FRIDAY came. May tinapos pa siyang trabaho sa opisina at kung hindi pa siya ipinagtabuyan ng Daddy niya, malamang hindi siya makapunta sa reunion dahil nawala sa isipan niya ang oras. O mas angkop sabihin, pinilit niyang mawala iyon sa isip niya. The reunion makes her feel sick. It’s like something she doesn’t want to look forward to. Kahit kinukumbinsi niya ang sariling wala siyang dapat ipag-alala, iba pa rin ang pakiramdam niya. She wanted so much to back out. But she just can’t dahil naka-oo na siya sa mga magulang. She just wished it’s Monday again.
Biglang tumunog ang cellphone niya. Pinindot niya ang bluetooth device sa tenga at kaagad niyang sinagot iyon. Napangiwi siya nang marinig ang malakas na boses ni Dinah.
“Kung alam ko lang na ganyan ka ka-late sana isinabay na kita kanina! My God, Mush, aabutin ka ng gabi sa daan. It’s six hours drive! Akala ko ba isang oras ka lang delayed?”
“Dinah, I’m okay. Sanay ako magbiyahe sa gabi, ano ka ba. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
“Kahit na. You should’ve-” napabunting-hininga ito. “Kahit kailan ka talaga, Mushroom.” anitong kunwa’y nanggagalaiti. “The party’s going to start in two hours. You’re very very very late. Kanina pa nagdatingan ang mga ka-batchmate natin.”
“I’ll be there, okay?”
“You better make sure you’re here before the party ends.”
“Makakahabol ako.” paninigurado niya. “And besides, we still have tomorrow. Hindi naman siguro-“
“You need to be here now.” mariing sabi nito. “Omigosh Mushroom! Ikaw na lang ang wala.”
“Yeah, yeah. I will be. Now, put down the phone because I’m gonna concentrate driving.”
“Okay, be safe. Call me if something happens.” anito.
“Yeah, I will.” aniya.
Siya na lang ang wala. Bigla siyang nanlamig. Pakiramdam niya’y masusuka siya. Okay, Mushroom, you have to get hold of yourself! kastigo niya sa sarili. She will be in Pangasinan approximately in three hours. Papadilim na pero hindi niya alintana iyon dahil sanay na siya. But her hands are clammy and cold. And her pulse rate is accelerating. Seriously, Mushroom?
MAG-AALAS-ONSE na nang dumating si Mushroom. Pagbaba pa lang niya sa sasakyan napansin na niya ang kakaibang aura ng paligid. It’s so peaceful. At ang simoy ng hangin, ibang-iba sa araw-araw na nalalanghap niya sa Manila. Tinawagan niya kaagad ang Mommy at Daddy niya pagkadating doon para hindi mag-alala ang mga ito. And they’re far more excited than her.
Paglabas ng sasakyan umangat ang kilay niya nang may makitang black BMW. Who could afford such a flashy car? It could be– Natigil ang pag-iisip niya. Natanaw na niyang parating sina Dinah at Betchy.
Niyakap niya ng mahigpit si Betchy, medyo malaki na ang tiyan nito. Isang tingin pa lang, alam niyang masaya ito kapiling ang asawang si Louie. It’s almost unbelievable. All of them were convinced Louie was gay. Well, he really is. But he loves Betchy so much. And he’ll do anything to fight for that love even if it meant he has to kill the feminine side of him. And they adored Louie for that great love he fought for. Betchy was so in love with him too. At tanggap nito kung ano at sino ang asawa. Na-miss niya ang mag-asawa. Lalo na si Betchy. Matagal na rin silang hindi nagkita dahil sa Pangasinan na ito nakatira.
“I’m so happy you finally came. Omigosh, Mushroom, I really missed you!” masayang sabi nito.
“I missed you too. And I’m so glad to be finally here.”
“Kasi busy sa business career niya,” ani Dinah. “Pero mamaya na kayo magchika, kailangan mo ng magbihis, Mush. The party had begun!”
“Yeah, get dressed!” ani Betchy. “You take care of Mush, Dinah, eestimahin ko lang ang ibang bisita,” anito saka iniwan sila.
Kaagad siyang tumalima. It’s just a get-together party. It’s nothing grand so she chose something casual yet classy.She decided to wear the knee-length sapphire dress with bubble hemline. Dinah assisted her from head to toe. Inayos nito ang buhok niya at ang make up niya. Suddenly they felt like teen-agers again. And she forgot the sickness she felt a while ago.
Natawa siya nang tingnan ang sarili sa salamin. “I look like a twelve-year old.”
“Ha-ha,” ani Dinah. “You’re way too hot for a twelve-year old. But you’re right, you look younger!” Pagkuwa’y sumeryoso ito bigla. “I missed this, Mush,” anito.
Kailan nga ba siya huling nag-ayos ng sarili just for fun and not for business purposes? It’s been a long time she went to socialize with people. And it’s been a long time she had been with her bestfriends to have fun. Yeah, she missed this too.
“We’re not crying, are we?” aniya nang maramdamang nanghahapdi ang mata.
