F Chapter 6: Fasten




Have you ever thought how different life would be if you don't care about things half as much as you do? Have you ever thought how different your life would be if you don't care about people half as much as you do?
Have you ever thought how different life would be if you don't care about things half as much as you do? Have you ever thought how different your life would be if you don't care about people half as much as you do?

It's almost a blasphemous question to ask because compassion has been built to be the core of humanity. Faith is relative. Forgiveness is optional. Friendship is a luxury. Compassion, however, is necessary. Choosing not to help someone who needs it or asks for it or "deserves" it seems cruel or even barbaric. There's a common assumption that inaction is just as evil actively inflicting pain on someone. There is little to no recognition that one's desire to ask as little as they give is compassion in itself. There is little to no recognition that prioritizing one's own life is just as human as sympathizing to someone else's suffering.

"I don't have a motherly bone in my body," Uma said when I asked her why she never wanted to be a mother. She's gay, I know, but there are a lot of gay people who still want to be a parent. There are also a lot of straight people who don't want to be parent. Some are simply aware they can't afford it. Some have a biological "abnormality" they don't want to pass on to anyone. "Actually, I don't have a caring bone in my body at all."

I have never heard someone say it as bluntly as Uma did. I'd be lying if I say I wasn't a little surprised but certainly not in bad way. If at all, I'd say it's refreshing. There's not a lot of people who admit to it. There's a lot of people who pretend not to care. There's a lot of people who force themselves not to care. There's a lot of people who care even when they shouldn't. There's a lot of people who claims to not care about bullshit but there's not a lot of people who admit to not care all that much, period and make no apologies for it.

I have never known Uma to be heartless or someone who turns away a friend or family asking for help but she is the kind that would take the exit card when she gets the chance. She gives just as much or little as she takes because she is also not the kind of person that will ask for anything unless she has no choice but ask for help. And she has proven that anyone can manage alone if they want to.

It was that core knowledge that made me understand why she doesn't chase relationships. Next to Anthonia, Uma is the one who dates the most. Unlike Anthonia, Uma dates with a very clear expectation and clear objective. She wants (not needs) company and she wants it in her own terms.

Shedry and Uma were roommates prior to Vince arriving in the US. They also have a group of friends that it outside of us. It is Shedry who is most familiar with Uma's dating life.

"Plenty of Fish," Shedry said when I asked where Uma met the girl she has been seeing. 'Record breaking' is what She called it because unlike the other girls Uma dated, this one has been going on for more than a month. That is 500 times longer than Uma's longest since she arrived in the US.

"Oh, the dating app, right?" I clarified. Shedry nods. "That shit works, huh?"

"Oh yeah," Shedry said. "She's head over heels."

"Who is head over heels?" Anthonia asked.

"The girl is head over heels with Uma," Shedry said.

"Really?" I asked, looking at Uma who is staring at the beef I'm grilling for them. We are at the Korean BBQ place we often go to because it's cheap and it has chicken, the only meat I eat aside from fish.

"She asks me out everyday," Uma said.

"Do you go out everyday?" I asked.

"Twice a week," Uma said. "But if she has her way, we'd be going out everyday."

"Is it serious?" Kris asked, snatching the pork.

"I like her and she knows it," Uma said.

"There's a 'but' coming," I said.

"I don't know if I'm ready for a commitment," Uma said.

"What? Why?" Kris and I asked in unison.

"It's… we're all busy. I am still looking for a company to petition me. I like not having to answer to anybody on how I use my time and I like the freedom of just doing what I will enjoy doing instead of being tied down to someone," Uma said petulantly.

"So, you don't like her that much," I said.

"I like her," Uma said.

"But not enough to not mind being answerable to someone on how you use your time," I said.

"But not enough to not mind being answerable to someone on how I use my time," Uma agreed.

"You think you'll get there?" I asked.

"I don't know," Uma admitted.

"When will we meet her?" Anthonia asked.

"She just said she's not sure how far she wants to take this. Introducing her to us would be a big step," Kris said.

"We can just hang out," Anthonia suggested.

We did end up meeting the girl two weeks later. They went for a drink and we joined them. She has two kids and both are off to college. She works as a language professor and translates technical and legal documents to different languages. She also serves as a court translator. She's smart and totally the kind of woman you want to end up with when you're searching for a partner when you are already on your 30s.

