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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Ang Boss Kong Hustino (Part 2)

By:MD

Sabi ni Uncle Jeff, kapag ang lalaki daw hindi pa nakapag asawa before 30, alam na. Either may diperensiya sa pag-iisip or gusto kabaro. Yon lang daw ang dalawang posibleng rason.

    Pero sa loob-loob ko, may girlfriend naman ako. 29 years old lang naman at may planong mag-asawa. Yep, may plano pero noon yon. Nag-iba nang makilala ko si Justine.

    Matapos ang unang tagpo sa pad nila Justine, nawiwindang ako paano umakto sa workplace. Dahil ang nature ng kompanya ay news, print and publishing, ibang-iba sa mga work experience ko sa Pinas although ang mga job responsibilities ko naman madali lang aralin. Kelangan lang ng tamang gabay at focus.

    First day at work. Niligo ko ang sarili ko ng pabangong Lacoste. Feeling ko para akong dadalo ako sa Prom at first time kong sasayaw sa dance floor. Pabalik-balik ako sa bathroom mirror tinitingnang maigi kung meron pang mga stubbles na natira sa mukha, freshly and smoothly shaven naman.

    Si Mariz, nauna na. Maaga kasi ang company transport nila at thirty minutes pa ang tatahakin bago marating ang office. Tumunog ang phone ko, may SMS.

    “Babe, enjoy your first day! Huwag magpa stress ah. I love you.” Si Mariz talaga. Napangiti ako.

    “I surely will, babe. I love you, too.”

    Lumipas ang five minutes. Pababa na ako nang biglang nag ring ang phone ko. Pagtingin ko, si Justine. Kinabahan ako, hindi ko alam kung sa tuwa o takot.

    “Good Morning, Drigo! How are things?”

    Grabe naman parang hindi naman alam ng mokong na first day ko magtrabaho at siya ang amo ko.
    “Good Morning too Justine! I am on my way to work and I am pretty excited.”

    Narinig ko ang kanyang pagngiti. “That’s great. I bet your boss would like to work with you all day.”

    Haha. Hindi ko natiis at nasambit ko, “Crazy!”

    “Hey, I’m here downstairs already. You better start moving fast or else I will be fined here. I put the car on hazard. The spaces here are all filled. Come on, down!”

    “Sir, yes, Sir!” Patawa kong sabi.

    Nagmadali ako at nag elevator. Puchax naman pag nagmamadali ka siya namang saway ng panahon. Kada floor may sasakay kaya malaking hahaist ang nabulalas ko.

    Pagdating sa ground floor, dali-dali akong lumabas at tinungo ang exit. Kita ko na ang pamosong kotse ni Justine. Malayo-layo pa ngiting maamo na ang nakikita ko.

    “Hey, good morning, new employee!” Si Justine may magic talagang dala.

    Nag-smile ako. “It’s a brand new day.” Hindi ko na naman alam paano umakto sa harapan niya.

    “Yes, it is! Would you mind if we’d detour a bit and get us some breakfast meals? Besides there’s this cool pantry in the workplace. You gotta try.” Nakapasok na ako at naka seatbelt.

    Wow, first day! Puro good vibes dala nitong boss kong bonito.

    “I won’t complain,” sabay tawa.

    “Not to scare you, man but today first things first I am going to discuss to you in details what you can do to make our work day smooth as possible. There will be bad days but know that I don’t make it.”

    Naisip ko pang ibang level si Justino. Siguro kung pag uusapan ang level of social responsibility, don siya sa pinakatuktok, yong pang philanthropic kumbaga.

Nakarating kami sa office. Maaga pa. Dahil sinundo ako ni Mister Universe, thirty minutes early pa bago ang office hours.

    “You want some coffee?” tanong ni Hustino.

    “I dig that coffee is not popular here,” sambit ko. Naalala ko kasi ang paboritong Milo ni Justine. Tumawa siya.

    “Well, let’s have Milo then!”

    Nag-usap kami ng masinsinan regarding sa job description ko. I was so intent in listening to the point na he asked me if I was alright. “Of course!” Sa loob-loob ko ang gaan kasi ng feeling pag pinakikinggan mo si Hustino.

    And so his busy day began. Parang call center pala ang phone niya. Daming mga clients na tumatawag and he had to make a lot of phone calls as well. Dahil first day ko, gumawa muna ako ng work system ko para ready na for tomorrow. Nagpainstall ako ng outlook through our IT at nagpa activate na din lahat ng technologies ng kompanya na kelangan ng access. Ang bilis kasi natapos lahat in one day. Tingin ko dahil na din kay Justine.

    4:00 PM. Habang ako ay abala sa pag oorganize ng mga computer files, nasa likod ko na pala si Mister Universe.

    “Yo! How’s it going?”

