Norah Jones*

It was his girlfriend who introduced him to Norah Jones. The year was 2002 and they both were working for a BPO company.

“Listen to this,” his girlfriend said to him one day, and she inserted a cassette tape into the player of his car. They had just finished their shifts and were on their way to get some breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s. Outside, it was still a bit dark, but the sun had begun to rise in the horizon.

When the music began playing, he listened. Norah Jones’ voice captured him the moment he heard it. It was smooth, languid, and smoky, and it hit him like a breath of fresh air. He smiled and rolled down the window to let in the scent of the morning. Everything looked and felt new and beautiful.

He borrowed the tape from his girlfriend and played it as often as he could: He played it every night in the car on his way to the office. He played it every morning when he and his girlfriend would look for a place to eat. And he played it at home when he was alone. In fact, he played nothing but Norah Jones wherever he was and whatever he was doing. He listened to her when he washed the dishes, did the laundry, read a book, clean the car, buy the groceries, pay the bills. Pretty soon, the lyrics stuck to his memory and he would hum along to every song, often adjusting his voice so that it could “blend” with Norah Jones’ voice. He wasn’t a singer, not by a long shot, but it pleased him to hear his voice merge with her voice.

He played Norah Jones so much that it began to annoy his girlfriend.

“Can we play something else, please?” she said in an agitated tone one afternoon. And she would switch the radio to an FM station without waiting for his reply.

Norah Jones also almost always came up in their conversations.

“Did you know that Norah Jones is half-Indian?” he would ask his girlfriend. Or, “Did you know that her father is the famous sitar player Ravi Shankar? Did you know that she’s only 21? Did you know that she has sold more copies of her album in a year than any other female artist in a decade? Did you know that so far she’s won 5 Grammys? Did you know that she used to wait on tables? Don’t you find her low-key, down-to-earth, self-effacing, and modest manner very intriguing?” And other such questions.

“Do you know how sick I am of Norah Jones?” his girlfriend finally told him one day. “That’s right, I’m sick of her. I’m so sick of her. I’m tired of hearing her name and you talking about her over and over again.”

Then she looked at him squarely in the face. “Norah Jones is getting in the way of our relationship. You must make a choice right now. Either you lose her or you lose me.”

And that’s how he lost his girlfriend. But he did not stop listening to Norah Jones. In fact, he listened to her even more frequently. If there’s such a thing as comfort food, she was his comfort music. He especially clung to her after the break up. Those were the darkest months of his life and Norah Jones pulled him through it. He would play her album over and over and over again, even while sleeping, so that Norah Jones began invading his dreams.

He would dream that he was riding her 1971 Cadillac, the very car you see in one of her music videos. He would glance at Norah Jones, the locks of her hair blowing in the wind, and he would remark, “I love your great tumble of black hair.” And Norah Jones would move her lips and sing, “Come away with me in the night…” And his answer would always be, “Of course, Norah, I’ll come away with you.” She would continue, paying him no attention, “Come away with me and I will write you a song…” And he would exclaim, “Oh, yes, Norah, please! Write me songs. Write as many as you want.” And she would sing on with her smoky twang, “I wanna walk with you on a cloudy day, in fields where the yellow grass grows knee-high, so won’t you try to come?” And he would answer with even greater excitement, “Oh yes, I will come. You know I will. Wherever you like — fields, mountains, seas — you name it. I’ll go wherever you want to go. Just tell me.” And he would then wake up.

He followed her career over the years. She made more albums and he bought them all. He watched every single one of her Youtube videos and kept track of her interviews and public appearances.

He really only had one great desire in life, and that is to meet Norah Jones in person. He had no idea how this is supposed to happen considering that he’s at least 10,000 miles away from her. She lived halfway across the globe, and there seemed to be little to zero chance that she will ever visit his country for a concert. All he really wanted was to hear her live, then somehow see her up close and shake her hands, and then have a photo taken with her so that in the future he will have proof that none of it was a dream, that it really happened, that he really did meet her, that he even shook her hand, and she shook his, and he felt her hand in his, and they exchanged words; it was so fleeting but he really met her and he heard her voice and she heard his and he was brimming with joy, and here’s the proof, a photograph.

But he knew that none of that is ever going to happen. However, he was free to daydream.

Fourteen years passed. He matured and therefore became less dreamy and romantic. He never married. The trauma of losing his first and only girlfriend never left him. It was still there inside him, gnawing at him like a black hole. He still listened to Norah Jones every now and then, but the playlist of his life now included musicians Norah Jones herself considered as her heroes: Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, John Coltrane, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan.

