Life Lessons from the Least Expected
Where are you from? Do you speak Tagalog? How do you like the Philippines? Are you married?
I answered these questions quickly and with little interest hoping to satisfy his superficial interest. Much to my dismay however, my aloofness only seemed to fuel his fire. I was tired and was worried that the sporadic standstill traffic might cause me to miss the last bus ride back to Bontoc. A small part of me hoped that it would happen anyway…there’s comfort in being surrounded by millions of strangers…in being anonymous…in being able to walk into an internet cafe at 1 AM and still feel like a normal human being. If I have to stay in Manila another night…sige…ok lang. The driver regained my attention when he stopped asking questions and started divulging information about himself. He worked overseas for over 10 years…in Saudi. He lived in the desert…and not just in the desert…but in an actual compound “in” (under) the desert sand. However, he seemed less interested in talking to me about his work and more interested in talking to me about his wife and his Saudi girlfriends and how they compared to one another physically and sexually. While he was thinking he was either shocking me or impressing me…or just plain entertaining me…I was thinking about throwing the car door open and bolting. By this time, sure, I had no idea where I was, but there were plenty of other cabs around. Granted, the traffic wasn’t moving at all, but I could at least sit in any other cab and probably have to deal with less testosterone. Next thing I knew, he was asking me another question.
“How old are you?”
Not only did I not want to answer this question for the shear fact that dude was just plain shady…but I didn’t want to answer it, as well, for it’s inevitable repercussions…more questions. I saw the scenario playing itself out in my head… “You’re 29 and you’re not married? Why not?” “Because I’m just not,” isn’t a valid response here. And I wasn’t in the mood for making up an elaborate story. So, I thought I’d divert from that direction completely. I thought, I’d cut him off at the pass. I thought I could be slick, and just tell an itty bitty lie to stop his questioning. So, I coolly said, “I’m 18.” At that instant, the inside car light flashed on, and the driver reached his arm around the passenger side seat so he could more easily turn his head around and get a good look at me.
“18!” he exasperated. “I thought you were atleast 30! You look much older than 18!”
I was a bit shocked. I had never heard anything like that in my life. My whole life, people have mistaken me for being much younger than I really am. I didn’t think for a second that I wouldn’t get away with it. But, as I sat there under the car’s prosecuting beam of light, I thought to myself that maybe I have indeed aged since the beginning of my peace corps stint. Maybe I have lost some of that baby fat that was once in my cheeks. Maybe my skin isn’t as smooth and firm as it once was. And I’m sure the city lights can cast some strange shadows on an already haggard face at the end of a long evening. Busted!...the one time when I was just trying to earn myself a little peace and quiet.
“Why do you look so old?” the driver asked.
I couldn’t help but to just chuckle inside at this unforeseen backfire. Now, I had to cook up another lie to support my first.
“I’ve had a hard life,” I say meekly as if at that very moment in time I was being haunted by all the bad memories of that which had robbed me of my childhood in the first place.
To this day, a part of me feels still feels bad for fooling that driver. He stepped intoa role that many people wouldn’t have taken the time to do, especially with strangers. He was immediately empathetic and encouraging. Not only was he offering me his driving services, but he was throwing in a psychologist for free.
“What was so bad? What happened to you?”
I remained aloof partly because I didn’t know what to say (I’ve never been good at lying and coming up with elaborate, believable stories on the fly…I’ve never really even tried), and partly because aloofness could in the end only help sell my story. The rest of the way, the driver proceeded to load my plate with heaping spoonfuls of inspirational stories and motivational antics. “You control your life, don’t let your life control you! Keep pushing on if life isn’t going the way you want. You be the master of your destiny! Even as he helped me carry my bags to the bus up until the moment he waved and slunk back into the driver’s seat of his dingy cab, he urged me to keep my head up and not let life’s problems discourage me. So, what started out as nothing but a necessary cab ride to my bus, ended up, 40 minutes later to be life lessons in disguise. I said “thank you, I will remember that,” and climbed aboard my bus.