AN: hello i wrote something for ‘a question of boardmates’ !!! i tweaked graciano a little bit. so, heads up: he can speak spanish because he lived in spain with his parents for a few years hehe :)
It is a small office space, but the cubicle is large enough for the equipments and for four people to move around. Right outside there is a small couch and a flatscreen TV on the wall, blaring the current news with the occasional static.
Pepe is having his teeth checked up today with Graciano and Marcelo (or Momcelo to their group) accompanying him. Well mainly, it is Del Pilar’s plan. He forced the Calamban to wake up early after being informed by tita Teodora that the young Rizal is supposed to have a monthly consultation with his dentist. And then there is Grazi who often follows Celo. They are like a family.
The three are sat cramped on the couch, Pepe fidgeting in the middle. “Ay stop it na,” Graciano scolds, tsking and swatting the Calamban on the arm.
“Aray! Why do I have to go through this again? I brush my teeth naman e,” Pepe whines.
Marcelo dog-ears the Total Girl magazine — which is the only mag available in the ‘waiting area’ — and leans a little to the left to see the progress on the patient before Pepe.
“Hah-luuuh, mag-bleed teeth mo a!” Graciano teases. He still has some troubles speaking in straight Tagalog, what with being born in Madrid (his parents were once OFWs who eventually became permanent citizens) and then spending some years in Toulouse for his secondary study. His Bisaya is excellent, and so’s his English, Spanish, and French — yes, one could say he is a wunderkind. Right now, the Solidaridad boys are helping him polish his rusty Tagalog. Tonio, of course, finds great joy in teaching Jaena the ‘basics’ such as, “Ina mo Mascardong balbon.” Poor, innocent boy doesn’t know what it means but it sounds real crisp so he often uses it whenever he is pissed.
“Grazi, ‘wag mong takutin.” Marcelo turns to Pepe. “You’re doing this kasi sabi ni tita. And you’re lucky you get to have monthly check-ups. Not all are privi—”
“YES MOM,” Pepe huffs. He buries his head in Graciano’s shoulder and the latter in turn embraces him tightly.
Marcelo sighs and goes back to reading the Totally Embarrassing Stories. “Stop coddling him. Nagmumukha tuloy akong demonyo.”
“E, that’s because you don’t know how to deal with children,” Graciano reasons out.
“WOW SALAMAT,” Pepe replies in a muffled voice.
Minutes pass before the patient, a high school girl, exits the cubicle and gives Graciano a shy smile. Marcelo shakes his head after seeing his friend nod at her. “O Diyos ko. ‘Wag tularan si Goyong.”
“Ah oui, the other Del Pilar boy. I admire him, to be frank. He is an unyielding toro, showing no remorse for whatever he does. A real heartbreaker — the stuff that the literature of my people thrive on! My abuela used to say, ‘A lo hecho, pecho!’ or ‘In the face of deeds done, present a full chest’ — and that’s what Goyong does. Sometimes, I can’t believe that I am friends with him!”
“Mr. Rizal?” the dentist calls out.
Pepe stands up and does a few breathing exercises Poli taught him. “Guys, this is it. I just want you to know that I’m very thankful to have you as my second family. Also, please tell my mom that I love he—”
Marcelo pushes him inside. “Just…Just go. Maghahanda pa ako ng lunch. Masunog nanaman ni EJ yung kanin.”
The Calamban sticks out his tongue at him before greeting Dr. Azcarraga with a cheery, “Hello po!”
…At makakapanayam po natin ngayon ang abogado ng isa sa mga nabiktima ng ‘tanim bala’ scheme…
“I hate that news. It’s only making me anxious with the upcoming reunion.” Graciano’s supposed to spend Christmas and New Year with his family who are now in Seville. But with the airport controversy reaching foreign shores, even his parents are now not so keen on having their son push through with his red-eye flight. “Papi, baka ikaw pa ang madiskitahan,” his mama told him.
Marcelo, however stern and imposing he may sometimes be to his friends, actually wants Jaena to visit his family. He knows it’s his friend’s only wish for Christmas. So he had the rest of the boys pitch in for their ‘group gift’ — a legit Samsonite trolley. The hard plastic type that’s invulnerable to force and has a complicated lock system. It’s secure; Graciano’s going to love it.
“I understand your dilemma but don’t you think it’s better if you can express it in Tagalog? So, ano masasabi mo sa mga sindikatong sangkot diyan?”
Marcelo shrugs. “Fair enough.”
“AW!” Pepe half-shouts. Probably the hook accidentally scraping the inside of his lower gum again. Both boys grimace.
He’ll have to order take-out for the household again if he doesn’t get up and race against the surging crowd current in the last day of SM’s sale. And considering that the boys are voracious fast food eaters since they rarely eat ‘junk’ when Marcelo’s around, he’ll be forced to pay with blue bills should he ever resort to his lazy way again.
Miong is assigned to buy the ingredients for today’s lunch. How can he do that though if he is literally stuck in bed?
Like, pinned down.
By a sleeping body.
The Kawiteer has tried tickling the boy behind the ear (which is how he is usually woken up). Yet all he gets is a grunt and the creasing of forehead.
He doesn’t know how it led to this. The heavy weight just woke him up. Sure, his friend is a fitful sleeper but he just can’t wrap his head around this…arrangement. Is he a ‘sleepcrawler’? If there’s a sleepwalker, then perhaps he unconsciously crawls and clings onto someone or something. It’s weird.
