Island of Fire – Kabanata 31

April 5, 2017 By In Island of Fire Comments Off on Island of Fire – Kabanata 31

Kabanata 31
No

Gaya ng nagdaang araw, kung wala ako sa meeting ng tungkol sa kung anu-anong proyekto, nasa lamesa ako at tinitingnan ang mga kailangang gawing disenyo.

I can’t stop looking at some furniture that would suit the laid-back design I want.

“Ano ‘yan, Miss Zari? Interiors?” si Glen na biglang tumingin sa ginagawa ko sa aking Macbook.

Mabilisan kong naminimize ang browser para hindi niya makita ang mga tinitingnan ko roon. Uminit ang pisngi ko.

“Ay, sorry po,” aniya nang napansin ang pagkakailang ko.
I relaxed and smiled at him for assurance. “Nahihiya lang ako.”
Nagkamot sa ulo si Glen at umaktong mas nahihiya pa sa akin. “Ba’t ka mahihiya, Ma’am? Ganda ng interiors na iyon? Para sa rest house n’yo?”
Ngumiti ako. “Tinitingnan ko lang naman. Hindi ko bibilhin. Wala akong pera, e.”

Parang gulat na gulat si Glen sa sinabi ko sa kanya. Hindi ata makapaniwala sa huling rason ko.

“Naku! May mga alternative naman niyan, Ma’am. Iyong mas mura! Iyon nga lang, kung beach house, tulad ng naiisip ko, kailangang de kalidad talaga dahil dobleng bilis nasisira ang mga materyales kapag malapit sa tubig dagat.”
“I’m just searching for furniture, really, Glen. It’s a hobby of mine.”

He continued telling me about the good materials to be used for it.

Mabuti na lang at medyo gumaan din ang loob ko habang nakikinig sa kanya. Nakikisali rin ang aming teammates. Kabado pa naman ako ngayon dahil sasabak na naman ako sa isang presentation.

The New Clubhouse for the high end subdivision will be presented now. At kahit na alam kong malaki ang posibilidad na hindi ito maaprubahan dahil tingin ko’y mas magandang tumutok sa dating design, papanindigan ko parin ang ideya.

Lalo na dahil pinaghirapan ito ng team ko. Dahil abala ako sa presentation, sila na ang naghanda at nagpolish ng disenyo namin.

“I know that they will most likely opt for the previous design…” sabi ko sa kanilang tatlo na ngayon ay pinapalibutan na ang aking lamesa at parehong seryoso at nininerbyus.

I beamed at them. Parang tuwing ngumingiti ako ay nawawala ang nerbyos nila at gumagalaw sila sa pagkakatayo, kung hindi ay ngumingiti pabalik.

“This project should be finished years ago. Alam kong kasalanan ni Daddy kung bakit hindi ito nagawa. Alam kong alam n’yo kung bakit. This is why I think I cannot blame the RHI if they will choose the previous design for this one isn’t a priority anymore. If there is profit it will be less. Hahabulin nila kung saan sila mas makakabawi at iyon ang mga bagong proyekto,” paliwanag ko sa kanila.

Glen sighed. I know that they all worked hard for this. Gustuhin ko mang isulong talaga ang disenyong ito dahil magaling ang pagkakagawa pero gusto ko rin na malaman nilang malaki ang posibilidad na mas pipiliin ng board ang mas “safe” na choice.

Ang nasa conference hall pagkatapos ng aming lunch ay iyong mga board members parin at iilang Architects at Engineers.

Si Engineer Anne Ruiz ang unang dumating with another board member. Kinuha niya agad ang hardcopy ng disenyo sa lamesa at pinag-aralan.

Nakatitig ako sa kanya. Wearing a deep v-neck dress with a choker, she looked stunning and serious. Nag-angat siya ng tingin sa akin dahilan kung bakit nag-iwas agad ako. I suddenly remember how I hated her so much years ago.

