by Andy Lopez
You bump into White Boy on a parched, irreverent Wednesday morning, power-walking your way to line up for the three hour commute at 6 AM, and too loud he announces, I am in love with your country. Falling in step with you, he adjusts the strap of his traveler’s backpack, and he’s bleeding joy, smiling the kind of smile that makes you feel like a jerk if you don’t return it, so you do. I love everything about it, he says; your people, your beaches, your Jollibee. White Boy doesn’t flinch from crowds, doesn’t fear the Houdini flicker of a snatcher’s wrist, and you wonder how that feels like. To be so at home in your own body you are unfazed by the oceans you’ve crossed to arrive here; the kind of ease where you can make a mess. Euphoric spittle flies, lands on your black polished shoes. He says, Today, I woke up early to catch the sunrise, and you think, how romantic.
White Boy is a buoyant force, a glass-half-full that runneth over. Squint, and it’s him—your detergent model messiah, encased in rosebush essence and forgiveness. Around you commuters part for him,ski-boat cutting through the waves; giddy, you realize they are parting for you, too. Wet market stench scatters like oil on water. He stops by a fruit stall, and the vendor hunkered over her calculator perks up when she sees the glint of his camera phone and poses; all your brown people are performers.
White Boy asks, You know where I can find any Boba around here? She pauses, then repeats: Boh-BAH? He nods. She titters nervously. The world’s largest fruit fly descends on your shoulder, but you are too busy battling this insidiously potent dose of embarrassment. Boh-BAH? Boba. Bow-buh? Yeah, you know—Boba. The hellish cycle doesn’t end until her eyes catch yours, and you know—this is it. You’ve watched the soaps. Bagged the medals in English Lit, all those years hammering the fight from your tongue into taffy for this one prophesied moment: to spirit a handsome tourist away from this bleary-eyed mob and lead him to Bubble Tea Valhalla, because what sensible person calls it Milk Tea? Not you. Properly, it’s Boba. Bow-buh. Notice the slight inflection? The subtle nuance, a soft pillowed puff? Boh-buh. As in the tea, not stupid girl, a name reserved for contextless clowns who tangle their sentences.
Poor fruit vendor says, Sorry, I do not know. White Boy is forgiving, yet radiant. He turns to you with a question, but this time the words are too fast. Parsing error. Nothing slots. Fruit flies conspire in your ear. He repeats his question. Whoosh. There it goes—too quick for hands. Say it slowly, you want to say. Say it slowly!
Instead, you watch him leave—farewell, easy, pliant Philippines, taking the offered bag of sweet, discounted ripe mangos, and pop! The bubble breaks: you see, now, the sun-pinked line of his pale shoulders, the drenched pits, and in seeps the congealing sewer stench, swirling around your ankles, uncoiling its many mouths.