The clattering sound of the cups and saucers were beginning to annoy me. So were the different voices conversing in a foreign language. I don’t have anything against Thais, but you know how they speak in their movies? The high pitched-Viatnamese-sounding-like voice? That’s how they are in reality. Combine a bunch of them together, and oh-my-god-my-ears.
So you can imagine the relief I felt when I heard someone speak in English mixed with a bit of Filipino. I had to look up and find out where it came from. It was hard at first, what with all the different groups around me. It obviously didn’t come from the group of ladies, I’m guessing, in their mid-40s. They were seated next to me. Of course, I didn’t understand a single thing they were saying, but I’m shooting for the stars here, I think they were talking about me. It wasn’t the three people seated near the door either. They didn’t look like locals, well, until one of them spoke in a very loud voice. Nope. More Thai than the other group.
Whoever spoke was obviously Filipino. “I’ll be back for her birthday, ate. Don’t worry.” (TRANSLATE: I’ll be back for her birthday, big sister. Don’t worry.) The way she spoke English sounded like it was her first language. She would’ve easily passed for a foreigner, an American probably, but then most Filipinos can do that too, hence the numerous call centers. I digress. It’s amazing how one word can change everything. One word and I knew she’s Filipino. Ate. (TRANSLATE: Big sister.) So Filipino. So Asian. Isn’t it interesting that only Asians have a word for big sister? Anyway, I digress again.
I scanned the room, trying to put a face on the voice. At this point, I wasn’t really sure why I was hell bent on finding her. My attention was taken the moment she spoke. It’s only right to finish it off by letting me see her face, but she wasn’t speaking anymore. It was either she left or the noise inside the coffee shop was becoming louder.
Then, I noticed someone seated alone by the window, near the entrance, book in her hand and phone on the table. Her features looked Filipino. Now, if only I could get her to speak again to make sure.
Wow, I really am bored having myself so engrossed on this. I should’ve joined the family as they toured the city, but I wasn’t interested in seeing it again. We came here when I was younger, Bangkok being one of the first cities I’ve ever visited outside of the Philippines. The look on their faces when I said I won’t go with them. Deciding to stay at a coffee shop was a last minute thing for me. I originally wanted to explore the city alone. Explore the unexplored places, places tourists wouldn’t really want to visit. I was discouraged when a foreigner began making a scene at the hotel lobby, asking to be brought to the p olice station because she was mugged. And I just got out of the elevator, on my way out to explore on my own. That thought was thrown out quickly. The coffee shop was near the hotel, so I was a bit confident to go.
So, the woman sitting alone by the window. She was very slim, with short hair and high cheek bones. She looked no more than 30 years old. She was wearing slim cut jeans and a red collared shirt. Problem was, she still wasn’t speaking so I still wasn’t sure.She must’ve felt me staring, she looked my way. I didn’t move my head, that would make me look guilty. Instead, I looked straight past her, pretending to look at the plants outside the shop or the table outside with used silverware.
“I’ll have a slice of your NY cheesecake, and another cup of coffee.” I heard the voice again, it was coming from behind me. I couldn’t turn around, that would be too obvious, come on.
“We’ll serve it on your table, ma’am.” I heard the girl from the counter say. Her English didn’t come natural at all. Not that I minded. And I certainly don’t have anything against her. “Alright, thanks!” The mysterious voice answered in the sweetest way possible, it even made me smile. So it wasn’t the lady by the window. Too bad, I really thought it was her. In fact, I was able to make up a story about her already.
She’s an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) working in Thailand, choosing Thailand over Singapore because her ex-fiance, the father of her child, was working there. And Singapore being a small country, she was afraid she’d bump into him every so often and she didn’t want that. She wanted to move on after finding out he was in love with someone else. It turned out, her boss had a cousin looking to expand his business in Thailand. She was a shoo-in for the position. Now, her daughter’s back in the Philippines, being taken care of by her ate. She’s turning 3 next month. And the situation is frustrating her because the father, her ex-fiance, comes home every year during his daughter’s birthday. They’ll see each other then, even if she doesn’t want to. Her sister’s making sure because of what happened last year. Oh, the scandal. The scandal that the whole barangay (TRANSLATE: village) talked about for months. But anyway, I digress again.
