Tom jumped from the jeepney, calling to Eddie over his shoulder as he ran up the sidewalk. “Thanks, Eddie. See you tomorrow.”
Eddie smiled and returned Tom’s wave, and drove off in search of another fare. Tom was jubilant: his request to remain in the squadron had been approved. This meant he would return to the Philippines for another six-month deployment. He could hardly wait to tell Aida; she would be so happy. He opened the squeaky gate and walked across the courtyard, imagining the look on her face when she heard the news. He opened the front door and took the steps three at a time, meeting Aida at the top as she walked in from the kitchen. She was frowning but, heck, he always sounded like an elephant when he ran up the stairs.
“Aida! Aida! Guess what, honey ko, guess what? My request to….”
His scalp tingled and his mouth hung open. For a moment, he lost the ability to form words. His brain spun and he was dizzy. He brushed his hand through his hair and down the back of his neck.
Aida stared at him, not moving, her eyes red and puffy, lips pressed into a thin line across her face. His heart jumped with an agonizing twinge as he thought of the pain he had caused her. His mind whirled as he stammered and tried to make sense of the black hole he found himself in.
He tilted his head and leaned toward Aida. “What? Who is who?’
“I say, who Lek.” She spoke each word deliberately, clearly. “How she knows you in Thailand?”
Tom’s brain scrambled in a furious search for something to say that would set things right. How had Aida learned about Lek? From George? Bob? Don? It wouldn’t have been Alex, he was sure of that, and certainly not Mark. Both were good friends – all of the guys were, but…. No, it would not have been them, he knew them too well. It had to have been someone else, but who?
Her calmness unnerved him; his voice trembled as he spoke and his ears burned. “Lek?”
“Oh. She’s a waitress at the club I and the guys used to go to after work. We had a few beers there to unwind – relax – before going back to the hotel. Why do you ask? Did one of the guys tell you about her?” He didn’t know what else to say. He found himself looking for a butterfly knife in Aida’s hands.
He tried to sound nonchalant, but his voice and burning ears gave him away. She understood what had happened in Thailand. Something drastic was about to occur. Lies would not help, and pleading turned his stomach.
“No. Lek tell me in this letter.” Aida held out an envelope and writing paper. Her hand was steady, but her face contorted in an effort to hold back tears. How in the world had Lek gotten hold of his address? Who would give it to her? None of the guys would have. The only people at the hotel to see Lek had been the staff, maids, and front desk clerks.
Oh. He understood now the dirty looks from the good-looking front desk clerk. She must have given Lek his address. No. That couldn’t be it; he had left his squadron address in the hotel register, not Aida’s. Oh, no. The letter. He remembered now. He had left it at the front desk to go out with the mail. Someone, probably the good-looking desk clerk, must have given it to Lek. He hadn’t thought Lek would do something like this. Great. He was screwed.
“She said you sleeping with her. She says she not knowing about me or she would not go with you. She say she sleep with you last year too, and that you promised to marry her. Why did you butterfly on me, hey? Hey? Why? Why did you cheat on me? I not cheating on you since all the time to last year we knowing each other. What you got to say? What? I know you gonna lie to me, like you lie to them. Also, now I want to know, you got girlfriend in Japan too? And Hong Kong too? Probably you do, eh? And Hawaii. Why you butterfly me, Tommy? Why? Why I’m not good enough for you? I know how American are. You think because I am a barmaid I sleep with all the guys all the time. That is a lie. I don’t sleep with any guys but you since all the way to last year. But you do. You sleep with all the girls. What other girls in Olongapo you sleep with? When you stay to the barrack, do you sleep with a girl there too?”
“Aida. We’re not married. So what if I slept with another woman while away. I never slept with other women here. Are you telling me you never slept with other guys while I was back in Hawaii? Besides, I didn’t sleep with Lek this time. I slept with her last year. She wrote that because I told her you and I are getting married and I couldn’t see her again. That’s the truth, Aida.”
She spoke as though she had not heard his last words, or as though she didn’t believe him. Her voice was softer now, without anger, the words painted with sincerity, but framed in hurt.
“No, Tom. I not have other guys when you are in Hawaii. I’m faithful to you the whole time, but you are not faithful to me. How many, Tommy? How many other Filipina do you sleep with? Are they my friends?”
“I never slept around, Aida. I’ve been faithful to you since I arrived in December.”
Aida’s eyes filled with tears. She spoke no more, but stood before him, innocent, on the high ground, out of his reach, a righteous soul spurned by a soulless lover. He had hurt Aida, but for something he had done long ago, before they committed to each other. He had remained faithful to her since then. She didn’t care. All that mattered was that he had cheated on her, it didn’t matter when.
His heart seemed to grow in his chest, and a sob lodged in his throat. His face and ears burned with shame, his own eyes filled with tears. He would remember for the rest of his life Aida’s appearance at that moment, and his feelings when he finally realized beyond any doubt how much he loved her.
