I might just put Simba up for adoption.
I glare at the cat grooming himself on the couch, letting the door slam behind me. There he is, sitting upon his throne of ripped cushions and leaves from the only houseplant I’d managed to keep alive. My eyes flew to the window. The afternoon sun seeping in through my torn white curtains, pairing nicely with deep scratches on my woven rug. The only item he spared was my plastic room divider.
I place my convenience store lunch on the table before picking up the remains of my beloved snake plant and stuffing them in the trash. I glance at my watch. 12:56 p.m. My calendar app pops up a reminder for this week’s Zoom meeting at one ‘o clock.
“You just had to do it today, huh?” A self-satisfied meow is the only reply I get.
Ditching lunch, I boot up my laptop, quickly dragging the plastic room divider and setting it behind me. I make sure to double-check how it looks through the laptop’s webcam. The partition hides the mess perfectly.
After frantically pressing my hair down, I click the meeting link and get admitted promptly after. Six out of the seven of us from the office are already present.
“Ah, Ramos!” Manager Cabrera greets. “Just in time.”
Phew. I started looking forward to these bi-weekly meetings only recently. Besides the regular calls from my parents, they make quarantine life feel less dull.
HR Rep Tecson chimes in. “New background, Cabrera?”
My screen lags a bit but soon catches up to show the laughing manager. Tecson was right, Cabrera’s usual living room background was now replaced by a foldable bamboo screen divider. It looks fragile like it was hastily plastered with Japanese paper.
“Si Macaintal na lang wala,” Cabrera mutters under his breath. Suddenly, the crinkle of plastic pierces through my earphones. Macaintal arrives one second shy of the allotted meeting time.
"Sorry," Macaintal pleads, his camera off. “May inasikaso lang po ako.” I see Cabrera wave this off.
The manager wastes no time and dives into today’s agenda. "Mukhang nandito na tayo lahat,” he remarks, “But before we start, on-cam tayo dapat.”
I can only imagine a unified groan from beyond those black screens. One by one, four familiar faces pop in.
Unmuted, I hear ruffling from Macaintal. I squint at the technician’s panel, his background also a fresh sight. I see him reach out to it slightly, checking to make sure it's stable.
Through his glasses, I see his eyes dart from side to side, his body constantly shifting to find a comfortable position in his seat. Can’t he calm down a bit?
“Anong balita sa inyo? Are people wearing masks and staying indoors? I saw a photo online of this man arrested just for leaving his house,” our manager says. “Ramos?”
“Ah,” I switch my focus to Cabrera’s panel. “This morning, I went to the pharmacy across the street only to find that the area is now a police checkpoint. Left and right, cars and motorbikes paused to show their papers. It was just so strange. One driver was even taking selfies with a police officer."
“Tsk!” Tecson shakes his head. “Nakaka-proud naman maging Pilipino.”
“Eh, wala na tayong magagawa kung ganyan ‘yung kapulisan natin.” Cabrera laments. I watch my co-workers nod in agreement, except for a distorted Macaintal.
“Okay, next thing on our agenda…” the manager continues. I glance at his panel, noticing the light behind his divider shift, shining through the gaps between the bamboo slats. He must be behind a window.
Out of the corner of my eye, I find Macaintal more composed. His fingers, however, are drumming on the edge of his laptop and taking up half of his screen. Why can’t he just turn off his camera?
“Alam kong gusto niyo nang kumain. Final announcements and reminders na lang." Cabrera assured. My stomach grumbles. I look down at Simba napping by my feet and then at my lunch, it must be cold by now.
“Meeting adjourned,” the long-anticipated words are spoken, but I see that Cabrera sent me a private message. Diyan ka lang, pre.
After an onslaught of thank yous and goodbyes, only Cabrera and I are left behind.
“Ako lang ba,” my friend starts, “O wala si Macaintal sa sarili niya kanina?”
“Baka gusto niya lang talaga umalis. Tagal mo kasi magsalita.” My eyebrows scrunched together.
He shakes his head. “Parang may tinatago ‘yun eh.”
“Nakakatuwa naman. Biglang may mga room divider tayong tatlo. Si Simba kasi eh. Ginulo niya ‘yung kwarto.”
“Ako naman, tinamad lang ako maglinis,” my friend laughs. “Anyway, I just wanted to make that comment.”
I hear murmurs from Cabrera’s side then sounds of plastic moving behind him. I catch him mute his mic for a few seconds before tapping on the divider behind him. Before I can ask him about it, I hear my stomach grumble, my eyes moving to the boxed chicken once more. I think it’ll be best if I end this call soon. “Ingat ka diyan, boss.”
He unmutes. “Sunod sa health protocols, ah!”
Before I can press “Leave,” a hand palms over the flimsy divider behind Cabrera. His head flicks over his shoulder. He attempts to steady it but instead falls backward on his chair bringing the divider down with him.
Takeout boxes and mountains of toilet paper blanket his bed. Among the pillows are at least 10 paper bags of rubbing alcohol and paperwork. Shelves are running over with canned sardines, Pancit Canton, chips, and sweets. And behind the curtains are the unmistakable silhouettes of living beings.
I jump from my seat as four familiar faces from the office pop out all at once and try to bolt away from the webcam’s view.
The partition hid the mess perfectly.