SECOND CHANCE The Prologue
Author’s Note: I am currently having a mental block on the book project :( For some reason, I can not rewrite LHT which is frustrating the heck out of me. So, I thought I better work on SECOND CHANCES so that I can be productive. Once again, my heartfelt thanks to Ms Alpha Grace, Ms Liza and Ms Dianne for continuing to collaborate with me. Please do not be shy to leave a comment or hit the LIKE button.
Year 1990. End of June. Las Piňas, Metro Manila.
For most of the day, the sun had been hiding behind gray clouds causing on and off drizzle over the municipality. But that was not enough to dampen his jubilant mood. He woke up that particular morning looking forward to dinner. Eduard started the day early going to the Zapote public market to buy the freshest meat and necessary spices. He thought of preparing adobo sa gata but changed his mind since not everyone likes this version. Hence, a huge wok of the plain pork adobo had been slowly cooking for a couple of hours. The dish was his specialty and has been frequently requested from him by his friends in Auckland. He tried teaching his non-Filipino friends how to cook the savoury dish but they don’t seem to get the fact that the cooking method was just as crucial as having all the right ingredients to come up with the iconic Filipino viand.
Eduard comes from a family where the males are the better cooks. Although his father and paternal uncles hailed from Pasay City, the Ferrers originally came from the Bicol region and were very fussy with food. Each one zealously guarded age-old family recipes, which are passed on from one generation to the next.
His maternal aunt smiled as she watched her nephew whistling while moving about in her kitchen. Her bakasyonista nephew was hardly smiling when he arrived on her doorstep a few weeks ago. For such a young man of mere 25 years, he looked as if he had the weight of the world on his broad shoulders. Noticing the huge difference in his demeanour, she could not resist teasing him about his jovial mood. Eduard merely threw a lopsided grin at his aunt who knew his complicated circumstances and was sympathetic with his predicament. She even encouraged him to bring home the lady who has been putting a smile to his lips lately.
“Girlfriend mo na ba, Edu?” Aunt Lani asked smilingly.
“Hindi po, Auntie!” he denied laughing. “Ayaw ngang magpaligaw, eh!”
“Owws? Friends lang kayo? Mukhang masisira yata ang bilis mo sa isang ito, ha?”
Eduard smiled as he shrugged his shoulders. He could not really care less about his so-called reputation with women. To date, he has been successful with 95% of all the women he took an interest in. They all fell. It was just a matter of time. When he did not pursue the attractive woman, the woman ran after him. He would succumb to their charms but would quickly lose interest due to the lack of challenge. He preferred to do the pursuing. He was a male after all.
With Candyce, he knew his boundaries. It was clearly defined for him by the lady herself. They can be no more than friends. And the funny thing was, he was quite content with what she could give him. He knew full well that if he overstepped the mark, she would likely lambast him verbally before severing any connection with him. At 21 years of age, she can be very stern and intimidating like the super strict spinster school principal he had during high school. She was that ‘mataray’.
Still, a guy can hope.
When early evening came, Eduard took a shower and changed into his favourite faded 501 jeans and dark blue Ralph Lauren polo shirt. He gladly carried her lunch box and frilled beige umbrella when he fetched Candyce from her boutique. Heck, he would gladly carry her shoulder tote if she allowed him. But she has already told him off twice for trying to carry her bag for her.
“Buti na lang tumigil na ang ulan” she murmured as they got down the passenger jeepney.
It was just a short five minute commute from the commercial complex where she works to their dinner venue. His hand was at her elbow, assisting her as they crossed the major arterial route of Las Piňas municipality. He was bringing her to his home turf, the residential subdivision where he grew up into a young adult. The municipality was his stomping ground until he emigrated three years prior, seeking greener pastures beyond Philippine shores.
Eduard indicated towards the tricycle but Candyce shook her head.
“Candy?” He was allowed to address her now by her nickname. “Ayaw mong sumakay?”
“Hindi naman naulan. Maglakad na lang tayo,” she suggested and then proceeded to walk briskly down the village main street.
Eduard quickly followed her, shaking his head. He led the way before she went a different direction. His aunt’s place was just two blocks from the main street. As they went past the local sarisari store, which was situated right beside a billiard hall, his expression became stern as he eyed a number of tambays congregated by the hall entrance . Cigarette smoke was billowing around their faces as they watched passers-by.
