***

I hastily left the meeting room, wishing nobody would look at me, until I found the room where Greg let me stayed. Pagkapasok ko sa loob ay agad kong ni-lock ang pinto at pinunasan ko ang pisngi ko pero tuluy-tuloy pa rin ang mga luha ko. Bwisit.

At least, no one could see me—

It felt like someone had poured me a bucket of cold water when I saw a guy at the desk, staring right at me. We were both frozen, unsure of what to do in this awkward situation. All of a sudden, he spun his chair and faced the glass wall, as if he just saw something embarrassing.

“Sorry. Uh, are you okay—”

Hindi ko na siya pinatapos at agad akong lumabas sa kwartong ‘yon. Do’n ko na-realize na sa katabing room pa pala ang dapat kong pupuntahan. Damn, what an idiot.

Pumasok ako at nakita ko ro’n ang shoulder bag na dala ko. Napaupo na lang ako sa couch at dahil sa mga nangyari. Isang oras pa lang ang nakakalipas mula nang lumapag ako sa bansang ‘to pero gusto ko nang umuwi. I couldn’t stand being in the same place as that guy.

Huminga ako nang malalim at kumalma muna dahil ayaw kong lumabas nang ganito. I applied a bit of concealer and foundation below my eyes to cover the redness. After that, I went out to find Greg, hoping that he would already take me to the hotel.

As I was wandering around this floor, I noticed some employees were staring at me as if they were checking if I was real or not. Naalala ko ang sinabi ng isang board member kanina. Maybe I really looked like the younger version of my mother.

Binilisan ko na lang ang paglalakad ko at patuloy na hinanap si Greg. Napadaan ako sa ilan pang executive rooms at balak ko sanang pumunta sa kabilang wing nang narinig ko bigla ang pangalan ko. I immediately stopped, walked backward and looked at the room in front of me.

“Are you really sure about this, Crisostomo?” an old voice asked and I let out a scowl when I heard my father’s name.

“I have no choice, Peter,” he said.

“But she seemed bewildered earlier,” the old guy reasoned, “and disappointed. She’s your daughter, you know.”

“I can’t be a father in front of the board members,” he retorted. “You know that they will use that against us. I have to protect my family and this company, Peter.”

“You will lose your chance to get close to her.”

“If that will protect them, then by all means, I’ll be the bad guy in her eyes.”

I heard the shuffling of their feet so I immediately ceased eavesdropping and left the area. My heart was pounding painfully against my chest after hearing their conversation and I don’t know if I should believe him or not. It didn’t make sense. How could someone like him utter those kind of words? Protect? His family? It sounded like a bad joke.

My head was spinning from thinking too much so I went back to that room. All I wanted was some peace of mind yet hearing him made me nauseous, as if I was in a maze, lost and tired from all these drama.

Bigla ko namang naalala ang sagutan namin kanina sa meeting room. He didn’t tell me about the situation and that made me mad. He was already a disappointment as a father in my eyes and he wanted to be worse than that? To protect me? The company? From what? From whom?

My train of thought dissolved into thin air when I heard someone entering. My face turned into a frown when I saw my father standing on the doorway.

“Chloe . . .” he called but his voice faltered and I remembered telling him not to call my name anymore. “I didn’t know you’re here.”

Tumingin naman ako sa kabilang direksyon. “Greg said I should wait here,” sagot ko naman.

It felt awkward because we just had a fight but it became worse for me after listening to his conversation with some old guy. I wanted to ask him what was that all about but I couldn’t lower my pride. Deep inside my heart, it was still his fault even though there might have been some misunderstandings.

“I’m leaving,” I announced because I couldn’t bear the atmosphere anymore but he suddenly approached me.

“Wait,” he pleaded, his eyes gleaming.

Hindi naman agad ako nakagalaw at lalo lang akong naguluhan. In the end, I decided to listen to him one last time because I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something.

“What?” tanong ko at binigyan niya ako ng isang malungkot na ngiti. My heart sank at the sight of that.

“I have something to tell you,” he said while sitting in front of me. “It’s about your mother.”

Napatigil naman ako pagkarinig ko no’n. Ilang segundo akong nag-alinlangan pero umupo na rin ulit ako dahil mukhang seryoso ang gusto niyang sabihin.

Naalala ko tuloy noong umuwi si Mom. I really hated the fact that she went only went home when Czanelle and Clark were already there. Ilang taon kong pinangarap na umuwi rin sila nang matagal para sa akin pero hindi ‘yon nangyari. Para bang ipinamukha niya talaga na dahil lang sa kanila kaya siya nandoon. Those were my honest thoughts but after seeing her, it seemed like that wasn’t the entire case.

I looked at Dad, trying to set aside our feud a while ago to discuss some serious matter.

“You need to study your mother’s portfolio and present it to the board members,” he said.

“Why me?” tanong ko naman. “Why can’t she just go back here and do her job?”