Dumating si Agatha kasama ang ibang board member at nakita ko kung paano nagkatinginan ang dalawa. Engineer Anne Ruiz shifted and then continued reading my hardcopy. Tumikhim naman si Agatha at naglahad ng upuan sa mga kasamang mas matatandang board member.

“I am so glad you came, Tito! I thought you have a meeting!” si Agatha.

Engineer Anne Ruiz looked at Agatha’s way again. Then I saw her rolling her eyes.

Umiling ako at muling bumaling sa aking presentation. Galit ata sa kapwa.

Hindi na nagtagal ay dumating na halos ang lahat. Radleigh is with Ethan and Engineer Marco Alfeche.

Sinimulan ko na agad ang aking presentation. I presented the new design for the amenities. The hall, the court, the playground, and the all new Clubhouse with three large pools, one is an infinity pool. The original design has only one pool and is located in a lowerground. Itong bago ay pinili kong ilagay sa higher ground, which will need a lot of soil pile.

“Homeowners can use the Clubhouse as venue for birthdays, weddings, or whatever occassion they want,” sabi ko.

Tumango-tango ang mga board members sa sinabi ko. I saw Glen’s pleased face. I smiled at him.

“I think that is all. I acknowledge my team who made all these possible. Actually, they designed these all. Including the clubhouse. Originally it was designed by the Architects and Engineers of Vista Grande, pero dinagdagan lang ng team ko para maging mas makabago!”

Everyone clapped. Pumalakpak ako at inilahad ang tatlong sobrang pula na ang mukha ngayon. I can’t help but give them the stage since it’s true. Ako man ang nagpresinta, sa kanila parin iyong effort na ito. Without them, I won’t have this.

Nagtaas ng kamay si Engineer Anne Ruiz. Napawi ang ngiti ko at tumango na lamang.

Nakita kong nagtaas ng kilay si Radleigh sa akin. His intense dark eyes bore into me like he’s weighing my reaction. Tumuwid ako sa pagkakatayo. Baka naman akala niya papatulan ko itong most hated Engineer ko noon? Nope, Rad. Maybe next time. Not here. If she’s a bitch, that is.

“I admire the design. Kudos to your team…”

Hmm. Maayos naman ang sinabi.

“However, this cost a lot. The village is high end. I know it deserves high end, too. But this is too high end for a seven year old estate. Though, yes, we will profit, but this won’t be our primary concern now.”

Binalingan ko si Agatha na ngayon ay tahimik lang at nakatingin sa aking mga papel. I thought she’s going to comment. Pareho pa naman sila ng ideya nitong si Engineer Anne Ruiz. Mas magaling lang itong mag-explain ng rason sa kanya.

“Our primary concern is to maintain our credibility and that is to build the expected amenities of the village. And it ends on that. Having this kind of Clubhouse is too much. They will forgive the delay if the Clubhouse is built this way. But then, surely, they will forgive it still if the Clubhouse is also built the way they expected it to be.”

Nagtaas ng kamay si Engineer Alfeche. Radleigh’s eyes went to him. He looked a bit annoyed.

I can’t help but smile. Mas relax ako ngayon. Oh, what, Relani Riego does to my senses is crazy.

“People will love the new Clubhouse! Sobrang ganda ng pagkakadisenyo na kapag bibili ulit sila ng bahay, sa Vista Grande ulit sila kukuha!”

Ethan clapped and laughed at that. Hindi ko mapigilang humalakhak din. Ganoon din ang ibang board members.

The old man Agatha called Tito raised his hand. Walang bahid na ngiti sa labi ng matanda. Tanging kaseryosohan lamang.

“The design is good. However, we need to be realistic here. If they have an expected outcome, why don’t we stick to that? That way, we will please them, we will be credible, and we will not loss too much!”

May mga umo-o rin sa matanda. Iyon din ang naiisip ko. But if I am a board member, I’ll vote for the new design, though. Kaso lang, ngayon, iniisip ko ang lahat. Ang mawawalang pera kung hindi nga kumita, at ang madugong trabaho na mas makakapag antala pa sa bagong proyekto ng Vista Grande.

