Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Lousy Love Story (fiction)

Donnie was quite content with the clerical post that he had in the company. He was an assistant to the budget supervisor of the Promotions department of a manufacturing and marketing concern. Unmarried at the age of thirty five he was the favorite of the office girls who felt that he was a harmless fellow who could take their naughty taunts and flirtations without fear of being maliciously responded to. He definitely was not gay. He was attracted to the opposite sex but was slow to act on it. Donnie was a meek and tractable fellow. He was one whom you could say has the “soul of an accountant”.

He had taken fancy to one of the secretaries in the secretarial pool. She was typical of girls who took secretarial courses which took about two years to complete. These girls would come from poor families who couldn’t afford to send their children to pursue the usual four year programs leading to baccalaureate degrees. She possessed a certain type of beauty which showed good facial features, pretty, but with a hint of hardness. Her complexion was on the dusky side and not so smooth with traces of blemish which could have been caused by early age malnutrition.

It took sometime before Donnie could muster enough courage to declare his intentions to Alivia. In the usual style of unsure and meek swains, Donnie would do small favors; bring an extra sandwich, some chocolate bars.At first Alivia was not conscious of the attention being showered on her by Donnie. She thought that he was that way with everyone, a meek person who got through the day doing little sacrifices, small favors just to get on with guys in the office.It took Donnie much preparation and self psyching to declare his love. If it were not for this singular courageous act, Alivia would never have known his intentions.

“Donnie…what are you saying? You don’t know what you are talking about,” Alivia mumbled and looked around to see if there were people within hearing distance.

“You know I like you a lot, but not this way. Wow! What’s come to you?” Her head oscillated one more time like a mechanical toy robot scanning the surroundings.

“Well, I can’t help it. I’ve always felt this way towards you, but you know…but, it’s okay if you say no. I’ll leave you alone if that’s what you want.”

As it was his wont Donnie Ponteverde backed out from an awkward situation and felt relieved that he got away from this one without further embarrassment.Alivia was not so sure whether she should put an end to this with absolute finality. Donnie was such a dear fellow and have been a close friend for some years now, besides didn’t she, at one time, had thought about Donnie but quickly dismissed it as nonsense. He was just a sweet person whom everybody liked.

“Wait, don’t leave. I have not said anything yet, have I?”

“Got to go, Mr. Ruiz is waiting for these papers and oh, this is for you.” Donnie straightened up at the approach of Mr. Ramos, Alivia’s boss who grunted as he neared.

Donnie left a small brown paper bag on her desktop, the usual thing he does once or twice a week.Mr. Ramos looked annoyed at the intrusion on one of his employees during a work hour. A rude grumble from him sent Donnie on his way. His gaze followed Donnie for a few steps and turned to Alivia.

“Send this right away to Mr. de Blume in the Singapore office. I need a reply from him on this immediately. Tell the operator to alert me as soon as a reply comes in.” He was gruff not so much from the agitation caused by the urgency of the task at hand but from Donnie’s hanging out in Alivia’s work station.

“I see him here more often than before. What business does he have to loll around here?”

“Nothing, he’s just that way…to almost everyone in fact. You know him. He’s just a harmless nice guy,” she said more in defense of herself than Donnie’s.

On the way to the teletype office, Alivia stopped by Cora Dolor’s desk. Cora was one of those girls in the office whom she confided with.“I have got something to tell you but not now, I have to rush this thing that Ramos asked me to do…later at the canteen.” She was excited to share what has just transpired…it was more than just a bit of juicy gossip that had to be passed on quickly.

After delivering the sheaf of papers to Mr. Ruiz, Donnie went back to his desk. His was a neatly arranged desk with the trays in their proper places. The plastic organizer box had neatly stacked note pads, paper clips all facing one direction, the stapler and the stamp pad were perfectly aligned as if measured from the edge of the desk. His small corner was neat and innocuous looking, much like him. When he was not in his desk you would think that he was absent that day. There was no clutter, no disarrayed papers being worked on. The papers that he worked on were always returned to the side shelves of his computer table. His work space looked like a precursor of a paperless office.

It would be lunch time in fifteen minutes and he thought that it would useless to start up his Apple computer now only to turn it off for lunch. He spent the few minutes of space to think about the incident at Alivia’s office. He felt sorry that he opened up his feelings to her. A person who loathed disorder in any form he was afraid that this would shake the otherwise well arranged and cosseted world that he lived in. From now on Alivia would be wary of him and that he would lose the friendship and closeness that he enjoyed before this bold and brazen act…and what would the rest of the office think. He waited for the lunch bell to sound. The moment it rang he automatically fished out from his canvas bag two sandwiches wrapped in white plastic. His hand dug in again and came up with an instant soup in a polystyrene cup. He stood up and went towards the hot and cold water fountain.

