Maya Dela Rosa settled into her seat in the economy class of Singapore Airlines’s last flight bound for Singapore from Manila that night. This is her first time to be out of the country in so many years. Three years will be a long time to be away from everything familiar to her, but this move is for her own professional and personal growth. She is looking forward to working abroad. For her, it is an adventure and it may cure the restlessness she had been feeling lately. After visiting a friend in Singapore, she will travel to Macau to work at one of the new hotels in Cotai Central.
Prior to this, and right after finishing a degree in International Hospitality Management two years ago, she had work for the same hotel chain in Manila. First she was hired as a front desk personnel and then was promoted as supervisor a year ago. Due to her excellent performance, the position at the new hotel in Macau was offered to her, with a higher salary, and more room for growth. For Maya, the consideration was not so much on the salary, but rather the chance to grow and learn more about the industry. She wants to be a hotel general manager in the future. Besides, it is time to spread her wings. She is restless and she can’t explain why. She felt she had existed in a vacuum since the night she was crowned Miss Mindoro three years before.
The morning after she was crowned as Miss Mindoro 2007, Maya’s Mamang, her grandmother, died. She took a turn from bad to worse while she was in the pageant. Since then, Maya had lived permanently in Manila with her aunt and her family. Her Tita Lulu, her mother’s only sister and her husband Tito Mario treated her like a daughter and she is very close to her cousins, but she feels it’s about time she goes on her own. She is almost 23 years old. If she had her way three years ago, she would have preferred to live alone and deal with the sadness she was feeling on her own. But her Tita Lulu wouldn’t hear of it, insisting that her Mamang would have not wanted that. Lulu Francisco also said Maya was too young be on her own, and they are family so they will take care of her, of each other. Maya deferred to her then, as she loves and respects her aunt.
“Mamang, I still miss you. I love you. Please be with me in my new adventure.” Maya muttered. She always have a silent conversation with Mamang’s spirit when she wanted to be comforted, when the feeling of being truly alone gets to her. Mamang was more like a mother to her, than a grandmother. Maya barely remembered how her parents looked like since they died when she was very young. She knew, though, that they have loved her very much. She remembered family outings, her mom and dad reading her a story in the evening, and being cuddled by them.
Maya lost her parents in a car accident when she was 10 years old. Her Mamang took care of her. Like when her Mamang died, her Tita Lulu also offered to take her in then, to raise her with her cousins Cristina Rose and Lino, but Mamang insisted that she will be the one to take care of Maya. Both of them comforted each other and helped each other dealt with the lost of Teresita Dela Paz Dela Rosa, so young to have died at age 35, and her husband Arturo Dela Rosa, gone at age 40.
Maya and her parents used to live in Quezon City. Maya’s dad was an executive in an international cargo company. Her mother also worked in the same company as the personnel manager. One evening, on the way home from a party, a truck lost its break and rammed into her parents’ vehicle. They died instantly. Mamang brought her home to her native Mindoro after the funeral.
Maya’s parents left her quite wealthy. It turned out, her parents invested their earnings well. However, Mamang refused to touch her inheritance even for Maya’s schooling and expenses. She insisted on providing for her grandchild. She has hectares of farm lands, and some businesses in Mindoro. She said Maya can do whatever she wants with the money when she is 25 years old. But while she is in her care, she can well provide for her.
To entertain a young Maya, when she was feeling sad, Mamang will tell her stories about princesses and princes in faraway lands, of gods and goddesses in Greek and Roman mythologies. Mamang was a professor of literature at the college in San Nicolas before she retired. She also told Maya how she met her grandfather and the great love they had. It fueled Maya’s young mind, and she became determined to find the same kind of love when the time comes. She will not settle for less, she told her Mamang. Conchita Dela Paz also told her grandchild of her dream to join beauty contests, but her very conservative parents refused to allow her. In fact, she told Maya, it was one of her unfulfilled dreams. Mamang followed all the beauty pageants avidly – from Binibining Pilipinas, to Miss World, Miss Earth, Miss Universe, and others.
