D is now twenty-six. He was nineteen when he first met M, the Frenchman who was staying in the tropical-hut-style room next to ours. They met here, in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro. M actually lives in Tahiti, if I remember correctly—or could it be Guiana?—but he regularly goes on holidays to the Philippines: I think two to three weeks at a time, a couple or even three times a year, ever since I don’t know when; certainly since his first time.
D is a boatman. He has an outrigger canoe, the native sort that runs on gasoline, and it looks new and is painted green and doesn’t yet have a name. It’s smaller than a small dive boat but big enough to fit maybe eight to ten people. It was M who told RB and me about D’s services. He said he had a local friend, a ‘good friend’ (this would be D) whose boat we could rent, in case we wanted to go island-hopping or whatever, for a better price than that of persistent sun-bronzed hawkers on White Beach.
RB did decide to rent it. He chose a perfect day. The sun was out, the sky was clear, there was no hint of rain. With D at the helm we found an empty beach not far from the coral garden (a famous snorkeling spot) and there under the palm trees we grilled milkfish and potatoes for lunch, plus some bottles of San Miguel and Red Horse. After lunch we took a siesta then moved to another beach island before the sun set.
Later RB and I would learn that M himself had financed the boat. It was a kind gesture, an act of love. He wanted D to be able to make a living. In Puerto Galera you make a living by catching fish, driving a tricycle, running a karaoke bar, selling market goods, or having a boat. I don’t know when M bought the gift—paid to have it built—but obviously it wasn’t on this particular trip; it must have been before D began to claim he was straight and had a girlfriend. This was when D still stayed the night with M at the lodging house, when the lines defining their relationship weren’t yet so strictly, starkly drawn. In any event it’s hard to judge. It isn’t love that blurs one’s view, but the desire for its effects—and the desire is natural, albeit complicated. Besides, aren’t our own ways wrought too with dilemmas and various entanglements? And to be fair, whenever I ran into D at the open kitchen area he would usually be cooking dinner for M: adobo, with potatoes and green chili, the latter a substitute for missing bay leaves.
What position do you play, I asked one evening. D is about five-nine, five-ten; he has an Asian moustache and a baseball cap he always wears backwards. I assumed that like me he ran point or played shooting guard, but he said he played center.
At the time there was, you see, a basketball tournament going on in Minolo where D lives, a coastal settlement a few kilometers east of White Beach or for me a ten-minute motorbike ride, towards but well before touristy Sabang. The games were played outdoors, near the small, charmingly undeveloped port where D moors his boat. If you photograph the place it will look like a rural painting. Anyway, I watched one of the games with RB. It was sundown; you could smell the smell of the sea. We bought beers from a sari-sari store and sat on a rough log on the side of the court, among boatmen and fisherfolk. The coaches were rowdy and only half-serious, trading crunchy jokes with bystanders as much as they were discussing strategy. Because the playing floor was made not of hardwood or asphalt but of earth, a committee member or sometimes the referee poured buckets of water on the sand during timeouts—for traction, I suppose. Still when players ran the length of the court or bounced the ball or jumped to contest a layup they left puffs of dust that gave the action a kind of hazy, dream-like quality. It almost didn’t seem real.
L, an Australian and friend of both M and D, also loves basketball. Why not? The three were talking one afternoon in M’s room and because the walls of the huts were made of bamboo rods it was impossible for me not to overhear. Apparently L was not allowed to play. The tournament in Minolo was only for Filipinos. All L could be was a sponsor, which meant paying for the fee D’s team needed to register: 3,500 pesos. He agreed to split this with M, while also with incredible enthusiasm motivating D to do his best impersonation of LeBron James come game time. The team was called Minolo Heat, after all.
We all met at a local bar on White Beach the night before M was due to fly back home: M, nursing a cold, in a red windbreaker; D in a basketball jersey and his trademark cap; RB in navy blue (a mysterious ‘Div 26’ on his shirt), and slightly pink from our swim earlier; and L, much older (early or mid-sixties) than I had imagined the owner of the thickly accented voice to be. He was with his boyfriend G, who is Filipino-Chinese. We had a few drinks and picked songs from the orange karaoke book. L was the first to go home, and M left just before RB and I did. The next day M’s room was occupied by a noisy group of Japanese tourists whose days in Puerto Galera, I soon found, would be spent doing nothing but playing mahjong; RB and I overslept and we didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to the Frenchman.
There is a beach in an area of Puerto Galera called Small Tabinay, which is southeast of Sabang, and this beach features a short, unremarkable stretch of sand that ends near a rocky seaside cliff. On this cliff there is a house, a white two-storey beach house that looks bright and durable and quiet, and I can’t stop thinking about how much I would like to live in it one day. There I’ll read my books and do some writing, there I’ll grow old and look back at the times that, when they happened, seemed absurd, illusory, or too fantastic, but which in hindsight were as real as anything could ever be.