I had to rush to catch that 8:00 o’clock dinner with Sam.
Coming from far south of the crowded Metropolis, I was desperately praying that traffic would be a little bit lighter at that hour, and that the gridlock, if there is one should happen on the opposite direction, stalling motorists travelling from Makati to the neighboring areas down south. But quite unfortunately for me, chaos spread both ways, where ever you are coming from, north or south of EDSA with no escape in sight.
I have a confession to make. I dread meetings with Sam because of the mixed emotions heaped upon my self-esteem by such meetings. The sooner I get there, the sooner it would be time to leave, I assured myself.
So when he stood up from the dinner table he had reserved for the two of us at one of the mall’s better diners to acknowledge my presence, I was inevitably struck by the familiar sense of anxiety. A quick glance at my wristwatch showed I was more than an hour late for the meeting. It’s almost ten. Time flies, indeed, but damn it, I’m not even having fun.
“Kumusta bro, how are you doing? Tooth-paste commercial smile radiated all over his handsome, flawless face, accentuating the rose-colored cheeks that seemed to glow under the light, as he reached out to offer the customary handshake. It felt like pillow. The palm of his hand. And for one second, I hesitated to grip it tight I might injure the immaculate, almost lady-like hand. His perfume left a slight residue in my hand that was both a distraction and a sensory pleasure.
“You looked harassed pare. It must be a really long day. How’ya doin’ bro?” He repeated.
“Just came from Sta. Rosa, Sammy Boy”. I retorted mindlessly. “My butt is already starting to burn from sitting through four hours of horrific traffic”.
Suddenly he stood up and I was instantly looking up and it felt awkward. We’re almost eye-level when he’s seated but standing up, his 6-foot frame dwarfed me by a full feet. I wanted to push him back down to his seat and tell him to stay there.
Sam is everything I am not. Someone I could only hope to be, but could never quite come close to compete with in terms of physical gifts even in my wildest dreams. In the corner of my eyes, I could see the ladies swooning, wait, it’s more like they were drooling, frothing in the mouth like mad dogs do at the sight of meat from their vantage point on the next table across the room and I really don’t blame the ladies. Sam simply oozed class, breeding, and drop dead male sensuality most men like me would die to have. I would rather be in another place than be sitting right here next to him where I think those ladies have already thought of me as Sam’s personal chauffeur.
The last time he called me up on my cellphone, Sam was in the process of finishing his latest condominium project, a joint-venture with his college buddies and their foreign financiers that would net them millions in profits and I do expect that Sam would take the lion’s share of that fortune. I had helped them go over the legal hurdles and to finalize side-contracts. Then I overheard his friends say he will bring Dolly to yet another honeymoon in Boracay.
Speaking of Dolly, she is… well no single word can describe the kind of woman she is. But let me just say from experience that every kid who goes through the process of becoming a man had more or less his own idea of what the perfect girl is, and chances are, without even knowing Dolly, she personifies that girl. Her pure and fragile beauty is the muse of every man. I only met Sam’s wife twice, but both encounters are intoxicating, near-surreal experiences that left me clueless about the place, time and the circumstances in which they occured. I remember taking her handshake and staring straight into the most sensuous almond eyes I've ever seen, and wondered if by the grace of God I have just died from a stroke and this angel was sent over to fetch me. That’s the kind of woman Dolly is. She and Sam indeed are meant for each other. Incidentally, it was my idea to call the two of them – Sam and Dolly – Sam-son and Do-lie-lah – and our friends who heard the monickers for the very first time, in between bursts of laughter couldn’t help but agree. I still hear them called by those names every now and then, during occasions of friendly banter, and I take credit for having made the perfect monicker that really stuck.
“So, what’s the deal now? I’m fed up with seeing you guys get rich so quick while I starve.” I was in a playful mood, but what I said were honestly half-meant, especially the fed-up part. I do feel that my envy is completely justified.
I realized Sam had ordered a late dinner for the two of us. His favorite t-bone steak, medium rare, and I could see the blood still dripping off the meat and I felt suddenly being swept with nausea. He was methodically starting to pick the meat off the bone with the steak knife, trying to keep the conversation going without looking at me.
“Well, actually, we’re planning to bid for the North Rail Project, as soon as the French financiers give the go signal. But that’s not what I called you for. You see bro, Dolly and I…”
“Oh yeah, how’s Dolly, send her my regards will you, by the way, that North Rail Project is making such a buzz. I know a lot of investors are licking their chops as we speak, if you and your friends nail that deal, then you’re made… you don’t have to work a single day in your life after that.”
“It really is… by the way, Dolly had just…”
“Tell me what can I do to help.” I stopped Sam in mid-speech and steered the talk back to business, which is, as I said, the reason I came here for in the first place.
“Expect tons of paper work and legal skirmishes but don’t worry we’ll have it all figured out like we always do. The main thing is, it would be all worth that North Rail deal. We’re raking up hundreds of millions here.”
“Dolly and I had an ugly fight”…. Sam’s words seemed to get drowned over my ranting exuberance about the prospect of another multi-million, possibly billion peso deal, and I had trouble grasping the idea at once. Still, I came here to talk business. I won’t dare drift away from that. Besides, it’s getting late.
“Oh, sorry to hear that… But hey, relax, Sam… we all do fight… Can’t live without it. You’ll be kissing and hugging in no time, I bet.”
He paused for a moment and focused on the bloody meat, slicing it carefully like a surgeon. Then he put down the steak knife and reached for an envelope. “She’s suing, bro. I want you to be my lawyer. Here, I want you to look at these photographs.”
The pictures I pulled out of the envelope unleashed a shockwave I have never ever felt my entire life. I felt numbed by the sight of so much blood, of busted lips and bloody broken nose, the dreadful aftermath of a violent rage unleashed on defenseless and vulnerable flesh, suggesting a screaming, excruciating pain. For a moment I was completely disoriented and I wanted to believe the pictures I am looking at were those of a mangled doll, or those of a crash-test dummy. But this is no illusion or make-believe. This is true flesh and blood. This is what he did to Dolly…
The ladies giggled from the table next to us. Sam was scooping the last morsels of meat off his plate while I struggled to keep myself from leaping across the table and plunging a steak knife into the throat of this monster next to me. During the next hour or so, I had to endure listening to his story, his self-serving excuses, his twisted truths and desperate lies while I stifle the voice of my own conscience not because i wanted to but because it was my job to listen. Because that is what I am getting paid for.
That night, I went home with the weight of the whole world on my shoulders.