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In the meantime

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A version of this was published in the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, Manila Philippines

The most carefree times of my life were the childhood summers I spent doing nothing. No school, no homework, no piano lessons, no out of town or overseas trips, no dead relative to bury, no house to burn—nothing.

“Only boring people get bored,” my mother would say at times like these, which I personally took as a challenge.

“Let’s see who’s boring,” I’d say under my breath and go off to find more creative ways to be amused, which typically took the form of torturing either my siblings or the househelp. Serial killer tendencies aside, little did my mother know that I would eventually make that statement a fundamental creed in life.

During one of those summers, I unwittingly became friends with Judith—a new neighbor who lived a few houses up the road.

I hated her the first time I met her. I thought she was loud, irreverent, wild, and overly confident. She had very tiny hands and thin arms juxtaposed to a rather plump rear end and knees that bent all the way back, which made her look like a T-Rex poised to devour anyone weaker than her. I suspected that if I looked up the word obnoxious in the dictionary, I would probably find a picture of her face staring straight at me.

Judith and I were around the same age but went to different schools, which to me was a blessing, since I absolutely had no plans of interacting with her after that initial meeting. Or so I thought.

One time, on my way home from school in a packed school bus, I saw Judith frolicking on her front lawn. Upon seeing the bus, she stood still for a moment, looking like she was sniffing the air to assess the situation. Then without warning, she headed straight for our moving vehicle. I froze, not knowing what to expect. She started out with a trot, which turned into a jog, then burst, to my horror, into a sprint. She was chasing our bus like a hungry rabid dog from hell!

I couldn’t believe what she was doing and expected foam to come out of her mouth as she inched closer and closer to the bus. Then with whatever energy she had left from all that running, she started screaming at the top of her lungs, “PAOLO!!! CHIKA CHIKA!!!” (Slang for “get the freaking hell out of that school bus and let’s gossip!”).

I slowly slid under my chair, wanting to melt and disappear, pretending not to know her. But Judith was insistent and determined. She started banging the back of the bus as if forcing thick ketchup to come out of a bottle. “PAOLO!!! CHIKA CHIKA!!!” I secretly prayed for my bus driver to accidentally run her over.

The neighborhood bloodbath I hoped for didn’t happen, to my dismay, so I got out of the bus looking defeated with my head hung low and with no choice but to acknowledge that yes, Judith is crazy and yes, she is my friend.

Since then, Judith always found ways to annoy me one boring summer day after another.

I was taking a peaceful nap in my room one afternoon when she came running towards our house, hoping to hang out. Our gardener, who was watering the plants, told her that I was asleep, but this obviously motivated her even more. She grabbed the water hose, skillfully aimed the water at my bedroom window, and literally drenched me out of my nap, shouting, “PAOLO!!! CHIKA CHIKA!!!”

This time I really wanted to kill her myself—painfully. Mainly because this happened just a day after she sprayed glass cleaner all over my face and hair, which resulted in an epic speed chase around the house with me shouting, “I’m going to kill you!!!”

I’m quite certain the neighbors must have reported an extreme case of domestic violence happening in the house. Except that Judith was laughing hysterically like a deranged witch, so they probably also thought that some sort of evil sorcery was taking place.

The neighborhood homicide I planned didn’t quite materialize but I soon figured that the only way for me to get rid of Judith was either to clandestinely sell her family’s property or burn it down to the ground, forcing them to move far, far away. I quickly realized though that this idea might backfire on me because one day when Judith got into an argument with her parents, she dramatically told them that she was running far, far away—to my house.

I found her sitting on her suitcase on our lawn, sulking like a brat. Seeing this as a golden opportunity to finally get rid of her I said, “If you’re going to run away, might as well do it properly and go far, far away where you can disappear forever.”

She tilted her head the way an intelligent bird would, thought about it for a moment, then decided that disappearing forever was just too much work. She stood up and dragged her heavy suitcase back to her house, twenty steps away.

I soon accepted the fact that this girl wasn’t going anywhere, so I kept an open mind and allowed her outrageous antics to at least amuse me during these dull afternoons.