Then one day, while browsing through one of Norah Jones’ social media pages, he came across a post. She was at her house and she was inviting her fans to send her requests so that she may play some of her songs through Facebook Live. This was to thank them for supporting her just-released new album. He almost choked with excitement. He jumped at the chance and commented on her post, asking if she could play an old track of hers. His comment traveled electronically across the globe and reached her smartphone almost instantaneously. It was one among thousands of requests which poured in that day. And this is what happened next:

The light particles from the afternoon sun which entered Norah Jones’ window at her house in New York City bounced off every solid surface and illuminated her room. There were thousands of other comments in her smartphone screaming for her attention but somehow her eyes fell on his message in particular. She trained her eyes on his message and the light particles bounced off the letters of his name and entered her corneas. The light particles then passed through her pupils and were “caught” by the lens inside her pupils. They then went straight to her retinas and her retinas sent impulses to her optic nerves. The optic nerves then carried the impulses to her brain and there images of his name were created. She must have seen his name in her head. Oh, how he wanted to dwell there in her head for a few moments longer. How he longed to linger there and sift through the contents of her mind. It must have been filled with words, images, and musical notes. She must have tons of songs stashed away there, pieces she hasn’t sung in public, tracks she hasn’t even recorded. But a fraction of a second later, her brain shot his name to her vocal cords, signaling them to enunciate his name.

Then, gloriously, his name vibrated down her larynx, tumbled luxuriously on the surface of her tongue, and joyfully, albeit unwillingly, escaped her mouth and lips, riding ecstatically upon the gust of her breath.

This is what she said, exactly: “This next song is from my third album,” and she peered into the sheet of paper on her piano, “it’s called My Dear Country and it’s requested by Darcy Cuevas from the Philippines.” She then paused and looked at the camera and said, “Well, Darcy, I don’t know if you’ve experienced election fatigue in your country, but here we do. This song has been on my mind lately.”

She then placed her fingers on the keys of her piano and sang him the song he requested. The notes which flew from her lips were detected by the mic in her smartphone, and it then sent electronic signals across the world, which then ended up in his smartphone. Her notes then jumped from his smartphone and shot to his ears and into his brain.

He stared at the video and couldn’t believe it. Is this really happening? he asked himself. Did she really mention my name and address me? He pressed the rewind button and played the video again. Then he did it again and got the same result. Joy welled up inside him and he burst out laughing. It was the most surreal and magical thing that’s ever happened to him. It felt as if he was inside Norah Jones’ living room and she was giving a private mini-concert for a handful of people and he handed her a note with his request. Or it felt like he was reading a fairy tale and the princess suddenly popped out of the book and called him by name.

Her performance lasted for only 3 minutes, but those 3 minutes were addressed to him and therefore belonged to him and him alone. Those 3 minutes took only a tiny fraction of her time but no one can ever undo it. Those 3 minutes are irreversibly, irrevocably, and eternally his.

He smiled. He may never have a photo taken with Norah Jones, but he has something way better. He may never actually shake her hand, but his name passed through her eyes, mind, and lips. You can’t get any closer to Norah Jones than that, he told himself.

*This story was published in the September 3 issue of The Philippines Graphic.

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Dear Miss Jones*

Dear Miss Jones,

I am writing you this letter to assure you that there is absolutely nothing in this house you should fear.

Please allow me to explain:

1. I did not topple that porcelain vase in the foyer that evening. You forgot to close the window before you went up to bed and, consequently, a strong gust of wind knocked it down from the table and broke it to pieces. I don’t blame you in the least. You looked exhausted when you entered the house that night. Your concert must have really worn you out. I understand you completely;

2. I am not responsible for the creaking sounds you hear in the corridor at night. My house, or rather your house – for this dwelling is now legally yours – is, as you are well aware, made almost entirely of hardwood and is extremely old. It contracts and expands according to the weather;

3. The noises you hear at night are not “voices” or “whispers” but are rather the crackling of the leaves in the trees outside, and the sounds you described as “sinister laughter” or “perverse groaning” are in fact the cries of wild beasts that are to be found aplenty in the forest beyond the courtyard;

4. As a rule, I do not play the pianoforte whenever you are around. I always make sure that you are out of the house whenever my mood moves me to play a few sonatas. I am fond of those pieces for they remind me of my childhood and of my dear mother. Perhaps what you hear when you arrive home are the faint echoes of the notes I have generated in the morning. Let me promise you that from now on, I will only limit my time at the pianoforte to half an hour, so that the music will not linger far into the evening;

5. You might have detected the faint scent of flowers and candles in the library. Do not be alarmed by them, my dear madam. My sister, Maria, was fond of collecting roses, lilacs, and lilies when she was still a little girl. She kept them tucked between the pages of her letters and she sealed them with candle wax. You can find them on the top shelf of the bookcase behind my, or rather your, desk. I don’t object to you perusing them – my sister’s letters and collection of flowers, that is; and I don’t think she would mind it either if you will take a look at them – but I don’t think it would be very prudent for you to go up the wooden ladder. In fact, I strongly advise you against it, for the ladder is very old and might break. I worry for your safety;

6. The sensation that woke you up that particular evening – the feeling of being touched lightly in the cheek – has, alas, a supernatural cause. I am terribly sorry to confirm your suspicions. The truth is, my sister is very fond of you, and despite my explicit warnings never to disturb you or cause you alarm or distress, she still went and sat by your bed. I was in the study when I heard your screams. She is such a careless and headstrong girl! But let me assure you that she meant you no harm at all. She only wanted to comfort you and keep you company for, she told me, you appeared sad and lonely that night. However, that does not excuse her. She promised me never to do it again;