It was for Mamang that Maya, then a junior college student in 2007, decided to join, first the Miss San Nicolas Beauty Pageant, then the Miss Mindoro Beauty Pageant. Maya thought it would please and cheer up her grandmother who was already bedridden at that time. She was diagnosed with colon cancer in late 2006. It took courage on Maya’s part to do so as basically she was a shy, bookish person and she would have not thought of joining a beauty pageant on her own even if people have told her she is very beautiful and a ‘Binibining Pilipinas material’. She was the runaway winner of the Miss San Nicolas Beauty Pageant, which already made Mamang very happy. Then there was the Miss Mindoro Pageant. Ah, going back, down memory lane, meaning remembering the pageant night itself, and Richard Lim!
Maya was very nervous that night. But one thing was driving her, to win for Mamang. She gathered all the inner courage she could muster and forged on to compete. She may not win that night as all the other candidates were also very beautiful and very determined, but at least she tried for her grandmother.
When she was in the middle of the stage, for the first time, all she saw was a sea of people and bright lights. It was only when she was about to turn back to exit the stage that her eyes focused on Richard Lim. She didn’t know then that he was the Chairman of the Board of Judges, as the judges were only introduced midway through the pageant. When their eyes met, she felt like a current ran through her body and her heart skipped a beat. When she got backstage, she had to catch her breath not because of the ordeal of being on display when she was not used to it, but because of him.
Throughout that night, Maya was very conscious of Richard Lim. Her young heart was never the same after that. For the first time, a strange, wonderful emotion touched it. When the competition was just down to her and Jessica Lopez, her heart was somersaulting from nervousness, anticipation and this feeling of unexplained happiness and giddiness, knowing that he was there, sitting with the other judges. She was also beset with worry. Mamang was in a bad condition when she left. Maya didn’t want to go anymore but Mamang insisted that she should go and compete and even teased her about bringing home the crown for sure. Her cousin Cris was the only one with her that night. When James Ventura, a high school classmate, and a former suitor actually, announced her to be the winner, she thanked God and at the same time, silently offered her winnings to Mamang. Unconsciously, she had sought Richard Lim and saw him looking at her too. Suddenly, she can’t breath.
Her Ate Cris texted her Tita Lulu to let Mamang know through her that she won the pageant. Her Tita Lulu replied that their Mamang had the most beautiful smile when she was told. However, half an hour later, she took a turn from bad to worst. Her Ate Cris informed her about it when she and the two runner-ups went backstage to get ready for the after pageant party. She was just planning to say hello and not stay long, as she wanted to go home to be with her grandmother. But upon hearing that her grandmother was in a bad condition, she told Rebecca Bermudez that she will not able to attend the party completely. She understood. For a while, Maya felt a tinge of regret in not seeing Richard Lim again, but her Mamang was more important. Mamang rallied throughout the night with her family by her side, but at dawn, she had said her final goodbye to them.
The house in San Nicolas was closed down, the farmlands left in the hands of the caretakers, and the businesses sold as there was no one who can manage it from Manila after her funeral. Maya started her new life in Manila two weeks later. It had meant no more going to Mindoro twice a month and during her semester breaks.
From time to time, Maya had wondered about Richard Lim, even up to imagining their paths crossing again. However, the reality was they moved in different circles so she believed there was no chance of that. She just concentrated on her studies and finished at the top of her class. She could have not asked for a more loving family than what her Tita Lulu, Tito Mario and her cousins gave her. She and her Ate Cris are like real sisters. But there were instances wherein she felt left out also, missing a having a mom and dad of her own, and missing Mamang so much. That restlessness drove her to travel around the country whenever she has the opportunity. In recent months, that feeling increased and it was one of the reasons why she took this job in Macau.
When Emman, her gay best friend in college who is working in one of the hotels in Orchard Road, found out about her plans, he cajoled her into spending several days with him first. She thought it would be good to see him also and unwind a bit before concentrating on making her way in the international hotel management world.
Maya settled more comfortably in her seat, with the thought of reading a book throughout the rest of the flight. She was about to get her Kindle from her bag under the seat in front of her when the guy beside her, a good looking foreigner, spoke and introduced himself.
“Hi, I’m Roman Taylor!” The guy said by way of introduction. “Are you off to Singapore or just transiting?” He gave her a friendly, non-threatening smile. However, Maya sensed his interest beyond that.
“Hi.” Maya said, then politely, “I’m Maya Dela Rosa. Yes, I’m going to Singapore.”
“Really!” Roman seemed to perk up more upon hearing that. “Staying for good?”