It helped that she doesn't hold back on her feelings for Uma. She is relentless but respectful in asking Uma out on dates. She also has some of the killer pick up lines I have ever heard in my life.

'You're beautiful' she texted Uma once. It left Uma speechless, Shedry shrieking, Anthonia jealous, and me impressed.

She also started some sort of a panic in the group. Her entrance to Uma's life through a dating app made us conscious of us being single. It sent even more panic to Kris who is about to get married to a guy who has never told her 'you're beautiful and who has never chased her with such consistency'.

"We need dates," Shedry declared one night.

"What's up with that girl?" I wondered out loud. "Lady Gaga met her guy on Tinder too. You didn't panic then."

"Because that guy is nothing more than an eye candy. He relies on his trust fund for chryssake. Uma's girl is a high quality professional who is also smart and hands down in love with her! We need that kind of a person and if Uma can do it, so can we!" Shedry said.

Shedry created a Tinder account that night but complained about how crappy the guys are in there. She has swiped right a grand total of 5 times in the three days she was on the app.

"Create one," She said.

"I am a Marketing Manager. I interact with clients all damn day," I said. "What if one of our clients sees me there?"

"So?" Uma said. "Your professional life is different from your personal life."

"Exacly," I said. "That's why I don't want those two worlds to ever overlap."

"If they see you, it means they're in it too. That takes away any of their right to judge you," Uma said.

"In an ideal world, yeah," I said. "But if we live in an ideal world, we won't even have to go on a dating app."

She did make a fair point though. If they are in it to find love, then that exonerates me from judgment. If they are there for a hookup, that makes them worse. It was close to leaning towards making one several weeks later when Uma told us she wants to cut it off with the 'Plenty of Fish' girl because she's about to have a major surgery. The girl will be bed ridden for a month or two.

"She told me I don't have to take care of her," Uma said.

"Isn't that good. It means she is aware you have a life of your own?" I asked.

"But why did she even have to say it? It was completely never on the table," Uma defended.

"It means she doesn't want you to worry," I said.

"No. I think it means she is steering me towards taking care of her," she said.

"She said the exact opposite thing," I said.

"That's the thing. There should never even be an opposite because it should never even be a thing!" Uma said.

"She's harsh," Shedry said.

"I really don't like taking care of people," Uma said.

"Harsh," Shedry emphasized.

"No, I get her," I said. "She is just not the kind to take care of people. It's better to be upfront about it rather than be forced into doing it. Either than or that she simply doesn't like her enough to be willing to take care of her.

Either way, I agreed with her decision to stop seeing her. It was exactly a week prior to her surgery and by the time the surgery is supposed to be happening, Uma and Shedry are off to San Francisco to spend time with Shedry's childhood friends before proceeding to Sacramento to attend the birthday party of Uma's cousin and then Las Vegas Nevada to take advantage of their friend's free hotel accommodation.

Uma's life is full. She is happy. It is what matters.

=================================


"You're what?" I asked.

"His whole clan is going back to the Philippines for three weeks and they really have no one to take care of the house," Kris said, explaining how she ended up house sitting her boyfriend's auntie's house where Robbie and his family lives.

"Are they paying you?" Lady Gaga asked.

"No," Kris said. "And it's not much. I just need to look after the dogs, feed them and walk them and I like dogs. And… you know… move the cars when there's street cleaning. Clean. You know… simple things."

"Did you volunteer for this?" Uma asked.

"No," Kris said. "They just assumed I will do it."

"Who is they?" I asked.

"The… the eldest auntie of Robbie," Kris said.

"The family matriarch," Shedry confirmed.

Kris nods.

Robbie and she reconciled the day after she slapped the shit out of Matthew. Robbie insisted the wedding is not cancelled but it doesn't mean Kris is exonerated from having to win back the entire family. As of now, they are in some sort of a probationary state. Kris needs to work her way into getting accepted by the family again if she ever wants for the wedding to push through.

"Don't look at me like that," Kris said, staring at me with such sharpness I thought laser would come out of her eyes.

"Like what?" I asked.

"Like I am begging for his auntie's graces," she said.

"I wasn't looking at you like that," I said. I leaned back to look at Kris. I didn't know it was possible but I could literally see how her mind is shifting from exhaustion to anger.