When I saw movement to my right, I slowly tilted my head to get a glimpse of that person, to finally put a face on the voice. Ah, but she walked past me already, she had her back to me. She was wearing white shorts and a navy blue shirt. She had on nave blue flipflops as well. Her hair was short, her built was slim, no, more fit than slim, a bit tall, probably 5’6” or 5’7”. Oh, how I prayed for her to turn around. I haven’t even seen her face, and yet I was feeling attached to her already. My eyes followed her as she walked back to her seat. It was at the far end of the room, a corner table with a comfy couch. She sat down, still with her back turned.
The challenge presented fascinated me, all the more making me feel so attached to this woman. Was I that bored? Was I that annoyed at the voices speaking in a foreign language, the unnecessary sounds the waiters and busboys were making? Was it because I was feeling alone in this foreign country? Come on, I’ve only been alone for a few hours. Later that afternoon, I would have had company again. My head started to ache.
I let my thoughts slide out, so that I could focus more on the problem at hand. I needed to see the face. I heard the voice, and the voice felt like home. I just had to put a face on it to make me feel at ease. It was like a story waiting for its climax.
Oh, but the universe was not helping. She still had her back turned, and I couldn’t think of any way to make her face me. Perhaps, I could approach her? And tell her what, exactly? “Hey, I’m sorry. But I overheard you speaking earlier. And I know you might find this weird, but I just really had to put a face on that voice.” Right, that wouldn’t be weird and creepy. Then I heard the waiter talking to another waiter in Thai. My mind went into overdrive. When they bring her food to her table, she’ll probably shift. Or turn. Or I don’t know. She’ll move. She has to move. That’s my chance. I hoped to god she’d turn the right angle to make me see her face.
The waiter was almost there, getting ready to place the cup of coffee on her table. She was, I think, texting. Her head was bowed down. Unless, of course, she was praying. This was it. This was it. The waiter gently placed the coffee on the table, but she didn’t budge. She was so busy praying! Or texting. Whatever. Oh, come on! It can’t get anymore frustrating than this! But then there was still the cake, the NY cheesecake. She sounded so polite when she made her order, she’s bound to say thank you. And not just say it for the sake of saying it, but say it and mean it. She’d have to look at the waiter in the eyes, and say it in the most polite way possible. That would be the chance. That would be it! Again, I was so engrossed on her saying thank you and for me to see her face, I didn’t really notice the group of 40-something women beside me get up.
I wouldn’t have minded that. In fact, I thought it was about time they left. The coffee shop would be quieter without them. What’s irritating me, up until this day, was how they had waited for a couple of seconds before moving. They got up, and just stood there. One of them was checking her bag for something while the others were waiting for her. By this time, my attention was moving from their table to the table in the corner where she sat. The waiter was picking up a used plate from her table. He slowly took the plate with the cheesecake from his tray and gently placed it on her table, muttering something I didn’t get to hear because of these noisy 40-something women. I mean, come on. Can’t they just walk out quietly? When I saw them out on the veranda, I was glad. No, I sighed thankfully. For a moment, I thought they were going to wreck my view by standing beside me or in front of me. But they left, thank goodness.
This was it. I saw her slowly turn her head to face the waiter, and I say this with confidence that she was going to politely thank the nice waiter for bringing her food. Never mind that it was his job. But she was just that kind of person, thanking people nicely. This was really it, I was about to see her face. Or at least the side of it. Wow, I really have small dreams.
