Ten pm. By this hour, the voices that colonized the mid-size Italian eatery have died down, leaving only the sharp scent of detergent and the friction of brushes against floors and dishes in the dirty kitchen.
“Filart,” Rey, our elfish manager muttered, calculating the gravity of the remainder of his question. “You are related to the Filarts? The one in the Vizconde massacre.”
He is talking about Joey, who was implicated in the crime and happens to be my first cousin. Word was, he fled to the US thereafter. As the massacre was among the most controversial and highly publicized in the nineties, the question occasionally presents itself in conversations.
I let out a wry yes.
“Is it true though? He was there?”
“I don’t know, sir. We haven’t met,” I said, scrubbing dry cheese stain off the floor.
“What do you think?” Perhaps he was trying to fish the right answers – in particular, those that lurked in a teenager’s head.
“They said he was just a lookout,” I answered, as if being a lookout makes one any less complicit to a crime. “If it’s true, then he should go to jail.”
“And General (Marino)? He’s also a relative?” he probed further, though noticeably embarrassed that he asked about Joey. Aside from one-minute talks about pizza leftovers and my lapses as a server, Rey and I didn’t have any conversations about life-altering musings. But asking questions was his cocaine. Odd answers must amuse him, I surmised, amid the monotony of kneading dough, putting it in the oven, and schooling staff.
“Yes, he’s my uncle. But I haven’t met him either.”
Rey looked puzzled. I wondered if there are no people in this world who haven’t met cousins and uncles in the first degree. I’m sure a lot of daughters don’t hear from their fathers. It can’t be that bizarre.
I paused, examining the floor’s squeaky red skin. The spoons and forks stopped clanking. It was already past 11. Our day ended with each of us taking out black garbage bags for mall collection. A handful of us will be walking back home to their families. I will be coming home to dirty laundry, a sad sandwich with cheap tuna spread as dinner, and homework before I go to school in seven hours.
I took a jeepney from Robinson’s Ermita, leafing through my journal. On a page it says, “14 days to go before Valentine’s”. At the back were questions: Why don’t guys like me? Why can’t some fathers like their daughters?
At the junction in San Andres where discarded plastics and a pungent smell spelled familiarity, I said my last words as I do every night. “Para po.” There are no definite answers here. Only definite realities.
As I took small, lazy steps to mine, I thought about questions, from trivial to heartbreaking. Everywhere, everyone wants answers. Answers to why you are the way you are, how you feel about a name you carried by birth, not by choice. Would a surname create a chasm between right and wrong? If I wasn’t a Filart, would I have had the answers? I really didn’t know.
The world was a blur to me, a fanged creature that fleeted between moments of hunger, panic, fatigue, and bipolar feelings of wanting and not wanting to survive. And at that moment, against the sound of a 17-year old’s dragging feet and a few coins in sullen alleys, the only question whose answer mattered was, “Can I buy enough sad sandwiches to last a week?”