Breathing the same air
“Cho, do you want to take a gondola ride?” Maya asked her nephew and godchild as she toured him and his mother, her Ate Cris, and her husband Jeff at The Venetian in Macau. Cris and her family were in Macau after Hong Kong. It was Cris’s, and her husband Jeff’s treat to Pocholo for his birthday. Luckily, they came while she has some free time. When Crris told her they are coming to Macau as well, she took a much needed vacation too. Too bad her aunt and uncle can’t come this time as they are busy with their various businesses.
“Can we, Tita Ninang? Really, really!” Cho said excitedly. “Mom, Dad, can we?”
“Of course, Cho!” Cristina Rose told her son. “Pero, okay lang ba na hindi ako kasama, sweetie? Ikaw na lang, your Tita Ninang and your Daddy? Medyo nahihilo si Mommy. I will just wait for you at the restaurant over there.”
“Cris, you feel nauseous ?” Jeff asked solicitously. “If it is okay with Maya, sila na lang ang mag-gondola ride ni Cho, sasamahan na lang kita.”
“No, please Honey, just go with them. I’ll be okay. I just need to sit down and keep still.” Cris assured her husband. “I can’t just sit on a moving boat feeling like this. Di ba, you want to try to try a gondola ride and since we can’t go to Venice, this is the next best thing.” She smiled at her husband.
“Sure ka, Ate Cris, I can just take Cho? Okay lang naman na kaming dalawa!” Maya said. Jeff and her cousin told her earlier that Cho will have a brother or a sister in seven months or so. Cris found out that she is pregnant the week before they left for their trip to Hong Kong Disneyland and this Macau trip to see Maya.
“Yes, yes, I will be okay. Don’t worry.” Cris assured her cousin whom she hasn’t seen in two years, and her wonderful husband. She and Jeff got married two months after Maya left for Macau. She was already three months pregnant with Cho then. Maya was not able to make it to the wedding, but visited them the Christmas after that.
Maya and Jeff, both holding Cho’s hand walked to the place where they can buy tickets for the gondola ride down the hotel’s Grand Canal. They opted for a private gondola as a treat to Cho. Jeff and Maya put Cho between them. Soon after, they were gliding along with their very friendly gondolier, with Cho happily looking around.
“Nakakatuwa naman itong si Cho, Kuya Jeff! Hindi takot sa boat ride!” Maya remarked. “You and Ate Cris are so lucky to have this cute little boy. Ang bright bright niya for his age.”
“We are, Maya. He is a joy.” Jeff remarked. “Of course, hoping kami ni Cris na girl ang susunod naming baby, pero sa totoo lang, basta healthy and maayos na ma-i-deliver ni Cris, we are happy and blessed na.”
“That’s true, Kuya Jeff.” Maya said. “Iyon naman ang pinakaimportante sa lahat.”
“How about you, Maya? No plans yet of settling down?” Jeff asked his cousin-in-law. Maya is like a cousin to him too and they got along pretty well kahit hindi sila masyadong nagkikita. Maya on the other hand, considers Jeff an older brother. Unang kita pa lang niya sa husband ng pinsan niya, magaan na ang loob niya dito. She is also very glad that her Ate Cris found herself a wonderful and a very responsible husband.
“Hmmmm, malabo pa yata iyan sa ngayon, Kuya Jeff! Wala naman akong boyfriend!” Maya said with a smile. The truth is she hasn’t had a boyfriend yet, at age 27! But that’s hers na lang to know.
“Baka naman kasi sobrang pili ka and sobrang taas ng standard.” Jeff teased. Maya is a very beautiful girl, inside out. In fact, he already noticed several guys looking at them, at her while they glided along the man-made canal. Cris told him about Maya joining the Miss Mindoro Beauty Pageant years ago and winning.
“Kuya Jeff! No kaya! I date naman!” Maya said, grinning. “It’s just that, I can’t find pa someone that makes my heart beat faster and make me feel giddy seeing him or just thinking of him. Besides, hindi naman ako nagmamadali! ” Then, suddenly, she thought of the guy who managed to do that once in her young life.
Jeff noticed Maya’s faraway, longing look, as if remembering something from her past. Ah, so there was someone who managed to do to that to her. Jeff thought to himself. That guy must have made a very strong impression to his cousin-in-law for her to remember it until now.
“I’m sure, Maya. Matatagpuan mo rin iyon. Don’t settle for less.” Jeff assured Maya.
