Chapter Four – Fifteen Minutes
Life moves at the speed of light. Every now and then, it moves so fast that we forget to breathe. But it is comforting to know that sometimes, it only takes fifteen minutes to re-fresh and refresh.
From our first meeting at a Landmark grocery store, Hamed and I have come far. To this point, he’s met my sister Mika and my bestfriend Toffee (although the circumstances of their meeting weren’t what I hope they would be). But on this particular Friday night, we have decided to take what we have further yet again. We’re going to Cubao X for an intimate talk on same sex marriage organized by a Facebook group, If Gay Marriage is Good Enough for Dumbledore, it’s Good Enough for the Philippines, which I am an active member of.
Unfortunately, all roads leading to Quezon City from Makati during rush hour are like the blood vessels of a fully erect penis: they are totally jammed and vexingly inaccessible. So we have decided to take the fastest possible route this metropolis could offer – the MRT.
“I love the MRT,” I gleefully declared as we squeezed ourselves into suffocatingly large crowd of train passengers all headed to the north of the metropolis.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Hamed glared at me with apparent disdain.
“I do! Train riding to me is like yoga.”
“This is what yoga is like? Being pushed around by a sea of people whose armpits smell like a McDo Spicy Chicken Burger?”
“It’s rush hour. People can’t wait to go home because they miss their families or they don’t want to miss ‘Got to Believe’.”
Hamed scoffed, “’Got to Believe’? That is so gay.”
I crinkled my brows and shot him a did-you-just-use-gay-as-an-insult look, “I totally agree that the show is lame but I can’t believe you’re one of those shitty people who use ‘gay’ as a put down. I expected more from you.”
“Are you seriously offended? I was kidding!”
“There’s many a true word spoken in jest,” I replied coldly and looked away from him.
“Do you seriously think I’m that kind of an asshole?” He tugged sleeve gently, as if begging me to look back at him. “I’m sorry, Harry. I swear I didn’t mean it.”
“We’re not talking.”
“Great. Our first fight,” Hamed exhaled heavily. He sounded very frustrated. “Come on, Harry. Don’t be too sensitive. It was just a word.”
“No, Hamed. To me, it isn’t just a word. It’s impossible for me, a gay man, to not get offended and internalize hate every time a friend or someone close to me use that word to define being lame, weaker, emasculated and all other connotations. And you know what strikes me as pretty infuriating? It’s that you, another gay man, would comfortable use the word in that context without a hint of compunction.”
“I am so sorry, Harry, if I hurt your feelings. But I find it hard to apologize for something I didn’t mean.”
We were both silent for a few minutes until the sound of the train announcer pulled me from my angry reverie.
“Arriving at Guadalupe Station.”
People getting in outnumbered those alighting the train. Luckily for me, the corporate guy seated before me took off, too. I immediately occupied his seat while Hamed pressed himself against a fresh crowd of passengers just so he’ll be standing in front of me. A minute later, the train began to move again.
“Harry, you got to talk to me at some point, you know. You can’t just zone me out just because I said something you didn’t like. That’s not how dating works.”
I took a brief glimpse at him before turning back to the train window. With his begging face still on, Hamed tapped my foot with his.
“Be a bitch all you want but you won’t turn me off from marrying you.”
With my eyes still on the metropolis laden with ugly billboards outside the window, I tried to hide the smile that his words sketched on my face.
“Is that a smile I’m seeing?”
I glanced back at him helplessly. My chest began to race as it suddenly dawned on me: this man has learned how to manipulate his way into my heart.
“What song are you going to play when you marry me?” I asked sheepishly.
“Sweet Disposition. Temper Trap.”
“I love that song.”
“Yeah. Do you notice how that song starts with a build-up? It makes you think of things all starting – the excitement of a new adventure, of sharing it with an important person in your life and all the beautiful moments you would have together,” I raked my hair softly, wiped my eyes and turned to the train window. “With the song blasting in the wedding venue, I can imagine myself walking down the aisle with the wind brushing my face and my hair… flying.” I shifted my eyes back to him. “The song is about being stuck between then and now. Who you are in this moment, what you know and how you feel. A moment, a love, a dream, aloud, a kiss, a cry, our rights, our wrongs. These are all the things that give life meaning. You feel alive when the emotions that accompany these things rush over your body. Just so alive.”
“I feel so lucky to have met you,” he said after a long exhale.
I flashed him a shy smile. “Even with my gay voice?”
“I wouldn’t even have noticed you have one but yeah, even with your gay voice.”
“Thank you, Hamed. I am lucky I met you, too. You know, some guys dumped me because they think I have a gay voice.”