    Nagulantang ako. Tumawa ang loko. “Gotcha!” Hindi ko mapigilan mag make face sa galit at hiya. “Don’t you ever do that again!” Nakalimutan ko, boss ko pala eto. “Sorry. I’m such a scary kid!”

    “No worries, Drigo. You gotta have high tolerance for that apart from work. Anyway, it’s 4 already and I need to go meet one important client. Would you mind coming with me?” Pause.
“Well, yeah, you are my executive secretary. Haha.”

    “Yes, Sir! Right away!” Umalis kami to meet an Arabic client, isang dalubhasang professor na gusto mag publish ng libro. Pagdating namin sa hotel, kumaway sa amin ang cliente. Siguro loyal client eto.

    “Hi Ahmed, this is my new executive secretary, Drigo!” Nakipag handshake ako kay Manong Arabo. “Welcome to Dubai, Dregu!” Naku po! Murdered name na naman, naisip ko.
   
    “Thank you, Sir!”

    Natapos ang meeting after 45 minutes. Na take note ko lahat ng mga concerns niya. Nalaman ko na prized client pala etong si Ahmed, isang sikat na book author at marami ding mga industry connections. Bago kami umalis nasambit ni Ahmed,    “You look like brothers. Only Justine is whiter.” Natawa ako. Tumingin sa akin si Hustino at nag wink. Haha. Pa impress talaga si Bossing.

    Paglabas namin sa hotel, nag ring ang phone niya. “Yes, honey. Are you back already? Haha. No kidding? Well, yeah, sure. You’re at the airport? Ok. Well, yes ‘just finished talking with a client. I’m with my new secretary. Haha. Yes, beautiful and sexy.” Nang iinis na naman siguro eto sa gf niya.

    Napagtanto ko baka babae ang dating secretary ni Justine. Hindi ko din natanong kasi.

    “Ok, hon. I’ll fetch you, stay there and don’t run away, ok?” Tawa ni Justine. Tumingin sa akin at nag kwento. “This position was vacant for three months. She got so pissed off with my executive secretary before. I don’t know why girls would get so intimidated by other girls.”

    “The one before me must be really pretty,” sabi ko.

    “Well, yeah, but Sandy just stormed into the office one time and when she saw my pretty assistant that’s when she started insinuating. It was a bad picture.”

    “So this is the reason why you looked for a man secretary, huh?”

    “One of the reasons. What I disliked about working with Abby was that I had to protect her all the time especially when meeting with clients. She always would get the nod of Arabic men to her dismay. She’s very conservative, very Filipina. She got married eventually after resigning.”

    “Well, Sandy must be very snoopy then.”

    Pumasok kami sa kotse ni Justine at nagpatuloy sa pagkukuwento, “Right. Mildly now. I’m such a hen-pecked guy.” Nagtawanan kami.

    “Mariz says we’ll have dinner, sort of a first-day-celebration. You can just bring me to the metro station. I can take care of myself.”

    “You are my brother. I can give you a lift whether you like it or not.” Ayan na naman si Hustino.

    “Since you insist, will you take me to Chelsea Hotel?”

    “No worries, mi amigo!” Si Hustino, very inviting, sandamukal na values siguro ang nasa loob-loob nito.

    Narating namin ang Chelsea. Si Mariz, nasa lobby nag aantay. Nagulat ako nong lumabas din si Justine sa kotse niya. Akala ko magpapa alam ang loko. Nagpresenta pa naman na ipakilala ko daw siya sa girlfriend ko.

    “I wanna see this girl you are so in love with, bro.”

    “You must be crazy. Sandy’s waiting for you at the airport,” may pagka inis kong sabi. Eh kasi naman ayaw na ayaw ni Mariz ng mga unplanned moments, gaya nito. Ang alam lang niya eh nag metro train ako o kaya nag cab.

    “Well, I insist!” sabay tawa. Dahil na rin sa mala Adonis nitong mukha at tindig na animo’y nagsusumamo, napa give in ako.

    “She’s shy to people, I tell you especially that you talk fluently in English.”

    Naabot namin ang lobby. Nakita ko agad si Mariz, nakayuko, malamang busy sa phone.

    “Babe!”

    Napatingin siya sa akin patungo kay Hustino.

    “Babe, si Boss Justine. Eh mapilit kasi etong loko sabi niya gusto ka daw niya makita. Galing kasi kami nakipag meet ng cliente tapos sabi niya ihatid niya na lang daw ako.”

    Si Justine, naka smile lang and I bet he was trying to understand the conversation.

    “Hello po,” sabi ni Mariz. Natawa ako kasi alam ko awkward ang moment na yon para sa kanya.

“Hi. I’m Justine. You must be…”

“Mariz po. Nakatingin pa din siya kay Justine sabay smile at nagsabi, “Babe, sabihan mo siya na ilibre niya tayo!”

“What’s that?” nag usisa si Hustino.

“Nothing, Sir. Drigo said you’re kind and I can see you are.”

