Jukebox: A Short Novel By Jonathan Aquino (Part 5 of 7)
Juanito was alone in the hospital waiting room, head on his hands. The silence was deafening. He cannot remember the last time he prayed. Juanito looked up as Rosal approached.
"How is she?" he asked, wanting, yet afraid, to know.
"Still under observation, the doctor said," she replied as she sat beside him. "Where's Juancho?"
"I told him to go home and get some rest," said Juanito, putting his arm around her, giving comfort while drawing strength.
Rosal put her head on his chest. "Juanito," she sighed. "What is happening to our family?"
"I don't know, Rosal," he said heavily, shaking his head slowly. "I don't understand it myself..."
Rosal snuggled closer. "It seems only yesterday," she said wistfully, "Pinay was still playing with her dolls."
"I was always carrying her then," Juanito chuckled. "She would laugh when I'd toss her in the air then catch her." The tears came now, uncontrollably. "Rosal," he said, crying. "Have I been a bad father?"
"Don't say that, Juanito!" said Rosal.
"I only want what's good for our children," cried Juanito. "If I had been strict with them, it's because I don't want to tarnish our family's honor. God knows I have nothing else to leave them..."
"Juanito, you mustn't blame yourself," Rosal told him. "You only did what you think is right."
A nurse came. She looked like Alessandra De Rossi in Munting Tinig. "Mother?" she said. "Your daughter is awake now!"
Jo's tear-streaked face looked up as her mother entered and rushed to embrace her.
"Pinay!" cried Rosal. "Thank God you're all right!"
Jo held on desperately. "Is it a sin to love, Mother?" she sobbed. "Why does it hurt like this?"
"Why did he left?" Jo cried. "He said he wants us to be together..."
Rosal doesn't know what to say to take away the pain.
"Pinay," she groped for words. "You must rest."
Jo continued to cry. "He won't even see his child..." She sat up suddenly, frightened. "Mother? Mother?"
Rosal never felt this kind of pain. "I've talked to the doctor..."
"Mother?! Where's my baby?!" Jo screamed hysterically. "What happened to my baby?!!!"
"They did everything they can!" wailed Rosal. "But they couldn't save the child!"
A few days later, Jo was fit enough to leave the hospital. But the Jo that went home was only the husk of what she used to be. She refused to eat, didn't leave her room; she just sat there, staring blankly, alive but already dead. Meanwhile, Rosal opened their eatery again, warding off the gossipers like flies.
One day, a customer who looks Eugene Domingo in Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank inquired, "How much is the dinuguan?"
"Fifteen, ma'am," replied Rosal, turning from her unfinished stack of dirty dishes, wiping her hands on her apron.
"Can I buy a half-order?" the customer asked, the lifting the covers of the pots and pans one by one like an inspector.
"Oh, yes, ma'am!"
"Half is ten pesos!"
"Wait a minute!" said the customer. "An order is fifteen, so half should only be seven-fifty!"
"Oh, but we only make a small profit," explained Rosal.
"What about the fried porkchop?" the customer asked. "How much?"
The customer braced herself for a debate. "So how much is one half?"
Rosal can't believe this. "Ma'am," she replied patiently, "we can't cut the porkchop in half!"
"Oh never mind!" the woman sniffed. "This place is so expensive? What are you serving? Gold?" With that, she huffed away.
Next came a woman who looked like Pokwang in A Mother's Story.
"Oh my God, Yolanda!" exclaimed Rosal in relief. "Thank God you're here!"
"I took the first ship as soon as I got your telegram!" said Yolly. "Aunty, I have good news for you and Pinay!"
Jo was sitting beside the window, staring at the distant sea, where her father and brother are, where her lover used to be. In slow motion, she turned to her cousin sitting at her bed.
"Me?" she asked, skeptical but thrilled. "A saleslady in Manila?"
"Why not?" said Yolly. "You're pretty, you've been to high school. It's okay if you don't have experience. I'm sure you will charm the customers!"
Jo rubbed her arms. "I'm afraid, Cousin," she said, but seeing a ray of hope for the first time since she tried to commit suicide in the cliff.
"Well, of course you would be!" laughed Yolly. "When I first went to the city, my heart was pounding louder than that rickety old bus!"
"What shall I sell?" asked Jo, smoothing her skirt.
"RTW," Yolly told her. "t-shirts, pants, stuff like that. Besides, you don't have to make sales-talk. You won't be on commission basis, you'll have a regular salary, though not much. You just stand there, assist, answer questions. It's just a small stall in Avenida. And you can stay-in! I know the manager, already told him about you."
"What did he say?" asked Jo, not really caring, but knowing she'll be leaving this place and its painful memories behind.
"He said it's perfect timing!" laughed Yolly. "One of the employees has just resigned because she's getting married and will be living in Mindoro!"
"We'll be working together, Cousin?" asked Jo, getting excited, not realizing that she was smiling for the first time since Leandro had disappeared.
"No, I still enjoy being a baby-sitter," Yolly told her, getting a pillow and hugging it. "The kid is adorable, my employer is the best in the world! I would tuck the child in for siesta, then I'd watch TV the rest of the day! The salary is good, too! I also stay-in."
