A Box of Toothpicks
An Unpleasant Surprise
It was Friday late afternoon. In an apartment in Sampaloc, Manila, Joselito was busy stuffing his bag with clothes for his weekend visit to his parents in the province. An unexpected knock on the door disturbed his packing.
Hesitatingly, Joselito opened the door and got the surprise of his life!
Standing at the door was Doris, his former girlfriend. They broke up more than two years ago, and the break-up took a long time to heal his heart. Dumbstruck, Joselito stood motionless as Doris embraced him; crying, asking for forgiveness. It took sometime before Joselito could close the door and ask Doris to come in and sit at the small living room of the apartment.
Doris explained that she only made-up a story to obey her father who objects on their relationship; threatening to stop his support for her college education, if she won’t. “My mother could attest to that. For two years I suffered. I couldn’t get you out of my mind. I could not love any other,” Doris said.
Joselito was speechless.
Doris continued, “Now that I have finished college and have a stable job, I am ready to disobey my father. I have decided to live with you.”
“I am not going home anymore, I am staying with you.” Doris’ words sounded like a bomb exploding in front of Joselito’s face.
Joselito didn’t know what to say. Pale and dumbfounded, his heartbeat began to race, his thoughts in dreadful panic.
Finally, Joselito got back his composure. He asked, “Does anybody know about your plan?”
“Yes,” Doris replied, “My mother.”
Blood rushed on Joselito’s face. He felt numb all over.
“I… I am…” Joselito was about to say I am not yet ready to get married, but he hesitated.
From nowhere, Father Jayvee, Joselito’s friend, counselor, and spiritual adviser came to Joselito’s mind. “I… I am, uh, about to go home to the province now to visit a friend. B-Better come with me and talk about this plan of yours there, huh?” Joselito suggested. Doris nodded.
After fixing themselves up, Joselito and Doris took a taxi to the bus terminal and proceeded to Batangas. Both were wordless, staring at nothingness during the whole trip.
At the Rectory
They arrived at the parish rectory of Father Jayvee at about 7:00 pm. Father Jayvee was about to take his dinner. He was surprised to see Joselito and Doris.
Doris looked at Joselito. She sensed that he was not really visiting Father Jayvee as he said. He made an alibi. Father Jayvee was not expecting Joselito at all. She felt deluded.
“Come, come, join me for dinner,” said Father Jayvee.
Joselito whispered, “Father, can I talk to you in private for a minute?”
“Yes, yes,” said Father Jayvee. Then he turns to Doris, “Doris, could you please help Sister Cecilia prepare our dinner for a moment?” Sister Cecilia heads the rectory’s household helps.
Father Jayvee put a hand on Joselito’s shoulder and guided him to the parish’s office. There Joselito told his story. Father Jayvee let out a loud guffaw, heard almost all over the rectory. Then the priest asked Joselito very seriously, in an almost inaudible voice, “Are you ready for this?”
Joselito replied almost instantly, “No, Father.”
“OK, don’t worry, I’ll take care of this,” Father Jayvee assured him.
While having dinner, after the graces, Father Jayvee said, “You two will be my guests tonight. You’ll stay here. Doris will sleep in Sister Cecilia’s room and Joselito will stay with me. But, before we rest, I want to talk to you, Doris.”
After dinner, Father Jayvee and Doris talked for almost two hours. Joselito can hear Doris’ sobs from the terrace of the rectory where he waited staring at the stars, pacing to and fro.
It was almost midnight; Sister Cecilia ushered Doris to her room, and Joselito at Father Jayvee’s. Before going to bed, Joselito asked Father Jayvee. “What am I going to do, Father?”
Father Jayvee replied, ”It’s your decision, not mine. Tomorrow, after I celebrate the morning mass, I’ll bring Doris home and talk to her parents. My role ends there. From there on, you call the shots.”
Father Jayvee reached for a prayer-book, looked at Joselito, and then said “Your love life is a box of toothpick which fell on the floor. You should pick it up one-by-one. When it’s back in the box, you must decide if you will still use it to pick your teeth, find another use for it, or throw it away in the waste basket. I can only give you an advice.”
“Like you did, Father?” Joselito asked.
“What do you mean like I did?” Father Jayvee asked back.
“You threw your love life away.” said Joselito.
“Oh, I found another use for it, my love life belongs to Christ,” Father Jayvee retorted.
The next day Father Jayvee celebrated the morning mass. He even asked Doris to read that morning’s epistle. At the pew, Doris and Joselito were not talking. They simply glanced at each other.
After the mass, Father Jayvee greeted his parishioners, and then prepared to do his special task.
Father Jayvee at the wheel, he started the car to bring Doris home. Joselito waved goodbye. “Wait for me at the chapel. Pray for us, and pray real hard.” Father Jayvee yelled as he drove away.
At the Chapel
Joselito genuflected in front of the tabernacle, and then sat on a pew. Moments later his memory gate opened. It brought back sounds and images of his hometown’s fiesta, almost two years ago. His break-up with Doris was still fresh.
While watching a stage variety show, an annual fiesta tradition in his hometown, friends cheered him up. Rogelio, a friend, bantered, “There’s no use crying over yesterday. There are lots of roses in the garden.” His friends laughed. “Come on cheer up,” other friends urge strongly.
Amidst the crowd arrived Alice, another friend. She was with a former classmate from Manila. She greeted everybody, “Hello there, everybody,” then she turned to Joselito, “So there you are, Joselito. Has the wound healed?”