“Well, only to a few.” Ngumiti na naman si Mister Universe.

“Babe, para naman itong ikaw. Maputi nga lang at mas buff at mucho dinero ang aura pero parang magkapatid kayo.”

Nakakatuwa si Justine, very engaged pa din kahit na hindi naiintindihan ang pag uusap namin. Nag ring ang phone niya at pinakita sa amin. Honey calling…

“I need to go. It was nice meeting you, Mariz. Bro, have a great celebratory dinner.”

“Thanks for the ride, Sir!”

Kumain kami ni Mariz. Nag uusisa ang girlfriend ko about kay Hustino. I teased her. “Siguro crush mo babe ano? Nakakita ka lang ng mas matipuno sa akin ah.”

“Hindi ah. Siyempre babe namangha lang naman ako kasi may pagkakahawig talaga kayo. Baka nga diyan eh long-lost brother mo pala siya.” Nagtawanan kami.

“Babe, open book naman si Papa sa amin and diba kilala mo naman yon one-woman man to the highest level. Idol ko nga yon eh.”

“Kung sabagay, totoo pala talaga yong may magiging kamukha ka talaga regardless blood relations.”

Umuwi kaming busog at masaya ni Mariz. Happy siya kasi alam niya ok ang magiging experience ko sa work and swerte daw ako kasi yong boss ko mabait at pogi pa. Dapat daw magpaturo ako sa kanya kung paano mag dress up.

May nag text. Si Justine.

“You got one nice pretty gem, bro!” Napa smile ako. Si Mariz nakita akong nakangiti at nag usisa.
“Hmmm sino yan babe?”

    “Si Bossing. Sabi maganda ka raw. Uiiiiii, ginaganahan…”

    Nag blush si Mariz. Maganda naman talaga ang girlfriend ko, petite, fair at mabango palagi. Nireplyan ko si Justine.

    “I bet Sandy’s equally pretty as well.”

    Nakarating kami sa flat. Inaantay kong magreply ang mokong. Hirap pala nong gusto mo agad-agad ang reply niya tapos wala pa din. Nakakabagot. First time.

    “Apologies. I had a long drive. She is.” Napa-smile ako.

    Bumilis ang takbo ng mga araw. Ang isang linggo naging isang buwan. Ang isang buwan pumalo sa anim. Sa buwan na mga ito, lalo kong pinagtataka na may other side pala ako. Ayoko ang mga ganitong feelings subalit hindi ko mapigilan. Habang dumadaan ang mga araw nagiging anino na lang si Mariz, nawala nang dahan-dahan ang loving moves ko sa kanya. Parang naging friendly na lang ang approach ko.

    Si Mariz naman kasi very understanding. She would always give me the benefit of the doubt. Ang pagkabusy ko sa trabaho ang inaakala niyang dahilan ng mga pagbabago ko sa pakikitungo ko sa kanya. Partly, one could say it could be a reason, toxic naman talaga ang workload ko kung susumahin kaso lang ang pagmamahal dapat hindi nagbabago, hindi nababawasan. Kung ganon man, hindi ito tunay.

    “Babe, nagmamadali ka na naman. Hindi ka na sumasabay sa akin sa almiusal ah”, sambit ni Mariz isang umaga.

    “Alam mo naman babe, may cliente kaming pupuntahan ngayon, VIP eto. Kakain na lang kami doon sa kainan na malapit sa building ng client. Sorry talaga babe. Kainin ko yang niluto mo mamaya.”

    Napa sigh si Mariz. “Napapadalas na babe yong pagtanggi mo sa mga hinahain ko ah. Pati yong non-foods ayaw mo na din. Dati gabi-gabi gusto mo.”

    Napaisip ako. Tama si Mariz. Dati-dati panay ang lovemaking namin, kung hindi thrice a week, daily. Haha. Ngayon isang beses na lang sa isang linggo. Nawala na din yong pagka aggressive ko sa kama.

“Nagtatampo ka na ba sa akin babe? Hindi bale papatikim ko sa iyo si junjun mamaya,” sambit ko. Napa smile si Mariz, parang miss na talaga niya ang malaki kong kargada.

    Nakababa na ako sa flat. Nag ring bigla ang phone ko. Aktong sasakay na sana ng cab pero dahil tumawag si Bossing, ayon na estatwa na naman ako.

    “Good morning, Sir. Pasakay na ako ng cab.”

    “Good morning too Drigo. I didn’t get that.” Haha naku po nakalimutan ko, English speaking pala itong si Hustino.

    “I said I’m about to ride a cab.”

    “I’m nearby. I’ll fetch you.”

    Nakapagtataka talaga kung bakit ganun na lang ang effect sa akin ng mga salita ni Justine. O hindi kaya iba lang talaga ang pagtanggap ko sa mga salita niya. In two minutes, nakita ko na ang paparating niyang sasakyan.

