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Finding Alberto (Chapter 6)

Titilaok Aug 02,2013 0 Comments

Story by Joan Lopez-Flores

It was a sixteen and a half-hour long flight. Elena Duffy was terrified that she couldn’t play Candy Crush Saga on her phone for that long. She decided she would spend the first eight to ten hours asleep. Then the rest she’ll watch one movie after the other. She has downloaded two movies already into her phone: Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Her mistake was watching Before Midnight first. She and Mintsy agreed to watch it together. When Mintsy died Elena watched it alone. Her secret is she bought two bags of popcorn. She pretended the other one was for Mintsy. Before the movie was over, she has finished both.

On the way to the airport she reviewed what she has done to prepare for her flight. She accepted the head nurse’s suggestion to take a two months’ leave. She finished all pending tasks at the hospital, making sure not to take any more that she won’t be able to finish by the time she leaves. She also found through Google an apartment she could stay in as a transient tenant. She found one in Plainview Subdivision in Mandaluyong for 8,500 pesos a month. She converted the amount into dollars in her head and thought, “Not bad.” She already contacted the owner and prepared a check for two months’ stay.
Of course, Elena informed Hannah of her plans. Hannah didn’t object.

“Go, Mommy! Maybe I’ll follow. I am inggitera to you!” Hannah said. Elena laughed at her daughter’s use of Tagalog.

Before checking-in, one woman was arguing with the airport officer. They wouldn’t allow her to go on with her small jar of moisturizer in her handbag. She was becoming livid. She explained that she bought that moisturizer in France last year and it cost her a fortune and no way was she leaving it behind. Elena took a peek in her handbag. There were no moisturizers. But there was her bottle of sleeping pills. Only two pills were left. Will the officer ask her to leave the bottle behind?

The woman wasn’t winning against the officer. And other passengers were becoming impatient. One man yelled, “Lady, I will lose millions of dollars if I miss the flight! If I do I will sue you!”

The woman opened her jar of moisturizer. She grabbed a handful and smothered her face with it. She put some more on her arms and neck. The air began to smell of pomegranate—the scent of the moisturizer. The airport officer let her through. Five people applauded the scene.

Elena scrambled for her sleeping pills, quickly opened the bottle, and gulped down the two pills. She got her iPhone out, logged onto Facebook and posted this status: “Pilipinas, see you soon!” In a matter of seconds, she got three likes. One of them was Fifi Reyes, her classmate back in the University of Sto. Tomas. Fifi replied, “When, mare?!”

Elena replied, “Boarding the plane now.”
By the time she got to the airport officer, removed her shoes, and put them back on, she was woozy.

“Are you all right, Madam?” the officer asked.

“Just tired,” Elena managed to mumble.

Twelve hours later Elena woke up in her seat. Her tongue and throat felt very dry. Her seatbelt was still buckled on.

here was a pain in her neck. Ever since she found her seat when she boarded the plane she fell right into a deep sleep. The passenger beside her was a Chinese man who wore a business suit. Only then did Elena realize she’d been using his shoulder as her pillow. Elena checked if there was drool on her cheek.

“You wake now?” the Chinese man said. “I can go bathroom now.” He got up and walked down the aisle. Elena did not feel like watching any movie.

For the rest of the flight she read Mintsy’s quote book. She got hooked. She couldn’t take her eyes off it. She read one quote after another, from Shakespeare, Hopkins, Coehlo, Chopra, Mandela, and many others. By the time they landed in Manila and she felt the heat, she had memorized the last two quotes.

“Is it possible for home to be a person and not a place?”
- Stephanie Perkins, Anna and the French Kiss
“Life is not orderly. No matter how we try to make life so, right in the middle of it we die, lose a leg, fall in love, drop a jar of applesauce.”
- Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

Elena was in an airport cab when she remembered to turn her phone back on. She looked through her saved Notes and recited the apartment address to the cab driver. She almost forgot to go to Foreign Exchange and sell some dollars for pesos. Now she hoped she had enough to pay the driver.

Elena turned on her Facebook. She wanted to post a status: “I’m back! Isa na akong balikbayan!” But she got distracted. Her last post about returning home had received fifty-two likes and twenty comments, mostly from her classmates, former colleagues at the hospital who have returned home, some relatives.

“Mintsy!” Elena said out loud. “So much for returning home quietly. I never thought that one post would create so much fanfare!”

“Ano po iyon, Ma’am?” the driver said.

“Ay, wala po!” she said.

Elena scanned through the comments. Most were invitations to come over for lunch or dinner, to catch up and kamustahan. “Sige ba! Sure!” she replied. She clicked on the link to find who “liked” her post. One of them made her heart jump.

Alberto Campos.

Elena clicked on the name and there it is. Alberto’s Facebook profile. Most of the information were hidden due to privacy settings. But there it is. Alberto’s smile. And his signature green bandana that tamed his wild hair. Elena hovered her mouse on the button that said, “Add Friend.” Then she decided against it. She logged out of Facebook.
Elena was underwhelmed by her new apartment. It only had two bedrooms, a small space that can be made into a living room, and a very small bathroom. There were no light bulbs installed. When she handed her check to the landlord, he gave her the keys.

“The water will okay after two hour. We close it when old tenant leaves,” he said.
“Pilipino din po ako,” Elena said.

“Ah, wala sa hitsura,” he said. “Pinabuksan ko na yung tubig. Mamaya lang ng kaunti meron na sa gripo. Pag may kailangan ka, heto cell number ko. Mang Charlie ako. Charlie Eusebio.”

“Salamat po, Mang Charles.”

Elena bought five EFL bulbs and installed them herself. She didn’t bring much back home. Just one luggage of clothes, and a balikbayan box of toiletries and groceries—supplies for herself. Strangely, she felt uneasy. Has she lost her Filipino-ness? How can her kababayan mistake her for a foreigner? She still could speak straight Tagalog. She didn’t dye her hair blonde, just chestnut brown, but many other Filipina women do that already. She had no energy to fish for her compact powder from her luggage. She looked at her arms. Her skin was pale, she must admit. She avoided the sun back in California, and when she did go out she put sunblock from head to toe. And she did not go for any plastic surgery. She had the same nose she was born with. She didn’t know she put her hand on it.

Elena was hungry. She didn’t want to rummage through her balikbayan box just yet. She decided she’ll go out and eat at a carinderia. As she closed the door of her apartment, she spied a large cockroach crawling on the street. She clutched her bag. She was fascinated. She had not seen one in years.

Elena flagged the first taxi that sped by. She forgot all about eating at a carinderia.

“Kuya, sa Shangri-La Hotel po.” Just for the first night, she taught. I need to warm up to the Philippines first. I can’t just jump in. I need something familiar.

“Makati o EDSA?” the driver asked.

“Kung alin mas malapit.”

That night, after Elena had buffet at the hotel, she locked herself in her room. She opened her iPhone. There were many more comments from old friends welcoming her home and inviting her to dinner. But Elena’s eyes lingered on one Notification for a long time.

Alberto Campos wanted to add her as friend on Facebook. Then there was the prompt: “Respond to friend request.”

Elena closed her eyes. She clicked Approve. And for the first time in her life she felt she has betrayed Daniel.


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