“Bro, I gotta hurry for work. Ate Esther texted me, said she’ll drop by later to collect the rent. I left my share on the table, under the coffee jar, alright? Gotta go!.”
Alexandra didn’t even hear the other person inside the apartment respond. Just like that, Jacob, the man talking from the door of one of the apartments that her cousin Ate Esther is leasing, rushed through the gate of the apartment compound.
She’s usually at her cousin’s house during her free time to take care of her young nieces and nephews, when she’s not at the university. Aside from the apartment compound that her Ate Esther is leasing, she also has a shoe store in Alabang, which makes it hard for her cousin to take care of her three children. Her Ate Esther is a single mom. Despite that, she adores this woman so much, as she’s been a great sister to her ever since her elder sister and mom died consecutively when she was still twelve years old. Life became so hard and sad for Alexandra.
Alexandra’s an early riser. Even though today’s a Saturday, she still woke up at five o’clock in the morning, prepared breakfast for her father and brother, cleaned the whole house, and took a bath afterward. By the time she finished, it’s already eight o’clock, and the three of them had breakfast together. She bid the two men of her life farewell, as they go to work on a Saturday morning, and went back to take care of the dishes and the house. Since she doesn’t have any school activities left to do, she went on to pack her school stuff and extra clothes and head on to her auntie’s compound which was six blocks away from their house.
Her mom’s family owned a few compounds. Each compound was then given to the four children. One is located in Alabang which was given to his Papa Renato, one in Baclaran which was given to her Papa Antonio, and two in Sucat which were given to her mom, and the eldest daughter Auntie Lydia. Even though it’s already getting common for new couples to live in separate houses located in different towns in the Philippines, their family is still the type to live together with the main family within a compound. It has its ups and downs, but for sure, this setting made her closer to her cousins. Sadly, for the compound that her mother inherited from her parents, they were forced to sell the apartments when her mother was diagnosed with cancer, leaving them with only four apartments to lease, and their own house.
It’s already nine o’clock by the time she arrived at her Ate Esther’s house. While she’s arranging the slippers by the door, she hears an unfamiliar voice talking to someone by the other side of her Ate Esther’s door. Since it was occupied a couple of months ago, this is the first time she saw the new tenants, well, in this case, one of the tenants. As any normal person would, she turned her head to where the voice was coming from, which is from her back, and quickly turned her face back to the shoe rack the moment she saw the owner of the voice automatically turned to look at her.
She hated herself for hiding her face when the man looked at her. She didn’t do anything wrong. Aside from her nasty habit of looking at people from head to toe, which by the way, she’s not even aware of, she only found out about it when people tend to always call her out jokingly, she’s pretty friendly when she gets comfortable with people. Little did she know that this habit would one day backfire on her when she unconsciously opened her eyes wider together with her mouth, with what she just saw. It’s just a side profile, but the guy on the other door looks so neat and handsome. With his black foot sock on, the man is trying to put on a dark brown boat shoe. Although the bottom of his denim pants is somewhat ripped on some parts, it was still able to highlight his long legs. At the top of the pants is a dark brown belt that matches the shoes, where his white polo shirt is tucked in. His black hair with a side cut is properly made. His outfit looks just so fine with his brown complexion, pointed nose, and somewhat bushy eyes. Damn! This guy is the definition of manly in every word, even without having to wear a suit, unlike the heroes she usually read about in novels. Despite the embarrassment, she felt butterflies in her stomach from the excitement of the thought.
Why does she feel shy? It was just one quick glance, and for sure, he didn’t even notice her stupidly opened mouth when she looked at him. It was just very fast. She doesn’t have to be embarrassed. Nobody noticed anything. Nevertheless, she hurriedly entered the door in front of her and greeted Mary Anne, her five-year-old niece, who’s watching a cartoon on the TV, when she felt the guy was about to walk her way to go out.
“Hi, Mary Anne! What are you watching?”
She felt his eyes quickly glanced at her as he passed by in front of their door. For whatever reason, she felt her heart was about to jump out of her chest from the nervousness. That was so awkward! In a span of how many minutes, if it even lasted for a minute, she felt four emotions; excitement, embarrassment, nervousness, and awkwardness. How can you feel so much from just a simple interaction, if there is any interaction between them anyway? Oh well, what a way to start the day!
Alexandra heads on to the kitchen to find her Ate Esther cleaning up the table. Seems like they just finished having their breakfast, and the kids just went their own ways to play. The two boys are playing with the train stationed near the corridor where the rooms are, the two girls are sitting on the couch watching TV while playing with their dolls.
The kids do not really require a lot of effort, they can walk, talk and pretty much just play on their own. However, someone has to always watch over them as they tend to fight a lot. Her Ate Esther feeds them breakfast and bathes them all before going to her store. All that’s left for her to do is to feed them lunch, feed them snacks, clean them when they get dirty, and make them nap in the afternoon. To sum it all up, it’s really not much of a burden. She can still do her school-related activities while she’s there. Plus her Ate Esther gives her money, so she won’t have to ask her father for extra cash.
Her Ate Esther usually arrives around five o’clock to six o’clock in the afternoon, just in time for dinner. By then, she will go back home to find her brother or father cooking their dinner. All that’s left for her to do is to wash the plates afterward. However, on that particular day, her Ate Esther called her that she'd be late for a few more hours.