7. I assure you, madam, that I am fully aware of your right to privacy. I therefore conduct my daily affairs with that in mind. I never ventured, nor do I have any plans of venturing, into your bedroom, bathroom, and powder room. I never trespass into people’s private spaces. It is true that I can pass through walls, but I can’t see through them, so there is no reason to worry. I also keep my distance at all times. I make sure that I am never less than 20 feet away from you at any given moment. Whenever you are in your studio, I stay in the foyer. Whenever you are in the foyer, I stay in the living room. Whenever you are in the living room, I stay in the veranda. Whenever you are in the veranda, I stay in the library. Whenever you are in the library, I go back to the foyer, or else I take a walk in the garden under the moonlight and come back before daybreak;

8. Here, however, I am going to confess to a real sin, madam: the “clapping” sounds which you suspected you heard just the other day in the studio were indeed “clapping” sounds, and the exclamations of “bravo, bravo!” which immediately followed them were indeed exclamations of “bravo, bravo!”. You see, I am a great admirer of your music. I have been admiring you since your first album came out and I have been following your career ever since. How long has it been, 14 years? So great was my joy, therefore, when I found out that my heirs managed to sell the property to no less than Norah Jones herself! It was just as it should be for I would not have allowed them to sell this house to anyone else. Were you surprised to find your vinyl records in the library when you moved in here? I obtained them a few years ago from a nearby record store. I value them like I value my rarest collection of books. Anyway, your rendition of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” that night was masterful and I couldn’t help but praise you for your performance. It was simply superb! You made the song your very own. You have a way of owning every single song you decide to sing or cover. If I loved your music and talent any less, I would have been less effusive in expressing my admiration. In fact, if I had not been bound by all of these restraints, I would have been more vocal in complimenting you. I am more into classical music myself – Wagner, Bach, Mozart, and their contemporaries – but ever since you came into this house, I have come to appreciate and even love blues and jazz music. You see, I lived before Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, and Aretha Franklin were even born, so jazz music was unheard of in my time. I absolutely understand why you “freaked out” (your term) and stormed out of the house when you heard my voice and my clapping that night. My deepest and sincerest apologies, madam. I assure you that the next time you decide to sing a song or record a tune, I will keep my mouth closed. I will only admire you in silence. Your singing is the one thing I look forward to hearing every single day;

9. And I am going to admit to another thing. I am the reason why your beau, the bass player, left you. I can see through any person’s character and he clearly was a sleazy kind of individual. I saw that right away when he first set foot in this house. It was too obvious that he was only after your body, not your mind and your soul. A real gentleman conducts himself with strict propriety. It was thus highly improper of him to visit you even though you do not have a chaperone. And it was highly imprudent, and I daresay quite shocking, of him to tempt you to kiss him in the driveway and elsewhere in the house. Finally, it was absolutely scandalous, if not downright immoral, of him to seduce you. Marriage was far from the scoundrel’s mind, and it is my belief that a man and a woman can really only rightly consummate their love for each other if they do it within the context of the sacrament of matrimony. But let us not speak of love for I penetrated through his heart and did not see love there. I only saw lust and an insatiable appetite for pleasure. His motives were impure from the very beginning. Hence, I drove him away. Just as he was leading you by the hand into his bed chamber, I appeared in front of him as a macabre reflection in the mirror, and I contorted my face in such a way as to give him a very good fright. My impersonation of Count Dracula must have been convincing for he jumped up right away even before he could unzip his pants. He dashed out of the house through the kitchen door so I teleported down the driveway and met him there. He was beside himself with terror. I warned him, in a tone of voice at once ghoulish and sinister, that if he did not want me to haunt him for the rest of his life, he better not return here or make any attempt to reach or contact you. My dear madam, I do not at all regret what I did. I believe I saved you from a relationship that would have given you nothing but misery. You deserve a better man.

Madam, is it true what I overheard? Do you really wish to resell the house? This news fills me with the profoundest grief. This house won’t be the same without you. The bedrooms, study, library, foyer, living room, drawing room, sitting room, veranda, courtyard, and garden will be haunted by your absence. I beg you, kindly reconsider your plan of leaving. I am sure that this is all just a matter of misunderstanding. Forgive me for saying so, but I believe you are being too hasty in wishing to relocate to a new residence, considering that your stay here has not exceeded a month. The house will grieve if you will insist on going away. Maria, too, will grieve. I will grieve. And eternity shall pass us by once more. Eternity is such a long time and I cannot bear to go through it without you.

