In the universe where I told you that I still loved you, in the one where our linked hands rested on my lap and my ear lay on the bend between your chest and your shoulder, and I could, if I wanted, turn and graze my lips against your cheek—in the one where you sat on the aisle seat and still tried to look out the window to describe for me the passing scenery of streams, rice paddies, hills, and vast sky—I would be content to just listen to the hum of your voice with my eyes closed, and I would never get off our bus. And the bus, after inching through the river of red lights flooding EDSA, would run along the highway surrounded on either side by verdant fields, zigzag its way up a mountain and rumble on through dusty, potholed roads. The air would turn colder and I would snuggle closer into your embrace, until I could feel your pulse and my breathing slipped into the rhythm of the rise and fall of your chest. And we would cruise like so, endlessly, into the night.
But in this universe, on this night, I am riding on a bus without you. The air held in by shuttered windows, dank with the sweat of people crammed together like swine in a truck, smells of bagoong and strawberry bubble gum. On the radio, Salbakuta is playing. Outside, heavy rain drowns out the scenes of the city. I can only make out shifting shapes and the glare of neon signs in the darkness through the foggy glass. The bent old woman beside me takes a banana from her bayong and presses it against my wrist. It is of the señorita variety, your favorite, small and sickly sweet. I accept her gift and smile my thanks. I peel the fruit and eat slowly, trying to push the lump in my throat down. I remember other evenings, other bus rides, the view of your lips, your throat, the heat of your hand as it first held mine, as if in a dream. Did you know that I used to meditate upon your hands, contemplate the lines encircling your fingers, traversing your palms held by my eyes from a distance no touch could breach? I remember mornings. I remember afternoons. Light sifting through floral-patterned curtains to dance, dappling, on your face. But that was then and this is now, this smelly bus I will soon leave for other buses, other long, solitary rides to places where you do not want to go.
If you’d asked me, I would’ve answered that I wanted to keep the window seat beside only you, but I would still have let go of your hand. The ride had been fun, but I must get off at a different stop. If only time were not so short and you didn’t move too far, if I had no bus, no breath, to catch, if only you were on my IT—
I turn back to the window to watch street lights refracted in raindrops, and dream of parallel universes.
I’m holding out for a better song.