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Kilometer Zero

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Jungwoo knows people. Parang imposible atang hindi when his supposed future career ay nakapaikot sa connections. Image. Building up a character that pleases people. Kung hindi ka gusto ng madla, you’re out. There is no place for the odd ones out, except if you’re special enough not to be seen as a weird amalgamation of half-assed procreation and really bad genes (respectfully). Looks are important if not vital. It is bullshit if anyone tells you that a pretty face wouldn’t take you anywhere. Jungwoo doesn’t consider himself ugly. He’s never once believed sa pagbababa sa sarili mo just to feign humility. In the standards of 21st-century neoliberal Filipino society, no matter how educated the world it seems to present itself to be, there’s no use in lying to yourself. So, Jungwoo knows pretty people and he’d be the biggest fucking hypocrite if he doesn’t admit he’s also one. 

 

But knowing people is different from being with people. Sa degree niyang communication, he is taught almost every kind of persuasion— to appeal, to empathize, to feel, to walk into a room and command attention. To master the craft is not only to present a dashing smile, but to make people believe that the smile is genuine, inviting, comforting. That smile is supposed to lure them into the message you want to bring across. Communication is a two-way street. You are the sender and the receiver should be peaked enough to evolve from passivity in order to participate in the process. If you’re good enough you can send your message across, but if you’re amazing, you’ll get a word or two out of them in response. 

 

“I’m going out, Woo.” Doyoung beams at him. It’s a Saturday night at kakauwi lang ng roommate niya from his Saturday classes. Doyoung is currently taking his masters in Psychology.

 

Jungwoo likes Doyoung. He’s clean, kahit minsan borderline neat freak na siya but he thinks it’s better to have him than and his bi-monthly general cleaning kaysa magsettle sa isang college undergrad (gaya niya) na hindi kayang linisin ang sarili niyang suka (Fuck you freshman year roommate, Nakamoto Yuta). Doyoung is chill for the most part. Besides teaching intro psych classes sa mga maiingay na freshman, at attending his own lectures, he usually stays out with his boyfriend whom sadly Jungwoo is well acquainted with also (Jaehyun and his goddamn clumsy hands). Doyoung and Jungwoo met sa isang org noong freshie si Jungwoo at third year si Doyoung. This was back when Jungwoo wanted to try and “meet new people” and experience firsthand ang thrill ng college life. That didn’t really materialize because he stopped going after attending 3 meetings. But Doyoung stuck around, mainly because he sees past Jungwoo’s nice boy next door bullshit. 3 years later and here they are.

 

“Ingat. Tell Jaehyun I said hi. Don’t drink too much. You know the drill.” Jungwoo absentmindedly says habang hinahagis at sinasalo ang rubix cube na he’s learning how to solve. He’s bored as fuck and his senior thesis is not doing anything to appease his boredom. Nakahiga siya sa sofa ng living room ng kanilang apartment ngayon. He wonders what he’ll grabfood for dinner.

 

“Are you sure na ayaw mong sumama? Kakain lang kami ni Jaehyun sa labas maybe a couple of drinks after.” Doyoung offers while fixing his shoes. Jungwoo’s thankful na nakatalikod ang roommate niya and he’s not able to see his face. He’s gotten enough of Doyoung’s “you should go out more” at “it won’t hurt you to socialize with people, you know” stares. and it’s funny to hear this coming from Doyoung, the epitome of emotional repression at constipation until Jaehyun came into the picture 2 years ago. Hindi sentimental si Doyoung and Jungwoo sa isa’t isa. This is also another reason why Jungwoo likes him. It’s easy to look at Jungwoo and think of sentiment when he’s all soft features and sweet smiles. Doyoung has stuck with him through his years of being just the absolute opposite of that so he merits their mutual unspoken understanding of keeping their hands off each other’s business hanggat walang nababangga at walang naagrabyado. 

 

“Thesis work.” Jungwoo says, staring at their chipped ceiling.

 

“It’s Saturday, Woo.”