Yours, etc.
Diego Lopez del Fuego

 

Postscript

Dearest Norah, please forgive me, but I now have to be liberal in expressing my feelings. I will miss you terribly if you will go away. I will miss the sound of your smoky, languid voice. I will miss your singing. What will become of this house without your music? I will miss your pianoforte, your Wurlitzer, and your guitar. I will miss your jazz records. And although I can no longer eat food, I will still miss the smell of your cooking. The kitchen has gotten used to the aroma of your unusual recipes. I will miss seeing you brush your long hair in my mother’s dresser. My parents’ portraits that are hanging on the walls always looked at you with the highest admiration and approval. I will miss hearing your steps in the stairs and hallways. There is always a musical quality to the sound of your heels when you walk or when you run. I will miss your laughter. I will miss your shadow. I will miss your very presence.

God knows there are still many things I want to say. For instance, the garden will wither away without a lady to look after them, and even if I could take care of them myself, what good will the sight of roses bring me? One eventually tires of looking at roses, whereas no one can ever tire of looking at you. I never tired of gazing at you, Norah.

 

Post-postscript

My dear, dear Norah. I am a terrible liar. The truth is, I simply cannot live without you. That may sound strange — me saying that I cannot live if you will go away — considering what I am. But it is true. I cannot live without you. I will literally pass away again, and pass away every day, if you will leave. I am not ashamed to confess that I have been weeping since I heard the news yesterday. Yes, people like me do weep.

Dearest Norah, is there anything I can do to convince you to stay? If you’re not comfortable with 20 feet, I can increase the distance between us to 30 feet. If you’re worried that you might hear my voice again, I can go as far as 50 feet. If you’re totally not comfortable with me looking at you, I can banish myself up the attic and stay there for as long as you want. It will be most painful for me not to see you, but it will bring me consolation to know that we still live under the same roof.

My dearest Norah, are all of the above to your liking? Please let me know soonest. I am most anxious to hear your reply. Is it too much to ask you to dine with me tonight? I won’t be eating, of course, but I would love to prepare for you a modest dinner of paella, filete de cerdo, and escabeche, with a bottle of vino tinto. Maria is excited to play the violin for you.

*An earlier version of this story appeared in this blog several weeks ago.

The Girl in the Pool

Once upon a time, there was a boy in a swimming pool. The boy was with his mother. The pool was shallow but the boy couldn’t swim, so his mother accompanied him. It was night time.

There was a girl swimming in the other pool, the one next to the shallow pool. She was wearing an inflatable flotation ring around her waist. She appeared to be alone.

The girl saw the boy. She left her pool and hopped into the shallow pool where the boy was. The boy saw her. He strengthened his grip on his mother’s arm.

“It’s all right, dear,” his mother said. “It’s just a girl.”

The girl was active, her arms alive with energy. She swam near the boy and circled around him. Then she grabbed the boy’s hands and pulled him away from his mother’s arms. She squealed with delight as he screamed in terror.

Twenty years passed.

The boy was now a man. He was back in the same hotel where he and his mother stayed when he was little, but she was no longer with him. He sat on a lounge chair near the shallow pool. It was day time.

There was a woman sitting on a bench by the pool. Her hair had streaks of gray and her back was slightly bent forward. She reminded him so much of his mother. She appeared to be alone. Slowly she stood up, put on her summer hat, and walked towards him. She was about to pass him by when she tripped on his sandals. In a fraction of a second he was up on his feet and he got hold of her wrist to prevent her from falling into the pool.

He pulled her towards him and helped her steady her stance.

“I’m terribly sorry, ma’am,” he said. “My sandals were on the way.”

“Not your fault, dear,” the woman said. “I didn’t look where I was going. Thank you for your help.”

She fixed her hat and walked on.

A lady rushed from a nearby cottage and met the woman at the other side of the pool. Her arms and legs were alive with energy and youth. She was about his age, with long hair neatly kept in a knot behind her head. She looked visibly upset and worried.

“Mama, are you all right?” the lady said. “Who was that?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” the woman replied. “Just some boy. He was rather nice.”

She removed her dark glasses and he slipped on his eyeglasses and they each saw the boy and the girl in the pool.

The Library

It was dark inside the public library. The floor boards creaked as Chelsea walked from shelf to shelf. Finally, she stopped before the “Literature” section. She squinted her eyes so she could read the titles more clearly (she lost her first pair of glasses in an Uber car back in Cebu, her second pair at the ship on her way to Tacloban, and her third pair back at the hotel). She picked up a couple of paperbacks from the shelf and examined them closely. Their covers were dusty and stiff.

She opened up a collection of stories by Kafka. Immediately there arose a musty smell — old vanilla and rice. She lifted the book to her nose so she could inhale the scent deeply. She then browsed through its pages to see if any of the stories looked familiar. Some of them were. She read excerpts here and there and scenes from her college life flashed in her mind — some of them happy, some of them sad. She realized that this is one of the reasons why she fell in love with existentialist literature in the first place: the stories were so absurd and depressing that they made real life happier and more meaningful.

I must bring these home, she thought.

She climbed down the stairs and looked for a librarian. A man was sitting behind a desk at the far end of the room. She approached him. A label was sitting on top of the table: “Frederick Herrera, Sr., Librarian”. He did not fit her image of a librarian. He was young, dressed somewhat fashionably, and looked more like a model than a bookworm. He was reading a copy of Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”.

