Finally, an unpopular — and therefore, empty — cafe.
As I slurp my iced latte, I wonder how many Filipino words are not translatable into English. For instance, the word tulala. To be tulala, in the usual context, is to stare blankly ahead, mind wandering aimlessly in a different time and place, real or fictional. Sometimes, as in my case, it is simply thinking quietly. It annoys me that I cannot think of an English world that perfectly encapsulates this.
Just then, the barista (that’s what you call a person working in a cafe, right?) arrives with my bacon and eggs. He introduces himself and told me to look for him if I need anything. I heard him but I do not catch his name. Whatever. I never ask for anything extra, anyway.
I pick on my bacon and swirled the undone yolk of my sunny-side up with my spoon, wondering this time why people often ask me why I am tulala. I mean, why do they care? What’s so wrong about thinking? Apparently, for some people, thinking in virtual solitude is a crime.
My yolk-swirling is interrupted by the same guy, this time asking if the food is okay. I gave him half a smile and flashed him a thumbs-up. Honestly though, cafe food anywhere tastes the same to me. Whatever. Anyway, I am just here because I need a deserted place and some time to be tulala.
Being tulala keeps me sane, just as writing a ramble does.
Hi! It’s a tad weird, isn’t it, that I’m writing you this rambling letter when we haven’t seen each other for almost five years and haven’t talked for almost seven years. Even weirder, I just realized that in a way, I miss you.
Today had been a rough day for me. Two of my kids (two of my students, I mean) got into a quite messy relationship squabble and dealing with each, sobbing but unapologetic, drained me so much. Trying to reason with 16-year-olds that some of the things they do now may become their future regrets is a pointless case. They are so in love with love just like almost every teenager out there. Just like I was. Just like you were (probably).
As I was scrolling down my feed earlier this night, trying to distract myself from the issue, I saw you instead. The heartbreak of losing a friend and the gnawing feeling that I did something stupid came back. Then I realized, you are one of my regrets.
Do you remember how I would sneak in your room just so I can talk with you? Do you remember when you calmly tried to teach a panicking me how to twirl the baton only a few days before the demo? Do you remember when you used to teach me physics because I was not ashamed to admit to you that I understood zilch in class? Do you remember that I had my first cup of coffee with you and I pretended that I like it strong because I was too lazy to go back and get sugar and cream?
I look back on these memories with a bittersweet smile. If that thing (you know what I mean) did not happen, who do you think we are today? Maybe we could still be the same as we were when we were fourteen — the inseparable twinsies. Or maybe, not inseparable but still good friends, always catching up on each other with a cup of coffee. I truly regret the friends we could have been.
Maybe someday, when we are women enough to actually face each other, we can meet up for coffee. I miss you, L. I really do. And yes, I have forgiven you.
If we were having coffee,
I would tell you I had loved you.
I would tell you how much I loved
your deep purring voice,
the scent and warmth of your skin,
the softness of your embrace,
the letters you have given me.
But then, I had loved you
for you are no longer that sixteen-year-old boy
and I am no longer that fifteen-year-old girl.
Five years have passed, can you believe it?
We are not the same anymore.
We do not have the same love anymore.
If we were having coffee,
I would tell you I had loved you.
But then, you do not drink coffee.
I should have bought an ice cream. It occurred to me just now that coffee is not a good idea with this weather. Or at least, I should have bought iced coffee. Hot coffee and April just do not go together. I wish April is over soon.
In this part of the world, April is literally the cruellest month. I hate April.
But I used to love April though, it being the good half of summer vacation. April was basically a month-long feast of childhood. It was all about long hours of play uninterrupted by homework — playing outdoor games in pajamas because Mommy did not want us to scrape our knees, swimming in the pink inflatable pool with my siblings and my brother’s plastic toy animals, playing water tag while Daddy washes the car, soaking up the rare April showers in a pink one-piece bathing suit, dance-offs against my sister to Britney Spears’ and Spice Girls’ hits, and Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and Animax. April was when Mommy was almost always in a good mood, when she was not hovering over us about schoolwork and when we spent many afternoons turning the kitchen into a sweet-smelling chaos with her baking experiments. And best of all, April is my birth month. Blowing candles is the best way to end the month, don’t you think?
