For Mycah, belated Happy Valentines. I hope Cupid does wake you up tomorrow.
“Wake up, now.”
I could be the February chill that blew in through her bedroom window. I could be the rustle of the stacks of report papers, falling from her study table. I could be the whisper of her silken hair, drawn across the newly-starched pillow. I could be all of these things, or none at all.
She moves in her bed, a fraction to the left, closer to the patch of sunlight that dyes the white sheets with its own kind of white. Her leg is warmed by the sun now, and gently, gently, she wakes.
Gently, gently, she starts the day that I have orchestrated for her.
“Good morning, sweetest.” I say. “Wait till you see what you’re getting.” I could be the creaking springs of her mattress as she sits up and stands from her bed; I could be the silent scuffling of the ant army, on its way to conquer the half-eaten sandwich on her dresser; I could be either these things, or none at all.
This young lady is a clock, a calendar, a schedule. I do not need to be a seer to know what comes after her morning stretch (a prayer, a quick shower), or after her heavy breakfast (the brushing of teeth, the selecting of clothes).
She checks the time now, and she is not earlier nor later than she was at this exact minute yesterday. Her heart dreams of an upheaval. I can taste that longing in her heart, for am I not a connoisseur of the vintages of emotion? It starts off as very sweet, but has a bitter finish. And now it is abruptly gone as if I only imagined it. She has pushed it away, she is moving forward with her day.
The heart is both a cup and a vineyard to me. I have never drank from anything else these past few years. The heart and its cultivation, after all, is the object of my role and my craft. If anyone would ask what that role would be, I’d simply answer—well, I’m a vintner or a sommelier. Of sorts.
In understanding my work, one must always remember two things. One, that the quality of the grapes greatly determine the quality of the wine. And two, that the greatest emotions are reaped from vines planted from the smallest, most obscure things.
Allow me to demonstrate.
This young lady is putting on her shoes—leather doll shoes that are held tight by a garter or band below the ankle. They are neither new, nor old. They are products of mass production, and anyone with five hundred pesos (that’s a little over ten dollars) can purchase them. She is comfortable in them. She has broken them in some four weeks ago.
Her mother is now walking her to the door, saying God-Bless-you-have-a-good-day-love. She watches her daughter go. The bouquet of this wine is heavy with worry, resentment and not surprisingly, with pride.
So, back to the girl. I loosen the garter of her right doll shoe while she is sitting in the car, next to her father. Just a little bit, barely an umpteenth of an inch of the garter. She will never notice this.
“Step one complete.” I say.
I could be the growl of the car engine as it makes its way out of the garage and onto the city traffic; I could be the carefree banter of her father as he regales her with tales of his gardening victories (the war with the merciless noon-time sun has been won and the tomatoes will be safe, ever after); I could be the din of an entire city, muffled by sheets of glass. I could be all these things, or none at all.
They pass the university gates, un-checked by the guards by virtue of the small sticker on the windshield. She kisses her father on the cheek, thanks him for the ride and jumps out of the car. Her father only says “Okay” but I can taste the warm affection, the bright hope, the sincere concern in that word and heartbeat that occupied the same time and space.
The girl walks from the drop-off point to the biology building. The path is wide and is made of concrete (or is it cement? Is there a difference?) made shiny by years of scuffling shoes. On one side, there are benches and students and smiles and books. On the other, there are patches of dark brown earth, green grass, and grey gravel stones. Workers are emptying sacks of gravel, a project commissioned by the university to widen the path.
I time this perfectly. I never miss. I used to be an archer, and I never miss.
I glide ahead of her, to one of the workers on the side of the path. I count two heartbeats, and I nudge his elbow as he is upending one of the gravel sacks. He tilts a little bit to the right, no real damage done as all pieces of gravel land exactly on the spot that was pointed out to him by the uppity foreman. All except one.
It is very small, perhaps the size of a grain of rice, or a grape seed. And quite sharp. It falls a little further than its brothers, then bounces off the shiny concrete (or cement) path, and into the very-slightly loose doll shoe of our young lady as she walks hurriedly past. Her foot lands heavily.
“Oh, fuck.” she mutters. Small or not, it pains her and she must remove it at once.
She spots a bench that is only half occupied, sits and removes her shoe. She sees the little gravel-shard, snugly embedded on the heel of her foot. She takes it out, it has lodged itself deeper than she thought for a little bead of blood has appeared.
See? I never miss.
“Do you need a band aid?” said the boy sitting next to her on the bench. She hesitates, but nods and says, “If it isn’t too much trouble.” He takes out a small box of checkered band-aids from his backpack, and hands it to her. He has a book of human anatomy on his lap, the chapter on muscles found in the shoulder. He does not smile, this kind stranger. I taste absolutely nothing, as if his heart holds nothing but water, nothing but nothing.
She takes the box and chooses the red-and-white checkered one. She thanks him again, and asks why he is studying anatomy this early in the semester. He does not like explaining himself (something he has to learn to do anyway if he is to become a doctor), but he does so...
And I hear nothing of what he says.
I only stay to marvel at the stoicism of it all, and how completely ignorant both of them are of what lies ahead. This moment is as significant and as wonderful as the day they were born, and yet they barely even manage to smile.
"I'll see you in a year, my dear." I say to her.
I will return to sample what her heart will hold by then, and I look to that day with great anticipation. A strong, fiery wine—I imagine—a euphoric sensation, a sweet finish. Potent, intoxicating, and I will be drunk.
I could be the heavy thump of his anatomy book slamming shut, as he takes his box of band aids from her. I could be the final thanks she gives before putting on her shoe and walking off to her class. I could be the glance he takes, at the direction of the pretty girl. I could be all these things, or none at all. After all, I could be wrong about them (but this, my friend, is unlikely. Remember, I never miss).