    Pagpasok ko amoy ko agad ang DKNY niyang perfume. Tiningnan ko ang mukha niya, may mga stubbles, nangungusap ang mga mata, yung lips niyang kissable sabay sabing, “Hey, how was your sleep?”

    Nag buckle ako ng seatbealt sabay sabing, “Better than yours.” Tumawa siya. Hindi ko mapigilan na tingnan siya ulit at ang perfect bite niyang mga ngipin habang nagsasalita.

    “Wael called and said he will be meeting us at 10AM. So we still have two hours before the client meeting. I say we’ll have breakfast and not just the fastfood breakfast but a real breakfast. Haha”

    “And I bet you’ll have your magic mug of Milo with that! Haha!” Natawa na naman siya sabay make face parang baby. Nakakaturn on.

    He was definitely pressing buttons on me. Nag iinit ako na hindi ko alam kung bakit. Nababakla na yata ako sa kanya. Tama ba to?

    Sabi niya sa bahay na lang daw niya kami mag breakfast. Should I tell Mariz about this? No way! Baka magalit pa sa akin at bulyawan ako about her breakfast meals for me.

    Nakarating kami sa pad ni Justin. Hinubad niya ang office attire niya at nag sando at boxers na lang. Grabe parang nasunog na ang kalamnan ko sa aking mga nakita.

    “Better suit yourself as well. I don’t want to have breakfast with someone so formal-looking.”

    “Yes, Sir.” Patay na parang nakakahiya naman ang boxer shorts ko ngayon. Di bale kami lang naman nandito.

    Pagdating ko sa kitchen nagutom ako nang todo. The smell of foods abound the place. May adobong manok, spam, sunny-side up, okra, pineapple slices at siyempre ready na ang Milo mug niya.

    Napasmile ako. “I know what you’re thinking.”

    I prayed for the foods before us. When I opened my eyes, I felt like he was looking at me the entire time I was praying. Feeling ko lang talaga, basta hindi ko ma explain. Sabi niya, “Let’s eat.”

    “How’s Sandy?” Kelangan kong basagin ang katahimikan.

    “She’s gone. We parted ways.” Matter-of-fact niyang sagot.

    Napatingin ako sa kanya habang ngumunguya.

    “We talked yesterday. She said she’s not growing in the kind of relationship we’re in and she said I could find someone more suitable for me. It’s just sad because I was thinking I was giving her time and space for her to grow and chase her dreams.”

    “Sorry to hear that, bro.”

    “It’s all right. I have my family, and I have things I need and I have this mug of Milo. Haha. Never will I hide this again, and yes I have friends. I have you.”

    “The foods are great, man!” Segway ko para naman hindi na malungkot si Mister Universe. Kumain kami the rest of the time and nag presenta na ako na maghugas ng kinainan.

    “I’ll dishwash for you, Chef,” sambit ko sabay tawa. Habang naglalakad si Justine patungong sala, sinusundan ko siya ng tingin. Ang ganda talaga ng tindig niya, lean muscled, matangkad, maumbok ang pwet, may konting buhok sa chest at yong kili-kili niyang mabuhok na hindi hindi asiwa.

    Nabuhay si junjun ko kaya tumalikod agad ako para simulan na ang paghuhugas. Buti na lang at nawala kaagad ang lakas ng kargada ko kung hindi patay ako kay Justine. Pagkatapos kung maghugas ng mga limang minuto, pumanhik ako sa sala. Si Justine nasa sofa, nakatihaya, nakatulog.

    “Justine? Why are you sleeping?”

    “I didn’t have enough sleep,” sabi niya habang nakapikit pa din mga mata niya. “Wake me up at 9:30, ok?”

    Umupo ako sa may paanan niya kaya kita ko ang mala Adonis niyang postura. “Well, I want to sleep as well.” Napatawa siya sabay sabi,”You may use my bed then. Help yourself.”

    “So who’s gonna wake up who then, huh?”

    Nabigla ako nang bigla siyang bumangon at nagsabi, “come on let’s sleep there. I bet you’re scared being left out. Haha.”

    “Sira!”

    Natawa siya. Sinundan ko si Hustino at nakita ko ang malaki niyang kama. Pinaandar niya ang AC at humiga siya. Ilang minuto lang, humihilik na ang anghel.

    Humiga na din ako pero hindi ako naging kampante. Balisa ako. Si Justine, parang baby tulog na tulog. Tiningnan ko ang bedside table ni Justino. Andun pa rin ang pic nila ni Sandy. Sayang naman naisip ko. May mga bagay talaga na walang forever.

    Tumagilid si Justine. Sakto kasi patagilid din ako kung matulog. Ayon nakita ko na naman upclose ang mukha niya. Ang sarap siguro halikan nito, ang lips niya very kissable. Ang ilong niyang tama lang ang katangusan, mga stubbles niya at ang mahaba niyang lashes.

