In the MeantimeBy Paolo P. Mangahas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The most carefree times of my life were the childhood summers I spent doing absolutely nothing. No school, no homework, no piano lessons, no out of town or overseas trips, no dead relative to bury, no house to burn – nothing.
“Only boring people get bored,” my mother would say at times like these, which I personally took as a challenge.
“Let’s see who’s boring,” I’d say under my breath and go off to find more creative ways to be amused, which typically took the form of torturing either my siblings or the househelp. Serial killer tendencies aside, little did my mother know that I would eventually make that statement a fundamental creed in life.
During one of those uneventful childhood summers, I unwittingly became friends with Judith, a new neighbor who lived a few houses up the road. She was loud, irreverent, wild and overly confident, and I hated her the first time I met her. I suspected that if I looked up the word obnoxious in the dictionary, I would probably find a picture of her face staring straight at me.
We were around the same age but went to different schools, which to me was a blessing since I absolutely had no plans of interacting with her after that initial meeting. Or so I thought.
One time, on my way home from school in a packed school bus, Judith was frolicking on her front lawn. Upon seeing the bus, she stopped for a moment, then without warning headed straight for our vehicle. She started out with a steady trot, which turned into a purposeful jog, then burst into a frantic sprint, chasing our bus like a rabid dog! Then with whatever energy she had left from all that running, she started screaming at the top of her lungs, “Paolo! Chika chika!” (Slang for “get the freaking hell out of that school bus and let’s gossip!”).
I slid under my chair, pretending not to know her. But Judith started banging the back of the bus, and I secretly prayed for the bus driver to accidentally run her over. When that didn’t happen, I got out of the bus looking defeated with my head hung low, and with no choice but to acknowledge that yes, Judith is crazy and yes, she is my friend.
Since then, Judith always found ways to annoy me one boring summer day after another.
I was taking a peaceful nap one afternoon when she came by, hoping to hang out. Our gardener, who was watering the plants, told her that I was asleep, but this obviously motivated her even more. She grabbed the water hose, skillfully aimed it at my bedroom window, and literally drenched me out of my nap, shouting, “Paolo! Chika chika!”
This time I really wanted to kill her – painfully. Mainly because this happened just a day after she sprayed glass cleaner all over my face and hair, which resulted in an epic speed chase around the house with me shouting, “I’m going to kill you!”
I’m quite certain the neighbors must have reported an extreme case of domestic violence happening in the house. Except that Judith was laughing hysterically like a deranged witch, so they probably also thought some sort of evil sorcery was taking place.
I soon figured that the only way to get rid of Judith was either to clandestinely sell her family’s property or burn it, forcing them to move far, far away. I quickly realized though that this idea might backfire on me because once, when Judith got into an argument with her parents, she dramatically told them that she was running far, far away – to my house.
Finding her sulking like a brat on our lawn, I saw a golden opportunity to finally get rid of her. “If you’re going to run away, might as well do it properly and go far, far away where you can disappear forever,” I suggested. She thought about that for a moment, decided that disappearing forever was just too much work, then stood up and reluctantly dragged her heavy suitcase back to her house.
I soon accepted the fact that the girl wasn’t going anywhere, so I kept an open mind and allowed her outrageous antics to at least amuse me during the dull summer afternoons.
One lazy day, she randomly blurted out, “I’m starving!” In a matter of minutes, we were in her father’s vintage Mercedes (which she boldly drove without a driver’s license or asking permission), making our way to a nearby restaurant called Little Quiapo.
When I reminded her that we were both broke, she snapped, “Shut up. I’m too hungry right now. We’ll figure it out. Trust me,” then turned to the waiter to place our orders.
“So what do we do now?” I asked, as we were licking off the last of the pancit palabok, hoping she had some money. “Shhhh! I’m too full to think. Go figure it out,” she replied nonchalantly while picking her teeth. “Want some dessert?”
I considered offering to work in the kitchen either to slice vegetables or wash dishes but then thought of something better. “Okay, here’s the plan. You go outside to those tricycle drivers around the corner and ask for money. Make up an excuse, say it’s an emergency.”
Being the self-assured person that she was, Judith gladly obliged, but added, “In the meantime, try to catch a fly so you can put it on our plates and complain that they served us dirty food. Who knows, they might give it for free.”
Her fund-raising strategy took me by surprise as I watched her work the road like an overbearing policeman. She would stop tricycles dead on their tracks and demand (not ask) for P10 without any explanation whatsoever, acting as if people owed her money. The whole scenario must have been totally alien to the poor tricycle drivers that they actually complied, shaking their heads in disbelief as they stared at this pushy girl who looked nothing like a beggar.
While my friend was busy professionally ripping money off some hardworking tricycle drivers, I in the meantime was busy hunting flies to sprinkle on our dishes. To my relief, Judith triumphantly barged in with just enough money to pay for our bill. “See? I told you to trust me,” she gloated. “Now let’s get the hell out of here before my father kills me.”
Judith and I became partners in crime for most of our lives. That is, until the day my long forgotten dream of her moving far, far away quite shockingly came true. Her family decided to move to the United States when we were in college.
In the months that followed, Judith and I went about our usual business as if nothing was about to change. Perhaps we were in denial of what we both knew was the end of one of the most colorful chapters of our growing up years.
On the day she finally left, she came by my house for one last time to say goodbye. In between laughing and crying, she hugged me tightly and said, “Long distance chika chika?”
I held back my tears and simply hugged her back without saying a word, wishing that I had never ever thought of burning her house (or killing her for that matter). Deep inside I knew that I would never meet anyone like her again.
And I never did.
Recently I came upon this quote somewhere: “Everything comes to an end. In the meantime, we must amuse ourselves.”
It reminded me of Judith. With a friend like her, it was so easy to learn that the meantime is really the only time there is, and that we must grab it with both hands and relish it every chance we get, even if it means finding a fly in your soup once in a while.