J. X. NULUD
Published by J.X. NULUD at Shakespir
Copyright 2017 J.X. NULUD
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Although I have drawn my emotions from my experiences, this is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
“You are most quiet tonight, what’s bothering you?” she asked him as she swirled her mushroom soup with the spoon. The rainy September night forced everyone to stay indoors of the usual restaurant they went to rather than outside where the smoking tables were. The dim yellow bulbs created a dull mood between tables – the old restaurant was situated outside the old roundabout with a fountain at the middle where street children would often play. From the window she could see the fountain and the playing children.
“You know I’ve always loved this place, no matter how many times we’ve been here, it always feels like new.” She expressed excitedly. “I remember how we even spent our first date here” she added. She recalled to him how they accidentally discovered the oldest restaurant in the area. That they both loved how rustic the building was. The wood had a beautiful decay in it, that it’s the only building that had character in it and that’s why they went inside only to fall in love more in the place.
“We shared that delicious mango crepe, remember?” she held his hand. She remembered how the thin pastry was cooked in an old stove and how it was prepared in front of them. The sweet scent of the freshly cut mangoes that went with a chocolate syrup. “I bet you decided to share it because it was too expensive, you didn’t even have a second bite because I loved it too much!” she smiled at him as she remembered how sweet they first met – they were five years younger, freshly off college and he had met her through a business meeting. He had asked her after the meeting if she wanted to go grab a coffee because she looked all stressed and the meeting drained them. She agreed and right from the first sip of their calming caffeine, they clicked automatically. It was a few days after their meeting that he had called her and asked her out for dinner.
“You picked me up late afternoon at the train station and we went to the park, you perspired so much.” She breaks a laughter and she got some of the attention from the other tables. She remembers how they talked about each other’s lives while they sat at the edge of the wave breakers of the bay, learning their commons and differences as the sun dove into the horizon. They walked aimlessly, more interested in knowing each other’s interests until they stumbled upon the old restaurant.
“I had pizza and you had pasta, but we decided to share everything anyway, I thought that was sweet to do on our first date.” She recalled how they curiously wanted to try each other’s food and he gladly shared with her.
“Then we took a ride home to my house, it was way out of your way but you insisted anyway.” She added.
Their dates became frequent and every weekend they would meet each other and try restaurants and other places they both haven’t been into. One of their favorite things to do was to ride the train and go down at a random station and explore the areas around it. They were two lost souls in a violent world who found ease in each other’s company. He would pick random flowers along the concrete gardens along the road to give to her every time he visited. He was nervous because of her mother who stared at him with such disdain, the mother didn’t like him for he was penniless and all he could offer was solace in her daughter’s heart. She had constant fights with her mother for this, she was being wooed at the time by a wealthy man who inherited his father’s fortune. He didn’t have the material wealth, but he was spirited. A young man with big aspirations for his future.
“What do you think that man would feed you? He does not even live in a proper home! He rents a space here in the city, and in the province, he has nothing, not even land!” her mother argued. They lived in a village for people with material wealth, she has only known the comforts of life – the expensive parties her families would throw every month to keep their business ties strong with people in power. She wore silk in her sleep, she already had vast lands under her name and several servants at her disposal at any time. She lived like a princess, he lived his live as a pobre – the only thing in common with them was the beating of their hearts.
“He may be a poor man, but he is more than the man you want me to be with. He understands my soul, who I am, not what I am. He didn’t even know I lived here until we had our first date!” she angrily shouted back at her mother.
“Soon, my daughter. You’ll realize that sooner or later he’ll just disappoint you. You can never live among them, he is nothing but dirt to me and your father, he’ll never be one of us.” Her mother lashed back as she stormed out of the house and met him outside the gates.
He was a poor man, he rented an apartment and worked as a writer in the city. He came from the province where life was simple, where material wealth wasn’t the most important of things but honor – Honor was all the poor can have. He had strived hard to escape the cursed poverty in his small town, where the lands were always dry and no irrigation existed. He had inherited lands but he could never till the land just like the others – the land was barren. He sold it so he could earn a little to go to the city and worked at the docks until he was able to get a college scholarship at one of the public schools where he studied in the morning and worked until the wee hours of the night. A professor took him under his wings until he was able to land a writing job at one of the newspapers where he had an immaculate record of not taking political payola, he was critical of corrupt officials.
“Oh how I loved to walk with you at the ancient walls during Sunday afternoons, how simple things were for you and me.” She mentioned a memory, which they haven’t done for a long time. They would spend time walking above the walls where they told each other stories about how their work week went. They could never talk for her mother constantly checked who she talked to at the house. Their dates were secrets and she had to cover her face because she was a socialite and her father would not want her to be seen with him for he was a political critic. And he had to protect her identity by always dismissing he was dating someone. It was a complicated relationship, one of conflict and compromise. They could’ve easily stopped but their love for each other was deep and they decided to risk it anyway.
“I have heard from my friends that you’ve been seeing a journalist lately.” His father asked curiously. “Is this the pobre your mother has been telling me about?” he added.
