I am left the only occupant for the whole third floor. Out of the cramped six units, everybody just seem to have slowly left: the med students in 302 for internship, the nosy single mother at 304 who was reunited by their only son (in love I don’t know) with the husband, the Korean at 305 (they say, because I never saw him) who left because of his growing Samgyeopsal business in Taguig. And the last one, he whose my selective amnesia dearly managed to slaughter, in this cramped 301, apparently, went away like a storm.
The landlady, just Manang, as far as I am concerned with little small talk, knocks on my door.
“Yes po? Is there a problem with the water bills? Because last night I–”
“No, no. 302’s taken. Tomorrow. He’s moving in. Says he’s a dancer.”
A ‘he’, eh? In the involuntary, scathed, internally bleeding organ in my body, something hopes for that person to be the Storm. But I brush it off. Nope, the Storm’s gone and he has already dissolved far into the China seas.
I bit a cigarette stick. The ember tip radiates as I breathe in the lighter’s flame.
I get up at moon o’clock, as early as I need to get ready for the night shift, just before 11 pm and the jeepneys outside haven’t gone away yet. I dress with jeans and a shirt and open the small veranda of the apartment unit. An ashtray on the table, a chair beside I sit. The evening November air is still not as cold as January’s. Honking, flickering lights from a distance, and a thought, oh Manila, you beautiful skyline; only if they saw you in person, bastard City.
I browse through my phone, checking e-mails and shipping details from my endless shopping online. Yosi break, first and foremost, before the second, and the third, and a last in the morning—all done between moon o’clock and sunrise city. I take and pull out a stick from the blue box. I pop a mint candy from the filter. As I am about to light, an ember hints from my periphery. My feet are suddenly glued into place, but my body feels like it went and jumped from the third floor down to its horrible asphalt demise.
A silhouette and a stick moving and pulsing in red like a heartbeat in hypothermia. I gasp before realizing what Manang had told me.
Ah. The silhouette chuckles—a rare sound from this spot up here.
“Hi. Good evening,” he moves out of the shadow like the boogeyman coming in slowly for the kill. “The landlady told me you took the night shift.”
What time was it? I look at my phone. Shit, it’s 10:30 already! “Hi. Yeah. Sorry, my TL’s going to kill me.” I rush out, leaving the popped cigarette on the niche. I close the glass door behind me. The cigarette stick dances for a while on the small ledge. Then falls down the asphalt.
The city hides from the cloudy evening. The orange streetlights play behind buildings taller than the third floor. I can only see a few roads, blocks here and there.
The soup on my table is unflattering. I should’ve ordered pho, instead.
I hear 302’s glass door slide. Most probably the man in 302 I barely saw last night. Because as he went out of the shadows, I looked at my phone and all I saw was my supervisor’s fury shouting PEREZ! YOU’RE LATE AGAIN! YOU HAVEN’T EVEN CAUGHT UP TO YOUR QUOTA AND YOU ALREADY HA—yada, yada.
The man is around his 40s. Eyeglasses, a white sando, and shorts. A beer in his hand.
“Hi, sorry for last night.”
“What last night? What do you mean?” He storms back inside the unit. And then two people talking and turning into argument. There are two of them who moved in? Why are they arguing? Did I say anything?
Then a man, around his late 20s peeped from the balcony. “Hi. I think there’s been a mix-up.”
“It was me. I was the one who kind of scared you yesterday.” He manages an apologetic laugh. He seems sorry. It is only that time I notice how greasy his hair is. His eyes glimmer a slight sparkle in them—there is a gaping blackness in his eyes that shines with the streetlights outside.
“This guy,” he waves and points with his hands lightly “he doesn’t live here. He’s—uhm—a friend, I guess.”
Shyly, he gives an apologetic smirk and gestures a palm toward me. He closes the glass door. And I continue to hear muffled arguments until I return inside and dress for another shift.
It’s funny when you realize how living on an apartment building, only the walls separate everybody from seeing and living with each other. And before you know it, because of these walls you don’t get to see your only neighbor for days and days.
