Sometimes our dark side shows up in in public dressed like an ordinary thing, able to blend into the crowd, absolutely unmemorable.
I much prefer evil to reveal itself. The bland, expressionless version of it often obfuscates one’s vision, and the fight tilts to the other’s favor.
In an airport lounge in Colombo, I remember being woken up unceremoniously by a blond guy, late 30s, herding two toddlers. In a gray haze, I heard him saying loudly at me, “There are people that need these seats, you know.”
Half-awake, I scramble to sit up, thereby freeing two seats for this irascible man and his toddlers. I vaguely register people sitting near me look on, startled by his loud voice. I see his wife sitting on the floor, cradling a baby. A moment passes, and the pair begin to argue. I tune them out, thinking what bad luck to wake up to such negativity.
When my wits have fully returned, I look around and notice that three feet or so away there were maybe thirty, no, probably 40+ empty seats all around us. I didn’t need to be summarily jolted out of my sleep.
I stand up, walk over to the man with the toddlers and say to him, “Look over there. Look. Look real hard. Those are empty seats, all what, 40 of them. You didn’t have to wake me up. You’re an asshole.”
I walked away from the sight of his gaping mouth. The lounge was quiet. The wife didn’t say a word.
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.