“Of course, Kuya Jeff. I want a love story like Mamang and Lolo Kiko!” Maya said smiling, then told him a bit about hers and Cris’s grandparents love story, just in case her cousin didn’t tell her husband about it.
While they were chatting happily, with Cho clinging to both their arms as he looked around him and pointed to them the interesting stuffs he sees, a guy was looking at them from one side of the canal. He was looking at them with a sad, pensive expression.
“I found her again and I guess it was too late!” Richard Lim sighed sadly, grimacing at the blow fate dealt him. “She is married and has a kid now. Lucky guy!” He felt like someone squeezed his heart when he managed to confirm that it was Maya Dela Rosa on the gondola, with a guy and a little boy who looks a bit like her.
Who would have thought that this is what he would see when he started to aimlessly watch the gondolas ferrying passengers along the canal while he waiting for their company lawyer, Ryan Molina and his wife Ivy, who went to the souvenir shop of the hotel. He got a bit impatient as they were taking very long, and decided to walk a little bit farther than the shop. That was when he saw her. At first, he thought that maybe it was just someone who looks like her, but as the gondola approached, he was able to confirm that it is Maya! She was chatting animatedly to the good-looking guy beside her and the little boy was clinging to both of them! She looks like the Maya etched in hs brain and who invade his thoughts from time to time. She has just grown more beautiful and more poised since the last time he caught a glimpse of her.
Since Richard missed meeting her again four years ago at the airport in Singapore, he, sort of, believe that if they are meant to be, they will meet each other again, at some point. Stranger things have happened in this world. However, he is also a realist to believe that it may not happen at all. Besides, maybe, he will not feel this strange pull when he meets her again and get to know her better, so he just went on with his very demanding professional life, designing and developing boutique hotels and resorts all over the country and in some parts of Asia. Though in his heart, he does not believe that he will feel nothing for Maya if he sees her again. Seeing her again, here in Macau proved that. His heart still skipped a beat with a glimpse of her.
Now that he had seen that she has a family of her own already, he felt this overwhelming sadness. He could have actively looked for her the past several years. In this day and age of social media, it is not so difficult to find people you haven’t seen in years as long as they are visible online. And then what, just approach her like that, send a PM to her Facebook account or ask to be her ‘friend’ by sending a friend request, he asked himself? Likewise, thinking that what he felt years ago, the connection he thought they had when their eyes met, was just all on his part made him feel down. Maybe, it is time to move on, or try at least, he mused. She was just something beautiful from his past. For a time, she made him feel an emotion that was alien to him. She made him feel alive.
He took one more look at the gondola where she was, then turned his back to walk back to the shop and look for Ryan and Ivy. This is their last day in Macau as they will return to the Philippines the following day. They have arrived here two days ago to see if Emerald Hotels and Resorts, Lim Corporation’s subsidiary that handle all their property developments, can join in the hotel boom in this part of Macau. While the deal their potential partners were offering was enticing enough, Richard and Ryan didn’t accept it as in exchange the investors wanted the majority control.
“Richard, Brod, sorry natagalan kami.” Ryan said apologetically. “Ito kasing si Ivy, ang daming binili.” He said half-complaining, but smiling indulgently at his wife.
“Ha, sandali lang kaya ako.” Ivy said, gazing at her husband. “Let’s eat. The shopping made me hungry.” She suggested with a smile.
The three of them walked around, looked for a nice and quiet restaurant, and settled in to eat dinner. Husband and wife bantered and told Richard about some of the funniest, and most memorable antics of their children, while waiting for their food. Richard laughed at their stories. Being an only child, he misses having a big family. When he has a family of his own, he wants a big one.
“Ikaw naman kasi Brod, why don’t you settle down na! Eh di sana, may kwento ka na rin namin ni Ivy about your kids.” Ryan teased his boss, fraternity brother and his best friend. Richard have been the best man at his and Ivy’s wedding. When Richard offered him the job as Emerald’s legal counsel several years ago, he jumped at the opportunity.
“Oo nga naman, Richard.” Ivy seconded her husband. “Wala ka pa bang nakikita sa mga date mo. Ang gaganda naman nila. Saka iyong madalas mong kasama dati, mukhang mabait naman.” Ivy was referring to Linda, a model he dated for a while. He dated when the loneliness gets him, but there was always something lacking in those. He had stopped doing so for a while now.
