By Zosimo Quibilan, Jr.
Dindo regretted rushing over. It was taking a while for someone to open the gate for him. In the beginning, the raindrops tickled his scalp. It wasn't funny anymore. He rang the doorbell again and again when the rain started to run down his face. The styling gel on his hair had mixed with it and stung his eyes.
A maid finally came to the gate. She asked him to stand there first and wait. She said her mistress might get angry if she let visitors in right away.
Dindo ran a hand through his now limp hair. He pulled the soaked shirt away from his body. He could feel his legs starting to shiver. His new pair of jeans had turned a deeper shade of blue. His Chuck Taylors, which had waded through inches of muddy rain water, dripped with each step.
He was shaking the rain from his hair when Helen came out to meet him. She didn't mind that some of it spattered on her. Her eyes were filled with tears. She couldn't return Dindo's embrace.
It wasn't clear to Dindo why he had come, in the height of the typhoon, no less. Helen had paged earlier for him to call her. It was urgent, she'd said. He couldn't say no. She rarely ever paged him.
"I hate talking to message handlers. They're just so stupid," Helen had explained to him once.
Dindo didn't have a telephone, so he had braved the angry storm and headed to the corner store just to make that call. Helen had burst into tears the moment she heard his voice. She had gone on and on about how she and her boyfriend had a fight. Could Dindo come over. She was all alone.
"Sure. On the condition that there'll be chicken pen-din," Dindo had jokingly mimicked Helen's colegiala accent to lighten up the conversation.
Dindo had gulped the moment he hung up the phone. He had almost been hit by the store window awning when a fierce wind suddenly blew.
He had wanted to hurry back home but the floodwater in the streets had risen. While wading home, he had thought about the tone of Helen's voice. Dindo had feared what it meant but he had also wanted to know what had really happened.
He now felt the opposite as he held Helen in his arms. She continued to sniffle.
"Your nose is getting bigger. Don't cry anymore."
Helen smiled, but then quickly frowned again.
"What happened anyway?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"So what will we do? Wait a minute. Where's my chicken pen-din?"
Helen jokingly punched him. "Shmuck! Let's go sa lanai."
Her disposition changed the moment they sat down. She appeared to have forgotten why she was crying just moments ago. She asked Dindo how he was. "Sorry sa hassle. You're the first person that came to mind when…. Oh yeah I don't want to talk about it. What's keeping you busy these days? Are you and your girlfriend still together?"
"No, we've already broken up. Imagine if you had just waited." Dindo was surprised by the words that came out of his mouth.
Helen paused. "Do you think you can wait?"
"The question is, why am I here?"
Helen reached for his face, cupping her hands as if to catch water. She caressed Dindo's cheek. She touched his sticky hair.
Dindo didn't have the chance to feel ashamed of his hair, even though he knew it reeked. He looked outside instead. He watched the heavy, sporadic raindrops slam against the marble floor. He was soothed by the lightness of Helen's hand.
The ring of the telephone startled Dindo like an electric shock. Helen's maid arrived at once to hand her mistress the receiver.
The bickering between Helen and her boyfriend resumed. Dindo was taken aback by his friend's reaction. She carried on like a child deprived of a toy. She hurled whatever she got her hands on. She threw a fit. She forgot that Dindo was there.
Dindo slipped quietly out the door. He no longer said goodbye. He couldn't help but scratch his head. The weather had grown more cruel now. He figured it was better to get drenched again. It would be easier to fix his hair the way he wanted it.
Zosimo Quibilan, Jr. lives in Los Angeles, CA. Gel, translated by the author and his wife, Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan, from the original Filipino, is from his first short fiction collection called Pagluwas (In Transit) published by the University of the Philippines Press in 2006. The book won the 2006 National Book Awards for Short Fiction in the Philippines. Zosimo's short stories and poems have appeared in 42opus, The Mag, and various anthologies and journals in the Philippines.
Photo Umbrella courtesy of Rudolpho Clix, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
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