Saudade, defined as a deep melancholic longing for something or someone one has loved and lost, or a repressed knowledge that one’s object of longing will never return.
They met more than 15 years ago at a Christmas party in Manila.
Their parents were friends, officemates at a local bank. Marissa was no more than 17 that time; a grouchy, rebellious teenager with a penchant for black clothing. The other, Sara, was a petite and bespectacled girl of 15, dressed in a red cartoon-printed shirt and jeans.
They sat together at the same table; their respective parents willfully ignoring the plights of their daughters who want nothing else but to go home, change into their pajamas and watch television. The two young girls were the oldest children in the lot, which meant that most of the kids were either playing with their hastily opened gifts or busy bullying each other. That left Marissa and Sara the oddballs in the pack.
“Wanna grab a light?” Marissa suddenly asked, tucking a reddish lock of hair behind her ear as she stood up.
Sara turned toward her with furrowed brows, cocking her head to the side, “What?”
The older girl grabbed a netted black pouch, the familiar black and green cigarette box peeking beneath.
“Oh,” Sara said in understanding. Stupidly staring the pouch for awhile longer before hurriedly standing up. “Yeah, ok. Let’s?” Truth was, Sara didn’t smoke but she just needed a good reason to leave the damn place, even for a little while.
Sara began to walk towards the door as Marissa caught up to her, carrying Sara’s floral shoulder bag. “It’ll take awhile so better bring this,” Marissa said but did not make an effort to hand over Sara’s bag.
“You always do this?”
Marissa’s head turned towards her companion with half-lidded eyes, “Yeah.” Her face flickered for a moment as she gingerly lit up a cigarette. “Want another one?”
“No, I think I’ve had enough,” the 21-year old Sara replied.
A white line of smoke dissipated into the air as the older girl puffed. “You want to go back?”
Instead of replying, Sara leaned further back in the swing, her long hair lightly grazing the grass. “I like this place. The stars seem so near,” as if to emphasize, she peered longingly towards the sky.
Marissa stared at the younger girl, not failing to notice the smooth curve of her neck and slightly parted lips. She looked away, feeling slightly bashful, “I go here when my mom brings me to parties in the city.” She paused. “Or when I need to escape.”
A few moments passed. “The next time you need to escape, call me. I’ll runaway with you,” Sara said, catching Marissa’s line of sight. Sara was pensive when she stood up from the swing and bent down to the older girl, “Okay?”
A smile crept into Marissa’s face. “Alright,” she replied as the younger girl leaned in for a kiss.
“I like your hair. Red makes the color of your eyes pop,” Sara absently said one day after they finished making love. Marissa had just celebrated her 27th birthday.
The younger girl was sitting halfway up, elbow supporting her weight. She reached out and played with a stray strand. Marissa caught the tanned hand, quickly maneuvering to change their positions so that the older girl was straddling the other.
“I’ll keep it this way, then,” said Marissa with a feral smile.
At 28, Sara lived her life following her heart. For thirty years, Marissa lived protecting hers.
They couldn’t be any more different. Even affection could not harden Sara’s edges nor soften Marissa’s.
They couldn’t be together—it was too complicated and too risky. But they couldn’t exactly stay away from each other; even their busy work schedules, shifts, and growing responsibilities were easily hurdled. Marissa understood this. That was when she decided to leave.
Her homeland. The job she worked so hard to get. The good life. Her heart. And most of all, Sara.
It wasn’t that she was scared of confronting her feelings for the younger girl; Marissa knew Sara loved her back. And that was what pushed her away. What pushed her this far. Because she knew that even love was not enough to give Sara the life she wanted.
Marissa wished she could say she loved Sarah so much that she’s willing to let her go. But it was too cliché. And Marissa hated clichés and fairytales.
Even when she left for good, Marissa never changed her number.
But Sara never called.
Until more than two years after.
On Marissa’s 32nd birthday, Sara called. Marissa knew she wanted to ask the one question she left her home country to avoid. Instead, the younger girl settled for:
“Why did you leave?”
Marissa looked down at her leather boots; shame painting her face a sallow pink. Winter had come again.
“Because it’s easier to be cruel.”
A minute went by in silence.
Then Sara hung up.
Marissa changed her mobile number after that, grew her hair long until her roots had grown out then chopped her red tresses off.
With her black bob cut, Marissa stopped wearing makeup. She had lost weight and looked so much more older than her thirty-five years. On another winter morning, a call came from Laura, one of her friends in Manila.
“So, are you going?”
Marissa stopped midway of sipping a cup of freshly brewed coffee. She had stopped putting cream and sugar a long time ago. These days, Marissa took her coffee bare, black and strong. The faint aroma of coffee lingered in the cool air inside her newly bought flat.
Winter had never bided good news for Marissa.
“Hey, you still there?” Laura distractedly asked. The raven-haired girl heard sounds of traffic from another line. Laura was probably walking her way to work, somewhere in the busy streets of Makati.
Marissa set her steaming cup down, “Yeah, I’m here.” After a moment’s hesitation, she asked, “Going where?”
A few honks resounded in Laura’s line before she continued, irritation making her voice go an octave higher, “Sara’s wedding, of course.” Pause. “They’re having a beach ceremony in Boracay. Sara’s always wanted to have a summer wedding. It is so her to send out invitations inside a small bottle a la Nicholas Sparks Message in a Bottle style,” Laura said.
“Oh,” Marissa replied; the past twelve years flashing before her. “I see. I didn’t get an invitation,” she swallowed, feeling her mouth go dry.
Laura waited a few seconds, “She waited for you, you know. All these years.” A few heartbeats after, she added, “You just… disappeared.”
But Marissa knew she had to end the call, right away, before she started saying anything else she’d regret later on. She settled with, “Best wishes to the bride, I guess. Look, I have to go. Meeting with my publisher in a few. I’ll call you later.” The short-haired girl abruptly hung up before her friend could reply.
After recomposing herself by taking a shower, letting the hot water sanitize her skin raw, Marissa put on a hastily chosen white wool shirt and jacket, she stepped out.
Outside her mailbox was a small, perfectly shaped bottle filled three-fourths with white sand and a rolled up piece of paper neatly packed inside.