looked at the couple who lived around the plaza across them, they were indeed smiling while they ate, and they also laughed, more than they did. â€œMaybe for them money isnâ€™t everything.â€ He answered. â€œMaybe itâ€™s the fact that despite of all the poverty and hardship in life, theyâ€™ve stayed together, theyâ€™ve suffered together. And maybe if I was the father and did everything I could to see my children eat at least three times a day, I think I would be happy, too. For me itâ€™s a mission well accomplished.â€ Charles explained. â€œAnd maybe because my wife stayed with me all these years living in the plaza when she could have disappeared anytime she wanted, but instead she stayed. Maybe the real reason is that we both love our family and weâ€™d do anything to keep it, and that is genuine, that is true love.â€ he continued. â€œI often watch people in parks.â€ She said. â€œWondering what kind of lives they lead, where theyâ€™re going, the reason that they are where they are. I wonder what itâ€™s like if people watched me live my life, was it worth watching? Or was it just a waste of their time?â€ she added. â€œI think it would be awesome.â€ He replied. â€œWhen I first saw you at the fair, I loved how the wind blew your dress into the flow of your body. I saw you walking effortlessly to the art fair, you graced through the crowd like there were springs in your feet. I tried looking for you inside but I failed. But then unexpectedly you were at the bridge, watching the sunset.â€ Charles spoke with passion His eyes gleamed and locked into Juliaâ€™s eyes. She stared with glow in her eyes, anticipating each word that would come out of his soft-spoken lips. â€œI donâ€™t know what went through my mind but I just know I had to talk to you somehow. And when our eyes met, I saw how the setting sun glazed your skin, your radiant skin. Your eyes flowed with the color of the golden sun.â€ They stared each other intensely, their faces closer to each other and they could feel each otherâ€™s breathing. â€œYour eyes, my God! Your eyes captivated me. And your soft lips, my heart skipped two beats when you smiled at me.â€ Charles said without reluctance. And then finally the shock sank in. He couldnâ€™t believe the words that came right out of his uncontrollable mouth. She stared at him for a while, as their heart rate shot up to the sky, the sound of the city blurred. Their eyes fixed at each other, they could hear the blood pump in their nerves. And Charles went for it, his lips planted in hers. She closed her eyes, feeling his lips. She held his back, closer to her as their bodies collided to one another. He pressed his lips against her even more. He felt her pinkish lips, it was as soft as a feather pillow. Her kiss was as sweet as a red velvet cake, her bind was tight that he felt her breasts pushed against his chest. She fought his kiss and pressed harder, she wanted to feel his warm, wet lips, he tasted like the beautiful sunset, he put his arms around her and held her beautiful face. She was beautiful, she was the one who Charles was waiting for, and he wanted her. Then she released her lips from his, she hugged him tight. There was nowhere in the world Charles would rather be than to be where he was, trapped in her arms, it felt like magic. It was now nearing midnight and they had both lost track of the time. Julia asked if he could walk with her back to Escolta and Charles agreed. And in walking back to Escolta, they were again silent. Both didnâ€™t understand fully what had just happened, but it felt right, and that was enough for them. When they got back to the art fair, it was now closed. Charles offered to accompany Julia home but she refused. She wanted to take the Jeepney home, alone. While they waited for a Jeepney, Charles spoke. â€œHey, about that kiss earlier at the pla-â€ she interrupted and gave another warming kiss. â€œDonâ€™t ruin it,â€ she exclaimed as a Jeepney stopped in front of them. â€œDonâ€™t come looking for me.â€ She went inside the Jeepney and looked back one last time. â€œHow do I find you?â€ Charles asked desperately. â€œLet fate bring us together.â€ She smiled and the Jeepney sped away. Charles watched helplessly as the Jeepney went away and he lost sight of her. He was left speechless, unable to move his feet, he lit a cigarette and stared at the sky. The cold summer breezed through him, grey clouds were upon him. He surveyed the street of Escolta, there was no one but him, and he was alone again. He wasnâ€™t in the mood to take a ride home, instead he started walking home. And as he walked and walked the heavens roared their mighty thunder, but Charles didnâ€™t care, all he could think about was her. He is now a prisoner of her memories. And when the rain finally poured in the city of Manila, Charles just smiled. He couldnâ€™t explain what was happening within him, he felt infinite.