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Romannce

His father's name was Romeo. His mother's name was Annabelle. So they called him Romannce but he dropped the 'c' and the 'e' when the taunts got unbearable. Anyway, he didn't think it would get him anywhere with the girls. His ideals would, and so would his paintings, of course.

Romann and I have been glassmates for at least 12 years now. We met at bonfires in camping sites, exhibit openings, concerts, anywhere we wanted a party to get started. Always it was gin, and if somebody had a fit of generosity or if Romann had just sold a painting, maybe we had a few rounds of beer. We would pass each other on the street some mornings, clear-eyed, sober, laughing about the last night's fuzzy memories. That was when there was enough space on Baguio's sidewalks for friends to spot one another from afar. He had a spring in his step, back then.

Nowadays, he shuffles, mostly. I bumped into him downtown a week ago but instead of laughter there was a wall. No, not a wall but a muted need to forget, instead of the usual silly attempts to remember the funniest or wildest drunken moments. We needed to pretend that we didn't remember the last time we saw each other, and each knew that the other was only pretending. We parted in less than a minute.

That fateful last time, we were with a rabble rousing crowd of boys in a bar, all of us already intoxicated from an earlier party. (There, Romann had cautiously asked me whether he unknowingly crushed me at yet another round of drinking. That was a month ago, at a dear friend's wake, where every one was drunk but those of us who had lost a friend were the drunkest. I assured Romann that if he had indeed fallen on me that night, he would've sustained far worse damage and I would've inflicted it on him myself. He thanked me.) On the dance floor we wiggled and hopped about as best we could without falling over to Bakulaw's ripping renditions of the Rolling Stones and the Doors, all our childhood and adolescent favorites.

Out of breath and looking for an anchor, I sat down beside the most solid-looking man in the joint and watched the boys carry on with their half-staggering, half-rocking dance. It was then that Romann froze in mid-dance, straightened up, and made a beeline for me, a shocked look on his face. He stood in front of me, and slowly turned his back to me so that I was facing the butt of his blackened jeans, which I knew to be grey under all that grime. He twisted his neck so his face was angled towards mine, and asked,

'Umihi ba ako?'

'Oo.'

There was no point saying anything else, that far into our collective inebriation. Romann bowed his head for a moment and then lifted it again, wide-eyed.

'Malaki ba?'

'Ganito,' I said, holding up my hands and showing him the size of the wet patch in his pants by joining my thumbs and forefingers.

'Tangina,' he exhaled, dropping into the seat beside me. Our eyes locked, but nothing else was said. The music was too loud. Then his eyes drooped and his head nodded forward. He leaned back in his chair and fell asleep.

When it was time for me to go, I patted him on the shoulder. He was still asleep or in a stupor, I don't know. The next morning it all seemed funny to me. I recounted it in confidence to a number of friends and we howled and I gasped for breath as I re-enacted the exchange again and again.

The next time I saw Romann, and looked into his red-rimmed, clouded eyes, the joke had worn off. I wanted to slap him out of his drunken shade. I knew that it hung over him, morning, noon, and night. I knew that he'd sunken to asking friends and strangers alike for loose change to get himself another roundpost. I knew I was guilty for having laughed.

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