“It’s been such a long, long time since I last wrote anything,” I said. “Months, maybe. I stopped counting. I’ve been so busy and tired, empty and dry.”
She looked up from her iPad. Her glasses reflected the bright light.
“I’ve lost this urge, this itch. I used to write a lot. One time, I wrote four stories in one month. That was the time I really believed I was a writer. Perhaps I was deluding myself,” I said.
“You’re bored right now, aren’t you?” she said.
“Yes, terribly,” I said. I stood up and exhaled. “But this is a good thing. When was the last time we had a black out? When was the last time we had a good conversation?”
“We talk every day,” she said.
“Yes,” I said, “but not like this, not in the dark, when everything is still and quiet. Not without distractions.”
“Find something else to do. I want to finish this essay.”
“Is it a long essay?”
“Yes, thank goodness.”
“So you don’t want to talk to me, then?” I laughed.
“Frankly, no. Why do you want to talk now, anyway?” She fidgeted in her seat.
“How much battery do you have left?”
“Thankfully, a lot. So you’re going to have to find something else to do than talk to me. I’ll be occupied for the rest of the evening.”
I stood up and walked towards the door. The rain began falling again. “I heard there’s another storm coming. A big one. That’s probably the reason for this black out. They’re probably taking some precautionary measures for the storm.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard about it.” Her eyes were glued to the tablet. “It’s big alright. But I’m not worried. I’m prepared for it. I half-expected this black out.”
“Really? I didn’t know the storm was coming tonight.”
“You should’ve watched the news. By the way, aren’t you supposed to be going? It’s getting really late. You don’t want to be stuck here.”
“It’s raining again.” A gush of cold wind blew from the street. I felt the chill in my arms. “I didn’t bring my coat.”
I walked back to the living room and sat on the sofa. I checked my watch. “What time will Bryan be here?” I said.
“I don’t know. He told me this afternoon he’ll be late,” she said.
“Come back tomorrow. I’ll tell him you were here.”
“Can I have some more coffee?”
She looked up again from her tablet. The light from the screen highlighted the contours of her face. “Help yourself,” she said, after a pause. “It’s in the pantry; in the shelf next to the fridge.”
“Thanks a lot,” I said.
The pantry was pitch black, so I used my phone to check which shelf she meant. I found canned goods, boxes of cereals, and bottles of olive oil inside one of the shelves, but no coffee. I found it inside the fridge instead. I couldn’t find the sugar.
“Did you find it?” she called out.
“Yes, I did, thanks,” I said. I went back to the living room and sat at the couch opposite her.
“How do you like your coffee?” She giggled.
I smiled, but she probably couldn’t make out my expression.
“I forgot to keep the pot on earlier, sorry,” she said.
“That’s okay. I like my coffee cold and black,” I said.
“The sugar’s in the drawer below the sink.”
“Are you sure?”
She went back to her reading. I could hear the ticking of the wall clock to my right. It was still raining outside, but this time more gently. I winced when I sipped the coffee.
“Do you still think you’re a writer?” she said. Her question took me by surprise. Her voice echoed inside the room.
“I don’t know. I mean, I’m not sure anymore. Perhaps the delusion has finally faded,” I said.
“What were your stories about?” She lowered the iPad to her knees and turned it off.
I couldn’t see her, so I stared straight ahead at her direction.
“I’m saving the battery for later,” she said.
I laughed. “Okay,” I said.
“So what were your stories about? Did you get published?”
“I can’t remember exactly. I mean, I only have a vague recollection of what the plots were. They were about people; that, at least, I’m sure of. People with wishes, longings, and fears. No, I didn’t get published.”
“I don’t know. They weren’t any good.”
After a moment, she said, “Why bring this up now?”
“Bring what up?” I said.
“This thing about writing.”
“I don’t know. It’s the first thing that occurred to me when the lights went out. Maybe I was just thinking out loud.”
“Are you okay?” I said.
“I don’t know what else to do. I am so bored,” she said.
“Do you write? Have you ever tried writing a story or poem?”
“Nope, I don’t have that inclination.” I heard her rise from her seat and pace around the room. Her phone came on, lighting up her face. She dialed a number. Then she sat down again. I heard her yawn. “Why don’t you write a story right now? Write whatever comes to your mind and read it to me. I don’t care how bad it is.”
“It’s dark. I can’t see a thing.”
“Don’t write it down, then. Just tell it. Make things up as you go along.”
“What kind of story would you like to hear?”
“I don’t know, anything.”
