I wake up to the loud, incessant chirping of a tiny, glossy green-black bird perched on the porch railing. It sounds like an irate woman yelling at her husband; she goes on and on, unaware that he’s not even listening. I want to reach for the tall vase on the credenza behind our canopy bed and throw it at the bird, but it’s a beautiful, delicate creature that deserves no harm. I sit up and find you sitting on the porch steps. You look back to me, instantly, as though a rope links us: one end tied around my ankles and the other end around your neck. I retire from the bed, throw on my black lace tunic over my bare body, and saunter to the door. The bird turns its vivid red eyes to me and then flies away—as if displeased with my presence.
“Thanks for interrupting our conversation. We were just getting to the good part.” You chuckle and I appreciate your wittiness.
“Sorry, but maybe next time you can tell your friend to tone it down a notch. Some of us are trying to sleep.” I cock my head to one side, donning a sarcastic smile.
“I’ll have someone bring earplugs for you tonight.” You ask, “Did you sleep well?”
“I would’ve slept better if I had the bed to myself. How about you?” I quip.
You stand, laughing and extending a hand. “Let’s go for a stroll.”
Hand-in-hand, we head down to the seashore. The cool tropical breeze skirts around the coconut palm trees and they all sway in unison. Your strides are longer than mine and my feet get lost in your footprints. It takes twelve steps until the pristine water rids our feet of the white sand. I release my hand from yours and put my long, unruly hair in a high bun. You cross your arms and narrow your eyes at a mega white yacht with something emblazoned on its side, but it’s a blur to me. Why did I leave my eye glasses home? Home being eight thousand five hundred ninety-three miles away. Good old New York. The sun rises and a flock of birds fly above the glittering ocean.
“Isn’t that beautiful?” I don’t know whether you’re talking about nature itsld or the yacht.
“It’s certainly not something you see everyday,” I say, and you nod your head in agreement.
“What are we having for breakfast?”
“What do you have in mind? We can cook something, though my culinary arts knowledge exceeds no further than frying eggs OR we can walk to Station 4 and check out the restaurants. Take your pick.” I’m hoping you choose the latter. You rake your hand through your dark brown hair and cock your head in the direction of our beach cottage.
“Let's put that kitchen to good use,” you say.
I sit on the counter stool, my elbows propped up on the marble countertop, and I watch you make our breakfast. You’re a romantic. This I’m sure of because there’s stack of four heart-shaped pancakes on my plate, while you have four dull, ordinary pancakes. How you managed to do that, I have no idea. I want to cringe. But I can’t because you turn to me and say, “Coffee or green tea? Ted, the general manager of the island, delivered a box of Tea Forté this morning while you were still sleeping.” How very sweet – and accommodating – of Ted, whom I have yet to meet. I like him already. He knows not everyone fancies coffee, though out of all things, why would he send that? And you seem to know him well. Do you drink green tea? Does he? I’m curious of Ted now. I point to the box of Tea Forté sitting by the stove. “Please. Thanks.”
You’re holding two mugs: your coffee and my green tea—both without sugar and milk. What does this say about us? The old couple next door is fucking high on sugar. Did you see the packets of Domino Sugar scattered on their porch? And here we are with our bland drinks.
I lift my fork and knife to my plate and begin cutting my heart-shaped pancakes into pieces, like a mother does for her toddler. You take a seat on the counter stool across from me, placing the beige cloth napkin on your lap. Your mother taught you well.
I’m sitting in lotus position on a grey cushioned beach lounger as I read Island by Aldous Huxley. You’re comfortable in your white board shorts, your smoldering brown eyes are hidden beneath your black aviators, and you’re sitting on the white adirondack chair you carried over from our porch. I can sense you staring at me, hard, almost as if you can see into my brain. This is unsettling. Please, stop. Your mouth curves into a delicate smile, the kind that hides your pristine teeth. I narrow my eyes at you, trying to gauge your emotion. “What are you thinking?” You ask. Funny. I’m thinking I should be asking you that. I shake my head, close my book, and begin people-watching. Yes, folks, there is such thing as people-watching and, like masturbating, it is something we all do but never admit it.
I count the beach loungers with white umbrellas—all twenty-five of them are unoccupied because everyone would rather lie on the sand. Smart. There’s a group of girls, four of them, taking staggering quantities of photos with a selfie stick—quite possibly one of the worst inventions of 21st century. A man selling waterproof cell phone pouches approaches them; sure enough they all buy one. There are more yachts on the ocean, though they’re incomparable to the white yacht, which now I realize has not moved all day. Four people are parasailing and their feet dangle in the air. Two men are wakeboarding, the other flops - ouch, that was definitely a stinging belly flop - and the other flips him the finger. Five tourists on segways stop in front of us, completely disregarding our presence. “We’re now in Station 1, this is a more tranquil area than Station 2, Station 3, and Station 4. Here you’ll find two of our five-star hotels, ten beach cottages, and three of our finest restaurants on the entire island,” says the male tour guide. I do not understand this activity. How do you experience the island life on a fucking two-wheeled vehicle? I wave my hand at the tour guide and point to the ocean. “Hi, excuse us. Thanks.”