“Oh no, papa. This journalist is a friend of mine for a long time, since college.” She lied, but only to protect him. Her father was known to be furious around suitors and critical in protecting his name. Her father hailed from a wealthy generation of businessmen and her father now controls the empire.
“You know I will run for office next elections, we could use this journalist pobre of yours. You don’t have to lie to me, you want him in this house? Then he better start freshening up my name. You do this for me, I will allow you to date him, even let him in this home. Isn’t this what you wanted.” Her father has laid his bargain.
“But papa, it could damage his immaculate record. You know he won’t take this lightly.” She questioned her father’s intentions.
“Ha! Spoken like a true daughter of mine, I knew I had more influence on you than your mother. That’s exactly what I need from him, his immaculate record. He’ll do this, he loves you, and I know you’ll do this, because you love him.” Her father replied.
“But what about mother?” she was worried.
“Your mother will have no say in this.” Her father assured.
In her mind was chaos, she had to choose between a slight betrayal to her love but she also saw it as the only way her parents would have approved of him, this was the leverage she needed for now her love’s clean record could be of use to her father’s campaign – a journalist’s credibility is one powerful machine to drive votes to the upcoming elections. She had to do it, it was the opportunity she needed.
“Do you still remember your first time inside our house?” she gently nudged him. He had been picked up by her father’s men the day he was to meet her parents. She was already in the house, nervously waiting. She felt he had him in a trap as he did not know the agreement she had struck with her father. He cautiously entered the vehicle and stayed quiet. He thought it would be the final time he would see the light as her father’s guard held rifles.
He was relieved when he finally saw her waiting at the door, clearly worried.
“Papa would like to talk to you about something, it’s up to you to decide, I will always have your back.” She assured him as she kissed his cheek before he opened the big, intricately designed narra doors that led to the wide circular hall of the mansion where a grand staircase greeted any guest who entered and at the side, a grand piano, used during parties.
He took the stairs up to the veranda where her father was, he saw how big her house was, it had a pool, a garden, and a second house which was where invited guests would stay.
“You won’t take this job, but you want to take my daughter away.” Her father said to him. Her father was irate and lighted up his guitar as he paced back and forth.
“Honor? What is honor if you can’t even feed my daughter. Remember, I only took this meeting out of love for my daughter, because she loved and you and will stop at nothing to have us approve of you, but right now, you are a disappointment.” He furiously argued.
She could not hear what was being talked about, it was almost an hour and there was nothing but silence in the hall. She anxiously waited by the grand piano, pressing single keys, emulating notes that echo through the hall.
“You know my powers, boy. I could squish you like a bug if I wanted to. All you have is a record, sooner or later you’ll find out that my daughter will find the luxuries in life, she’s used to being served. And where would you take her? To your barren land that no crop could even grow? You are young, your heart desires love. But you don’t know anything else besides love. You can’t live on love alone.” Her father tried to win him over by showing him the realities of living.
“What are you trying to change anyway? You can’t change anything, not while the other journalists take money from politicians. Yes, you stand with a clean record. But has it improved your life? No! And I’m most certainly not giving my daughters hand to a penniless man!” her father shouted. But below she could only hear a faint vibrato of her father’s voice.
And when he finally got down, he was clearly distraught, but he smiled at her. She knew he had agreed, but only so he could be accepted by her family. He did it for he loved her and it was only her who could make him drop his honor, he was willing to risk his future just to be with her.
“Remember the campaigns when father ran for office? We had tough times there.” She recalled. As she twirled the pasta with her fork. The basil scent flowered into her senses as she recalled how they fought for the first time because of the pressure of the elections. It was his first time to join the campaign and already he was being pressured by his bosses to avoid being seen with her father. He was trapped, he knew it would come but what else could he do, he loved her immensely. His columns began to read alike his comrades at work, his writings favored her father’s projects and so-called “community projects” to remind the constituents that her father was already helping the community long before he had political plans. He saw this as a dirty work, but a worthy one for finally her mother had slowly become more tolerant to his presence around the house. She often asked him if it was alright in his conscience of what he writes, to which he only nods for he knew her father paid government officials so he could remove the informal settlers along the river bank where he bought a historic building promising to revive it but only to pay the officials to declare it to be abandoned so he could raze the century-old building and build a luxury condominium at the heart of the city.
“And when father won, I knew I had done you wrong.” She dropped her fork and downed a full glass of red wine. Quickly as her father had won the elections, he wanted him out of the house once again. He gave a bag full of cash as a means of ending a business relationship.
“I have cemented by character with the people now, we don’t need him now. Those corrupt journalists will soon be knocking at the gates and it will be easier for me to conduct business with these bloodsuckers.” Her father declared.
She had been fooled, he had been used, it had damaged his career and now his credibility is in question.
“I shouldn’t have let you agree to father’s term. It was all my fault, he betrayed my trust!” she said to him. But he could do nothing now. There was no career for a man with a tarnished record. He must now come back to his province and with the money he was given, he could finally till his land to grow crops.