Lightning flashed. It illuminated the whole house for a fraction of a second. Then a peal of thunder escaped from the night sky. The sound was dull and distant.
I thought about it for a moment. I probed myself for any story that I may still have in me. But I was empty. I didn’t have anything. A few minutes passed by in total silence.
“Are you still there? Have you fallen asleep?” she said.
“I’m sorry. Yes, I’m still here,” I said.
“I can’t see you. I should get us some candles. Wait here.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Her footsteps faded into the far end of the house. Until that moment, I didn’t realize how big the house really was. I felt utterly alone. I took out my phone and dialed Bryan’s number. He wasn’t answering, so I hang up. Five minutes later, Monica appeared in the hallway holding a candle in each hand. She looked frightening with her pale face, deep eyes, and white sweater.
She tipped the candles over the center table and a small pool of wet wax formed on the glass cover. Then she placed the candles over the wax. She took her seat.
“Go on. Tell your story,” she said. The shadows danced on her face.
“I don’t have anything to tell. I’m empty. I have nothing left,” I said.
“You must have something. Just tell it. I don’t care if it’s the worse story ever, or the most boring, or the most uneventful, or the very last story anyone on earth would want to hear, just tell it.”
She laughed. “This will be better than staring at each other in the dark,” she said.
I kept silent. I tried to figure out what made her voice sound so pleasant. Maybe it’s its smokiness. Maybe it’s its languidness. Maybe it reminded me of someone I knew long ago.
“Hello? Are you still awake?” she said.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Yes, alright, let’s see. A story…”
She took a throw pillow from the couch and placed it on her lap. She yawned. “Hurry up before I fall asleep,” she said.
“Okay,” I said. “There’s this guy. He’s driving down this busy street uptown. He’s late for work. He’s got a lot of things on his mind. Suddenly, a car bumped him from behind. He’s already angry because of the traffic, and now he’s really mad because some jerk just bumped his car.”
“So he got out of the car, slammed the door, and checked the damage. There’s a huge dent on his rear bumper, and one of the tail lights were broken. So now he was furious. He approached the driver of the other car with clenched fists. He tapped the window of this other car loudly. He couldn’t see the driver because the tint was dark. He tapped the door. Then the door opened and this girl stepped out. This girl was stunningly beautiful. She was out-of-this world pretty. Immediately his jaw dropped and he became tongue-tied. He was so embarrassed by his behavior that he was unable to utter a syllable. The girl was very flustered and apologetic about what happened. Then he finally said, waving his hands in front of him, “It’s alright. It’s not a problem. Not a problem at all. It’s just a minor damage, no big deal. Don’t worry.” But the girl insisted, “No, no, it’s my fault. I will pay the damage. Do you want my license number? I’m truly, truly sorry. Should we call for a traffic enforcer?” He was blushing and he didn’t even know half of what he was saying. He just kept on mumbling, “No, no, it’s alright. It’s alright. You don’t have to pay. Don’t worry about it. This is not a big deal, trust me.””
I stopped to catch my breath.
“And then what happened?” Monica said.
“They continued for some minutes in this way,” I said, “with the guy saying it’s not a problem, that the damage to his car was no big deal, and the girl insisting that it was a problem and that she will pay for it. So he finally relented, “Okay, okay, can you give me your, uh, number so that I can, um, contact you once I get an estimate of the damage?” So she gave him her calling card, and they parted ways, and he drove away with this huge smile on his face. He was the happiest man in the world.”
“And then what?”
“And then that’s the end of the story.”
“You’re kidding me. That can’t be the end of it. I see now why you say your stories are bad.”
I laughed. “But that’s really the end of it,” I said.
“That’s a terrible ending,” she said.
“Alright. So this guy reported late for work that same day, and his Japanese boss was screaming at him, but he was just smiling. The whole time, he was smiling. In fact, the whole day, he was smiling. His office mates asked him, “What’s up with you? Why are you so happy?” He answered, “Oh, nothing.” Then he went home, and his mother saw his damaged car, and she’s hysterical because his dad just bought it for him days ago, but he just smiled and said nothing.” I chuckled.
“Continue,” she said.
