Allow me to tell you a story. This is not my story. My own life story is boring and would probably not interest you. I have been cursed with being extraordinarily ordinary and unfortunately this makes my life fairly predictable. I do have a part to play in this story, but that will come a bit later.
This story begins along Taft Avenue, in a small two storey cafe called Chateau Azul, named because of its blue facade which is ironic because the color blue is anathema in these parts. At this time of the night, around two hours to midnight, the first floor is haunted mostly by students, either writing some last minute paper, reading a book or just drinking some cheap coffee with friends or lovers.
Outside is a young boy, aged ten but his short height makes him look much younger than that, maybe a seven year old give or take a year. He wears a ratty old fake Lakers jersey, the yellow already beginning to fade and the number eight hanging on by the barest of threads.
His name is Piolo. Yes, he was named after that Piolo, the actor – the incredibly handsome one that sends girls the whole country over into paroxyms of delight. Of course, he looks nothing the actor. His sun darkened skin and his shaved head make sure of that, if not the lazy left eye or the scar on his right cheek.
In his hands he clutches ten strings of sampaguita blossoms, his source of income for the night. He rarely sells all of them and if he did, he would just come back to his small dingy alley where the older kids would give him more sampaguita strings to peddle.
So there he was, waiting outside, but he is not waiting for people to come and buy his flowers. He is waiting for someone special. You see, that night was a Thursday and Thursday was date night.
Right on cue, he spies the familiar lights of the bright red Ford Ranger pickup weaving haphazardly at breakneck speeds alongside the jeepneys who almost always had broken lights. The pickup screeches to a halt in front of the cafe and like clockwork Piolo opens the right door. He takes out a small model house and a long blue cylindrical canister.
The driver of the pickup descends from the car, revealing a short, almost rubenesque, girl in a checkered shirt and jeans. Her hair is a gray green color that looks ethereal under the harsh orange glare of Manila’s street lights. At first glance, she looks like any ordinary girl, merely pretty, yet at each subsequent viewing, her heart shaped face becomes more and more beautiful, as if she was a painting that required multiple views to be fully appreciated. Her glasses hide cheerful eyes, but it cannot hide the undercurrent of sadness that lingers underneath.
“Hi Piolo,” she says.
“I’ll smoke here for a while,” she says while lighting up one of the Chesterfields she gets from one of her pockets. “You go on ahead upstairs.”
Piolo nods and he enters the cafe with the model house and the cylinder. Most of the people inside recognize him, or rather most of the regulars do because he was a regular himself. He says hello to some of the people he knew and he makes his way up the stairs.
The second floor was almost exclusively for artists. Painters, sculptors, musicians ruled the second floor. There they could create to their hearts content. The old man who owned the cafe believed that the arts were the soul of the country and it had to be nurtured or risk destroying what made the country great. He reserved the whole second floor for artists and creators, a place for them to hone their craft, precisely because of that ideal.
Piolo puts the house and the cylinder on one of the long tables there. He looks at the model house and fixes one of the trees that had toppled over. Then he opens the cylinder and takes out its contents – several blueprints in various stages of development.
She is carrying two sandwiches, one for her and one for Piolo. Her name is Alyanna – fifth year architecture student at the College of St. Benilde. She has been friends with Piolo now for the past four years and Thursday was their date night. She had classes until nine in the evening on Thursdays, after which she would go to this café to meet up with Piolo and they would have dinner together. Most of the time, Alyanna would be working on some new design while Piolo would be helping her make the trees.
She had met Piolo nearly four years ago, when she first started studying the College of Saint Benilde. Architecture was already her second course, after graduating with an Economic Degree from another College. Although she had did well enough as an Economics major, Architecture was her dream, but her parents thought that Architecture was not a course for a girl. So after working for two years, she finally saved up to enroll again and her father, seeing that his daughter would not be swayed from this path, told her to keep the money and paid for her tuition himself.
Alyanna thought that this was finally her dream coming true. She thought that finally, she was finally going to set her life aright after devoting six years of her life to a parent’s wish. Except things do not usually happen the way people want it to happen. Within her first year, she had broken up with her first boyfriend and the resulting depression had affected her grades so much that she was on the verge of failing her first year.
That is how Piolo found her one evening at the coffee shop, her head buried under piles of AutoCAD printouts. Piolo was the already unofficial mascot of the coffee shop, and he was already a familiar face to everybody who called the café their home.
“Why are you crying, Ate?” he says while tapping on her shoulder. Initially she does not pay him any attention, she just buries her head in her arms. Piolo then sits down beside her and does not do anything for a few minutes. Then he starts speaking.