    Hindi ko napigilan. Dinampi ko ang kanang kamay ko sa mukha niya. I pressed my thumb over his lips and nose and the entirety of his face. I felt like I was trying to familiarize its contours. Swerte ko at naging kaibigan ko to. In that instance I asked God to help this soul beside me and give him the grace and wisdom. Hindi ko namalayan nakatulog na din pala ako.

    Nagising ako nang may tumapik sa akin. “Get up sleepyhead. Our client just called.” Dali-dali kaming nagbihis para mauna before the client and right we were, in the nick of time andon na kami.

    Successful ang meeting namin with the client. Nasundan yon ng maraming beses. Dahil dito, lalong lumaki ang aming customer base. Sa tuwing hindi naman kami successful, tinatanong namin lagi kung ano pa ang dapat namin iimprove. Minsan naglolokohan kami kesyo dahil siguro sa suot namin o dahil feeling presko lang siguro ang dating naming dalawa. Pero I guess ganon naman talaga ang buhay. You are not here to win always. You also have to lose. Gaya nga ng sabi ni Mister Universe, “This isn’t the end. Cheer up, buddy!”

    Bilib din ako kay Justine kasi never ko siya nakitaan ng mood swings. He always had this grace under pressure kahit pinupukpok na siya ng upper management ng pagkataas-taas na sales quota, magsasabi lang siya, “We’ll do our best. Let’s see where our best could take us.” Smile lang ang pinapalit ko sa kanya. Sinusuklian na man din niya ng wink.

    One time na frustrate talaga ako sa isa kong cliente na I felt I was on the verge of closing a deal with. Ilang araw ko ding pinaghandaan yon. Binigyan kasi ako ni Justine ng mga prospects na big accounts, eto sana ang magiging daan ko para magpaimpress not only sa management but more so sa kanya na aking boss. It was a huge account and every progress, nirereport ko kay Justine. Pero in the end, hindi napunta sa amin. Kakabadtrip!

    First time nakita ako ni Justine na wala sa sarili. Nag-snap talaga ako non. After ng phone call with the client, obvious talaga sa mukha ko ang bad news. Hindi na niya kelangan pa akong tanungin. Pumunta ako sa inner room. I was heaving some breaths. “Puchax!” Papalapit si Hustino. Kala ko pagagalitan ako. Habang dinig ko ang papalapit niyang mga yapak, bigla kong nakita kamay niya with a glass of water.

    Pagharap ko nakangiti siya sabay sabi, “You’ll get the hang of it. Clients can be very confusing. Don’t let them get the best of you. Cheer up, Drigo!”

Tiningnan ko siya. Siguro nakita niyang naiiyak na ako sa inis, he slowly came closer and gave me a hug, a much-needed hug. Hindi ko na kinaya. I embraced him as tight as I could. “Thank you.” Yon lang nasambit ko.

Tapos bigla niyang break sa hug tapos sabay ngiti. “You know what, you’re the only active buddy I got these days and I don’t want you to go suicidal. No parting of ways, ok?”

    “I’ll be here, man. As long as my health carries me to do things, I’ll be here.”

    Ngumiti si Justine. It was a smile of content and hope, and every time he gave me this kind of smile, I would come home with my thoughts wandering off.

    Sadly, with these thoughts, nasa crossfire palagi si Mariz and it had been like it for a long while. Isang beses, Mariz approached me and sat us down.

    “Drigo, what’s your plan about us? Alam mo, nawala na yong bf ko na I have grown to love. Ano nangyayari sayo? Sa atin?”

    Hindi ako makatingin sa mga mata ni Mariz. Alam niya kung nagsisinungaling ako. I just want that moment to pass. Wala akong imik. Hindi ako nagsalita. I chose to hide with my feelings. Ayoko saktan ang babaeng nagmahal sa akin.

    “What do you want me for Drigo? Gusto mo pa ba akong makasama or you’d rather be alone and be with new people?”

    Yumuko ako and nag sorry. “I’m sorry Mariz. I haven’t been good to you the past months. I sure am not this. I’ve hurt you at ayoko makita ka na nasasaktan pa lalo.”

    “Are you suggesting we part ways?” Dead air. That moment I heard she heaved. Alam ko umiyak na si Mariz. Nakita ko ang mga patak ng luha niya sa floor.

    As difficult as it was, I looked up and looked straight through her eyes. I held her numbed hands for the last time. Nag nod lang ako.

    “Thank you, Drigo.” Si Mariz sobrang bait, she didn’t demand me to explain myself further. I guess she wanted to cushion herself from the hurt. Pinabayaan niya lang ako to talk but I chose not to. It was very new to me and my world had been playing tug-of-war. It definitely was a mystery that needed much understanding.