Through all of this, barely registering in his brain, Tom heard Benji barking and other animals squealing and squawking. He remembered later thinking that it sounded like a farm. He thought the floor moved but ignored it as his mind churned over Aida and Lek.
He wanted to take Aida in his arms, press her to him, hug her tight, and tell her how sorry he was for the hurt and pain he had caused her. He took a step toward her, mouth open to plead with her, but stopped. For a moment, he couldn’t place the low, barely audible noise. He tensed as the apartment began to shake. Pictures fell and crashed on the floor, their glass frames shattering in the rumbling, hellish noise of the earthquake. Aida’s eyes widened and she cried out as the room shook. She braced herself against the sofa. Dishes fell from the counter. A woman’s scream ripped through the window, jarring Tom’s nerves as much as the low, steady rumble of the earthquake. The floor lifted and rolled like an ocean swell. This was big.
“We have to get out of here, Aida. Come. Outside.” He grabbed her arm but she resisted and pulled away.
“Come on, Aida. Let’s go. It’s too dangerous to stay here, sweetheart.”
“No. You go away. I go by myself. Here; take the letter from your girlfriend.” She threw the letter at him, its sheets fluttering to the floor. “And I not your honey ko.”
She ran into the bedroom, returning a moment later with her purse, health certificate, and the ring he had bought for her birthday from the Navy Exchange catalog. She slipped into her street shoes, then stuffed a hand towel into her jeans pocket. She ignored Tom and ran down the stairs. Tom darted after her, but stopped. He ran back. The rolling motion threw him side to side as he dashed into the bedroom, ran to his nightstand, and retrieved the silk pouch from the drawer. He withdrew the necklace and looped it around his neck, then ran after Aida. The squealing gate swung on its hinges. Aida was nowhere in sight.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The streets were a tangled mess of abandoned cars and jeepneys. Power lines and telephone poles, ripped from their foundations, lay crisscrossed in the streets. Electrical power had gone out, which would only add to the misery. Animals roamed the streets. People crowded the sidewalks, some bleeding, some crying and wailing, many in shock. Children screamed for their parents. Tom stood out of the way as a group of Sisters from the Catholic orphanage collected children and herded them to safety. Emergency vehicles, sirens wailing, added to the mayhem as firefighters and policemen responded to fires and collapsed buildings. Fire trucks pushed their way through vehicles blocking the road, clearing a lane for ambulances. Bargirls clustered in groups near bars and clubs, clutching each other for.
The last earthquake – there had been three – had died away by the time Tom reached the base. He didn’t have to wait for someone to send for him; all hands were expected to immediately return to base in the event of an emergency. As he passed through the gate and approached the taxi stand, he saw the squadron duty truck idling at the curb. Mark waved him over and asked if Aida was okay.
“I hope so, Mark. I lost her in the commotion. I ran back into the apartment to get something, and when I returned, she had disappeared.”
“Go back and look for her; the duty officer sent me here to muster the guys who stay off base. There are enough people at the hangar to take care of everything. They don’t want more people getting in the way. Just make sure you’re at work on time tomorrow. They’re also flying all but two aircraft out of PI until the volcano danger subsides. Probably to Okinawa, maybe Guam too. I’ll get word to you if you’re on one of the flyaway crews.”
“Thanks, Mark. I’ll see you tomorrow. If I can’t find Aida, I’ll stay at the apartment, if it’s still standing, in case she returns.”
“All right. Good luck.”
Tom headed back into town. He had no idea where Aida may have gone. Possibly to Cora’s house; he’d look there first. As he crossed Shit River he looked toward Pinatubo. The ash plume had disappeared. That didn’t bode well; neither did the earthquakes. If something in the mountain had shifted and blocked the magma chamber, the pressure buildup would eventually blow the top off the volcano. Today would be a picnic compared to a major eruption. He didn’t want to think about it; he concentrated on navigating the streets as he made his way to Cora’s house.
Someone called his name as he passed Mariposa’s. It was Mama-san.
“Tom. Have you found Aida? Is she all right?”
“I don’t know, Mama-san. We were in the apartment when the earthquakes started. I lost her when she ran outside. I’m just coming from the base; I had to let them know I was okay.”
“Where are you going now? To look for her? Would you like help? The other girls might know where you can look.”
“I’m going back to look for her. She may have gone to Cora’s house; I’ll look there first.”
“Very well. Come with me first, and I will give you some bottles of water. Come.”
Tom followed Mama-san to Maricel’s.
“Please come back and tell me when you have found her.”
“I will, Mama-san. Thank you for the water.” Tom reached out to shake Mama-san’s hand, but she took him in her arms instead. She hugged him tight, not speaking for a moment. Her gesture bewildered him. He didn’t know what to say, so he stood still, somewhat embarrassed.
“You must call me by my name, Tom. Marie. Marie Elizabeth Taneo Bailey. My husband is Frank Bailey, a retired Sailor. You have not met him, but you will when he returns from Manila. You will be here, yes? You are not returning to Hawaii yet?”
“As far as I know, Mama…Marie, I’ll be here. I look forward to meeting your husband.”