At the canteen Alivia and Cora chose a corner table and did not join the other officemates as they normally would. As they went past the cashier’s counter Cora signaled to them trying to say that they were on a private thing to which the girls nodded in acknowledgment.

As if by intuition Cora sensed that Alivia was not going to talk about some silly girlie thing, such as crushes, or being asked out by some of the young guys in the office. The serious mien and the nervousness that Alivia exhibited prepared her to expect something not whisical and fanciful. It has got to be a critical disclosure or something of great import.

“Well, what’s the big news, Alivia?” Sounding cursory so as not to show a suffused concern.

“This guy Donnie…”

“What about him?”“This morning he went up to me to say he loves me and just like that proposed marriage.”

“Really…what a jerk…right there in the office?...didn’t even wait for a more appropriate time and place?”

“Yeah just like that. You know how he is. He is no smoothie and would be so inept at such things."

“Oh boy! Wait till the others hear about this. They will be talking about this for weeks.”

“Cora, please, I don’t want you to tell them. Let’s just keep it here between the two of us.”

Cora knew she was right in thinking that this was no ordinary chitchat item. And also she speculated too that this was no laughing matter for Alivia.

“Are you taking him seriously?”

“I don’t know…maybe. It’s all so sudden…didn’t have time to think.”

“It’s not such a bad thing then,” she said. “Alivia, you’re no spring chicken and it’s about time you consider proposals like that, any proposal in fact.”

“Oh Cora, if only you knew. It’s not that simple,” heaving a sigh of helplessness as she said this.

”I think I know what your apprehension is. Donnie is no prize catch. He seems so laid back and with low or no aspirations at all…but who knows, with you and later with children…he may just be a late bloomer. Besides, I heard that his family in Bacolod are pretty well off. Most of all he is a nice guy. It could work out you know.”

“That’s not quite what I meant but I know…I know what you are saying. I just hope that he didn’t get so spooked about this morning. Ramos was a bit abrupt on him and you know how easily he gets discouraged.”

“As soon as you get back to your desk give him a call, not to accept yet, but to keep the prospect alive while you sort out whatever it is that’s bothering you in your silly head.”

“Thanks Cora, I knew I could count on you on these things. Not a word to the others, ha.”

It was still ten minutes to one but Alivia bade good bye as she hurriedly stepped out of the canteen thinking that she might do just what Cora suggested right away

.Cora joined the other girls in their table. “So what was that all about?” they asked.

“Oh nothing, just a little problem with her mom in the province.” She said it so nonchalantly that not one of the eager ears pursued the matter further.

When she reached the office her boss, Mr. Ramos was there. He had a teletype paper in his hand and was rapt in reading it.“Mr. de Blume just disapproved my proposal for the building of an annex structure. I’ve worked on this for months and now all this have been for naught.”

He slammed the paper on Alivia’s desk and hurt his fist. Alivia was a bit startled but she is used to seeing him go on minor outbursts like this but never going beyond an immoderate display of temper. It was just a man thing…to be somewhat brusque, to be not at all squishy.

“Ali, schedule meetings with the suppliers that I have talked to last week…all of them. Line them up tomorrow…one after another. Tell Mr. Pugante and Mr. Zico to come to my office in thirty minutes. Tell them it’s urgent.”

The remarkable thing about Bart Ramos is his hold on his authority, wielding it as if it was his birthright. He was in full control and would be quick to act and unerringly too. This was what Alivia admired in him. Strong, resolute…manly, a man who would not brook arguments contrary to his.

He called her Ali whenever no one is around. A small and guarded touch of affection that he subtly did within the privacy of his office.

“And Ali, I would like very much for us to have dinner tonight. It’s been a tough day, too much aggravation…my nerves are frayed and needing some tenderness” saying this in a hushed almost inaudible way. Dining out always meant ending up in some swanky motel. He didn’t wait for an answer. It was always assumed that she would say yes. So when she didn’t say a word he didn’t suspect that it bothered her.

Bart Ramos has been Alivia’s lover ever since she got into the company.For Alivia there was no love involved in the relationship. She was grateful to Bart for having taken her out of the impoverished state she was in and the financial help he extended when her mother needed surgery for an abused lung. Alivia was also thankful for the job that she enjoys now. Bart was more than generous with gifts as well as extending financial help when needed.

