Greg drove quietly to the airport. My mind and emotions were still a mess after what happened but it was strange that I wasn’t crying. Maybe because this time, I properly bid my goodbye.
“Saka na kita hahalikan sa labi kapag kaya na kitang buhayin at panindigan.”
I reached for my forehead as I remembered his words. A quick smile escaped from my lips and I clutched the necklace he gave to me. I never thought I would hear those words in this generation because he sounded like some kind of a gentleman in the distant past.
“I won’t tell anything to your father,” Greg suddenly said and I could see the subtle smile on his face from the mirror. He must have seen that.
“I don’t think that’s a story worth telling.”
He chuckled. “Every story is worth it for him if it includes you. That’s how responsible parents feel.”
Tears started to well up in my eyes when he told that. I thought I wouldn’t cry but it was hard to hold back when it comes to them.
“He’s nice, that guy,” he added. “As a father myself, I’d rather have my daughter dating someone respectful and responsible than someone who’s only good-looking or rich.”
Nagulat ako nang sabihin niya ‘yon. Greg doesn’t usually talk so talking about his life was such a surprise.
“You have a daughter?” I asked.
“Yeah. She’s five. She’s cute,” he beamed. “She’s my happiness.”
“I see.” I was contemplating whether to say it or not, but in the end, I couldn’t help it. “Don’t leave her.”
Napatingin ulit siya sa rear view mirror at nakangiti pa rin siya.
“You and your father said the same words,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
Hindi na ako nakapagsalita pagkatapos no’n at tumahimik na rin siya habang nagda-drive. I looked outside and golden hues and streaks were starting to cover the morning sky. Dawn had come and it was my last time looking at it in this place.
Pagdating namin sa airport ay agad na rin kaming nag-board sa business class. The physical and emotional exhaustion washed over me and I immediately fell asleep. I was in deep slumber that Greg had to tap me several times to wake me up.
My mind was still in daze when we arrived at Changi airport. Habang hinihintay ko si Greg ay bumili muna ako ng coffee para magising ang diwa ko. After a few minutes, dumating na ang car namin at dumiretso kami sa bahay ni Dad.
“I need to leave,” Greg said while looking at his wristwatch. “If you need anything, just call me,” sabay abot niya ng calling card. “I’ll be back at 1 P.M.”
Pagkatapos niyang ibaba ang mga gamit ko ay napaupo na lang ako sa couch sa living room.
It felt weird. Several hours ago, I was still in my comfort zone. Now, I have to live with Dad in an unfamiliar house in a foreign country for a long time.
I remembered the first time I was here. I requested to stay in a hotel because I didn’t want to see my father that time. I was consumed by my anger that I resented to be in the same place with him.
Nilibot ko ang paningin ko at nakaramdam ako ng kaunting inggit. Even though it was just a short time, Dad, Mom, Czanelle and Clark lived here happily. Sana, kahit papaano, kahit sandali lang, nakasama ko rin sila nang buo pa kami. If only I talked to them few years earlier, maybe everything would be different. Maybe we would even have the chance to be together before Mom lost her memories of us. Now, that’s just an impossible dream.
Umakyat ako sa second floor at napatigil ako nang makita ko ang pangalan ko sa pinto ng isang kwarto. I opened it and I was surprised to see a well-decorated room. A smile escaped my lips but tears also started to well up in my eyes.
Even though I didn’t live here, they still provided me a room. My graduation photos from pre-school up to high school were displayed on the bedside table. What made me emotional was the photo of me together with Mom and Dad when I was three, and a candid photo of Czanelle, Clark and me during my birthday.
Bago pa tuluyang tumulo ang luha ko ay pinunasan ko agad ang mukha ko at huminga nang malalim. Dumiretso ako sa kama at nahiga. Greg said he would fetch me after lunch so I still have a plenty of time to spare. In the end, I chose to rest and sleep.
I slept for four hours. I was still feeling groggy but I forced myself to get up and prepare. After kong maligo at magbihis ay bumaba ako at pumunta sa kusina. Since hindi naman ako marunong magluto ay kumuha na lang ako ng instant food at kumain. Few minutes later, Greg came and he smirked at me when he saw what I was eating.
“What?” I asked.
“Didn’t he hire any helper here?” tanong ko.
“He didn’t,” he answered. “He’s too busy with everything that he ends up eating whatever is in the office. He goes home just to sleep.”
“Oh. I see.”
Pagkatapos kong magligpit ay lumabas kami ng bahay at sumakay sa car na dala niya. We were silent the whole trip and when I saw the familiar building, my heart started to pound heavily against my chest. I breathed deeply as I got out of the car. Several employees looked at me with curiosity and some seemed to recognize me. Dumiretso kami sa loob hanggang sa makarating kami sa office ni Dad sa top floor.
When we arrived at his office, he was still on the phone. He gestured at us to come in but Greg just bowed and left me there. Pumunta naman ako sa receiving area at umupo sa couch. After a few minutes, he finally put down the handset.
