The sun blazed into my skin, leaving trails of burnt marks of reddening glow. I inched myself closer to the shade, only to be pushed forward again with the annoyance of how much time I was wasting. I should be at home instead; binge-watching shows yet this pathetic excuse of a morning plan that also goes in the name of waiting on my mom to finish with her Christian duties of going to the mass that made me yielded into staying outside. In my defense, I figured if I were to come inside the threshold of the God I long ago rejected, my skin would not only burn, it would also burst into a mountain of granite dust. We don’t want that in the middle of the opening of the church, especially with how much people were rushing inside to receive the blessings of their aforementioned God. What a perfect way to spend a Sunday.
I checked my watch, the small hand urgently pointed to the dot before 9, the bigger hand mockingly shaking towards 3. 9 freaking 15 in the morning and it felt like I was inside a sauna and a tanning cubicle combined. Hell in front of a holy place, unbelievable. What I did believe in was that I had forty-five minutes before I combust into rage so I was in a desperate need of a change of scenery. Abandoning my spot, I made steady yet slow strides out of the gates, directly meeting with a trail of vendors.
“Ate, sampaguita?,” a child of around ten years urged a bundle of flowers into my face. I cringed at the smell of strong fragrance. It smelled like the flowers you offer to the dead.
I shook my head, turning left. To my surprise, I was face to face to a lady wearing black.
“Come, come. My cards will tell you what lies ahead,” she called to me, pushing the seat in front of her desk filled with taro cards.
I felt a shiver ran down my spine, remembering a horror movie with how those cards played a significant role on the characters’ deaths. I took a sharp turn, walking forward until I saw a cart filled with weird materials and apparatuses that I did not know existed here in the city.
“Have you got any enemies,” a voice cracked at me, the owner turning his accusing gaze into my eyes. “One whiff of these leaves and you’d rid of her forever.” His eyebrows did a little dance.
Shuddering, I walked away.
The sweat on my forehead reached my eyes, stinging them and making my visions blurry. I walked aimlessly everywhere, seeing people go on with their business. Family walking to places in even movements, a complete phalanx formation. Storeowners not even popping their heads out to urge customers in. The streets silent with minimal screeches of wheels on roads.
I kept dragging my feet until I saw another shed. With my feet aching, I rested under the shade. Leaning back, I fanned myself, trying to breathe. The humidity and the heat almost filled my brain with suffocation that I was having a hard time inhaling.
“Is this seat taken,” a broken voice lifted me back to reality. A figure towered over me, showering me with a shadow. He took my silence as permission to sit next to me.
With the available light from the sun, I studied his face cautiously. His hair was damp, clinging close to his scalp that he ran a hand over, the sweat collecting on his palm. Eyebrows mashed together, heavy breathing from his nose and mouth in synch. I couldn’t get a whole view of his eyes for he was squinting as if flinching in pain.
“Jogging under this heat,” he hissed under his breath, “is the stupidest thing to ever do.”
I held back a snort, a little surprised that he’d start a conversation. “You think? Try ‘waiting for your mom while she’s at church.’”
He finally dropped a glance at me, giving me a set of wide brown eyes. “That’s strange, not stupid. Why aren’t you with her?”
I shrugged, “I’m not a church person, I guess.”
“Too many people?”
“Not really. I just am not.”
A moment of silence took a leap, crashing in the space between us. Heavy and asking for attention. I swallowed the awkwardness away.
“A reading from the book of Matthew,” he said after five uncomfortable minutes. “My name is Matt.”
I nodded, scratching my forehead, not knowing what to say and coming up with: “Hi.”
His lips lifted into a smile, “Glory to you, oh Lord?”
“May you deliver us from evil and vanity.”
He shrugged, “I wouldn’t call you vain. You won’t even tell me your name.”
“Why should I tell you my name,” I snapped, shocking even myself with my sudden annoyance. I didn’t really appreciate small talk.
“Okay. Grumpy it is. Hi, Grumpy,” he took out a box of cigarettes from his pocket and popped one onto his mouth. His teeth chewing slightly at the end, he turned to the sky and said, “Thanks be to God.”
He snapped the lighter with his thumb, flicking a spark on the other end of the cigarette.
“You know,” I began, looking at how he whiffed at it, “smoking after a jog under this heat is the stupidest thing you can ever do.”
“Oh yeah?” he said, letting the thing dangle from his smirk. “Want one?”
I took a cigarette from the pack.
Inhaling it in, and exhaling with a cough.
“It’s mint,” he told me, leaning back on the chair more comfortably.
“Amen to that,” I replied, repeating the process.
He leaned back so comfortably that his foot slipped and he lost his balance. Staggering forward, he put all his weight to fall on his knees.
“Well, that’s very convenient,” I commented, giggles escaping. “You pray after a communion.”
His face burnt redder than the sun, “This is not even close to the body of Christ.”
“But you’re a disciple of it, considering how much you keep on your pocket.”
He shrugged, “True. It kills the body and poisons the blood.”
I lifted an eyebrow, “Well, if that’s the body of your Christ, what’s the blood that you worship?”
“Quite a holy one. San Miguel Pale Pilsen. It makes the blood pump,” he grinned, showing all his pearly white teeth.
I laughed, “May yourself make peace with those chemicals.”
“Peace be upon you, too.” His expression changed into alarm that he checked his watch, the reflection from the sun shining on his face.
“What time is it,” I asked him.
“It’s almost ten.”
“Oh, it is?”
“Yeah. I need to be somewhere by ten,” he informed me, a bit of an apology in his voice and eyes.
“Well, the mass will be over soon. I should also be meeting with my mom by ten.”
“Well,” he offered his hand, “It was nice to meet you.”
I grasped the hand in mine, feeling how tight my grip is closing in when I felt it cold. “Yes, nice to meet you, too.”
Pulling our hands away, he laughed. “I didn’t even get your name but okay.”
“Yeah, go on now. And prosper.”
“Live long and prosper, Grumpy,” he nodded back, lifting his body off the bench. “I’ll see you around.”
“Right,” I said under my breath, watching his back as he walked away.
The heat enveloped me again and I took a powerful puff at the end of my cigarette.
I need to do a lot of editing on this. This took a really terrible turn. But here’s the gist of what I wanted to do with the idea, at least. But ugh, it’s meh.