Alas, after two days of waiting with bated breath, Mr. Spectacular’s national-level table tennis competition pushed through. His brother Leo and I agreed to meet at the family corporation, and off we went downtown, unmindful of possible rumors of Tuhog remake within the nasty community grapevine.
I expected the venue to be jam-packed with cheerers of all sort, from those who wear seductive cheerleader skirts to those who seem to have built-in sound blasters with which to yell. However, only a few were there, most of whom were athletes lifting the spirits of their fellow athletes. I surmised that the more popular basketball game drew in the crowd, until I gathered that the visually interesting swimming competition was simultaneously being conducted along with Mr. Spectacular’s. End of speculation.
As for the object of affection, he looked stunning in his navy blue-collared white uniform, blue shorts and black rubber shoes. He thanked me for coming, but I was just too glad to see him play against the best of National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities’ (NAASCU) best. Something about his excited movements made him all the more adorable. Teaming up with a Palarong Pambansa veteran schoolmate, he went on to trounce representatives from San Sebastian College and AMA Computer University.
Until he and partner faced the dreaded pair from Holy Angels University, whom they referred to as “halimaw” for being indestructible even in Palarong Pambansa. Twice they met for the finals, and no amount of dancing tricks from Mr. Spectacular distracted the opponents from advancing to the top three, shutting the pair we were rooting for from the medal tally.
My personal and his university’s star player bore the heavy responsibility of winning in the singles to secure a medal for the entire team. However, just when he was to start the best-of-three match, my inbox received an urgent message asking me to edit a paper due in two hours. That posed a personal crisis: do I ignore the plea in order to see Mr. Spectacular’s triumph, or do I abort my moral support for him in his deciding game in order to beat the paper deadline? I ultimately chose to be professional, since from where I plugged my laptop I could still take a glance at the contest every so often. It was the last encounter for the day, and the university’s team and supporters like Leo were around to cheer him on. Twice the pingpong ball hurtled in my direction and when I looked up to see who picked it up, it was Mr. Spectacular, asking if I was just fine. By the time I finished editing for less than half the time it usually takes me, the whole team was rejoicing for Mr. Spectacular. He bagged a bronze medal, which to me was as good as gold because hey, it’s a national tournament. Not everybody gets a chance to shine after beating all but two. It remains to be seen if Mr. Spectacular gets to defeat his ultimate opponent—himself—in order to be in tip-top shape to win the gold next year.
From Mendiola, we traversed Earnshaw because I promised to treat the brothers anywhere in España. How I loved that kilometric walk with Mr. Spectacular, especially if instead of the goon-like drumbeaters we passed by, some crooner performed rica peralejo's cover of "let's stop and talk a while." In Spain, the coziest place we could eat in was a pizza parlor opposite the royal and pontifical University of Santo Tomas. I urged them to order whatever they wanted, since the victor deserved only the food of the gods. When both eventually settled for a family pizza, I smiled my island fiesta smile over the befitting term.
Since he was sitting beside me, I could see Mr. Spectacular feeling dreamy, probably out of the combined exhaustion (he played in both individual and team division for the entire day) and fresh accomplishment. I teased him for being a national runner-up, which is just my way of motivating him to wrest soon the top plum on his last year in the university. He mentioned that wearing the shirt I gave him last valentine's could have earned him the grand prize, but he already had it on during the first day when the table tennis game got postponed (first for the next day and finally for the day after). He would later transmit a text message that my presence must have been the lucky charm for his victory.
Owing to the rush hour, we had no choice but to hang around the pavement opposite UST until such time we could grab an FX ride. Which was just perfect, for I didn’t—don’t—want that bonding moment ever to end. The vehicles shuttling toward Quezon City, the pedestrians hurrying along the sidewalk and the starlight above Manila passed us by, but we remained transfixed, chatting about life in the old country, their studies and mine, the possibilities in the future. Finally, an FX with three vacant seats accommodated us, and understandably, the star player fell into unconsciousness. I began to go on Scheherazade mode to enthrall Leo about the hidden messages of innocuous-sounding fairy tales: the Lolita complex in "Little Red Riding Hood", the yonic symbol that’s the glass slipper in "Cinderella," among other tales meant to resolve psychological issues in children. It probably escaped Leo that I was calling to mind Sleeping Beauty who was roused to life via Prince Charming’s smack on her lips. Needless to say, everything, especially the kiss, escaped the sleeping beauty next to me.
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