I would lounge in their living room and watch her dance with herself in front of the mirror like a possessed tribal woman—an interesting pastime that started when she came home very late from partying one night and was greeted at the front door by a furious Norma (her mother whom she called by first name). Bent on teaching Judith a lesson, Norma turned on the radio and told her daughter to dance till the wee hours of the morning until she dropped dead from exhaustion. Judith more than obliged. She gave it her all. So there she was, dancing and crying at the same time but nonetheless executing her best dance moves (which mainly involved popular steps at that time called ‘The Running Man’ and ‘Roger Rabbit’) just to spite Norma even more.

One lazy day, as I watched her dancing to a fake version of C+C Music Factory, she randomly blurted out, “I’m starving!” In a matter of minutes, we were in her father’s vintage Mercedes (which she boldly drove without a driver’s license or asking permission) making our way to a nearby restaurant called Little Quiapo.

When we sat down I reminded her, “Judith, you do realize we’re both broke right?” It was summer vacation and we didn’t get our usual allowance.

She looked at me and said, “Shut up. I’m too hungry right now. We’ll figure it out. Trust me,” then called the waiter to place our orders.

The gravity of our penniless situation hit us not long after we were licking the last vestiges of pancit palabok off our plates.

“So what do we do now?” I asked, hoping she actually had some money.

“Shhhh! I’m too full to think. Go figure it out,” she replied while picking her teeth. “Want some dessert?”

Again, I wanted to brutally kill her but realized that I was just as crazy to have trusted her in the first place. I seriously considered offering to work in the kitchen either to slice vegetables or wash dishes but then thought of something better. “Okay here’s the plan. You go outside to those tricycle drivers around the corner and ask for money. Make up an excuse, say it’s an emergency.”

Being the self-assured person that she was, Judith gladly obliged then said, “In the meantime, try to catch a fly so you can put it on our plates and complain that they served us dirty food. Who knows, they might give it for free.”

“And how the hell do you expect me to catch a fly?” I asked.

“Here use this,” she said, tossing me a laminated menu. “But make sure not to crush the fly so it will seem like it suddenly died of a heart attack and landed on our food!” Then she gallantly walked out of the restaurant determined to bring in some cash.

Her fundraising strategy took me by surprise as I watched her work the road like an overbearing policeman handing out traffic violation tickets. She would stop tricycles dead on their tracks and demand (not ask) for ten pesos without any explanation whatsoever, acting as if people owed her money. The whole scenario must have been totally alien to the poor tricycle drivers that they actually complied, shaking their heads in disbelief as they stared at this pushy girl who looked nothing like a beggar.

While my friend was busy professionally ripping money off some hardworking tricycle drivers, I in the meantime was busy hunting flies to sprinkle on our dishes.

Though our plates were empty, I had to pretend that I hadn’t finished eating to prevent the waiters from clearing our table. I armed myself with the menu and got ready to swat any fly that made the mistake of hovering around my airspace. I must have looked like a complete lunatic because other customers in the restaurant were beginning to stare suspiciously at me as I waited like a sniper. Then to my relief, Judith triumphantly barged in with just enough money to pay for our bill. “See? I told you to trust me,” she gloated. “Now let’s get the hell out of here before Mar kills me.” (Mar was her father whom she also called by first name).

So we sped off in the getaway car we stole from Mar (or borrowed without permission) while carefully plotting our next heist. We were proud criminals working together. Good times.

Judith and I became partners in crime for most of our lives. That is, until the day my long forgotten dream of her moving far, far away quite shockingly came true.

Her family decided to move to the United States when we were in college.

In the months that followed, Judith and I went about our usual business as if nothing was about to change. Perhaps we were in denial of what we both knew was the end of one of the most colorful chapters of our growing up years.

On the day she left, she came by my house for one last time to say goodbye. In between laughing and crying she hugged me tightly and said, “Long distance chika chika?”

I held back my tears and simply hugged her back without saying a word, wishing that I had never ever thought of burning her house (or killing her for that matter). Deep inside I knew that I would never meet anyone like her again.

And I never did.

Recently I came upon this quote somewhere: “Everything comes to an end. In the meantime, we must amuse ourselves.”

It reminded me of Judith. With a friend like her, it was so easy to learn that the meantime is really the only time there is and that we must grab it with both hands and relish it every chance we get, even if it means finding a fly in your soup once in a while. 

About Paolo Mangahas

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