“I’m sorry,” he said, looking up from his book. “Can I help you?”

“Um, er, eh,” she stammered. She had the words in her mind but couldn’t quite speak them out loud.

Finally, she began, “Uh, yeah. About these books…”

He glanced at the books she was carrying.

“Can I take them out? I mean, can I borrow them?” she said.

“Well,” he said. “They are really old, you know. They were donated decades ago, many as far back as the 30s and 40s. So…”

“I’ll take care of them, I promise,” she said. “It’s just that, I just love these titles and they are extremely hard to find in bookshops, and it just saddens me that they are just rotting here — I’m sorry, no offense — in the library with no one borrowing or reading them. The last time this book was checked out, for example, was 1987!”

He smiled.

“I mean, are there rules against borrowing these books?” she said.

“Not really,” he said. “You know what, for a pretty girl like you, I say, take them home with you. You can return them whenever you want.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

“So I can borrow them?”

“Borrow them, own them, pass them on to others. I don’t mind. What’s important is that they’re read and talked about. And you look like the kind of person who loves to read and talk about books.”

“Woah, thank you so much, Mr…”

“Erick. Just call me Erick. Erick, Jr. Erick Sr.’s my dad. He’s on sick leave so I’m covering for him.”

“So you’re not the librarian?”

“Nope.”

“So you don’t have the authority to allow these books to be brought out…”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll explain it to my dad. Just promise me you won’t tell anyone about this. I’m kind of bending the rules for you.”

“Can I get more?” she said, her eyes wide with excitement. “There’s plenty more upstairs.”

“You know what,” he said, “Take as many as you want. Take as many as your bag can carry.” He laughed.

And she did. She ran upstairs and took as many books as her hands and arms could carry: titles by Camus, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, de Beauvoir.

She shoved them in her backpack. The rest she piled against her chest. She went back downstairs and nodded at Erick. She wanted to wave. He waved and smiled.

She stood for a moment outside the library. The sun was just setting behind the buildings in Tacloban. A few pedestrians stared at her as they passed her by. She turned around to check whether Erick was following her, but was shocked to see that the door was covered with old boards and plywood, and a hand-painted “Closed” sign hung on where the door knob used to be.

 

Letter From a Ghost

Dear Miss Jones,

I am writing you this letter because, well, recent events compel me to do so.

Let me begin with a few clarifications, in order to assuage your fears:

  1. I did not topple that vase in the foyer that evening. The wind knocked it down for you forgot to close the window before you went to bed;
  2. I am not responsible for the creaking sounds you hear at night in the corridor. My house, or rather your house – for this dwelling is now legally yours – is, as you are well aware, extremely old. It contracts and expands according to the weather;
  3. The noises you hear at night are not “voices” or “whispers” but are rather the crackling of the leaves in the trees outside, and the sounds you described as “sinister laughter” or “perverse groaning” are in fact the cries of wild beasts that are to be found aplenty in the forest beyond the courtyard;
  4. As a rule, I do not play the pianoforte whenever you are around. I always make sure that you are not inside the house whenever my mood moves me to play a few sonatas. I am fond of these pieces for they remind me of my childhood and of my dear mother. Perhaps what you hear when you arrive home are the faint echoes of the notes I have generated in the morning. Let me promise you that from now on, I will only limit my time at the pianoforte to half an hour, so that the music will not linger into the evening;
  5. You might have detected the faint scent of flowers and candles in the library. Do not be alarmed by them, my dear madam. My sister, Antonina, was fond of collecting roses, lilacs, and lilies when she was very little. She kept them tucked in between the pages of her letters and she sealed them with candle wax. You can find them on the top shelf of the bookcase behind my, or rather your, desk. I don’t object to you perusing them – my sister’s letters and collection of flowers, that is; and I don’t think she would mind it, either – but I fear that going up the wooden ladder might not be a very prudent thing to do. In fact, I strongly advise you against it, for I worry for your safety;
  6. The sensation that woke you up that particular evening – the feeling of being touched in the forehead – has, alas, a supernatural cause. I am terribly sorry to confirm your suspicions. The truth is, my sister is very fond of you, and despite my repeated warnings never, ever to disturb you or cause you alarm or distress, she still went ahead and sat by your bed. I was in the study when I heard your scream. She’s a careless, foolish, and headstrong girl! But let me assure you that she meant you no harm. She only wanted to keep you company that night for you were, as she told me, quite sad about something or someone. That does not excuse her, however. She promised me never to do it again;
  7. I assure you, madam, that I have a high respect for your privacy. I do not trespass into your bedroom or bathroom at any time of the day, whether you are at home or not. It is true that I can pass through walls, but I can’t see through them, so there is no reason to worry. I also keep my distance at all times. I make sure that I am never less than 20 feet from you. When you are in the foyer, I am in the living room. When you are in the living room, I am in the veranda. When you are in the veranda, I am in the study. When you are in the study, I go back to the foyer;
  8. Here, however, I am going to admit to a real mistake, madam: the “clapping” sound that you suspected you heard just the other day was indeed a “clapping” sound, and the exclamations of “bravo, bravo!” which followed them were indeed exclamations of “bravo, bravo!”. You see, your readings of certain passages of Jose Rizal’s El Filibusterismo were masterful and I couldn’t help but praise you for your performance. Superb, simply superb! But I absolutely understand why you “freaked out” (your term) and stormed out of the house. My deepest, sincerest apologies, madam. I assure you that the next time you will decide to read aloud a story, or sing a song, or dance to the tune of your favorite music – I confess that I am still not used to what you call “Radiohead”, “Coldplay”, and these other Modern pieces of music – I will keep my mouth shut. Your readings, singing, and dancing are the things I look forward to every single day.

