My eyes watered the moment I entered that artsy Malate bar, my rhynitis looming. Just my luck, I mumbled to myself. I was seeing the woman of my dreams that night, drenched in uhug.
Last Friday, I was walking out the office to buy my morning caffeine fix when I bumped into Jennifer on the sidewalk of Ayala Avenue — a surprise reunion after 10 years. “A group of friends and I are going to be in ‘Denial’ on the 14th.” She grinned, reading the confusion in my eyes, her number beaming to my cell phone via infrared. “That new bar in Malate? It’ll be our very own anti-Valentine’s Day group date. You must come!” With a wooing tap on my arm, she made me fall in love with her all over again.
Back in college, she was the only pink skirt in a sea of blue denims. The first time I saw her, my guts churned something midway between a bad breakfast and a bursting bladder. Eventually, I learned she loved the color blue and hated traffic with a vengeance. She drew her hair behind her ears when she was in deep thought and had really short, fat fingers. She was passionate about Greek mythology and architectural history. She sneezed like a kitten. And when a light breeze passed her, the scent of Nenuco cologne came flooding downwind.
Right before the Christmas break on our senior year, she kissed me on the cheek, missing my lip by a hair, and whispered soulfully, “Merry Christmas, Paulo.” Through the rest of the holidays, I thought we had an M.U. You know, a Mutual Understanding. We were finally Mag-Un! When she came back to school in January, beaming of a new balikbayan boyfriend, all I could do was flee from her like the hurt, confused boy I was.
Maybe I should have fought for her. Maybe I should have articulated my feelings the way those damn Creek kids did. Maybe, ten years after the fact, she was still the untainted soul I remember and it was not too late to rekindle what could have been.
“Hey, Paulo! Over here!” Jen screamed from a table of the most beautiful people I had ever seen outside the pages of a glossy magazine. She fell over several crossed legs before she got to me.
“You came!” Jen embraced me, wearing a silky tube top that didn’t cover much (I could have moved ten paces back, hidden behind a waitress and I would still be able to see her nipples). “Can you believe this? It’s ten o’clock and I’m already sooo drunk!” She pulled me towards their circle and began spewing everyone’s name fast enough for me to forget two seconds later.
A girl with sunken cheeks screamed above the music, “So this is the legendary Paulo. Jen has told us a lot about you, handsome!” The hooting in the background made me nervous.
“Pare,” a guy in a black muscle shirt slapped me on the back. James. Or Jun. Or Romy. Who here knew? “This bitch has been telling all of us that you were the world’s biggest torpe back in college.” He set a shot glass of tequila in front of me. “It’s time to set things right, man.”
Jen drunkenly cleared the small round cocktail table and laid her tiny frame on it. She swung her long hair to one side and shook salt on neck until in formed a mound near her collar bone. “Body shot! Body shot!” the crowd of strangers cheered.
I can’t remember how long it took before I caved to the pressure and downed the contents of the shot glass. I do remember getting a familiar unease in my gut as Jen whispered “Happy Valentine’s Day, Paulo” and tugged my head closer to her neck.
She stank of cigarettes and vomit. No, they don’t make Nenuco anymore.