Denny wanted to leave Cebu in order to forget Maria. So when his friend Charlie asked him if he wanted to go with him to Samar Island for a creative writing workshop, Jesse rejoiced and jumped at the chance.
“You saved my life, Charlie!” Jesse exclaimed. “I was dying to leave the city.”
They were both standing outside their cabin, looking out into the dark sea. They could see metropolitan Cebu in the horizon and above it the moon floated like an overripe orange fruit. Not too far away from their vantage point, the Tres Marias glistened faintly but distinctly.
Charlie nodded. He was a very quiet kind of guy. He barely spoke, and when he did, it was in a sort of half-whisper.
Below, the bubbles were glistening under the light of the moon. The ship was breaking the sea in two.
Denny could not shake off Maria’s image from his mind. Her face was on every object he trained his eyes on. Her smile was superimposed on the moon, on the night sky, on the ocean, and on the ship’s wooden floor.
They docked in Samar early the following morning. The island’s pristine beauty made him forget Maria, but only for a while. She was with him again on the bus that conveyed him and Charlie to Calbayog, the capital city of Northern Samar. He could catch a whiff of Maria’s perfume in the air, so he opened the window to let the smell of the countryside in and drive Maria’s scent out. He dared not turn to the seat next to him, for he was sure he’d see her there looking at him, her blond hair flowing in the wind. They barely spoke to each other during the few days in Cebu that they were together — she couldn’t understand English and he couldn’t understand Norwegian, so their communication was non-verbal.
Denny forgot all about Maria when he saw Maria, one of the panelists in the writing workshop in Calbayog. The workshop lasted for three days and all the panelists and fellows thought and talked about during this period of time was literature. All Denny could think about was the second Maria. He attempted to break down Maria’s beauty into elements. He came up with two, which he wrote on his notebook:
1. Physical aspect, and
2. Intellectual aspect.
From day 1 to day 2 of the writing workshop, he dissected Maria’s physical beauty in his mind. First, he wondered about her hair. Second, he wondered about her shoulders and waist. Third, he wondered about her arms. Fourth, he wondered about her mouth and teeth. Fifth, he wondered about the way she walked and moved.
On the third day, he dissected Maria’s intellectual beauty. He wondered about her mind. She was very well-read and knowledgeable. She was very smart, and there was something about the way she talked and expressed her thoughts that really moved him.
But at the end of his three-day clandestine study of the second Maria, he could not make her out at all, because, he concluded, she was not her body and she was not her mind. Her beauty emanated elsewhere, and he couldn’t figure it out.
Maria had to leave Calbayog City before the culmination of the writing workshop and he never got the chance to speak to her.
“I’m so glad we’re going back home. I was dying to leave Calbayog,” he confessed to Charlie on their return trip to Cebu.
Charlie nodded. “I miss Cebu, too,” he whispered. “I miss Maria.”
“Maria’s your girlfriend?”
“No, not the panelist. My girlfriend’s name is also Maria. She’s meeting us at the port.”
“Is she Norwegian, by any chance?” Denny asked.
Charlie looked at him like he’s some kind of a fool. “No, she’s Chinese.”
And that was all Charlie said that day.