    “I’ll be here, Drigo.” Alam ko si Mariz hindi nag gigive up agad. She’s a strong woman and alam ko it will be a long time for me to find another soul like her apart from my mama.

    Wala si Mariz for three days sa flat. Nagpaalam siyang sa best friend niya muna siya makikitulog.  Siguro minarapat niya lang din na bigyan ako ng ilang days na mag ayos ng mga gamit. She did not want to see me leave obviously and ayoko din makita siya na umiiyak while I was busy packing my things.

    Naghanap ako ng malilipatan through Dubizzle at swerte naman may nahanap din ako pero sadyang si tadhana may mga planong hindi natin mawari.

    Nag ring ang phone. Thursday yon kakauwi lang from work. May cliente akong kinausap bago umuwi sa bahay. Si Justine ibang cliente naman ang pinuntahan.

    “Yo, bro! How was the meeting?” bungad niya.

    “I closed the deal. They’ll send the manuscript to you. I gave your email address to Iqbal.”

    “Good job! I know I can count on you! You home now?”

    Nakonsensiya ako bigla. I began to resent myself for being this good to Justine and being indifferent to Mariz. Why was this even happening? Every phone conversation I had with this guy brought me to some far-flung place I never knew existed.

    “Are you going out with Mariz tonight? I could treat you both for dinner, brother! A congratulatory dinner. What do you say?”

    It hit me. Wala na pala kami ni Mariz. Para akong pinag ALS ice bucket challenge nang marinig ko yon from Justine.

    Four years din yon. Tapos wala na days ago.

    “Well, yeah. Nice. But Mariz is with her best friend right now. I’m free though.”

    “If that’s the case then we better start early, man.” Napa smile ako. Tama lang din na lalabas ako. It’s been a tough week.

    “So, I’ll fetch you then in a few minutes?” Dali-dali kong sinundan ng, “Well and good.”

    Magpapalit na sana ako nang makita ko ang aking maleta. It reminded me na bukas na pala ang paglilipat ko. Habang kumukuha ako ng bagong damit para makapagpalit, tumunog ang phone. May nag SMS.

    Drigo, si Leslie eto. Pinapatanong ni Mariz kung nakahanap ka na ng malilipatan. She wants to go dyan bukas na? Please reply. =)

    Ayaw na talaga akong makita ni Mariz, ni text from her wala akong natanggap. I understood her silence. It was her way of letting me share the hurt. Hurting din naman ako pero sa loob-loob ko if I would never take the courage to sever from her, walang mangyayari. We will be forever in this boat towards nowhere, directionless.

    Yes po. Bukas na ang alis ko. Mga 10AM.

    Napa glassy stare ako. I felt like a bad person. Siguro tama lang talaga na hindi na kami magkita pa ni Mariz bukas.

    Ten minutes passed. Tumunog ang phone, si Hustino tumatawag na, malamang andon na sa baba ng flat. In less than a minute, nakababa na ako. Andon nga siya, nakasmile. Brotherly smile? Haha. Parang hindi na ewan.

    “Hey, Justine. What’s the plan?” Ang paunang tanong ko.

    “I want to chug like a madman.”

    “Hell, yeah. We’ve been keeping our noses to the grindstone. We deserve to chill.”

    Pumasok kami sa loob ng kotse niya. Pinaandar ang silinyador at biglang isa-isang nagkaroon ng meaning ang words ng kanta in the background.

There's no combination of words
I could put on the back of a postcard
No song that I could sing
But I can try for your heart and our dreams
And they are made out of real things
Like a shoebox of photographs with sepia-tone lovin'
Love is the answer, at least for most of the questions in my heart
Like why are we here? And where do we go? And how come it's so hard?
It's not always easy and sometimes life can be deceiving I'll tell you one thing
It's always better when we're together

Mmmm it's always better when we're together
Yeah, we'll look at them stars and we're together
Well, it's always better when we're together
Yeah, it's always better when we're together

Naanod ako. Nakadalawang tanong na pala si Boss Justine.

“What have you been thinking, Drigo?”

Tumawa lang ako at nagsabing, “Nothing. The song just got into me.”

Natawa si Hustino and he gave me a soft jab in the chest. “Haha. Don’t rub this memory unto me.”

“Why? Is that a song you hold so dear?” pang-aalaska ko.

“Well, Sandy likes that song. I don’t know why the heck it just got played in the airwaves.”

Fated. There are just things in life you could not understand, and perhaps that was one of them. I was lost in the song. Ridiculously, the song that I got to get really comfy with was her ex gf’s favorite song. What a wonderful world!

“By the way, how are you and Mariz doin’? You haven’t been talking about her lately.”

Nagchichismax na si Mister Universe. Haha. Should I fabricate or not? How good am I in fabricating? Bahala na.

“You just asked a sad question there, man.”

Kuha na niya. Hindi na siya nag follow-up pa but I bet he would in a few hours. “What did you say that Filipino resto was that you want me to try?”