A few people still recognise him in the village. Eduard Ferrer was not easy to forget for he was quite notorious in the subdivision as he was growing up. A known hothead, Eduard was regularly involved in brawls. His ‘bad boy’ behaviour worsened when his father died and his mother frequently went amiss due to out-of-town trips with her new boyfriend and then later on to work overseas. Eduard and his three younger brothers were left to the care of their loyal but ageing household help who could not instill discipline to them. As a result, the Ferrer boys hung out with a wild, unruly bunch.
When drunk and furious with anyone, Eduard was known to throw huge rocks at people’s roofs to challenge particular individuals to come out for a mano a mano. Often, the barangay tanods would be called to intervene. That is why the village residents pulled a huge collective sigh of relief when he finally joined his mother and stepfather to live permanently in New Zealand.
Years of having to deal with diverse cultural presence in Auckland have made him much more amiable. He had matured after all. But if need be, he will not back down from a fight. His upper lip curled up in a silent snarl as he eyeballed two shirtless tambays who were salaciously eyeing an oblivious Candyce, dressed in her beige top and pants that did not hide her shapely figure.
Eduard’s right hand went to his jeans pocket to grab his Zippo lighter. He needed to grip something in his palm if he wanted to deliver solid punches should the situation turn into a brawl. His eyes scanned the group, which was mainly composed of very slim males ranging from late teens to late 20s. No one was solidly built which was not necessarily an advantage in a street fight. Then his attention was caught by two older residents whose eyes widened in recognition and greeted him with a warm smile.
“Good evening po, Ka Roming, Ka Turing.” he greeted back, his progress slowing down.
“Aru, kilala ko itong guwapong batang ire. Si ano—? Si—-? Kuuu! Ano nga bang pangalan ng batang ire, Turing?” the balding tooth-gapped sixtysomething nudged his same-aged crony.
“Si Eduard, yung pamangkin ni Mareng Lani,” the gray-haired gangly old man beside him responded.
“Pasensiya na po, baka ho bumagsak na naman ang ulan” he said addressing the two elders without actually halting in his tracks. “Bukas po babalik ako. Magkwentuhan po tayo.”
“Sige Eduard,” agreed Ka Roming. “Sumargo ka na rin bukas. Paandaran mo itong mga bugoy dito.”
“Kinakalawang na po ako,” he informed him while still eyeing the two tambays who were now returning his look. “Pero sige po. Bukas.”
Eduard’s teeth clenched as he stared them down. He relaxed a bit when they finally lowered their gaze. He could feel the tension slowly seeping out of him.
“Eduard?” the question in her tone was unmistakeable.
“May problema ba?” she asked as they walked away from the noise of the billiard hall.
“What made you think that?” he lopsidedly smiled down at her.
Her left brow rose speculatively. She bent her head to one side to study him. And then she shrugged.
“For a second there, you looked tense,” she observed. Then she looked ahead, carefully scanning the main village street that needed major repairs in places.
“Medyo,” he confirmed.
“Haaaaa? Bakit?” she frowned up at him, bewilderment all over her face.
“Tensiyonado ako kasi baka hindi mo magustuhan yung niluto ko,” he prevaricated, grinning down at her. He congratulated himself for diverting her attention to a lighter topic.
“Hayaan mo, magpapakabait ako,” she laughed and her chocolate brown eyes twinkled. “I will not be a cruel critic, I promise.”
The charming indentions on both corners of her mouth appeared once more. They were too small to be called proper dimples yet they never failed to capture his attention. She has a very expressive face that reveals whatever she feels. She has that type of beauty that gets more striking the longer you study her features. Despite this, she was not vain at all.
He pulled his gaze from admiring her to focus on the direction they were heading. At the end of the block, he guided her to the right. A few more steps and they turned into a white wrought iron gated bungalow. His 19-year-old cousin Tara was sitting by the front veranda with a few open textbooks in front of her. They exchanged greetings and banter. The next minute, his Auntie Lani joined them and then ushered them all inside to have dinner.
Eduard presented his offering with much fanfare. He could tell Candyce liked his pork adobo judging from the fact that she had second helpings of both steamed rice and the tasty dish. She was savouring the flavours on her tongue with every spoonful, even licking her lips in appreciation.
