'Yes! I'm in the most romantic city in the world and I've finally secured a seat in the oldest cafe.' Emma excitedly thought to herself.
Emma Gatchalian is a professor researcher from one of the leading universities in the Philippines and is now visiting the
Paris-Sorbonne University for some academic research. With only a few months to visit the city, she knows that she has to make the most of every hour of each day.
The Le Procope is one of her priorities.
The said café sits at the 6th arondissement and was established in 1686. Many writers and artists, basically the most creative and intellectual minds during the 18th to the 19th centuries, gathered here. An historic cafe, it is irrefutably romantic and the ambiance was screaming time travel.
The lady professor ordered an Amaretto sundae to cool down. She had been walking non-stop as she enjoyed her free time visiting museums and strolling down the streets just to enjoy the architecture. She savored the almond-flavored liqueur which gave the cool dessert its distinctive taste.
Just then, a hand gently touched her left shoulder.
Emma turned around to see who it was. It sounded like the voice of a gentleman but she can tell that the accent was off. Her jaw almost got dislocated when her eyes rested upon a gentleman, who's obviously not French, and eccentrically dressed.
The man was just as shocked as she is. "Parlez-vous anglais? I was just about to ask if you would want to have a cup of coffee with me but...how did you know my name?"
Emma looked all around her. There was a bit of a change in the restaurant, but outside, she could hardly believe what she was seeing. All passersby are wearing late 19th century clothing. Her eyes must have been ready to bulge out of their sockets because Pepe asked, "Are you going to be fine, Miss?"
"Yes...yes...I think so."
Pepe motioned to the chair in front of her.
"Of course. Do take a seat."
"You may call me Pepe. And since you already know me, might I know your lovely name?"
"Emma. My name is Emma."
"And how about that cup of coffee?"
Emma still couldn't believe what's happening. She kept sneaking a glance at the national hero...er...guy who sat facing her. She felt like her insides were going in all directions at once. She wanted to go outdoors but speaking with the gentleman who is now looking with curiosity at her is much too harder to pass up.
"I will have a cup of coffee with you if you promise me one thing." Emma decided to take her chances. Glitch or not, dream or reality, this is a chance of a lifetime.
Pepe looked at her, trying to interpret whatever it was that bothered her lovely face. He knew, right away, that she was not your everyday girl.
"One cup of coffee if you answer one question. And you have to elucidate."
Pepe smiled. "I believe you would like to ask about the book that is yet to be published. Noli Me Tangere caused quite an offence did it not? Now I know why you know my name."
"On the contrary, I do not want to ask about your books. I would like to get to know you."
The two cups of black coffee were served to them. Pepe took a swig. "What would you like to know?
"Did you ever truly love someone?"
The smile reached Pepe's eyes. And true to his word, he slowly reached into his pocketbook leather wallet. He brought out a bundle of envelopes, some photographs, and a sheet of paper or two.
Then, just like spreading his winning poker cards, Pepe showed three more black and white pictures.
"And these are Consuelo, Gertrude, and Suzanne."
"I believe I asked you to elucidate." Emma kidded. Pepe released a gentle laughter.
"I believe you did. Well...Consuelo Ortiga loved many of us." It was difficult to ignore the mirth in his eyes. "She eventually favored someone else. And then there was that brief moment with Gertrude Beckett in London."
"Gertrude has lovely eyes." Emma teased him because she knew that to Pepe, it was all a coquetry. Pepe left her just when she was starting to fall really hard for him.
"And here is Suzanne Jacoby." Pepe obviously veered away from a possible discussion on what happened with his romantic encounter with Gertrude. "I stayed with them in her aunts' house in Brussels when I was writing my second novel. She was fun to be with. We strolled many times around their neighborhood."
"I'm sure you did." Emma agreed.
"Nellie Boustead, the last one, I promise you," he stated as he slid the group photograph toward Emma. "She is a French-Filipino."
"I can sense your confusion with this. You're still thinking of Leonor..."
Pepe seemed genuinely surprised how he read his mind so well. With this, he said,
"The world isn't fair, is it? She married a year ago and I'm still here..." he stopped before he could give more details about his actual feelings. "But I do love Nellie. I offered to marry her."
"But..." Emma trailed.
"She is asking me become a Protestant. I..." Pepe, this time, stood more adamantly. "It was truly nice to have spent a moment with you. I think I know what to do now. I have to go."
Emma wanted the conversation (or was it a confession?) to linger but Pepe was uncompromising. "Just one more thing, Pepe. If you have already made your choice, I want you to know that the future will be better. There is someone who is meant for you. You will find love."
She was, of course, thinking about Josephine Bracken whom he has yet to meet. Theirs was also a bittersweet story but Emma knew that he loved his future wife nevertheless - and that was what truly mattered.
"Maybe. But my love for my country and the love she gives me in return is more than sufficient. Good day, Emma." And Pepe walked away with squared shoulders.
Emma marvelled over Jose Rizal's conviction. Such bravery!
And just when she has decided to explore outside the cafe, a hand, once again, rested on her shoulder.
"'Forgot something, Pepe?"
Expecting to see Jose Rizal once more, she was saddened when it turned out to be a waiter wearing contemporary clothing. "Vous dormiez, mademoiselle (You slept, Miss). The Amaretto must have been pretty strong."
So it was all a dream. Or was it?
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E.S. Villamor has made a career in writing for a decade now. Her online business - GIML (Gabriela Isabel & Miguel Lucas) Publishing started in 2014. She advocated for women's rights and was once enamored with imparting financial literacy through training and blogs but she is now focused on propagating all things Filipino. This site is also being groomed as a rich homeschooling resource.