On Sundays, my son and I used to alternately man the booth where I sell (up to this day) government-sponsored tickets.
One afternoon, a few years ago – while I was still in my earliest forties – a man stopped over to purchase a ticket during my shift. He proceeded to ask a few questions on the details and time of the draw. It was my job to answer or give information with courtesy and a smile. He seemed pleased and subsequently left, but came back thirty minutes later to hand over a small gift. “Thank you!” I exclaimed. His name was Mr. Tan.
From then on, Mr. Tan would pay a visit to my booth on Sunday afternoons to make small talk and give delicious eatables, plus sundry other items. Oh by the way, he was 30 years my senior, which made him 71 years old at the time. Short, thin, and unprepossessing – there was nothing in him to write home about. He was polite, nice and generous, though.
Once, his ticket won 4000pesos; He put half of the amount in an envelope and graciously compelled me to take it. I couldn’t; yet I thanked him just the same.
On the few occasions Mr. Tan would eventually leave to head home, my business partner (wearing a wicked grin) would approach our stall and taunt me with: “At least man shortage doesn’t apply to you, huh.” Or he’d come up with: “Ahem, not bad for someone your age.”
I’d glare at this business partner of mine in retaliation and would jokingly fire back: “Tease me one more time and I swear I’d find a way to exterminate you.”
My mother became annoying in the same magnitude. When she learned of Mr. Tan’s Chinese-style of courtship, she bugged me with, “Why can’t you accept the man?”
Huh? Wait. “Mother, he’s a septuagenaariaan!”
She gaped for two seconds before she shrieked, “So whaaat?!” Resolute to her point, she continued, “You go for good-looking and exciting types, but have they given you anything?”
Really. My mother’s shape of thinking? Totally beyond my purview.
The time came, however, when Mr. Tan began to make an appeal. He requested if he could hold my hand, my two hands to be precise — right there in my place of work. My skin could have crawled.
But contemplating on all those delicious snackfoods and drinks, and nice goods he supplied to me – little inexpensive jewelry, bedsheets and pillowcases, collectible coins, raw stuff from his refrigerator, etc. — I figured, “What’s a few minutes of feeling creepy with him clasping my hands?” The grilles fenced us off anyway with him outside and me secured inside my kiosk.
So every Sunday for some number of months, I had festively been chomping or chewing and gulping down delectable edibles he’d manage to bring; As soon as I was finished, though – while still burping — I’d force myself to put out my hands for him to hold.
Did I ever lead him on? Not by a long shot, I believed.
One day, Mr Tan tried to ask me out. He said he wanted to take me somewhere special. My curiosity got the better of me. “May I ask where?”
“To the cemetery where my parents lay in peace. Then we’re going to have lunch at McDonald’s.”
“I see” was my response — hedging.
A particular day finally came when I was in no good mood at all; I could hardly bear with him and I snapped: “Look, we can only be friends. Nothing more. I hope I make myself clear.” The poor guy must have been aghast my remark rendered him speechless.
He remained visible in the two weeks that followed; then he started making his presence scant – until he stopped showing up. There was this one day he stopped by merely to return the photo I had given him which he had put on a modest picture frame. He said he hadn’t been feeling well and preferred that it not be thrown away, just in case. I sincerely bid him to take care of himself and expressed my best wishes. I still saw him a few times afterward (around the area near my booth), relieved to see him still looking healthy. He even bought a ticket once or twice.
My booth operator goes to work on Sundays now I’ve not much chance to see my customers anymore. No idea if Mr. Tan is still around. I hope he’s doing fine.
I guess I had been bad. I know — you need not tell me; I was bad….