It was a usual pre-Valentine's date for Cyrus and Chesca, if not for a rather unfamiliar plus-one.
The decision to hold the rendezvous in advance was fairly smart; the two don't have to celebrate Hearts Day with the rest of the aggressively traditional lovers on February 14. He fetched her at their doorstep, awkwardly greeted her with a bouquet of roses, took her to no less than a chic penthouse restaurant in Manila, before whiling the night away over dinner and discourse.
They did it right in front of the lens and under the watchful eyes of an unrelated companion, who followed them closely behind for a couple of hours. The small, gangly figure tried her best to conceal her presence, to avoid spoiling the dream sequence between her subjects-slash-clients. Seeing how candid and crisp the final product turned out, it was a good outing for the promising artist/entrepreneur.
The couple's chaperone? Hilary Buenaflor, whose official designation reads 'third wheel photographer' (TWP).
It has been more than two weeks since Hilary's online ad about being shutterbug for hire, specializing in romantic settings, spread like wildfire. For someone who started out borrowing cameras from her classmates in high school, everything came like a whirlwind for Hilary.
Like any aspiring photographer, the 19-year-old Computer Science student first dabbled in photography through her camera phone and Instagram. In December 2015, she was able to purchase her own camera—a Nikon D3300—which she toggled nonstop until she got better at capturing life's precious moments.
Purely self-taught, Hilary then took her talents to The Adamson Chronicle (Adamson University's campus newspaper), covering mostly UAAP games and extra-curricular activities. Aside from athletes, her usual subjects range from the academe—aka her classmates—to the sporadic slice of life, as seen in her revamped IG account. (She has since uncluttered her feed after getting her hands on a professional camera.)
Now, she must make it seem that every candid shot she takes is a picture of an ideal relationship, the kind that depicts love at its most tender. The only problem is, Hilary herself has zero experience of the amorous kind. Or so she tells us.
If you're expecting the ultimate 'hugot' on why she began this venture, then you're reading the wrong article. According to Hilary, she put up the playful post in reaction to the popular, if not annoying, 'boyfriend/girlfriend for hire' campaigns that went viral a few weeks back.
"Parang nag-isip na lang ako ng kakaiba," Hilary says. "Siyempre madaming couple ang magde-date sa araw na yan, kung may [kumagat] naman sa post ko, e di kikita ako."
Originally, her first idea was to sell roses to bachelors and bachelorettes on the 14th and give them a complimentary photo as bonus. "Problema, parang malabo na yun. Wala akong pera [pang-puhunan], tapos ang daming nagpi-PM na single eh, ha ha! Siyempre bibili ka muna ng roses na ibebenta mo—ang mahal kaya!"
The next day, after she made public her plug, the concept of a 'third wheel photographer' was all over Facebook. Aside from FHM, several news outlets have also taken notice of her overnight fame. Soon enough, it was impossible to add Hilary on Facebook due to the influx of friend requests.
"Tuwang-tuwa sila, nakaka-proud daw," she shares, recalling the reactions of her family and friends in Adamson. "Sa school, lagi akong sinasabihan, 'Uy, famous!' Yung iba kinakausap ako; kanina may nagsabi—di ko siya kilala—'Pwede ka bang i-hire, classmate?' Sabi ko, 'Ay, nakita niyo po yung post ko?' Sabi niya, 'Oo, shinare ko pa nga tsaka ni-like eh.'"
So popular has her post become that Hilary indavertently inspired other amateur TWPs to follow suit. If only they could be more discreet and refrain from making client calls in the comments section of her well-received post itself. She relates, "Tina-tag na nila yung mga couples na [kilala nila, tapos ang sabi] 'Uy, pagkain lang at pamasahe, okay na ako.'
As much as she wants to accommodate each and every request in her loaded inbox in this season of mush, her Monday to Saturday classes and Sunday UAAP coverage prevent her from doing so. So far, her tight schedule has allowed her to say yes to less than 10 couples this February.
All hope is not lost, though. She is keen on pursuing her budding enterprise when her schedule becomes less hectic. After all, Hilary is easy to please. "Basta [swak] sa mga packages ko, ha ha—libre pagkain, libre pamasahe, okay na!"
Business, however, is not as simple as she makes it sound. Most of her packages are set in the metro—provincial transactions cost a bit more (P3000, plus free transpo and, yes, food)—so lovers have to find a spot in Manila that is both picturesque and not crowded so she can make the most of her assignment and do right by her customers. Don't be fooled by the frequent mention of food in the bulletin; she is quite the light eater.
As for the logistics, Hilary explains, "Hindi naman mahirap, tamang tiyempo lang talaga sa mga kuha, lalo na kapag candid." If you're not easily bothered by a looming shadow while spending time with your special someone—she only walks away to take stolen shots—then feel free to contact her.
Hilary has been on two "dates" so far (February 11 and 14)—and she's found the experience truly rewarding. "Masaya kasi dahil sa pagiging third wheel photographer ko, nakakilala ako ng iba't ibang tao at naging kaibigan ko pa."
Asked if she is seeing someone at the moment, Hilary shoots back, "Ay wala po, camera lang, ha ha!" [Why?] Ewan ko, wala, di ko siya iniisip. Naisip ko po yung kikita ako eh, ha ha!"
While most of her peers are too preoccupied with mastering the ways of the dating game, the self-professed NBSB (no-boyfriend-since-birth) is making the most of her teenage years, and making extra dough on the side. "Kasi ang balak ko lang magpayaman, ha ha! Kasi pag may boyfriend o girlfriend ka, feel ko ang hirap."
She then cited her friends in relationships who spend most of their time fighting like cats and dogs. Sounding as if she were someone twice their age, Hilary says, "Sila ang daming pinoproblema. Ako wala, chill lang, pa-raket raket, ganun. May pera. Sila magastos."
She may be unaware of what it feels like to be in a committed relationship now, but, thanks to her business venture, she has learned to feel more comfortable with herself when hanging out as the only single person among a couple-dominated circle.
In turn, Hilary offers this piece of tongue-in-cheek advice to all dating fellows who are fond of bringing their unattached friends on dates: "Ilibre mo, kasi andiyan siya. Nakaka-ano naman sa kalooban kung siya pa gagastos sa pagkain niya, sinama mo na lang nga. Para happy lahat."