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The kindness of strangers

A couple of days ago, I went out to buy vegetables and found a tiny cabbage among many large cabbages in a bin. It looked full grown, its light green leaves confidently curled around each other in easy to peel layers, and yet I could hold it with tip of my fingers. If it weren't so tiny, it would be so in place with the rest of the other cabbages, ready to chop, to dice, to cook.

I took a picture, making sure to show its scale. I took several pictures, making sure to show the scale more accurately.

I heard a girl beside me laugh. "I was wondering what you were taking a picture of," she said, "And then I saw it was a cabbage." She made her voice tiny with the last word. 

"Cute, no?" I replied. And we laughed.

I went home that day grateful for the human interaction. It had been over a month since I last stepped out of the house to, well, do anything, after hearing about the new virus strain. 

I'm a people person who likes staying away from people--I can love them better that way, I believe--but our quarantine has crawled ever so painfully, almost nefariously, to close to a year now, and I am people hungry. 

I find myself talking to strangers lately.

A few days ago, it was that girl with whom I had a good laugh over a tiny cabbage. Then, on Sunday it was the water delivery guy, who, upon learning I consider Cebu my hometown, told me of his trip to visit an aunt on Bantayan Island, where they ate shellfish all day, including oysters that they themselves picked during low tide. 

"When the tide is high," he said, raising his arms to full length, "the water is this high." But it receded to show the seabed, he said, and that's when they picked the oysters.

"I've been meaning to go there," I told him. Later, before I slept, I remembered the time I walked on the beach in Panglao during low tide and found not oysters but a tiny sparkling pink gem in the shape of a heart.      

Today, I had lunch with my best friend. We had a lot of catching up to do, so lunch stretched out into dinnertime (even if all we had after lunch was coffee and cake) and soon the mall was closing up. As we were waiting for her driver, my friend said she needed to use the comfort room.

I was amused, because we have been basically doing the same things each time we meet: At least once in every two months, she picks me up, we eat one type of food in one type of restaurant, run some small errands, talk about things we've sort of talked about already online, then she brings me home. It's the pandemic version of our pre-pandemic meet-ups, and because she's one of the few people I meet, it is a very welcome routine.  

The last time we were together, while we were waiting for her driver, it was me who needed to go. Tonight, following the same routine, it was she who needed to use the comfort room. 

When it was me, I asked the guard where it was and the only one they kept open was far from where we were. I led the way, and I remembered that the last time, they had already barred the comfort room entrance, but the cleaner, who was already leaving, was kind and unlocked the PWD comfort room for me. As we walked, I said, "I hope that same cleaner is there." 

He was, and he was finishing up cleaning the men's comfort room. He again led us to the PWD comfort room, because the ladies' room was already locked. As I was waiting for my friend, he waited with me and asked, "On your way home?" I nodded, and asked him the same. 

He just had to clean the PWD comfort room, he said, then he was going to walk home. He lived nearby, which I said was fortunate, because mass public transportation these days is a risk. He agreed, and he said tricycles are safer but expensive, and he likes the walk. He told me where he lived, and I remembered that after my last job, I'd promised myself never to work too far from home again, as the commute made me miserable even when I tried to make the best out of it. "You're lucky," I told him, "to live so close to work."

We thanked him when we left, and I almost caught myself saying "Until the next time!" as if to an old friend. 


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