Now, April sucks. With the extreme heat you can no longer expect kids to play outside. That would be self-inflicted punishment. Maybe this is why Earth Day is on April — it is when we can actually feel that climate change is real. Plus, what summer vacation? The academic calendar shift has ruined that. April has become the dreaded cramming month instead of being graduation month. And worst of all, April is my birth month. I just can’t celebrate when April is being too depressing.
I am twenty-one today. The number is so odd. I feel ridiculous in my body — I look sixteen but feel twenty-six. I hope I were eleven again, though. At least then I would have had a cake and candles to blow. Now it’s just me and this cup of coffee.
It is interesting how even in a hot, humid day like this, coffee can still provide comforting warmth.
My legs do not sweat in jeans, my face does not break out, the streets are not dusty. And best of all, the heavy downpour drowns the city’s noises that I have learned to get used to but never liked.
On Monday morning earlier this week, the unmistakable sound of a rainstorm woke me up thirty minutes earlier than my set alarm. As soon as I opened my reluctant eyes, I noticed how the rain had muted the whirring electric fans, the singing voices from the shower, and the occasional vehicles avoiding rush hour traffic. I found it ironic that the splashing raindrops could actually produce such silence. It felt peaceful and so unlike the city. It almost felt like home.
If it were not for my grumbling stomach, I would have stayed in bed, curled up for another hour or so. Grudgingly, I sat up and reached for the food basket which I keep conveniently under the bed. As I nibbled on my last piece of wheat bread, I was hit by the nostalgia of rainy days past.
Back home, rainy mornings are always champorado days. We, kids, would sleep in while a pot of champorado is being cooked in the kitchen. We would then be coaxed out of bed by the smell of tuyo or dried fish (the word literally means “dry”) frying in the pan. We would march to the kitchen table, clad in Mommy’s old camisa de chinos (which my sister nicknamed “farmer’s clothes”) and brightly-colored knee-high socks (which we were not allowed to wear in school). Every now and then we would ask, “Is it done?” as we munched on tuyo.
Some city people do not like tuyo, particularly its fishy smell (But what do they expect? It is a fish!), but it is almost a staple in our diet and we especially love it paired with our champorado. Believe me when I say, champorado plus tuyo is a match made in storm heaven. Yum!
Maybe the best way to describe champorado is to call it “chocolate rice porridge.” Like lugaw or rice porridge, it is made of kaning malagkit (literally, “sticky rice”) but unlike lugaw, it is cooked, not in mere water with ginger, but in thick, chocolate syrup from tsokolate. Our tsokolate is a little different from the tablea of Batangas though both are used for making hot chocolate. Ours look like small chocolate orbs and they can be eaten like candies. But like the hot chocolate from tablea, our tsokolate produces a viscous liquid so our champorado is not soupy but syrupy.
But the texture is not the best feature of my Lola’s champorado. There is the magic ingredient — gata or coconut milk (expect Bicolanos to add gata to every dish imaginable). So there is no need to add evaporated milk to Lola’s champorado. My sister insists on still adding evap on hers, though. She just could not eat champorado without drawing white hearts on it.
Now, champorado days are mere stories from my childhood. I realized that this morning, as I sat on my bed, wrapped in my thin blanket while sipping bland, runny coffee.
Champorado and tuyo are now replaced by cup noodles and coffee. Rainy days are no longer about playing all day long and finding treasures in Mommy’s old books. It is now about suspended classes.
It is not that rainy days are no longer great, now that I am past my teenage years. At least, with the class suspension, I can catch up on some much-needed sleep and have extra time to study for the next exam. Grown-up rainy days are welcome but it is just that I could really do with some champorado and tuyo today.
Now that all grades are out, it’s officially summer time! For sleep-deprived students this translates to no more all-nighters, put those coffee mugs to rest. But for some of us who will be taking short term classes, coffee is not off-season (yet).