“Hello, yes Ate Esther? Are you on your way?”
“Hey, Alex! Sorry! I’m going to be late. I think I’ll arrive around seven or eight because there’s an issue with the delivery of the shoe stocks.”
“Ah Ok. I’ll tell dad and Kuya that I’ll be late too then.”
“Thanks, Alex! I see the money I left you won't be enough for dinner. You can go to the room beside us, and collect the rent from them. I’ve messaged them too so they’ll expect you. Use that to order delivery for your dinner with the kids. Order whatever you want. OK?”
“OK, Ate. Thanks!”
“Ok, I’ll see you later! Bye!”
Alexandra then proceeded in front of the mirror, fixed her dress, brushed her hair, and put on some loose powder onto her face. She went out and knocked on the door beside their apartment, and a half-naked guy with only gray short pants opened the door. Well, it’s ok. She’s not really shocked. She’s used to men wearing only shorts in this tropical country. Her brother is always bare-chested during the day when he stays at home, and will only wear a sleeveless vest when it rains. But her brother usually wears his vest if there are other people in the house. That’s just courtesy. Alexandra thinks that’s pretty common sense. When someone knocks on your door, it means that person doesn’t live there, because they will just open the door if they are. Right? Automatically, he should’ve worn something before heading to the door. She felt a sudden annoyance by his lack of manners. She doesn’t want to show that to him though, what’s the point? Unfortunately, she was not able to suppress her facial expression. She unconsciously arched her eyebrow with a look of disgust and proceeded with her concern.
“I’m Ate Esther’s cousin. She told me to collect the rent, thanks.”
She doesn’t want the ill-mannered guy to talk back to her and to just give her the money and move on. Somehow, the topless guy felt her disgust and apologized.
“Oh? Hi! Sorry, I’m Kevin, please come in while I get the rent money.”
Kevin seemed to be embarrassed as he kept covering his upper body with his hand while he led her to the couch. He then proceeded to his room to get the money.
He was taking quite some time, so Alexandra scanned the house of the new tenant. It was a three-bedroom apartment, without many decorations.
The living room only has an L-shaped leather fabric sofa, a charcoal gray sofa bed on the left side which was already laid out, it even has a pillow and quilt which is probably taken from one of the rooms, and a brown rectangle-shaped center table with a drawer on the other half, the ones you usually see at this famous furniture store. It was pretty neat aside from two leftover empty cans of beers and an ashtray with a few cigarette butts. In the kitchen is only a two-door white fridge. A countertop with only a microwave, rice cooker, range, and jars for basic condiments. On the other side is an extension of the countertop with coffee, sugar, and creamer with a hot and cold water dispenser.
“Maybe they cook but not that much?”, she thought to herself.
Her inspection was interrupted when Kevin opened the door to his room. Now he’s wearing a sleeveless vest with money in his hands.
“Sorry for the wait”, he apologized again as he walked to the kitchen and took something from under the basket of the coffee jar.
Alexandra then rose from her seat and headed near the door. Kevin counted all the cash that he gathered from his room together with the money he got from under the coffee jar and approached her.
As she was counting the money that Kevin gave her, the door opened, and the guy she saw and tried to avoid this morning appeared in front of her.
Clearly, the guy was shocked to see her as she was, but she tried to hide her nervousness, and awkwardness by trying not to look him in the eyes and acting snobbish as her usual defense mechanism.
An angel might have suddenly just passed by as there was a moment of silence for split seconds. She can still feel the guy looking at her while he broke the silence, and said “Hi!” to her, as she pretended to count the money. Oh please, how many times does she have to count the money? She wants to leave, but the guy is still by the door and she doesn’t want to talk to him or look him in the eyes. Kevin seconded and tried to introduce her to his roommate.
“Bro, she’s Ate Esther’s cousin, she came to collect the rent.” Kevin summarized.
“Sorry, I was not able to get your name, you are?” as he turned to her while reaching out his hand to her awkwardly.
She looked at his hand to his face, and said her name, without shaking his hand. Gentlemen are not supposed to offer shaking hands with ladies unless ladies initiate it. Well, that’s what she read on the internet.
“Alexandra” and smiled at him to compensate for not extending to his hand.
Kevin seemed to be OK with it and proceeded to introduce his roommate, Jacob to her.
“Hi, I’m Jacob, nice to meet you!”
“Hi” she responded without looking at the guy on the door. She’s trying to pretend to be counting.
“Sorry, excuse me, I have to go”, she can’t take it anymore, she has to get herself away from the place.
Unfortunately, since she has to say some more to leave, she has to look up at the guy to give her way. In that instance, she saw him look down at her. He’s clearly puzzled by her behavior, for sure. She’s really not comfortable with the situation, and although she knows it’s her fault, she can’t help but make things awkward. She really has to work on her social skills with strangers.
She hurriedly put on her slippers and rushed to the other door. Panting and sweating, she called the restaurant to ordered their food.
1. Ate /æ:té/ - meaning sister. Usually put in before the name of an older girl/woman.
2. Alabang, Baclaran, Sucat - districts in cities located in the Southern part of Metro Manila