09 Apr On The Table: Talking Dreams at Cafe Congreso
Back in December, I called two of my friends for an emergency meeting of sorts. I was thinking a lot about dreams and the pursuit of, which might have been brought upon by the impending turn-over of the year, and I was feeling dissatisfied with where I was and where I’m not. Internalization is my thing and would’ve managed to sort it all out by myself—I’m more Pisces than I am Aries according to my birth chart apparently—only if it hadn’t turned into an echo chamber in which I got stuck. I had to call in the big guns.
Joseph Malabanan, Francis Mendoza, and I met at Café Congreso after dark. It was New Year’s Eve, a few hours just before crackling fireworks lit up the sky. The café had closed for the day, but Joseph, being the owner, opened it up just for the three of us. We set the tables, furnishings as if it were the start of a workday, only the closed sign remained on the door. With Adele playing in the background, we scrounged up an off-menu meal and sat at one of the tables in the booth section.
Being surrounded by pastels of pink and teal—from Café Congreso’s walls to the very chairs that we were sitting on—it didn’t take long for me to get the ball rolling; per color psychology, the colors signify sensitivity and soul-searching. I laid on the table the picture in my head of all the milestones I want to achieve and walked them through the map of my progress… or lack thereof. Looking for camaraderie in the form of commiseration, I asked if they made one too before going into their current ventures.
Sure enough, they did. Putting up a café has always been the dream for Joseph and for it to sustain itself would be the cherry on top. On the other hand, Francis has imagined himself becoming a personality—may it be on social media or TV. He added, “even then, I’ve always looked for opportunities wherein I’d be communicating and expressing myself.” Hearing that from him made something in me click. For as long as I’ve known him, he’s always had this larger-than-life personality that I thought would find home in center stage.
Right there and then was I finally able to pinpoint what scared me most about life—it’s unpredictability. It’s the only thing to be afraid of, now that I think more about it; life is but a constant stream of change. Every new iteration is real and is the new reality. Joseph got half of what he wanted; Francis currently works in marketing, and; I, as a struggling writer, meet every qualification to be a cliché.
The three of us reached a general agreement that our shyness is holding us back. Francis said, “Being forced out of your box is uncomfortable and embarrassing, and I think the feeling is mutual for the three of us.” But, what ultimately sets the two of them apart from me is that they both take a stand and face it. Their steadfastness has resulted in progress. Phonebooky.com, a Philippine-based mobile app wherein you can search restaurants, book tables, and get discounts, featured Café Congreso on their blog. People have also been asking directions to the café and if there are any other branches aside from the one in Malolos, Bulacan. “It’s very heartwarming how appreciative people are of my vision,” said Joseph. Meanwhile, Francis takes pride in uncovering parts of himself after enduring consecutive sleepless nights and back-to-back events. He said, “What’s important for me is that I surprise myself with things that I thought I couldn’t do.”
In the end, the struggle to swim against the current is the point of it all, isn’t it? It dawned on me that I’d just been floating along. As the dessert to our almost-finished meal were a few words that made the bitter sweet. “It’ll hurt at first, but it’s necessary that we receive criticisms because that’s how we grow,” Francis said. With a nod of agreement, Joseph added, “Don’t wait for the time to feel ready because being ready is just a state of mind. Just jump.”
With that, we cleaned up and put everything back to the way things were when we came in, making it seem as if Café Congreso never opened that day, not even under certain circumstances. We never used café wares to make the meal we never had. We never left with our bellies full. And, I, for sure, didn’t carry their words as takeaways. No to-go bag, no evidence, I say.