“Well, they were asses and have no idea how beautiful you are.”
“No. I don’t take offense in the fact that they are certain and stringent about the qualities they’re looking for in a partner. Also, I understand that we, gay men, are usually very particular with our preferences for looks and the superficial. However, this makes the hunt even tougher. ‘Oh, my boyfriend must be at least five foot ten, toned, has a car, not a call center agent.’ All these expectations and standards shallow the pool and we’re left with slim chances of finding ‘the one’. And what if you met the love of your life but you let him go because he earns minimum or he got fat legs or his nose isn’t perfect or his dick is uncut? Will life tell you that you’ve settled for second-best? Or are you going to spend the rest of your life thinking you got what you deserve when really, you don’t?”
“You’re such a romantic.”
“Oh, are you one of those cynics who hate romance?”
“I don’t hate romance. But I do think rom-coms are a torture and are totally unrealistic.”
“You know what? I think I have a theory as to how people nowadays were ‘teflonized’ for romance. Anti-romantics have led us to believe that all crazy shit we see in rom-coms are outrageous and not doable. And this has become the schema. The prominent social construct. And you know social constructs – once insitutionalized, they are difficult to revise,” I took a brief pause. “No wonder the world is a sadder, less romantically passionate place today. Before, human beings would go to war out of love e.g. Helen of Troy. Today, we go to war because of oil, religion or mere hate. Truth is, however, romance isn’t outrageous and is totally doable. If only we people try.”
Hamed watched me and appeared bewildered. “You have that certain je ne sais quoi about you, don’t you?”
“Do you hate it?”
“Of course not. I like you the way you are. Just like my morning coffee.”
I looked in his eyes and said, “You’ve known me a month. You can know my dick size but you cannot have an idea of my ways.”
“That logic is flawed. How come I do not know of your dick size?”
I slapped his thigh and we both guffawed.
“But you’re probably right,” Hamed said after clearing his throat. “But I do know you like to pumace your calluses while you work.”
“You noticed!? That’s like my best-kept secret.”
“I like to watch the things you do.”
“I like that you pay attention.”
“But really, though. Why can’t we be like women and date a guy because he has a great personality and his favourite movie is The Double Life of Veronique?”
“Because we, gay men, are naturally guided by our dicks, not our brains. It’s the only organ that matters to us.”
“To me it is not.”
“Well, you, my dear, are rare.”
“Not according to this guy, PAPZ, I chatted on Grindr right before I met you.”
“What happened between you and this guy PAPZ?”
“We have been talking about movies for two days and we were kind of hitting it off until he asked for a photo. I sent him the cutest photo I got, which is the one where my mom was hugging me by a public pool and I was wearing my Homer Simpsons trunks. But after he received my photo, I didn’t anymore get a response from him ever. I mean, I couldn’t understand because I liked him and I can tell by his enthusiasm to reply to my replies that he liked me, too. What could’ve possible gone wrong in the photo? You think it’s the trunks?”
“Well, if it is indeed Homer Simpsons, then I probably should thank him because he practically led me to you by scaring that Grindr guy away.”
We arrived at Boni Station. The moment the doors opened, people began to push each other trying to get in and out of train. Those guys coming in were very eager and aggressive, as if the train was the entrance to Maria Ozawa’s vagina. Another man accidentally pushed Hamed which resulted to his crotch smothering my face.
“What the fuck just happened?” I bellowed in embarrassment.
Hamed let out a chuckle. “I’m sorry. A guy pushed me.”
“I was not prepared at all,” I covered my face in embarrassment.
“Please tell me it smells nice, at least.”
“Hamed, your balls just got shoved in my face publicly. Whether or not they smell of rose water and jasmine is the least of my concerns.”
“Relax. It’s my crotch.”
“That’s supposed to restore my train dignity?”
“You are so cute when you’re panicky. And with all due respect, it felt nice.”
“Well in case that nice feeling pulled you out of your consciousness, we’re on a public transport.”
“I saw a guy give another a guy head on a city bus once.”
“That is disgusting. Not that I’m judging their trip but that is disgusting.”
“Come on, Harry. I’m pretty sure there are things you did that you don’t always look back on fondly. What are some crazy stuff you did in the past?”
“Can we wait until we get to our stop before we discuss such things?”
“Let me share first to make you comfortable. I was fucking this guy back in college when I noticed shit on the condom. It was a tiny dapple, kind of like a speck of chocolate sprinkle in a bowl of homemade yogurt.”
I scrunched up my face in disgust, “Hamed, chocolate and shit? Really? Did you stop though?”
“Of course, not. I thought I should return the shit back to where it belongs,” Hamed said with a tone as if it were extremely intelligent what he did.