I’ve been confused with the “mix-up” and the arguing. The only conclusion I’ve come up with is that they might be ‘together’ but this 40-year old guy seems to have trust issues with the greasy-haired neighbor. What they were—I’m not sure. But what I know is that this guy’s been on his balcony every night, just after I leave the house at 10:20 pm. I would look back up at my balcony while I walk out the street, and I see a hint of glowing cinder from the dark balcony beside mine at 10:22 pm.
Surely, he won’t know today’s my day-off. I sneakily close the door loudly enough and pretend to leave the unit. I open a slit in the curtain and wait for the cigarette to appear. And just as I guessed, a minute after the man is on his balcony, smoking.
My turn to surprise him. I slide the glass door, smiling with a wicked excitement. I can’t resist but to say “Good evening” to him.
I do not see in the dark if he is surprised. Yet he managed a ‘hello’ back.
The stranger from the other unit kills his cigarette at his ash tray.
“Like the vampire?”
“Yep. Like that.”
“Welcome to Rufina Apartments.” I introduce myself as well.
“Sorry for such an un-warm welcome.”
“Ditto. I was the rude one the first night. Couldn’t afford being late on a shift. So, no harm.”
He turns on the balcony light. The first time I’ll get to see him without the peeking, smoking, and hiding in the shadows. He’s a tall man—greasy hair, black eyes, and a dark complexion. He’s well-built, seemingly lean and powerful, like parkour-his-way-down-the-first-floor-without-a-scratch kind of leanness.
I tell him it’s my day off. Then I ask him about the other guy the other night—must be the nosy 304’s influence on me. He just shakes his head—he doesn’t want to talk about it. It isn’t desolation marked in his eyes, it is the opposite. Brooding, menacing. I think I saw a grin in his lips for a second before saying, “Gone.”
He invites me in for some leftover pizza from last night. Maybe, a little storytelling.
Something pulls me back, but somehow, I can’t resist accepting the offer from the stranger.
His sheets are a mess all the time. The last night I left, it is still the same, as if he never sleeps when I leave. I check my clock—a few more snoozing and napping before my shift starts.
Edward’s sleeping body is snaked by the silky grey blanket. His chiseled back muscles glisten by the moonlit bed in his apartment. He has veiny hands and long fingers. I trace my middle finger down his smooth back, plunging in every curvature and notch of his manliness.
I can imagine spending all night just looking in his onyx eyes, now hiding beneath closed eyelids. I sit on his bed, put on my boxers and shirt, and cup my hands on my face. I think of the Storm. The memories, our braided bodies back in my room, the chamomile tea he whips up and leaves on my bedside table in the morning when he leaves early. The pain manifests in my pounding heart. Stop, stop. Stop.
Again? Not tonight, please. I slap my face.
I look at Edward, who shifts his arm and reaches for me. He opens his eyes marginally. He gives a lazy smile. “Hey,” his bedroom voice. “You’re leaving already?”
“Yeah,” I thought for a second, then I turn near his face. I never dare give him a kiss. I hug his groggy head to say goodbye. I leave his unit.
“How you been?”
“Let’s meet sometime.”
“In case you deleted my number it’s me, [redacted].”
The Storm’s text messages are unforeseen. Of course, I have not the courage to delete his number, unfriend, block, nor whatever nullifying feat I could muster. I stare at the unlit stick at the ashtray inset. My heart pounds lightly. The sun has just set. Come twilight, my sweet vampire lover usually gets home in his black shirt and dance pants, knocking by the door with Chinese takeout or pho.
“Whatever this is,” he told me once. “I’m cool.”
Me: “Yeah, yeah. Me too. Cool.”
Days come, and we would just spend time hanging out at his terrace, eating and smoking. No naked coup involved. Just talking, and talking, and talking; until the night becomes heavier, and he grows sleepy and my shift looms. His day’s end is my start.
Of course, of all nights, he brought photonight. Tonight of all nights. I made up my mind—I take the scrawny plastic bag from him. (We never even got to kiss.) I tell him I still need a bit more sleep and thanks for the pho. I give him a side hug. I close the door and reach for my phone. G