Fuente Osmeña Circle, Cebu City, Philippines
I’ve written many stories but they were always set in some fictional land or a place somewhere in the US, or what I try to imagine is a place in the US even though I have never stepped foot on that country. I realized I have never written anything set in my country, set in my own city where I grew up. I wondered why. Could it be some fear that it might discourage the reader from reading the story due to how unfamiliar the setting is? But I have always loved reading novels set in different places, of characters traveling abroad. So, why would the reader be bothered by their unfamiliarity to the setting? Isn’t the reason why we read is to travel to different parts of the world, to the lives of different characters?
I said, why not start today? Why not write a story set in the city I am most familiar with?
Alyssa stood on the sidewalk of Osmeña Boulevard. Beside her towered the glittering lights of the Crown Regency Hotel. The cold air blew past her. The city had gone quiet. The roads were wider than she remembered, maybe because only two or three vehicles now passed by, bereft of the boisterous traffic that often filled it majority of the day. The huge LED screen in the Fuente Osmeña Circle blared 1:21 AM.
She walked towards the nearest bus stop. It was painted light blue but bits of its paint had chipped away revealing the dirt grey of iron. She slumped on the seat and laid her head on its pillar. Her long, black hair bristled at the blow of the wind but nothing else.
A few people walked past her, likely those that had finished from their shifts for the night. No one paid her any attention. Who would though? This part of the city was known for mischief. Accidents. This city had become paranoid. No one would dare approach a lonely girl lingering in an empty sidewalk in the middle of the night. It was no disadvantage to her though. She was glad no one bothered her. They minded their own business, she will mind hers.
A car stopped in front of her, a shiny, black five seater. Alyssa thought it was just someone stopping by for a moment. After all, there was a convenience store behind her, selling everything including things that would still likely entice someone to buy during the night.
She looked away from the car to give some sort of privacy to the person she expected to get off. Instead, the car window on the passenger seat lowered.
“Are you all right?” She heard the driver call. A man.
She straightened in her seat and stared at the man. He looked around in his mid twenties to early thirties. Quite handsome, unlike any other men she has seen or known, but definitely the kind of man who would wander around the streets late at night, in the comfort of their luxurious automobiles to stop at women alone in the streets.
“I’m sorry but I’m not a prostitute.”
“Yes, miss, I know. If I was looking for one, I would not have stopped and proceeded to the Mango.” The Mango was just kilometers away from where she sat. The Mango was where life was in these hours, where clubs and restaurants littered the sidewalks, booming with boisterous laughter and music with both men and women ogling at their prey who would dare step into their traps. “Need a ride?”
“How gentleman of you,” she matched it with a sarcastic smile but the man didn’t seem to catch it, or missed it on purpose, she could not quite tell.
“Yes, I am quite a gentleman, they say.” He said it with such pride and bravado Alyssa could not help roll her eyes.
“Sir, I appreciate the kind offer, but in such a circumstance I think it is natural I have doubts on your intentions.”
“Ah,” he chuckles, “Believe me, I have no ill intention towards you. If it reassures you,” he paused and pushed something in his steering wheel. Alyssa heard a hum before the car’s roof folded into itself, making everyone free to lay their eyes on the insides of the car. He looked at her again with a smile, “Do you need a ride?”
Alyssa stood up and stood near the passenger door, “Why would you offer a ride to a random stranger, who you happen to see lounging around at one am, in your obviously expensive convertible?”
“Well, I thought you needed a ride, a help, or something. I thought I might be of service but seeing that you don’t–”
“I need a ride,” Alyssa interrupted.
“Well then,” he gestured to the passenger door. Alyssa opened the door and plopped onto the chair. Leather, and very comfortable.
“Anywhere. Where were you supposed to be go before you stopped?”
“Excellent.” Alyssa propped her elbow on the edge of the passenger door as the man drove away.
“Your accent doesn’t sound native, are you new here?”
“No, I’m not a native. Neither are you. No one’s a native except those indigenous people who used to live here before they were robbed of their own lands, by our own ancestors by the way, and pushed them further into the mountains where they hid, or worse, went extinct. Oh, wait, there are also some who mingled with foreign blood, which we are the result of. So, no, I’m not a native. None of the people here are a native.”
“Woah, woah, take it easy. Are you intoxicated?”
“No, I’m not. Do you think I’d ramble this much sense if I’m intoxicated? Hell, no one even talks about it even if they are sober!”
