Wala naman akong pakialam sa birthday ko for the past few years kaya hindi ko rin maintindihan kung bakit disappointed ako ngayon. Maybe this was because of what Dad told me last night. He already explained everything to me and yet I still couldn’t bring myself to agree.
Napabuntong-hininga na lang ako nang maalala ko ‘yon.
“What’s with the heavy sigh?”
Paglingon ko ay nakito ko si Iñigo at naalala kong kakaalis lang ng dalawang bwisit. He sat across me and looked at me with a curious expression.
“Himala at hindi kayo magkakasamang tatlo?” he remarked and I gave him a dirty look.
“Don’t lump me in with them,” I retorted.
Napangiti naman siya. “But you three seem to have a good relationship.”
“Eww,” I grumbled while making a face.
Tinawanan niya lang ako at nag-stay ro’n dahil daw kailangan niyang magbasa ng readings. Hindi na lang kami nagpansinan kahit nasa iisang table kami pero after several minutes ay may ini-slide siya sa harapan ko.
“Happy birthday,” bati niya kaya napakunot ang noo ko.
I was looking at him with furrowed brows because I didn’t know how to react. The last time he greeted me was in high school since we opted to ignore each other here in the university. Besides, I thought he had already forgotten it.
“Wala man lang bang thank you?” he teased.
“Bakit, sinabi ko bang regaluhan mo ako?”
Napailing na lang siya habang nakangiti. “Sabi na nga ba, ‘yan ang sasabihin mo. C’mon, it’s been years since I last gave you a gift.”
“Partly. Iniwasan mo na kaya ako simula noong sinabi ko sa’yo ‘yong tungkol kay Queenie.”
Tuluyan na niyang nilagay sa harapan ko ang gift niya at saglit akong napatingin sa kanya. Even though I didn’t want to admit it at first, I did miss his presence. Siya lang ang nakatagal sa ugali ko noong high school kami at mukhang kaya niya namang makisama sa ugali ng girlfriend niya.
“Anong plano mo ngayong birthday mo?” tanong niya matapos niyang i-force ang regalo niya sa akin.
“For real? Kahit ngayong taon?”
“Ano namang pinagkaiba ng taon na ‘to sa mga nakaraang taon? Everything’s the same.”
“I don’t think so,” he replied. “You have more people around you now.”
Pagkasabi niya no’n ay sumagi agad sa isipan ko ang mga taong naging parte ng buhay ko ngayong taon. Indeed, I gained friends and family members but I also felt like I’ve lost one of the most important people in my life.
Maya-maya lang ay nauna na akong umalis dahil may classes pa ako. Nang makalabas ako sa library ay nag-thank you ako kay Iñigo sa text.
I couldn’t concentrate for the next few hours. Muntik pa akong matawag ng prof ko sa recitation no’ng walang sumasagot sa tanong niya. Buti na lang may nagtaas ng kamay before niya masabi ang buong pangalan ko.
Medyo gloomy rin ang panahon kaya lalo lang bumigat ang pakiramdam ko. Hindi ko pa rin nakikita ulit si Jazer simula kanina dahil nauna siyang umalis. Maging sina Queenie at Katrina, parang mga bulang nawala bigla sa landas ko ngayon.
Nag-text ako kay Kuya Larry na sunduin na ako pero nagulat ako sa reply niya.
Sorry Chloe umalis kasi ako at na-stuck sa traffic baka mga 2 hrs pa bago ako makarating dyan
Oh my god, paano ako uuwi? Umuulan pa naman at wala akong payong. Ugh. Ang hirap pa namang mag-book ng taxi o sasakyan ngayon dahil ang rush hour at ang dami ring mga estudyanteng katatapos lang ng klase.
I tried booking several times but I couldn’t get anything. Gusto ko na lang ibato ang phone ko sa sobrang inis pero baka lalo lang akong hindi makauwi. I was left with no choice and ended up texting him.
Na-stuck daw si Kuya Larry sa traffic, I messaged.
Agad naman siyang nag-reply.
Ganun ba? Magbu-book ka na ba? Baka kasi late ako makauwi
I was about to ask him why when I suddenly saw him walking toward the cafeteria. What surprised, or rather, upset me was the sight of him meeting Katrina with a big smile. She already told me how she sees Jazer only as a friend but I still felt perturbed. Maybe it was just the selfish side of me. Maybe I’m really incapable of handling such emotions.
Ah okay, reply ko at binulsa ko agad ang phone ko.
These past few weeks, everything seemed to be falling into place. I thought, for once, I could finally say ‘I’m alright’ from the bottom of my heart, yet that phase appeared to be short-lived. Maybe Dad was right. Maybe the right decision was to accept his proposition.
Nagsimula akong maglakad habang mahina pa ang ulan. Maglalakad na lang ako hanggang sa shed at doon na lang mag-aabang ng taxi.
