My Short Story with an Elder Chinese “Romeo”

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.

It would have been nice if Mr. Tan had looked like this.

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.

Or this.
Or this.

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….

6 thoughts on “My Short Story with an Elder Chinese “Romeo”

  1. This was an interesting read as it gives insight into your experience as a woman. It made me reflect on my own conduct. Though I do this rarely, I have been guilty, on occasion, of approaching women at their workplace or in public, such as a bookstore, and trying to initiate a conversation with, perhaps, a hope that something more might have a chance to develop. Though I have never gone to the persistent extremes of Mr. Tan, I often feel guilty for this behavior, fearing that I am being bothersome, creepy, or otherwise off-putting. I am sensitive to the fact that this is something women must endure, the constant onslaught of potential suiters. I never want to make anyone uncomfortable, but sometimes you just feel compelled to reach out and hope for the best. Perhaps I should keep a more respectful distance and reserve my would-be romantic overtures for a more appropriate setting. Thanks for the insightful blog post!

    • Justin, I must have failed horribly in my attempt to turn this into a humorous post :-D.
      You’ve been away for so long; things here and a few aspects of my life had undergone major shake-ups.

      I’ve been writing more intensively — with added focus on my experiences and the memories I still keep that in case they eventually slip away, they’re all on this blog as annals of my past.

      I look forward to your romantic narratives, Justin. No doubt you are a dashing Romeo — passionate and every bit a lover; It inevitably shows on the way you write. You being bothersome, creepy, or off-putting? I don’t think so. Your absence actually made me suspect you had eloped with some charming lovely gal, and that you’ve just had kids :-). No kidding.

  2. No, I am certain that I misread the tone. The fault is with me. I tend to be very literal and therefore sometimes fail to recognize sarcasm and humor. Regardless, I am so happy to hear that you are writing feverishly and are diligently documenting your experiences. Interestingly, I was just thinking today, I wish I had a better record of all the crazy things that have happened, especially when I was using. Because a lot of crazy things did happen. But all of it is starting to fade. Because I’m afraid of loosing it all, I’m trying to write more about my past, now, in an attempt capture the feel of things. I just posted a new short story; though it is fiction, its very much grounded in my own experiences. You will have to let me know what you think because, as always, I very much appreciate your opinion. And in moving forward, I think that I should follow your example and begin recording my experiences in a more deliberate way. Because, after all, the memory is a messy and fallible place. Keep up the excellent writing. I will be sure to check back, friend!

    • You’re still quite young to dash off writing your memoir, but, hey, I’d definitely love to read as much as I could from you. So please commence with your documentation to my delight.
      It’s true. A record of your experiences, both positive and negative, is certainly worth having.
      I regret not keeping a journal in my much younger years. They could have been of wonderful assistance to my current writing and blog aspirations.

      Indeed, the memory is a messy and fallible place. You are wise to start this early. You can only get better and better in this craft, my friend.

  3. I’m sure there is a Mr. Tan out there that looks something like those two fine gentlemen with magnificent facial bone structure.

    • Let me complete your sentence:
      I’m sure there is a Mr. Tan out there that looks something like those two fine gentlemen with magnificent facial bone structure who would never bother with someone like the Lady from Manila. 😀

      Enjoy your weekend, MrJohnson.


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