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Listening to: Fading Like A Flower by Roxette
4 PM in the afternoon. Satisfied with the length of the draft I wrote, I packed my bag and, from the café, decided to travel home via jeepney. Late afternoon hours are usually times when jeepneys are most packed with passengers. As was the case when a jeepney I hailed parked on the side and waited for me to hop in.
The world— or how the media portrays it now— seems to have moved on from the pandemic. I’m still writing about how shocked I am about this, how blasé we have all become despite the ongoing COVID cases. We were seated like sardines again. The jeepney drivers must have prayed for this situation; they were one of the demographics with big financial losses since the pandemic began. And with the crazy gas prices, do they really have the patience to care?
Passengers of all sorts surrounded me. There was a carpenter with the tip of a saw poking out of his torn, red backpack. An old lady had just finished her run at the market. She carried a plastic bag filled with mackerel. The rushing wind wafted the slimy, piscine smell to the rest of the passengers. A queer person sat beside me, holding their phone with long, claw-like, white-polished nails, nonchalantly scrolling their Facebook. They made me quietly feel both pride and envy: they, in an black-and-white-polka-dot blouse with those trending bell-bottom jeans and white wedges, proud of who they are. I, in typical cis-straight men’s clothing, trying to assimilate.
There was also a momma, nose poking out of her mask, trying to discipline her two kids who tried to turn around and stick their heads out of the vehicle. We were all minding our business, of course, all bowed and avoiding eye contact. All but me, because I like observing things and peoples. As I tried to take in the images and clothes of the other passengers, the jeepney made another swerve to the sidewalk. The driver beckoned another passenger to climb in.
Before I saw the face, I noticed the hands. It was difficult not to. His right hand gripped the bar directly in front of my face as he tried to climb in, startling me. He gripped the bar tightly. I could have sworn he would have been able to bend it. Big hands, strong and raunchy, followed by the largest pair of arms I’d seen on someone in a long while.
Orange and arms. That was all I could register. He wore a fitted, orange tee, bright as summer heat, wet with sweat on the chest, pits, and tummy. Too tight for him, I concluded. But I wasn’t complaining.
Like old film my mind began reeling. I pictured him with many designations: a lumberjack in the cool Canadian forests carrying logs on to a river; a hot and mighty dwarf blacksmith hammering a kingly weapon; a fisherman deep inside the eye of a storm, hauling in tons of Tuna. And all the while the camera focused on those arms, plump and rotund, suddenly hardened with vein and muscle in glorious industry. My mind flashed to other arms of celebrities that make me swoon: Serena William's, Wonho's, Mingyu's and Michael B. Jordan’s. All so beautiful!
I reveled at my imaginings, wondering, wandering. I remembered how I wound my arms together and locked my fingers submissively, imagining myself a weak, beautiful prince, head bowed, surrendering to the plans of the mightier prince who was about to have his way with me. I wanted him to lead. I wanted everyone to disappear, for the jeepney to turn into a stallion with me wrapped around his arms, of to the sunset and the hotel with our honeymoon suite after it. Because that's why couples always run off to the sunset: to rush for a time together on that bed beyond the red, sun rays.
Reveries still whirling in my mind, I discreetly raised my phone to take photos of those arms. I didn't even care about his face. He, like the rest of the passengers, looked stern and focused, only eager to get off the ride and go home [I presumed].
The jeepney finally made a final turn and stopped. Everyone got off chaotically. He stood crouched and began walking. I slouched behind him, noticing his back which was damp with sweat. After a last-minute hesitation, I rushed towards him, plucked up the courage to show him the photos I've taken. He reacted with mild surprise and even embarrassment, the corner of his eyes deepened into a wrinkle. He waved his huge hands in light annoyance. "Okay lang! Okay lang!" And he turned his back without another word. It was a strange thing to hear from a stranger, after all.
Thank you for reading.