Honey Ko (Sweetheart), Book 1, Chapter 4, Part 1

***Author’s Photo. Ferry launch to Grande Island (No, not the big one!) Officer’s Landing, Subic Bay Naval Station, Olongapo, Philippines 1983.

Aida, sweet and lovely like the opera, searched for treasure among the debris washed ashore by the latest storm of the monsoon. Her breasts filled her top as she leaned over to examine a bright and colorful smorgasbord of seashells, pebbles, smooth-worn glass, and curious shapes of driftwood. Breath caught in my throat as she turned, and I followed the long line of her legs as they curved with the round of her bottom and the straight line of her back that flowed beneath the hair that fell below her shoulders. This beautiful woman of twenty-one made every move a display of feminine eroticism. I told her often how beautiful she was, and she blushed each time and replied, Oh, thank you, honey ko.

Aida collected her treasure in a net bag that let sand fall away. She’d add the shells to jars lining the sill of the window over the kitchen sink of her apartment. The mix of colors, shapes, and textures would look pretty in the bright afternoon sunlight filling the window of the tiny kitchen. I thought of a similar kitchen I had known several years before and how Susanna had arranged seashells on the sill of the window of our bungalow in Rota, Spain.

Susanna was as real to me as though she were not dead. She often returned to my thoughts when I questioned whether I could love Aida with only half of my heart, for Susanna held the other. Aida knew of Susanna. I had spoken of her so Aida would not have to ask questions later. She thought I was carrying grief too long and too far, but Susanna was not just an image brought about by a misfiring synapse in my brain. The love between Susanna and me predated all other human love and was always meant to be. Our lives before finding each other were years spent waiting to find each other. We both knew it. When God created love, he created it from a perfect form. The love between Susanna and me was that form. All other love was a copy of the love we shared. When Susanna died, our love remained, for you can’t kill love. Once given, once reciprocated, love is eternal.

Holding the bag in both hands behind her back as she crept along, Aida scanned the beach for those simple touches that bring the outdoors indoors and render a home warm and cozy. A glint of reflected sunlight in the sand drew her attention. She stepped across a rivulet running across the beach from the jungle to the sea. She stooped to turn over a fist-sized rock and screamed. Yoshi dashed over, sniffing and barking at the rock. Aida laughed, and the wind blew away her tinkling laughter as she fell onto her bottom.

Are you okay, Aida?

Yes, Tommy. I’m okay. She shooed Yoshi away, and he ran into the jungle, thrashing through the underbrush and barking.

I stifled a laugh as Aida stood and brushed sand away. The gesture aroused me, and I pressed my hand to her bottom and spoke close to her ear. Are you sure you’re okay?

Oh, Tommy. Not now, honey ko. So many people might see us. She laughed again as she moved away from me and said, A crab surprise me when I am turning over a rock. He looks so funny snapping his claw to me. Maybe he’s thinking I’m going to eat him.

It would take a bucketful of those little guys to make a meal. Why don’t we buy crabs at the market on the way home?

If you like, honey ko, I will buy the crabs fresh tomorrow and make the soup for your supper.

Okay. Buy crackers too, oyster crackers. You can’t have crab soup without oyster crackers.

Oh, they don’t sell those at the market.

I’ll stop at the commissary after work and buy them. Do you need me to pick up anything else?

Yes. Napkins.

There’s a whole case of napkins in the hall closet, Aida.

Not that kind of napkin, Tommy.

Ohhh. Okay. Too bad you can’t come with me.

You’re so shy, Tommy. Nobody noticing when men buying napkins for their wives. If they do, they thinking like the man is helping his wife and how sweet of him.

The earlier storm had washed away the brown haze of smog and left behind a brilliant, deep blue sky. The sun was past high noon. I put on my shirt, and we continued our treasure hunt. A gust of wind peppered my cheek with sand and sea spray, and I turned away. The wind folded back the brim of Aida’s hat. She laughed as she held the hat to keep it from flying off, and the graceful curve of her arm and the outline of her happy face reminded me of Susanna. Aida’s brown eyes crinkled when she laughed and pierced my heart the same way Susanna’s eyes had done. My throat tightened and I looked away.

As so often occurred when Susanna returned to my thoughts, my adoptive father’s words rang in my ears. Never find yourself having to choose between two women. You’ll hurt one of them, Tom, and hurting a woman lowers a man.

I loved Aida, but I loved Susanna too. But Susanna died. What reason had I to choose? I wanted to let go of Susanna. I wanted to love Aida with a clear conscience, one free of ties to another woman. But I couldn’t forget that Susanna died alone, without me by her side. I couldn’t forget I was the cause of her death. I wiped my eyes with a knuckle and took a deep breath. I pretended not to notice Aida’s curious look and kicked at a clump of seaweed. The kick loosened an odor that mingled with the fragrance of tropical flowers growing in the sunlight along the fringe of the jungle. As I leaned over to examine a seashell knocked loose from the clump, the medallion swung against my chin. Two flaws in the ruby set in the medallion blinked like red eyes in the sunlight. I replaced it inside my shirt and picked up the shell and dropped it in the red plastic cup that smelled of San Miguel. Moving along the beach, I nearly stepped on a sand dollar, its edges unbroken.

Here you go, Aida. Look what I found.