“Okay, chill. I meant your accent, it doesn’t sound–”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Alyssa chuckled at her own word vomit. Plenty of people had told her how different her accent was from most people who live in the city. She didn’t know what and how that accent sounded like and what made her different from the others. She did know her voice sounded odd when she spoke in her native tongue. “Probably because I’ve lived a few years abroad, and my father is from another island and my mother is from the province and whatever dialect they had mixed. I don’t know. I was born here.”
“Alright, that’s all I wanted to know. No need to get fired up.” They stopped in front of the red stoplight. They were the only one in the road.
Alyssa turned in her seat to face him, “How can you make sure I’m not a robber? Carnapper? Letting a random girl ride in your convertible.”
“Well, lucky me for having the roof tucked in.” The stoplight turned green and they zoomed off the road. The wind blew her hair on her face. She pulled it away in annoyance.
“Or get this sweet baby dirty?” Alyssa tucked a leg under her. The man glanced at it before resuming his eyes on the road.
“It’s okay, it can be cleaned off.”
“Wouldn’t it be expensive?”
“I wouldn’t get this car if I couldn’t handle the expenses that came with it.”
“Ah, boasting your riches to the poor girl, are we?”
“Just stating the truth. Though, I would appreciate it if you put your leg down and not stain or destroy anything.”
In appreciation of his help, Alyssa decided to be the good girl and put down her leg on the car floor and sat properly. The wind had also made her hair roaring around her, unable to be tamed. She let it fly wild.
They stopped at the stoplights of General Maxilom Avenue. Alyssa liked to think of it as the bridge between Downtown Cebu and Uptown Cebu. The old and the new. Or, perhaps the old and the young.
“What were you doing, though? Sitting in that bus stop, alone, in the middle of the night? It’s dangerous for a woman like you.”
“It shouldn’t be though.”
“Unfortunately, society has made it so.”
“Is this the intro of your act–whatever kind of harm you intend to do?”
“I’ve been raised right. I have respect for women. I have sisters myself. I will not harm you; I wouldn’t even dare do anything to you that I do not want to happen to my sisters and my mother.”
“Well, if my question was too personal you don’t have to answer it.”
“I ask the same question to you. Why would you roam around the city in the dead of the night while driving a convertible?”
“No one would know it would be a convertible if the roof is not tucked in.” Alyssa had to agree with that. “Besides, I can’t exactly use it during the day.” And, that too. The traffic and the reckless drivers, both public and private, occupied the roads during the day as though they owned them. Even she would not drive a convertible in that scene. Imagining it was already making her grimace for the loss of her imaginary wealth that could buy her a convertible.
They drove in silence. The man did not bother turning on the music. Might as well. She loved the wind against them and the quiet of the streets. As they got nearer Uptown, she could see some restaurants still full with young people though most of the establishments were already empty and closed, the streets void of life. She loved the stillness of the night. A rare sight to behold during the day where most of the streets in this city were full of people rushing amidst the heat and humidity. Where time is not enough and one can only do so little, and therefore, must do anything they can as they rush against time.
“I wanted to run away,” she said, breaking the silence. They were approaching IT Park now. The home of the majority of the call centers in the city, of restaurants, clubs, and lavish condominiums. It was a mini city full of towering buildings that never rested during the night or the day. It was also a haven for young people, the epicenter of the city’s nightlife. “I wanted to run away from the pressure of society, from adhering to society’s standards, from the duties a woman like me must follow, must do. I’m tired of it all. I want to break the rules. I want to be the black sheep and not the star-studded daughter.”
“That’s a lot.”
“It’s exhausting. I want to be free. Fly. Be free of any anchor, of any shackles. To fly free without getting a scratch and prove everyone I was correct and they were wrong.”
“I want to run away as well. Run from my own demons and burdens. But we do not get to fly free without any scratch, do we? We may run away but only for a moment. The shackles will never let us go.”
“I’ll get off here,” Alyssa said as they reached a closed Korean restaurant.
The man stopped the car, “What? Here? Are you sure–”
“Yes, pretty sure.”
“No one’s here.”
“Exactly.” Korean restaurants lined up the sidewalk, all closed. Across the street was a building that was under construction. There was no presence of human life. “Can you do me a favor?” Alyssa turned to look at the man, “Can I kiss you?”
“W–what?” The man blinked, obviously taken aback by the sudden question. She was also not sure what she was doing but she sounded so confident it’d be a bad idea to back out. Half of her was also curious about what she was going to do. She has been functioning on auto-pilot since she started wandering the streets last night.
