DOZENS of FXs have passed you by. You’ve been waiting by a lamp post along Roxas Boulevard for half an hour. The sun has set and the multi-colored lights are on. People are walking to and fro staring at your Hawaiian polo-shirt as they pass A bronze-skinned boy with a gap between his front teeth snickered and gave you the loser sign. You sighed and checked your watch. It’s 6:45p.m. Your cousin’s recital is about to start. You are so stubborn. You shouldn’t have gone to Siargao.  

The tear-drop shaped island of Siargao was an ideal vacation spot. Fishing, jet-skiing and of course, babe-hunting was on you and your friends’ to-do-lists. Against the sun-kissed waves and the endless stream of beach music, it all seemed perfect. But you had to come up with a “surfing” idea that wasn’t part of the plan. It was bad enough that none of your friends know how to surf in the first place but Winna unexpectedly dared you to teach your best bud Floyd how to surf. It was your fault for agreeing to a bet with her when the rest of your friends, including you, knew very well that her name suggested victory.

You struggled to teach Floyd how to surf, shouting at him for plunging into saltwater an umpteenth time. Your throat was sore and maybe your voice was not audible enough from where you stood. Or maybe Floyd just didn’t get it. He didn’t know the slightest thing about surfing.

The trick was to wait for that perfect moment when the wave starts to raise him and his board. Also, you taught him that paddling consecutively—not simultaneously?with his hands would be the right way to gain speed. You trained him to stand on the board by first assuming the position of a sumo wrestler and while maintaining his balance, you reminded him that he must never, never look down. You knew more about surfing than anything else. Surfing was your life. But you had a life other than that.  

Floyd finally maneuvered, speeded up and caught the wave; during this moment you watched a little boy who was crying. His older brother was scaring him by saying that the syokoy will eat him alive, and you remember the first time you went to that resort for a family reunion.

Your mom’s sister, Tita Mayi, was digging through her bag, complaining about the heat when she screamed, “Jude! Stay out of the sun or you’ll get sunburned again!” It was odd, because you were too busy eating your second serving of barbeque inside the beach hut. You looked her direction, but her eyes were fixed to someone else—your cousin. She was approaching him, not you. Little Jude bore the same name as you and had similar likes and dislikes. Except for one. While you loved the sea, he was afraid of the sea. It was partially your fault. If you hadn’t pushed him there while the current was high, he would probably still be enjoying trips to the beach like normal kids. No, it was your fault, completely. He didn’t know this. You never told him. He was too young to understand.

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You didn’t see how Floyd crashed to the shore. It all happened too fast. Luckily, he didn’t drown to death. He told you the last thing he remembered, that he was still wildly flapping his arms until he realized he was coughing up sand instead of water. Unlucky for you your little vacation was cut short the instant Winna panicked and called Floyd’s mom on her cell phone. She called a medic next. She was so worried she had forgotten she was a nurse.

Everyone was ordered by Floyd’s mom to get packing, and take the next plane trip home. It was Wednesday noon. You got to the island Wednesday morning. His mom was the ultimate “killjoy” but she was also principal sponsor. Someone turned the radio on and a frenzied voice cackles—ha ha ha ha ha wipeout!

***

The airport was jam-packed. You promised to send Floyd back to his house, not just because he was your best bud, but also because he swore not to tell his mom that you were the one who made her son perform a trick that takes years to learn.

Since his leg was in a cast you had to take a taxi while the rest of your friends went for cheaper transportation. You were saving up money to buy little Jude a congratulatory present for his piano recital, but this is a more pressing concern. Reaching Quezon City, Floyd hosted a pool party at their house to make up for the previous one. The same people attend, including you, but you decided to leave early since you had to catch your cousin’s solo at 8.

The jeep ride to Quirino Avenue was not a quick one, and you cursed the mayor for banning provincial buses from entering the city. It was easier when the buses were all stationed in Lawton area. This new route only prolonged your journey. It also had to make you spend for more rides. A young pedicab driver told you to catch an FX in Roxas Boulevard as you bore that bewildered expression on your face. You looked so oblivious.

You thanked him, wondered if it would be possible to take a pedicab home to Cavite, but realized the driver would be dead by the time you reach Bacoor. Roxas Boulevard was wide, busy with cars shooting like arrows from different directions. Lucky enough, there was a group of gangsters who were also about to cross the street. You trailed behind them, walking briskly to the other side of the road. You stood by a lamp post, and waited for an FX, silently praying that one would stop in front of you soon, and that the other people lined up, waiting would let you have the ride. But minutes passed by and so do FXs. Most of them were full to begin with, while some stop only to be filled by the people lined up beside you. Your watch says 7:30. You sighed and decided to take a taxi.

