The scenery started to change and I was confused for a few seconds. Medyo nahilo ako dahil sa sinag ng araw pero napalitan naman ‘yon ng pagkamangha nang makita ko ang tanawin. Malapit na ako.
Naalala ko tuloy bigla si Helene.
Third year college noong nadiskubre namin ang lugar na ‘to. May kotse na siya no’n pero takot siyang mag-drive kaya ako na ang nagprisinta. We wanted to participate in our album by writing our own songs so we traveled to get some ideas. Tatlong beses kaming nakapunta rito at tatlong kanta rin ang naisulat namin na naging patok sa masa—Dear Friend, Chase at Hanggang sa Dulo.
Binilisan ko ang pagda-drive hanggang sa makita ko ang pamilyar na daan at malaking puno. I parked my car on the side of the empty road but when I got out of the car, something happened.
The oak tree disappeared and I found myself standing in the middle of a barren land. When I looked behind, my car was already gone and I had to slap myself to confirm that I wasn’t dreaming. At mukhang hindi nga ako nananaginip. Anong nangyari?
Nagsimula akong maglakad kahit hindi ko pa rin naiintindihan ang nangyari at nairita ako dahil sa suot kong sapatos. I was wearing heeled boots and walking with these in a desert-like place was both annoying and exhausting.
“Where the heck am I?” bulong ko sa sarili ko.
Hindi ako madaling matakot. Katunayan, sa aming lima, ako na yata ang pinakamatapang lalo na pagdating sa spooky stuff. However, being alone in an unfamiliar place terrified the heck out of me. I was lost and the thoughts that I’ve been pushing at the back of my mind started to resurface, triggering my tears.
As the leader and the oldest member, I should be the strongest one. Ako ang lagi nilang sandalan kapag may problema at handa naman akong makinig sa kanila. Hindi ko rin kailanman ipinakita sa kanila ang pag-iyak ko maliban kay Helene noong teenagers pa lang kami at kay Mina na naging close ko noong nagkaroon kami ng alitan ni Helene. I never showed them my weakness because they need me as a support, as the pillar. I never showed them my true self because the real Aven is a weakling.
Tuluy-tuloy ang pagtulo ng luha ko habang naglalakad. Hindi ko alam kung saan pupunta at wala na akong pakialam kung saanman ako dadalhin ng mga paa ko. I was wailing like a little kid as I wandered in this endless desert when a harsh wind suddenly blew at my direction. Good thing was my eyes were already closed. Pagdilat ko ay napatigil naman ako sa paglalakad dahil ilang metro mula sa kinatatayuan ko ay may nakatayong babae . . .
. . . a woman who looked eerily identical to me.
Napatigil ako sa pag-iyak at muli akong pumikit dahil baka nagha-hallucinate na talaga ako. Pero pagdilat ng mga mata ko ay nasa harapan ko pa rin ang babaeng ‘yon at nagulat ako nang ngumiti siya sa akin.
Hindi ko alam kung bakit pero parang medyo gumaan ang pakiramdam ko. Her face and body looked exactly like mine but we had different styles. Simula noong band member ako ay “cool outfits” na ang lagi kong sinusuot. I was wearing a black sleeveless blouse, black shorts and velvet cardigan on top of them. On the other hand, the woman in front of me got some nature-themed style with her long dress that has light brown, yellow and green tones. Somehow, it was like looking at my old self.
“Right?” she suddenly said.
Napakunot naman ang noo ko at bigla akong kinilabutan. Did she just read my mind?
“W-who are you?” tanong ko at napaatras ang kaliwang paa ko.
“Who do you think am I?” she countered.
Pinunasan ko naman ang luha ko at naramdaman ko ang buhangin sa kamay at mukha ko. Ngumiti siyang muli sa akin at para bang lumubog ang puso ko nang nakita ko ‘yon. It has been a long time since I saw myself smiling. I felt a bitter taste in my mouth, envious of the woman’s happiness.
“Tell me, is this a dream?” I asked.
“Maybe. It depends on how you interpret it,” sagot naman niya.
“Then, am I seeing my old self?”
“Then tell me, who are you?”