Madam, this house won’t be the same without you. The bedrooms, the study, the library and all of the books therein, the foyer, the living room, the veranda, the paintings, the China, the furniture, the sculptures, the courtyard, the garden, and every square inch of this mansion are yours. These are all for you. They exist for you. I beg you, kindly reconsider your plan of leaving. I am sure that this is simply a matter of misunderstanding. Forgive me for saying so, but I believe that your wish of relocating to a new residence might be too hasty, considering that your stay here has not exceeded a month. The house will grieve if you will insist on going away. Antonina, too, will grieve. I will grieve. And eternity shall pass us by once again.

Yours, etc.
Jaime Sebastian del Fierro

Postscript

Please forgive me for being too liberal in the expression of my feelings, but I have to say that if you go away, I will miss the smell of your cooking. The kitchen has gotten used to the smell of your unusual recipes. I will miss seeing you brush your long hair in my mother’s dresser. My parents’ portraits that hang on the room’s walls always look at you with admiration and approval. I will miss hearing your steps in the stairs. There is always a musical quality to the sound of your heels whether you’re walking or running. I will miss your voice, shadow, and presence.

There are still many things I want to say. For instance, the garden will wither away without a lady to look after them, and even if I could take care of them myself, what good will the sight of roses bring me? One eventually tires of looking at roses. I have many thing I want to say, but I must stop here.

Likes

Marc was pretty sure that Hannah did not like him at all because she rarely ever liked any of his posts on Facebook. So when they saw each other at the cafeteria, he was totally relaxed. He didn’t have to pretend to be the kind of guy a girl like Hannah might like. He was absolutely at ease, free.

She asked him if he’d care to join her. He said sure, why not? They ate together and talked. They talked a lot. She found out and he found out that they had too many things in common. They both liked the same things and disliked the same things.

Just out of the blue after their conversation, she blurted out, “I really like you.” And that’s how everything began between them.

The Existentialist Gym

They call this the existentialist gym for a reason: every single person who ever became a member here sooner or later converted to existentialism.

I should know. I’ve been manning the registration area for several years now. Upon signing the membership form, the clients always wondered out loud, “What the hell’s a ‘worldview’?” And I had to explain the term in great detail.

“What’s that got to do with going to the gym?” they would ask.

And I would almost always answer, “Absolutely nothing.”

Most of them indicated that they were either Catholics or Protestants; I classified them all under “theism”. A few considered themselves “materialists” or “naturalists” but I am pretty sure they had no idea what they were talking about.

Just like any other gym, this one’s covered with walls of mirrors, but unlike all gyms, it pays homage to the existentialist philosophers. So behind one dumbbell rack, for example, you’ll find a portrait of Sartre. Beside one of the water fountains, you’ll see an image of Nietzsche. And on the wall opposite the treadmills, you’ll see an oil painting of Kierkegaard.

And whatever it is that you’re doing at any given moment — whether you’re dead lifting, bench pressing, or curling your legs — you’re always likely to see one or two of the hundreds of existentialist quotes manually inscribed on the mirrors. They’re impossible to miss, really.

In short, each gym session is in reality an immersion into the world of Kafka, Camus, and de Beauvoir.

Is it any wonder then that you’ll often hear the clients here exclaiming, in between sets and in bated breath, things like, “What the hell is the meaning of life?” or “Has life any objective meaning at all?” or “Hell is definitely other people. This place reeks of sweat.”

Every single gym-goer sooner or later and without exception comes to the conclusion that they are free to create their own subjective meanings as indicated by the quality of locker room conversations:

“So have you decided on the meaning of life?”

“Yes. I’ve decided that the meaning of life is to get so buffed up and attract as many girls as possible. You?”

“Same here.” *Fist bump*

You might want to become a member? Let me know. Were offering discounts. Limited slots available.

Awesome

“Yeah. She was awesome. I mean, you should’ve seen her. If you were there last night, you would’ve seen how awesome she was. I mean, man. What an awesome mind she has. The girl’s got brains, unlike the other girls I’ve dated in the past. She is something else, man, and by that I mean she’s out-of-this-world awesome. You should’ve seen her. I told you it would be awesome if you could join us. Why didn’t you?” he said.

