I’m A Curmudgeon

4 December 2013
2:29 AM
Manila

M.–

1.
It is Day Three of the #GraceAndGratitude workshop, and I am wondering how uncanny it is that these exercises seem to fit what’s happening with me. Or maybe, I am paying more attention now.

2.
I got in a while ago. I have just spent four hours waiting for my sister. It was the second and last day of her exhibit, and I thought it best if I was the one who fetched her instead of my parents. I knew I was in for a wait, but didn’t anticipate how long those hours would be. My evening was an adventure of sorts, but I guess everything is an adventure to someone who doesn’t go out of the house often. Maybe to most, this is just life, you know?

3.
It takes an hour from my house to Makati by cab. It is expensive, but it’s the fastest way. If I use other modes of transportation, I would need to hop on and off jeepneys, tricycles and the train just to complete my route, and that would add another half hour at least, even if it saves me money. At this time of the night, I didn’t want to risk being on the road for a long time.

As we pass street after street, I am reminded of the nine months that I worked for one of the big buildings–how suffocated I felt, how out of place. People say it’s our Wall Street, it’s the financial capital, and I am laughing at myself, thinking, how can I even say that I will love New York if I can’t stand this city? I can’t even imagine living here.

We were listening to the news, and I caught the tail end of the report. It’s about the typhoon still, of bodies found floating on another side of the sea. Before it could go on, the driver switched to another station. He started singing along. It was The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows.

I looked at the name of this cab (they all have names here if it’s not owned by a big company): Baby Maila.

4.
I decided to hang out at a coffee shop that I know is open until the wee hours. I sat outside and tried to read a book. I brought two with me: Paul Auster’s The Winter Journal and the first installment of M.J. Carter’s The Strangler Vine, which arrived today at my doorstep, in a red pouch together with some faux jewels. (I signed up for a mysterious package from Penguin UK some few days back and forgot about it.) It was past nine, too late to watch a movie, too early to go to my sister. I couldn’t concentrate because I was hearing everything, seeing everything. I tried to work on my poems, but it started raining, the wind making my notebook wet.

I eventually gave up, and just decided to look at people while I have coffee and smoke.

5.
Around eleven my phone broke down. It just suddenly turned itself off, and I couldn’t get it to work again, no matter how many times I dismantle it and put it back together. I pushed the power button endlessly I thought it would embed itself unto the metal casing. I contemplated about hurling it to the wall in frustration, but didn’t want to cause a scene. Panic started to set in, as I realised my problem: how am I going to communicate my sister, find her and bring her home?

I stood up and decided to walk around. I approached every security guard I saw, asking if there are any payphones nearby. Nobody knows anything. The sweat trickled down my back. I said to myself, this is probably what quiet desperation feels like. I walked from block to block, approaching strangers, asking if I could borrow a phone, if I can just call or send a text message, and I’ll pay, I’ll pay a hundred bucks just for a call, and nobody wants to lend a hand. I mean–I could be a mugger for all they know. After all, this is Makati.

It’s started raining again, and I found myself back in the coffee shop, having walked for almost an hour now. I was laughing a bit hysterically, I think. This city, home to major banks and businesses, even the stock exchange–it has probably forgotten how it is to help someone. I look around me, all the people who are still out partying at this hour, and realised how naive I still was, to think I could rely on the kindness of strangers. This fucking place.

6.
I mean–they don’t even have payphones. Am I the only one who still uses it?

7.
I think about mobiles, and my (recent) aversion to them. How my family has kept on pushing me to buy an iPhone these past few years (“because you have a business”), how I always say I’m content with a hand-me down ever since my other phone broke, because I don’t talk much anyway.

A few months ago, my sister looked at what I was currently using and said, how positively third-world. Yeah. It was actually hers–she was using it for a second SIM card, but have discarded it since. It can text just fine, but sometimes when you’re sending a message, it shuts itself off suddenly. Same with making or taking a call.

I thought I was at a disadvantage if I brought it with me tonight. So I decided to switch for another phone that was lying around the house. I charged it, thought I was good to go. Nothing could go wrong now, I said. Well–if you could’ve just seen me a while ago, at my wit’s end.

How have I come to this, I wondered. Walking around in another city, forced to make contact with people I don’t know, and talk, actually talk to them. I think, at that moment, that I very much hate technology and humanity, and regretted for the nth time coming out of the house.

8.
I went back to the coffee shop and ordered mango juice, trying not to look stupid, but already feeling very much so. As I was paying I tried again: I asked the cashier if they have a charger, then a phone I can use, then finally, if I can use her phone instead. She handed me my change quickly and gave me a strange look.