She flashed the sweetest smile I’ve ever seen and that stirred something inside me. I was about to yell at her because it felt like she was just toying at me but she suddenly said something.
“Aren’t you here to search for me, Aven?” sabi niya habang nakangiti pa rin. However, it was different from a while ago. Pity. That was what I felt from that smile.
Bigla naman siyang naglakad papunta sa akin. Gusto kong humakbang palayo pero hindi ko maigalaw ang katawan ko. Para akong napako sa kinatatayuan ko at wala akong nagawa kundi panoorin ang babaeng ‘yon na makalapit sa akin. When we were just several inches apart, my head started throbbing, as if someone was drilling a hole on it.
“Aven,” the woman called and when she held my right shoulder, a series of unfamiliar thoughts suddenly flooded my mind and then everything went black.
“Leave me alone!”
“Helene, lasing ka na. Tara na.”
“I’m not drunk.”
“C’mon, Helene, mapapahamak tayo rito, eh.”
I woke up drenched in sweat and breathless. My dream was so vivid that it felt like that incident happened again. Huminga ako nang malalim para kalmahin ang sarili ko at doon ko na-realize na nasa ibang bahay ako. Nilibot ko ang paningin ko at nagulat ako nang makita ko sa gilid si . . . ‘yong babaeng kamukha ko.
“You’re awake,” she greeted and she gave me a cup of tea. I accepted it and its aroma was enough to completely wake me up.
“Thank you,” mahina kong sabi. I sipped from the cup and it has been a long time since I felt this relaxed.
Napaisip naman ako kung ano ang huling nangyari at naalala kong hinawakan niya ang balikat ko. Pagkatapos no’n ay nawalan na ako ng malay at napunta rito. Wait, don’t tell me . . .
“B-binuhat mo ba ako papunta rito?” tanong ko pero ngiti lang ang isinagot niya sa akin.
“Gusto mo bang maglakad-lakad? Tara,” yaya niya at saka siya tumayo.
Habang hawak pa rin ang tasa ay bumangon ako mula sa kama at ngayon ko lang nalibot ang paningin ko. Gawa sa kahoy at pawid ang bahay kaya naman kahit walang fan o aircon ay malamig sa loob. Halos lahat din ng gamit ay gawa sa kahoy kaya naman parang probinsya ang pakiramdam. Napatigil naman ako nang makalabas kami sa kwarto dahil bumungad sa sala ang isang canvas. The painting was unfinished but I could tell that her subject was the view from the open window—the blaze of colors across the sky.
“Oh, sorry,” sabi niya nang makita niyang nakatingin ako ro’n. “Hindi ko pa tapos ‘to.”
“It’s beautiful,” I murmured. “Marunong ka palang mag-paint.”
Napangiti siya nang sabihin ko ‘yon at muli ko siyang sinundan. Binuksan niya ang pinto at doon ko lang na-realize na wala na kami sa mala-disyertong lugar kung saan kami nagkita. Instead, a seemingly infinite grassland came into view. There were several trees across the land, different kinds of flowers covered the field near us and a herd of sheeps were freely roaming.
“Wow,” I mumbled, amazed by the scenery before my eyes.
“It feels like you’re in a paradise, isn’t it?” sabi naman niya habang nakatingin din sa view.
“Yeah. I didn’t know that this kind of place exists.”
Siguro kung magkakaroon ako ng chance na pumili ng lifestyle, ganito ang gusto ko. One with nature, away from the chaotic city, simple and tranquil; different from how I am living right now.
“Nagsisisi ka ba?” bigla niyang tanong at muli akong kinilabutan dahil parang nabasa na naman niya ang iniisip ko. “Nagsisisi ka ba sa buhay na pinili mo?”
Realization suddenly hit me after she asked that question. I looked at her with my eyes wide and just like what she did earlier, she flashed her sweetest smile.
“It seems like you already know who I am.”
“You . . .” Tears streamed down my face as I stared at her.
“Yes, Aven. I am not your old self,” she said as she approached me. Using her thumb, she wiped the tears off my eyes and that made me cry harder. “I am the one you have already forgotten. The one you have buried beneath that façade. I am the real you.”