Ooh, that’s a big one, honey ko. Don’t break the edge. She squatted on her heels and leaned over her knees, turning the wet sand with her fingers, and picking out several tiny shells the size of a thumbnail.

Honey ko, if we find enough of these little shells, I will make a soup for you instead of crab soup.

How many does it take, Aida?

Two cups, Tommy. I tell you last time we come here. You are so forgetful.

I grinned and placed the sand dollar in the cup. I was forgetful, but Aida’s iron-clad memory could recall what I had for dinner any night of the week months ago. I moved along the shoreline, turning away from breaking waves and sifting the sand with my toes.

Near the narrow causeway to Banana Island, several palm trees heavy with coconuts leaned over the water. I tried in vain to dislodge coconuts by throwing rocks at them.

Climb up the trunk, Tommy. That’s what my brothers do. Walk up the tree bent over like you are going to touch your toes. See? Watch me.

Aida bent over and stretched her arms toward her toes and took a few awkward steps. See? It’s easy. Go ahead, Tommy. I catch you if you fall.

She looked like a monkey walking on all fours, and I had to try hard not to laugh. If it’s so easy, you climb up, and I’ll catch you if you fall.

Oh, Tommy. You can do it.

No way, Aida. I’m not your brothers. If you crave a coconut that much, we’ll stop by the commissary and buy some on the way home.

Leaving the coconuts free to taunt others, we returned to the hunt, but I was hungry. Aida, my hands are full. Let’s go back to the cottage. It’s past lunchtime and I’m starving.

You always starving, honey ko. Why you aren’t fat?

It must be all the sex you force on me. It’s great exercise.

Aida put her arm through mine and pulled me along the trail. We left the bags of treasure at the cottage and carried lunch to the pavilion. I grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and reheated the fried lumpia Aida had prepared at home. We sat close together and made small talk. Sometimes we didn’t talk at all. We were closest in quiet moments and could almost read each other’s thoughts. Often, I would find her hand clasped in mine and not remember reaching for her.

The breeze was cooler under the pavilion, and Aida rested her head on my shoulder as we gazed across the water at the warships and freighters dotting the bay at anchor. She stirred and yawned, then hugged her knees while her gaze carried her across the mountains to Bataan Province and her home on the shores of Manila Bay.

I miss my family, Tommy. Her wistful voice carried a yearning that differed from the other yearning, the one where she worried that I would never propose.

I know, sweetheart. I miss mine too. Why don’t you go home for a visit?

Maybe. I thinking tomorrow I will ask Cora to go home with me. She’s not visiting her family there for longer time than me.

Near dusk, we packed the remains of the picnic. We showered at the beach house and changed into street clothes. After depositing our bags on the ferry pier, we strolled along the trail to the seawall overlooking the dark blue water of the bay. A warm, salt-laden breeze carried the scent of seaweed through palm trees above the high-tide mark. We kicked off our flip-flops, and I helped Aida onto the seawall. I sat next to her while we waited for the ferry to Fleet Landing. Yoshi barked to join us, so I lifted him onto the seawall.

We dangled our legs above the waves lapping below. The setting sun’s golden rays changed from orange to purple to red through the filter of ash drifting from Mount Pinatubo. For miles around the bay, strings of colored lights winked on at the clubs and resorts dotting the shoreline. F-14 Tomcats roared overhead, the orange-blue flame of their dual afterburners splitting the twilit sky. The warm night air wrapped around us like a soft, cozy blanket, and the tranquility of the evening pushed the sound of the aircraft into the background. I slipped my arm around Aida’s waist.

Oh, Tommy. You make me so happy. I’m glad you bring me here. This is where you tell me you love me for true the first time, remember?

I remember. Not much has changed.

Change comes slow in the Philippines. She turned to look at me, her face curious. Does change come slow in America?

No. Everything happens fast back home. People are impatient and want things now-now-now before they change their minds and want something else just as quickly.

Are Americans impatient for love?

Most of them.


Because just like having things now, they think love should happen fast too. They rush into a relationship because they think they’re in love. They don’t give love a chance to grow first. Sometimes, I think people believe it’s all about sex. They think they’re in love while the sex is fresh and exciting. But, just like everything else, they become disillusioned when the excitement and mystery wear off.

Love with you will never become boring, honey ko.

I love when you call me honey ko.

That’s because you are my sweetheart.

She rubbed her cheek against the stubble of my five o’clock shadow. I love the scratch of your beard and the sound it makes against my cheek.

I remember one night, Aida, as you lay with your head on my chest, you said you loved the sound of me made intimate by my closeness and the warmth of my body.

I remember, she whispered. She pressed her nose to the hollow behind my earlobe. I love also the smell of you, masculine and gentle. I like to breathe in your scent. When it fills my lungs, it’s like you are filling me inside. She moved against me. Hug me so I feel you.

I put my arms around Aida because she wanted to feel the muscles of my body. We sat close, so close that our hearts beat as one. After a while, her body ceased to be separate from mine, and I moved away and back again. Aida wasn’t voluptuous but possessed a perfect figure. She wasn’t a striking beauty but was beautiful. Her voice wasn’t high-pitched or low-pitched but seductive. Her accent wasn’t awkward but endearing. Some women made themselves alluring or attractive. They puffed up their breasts, preened their feathers, and strutted their stuff. Not Aida. She had no need to present herself. She attracted men naturally, like hummingbirds to nectar. Men hovered about, hoping for a lick of Aida.

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