“We shouldn’t be too sensitve about this,” biglang nagsalita si Agatha. “This is not RHI’s fault. This is the previous management’s fault. So we should not have anything to lose at all!”

Rad shifted on his chair. He cleared his throat.

“There’s no point in blaming anyone now. So I guess everyone has chosen now? Shall I see the hands of those in favor of Miss Zariyah Leviste’s all new Clubhouse, please?”

He pursed his lips. Ang traydor na si Ethan ay hindi pa nagpataas ng kamay. He made a face at me!

Damn him!

Radleigh raised his hand together with Engineer Alfeche and most of the Engineers from RHI who are members of the board. Kumunot ang noo ni Radleigh at agad na binaba ang kanyang kamay.

“Those in favor of the previous and original design of the Clubhouse?”

Hindi na kailangang tingnan ni Radleigh kung gaano karami ang bumoto sa dating disenyo. Even Ethan smirked at me when he voted for it. I smiled at him sarcastically. Traydor!

“It is all clear that we’re pursuing the original design.”

Pumalakpak si Agatha sa desisyon ni Radleigh. Kita kong sumulyap si Engineer Anne Ruiz sa kanya bago ito pumormal.

“However, I cannot deny the efficiency of Miss Leviste and her team. Pu-pwede nating magamit ang disenyo sa isang bagong proyektong inaayos ko pa sa ngayon.”

My eyes widened. Ganoon din ang sina Glen. I saw the genuine happiness on their faces!

“I cannot disclose it for now since I am still on the planning stage but I assure you, I’ll give more updates when I can. For now, adjourned.”

Parang gusto kong magtatalon para sa team ko. I feel so happy for them that I failed to accuse Ethan of treachery. Umalis na lang siya roon nang ‘di ko pinapansin.

Radleigh with the other RHI Engineers stayed in the hall habang nagliligpit kami ng gamit. Tinulungan ko sila.

“Engineer Riego, the Business team is here…” narinig kong sinabi ng sekretaryang babae ni Radleigh.

Nag-angat ako ng tingin sa kanya. He turned to me for a while before finally leaving the hall.

Oo nga pala! Ngayon iyong photoshoot at interview niya!

Pagkaalis namin sa hall ay nakita ko agad kung ano ang pasimpleng dinudumog ng mga empleyado ng RHI. Pinapalibutan ang opisina ni Radleigh ng kung hindi bading, ay tila modelong mga babae.

Tall, morena, smexy women were there. Iniisip ko noong una kung ang mga modelo ba ang may shoot o si Radleigh.

When I saw the most stunning girl get a large camera, I realized that she’s probably one of the photographers.

Nakaawang ang pintuan ng opisina ni Radleigh at panigurado kong naroon siya sa loob kasama ang iba pang pwedeng maging team ng magazine na ito.

A tall, fair, and classy woman went out of Rad’s office. She’s wearing a more corporate attire than the others.

“Si Mariz Ong ‘yan, ‘di ba? Siya ang gagawa ng article?” I heard a man’s voice from behind.

Hindi ko namalayang natitigilan na rin pala ako para mamangha sa komosyong naroon. Dumiretso ako sa aking lamesa para ilapag ang dalang laptop ngunit nanatili ang mga mata ko sa harap.

Engineer Marco Alfeche cooly talked to the Photographer who is told to go in by some of the gays of their team. Ayaw ata nito. Hindi ko alam.

“Is the meeting done?” A cold formal voice was heard somewhere from the hallway.

Bumaling agad ako roon at nakitang naroon si Tita Relani kasama ang kanyang sekretarya. Nagtama ang tingin namin. At gusto kong maniwalang hindi guni-guni ang nakita kong banayad na titig niya sa akin pero nang muli niya akong tingnan ay bumalik iyon sa dating lamig.