“You know what, Ate? I got it bad too. I don’t get to see the sun anymore because I have to work. Every day I wake up when the sun sets and I have to go out and sell stuff so that my family has something to eat. My sister is dying from cancer and she only has a few months to live. At least that’s what the doctor says. It’s pretty tough out there you know? My Lolo told me one thing. He told me to just keep smiling because that’s the only thing the world can’t take away from me. If you smile, you have one thing in your life that you can control, and sometimes, that’s all you ever need.”
Alyanna stops crying and she looks up at this strange dirty little boy who was more philosopher than street rat. Then she plops back down on her arms and continues sobbing. Piolo gets up to let her be, but Alyanna tells him to sit back down. Then she looks at him and asks “Cool story, kid. Are you hungry? I’m hungry. Let’s go get some food.”
Surprised, Piolo looks at her in mild disbelief and then breaks out into a wide smile. “Sure thing, Ate.”
And after that, Thursdays became their night. Every Thursday the two of them would meet at the coffee shop, and Piolo would be there to help her out. Piolo would be her sounding board and she would always buy him dinner, a small price to pay for a weekly dose of sanity.
That day however, she was going to take it easy. Finals week was over and she was just preparing a few last minute projects that she needed to submit by the end of the week. So she brings over her two sandwiches and gives one to Piolo.
“How’s everything, Piolo?” she asks as she sits down.
“Nothing much, ate,” he replies as he begins wolfing down the huge sandwich that Chateau Azul serves only every Thursday. His mouth still full, he describes in detail what happened that Wednesday. “I was at UST the other night with the doctor. You remember him? I’ve told you about him for the longest time. Yesterday was tough for him. There were a lot of people in the emergency room and he had his hands full. He was dead tired after that. So I gave him your picture.”
“You what!?! Kulet mo!” Alyanna cries. Then she laughs as she asks “Why did you do that?”
“It looked like he needed something to inspire him and I figured you needed a boyfriend. You can’t always hang out with me. It’s been four years, ate. You need to forget that Carlos guy.”
“Silly. You’re my boyfriend,” she says as she knuckles his head.
“Ewwww, ate. You’re too old for me. Anyway Kuya Arnold is really nice. And I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, so that I could take care of everyone. And I want someone who can take care of you.”
She laughs and tells him to shut up or she’ll get the rest of his sandwich. After he finishes, Alyanna asks “So what did he say?”
“He said you’re very pretty daw. I dunno though, maybe the light was too dark.”
He makes a not too sure sign with his hands. He swiftly dodges the swift slap to the back of head that he knew was coming. They end up giggling like fools.
She looks at Piolo, sighs and begins to talk. “I don’t know Piolo. Let’s talk about something else. I don’t even know what I’m doing with my life. I thought I would be a great architect because I knew this was what I loved. But I don’t know anymore. I don’t even know if I even love what I’m doing.”
Piolo looks at him, nods and says “Don’t worry, ate. You’ll build skyscrapers. I know you will.”
Then he gets off his seat, and tells Aylanna he has to go. He has to sell all of his sampaguitas before midnight. Alyanna waves at him and he waves back. Alyanna thinks she’ll see him next Thursday and maybe invite him over for Christmas Eve dinner. Except she never gets to do so.
A few minutes later, Piolo is run over by one of the jeepneys speeding down Taft Avenue.
This is unfortunately where I enter the story. My shift was over at the UST Hospital and I was ready to go home and get some sleep.
Then I saw a bright red pick up truck drive up to the emergency drive way, and I saw Alyanna step down. I recognized her from the picture Piolo had given me. When she opened her passenger seat I recognized her passenger immediately.
Piolo was a close friend of mine. I found him by accident when I go out of the hospital to smoke. I found him in a street corner a few meters away from the hospital and I have been buying cigarettes from him ever since. We talked about everything under the sun. He would tell me stories of his ate Alyanna and how he would grow up to be an architect one day. He wanted to build skyscrapers because he wanted to reach the stars.
I dropped my things as I guided Alyanna and Piolo into the emergency room. I put Piolo on the gurney and I did a quick check for vital signs. Things did not look good. I knew there was massive internal hemorrhaging and his ribs looked like they had caved in. He was dead within the hour.
Alyanna and I were strangers back then, but I cried with her because we had both lost something that day, two lost souls brought together by one bright star. That week we contacted his family and arranged for his funeral. After the wake, I thought it would be the last time I would see Alyanna.
I was wrong. Six months later we accidentally bumped into each other at a mutual friend’s party. I worked up the courage to ask her out after that. You see, I had already fallen in love with her the moment Piolo showed me her picture. It is one of those clichés from the stories, but that is what happened.
The rest of the story has too many details that I would tell you some other time, but the important thing is that three years later we are married. I am still a doctor and Alyanna is doing well as an associate at a small construction company.
Now here I am, in front of the delivery room and I am waiting for my son to be delivered. I am writing this because I wanted to show my son why his name is Piolo. When he is older, I will tell him this story. I want him to dream the same way Piolo dreamed.