An Imagined Friendship

I sat on the soft-cushioned chair on that warmly-lit salon and  feel like I have found the best place to finally surrender myself  and my toenails. In hell days like Mondays, sometimes, a foot massage or nail cleaning services could be paradise enough for spartan legs who worked like hell–standing up for long hours in front of students and walking to get errands done. As I was thinking how tired my legs are, I never cared how the nail-cleaning lady looked like and instead directed my attention to the glass window that provided a great view of the grayish atmosphere with people and vehicles passing by. Even the sight of some good-looking men standing outside queuing up to pay their Leyeco bills did not give me the least excitement. I am simply tired and I need to be pampered. Even if it’s not for free, I, simply, don’t care.

The nail-cleaning lady approached me and asked if I would like a manicure or a pedicure. I told her I need a pedicure and again, I sank back to my reveries, my eyes seem to count the red-painted tricycles. She tried to smile at me but I was too tired to smile back. These are the rarest moments when tiredness took away my bubbly nature and all I could do was look at her and the bottles of nail-cleaning substances in her left hand. 

She started spraying the cuticle remover on my nails and scraping my two-week old cuticles. I looked intently at her fingers and how she cleaned my toes. I was relieved she didn’t comment on my ugly discolored toenails that most nail-cleaning ladies did. Her fingers felt light on my feet and that assured me that she wouldn’t torture them as some people do as if they know my toenails all their lives! 

There was this gay nail-cleaner who cleaned my toenails, two weeks ago. He felt like he had every right to do what he thought was best for my nails, digging soft skin at the sides of my nails and hurting some flesh inside my nails. I would’ve loved to kicked his face while he’s doing his job but then I ended up clenching my fist instead. I never go to that salon ever again.

Anyway, this lady was different. She scraped the cuticles subserviently as if my feet were all that matters to her. She didn’t even care looking up at the television even with the loud shrieking of girls on a suspense movie. And then suddenly, she asked me where I live. I hear my self giving a single-word answer. But she persisted asking me again where I worked and if I’m married. The first one is something of a standard but the second question is the one thing I hate the most. 

But she looked so innocent as if that question was given by the Holy Spirit and she merely acted like a vessel of some important message from God. Her innocence made me smile and finally, I got comfortable with her. I adjusted my leg in such a way that they are stretched more on her chair. Then, more questions keep popping up and I continued with my single answers while looking at her and noticing her eyebags. I wonder how many hours has she had been working and if she still has to do chores when she comes home. I imagine herself having a baby who might wake up at night for milk. Her husband could be one of the tricycle drivers who earned a meager sum of money. But despite all that, they felt happy, they felt a certain lightness in their lives. Oh lightness, Oh emancipation, where could you be? I longed for you! 

Her hands get lighter by the minute. After she gave her finishing touch, surprisingly, she massaged my feet with such grace everybody else in the room, the hairdresser and the other nail-cleaning ladies tried to look at her ‘coz it’s simply not part of the services anymore. hahaha.

I felt so damn lucky as if I have found a friend who understands my need even without me demanding it. In turn, I tried to repay her gentleness by opening some of myself more. I threw questions back at her and initiated a conversation. I asked why she speaks a little Tagalog. She told me, yes, she was new in Ormoc and had lived in Manila for a long time. 

I could’ve stayed long enough to take advantage of the free massage of that generous, innocent-looking girl but then I felt guilty with the prying eyes of the other employees in that salon. I paid my bill and gave her a tip. I wish I could see her again next time. And hopefully, I will stop from merely uttering single-word answers. Maybe, I would tell her that my toenails need to be taken cared of because they were once damaged. And maybe, I would also love to here her life story then. And with that, a new door of possible near-friendships could be opened. 

 

 

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Dear Cousin

Dear cousin, 

I saw you in church today. We were in the same queue during communion. You were wearing a black shirt and you always had your chin held high as if you were looking out for something somewhere on your left. I tried to meet your eyes and smile at you but you never looked at my direction. You were three paces away from me and I have this feeling, you have seen me when I went inside the church. You know that I’m always late whenever I hear mass and with this, I always get visible to everybody. Being late in mass is one of the childhood traits I have never unlearned up to this time. It is a mark that I and my mum, your aunt, hold proud amidst all these years.

But she stopped hearing mass with me. She’s at home, trapped in a time warp where the past and the present exists in one frame of reality where our dead grandpa or my papa are still alive. She even calls them to dine with us for dinner. And yes,  she even mistook me for your mum. She considers me as her sister. You might have seen me with her, a few times in the past, but her asthma and her incessant need to pee made me decide that going to church doesn’t serve its purpose anymore. And for sure, if God could talk, He will surely advise me to let her home then and enjoy the confines of her fantasies. 

Dear cousin, all I want is to seek for a sign, a certain nod, a weak smile, even a simple recognition of kinship that for once we played makeshift mini houses together, hide and seek or buwan-buwan in one of those dark nights when there was no electricity.You and others from your family are always good at playing. I can’t run or do tricks as you guys cleverly do. I was a weakling who would just stay under a shade or who rather sat near our window and watch others play outside. 

Years pass by without our noticing it. We never bond with each other that much again. Our families had conflicts before especially with money. And I, being the only one left, had to defend what’s left of us. I had to defend my mum and successfully, here I am, I always rise every time. I always do. 

Just a smile, dear cousin, even a faint one. That’s all I need. It could probably lighten up the emotional burden I was carrying at the moment. I have problems, too. I was trying to “lift them all up” to the Lord as what they say. Your smile could’ve remind me of those days when we grin and bare our teeth unhesitatingly. You could’ve helped me a bit. But u never did. 

And so I retreated once more to my shell, reality has won and I have to act like a grown-up then. Someday, you might understand, how lonely it is to be in my place, how lonely it is to hear mass alone while looking at you from a distance. 

We finished communion and I have to pretend I didn’t see you, my eyes darted strategically to where I was seated. This is just one the few times when I felt myself torn. It lead me to think of what would happen in the future, what if we happen to bring our own kids or families together in church, would you ignore me still? 

I am quite certain you would. But this I say, a part of me never changed up to this time. I am still a weakling and can’t run fast. There are also times that I eat big like a boy without caring about calories. There are times when I would’ve wanted to make playhouses or get bathe in the rain. And I do grin unhesitatingly. 

I carry with me all these thoughts all throughout the mass until the last hymn. Peace be with you, my dear cousin. You will always be a part of my childhood. And if given a chance to bestow some love to your kids, I would willingly give some. But for now, let’s retreat to our own comfort zones, wear our own disguises, go home and face the present once more. Mama is waiting, as usual to have dinner with me at home.