“Manang, anuno imong ingbubuat?”
I pulled myself away from my thoughts and looked up at the kid, around 12 years old, who appeared in front of me as I sat on my usual spot at the beach, writing and listening to music. It took a bit of effort, with my limited Cuyonon, to figure out that he wanted to know what I was doing.
“Nagsusulat lang,” I replied with a smile, recognizing him to be one of the two boys who had shyly hovered around the other day until one of them got up the courage to come up and ask my name. Apparently content to discover that the newcomer who was always sitting alone by the sea was named Abigail, they’d both drifted off eventually.
But this afternoon, there were more of them, and they huddled in a group at some distance behind me, animatedly conversing in rapid Cuyonon as the representative returned and reported that I said I was “just writing”. After a while, he reappeared.
“Anong sinusulat mo?” He was switching to Tagalog now to make it easier for me.
They wanted to know what I was writing. I discarded the idea of trying to explain the concept of blogging, so I stuck with, “Yung mga naiisip ko lang”. Just my thoughts.
His forehead creased at this reply, and he went back to the others. I waited to see what the next question would be. After some time, and some laughter and teasing (boys’ mischief sounds the same in any language), he was back.
“May gusto raw makipagkilala.” Someone wants to meet you.
Ah. Apparently, the issue of my literary endeavor has been abandoned for something more interesting.
“Okay.” This answer earned a grin, and he was off again like a shot.
A little later:
“Pwede raw ba ngayon?” Could he do it now?
I laughed. I couldn’t help it, this was too cute. “Sure,” I smiled.
He returned, sooner than I expected, and alone. “Pwede raw ba siyang lumapit?” Can he come up and approach you?
Adorable. I tried my very best not to laugh again. “Oo naman,” I assured him. Of course he could come close. The ridiculous image of Queen Esther and the king in reverse popped into my head.
While I was waiting for whoever it was to get his fill of encouragement from his buddies, MYMP’s Torpe Song #5 came up on my phone’s playlist. I looked at it in disbelief, then hurriedly set it to mute. The poor kid might think I was mocking him.
The footsteps that came up behind me were heavier than I expected, and I turned to see a teenaged boy older than the others. He sat on the grass with me and extended his hand.
“Ako nga pala si Manuel San Diego*,” he said, blushing furiously. His hand was cold and more than a little damp.
Tall, dark, and lanky, Manuel so strongly reminded me of my 14-year-old brother Joshua that I wanted to give him a hug and ruffle his hair. I wanted to lend him my handkerchief for his perspiration. I wanted to give him pointers on how to talk to girls. Instead, I settled for smiling and telling him my name, though I’m sure he already knew.
Manuel floundered about for a while, trying to make awkward conversation that I gamely joined in. His resemblance to my little brother was giving me a funny sort of tenderness, and I didn’t want him to be embarrassed. However, when his supporters behind us started calling out the words “cellphone number”, I decided it was time to make a graceful exit.
Taking my leave as nicely as I could, I told him I had somewhere to go. “It was nice to meet you, Manuel,” I said sincerely, hoping he could take a sense of confidence from the encounter.
Heading towards the sea, I remembered being that age, not too long ago, when attraction was awkward and embarrassing, but also simple and fun. The games that grown ups played, the games that I could never master, seemed needlessly difficult and complicated. I was sorry to leave my spot on the beach, and sorry to feel disappointed eyes on me as I walked away, but I was the wrong age for Manuel. I’m the wrong age, I think, for anyone right now.
* name changed