A snicker escaped from my lips after remembering how I spent my previous birthdays. Mas okay na sa akin ‘yong sina Nanay Fe, Nanay Meling at Kuya Larry lang ang kasama ko at sila lang ang magpapaalala sa akin na birthday ko kaysa ngayon na nag-e-expect ako from some people at ang dami ko pang inaalalang problema. Pero sabagay, wala namang may alam bukod sa kanilang tatlo, Dad and Iñigo. Of course, Mom would not remember that anymore.
Gusto ko na lang makauwi at matulog pero maging ‘yon, pinagkakait sa akin ngayon. To make the situation worse, unti-unti pang lumalakas ang ulan. Kasi naman, of all days na pwede kong makalimutan ang payong ko, bakit ngayon pa? I hate this day.
Naramdaman ko naman ang pag-vibrate ng phone ko at pagtingin ko sa screen ay naka-display ang pangalan ni Dad. I was hesitant to answer it at first but after a few seconds, I gave in.
“Happy birthday, anak,” he greeted and tears started to well up in my eyes.
I tried to clear the lump of emotions in my throat. “Y-you already greeted me a while ago.”
He was silent for a moment. It actually felt weird. Ilang beses pa lang kaming nag-uusap na hindi tungkol sa business o kay Mom. I wouldn’t even be surprised if he’d end up the call right away.
“How’s your day?” bigla naman niyang tanong.
“Nothing special,” I said.
Hindi ko alam kung bakit bumagsak ang luha ko noong kinumusta niya ako. He was the last person I expect to greet me yet here he was, spending his valuable time to talk to me. Pero matapos no’n ay narinig ko ang ilang boses sa background at alam kong hindi na rin ‘to magtatagal.
“You should go,” sabi ko dahil mukhang mags-start na ang meeting niya.
I heard him sigh. “Sorry. Enjoy your birthday, Chloe.”
Nang mag-end ang call niya ay sakto namang may tumawag ulit at akala ko ay may pahabol lang si Dad pero nagulat ako nang makita ko ang pangalan ni Jazer. Gaya kay Dad ay nag-alangan din akong sagutin pero hindi ko na rin napigilan dahil baka may importante siyang sasabihin.
“Hello, Chloe?” rinig ko mula sa linya niya.
I breathed deeply to calm myself. “Why?” tanong ko.
“Nakasakay ka na ba?”
Nagpatuloy lang akong maglakad at halos basa na rin ang phone ko. His voice sounded worried but I didn’t want to trouble him.
“Yeah,” I lied. “Why?”
“Para kasing nakita ko ‘yong payong mo kanina sa sala. Umuulan pa naman.”
“Nakasakay naman na ako. No need to worry.”
Pagkasabi ko no’n ay hindi siya sumagot. I was waiting for several seconds kaya napatingin ako sa screen ng phone ko. Hindi naman niya binaba pero ang tahimik sa kabilang linya.
“Hello?” I called but he didn’t respond.
The rain suddenly stopped and I was about to look at the sky but I froze when I realized what happened.
“Akala ko ba nakasakay ka na?” he asked, but this time, his voice didn’t came from the other end of the line but from behind. The gray sky above me was replaced with a black umbrella held by the guy who was supposed to be with his friend.
I couldn’t turn around. I didn’t want to. Hindi ko alam kung bakit siya nandito. My mind was getting hazy and the next thing I knew, his jacket was already draped around my shoulders.
“Tara na,” sabay hawak niya sa kamay ko. “Magkakasakit ka niyan sa ginagawa mo.”
Mas lalo lang akong nagulat nang makita ko ang sasakyan namin sa gilid at nandoon din si Kuya Larry. Tahimik lang akong sumakay at ilang minute lang ang nakalipas ay nakarating din agad kami sa bahay. I wanted to ask what was happening but they didn’t give me a chance. We went out of the car and Jazer led me toward the front door.
“What—” Bago pa ako makapagtanong ay binuksan niya ang pinto at napanganga ako sa nakita ko.
“Happy birthday, Chloe,” he whispered as the people I hold dear gathered in front of us with their party hats and exaggerated banners.
“Ate! Happy birthday!”
“Happy birthday, witch!”
“Hija, happy birthday!”
But what surprised me the most were the people holding the cake.
“Happy birthday, anak,” Dad greeted for the third time, and this time, with Mom.
Even though she was probably instructed to say that, it still moved me. Knowing that she greeted me despite her confusion was enough for me. And Dad being here with us was more than enough.
“Sabihin mo lang kapag iiyak ka na. Umiiyak ka na ba?” Jazer teased and I punched his arm in return.
“I’m not crying,” I retorted though it was getting harder to hold back my tears. “I won’t.”
For the first time in years, my birthday really felt like a special day.