It’s seldom that secretaries coming from a vocational secretarial course end up as executive secretaries. Invariably, those jobs have been reserved to the less talented colegialas who get into the corporate scene.

Bart Ramos is married and has three teenage children who were good looking, cared for and chauffeured to expensive private schools everyday. The wife is a dignified looking middle aged matron, well bred and socially graceful. Behind the emerging slight wrinkles and shallow crows’ feet was an attractive woman who was adored by Bart Ramos. His was a happy family life and he made sure that this blissful state of affairs is safeguarded from any extraneous threat. He was discreet and circumspect with his affairs outside the conjugal bed.He did not have any qualms of conscience about his faithlessness. Like Alivia, there was no love involved in this wanton affair. It was a victor's spoil that he arrogated upon himself as a matter of right. These are part of the trappings of power, a male conquest, a right that the powerful of any society may bestow upon himself like the lords of feudal societies and the potentates with their harems. It was only in practice of power and the satisfaction of primal lust.

Alivia knew that she had little time left. She was not able to talk to Donnie because she got taken up with the numerous things that Bart had ordered her to do that afternoon. Quitting time was at five thirty and the dinner tryst always meant meeting Bart sevenish at the mall which was about forty minutes away by taxi during rush hour. She knew that Bart would start for home early every time they have these dinner dates. It may be a part of his security protocol.

As soon as Bart stepped out of the office he called Donnie and arranged to meet with him in the small Chinese restaurant right across the office.

From the office window Alivia could see Donnie crossing towards the Chinese restaurant. He was dodging cars and trucks that were slowly moving at bumper to bumper spacing at this hour. She hated the thought of having to do that herself but some momentous decisions were to be made over there, across the street.

“Hi Donnie, I hope that I haven’t kept you waiting long” as she spied him from the entrance of the restaurant.

“Oh hi Alivia, no I’ve been here less than five minutes.

”She knew that was a lie as she saw him cross the street at exactly five thirty. She had to tidy up her desk of documents, bits of paper, all sorts of sample materials from the rush of activities that afternoon. It took more than twenty minutes before she could lock up her desk to meet her appointment with fate across the street. Also she noticed that his mami bowl was already more than half consumed.

“Can I get you something?”, he asked.

“Just a cup of coffee, please,” then proceeded to say “I was thinking about what you said this morning” she saw Donnie stiffened at the mention of it.

He raised his right hand to stop her from saying anything more.“No, no I am sorry about that. I didn’t mean to be so forward. You, of all people, no, I wouldn’t even dream about it. I was not myself this morning. I hope you’ll forgive me for being so presumptuous, so stupid…” Donnie was babbling audibly… enough to be heard by the other customers in the small eating place.

“Hush, Donnie get a hold of yourself.” Alivia looked around and saw some quick glances towards their table from some of the customers.

Now less loud, but still gibberishly he mumbled “No really, that was bad of me. I think even Mr. Ramos was angry at me also at you. Sorry, it will never happen again…I swear…really cross my heart, I will never forgive myself if you get into trouble with your boss because of what I did” Now he was whimpering like a puppy dog with his tail between his legs.

Alivia felt disgust welling up her chest. She couldn’t believe anybody could be reduced to such a pitiful state for what, for something as trivial and as corny as what happened that morning? She was looking at him in the eye and was searching for any sign, any hope, any stirring of manhood, of maturity, of any dignity or of adult pride. What she saw were twin orbs quivering in senseless fear. What is this? She thought. Would I be able to countenance such a behavior in a man?

“Listen Donnie, It’s alright, I am not angry at you. I will still be your friend even if you did a foolish thing today.” She said to appease him.

“And you know what? the roast beef sandwich you gave me this morning was really fabulous. I loved every bit of it.” She was humoring him as she kept her eye contact steadily to stare him down and for her to control his hysterics…for him to settle himself.

“What happened this morning was really nothing to worry about. You meant well and I understand.

“Really, am I forgiven?” was his limp rejoinder.

“Yes Donnie you are forgiven.”She looked at her watch and rose quickly.

“O, Donnie I have to rush for a dinner appointment, Can’t even wait for the coffee. Will you take care of the bill? Sure ha.”

She got out from the steamy and friendly warmth of the Chinese restaurant into the kaleidoscope of flashing headlights that illuminated the dark and cold street. It has always been dark there at that hour. There were no street lights, only headlights from passing cars. It was okay tonight. The slow moving traffic provided steady light but it will soon be dark again when all the cars have brought home their fares to their connubial domiciles.

It was a difficult time to hail a cab but she didn’t care if she was late for dinner.

No comments: