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The donor by Louse Ann Maca

The boy who left was not the boy who came back.

As I looked at him, I remember that April night when he took me to the town’s plaza to watch the annual salubong. The intensity of it all, the karosa holding Jesus and his mother, inching towards each other, coupled by the pit in my stomach knowing that I was about to lose him, so unlike the reunion happening before my eyes. As smoke enveloped the air, so did his eyes on mine.

“I’m going to leave tomorrow. I promised I’ll come back, right?”

They say promises are made to be broken, but Juancho liked to keep his.

“You did.”

Juancho did, but it was only his promises that he kept.

JUANCHO

After the surgery, I can’t stop obsessing about him. I want to know his name, his hobbies, how he died. I want to know why looking at the pictures Cornelia has been sending me is driving chills throughout my spine, igniting an innate desire I have not yet come to name.
She is my girlfriend back home?

I am outraged.

CORNELIA

Everyone knew anyone in San Isidro. It had one school, one lie-in clinic, one market, and, in the heart of it all, was the town plaza where stood the old San Isidro church. Again, the only one in town. Every celebration known to man almost happens in the town plaza: wedding receptions, birthday celebrations, the annual pistas. Everything was grander than its precedent. Today was not different, just another of the many events we celebrate as a town, only grander than ever.
As I walked the dirt-encrusted pavement, I could not help but marvel at the glittering lights I can make out from the distance. With every step, I close the space between the town’s plaza and myself, where Juancho is, I imagined and prayed, waiting.

The December air was stickily sweet on my skin, every whiff indicative of the surrounding ocean and the beginning of the most-awaited season of the year. As the music pounded from the stereos that only make an appearance on days like these, so did my heart. The blaring lights, intensifying the humid air and my sweat, the glowing church, the lit candles resting between each wishful hands—everything combined created the most beautiful picture I will never come to appreciate since Juancho left.

I wondered at my lack of interest, and there, at the center of the commotion created by the flock of devotees, stood the answer: Juancho Zuñiga, the boy who managed to paint portraits out of mundane sceneries in my head. The boy I was sure I knew so well, more than the familiarity I share with the people of San Isidro.

As I looked at him, I remember that April night when he took me here, the same town plaza, to watch the annual salubong. The intensity of it all, the karosa holding Jesus and his mother, inching towards each other, coupled by the pit in my stomach knowing that I was about to lose him, so unlike the reunion happening before my eyes. As smoke enveloped the air, so did his eyes on mine.

“I’m going to leave tomorrow. I promised I’ll come back, right?”

They say promises are made to be broken, but Juancho liked to keep his.

“You did.”

He did, Juancho returned, but the look in his eyes sparked uncertainty, a feeling he never managed to stir in me. I found myself frozen, amidst the continuous sea of simbang gabi attendees I each recognize by name, no longer sure whether I recognize him the same.

JUANCHO

I want to preserve that moment, preserve her. I stare, and I remember why it’s her: warm skin tone; dark, vibrant hair, hopeful eyes—the epitome of life. A part of me wants to embrace her, wallow in her scent that’s probably still characteristic of San Isidro’s oceanic atmosphere, but instead, I stand and stare.

CORNELIA

No one could miss Juancho Zuñiga. He just easily stood out. Even with myself, I couldn’t entirely say I wasn’t attracted the first time I met him back in first grade. He was, after all, the only grandson of the Zuñigas, the family who basically owned and monopolized all of the little town that is San Isidro. Just from that alone, he was already different. He had blemish-free skin, indicative of days spent isolated in air-conditioned rooms in the city, a far cry from the dysfunctional fan hanging from the ceiling of the first graders’ classroom.

From the day he arrived in town, Juancho easily became everyone’s favorite person, even mine. He was treated specially, not only because of his family, or his admirable good looks that stirred favoritism from our female teachers, but because of his health. From what the rumors have managed to bring, Juancho has a congenital heart defect where the valves of his heart do not close properly causing the blood to leak backward. His transfer to San Isidro was all brought by this. If it weren’t for his heart defect, San Isidro would be nothing but a property Juancho Zuñiga will soon inherit.

His heart, which ultimately intertwined our lives together, paradoxically tore us apart. As I inch closer, I could not help but stare at his eyes, the signature brown eyes all Zuñigas share, a manifestation of their family’s Spanish ancestry. Clear as day, as I remember. I used to feast in those eyes, admired them from a distance and up close for eight long years. Now, however, something has changed. The clarity in his stare was lost, replaced by something I could only fathom as sinister.

JUANCHO

Now that she is here, feelings of rage, anger, and disgust float above it all. This bitch, I came back for her. Now that she is here, completely offering herself—a sacrificial lamb—I can satiate my desire.

CORNELIA

“Would you like to get out of here?” He still had the same voice, only more abrupt and commanding was the tone that accompanied it. “But what about the misa de gallo? Have you forgotten?” We never missed any of the masses that led to Christmas day. For the longest time, Juancho and I wished for him to find a heart donor. “What is there left to wish for? I have returned! My new heart is perfect.”

Juancho never struck me as ungrateful, so now that he was, I was in awe. I knew he was Juancho, of course he is, he must be. He didn’t change, I told myself. This was the liberated culture brought by staying in America for several years talking, not my Juancho, I reasoned out.
“Okay, where are we off to? The plaza is beautiful.” I notice him staring, and I surprisingly found myself uncomfortable. He had a dark look in his eyes, contrasted by a smirk that I never expected I’d see plastered on his face. “I’ll take you somewhere only we will know.”

I was erratic. This was the boy I’ve missed; I’ve known and loved ever since, yet I felt unexplainably terrified. I followed him into the familiar road that led to the biggest house in town: the ancestral home of the Zuñigas.

Everyone recognized the house as the Zuñigas’, including myself. It was, like San Isidro itself, a place everyone knew. But tonight, the boy from that infamous house, the boy I thought I knew so well, was going to prove to me that the grandiose fenced house of his family is indeed a place only the two of us will know.

EPILOGUE

“Are you out of your mind? ‘Michigan’s Lust Murderer‘?!”

“I just wanted a heart for Juancho, I wanted my only grandson to live! Don’t you want that?”

“Of course I do! He is my only son! But a killer? Have you not thought of what will happen to Juancho?”

“He is fine, we are fine. We have Juancho, we are the Zuñigas, and this is San Isidro. What can they possibly do? What can you do?”

“I will call our lawyer. He’ll deal with that girl’s family.”

The Lust Murderer, huh?

I smile, itching to get out of here as soon as my mother and grandfather go, to find out more about the hero who saved my life. As I prepare to leave, I bid her goodbye: stuck in time, preserved like I wanted her to be—almost completely replacing the suffocating stench of formaldehyde with her oceanic scent.

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