However, that flick of her pink tongue conjured up erotic images that he has been keeping at bay. Without meaning to, his gaze was riveted to her nose and upper lips which was very finely beaded with sweat. She continually licked her lips which were glistening under the pendant light. He wished he could lick them himself. Somewhere in the background, a pedestal electric fan whirred the air that had gone very warm. Eduard had tuned out and was just watching the play of expressions on her face.
Eduard pulled himself out of her hypnotic spell and finally realised that they were still on the very mundane topic of cooking adobo. They discussed different ways of cooking the dish and other Pinoy favourites. Candyce wrinkled her nose and admitted that her knowledge was limited. This is because her mother’s specialty had always been local cuisine. With her own attempts usually falling below par, Candyce opted to learn other dishes instead so that she won’t suffer too much in comparison.
She was a great conversationalist, knowing many topics that ranged from cooking, business, work trends and politics. He would tease her by saying outrageous things like how the old regime was far better than the current female president. That brought her hackles up and she went to argue that freedom of speech has been restored.
“Before, if one dissident yells out against Marcos, one’s demise was guaranteed. These days, one can yell complaints against Madam President Cory until they are blue in the face but one won’t fear for one’s life.”
“Ang puso mo, relax ka lang,” he chided mockingly.
“Ikaw kasi, banggitin ba naman si Marcos,” Candyce laughed, shaking her head. “Sabagay hindi kita masisi pareho kayo ng former First Lady.”
“Hmmmmmmnnn,” she nodded. “Pareho kayong mahilig sa sapatos. Iba na naman yang suot mo, eh. Ilang daan ba ang sapatos mo?”
It was a lively dinner that lasted for hours. He was enjoying having innocent fun with her. Even his Auntie Lani was laughing and grinning at things she was saying. He was just content to sit at the dining table with her and trade banter like they were very old friends when they had just met a week ago. If it were not for the late hour, he would not take her home yet.
Then, it started to rain again. She prompted him to grab his own black umbrella. He responded wryly that it was broken.
“Talaga? Sira yung payong na dala-dala mo palagi?” she asked while biting on her lower lip to stop herself from laughing loudly at him.
“Hindi ko naman palaging dala ‘yun. Minsan lang,” he protested, a little sheepish.
“Whatever!” she retorted disbelievingly, her chocolate brown eyes twinkling in humour.
They waited by the canopied veranda until the torrential rain passed. Then Eduard opened her frilly beige umbrella and waited for her. She stepped beside him and carefully held on to the handle without touching him. Under the umbrella amidst a curtain of steady falling rain, the atmosphere became intimate. They walked slowly but they were hardly touching. Half of his body was getting wet for he was giving her ample room. He was careful that his body was not brushing against her. He was determined to behave like the perfect gentleman even if he contracted pneumonia in the process.
Candyce commented that his Aunt Lani and her husband were very blessed to be married for over 20 years. Despite the fact that his uncle has been working in Saudi Arabia, his presence was very much in the house with his uncle’s pictures and sports trophy in prominent display.
“They must love each other very much to still be together after all these years,” she whisphered wistfully as they slowly walked on very wet and uneven ground
Silently, he agreed with her. He yearned for a similar lasting relationship that could only be possible with the right woman. And his gut-feel was screaming at him that the right woman was currently walking beside him. He looked sideways at her innocent profile, the tiny almost-dimples present.
“I love you,” he whisphered unable to stop himself. And for the first time in his life, he was actually uttering the words in all honesty. He realised that the attraction he felt for her has gone beyond the physical. Quickly following his fascinating self-discovery was deep regret. He was silently ruing all the stupid decisions he had made in his youth.
Meanwhile, he could see her profile had turned serious. With her smile dying , her almost-dimples disappeared. Her lips compressed together tightly as she gritted her teeth.
“Candy?” he prompted for a response.
Any kind of response.
From a very distant horizon, lightning was sporadically zigzagging across the very dark night sky. Awashed with rain, the road was deserted except for the two of them slowly navigating their way around the water-filled potholes. The village main street was riddled with hollowed out spots as well as rubbish build-up along its ditches.
Then she pulled a deep sigh, a slight frown marring her smooth forehead. Her gaze remained focussed ahead but Candyce was looking with unseeing eyes.
“Bakit ba kayong mga lalaki napakabilis ninyong sabihin ang mga salitang ‘yan?” she responded with a rhetorical question, a distinctive catch in her voice. “Samantalang karamihan sa inyo, hindi naman marunong magmahal…”