The whirl of events that happened on September 06, 2006 always fascinated me. The pressure was intense, yet I was happy with everything that happened. It was like a dream, and would always be part of my reverie forever.
About 5pm of that fateful day, Khalid and I were inside the Khiss Snack House at Port Area. He was still uncommunicative all that time, silently consuming all the sauce in his small plate without even touching the one Pastil swimming in it. Whenever his plate ran dry of hot sauce, he would pour it again to overflowing.
Many times, I tried to stop him from his weird actuations but he didn’t listen. Twice, he ordered another bottle of hot sauce. He even put some of the hot fluid in a glass and drank from it in one gulp. Was he ruining his stomach with so much vinegar?
“Hey! Didn’t you tell me that too much consumption of Pastil’s sauce is dangerous to our body?” I finally said.
“Don’t you know that drinking is what other people do when they are brokenhearted?” he said. “Since I don’t drink liquor, let this sauce do the destructive effects on my body. Besides, I want to sear my heart with chili and vinegar. Somehow it might lessen the pain I feel inside.”
“What pain?” I asked. “What made your heart broken?”
“Why don’t you tell me about the real score between you and Akmad?” he said. “Maira, I am your best friend, yet I am the last to know of any development between the two of you.”
“Tell me, Khalid,” I said. “Are you jealous of Akmad?”
“Do I have the right to get jealous?” he said.
“You have no right to get jealous, of course!” I said, feeling angry and disappointed at the same time. “Unless you want to say something now…! Honestly, I really want to talk with you—to settle things out. Everybody, including some of our professors, thinks that we are lovers. It is really stressing me out. The fact is: we are just best of friends.”
“What do you say if—if—I don’t know how to put this—if we try to give them what they want?” he said. “Let’s become—yes—let’s become real lovers!”
“It’s easy for you to say that thing!” I said in an angrier tone. “But are you feeling any love for me at all?”
“Hush, lower your voice, please! People are looking at our direction,” he said. “Honestly, I had—I had been in love with you the moment our eyes met during the first day of class! That’s why—yes—that’s why I tried to befriend you so that I will get to know you even better. You are—how should I put this?—you are so different from all the women I had met before.”
Stunned, I asked him, “Are you sure?”
“Very sure indeed,” he said. “I feel very uncomfortable when there are other guys tailing on you like dogs. That Akmad, ah, if only I have a right over you. Will you—will you give me that right to protect you?”
“I might, but what about Sherma?” I said. “She’s your undying first love. Suppose I reciprocate that love you’re feeling for me, what do you think will happen?”
“Oh! Never mind about it. You know our story,” he said. “Maybe you can show me how to forget my first disastrous love affair. Are you willing to teach me how to fall in love again?”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I had been waiting for this time to come. A sweet sincere smile was the only fitting reply I could muster to the proposal of my best friend.
When we left the Khiss Snack House, lots of smile was plastered on our face. It was near twilight, but we decided to spend more time together now that our relationship attained a higher form—from best friend to lover. We walked the concrete road leading to the Jolo Sea Port with much merriment in our hearts.
Staring at the sea now, with Khalid by my side, it seemed to me that even the fishes and other creatures of the sea joined me in what I was feeling right now. The streak of light bouncing from their gleaming body was a dancing light that seemed to empathize with my emotion. The ball of fire on the horizon, though shrinking to its final daily destination, seemed to promise more happy moments when it would reappear tomorrow.
The passing of time, we didn’t care. We were shaping our dreams now—our tomorrow. This conversation, ah, it’s bringing me to the seventh heaven.
Everyday onward then was happier than the previous one. Until one Friday afternoon, at school, he approached me and let me read his first poetic masterpiece.
“Maira, look!” he said. “At last here’s my first shot in your beloved genre. I know you like poems so I tried to make one. Criticize my work so that I can better it the next time around.”
Just looking at the title, my world had already shattered into pieces. Nevertheless, I managed to force a smile. “I will bring this home so that I can analyze it and offer some improvements,” I said.
There was something in a poem, which was unique. It could send meanings to me that only poem had the power to do. It’s a piece of art filled with sense. Every word had multiple meanings. It could drive me to a world only known to me. It might be the world of happiness or the world of misery. I had read many novels, short stories, and other literary works, but only poems could really strike my very soul.
