the snow come down.

my aunt called to say that she had found a four-bedroom unit in makati, near my uncle's place. she also told me that my mom plans to retire after her 62nd birthday, this february. "oh," i said. i couldn't think of anything else to say. my aunt has made it pretty clear that she wants us to be closer, to live near her in the philippines. i imagine it is because she is lonely, working for the airline and all. i understood then that it was a possibility, that i could say goodbye to this thing called the united states. even if i failed at my dream of becoming a writer or worse, a teacher of writing, i could always carry baggages for very important people.

as these thoughts swam through my head, a brown-skinned man in an orange jacket lifted my umbrella and part of my bag. his rude gesture signaled that he wished to sit down. i didn't quite get it, since there were many open seats around me. i wanted to say, what's your problem. why are you grabbing at my shit when you could easily sit anywhere else. the bus rolled up jackson, through the international district, and outside a grocery store, someone was lighting off some fireworks.

"oh. hahaha," the man next to me said. "what is that for?"
"chinese new year," i said.
"oh. yeah. chinese new year."
"you chinese?"
"no," i said, "filipino."
"oh. from the philippines."
i nodded.
"me, i'm from south africa," he said.
"oh yeah?" i said.
his accent was thick, and i prepared myself to not be able to understand him. he sipped his coke. "what time is it in china?"
"i don't know. morning, probably."
"morning today?"
"no, morning tomorrow. i think."
"oh yeah. then new year's was yesterday for them."
"no. i think it would be new year's day now."
"oh. oh. yeah."
"you see, there are very important numbers. numbers is very important for chinese people. in philippines, when is their new year?"
"january 1st," i said, "same as here."
"oh. same as here."
"you see, in south africa, there is thirteen months. their calendar much much different."
"oh really?" i'd never heard such a thing, and it didn't quite make sense, but i bought it.
"yes, like in china. their calendar very different from the rest of the world. they're not in touch with the rest of the world."
again, i nodded. i would be doing a lot of nodding for the remainder of the conversation.
"in china, there is communist. everybody is pay the same, so it make life difficult. the same is like cuba. if you live in cuba, you can work, but you will not make living. not like here."
i kept nodding.
"but now you know, it is even difficult here. the last eight years with w. bush? fucked up! am i right?"
"you're right," i said.
"but hopefully, things are getting better, you know. for the dark man with obama. before, it used to be terrible for the blacks, my country especially." he paused for a moment, and then he said, "it's tough to leave your country."
the last phrase hung in the air. i couldn't help but take it as a sign. my aunt had just gotten through telling me that my mom and dad were ready and willing to retire to the philippines, and all of a sudden, this guy lays it on me. and nobody - i mean nobody - ever talks to me on the bus. it's tough to leave your country.
"how long have you been here?"
"sixteen years," he said. "and you?"
"i was born here." he nodded, and i felt guilty. i may as well have said, i won the citizenship lottery. ha-ha.
"what you do?" he said. "you a student?"
"no, i finished already."
"oh. finished. that is good, that is good. where do you work now?"
"i work at the school."
"you teach?"
"no, no. i work in the office."
"oh. work in the office. and what did you study?"
"writing," i said.
"writing for? like newspaper or magazine articles?"
i didn't quite know how to break it to him. writing silly little stories that go nowhere. writing about everything and nothing in particular. things like this, just you and me talking. "umm, writing like short stories. fiction. literature."
"ah, okay," he said.
"what about you?"
"i am a student."
"what are you studying?"
"well, my english is not so good. i am still trying to better my english, then someday, hopefully, i can go into medicine."
"do you go to the uw?"
"no, south seattle community college. i am still taking basic english courses, then one day i can transfer to uw or seattle university. or, there is a school in spokane?"
"yes," i said, "gonzaga."
"yes, that is it. gonzaga."

he must've been in his mid to late thirties, and he was still chasing a dream. i couldn't help but feet guilty about my station in life, having everything but dreams. the whole thing felt surreal, almost like i was the main character in waking life, where all these strangers would just lay these heavy things on him, and he wouldn't know what to make of them. i wondered if this south-african future med student was someone, something i had just created in my mind. i pulled the line, and i said, "take care." suddenly, he got up and said, "this is my stop, too," which made it even more creepy. we both got off at my usual stop, and as we crossed the dark street, he said, "you, as long as you try for the best, it will be good for the future."

these strangers who tell me these things. it's almost as if they know me, they know this story i'm trying to tell.


Anonymous said...

He was trying to say, "you fool".

beastmomma said...

It is amazing how much insight and self-awareness comes from random encounters.