“Yes, Ma’am. Katatapos lang po,” si Glen na kadarating lang galing sa hall ang sumagot.
“What’s this commotion all about?” Tita Relani asked.

Bago pa siya nasagot ng kung sino ay tumili na ang mga bading at nagsilapitan sa kanya.

“Madame!” bati nila. “Naku! Good afternoon, po!”
“Good afternoon. What is this all about, Neil?” Tita Relani asked.

Ngayon ay iginiya na siya patungo malapit sa pintuan ng opisina ni Radleigh at siguro’y pumasok na sa loob. Nakita kong namataan ni Engineer Alfeche ang paninitig ko sa kumosyon dahilan kung bakit lumapit siya sa aking lamesa.

Bago ko pa siya masalubong ng tanong ay nabawi na ang atensyon ko sa biglaang pagsinghapan at pagsipol ng ilang mga lalaki dahil sa dumating.

“Why are you damn embarassed, Chyna! This is your big break!” the familiar tone made my stomach as cold as ice.

Ang sinipulan ng mga lalaking Engineer ay ang mga kadarating lang na mga sosyalerang ex friends ko noon. Glaiza and Charm with their Hermes’ handbags came and comforted the photographer who’s name is probably Chyna.

Lumabas si Agatha galing sa opisina ni Radleigh. Their crowd turned silent. Annoyed looks were given to Agatha until she stormed out of the whole office.

“Hello, Miss Leviste!” Engineer Alfeche playfully told me.

Pagkasabi niya noon ay agad akong nag arrange ng mga gamit sa aking lamesa. Naupo ako para hindi masyadong makapag simula ng atensyon. My ex friends didn’t notice me from where I am. Of course, they wouldn’t think they know someone from one of the cubicles. I know that mindset so much.

“Engineer Alfeche!” bago pa makahirit si Engineer Alfeche ay tinawag muli siya sa loob ng opisina ni Radleigh. Si Tita Relani raw ang tumawag.

Umalis iya at tahimik akong nagpatuloy sa ginagawa.

“Ganda ng mga ex ni Engineer Riego, Miss, no?” si Glen biglang humilig sa aking lamesa.
“Si Agatha?” I said, confused.
“Hindi. Ex niya ‘yang si Mariz Ong, ‘di ba, Ma’am? Iyong sports news anchor?”
“I don’t know. I don’t watch TV.”
“Gymnast daw ‘yan, Miss!” aniya na tila ba may ibang pinapahiwatig doon.

Parang may nagrewire sa utak ko sa sinabi ni Glen. He smirked at me like I should know what that means…

Gymnast. Ibig sabihin.

What the hell am I thinking? Gusto ko agad maligo ng holy water!

Unti-unting nalaglag ang panga ni Glen nang may napagtanto. I feel like my face heated with anger and fear at the same time. And he knows what I’m feeling. He knows what he told me was wrong.

“Iyang isa ba, Glen, ex niya rin?” tukoy sa babaeng inaalu ng mga ex-friends ko.
“H-Hindi ko alam, Miss, e.”

Ang nagpupuyos kong titig patungo sa Chyna na iyon ay nauwi sa lamig. Lalo na nang nakita kong bumaling ng sabay si Glaiza at Charm sa akin. Glaiza’s face looked a bit stunned. Ngunit pumungay din ang mga mata. While Charm looked at me with judgement in her eyes, dripping like acid. May binulong siya kay Chyna.

Nang nahanap ako nito ay nag-iba agad ang mood ng babae. Does she know me? It’s hatred that I saw in her eyes. I don’t even know her! How can she hate me all of a sudden?

“Oh… hayaan mo na ang mga gold digger,” Charm whispered.

Tinampal bahagya ni Glaiza ang balikat ni Charm dahilan ng pagtigil nito sa pagsasalita. Tuwid ako naupo at binuksan na lamang ang aking Macbook.