Jo nodded, taking it all in, realizing that the world is bigger than she thought.
"But wait, there's more!" said Yolly, waving her finger teasingly. "I talked to a landlady in Quiapo! We can live there, share the rent! Anyhow, I don't want you to be alone in Manila!"
"Oh, Cousin, I like that!" said Jo, new hope rising. "I can't wait to get out of here!"
"Remember, Cousin," said Yolly, walking over and taking Jo's hands, "no matter what has happened in the past, no one can take away your right to get up again and start a new life!"
The following year, two weeks after she had signed her second six-month contract, Jo, wearing a blue uniform, was directing a customer to the fitting room, and assuring another customer that the shirt she was buying was unisex.
"Uh, excuse me, miss?"
"Yes, sir?" The newest customer looked like Coco Martin in ‘Noy. "There's no price tag," he said, holding up a black and white striped polo shirt.
"Here, sir." showing him the small sticker at the back. "It's one-fifty!"
"Ah!" laughed the young man.
"It's on sale, sir," Jo smiled. "It used to be two hundred!"
"Does it look good on me?" asked the young man, laying the shirt over his uniform while looking at the large mirror.
"It looks really nice on you, sir," Jo said to his reflection. "You look younger!"
"Really?" he said, amused. "By the way, I'm Rico!"
"You have a pretty name, Jo!" smiled Rico. "Jo as in Jocelyn?"
"Okay, just Jo!" said Rico, laughing. "How old are you, Jo?"
"I'll be turning twenty."
"So you're only nineteen?" Rico winked. "We're just the same age! I'm almost nineteen too! By the way, can I invite you for a snack?"
"I like us to be friends," said Rico earnestly. "If it's okay with you!"
"Well..." said Jo hesitantly. Who on earth is this guy? "Sure!"
"I hope your boyfriend wouldn't mind," Rico said.
Jo laughed. What a crazy idea! "I don't have a boyfriend!"
"Oh, that's great!" smiled Rico. "What time do you get out?"
"Great, it's already past six!," Rico said, looking at his watch. "I'll fetch you later and we'll eat, okay?"
Jo was nodding. "Okay!" she said casually, shrugging, like it's no big deal.
But she was smiling.
(To Be Continued Next Week)
Home Alone 2: Lost In New York
Huggybear's favorite Christmas movie is about 11-year old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) who is away from home, alone, lost in New York.
Sometimes, oftentimes, the most unforgettable moments in our lives is when we reach out and touch the lives of others.
The lost boy is fascinated by how the pigeons in the park would flock to a homeless woman (Brenda Fricker). "They can hear it," she says. For the first time in so many years, she finally found someone to talk to. The agonies of her past continue to haunt her, and she is alone, all alone in the world, afraid to trust again. Until she met Kevin.
It's not about getting lost, it's about finding your way. "There's a truth in there somewhere," she reflects. You can't live your life alone, life should not be like that. "That's sort of a dumb thing to do," says Kevin, still untainted by the dark side of human nature. Why be afraid? he asks, and besides, if everyone is so cruel, then "you would'n't be this nice!"
One of my favorite scenes is the full symphony orchestra playing Oh Come, All Ye Faithful, and high above, through a little window from the storage room, Kevin peeks, the glorious sound blessing all it touches. "I heard the world's greatest music here," she tells him.
Turtle doves are a symbols of friendship. Mr. Duncan, the philantropist owner of the Toy Duncan Chest, tells Kevin, giving the boy a pair: one for him and one for a special friend. Mr. Duncan has a personal tradition of giving everything he earns during the Yuletide to the children's hospital, his way of giving back to society and making this world a better place.
But robbers Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern) plans to rob the store-- unless the boy stops them.
"You can't mess with kids on Christmas!" says Kevin, getting into action, in what is the most memorable holiday adventure in his life.
From the journal of Jonathan Aquino aka Huggybear
December 20, 2012
8:29 a.m., Thursday
I love Christmas. There's a special feeling in the air. It seems that for most people, it's all about the merry making, which is well and good, and I'm the last person in the (allegedly soon-to-end) world to rain on somebody else's parade. I see and feel the season differently, like migratory birds sensing the advent of winter.
This is the time when I stop, step back and review my life. I do it with as much detachment as I could. It's like somebody outside looking in, watching yourself and seeing somebody else. I ask myself the questions inward-looking people normally ask only during moments of abysmal existential angst: Where am I? Where do I really want to go? Am I in the right path? And perhaps the most soul-stirring: What kind of person have I become?
I feel keenly that my life is an on-going journey. It gives me comfort that where ever I may be, literally and metaphorically, I won't be there forever. The road is endless and the world is infinite. Still, I'm sort of conscious of the human tendency to establish a place to call home. But then, I can't even imagine myself settling down, living a conventional life purely to satisfy other people's expectations.
I was listening to Francis Kong, public speaker and inspirational guru, in his taped readings every morning earlier on the radio. He said we are all artists as children, and one of the challenges of growing up is to remain one. We have overeducated ourselves out of creativity, he says, and I agree.
I am now where I am, but I won't be here long. I am who I am, and for the most part, I like and respect who I have become, better than what I was, and what I will be is the best of all