We were both stuck in the rain

We were both stuck in the rain. Me, because I had decided, on a whim, to buy a drink. Her, because she had gone out on her scooter and hadn't thought to bring any cover. There had been no warning of rain, save for a sudden gust of wind immediately followed by a steady spray of water.

We sat on plastic chairs at a table pushed against the frontage of a closed store, thrown together by our need for shelter. I was on my phone; she was on another stick of cigarette.

I had my back to her, not wanting to intrude or be intruded on, but she spoke, her voice thick and raspy from, I could tell, years of nicotine and tar and smoke.

"You have a nice belt," she said.

"Sorry?" I replied.

"You have a nice belt," she repeated.

I turned around. She was a beautiful mestiza: creamy skin, dark brown eyes, a tiny sharp nose. Makeup-free, as far as I could tell. She was wearing a pink spaghetti top and short denim cutoffs. Her brown hair was put up in a messy high ponytail. She was ten years older than me, she would point out later, past 50.

"Thank you," I replied, and before I could stop myself, I added, "I like it too, because it's made of recycled materials and it's good for the planet ... Earth." I tapped on my phone, an effort to rein in my rambling. Beautiful people, in general, make me nervous.

"It's nice," she said, "you don't need holes on it." She quickly ran a finger on the weave of my belt, an intrusion so swift I didn't have time to flinch.

Is she trying to trick me or something? I found myself thinking. But instead I mumbled, "I hope my underwear isn't showing," and I tugged at my jeans. She assured me it wasn't.

I took note of my belongings, almost immediately feeling bad for thinking with malice. There were other people around us; the people manning the store next door knew her by name. But I turned my back anyway, making a show of being busy on my phone.

It was still raining; I had nowhere to go.

"Have you seen the movie Glorious?" she asked, her voice straining through the silence I was putting between us. "That was some kiss he gave her, with his tongue all out."

Is she trying to pick me up? I found myself wondering. I'm not good at reading sexual cues, and I didn't mean to be assuming, but I'd seen Glorious and how did the subject shift from my belt to a movie about a 51-year-old woman who, after years of fearing she had turned frigid, reignites her sexuality with a young lover?

But I had made a resolution to be generous with my attention, so I decided to give her an audience, at least for as long as the rain would last.

She told me the story of her best friend, a woman in her fifties who had a 21-year-old boyfriend. The boy was crazy about her friend, she said, and he wanted to marry her, but the friend wanted to keep their relationship secret because he was younger than her youngest child.

Besides, they couldn't marry because she had been married before, years ago, to a mason, the construction worker who looked like Panchito whom she had chosen over her rich American journalist boyfriend and another American suitor who was based in Hong Kong and took her to five-star hotels and gave her a package with 24 bottles of different expensive perfumes.

Her best friend and the boyfriend are going to Leyte together soon, to meet her family and make the relationship official.

She also told me the story of her uncle, an engineer who worked in Dubai as an airline mechanic. He was pirated by a competitor once--asked to name his price, he quoted four times the amount he was making, and they gave it to him. The woman said they tried to set him up with her best friend, but she loved her Panchito then, so they ended up setting him up with her best friend's maid.

The uncle fell in love with the maid. He married her and built her a mansion in Pangasinan. He was infertile--everyone knew this--so when he found out that his wife was pregnant, he knew the baby wasn't his, but he accepted it because it was the one thing he couldn't give her.

The second time she got pregnant, she tried to get rid of the baby. She ended up bleeding heavily, non-stop. She almost died. He flew from Dubai to nurse her back to life. The baby didn't make it.

She eventually left him for a policeman from Urdaneta. The uncle came home unannounced and caught the lovers in flagrante delicto. On their bed, in the master bedroom in the mansion he had built for her.

Her uncle had been tempted to kill his wife right then and there, the woman said, but he calmed down and told himself that it was pointless to kill such a terrible person. Let her suffer the consequences of her actions, he said, life will get her back.

She kept the house and everything in it. He left for Dubai. He died a few years later. "Sa kaiisip," the woman said, pointing to her head and twirling her finger. Death by overthinking? I wondered, but I was thinking of myself.

"Do you have children?" she asked. She had two. One was 37, a daughter. She was single.

"No," I replied. "I don't have a husband either." But I have other things I think too much about, I wanted to say, like presbyopia and falling hair, whether I keep misinterpreting sexual cues from men, and even women, and whether I talk too much and say the wrong things. Basically, a slow kind of death by overthinking.

"You want a smoke?" she asked. I shook my head.

In another life, I would have said yes and continued the conversation. I would have made a new friend--a beautiful, chain-smoking, scooter-riding momma with a raspy voice and colorful though sometimes tragic tales.

Also in another life, this would have been a meet cute. She would have been a handsome, single man instead--or our genders would have matched, at least.

In this life, it had stopped raining. "Well," I said, "I have to go home now." I said goodbye, and that was that.

Popular posts from this blog

Pensieve

Goodbye, yellow brick road

A love story