Joselito’s friends’ chuckled. Alice then said, “I have a friend here I want you to meet… Josie. She’s my college classmate and is here on vacation looking for a boyfriend.” Josie blushed and gave Alice a pinch at the side. Joselito said hello to Josie, then added, “Did Alice meant a girl as pretty as you have no boy friend?” “Uyyyyyy!” the gang teased.
It was almost midnight and the variety show was just beginning. The gang decided to have rice cake and avocado-leaf tea near the parish church, almost two kilometers where the stage was. The gang walked towards the church. Alice suggested, “Let’s go ahead and leave Joselito and Josie behind. Let them write their love story.” The gang giggled. Rogelio sang,”Where do I begin…” Giggles turned to laughter.
From then on, Joselito became a frequent visitor at Josie’s house in Paco, Manila. Josie’s father is a doctor and her mother is a nurse. Josie teaches at a Day Care Center in Santa Ana. Joselito was amused at the way Josie’s family welcomed him, contrary to how Doris’ father treated him. Soon, Joselito and Josie started dating. Josie would ask Joselito to ask permission from Josie’s mother every time they would go out to watch a movie or dine out. Josie’s mother always gave her consent, saying, “Enjoy yourselves”, with a smile. Joselito fell in love with Josie and Josie with Joselito.
At times, when Joselito comes to visit his parents in the province, Josie would come along. Joselito’ mother would show her fondness for Josie and would tell Joselito that she likes Josie better than Doris for him.
Joselito works as a researcher in a medium-size law office. Joselito’s officemates say Josie and Joselito is a perfect pair. Josie often visited Joselito in his office in time for lunch; bringing him his favorites, which Josie learned to cook herself. The sweet and loving relationship of Joselito and his new-found love would seemingly last until eternity.
“Hey lover boy, your troubles are over!” The voice reverberated on the walls of the chapel. It was Father Jayvee. He had brought Doris back home. Father Jayvee’s voice pushed the fast forward button of Joselito’s thoughts, bringing it back to the present.
“Uh, uh, don’t ask me any question,” says Father Jayvee. “Don’t forget the box of toothpicks. You can go home now.”
The Days that Followed
Joselito kept mum about his weekend experience. Even when Josie persisted in asking how he spent his weekend with his parents, Joselito would just smile and say, “Ok!” Josie immediately sensed that something was wrong. She could feel that something was troubling Joselito, though she was not sure if it’s about his parents, his job, or something else.
Noticeably, Joselito’s visit in Josie’s house became less and less frequent. Josie’s mother was starting to ask. On the other hand, Joselito and Doris were secretly meeting at the house of one of Doris’ consenting relative. There they would recall the happy moments of their past relationship.
In one recollection, Doris asked, “Remember that big mango tree at my school campus? In its shade was where I said yes to you. It was a day in September, and we walked holding hands floating on air up to my boarding house at Blumentritt. From my boarding house, it usually took me two jeepney rides to reach school.” And the two would laugh heartily. Soon Joselito and Doris would went dating again.
Josie was getting frantic. Joselito was always out or in a meeting every time she called him at the office. She tried to recall all their conversations since that day when she was made to believe that Joselito went home to visit his parents, thinking if she had said something wrong or had done anything that would hurt Joselito. Josie’s mother advises that she confront Joselito to clear her mind of her worries. But Josie was adamant; thinking that it might only make things worse.
When Josie could no longer contain herself, she wrote Joselito a letter asking that they meet and discuss if there was any problem between them. Joselito obliged. He was ready. He knew this would happen someday, so he prepared.
When Josie asked, he said, “I am out of words, I do not know how to tell you this . I have here in my pocket a letter for you. I wrote and rewrote this letter maybe a hundred times. It is not my intention to hurt you. Believe me. But I… please read this letter at home. It explains everything.”
At home, after reading the letter, Josie was in frenzy. She began drinking every day, crying the whole times of each day. This worried Josie’s mother. One day, Josie’s mother patiently waited for Joselito to go out of his office to talk to him. This surprised Joselito, he didn’t know what to say. They went to a small coffee shop. Joselito explained. Josie’s mother pleaded, but Joselito would not want to lose Doris again.
During the weekend that followed, Joselito went home to his parents. Joselito’s mother was waiting for him. His mother said that Josie came, told her everything, and asked her to hand over a box to him. Joselito opened it. It contained ashes of burnt love letters, wrappers of chocolates Joselito gave Josie through the years, and a lock of hair. Joselito always wanted Josie to wear her hair long.
Along with the burnt love memento was a partially burnt letter written on pink linen paper. It still has a legible portion. It says “Your love life is a box of toothpick that fell on the floor. You should pick it up one-by-one, and when it’s back in the box, you must decide if you will still use it to pick your teeth, find another use for it, or throw it away in the waste basket?”
A tap at Joselito’s car window brought him back to his senses. It was the gas attendant. “Everything is okay, sir. I checked your tires, oil and water. Would you like me to wash your windshield?” N-No, no, thanks” replied Joselito, who now have gray hair and forehead wrinkles marked by time.
Joselito’s love story occurred about thirty years ago. He now has four adult kids with Doris. He is at a gasoline station in Paco, Manila, right in front of Josie’s parents’ old house, hoping to have a glimpse of Josie.
Disappointed, Joselito drives away whispering, “Although the toothpicks are soiled, I chose to use it.”