Remember when I said earlier how it couldn’t get anymore frustrating than her not turning when her coffee was placed on the table because she was busy praying? Or texting. Apparently, it can. She was really turning her head to face the waiter, because like I said, she’s polite and very, very nice. I was about to see her face in 3, 2, … Nope. One woman from the noisy 40-something group came back inside. As if on cue, she passed by exactly when the mysterious woman at the corner table turned her head to thank the waiter. And as if to mock me some more, she actually stopped right in front of me to stare at their table, probably trying to remember what she left or where she left it. It turns out, she left her red umbrella. She was the woman who had stalled the group earlier because she was looking for something in her orange bag. Her umbrella was placed on one of the seats. Can’t believe she wasn’t able to see that earlier. Come on, the umbrella was red. Bright red! How I wished for lightning to strike her right there and then. And she even had the gall to smile at me as she walked out. Being a good natured person, I smiled back. I stared at her red umbrella as she walked out, waiting for my gaze to set it on fire.
I remember asking my mom to buy me a red umbrella once. She was against it vehemently. She said lightning struck red umbrellas. I don’t know until this day if it’s true. Anyway, I digress again.
Alas, it was too late. I looked at the corner table and there she was, peacefully eating her cake while texting. She wasn’t praying, it turns out. Seeing her peacefully enjoying her cake and coffee, the frustration simply went away. There was something about her that I was drawn to. And a thought came to mind. I can wait until she stands up or moves to wherever. I’m bound to see her face, in one way or another. Now, where did that optimism come from? I can wait all day. Oh, I can wait until she leaves. Then I could follow her. Nope, too creepy. I can just wait until she stands up and leaves. I’ll be able to see her face then.
But the universe was in cahoots that day, as if it was me against it. I’ve been drinking my orange juice for over an hour now. And it already tastes like water because of the ice melting. You can almost guess what my next problem was. I had to pee. I had no problem with peeing. My problem was, what if when I went to the bathroom, she suddenly decides to get up and leave? I could hold it in until she leaves first, but I don’t know when that’ll happen. She wasn’t touching her cake now. She was just staring out the window. Great. Staring means she’s done with her food and is just waiting for the right moment to leave. I waited 5 minutes. She didn’t move. I waited for another 5 minutes. I really had to go to the bathroom. She took a sip from her cup of coffee. It was probably 2 minutes later that I finally decided to walk fast to the comfort room. There were three cubicles in all and one was occupied. I was inside the second cubicle when I heard the person next door flush the toilet. I was taking my time. Why? I kind of held a lot of liquid in me the last 10 minutes or so. What a relief, it was. I immediately washed my hands, dried it using the paper towel and took a few seconds to look at the mirror. I saw myself. And the cubicles behind me. Only one cubicle was free now, the one I just came out of. I liked paper towels. There was actually a time when I collected them. Weird, I know. I walked out immediately and looked at the corner table to check. It was empty.
Whatever optimism I had was shattered. I knew it. I just knew it. The moment I stand up for a bathroom break, she decides to leave. I went back to my table and sat down, looking defeated. All those plans and nothing. Geez. I wanted a cookie. I stood up and made my way to the counter to order one. They didn’t have much cookies there, I made do with a chocolate chip. It was a big one, though. I was asked if I wanted it heated, I said yes. My mind was wandering. I think, it left with the woman from the corner table. She’s off somewhere, walking the streets of Bangkok. Probably alone, too. Or maybe not. Hearing her voice earlier felt nice, like a pick-me up kind of nice. I knew she was Filipino. Did she live here? Did she live in the Philippines? If so, how was I going to find her again? What, with millions of Filipinos in Manila alone. And I don’t even have a face to match it with. I really didn’t understand this fascination with her. I was given my change, I counted it, as if I could understand. I received coins and some bills. I was about to put my money in my pocket when somebody passed by behind me. A scent of melons and apricots, maybe. I don’t know. The smell was so nice, it suddenly cheered me up. I gave the man at the counter a smile as he handed me my cookie. I walked to my table, sat down, and took a pinch from my cookie. It was warm on the inside and a bit chewy on the outside. Just my kind of cookie. I couldn’t help myself, I looked at the table at the corner where she sat earlier. My heart skipped a beat when I saw her there. She still had her back to me, but she was there. I took another pinch at my cookie, and another thought came to mind as if the cookie was the one giving me answers. She must have gone to the bathroom. But I didn’t see her there. Ooooh, if only I had stayed a bit longer! I would have seen her! Heck, I would’ve been able start a conversation! The universe was having fun at my expense, alright. Oh, oh, oh! Was she the one who smelled nice? I was smiling at the thought.