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One stopped in front of you just as the stoplight turned orange. Nobody seemed interested in taking it, so you opened the door.

“How much to SM Bacoor?”

“Tri-handred” He said.

Reaching in your pocket and fishing out three 50-peso bills, you asked, “Baclaran?”

“Pip-ti.”

Being kuripot as you were, you refused, thanked him and closed the door just in time for the taxi to drive away. The light turned green. Minutes later, another taxi pulled over.

“Baclaran, boss?” You asked.

“Seventy-five.”

You slammed the door, with more force this time. It is only then you realized you should have had agreed to the first taxi driver’s cost. You laughed, remembering an episode in Spongebob when the buses to Bikini Bottom never seemed to stop in his favor. You only watch the show because it was your cousin’s favorite. You’re still waiting.

Someone tapped you on the shoulder and you were startled, but not scared. That someone coughed, then spat on the floor. You took it as a sign that it was safe to turn around. The man was wearing a once white polo. He was hefty, his wide limbs grimy, and his hair unkempt. He also reeked of something you’d rather not think about. Despite this, he didn’t look menacing, and you realize that he was a beggar. You reached your pocket for spare change and he stopped you.

“I don’t need your cash,” he got hold of cigarette. “Got a lighter?”

“I don’t smoke,” you reply indifferently. You continued watching the vehicles race and signal for a taxi. The old man clucks his tongue.

“I thought all teenagers have vices. Let’s see, you drink, huh?”

“No,”

“Any parent would dream of having a son like you.”

“Yeah, right.” you said, more to yourself than to him. You suddenly found yourself blaming your dad for not enrolling you to driving school. You wouldn’t be standing there looking like an idiot if you owned a car.

“Heading off to Cavite?”

You gave him an uncomfortable smile. Yes.

“I’m off to Naic. You?”
“Bacoor,” you replied with a sigh.

You had already guessed that it was going to be a long night. The middle-aged man who introduced himself as Romeo went on a rampant story-telling session about well, you didn’t really get the gist of it. But even if it was total nonsense that came out from his mouth, he was there to keep you company for the time being. He went on talking like that for a good twenty minutes and you signaled for another taxi but are frustrated to see that the plate number contained green-colored characters on a white background.

***

It was 8.30p.m. You groaned. The recital is already starting. Romeo told you he has to go home because his son would be looking for him. You say goodbye and watch him walk to taxi. A taxi!

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“You own a taxi and you didn’t tell me?” you said, exasperated. “Haven’t you seen me trying to get a ride?”

“You turned down every taxi ride you could catch. How should I know you wanted to take one now?”

Romeo’s taxi reeks of tuyo. That was the reason why he did not want any passengers. Despite the traffic, he drove you to Baclaran in fifteen minutes. You paid him P100. You think he deserved it and you only needed P25 pesos to make it to SM Bacoor anyway. But he pushed the money back to your hand.

“It’s on me.” he said, smiling. You smiled back and hurriedly get out of the taxi, leaving the money on the floor.

You got a bus not minding that you have to stand and be crushed between two men who smell of sweat. The ride seemed to be moving so slow, though your frequent glances at your watch tell you otherwise. You’re worried about the minutes you’re wasting until you finally reached your destination. Five minutes to nine and the participants have already been awarded and people were leaving. You saw little Jude struggling to take off his necktie and refusing the help Lola was trying to offer. You call his name and he pulls a face.

“Hey Jude,” You say, lifting your hand to a high-five as you approach him. He ignores it. “Don’t make me have to sing to you.”

“You said you’d come,” he said, not looking.

“I’m here now.”

“You missed my performance.” “I know. Sorry.” you said, hanging your head.

“You owe me big time, Kuya Jude.” He said, clearly upset.

“How ‘bout I give you surfing lessons? Free of charge.”

“I don’t know,” He hesitates. There was a hint of fear in his eyes.

“Kuya Jude is going to assure you that it’s going to be fine.” You say, giving him a hug.

“Okay,” He smiles. “But tell me first why you were late?”

Now it was your turn to grin.

“Let’s just say catching a wave can sometimes be easier than catching a bus.” Azer N. Parrocha

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