by Angelo Lorenzo
The theater is packed with people, but you’re glad to take a seat next to hers. You’ve been planning to watch the new superhero film alone on a Saturday afternoon in June because you’ve always been comfortable being alone. You are an only child in a marriage whose vows had been broken, a son shifting residence every month from mother’s house uptown to father’s cottage by the river, a student whose name only the teachers are familiar with.
But here she is beside you, and you can’t help but be grateful. Now, the screen shows the action sequence. You see the superheroes in iron suits, capes and tight fitting spandex dueling against an armored purple alien and his massive army on a red planet. You wonder if each thundering blast comes from the screen, or from the fast-paced beating in your chest amplified by the theater’s Dolby Digital surround sound system.
The purple alien grabs the teenage superhero dressed in a suit patterned with blue and red print. Then people around you lean over their seats as the alien’s immense hand grips the young man’s neck. They plead for his life, but all you can think about is how this moment with her came to be.
It began earlier.
You first saw her when you were falling in line to buy your ticket. But you hesitated to greet her because you were too conscious about the smell of your breath from the California maki rolls you had during your lunch at a Japanese fast food chain or by the speckles of acne on your face which started to sprout after you turned seventeen in March. Lo and behold, you couldn’t escape her glance. She noticed you and greeted you the way she always did whenever you passed by each other in the hallways on school mornings before your classes start. She confirmed that she, too, was alone because her friends preferred to watch the film about a talking mouse that burst in electricity once in rage.
Since you were last in the long line before the ticket counter in the mall, you offered your place for her. But she insisted to fall in line next to you. To be fair, she said, you were here before me. You started to think about this chance. It may never happen again. In school, her friends would be weirded out if they find out that you are talking to her. But her friends are not here, and so are the boys that always make fun of you for the speckles on your face or the curls that rose in a natural afro over your head.
You couldn’t help but look at her — the curls of her lashes, the pink hues on her cheeks, and her wavy hair that cushioned over her shoulders.
Also a fan of the comics? Your attempt to ask was brave.
No, she replied, but I’d be interested to read them.
You shared that you had a shelf full of the comics upon which the movie was based. You shared that these comics had given comfort when you were a child. You remembered her asking why. You said that their stories give people hope with their heroes saving the day. But you left out the part about hearing your parents fight downstairs while you locked yourself in your room and scanning the comics’ pages. These superheroes would come immediately when people need them most – to fight crimes, to defend the city, and — as you had wished — heal wounds when survivors of a cataclysmic event had been injured. But then you changed the direction of her conversation by sharing that you’ve always been a fan of the genre even before their films became a trend.
You saw her eyes glimmer as she looked at you.
I can lend some to you if you want. You said this despite the rules you’ve made. You knew you wouldn’t let people borrow your own stuff, especially when they mean a lot to you.
It’s okay, she said, as if she read your thoughts. She told you that it was best to have her own copies instead of relying on someone.
You couldn’t deny feeling useless. But you could hear people around you talking about the film, their theories about which character would survive or which would leave them melting in tears. You were hearing reviews about how the visual effects in the trailer looked unrealistic. And damn it, you should have told that guy that visual effects do not define the film’s overall quality, and that the story matters most. But you didn’t want to hear potential spoilers. And seeing her checking over her phone and almost putting her ear pods on made you wish these potential spoilers wouldn’t ruin the moment. You were enjoying this time with her. But knowing what would happen in the film before seeing it was like knowing the date when you’d die.
So instead, you made another attempt to continue the conversation. This time, it wasn’t about the film anymore. Instead, you said: Thank you for defending me in class.
She looked up at you and although the glimmer in her eyes remained, confusion marked her gaze. For what? Since when?
Third grade. Philippine history class. This was all you could muster. Remember when Joven and Ryan teased me because of my hair?
Oh, that. She remembered. She laughed when she remembered. Then she remembered you two growing up together. She remembered going to the same school with you since grade one until now. Both of you are in junior high. But you had never been this close to her.
People aren’t supposed to make fun of each other based on looks, she said. I like your hair. She said it before her eyes widened. Shucks! she exclaimed. Forget I said that.
This made you laugh. I like that you like it. You realized that this might have gone too far. What’s it about your hair?
She smiled, and shook her head, and her hair waved.
The line grew shorter before you two reached the counter.
Hey, why don’t we sit beside each other? She offered.
You knew this was a great idea, so why should you refuse?
Now you’re in the theater. She is sitting beside you. The purple alien before you snaps his fingers, and then half of the superheroes in the film dissolves in dust. The enemy overpowers the heroes. Some stories end on a sad note. You remember your parents. They were once happy before an unseen force must have snapped its fingers just like the villain did and the thread that bonded their relationship had dissolved in dust. You feel a tear slide over your cheek. But at the same time, when you are hearing sobs around you, you feel her hand touch yours over the armrest. Her hand crawls over your skin and reaches your hand. Her fingers loop around yours. They are cold. But once your skins touch, warmth ripples over them. She holds your hand as she trembles.
You gaze at her and her eyes shine bright with tears, the screen’s light glaring over brown irises.
You hold her hand at the same time.
Don’t worry, you whisper. They’re gonna be okay. You knew this because you’ve read the comics first before watching the film.
Is that a spoiler? she asks.
You feel your heart beat faster. Damn it. You shouldn’t have told her.
You have no words to say, but she says, Thank you.
I feel much better knowing that. Her voice is breaking in sobs.
You wonder if all spoilers are just as distasteful as knowing the date of your death. This one, however, marks a birth of something new.
She does not let go of your hand. It will be alright, you say, everything’s going to be fine. You wish for words to comfort her the way heroes do to their loved ones.
You knew how the story in the film would turn out before seeing it. But have you been prepared for this moment with her by your side, sharing the same interests, eager to know what happens next? Some things just don’t go the way we plan, you think. You planned on seeing it alone. But here she is, of all people, sitting beside you, holding your hand. Suddenly, you prefer not to know what would happen next. Will she still hold your hand outside the theater? Will you still talk to her about the same superheroes in school amidst the indifference of her friends and your bullies?
Hey, you say after a while as the seats gradually empty and you two remain in your row. Her hand is still in yours.
What? she says, wiping her tears off her cheeks with her handkerchief.
About the comics… Didn’t you say you want copies of your own?
Why don’t we go to the bookstore after this?
What happens next is for her to decide. It might not turn out the way you expect it, but this moment, as the credits roll on the screen and her hand is still in yours, is all right for you. You may know that it won’t last and there’s no knowing if this will happen again, but you know that this is happening anyway.
Angelo Lorenzo is a writer based in Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines. He usually writes about events in his hometown and contributes articles to the local daily and to national media organizations such as Rappler. Currently, he is taking his Master’s Degree in Literature at Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan.