It must be the proximity of their place to the business district, and the sea, a kilometer away to the West with some portions reclaimed, never reached them with its smell of brine, that the young people there would engage in regular reunions; former classmates in school in which one of them, amid the stultifying work in cramped office spaces -- articificial auspicious places that suggest nothing but an outlook for the future -- would think first on contacting his contemporaries and those few who had migrated to other cities for arrangements. If someone would take notes on what usually takes place during these get-togethers, he would notice that they begin with superficial details concerning their advancing careers. And when everybody have slackened off due to the languor brought by plates of calderata and pancit bihon, and when what is left are wine and bottles of beer, they exchange tidbits of a shared past too much for their pleasure.
One of the young people who subscribed to this was Jose Centeno, an abled man with no practical worries to make him look older than his age, and reunions for him were welcome rituals, perhaps to compensate for the slow ripple of his social life.
"Carmelita dropped by this afternoon," said Dominic Crisante, cousin and constant classmate in school.
"What's her concern," Jose replied.
"The usual. And probably would be in a resort this time."
"We could try La Union."
"Yeah, never been there. Anyway, she has told the others about it."
"What did they say?"
"It's fine with them. They even had set a date when to talk about the details."
This prospect ran like an excited cat in the head of Jose as he combed the tuft of hair in his forehead with callous fingers. He was halfway done recording on the computer the birth and death certificates of the population of Hawaii, circa 40, from a roll of microfilm. The idea had taken much of his thoughts, and already he tasted in his mouth an urge for a smoke . He stood up. He stretched his limbs, and, for a moment, surveyed the rows of computers around him and listened to the perpetual clatter of keyboards being pounded at an average speed of 45 word per minute. He walked out past the working area and headed for the comfort room. He found that several of his officemates were already there, cigarette smoke hovered in the air like a morning fog, slow moving while being sucked by the exhaust fan. He relieved himself on the urinal, then got a cigarette in his back pocket and lit it. His officemates were entertaining themselves with juvenile imagination of having a hot chick for a wife.
"Wouldn't it be great to have a wife like that?" said one.
"Sure it is," Jose joined in. "Just don't leave the country for you'll writhe in your bed anxious that she is making out with other men."
"Ho, ho, ho! That must be like hell," one replied.
When Jose returned to his seat, he checked whether he had had recorded the certificate seen in his viewer, and verifying that it had been, resumed encoding the next data. For hours, he was deep in repetitious process of typing names, dates and causes of deaths. Doing this job for a long time, Jose marveled at the idea that this hynotizing task, which one's brain felt being massaged, makes one dumb. And already he was starting to consider himself as one. Few more years on the job and probably he could degenerate into a moron.
Then a flash struck him as he went on to the next data, like an apparition that sweeps by without portents. Actually, the flash was not a blinding light of illumination, rather a blurred glimpse of a remote past.
It was the time before they discovered the pleasure of holding formal reunions. It was a casual conversation with former classmates as they stood on the bridge near another classmate's home. He had mentioned to one of them a case of mischief several of them did during one of their school days. But the quick response was: "Sorry, but I don't remember it." The reply baffled him. He could have had retorted by saying: "Of course you remember it", and offered further elaboration to construct a detailed past. But the conversation was a merry one, straying to other topics, that to delve on an uncertain past was uncalled for and unnecessary. Thus the realization that he alone remembered it hung in the air; an unseen benign terror that dived in the depths of his soul and stayed there slumbering for a long time.
"Common." It was his seatmate nudging him. Jose snapped out of his reverie. Everybody around had started to stand up. A bustle of workers rushed toward the counter to pass the unfinished recorded microfilms. He pulled the microfilm in one sweep from the machine, put the film inside the brown envelope and stood up. The next shift that was now crowding along the corridor and spilling over already on the door, their heads peeking, and was about to enter the working area any minute now.
He chose a seat by the window. When the conductor issued him his ticket, he crumpled it into a ball with his fingers, rolling it until the sweat in his fingers rubbed on it. Humid air slapped his face as the bus sped along the highway and his vision barraged by the lush of billboard ads' neon lights.
The issue could be treated as a simple case of forgetfulness, he thought. But he felt otherwise. He was bothered, and at this juncture could be concluded as unhappy and had been robbed of his peace. He tried to find a resolve to this anomaly, taking the stance of a homespun philosopher, anchoring his deductions in the events in contemporary times.
Jose focused on the case of his officemates. They would remember years later the habit of sneaking out to smoke in the comfort room during this stint in their job. The repeated shirking would etch a strong impression in their memories that it would be certain that, if the situation calls for it -- when an early evening chat with their aging wives begs for a casual sharing of anecdotes or when their children have grown up and on their first job and need stories to teach them about work-place scenarios -- Jose's officemates would be able to remember and tell about it. And, probably, with a hint of pride for their laid-back coolness.
But what if three of them, instead of sneaking out to smoke in the restroom, decide to proceed downstairs, go out and eat at the open-air eatery beside the building which was not their usual wont. On their way back to work, they encounter a ragged old man begging for loose change. One of them, out of naughtiness and for the purpose of having a good laugh, gives the beggar an antiquated coin that would be without use for the old man. They would go back to their work guffawing.
Decades later, when fate have separated them, either to pursue other jobs or migrate in other cities, two of them chance to cross their paths in the street. As an old acquaintance and to say something special, the first one would suggest about that afternoon with the old man. But the other, surprised, would deny that he was with him in that situation.
He remembers they usually smoked in the restroom, yes. But about the case regarding the old man? No, he does not remember it. The one who opened up the subject would be left dumbfounded, but goes on narrating about their wild imagination of having a chick for a wife.
The former says: "I don't remember it, too."
The one with keen recollection, to his dismay, discovers that he alone the keeper of what was once, and holds on on something that is slipping into non-existence.
"Yes, the keeper," thought Jose.
The conductor hollered: "Evangelista! Evangelista!"
Jose alighted the bus feeling the gravity's pull heavier than usual. He strode for the jeepney terminal, which was two blocks away, and still rolling the ticket in his fingers. At the sight of the terminal, he flicked the ticket onto the pavement. It settled on the slow stream along the gutter. As the ticket drifted down the sewer, he took one last look at it like a prayer of farewell for an intimate transient companion. He heard the barker yelled for the last seat in the jeepney. He ambled faster and hopped in.
to be continued......
To the readers: The above partial draft is a revision of a story in progress this blogger posted previously. Still, feel free to bludgeon this blogger by comments, criticisms or questions on whether the piece above is readable, clear, and resembles an expertise in the art of story telling. The rest of the draft is still being written.