"Yes, you were," Kris insisted.

"In fact, I wasn't looking at you at all," I said wondering if there is anything I can do to stop the escalation of her emotion or if I should even try because I have nagging feeling Kris is too far gone into the mess of her head. I am a mere passive casualty.

"You were. I know that look. You're not as sly as you think," Kris said.

"I don't think I am sly and I wasn't looking at you," I said.

"I don't mind doing this," Kris said.

"Ok," I said.

"Don't judge me," Kris said.

"I am not judging you," I said.

"It was my fault for slapping Matthew in her home. If I were in her shoes, I see some girl slap my nephew in my home, I would do anything within my power to make sure the girl gets some sort of police report for what she has done. She's being kind. She's just letting me off easy," Kris said.

"Okay," I said.

"God!" Kris said, slamming her notebook that contains her wedding accounting on my dining table.

"What's wrong?" Shedry asked.

"You're so judgmental," Kris said, looking at me.

"She's not saying anything," Shedry said.

"She doesn't have to," Kris said before turning to Shedry. "I know her. We all know her. She has this fuckin' standard on how women should act… that we're all supposed to treat ourselves like we're queens and expect people to understand we're not pushovers because she's not. She's the almighty achiever Xath and I'm just a desperate woman who is getting married for a green card."

Shedry looks at me while she holds Kris to try and calm her down. She purses her lips and widens her eye, a clear 'order' for me to shut up. I know she's right and I'm glad for the intervention.

"I am going to go and take a walk," I said already halfway through the door.

I have always believed in the power of silence. Words are overrated. Silence, on the other hand, always delivers. It leaves you open for any possibility and doesn't leave tracks and evidences for people to later dissect. Best of all, you can at least pretend that you're doing it out of wisdom. Silence protects you. It is a chance to do or say nothing that you can't undo or unsay but what silence cannot protect you from is you. It does not tear away or erase questions that you don't know the answer to or worse, knows the answer but are scared to answer.

I managed to avoid further argument with Kris. I managed to bite my tongue and turn away without having to lie. I managed to choose our friendship over my opinion. But it didn't give me the resolution on whether or not I would do the same if I am given that one chance to get married with the man I love. Would I not compromise?

Kris was standing by the gate of my apartment building by the time I came back. She apologized and I told her she is partly right. I do not like how Robbie's family is treating her but what I don't like more is how she is allowing herself to be treated that way. I also told her that I do not think I am "better" than her or Shedry or Uma or Anthonia.

What I didn't tell her is that I am a hypocrite. I didn't tell her that I've made so many compromises in the past when it comes to men that I can't bring myself to recall them let alone say it out loud. I didn't tell her that I can't, if I am being absolutely honest, be absolutely certain I won't make those compromises again if I fall in love or get a chance to settle down. 


==================================== 


Self pity was never a part of my MO.

I don't sit around and dwell on how much of a failure I am compared to others who are my age. I don't look at someone famous and hate myself for being unable to have millions of people scream at the mere mention of my name. I'm still renting a room and working multiple jobs and I still can't afford to rent, at least, a studio apartment.

Self pity was never a part of my MO… diversion is.

I have existed for more than three decades and there are more than seven billion people on this planet and not one soul chose to be with me. It's that kind of thinking that can drive people to slit their wrist and hang themselves. It's the kind of thinking that can drive me to slit my throat so I divert. If I can't have love, I might as well have a career.

I give free wine samples. I give free wine samples for a living. I was managing 45 people in the Philippines, leading marketing campaigns of some of the biggest brands in Asia, I wrote scripts for some of the most popular actors in the Philippines but in the US, I stand behind a booth wearing an apron and a nametag and I always have to smile and I am ok with that because I like smiling, I like watching people and I like the pay. I get paid less in my full time job in a law firm and every other Filipina I know who works for law firms and jewelry company and textile company in the glamorous world of Downtown LA gets paid $10 per hour. So, I am ok with getting paid $25 per hour giving away free alcohol samples.

Here, I get to stand and not think. I can smile and watch people pass by and form stories in my head on the kind of life they live, make up reason why they are buying wine at two in the afternoon on a Tuesday. I can look at them, initiate small talks about their lives and mask it as a marketing ploy to get them to buy the wine I am selling. I get to be the girl that gives out free wine samples and nothing more.

