Six friends take a trip to the mountains some time after graduating from college.
It was nearing midnight and they were still all on the rooftop of the inn, some holding their plastic cups of beer and cheap vodka, shivering in pajamas and sweaters, seated on small chairs or the floor. Above rose the thick black sky shimmering with far-off pinpricks of light, and below them stretched the little town folded into the sloping darkness of the mountains.
The nights like these—with everyone together, more or less happy, careful tongues liberated a little by the alcohol, the air rife with the possibilities of revelation—were the nights no one would talk about but look fondly back on, and always remember. The cold air bit into their skin, they huddled up next to each other for warmth.
The group of friends hadn’t seen one another for more than two years. Sofia had graduated a week ago, freshly sunburnt from the beach, eyes a little unfocused from all the post-graduation excitement. Pepe and JR, partners until the end, were a year into their start-up software development company. Mars the med student was, well, still in med school. Will was teaching physics at his old grade school, a constant object of affection of the young and beautiful schoolgirls. And Frente, always full of words and raw ambition, was plotting her next move.
Sofia leaned against the railing, looking at the sky. She was fair and slender and cold. She had a blanket around her shoulders. It was nearing midnight, but not quite yet. Tomorrow would be her twenty-second birthday.
Behind her were flickering candles and the periodical choruses of laughter, the round, soft vowels and angular consonants of the European guests that shared the same roof. They’d wanted a bonfire but were denied by the inn’s owner and had to make do with a pack of large neon-green candles. Will was warbling to the tune of a borrowed guitar he now clutched to his chest, a song that had been on the radio since forever. Mars giggled, probably already drunk, the ends of her newly chopped-off hair brushing her cheeks, leaning deep into Pepe’s thin frame screaming “Kwentoooo!” at JR, who was concentrating on the blue rectangle of light that was his phone. He ignored her and rose, lifting his phone into the air. Away from the candles, it floated in the darkness, an odd and tiny specter.
“Still no signal. We’re in a technological void, mates.”
Day two, Sofia thought, haf-smiling at the vast tapestry of sky. A stranger might have marveled at the number of stars out here, but the truth was there were always so many stars long as you weren’t in the city. Clear skies, especially at night. Pagudpud, Bohol, Palawan, once the sun set and you looked up, there stood the same breathtaking view.
Sofia suggested the trip up into the mountains. She had her reasons. It was the peak of Manila’s hottest summer to date (records were broken every year) she finally had her degree in writing, and the city was a hellhole of sweat and tangled electric lines, angry boyfriends and not enough aircon. She also genuinely missed her friends. They had spent the first couple of days whining about the lack of internet, cellphone signal, credit card service and hot water. Stripped from the city they had molded themselves into, they were helpless.