caloocan city, midnight, 1995
having survived what must have been the worst ‘date’ of all time; a torturous dinner in cafe ysabel worthy of all sorts of indigestion, i felt a certain relief. i put the word ‘date’ in quotation marks because i didn’t know what exactly just happened.
despite the disastrous rendezvous j was dropping me off at my place. still, the drive home proved to be be just like the dinner, a series of uncomfortable silences punctuated by awkward small talk. it was a few blocks from home so i was not taking any more of it.
“why do we even bother?”
i saw his forearms flex in the steering wheel and his jaw muscles clench. his dark brooding eyes peered through his long hair, “i think we both know why we want this.”
i didn’t know what he meant and i wanted to ask, but it was my street corner. his big car couldn’t go much further into the urban poor side streets. so he stopped. again, the silence.
“goodbye, then.” i said as i reached for the door handle.
i felt there were things that were to be said but it was not the time. i stepped out of his car. as i closed the door i saw that he was already looking ahead. i stood there and watched him drive off, his car’s rear end lights blinking farewell in the dimly lit side street.
i knew i will probably never see him again.
washington dc, close to midnight, 2009
after finishing his lobster dinner, j and i asked the fil-am waitress if we can smoke outside. the dinner was unlike the one that we had more than 10 years ago. though i didn’t eat (on the account of having to endure some ghastly vegetarian dinner earlier while schmoozing with NGOs from all over the world, contemplating on our raison d’etre and our changing place in the power tables), it went well because we actually talked.
getting the blessing of our waitress, we were standing in the curb of a shabby chic restaurant cum bookshop near dupont station. smoking thoughtfully. it was almost midnight.
“so, you don’t live in the city, right?” i asked.
“that’s right. i live in virginia, about 45 minutes via the metro,” he gestured vaguely at the direction of the station.
“so what time’s the last trip?”
“we better get going then.”
“it’s alright,” he said, taking a long drag from his flickering cigarette.
“alternatively, you can stay at my hotel and i can do funny things with your body,” i offered deadpan.
“i appreciate the gesture but, no thanks, ” he paused thoughtfully, “ besides i have work tomorrow.”
“good. i really don’t want to sleep with you. but you were being so nice i thought it would be rude not to make a pass.’
we looked at each other and then we started laughing while putting out our cigarettes.
back at our table, we both reached for our drinks quietly, the laughing fading to smiles.
“a lot of people think i’m gay, but i’m not – you know,” he said suddenly serious, looking me in the eye.
“we dated once, j.”
“really? i don’t remember. all i remember is that i felt you were always judging me. and how i proved you right being mr. establishment, working for the bank. while you are still an activist.”
i studied him, looking for signs of denial. the thinning clean cut hair and boxy marks & spencer suit have taken the place of the long silky hair and tight fitting shirts of old. the ‘suit’ looked earnest. if he was lying it didn’t show in his countenance.
“i wasn’t exactly memorable, but yes – we did go out once. and i never judged you.”
the silence that once was the trademark of our time together came back.
”so what are you doing tomorrow night?” he asked. but before i can answer, he continued, “ oh no, i have a date with this girl tomorrow.” he was frowning.
“that’s ok" i said, adding promptly, "we should go, or you will miss your train.”
we paid the bill and walked outside.
“well, enjoy the rest of your stay in washington” he said.
”i will. goodbye, j.”
we hugged tentatively.
“check me out if you come back, in case i’m still here.”
“sure,” i said quietly, not knowing if i was being truthful.
i turned and walked away, zipping my jacket to ward away the cold. i was already thinking that for 14 years i thought that there were things to be said between us and it turned out there was none.
i don’t know if he was watching my departure because i didn’t look back.