Two days had passed yet Eliane still could not decide if that was just a dream, a hallucination . . . or a part of reality. Hindi niya rin alam kung papaano siya nakarating sa apartment niya. Ang huli niyang pagkakaalala ay nawalan siya ng malay pero ang sabi ni Aldrin, ang part-time worker na kasunod niya ng shift, ay naabutan pa nito si Eliane at maayos na nakapagpalit ng shift.
She was sure she did not meet him that night, but her memories were all muddled, so she could not trust them, too.
Hindi siya makapag-focus sa klase dahil doon. Idagdag pa na halos wala siyang tulog kaya naman wala talagang kahit anong pumapasok sa isip niya.
Papunta pa lang siya sa library nang ma-receive niya ang text ni Cyrell.
‘San ka? Tara kape tayo ngayon.’
To get the suffocating thoughts off her mind, she decided to drink with her. Eliane met with Cyrell at the café near their university. The barista greeted them with a smile. He already knew them because they would always stay for hours, talking about history and other things college students don’t have any interest in.
Nang makarating siya sa coffee shop ay agad niyang in-order ang usual niyang iniinom at kinakain. Habang naghihintay sa kasama ay binuksan niya ang laptop at nagbakasakaling makapag-edit ng thesis. After a few minutes, Cyrell came but she looked perturbed.
“Cy!” tawag niya habang nakataas ang kamay. “Dito!”
Cyrell marched toward her direction. Inilagay ng kaibigan niya ang gamit nito sa lamesa pero patuloy pa rin itong tumitingin sa paligid.
“Bakit?” asked Eliane.
Cyrell forced a smile. “W-wala.”
Her friend ordered at the counter and stood there until her food and beverage were ready. Bumalik ito sa lamesa nila at inilabas din ang laptop niya.
Eliane had always viewed Cyrell as an enigma. Besides her impassive expression and cold demeanor, she was quiet in a sense that she would not initiate a conversation, unless that person was a close friend, or it was needed. But what made her drawn to Cyrell was her vast knowledge about things in the past. Sometimes, she would like her friend was someone who lived throughout different centuries, but later learned that it was due to her family’s affiliations.
Cyrell was from a family of archeologists and historians. She thought it was cool and she also liked listening to her stories, even though most were yet to be proven.
Both of them were graduating and busy with their own thesis manuscript, but she noticed her friend’s restlessness. Cyrell was not the type to get worked up easily, so she knew something was up.
“Okay ka lang ba?” tanong niya sa kaibigan. “Kanina ka pa lingon nang lingon, ah?”
Cyrell’s shoulders tensed. She leaned closer to Eliane. “Para kasing may nakatingin sa atin,” bulong nito.
Eliane surveyed the café upon hearing her friend’s concern but all she could see were people minding their own business.
“Parang wala naman.”
“No, it’s not them . . .” Cyrell’s voice trailed off, stopping herself from saying more. She sighed in resignation. “Hayaan mo na. Wala lang naman siguro ‘yon.”
She could tell that her friend was still anxious. One thing she learned when she became friends with Cyrell was her gut feeling was always right. Sometimes, she would find it daunting because of how accurate she was.
Balak sana niyang ikwento ang nangyari sa kanya sa convenience store pero bigla siyang nagdalawang-isip nang makita ang expresyon ng kaibigan. Besides, she might not believe her because it would sound too fictitious. Would Cyrell really believe her if she told her someone erupted into flames and turned into ashes?
She opted to ask the safest question. “Cy, bumalik na ba ang Mama mo?”
Cyrell perked up. “Ah. Oo nga pala. Babalik na sina Mama at Papa sa Saturday. Gusto mo bang pumunta sa bahay?”
A grin grew on her face. “Talaga? Sige!”
Cyrell’s parents were well-known in their field. Dr. Cyrene Estrella and Dr. Ridge Estrella were pioneers of the Pre-Colonial Philippine Culture Restoration Program, a project that aims to recover the variety of cultures we had before the Spanish eradicated them. They had written controversial books and released statements that were disputed by several experts.
She had read their book about Urduja, a fictional warrior princess, and they claimed that she was real, along with several proofs of her existence. It was what inspired her to pick her current topic for her thesis and interviewing them would be a big help.
Inilabas ni Cyrell ang kanyang phone at akmang magte-text nang biglang napakunot ang noo nito. Eliane asked her why and she grunted. Ipinakita ng kanyang kaibigan ang natanggap nitong text.
It was from Cyrus, her twin brother.
Bilhan mo ako ng kape kapag pauwi ka na, he texted.
Napangiti naman si Eliane. She had never spoken to her friend’s brother, but she had seen him several times. Palagi kasi nitong sinusundo ang kapatid niya sa classroom noong second year sila. Masyado kasing tahimik si Cyrell kaya’t madalas ay nagiging tampulan ng biro at tukso. Cyrus would wait for her to see if she were being bullied.
Eliane found it sweet, but Cyrell would say otherwise, lalo na dahil madalas itong utusan ng kapatid niya.
“Nakatambay lang naman siya sa bahay ngayon tapos mag-u-utos pa,” reklamo nito.
“Nandito ka naman na raw sa café,” sabay halakhak ni Eliane.
They continued studying and reviewing their theses, but they decided to stop when it was already getting dark.
“Padilim na,” commented Eliane but was surprised when she looked at her wristwatch. “Wait, 5 PM pa lang?”
Her words caught Cyrell’s attention. Napatingin din ito sa paligid, pabalik sa kanyang relo. “That’s weird. Summer ngayon kaya dapat ay mas mahaba ang araw.”
She silently agreed. Noong nagsimula ang buwan ng Marso ay maliwanag pa kahit hanggang alas-sais, pero kakaiba ang nangyari ngayong araw. Somehow, the day was significantly shorter than the other days.
Parehong malalim ang kanilang iniisip nang bigla na lamang umalingawngaw ang putok ng baril. The people inside the café craned their necks, trying to see what happened outside. Eliane and Cyrell stood up and just a few meters outside the café, people were in a commotion.
Agad nilang niligpit ang kanilang mga gamit at mabilis na lumabas. They stopped dead in their tracks upon seeing the commotion a few meters away.
Two people were shot dead, and the murderer frantically pointed his gun at the people around. But what caught their attention was the tendril of dark fumes above the criminal’s head.
Eliane gasped, realizing it looked similar to what she had seen that night.
“Do you see that?” she mumbled, looking at the ominous form.
“You can see it?” Cyrelle returned. “Oh, gods.”
Before Eliane could ask what her friend meant, Cyrell held her wrist, a grim expression on her face.
“We need to run,” bulong nito. “Now.”
She did not protest, and they ran away without looking back.