There’s a father teaching his daughter how to fly a kite; sadly, the kite falls straight into the ocean. He laughs and she cries. A few feet away from us is a family. The husband has white-grey hair - very Richard Gere in Pretty Woman - and his bulge is on full display through his black Speedo. If anyone is looking for a sand dune, it’s right here at Station 1. His golden-haired wife dons her ballerina body in a white one-piece swimsuit. They’re lying on their navy beach blanket, while their two children, a boy and a girl, collect seashells. The little girl picks up a purple coquina seashell and shows it to her brother, who stares at it and then throws it into the ocean like a piece of garbage—unwanted and useless. They’re speaking in French and it’s moments like this I wish I had taken a French class.
“She thought the seashell was pretty, but he didn’t think so because it was cracked.”
“Ah, thanks. You took French in college?” I ask.
“My mother was a French professor. I can teach you a few words.”
“Maybe over lunch and dinner.”
“Lunch AND dinner? Let’s not push it. I might have to charge you.”
“I can think of a few ways to pay you.” I smile, biting my lower lip.
You smirk and you know exactly what I’m insinuating.
We walk to Station 3. I stop by a boutique selling souvenirs, funky accessories, and graphic t-shirts. There’s a yellow t-shirt with a coconut palm tree printed on the chest area and below it reads, “Life is better on the island.” While I do agree with that adage, everything else about it is gaudy. An old lady in an orange duster dress, who I’m assuming is the owner, shows me a handmade seashell bangle. “The seashells are real,” she says, smiling and pointing to the ocean. She’s a sweet lady with the soft, telephone voice. I don’t want to tell her that I would never be caught dead wearing it. “Oh, pretty.” I smile and slowly walk out.
You’re standing by the food truck that caters some of the island’s exotic street snacks: grilled chicken feet, barbecued chicken and pork intestines, marinated pig ears, deep-fried chicken skin, and boiled duck embryo. “You have to try this,” you say, eagerly, holding a stick of barbecued chicken intestine to my mouth. I don’t bulk. “They’re one of my favorites. I used to have our maid buy me six sticks whenever she went to the market.” That’s true; however, our maid thought it was disgusting and barbaric, and then one night I came down to the kitchen and found her eating two sticks of barbecued chicken AND pork intestine like a slice of cake. You never know unless you try, isn’t that what people say?
“I just had balut before you came out.” You cringe your nose and I try hard not to laugh at how ridiculous that sounded coming out of your mouth. Balut is Tagalog for boiled duck embryo. “How’d you like it? I’ve tried it once when I was really young,” I say. “It’s definitely... different.” You hand five hundred pesos to the old man manning the food truck, when you only have to pay twenty-five pesos. I now realize the old man’s shrinking stature and the dowager’s hump. Somehow, and I don’t why, I feel useless.
“Was it life changing?”
“Eating duck embryo.”
"Absolutely. I feel like a new man.” You puff out your chest like George Reeves in the Adventures of Superman. We laugh and continue our stroll.
My left hand is in your back pocket and your right hand drapes over my shoulder. Our lack of clothing catches people's attention. I’m barefoot in nothing but my black bikini and straw hat, while you're in white board shorts and black rubber slide sandals. Life is better on the island.
We settle at an outdoor seafood restaurant on Station 4 because you want a quintessential experience of the island life and nothing says island life like digging into a plate of seafood with bare hands. I order roasted oysters top with white wine. You contemplate on fried tilapia and marinated squid, only to choose baked crab legs with garlic-parsley butter.
“Use your hands! Look.” I grab a crab leg, twisting it till it cracks, and then I suck the juice and meat. “See, simple! No fork, no crab cracker. Island life.”
“Grab. Twist. Suck.” You glance at me with a salacious grin.
“Uh… yes.” I’m now reminded of last night. I shake my head, trying to suppress a smile.
I finish before you. Oysters are not as complicated to eat as people make it seem. There was an read an article in a travel magazine on the etiquette of eating oysters. People, really? Just take the oyster, tilt your head back a little, bring it to your lips, and then tip it. Don’t swallow immediately. Chew, chew, and chew. Have a napkin because oysters are juicy. That reminds me, my hands are a bit sticky.
“I have to wash my hands. I’ll be back.”