“Well, you were not really ‘returning’ the shit to where it belongs because it will just remain lodged there on your condom-cloaked penis while you pound him. Unless of course you return it with your fingers in a manual manner which, I’m sure, is something cropophiles will find hot but in the actual, is totally unsanitary and sordid.”
“Whatever. Now is your turn to share.”
“All right. When I was in college, I had a friend who is a girl who had a cute boyfriend who would occasionally send me sexual innuendos. One night, we were texting and I jokingly offered him a blowjob which he jokingly accepted. And then he came over.”
“No, he really did.”
Hamed thought for a moment and said, “So… did you?”
I took my eyes off him and replied, “I did. I was reluctant at first but he was quite determined to get his dick in my mouth. Everything was nice and chirpy though until he shot his wad.” I looked up to stare at him but not directly into his eyes. I wanted to see how he would react.
“You let him cum inside your mouth?” he said with a curled forehead wrinkled up to his hairline.
“I didn’t ‘let’ him. He didn’t warn me.”
“So what did you do?”
I ogled at Hamed’s eyes for a few seconds before he finally understood what my stare meant.
“You swallowed? Tell me you punched him in the face.”
“I didn’t want to offend him by spitting.”
“Oh, so you chugged down his jizz because it’s the civil thing to do? Harry, not having an immaculately chaste guy suck your cock while you have a girlfriend is the civil thing to do. Not shooting your semen inside another person’s mouth without his permission is the civil thing to do.”
“I wasn’t exactly ‘immaculately chaste’ then so.”
“You aren’t really subscribed to our society’s skewed view of virginity, are you? Having sex doesn’t make you a slut and being a virgin doesn’t make you saint. Not that I accept the Catholic Church’s ridiculous concept of sainthood but I’m sure you get my point.”
“Well, maybe I was also into it,” I answered without looking at him. “Maybe I wanted to eat his cum, too, and do whatever it is he needed and be his cum dump right at that moment.”
“Okay, stop. This is a bad idea.” He looked away from me.
I looked up to him again and said, “You’re not seriously jealous.”
Hamed shook his head.
“Don’t worry. From now on, I won’t be swallowing anyone’s cum but yours,” I pledged to him.
“We haven’t even had sex.”
“It will be special the first time.”
The train arrived at Shaw Boulevard Station. A large number of passengers got off the train including the sleeveless guy seated beside me. I immediately pulled Hamed’s hand to get his attention to sit before someone else does. The train began to pick up speed again.
As the MRT move its way to Ortigas, I could see the landscape change outside the window. And when I turned back to the inside, my eyes were immediately drawn to this same sex couple holding hands in front of us. The first guy was seated while the other one was standing in front of him, his right hand holding on to a handle while his left was perfectly clutched to his partner’s. I turned to Hamed and caught him staring at me.
“What?” I asked, surprised.
“Aren’t those guys sweet?” He was referring to the same couple.
“They are. I’m kinda jealous. Don’t we all just want a hand to hold.”
“You’re amenable to holding hands in public?”
“Hamed, it’s not like reading a Precious Hearts Romance novel in the open.”
“Don’t you care about what other people will think?”
“Fuck ‘em. I want a partner who doesn’t mind holding my hand anywhere.”
Hamed was silenced by my words as if I’m a doctor who just diagnosed him with a terminal disease.
“I am not comfortable.”
“With your seat? You want to scoot a little more?”
“No. Holding hands in public. I haven’t perfected that yet.”
“What’s to perfect? It’s not a figure skating routine. When two people love each other, they share a hotdog on a stick and hold hands wherever. It’s that simple.”
Silence reigned between us again for a long time. It’s as if he doesn’t know what to say. A minute later, he broke the silence saying, “Well, you have to understand that not all gay men are comfortable about their sexuality and give no shit about what other people think, just like you.”
“Are you talking about yourself? But you’ve outed, right?”
“I did. I am just not out enough to be comfortable to show affection with my boyfriend publicly.”
“I see,” I replied softly.
“Do I hear disappointment?”
“Well,” I didn’t know what to say. I’m going to lie if I told him I wasn’t disappointed. To be honest, I have always wanted a partner who’s not scared to shout to the world that he’s in love with me. I mean, what is a sweeter thing? We’re just like everyone else. We’re just like straight couples who don’t want to be singled out in a party just because we’re two males or females loving and fucking each other. Why should the society care about what happens in our bedrooms? And why should we give in to society just because it’s not comfortable with our kind of love?
“I can hold your hand wherever in your apartment and wherever in my apartment,” Hamed answered. “We can even cuddle and more.”