“You girls are called. Come on! Engineer Riego doesn’t have time tomorrow. Hindi ito pwedeng ipost pone!” sabi ni Neil na medyo naiirita na.
“Go, Chyna! Don’t worry! You can do it! Face him!” sabi ni Glaiza.

Pumasok si Mariz Ong sa opisina ni Radleigh. Ganoon din iyong si Chyna.

“Don’t they have a studio? Bakit ba dito dapat ang shoot?” bulong-bulong ko.

Nakita kong lumabas si Tita Relani galing sa opisina. Natatawa siya habang kausap ang dalawa pang bading. Her secretary is behind her.

“Ideal for shoots din ang opisina ni Engineer Riego, ‘di ba, Miss? He’s good at spaces and designs. Have you seen his works?”

Natuyo ang lalamunan ko. Hindi pa! As usual. I don’t know much about him.

Hindi ko na iyon dinugtungan dahil nakita kong naglalakad na patungo si Charm at Glaiza sa akin. Glaiza looked sympathetic while Charm is in a bitch mode.

“Hi, Zari. I didn’t know you’re working for RHI…” panimula ni Glaiza sa akin.

Alam kong pekeng kaibigan ang turing ko sa kanila. But we didn’t have a huge fight when I broke up with them so I can’t just lash out. Isa pa, hindi ako ganoong tao.

“Yeah. We’re under RHI now,” sabi ko.

Charm looked at my table with disgust before locking our gazes. She smirked.

“Kawawa ka naman? You’re in a cubicle?” she said.
“This is how they all work. Even the heads. Besides, it’s comfortable and easy working this-”
“Because you have no choice, anyway,” si Charm na siniko ngayon ni Glaiza.
“I’m sorry, Zari. Hindi ko alam. Na bankrupt ba ang kompanya ninyo? How is that possible when your company was the-”
“You’ve forgotten how her parents stopped her trust funds because they were bankrupt Glaiza? Kaya nga na charge siyang magnanakaw, e.”

Narinig kong tumikhim si Glen sa gilid ko. Alam kong nakikinig ang team ko.

“I didn’t steal anything.”

I tried to act cooly even when I’m already starting to get pissed.

“Please, Charm. It’s been a long time. It’s useless to explain something that’s happened in the past.”
Umangat ang gilid ng labi ni Charm. “Oh well, I guess you’re right. Maraming nagbago. Like you being poor now.”

Heh. I find that ridiculous. Should I be mad about it? Ridiculous!

“It’s good that the Riegos allowed you to work here after what you’ve done,” si Glaiza.

Ngayon ay nag-angat muli ako ng tingin sa kanya. She seems casual. Hindi ko alam.

“Yeah,” sabi ko.
“Are you not a bit shaken that these re the people you ruined before, now you’re working for them? Don’t get me wrong, Zari, but everyone thinks your family is a user after that.”
“Oh, nothing has changed, right. She’s still a gold digger,” dagdag ni Charm.

Tumayo ako. It intimidated them a bit. Napawi agad ang ngiti sa labi ni Charm at napaatras si Glaiza.

“If you’ll please give me space to work here? It is still office hours…” sabi ko sa isang pormal na tono.

It was the perfect exit. Perpekto na sana kung hindi ko lang nakita si Daddy na kadarating lang din doon, tila nawawala, at nanliliit ang mga mata habang tinitingnan ang dami ng tao sa opisina ni Radleigh.

Nawala ang dugo sa aking mukha nang nakitang iginiya siya ng isa sa mga Engineer patungo sa aking lamesa.

Fuck!

Roman, Edgar, and Bon were tailing him. Nang nakita kong natuon ang pansin ni Tita Relani sa aking ama ay mas lalo akong gumuho.

“Geoffrey,” Tita Relani said in a formal tone stopping my Dad from his steps.

Nilagpasan ko si Charm at Glaiza para mapunta kay Daddy. He looked a bit better now. With less stress on his face. He can also walk properly but my question is… why the need to be here?