“Barrio Fiesta in the Burjuman Centre.”

“I’ll treat you there, my kabayan!” Haha. Bakit pag nagjojoke si Hustino sexy pa din ang dating sa akin. Nadala ako sa emosyon. Dinampi ko ang aking palad sa cheek niya. Parang sa sobrang gigil ko, yong kamay ko hindi na nag-isip. It just did its own thing. Na surprise ako. Siyempre naman, sober like the day pa ako, kami.

Sinundan ko agad ng pasakalye. “Salamat, kabayan!” Medyo late, mga 5 seconds yon, pero I guess pasado naman kasi nag smile din naman siya.

Dumating kami sa Barrio Fiesta medyo punuan pero dahil may presence ang kasama ko, ayon dali-daling nag offer ang mga kabayan.

Na-aamuse ako kay Hustino. Nong binigay ang menu daming tanong kung ano yan, ano eto. Nag explain din naman ako. I was never that patient with anybody except to this man. After ten minutes, nagdecide akong patikimin siya ng kare-kare, sinigang, dinuguan at sisig, parang fiesta lang. Gusto ko kasi sirain ang diet niya para naman at least magkaroon siya ng tummy at malalamangan ko siya ng konti sa kakisigan.

Kumain kami and I was really impressed kasi naman si Hustino walang arte. He has this knack of appreciation. Walang arte ang taste buds. Very likeable.

Grabe naman talaga ang dinner na yon. Feastly talaga. Nakakatuwa kasi para akong nanonood ng show kung saan yong foreigner nilalasahan ang mga pinoy delicacies. Parang yon ang gabing yon. I told him I would cook for him some of the delicacies. Nag twinkle lalo ang mga mata niya.

“I will be very glad. I surely would want a second try of what we just ate.”

Busog na busog kami. Si Hustino, hindi na nahiyang magsabi. “I guess I need to go to the john, bro.” Natawa ako. Sinabayan ko na din, “I will follow.”

I thought that night would end plainly. It was just the beginning. Nong andon na kami sa place ni Justine, dali-dali siyang pumunta ng CR. Ang kulit parang bata pa din siya.

I was waiting for my turn and then I decided na tingnan ang mga larawan the second time. Parang may nabago. Nung inusisa ko kung ano, wala na ang frame na yon nilang dalawa.

“No more Sandy, bro!”

Grabe naman si Hustino. Nabigla ako sa takot. Mahilig talaga sa bulagaan eto. Hindi ko napansin kaagad naka white boxer briefs pala ang loko. Pagdako ng tingin ko sa baba, goodness gracious. Don ko nawari iba talaga ang feelings ko for him. I tried so hard to get my sight to face level pero yong periphery ko abot doon sa part na yon. Grabe ang umbok.

“I guess I need to go to the bathroom as well.”

Tumawa siya. “The dinner was great indeed.”

In thirty minutes, naka ready na kami. Thankfully, nag dissipate ang carnal feelings ko for Justine. We decided to hit the Kitakits bar in Deira.

Pagdating namin, halos puno na ang place, mga close to 10PM na kasi. Pagpasok namin doon, ang festive ng place. It was so inviting na gusto ko na agad pumunta sa dance floor at mag inum while dancing. Justine was talking at the top of his lungs. “We need to find a table.” Dahil hindi ko narinig, sinabi kong, “What? I can’t hear you.”

Naramdaman ko ang stubbles ni Justine.  Inulit niya ang kanyang sinabi. “Yes. I see one close to the bartenders.”

Dali-dali kong tinungo ang table, sumunod naman si Hustino. Buti na lang at may nakita kaagad kami kung hindi baka nakatayo na lang kami don.

Nag smile na si Justine. The vibe of the place was just so overwhelmingly cool. Gusto ko to para sa hapo kung puso, and I thought so too for this guy with me.

We ordered a pitcher of bullfrog. Naka dalawang baso na kami and we started to feel the hype of the place. May mga mellow songs in between and it was just so right para naman makapag-usap ang mga nandon.

I have noticed the stares of people passing by, mga brusko at mga sexy. Whatever they were thinking, they could be right. I didn’t care at that moment. I was enjoying. We were.

Nong napansin ni Hustino na panay ang tingin sa kanya ng grupo ng mga lalaki malapit sa mga singers, natawa siya. “This is weird, brother. Look at those guys there, they’ve been killing me with their stares, man.”

Sabi ko naman, “Yeah, because you are Mister Universe.” Haha. Patay. I was so thinking out loud, na verbalize ko.

“Do you think so?” Hindi na ako nakasagot dahil tumayo na si Justine and left with the phrase, “I’m just gonna empty my bladder.”

Natawa ako sa phrasing. This language we get so used to using amused the heck of me. “Right on!” Gusto ko sundan si Justine at kitain yong part na yon. I got so carnal with that thought I hated myself a bit for it. “So wrong, bro,” sabi ko sa sarili ko.

