“Stop confusing me, too.”
Ugh! Get out of my head, you idiot! Bwisit, lagi ko na lang ‘yon naaalala.
Ilang araw na ang nakakaraan simula no’n pero lagi ko pa ring naririnig sa isip ko ang sinabi niya. That statement made everything more complicated. I don’t want to assume but telling that to me meant he felt something. Damn that guy.
Dahan-dahan naman akong lumabas ng kwarto at sumilip muna sa baba. Si Nanay Meling pati na ang mga bubwit lang ang nandoon sa sala. Hindi kaya umalis siya dahil weekend?
Pumunta ako sa kusina para kumuha ng malamig na tubig pero napahinto ako nang naabutan ko siyang umiinom din doon. We met each other’s eyes and he almost choked when he saw me. Well, that was expected since we didn’t see each other these past few days. Lagi akong nauunang umuwi galing sa university at late naman akong kumakain sa bahay. I didn’t want to see him because I was scared to face our current situation. All these awkwardness and tension made me a coward.
Pero heto kami ngayon, magkaharap at nakatingin sa isa’t isa. I kinda missed him.
I took a deep breath and made my way towards the refrigerator. My heart was thumping loudly and his stare was making it worse.
“Bumalik ka na naman sa hindi pagpansin sa akin,” he muttered.
“It’s your fault,” I mumbled as I opened the ref.
“Dahil sa sinabi ko?” Napatigil naman ako at hindi agad ako nakapagsalita. “Pero totoo ‘yon. Your words and actions keep on confusing me and—”
“Oh God, please shut up!”
He looked like a puzzled kid who couldn’t understand his homework and I was burning up after hearing those words. How could he be so straightforward? Wasn’t he embarrassed even just a little? This guy is really something else.
I marched away from him and went to the living room. Naupo ako sa couch at naabutan ko naman doon sina Clark at Czanelle na nanonood ng Discovery Channel, which was weird. They were too focused on the animals shown on the screen that they didn’t even notice me.
“Tiger!” Czanelle yelled.
“That’s a lion,” I corrected.
Napatingin silang pareho sa akin at mukhang maling desisyon ‘yon.
“Ate! Yay! Ate!”
Both of them lurched at me and somehow, they calmed me down. Clark sat on my lap while carrying his favorite mini blanket. On the other hand, Czanelle sat on my feet. Napanood na rin tuloy ako sa documentary at in fairness, na-miss kong makakita ng mga hayop. I realized I didn’t have any chance to go to the zoo or any wildlife center. Domestic pets were the only animals I had seen in my entire life.
“Do they have a mommy?” tanong naman ni Czanelle nang ipakita ang lion cubs.
“Of course, they have.”
“And a daddy?”
“And Ate? And Clark? And Kuya?”
She looked really curious and I couldn’t help but smile. She was too cute.
Maya-maya lang din ay nagpaalam na si Nanay Meling dahil uuwi siya sa kanila. Nalutuan naman na niya kami ng lunch kaya okay na. Si Mom naman, tulog pa at mukhang mamayang hapon pa siya magigising. Bumalik kami sa panonood at naisipan lang naming kumain nang makaramdam ako ng gutom. Si Jazer ang naghain at hindi pa rin ako makatingin sa kanya nang maayos. Ang hirap kapag nasa iisang lugar lang kayo ng taong gusto mo at pilit mong iniiwasan.
I ate my food quickly and let him take care of the kids. Bumalik ako sa sala pero naririnig ko ang usapan nila mula rito. Czanelle was asking him about animals and I suddenly thought about one of the things I’d like to do. Ilang minuto kong pinag-isipan kung sasabihin ko ba o hindi ‘yon. In the end, I decided to tell them what I wanted to do.
“Do you want to go to the zoo?” tanong ko nang makarating ulit ako sa dining area. Czanelle and Clark looked baffled so I had to explain to them what it meant.
When I mentioned animals, Czanelle excitedly agreed and Clark giggled while raising his hands. I guess that meant he would also like to go. Napatingin naman ako kay Jazer at nakangiti lang siya sa dalawang bata.
“Kasama ka,” I muttered and his gaze landed on me.
“Okay lang ba?”
Pagkatapos no’n ay umakyat na ako sa kwarto para maghanda.
“I’m a tiger!” Czanelle beamed as she put the cat ears on her head.
Nakabihis na kaming lahat at nag-book na rin ako ng sasakyan dahil wala si Kuya Larry. We went to the nearest zoo and the two kids were clearly excited as they kept on reciting the names of the animals they know. Of course, Clark was just mumbling incomprehensible sounds.
Pagdating namin do’n ay nagbayad kami ng entrance fee at nagsimulang maglakad sa loob. I’ve never been in a zoo so I was fascinated by what I saw. I was expecting the kids to love them but Czanelle got scared of the huge birds that greeted us. On the other hand, Clark went straight to one of the cages and squealed, as if he was trying to tell the birds to play with him.
Binuhat ni Jazer si Czanelle at nakatago na siya sa balikat niya habang hinawakan ko naman si Clark. He kept on pointing at the birds and I laughed when he looked amazed at how they fly around their cages.
“What? You want to fly, too?” tanong ko at pinadyak niya ang paa niya habang nakangiting nakatingin sa akin.
We spotted a variety of species and it felt like I was in the middle of the jungle. Czanelle was slowly getting used to their presence but she was still careful in approaching any of them. Clark was a wild creature. Hindi ko na siya mapigilan tuwing makakakita siya ng kakaibang hayop. Ilang beses na rin siyang natapilok at nadapa at namangha ako dahil hindi siya umiyak. Basta makapunta siya malapit sa animals, okay siya. Jazer was also enjoying this and I remembered him saying he wanted to go to places where it could remind him of nature or his home.