I do want to do better though.

I came to the US with absolutely no idea what is it that I want to do. I wasn't even supposed to stay. I was headed North but traffic was so bad I got stuck. I am still stuck and I want to get unstuck but this damn LA road is sticky and also filthy.

"You need to take the TOEFL test," a very Asian looking HR manager told me.

"Why?" I asked.

"So we know you can speak english well," she said.

"I am applying for a data encoder position," I said. "It is in my and your best interest for me to not talk."

Equality opportunity employment doesn't guarantee everyone will be measured with a unified system. Immigrants will always have the ghost of our accent and horror of our eye shapes.

"We need someone that knows the sensitivity of the local culture," an employer once said.

"I am applying for an accounting position. One plus one is two in any country. In fact, one plus one is two in any. Fuckin. Planet!"

I am calm.

So, immigrants like me just take the first job that comes our way even if it means we need to learn to do nails or diamonds or, in my case, smile.

We roll. I roll.

But I still try. I would never call myself a successful writer in the Philippines but I have always been gainfully employed as a writer. Considering it has always been a "second job" for me, I'd say I didn't do so bad. I was happy but never satisfied. I never stopped dreaming and I dream big. Humongous. Gigantic. Delusional.

I told myself that I am already living in the middle of Los Angeles, I see that freakin' Hollywood sign everyday. I might as well try and conquer it because why the hell not. I left my entire life back in the Philippines, my parents, my daughter, my career, and my friends. It has to be for something. Giving away wine samples sure as hell won't cut it much less a shamelessly underpaid job in a law firm.

I'll give this one a go… as soon as I find the time between three jobs, school, laundry, cleaning my apartment, and doing the best I can to be a good friend to a group of girls who, like me, are winging their way to happiness.

"We're going to where?" I asked. I must have heard Kris wrong because there is now way she is assuming we will go to Vegas for three days for her bachelorette party because she knows I have three jobs, Anthonia has two and we are all broke.

We are going to stay in Lena's house," Kris explained as Uma, Anthonia, Shedry and I stare at Kris wide-eyed. I don't think anyone bothers to hide the shock in our faces.

"And who planned this?" Uma asked.

"Lena," Kris said.

"The cousin you have never seen in 12 years that is actually your maid of honor?" Shedry asked.

"No. That's Bea. Lena is the wife of Robbie's bestfriend," Kris said.

"There are too many names," I said. I hate names. I often forget my own. True story.

"Is she a bridesmaid?" Shedry asked.

"No," Kris said. "It's just that she decided to plan it."

"Kris, we have no budget for this," Anthonia said.

"We won't be spending for much," Kris said. "We will stay in Lena's house."

"Are they paying for food?" Anthonia asked.

"No," Kris said.

"Are they paying for airfare or renting our cars to drive there?"

"No."

"Are they paying for our drinks? Entrance fee to wherever they plan to do? Tickets for whatever they plan to watch?"

"So, you're saying that the only thing we will save is hotel accommodation. We will stay need to spend for everything else."

"I can tell them we should just buy drinks and food and stay home and not go out," Kris said.

"You can tell them alright but we all know they will want to go out," Uma said.

"Why Vegas?" I asked.

"What?

"Why Vegas?"

"Because it's fun?"

"It's fun in LA… which is the state where you live and it's your Bachelorette party," Anthonia said.

"Lena organized it," Kris said.

"Oh my god," Anthonia said.

"Do you want this?" I asked.

"What?"

"Do you want to spend your bachelorette party in Las Vegas?" I amended.

"I… want a bachelorette party," Kris said.

"Then go right ahead and do it," I said. "We would love to spend your bachelorette party with you but you know, more than anyone, just how broke we are. So, go ahead and do your Vegas thing. Maybe we can have dinner here with you. It won't be as grand as your Vegas adventure but it will be us sending you off to another chapter of your life. How does that sound?"

It doesn't sound good to Kris. Kris is a traditional girl with dreams of how her wedding is going to go down. She wants to be whisked away by her girlfriends to Vegas wearing a tiara and sash that says 'Bride'. She wants a night of strutting down The Strip with champagne on hand surrounded by her entourage. She wants other tourists to look at her smile on their faces while yelling 'Best Wishes' or 'Marry Me instead'. She wants to be treated like a queen for a night or two. She wants to go to spa and have her nails done. She wants all of us to get along like we're old buddies with the people in the other side of her life.

