Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday Fiction: Past, Present, Prayers

After getting my cup from the friendly and helpful barista, I slowly make my way downstairs and immediately notice a group of girls with their heads close together, eyes closed and deep in prayer. I've always been uncomfortable with prayer groups in coffee shops. Always torn between leaving them be and staring in awe as they separate themselves from the world and concentrate on their pleas. 

As always, the latter wins for me and I study the women in huddle. They are finished praying now, and one has already stood, profusely thanking the other two. As she leaves, I get an unobstructed view of the woman beside her, and my mouth hangs open as I realize she is not wearing a bra. I make out the shape of her large areolas through her white roundneck t-shirt, nestled just so on top of her bulging stomach. Did she forget to wear a bra? Or is it intentional, a proclamation of freedom from flesh-containing contraptions?

I steal glances at her while blowing on my green tea latte, squinting my eyes against the soft yellow lighting to make sure if my observation is right. When she stands up several minutes later and turns her back to walk towards the stairs going up the exit, I see the outline of a bra, and am further flummoxed how I saw what I saw. Maybe the bra material was thin.

I sip my matcha latte, alternating between finishing reading my ebook and looking up at the steel crossbeams that are both decorative and necessary. The coffee shop has a high-ceilinged layout, and I wonder why they chose that over building another floor to accommodate more customers.

The first occupants of the table to my left have gone, and a couple of men have replaced them. They are speaking in low tones, and I struggle to eavesdrop on their conversation. The man beside me has a melodious voice, an Ilonggo I presume, and the only words that I make out are "useless" and "self-pity".  I give up trying to understand what they are talking about, and go back to my ebook. I read the same page for two minutes.

My drink half empty, I recall the last time I was at this branch, who I was with, and where we were sitting.

It was at the table two spots to the right of where I am now, and I probably ordered the same drink, but only it was iced instead of hot, and because I arrived first, I went ahead and sat on the couch against the wall, facing the crowd. It was a tip our Dad gave us when he was still alive, about how you should not have your back to the crowd, so you'd always know if something was up, like if there was a fire or a commotion.

A few minutes passed and my friend/former schoolmate arrived, apologizing for getting stuck in traffic. She placed her caramel cream frapuccino on the table, and after the initial surface-scratching update in each other's lives, she delved into the real reason she wanted to meet up with me: she needed to tell someone about the falling out with a family member that was starting to get out of hand.

I remember her curls most of all. Her curly hair that bounced when unrestrained, the larger-than-life mop that framed her face, dancing to the beat of her feet when she walked. The frizzy strands that became prisoners to her scrunchie when she wore her hair up, just like when she raised her voice at me that fateful noon up north, when she scolded me like I was a six-year-old while I hung my head low sitting on the sand, my face feeling the heat coming from the midday sun striking my back and imprinting a tan that would stay on my body even a year after that disastrous beach trip.

A text message alert brings me back to the present, and I delete it without opening. Another random real estate offer. I open my Facebook, and serendipitously see photos of my friend's latest trip to another far-flunch beach. Her unruly curls worn up again, with a few strands escaping because of the sea wind, a tattoo visible on her right collar bone. Its design was something she only talked to me about that night a couple of years ago at this coffee shop, when she was too excited to finally get some ink on her skin.

I click the button for the Messenger, scroll down to see the last message I sent to my friend, on her birthday three months ago. Things haven't been the same since that trip, when I abruptly left her and two other companions to go back to Manila. Civil greetings, careful words, measured how-are-you's. The written equivalent of walking on egg shells. I cringe when I read the exhange again, wonder if things will ever go back to the way they were.

I pull down the sleeve of my cup, and notice for the first time the message the barista scrawled on it. "Enjoy!" right above my name with a smiley face next to it. My lips curve up automatically.

My phone rings and I walk to the stairs, relieved that the person I'm meeting is finally on his way.

"We have a problem," the voice on the other end says. I stop midstep at the bottom of the stairs, silenced both by the caller and the voice I hear from the table beside me. I am stunned as I land my eyes on a woman staring into space, eyes wide open, voice full of conviction, hands clasped with another lady whose eyes are closed.

"Lord, please listen to our plea..."

I run up the steps two at a time, embarrassed for being an intruder in a private moment done in a public place.

*Friday Fiction is my attempt at writing again. Writing to better myself, and not just because I need it to earn money. On Fridays (not every Friday though), I'll be posting something I wrote. It can be snippets, short stories, or even poetry. Hope you can come back and check! 

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