It’s 6:40 in the morning and I’m at Ninoy Aquino International airport waiting for my “sundo” to get me in an hour. I’ve decided not to brave the rainy conditions outside and wait indoors, in a marble-tiled area where all the banks and ATMs are located. An hour or two from now, I can’t imagine this place feeling all that peaceful, but this early, most of the people walking about work here at the airport, and the buzz and bustle that usually takes over this point of transit has yet to build into its loud crescendo.
Strange being back in a place where I can understand what everyone is saying. It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone, of course, if I replied back in Tagalog to anyone’s questions but I’m left to my own devices and I’ll merely eavesdrop as I please.
I’m a foreigner here, yes, and yet hardly anyone here would know it. My crisp, blue US passport is safely tucked away inside my khaki belt bag discretely attached around my waist, and so no one will know, and no one has to know.
I suppose the airport workers like it like this too. Quiet and no commotion. Gives them a chance to take slow strolls with a colleague they’ve had their eyes on perhaps, or huddle around with their buddies and listen in on the radio. Must be a good break from the norm, provided they don’t mind having to be here when no one else is.
To pass the time, I write, bleary-eyed and bad breath and all. My yawns feel as regular as the commas I employ for my sentences. My body is achy everywhere – which is a given, considering I couldn’t settle into any one comfortable position in the 5 hour plane ride it took to get here (total). Not including the 2 and a half hours I spent at Changi Airport in Singapore, roaming around with all my luggage, looking for a travel adapter and an excuse to unload the handful of Singaporean coins I had in my wallet.
Which reminds me…
The guy’s name was Jay. He handed me a piece of paper with his name and number as I prepared to leave after finishing my cheap meal of Milo, toast, and runny eggs. He must’ve known, the moment I walked up to the counter, that I was “going home”.
I found out that Jay was actually from Mindanao, and that he had also spent some time in Malaysia, in Kota Kinabalu, working as a masseuse, some years prior to his gig at this Kopi Tiam in the airport. He’s been in Singapore for 3 years. Who knows what sorts of other odd jobs he’s taken.
He was open, without saying very much, and I didn’t really ask too many questions, either. I figured the least I could do was keep him company. So in between making coffee drinks and toast for other customers, he’d ask me something, anything to keep the conversation going.
“Taga-saan ka doon?” (“Where are you from there (Manila)?”)
“Ganong katagal ang bakasyon mo?” (How long is your vacation?)
“Mayroon kang Facebook?” (Do you have Facebook?)
That’s how I ended up with his number. I guess he figured I could look him up.
There wasn’t anything unnervingly strange about our interaction. But the whole exchange felt a bit odd. Here I was just finding an excuse to eat in Singapore, and I ended up leaving with some guy’s personal phone number that I didn’t ask for, who I’ll likely never call. It’s just weird if I did, isn’t it? Even if I bothered looking him up on Facebook – will I ever actually this person again? And what did he really want from me, exactly?
Most times, I’d rather be left alone with my toast and my drink. I made an exception for this moment, assuming he had me pegged right away that I was Filipino like him, and I was home-bound, as he’d probably been, many times before. Perhaps he just wanted another friend to add him on Facebook.
Perhaps, he just wanted a reminder that he was more than just a man making coffee after midnight. That he had a story – and that it was worth telling to someone else. That at one point in his life he was a masseuse, and that he got tired of it. That he gets to go “home” in October for an even longer bakasyon than I do. And that he has a name.
Now, I know it, and at least I’d know where to find him.