At home, while my heart was burning with strong multifarious emotions that I couldn’t explain, I read Khalid’s poem entitled “Sherma,” over and over again; but no matter how many times I read it, I couldn’t stop the tears to fall down from my eyes.
The poem was fantastic. A simplified novel, a summary of 100 million stories about her—a transparent soul, an everlasting emotions, a legend, yet I should have known it’s a replica of his life, a key to his strengths and weaknesses, was it? I was compelled to read it again:
You came into my life
Like a bolt from the sky;
Bewitched my puerile self
With our childhood embrace;
Convinced me subtly
You’re the woman for me;
And made my wonder of you
To flourish each day.
I had heard of her beautiful stories—heard from Khalid, himself. After each beautiful episode, I was so stunned with its beauty that I forgot to stop him even though my inner self was hurting. I was so carried away, so thrilled to turn the next page, but everything changed when he let me read this poem.
Yet, this was madness
My sane mind confessed.
While in bloom eternal
The flower in my heart
Watered by your charm
Your laughter and your care
Its sunshine was our frequent
Bantering and brawling
I understood that memories were memories. But there was something inside me, nagging my soul that her existence was more than enough and I had no space anymore.
O Cupid! With your dart
The wrong person you struck,
The time’s not propitious
My desire’s, some say, odious.
O Heart! Hide it from her
Save me from shame,
Try to find another girl
Do not blemish her fame!
Then, I realized that it didn’t matter if he loved me or not, if he had the plan to cling to me forever, what mattered was I loved him and that was the strongest argument my debater self couldn’t refute. Every time I tried to give logical reasons and refutations, I ended up committing all the fallacies in the world.
Yet, my heart’s still throbbing
As the time passed on by.
Fighting with the feeling
Forbidden as it was,
I had turned to the Qur’an
For succor and comfort
To exhort me to persevere
To fight what was right.
Should I throw away my invisible expectations of his love? Was it enough to let him know that my existence was willing to play any role he wanted me to do in his life? I always told him before: “I didn’t care if I didn’t win everybody’s love as long as I could have yours.” And it’s turning out that I was winning his love unintentionally, but someone was always trying to get it. I knew that no one could ever have his everlasting love because Sherma had it already. If I were in his place, I’d done the same.
Fourteen years were long
To decide to let you know.
With great trepidation
I broached my heart on you;
How I had jumped for joy
When you said: “I love you, too!”
We promised to keep it secret
And sealed it with a kiss.
The more I got to know him, the more I found out that he’s very similar to me. He was the picture of my hidden self.
Yet, after three years had passed
Our sweet secret’d gone awry.
Our imperious parents conspired
To destroy our lofty love;
They hid you from me now
In a place out of reach.
You’re my first cousin, Sherma
The only reason why...
His six-stanza poem ended here. Holding it in my left hand after having read it a hundredth time, tears falling down my cheeks, I took hold of my cell phone and texted him:
“Pls dnt address urself as a failure. U’re nt. Evry1 deserves 2 win in evry competition in ds tricky world. I hd met different kind of pple, w/ their different attitudes, w/ dr different lifestyle, but I hd nver been this so sure in my lyf: u deserve 2b hapy. Im hre 2 hlp u in anyway I cn, welcum or nt. I luv u dt mch.”
“If 8s only Sherma hu cn fulfill ur beautiful dreams, I wl hlp u. Mybe, u’ll say dt 8s a total lie 4 I kept on saying dt ‘tis not a martyr life Im programmed 4, dn u got 8 wrong.”
“Believe in urself; love urself and evrything wl b OK. I’m nt blind & luv s nt blind. Dnt refute ds txt in a way dt Im saying ds 2 u bcoz I luv u, & if u luv sum1, evrythng in dt prsn s prfect. U’re nt prfect; u’re special.”
“Thnk u 4 bein d bst gft in my lyf. So let’s get going. I may say gudbye a million x 2 u, bt I knw u’re aware Im nt leaving. I luv u always. Hating u, bein so unkind 2 u, & criticizing u sumtimes r part of my luv 4 u. W/out it, u’re jst lyk any other guy. Im sorry 4 evrythng, & dnt worry Im gettin kinder.”
“Im gettin kinder, nt as ur lover, bt as ur bstfrnd, 4evrmore. Since I cnt fill d void in ur heart dt only Sherma cn do, thnk u & gudbye, my love. Helo my bstfrnd once more.”
“To-toot! To-toot!” warned my cell phone, but I turned it off without reading his reply....