“Let’s hold each other’s hand,
Never let go, never let go;
Let’s chase our own dreams,
Keep running, keep running;
As long as there’s me and you,
What is there to fear?”
Pakiramdam ko ay nananadya talaga ang tadhana dahil kahit saan ay kanta namin ang naririnig ko. Dala na rin siguro ng news na kumakalat ngayon. Siguro ay tinatawagan na rin ako ng mga kakilala ko pero ayaw ko munang kumausap ng kahit na sino ngayon.
I want to unwind. I want to breathe.
Nasa kahabaan ako ng highway at ang traffic kaya lalo lang akong na-i-stress at idagdag pa ang mga naririnig ko. Mabuti na lang at tinted ang sasakyan ko kaya hindi ako nakikita ng mga tao.
“According to an insider, Helene left the band because of another member. Fans guessed that it might be Aven, the other main vocalist of the Venus but we are still waiting for their response.”
Right. Maybe it’s really because of me.
I don’t cry in front of people. I promised myself to be strong and to not show my vulnerable side, especially to my friends and to our fans. I am known as the “cool girl” of the group and crying isn’t cool. However, now that I’m alone, I realized how weak I am.
Helene and I have been together for more than ten years. We helped and cheered each other during our training years, spent our childhood singing and composing, and promised each other to reach the top together. Pero ngayon, mukhang malabo na.
I don’t know when it started but we gradually drifted away from each other. We’ve had misunderstandings involving our personal choices and musical compositions. Now that I think about it, isang beses lang yata kaming nakapag-dinner na kaming dalawa lang nitong nakaraang taon.
“Ikaw ba, Aven, anong plano mo sa buhay?” tanong niya noong gabing ‘yon.
“I mean, your long-term plan. Ilang months na lang, mag-e-end na ang contract natin sa Venus.”
Hindi ko alam kung ilang segundo, o umabot ba ng minuto, bago ako ulit makapagsalita. I was caught off-guard by her statement and I actually didn’t realize that we’re about to reach the 5th anniversary of Venus.
“I guess I’d still write songs and sing them,” I said, smiling. “Music is the only thing I can do.”
“What are you saying? You’re a woman of talent,” she commented and I raised my brow at her.
“As if. Ikaw ba? Ano bang balak mo?” tanong ko naman at ngumiti siya.
“I want to be a fashion designer. Gusto ko ring pumasok sa mundo ng business. You know, I want to experience the things we couldn’t do, the opportunities we couldn’t take while we’re in the band.”
Her eyes sparkled while talking about her dreams and seeing her excited made me smile but at the same time, worried.
“So, pagkatapos ba ng contract natin, aalis ka na sa Venus?” tanong ko at parang gusto kong bawiin ‘yon dahil natatakot akong marinig ang sagot niya.
“No!” she exclaimed. “Venus is my home and I will never leave that place.”
Those words struck my heart and I almost teared up. Buti na lang at napigilan ko ang sarili ko sa pagiging emosyonal.
“’Yung contract lang naman natin ang mawawala at hindi ang banda. We can set up our own agency and buy the name and rights of Venus from Moon Ent. At least that way, mas may freedom tayo sa individual schedule natin,” sabi niya at mukhang maganda naman ang planong ‘yon.
Kung saan-saan na napunta ang topic namin hanggang sa pareho kaming naka-receive ng text kay Kaye, ‘yong manager namin.
“OMG! Mag-8 PM na pala. Lagot tayo,” sabi niya at nagmadali naman kaming ubusin ang ramen na kinakain namin. After that ay bumalik kami sa studio para sa pagfa-finalize ng concept ng next album namin.
Little did I know, that was the last time we would talk to each other.
Nakalabas na ako sa highway at balak kong pumunta sa lugar na ‘yon. Helene and I accidentally found the place when we were in college. We wanted to get inspiration and we ended up in that place.
Unti-unti namang nawala ang traffic hanggang sa iilang sasakyan na lang ang nakikita ko. Binilisan ko ang pagtakbo at inalis ko na rin ang roof ng kotse. The buildings and crowded streets disappeared and the vast grasslands met the clear sky. The cool breeze brushed my face and I breathed in, slowly taking in the serenity.
