Thursday, September 08, 2005

Past Forward

"Guys, I have chika," Daphne began. "Do you know the movie 'Before Sunrise'?"

It was a rare moment when practically all of the members of the Coffee Club (along with their significant others, official or not, for those who had them), even at least those left in the Philippines, could be found under one roof, as they had that muggy April evening in Royal Palm Resort, a resort in Pansol, Calamba, Laguna, where the Los TOSStados were holding a party (a bienvenida for Allan, a despedida -- although, at that time, few of them knew -- for Laren, Kaye and Jun's anniversary, and Denise's birthday). It was even rarer that a Coffee Club conversation would end as abruptly as if someone threw a switch.

The silence that fell upon them at Daphne's innocent question was surreal.

“ ‘Tang-ina, I remember that movie,” was the first rueful comment, made by Rod, half-smiling. "Nineteen-ninety-five," added James, shaking his head in amazement and reminiscence. "Damn, that seems like it was so long ago." Quiet chuckling showed that everyone was in agreement.

"Yes, Dee, we all know the movie," Emon said. "Ano yung chika mo?"

"Well, remember that I used to hate airports?" Daphne replied, with a sideways look and smile at Ramil. "I was in Japan last week, remember? I was on the train, alone siyempre, having coffee in the shokudo-sha, the dining car, and ayun, it sort of came to me that I used to wish that something like what happened to Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in the movie would happen to me, but now -- " Daphne grinned " -- I don't anymore."

Smiles broadened when they noticed that Ramil was blushing. The teasing began in earnest; bottles were heard clinking in toasts. The laughter that had so suddenly disappeared returned in force; it was as if a dam holding back their mirth had been breached.

To Laren, however, it seemed that their joy was under a cloud, that a shadow had been cast over the party. This he quietly remarked to Eric, who grunted in agreement.

“What do you expect? Fine, her question was innocent, but Daphne just forced us to reminisce about who we used to be, compare who we were with who we are now, and it’s not exactly a pretty picture, is it?” Eric asked rhetorically. Laren shrugged, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

“Ano yun?” Chase joined in, walking over and handing Laren and Eric a beer each.  “Reminiscing?”

“Naaah, nothing, Chase,” Eric said dismissively, “Laren and I were just talking about ‘Before Sunrise’.”

“Napanood n’yo na ba yung part two niya? ‘Before Sunset’?” Chase asked. “Ang sad pala ng nangyari sa kanila, ‘no? ‘Di pala sila nagkita…”

“… yeah, yeah, the ‘after six months, let’s meet again’ promise they made at the end of ‘Before Sunrise’, the December thing,” James interjected, joining in the conversation. “That must really suck – I’d be pissed if I was the one who was stood up.”

“Sinong ba’ng hindi sasama ang loob?” Kaye shot back, as she and Jun brought two empty beer cases, set them on the floor as a makeshift table, and placed a plate of barbecue on it. “Lalo na siguro kung babae yung naghihintay. ‘Di ba, ‘no, ‘nie?” she nudged her husband with an elbow, eliciting a laugh.

“You know what? Feeling ko I should have avoided watching ‘Before Sunset’,” Sarah mused. “Okay na yung ending niya eh. Feeling ko kasi, noong ending sa first movie, happy ending siya, di lang nabanggit in detail. You know, like they would meet again and everything.”

“Yup, but you can’t say that the second movie wasn’t realistic,” Benny said. “Mas likely nga na hindi nga sila nagkita after six months.”

“Pero mas romantic isipin naman na nagkita nga sila and it all starts from there, di ba?” Sarah retorted, her eyes on Laren, who shrugged again. Eric leaned back and folded his arms. He said to nobody in particular, “Funny, huh, how both movies parallel our lives.”

“How’s that again?” Daphne asked. Ramil snorted, then he smirked at Eric.

“Pare, that’s not totally true.”

“Really,” was the studied reply. The TOSStados knew Eric well, and knew that he had just spoken what was an elegant British insult, but none took offense; by now they were used to his misanthropy, biding their time until their friend was ready to talk about it. Sarah looked at the two men in puzzlement. “ ‘Di ko kayo ma-gets, Kuya Ramil.”

James nodded slowly, obviously having thought through his elder brother’s words. “Pretty simple, really. Guys, remember when we watched ‘Before Sunrise’ the first time?”

Emon nodded. “Yeah. That guy – “ he jerked a thumb in Eric’s direction “ – was the one who saw it first, and he insisted that we rent the VHS and watch it at Chase’s place.”

“Oo nga, naaalala ko na,” Chase said, “halos wala na nga tayong ibang napag-usapan after, di ba? Ilang linggo nang nakalipas, yun pa rin yung pinag-uusapan natin, ‘no, James?”

“Uh-huh,” James grinned ruefully, “it was roughly at the same time I walked out of Scarlett’s place.” His words caused soft chuckles. “But, yeah, I remember all of it.”

“Kaya ka ba laging paluwas-luwas noon, para may ma-meet ka din?” Benny teased. “Peace, pare.”

“Wala namang pumalit kay Scarlett, ah,” Emon noted. “After all these years, hopelessly hoping pa rin si James.”

“Tarantado,” was the defensive reply. “That chapter’s over.”

“Yes, heh-heh, but the book is not yet finished,” Allan laughed, and exchanged a high five with Benny. “Alien!” Rod added, and there was more laughter, but the mood was so subdued that it didn’t seem to matter, Laren thought. He was right.

“So what’s your point, James?” Denise asked. “Fine, we all saw the movie, around the same time, a long time ago. So?”

“Think about it, mare. What were your thoughts and feelings back then after you watched the first movie? Did you feel that it was a sad ending? Now, ten years later, similar to the nine years later in ‘Before Sunset’, did you think the same things? Didn’t you feel that the sequel was very realistic, almost to be expected?”