But America has a way of shitting on people's dreams which is odd considering people come here thinking their dreams are here waiting for them. We are a living proof of that. All five of us (six if you count Lady Gaga whose eyes have never left her phone) are highly educated women with solid professional experience and work ethic that could rival a robot. Yet, we can't even financially afford to send off a friend to married life.

If we were back home, we would be debating on which resort to book for an entire weekend, how many strippers to hire, and what kind booze to buy not the price tag for each of the activity we are going to do.

But self pity was never a part of my MO. We all made a choice to move to the US and make it here. It is obvious we didn't know what we are getting ourselves into and I don't know if we will make the same choice had we known.

We are here, though, in our own volition. We need to face the consequences of our decisions.

"I just want to spend my bachelorette with my friends," Kris said.

"Well, you gotta compromise," Uma said.

I am not sure if Uma is aware of the weight of her words. 

====================================


It took me a grand total of 25 years to finally understand I am not socially inept, I'm just an introvert.

I used to envy my cousins for having the ability to walk into a room and instantly make friends. I remember bringing one my cousins to dinner with some of my friends. As soon as we sat down she got everyone's name and got everyone laughing in 1 minute flat. I don't remember how she managed to open a topic and got everyone interested. She just met them and, yet, it felt like she just knew everyone.

 It takes me years to warm up to to people. It is an absolutely horrific experience for me to go to a party. I have no clue what to do, what to say, how to act, and why I even exist. I used to wonder why the mere prospect of sleeping over someone else's house terrifies me and when I do, I find out that it doesn't actually terrorize me, it shreds me to pieces. I used to hear the word introvert when I was in high school but didn't really know what it meant until one of my clients told me I am an introvert and proceeded to explain how I always tend to pull out, even when I am in the middle of a meeting, to process my thoughts before I speak. I researched like hell what an introvert is and once i understood what it is, I felt better about myself.

I am not a socially inadequate. Well, I am but it's okay. I also learned to appreciate, instead of envy, people who are extroverted. Watching them approach life with so much zest and energy feels like I am watching a really good movie, one that I would watch over and over again but will never be interested in living the story.

 I watch Shedry and Uma breeze through the days and nights with one social engagement after another. Shedry is almost never home except for the several minutes she would spend inside her temporary bedroom to change or get new set of clean clothes to sustain her for the next several days of being away. They are always out spending the night over at a friend's house, organizing and attending a party for a friend, watching movies, or having coffee 'till whatever shop they are in closes.

As expected, I only learn of her whereabouts through her Instagram because that's how we roll. She's with the same core group, Uma, Raya, and Carlo. The rest of the group rotates. It's not really hard to understand why people like hanging out with Shedry. She's the life of the party. She is one of those people who comes up with crazy quips about any topic thrown her way. She is not innately funny but fun to the core. She laughs with her whole heart and whole body with the sort of joy you only get see on kids. So, it's contagious and welcomed.

 In one rare occasion I came home early and saw her doing her laundry so she can have some clean clothes to bring to her next overnight adventure, I did see a certain glow in her I never thought I'd see when she first came to my apartment after her fight with Vince. It's not an internal kind of joy you feel when your life falls into a shape you want, it's the kind of happiness you see on people after a good work out, one that's pushed by endorphins, the happy hormone that the body produces after some activity. It's a physiological kind of happiness and even if it world's away from the kind of happiness I wish to see on her someday, this will do for now.

 "Hey." I caught Shedry loading the washer.

"Hey! You're early," Shedry greeted back.

 "I got cancelled today. I have left over pad thai and Tom Yum. I'll heat it up if you want some?" I offered.

"Sure," she said. "I'll be right behind you."

By the time the microwave dings, Shedry already got out china and utensil ready.

"Where are you guys headed tonight?" I asked. It's a Friday and it's usual for them to spend the weekend together.

 "Carlo has been bugging us to spend the weekend over at his place," Shedry said.

"We might hike."

 "Hike?" I asked, amused.

"Not my idea," Shedry said.

I laugh lightly as I chew. I love Pad Thai. I love Thai food.

"You're okay?" I asked.

"Yeah. Why?"