 

“I’m nearly finished with my draft submission. I swear after kong matapos to I’ll go out with you.” False. Jungwoo finished his first draft submission last week pa but his brain is just too bored and tired to think of something more convincing and he knows Doyoung would know he’s lying either way. He’ll just do them both a favor.

 

Doyoung sighs, obviously giving up.

 

“Just don’t smoke inside Jungwoo. You know how I hate the smell.” Doyoung sternly reminds him.

 

Jungwoo scoffs, already expecting the reminder from his older friend. In Jungwoo’s defense, he only ever smoked inside of their apartment once after pulling an all nighter the day before para sa isa sa mga projects nila and it’s just his luck na Doyoung got home early. 

 

“It happened once, Doy. Get over it,” he replies teasingly, setting his rubiks cube down and covering his eyes with his arm. 

 

 “Fine, fine. Just, call me if you need anything,” Doyoung says, opening the front door. 

 

When Jungwoo doesn’t reply, “Woo,” his roommate pointedly adds.

 

“Yes. Doyoung.” Jungwoo lets his arm fall limp on his side and looks at the direction of his roommate. “I will. Don’t worry about me. Have fun.” He tries to give him a smile. It’s small but it’s genuine. He really does want Doyoung to have a good time. It’s not like he wants Doyoung to be like him. Doyoung is happy, overworked, yes but happy with his goals and his Jaehyun. Enough na siguro kay Jungwoo na at least in between the two of them, mayroong isang masaya.

 

He would like to clarify na no he’s not in love with his roommate and no, he’s not sad. Sadness means feelings that oppose happiness. He’s not farting rainbows and leaving sparkly dust on his trail pero hindi rin siya malungkot, technically. To be sad is to have a reason why you’re unhappy in the first place. Ano nga ba ang nag coconstitute sa pagiging masaya? Is there a checklist? Is there a specific meter and level you have to reach to consider being… joyful.

 

Jungwoo stares at the ticking clock sa taas ng pinto nila. He’s not sad. He’s just bored. So bored of the mundanity of his routine. He’s a senior in university whose future depends on connections and people and relationships. He should be looking forward to graduation pero paano niya gagawin yun when he feels like he hasn’t even lived his college years. Maybe it’s dissatisfaction if he wants to name the cold feeling in his chest. But whatever the fuck it is doesn’t matter right now because he’s bored and also very hungry.





Sa huli Jungwoo ended up ordering Panda Express for dinner. One of the perks of having his own apartment ay ang mini terrace nila. He finds it calming to just sit in this open space and just stare at the stars kahit medyo malamig at minsan malamok. There’s approximately 5 months before he graduates and he can’t help but chuckle at the absurdity of time. When you’re bored and uninspired as him, time goes by fast and slow simultaneously. As if freshman year was only yesterday but at the same time college feels as if it's been stretched out into this eternity of blinding constants. Each day blurs into uneventful dull gray. 

 

Saan nga ba yung rubiks cube na hawak niya kanina?

 

Frustrated, he decides na magyosi. 

 

Jungwoo would also like to clarify that he's not a chain smoker. He casually smokes kapag stressed siya at hindi mapakali, tulad ngayon na mag isa na naman siya sa apartment niya, all too quiet, welcoming the eventual pre graduation dreadful thoughts to consume him. You know, his usual Friday order. Kinapa niya ang bulsa sa likod to find his lighter, one of those cheap neon colored ones na nabibili lang sa tabi-tabi. 

 

“God, where the fuck is the lighter,” he whispers to himself habang tumitingin sa ilalim ng upuaan niya. He hopes na hindi niya nahulog yon dahil nasa 7th floor ang unit nila at kung nahulog niya nga, kailangan na naman niyang bumili ng bago, hassle.