Denise nodded, beginning to understand. “Gotcha, James.” Eric nodded appreciatively. Emon and Chase shared a look; both let out a sigh of world-weariness and resignation. Rod, Benny, and Laren toasted James with their beer bottles; “Nice one, bro,” said Laren.

It seemed to Sarah that she was the only one who didn’t get it; she wondered why they had reacted that way, and why it seemed that Kaye had snuggled closer to Jun, as did Ramil to Daphne. There was an air of sadness among them, a sense of loss. “Ay, ayoko ng ganyan, ha,” she said, pretending to pout, “nawawala ako sa usapan.”

Laren replied dryly, “You will, don’t worry.”

Ramil looked around at his friends then said, “Of course, after watching ‘Before Sunset’, you felt the need to see ‘Before Sunrise’ again, right, guys?” The smiles, rueful chuckles, snorts, all answered his question all in the affirmative. “Okay, here’s a question: how far did you get through the movie.”

An uncomfortable silence fell upon the TOSStados. “Ikaw?” Emon asked, half a challenge.

Daphne answered, “We watched it together. Siyempre, we liked it even more, kasi nga, it reminds us of us, that we decided to take a chance and not wait. It was like we thought that ‘Before Sunset’ would be something that would happen to us if we didn’t – you know, asking yourself ‘what if?’ questions several years later.”

“Yeah,” Ramil added, “we talked about it afterwards, and I guess what we agreed on was that we didn’t resign ourselves to not seeing each other again.”

After the long pause that came after their story, Jun said lightly, “Kami nga tinulugan namin. Kagagaling lang kasi kami ng biyahe noon. Di na namin naulit talaga.“

“Oo, pero uulitin namin yun.” Kaye promised, smiling. “Ikaw, Chase?”

“Ako?” An embarrassed giggle. “Noong nandoon sila sa restaurant, noong nagpapaalaman na sila, umayaw na ako.”

Knowing grins lit up the garage area where they were congregated. Chase continued, “E, siyempre, you know, ‘good-bye, good-bye’ and all…” She stopped, then recovered quickly. “Ikaw, Emon?”

“Yung… when they were in the club, playing pinball and discussing breakups,” was the answer. Emon shook his head in disbelief, at himself, all could see. “Ewan ko lang. ‘Di ko na tinuloy after that.”

Kaye asked, “Ikaw Rod?”

“Mmmmm…. Noong nakikiusap si Jesse sa bartender, na gusto nila ng isang bottle of red wine, pero wala siyang pera. Ayun, click sa remote. Off,” was the shrugged reply. “Pang-next-lfe na scene, never in the Philippines. ‘Kaw, Benny?”

“Ako?” Benny was trying to be light-hearted, but he couldn’t, they all knew. “The part in the back alley where they were talking about commitment and magic. I know, I know – “ he raised both hands, palms out in mock defense -- “I’m jaded. I mean, it seems we all have gone through this, huh? Ikaw Denise?”

Denise smiled wryly. “The part where Celine talks about being a strong and independent icon of womanhood, and yet how being loved is so important to her.” A heartbeat passed in silence. “So sad how we lose our ideals as we grow older.”

“Or grow up, at least, if you want to call it that,” James said. “Allen, ikaw?”

“Aaaah… heh-heh – yung part doon noong umaga na, at nakaupo yung lalake sa fountain, tapos yung babae nakahiga sa kanlungan niya, tapos nag-uusap lang sila na parang wala nang bukas.” Allen’s chuckle was tinged with sadness. “ ‘Di na yata nangyayari yung ganoon ngayon, wala na tayong ginagawa kundi magtrabaho.”

Eric grunted. “You got that right.”

“You, James?” Daphne asked. She got a shrug in reply; after a moment of pained thought, James answered, “Just after the street poet finished reading the poem aloud. The words of the poem, well… Enough said,” he declared firmly, “Manong?”

His elder brother took a long pull from his beer before he decided to answer; it seemed as if he was struggling just to get the words out. “Half a second into the scene where they were inside the ferris wheel,” Eric muttered. “Magic doesn’t exist in real life for everybody, maybe we were all fools to believe that it does.”

His brooding mood seemed to be infecting everyone. Sarah asked softly, “Laren?”

Laren looked far into the distance while answering. “When they were still on the train, the moment just before Jesse asked Celine to step off the train with him.”

“Why?” asked Sarah. A shrug.“I figure that if he didn’t ask, they wouldn’t have their lives ruined, as Celine said in ‘Before Sunset’, in the nine years that came after.”

There was a long silence before Eric made an effort and decided to speak for all of them. “You see, Sarah,” he said in a kind, brotherly voice that she had never heard him use, “when we were younger – “

“ – and more foolish,” James interjected. Eric smiled, the bitterness in his countenance disappearing slightly.

“Yes, foolish… When we watched ‘Before Sunset’ that first time, all those years ago, we had a lot of faith that things would work out in our lives, even if we had been hurt by events that happened to us during these days, we had hope, if you can call it that,” Eric explained. Laren nodded.

“What Eric’s trying to say is that somehow, we’ve become jaded and cynical, just like Jesse and Celine became in ‘Before Sunset’,” he added. “It’s like we no longer believe in the things in which we used to have faith.”

“Pang-next-life na lang lahat,” Rod agreed. Benny smiled wryly. “Oo nga, next life.”

Sarah shook her head, her disagreement strong. “Pero Kuya Eric, it’s not like it’s impossible! I mean, look, see, Ate Dee and Kuya Ramil, Ate Kaye and Kuya Jun?”

James answered, traces of remembering in his voice, “Sarah, you can only wait for so long. After it all, the time will come when you finally give up.”