 "This," I said, motioning my hand towards the air as if that will make her understand what I am talking about. "Is this some way of coping with your extended fight?"

"No," she said. "And it's not an extended fight."

As unlikely as it may seem, I do believe her. I don't think this is some sick way of coping. I think this is her. This is the real Shedry - outgoing, social, fun.

 "We're mid 30s, Xath. In several years, we'd be too old for anything. I want to enjoy what my body and mind can do while I still can," she said.

I agree. We need to enjoy what our body can do while we still can. I also do think this is her breaking free. She has been the kind of housewife expected her to be for more than a decade. For the first time, she is just being Shedry she has always been. The Shedry who was sent to the Principal's office in high school for laughing too loud. The Shedry who got her first suspension in college after messing up the letters of the typewriters in their school. The Shedry who got invited to every party of every clique in school because she brings life to every party.

"I just want to enjoy this," Shedry said. "Take advantage of this."

"What is 'this'?"

"Being alone," she said.

"You and Vince haven't talked since?" I asked.

"He texts," she said.

I didn't ask what he says because if she wanted me to know, she would tell me.

"How's the job hunt going?" She asked.

They all know I've been applying to TV stations and other media and entertainment companies to try and get a writing gig.

"No response yet on any," I said. "I had one phone interview with a headhunter but she said immigrants are much harder to place… because of the language barrier."

"Your english is fine," she said.

I shrugged, "Something about the sensibilities of the language and the culture."

"You just started applying," Shedry said.

I nod, glad for her reassurance.

"We need to start talking about Kris' wedding gift," I said. "I think it would be better if we pool our money. We can buy something significant."

"I honestly think we should just ask Kris what she wants that's within our budget," Shedry said, getting her phone.

"She likes being surprised," I said. "Who are you calling?"

"Everyone. Let's just get this over with. Let's ask her because if we don't, Kris will end up being surprised at how bad our gift is going to be."

"True."

"What's up, bitch?" Anthonia greeted as soon as her voice comes on.

"Hold on. I'll get Uma," Shedry said, dialing Uma.

"We are going to see each other in an hour, you know that, right?" Uma quipped on the other line.

"Hold on, I'll get Kris," Shedry said.

Kris didn't pick up right away but called up Shedry after about ten minutes. By then, we have gone through 20 gift options, each was turned down because we all agreed that the vote has to be unanimous which already decided that if Kris refuses to tell us what she wants, we would just buy an Amazon gift card but the discussion proved to be unnecessary.

"Option 1 is a bed, memory foam, full. Option 2 is hotel accommodation in Las Vegas for three nights for our honeymoon. Option 3 is the Kylie lipstick collection," Kris said when we told her about our plans of pooling together the money to buy her and Robbie a wedding gift.

"Okay but Robbie doesn't use make up," Uma said.

"It's for me, obviously. You're my friends and I work hard for this wedding. I am paying for this wedding. I deserve that gift," Kris said with absolutely no remorse.

It's hard to imagine how a woman as fierce and unapologetic as this one is also the same person who gets ordered around to sit a house and dogs. It's hard to imagine how a woman who is certain of what she wants, who does not hesitate to voice out her mind, who fights like a menopausal lioness is also the same woman who lets her fiance get away with buying a new computer but not contribute to their wedding fund.

"It's amazing how America can bring that out of a woman," Uma said later that night when we talked about the duality in Kris' personality.

"Yeah," Shedry agreed. "America brings so much out of us we would have never known otherwise."

The thing is that i don't think America has anything to do with this. I don't think America brings out the worst or best in people. It is but a convenient excuse or a convenient justification for things we realize about ourselves we don't necessarily like. I didn't say anything, though. I kept my mouth shut and push it aside because dwelling on it has no benefit to me. Right now, I need to write, develop materials I can show to agents when I start looking for one.

Shedry left as soon as she finished her laundry. By 10, I was all alone and is facing my computer getting ready to write. By 10:30, my Instagram feed is blowing up with photos of Uma, Shedry, Carlo and their friends playing Human Twister with Shedry getting crushed by Uma who is spread like an eagle on her belly while Carlo is about to to crush Shedry's legs, back first. By 11, someone buzzes my apartment. I picked up my cellphone, "Who is it?"

"Where is Shedry?"

It's Vince.

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Fairlane Raymundo

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