“She can’t,” sagot niya at doon na ako kinabahan.

“Something’s wrong with her,” I said and his face softened. “Isn’t it?”

He was silent for a few seconds and within that moment, negativity had already consumed my thoughts. He took a deep breath while I held mine, terrified of what I would hear.

“It’s a rare kind of dementia,” he said but the words just lingered inside my head. “Her long term-memories seem to deteriorate first and those were the most affected. With her current condition, I can’t risk her or the company. Her doctors said that it’s better to let her stay in a place which will remind her of the things and people she treasures the most.”

I wasn’t ready to hear that. He just dropped it like a bomb and those words shattered me to the core. He was lying. He must be lying. There was no way Mom . . .

“You’re lying,” I muttered, my tears threatening to come out.

“Chloe . . .”

“T-that’s impossible. She’s—”

Napatigil naman ako dahil naalala ko ang mga nangyari dati. There was a time when she called me, checking if Czanelle and Clark were fine, without even asking how was I. Her behavior was getting worse and that made me hate her more but after some time, she began approaching me. I was cautious because she had already hurt me before, however, I was also yearning for her warmth . . . for a mother.

I broke down in tears, realizing that when she came back, she had already forgotten a lot about me and she was trying to get those memories back these past few months.

“Why? Why?”

The next thing I knew, I was already crying on his shoulder, and it reminded me how broad it was. It felt like I was a child again and he would always be there to calm me down. I had forgotten that feeling because the last time he held was the night before they left me fifteen years ago.

He was gently stroking my hair as I cried and for the first time, I was grateful for his silence. He didn’t say a word after he explained Mom’s condition. He was just there. For me.

Ang hirap paniwalaan na kanina lang ay nagsisigawan pa kami pero ngayon, wala akong magawa kundi magtago sa balikat niya. I wanted to yell at him for keeping it from me, for telling it because he needed me, and for giving me a lot of trouble. But I couldn’t.

Pareho naman kaming napatigil nang narinig namin ang pagkatok sa pinto. Binitiwan niya ako at agad ko namang pinunasan ang mga mata at pisngi ko. Even if I couldn’t see myself, I was sure I looked like a mess.

“I’ll explain the rest tonight,” he said as he approached the door, “but for now, you need to pull yourself together.”

Even though I couldn’t see him as we were facing opposite sides, I could imagine his cold and somber demeanor. He was back to his old self.

“You’re strong and I believe in you,” dagdag niya at nang binuksan niya ang pinto ay narinig ko ang boses ni Greg pero bago pa siya may masabi ay agad niyang ring isinara ang pinto.

Naiwan ako ro’ng mag-isa at tahimik na tinatanggap ang lahat ng nangyari kahit sa totoo lang ay parang sasabog na ang utak ko.

I believe in you. Those words could either build or destroy one’s self-esteem, especially if they were from someone you don’t want to disappoint.

I heaved a sigh, exhausted from too much crying and from learning some fragments of truth. Gusto ko na lang mahiga at magpahinga. Gusto ko nang umuwi. Gusto ko silang makita.


***


At around 3 P.M., we finally arrived at the hotel and Greg escorted me to my room. Pagkatapos niyang ilapag ang maleta ko ay nagpaalam na siya at agad naman akong dumiretso sa kwarto. Humiga ako sa kama at saglit na pumikit.

My mind was too exhausted to function but I couldn’t sleep so I reached for my phone instead. Chineck ko ang social media accounts ko pero wala namang importanteng messages. I was about to turn it off when a notification from my email appeared. Binuksan ko naman agad ‘yon dahil baka importante pero nagulat ako sa nakita ko.

From: Jazer John Zurbano <jazerzurbano@gmail.com>
To: chloeesguerra@gmail.com

Baka hindi mo na nababasa ang text ko. Hindi ka man lang nagsabi na aalis ka pala. Anyway, ingat ka. Hinahanap ka na nina Czanelle at Clark.


Pagkabasa ko no’n ay saka ko naalala na wala nga palang social media accounts ang lalaking ‘to dahil ayon sa kanya, aksaya lang sa panahon at baka raw matulad siya sa karamihan na hindi mabubuhay kapag hindi nakapag-internet. Ang tanging ginagamit niya lang ay email dahil ‘yon ang kailangan sa university pero hindi ko naman akalaing ito ang gagamitin niya para i-message ako. Heto naman ako, nag-reply.


To: Jazer John Zurbano <jazerzurbano@gmail.com>

Duh? That was the point. And why are you messaging me using gmail? You’re weird. Use Hangouts!

I clicked ‘send’ and after that, I turned off my phone.

Ever since I stepped on this country, I never had the chance to smile . . . until I read his message. This day was nothing but a wave of problems but his oddity was like a breath of fresh air, something I badly needed. Even though we weren’t together, he managed to put a smile on my face and that was enough to save me from this chaotic situation.

I kinda miss him.



***