But he really needs to jet now. Or else he’ll get an earful from Marcelo later.
Miong tries to move the boy beside him, but the latter only clutches harder on his flimsy gray shirt.
This isn’t getting him anywhere; he’s forced to swallow his pride and call Goyong, who is probably just downstairs already eating late breakfast with Tonio. Most of them are late risers, so they just preheat whatever Marcelo leaves on the dining table.
He unlocks his phone and sees a new message from his mother — she usually just forwards Bible quotes and those bizarro inspirational messages she receives from her fellow church ladies. This time the text reads like a patama to him, and he feels creeped out:
J E S U S I S W A T C H I N G Ü. H a v e a p u r e n h o l y S u n d a y. - D o r o t h y
Okay, who the fuck is Dorothy and what does she care about his lifestyle? He switches to ‘Contacts,’ and calls on ‘Mr. Suave’ (a point of defense: Miong did not type that; it was Goyong who loves to abuse his phone storage by downloading a bunch of gaming apps and filling his camera roll with stolen shots of Pepe and Jacinto).
“Crush ng bayan speaking.”
“Goyo, I need your help!” Miong replied in a hushed tone.
“Drive ba kita sa SM?”
“No. Di ako makaalis sa kama. Poli’s on top of me.”
“WOAH TONE DOWN ON THE SPG!” Miong hears Tonio guffawing in the background.
“Gags hindi kasi ganun! Pwedeng kayo na lang bumili ni Tonio?”
“Sure. No prob sir.”
“Thanks. Babawi na lang ako sa susunod.”
Miong nuzzles the top of Poli’s head. If he can’t get out of bed, he may as well catch a few more hours of sleep.
“Ano ba ang pinagkaiba nung ‘breathable’ sa ‘healthy fresh’?”
Jacinto stands in the middle of the infinite aisle, diminished by rows and rows and rows of choices. Written on his left palm and already partly faded is a single word: ‘Carefree.’ Just like the woman who told him that word on the phone when Andoy had to run to the nearby bakery to grab some pandesal for the household.
He repeats to himself over and over. A picture flashes in his mind — that of Andoy running hand-in-hand through green fields with Oryang, silken, dark brown hair flowing behind her. In that distant and hazy Shangri-La, his two close friends are happy, peaceful, and carefree.
“If I were a girl, ano ba ang pipiliin ko…”
“…Um, okay lang kahit ano man diyan bilhin mo.”
The illusion is shattered. Jacinto turns to his right and sees Andoy scratching the side of his head and looking at him sheepishly. He is back again to the dreary land of capitalism, gray people slaves to their ever-consuming pushcarts.
He stares at the older boy as if he’s crazy. “Pero ang daming pagpipilian! I mean, what if that,” Jacinto points to a random brand, “doesn’t work on her?”
Andoy laughs. “First of all, lahat nyan pwede sa babae. Mga ano lang ‘yan, pampalito siguro ganun para maparami ng bili syempre baka yung iba gusto ma-try lahat…ha ha…” He screwed up. His meticulous friend isn’t going to buy it.
“Oh. My. God. Kuya, kung ako naging GF mo baka nagalit na ako sa’yo!”
Jacinto’s ears redden, and he starts walking away, pretending to be once again absorbed in the feminine products. Andoy shrugs to himself and grabs one of those tiny, pink packages. “Diretso na ako sa may Prestige counter.”
“A-YO WHAT TIME IS IT!?”
A loud crash and thud. Andoy whips around and sees Goyong and Jacinto sprawled on the floor, Tonio on his knees and laughing breathless at the two. An elderly woman loudly scolds them:
“Ay kung wala rin kayong magandang gagawin e umalis na kayo rito! Nakaka-perwisyo lang kayo sa mga tao!”
Andoy profusely apologizes for what has happened while Tonio helps the two get up, but the lola won’t have none of it. Once they are left alone again, Bonifacio faces the guilty trio. “That was stupid,” he sighs.
“Sorry,” Goyong speaks up while still jokingly putting Jacinto in a headlock.
“Drop it,” Tonio tells the younger Del Pilar. “May bibilhin pa tayo. Uy Andoy makikisabay na lang kami sa’yo para di sayang points mo.”
“Ge. Pila na kami.”
With the queue being long, Jacinto busies himself with the light up toothbrushes. Andoy ruffles his hair and asks, “Nasugatan ka ba or what?”
“Huh, me? N-No!” the younger stutters, still not meeting his friend’s eyes. “Okay lang ako.”
“Yeah, sure. I saw you limping. Lalagyan natin ng ice yan mamaya.”
“…Fine. Um, about the GF thin—”
“Forget that. Kung naging GF kita I wouldn’t care if you’re cranky during your period,” Andoy assures him.
“That’s not what I meant! Hala…just…we never had that super awkward conversation, okay kuya? Tsaka if I were a girl ako pa rin biggest fan niyo ni ate Oryang.”
“Wow. Ang sweet mo naman.”
Lunch is a zoo — that’s how Pepe once described family lunches with the boys. But Andoy doesn’t care about losing a few teeth from wrestling with Goyong and Tonio, or inadvertently lighting the toaster on fire if it means spending more time with his boisterous bunch on the dining table. He’s grateful to have them, and he couldn’t ask for more.