“I don’t care if we live with the simplest things in life, they won’t find us there, I told my father a different place when he asked where you’re from. I want us to be together, I am with you, remember? You and me, forever.” She said. He was hesitant at first, but again his heart was in command and he gave in and they eloped to the province, across a mountain, where his farm was. She was unknown in the small village for it was far away and she had cut her hair and wore shabby clothes. He disguised her as a woman who came from a poor family in the city, but it was dismissed by the locals for she had too much of a fair skin to come from a poor family. Her skin showed that she had not worked under the sun and the locals admired her and promised to keep her safe as long she stayed within the village.
“The people in your village, they were such help to me.” She mentioned. She remembered how he painstakingly created an irrigation that brought life to the lands of the small town. The lands were finally wet and crops would grow after a year. They lived a simple life, far from what she had in the city, they worked hard for their food, she learned to farm and he sold crops to the market. It was small business, but it was enough to sustain them.
It has already been two years since they’ve eloped and had lived a simple life. He would sometimes see her at the top of the hill beside them where she could watch the town center where the markets were. She often would wonder how the city life was, she would reminisce how she had a chauffeur to drive her wherever she wanted. How she strolled the shopping avenues and would dress only in the finest of material. She left all that for love, but after years of hiding from her father, and the arduous work to put food on the table, she had become unsure. She loved him dearly, but the province life has taken toll on her – she no longer felt beautiful, her nape often dry from the unforgiving heat of the sun. Her foot had blisters from working the dry fields. It was hard to be romantic, and he wouldn’t want a child yet, because it was an enormous responsibility for them both.
The province was a dead end for her, she was no longer popular in the city, it is as if she were presumed dead by her parents as she saw once in the newspaper he brought from the town that her father had started a foundation in her name, but she was skeptic because it was done in the time when the elections were coming up again and her father wanted to be elected in the congress this time.
“Remember when we started having problems? Oh why have I been so foolish!” as she looked blankly across the window. It was a festive Saturday in the town center when she saw from the hill all the colorful flags that hung all over the streets. She had asked him if they could visit the town center, but he refused because it was dangerous for them for if someone had recognized her, their cover would be blown. Distraught by his decision, she watched from the hill all day, refusing to come down. The people from her village had also asked her but she reluctantly declined the offer.
When she finally came down he apologized but she won’t have any of it, she refused to eat with him for days, she had come to her senses that her life was confined because they had eloped and her father would have his wrath over her love if they knew where they were. She began to miss the city lights, the city sights, and the wealth that she could have at the snap of her fingers. She looked at herself in the mirror and she saw the future of living in the province, trapped and without material.
She realized that she could never live a life of simplicity. That she could never suffer with him, because no matter what he does to till the land, it will always become infertile. But she could never say this to him for she was afraid of confrontations. It was midnight and only her thoughts in front of the mirror could see her dilemma. But how could she say this, how could she ask him to return to the city when he had already tarnished his career and no one would take him, all he had was his land, and his immense love for her.
In the morning when he woke up, he cooked their usual breakfast of fried round scad and some river spinach. He went up to the hill where she’d be in the morning to watch the sunrise, she wasn’t there. He went down to their hut to find it empty. He hurriedly ran to the town center thinking that she slipped out to watch the Sunday festivities. A swarm of people lined the streets to watch the flowery floats go by, he walked all around town but to no avail. He stayed there all morning hoping to see her but she was nowhere to be found. He returned home and ask around the villagers but no one saw her leave. He went to their bedroom to find the clothes he had given her still in the cabinet, but there was one dress missing – the dress she wore during their first date.
He froze and his feet gave in as he slumped to the bamboo floor. Tears flowed, he already knew that she was gone, that she had left him for the city. It was what he feared the most – that he was never enough to give her everything he had for a poor man could only offer pure love and nothing more. He stayed on the floor the entire day until he fell asleep. The breakfast he prepared left untouched, the rice had become hard, the fish and vegetables stale, life was sapped out of the once simple kingdom he and she owned. The chilly wind of the evening howled as he woke up in total darkness, his eyes swollen from crying, he could smell the stench from the sweat he perspired when he ran into town. From there he slowly sat at the bed where they used to hold each other’s soul and make love at the wee hours of the night. He looked at the clothes she used to wear. There was nothing left to say, she was gone, there was nothing he could do, she left him without an explanation, without giving him reason, without remorse – like a ghost in the night her memories haunted him, questions unanswered, nothing to hold on to, nothing at all.
“I shouldn’t have left you, I should have had struggled with you, I loved you, but I became scared, I’m sorry.” She murmured as tears flowed from her eyes. She knew she had torn him apart.
The restaurant was filled, the rain pouring hard outside and all she could hear were the conversations of the tables near her. A loud thunder brought her back to her senses, she looked around and there he was, her husband – the wealthy businessman her mother had wanted her to marry. It has been three years since she had left the province and they had been married for a year. Her husband sat in front of her as the vision of her true love went away life a puff of smoke – She was struck with reality that he wasn’t dining with him the whole time and the conversation was all in her mind. As they dined her husband caught her in a trance, smiling with her face turned to the window, looking at the fountain.
“What is it, why are you smiling?” her husband asked.
“Nothing, I just remembered something.” She vaguely replied.