"We hope you have a pleasant stay. Thank you for flying Skylight Airlines. Mabuhay at salamat."
"We're here," giliw na giliw na sabi ni Kuya Marky habang tinatanggal ang seatbelt niya.
Napabuntong-hininga lang ako. "God, I hope I can get some decent sleep tonight."
Natawa si Kuya. "Right, like you get any sleep when we were in New York."
I roll my eyes.
If I'm being honest, I think I’m going to have a harder time sleeping now because I’m really nervous coming back to Manila. It’s been years since we came home, but when family calls, we come running.
Kuya and I have been living in New York for the past six years. Pagka-graduate ko ng high hchool nagdesisyon ang magulng namin na doon na kami magtapos ng pag-aaral at mula noon wala kaming naging rason para umuwi. Pero ngayon, dahil 70th birthday ng Lola namin, uuwi kaming lahat para sa sa kanya.
"I'll get our bags," aniya.
Typical Kuya Marky, always the doting big brother. Kuya has been my number one everything since I was little. He's dependable, supportive and protective even though, he’s just two years older. He’s always been that way. Pero siyempre dahil kapatid na lalaki at dalawa lang kami, lagi niya akong inaasar noong bata kami, mas lumala pa noong high school na kami.
Ang dami niyang nicknames sa akin dati na minsan gusto ko pa rin siyang umbagin dahil sa sobrang sama ng mga tawag niya sa akin: Mimi-gsa, Mimi-yatot, Mimi-hukot, Mimi-ling at Mimi-bantot. I hated that last one.
Well, that was before. He can't do that to me now.
You'd never think with me looking the way I do now that I was bullied before. Now I look, well, like Marky's Galvez' sister. He’s around 6’0”, and I’m tall for a girl because I’m 5’7”. Pareho kaming may Spanish features, matangos ang ilong, maputi at mahaba ang mga pilik-mata.
Back then I was considered the ugly duckling. What other people say about me were partly true that I couldn’t even call them insults. Sa sobrang dami ng taghiyawat ko wala na mapaglagyan sa mukha ko kaya pati batok ko nagkaroon. Ubod ng oily ang mukha ko kaya lagi akong may bitbit na dalawang panyo. I also had dry, brittle hair.
Puberty came early for me too, so I had a growth spurt and towered over most of my classmates. I used to feel ashamed by being taller than everyone else so I hunched a little so they wouldn’t notice, but that just made it worse because they noticed me more. While other girls looked regal or statuette for being tall, I was the opposite - I was lanky and awkward.
While all of that was fine and I accepted it all, the only thing I absolutely hated was when people said that I didn't look like Marky's sister. They used to ask if I was adopted or maybe borne out of my mother’s frustrations and resentment.
Si Kuya naman ang golden boy at napakaswerteng nilalang mula nang ipanganak siya. Ni minsan hindi pa siya nakaranas na matawag na pangit. Feeling ko siguro ako ang sumalo ng lahat ng kapangitan noon sa aming dalawa. Dati kapag pinagtabi kami sa pictures ni Kuya mukhang ako iyong alalay, tapos siya iyong amo. Pero hindi ko ikinasama ng loob iyon, hindi naman niya iyon kasalanan.
He used to defend me when he hears something bad being said about me, that’s the rule – he’s the only one who can tease me, not other people. Pero nakiusap na lang ako na 'wag na niyang pansinin iyong mga nang-bu-bully sa akin kasi mas lumalala ang problema ko dahil iyong mga nang-bu-bully sa akin, crush na crush siya.
There was that one girl, I will never forget that girl, Steph. She was the bane of my existence until graduation. She was so mean, and I didn’t even understand why. She just picked on me for some reason.
I wonder how she's doing right now.
"Mi, look, nag-post na si Mom, nasa airport na rin sila." Kuya shows me his cellphone, it's Mom sitting at the Airport lounge with her feet propped up her luggage.
Sumilip ako sa cellphone ni Kuya. "Ano na naman iyang pose na iyan?”
Ngumiti lang siya. "Ayaw mo kasi mag-create ng account. Usong pose iyan sa IG. Cool talaga kasi si Mom."
Siguro dahil sa mga pinagdaanan ko noong bata ako ang naka-apekto sa kung paano ako mag-isip ngayon. I don't have any social media accounts because I don't feel safe with it. I feel like I'm giving people reasons to look at me, be curious about me and how I look. I've never been a fan of pictures either.
He puts his phone up for a selfie and I cover my face with my hand.
Hinampas niya ang kamay ko. "Ano ba, Mi? Para kina lola 'to para alam nilang nandito na tayo."
Umirap ako. "Malalaman talaga nilang nandito tayo kasi pupuntahan natin siya, tigilan mo nga iyan."
He sends the picture anyway.
I look around the airport while waiting for our ride. I missed being home even if I’m a bit nervous, but the only thing that I can surely say I haven’t missed is the heat.