“I had to stay at the office until ten, and by that time I was already exhausted, so I went home directly,” his friend said.

“Man, what an awesome girl she was. She’s pretty, sure, but man, how smart she was. Awesome. Gosh, I can’t even begin to describe her. She had this awesome way of talking, which is out-of-this-world enchanting. I mean, the way her mouth moved, the way she spoke her words, and the way she expressed whatever was on her mind. I just sat there with my mouth open and said very little, but it’s awesome because I learned tons of things about her.”

“Like what?”

“Well, I’ve learned that she’s a writer. Awesome, right? She writes stories and stuff. Gosh, what an awesome girl. And when I asked her what kinds of stories she writes, she went on to elaborate about these imaginary people she has created in her mind and brought to life on paper. Like this awesome knight who served a lonely queen in a long-forgotten kingdom. And this hunk of a lumberjack who lived in the woods who was actually a living saint. Or this guy who found a doorway in an awesome museum that led to 18th century Philippines. And many other stories like that.”

“So she writes for a living?”

“Not only that,” he said. “She also does other awesome things like act on stage, play the cello for an orchestra, volunteer for an orphanage, manage her own events company, do modeling on the side, climb mountains, grow exotic flowers, maintain a museum, collect rare and out-of-print books, paint portraits, make chocolates, write poems, teach physics at a university…”

“So she’s a female Jack of all trades?” his friend said.

“Awesome, right?”

“Awesome.”

“I know, right? So I told her, ‘You’re so awesome’. She just smiled. I said, ‘You’re the most awesome girl I’ve ever dated in my life…'” He stopped smiling. “But somehow this angered her. Things were not so awesome after that. She said, ‘A date? What do you mean, a date? Are you mad? This isn’t a date. What on earth gave you that idea?’ She stood up hurriedly and left our table, which embarrassed and depressed me, but man oh man oh man, you should’ve seen the way she walked – pure drop-dead awesome. I never saw any girl move like that in my life. Such finesse, such grace, such alluring awesomeness.”

“So the night ended badly.”

“Yes. But what’s awesome, though, is that she hasn’t unfriended me yet in Facebook. There is hope after all. Just this afternoon, I PMed her and told her how sorry I was that I offended her, and I repeated my praises, telling her how awesome she was, and so on and so forth, and I said it would be awesome if we could meet again.”

“And what did she say?”

“Well, I need your help here,” he said. He opened his smartphone and continued, “Let me read to you her reply, ‘The word ‘awesome’ has over a hundred synonyms. Consult a Thesaurus.’ My question is, is that a yes?”

The Little Boy and the Unreasonable Princess

My son loves stories. He sometimes asks me to tell him stories. Oftentimes, we do it at night while the four of us — me, him, my wife, and our little daughter — are all lying down on the bed, ready for sleep; or we do it while I’m driving. So these are all impromptu stories — stories I’d just make up. Sometimes, I read them stories from books, but more often than not, these are extemporaneous stories. He supplies me with titles (It usually starts with “The Little Boy and the…”) and I make up the story along the way.

Well, recently, I’ve been writing these stories down on my computer. My dream is to write more children’s stories with Luke, and later, with Lizzy as well, and compile them as one book.

Here’s our second written short story:

“The Little Boy and the Unreasonable Princess”
by Dante and Luke Thomas Cuales

One afternoon, a little boy was playing in a garden. He hopped, and ran, and squealed with delight, for it was the beginning of summer.

Out of the blue, a princess appeared, beside the lilies and rose bushes.

“Hello,” the princess said. She wasn’t smiling.

“Hello,” answered the little boy.

“What’s your name?” said the princess.

“Luke,” replied the little boy. “What are you?”

“I’m a princess,” she said. “As you can see.” Indeed, she was wearing a tiara, a long silver dress, and small shoes made of glass.

The little boy thought for a moment. He wanted to ask her where she came from, how she got to their garden, and, more importantly, why she’s there in the first place, but he didn’t know how to phrase these questions. These questions were too complex for a little boy like him to utter.

“Give me something that is beautiful and not found in this garden,” the princess said.

“Why?” the little boy said.

“Just because,” the princess said.

“Why?” the little boy repeated.

“Just because,” the princess repeated.

So he did as he was told. He gave her a flower which he plucked from one of the pots that lined the fences of their garden.

“It is beautiful, but it came from this garden. I said I want something beautiful that’s not found here,” the princess said.

So the little boy went inside his house and gave her a toy. It was a robot toy with wheels, wings, and rockets. The princess was not impressed.

“It is found outside the garden but it’s not beautiful,” she said.

This puzzled the little boy for it was his favorite toy.

He ran to and fro and gave the princess everything he could think of, but they were either taken from the garden or they were deemed not beautiful — butterflies, flower pots with ornate drawings, toy trucks, lego blocks, his father’s paintings, his sister’s barbie dolls, his mother’s shoes — they were not good enough for the princess. Besides, the princess said, did he ask his family’s permission before taking them?

The little boy was downcast. His heart sank as the sun lowered down the horizon.

