IT’S NINE in the morning and Wide-hipped Neighbor is starting the didactics on her husband, who most probably has just woken up. We heard last night that he was once again laid off a construction job. Word has it that he drove the loading truck towards the site’s barriers and into the street, filling the air with drunken laughter as he did.

And here goes Fred, two hours late for work. He’s staring at the ceiling, fingernails scratching his left palm, ears shut from the children’s squeals, from Old Maid’s attempts to shoo them away from her gate, from the repeated honking of horns at the nearby road. I lie here, staring at his profile, but he doesn’t mind. He looks at ease just lying there on the crumpled bed sheets.

But his officemates are probably freaking out.

His phone has been restless under this pillow for the past hour, but he just lets it be, the vibration seeping through the pillow and on the back of our heads. I reach for him and he just sighs.

This was how it used to be—I get up at six thirty to cook breakfast, then I go upstairs at seven to wake him up. When I do this, he sits up quickly, gets out of bed, and comes downstairs, his rubber slippers banging on the wooden steps.

But today is no different from the other days for the past three months. He has lost his promotion bid (and got demoted; thank God he didn’t lose his job completely); he has lost interest in watching NBA; he has lost his take-a-bath-twice-a-day habit, sometimes can stay in his pajamas for days. Worst of all, he doesn’t—no, refuses—to listen to what I have to say.

Limang mandurukot nadakip ng security office

You’re already later than late, Freddy, I tell him softly.

He sighs, rolls over to lie on his stomach, and buries his face on the pillow. He grunts.

Come on, I urge. You should’ve had a meeting an hour ago. You could at least show up to apologize and— Isn’t it your team’s presentation day today?

I take a deep breath and touch his arm hesitantly, afraid that he’ll push me away.

Come on, sweetheart, I urge.

He gives in and pulls himself away from the mattress. He yawns, arms stretched as far as they can go. He slips his feet on a pair of slippers—mine—but I don’t tell him that.

I walk behind him, holding his hand loosely. I watch his steps, waiting for him to realize that the slippers were furry and a size too small for him. But he just goes on, sliding the pads on the unpolished steps.

Close to the landing, I let his hand go. He misses a couple of steps, hitting the wall.

He stops. Sniffs. Frowns.

Here, I say as I guide him to the dining table. He has left all the lights on the previous night and doesn’t bother stopping in front of the switch. He pulls the nearest chair away from the table—the one without rubber ends on its legs. It makes a scraping sound on the tiled floor.

He sits down. Looks up the clock. 9:15. He grabs the bag of bread and takes a hardened pan de sal.

A sunny side up will be good with that, I suggest with a smile.

He stands up. Reaches for the mug rack. Reaches for the thermos. Fills it halfway, tears the side of a 3-in-1 coffee pack, and pours all of its contents on the water.

Freshman Walk pushes through

“You can’t drink it like that. Stir.”

He takes a teaspoon and does as I tell him. He taps it on the rim of the mug twice before setting it down.

It’s 9:26.

He tears the bread in half and dunks a part on the coffee. Takes it in his mouth, the movement of his jaw showing how difficult it was to chew the age-old bread. He repeats this eight times, heading to 9:40, with four pieces of pan de sal.

You’re already later than late, Freddy.

He sighs and I can hear the heaviness in it, even with the complaining engine of a tricycle joining all the other city noises.

Just leave it on the table, sweetheart.

He ties the bag of pan de sal closed. Takes the mug, the teaspoon, and the coffee sachet. He heads to the sink.

When he has placed everything on it, it’s 9:49. I’m about to clear my throat, but I see his hands gripping the sides of the sink. His head is bowed. A sigh.

I reach for him, a hand gently rubbing on his back. I move closer, wrapping my arms around his waist. I rest the side of my face on his back.

A sigh. Another tricycle passes by. The Old Maid next door has had enough. The children squeal as if the reprimand is just a game, pairs of alfombra rhythmically hitting the asphalt. Wide-hipped Neighbor’s drunkard of a husband yells. Then follows whiny tears. A man screams “Taho!” and gates squeak in rust

The honking of horns is filling up our little piece of sky. Drivers are shouting “Move it” from a distance.

The solace of its challenges

But Fred doesn’t listen. There are just soft, abrupt quakes against my cheek. He holds on tighter to the sides of the sink.

You’re already later than late, Freddy, I say. As if he’s going to hear me. Rose-An Jessica M. Dioquino


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