“Yeah. Hamed, I don’t want a boyfriend.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“I don’t want a boyfriend. What I want is a partner.”
“What’s the difference?”
“A boyfriend is someone you hold and fuck in your room, pretend to care for when he’s not around, and someone you talk about with your friends over a large cup of Slurpee but never really officially introduce to them. A partner is someone you integrate in your life entirely.”
“I am always up for a challenge,” Hamed said and then winked at me. I shook my head, looked away and then turned back to him with a curious look on my face.
“What do you even like about me though? I’m neurotic and full of drama. Also, I get constant periods of depression and when I’m in one, I am not a fun person. Are you sure you still want to date me?”
“Why can’t you, even just for a second, consider that a hot guy like me can actually like a cute, baby-faced guy like you?”
I rolled my eyes on him.
“Baby-faced? Am I effing Jolina Magdangal to you? Anyhow, I don’t know. I guess in spite of my SJP peg of confidence, I still have insecurities.”
“You have nothing to be insecure about. You’re attractive, smart and you pay your own rent. Everyone loves anyone who can thrive on their own.”
“I still want abs.”
“Abs, you can grow. But brains? Brains is as rare as Kris Aquino shutting the fuck up.”
“Speaking of Kris Aquino, are you scared of STDs?”
“I’m thrown by the change in topic but… of course, I am scared of STD. I am not your friend, Toffee.”
Toffee. I wonder what he’s doing right now. We haven’t really talked since the last time when he confessed his feelings for me and I‘m not quite sure why I haven’t tried to reach him, too. Am I mad? Did his revelation upset me? Up to now, I’m still not very sure how I feel about it. But I miss him, that I know.
“Hey, don’t be mean. I’m pretty sure Toffee plays it safe.”
“You can’t always be sure of that.”
“Really, though. Toffee is a nice person. He’s just sad, I guess. As a result, he goes to places and does things constantly seeking attention from other people. But it isn’t just the attention that he wants. He’s looking for someone who would care for him and not treat him like a nobody. He grew up practically on his own, you know. His parents started working abroad when he was just six. They left him to the care of his Aunt Linda who is both a drug addict and a pedophile. He doesn’t have siblings, too. I am the only person he’s got.”
“That is sad.”
“When we were in college, he would cut his classes at UST all the time and sneak himself in to FEU to visit me and watch me through the glass door while I’m in a class. And then from afar, he would just smile. He’s that kind of lonely.”
“You care so much about him, don’t you?”
I looked at Hamed
“Of course, I do. He’s my best friend. We used to jerk off together to the opening scene of Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together all the time in 2009. Toffee is my bestfriend.”
“Are you sure that’s all there is to it?”
I was brought to a sudden pause by Hamed’s words. Am I sure I have no feelings for Toffee? Is he really just a friend to me? Or is he more than that?
As I reflected on these questions, I gave Hamed the most convenient reply, “Don’t be silly.”
A few seconds later, we arrived at Santolan Station.
“How about your other friends, how are they?”
“Isko and Andrew?”
Well, Isko is now trying to move on from his ex-boyfriend Joseph who tried to kill himself last week after a relapse to depression. On the other hand, the virgin Andrew is determined to find himself a boyfriend before the year ends.”
“Wow, they are in totally different places.”
“I know right. That’s why we haven’t been hanging out a lot lately. I miss them so much. These people have always been there for me through thick and thin.”
“How did you meet them?”
“Isko and I hooked up once. We were in our freshman year and didn’t even know how to use a condom. But we were so much into each other intellectually that right after we fucked, he read to me Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan while we rested.”
“I couldn’t even get through the first chapter of that thing. So utterly boring.”
“It’s written in old English, so.”
“I knoweth,” he giggled.
“How about Andrew?”
“We met through Isko. Andrew and Isko dated for a week back in 2010 until Isko found out that Andrew is, like, very rich. Not Henry Sy, Lucio Tan rich but more like Edgar Sia of Mang Inasal circa 2012 kind of rich. And knowing Isko, he’s so much of a communist and, like, hates capitalism so much he doesn’t consider shoplifting in convenience stores a crime. He could be an NPA but said he hates hiding in forests like a wild pig.”
“You got interesting friends. The ones I have are either dead or are based outside the country.”
“When will you introduce me to your locally available ones?”
“Soon,” he replied succinctly.
“Very soon,” he smiled friskily.
“I adore the way look me in the eyes when you tease-smile at me. It’s like you make me want to have sex with you and at the same time, you make me not want to have sex with you yet.”
We shared a stare that almost felt like eternity as the train began to pick speed again towards Araneta-Cubao, our final stop. And then, he held my hand.
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