His boarding house was a hollow concrete block. At the end of his room was a wooden bed base with no mattress, next to it, a bamboo arm chair. Random writing and drawings littered the concrete walls in permanent marker. It reminded me of a friend I had in Australia who would smoke a lot of weed then scrawl on his walls, symbols and writing only coherent to him. Song lyrics maybe. Or the guy I met during my first night in India at a hostel in Andheri. Wreathed in smoke, he showed me a leather bound book filled with the frenzied runnings of pen, with corrections that filled the margins as his mind changed course. The way the words were written told more than the content. It was a sci-fi novel he was writing. Perhaps there is a fine line between creative genius and slightly unhinged.
The night was still humid and our bodies warm with alcohol. He switched on a small plastic fan set on a stool and it started whirring. He says we need to hurry, as some other people who lived there might be returning soon. We had met earlier at virtually the only place you can dance in town, (since we’re out in the province) and caught an eight peso tricycle back to his.
I was drunk again. And making poor decisions. Funny how alcohol can make you so fucking horny, and much more likely to take risks. After successfully completing a ten day silent Vipassana meditation course, I didn’t smoke, drink or wank for two months (yes actual true story). Are you impressed? Vipassana is pretty amazing. Until you move to a new country, which messes with your daily routine, your meditation slips, and so does your ability to stay even tempered, and you lose touch with those precious mindful moments before smoking a cigarette, downing a beer, losing your temper, or getting into a tricycle with some guy you just met. And you get caught again in this cycle of chasing all these things, and avoiding all these other things, that leads you to be on the whole, unsatisfied.
I was out with some friends, and what got me were his fancy eyelashes that seemed a little out of place on his face. Like the curl of a wave. They contrasted with his features that were decidedly masculine, a chin that jutted at just the right angle, and shoulders that were broad for someone quite skinny. I approached him. He was laconic, but smiley. This sort of man always appeals to me for some reason. I am not so talkative myself, and find attractiveness in someone who considers, who mulls. I was already thinking about that precise moment when someone’s shyness and reservation give way to natural boldness during intimacy. He reciprocated my interest in small ways, but took this to the fact that he wasn’t out and wanted to keep his anonymity, after all he lived here, and to be openly gay in provincial Philippines it’s more acceptable if you fit a certain stereotype. I suggest leaving, so we go.
Wasting no time, I took my shirt off. He follows, and on the back he has a tattoo of a famous brand in the Philippines, akin I suppose to having Nike or Vans logo tattooed on you. He eased onto the creaky plywood covering of his bed base. We begin the initial ritual of touching; providing trust and comfort before we get into it. As my hand reached for his jeans, he took me by the wrist and looked into my eyes seriously. “May bayad ako,” he said – you have to pay for me. Huh I retorted! What? Really?! Talaga!!?? !?I didn’t quite understand. After a few swift sentences delivered in English, and realising that he was indeed serious, I asked, out of curiosity how much?
Three hundred pesos he said. This puzzled with me. Later, on the trike home I tried to decide whether this guy was into me and thought he could also extract a little cash too by asking for what seemed to be little. Or perhaps three hundred pesos was a lot of money? The minimum rate of pay in the provinces after all is two hundred and fifty pesos. Declining, he looked upset. Never have I lost a boner so quickly. Awareness that someone actually isn’t as into you as you think, as you’re there half naked and ready to go is a weird thing.
I tried explaining that he shouldn’t sleep with men that he doesn’t want to for money. That he gives a little piece of himself away when he does so. But sometimes it is hard to translate these things. And what value is this advice to him? If a job is hard to get, you haven’t finished school, you don’t have family around you, and you need to pay for shit, what is there to do? Sell the commodity that never runs out, though the more you sell, the less value it seems to have. It may be easy to judge shit like this, but for all I know I may be doing the same thing given the same context. My friend’s situation is not uncommon and is a symptom of a country that struggles, that fails to provide opportunity to everyone, equally. Instead of lecturing, I should have offered solutions.
Sometimes my thoughts return to him, and things I’d like to know. What his life is like, where his family is, how often he sleeps with people for money, whether he wrote the weird shit on the walls, how alike we might be, and how he seemed quite happy given the circumstances.
I asked him whether he was actually really into men and he replied with ‘Lalaki ako’ – I am a man. Here they equate being male with being straight – they use both terms interchangeably. Having masculine qualities and being into men sometimes people cannot understand. Heterosexual norms are also applied to same sex couples – one usually is referred to as the man, the other as a woman. Most publicly out same sex couples also seem to meet this stereotype, and one is usually considered straight. Perhaps individuals are shaped by these expectations. Before I left, I joked saying that if anyone should be paying anyone for sex, it seemed more fitting that he should be paying me. He laughed. I get into a tricycle and turning the corner, I glance back, and his figure was still there in the night, waiting.