Humidity never goes well with smoking. I glance over my shoulder at the other smokers, taking a break from their commute to and from somewhere. I take a quick puff and exhale. The smoke disappears in front of my face. I wonder why I bother, as I inhale the smoke of the passing cars below anyway. The volume on EDSA says it is a busy Saturday.
I take a look at the little girl from whom I bought my cigarette. A pink t-shirt and blue jogging pants. She looks seven or eight, but probably older. She would be inches taller had she been born in a family who didn’t work her on weekends. Her eyes have no business looking so tired early in the day, early in her life. I gave her ten pesos for my reds and a mint candy. I moved over to the smoker’s corner when she said “Ate may sukli.” I shook my head. I see her sister and somebody who looks like their father come over. He, a slight man in a flowery button-down. He gestures to somebody sitting on the steps, a woman in her thirties. So, some families spent their Saturdays this way. Selling cigarettes on MRT station walkways.
My friend of fifteen years lost her baby last year. Spotting she said. All her baby was blood. I look across the table and scan her smooth face. She is pregnant again. Three months. I tell her I think it’s a boy. She laughs and tells me I’m mean for saying so. I know I look ugly, she half-laughs, half-exclaims. I reassure her she looks fine. Our meatball pasta finally arrives, a hot and sour dish of delight. Her eyes brighten and I remember the countless times we have gone over this ritual. So many meatball pastas in the last decade and a half. I hardly ever see her these days. Time is a precious commodity, effort and money more so. She is the same as I remember her when we were fourteen, except more blunt and tougher from pummeling through life.
She tells me she quit work for the baby, a difficult decision. She says she got depressed at work because she couldn’t function as quickly or as well as when she wasn’t pregnant. She says it is literally an emotional rollercoaster ride, weeping madly over certain triggers. I sat wondering what it was like to have a human being form in one’s body. Your body, a lifeline to another. I suspect I won’t understand until it happens to me. My friend is happy but her voice and her eyes tell me she is scared shitless. Reproductive health advocates keep saying pregnancy truly puts a woman’s life at risk – always and each time one foot in the grave. We have a sanitized version of what pregnancy entails. Women were built to make babies, it is but natural. Sperm meets egg cell and mother nature takes care of the rest. I look to my friend and see it is a battle that will not be won until her child draws his first breath outside her womb. And then - parenthood.
Everybody had counseled her not to quit so early – her family, her husband, her workmates. She recounts a phone conversation with a common friend. He told her to quit anyway, it was for the baby. He told her she had to convince herself she did everything possible to make she sure did not lose her baby again. It was a decision only she could make. Her body, her well-being. So she quit. I tell her I thought she made the right choice. This motherhood business, what a wonderful, lonely thing.