“Have you kissed anyone before?”
The man straightened in his seat, “Of course.” He sounded offended that she had an inkling of thought that he hadn’t kissed anyone.
“Well, can I kiss you then?”
“Are you healthy though? Bacterias, you know–”
“Yes, I know. And, I am healthy. Perfectly fine. I have no colds or any transmittable disease.”
“Me neither. Well, kiss me, then.”
Alyssa cupped the man’s cheeks. He was really handsome up close, she realized. She hadn’t bothered to give him that much of a glance and take in his whole appearance since she rode the car. Now, she saw him clearly. He had auburn hair, or that could be the lamplight, dark eyes like hers, and quite the pointy nose everyone is vying for. His lips were plump as well, although a bit dry and she could see how chapped it is.
She pulled his lips to hers. It was a simple smack of lips on lips at first but the man opened his lips and cradled her bottom lip and she let it all take her away, filling her with passion and adrenaline. She pulled him closer and she could feel his hand on her back. He smelled of strong men’s perfume, she wasn’t familiar but it was pleasant, a claw of air invading her nose that screamed confident and bold. As their kiss went deeper, she realized he tasted like cacao, like he was a drink that could help her stay awake and float freely into the night, promising no new day where everything would go back to its place.
They only separated when their lungs had begged for air. Alyssa sat down on her seat and wiped her lips with the back of her hand, her chest rose and fell in rapid succession.
“Well,” she said after she caught her breath, “I must go. Thank you for the ride.” She opened the door and stepped out. She wanted to leave without a glance to the man who had kindly given her a free ride, listened to her vomit and string words, and even heeded her weird favor but she thought better of it and turned back at him. It was the least she could do. “Thanks for doing the favor. I wanted to do something against the rules though it may seem ridiculous to you.” She leaned on the car door with a smile, “But hey, at least you got this girl’s first kiss. It was amazing, thanks!” Before he could reply, she turned and walked away.
She walked a couple of blocks to the Waterfront Hotel, just across one of the entrances of the IT Park. When she entered the hotel, a concierge immediately flew to her. “Ma’am! We have been looking for you all night!” Distress was all over her face. She felt bad for the woman, stress did her no good.
“Why are you panicking? I was just roaming around.” Alyssa walked to the elevators. The concierge pinned herself beside her like an annoying butterfly.
“Your father has arrived.”
“Ah, yes, yes, someone mentioned it the other day he would be arriving today.”
“And, has brought guests.”
“I don’t understand, why do I need to know all of this, exactly? My father has brought guests from all over the world.”
“I-I heard, Ma’am, of an arranged marriage.”
That didn’t come as a surprise to her but her whole mood shifted. The elevator opened and she stepped inside. “You need to change ma’am,” Alyssa pushed the close button, “He has been waiting all night–” Whatever the concierge was supposed to say was cut off as the door closed. Alyssa noticed how it took a few seconds to do so. She made a mental note of that. The hotel has existed for many years and seemed to be getting out of touch. Renovations will fix that, along with the other list of plans she had for this hotel that she would someday inherit.
She pushed a floor on the array of buttons and heard the hum of the elevator as it climbed up. She turned behind her and her own reflection stared back at her on the wall mirror. Her hair stuck out everywhere due to the wind from the car ride, her flat sandals were crusted with dirt, her pants were still decent, but her blouse had a few stains. She was a mess.
The elevator stopped and opened to her desired floor. When she stepped out, a man in a black suit gave her a stiff nod of his head in greeting, “Ma’am. Your father is requesting to see you in his room, now.”
“Now?” But she was already ushered to the maroon carpeted hallway.
When her father demands her presence, she will be summoned. No questions asked. With her current appearance, she will definitely get an earful. She mentally facepalmed herself. Why did she come here? But then, she was bound to meet the same fate anyway, whenever she came. Better be done with it during the early hours of dawn where few can only see her humiliation.
Her father’s guard stopped in front of a suite. A door of cream with golden handles. A golden plate was attached on the upper center of the door where the number 724 was inscribed. A room all too familiar to her. The guard opened the door and stepped inside. She followed.
“Alyssa,” she heard her father’s booming voice even before she crossed the threshold.
What awaited her was not what she expected. Beside her father sat a man whose lips she could still feel lingering in her mouth.
“You,” she frowned, “How did you get here so fast?”
As a budding writer, leaving a feedback or any constructive criticism would tremendously help me improve my writing. Thank you so much!