“No, hold on,” you raise a silencing finger. A boy in khaki shorts and white polo shirt comes with a metal bucket filled with water and a white cloth napkin draped on his arm. This isn’t my first time here, but I don’t recall this during my past visits. I wash my hands thoroughly, he hands me the napkin, and then he pulls out a hand sanitizer from his pocket. This is weird, but it’s one of those things I’ll never experience when I return to New York. “Thank you.” I hand him the hand sanitizer. He asks if we want anything to drink. I tell him I want an Amaretto with freshly squeezed orange and you ask for fresh coconut water.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your name? How old are you?”
“Theo. 17,” he replied with his head down, avoiding eye-contact with me.
“Cool name.” I smile at him because he seems a bit anxious. You ask Theo to bring a bucket of water. He nods his head and then leaves.
“That was delicious. I said I’d teach you some French. Didn’t I?”
“Right.” I nod my head. “What I really want to know is how do I say, ‘fuck off’?”
I shrug and you laugh. We’re enjoying this. Theo arrives with my Amaretto and that metal bucket and a new cloth napkin. He leaves promptly while you wash your hands; I realize it’s because he doesn’t have your coconut water.
You say something in French, which stumbled out of your mouth like bullets from an AK-47. Theo returns, panting, as he holds a young green coconut with a red straw sticking out of it and you ask to borrow the pen in his shirt pocket. You take my hand and you write something that looks nothing like what you pronounced. “Va te faire foutre.” Even vulgar words seem romantic in French.
“Vah-tuh-ferr-footrah,” you enunciate.
Clearing my throat and placing my hands flat on the table, I repeat after you. “Vah-tey-feh-footrah…” I gulp half of my Amaretto.
“Listen and look at my mouth. Vah-tuh-ferr-footrah. Go ahead.”
“Here we go… Vah … Wait. Let me start again. Vah... tuh... ferr-footrah. Vah-tuh-ferr-footrah.”
“Good. Not bad.” You chuckle, taking a sip of your coconut water. “Keep practicing and you’ll sound like a real French, instead of a drunk tourist at a bar in France.”
My nose cringes and my head tilts back. I’m laughing hard. This feels good.
“You’re a strange girl.”
“Thank you.” I consider that a compliment. A man, any man, can tell a girl she’s pretty, but that’s merely physicality, and quite frankly, cliché. I’m not saying it’s the worst compliment, but when a man says something along that line, he knows her far beyond the color of her eyes, the curve of her lips, and the shape of her body. He listens to her, and every girl likes to be heard.
“Ready? Let’s go,” you say, pushing your seat back as you stand.
“Yes, but we have to pay.”
“It’s taken care of.”
“You’re handy to have around, you know that?”
I guzzle what’s left of my Amaretto and then I thank Theo, who’s now cleaning a table in the back. “Theo! Thank you! You’re the best!” I yell and you wave at him. People stare at us, whispering God knows what to each other. Theo nods his head once, slowly, up and down.
Station 2 is a myriad of entertainment. Old and young people hunker by the seashore, eagerly waiting for the fire dance show to start. Drunken tourists are crammed in a club that looks more like a surf shack. They’re guzzling all sorts of booze and they’re dancing as though they were just released from being wrongfully imprisoned. Next to the club is a karaoke lounge. There are loads of empty shot glasses on the bar and on the stage is a fair-skinned lady, possibly in her late twenties, singing about never, ever, ever getting back together. She shakes her head ferociously and her auburn hair collapses from her ponytail. She shakes her hips and her floral print dress sways. Her three friends cheer from their table: “SING it, Lucy!” “You tell that scoundrel!” “Fuck the ring!” Well, now we know why Lucy chose the song and why she traveled here. Her friends are awfully nice for accompanying her.
You pull me inside a colossal white tent, ignoring the queue outside of the entrance. We’re standing in the center, surrounded by people sitting at tables. They’re laughing, talking, and smoking from brass, vintage hookahs. Some are drinking beer, but all are smoking. Everyone is dressed, nothing swanky; women are in flowy, floor-length dresses—very bohemian. The men are relaxed in shorts paired with a crew neck or a button down. To the far right is a stage where a band serenades the crowd with an acoustic rendition of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane”.
A tall, dark, masculine man approaches us. “Hello, Sir.”
“Hello. There’s a line outside, I don’t think you want to keep them waiting.” You pat his shoulder.
“Right.” He nods and strides to the entrance.
“I just needed to see what was going on in here,” you say. Your gaze roams from me to the stage.
“Do you want to stay for a while?” I ask.
There’s a sudden change in your demeanor as you peer into the crowd, like a bystander witnessing a crime scene from behind the yellow tape. You exhale loudly, your lips flatten into a firm line, and a furrow forms between your brows. In a stiff tone, you ask if I want to stay. “No, not really,” I say. You ask if I want to watch the fire dance show. I shake my head no.