“Grabe! Ang init!” I wipe the sweat off my forehead. I’m wearing a sleeveless black shirt, cropped jeans and white sneakers. Sana nag-shorts na lang ako.
Pagtingin ko kay Kuya hinuhubad na rin niya ang jacket niya, napalingon ako sa likod niya at napansin ko ang mga babaeng grabe kung makatingin kay Kuya. Napailing na lang ako.
Kuya’s wearing his typical plain white t-shirt, faded jeans and sunglasses. Pero dahil maputi, matangkad – I guess pansinin talaga.
Naupo si Kuya sa maleta niyang malaki nang may biglang dumaan na babae sa gilid niya at binangga siya ng bahagya. Dahil naka-sunglasses rin ako hindi nakita ng babae nang umikot ang mata ko sa pag-irap. Hindi naman masikip ang daanan, ang laki-laki ng pagitan nila binangga pa talaga si Kuya para magpapansin.
She smirks and apologizes to Kuya but Kuya barely glances at her and automatically says, “it’s okay.”
I couldn’t help it, so I say, “some people are unbelievable.”
Kumunot ang noo ni Kuya. “What do you mean?”
I scoff. “That girl who deliberately bumped you just to catch your attention. I don’t get it.”
Lumingon si Kuya sa direksyon kung saan nagpunta iyong babae. He just shrugs. “Why? What’s the big deal?”
Syempre maliit na bagay lang iyon sa kanya, normal niya na ‘yan eh. Madalas may makahulog ng kung anu-ano sa harapan niya, mababangga siya habang naglalakad, makipag-patintero sa kanya tapos hahagikgik na parang bata – ano ba sila naghahanap ng “meet-cute” starring ang kapatid ko?
I huff. “I mean if you find someone attractive then you should say something, right? Do you do that? Do you bump into girls on purpose if you like them? It’s just looks desperate!”
He removes his sunglasses and looks right at me, eyes wide. “Wow! Where the hell did that come from, Mi?”
I immediately feel my cheeks burn. “Wa- wala. I just get annoyed with it. That’s all.”
He wraps his arm around me, and he sighs. “Naiinis ka kasi hindi ka kagaya nila. Hindi ka papansin. You don’t like putting yourself out there and take a chance, so you’ll meet the person you will spend the rest of your forever with.”
“Pfft. Forever? Wala noon. Hindi totoo iyon.” I cross my arms over my chest.
Binitiwan niya ako pero ginulo niya ang buhok ko bago siya maupo ulit sa maleta niya, “You’ll see. One day magiging natural na sa ‘yo magpapansin sa lalaking gusto mo. You’ll be the annoying one.”
I roll my eyes. “Don’t hold your breath.”
My brother reads me like a book, he knows all of my issues so it’s hard for me to pretend around him. What really bothers me about this is that I envy girls like that because Kuya’s right, I don’t put myself out there. I can’t make the first move. Hindi ko kayang magpapansin sa lalaking gusto ko. I never had the courage – that’s the downside to having baggage.
Sinilip ko ang oras para ibahin ang usapan. “Nasaan na ba ang sundo natin? Ang tagal naman.”
Kuya checks his phone. “He’s almost here. Na-traffic lang daw.”
Binulsa niya ang phone niya. “Alam mo naman si Ollie, laging late.”
I try to swallow while feeling a lump in my throat. “Ollie? As in Oliver?”
Tumango siya at may kakaibang ngiti, “Yup. I asked him to pick us up.”
Oliver De Luna = Kuya’s best friend and the one person I hoped I won’t see on this trip.
Nakita siguro ni Kuya that I’m breathing hard, so he puts his hands up, “Oh, Mimi. Don’t be mad, no one was available to pick us up, so I called in a favor.”
I remove my sunglasses so he can see the fire in my eyes. I poked him on the chest. “How can you do this to me? How can you not tell me? Sana nag-taxi na lang tayo.”
I grab my suitcase and start walking away. “Mag-tataxi ako.”
Hinatak ni Kuya ang maleta ko at hinatak ko papunta sa akin ang handle. “Let go, you jerk!”
“Stop it, Mimi. Kung anong nangyari sa inyo before we left was a long time ago na.” He yanks my suitcase back and because he’s stronger than me he pulls it back to where our other bags were placed.
He sighs and faces me while pursing his lips. Kilala ko ang mukhang ito, ito ang mukha na ginagamit niya kapag nagpapaka-Kuya siya sa akin. “What the hell happened before, Mi? Did Oliver do something? Kailangan ko ba na bugbugin ang best friend ko?”
This is not the first time he’s asked me this question. I’m guessint it won’t be the last either. But like before I brush it off like it’s nothing. I roll my eyes and put my sunglasses back on, “Don’t be so dramatic, Kuya.”
“Ako? Ako ang dramatic ikaw ang may pag-walk out diyan!” he’s teasing but he’s still assessing my reaction.
I just don’t want to see him.
Before I can answer a white Jeep Wrangler stopped in front of us.