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.”