I sat outside, wondering who I can approach next. By this time I have already loitered enough to arouse a lot of people’s suspicions. I mean, I did look like I was enacting some kind of scam. I worked hard to keep my panic from overwhelming me. Think, T. Fucking think.

Logically, I really only have two options left. One: stay here until 1AM, until my sister’s exhibit closes. Since this is my last location that she knows about, maybe she’ll find me here. But she’s as clueless as I am about moving around in this city, probably more so. She can’t possibly know how to get here, and where she was, all dark alleys and corners–it’s not safe.

Two: I could just really go to her. I mean–I’m terrible, very terrible at directions, I get lost inside department stores, even–but I have a better chance, I think. I’ve been through car accidents, muggings, and other unfortunate incidents. What’s one more?

So I stood up. Hailed a cab.

9.
You know, I was thinking, that riding cabs is a matter of trust really. (I think it was my theology professor who said this, of all people.) You get in, you give your destination, and you trust that the driver will get you there. You trust that he will take care of you, that for this brief moment he is responsible for your life. For his part, every passenger is a risk. He never knows if he’s ferrying around a perpetrator.

I look at the sign on the door out of habit, taking note of the license plate. I would’ve texted it to my sister, but.

I looked again as we pass a lamppost. The cab’s name is Salvación.

10.
I arrive at the club just past midnight. I gave the driver a generous tip, even if I can’t really spare it.

Teenagers are milling around the parking lot, smoking and drinking. I push through the black curtains, scrunched my nose at the thumping music. The bouncer took one look at my face and let me in without comment. I saw my sister sitting on a couch, her feet up on a coffee table. The look of surprise on her face. I gestured towards her, we went to stand by the bar but we couldn’t hear each other so we went outside.

That’s when I allowed myself to breathe a sigh of relief. My hands shook as I lit a cigarette, and I told my sister what happened. And good thing, too, because she couldn’t rely on any one of her classmates to take her to where I was. She tried. She asked, but every one of these privileged brats who have their own cars plan on staying until three in the morning. I looked at this guy who was loud and holding a bottle in his hand. He hasn’t drank it, but he sways as if tipsy, and I wonder how much of it is true, and how much of it is an act.

I told my sister I’ll wait, but we will leave at one exactly. I don’t give a shit who says otherwise; I’ll tear down all the installations and “help out” if I have to. I’m exhausted, I’m pissed off at the workings of the world, I’m thinking about how much money these kids have in their wallets right now, and they probably don’t even care, I’m thinking how my cup of coffee can probably feed three to four people, I’m thinking what does it mean to be kind?

11.
Dammit, I’m a curmudgeon.

12.
My sister told me to sit outside, so I did. I sat beside the bouncer, and we made small talk. But mostly we tried to keep our sanity as Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball remixed with electronic beats ate away at our souls every minute that passed. I asked him, do you ever get tired with this, your job? Opening doors for people who are burning away their parents’ money? He asked me if I have ever partied like this before.

I said I went to a few when I was in college, and while I was working, but it’s not really my thing. I mean–getting drunk in public, dancing while strange men are looking, being given free shots because of my ridiculous dancing, puking my guts out after, bent over the gutter and feeling that maybe I was dying–once is enough, I think. I was 22, and I had just quit my job a week before. I didn’t know what I was doing.

13.
I still don’t.

14.
My left arm feels tired from glancing at my watch for the millionth time. I sat with my back to the wall and put my feet up. People come and go, glancing at me curiously. Probably thought I was someone’s mother. I thought about going outside to smoke, thought about trying to avoid making my sister look uncool in front of these people. Caught myself. Ugh. My sister will live, and outlive the embarrassment. I’m not cool, never have been, deal with it.

15.
We got another taxi to take us home. I can’t remember its name. My sister’s head was on my shoulder, the highways empty.

16.
Home, we heat some leftover spaghetti and pizza. I check my inbox, read Sarah’s email. I turn to today’s notebook: Things I love about myself and am grateful for about myself. Let’s see (can you sense my hesitance?):

  • That I showed up. That I was there for my sister. Even if it was grueling, even if I hated it. And also because, if I was being honest, I didn’t really hate it. Annoyed, maybe. On the ride home, I thought, it’s all fine, considering. Because I was doing it for her. Because family is family.
  • That I can set aside my dislike of talking to people if it meant being able to ask questions.
  • That I can acknowledge that I might probably need some help, and wasn’t too proud this time around to ask for it. Even if I didn’t get any, at least I took the risk.

This exercise makes me uncomfortable. I didn’t think I was doing anything special. I was just doing my duty.

17.
No. That’s not true. I was doing it for love.

18.
But I’m still a curmudgeon.

Goodnight,
T.

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