“Kayong dalawa, ako na naman ang nakita niyo.” Richard laughed, a laugh tinged with sadness since the image of Maya with her husband and child suddenly propped up in his head.
“Babe, tigilan na nga natin si Richard.” Ryan told his wife, but added, “Brod, sino ba kasi iyon? Baka naman mahanap mo pa ulit. Kawawa naman ang mga nagiging date mo, goodbye na after several dates.”
“Hahahaha, let’s eat na lang. Mahabang usapan iyan.” Richard said, laughing. But when he thought that the two were not looking, he had a sad, faraway look, which Ryan saw.
While Richard and his friends were eating, Maya, Cristina Rose and Jeff with a sleeping Cho in his arms were on their way back to the hotel where Maya works, which is just several minutes away from where they were. Cris and her family is staying there instead of Maya’s apartment as the hotel is more convenient.
“Sayang Ate Cris, hindi ka nakasama. Enjoy na enjoy si Cho sa gondola ride. I took a lot of pictures naman for you.” Maya chatted as they walked, avoiding the throng of tourists with their camera’s clicking nonstop as they marvelled at this part of the hotel. Maya remembered the first time she was there. She felt like she she was suddenly transported someplace else since it was nighttime when she walked around and when she reached that area, it felt like daytime!
“Thank you, Maya. Next time. Malay mo naman, kapag malaki-laki na itong bago naming baby, mabalik ulit kami rito ng Kuya Jeff mo. Nandito ka pa noon siguro.” Cris said.
“Naku, Ate Cris, baka wala na. But for sure, we can always go back here, sama natin sina Tita Lulu and Tito Mario, saka sina Lino and Lindsay, family trip! Pwede one Christmas season!” Maya told her cousin. “I have been meaning to tell you and Kuya Jeff, that I’m thinking of returning to the Philippines late this year or early next year.”
“Really, Maya! That’s good news! I’m sure Mama and Papa will be glad to know that, pati na rin si Lino.” Cris said, grinning happily. Then she hugged her cousin. “Maya, I’m so happy you will be in the Philippines again. I misssed you a lot, little sis!”
“Awwww, me too, Ate Cris! I think it’s about time I return home.” Maya had been thinking about doing so, for several months now. She had been a way for so long. She felt a longing for the old country. It is time to move again. Maybe, she will get restless again but for now, she is longing for the Philippines.
“I agree with Cris, Maya. Iba pa rin ang sarili nating bansa. I also worked abroad, di ba, and even if the salary is bigger, hinahanap-hanap ko pa rin ang Pilipinas.” Jeff added.
“Eh ano pala ang plan mo pagbalik sa atin?” Cris asked.
“I submitted several job applications in hotels and resorts in the Philippines. Let’s see what will happen. I think something will turn up naman.” Maya spoke confidently. “If not, I can just develop one of the properties Mamang left behind in Mindoro. I’m sure Tita Lulu and Tito Mario will not mind naman. Noon pa nila sinasabi iyon sa akin. Di ba, I got na the money from Mom and Dad’s investment when I turned 25 two years ago. I can use that.”
“For sure, Maya, tatanggapin ka lahat ng mga inaplayan mo. In fact, baka nga over qualified ka pa, with your position and experience here. If you choose to develop naman one of the properties in Mindoro, lalo na iyong malapit sa beach sa San Nicolas, okay rin lang. Di ba, Mama and Papa told you na it is yours. It was what Mamang would have wanted. Kami naman ni Lino okay na okay na kami.”
“Thank you, Ate Cris!” Maya smiled at her cousin, happy in the thought that she is going back to the Philippines and she have several options when she returns.
They have reached the hotel and Maya said goodbye to her cousin and her family at the lobby. She promised to pick them up bright and early for their trip to the historic section of Macau the following day. On the way out, she said hello to her colleagues and staff who were on duty. She is not due back to work for another day.
Since she was not yet sleepy and she felt restless, Maya opted to walk on the second floor of the hotel, which interconnects to the other hotels via a network of shops. She stopped at a Starbucks kiosk and bought her favorite brew, then continued walking, sipping coffee while window shopping.
While she was looking at a display of a very nice skirt, top and winter boots, her peripheral vision saw three people walking. They were talking in a combination of English and Filipino so she looked unconsciously. Her heart skipped a beat when she caught sight of the tall guy walking with another guy and a girl. He looks like Richard Lim! But before she can check again, they took a turn and disappeared from her sight.
