Romance and a sexual tension made the air surrounding us buzz with expectation and fulfillment of some deep-seated desire or need. Holding her suddenly seemed so much more than just an embrace between two people. I saw Aida now as a necessary part of me, an essential element in what made me who I was.
At the time, I didn’t realize what had happened. Only later did I come to see we had passed a stage in our relationship that left infatuation and passion behind as we entered the stage of commitment. It sounded almost clinical when I thought about it, but it was the only way to describe the change that affected both of us that night on the seawall.
What is love, Aida?
Watching for you through the window.
Love is watching for me?
I would die, Tommy, if you went away and didn’t return to me.
I pressed my lips into Aida’s black hair. She reached up and pulled my head to her, and we kissed until we were out of breath and her breast heaved against my chest.
I brushed the tears away when she pressed her hands to my face.
Oh, Tommy. Of course, I will marry you. I love you so much, honey ko. I love you so much.
She gripped me in a vise-like hug when the earthquake struck. The ground rolled beneath us like the swell of a wave lifting a swimmer treading water. We were lucky this time; too often the movement came with the jarring motion of a decrepit bus driving over a pot-holed road. She relaxed her grip when calm returned.
That scared me, Tommy. The volcano will erupt and what will happen to Olongapo? What will happen to us? What will happen to my family in Bataan?
We’ll be okay, Aida. We’re far enough away to be safe when it erupts, and your family is further away than we are.
I hope so. But it still worries me.
She looked up as the sounds of the jungle returned. It’s always so quiet after the earthquakes stop, then the jungle noises begin again.
Another couple strolled along the path behind us, apparently unperturbed by the earth’s movement. Their whispered conversation carried away on the warm breeze. The flowered wrap around the girl’s hips and the poinsettia-like flower in her hair reminded me of Hawaii. The girl’s bubbly laugh faded as they passed out of sight beyond the boathouse.
Aida snuggled closer. She squeezed my hands between hers and leaned towards me, her eyes glistening in the moonlight. But she grew silent, and a faraway look in her eyes reflected concern.
What’s the matter, Aida?
I’m afraid for how much you miss her.
Aida, her name is Susanna. You can say her name; you won’t hurt me.
You say her name, Tommy, when you’re sleeping. Sometimes it hurts me, but I don’t say anything because I don’t want to hurt you. But I worry you love her still.
You don’t have to worry. She died a long time ago. I’ve put the pain behind me. It’s only natural that I think about her. You never forget the people you loved.
Four years isn’t a long time.
It seems like yesterday. It seems like forever too.
She didn’t say anything, but kept my hands in hers. She trusted me, and I knew I would never betray that trust. When she leaned against me and relaxed, I realized the tension that had gripped her over worry that I would never propose had flown away with my words. At that moment, I understood just how much Aida meant to me and how much I had worried about committing my future to her. My worries had flown too.
There had been many moments when she seemed a siren, but her song alone hadn’t lured me into the dangerous waters around her heart. Her eyes, her beauty, her spirit. Her simple, uncomplicated manner. All those qualities made me speak the words she wanted to hear. She woke something inside me like a dormant volcano rumbling to explosive life. Aida had it, whatever it was. It smoldered in her eyes, glowed in her smile, burned in her touch. It burned me. Like candlelight to a moth, I couldn’t resist the attraction to Aida, and I couldn’t pull my finger out of the flame.
Before Aida, I had tried too hard to rediscover the love my parents had, the love I found with Susanna. Twice I had made the same mistake. Each time, I hoped the latest woman would be the one. My heart told me she was the one, but my head told me otherwise. My head told me the woman was no Susanna, that she wasn’t as beautiful as Susanna, that she could never love me the way Susanna had loved me. But I never noticed my mistake. Not even when the woman told me she would not compete with a dead woman. So, the women walked away because no man can love two women the way a man and woman must love each other.
I thought it would be different with Aida. No woman since Susanna pulled at my heart the way Aida did, and she needed me as much as I needed her. But I had proposed on impulse in a tender, romantic moment when I was most vulnerable. I had spoken the words while telling myself I would always love Susanna, thus leaving Aida the loving cup for second place.
Something in the back of my mind had told me, or hoped, Aida would laugh my words off as a joke. She believed me, though, when the words floated from my lips like music taking wing and trilling into her ears. She had earnestly wanted to hear them. I could almost feel her heart flutter as joy spread like a warm smile inside her breast. Aida would have believed anything I said if it included the breathlessly beautiful words, “I love you, Aida. Will you marry me?” Had she read my mind, she would have read, I love you Aida, but I love Susanna first.
Another voice had slipped into my head, the voice that whispered cynically to most Sailors who visited Olongapo and fell for the treasures of that city. What if going to America were Aida’s sole reason for being with me? What if Aida were using me for a one-way ticket to the States so she could send for the rest of her family? The ferry whistled, and we walked to the pier, Yoshi beside us. We chose seats along the stern where the deck canopy wouldn’t obstruct our view of the night sky. I leaned back and let the stars draw me away. The rhythmic motion of the boat and the lapping of waves against the hull was hypnotizing. Yoshi lay with his head on my lap while Aida dozed against my shoulder. She woke when the boat bumped against the dock at Officers Landing. I hailed a taxi for the main gate and then flagged down a jeepney for the short ride home.