Richard climbed into bed and with a bear hug kissed our sleeping child on the many soft spaces all over her face, gently asking her in whispers if she wanted to join us for a way-past-midnight snack.
Juliana had declined sleepily at first, but at the sight of a slice of pizza left in the box it came in she suddenly sat up, wide-eyed and somewhat dazed, as if unsure of where she was, where we were. And then with a half smile, and perhaps a sudden remembering, she ambled to the desk and silently chomped on the last slice, her hair falling around her face in soft waves, in the disheveled way that looks good only on children below 10 years old.
So then there were three of us awake at that very ungodly hour and we were, very simply but very truly, contentedly happy. How can I describe it — the feeling — as anything else but that?
We were on a mini break far away from home, to attend a wedding in Sydney, Australia, and we jumped at the chance to spend successive days of quality time with each other, and with very dear friends traveling with us, something that is quite hard to come by in Manila. At that very moment we were enjoying room service in our cozy hotel room — happy amounts of Nutella that we spread on crackers and scooped with breadsticks, a nicely-arranged cheese plate with three cheese wedges, a handful of dried apricots and nuts, two very sweet and very huge strawberries. Anthony Bourdain is talking to us from the TV set in the corner of the room — talking about food, what else? — in the process making what we were eating even more delicious than it already was. I remember thinking, almost guiltily, about how wonderful it was not to have to worry about sleep, or the lack of it, because there was neither school (for Juliana) nor work (for Richard and myself) to think about the following day. We would wake up to a fluid agenda of some more eating, lots of walking, a full day’s worth to simply enjoy the company of warm bodies in the cold city.
We walk and talk, we huddle together in the cold. We tiptoe along with our happy thoughts, a gait to our steps. We admire pretty cakes smiling at us from sparkling windows; we eat them, too. We surrender to the seduction of fruit shakes and cups of gelato — yes, even in the cold weather — enjoying flavors like pistachio and hazelnut. It is all good. We enter the dime-cum-grocery store a stone’s throw away from our hotel each night except for one, buying water and Tim Tam and bread and fresh avocadoes and condensed milk to snack on when the cravings come, usually within that window from midnight and right before dawn breaks. We see huge red-tipped bananas at the grocery and my daughter fearfully asks, wide-eyed, if they are “evil bananas.” I say there is no such thing and ask where on earth she got that thought. She thinks they could be, in their huge strangeness, like the evil apple given to Snow White. We drink cups of hot chocolate and enjoy every drop, throwing our heads back in the last go such that the cup is practically overturned and touching the bridge of the nose. There are molten bits on the bottom of the cup and there is time to not only notice that but scrape it clean as well with the tiny spoon. Over and above that there is time to be thankful for and actually taste the fudgy sweetness, because we do not have to rush off to anywhere but there, where we already were.
We hopped on the Monorail, swept across Darling Harbor via the water taxi, wandered around the Sydney Opera House and sat on its steps eating chocolate and kiamoy; we took lots of pictures under the bright sun. I was just so happy to be where I was, with the people I was with, it could have been anyplace else and the feeling would be the same. It was just the languidness of it all, the quiet time that stretched out before us in uninterrupted strips, plus all the little random conversations that got thrown in between as groupings changed, flexing as we walked here and there — sometimes in clusters of two, four, sometimes five. During meals especially we would all be together, stories and smiles flying as we discovered more about each other to add to all that we already know about each other. Time is such a gift and people to spend it with such a blessing. And even that is saying only the very least.
At the wedding we witnessed solemnly a love story with a happy ending, at the reception we enjoyed good food and nice speeches, a magic show that truly awed, and somewhere between cocktails and dessert Richard taught me and Juliana to decadently pop into our mouths like peanuts, sugar cubes smothered with butter. As if that were not enough, he also showed us later that night how to cut an avocado in half, scooping out the seed and filling the cavity with a sticky pool of thick condensed milk. Then from bed the three of us ate it like ice cream, the little one amusing us with stories from school, giving us pink glimpses into her dreams and her tiny wishes. Before sleep finally came I would read a book or some gossip magazine about Hollywood lives and dream of places I see on the Travel and Living channel. Many times throughout the day a prayer would naturally slip from my lips — little ones, but oh, so many of them. Thank you, dear God, for all things both big and small, for hearts that love and hands that hold, and give. Thank you for everything that makes me feel alive.
There we could dance in the street, groove to music in hip sports stores and no one would stare, nor care. There was so much freedom to our days. In many corners we witnessed ways upon which people try to earn extra — notably, a violinist in a waistcoat playing melancholic music, a cute if half-drunk fellow slumped against the wall, playing Spanish music with an electric guitar, a dignified looking tall, old man of Asian descent in a tattered coat strumming his fingers across some sort of single-string Chinese violin, a huge sheet of paper with Chinese scribblings in front of him. There is music as you cross the street, grab your love’s hand, skip with a child in some spontaneous game. There is music as you watch young lovers look at each other with sticky eyes, as an old woman toothlessly chews on what you think might be candy, as schoolgirls giggle in clumps, their red cheeks reminding you of your own high school and youth. It’s like being part of a movie with nice background music, and it is all very nice, really. You are almost thankful that these talented individuals feel the need to make that extra buck because otherwise they may not even be there, to give melody to the day as if it were more special than the rest, and lending it more joy than it already held. With that thought in mind you drop some coins in the tin can and with the clinking sound, make a silent wish that the cycle continues somehow, even as you wish them a better life, if only for the sake of the world-weary who involuntarily smile, who feel so much better by way of the music they hear, as they walk away into the night and into the rest of their lives.
Maybe a lot of times we, too, do the things we need to do without being fully aware that we enrich the lives of others in the process, even in the tiniest way possible. It does make sense, doesn’t it? Maybe that is part of how it all comes together, this alchemy of people and talents, why the world goes on in some semblance of balance and order despite all its destined flaws.
Traveling is such that it inspires fresh thoughts, gives new life to old dreams. In the same breath it fans an ember of desire for more, a wanderlust almost — this wanting to look through new windows, walk on more unknown streets, knowing full well that there is still a lot out there to learn from, embrace, live for. Life is beautiful, and it should be enough, in itself, to always make you feel alive.