The Dictionary of Marginal Notes

by Charlene Mae Olesco Tugano


“You want me to take your picture?” you asked, a lame attempt at small talk.
“Go away,” I said.
You laughed at the absurdity of my response. You didn’t think someone could say that on your first encounter.

usage: “We are all human beings after all.” (D. Gatmaytan, 2018)


In the sixth month, you figured how easy it was for me to spoil your surprise. Here’s how –
Casually visit a bookstore. Skip through one of its sections – Aciman’s section to be precise. Pick a copy. Check out at once.
Tag me along. Notice me going through the section where you were seconds ago. Look at me with disbelief as I uncover the mystery of the book that is Andre Aciman’s. Be mildly disappointed. Put up with me as we embark on a guessing game.
“Enigma Variations?”
“Find Me?”
“It has to be Enigma Variations!”
Endure for days. Refuse to reveal the title but concede that I was right in saying it was Aciman’s. There was one book missing in his section.

usage: “Do not cheat.” (D. Gatmaytan, 2018)


I used to imagine celebrating Christmas in a foreign land: in a cabin in the woods, a snowfall outside, a warm rug. As might be expected, there is a hot cup somewhere in there.
Last night, we fixed your little Christmas tree and wiped away the tangles of dirt and dust from the fairy lights. I switched on the lights while you took out a violin and showed it to me. You told me you wanted to play again. I could only hope that when all the uncertainties are out of the way, we could perhaps make music together – you with your violin, and I, with my kalimba.
Christmas in the cabin can wait. It came early last night in this little house.

usage: “I hope to meet you in the future, where we are all working towards advancing the rule of law.” (L. Yarcia, 2020)


You are not my home.
Home is an island. It is the little hills of sand that get washed away by the waves on the beach. It is a bungalow made of playmates, mixtapes, and shiny bicycles. It has a firewall – if only to say that a fireman also lives there. The vacant spaces are left to be filled with storybooks and makeshift toys.
You are not my home.
Home is far away now. Timeworn books and broken toys occupy the once empty shelves. The mixtapes are long-forgotten while the bicycles gave in to rust. Old playmates live in the city. The ones who stayed I barely recognize.
You are my quiet – a separate peace.
In the quiet, I listen to the comforting sound of the clock. Every tick means that the wait will soon be over. In the quiet, I listen as the planes take off and land. They remind me of dreams about to come true. In the quiet, I listen as the gates downstairs open at half-past five in the morning – telling me that any minute now, you will be at the door after a night’s work. Soon, in the quiet of the morning, I will listen to your breathing – gentle and easy, exactly how love should be.

usage: “Thank you for the honest writing. There is a value to that voice in our head that advises us to be more pragmatic.” (N. Ty, 2020)


Someday, outside this little house and beyond the train tracks, I will meet you and tell you how they end. Take comfort in knowing that I never stopped collecting stories, albeit this time, I found them under the covers or inserted between the pages. Trust that these stories will have unpleasant arcs and confusing waves, but always with a gentle unraveling.

usage: “Kapag may presyo ang isang bagay, pwedeng bilhin. I hope wala kayong presyo.” (R. Reyes, 2019)


Days passed. Addresses changed. I never set foot in that little house again but I picture a girl who has grown with me despite the distance. I picture her still talking about plane circuits and still amused at the workings of a beating human heart.
I no longer listen as the gates downstairs open at half-past five in the morning. I stopped putting everything in writing. Instead, I look outside as the planes come and go, wondering how circuits work in those planes, imagining the frenzied beating of hearts as they fly, and convincing myself that as long as circuits and hearts both make a full circle, I still have her.

usage: “There is no work-life-study balance. But there is work-life-study integration.” (R. Oliva, 2019)

mind gamen.

None of it was easy – the waiting game, the distance, the not knowing when or where would you show up. Mostly, the constant fear of you not showing up.
usage: “Litigation isn’t what you see on television. Litigation is a mind game.” (A. Muyot, 2018)


I wish to say a proper goodbye now, while I hold off leaving this city – still hoping to hear a knock on my hotel room door and see you anxious or panicky or uneasy or plain stationary.
But you weren’t anxious or panicky or uneasy or stationary. You didn’t even knock. You didn’t show up.

usage: “You’ve got to learn how to move on from your mistakes right away.” (A. Arreza, 2019)


Page 159. Persevere. Was that the message you were trying to tell me that night? I had to look it up again for fear of being mistaken.
The last time I saw you, you were waiting for me on the steps of Malcolm Hall. You brought me coffee grounds that remind me of our days in the south. Malcolm Hall and persevere, I figured, go together.

usage: “Women are outside the commerce of men.” (J. Regalado, 2019)


For years, I’ve been picking up stories from places I’ve been to, dust them a little, and bring them home to you.
I am a storyteller. Stripped off a college degree and a measly title, you will find thousands of stories ready to be revealed. Like the story of a lonely man who wandered the city for eight cold nights before New Year arrives; or of cats that talk and fishes that fall from the skies; or of Johnnie Walker who is a cat killer and Colonel Sanders who is a pimp.
After watching A Thousand Cuts, I figured wanting to tell stories is not enough. You also have to be able to ask difficult questions.
Is this the end?

usage: “Good lawyers don’t ask questions unless they know the answer.” (A. Muyot, 2018)

sexyadj.; sexiest

Imagine a girl alone in her bolthole, wearing nothing but underwear, lying facedown on a makeshift bed. Imagine her looking outside her window, remembering the time you asked her to join you for a cup of coffee, or that time when you told her that she reads people, or that night on the beach when you kissed her on the lips even though they tasted booze and saltwater. Imagine a girl with a pen in hand, thinking of ways on how to put everything in writing because she easily forgets. Trust that she never wants to forget.

usage: “Be smart. That’s the sexiest thing you can be.” (D. Gatmaytan, 2018)


The first book I gave you was Murakami’s. On a coffee-stained pad, I wrote –
I fall in love with books more often than I do with people. They are less tangled in their sentiments. They give a bit of themselves to you and they latch on to you quietly without insisting themselves.
That’s how Norwegian Wood is to me. Four years since – with the same song and aircraft noise in the background and it still gives me the same unhappy hope of young love. By giving this to you, I might be leaving pieces of me, too. I would like for you to see this through.

usage: “Do not shortchange yourself. If you find that there are shortcuts, don’t take it.” (E. Balaquiao, 2018)


I woke up today to the sound of jingling keys and a creaking door. Thank you for being with me after a night’s watch at the airport.

usage: “Have you slept with the Constitution?” (A. Muyot, 2018)


I stopped counting after the sixth month. I remain in a strange city, stuck in a little house where a koala clings tirelessly to a string of fairy lights, an aged sunflower stays beautiful, a cheap cup of coffee and ice cubes are on good terms, and a wooden kalimba patiently expects for its mistress to play again. In a cubbyhole, concealed by a dysfunctional wind-up clock and a coffee-stained note, I noticed a framed photograph of an elephant’s fat bum telling me that from here on out, everything will be all right.

usage: “Don’t worry, you’ll get there.” (A. Arreza, 2019)