A Trance of Cranes
“Lawton!" perhaps Now, Now shrouded the familiar malevolence in voice. Looking at her own steps, she strode carefully for her pumps had only been purchased last week.
She was in no hurry, she was always prepared. Awakening, light breakfast, morning rituals (grooming, pampering), and so she leaves for work as some accountant at a particular telecommunications company in Pasay. Her height makes her indistinguishable in a crowd, but her countenance once taken note of must captivate any man, or woman for that matter. True Filipina complexion adorns her sturdy figure (she goes to the gym on Saturdays, and jogs on Sundays at sunrise and sundown); some, if not most, would take her to be delicate with her waist-length hair, what with its sparing stripes of mahogany. Today she has fixed it into a unique style, and what makes it magnificent is it being easy on the eyes in spite of the noticeable sophistication thereof. She takes pride in her independence.
All eyes loom on her, usually men's. She most often—if not always—arrives at most an hour early. She has her desk to herself; she likes how the ladies' bathroom spells neatness, so she does her make-up there. Her eye lashes twinkle naturally and never need extenders; her ample lips usually appear to be wary of its onlookers, as they are shut and still, more often than not; she believes that this practise conceals her smile that she never immediately gives away.
She would be lucky enough to sit anywhere. At this time of the day, she should be standing in the bus. She was prepared: she had resolved to get lunch at work instead, and not cook it herself and bring it with her, she had also left in her apartment some documents that need to be seen to within the week. She sighed in disappointment with the advent of a seat that was neither too far nor too near from the bus door.
Her thoughts of lunch divert to another: the preposition. She hadn't used this preposition in her daily chatter for a while. It had been a while anyway since she had been with Remi. Now, Now serenades her with unwanted, unwelcome memories. She couldn't do anything about it, she liked the song anyway.
"She’ll be invisible like you want her."
It was strange at the time, how she had witnessed Remi just shun her the way he did, and how he had let her become a witness of this drastic change in the first place. She had not prepared for it. She never liked not being prepared for anything. Thus in the unfortunate event of an abruption, she is powerless. So was the case come Remi’s eventual disappearance. At first, the change had brought about a different person in Remi. She had not foreseen this at all. What was strange for her was that she regularly evaluates her relationship with Remi: she would either read articles on Reader’s Digest and help herself, she would talk to co-workers, or perhaps she would talk about it with her mother when she visits the family home on the holidays. The positive responses and results that she kept getting reminded her that what she had with Remi was something that was consistent, and not something of mere stagnancy or complacency. Then after a time, Remi had suddenly become untoward when they meet, unlike when he had first been dating her, taking her places, when there was a warmth in him that he had seemed to have always explicitly exhibited. First, that warmth was gone.
After her entrance, the Reinalyn ran through the Alabang-Zapote Road and stopped at Times by the hospital-slash-college, where a good many had boarded and left. The couple in school uniform at her left stood shyly and excused theirselves. She crossed her fingers that her pumps do not get damaged by the ruckus of transient feet. Briskly she slid to the window only to be spat on by the vigour of bus air-conditioning. A woman possibly in her fifties first sat beside her; this woman wore a blazer that crumpled itself around the lower back part. The woman rested her handbag on her lap and exhaled. A young man not in school uniform but was obviously a student (so screamed his UP lanyard) found himself third in her apparent roster of seatmates for the rest of the several kilometres.
"She'll try to do everything just right for you."
Now, Now almost lulled her to sleep were it not for the gravity of their lyrics. "I did," she muttered. The eyes of the woman beside her turned to her lips, but withdrew the glance as immediately as she threw it; the woman went back to looking at the details of her handbag. Meanwhile, the young man banged his head lightly to what she can perceive even through her earphones as post-grunge, if not metal. "Possibly Sleeping With Sirens," she remarked in her mind, not noticing her face has become pressed into a mild frown. She retracted immediately, the student didn't notice.
The spitting of artificial air she has let envelop around her, not minding the dryness this lays upon her tan yet seemingly luminescent skin. She concluded that she is to meet the warmth when she arrives and exits the bus much later.
"Let’s move to the back, shall we?" the bus conductor’s voice seemed welcoming and gratifying, she thinks perhaps that it is because she was already seated, not having to mind obligatory adjustments to be made when standing. Remi’s change had led her to deciding that it was she who had to adjust. She would attend to his emotional needs more, she assumed, so that she could figure out whatever has happened that Remi did not then want to disclose to her.
She made it a point to ask Remi about his day more frequently than she already had been doing – so she did it after lunch and after dinner.
"So did Leroy get his promotion?" she asked Remi at dinner in their apartment one day back then, this is the same apartment she would go home to after work. Remi's eyes were on his meal, his movement, never looking at hers for more than a moment.
"I haven't heard yet," he told her after swallowing the crushed viand.
"Oh, is that so?"
A short silence—
"Mama is in Dumaguete for the next two weeks, I forgot to tell you. She's left since last Sunday in the morning. It's not natural for her to prefer to leave in the morning and not attend mass."
"Maybe she attended in Dumaguete, or Cebu, or wherever," he then chewed on the lean meat, while slicing chunks of hot dinorado rice on his big porcelain plate.