“What’s your long-term plan?” Helene’s question echoed inside my head.
I never really looked ahead of time because I don’t know what path to take. Venus is my present but even if I don’t want to admit it, it’s just temporary, something that could disappear along the way. Looking back, I never had the chance to explore anything besides music. I was so into it that I put my everything to be a musician.
I won’t be in my twenties forever so I need to decide what I should do with my life, especially now that I’m turning twenty five. Akala ko ayos na ang lahat dahil napagawan ko na ng bahay ang parents ko at napag-aral ko na ang mga kapatid ko. ‘Yon lang naman ang gusto kong mangyari ngayon pero pagkatapos ng pag-uusap namin ni Helene ay marami akong na-realize.
Ano nga ba talaga ang gusto ko?
I never really tried anything aside from music but I like drawing and sketching. It relieves my stress and I find comfort whenever I see my sketch pad and drawing materials. However, I won’t make enough money with just that. I am not like Irish who got his Bachelor’s degree with honors. Even without Venus, she could survive in her field. Hindi rin ako tulad ni Arin na maraming endorsements at pang-model din ang katawan. Si Mina naman, bukod sa may acting projects siya ay galing na talaga sa mayamang pamilya.
How about me? How can I survive without Venus?
That thought dreaded me and I had to breathe deeply for several times to calm my mind. Muli kong tinignan ang paligid at kahit papaano ay nawala ‘yon sa isip ko lalo na noong nakita ko ang sunset. Agad akong napangiti dahil halos ganito rin ang tanawin noong huli kaming pumunta ni Helene dito. Nilabas ko ang phone ko at pinicture-an ang view gamit ang kaliwa kong kamay.
The burst of gold in the scarlet sky made it look like it was caught on fire—burning until everything was consumed by flames.
“You must be looking at the same view,” I whispered, thinking about Helene and how much she loves sunsets.
But I didn’t know that this sunset would also be the start of a long-time darkness.
"Kailangan matakpan ang issue na 'to. Maliwanag? This can destroy your careers, girls."
Napabuntong-hininga na lang ako habang pinapaliwanag ni Ma'am Kristy ang possible effects ng nangyari sa banda namin. Kapag may nangyayaring issue, lagi na lang may ganitong meeting at lagi niyang sinasabi ang mga bagay na 'to nang paulit-ulit.
"Aven, are you listening?" Napatingin naman ako kay Ma'am Kristy at nakakunot na ang noo niya sa akin.
"As the leader, you should be the one to protect your members. Don't take that position too lightly."
"I know." Tumingin lang ako nang diretso kahit na gusto ko nang sumabog dahil sa sinabi niya. Alam ko ring nakatingin sina Arin, Irish at Mina. Kung nandito lang si Helene, paniguradong sasagot 'yon kay Ma'am Kristy. She wasn’t afraid to show her true self. Unlike me.
Pagkatapos ng meeting ay agad akong umalis sa conference room at pumunta sa kotse ko. Pagtingin ko sa phone ko ay ang dami kaagad articles ang lumabas tungkol sa banda namin.
'Helene, no longer part of Venus.'
'Most popular girl band Venus lost one of its members.'
'One of the main vocalist of Venus, Helene, withdrew from the group.'
I immediately turned off my phone and threw it at the back seat. Pinaandar ko ang kotse ko at agad na umalis sa building na ‘yon bago pa ako maharang ng reporters. Luckily, the car I brought was the new one so they wouldn’t know my identity.
“Breaking news. It was reported that Venus lost—”
Agad kong inilipat ang radyo at napatigil ako sa isang station dahil narinig ko ang kanta namin. Ironically, it was the song that Helene and I wrote before our debut, my favorite song out of our whole discography. Hearing it made my heart throb in pain and the tears I was trying to hold back streamed down my face.
If I was just brave enough to tell her our worries, maybe this wouldn’t happen. If I just had the courage to talk to her before everything went downhill, maybe we would still be the best of friends. But everything has already changed. We changed. We were not the same people anymore, and maybe, that was the reason for all of these.
“I’m sorry, Helene,” I muttered as I cried alone, as our memories together resurfaced.
I will find you, Helene, but to do that, I’m going to find myself first.