I WANTED someone to tell me that this wasn’t really happening.

I felt a brief sting in my stomach. I started to cramp. It’s becoming impatient. I can’t call it “he” or “she” yet; I’m not ready.

“Hoy, girl!” Maya waved her hand in front of my face and clutched at my arm. “Let’s go sit down first. I’m all sweaty from that jeepney ride. If only I had saved enough for that second-hand motorcycle Nestor was selling.”

I couldn’t focus on what she was saying. My eyes roamed around the room before I fixed them on the dull-looking wall. “Look at my face. It’s terrible,” she exasperatedly said, fanning herself with a frayed hand towel.

My voice was shaking. “I’m sorry for dragging you here. I didn’t want to go alone.”

“Uy, don’t say sorry. I promised Tita G that I’ll always look out for you.” We made our way towards the wooden bench near the reception desk. I sat beside her as she reapplied her lipstick.

At least the place was tidier than the last time I was here. Surprisingly, the lights were working. But still, ambulance sirens angrily blared and the room was teeming with panic-stricken faces.

“I never liked this place,” I said, breaking the silence. Of all of Olongapo, perhaps I hate this place as much as I hate the bar-plagued Barrio Barretto.

“Ha? Why is that?” Maya asked, putting down her cell phone. I didn’t even notice that she had finished retouching as I drowned in my doleful thoughts.

“The last time I was here, I cried the whole time. And the people here, they’re just…” I started to stammer. My knees shook. “They still have that pained look: walking around in circles, waiting for the doctor to say everything’s going to be fine.” I tried to catch my breath. “Nothing’s ever fine when you’re in a hospital. It just means you’re about to lose someone you love or you’re going to visit a sick person or, or…”

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“Mars, calm down.” She gave me a pat on the back. “I’m really sorry about Tita G. Breast cancer, it’s just awful. She was a strong woman and maybe, it really was her time.”

I remembered nights when Maya and Nanay swapped stories about work. It almost always revolved around their clients: a bad-mouthed, balding ex-policeman, a tattooed eskapo, and when they were lucky, a relatively well-off lonely husband. I never joined them in this kind of kiss-and-tell. You put make-up on, you wait for someone, you lie in a dusty bed, you get paid, then you do it again the next night. I mean, this is what we do. Do we really have to bring it home, too?

I started to feel ashamed. I mistook rebellion for freedom, and so I recklessly took the path Nanay never wanted for me. I loved her so much I wanted to become exactly like her — long, flowing hair and a painted face in a medley of vibrant clothes. This was before, of course, I had the benefit of insight.

“I wonder how it would be like if I became a nurse like she wanted,” I thought. Instead of the dresses that desperately begged for attention, there will only be the white ensemble and a calming voice that says, “You’ll be fine. We’ll take care of you.” My disdainful image of forced inebriation is replaced with the fine Nightingale who helps people like my mother.

Most nights she came home drunk. She told me her job required it. I always wanted to know what her job was, and why she slept through the day and stayed up all night unlike other parents. She would sigh in impatience and tell me her usual response, “The oldest profession, might as well grow old with it.”

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Everyone seemed to know my mother. “Gina the Lover,” “The Acrobat,” they called her. I thought it was a compliment. I marveled at her nicknames, and I badly wanted that kind of admiration.

If only I knew back then what they meant.

The first few times I was nervous. After a month, I got comfortable. After a while – a long, numbing while – I grew sick of it.

“You know how far the apple can go,” I said. I choked back tears and forced a smile. “I should have known better. I should have never dropped out in the first place.”

“Look,” Maya said, holding my hand. “You got out.” Her phone started ringing again but she ignored it. “Sure we won’t be working together anymore, but at least you’ll never feel bad about yourself again.” With that last part I wasn’t sure.

“Cheer up, okay?” she finally said. “It’s not good for the baby.”

I felt like choking on my own words. “I don’t think I can handle this kind of responsibility,” I said.

“Mars, enough.” Her phone started to ring again, and this time she took it out of her bag and turned it off. “I’m here. I’ll listen.”

The receptionist called my name. I looked at her: busy, impersonal, writing something at a chart.

Maya nudged me. “Now, let’s go. We came here to know if it’s a boy or a girl and not to enact a scene from your soap opera life.” She began to laugh and I laughed too, this time a genuine kind of laughter.

On to the next one, I thought.

For a moment, I started to think about new beginnings, ones filled with passionate optimism. But then I realized: only the situation is new. Wherever you are, you are still the same person as before. There is nothing new about that, unfortunately.

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A few months from now, I’ll cradle a fragile thing in my arms and have a new purpose, and hopefully a new job. But to the world, I am still the gin-soaked girl who ended up exactly like her mother.

I put my hands behind my back as another nurse — this one with a friendly, accommodating demeanor — led us to a room. I took a step and took in what I think was my deepest breath, inhaling the panic-filled air and letting it out after.

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