"Maybe she did. I'd forgotten to ask about it."
"You may have ..." Remi told her as he chewed his rice, still not laying eyes on her at all. The night was quiet. No neighbours sang karaoke tonight, and for that both she and Remi were grateful. Remi would not take another Hotel California: the shouting of the title was the only conceivable part of the singing. Such a lovely place.
“What was that?" she demanded. She thought she had heard him utter something under his breath. Possibly a remark, she thought.
“Nothing," he insisted, still chewing, still not laying eyes on her.
She then left the table and slept. The unexpected event that had taken place in the morning after that placed her for a few months into a state of confusion – Remi left. He took all his things with him, but leaving anything that she owned too: their pictures, their cutlery, food, her gifts. She had managed not to cry or to pity herself because she was sure that she had not done anything wrong. She never double-crossed him with sleeping or even having lunch with other men; nor had she offended him, she was always careful with her words, she has always been prepared. She takes pride in that independence.
She called him no more than thrice, but it would appear that his phone cannot be reached, as if he has even left the country for good (or his phone has left the working state for good). Remi had no immediate family so she virtually had no way of contacting him. She would have to find him, she thought.
She didn't want to. Her dedication to work preoccupied her, placing her in transient states of business and persistence. She would sleep immediately when she arrives home; at the happenstance that she could not sleep, she would dive into her past indulgences. She did not like that Remi's actions had led her into what she had been doing then. Thus she eventually began to embrace an emotion that she had always vowed never to partake of. She hated him.
"Baclaran!" the bus conductor was nearer. She took out a fifty peso bill and rehearsed in her mind what she would say, "Buendia, from Admiral". The bustle of people amused her. Daring men would jump across concrete barricades; either these men are illiterate or ignorant because they would not look at the huge sign that said that someone had been killed trying to do what they but accomplish doing. Her lips smiled at their courage.
"PCC, student, from Times," the sombre, cool tone in the student’s voice made her suppose that he sings. The bus conductor’s digging for coins can be heard through her earphones; she held on to her bill, whilst watching the nearest crane raise steel bars.
"Kalaw, from Times," she heard the woman beside her. Somehow she could feel a gaze on her – possibly the student, or the usual fantasy in any bus conductor’s eyes when a woman such as her takes the bus. Hands digging into coins resounded; the crane was lowering the steel bars and so it was not as she had thought at first. Or maybe they realised that the steel bars were too heavy for the crane and they had to take one of them off? No, they wouldn’t make such a mistake, she thought to herself.
She pulled herself away from the trance of cranes and then pulled one earphone out of her right ear. She handed the fifty peso bill to the bus conductor, whose stubby fingers seemed hauntingly familiar. Haunting was when she looked up at the man.
"Where to?" he asked, not aware of her disbelief. She stared at him, she was sure this was him. She had prepared for this day, although not in this setting.
She had played out a variety of scenarios in her mind as to when a day comes that they meet by chance. Millions of scenarios, she believed, had already played out in her mind, but never this one. She wondered why. Never also with this behaviour of Remi – he seemed not to remember her at all. This was questionable because he had even been writing about her appearace figuratively in his tweets: how her hair seemed to flow like "wheat fields on a windy, sunny day", or how her eyes seemed to "blink with haste, but the reverence remains". She swore in her mind that this man was Remi.
"Ate, where to?" the man repeated. Her two seatmates had been looking at her with wonder. She had been staring at the man for too long. It took a nudge from the woman beside her for her to do away with the other trance she had placed herself into.
"Buendia... from Ad... Admiral," she wiped at her weary eyes with shaking fingers. With a puzzled look, the bus conductor gazed at her with a sincere pity. He handed her bus tickets, and although it took an effort on her part she took them, folded them, and put it in her bag.
The student had slept already, but the woman still occasionally looked at her, still enveloped in wonder. "What was it?" the woman asked. She still had one earphone out anyway. She took the other one off and decided it best to let it out—to let her sentiments loose.
"I thought," she paused as her voice was not sobbing, but was rather shaking. "He was someone I knew."
The woman first looked again at the details of her handbag, then smiled at her with a gentleness. "Surely you more than knew him," the woman told her with reverent cheer.
"I did actually..." she paused, then looked outside. The other crane from afar was lifting what looked like steel bars. "He left without notice. If that were truly he, he would know me even at first glance."
"Where do you get off?"
"At Buendia," without reluctance she told the woman.
"Why don't you rest your thoughts? You have work today, don't you?" the woman then reverted her gaze onto her handbag, and closed her eyes, smiling. She reverted hers to the business of cranes, lifting loads after loads after loads.
The bus moved on from Baclaran, but slowly; traffic was always dense at this time of the day and this does not worry her at all; her shift does not start until 2:30 anyway.
"...then you'll go on your way."
A distinct crane caught her attention—it was the tallest. She assumed that the towers are more residential than commercial; there already were advertisement boards telling the availability of spaces. The crane, carrying nothing, swerved left carefully so that the hook might not swing at even the slightest bit. She would not sleep despite there being a good distance from her destination; she would not look away from the window either. The cranes never seemed to finish.