Maya was stunned for a few seconds, heart beating so fast, indecisive on what to do next. Then as if her feet have minds of their own, she found herself going to the direction they disappeared to. However, she can’t find them anymore as the corner forked into two other directions, then several others.
“What would I say to him anyway, if it is him?” Maya asked herself. “Introduce myself and ask him if he remembers me from a long ago beauty pageant in Mindoro! Wouldn’t it sound weird? Saka, baka naman hindi siya iyon. That I just thought it is him dahil iniisip ko siya. Dami namang Chinese dito, baka kamukha lang!”
Nevertheless, that incident unsettled Maya. Coupled with the coffee she drank, which she shouldn’t have, she was unable to sleep that night. She had panda eyes when she returned to the hotel the following morning. While waiting for her cousin and her family, she looked around, hoping to catch a glimpse of the guy who looks like Richard Lim, but she didn’t find him anymore.
Maya drove her cousin to the other side of Macau where all the popular tourists sites are located – from Senado Square to the Ruins of Saint Paul, old churches and others. They spent half a day there, then returned to the hotel as her Ate Cris was not feeling well. Maya stayed in their hotel room playing with Cho, while her Kuya Jeff went out for a walk around the complex.
In that instance, Richard, Ryan and Ivy were in the process of checking out from the same hotel. While Ivy was busy doing it, Ryan inquired if Richard is okay.“Brod, I noticed na parang quiet ka since our sightseeing trip at The Venetian. May problema ba? Is something botthering you!” Ryan asked his best friend.
“Wala naman Brod, baka pagod na rin ako. We have been traveling for quite a bit for a month na.” Richard said, unable to share to Ryan, his closest friend, about Maya. He does not think he will understand. Even he, at times, does not understand this preoccupation with her.
Ryan wouldn’t be a good lawyer if he does not know how to read people at least, on a level, and he knew that there is something bothering Richard, that he was being evasive. But he respects his desire to keep it to himself. He does not want to pry, anyway. “Basta Brod, kung kailangan mo ng kausap, nandito lang ako ha. Daanin na lang natin iyan sa inuman sa paborito nating bar sa Makati.”
“Thank you, Brod.” Richard said, trying to muster a smile.
Ivy returned to them, telling them that they can now leave the hotel. They took the hotel car to the airport. Richard glanced one more time at The Venetian when they passed by it, as if saying a final goodbye to something, or to someone.
The following day, it was Maya’s turn to check out her cousin and her family from the hotel. While doing so, she chatted with some of her old colleagues and staff at the front desk. Two years after she started working there, she transferred to Operations and has been there ever since, as an assistant operations manager. She didn’t know what made her do it, but she thought of asking one of her old Filpino staff if someone named Richard Lim is in the hotel guest list. Edselyn checked the computer, and Maya’s heart was beating fast while she waited with anticipation.
“Meron po Ms. Maya, from Taguig City, Philippines, pero nag-check out na kahapon!” Edselyn said. “He stayed with us for three days.”
“Oh….” was all Maya managed to Edselyn as she felt breathless all of a sudden. So it was really him she saw! She is very positive of that now. They almost met again! She thanked Edselyn, and when she asked curiously if there is something she can do pa, she told her she only wanted to know if they had a guest with that name.
Maya was still in a bit of a shock, thinking of what could have been, when she returned to her cousin.
“Maya, okay ka lang ba?” Cris asked, noticing her pallor.
“Ha….? Oh, yes, I’m okay, Ate Cris.” Maya assured her cousin. “Halika na. Wait for me in the lobby, please. I will just get my car.”
Maya drove her cousin to the airport, distracted with the thought that she and Richard could have met again!
“Maya, thank you for everything.” Cris hugged her cousin when they were inside the airport.
“No worries, Ate Cris, Kuya Jeff, and you little Cho. I’m glad to see all of you.” Maya said with a smile.
“Paano, little sister, see you in Manila na lang soon. Thank you ha.” Jeff said with a big smile.
“Sure, Kuya Jeff. I’m sure bago lumabas itong si Cris Jr. eh I’m back there na.” Maya said, patting her cousin’s tummy. They said their final goodbyes and she went out of the airport. She was back on being on her own again.
On the way back to her apartment, Maya looked around at the place she had called home for the past four years as if starting to say goodbye. While she had a good life here, she really feels it’s about time to go back to her real home!