Saving Heroes
August 7, 2012

Looking back, I did remember the bright light hitting her face like a Rembrandt. Her hair, in a perpetual bun, glowed an extra glow. Her lips were in a withdrawn line, her naturally thin eyebrows almost in a furrow. Almost, yes, not fully. I guess even her eyebrows were too tired of me to even finish expressions anymore.

Her eyebrows used to dance. They danced for me. At least 10 years ago they did.

I was a gangly-looking college kid when I first saw her. It was a stereotypical summer in Manila – hot as a furnace. They used to say that you could cook an egg on the pavement with the heat. But who in the world would want to do that on a dusty road where rodents and roaches and drunkards tread? I’d eat that over my dead, gangly-looking body.

The afternoon sun was about to jump to the sea to give way to the moon. People were headed home, most of them with slightly irritated, scrunched up faces. With the heat, the crowdedness of the jeepney and that irritating man’s voice booming over the radio with his ridiculously phony drawl spitting up million-peso ads disguised as news items every three seconds, who can blame them?

Inside the jeepney en route to Baclaran, there she sat in her college uniform, right in the middle of a chubby old woman with a remarkable amount of greasepaint on her face that she looked like a deranged geisha, and a regular Juan, with a black tattered backpack on his lap.

Yes, right smack in the middle of two regular(ly unattractive) persons, she sat all prim-like, with her looming flowered backpack on her lap. Her brown skin looked fresh and natural, and contrasted with the rest of our tired and haggard ones, a sight not too often seen at that time of the day. She seemed to have something on her mind for she held her own blank gaze for quite a while.

I found myself trying to catch her gaze.
I found myself looking like a serial killer so I stopped every now and again to look at something else, like my old school shoes that badly needed cleaning. Then I would look at her face again.
It was a cycle.

I was staring at her eyes and saw how her pupils start to dilate. She looked slowly at me. This is the part where I usually stop staring out of sheer humiliation but I just couldn’t. She held my gaze and made her eyebrows dance – it elevated and fell like a rollercoaster and I know I should have tried a little harder to decipher what she was trying to tell me, but I was just lost in that dance her eyebrows made. Something was crawling its way out of my stomach, like butterflies in heat, trying to make their way out, flying frantically in the pit of my stomach.

Then I felt something move in my backpack. The old backpack that my aunt from America sent me a couple of years back. The one on my lap.

It was definitely not butterflies.

Then I looked at the girl, she was still looking at me. This time I was able to read her dancing eyebrows well. She was warning me not to look left. Sit still. Don’t move.

I felt something sharp slide slowly out of the side of my backpack, which now probably has a hole on its side.

I never got to see the man who butchered my bag. Right after he got what he wanted he signaled the driver to stop on a random curb and got out. All I remember was looking at his back as he swiftly stepped out of the jeepney. A real pro, I thought. But then again, in this economy, he had no choice but to be a pro.

I looked at her again, my heart pounding from what just happened. Her eyebrows, now furrowed, tainted with concern.

I peered inside the hole on my backpack. I lost my wallet, my old cellphone. I may have lost a couple of heartbeats as well. I lost track.

Then I heard her voice.
Are you okay, she asked.
It was that simple. Like in the movies. And until this day I still couldn’t believe it.

I never intended to get sappy, never in my life, but it was that moment that I realized that I found the girl who may have very well saved my life with her dancing eyebrows.

That was the beginning.

I found myself being saved by this woman countless times. And after years of marriage, my affair with that one intern, my missed anniversary dates, and the many fights I started and caused, I should have at least tried to be the hero in the relationship. Even just once. I could have tried.

I looked at her, sitting on the passenger seat, her face was still and calm. I yelled like a madman, not knowing if I had enough time to steer left or right, or just maybe hold her hand like I used to. And apologize profusely for being me. Or say that I loved her. And tell her that I don’t deserve her. Or hold her. Or anything like that.

And in the small spaces between the shards of glass and rubber and metal, and the small crevices between the loud noises and screams, I thought I saw her smile a small smile at me. I thought I saw her close her eyes and calmly smile in my direction.

I could have saved her life, even just this once. I could have been her hero.

Inspired by this non-profit group’s project to promote driving awareness and education for Filipino drivers and mechanics. As long as there’re people willing to make projects like these, there’s hope. On behalf of all Filipinos, I salute this endeavor with a small literary piece of something to help promote their good deed, all the way from the other side of the world.