a few days ago, she was telling me about that one time one of her former employers hosted an event where her assignment was to stamp passport-like booklets carried around by participants as part of some promo, i think. of course, she being who she was, she absolutely loved her assignment.
i was like, “so when was this? 2003? 04?” most of the time, i’m of the belief that i should’ve been in her life earlier, etc. “i should have been there.”
and what would you have done, she asked.
“i would have flirted with you.”
“really? like how?”
stumped. “um.” really, i’m all bark, no bite. i don’t flirt. i flirt horribly, if ever i try at all. “i don’t know. maybe ask for more stamps?”
okay, as i said, i flirt horribly. i must admit that move would have merited intervention of men in uniform, but still, i thought, there must be some way that would have worked.
so my keywords are: star-shaped mole, stamps, security forces.
And so, for this Christmas: A story involving all three. Oha. not really christmas-related, but yeah.
(so um in the end, it doesn’t really work, *work* but can’t say i didn’t try to see the girl through it.)
Someone handed me a passport-looking booklet at the entrance. Something I had almost thrown away – that would have totally been in character, by the way; I was the sort of person who threw chances at raffles away anyway, unless specifically required not to, considering I had no raffle-related luck at all. But I didn’t, so.
So now I have stamps to deal with.
“Mechanics,” says my friend Jone, who had insisted on dragging me along to this job fair masquerading as a big raffle event masquerading as something important to a fresh graduate who’s now an official bum. “See? Every stall has a stamp and a freebie, and if you fill it up you get to join a raffle.” The way her eyes light up at the second syllable (‘-ffle’) cracks me up, ridiculously.
“What?” she asks.
I look down at my empty ‘passport.’ “Nothing,” I say, shaking my head. “Just something I remembered.”
What I remembered was this – this morning, when I woke up, an envelope under the door (the electric bill). This morning, as I clambered out of bed, the space I left no different when I laid on it last night, and left it yesterday morning, and the mornings before that. I find it curious how some things stay the same even when everything around it has been continuously changing.
My mother called the other day, telling me about an ad in the classifieds. Spent most of the phone call trying to explain the concept of ‘selling out’ and why I wasn’t too keen about the job she was shoving up my face. “Mom,” I’d said wearily, “I can manage, really. It’s only been two months.”
My mother being who she was, a woman who remembered dates and places and time with inexplicable precision, whose quality of memory was inversely proportional to her age, made it a point to correct, “It’s been three months since April.”
I rolled my eyes, twirled the phone cord around my finger. My mother the fascist, still lording over my life from three, four cities away. “Three, then,” I conceded. “Really, I’ll be fine.”
And that explains why I was here with Jone in the first place: I was looking for a job.
Funny how when you’re looking for something you don’t really find it. It must be some kind of unwritten law of physics, or perhaps something supernatural.
All I know is that I wasn’t looking for her now, but then here she was – now, several years later, several years after. Now, that I had put my life on hold, as if it were at all wise to press some invisible “Pause” button to stop life from moving past me as I looked for a thing to do that would pay for every other thing else.
“What?” Jone was nudging me, but I was still in my head; in my hand, an empty booklet. “I don’t know if you’re just hungry or just completely not here mentally or currently having an out-of-body experience. But I’m going over there to drop my resume with that network, and I don’t care if you think that’s selling out.”
Fuck selling out, I just thought, heading for that other network on the other end of the fair, not really interested with handing over my resume or anything, but more like…
I was still thinking of the reason I was drawn when she stepped back into me and crushed the tip of my shoe underfoot. “Sorrysorry,” I just mumbled, dropping the booklet I received at the entrance in a production number of sorts that put all hues and colors to my cheeks. “Oh god.”
She looks over her shoulder with an even more panicked look than the one I myself had on. “Fuck!” The skin beside the edge of her smile, awkwardly apologetic, turns from soft brown to a light pink blush reminiscent of people who have had a little too much vodka. “I’m sorry,” she says again. And then, “Really, I’m sorry.”
What was I supposed to do, other than laugh, other than pick myself up from the floor along with the necessary brown envelopes people brought to events like this?
Maybe I should have said instead, “I brought you this,” and then handed over my resume, with a photo of me in a toga taken months before graduation even, as if I had been 100-percent certain I would be out of college by the following March, stapled onto a corner.
Maybe then she would have lost the awkward grin and that vodka blush and replaced it with something genuine. I would have settled something professional, even. At least, she would have asked about my booklet, if I were interested in a stamp from their booth, in what they were offering (I think I saw magazines).
Maybe from there I could have engaged her in small talk, asked for her name, and if that mark on her arm was really a star-shaped mole and not a pen-related accident this morning. Maybe she would have smiled, would have pulled up her sleeve slightly higher and beckoned me a bit closer and then – and then, maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be just here, just standing, still awkward and still nursing an unbelievably sore toe, in front of a girl who has what looks like a star-shaped mark on her arm that I just haven’t verified yet.