Damn it!

“Sir Leviste!” bati ng ibang kausap ni Tita Relani kanina na parte rin ng magazine team.
“Dad!” sabi ko sabay hagilap sa kanyang braso.

Sinenyasan ko sina Roman ngunit umiling sila sa akin.

“Relani, Good afternoon! Do you mind if I visit?”

Muli niyang pinasadahan ng tingin ang opisina ni Radleigh.

“I don’t know what’s going on but your office is busy!”
Tita Relani smiled a bit. “Yes. A magazine is interviewing Radleigh. Of course I don’t mind if you visit.”

Bumaling si Tita Relani sa akin, medyo mapagtanong ang mukha.

“Daddy, dapat sa bahay ka lang,” bulong ko.
“Hija, kagagaling ko lang ng ospital. It’s near here so I dropped by to see where your office might be. Where is it?”

Hinagod niya ng tingin ang tatlong pintuan sa harap na opisina ni Radleigh at ng kanyang mga kamag-anak.

“Here…” I pointed at my table.

Nakatayo parin doon ang aking ex-friends. I can’t help but realize how disastrous this is. Gosh!

“What?” halos padarag ang pagkakasabi niya. “Ah your team…”
Umiling ako. “Dad, you should go now… Roman…” tawag ko muli.

Mabilis na tumango si Roman. Parang ngayon, alam na ang ibig kong sabihin.

“Where is Radleigh, hija? Can I talk to him right now?”
“Dad, he’s busy…” sabi ko.
“We can schedule an appointment, Geoffrey. I can tell Radleigh about your visit. Sa ibang pagkakataon, pwede ka niyang isingit, sa ngayon ay mukhang hindi.”

Ni hindi ko na pinansin ang ibang nakikinig sa pinag-uusapan. All I want right now is for my Dad to be out of here.

My heart beated loudly when my Dad refused Roman’s hand. Ayaw niyang umalis!

Gusto kong maiyak at magmakaawa na umalis siya. Pwede siyang pumarito pero sana h’wag ngayon. This is a very bad time! With media, Tita Relani around… this won’t go well!

Plus… I know my Dad.

Dad let out a hearty laugh. Bahaw na ang tipid na ngiti ni Tita Relani ngayon.

“I hope that your son and my daughter can start anew. Forget what’s happened in the past. Anyway, RHI buying the Vista Grande means a possible merging, right? Isang bagay na naantala ng ilang taon.”

Kung kanina’y may lakas pa ako, ngayon nawala na ang lahat ng ito.

I cannot move. I cannot even lift my eyes to look at Tita Relani’s face. Niel and the other gay went straight for my Dad and took their cellphones out.

“Can we interview you for a minute, Mr. Leviste?” panimula nila.

Tumikhim si Tita Relani. Unti-unti, sinubukan ko siyang tingnan at kitang kita ko ang galit at disappoinment sa kanyang mga mata. It was directed at me.

Mas lalong bumilis ang takbo ng aking puso. Mas lalong bumagsak iyon.

“This merging you are talking about, it’s the merging of the Riego Holdings and the Vista Grande, right?”
“Yes! Yes!” maligayang sinabi ni Daddy.

Tita Relani walked towards me. Tumigil siya.

“I’m sorry po…” yumuko ako.
“Is that what you are planning now, Zari?” she coldly said. “You haven’t changed a bit. Your love for money, outweighing honor.”
Umiling ako. “Hindi po ganoon… Ma’am.”

The way I said the last word made me feel so low. I know that it doesn’t matter now. Kung tutuusin din naman ay nakakapit na lang talaga ang Vista Grande sa RHI at halos wala na kaming silbi.

It is the thought that a person I call as “Tita” before, like a family, is now so out of reach to me.

“Is this a possible hint for Engineer Radleigh Vesarius Riego’s wedding with Zariyah Leviste, Sir?”
Tumawa si Daddy, tuwang-tuwa sa tinutukoy. Nagkibit-balikat siya, leaving the reporters guessing.