When he came back, nagsmile siya. Ayan na naman! Perfect bite. Pang close-up smile at pag upo nagkwento ang loko. “See Drigo, I’m going to be molested in no time. Somebody just tried peeping over the urinal.”

I raised my glass and he did the same. “For a great life ahead!”

“This guy asked for my number.” Nagselos ako bigla. “Did you?”

“Hell no, man. But I gave your number.” Tawa niya.

“For real?! You’re gonna get me in trouble.” Kwentohan ng mga lasing but all worth the while. I thought he was really joking when my phone lit up. “You looked hot dude.”

Nakangising aso na si Justine. Alam niya kung san galing ang text. “You crazy, son-of-a…”
“I wasn’t kidding. I didn’t know how to respond so I gave your number instead.”

Ok lang din kasi siguro kung binigay niya yong number niya, I would feel a pang of jealousy. Malamang iiwanan ko din siya. Haha. It was a sweet gesture I thought.

Nagreply ako. “Thanks but I am taken. COMMITTED.” And I hit send.

Justine just grabbed my phone and while smiling read the reply.

“Nice one. I was so right, eh? You just killed the guy, big time!” Nang malapit nang maubos ang isang pitcher, kumuha si Justine ng isa pa. I was getting so loaded and in no time, I was slurring and he was too.

Pumunta kaming dalawa sa dance floor. Nakipagblend with the crowd. Nagsayawan kami na parang mga bata. We didn’t care. Yong grupo ng mga lalaki pumunta don sa amin and they were friendly to join the dancing. Nakipag shake hands kami, para kaming mga politician. Pero yong mga mata ko andon kay Hustino. He was being friendly and gets ko na he’s never discriminating towards gays. He’s always been a good welcoming soul.

Nahapo kami at pumunta ulit sa pwesto. Nakaakbay siya sa akin and his right arm over me felt really great. Para lalo akong nag init at pinawisan. Ano ba to, Drigo?

This time he brought the chair and sat nearer to me. Siguro because he didn’t want to scream while conversing. “Mariz. What happened?”

Ayan na. Alam ko ang mga istilo ni Hustino. He would always encourage you to speak your mind. He would give you time but he always would make sure in the end he’s informed. Tiningnan ko siya. He looked amazing. Pawisan pero nako naman, he still oozes with charisma and good looks.

“Not now brother. I can’t gather my wits.”

He raised his left arm and pressed my left shoulder, egging me to splay the beans. “Hey, it’s all right. I’m here to listen.”

Then I looked at him and said, “Because we’re just…. Not…better together…anymore”

He heaved a sigh and I felt safe and protected and listened to. No nothings but just this sincere presence.

“You will be fine. Give it time.”

Inakbayan ko si Hustino and I told him something I should not have. “You’re wonderful.”

Given that I was holding my wits together, thankfully it was all I told him. Wala siyang nireply. Nag-smile lang siya and he patted me in the back sabay signal na uwi na kami.

We stood and he was indeed smashed, nakadalawang pitcher din kami. Nong nasa labas na kami, it was so peaceful. Nakaakbay ako sa kanya and out of the blue he asked, “So where are you staying now? Are you still with her?”

“No, I’m going out tomorrow. I packed my things already.”

Si Hustino nag-usisa. “Where is this place you’re transferring to? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because you have too much to think over, Justine. I’m a grown man, I know what to do.” I felt like a kid explaining to a doubting teacher.
“You are my brother. I should know. You are my friend.” Seryoso ang mukha niya. Lalo naman talagang gumagwapo si Hustino pag serious mode na.

“Hey, cheer up. I’m still here in Dubai. I’m not going to some far-flung place.” Napasmile ko din siya.

“What time are you going to your new flat?”

“I need to be ready by 7:00 AM,” sambit ko.

“Well, I would suggest we get your things right now and you sleep in my place so we could go straight to where you’ll be transferring tomorrow. I’ll give you a lit.”

Ayan na naman si Good Samaritan. Grabe ang generosity, ang kindness, ang sincerity. Naisip ko sige total isang bagahe na malaki at bag lang naman ang kukunin ko don.

We went straight to my place. Sinamahan ako ni Hustino sa taas at nagpakagentleman ang loko. Siya nagbitbit ng bagahe.

“How are you feeling?” Nag-usisa na naman si Mister Universe. “A bit dizzy still.”

“Silly. That’s not what I meant.”

“You told me I will be fine. I will be,” sabay locked ng tingin kay Hustino.

“Yes you will.”

Habang nilalagay ni Justine ang gamit ko sa likuran ng sasakyan, biglang sumagi sa isip ko si Mariz. Will she be fine? Weird as it was when the car scooted away, I said a little prayer for her.

It was all I could muster at that moment.

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