 

He’s mentally debating whether to go back nalang sa loob para sindihan ang yosi niya sa stove o maglupasay nalang sa katamaran sa terrace nila. God, bakit ba ang hassle ng lahat. He feels so lethargic at ang tanginang ulo niya parang ang bigat bigat pa—

 

“Uy, kailangan mo ba ng lighter?”  Biglang rinig ni Jungwoo mula sa tabing terrace ng unit nila. He whipped his head so fast na nauntog siya sa lamesa. He was still looking for the lighter kasi sa sulok sulok ng table.  He was so taken aback na bigla niyang natapon yung isang tsinelas niya sa direksyon ng boses. Alam niya kasing bakante yung kabilang unit since lumipat ang dating mag-fiancee na nakatira ron. Jungwoo didn’t really know them. He didn’t even try. Wala rin naman siyang pakialam.  The only information he knew about them is the fact that once a week hindi nagpapatulog ang dalawang yon dahil sa tindi ng bayo ng kama nila akala mo lumilindol. 

 

What kind of shit luck is this?

 

“Ay gago, aray!” Jungwoo grimaced, patting the back of his head now pulsing dahil sa sakit. Closing his eyes, he hears a chuckle from the same direction of the previous voice. Shet, either may multo sa kabilang unit o may magnanakaw. He doesn’t know what’s worse. He slowly opens his eyes peeking sa kung ano man ang bubulaga sa kaniya.

 

“That looks painful.” Jungwoo opens his eyes sa isang matangkad na stranger na naka-lean sa railing ng terrace ng kabilang unit. Hawak hawak niya yung isang pair ng nike slip ons na naibato kanina ni Jungwoo. The stranger is wearing a loose white tank top at shorts. Basa ang buhok at parang straight out of the shower lang. The stranger puts the slipper sa tabi niyang chair and proceeds to tie some of his hair into a tiny ponytail. Okay, so hindi siya mukhang magnanakaw kase bakit ka maliligo sa bahay ng ninanakawan mo? 

 

Anyway.

 

“ What are you? I mean sino ka?” Jungwoo asks, still not letting his guard down. The stranger doesn’t mind however. Nakangiti lang siya throughout Jungwoo’s messy turmoil.

 

“I guess I’m your new neighbor. Kaka move in ko lang.” he replies, throwing Jungwoo’s slippers pabalik.  “You still need a light?” dagdag nito. 

 

“No thank you. I’m good,” reply ni Jungwoo. Mas lalo lang sumakit ang ulo niya dahil sa pagka untog niya sa lamesa. He has no interest in meeting new people much less his new neighbor na baka hindi na naman sila patutulugin. He begins to stand up when the stranger began speaking again.

 

“I’m Lucas.” His new neighbor says, still sporting that smile. It’s 8 pm for god sake. Sinong unprovoked na ngumingiti at this kind of hour?

 

“That’s. That’s my name.” 

 

Jungwoo furrows his brows, confused sa kung ano man ang nangyayari.

 

“Sure, Lucas. I’ll see you around.” He quickly walks inside their apartment. 




He should have gotten used to the eerie weekend nights dito sa apartment nila. It’s not like this is the first time na mag-isa siya. But he feels a new level of restlessness tonight like his gravity is trying to pull his bones towards the dirt and Jungwoo is all flesh and bones. He clutches his head na masakit pa rin and hears the steady sound of the clock ticking. For a moment there is only him, every beat of the clock, and the small sound that fills the cold space. 

 

But a flash of teeth and supple lips come to his mind, hair tied in a ponytail, holding his slipper in his hand. He thinks he’s not sober enough for whatever voodoo is happening tonight.

 

 

 

 

Waking up is something Jungwoo’s been dreading for the past couple of years in his life. Mainit at nakakabulag na sinag ng araw, making its way across his room is not a welcomed feeling. It’s too hot. It’s too bright. Gusto lang ni Jungwoo matulog at ipikit ang mga mata niya.