“Chloe,” he called.
I immediately stood up. “Dad.”
There was still an awkward distance between us but he gave me a subtle yet warm smile. He sat opposite to me as he loosened his tie.
“Did you have enough rest?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“Sorry for asking you to c—”
“You don’t need to be sorry, Dad,” I said, cutting him off. “It’s my decision to come here.”
He just looked at me curiously after saying those words. I couldn’t read his expression but when his lips curved upward, I felt relieved.
“I’m ashamed,” he suddenly muttered. “As an adult and as your father.”
Before I could ask him about what he meant, he had already exhaled and shifted his focus on the papers beside him.
“One last question, Chloe,” he said. “I know I urged you to assist me, but the final decision is yours. This path is anything but easy and you would be watched and judged by a lot of people. I don’t want—”
I chortled. “Watched and judged by strangers? I’ve been living like that my whole life, Dad. It’s okay. I’m going to be fine,” I said but he still looked worried.
Naging seryoso ang expression ko habang nakatingin sa kanya. I wanted to show him my resolve.
“I don’t want to run away anymore,” I said while looking straight to his eyes. “I’ve been running away all my life. From my parents, from my fears, from my responsibilities. I want to be better for myself and for the people around me. So, please me, Dad.”
He just stared at me for a few seconds but when he smiled at me with proud look on his face, it felt like everything would be worth it.
“Alright. I will.”
My first three days drained the life out of me. Attending classes in the morning and learning everything about the company afterward was too taxing and mentally exhausting that I always immediately fall asleep the moment I reach my bed.
It was already 2 P.M. but I just woke up. Buti na lang at walang pasok ngayon sa university. Tumayo ako at nag-shower muna para magising ang diwa ko. Bumaba naman ako after that at dumiretso sa sala.
I realized I had not used my phone for the past three days. My schedule was too tight that I didn’t even bother checking it. Pagbukas ko ay puro messages galing kina Queenie, Iñigo at Katrina. I replied to them and I was touched that they kept on messaging me. When I opened my mail, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw an unread email from him.
From: Jazer John Zurbano <email@example.com>
Miss ka na agad nila.
Ingat ka palagi.
Attached there were photos of them and seeing their faces made me tear up a bit. I missed them, too.
I tried calling him as I walked toward the kitchen and before I reached the refrigerator, his face was already displayed on my phone’s screen.
“Ow, bakit ganito?” he muttered as he tried to hide his face.
I chuckled. “It’s a video call. Stop hiding.”
“I want to see you,” I said but I immediately felt embarrassed. “And Czanelle. And Clark.”
He smiled and his dimple came into view. I missed that, too.
“Is that Ate?”
Nang marinig ko ang boses nina Czanelle at Clark sa likuran niya ay napangiti ako lalo. Jazer showed them to me and the two of them squealed when they saw me.
“Ate! Ate! Ate!” Czanelle gleamed as she jumped excitedly while Clark kept on giggling.
“Hey, calm down. How are you?”
“Ateeee! Miss you!”
Napangiti ulit ako. “I miss you, too.”
Nagkwento si Czanelle ng kung anu-ano habang nasa tabi niya si Clark at pinipilit abutin ang phone. It was reassuring to see them being enthusiastic.
After several minutes, Jazer got his phone back and he was grinning widely.
“Wala lang. Akala ko maiiyak ka kapag nakita mo sila.”
I rolled my eyes at him. “I’m not a crybaby anymore.”
“Talaga ba?” he teased.
“Kumusta ka naman? Busy?”
“Yeah. Student sa umaga. Trainee sa hapon. Patay na sa gabi.”
He suddenly chuckled and his dimple was distracting me again.
We talked for about an hour and I didn’t even notice we were talking that long. When I was about to end the call, I realized this might be our last conversation because of my strenuous schedule.
“Hey, uhm, I may not see your messages from now on. It’s just that—”
“Proud ako sa’yo,” he suddenly said. “Alam kong magiging busy ka na. Ang laki na rin ng magiging responsibilidad mo. Mag-iiba na ang mundo mo ngayon, Chloe, at naiintindihan ko ‘yon.” He smiled gently at me. “Pero kung kailangan mo ako, nandito lang naman ako lagi.”
I’ve been with him for almost a year yet I still couldn’t get used to his personality. His words might sound corny to others but those same words saved me a lot of times. I would always be thankful that he came into my life.
“Nakakainis ka,” I muttered as tears were threatening to come out of my eyes.
“Umiiyak ka ba?”
“Okay, okay,” he snickered.
“Get stronger and braver, Chloe,” he said with a warm smile on his face. “At pagbalik mo, magiging matapang na rin ako.”
The call ended and I was left dumbfounded. I had no idea what he meant by his last sentence but that cheered me up. He was right. In the world of business, I need to be stronger and braver to survive.
And true enough, that was the last time I talked to him for months.