September 4, 2012


1 AM, September 3, 2012 – I usually sleep when the clock strikes 2 in the morning. For this particular night, I retired an hour earlier after a tiring day. I was starting to doze off when my cellphone suddenly rang. Unknown number. Calls coming from unknown numbers always scare the shit out of me. The call was even more unnerving because I got it at 1 in the morning. The first thing that came to my mind was that it's an emergency. I answered the phone.

“Hello, who's this?” That's my standard procedure in answering unknown numbers.

I immediately recognized the voice when the caller spoke. It's Nia. I can fully remember the husky voice reminiscent of Bonnie Tyler's or a female version of Rod Stewart's voice. She was a friend who I haven't heard from for nearly three years. I met her when I worked for a few months in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija. I can't recall the year. Sometime in 2007 or 2008. I was working as a researcher for a publication. She was a student at a nearby university. She was one of the first friends I met there. She was fun. Good sense of humor. Talks too much but in a good way. She had this really huge smile that you can see even from a mile away. I nicknamed her Joker and she kind of embraced it. She always had this “I don't give a damn” attitude. I remember the one time when night caught up with us in the middle of a really wide rice field in the outskirts of Cabanatuan. We had no flashlights so we were basically crawling like snakes to find our way back to town. I was beginning to worry. Yet there she was, happy and chirpy.

I liked her. A lot. She was one of those people that can really make your day even by just meeting her in the street or simply catching a glimpse of her.

During the three months that I stayed there, I spent a lot of time with her. We were often seen together that her friends and her family started making all sorts of ideas – that we were lovers and stuff. But NO. We never were lovers. We were just great friends. Cliche. But true. I liked her too much, or shall I say, I respected her too much to give her the burden of trying to love me back if I ever said I loved her. We were perfect as friends. Why should I ruin that by trying to make her my girlfriend? Besides, it's going to be awkward as hell. So we stayed within the borders of the friend zone. We never went beyond. We never even tried.

After three months, I quit my job there. The day I was to travel back home to Baguio, we had one last dinner and a movie at the NE Pacific Mall. I remember what we ate. Pork sinigang and puto bungbong for dessert. I also remember the movie we watched. It was a really bad movie – a crime drama starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino called Righteous Kill. We were actually laughing in the theater. De Niro and Pacino are screen legends. Why risk the great career they built with this shitty movie that also featured rapper-who-can't-act 50 Cent? After the movie, we said our goodbyes, and I took the last van trip to Baguio.

And here we are, three years later, talking on the phone. It was a normal conversation. How are you? What's keeping you busy? Are you married? Do you still carry a nude photo of Natalie Portman in your wallet? How's the writing career going? Do you even have a career? And of course there were the jokes. Like, are you the Congressman of Baguio City now? Have you ever been to jail for being too crazy? How's your mental state?

I was very happy she called. We had a fun conversation. We said our good nights. I slept that night a happy man.
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5 PM, September 4, 2012 – I got another call. Another unknown number. It turned out to be Nia's brother. I got the shock of my life. Nia has passed away due to a heart ailment. I didn't know what to say. I just turned off the phone, rushed home, put on a Coldplay CD and laid there in the sofa. Thinking. Thinking. Why? What the fuck. Life, how could you? How could you be so harsh on a young woman who had done nothing but good deeds for all 23 years of her life? And Death, how dare you? Thousands of people deserve to die because of their evilness, yet you choose to take the life of one innocent girl.

Sometimes, it is better to believe that there is no God. I can already imagine the priest at Nia's funeral services saying stuff like “her death is part of God's plan” for her. Now, ain't that a fucked-up plan? What kind of a plan is killing a 23-year old woman?

I couldn't help but think that she called me on the phone the other night to say goodbye but never had the courage to say that she's nearing the end of the road. I feel so bad right now. It sucks.

Travel well, Nia. Travel well.

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