Once Upon A Time
He had a hole in his chin. I had wanted to ask about it for a while but couldn’t figure out how to phrase the question. When I finally asked, I characteristically said it the only way I knew how – right to the point.
(Originally in Tagalog)
“Did you get shot in the chin?”
“That hole in your chin. Did you get shot there?”
“Haha! That was an infection.”
So, with a pimple gone wild, began the evening’s conversation with Mr. Villadaris, the security officer turned ticket-giver-outer in one of Metro Manila’s parking lots.
When he first told me his last name I thought I heard Villa-Darcy. I told him he had an advantage with females as he could introduce himself as, “Darcy, Villa-Darcy” or simply as “Mr. Darcy” and he’d already have half their heart. He looked at me with a puzzled look. I tried to explain a little Jane Austen to him, telling him that females are suckers for Jane Austen so he’d have it easy. He laughed and reminded me he had a wife, a wife with kids.
“What about you?” he asked me. “Why are you always by yourself these days? What happened to the pretty lady I saw you with the last time?”
“I was with a lady?”
“Yes. It’s none of my business, but I think the last one was better, and the one before that the best.”
“Yes – IT IS none of your business. Enough about me. How has the family been? I hope your wife has been giving you more action than this ticket booth.”
“Never mind. Hey how do you keep your hair so black? You must be what? 100? You look like you’re 100 years old but your hair is so black. I’m 25 and I have more white hair in my nose than you do on your head.”
“What are you talking about? I just turned 54! Were you drinking earlier? You must have drank a lot.”
“Haha! No no no. Sorry. I just want to know how you keep your hair so black.”
“Coconut oil. The virgin kind. Keeps your hair black and smelling nice.”
“Yeah? Can I smell?”
He looked at me with the all too familiar “Is this guy serious?” look, realized I actually was, and proceeded to oblige me. If anyone had been watching they would have seen a young man with wind-styled hair, dressed completely in black, smelling a half exposed head sticking out of a white booth. I’ve attempted to draw that scene a few times but can’t seem to capture it with my scribbles. Maybe someday I’ll get lucky.
“That did not smell like a coconut at all, much less a virgin.”
He looked at me hurt.
“Just kidding. Hehe… It smells fantastic!” (Fantastically horrid I thought to myself.)
He smiled proudly and held his head high, the round cavity on his chin oddly lit by the single bulb illuminating the ticket booth.
I sort of smiled back. Even in the glow of the full moon, I don’t think he noticed my forced grin. Many times we don’t notice things we don’t want to.
Of all the lessons I never learned, “don’t talk to strangers” is one of those left unheeded. Meeting someone new is like entering a story. Saying “hi” is “once” in “Once upon a time.” With that two-letter word you become part of each other. When the moment ends and we say “goodbye” there’s a chance that it’s “bye forever” but usually it’s “bye for now”, because somehow somewhere we’re bound to meet once more. I always look forward to meeting someone again, well, on second thought, not always.
That wasn’t the first time Mr. Villadaris and I spoke, neither was it the last. I still get to see him when my book stash needs replenishing since his space is near a bookstore. We don’t see each other as often as we used to, and, I’m sure, someday I’ll drive up to a different operator. But for now, whenever I can, I walk over to his cement shed and say, “Once upon a time…”