 

Seeing Perfect Jaehyun making their perfect breakfast is a sight he’s gotten too familiar with as well. He’s not bothered by it. He’s way past trying to contradict a force of nature na never niyang ma fifigure out. Jaehyun is a very odd man. His odd dimples, welcoming smile, and eternally warm eyes na lagi lang nakatingin may Doyoung. It’s a stark contrast against Doyoung’s stealthy gazes, and hard opinions. 

 

“Jungwoo. You look cheery. Good Morning!” bati ni Jaehyun sa kanya while stirring his unsweetened black coffee. Ilang beses nang nagkamali si Jungwoo sa nainom na kape and everytime na naalala niya ang pait at pakla ng kape ni Jaehyun, nag shishiver pa rin siya. What kind of masochist drinks coffee without at least some sugar?

 

“Don’t you have a hangover or something?” he replies, sitting sa isa sa mga stools. He grabs his snoopy mug na regalo ni Doyoung sa kaniya when they became roommates. 

 

“We didn’t party last night. We just had drinks. Nothing too grand,” Jaehyun says. “Do you want eggs? Meron pa ata kayong tira. I can make some,” he adds. 

 

Doyoung appears in the kitchen then, sporting the wildest bed hair. Doyoung is not the most pleasant tuwing umaga lalo na kung nakainom the night before kaya Jungwoo decides to make fun of his state at least after the guy had his coffee. Doyoung makes his way to Jaehyun who is beating the eggs for his special scrambled eggs. Doyoung hugs him from the back, burrowing his head in the heat of Jaehyun’s neck while encircling his hands sa ilalim ng shirt ni Jaehyun. Feeling like an intruder, Jungwoo diverts his eyes sa doors ng terrace. There is still some breeze coming in. He remembers the guy from the unit sa kabila. Hindi niya alam kung napanaginipan niya lang ang lalaking naka ponytail o meron na nga silang bagong kapitbahay. 

 

He remembers a laugh, and a sweet smile, warm as a chocolate skin, pretty eyes.

 

His head hurts.

 

“Doyoung. Meron na bang bagong tenant yung 126?”

 

Doyoung who is busy sniffing the life out of Jaehyun’s neck answers, “Yeah. Kakalipat lang yesterday afternoon. Don’t worry. He’s nice.”

 

“Hmm,” replies Jungwoo. “I think he’s loud, too chatty,” he adds.

 

“What? You met him already?” Doyoung wonders, detaching himself from Jaehyun to sit next to him.

 

“Last night. Nauntog pa ako sa ingay niya.” Jungwoo frowns at the memory, rubbing the back of his head.

 

“Ano? Tanga ka ba?” Doyoung laughs, while stirring his coffee with too much cream  and too much sugar. 

 

“I was looking for something sa ilalim ng table in the terrace tapos bigla siyang sumulpot and I hit my head. It still hurts you know?” Jungwoo frowns even more.

 

He doesn’t know what’s wrong with Doyoung but the other one laughs even more. He pats Jungwoo’s head at tinuloy and paghalo niya sa kaniyang kape. He looks at him and there is a slight glint in his eyes. Like he knows something is about to happen but Doyoung has always been like that, always perceiving, deducing.

 

“Well, I think you’ll like him, Woo.” Doyoung pipes in with finality. He looks at Jaehyun and says “Jae. You do know Lucas right? Yung bago sa 126?”

 

“Wong? Yeah I used to be orgmates with him. Solid guy.”

 

“See?” 

 

Mas interesado pa si Jungwoo sa paggalaw ng kamay ng orasan nila kaysa makipagkilala sa stranger sa kabilang unit— a stranger who will probably just end up being another headache for all of them, lalo na kay Jungwoo.

 

Jaehyun finishes cooking their breakfast and sits sa tapat nila. “Lucas is a very friendly guy. I remember meeting him for the first time sa gen assembly. He was just this giant ball of energy. He talked to almost everyone. I thought he was an upperclassmen tapos when we got to talk don ko lang nalaman na he was just a freshie palang back then.” He scoops up some of the scrambled eggs and places it sa plate ni Doyoung.

