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The audience giggles and encourages him to use what little Tagalog he knows. The camera zooms in on a tiny lady in a sombrero. She wipes her tears on the shoulder of the person next to her and they hug for ten seconds.
Oo, continues Mang Manila, I loved her with all my heart. So much. We were destined for great things. She—
So tell it to me, says Brandon Jane, what did she do to you?
Commercial break: Instant Star Shampoo.
What’d you do? laughs Tak Takahashi.
I loved him, I answer. I lied to him, I say to myself.
So why are you still with him? What’s keeping you here?
I haven’t written in weeks. My last story was about an actor who’d survived on the lies his loved ones told him. The lies forced him into action. He came to Manila to make a world for himself. Then he impregnated his girlfriend. Having never told him the truth, his girlfriend died in labor. He became famous.
I can’t write him to love me, I confess.
I’ve seen this, responds Tak Takahashi. You escape to find something you were looking for and you’re lost when you find it.
I barge through the door and find Reese De Verdad on our new green polka-dotted couch, her head in Mang Manila’s lap. One of his hands holds her knee and the other rubs the back of her neck. She sobs hysterically. Neither looks up.
Grabbing my suitcase, I start shoving clothes into it, not knowing what’s mine anymore.
Where you going? asks Mang Manila. Love. Love. Love!
I want to spit in his face but he says, Love! Didn’t you hear what happened? It’s all over the news.
Apparently, the devout Chazrick Villarosa fans, the people of Manila, the forgotten many, rushed the stage after he said he didn’t think that he could ever love again. People shook the reinforcement posts until the stage lights crashed down. Love, he says again, I almost died. The Manilans got even rowdier, chasing and pushing each other down the street. Some attempted to climb the edsa Shrine.
All of this just because of what I said, says Mang Manila.
(I don’t know this place.)
They always react, Tak Takahashi would say. Don’t assume that they are reacting to one simple thing.
I want to tell Chazrick Villarosa not to give himself too much credit. The people are tired of everything. Even new faces. They’re restless. What he saw, what he experienced tonight, was more than sympathy. It was rage. An inexplicable outburst. An entire people can snap just as an individual does. I think about telling Chazrick the truth about us. But it doesn’t matter because when I learn that several people died on EDSA and Reese De Verdad’s son vanished in the stampede, the truth is that.
Usually, I urge the cabdriver to roll up the windows but this morning is my farewell. The sun is hiding, it is humid. I smell the exhaust and fruits and pork and the saltiness of eggs.
Billboards of Chazrick Villarosa’s latest movie swallow the skyline: Loving You Is Easy Because Manila Is Beautiful. Critics praise it as the perfect interplay of tradition and experiment. Deadness, they believe, is a reemerging genre. Catholicism—or any faith for that matter—they claim is passé and possesses no artistic value. Timing, I’m convinced, is perfect. Soap Films Inc. never credited me for writing the screenplay because they figured I’d fled the country after breaking Mang Manila’s heart.
An animation of the risen star is simulated with ten sky-scraping black-and-white images. In the final image, the icon tugs down his boxers, only to be sporting a pair of argyle briefs. He found Manila before finding me again.
Manila is not a character who stole my love. Manila is no metaphor. Manila is an aesthetic. Not good. Not bad. It is, as Sid David would say, what the people want. It is, as Tak Takahashi once wrote, its own alpha and its own omega. Manila is.
I know exactly what my mother will say upon my return: Why can’t you make up your mind?
I’ll say I have. I’ll say I don’t want my child’s father to become the president of the Philippines.