From the author of No Boyfriend Since Birth comes another modern-day romance that’s sure to tickle your funny bone—and touch your heart. Mia Tupas is your typical shy girl daunted by the idea of talking to strangers and content with a humdrum routine of shuttling between work and home. But right after a fortuneteller spies a man in her future, Mia meets Leo, and the two hit it off immediately. There’s just one problem: Leo lives in Bangkok, and Mia balks at the mere thought of getting on a plane—she’s never even been around the country!
Still, the possibility of romance is tantalizing, and Mia manages to keep in touch with Leo through e-mail. But when she finally works up the courage to fly to Bangkok and find out where she stands, she discovers that Leo has left for Bali on the very same day.
Will Mia get her much-awaited chance at love? Join her on this entertaining, cross-country quest through Bangkok, Bali, and Vietnam for the man who just might be The One.
“I first came in because of the name: Serendipity. It's one of my favorite words.”
—Sara, in Serendipity
“There is a boy.”
Madame Jam, clad in an acid wash jumpsuit and a huge fuchsia bangle, looked at me above her red cat’s eye frames and repeated that startling declaration, with more feeling this time. “I see it in the cards, hija. There is a boy.”
“A boy?” I looked at Madame Jam like she was crazy, but my mind, I discovered, had already shifted into overdrive.
First thought: Thank you, universe! For actually letting me trip on a discarded plastic bag that was scattered carelessly on the floor on the third level of Robinsons Galleria, thus allowing Madame Jam—whom I initially thought was just another pushy, clingy salesgirl—to spot me, grab hold of my arm and steer me to where she was sitting at a little table outside a store selling vases and bonsai trees. It had a sign that read, “Fortune-telling Service Here,” along with “Psychic Healer” and “Tarot Card Reader” in smaller type.
“Pahula ka, hija?” she had murmured cajolingly, as she sat me down on the Monobloc chair across the table from her. “You never know what you’ll discover—at work, in your family, in your love life…”
Which brought me to my second and most important thought: Will I, Mia Tupas, actually be meeting someone soon?
“A boy?” I said again. “Where? How?”
Ignoring me, Madame Jam shuffled her deck and laid out six single cards face-up on the table, one by one. “There is fear,” was what she said now, making a clucking noise with her tongue.
Whaaaat? A boy and then fear? What the hell was going on?
“I see it in the cards, hija,” Madame Jam continued, frowning this time, as she laid another set of six cards on the table. “Your heart is seeking courage to achieve your dreams…”
“Yeah, but what about the boy?” I couldn’t help asking.
“Boy?” She went blank for a moment. “Oh. Yes, the boy. What about him?”
“You just said that there’s a boy.” I tried my best not to sound too impatient. “Will I meet him? Will I have, you know, a boyfri—”
“I said I glimpsed a boy in the cards,” Madame Jam said in a tone that clearly said the subject was over. “Just a glimpse—silip lang. The more pressing issue, hija, is your fear.”
I stared at her. Fine. If she wanted to talk about fear, then okay. Except that I didn’t know what that had to do with my life. I mean, I was perfectly fine right before I literally stumbled into this manghuhula business: I had been on my way home and had dropped by the mall to have my favorite sinigang sa miso for dinner before I boarded any one of the clunky FX vans taking passengers by the mall’s side entrance—the one that would take me to the apartment I shared with three other girls.
Sinigang sa miso and walking through the mall—with some random stopovers at friendly-priced shoe boutiques—was my sort of routine, three times a week. I’d been doing that for almost a year now, which had made me decide that this walk was precious: it was just the ending I needed after another day of sitting in front of the computer at the office.
Which was ironic because I actually work for a walking tour company called Next Stop Manila. It’s not that big, really. In fact, it’s one of those indie little set-ups where you only have three to five people (four, in my case) working in one small office and offering some novel, never-heard-of-before service. Not that there wasn’t anything like Next Stop Manila. It’s just that our company offered guided tours and walking itineraries to the less touristy—but still interesting—places in Manila, like Quiapo or Escolta for instance, or even Antipolo. Next Stop Manila was a wanna-be in off-the-beaten path tourism.
But then again, as exciting as these off-the-beaten path tours may seem to some people—especially our over-enthusiastic tour guides—I really didn’t want to walk those places. In fact, I was perfectly happy with my desk job, which involved writing all the brochures, itineraries, and what-have-you that the company and our tour guides needed. Never mind if I hadn’t really walked through those places. I had my ways. Needed a little write-up for a walking tour in the South? Coffee with one of our tour guides who once spent a couple of years living in Laguna was enough for me to come up with something on paper. A big group needed an official-looking brochure on Cubao? Well there were always ukay-ukay crazy friends who frequented Aurora Boulevard and Gateway Mall. Or, there was Google. Because really, I was perfectly fine seeing all the other guides zoom out of the office, my brochures in hand, and go on those zany walking tours with their equally eager tourists.