The problem remained, though. I still couldn’t see her face. The more I invested time and energy to think of ways to see her face, the more I was feeling attached. So what if I see her face? That won’t be enough for me now. I wanted to speak to her, to have a conversation, to be her friend even. Right. The feeling of doom was beginning to dawn on me. Anytime now, my family would get back from their tour. I would have to get back to the hotel. I would have to leave that woman from the corner, well, there, in the corner. And chances of seeing her again was as good as none. I sighed deeply as I pinched from my cookie again.
My phone began to ring as I chewed on. It was my mom. Oh dear, they’re probably back at the hotel now. I answered. “We’re on our way back. Where are you?”. “Coffee shop.” I said. Sadness was looming. Doom was here. I had to go back to the hotel. “Magbihis ka na. We’ll have dinner outside.” (TRANSLATE: Get ready. We’ll have dinner outside.) “Naka-bihis na ko.” (TRANSLATE: I’m ready.) I answered softly. I mean, duh. I’ve been out the whole day. We both hung up after that.
I realized how quiet it was at the coffee shop when I hung up. There weren’t a lot of people left. There was the woman wearing a red collared shirt by the window. She was still reading her book. There was a new group inside but most were outside smoking. And of course, there was the woman at the corner table.
I took another pinch from my cookie. Another thought came to mind. Wow, what do they put in these cookies? I need to buy some more and take some home with me. I digress. I had a plan in mind. But first, I had to wait 10 minutes. If she doesn’t turn, fine. I guess the universe has something against me today. I’ll still have the last laugh because I have a plan. But really, who has the last laugh? I won’t be able to see her face anyway. She’ll forever be a mystery to me. A dream I’ll carry with me forever. A star that never fell. A flight that never took off. Feelings that were never reciprocated.
So, I waited. I was staring. I think one of the waiters noticed. I saw from the corner of my eye he began whispering to his co-worker. Bug off.
I waited. Her back was facing me, and something was telling me she was thinking deep. She was staring at the window just as how I was staring at her. I took another pinch from my cookie, and another thought came to mind. Seriously. What if the voice I heard earlier was actually a different person? No, I heard her when she made the order. I watched her as she walked back to her table. But what if, it actually was another person? I never heard her speak in Filipino after the first time. What if she was Thai? No, she would’ve spoken in Thai when she made the order. What the hell. Enough with these thoughts. I looked at my watch, 15 minutes have passed by. I stood up and walked towards the counter with my things. I ordered 6 cookies. I told you, I had to take some home with me. It was amazing how these cookies were giving me these ideas. I asked the counter boy to heat 2 cookies for me and to just wrap up the other 4. That he did. I tore a piece of paper from my tiny notebook and began writing a note. “2 heated cookies for here, ma’am?”. “No, just the one cookie.”
He then gave me my heated cookie. That sounded weird. Anyway. He gave me the cookie and was about to give me the other one on a plate. I told him no and gave him specific instructions on what to do with it while handing him the note I just wrote. He gave me a knowing smile. I smiled back. I couldn’t help it. He was too nice, no judging and condescending look. Just the look of understanding, as if they get this all the time. I took my cookies with me and started to walk out. On my way, I looked at the woman at the corner table, hoping against hope that she’d turn around. But no. Oh well.
My phone began to ring and I answered, it was my mom again. She was asking where I was. “Papunta na sa hotel.” (TRANSLATE: On my way to the hotel.) I answered as I walked out of the coffee shop. Before stepping onto the street, I looked back at the woman at the corner table again. She just turned her head to look at the waiter beside her handing her a plate of cookie. If she was looking out the window, I would’ve seen a fourth of her face. But alas, she was looking at the waiter. Only this time, I wasn’t at my seat to see half her face. I couldn’t help but smile as the waiter gave her a smile. I sighed deeply and began walking towards the hotel. Hoping against hope I don’t get mugged along the way. Now that, that would really be disturbingly cruel, dear universe.