Book smashed right on top of my table – a pile of paper flown all over my cubicle. I saw a woman’s silhouette in the book’s cover. I knew the book by heart. I don’t need to look at the woman who threw the book neither, almost hitting my face, and complain over her attitude because like the silhouette, she too is in tremendous confusion.
And looked at her. All I saw was her back, twenty feet away. I can almost hear her sobbing.
Nine years ago, we were both new in the institution. We got along well. Very well. She would spend the night in my place. My family was hers. And so was I to her family.
After three years in the graduate school, she earned her Master’s Degree while I was still struggling to finish a research proposal.
Another three years, she finished her Doctorate program with the highest academic citation. I graduated with her, too, but with my MA.
Our friendship blossomed despite her moving in to another school – this time as an administrator. Because of her compromised schedule, we seldom had the time to be together. Lesser and lesser time. Shorter and shorter conversations. At the restaurant. Over the phone.
One day, she dashed through my office.
“I filed a tentative leave from work. Lend me a dozen of your books.”
Without question, I gave her what she needed. Then she left.
That was how we were. One waits for the other to open, giving the other ample time to ventilate on her own, the way she wants to. The other would just accept. Listen later.
And that was the last time I saw her. And heard from her, before this.
I arranged the papers back into their order. The intercom rang. Outside call.
“Jo, I’m in our favorite cafeteria.” She hanged.
Her words meant one thing. She was asking me to go. Since it was summer, it was a bit easy for me to leave my piled up work. But it was easier for me to decide to go to her because I sensed she badly needed someone to talk to by the chill in her voice.
“Give me a tall Latte, please.”
The waiter served my order. The rich smooth espresso softened by frothy steamed milk relaxed my senses. I was hoping her Sumatra did the same.
“Did you re-read the lines I marked with my highlighter?”
“Yes, I did.”, was my short reply.
“Damn you! Did you intentionally give me that book?”
“No, I did not.”
“Did you think I will buy that crap?”
“I’m entering the convent.”
Her statement was more like a declarative. So I opted to keep my silence. She wasn’t asking for my opinion anyway. I only stared blank at her.
“Damn you! Why are you giving me that kind of stare? Aren’t you saying anything? Tell me I’m stupid! Tell me I’m crazy!”
“Why should I? You know better than I. you have decided. Am I in the position to disagree with your decisions?”
“I mean… wouldn’t you ask why.”
“I’m not happy.”
“Would your entering the congregation make you happy?”
“Well at least I’m making something out of my stupid life.”
“Why the lines from the book?”
“They speak so much of the kind of life I lived.”
Silence. (Well, counselors like me always use silence at our advantage.)
“I graduated as class valedictorian. I finished college as magna cum laude. I earned highest academic citations in graduate college. At thirty, I am an academic administrator. I learned to play the piano. Played the violin well. I’m a black-belter. I’m a chess master. I don’t have a husband. No kids to cuddle. All I have are the degrees I earned. Certificates lined all over my wall. No pictures of me smiling or my family or my kids running about. I am alone in my three-storey house. I drive my car myself. My phone rings and it is my superior calling for a meeting. Some papers to be signed. Beating the deadline. Nobody’s telling me to take care. Eat my meals on time. or asking me what time I’ll be home. I wear my clothes, always with appropriate code. Put on my accessories. Not to please the eyes of a man but to look respectable in the eyes of my colleagues. I go to bed at night. Close my eyes. And that’s it.”
The rest of our conversation I will keep.
While writing this, she’s sleeping at the other room with my daughter. Tomorrow, I shall take her to the bus terminal – board the bus that will bring her to her destination – for the meantime, that is. While sadness still embraces her soul.
Sometime in my life, I am Maya. So much “what ifs”. At times I am lured to do the inappropriate to give myself a chance for happiness. But most of the time, I just do what norms dictate. If happiness means not hurting other people, following by word the rules of the land, accomplishing assigned tasks on time, then I think I am happy.
But if happiness means doing what you want to do with your life, being true to yourself, getting to your dreams with lesser effort, screaming if you feel like it, then I have to get back to myself once again and start re-writing my life to be really truly happy.