“Not really. I’m just visiting a friend for several days.” Maya replied, not volunteering more information.
“Oh, too bad. I thought we could get to know each other and go to dinner, you know, as soon as you have settled in.” He said, looking very interested in getting to know her. “Maybe, you and your friend can squeeze it in, one evening. Have dinner with me please.”
“I’m really sorry, Roman. Thank you for the invitation, but I don’t think we can. My time in Singapore is limited.” Maya said regretfully, using that as a way out.
“Oh well, just in case you find yourself there again, here’s my card.” Then he handed her his business card.
Maya took it politely, thanking him. To avoid further conversation, Maya opted to watch a movie. Roman also settled into his seat to do the same. Roman might look like an older version of Liam Hemsworth, but she is not interested. No one had made her heart beat faster since the night of the pageant. Maybe, it will skip a beat again for someone else, other than Richard Lim, but she is not in a hurry to find out. Romance was the last thing in her mind at that point in her life. “I wonder where is he now?” She mused.
Unbeknown to Maya, Richard Lim was in the same flight. He was in business class. He boarded the plane after most of the passengers in the waiting lounge had boarded. He preferred it that way. Richard is going to Germany via Singapore to meet with potential business partners of Lim Corporation’s latest project, a luxury resort in Bohol. Richard has been in charge of the family corporation’s property developments since three years ago. So far, he had built resorts and hotels in Mindoro, Palawan, Davao, and now Bohol.
Richard’s first project was actually in Mindoro. A month after the pageant, he was back in Mindoro overseeing the building of a mountain resort at the town adjacent to San Nicolas. In the beginning, Richard was hesitant to look for Maya as not only they don’t really know each other but he realized she is years younger than him. He was not also looking for a relationship at that time. But he can’t help himself, he did. He asked around and found out that she had moved to Manila after the death of her grandmother shortly after the pageant. He believed it was the reason why she missed the party! Richard’s heart went out to Maya. His contacts didn’t know where she is staying in Manila or what schools she goes to. He thought of finding out that too. But he got busy with the project, and the next one, and the next one, as he needed to prove himself to his father.
Roberto Lim was initially very reluctant to diversify and put the family’s corporation into property developments, especially hotels and resorts. But Richard persuaded him, armed with tons of research and projections on how the industry was developing at that time and its potential for big growth and boom as more and more people travel, in search of beautiful places to stay. From time to time, he would think of Maya Dela Rosa and what could have been had the circumstances been right. Also, as if he was drawn helplessly, every time candidates for the various beauty pageants were announced, he would check if Maya is among the candidates thinking that with her beauty, intelligence and talent, she would find her way there, and win easily. But it seemed that she had laid very low since her grandmother died.
The flight attendant interrupted Richard’s thoughts and asked him what he would like to drink. She was also looking at him with interest. Richard politely asked for a cup of coffee. He then took out his laptop and started working. He needed to anyway, and this is his way of deflecting whatever signal the beautiful flight attendant seemed to be sending.
Richard got engrossed in the facts and figures he was reviewing. Before he knew it, the plane had landed at the Changi Airport. He was the last one to leave the plane. He hurriedly gathered his things, walked briskly out of the tube, going to the main airport, wanting to go the airline’s lounge, and continue working until he boards his long flight to Europe.
Richard was trying to find which direction leads to the airline lounge from the gate where he got out, when he caught sight of a girl turning on her mobile phone. Her carriage, and the half-profile of her face looks familiar. It looks like the girl also came from the same flight that he took as she was standing close to the gate where he got out. He was about to go to her, to check if he is correct, heart beating faster, when she moved while talking on the phone and took the travelator. Before he lost her in the crowd of passengers that surged in after her from the gate next to theirs, she turned as if she unknowingly felt someone staring at her. Richard saw her face and confirmed that it was indeed, Maya Dela Rosa!
“Maya….!” Richard uttered, then hurried after her but he can’t find her anymore among the throng of hurrying passengers.
Instead of going to the lounge, he decided to walk around, hoping to catch a glimpse of Maya, which was near to impossible as the airport is vast. He only stopped looking when it was time to board his flight to Frankfurt. It was a long and lonely flight for him.
Maya, at that time was already eating a late dinner with Emman at his apartment, not knowing that she almost saw again the man who have been haunting her thoughts the past three years, that they almost met again!