The night of: a short story

Art by Richard Mercado

6:45 p.m. You head to The Girl and The Bull to try their new take on banchan: Japanese meets Korean, with bowls of ube chips, baby corn, white and red kimchi, mackerel, finished off with their famous Faux Twix dessert (with a little surprise). You mostly just nod through your Tinder date’s long complaints about Manila traffic, bureaucracy and the weather. None of which are new to you, but you let your date pretend that you’re the dummy at the table. He’s paying, right? #feminism

8:55 p.m. With a quick — and we mean, quick — goodbye to your date, you get a ride to Tambai where your friends are all waiting. Once you step out of the car, they all tease-cheer you from the street, their beers held up along with sticks of grilled gizzard. You roll your eyes and neck a bottle of cold Pale. The place is crowded as usual, but you enjoy people-watching in Poblacion, anyway. So many interesting characters walking by…

10:26 p.m. “WRU???” is your younger brother’s panicked text. He doesn’t answer his phone when you call, so you freak out because — duh — he can’t, like, die. You scroll through your Instagram stories feed and find him posting blurry videos from some kind of gig place. Your friend looks over your shoulder and asks who’s hanging out at Mow’s. Next IG story: a shot of a public bathroom, and someone saying, “Kaya ko paaaaa.”

 11:22 p.m. For a second you feel like Regina George because, why is everyone obsessed with you? (They’re not.) Your office Telegram group fires up with texts about heading to OTO, like, now na. You tell your friends that you’ll be right back, and take the five-minute trek that divides SoKal (South Kalayaan) and NoKal (North — you get it.) In OTO, you sit back for the first time in the night, letting your friends order something nice and fancy. The music’s good, and the place is so removed from Poblacion’s general crayness that you actually start to chill out. Wait, is that—?

12:03 a.m. You’re okay, you’re okay. You ran to Wang Mart — the best Korean grocery in the area — to get an ice cream and stop yourself from freaking out. Your ex! Was there! With his new girlfriend! How dare he look good!!! Without even thinking, you walk out of the bar and walk and walk till you got here. The cashier stares at you while you pay (and cry) for your Melona, but she’s weirdly unfazed. This is probably not the weirdest thing she’s seen tonight. Deep breaths. You’re fine. He wasn’t even a good kisser!

12:15 a.m. You start walking back to your friends at Tambai, but your table’s been filled by someone else. You text your friends regarding their whereabouts and one of them replies. “Future, tara.” You’re tempted to head up north, but the surge on Uber is crazy high so you say, “Sige, mamaya.” Subtext: No thanks!

12:46 a.m. Desperation seeps in, and you’re this close to hanging out with street walkers instead. Your date texts that he’s at Belle and Dragon, but you don’t hate yourself so much that you’d hang out with him again. “I’ll buy you a drink, Karen. *wink*” Ugh, as if! You decide that maybe it’s time to call it a night, when you run into your high school friend CF — short for Cheeto Fingers, of course. He’s still wearing a beanie over his mop of curly hair and he asks you if you’re in the mood to eat. Duh.

1:34 a.m. Seriously, how have you never eaten at Goto Monster before??? You’re almost done with your second order of the Goto Special (the bagnet was sold out, wah) and you listen to CF tell you all about his own weird evening. (Don’t ask.) You start talking about school, and you laugh over his strange nickname. “How did you get the name Cheeto Fingers again?” you ask, in between teary-eyed laughter. CF pauses, “Uh, you gave me that name.”

2:20 a.m. CF tells you not to feel bad, but you do, so you offer to take him out to 2020, where the dancing is clumsy but fun. At the booth, you spot your Instagram crush in a white T-shirt and a cigarette behind his ear. And while you’d normally flirt your way to his heart (Inner voice: yeah, sure), you encourage CF to let loose and start dancing. “I’m normally more of a Mow’s kind of guy,” he yells. “But this is cool.” You freak out, because oh my god. Cheeto Fingers is actually kind of cute.

4:16 a.m. “You’re kind of quiet, ha,” CF remarks as you drive off to BGC. All that dancing gets you both a little tired, so you decide to get Tapa de Morning to fuel up. You don’t need to say much, but the feeling is pretty nice. You get a little sad when the meal comes to an end, so you ask CF if he wants to go for a walk. Your heart skips a l’il bit when he smiles and says that he’d love to.

5:00 a.m. You walk over to the nearest McDonald’s. There’s no particular meal you’re craving; you’re just there to watch them change the signs to the breakfast menu. There’s a hand near yours, and you look up to see CF with the same dopey smile you’ve had on your face for the last few hours. “Sorry I named you Cheeto Fingers,” you say. “I think it’s just because I was looking at your hand and I thought that they were kind of nice.” The first few chords of Closing Time begins to play. CF looks at you and just says, “It’s okay. I’m just glad we’re finally friends.”