By Rosalinda Flores Martinez and Ben Crisp
The coffee was still too hot, so I cradled the foam cup between my knees and lit my last cigarette.
My last ever, I promised myself, as I had done the day before.
The park was mostly empty. The sun had not yet crept above the horizon, to burn the dirty greyness from the dawn sky, and it would be at least an hour before the rest of the city left the their homes to brave another miserable taglamig day outside.
There had been reports of another journalist shot in Manila. I had long grown used to such news, acknowledging it with a kind of postured indifference that my ex-girlfriend had found no comfort in. It didn’t matter to her that I was relegated to the smallest sections of the sports pages; I was white, and besides, could not an outraged sports fan be just as violent as a vengeful gangster or deranged terrorist? She was probably right. Still, I found comfort in my own sense of insignificance. Speaking barely a word of Filipino, and – some had argued – only just enough English to get by, I would never rise to the ranks of martyrdom like my braver, more talented brethren. I may have been white, but with no money, no connections and no friends I was worth nothing to anyone.
A familiar figure appeared from behind the trees that formed the arched entrance to the park. She always wore yellow dresses, or perhaps the same yellow dress, that danced beneath her knees. She was pretty, or at least she gave an impression of prettiness from across a distance to far to know for sure. She meandered, indecisive, between the benches scattered beneath the pines that brushed the air in the morning breeze, before choosing the one she always chose.
It faced the statue of the Madonna, stood upon a plinth in the centre of a small pond. It was a simple carving, as they all were; achieving no greatness in aesthetic or skill. The virgin’s head tilted to one side, serenely, eyes opened wide and her hands stretched out in blessing - not, as it had always appeared to me, shrugging as if to say: what?
To the pinay in her yellow dress she was captivating. She sat before the statue, alternating between long, lingering stares and moments with head bowed, eyes closed, I guessed, though I was too far away to know.
I sipped my coffee and watched her watching the Madonna, killing time as I waited for my day to begin.