Hindi na ako nagdalawang-isip. With all my strength, tinulak ko si Daddy paalis doon. Nilahad ko sa kanya ang labasan.

“Dad, I need to t-talk to you…” Nanginig ang boses ko.

Sinenyasan ko si Roman at Edgar na tulungan ako. Kahit na nalilito si Daddy sa gusto kong mangyaring pag-alis ay wala na siyang nagawa.

Sumunod siya sa amin sa elevator. We left the office giving Tita Relani a chance to explain how stupid my Dad’s idea were.

“Dad!” hindi ko na napigilan sa loob ng elevator.
“Zari?”

Hot tears pooled in my eyes. My frustration is to the moon. Tahimik ang tatlong bodyguard na dala niya.

“What the hell are you talking about?!” sambit ko.
“What?” he asked again.
“Bakit mo hinayaan ang mga taong naroon na isipin na may relasyon kami ni Radleigh! At sinali mo pa ang business? How-”
“Why, Zariyah? Wala ba? I know about your stay at Isla Fuego and he’s helped you through it.”

Sapo ang noo ko ay pinigilan ko ang sarili kong mas lalong sumabog ang galit.

“And what I’m talking about is true! If you two are steady, you think the Vista Grande will forever remain under his wing. He will take it, Zari. Kapag kasal na kayo kaya anong mali sa sinabi ko?”

Hindi ako makapagsalita. Nauna ako sa pagmamartsa palabas ng elevator. Sumunod naman si Daddy sa akin.

“It is only right, Zari. As your partner, it is expected he’d do that to the business-”
“I don’t want that, okay!?”

Tumigil ako at hinarap si Daddy. Ngayon ay nasa lobby na kami ng building.

Daddy looked so disappointed at my sudden deviance.

“Ako ang bubuhay sa kompanya natin! Hindi ang ibang tao-”
Tumawa si Daddy. “It’s under RHI now. There’s no stopping it, obviously. Come on, anak, why do you always, always say no to this when it is so obvious.”

Hinagilap ni Daddy ang kamay ko. Akala niya’y makukumbinsi ako ng kanyang pag-alu pero mas lalo lang napalayo ang damdamin ko roon!

“Have you seen your trust fund now, Zari? Wait till you see all the checks entered and you’ll realize how important it is to make that deal with the Riegos! Something you should’ve done a long time ago!”

Bumuhos ang luha ko sa sakit.

Halu-halo.

For hearing my Dad this desperate. For hearing his opinion about this. For having that mindset. And for, once again, realizing how I cannot just condemn him because months ago, when I was in the same desperate time, I chose the same brand of option!

Ilang beses ko dapat mapagtanto na hindi na nga kami gaya ng dati? Na ang mga mamahaling damit ko ngayon, tulad ng bahay na gusto kong itayo – dayag lamang. A facade that would make me look and feel okay when the truth is, were not.

That maybe, if I want to stop all the prejudice about us… about me… I should do something about it.

And maybe, I am not really trying enough to escape that. Because maybe, deep inside, I’m hoping I get to catch a big fish and live that same life again?

Paano ko malalaman na hindi nagsisinungaling ang damdamin ko?

Paano ko malalaman na hindi ko hinahayaan ang lahat ng ito para sa pansariling kapakanan?

Bumuhos ang luha ko ng walang tigil. Kahit anong palis ko ay hindi maubos-ubos.

“Hija, I know this is hard for you. It’s my fault, alright?”

Dahan-dahan akong niyakap ni Daddy. Nanghihina ako.

All I want now is for him to rest. And for me to just sleep and forget about everything… even for a while. Dahil ang totoo, hindi ko matatakasan ito. Wala akong magagawa.

“Hinayaan ko ang kompanya. Nasanay kang marangya ang buhay natin kaya nahihirapan ka na ngayon.”