“No, we’re not!” kaagad na sagot nito na pinandilatan siya.
Ilang sandali pa’y nakagayak na si Mushroom. They giggled when they saw themselves in the mirror. “O-mi-gosh,” pareho silang naghigit ng hininga. “We look awesomely beautiful!” halos sabay na sabi nila at sabay na nagtawanan.
Mushroom smiled at herself. The past years made her who she is right now. Strong and independent. Iwinaksi niya lahat ng alalahanin at kaba sa dibdib. She’s going to make it through tonight. Definitely.
ALMOST everyone turned their gaze towards the door when they arrived. There are at least sixty of them on the grand ballroom of the hotel. At ang kabang kanina lang ay nawala, muli na namang bumalik. She felt like having indigestion. Omigosh… This isn’t so like you! paalala niya sa sarili. She’s used to meet people. She’s used to huge gatherings with business tycoons and the elite group of the society. People don’t normally scare her no matter who they are and no matter how many they are. But tonight is different. Nothing ever made her feel like this- nervous and anxious.
It’s just a reunion! Pero hindi pa rin niya maiwasang makadama ng kaba.
As they made their way to the crowd, the beat of the music helped her relax. Nang ilibot niya ang paningin sa paligid, napahanga siya sa ganda noon. Unti-unting nawala ang kabang kanina lang niya naramdaman. The place is really beautiful. The grand ballroom was situated at the rooftop of the hotel. The walls and ceiling were furnished with see-through glass material kaya kita nila ang langit na pinalalamutian ng buwan at mga bituin at ang kagandahan ng buong paligid. With the help of the moonlight, she could see the beauty of the whole place from where she stood. It’s beyond words to describe. Tila nag-aanyaya ang dagat habang tinitingnan niya iyon.
Hinila siya ni Dinah at isa-isa nilang nilapitan at kinausap ang mga dating kaklase. And the moment she broke her silence, her worries flew in an instant. She felt what it used to feel way back when they were yet in their blue and white uniforms. Parang nag-rewind bigla at highschool ulit sila. She suddenly felt at home. Hanggang sa tila hindi na mapuknat ang tawanan at tuksuhan. Naging usapan kung sino ang pinakatamad sa klase, kung sino ang palaging nagchi-cheat, kung sino ang sipsip sa teacher, sino ang maaarte at kung anu-ano pa. Walang tigil ang tawanan. She just realized she missed all of them.
Halos lahat sa kanila’y successful sa piniling karera. What surprised them most is Melody. The famous Melody Torres is different. Wala na ang makurbang katawan nito. But no one in there is as happy as her. Well, except for Betchy. Napatingin siya sa dalawang babae. They are really happy. Melody’s so happy being a housewife. At hindi sila makapaniwalang si Tom ang napangasawa nito. She used to despise him every chance she got during highschool. Tom has changed as well. Hindi na ito yung dating geek na nasa isang sulok lang. Masaya itong nakikipag-usap sa lahat ng naroroon. They are a picture of a perfect couple. And somehow, she envies them. She wonders how it feels to be a housewife. But she really doubted if she’s in for the married life.
Napalingon siya kay Dinah nang bigla siyang kurutin nito. Nakanguso ito sa sentro ng bulwagan pigil ang sariling kiligin. Sinundan niya ang tingin nito at ganoon na lang ang pagkabog ng dibdib niya. She felt her throat constricted and her eyes hurt. Pinilit niyang huminga ng maayos habang kuyom ang mga palad. You’re alright, Mushroom. You’re alright, aniya sa sarili. She didn’t come here to see him. But somehow, she’s anxious about how he looked like after ten years. She wonders if she can still recognize him, or if he can still recognize her and if she can look into his eyes without feeling anything at all. Now, he is just a few meters away. And even when he’s not looking at her, she felt like melting.
Pasimpleng pinasadahan niya ito ng tingin. Gino looked taller and leaner. Ibang-iba sa Gino na naaalala niya. But he still have that laughter which makes everyone laugh with him. And just like before, he tells stories without realizing everyone is listening and laughing with him. Nakagat ni Mushroom ang labi. She could feel that raw pain again and she could not seem to ignore it. Hindi ba dapat, wala na siyang nararamdaman? For goodness sake, she has moved on!
Bigla’y bumukas ang pinto. Napunta doon ang atensiyon niya. Then came a really tall lady in a black ankle-length gown. Hindi niya kilala kung sino iyon. She looked like a woman of medieval times. She doesn’t need a petticoat to have that look. Her hips were wide and her waist is so slim and her bosoms made every girl look with envy. Kakaiba ang aura nito. Kahit hindi siya lumingon alam niyang lahat ng lalaki nakapako ang tingin dito. She walked gracefully past them. Nang mapatapat ito sa kanya’y pakiramdam niya’y isa siyang bubwit na naligaw sa kasiyahang iyon. She suddenly felt insecured. Bagay na bihirang mangyari sa kanya. And she suddenly hate the dress she’s wearing.
Kita niyang umangat ang kilay ni Dinah. “She’s with Gino,” bulong nito.
