Saturday, January 28, 2017

What happens when you show up in life

A couple of weeks ago, I had to go to Benilde for the second day in a row for yet another transaction that would take less than half an hour. I live two hours away, traffic-wise, and I was a little frustrated that I had to go back. I've been holed up in Las PiƱas City most days, thankful that I don't need to make any long commutes just yet, and I dreaded wasting a full day to do something I could have done in half a day if I'd been properly informed of the accounting office's schedule.

But anyway  --

To psych myself up, I decided to make a little food trip out of my excursion into the city of Manila: I decided to look for The Counselor's Cafe, this little vegetarian cafe near The Adventist Hospital in Pasay that I'd read about, and have an early dinner there.

So I went to Benilde, applied to graduate, and then took a jeep to Buendia, from where I walked to where Google Maps told me the cafe would be. It wasn't likely, but I hoped I wouldn't run into anybody I knew.

These days, I've been happily on introvert mode, talking only to close friends, but I've also been wary that I was getting used to being in a little bubble again. I know I need to be "out there" for my career, for my personal growth, for my relationships, and I always remind myself to do the work.

That particular day, however, since I was already stretching my personal geography, I wasn't looking to stretch my comfort zone, people-wise. 

Of course, with new places come new people. And I was reminded of that soon enough.

The cafe was empty when I walked in, and I was thrilled to be alone. But I had arrived early, and as soon as dusk settled, people started coming in. I had a big table all to myself, and as I was eating, an elderly gentleman, neatly dressed and looking very healthy, asked if he could share my table. 

I smiled, nodded, and soon we were immersed in the smallest talk: he said that he was eating seaweed because it was healthy, that he didn't want to eat too much (meaning he would be leaving the baked beans the waitress gave him untouched, while I was almost done polishing off a plate of red rice and tofu sisig and a side order of nachos, washing them down with a strawberry banana shake) because he was watching his health. He also told me that it had started raining. 

I worried about staying longer than intended -- I had wanted to leave before dark because Pasay City was unfamiliar territory and I'd have to walk back alone to Taft Avenue -- but he was a really pleasant man, so I lingered awhile and got up to leave only when he found someone else to talk to.

Before leaving, I passed by the store in front of the cafe to get some vegetarian sausages. The elderly lady manning the store was also very friendly. She asked me whether it was my first time to visit the cafe, and when I said it was, asked how I had come to hear of it. She thanked me for visiting, talked to me about their business hours (they're closed on Saturdays before sunset), and said she hoped I'd come back. For sure, I said.

While we chatted, a girl who was sitting by the door joined in. I'd seen her come in earlier; like me, she had also eaten alone. "Are you going to walk out?" she asked me. When I said yes, she asked, "Can I share your umbrella?" I had a small umbrella, but it wasn't raining that hard and she seemed like a nice person, so I said, okay.

She held my arm as we walked. I didn't mind so much because it kept us both dry. Besides, I welcomed the company since the street, while not really crowded, was already a little dark. I said I was walking to Taft, and she said she just needed to get to her car, which was on the way. 

She told me about herself as we walked in the rain. She was flexitarian for health (eats vegetarian mostly, but also fish and chicken, rarely), worked in BGC but studied law in a school nearby, and was happy to have found The Counselor's Cafe because they served good, healthy food. When we finally got to her car, she already felt like a friend.

On the bus ride home, I felt like I'd had a full, productive day, that I wasn't even the same person who'd left home. My world was a little bigger, my heart a little more fuller. I hadn't counted on meeting new people, and while the people I did meet were people I'd most likely never see again (except, perhaps, the lady at the cafe), they'd somehow changed my life forever. All because I'd decided to make a little adventure out of what would have been merely a dreadful chore.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sweet, corny

I'm so sorry, I couldn't resist the title!

Whenever I go to Manila, I find myself craving street food, usually bananacue, turon and sweet corn. I think it's because when we were kids, we would go with my mother to UP Manila when she was still a graduate student there, and she would often buy us these snacks. I didn't care much for the city--it was too busy and dark and dirty for me--but I looked forward to merienda and I eventually associated any trip to Manila with street food.

When I was a student at DLS-CSB SPACE recently, I'd often buy sweet corn from this old lady who parks her cart in front of a 7-11. I'd buy more than one cob, one for me to eat on the bus and the rest to bring home. This old lady was unfailingly pleasant and accommodating, and she always remembered not to put any margarine on the corn and to salt only one of them, the one I would eat on the bus.

Tonight, since I was already in the Starbucks at the corner of Taft and Vito Cruz, I decided to walk in the opposite direction, to the Rizal Coliseum, to find someone selling corn.

I came upon this old man manning a cart. He smiled when I ordered four cobs, and smiled again, apologetically this time, when he said he could only give me three because the rest of the corn wasn't ready yet.

I said three was okay, and watched as he shucked three corn cobs and slid them into transparent plastic bags. I couldn't help but notice his hands. Like those of many of the street vendors I'd bought corn from, his hands were red and thick, toughened, I suppose, by constantly handling hot wares. He could dip his hands into the bucket of steaming water and take out bushels of corn.

As I paid, I asked if anyone else nearby was selling corn.

He smiled, this time a little shyly, and said his wife was selling corn at the 7-11 near the school.

"That nice lady is your wife?" I replied, "I usually buy from her, but this time I was on this side of Taft so I came here. But I almost always buy from her!"

This time he smiled with pride, with love in his eyes. "Yes, that's my wife."

As I walked to my bus, I imagined them holding each other's hands, hands that were red and tough and very much loved.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Give me a memory I can use

On the first day of this new year, I made spaghetti with tomato and basil. While preparing the ingredients, I decided to play some music (normally I watch FRIENDS on iflix, but I had mutilated a finger that way). I had only Adele's 25 in my phone, and as I was chopping onions, "All I Ask" came on.

So there I was, with chemically-induced tears in my eyes, and the lines "Give me a memory I can use, take me by the hand while we do what lovers do. It matters how this ends ..." started playing. I was hunked over the chopping board, wiping away tears, when my brother came in.

What the hell are you crying about, he asked. He left before I could answer.

I'm suddenly recalling this memory, over a week later, because I'm making the same pasta dish right now. And I'm also thinking "... what if I never love again?"

Haha.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Thank you and goodbye, 2016!

Things I gave up in 2016: blind faith in humans (even when I still choose to see the good), blanket dislike of some humans (um, thanks for the lesson, Lacson), following newspapers on social media, my low estimation of the extent of my gullibility (I am not so smart!), collecting Starbucks stickers for a planner I never really use, high heels (except maybe wedges), my fear of bangs, FOMO especially when it comes to food, a career path in professional writing (will still write for both fun and money but it won't be my day job), the notion that FRIENDS is better than HIMYM, respect for the man Jessica Zafra considered her mentor, my firm decision to make this lovely country my only home, my fear of dirty diapers (just do it; you're allowed to use a mask), the need to convince people I'm a good person.

There's more for sure; it was a year as well for little deaths and shedding. But I need coffee now.