“Sure, why wouldn’t I be okay with it?” I smiled.
“Well, it’s Lent now, isn’t it?”
“Wouldn’t that make you feel uncomfortable?”
“No, not really.”
“You’ll overhear our conversations. You already know how outspoken some of the other members can be. You know, if I’ll inform them that you’re a Christian, they might be more sensitive about what they’re going to say.”
“There’s no need for that. You guys are free to talk about anything in my cafe.” I smiled again.
“Free even to critique Christianity?”
“Sure, you’re free to do that as well.”
“Well, I’m just a bit uncomfortable about it. You’re my friend, and I’m a bit sensitive about what you might feel about what you’ll hear from us.” She laughed.
“I’ll assure you, I’m okay with it. As long as you guys don’t bash my religion. Otherwise, I’ll throw you out of the shop. Just kidding.”
“Oh my gosh, see? You are sensitive about it. Do you want me to suggest to the group to move the venue of our meetings? But you’d lose your customers.”
“No, it’s okay, trust me.”
“But I’ll be closed during Holy Week.”
She raised the book from her lap and continued reading. It was an Ian McEwan novel.
“Would you like more coffee?” I said.
“Yes, please. Thanks,” she said.
I went back to the counter and grounded the coffee beans. The grinder filled the shop with its noise. There was a group of teenagers sitting on the sofa at the corner of the cafe. They barely spoke with one another. One of them, a tall, Chinese girl, stood up and approached the counter.
I took a mug and placed it on the espresso machine’s drip tray. I pulled the grinder’s dispensing level twice and received the powdered coffee using the portafilter. I pressed on the coffee, making it compact, before attaching it to the espresso machine. I tuned the machine on and received the espresso with the mug.
“Excuse me, sir,” the girl said.
“I was wondering if the books are for sale.”
“Yes, they are.”
“Oh, okay. How much for these?” She showed me several novels from the Classics shelf.
“Each one for a hundred pesos,” I said.
“Alright,” she said. “Can I pay them later, together with the coffee we ordered?”
She thanked me but she remained standing near the counter. She was looking at the pastries on display inside the glass below the cash register. I took the mug to Pelagia’s table.
“Why don’t you sit down?” Pelagia said. She placed the book on the table.
“There’s a customer at the counter,” I said.
“Let her be. She’ll call you when she’s ready to order.”
“Maybe she won’t order if there’s no one there to take her order.”
“Just sit down for a bit. You’re always standing up, moving about. You need to rest once in a while.”
“I have a chair there behind the counter.”
“Why are you trying to avoid me?”
“I’m not trying to avoid you.” I chuckled.
“Then sit down.”
I sat down. She looked at me intently. She doesn’t look as geeky as when she’s wearing her uniform and glasses.
“Where are your glasses?” I said.
“I’m wearing contacts right now. I’m still getting used to them. I get teary-eyed every few minutes,” she said. She took out a handkerchief.
“You look different without your glasses and uniform.”
“Oh? Is that good or bad?”
“So I look bad with my uniform and glasses?”
“I didn’t say that. It’s just that, you look nerdy with your glasses.”
“That’s not very flattering.”
The Chinese girl called out from the counter. I stood up and approached her.
“How much for a slice of carrot cake?” she said.
“Thirty-five pesos,” I said.
“Give me two slices.”
I went inside the counter and took out the cake. I placed two slices on two separate plates and transferred them to the plastic tray. “I’ll bring them to your table, ma’am,” I said, but when I looked up, she was no longer there. She has re-joined her friends.
I took the tray and brought the cakes to their table. I returned the tray and went back to Pelagia.
“How long is your vacation?” I asked her.
“Four days,” she said.
“What are your plans?”
“My friends and I are planning to go to Bantayan tomorrow. Why? Do you want to come?”
“Thanks, but I can’t.”
“Oh, right. Sorry. What do you do during Lent?”
“Why, work, of course, just like everybody else. Except during Holy Week.”
“No, I mean, you guys are obligated to fast, abstain, and all that, right?”
“Well, Lent is primarily a time of self-examination for the Christian. During this period, we are obligated to reflect on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It’s kind of a going-back-to-spiritual basics kind of thing. I mean, it’s kind of like an athlete who goes back to training to hone his skills and abilities. Lent gives Christians the opportunity to go back to the basics of their spiritual life. So we pray, we fast, abstain from eating meat, give alms to the poor, help the needy, etc., all of which are different means of making concrete the reality of love.”
“So you’re not allowed to have fun, like go to the beach and stuff?”
“Well, I’d put it this way: there’s nothing wrong with having fun itself, like going to the beach, etc. Those things are good. But during Lent we Christians are given the opportunity to reflect not on the good things in the world, but on the One who is the source of all these good things. I mean, at the center of Lent is Jesus Christ — his life, ministry, death on the cross, and resurrection. That’s who we are asked to focus on. We are obligated to look to him, to examine our lives in relation to his, and to follow him. Things like prayer, alms-giving, fasting, works of charity, etc., bring us closer to him and help us have a deeper knowledge of him.”
I could sense that she was losing interest about what I was saying.
“I’m not sure if I’m making any sense,” I said.
She smiled. “How about after Lent? Will you be able to go to the beach after Lent?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Okay, I’ll invite you again after Lent.”
“With your friends?”
“Do you want them to come?”
“No, I mean, yes, if they want to. I mean, I can go out with you and your friends, if they won’t mind.”