A pain seared through her heart as she watched her slid her hands into Gino’s arms. Did she really come here to be tortured? Hindi niya napaghandaan ang magiging reaksyon niya. Pakiramdam niya’y hindi siya makahinga sa paninikip ng dibdib. Kaagad na nagpaalam siya kay Dinah na pupunta ng powder room. She put on an I-don’t-care-about-them-especially-Gino look so Dinah didn’t have an idea what she’s going through at that very moment. She’s very good in masking her emotion because that’s what she always did for the past years.
Mabilis siyang lumabas doon. Hindi siya nagpunta sa powder room. Dumiretso siya sa elevator. Kailangan niya ng hangin. Nahihirapan siyang huminga sa loob. Hanggang sa makarating siya sa ground floor at patakbong lumabas ng building. Ilang sandali pa’y tinatalunton na ng paa niya daan patungo sa tabing dagat. She kicked off her heels dahil nahirapan siyang tumakbo. Humihingal siya nang marating ang tabing-dagat. Nayakap niya ang sarili nang sumalubong sa kanya ang malamig na hangin. Unti-unting pumatak ang luha niya’t hindi na niya pinigilan ang mga iyon kahit na masira ang make up niya. Kailangan niyang pakawalan ang lahat ng sakit na nasa loob ng dibdib. Tila nanghihinang napaupo siya sa buhangin at niyakap ng mahigpit ang sarili. Pinakawalan niya ang lahat ng emosyong nakakulong sa loob ng dibdib niya sa loob ng sampung taon.
She’s not over him, is she? And he’s so over her. Isn’t that unfair?
GINO felt her presence amidst the crowd. He knows her every move because he has been watching her the moment she arrived. His heart melted at the sight of her. Mushroom caused his heart to beat frantically. He started breathing unevenly. She looked gorgeous in that dress and cute at the same time. And he felt like the old school boy he once was. And just like before he doesn’t know how to approach her. He felt nervous. He’s always nervous when it comes to Mushroom.
Then her presence suddenly vanished through the crowds. Tila binundol ng takot ang dibdib.
“Found her yet?” tanong ni Dianne sa kanya na inilibot ang mga mata.
“She just left,” aniya.
“Do you want me to find her?”
Umiling siya. “I’ll do it.”
“Good luck, Gino.” ani Dianne na ngumiti, tila pinalalakas ang loob niya. Yeah, he needed that. He needed that so badly right now.
Pasimple niyang iniwan ang mga kaibigan at hinanap ang dalaga. Though he is not sure what to say to her without trembling. She may have forgotten him. Or she may not even care at all. Hindi niya alam. That thought seemed to pierce through his heart. And it hurts like hell. The same stinging pain he felt when he left her ten years ago… or maybe even worse.
I HATE YOU… ani Mushroom habang pinagsisipa ang buhangin. Ginagap niya ang sariling dibdib. Why does it hurt so much? Why does it still hurt so much?
Is ten years that long? Did Gino forget that she can be here? Didn’t he even wonder how she has been after he left? Unti-unting lumabo ang paningin niya. And reality struck her deep in her soul once again. Gino doesn’t care about her anymore. Up to this moment she wondered what she had done wrong to deserve this kind of treatment. To be totally ignored with no further explanation. After her eighteenth birthday he didn’t bother to call. But she waited. For a long long time she did nothing but wait. She was worried to the point of hurting but still, she waited.
There were times when Gino was like a fading memory, like a dream she can only reach when she’s asleep. And it was the most painful torment of all. Dahil natatakot siya na tuluyan itong mabura sa alaala niya. Dahil hindi niya ito kayang bitawan pa. For a long time she held on to his promise. Hanggang sa magising siya sa katotohanang parte na ito ng nakaraan at hindi na kailanman magiging bahagi ng kasalukuyan niya. Na tuluyan na siyang nakalimutan nito’t hindi na ito magbabalik. Natanggap niya iyon ng buo sa loob. Pinilit niyang tanggapin iyon kahit masakit. And now, he’s suddenly back. How is she supposed to react? The truth is, she doesn’t want to care anymore. She already decided not to care. But the painful side of truth is, she does. She still does, after all those years.
Pinahid niya ang luha. Tila hindi maubos-ubos iyon. Her eyes are hurt for crying so much. Ayaw na niyang umiyak. Pagod na pagod na siya. When will this hurting ever stop? Hindi na niya namalayan kung gaano siya katagal nag-iiyak doon. And the place is getting colder. Pero hindi pa rin mawala ang bigat ng dibdib. She has to release all her emotions now or else, magkakalat siya sa party. And she didn’t want to look so miserable.
Nakarinig siya ng yabag sa likuran. Mabilis na pinahid niya ang luha. Hindi siya lumingon man lang. Umaasang umalis na lang ang sinumang nandoon.
“Malamig dito,” anang boses sa likuran niya.
And she felt goosebumps shooting in all directions. She can’t mistake that voice for someone else. Tears are starting to well up again. And she felt being cut open again. Oh please, tama na…