 

“Well, that’s great for him then,” Jungwoo shrugs, sipping his coffee. It’s a little bland but at least it’s srill a little hot.





Rarely lang nagkaka power interruption sa area nila Jungwoo and malas lang siya na he’s at home doing absolutely nothing nang biglang nawala ang kuryente. He slightly maneuvers from the sofa he’s lying at. Nagtitigan muna sila ng tv nilang nag pplay ng home shopping program kanina before ito mamatay. 

 

He really enjoys watching these home shopping shows. Di maman siya bumibili and he thinks most of the products are marketed sa mga middle aged na mga nanay na bored at merong pang waldas ng pera anyway. But he likes to watch them nonetheless, it keeps his head from running too much.

 

Pero syempre dahil he lives in Quezon City at parang pinag kaitan sila ng kahit katiting na malamig na hangin, he started to feel hot and stuffy. Inabot niya uli ang rubiks cube and headed sa balcony.

 

The sun is out, at walang ni isang kumpol ng ulap ang nasa langit ngayon. It’s a bright day. He should probably be outside right now, taking advantage of the sun, making the most out of his final year. 

 

Jungwoo’s heart is not into it sadly. Not anymore.

 

“How do you feel about dogs?” A voice startles him.

 

Putanginang demonyong isda. Muntik na namang mauntog si Jungwoo dahil sa gulat. He whips his head sa source ng boses.

 

“Can you stop doing that?” he yells at the guy. 

 

His neighbor gives a shy smile. Tipong nahiya siguro dahil nagulat niya ang binata. He’s hair is still in a ponytail and difference lang, there are bags under his eyes. Maybe he had a long night. It’s none of his business — Jungwoo reminds himself.

 

“Ay. Sorry. I haven’t spoken to anyone since last night. Akala ko mapuputol na dila ko because of the silence. I’m usually very talkative,  you know,” his neighbor beams at him, standing up to lean against the railing facing him.

 

“Di naman halata.”

 

“What?”

 

“Na madaldal ka,” Jungwoo butts in, messing up his hair.

 

Lucas snickers.

 

“You’re funny. You know.” Lucas smiles. He really likes doing that and the most bizarre thing is it actually looks genuine. It’s comforting. It’s calling onto him.

 

He doesn’t like it.

 

“You really haven’t told me your name, by the way.”

 

“No,” Jungwoo says.

 

“Ha?”

 

“You asked me if I liked dogs. I don’t. Or well. I don’t really have an opinion on them. Never had one.” He clicks his tongue. Looking at his neighbor straight in the eye. Jungwoo doesn’t feel like acting like the nice guy he always gives to his new acquaintances. So he looks at his noisy neighbor dead serious habang sinasabi niya na no he doesn’t like dogs. Maybe that will stop him from bothering Jungwoo. People hate mean dog haters diba?

 

Lucas however, just smiles. Not also backing down from his gaze. “Nah. I think you like dogs. I’m thinking of what kind of dog you remind me of.” Lucas begins stretching his arms.

 

Jungwoo’s confused. He can’t figure out kung anong tumatakbo sa isip ng stupidly enthusiastic niyang kapitbahay. He usually knows the MO of whomever he's talking to after a few exchanges. The beauty of being a communications major. He’s basically a pro in bullshiting his way through conversations and  in figuring out people’s bullshit as well.

 

“I’ll tell you. Kapag na figure out ko na what kind of puppy you remind me of.” Lucas says, peeking sa loob ng unit niya.  “Power’s back. See you next time, neighbor,” he adds, raising his eyebrows at Jungwoo.

 

Jungwoo stands up, at sumilip din sa loob. His favorite home shopping program is still on. He stands up, walking towards the entryway.

 

“Jungwoo. That’s my name,” he says, silently.

 

Lucas hears it anyway and grins, tight lipped.  He nods and walks back inside.

 

Jungwoo is left alone with the sun piercing his skin and the cheerful hum of the television filling the new wave of silence.

 

“Huh,” he whispers to himself.