1/31/2018
20/35/46

We called it "Hershey's gates".

It was brown, and, well, it did look like a bar of Hershey's milk chocolate. At one point we jokingly tried to snap off a piece, but that was it. We did not try to eat the gate itself, to bite into it.

What we did have were Indian mangoes. Faith's mother always served up Indian mangoes whenever we did school work at her place. There are a lot of mango trees in our subdivision; more so in our street. There used to be one at my backyard, but it died and had to be brought down. Never mind that. There are always mangoes at Faith's place, just fifteen houses away from mine.

It was a convenient location for an asthmatic like me. Both her parents are doctors, so whenever I was having an attack late at night, my mother and I just walked to their place - there was a clinic, too - so I could get nebulized. It's a small room; there's a desk, a bed of sorts, and a short flight of stairs leading up to a second floor I never thought of venturing to. It had a distinct, musty smell, a contrast to the outside, which smelled of gumamelas. I think they're gumamelas. I never really knew my flowers.

It was Faith who taught me that you can sip the nectar of the santan flower. I only tried it a few times, but I remember it being sweet.

We got along, Faith and I. Sure, she had her own set of friends and I had mine, I think, but we got along. It helped that we're neighbors; it definitely helped that we somewhat shared the same interests, or at least were on the same wavelength. It was she who started this concept of investigators who wrote for newspapers - this was when I was doing hand-written newspapers from folded pieces of bond paper. She was Agent 007, and I was Agent 006. They're supposed to be pen names, and nobody is supposed to know who was behind it - but then, wasn't it obvious? Still, we changed our names at some point: she was A7, and I was A6. She dubbed the thing "Investigative Showdown".

But, no, I never had a crush on Faith. We were good friends, of the geeky kind. We both wore glasses. She sang well, and I didn't. I... wrote well? I don't know if that counted at the time.

My crush at the time was another neighbor, eleven houses away from her.

I never kept my crush on Carmel a secret. First day of second grade - she transferred to our school - and I declared her to be my new crush. I followed her around, literally. Well, most of the time. She would go to the girl's room during recess, a place I never thought of venturing to.

But by the time we were in fourth grade, she was just a crush by name. We were becoming friends - and not the "friendzoned" kind - but the whole "I have a crush on you" thing meant I put some degree of distance between us. That, and I was genuinely scared of her two older brothers, both of whom were entering high school at the time. Because of that, I have never been at her house. Well, there was this one time when I was, but I remember little of it, except for being crippled by fear. I am the guy who has publicly declared his so-called love on the family's only daughter. What the hell am I doing here?

But you can't miss her house. It was the last one on our street, by a sort of cul-de-sac all its own. It was a big house. Her parents - or at least her father - worked for an airline, were part of the flight crew, and as such they were also similarly mythical figures. I have seen her mother more, though, as she was active in the church. I sometimes wonder if she was the one who managed to get our subdivision's church named Our Lady of Mount Carmel. But that's a stretch, isn't it?

And besides, there isn't much space at her house to do school work in. The garage at Faith's house, which also served as a courtyard of sorts to the family clinic, did the trick. It was there where I learned the words to the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way", a song we and a bunch of other classmates were supposed to perform for the school's quarterly recognition rites, complete with hand gestures. I don't think we ever performed it. I think we had Indian mangoes.

For me, at least, it was nice to think that I had classmates who shared the same street as me. Not every kid in our street studied in our school. There were others, but they weren't in my class. It felt like an exclusive club. But again, it was all in my head.

It all changed when we graduated from elementary. By then our parents had different plans for us. Carmel stayed in the school. Faith, who harbored dreams of becoming a pediatrician like her mother, moved to Manila Science High School. I once toyed with that idea - me and Faith, high school classmates! - but ended up in a school in Alabang, and you all know what happened there.

We graduated from high school. We entered college. We graduated from college. We began working. We had a few updates here and there - the Internet makes it easier, apparently, supposedly - but for the most part, as with everything, we would drift apart, lose contact, get busy with our own challenges and problems, get caught up with our own lives, accidentally or deliberately. I can say I deliberately did not keep in touch with most of my elementary classmates. I never went to the reunions and get-togethers all these years. It never felt right.

Faith, and her entire family, moved to the United States. I think she worked as a nurse there; I remember always hoping she could continue her dreams of becoming a doctor. I'm always amazed when I see photos of her and her siblings, Clem and Hope, who I've seen grow up too. She's married now. As I write this, she's on vacation in Europe. I think.

Carmel's first job after graduating from college was for a major television network. We both took communication, but she was in a different college - same university system, different campus, different results. I wasn't all "why am I not working in the media?" but rather "wow, look how different our lives has become." I think she still works for that network now. I have seen some of the shows she worked for, and they're some of that network's biggest. That means a busy life, so much so that she's moved out to her own apartment closer to her workplace. Well, that much I assume. I no longer see her around.

I still live in the same house, sleep in the same bedroom, sleep in the same bed, even. And every night, when I go home from work, I pass by Carmel's house, which I barely see because there's a big tree by it. And then, a minute later, I pass by Faith's house, still with the sign of the old family clinic hanging, still with the Hershey's gates, still with the smell of gumamelas, I think, a smell that gets stronger at certain times of the year.

I am the last one on this street. I am the last one.

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