24 September 2013

Purple Shirt

Purple shirt. White chinos. Black sandals. Blue eyes. You’re sitting with a young Filipino man whose head is constantly turned, or turning, away. As if to hide his tears. Because there are tears. This is at Barcino in Makati. There’s Random Customer Number XX, up on stage, singing Stevie Wonder with the live band. He’s pretty good, right? Sings like a freaking pro. A funky “I Just Called to Say I Love You”—Latin vibe, Latin heat, Latin volume. But it’s still impossible not to overhear, what with these old-fashioned barrel tables set so close to each other. And all it takes is a few words, a few words that make it impossible to resist guessing the story. “Jealous.” “Married.” “Flirt.” “Open.” “Relationship.” “Okay.” “Stop.” Doesn’t take a rocket scientist. Know it too well. So tricky, I’m thinking to myself, these conversations are so, so tricky. I still believe it’s not for everyone. So good luck! To the both of you. It’s an earnest wish. Or maybe the story isn’t what it seems, I don’t know. Then, all of a sudden, you turn to me—me?—and ask if you could nick a cigarette. I’m like, sure. Whatever. Feigning disinterest, despite the quickening heart rate. But I check the pack and it’s empty. Oh, never mind. Hey, no, I’m actually going to buy another pack anyway, it’s a very bad habit but I’m not trying to quit. Yet. Ha, ha! You’re like, okay. Waiting. Smiling. Drinking that red wine. Showing off those blue eyes. And your man—he still has his head looking the other way, there are still tears to hide by turning, tears to dry by wiping. I ask the barman for Marlboro Lights and as soon as he returns with a new pack I tear it open and offer a stick. Here you go. Then of course you also need my lighter. Then the ashtray. Inside I feel so awkward. But you agree: it is a bad habit. It’s just so hard not to when you’re drinking, you know what I mean? Always one vice after another. I nod my head, I know what you mean. Finally you get back to your man and resume the conversation. “Jealous.” “Married.” “Flirt.” “Open.” “Relationship.” “Okay.” “Stop.” Again: so tricky. But who am I to jump to conclusions? Who am I to judge? Sorry. Wouldn’t be so lonely if I really knew better. If anyone has figured anything out, it isn’t me. Later when you get up from the table to leave, you ask if I wouldn’t mind giving you another. No, not at all! So: another stick. Your man does not speak. He’s busy pushing the chairs back. Here you go. One for the road. This time I light it. What the hell am I doing? The playful Cabernet Sauvignon versions of ourselves. Of the two of us, at least. Where are you from? London. I’ve come here for vacation, I’ll stay for half of the year. Ah, an Englishman. A summer chaser. (I’m thinking, at least you didn’t say, nick a fag—or worse, bum a fag.) And me? I’m from here. A writer, really? Yes, right now I’m doing mostly business stuff for local firms, you know—to pay the bills. The old boilerplate response. You ask, is he your partner? Meaning F. F! Who has been with me all this time. Who has gone to pee. I’m like, no no no no no, the guy who went to the bathroom is my brother. Oh, I see, for a while I thought.... Then a laugh. I kind of laugh, too. But not exaggeratedly. Because your man can’t waiiiiit to leave. So you do go. Cheers. A handshake. Then again that smile. Have a good evening! Yes, you too, and thanks very much. Purple shirt white chinos black sandals blue eyes, walking away into the night.

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