Which brought me back to Madame Jam and my so-called fear. Because I was at my desk all day, writing out pleasant, safe, unthreatening things about Manila. Where, do tell, was the fear in that?
“Questions,” Madame Jam’s low, husky voice suddenly broke my train of thought. “Go on, hija. Ask me questions.”
“Um, like what?” I asked. I was hoping she’d say I could ask all the questions I wanted about the boy she’d purportedly seen in my future.
“About your fear,” she replied automatically, softly tapping the deck of cards on the table with a coral-polished nail.
“Um, let’s see,” I hedged. She wanted questions, fine. She’d get her questions. “Is there a big reason why I’m takot? Is it because I haven’t yet met the boy of my dreams? Because, as you said, I may be meeting a boy…in the future?”
Madame gave me a look that clearly showed she knew what I was up to, but I couldn’t help it. I had to know about this boy.
“Cut the cards in half and choose five cards,” she said. “I need you to look deep into yourself and concentrate.”
I dutifully cut the deck in half, took three cards, and handed them face down to her.
“Focus your energy on your question,” Madame Jam continued, glancing at the cards, as her voice got lower and huskier. “And most important of all, hija, focus on identifying your fear.”
“And the boy,” I said.
“Yes, and the boy,” she replied, letting out a slightly exasperated sigh as she placed my five cards face down on the table.
“So?” I leaned forward eagerly as she stared at the cards intently, her face inscrutable.
“Nope, I was mistaken,” she said, finally looking up. To my horror, she continued, “I can’t see the boy anymore. Probably just a random passerby in your next life.”
“What? But, Madame Jam, you said—”
“Hija, our time’s up,” she cut in, sweetly. She pushed her chair back and stood up, stretching her arms behind her. “Twenty minutes already.”
“But, but— ” I sputtered. I couldn’t believe this!
“Two hundred eighty, my dear,” Madame Jam said, and with that, gave me a final, patronizing smile.
* * *
Okay, I admit it: What Madame Jam said wasn’t entirely untrue. So I wasn’t totally without fear. But then, the things I was sort of afraid of weren’t really that significant. Like, I was certainly no Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada, who loathed having other people in the elevator with her, but in this aspect, we did share the same sentiment. In my case, I dreaded riding with other people in elevators simply because it makes me totally uncomfortable and…okay, fine, scared. There, I said it. Scared that I would have to open my mouth, talk to them, say something stupid.
But really, what was wrong with wanting some personal space? Or with not wanting to make small talk with total strangers?
Take this morning’s elevator incident, for instance, at exactly 7:26 AM (I know, I checked my watched just to see that I was early enough—something I’ve been doing since I got this job, to avoid the mad unruliness of rush hour). I had loads of time before 8:30 AM, so I wasn’t in so much of a rush and was savoring that early morning, just-bathed-and-clad-in-freshly-laundered-clothes feeling. As I entered our slightly run-down, five-level building, I mentally checked through the glass doors what I had chosen to wear for another muggy morning in Manila: a bright flowered skirt I got on sale at SM, a tank top in a nice shade of light pink from somewhere in my closet, and my dependable, ribbon-adorned flats in beige—very girly and I hoped, not too overpowering on my small frame.
Yep, that’s me: petite, with a simple bob cut that I wish was longer, skin between fair and morena, and wide, slightly slanted eyes. As for the bob cut—my source of frustration for a little over four months now—I got that when I had let Yamini, the over-enthusiastic bading in a new salon (zealously recommended by one of the tour guides—what else was new?) suggest a brand new style for me. One that promised me a look that was so…Sienna Miller and Katie Holmes. I normally wouldn’t have caved, but he said it would totally suit my small features, so I let him snip away while I buried myself in old issues of Cosmo (which was more like my best friend, Joanna’s kind of thing, really), Preview (Good God, P27,000 for a bag? Uh, no thanks!), and Good Housekeeping which I felt—even though I’m single and have had only one real boyfriend in my lifetime—suited me more because I like puttering about at home instead of going out, or going off to god-knows-where destinations. And so I didn’t have the heart to stop my chirpy hairdresser, even when I began seeing about four inches of my old hair fall in feathery strips to the floor.
“Beautiful, mare!” Yamini cooed, admiring his handiwork as he stood behind from where I sat facing the mirror. I gaped in disbelief at my new ‘do, which barely reached my chin.