“Okay,” I said, “so he was smiling all day, every day, for the rest of the week, and everyone began to think he’d gone crazy, for how can someone, even with sheer willpower, wear a smile for hours and hours each day? It’s simply not possible. Some were speculating that he must’ve hit his head hard during the accident; others were saying that he went mad because his car, which was really a luxury car, didn’t have insurance. But he didn’t care. He was so absorbed in his own happiness to notice what the people around him were murmuring about him. That euphoria, though, ended that Sunday, when he lost the girl’s calling card. He looked for it everywhere, turned his car and house inside and out, but all to no avail. He couldn’t find it. So the following week, he was morose and miserable. He was totally dejected. This confirmed the theories of some colleagues that he was suffering from shock, and the fears of others that he has a bipolar disorder.”
I paused for a few seconds to drink the coffee. The cold liquid traveled down my throat. It tasted like poison. I retched and almost vomited.
“Are you okay?” She stood up. “Let me get you some water.”
“It’s the… coffee.”
She came back with a glass of water. I drank it greedily.
“Are you sure it was coffee that you took?” she said.
“It tasted like coffee, although not like your regular coffee,” I said. I took a deep breath and continued with my story.
“Feeling better?” she said.
“Yes, thank you,” I said. “So anyway, one day, on his way to the office, the guy heard a familiar voice on the radio. It was the girl! There was no mistaking it. He was absolutely sure of it, because the voice was indelibly recorded in his subconscious. He turned the volume of the stereo up, and he listened, his heart racing inside him. It turned out that the girl was a DJ. This is what she said, “Good morning, guys. I hope you’re all having a wonderful day today. I know I am. The weather is fine and sunny. Funny thing happened to me last week, though. Did I ever mention it here? No? Well, I got into a road accident somewhere in Banilad. Yeah. I bumped into a car. I was texting, you see; which is, of course, a big no-no when you’re driving. Anyway, thankfully no one was hurt, although I did manage to damage the car in front of me. I was freaking out because this was my first, and hopefully my last, road incident here in the country. And this guy was mad as hell at me, but he calmed down somehow. Anyway, I promised to pay him the cost of the repair, but I’m still waiting for his call. So, listen man, I didn’t get your name, but if you’re listening to me right now, just give me a call, ‘ayt? Ayt. Now back to more music. Here’s a track from…””
Just then, my phone vibrated. I took it out and read the message.
“Who is it?” Monica said.
“It’s your brother,” I said. “He said he can’t come home tonight because of the weather. He’s staying at your uncle’s. I guess I’ll have to finish the story some other time.”
“Are you serious? You started the story, now finish it.”
“But it’s getting really late.” Thunder clapped from the sky. The house trembled a little. “And the weather.”
“No, you have to finish it first. Finish it quickly and then you can go.”
“Alright. So the guy called the DJ in the radio station, and for a few minutes she couldn’t understand him because he was stammering out of excitement. Finally, he managed to say, “You don’t have to worry about a thing. I didn’t bother to get an estimate of the damage because it’s too minor.” He cleared his throat. “I’ll fix it myself.” Then the girl said, “No, it was my fault, and I’d be ashamed if you won’t hold me accountable for it. There must be something I can do for you.” He thought for a moment and said, “Can I take you to dinner? I mean, just a dinner, that’s all.” She said, “A dinner? Well, sure, okay, why not? No problem.” He said, “Great! How about this Friday? Are you free this Friday?” She said, “Actually, I have work on Friday, but only until six, so sure, Friday’s fine.””
I paused and drank some water.
“And then what?” Monica said.
“And then all of her listeners heard the call because she forgot to go off the air,” I said. “Many called in to say that she shouldn’t have accepted the guy’s invitation because for all she knew, he might be a serial killer. Most of them said that it’s highly likely that the guy planned the road accident all along, just so he could get her number and ask her out. All of the callers were male.”
Thunder rolled across the night sky and shook the house again, rattling the windows. For a few brief moments, I could see Monica’s face clearly. Then the shadows enveloped her again.
“He didn’t go to work that Friday,” I continued. “Instead, he went to the Mall and spent his life savings on a diamond ring. He also bought a pair of expensive clothes appropriate for the occasion. Then he announced to his mother that he has found the girl of his dreams and that he was going to ask her to marry him that very night. His mother’s first reaction was to touch her son’s forehead to see whether he has fever, then, convinced that he was alright and perfectly sane, or at least perfectly lucid, said, “I’m happy for you, son. This is the most joyful day of my life, believe me. I knew that this day will arrive sooner or later. She is a very lucky girl. Who is she? How come you never mentioned her to me before? Is she religious? She better be. I don’t want you marrying a pagan.” He said, “No, mom, I’m the lucky one. To be honest, I just met her last week.” He was almost shouting, “I’m the most fortunate man in the world! To think that I’ve found what many fail to find in this life — my soul mate…” His mother interrupted him, “Now, now, don’t bring a pagan idea into this household. You know there’s no such thing as a ‘soul mate’.” He said, “But I feel in my bones that she really is my soul mate, mom. I am destined for her, and tonight she’s going to say yes to me!” She said, “Did you say you just met her? How can you propose to someone you just met?” He said, “I’m telling you, mom, I’ve never been this sure about anything in my life. I’m surer about my feelings for her than I am about the reality of my existence. Tomorrow, you shall have a daughter.””