“Are you okay?” she says instead, for real this time, and this time, I take a step back.
“Yeah,” I tilt my head, as I do when uncertain. “Um.” Now we have a problem, I recognize in my head. She was so close and I was all over the place. “Stamps.”
It could have been a crucial moment. Had I been suave and cool and smooth, maybe by this time I would already have her number, or her last name, or an inkling as to what she was doing handling stamps for this company on a sunny day like this, when she could be somewhere else like the beach or under a shade of a tree in a park, wearing something brighter and lighter than this, her dreary corporate costume.
“Oh.” Her eyes widen as if in understanding and I let go of the breath I did not know I was actually keeping in. She held my eyes like you would something hot and you’re itching for a sneeze – reluctant and urgent all the same.
I held out my hand and for a second her palm was under it, as if she did not trust me to grip back solidly as she landed the stamp right where their company’s box would be. With the booklet facing away from me, I could barely make out their company’s name inverted.
“Here,” she’s saying, handing me two magazines their publishing outfit came out with.
“Thanks.” For the lack of any better thing to say. My father once said wit was something highly hereditary, and now, more than ever, I was feeling so betrayed by my own genes. I looked up to say a wordless goodbye, only to find her not there.
Fine. So maybe this wasn’t a day for meeting new people then, I just thought as I walked away, brown envelope now heavy with two bundles of glossy paper.
For the most part magazines just depress me, really, with their flawless pretty faces and bods and all those things I don’t have—which I know I don’t need anyway, so it’s not really about the having, but it’s more like the absence, this sort of gap, that sort of brings on that familiar melancholic vibe.
It’s no big deal, really. After all, this may very well be the first and last remembrance of this fateful day; I deliberately did not touch the magazine’s spine for fear of overwriting her fingerprints. I get terribly OC at times, and this was one of those. I guess it’s like that when you think something won’t ever happen again.
Jone is looking at me weirdly when I get to her, pointing first to my awkward absent smile and then casually over my shoulder, to the space I just left.
“Hmm?” I raised a brow.
“That girl near the magazine stand is looking at you. What have you been doing while my back was turned?”
I shrugged, tempted to look back. Would I see her there with a little wave at least, and I with my sheepish smile, a vague wave back and then, eventually, the quick-slow walk back to her booth, hands in both pockets as I try to keep them closer because it’s the only way I could keep them from doing embarrassing things? Would the eye contact be so intense it would be akin to conversation? Would it be so compelling as to merit a real one?
The spirit is willing, but the flesh could only give as much. I looked over my shoulder finally, more to dispel a dream than to fulfill one. She was still there, only with her back turned, busily rearranging the magazines on their stacks, like the good dutiful employee she must really be. I felt something in me deflate.
“You can’t be serious,” says Jone from behind me, using an all-too familiar exasperated tone she had so often used on me on similar occasions. I was ridiculously transparent, it ought to count against me. “You’ve only known her a day.”
Seriously, I don’t even know her. I gave Jone a nod, the smuggest one I could muster at the time. Of course, it’s nothing really; or, must it be something, it should be something small, but small in the way the intricate details all are, but then, to use intricate to describe her would be to make the word ‘insignificant’ totally inappropriate. I hate having to name things.
Sometimes you just can’t help it, thinking up all these happily ever afters that start when a boy meets a girl – or in this case, when a girl backs into another girl. I stopped watching TV when I moved out of the house for college, and I thought this was how I managed to shed my stereotypes.
Or at least, some of them. Standing here, staring at the back of a girl whose name I don’t even know, it surprises me how this particular myth has stuck to me all this while, all heartbreaks imagined or legitimate notwithstanding.
Girl without a name moves to the side, takes off her vest, rolls up her other sleeve higher. I look away guiltily.
Now what, asks Jone. You’re going to stand there until someone calls security?
I laugh and shrug, then laugh some more. Certainly, there were far more embarrassing ways to spend the next few minutes without involving security forces. Unfortunately, I can’t think of any other move that would involve getting near her again that would not involve security forces as well.
Well, what was I to do, approach her and ask for what, more stamps? Ridiculous. I already have a stamp, and more magazines than I could tolerate. What was I to do, walk over and ask, of all things, for her name? Or if I could look closer at that mark in her forearm, explain how my eyesight is horrible? What, so I’m a part-time stalker now? Ridiculous. Not to mention risky. I suppressed a shiver as I glanced over at the entrance manned by not one, but two burly men with guns.
And so. So I decide to walk away, as I have previously, several times before, in different circumstances with different people. So maybe this is why, after all this time, things just haven’t changed. Well, they have, at some points indistinct and unmemorable, but yeah. What counts, counts, and so I am counting this one again, an irregular scrawl in my Could’ve Been column, just another statistic written down.#