We walk back to our bungalow. Your hands are in your pockets and my arms are crossed. The loud music, the wild scene, and the endless chatters start to descend as we near Station 1. It’s dark and the only source of light is from two lampposts holding a welcome sign, and four cottages with their porch lights on. Everything is calmer: the ocean, the breeze, and the sky. I wonder where the green-black bird is now. How far away is it? Will it return in the morning? There’s that white yacht, in the same exact spot. I narrow my eyes at it, searching for the faintest twinkle of light. Nothing. It looks abandoned and its opulence has paled in the dark, yet there’s still something serene about it. I know you’re staring at it, too.
“Tell me something.”
“Like what?” Please, be specific.
“Anything. Anything at all… about you.”
I look down at my feet. Does it have to be about me? Why? This feels like the first day of school when we’re asked to stand in front of the class and introduce ourselves—that was fucking terrible. You’re waiting for me to say something, but I can’t think of anything.
“Why don’t you just ask me what you want to know?”
“Because I want you to tell me something about yourself that you’re willing to share, without me having to ask. I want you to feel comfortable,” you say.
“I am comfortable.” I look up at you then back down to my feet.
“So, tell me something.”
You’re not going to give this up. Fuck me.
“Okay. Well, I … I like to listen to Patti Smith in the shower,” and right now if I were a turtle, I would hide in my shell.
“Patti Smith. Good taste. See, was that so hard?” Yes, yes, it was.
“Tell me something,” I murmur.
“I write when I'm not crunching numbers in my office. Many of my short stories have been published in some of the nation’s leading magazines. I don’t consider myself a writer though.”
You don’t consider yourself a writer. Interesting. And now questions bombard my thoughts: What made you want to become a writer—was it something awful that happened in your life? Who are your favorite writers and philosophers? What do you write about?
“Wow, that’s amazing. Am I with the next Anton Chekhov right now?” Chekhov came to mind because he’s one of my favorite writers and I don’t know anyone who isn’t inspired by his works. I nudge you with my shoulder. “Will you send me a signed copy of one of your stories?”
You’re trying to suppress a grin, so you recite a line from The Darling in a slow, delicate tone. “It’s going to rain again. Rain everyday, as though to spite me. I might as well hang myself. It’s ruin. Fearful losses every day.”
Oh, Chekhov. Chekhov. Chekhov.
I lie in the white clawfoot tub, watching you in the shower: soaping and scrubbing your neck, your arms, and your chest. No one would ever guess that you, a tall, lean guy, are a writer... err, writes. The soapy water gradually pools at your feet, stripping you of today’s doings—dwindling memories. You look at me, smiling. I smile back before turning away.
We’re utterly comfortable with this, all of this, probably more than a married couple would be. How can we not? We’re alien to one another. I realize, and this is something that’s been gnawing at me, seeking comfort in people who know little about us is easy because they can’t hurt us, mentally and emotionally; they don't have a cogent reason to. Still, there’s a deadline to this—you and me. I came here solely to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. You know how people travel in search for some life altering experiences? That’s what I was hoping for. Instead, I began to feel as though I was stranded in the wilderness with a ravenous tiger trailing behind me. You, well, maybe you’re here for no reason at all but -- rest and relaxation.
I get here and I find you and I hang on to you like a tiger’s needle-sharp teeth on its prey and the laughable part is you let me. The prey that dangles from its predator’s mouth. We can leave at any time. I can fly back to New York or to my grandmother’s house, only two hours away. You, I’m not sure where you would go.
“What are you thinking?” You ask, walking to the sink as you dry yourself with a white towel.
“Nothing, really. I’ll be out in a few,” I say. I forgot you were here.
“Okay.” You wrap the towel around your waist as you stare at me through the mirror. What are you thinking? That’s a dangerous question. You asked me twice already, in one day. I step out of the tub for a quick rinse in the shower, while you saunter out of the bathroom.
There are no towels on the rack. Great. I tiptoe to the walk-in closet that’s connected to the bathroom. Ah, yes, heated towels over the white dresser. I pat myself dry in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirror and apply moisturizer on my neck and face. After throwing on my beige lace La Perla panties and black button down sleep shirt, I unwrap the towel from my hair and brush my teeth in the bathroom. Every girl has a post-shower/bedtime ritual.
I find you reading The Manila Times on the bed in your navy silk pajama bottoms as I emerge from the bathroom. Odd. I don’t know anyone who reads the newspaper at this hour, but you sure look good doing it. You cache the newspaper in the floor magazine rack by the bed.
“You’re not tired?”
I climb onto your lap, straddling you. “No. You?”
“What do you want to do?”
“Don’t be so coy.” I run my hands through your soft, damp hair.
“Who’s being coy here?” You smirk, gripping my ass.
“Fuck me.” I whisper. “Now.”
Most of the time, a girl just has to say what she wants and nothing more.
Thank you for reading. X
(Three Days: Day 2 will be posted soon.)