Napunta naman kami sa giraffes at pwede silang pakainin ng carrots. Binigyan ako ng tour guide ng isang piraso at ilapit ko raw para makain ng giraffe. I got hesitant. I mean, they were long and huge and their tongue looked disgusting!
Nagulat na lang ako nang biglang hinawakan ni Jazer ang kamay ko at pinilit niyang ilapit ‘yon sa bibig ng giraffe. I leaned backward, enough to feel his chest against my back, and stifled a scream when I felt something sticky on my hand.
“See? ‘Di naman nakakatakot,” pang-aasar niya pa kaya tiningnan ko siya nang masama at tinawanan naman niya ako.
Pinunas ko naman sa kanya ‘yong laway ng giraffe at saka ako tumakas mula sa kanya. Napansin ko naman si Clark na nakatayo malapit sa giraffes at nakatingin lang siya sa kanila na para bang manghang-mangha. Hindi ko tuloy alam kung matatawa ako o ano.
“Why is their neck long?” Czanelle asked the tour guide and she started explaining it to her. She was bombarding her with questions and Jazer had to get her when she asked how they poop.
We also went to the crocodile’s dent and both Clark and Czanelle went rigid when one of those reptilians jumped from the water to get their food. Pareho silang yumakap sa magkabilang binti ni Jazer at ang bwisit, nakuha pa akong itulak kaya napasigaw rin ako.
“Uy, takot din siya,” he teased. Hinampas ko siya ng bag ko pero nakaiwas siya. Tss.
Dahil pwede rin daw pakainin ang crocodiles ay nagprisinta siya habang kaming tatlo ay nakasunod lang sa likuran niya. He held the chicken meat and several crocodiles gathered near him. He threw the meat into the water and I could hear how their jaws snapped to devour that piece. Ugh. Scary!
Pumunta rin kami sa area kung saan pwedeng magpa-picture sa animals like the Burmese python and orangutan. Clark and Czanelle both got their pictures taken with the orangutan and I chuckled when I saw their expressions on the photos. Czanelle was about to cry and Clark was staring at the mammal. Lalo lang akong natawa nang agawan ng saging ng orangutan si Clark at wala na siyang nagawa kundi tingnan habang kinakain ng iba ang pagkain niya.
Nagpa-picture din si Jazer kasama ‘yong python at nakakainis dahil wala man lang kahit anong takot sa mukha niya.
“Hi Queenie,” I muttered while taking a snap of the snake. Sinend ko naman agad sa kanya ‘yon at hindi ko na hinintay kung ano ang magiging reply niya.
Pagkatapos niya ro’n ay naglakad na ulit kami at kinukuhanan ko naman sila ng pictures habang nakikipag-interact sa animals. They all looked happy and I’m glad I brought them here.
Halos magsasara na ang zoo nang matapos kaming mag-ikot. It was a bit weird since the awkwardness between me and Jazer had somehow disappeared. Parang bumalik kami sa dati na nag-aasaran lang at hindi ko alam kung magandang bagay ba ‘yon o hindi.
Nag-book na ako ng sasakyan para umuwi at nakatulog na ring pareho ang mga bubwit sa amin. I carried Czanelle while Clark was with him. I was also feeling the exhaustion but I couldn’t sleep.
Pag-uwi namin sa bahay ay bigla namang nagising si Czanelle at mukhang disoriented pa siya. Ihahatid na sana namin sila sa kwarto nila pero napahinto ako nang makita ko si Mom sa sala. She was sitting on the couch while blankly staring at the wall.
“Mom?” I called and she looked at us curiously.
“Who are you?”
Hindi ko alam kung nagkamali lang ako ng dinig pero sa expression niya ay mukhang hindi. Hearing those words made my heart sank.
“Mommy?” tawag ni Czanelle at lalo lang akong hindi makahinga.
“Jazer, please,” I whispered.
I was thankful that he understood what I meant. Hinatak niya si Czanelle palayo habang karga si Clark papunta sa kwarto nila at naiwan naman kami ni Mom sa sala.
My body was trembling but I still approached her.
“M-mom?” I called again, hoping that she’d smile and recognize me.
“Mom? No . . . I . . . I . . . do not have children,” she said while clutching her head.
Doon na tuluyang tumulo ang luha ko. One of my nightmares just happened right before my eyes. I suddenly remembered that night when I asked her to not forget about me yet here she was, rejecting my existence.
“M-mom . . .”
“No . . . no . . . don’t come near me.”
I wanted to call her once more but I couldn’t speak anymore. I wanted to get close to her but every step felt heavier. She looked at me as if I was a stranger and she was in an unfamiliar place.
“Who are you?” she repeated and I couldn’t hold it anymore. I sobbed while running to her direction and hugged her tight.
“Mom . . . don’t do this, Mom . . . please . . .” I called and cried. Hindi ko alam kung ilang minuto na ako lang ang nakayakap sa kanya kaya napatigil ako nang naramdaman ko ang kamay niya sa likod ko.
“Am I really . . . your mother?” she asked and I had to bit my lip to keep myself from breaking down. I slowly nodded as I hugged her tighter, afraid that she’d slip away.
“Mom . . .”
“What’s your name?” he softly whispered.
“C-Chloe,” I answered while catching my breath.
“I’m sorry, Chloe. I . . . I really can’t remember you,” she said and my world fell apart.