“Uh, isn’t it too short—”
“Bagay na bagay!” Yamini went on, running the Pinoy parlor’s standard big brush loaded with baby powder—the one that’s supposed to sweep away those little cut hairs—over my face, “Look at you, ate, all you need are some streaks and a hot oil!” she crowed as I stared worriedly at what was left of my hair.
Fine, I concluded, after giving my new cut a good, hard look for about five minutes. So it’s not that bad, even without the suggested streaks. But still.
“This is what I get for not getting my usual trim,” I grimly told my best friend, Joanna, the following day after my salon session.
“Can you stop overreacting?” Joanna said, obviously not really doing her best in placating me and my newly-shorn head. Instead, she was furiously clicking on several open windows of wedding sites on her laptop. “It’s just hair, it will grow back!”
“But it will take years!” I whined. “Put yourself in my place—what if somebody did this to you before your wedding to Joel?”
“First of all, I won’t have my hair cut before my wedding—ever,” Joanna replied breezily, still not taking her eyes off her computer screen. “You should know me better than that. Secondly, why did you allow yourself to be talked into cutting your hair that short, anyway?”
I swear, most of the time, she’s more attentive. It’s just that she’s engaged to be married next year to Joel, our batchmate and her boyfriend for seven years. And being the kikay creature that she is, it wasn’t a surprise to everyone when she insisted on organizing everything for the wedding—and making it perfect, of course. Hence, the furious surfing and the wedding sites.
“I—well, you know, Yamini said I needed to try something new after I told him that I had the same hairstyle for five years,” I said morosely, not even caring anymore if Joanna was paying attention.
“You never were a fan of change. Hello, you’ve been using the same coin purse since you were eighteen! And you’re now, what? Twenty-six and if I may say, haven’t been anywhere,” Joanna said, finally tearing her eyes away from the creamy, puffy white dresses on the screen. “You need a vacation. Like, go somewhere faraway like Batanes or Bangkok. Alam mo na, travel!”
I looked at her in horror. “Can you stop that? You know I’m perfectly happy being here, and that I’m a total homebody,” I said, trying not to sound too defensive. “That’s what my horoscope says, anyway. That Cancerians love being at home. Also, traveling? Gastos lang ‘yan.” I gave her a knowing look.
I didn’t tell her—but I knew that she knew, being my best friend since first year high school and all—that I balked at the idea of going out of the country, or even to nearby places like Batangas, even with a bunch of friends. And by myself? I can’t even begin to tell you how that idea is just so out of the question.
Whatever. Today, I pushed all thoughts of Joanna’s crazy ideas out of my head as I tried savoring the morning’s still atmosphere, when I could walk through the office corridors and the elevator in peace, with no one bothering me, no one having to make small talk with—
I almost toppled backwards at the sound of the male voice that floated from inside the dim, mirrored elevator, just as I was about to go in.
“Oh, I didn’t mean to startle you,” the guy said, chuckling as he adjusted his tie. It had some sort of mod pattern on it, and just the right touch, I noticed, to the crisp light-blue long-sleeved shirt and well-pressed gray slacks he was wearing. His bangs flopped charmingly on his forehead.
Great, I thought, as I slunk in, just a tad shaken, and positioned myself at the furthest corner of the lift, which wasn’t really that far. As expected, I suddenly felt self-conscious. What was this guy doing here so early in the morning? I thought that, save for Manong Eddie the security guard, I was the earliest one in the building.
What now? His voice ran through me like an electric shock.
Oh. Right. “Ah, um,” I stammered out. Giving up, I awkwardly reached out to press “4” and saw it had already been punched.
“You’re going to the fourth floor too?” The guy asked, as the elevator started its torturously slow ascent—bullet lift this certainly was not.
I nodded and attempted a small smile. Elegant, Mia, just elegant. Anyway, why did this guy keep talking to me? I shot a swift glance at him as I tried to figure out if he was a customer, a visitor, or—and this was the worst—a new officemate. I mean, he was going to the same floor, right? But really, I did not want to deal with a newbie, especially when I was neck-deep in new brochures.
Ping! I stumbled out with relief just as the elevator doors opened, but noted to my dismay that Mr. Preppy was walking in the same direction. Please, please, please don’t let him enter our office, I silently implored.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him amble past our little office and into the next one, which was a small public relations agency that’s been there for as long as I remember. Thank God, I gave a tiny sigh of relief as I pushed open the glass doors of our office, wended my way through the cubicles and sat down at my tiny desk.
It was just going to be another usual morning.