“It’s getting dark,” the princess said. “But I will be back tomorrow.” And she disappeared as mysteriously as she appeared.

That night, the boy leaned on the window sill of his room. His mommy stroked his hair and kissed him on the cheek.

“Why are you sad, little one?” his mommy asked him.

And he told her about the princess in the garden and her unreasonable requests.

“Oh?” his mommy said. She didn’t quite know what to say. “Well, sometimes princesses are demanding. But there are also princesses who are not demanding. They are good princesses.”

His mommy hugged him and she left the room to check on his sister, who was yelling in the other room.

The moon happened to be full that night. It shone bright and big in the cloudless sky. He looked up at it and whispered, “Hello, Mr. Moon.”

To his surprise, the moon talked back. “Hello, little boy.”

“You can talk,” he exclaimed.

“Of course, I can,” Mr. Moon said. “But I only talk to good little boys like you. Why are you sad?”

“Because I can’t find any thing that is beautiful outside the garden.”

“I think I have something you might like,” the moon said. “Here.” And he extended his arms down to him. The little boy didn’t know Mr. Moon had arms. They were long yellow arms, and they stretched and stretched and stretched further and further down until they reached the window where the little boy was looking out.

The little boy held Mr. Moon’s hands.

“Are you ready? Hold on tight,” Mr. Moon said. And he shot up the sky like a kite or a rocket. The little boy shouted, “Weeeeeeeeee!” and he extended one arm as if he was Superman. “I’m a superhero,” he said.

Before long, he reached Mr. Moon’s surface.

“Here,” Mr. Moon said, and he gave the little boy a shiny white object. It had the shape of a diamond but it wasn’t a diamond. The little boy peered into the crystal and he saw a hundred thousand colors shining and shifting and dancing inside.

“Do you want to know what that is?” Mr. Moon said.

The little boy nodded, his eyes wide open.

“It’s a moon gem,” Mr. Moon said. “There’s nothing like it where you live. You can have it. I have many more treasures like those.”

The little boy was so he happy. He thanked Mr. Moon and gave him a high five.

Later that night, back inside his bedroom, he tucked the moon gem under his pillow, and he slept with a smile on his face.

True enough, the following morning, the princess was there in the garden. She didn’t even greet him “good morning”.

“Good morning!” the little boy said. He kept the moon gem behind his back.

“Well?” the princess said.

And he gave her the moon gem.

The princess was so amazed that she became speechless. For the first time since their acquaintance, she smiled. And then, she cried. She wept buckets of tears.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I’m very unreasonable.” She sobbed. “I was only looking for a friend. I don’t have friends in our kingdom. Will you be my friend?”

The little boy thought about it. He never had a princess friend before. He also thought about the questions he wanted to ask her.

“Okay,” he said.

“Where did you get this stone?” the princess asked.

“It’s a moon gem,” he said, and he told her about Mr. Moon and his treasures.

That became one of the happiest summers of his life.

Valentine’s Day

“I don’t know much about love,” his friend said, pressing the elevator button. “But this I know for sure: a girl either likes you or doesn’t like you. That’s the bottom line. No amount of poetry can move the heart and mind of a girl who, to begin with, is not attracted to you.”
The elevator door opened and they both stepped inside.
“So if I were you, stop wasting your time writing these poems. They’re totally irrelevant. If she doesn’t like you, she doesn’t like you. And that should be the end of it. If she likes you, a single verse from you will win her heart. If she dislikes you, an epic love poem will not move her an inch.”
His friend pressed the number “12” and the elevator door closed shut.
“But what will I do with all these poems and letters?” he said.
“Throw them away. Burn them. Bury them in a field or something. Just get rid of them. Jeez, you’re such a hopeless romantic. I’m starting to feel sorry for you,” his friend said.
The girl who stood in the corner of the elevator smiled at him. He smiled back and blushed. She was holding a bouquet of Malaysian mums, wrapped in yellow and red crepe paper. She was evidently very happy. There was a kind of halo about her. She seemed to beam with light, and the small space the three of them were occupying felt brighter and warmer.
“When was the last time she texted you?” his friend asked.
“About a week ago,” he answered.
“Have you tried calling her?”
“I can’t contact her anymore. Must have changed her number.”
“She’s obviously avoiding you.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah.”
A few moments passed awkwardly by. Time slowed down. He gazed at the girl’s hair and blazer.
All of a sudden, a long list of questions flashed in his head: “Who is she? Where is she going? Who gave her those flowers? Is she single? Is she a colleague? How come he’s never seen her before? Why did she smile at me? What is she thinking right now? What floor is this? Which floor is she heading to? How many seconds do I have left? Will I ever see her again? Does she like poems?” And so on.
“Of all the days of the year, this is my least favorite,” his friend said, breaking his train of thought.
The girl giggled, but his friend didn’t seem to notice.
The elevator stopped and opened at the 11th floor. The girl stepped out and glanced quickly at him before disappearing into the hallway.
“Gosh, I really hate Valentine’s Day,” his friend said.