Touchdown: 3 July in Sri Lanka. I arrive near midnight in Colombo, and get into a Kangaroo taxi to go to my hotel. Not even 5 minutes on the road, the driver looks back at me and says:
Driver: Madam, ah… what are you?
Me: (goes into immediate existentialist crisis) Uh, um… what am I?
Driver: (smiling indulgently) I mean, you are Japanese? Malaysian? Chinese? What are you?
Me: (relieved, whew!) Oh no no no to all that. I’m Filipino.
Driver: I see, from Philippines.
Me: Yes. Don’t I look Filipino?
Driver: Look Japanese.
I’m usually very zen, but when my limit is reached, I do get pissed off. And I’m not at all shy to express it. After a brief discussion, the boy and I reached an agreement of sorts and put the matter (including ourselves) to bed. The next day, early in the morning, he messages me.
H: How are you this morning?
M: Well, I slept good, so I’m not that pissed off anymore.
H: Last night I told my guards to watch my door very closely.
M: So I put some fear in you. Good.
Well, I’m glad we got that resolved.
Some days at work can be slow. On such a day, my boss came into my office to show me a new knife, part of his collection. He knows that I also have an appreciation for knives.
Me: (looking intently at the knife) That blade can easily go through a rib.
Boss: (grinning) I like the way you think.
These dalliances, they require persistence. Persistence to see them through, most probably because they cannot rely on actual presence. I make myself available online — I am a patient listening ear: the TV set to mute, my laptop tethered to headphones. I have their voices in my head, echoes of conversations that are quick to dry up and become imagined sounds, then degrade into white noise.
I persist, like I said, to be present for these men. I hold up my part of the bargain like a good trader. In return, they strive to honor my attempts at realness. They send me photos of traversed landscapes, nameless faces, objects they value. They leave long drawn-out voice mails full of longing, proffered plans, promises of meetings. They gift me with lines and lines of intimate chats that I read when the days are long and need to be filled.
We are strangers, though, for all our insistence on that meet up in real life (IRL). I know the drill by now, the swapping of calendars, the constant arranging and re-arranging of days so that separate lives may dovetail. Still, all that desire does not transmute into commitment. I am a ghost that passes through their lives, briefly. They all hold me closely, as though at any second I will flit away. They offer promises of permanence, as though that will hold me down, as though that is what I want.
I’ve discovered that there is a song for this.
And so I am quoted.
The trouble with maintaining two names while preferring one (and I must be clear, both are my real names) is that one day, when your guard is down, or when you are distracted, someone is going to call you by the unfavorite name. You won’t answer, of course, because that name does not register in your consciousness.
They’ll keep saying that name, calling out to you in voices so loud it should be embarrassing if you were aware of it. After several call outs, someone is going to get up from the table just across you, sit down at your table, and pointedly repeat one of your names. The name you’ve always disliked — the name of a wayward saint, a misnomer, an unjust label. A name you could not possibly live up to, try as you might.
He will say loudly, “Ana!” and you will jump out of your skin, look up, eyes glazed with incomprehension. Busted.
That’s when you realize this guy has been saying your other name several times now, and your non-response has become suspect.
So you rush to explain, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you, I was super-focused on email.” Or some similarly lame excuse. He won’t buy it of course, and he will continue to sit there, looking at you strangely.
Pay attention, because this is how you will be found out.
Me, I’m Messiah
I wanted to save them all.
The angry boy with the shaved head
who lashed out and sliced raw wounds so red
a demon the moment he wakes up, but oh!
an angel baby when passed out on my bed.
I wanted to save him, I did.
The dream zombie, plagued with editing images in
his mind’s eye — the limpid gaze airbrushing the sky
to that specific shade of blue. The table at home left empty
the borrowed books, abandoned, long overdue.
I really wanted to save that one, too.
The boy without words who can’t ever explain
himself but was surprisingly fluent with his fist,
yes, the one that hands out black ‘n blue bruises
and fingerprint marks instead of a kiss.
I was always so soft around him, I know this.
The sweet sad boy whose tears were a weapon,
the one who’d cling so tightly to me and would never let go.
You hear the rattling in the cages, but you think,
Oh, but that one — he needs me so.
I really shouldn’t have left him, you know.
Then there’s that smooth-talking, whiskey-scented boy,
fresh-faced, shiny as a penny, and twice as destitute.
He’ll take you for a ride, to anywhere and everywhere except
of course, home. Going full-speed, hurtling towards alone.
God help me, I took him home.