This is not even about that.

“Dad, umuwi na kayo at magpahinga ka na…” nanghihina kong sinabi.

Nag-aagaw na ang kahel at dilim sa labas. Nanghihina kong sinenyasan sina Roman na ihanda na ang kanyang sasakyan.

They aren’t working for us. They are working for Tito Eugene. Kung hindi kami tinulungan ni Ethan, mas dobleng baba pa ang aabutin namin.

Ayaw umalis ni Daddy kaya hinatid ko siya sa labasan. My tears dried when the wind from city blew.

Tiningnan ko ang pagpasok ni Daddy roon sa sasakyan. Hindi pa agad ito umandar dahil ayaw pang isarado ni Daddy ang pintuan.

“Zari, do good with your work okay?” he smiled. “I know you can do it!”

I smiled weakly. Napawi rin agad ito.

“Sige na, Dad.”

Roman closed the door. Seconds later, humalo na ang aming SUV sa maraming sasakyan.

For a while, I feel like I want to just stay there and stop the world. Wala na akong mukhang ihaharap.

Nagdesisyon ako na umuwi na lang dahil hindi ko kayang bumalik sa opisina pagkatapos ng eskandalong iyon. Pumihit ako para makabalik sa lobby ngunit nakita ko si Rad, in his properly ironed tux, out from the building.

Sa likod niya ay nakita kong kakababa lang din ng mga tauhan sa itaas. I even saw Tita Relani looking at us even behind the thick glass walls of the lobby.

“Zari.”
Ngumiti ako sa kanya at tinuro na ang loob. “Uuwi na ako.”

Lalagpasan ko na sana siya. Ayaw kong dagdagan pa ang eskandalo pero kay dali niyang nahila ako pabalik sa kanyang harap.

“Leave your car here. I’m going to drive you home.”

Isang senyas ang ginawa niya sa likod ko. Umiling ako.

“It’s fine, Rad. I can’t just leave my car here…” sabi ko na medyo wala sa sarili.

Nang nagtama ang paningin namin ay doon ko napagtanto kung gaano niya ibinuhos ang buong atensyon sa akin. Like he’s weighing all my actions and expressions. Like instead of hearing my words, he wants to listen to my eyes.

Hinawakan niya ang magkabilang siko ko para mapigilan ako sa pag-alis.

“Please, Zari,” he pleaded. “The shoot is done. Let’s go…”

Ilang sandali ko siyang tinitigan. His hooded eyes looked at me like I’m some fragile procelain.

He slowly pushed me back. Isang hagis galing sa likod at nakuha niya agad ang isang susi. A door opened from behind. By instinct, nalingunan ko ang isang itim na sportscar. Isang lalaki ang nag-aabang sa pagpasok ko sa shotgun.

“No…” I said almost like a whisper.

Sa hindi malamang dahilan, naalu ako ng isipang maaaring iyong Honda ang dala niya. When I saw how extravagant his car is, nanlamig ako.

The feeling of a lost chance, an impossible dream, and a final decision filled my system like a bullet train.

This isn’t for me.

“I-I’m leaving…” sabi ko, puno ng takot sa boses.
“Leave with me, baby. Let’s go home…” punong puno ng pagsusumamo ang kanyang boses.

Mabilis ang iling ko sa takot, pangamba, at lahat lahat.

Radleigh is too shiny for me. He isn’t what I need. I am not what he should have, too.

Mahigpit ang hawak niya sa akin ngunit mas pinilit ko ang kumawala. The look on his face made my heart hurt so much. The look on his face when he finally realized that I am so very desperate to leave. That I cannot afford to stay with him in that moment, hurt. Ang pagkabigo sa kanyang mga mata ay napakasakit.

Nang hinayaan niya akong makawala sa kamay niya, kitang kita ko ang sobra sobrang pagsisisi sa kanyang mga mata. And all I can do is walk back to the basement and convince myself that… maybe this is not for me.

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