The rain began to fall harder and the wind started to pick up.
“How long is this story going to last? Did you say this is a short story or a novella?” Monica said.
“I’m sorry, I got carried away,” I said. “I’ll wrap it up. So on Friday the guy picked the girl up from the radio station. She looked modest in her sweater, skinny jeans, and sneakers. He, on the other hand, looked like a groom. He got out of the car, walked over to the passenger’s side, and opened the door for her. He was almost out of breath to be so near her. He could barely drive. His knees were shaking and his voice sounded foreign. He took her to a French restaurant. He didn’t understand the menu, so he ordered whatever the waiter suggested to him. He didn’t know what to say to her, so he just stared at the antique furniture inside the cafe, memorizing the detail of every chair, table, and lamp.”
I stood up.
“Where are you going?” Monica said.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” I said.
“Sit down. Not until you finish the story. Finish it already. You’re testing my patience.”
I sat down. “Okay, at the risk of damaging my bladder, here it is. When the appetizers arrived, he bowed his head and made the sign of the cross. He said a short prayer, and then picked up his fork. The girl snickered, so he said, “What’s wrong?” She said, “Nothing, it’s nothing.” He pressed, “No, really, what’s wrong?” She lowered her spoon on the table and said, “You don’t really believe that do you?” He said, “Don’t believe what?” She said, “Religion. You know it’s all based on myths, right? You know, what Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, and the French existentialists said?” The guy choked on the Truffle Coquillettes. She said, “Are you okay?” He coughed as hard as he could and struggled to regain his composure. He said, with tears in his eyes, “I’m fine, I’m fine.” She said, “Okay. Anyway, as I was saying, uh, never mind, to each his own, I guess. Whatever floats your boat.” He felt confused and defensive, but he had strength enough to bring the pasta to his mouth and say, “So, like, you’re not a religious person, then?” She said, “No, not at all. Far from it. I’m an atheist.” The pasta shot out of his nostrils and landed on his plate.”
“That’s disgusting,” Monica said.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“So how did it end?”
“Badly. The non-date turned into a real debate about the existence of God, religion and science, intelligent design and evolution, same-sex marriage, and, of course, the RH Law. The guy said, “But not all religions are based on myths. In particular, there are good reasons for believing that the Judeo-Christian God is real.” She said, “Excuse me? What about all the horrendous suffering and evil in the world? There cannot be a God, or gods for that matter. Have you even heard of Richard Dawkins?” He said, “Faith and reason, religion and science, are not incompatible.” “You can’t be serious? The two are clearly mutually exclusive.” He said, “We can step back from the whole evolution debate. I can argue for an intelligent designer of the universe, who made evolution possible to begin with.” She said, “Give me a break, intelligent design is nothing more than creationism in disguise.” He said, “But redefining marriage will seriously harm our society.” She said, “Oh my gosh, that is the most intolerant view I’ve ever heard in my life. How do you sleep at night?” He said, “But the RH Law is unconstitutional. It violates…” She cut him off, “That’s enough.” They barely touched their food. They created quite a scene in the restaurant, and the girl walked out yelling, “You know what? I’m so glad I bumped your car. And I’m not paying you a single centavo.”
“What happened to the guy?”
“He swore never to drive a car or eat at French restaurants ever again.”
“And the girl?”
“She vilified him daily in her radio program, calling him a bigot and a creep.”
“And that’s the end of the story?”
“Yup, that’s the end of it. Now, can I go to the bathroom?”
“By all means.”
I rushed to the bathroom.
When I got back, she was leaning on the sofa, yawning.
“Did you like the story?” I said.
“Well, it’s better than nothing; better than staring at nothing and listening to nothing,” she said.
“Thank you, you’re very kind. Now, I bid you adieu, and good night.”
But I couldn’t open the front door. “The door’s locked,” I said.
“Yes, it is,” she said. “Will you stay here tonight? I can’t be alone in a night like this. Not with the storm and the darkness.” She removed her glasses. “Tell me another story.”