August 31, 2013
What it’s like.
It’s like being in a Hollywood movie. You’re running your fingers through his sandy blonde hair, looking into his hazel green eyes. Standing up, he towers almost two feet above you. You are a character in Trainspotting, in High Fidelity, in a Woody Allen flick. Your skin is the color of caramel, his the color of White Rabbit toffees, the kind with transparent edible wrappers. You twine your limbs around each other and imagine what your children would look like.
He is British, or Swiss, or Australian. When you converse, you feel incredibly worldly. You talk of the plight of the Israelis, the festivals in Bali, the drugs in Amsterdam. You make fun of his accent, he pretends to understand Taglish. “I know three tribes from the Philippines,” he jokes. “The Tausugs, the Ifugaos, and the Calamaris.” You wrinkle your nose at him. You don’t understand imperialist jokes. He knows things you only read about: O levels, E testers, white sensimilla. He earns enough money. He has a passport that can fly you away from squatters and traffic and poverty and third world hell. One pound is equivalent to 75 pesos.
When you first meet, you are in a bar, on the beach, at the airport. He is wearing an Action Asia shirt, you are freshly tanned, in pigtails and a tankini. He is not-quite-drunk and is flirting with the waitress (“Inin, I’m really sorry I keep spilling my drink. Hit me on the wrist, you can do that, just punish me,” he says, holding out his arm. Sixteen-year-old Inin, dressed in a white tube top and a four-inch sarong skirt, looks at him blankly, then turns away.) You look up when he announces that white colonizers are the best thing that happened to Asia. You decide that he is kidding; after all, he has sad eyes. You’ve never really seen a white man this close before. He tries to buy you a drink, touches your hair. After sunset, both of you quite wasted, he says you are beautiful, over and over again.
You end up fucking behind a formation of stones on the beach. No moon, but a swath of silver stars across the black sky, black sea.
What it’s like, really.
Your father would not approve. Your mother would get a heart attack. “Foreigners who hang out by the beach are unclean,” your dad said once. You were educated in a convent school. You are a feminist. You know post-colonial theory. You wonder: Would Sister Mary John tear at her hair because Padre Damaso fathered Maria Clara and you are making whoopee with an imperialist? Would your UP professors shake their heads and advise you to re-read Tejeros and E San Juan? You worry about HIV, about herpes, the three kinds of hepatitis. You are not ready to be a dependent territory.
You are used to Filipino boys. They strut about like roosters, short and stout, their chests puffed out. Maybe they think this makes them look taller, or bigger. Pinoys move in front of their women to avoid disappearing in their chismis and kisses and fluttering hands. Filipino men are easy to control. You tell them to pick you up from work, they wait outside your office for 30 minutes. You say you are thirsty, and they wordlessly get up to buy you mineral water. You’re hot, or bothered, or bored, and they’re there, offering solutions: Scrabble? A trip to the beach? A talk with your dad? Your parents trust your boyfriends more than they trust you.
But this boy is tall and thin and stoops down to breathe in the top of your head. “You smell like coconuts and sunlight, like the beach,” he says. Yet he doesn’t walk on the danger side, does not carry your bag, is not at your beck and call.
And yet, and yet. Lying down, his body stretches on and on. You could, if you wanted to, fit the length of your body into the crook of his neck, then rest your feet by his calves. And you want to. At the very least, you try.
When you go out at night you take care: You wear pearls, slacks by Inno Sotto, speak in affected English loud enough to be overheard. You wear your hair in demure pins, tailored skirts, long sleeved shirts. You go to Whereelse?, to Aqua, avoid Malate like the plague. Still, people stare. You know what they’re thinking. They want to know: where did this guy pick you up? How much is he paying? The men leer at you, women giggle when you walk past. She doesn’t look like a whore, their eyes smirk.
You stare too: when you see Filipinas with white men you are riveted. You wonder which countries the men are from, what they say in bed, big whore hair, makeup-masks, clunky shoes and too-short skirts. You look at your own skirts and strappy sandals and store them at the back of your closet. Limit yourself to Benetint and one coat of mascara. Gloss.
And so: you never hold hands in public, flinch when you see someone you know. You introduce him as your friend visiting from England. But he has lived in this country for five years.
The truth is, you have mutual disdain for each other. He complains about the Philippines: everything is low-quality, everything is expensive, everyone wants a handout. He finds fault in quail eggs (“Too small they clog my throat.”) to milk (“How can UHT milk cost 56 pesos?!?”) to potholes (“Driving in this country is like suicide.”). Every other sentence he says starts out with, “In my country, things work because . . . .”
You look down on his kind; you always have. White men go to third world countries because here, they are gods. As soon as they get off the plane they’re walking wallets, they’re so gwapo, they’ve benevolent assimilators. They drink cheap beer and buy brown women. You see bloated versions of him in Angeles, bellies drooping over their belts, bar girls in tow. His ex-girlfriend was a receptionist. In Palawan, both of you lying a hammock watching the sun set into the ocean, he tells you that he has an 8-month old baby. In the husky dusk drowned by pinacoladas, you start imagining his face stretching and changing into a rubbery mask. He adds that he doesn’t give child support because you don’t want to give her a salary and support her Filipino boyfriend. Even if he supports his maid’s son through school, pays for his staff’s rent. His face starts morphing into the devil’s.
Besides, he has never heard of Roald Dahl. Besides, after living in the Philippines for five years, he never learned to speak Filipino. “No one to teach me,” he lamented. Besides, when you bring a Japanese condom, his cock (six inches, uncircumcised) doesn’t fit. “It cuts off my circulation,” he complains. Besides, you stop having sex.
What it’s like, finally.
You don’t actually go out on dates. A typical meeting with a white boy goes like this: He calls you, you go to his hotel room, you smoke weed, you fuck. He falls asleep, you try not to notice yourself creeping out of his room. It is in a destitute bed and breakfast and you never see it in day light except once: you fall asleep and wake up to have breakfast by the pool. Another English man in his 50s sits in your table and you wait an excruciatingly ten minutes before you realize that you’re not getting introduced. So you introduce yourself and shake hands with the man, make small talk. Then slink out of the building with the other whores.
He doesn’t know anything about you. Your last name means nothing to him; he doesn’t know that your family owns half of Negros. That your grandfather’s name is etched on university buildings. That you are part of a long line of despotic landlords, that you live in a village in Makati. That you went to the same colegeiala school that Corazon Aquino attended.
You tell all your friends, “I’m so relieved to be with someone who’s not best friends with the cousin of my ex-boyfriend’s best friend’s roommate.” You tell all your friends that you’re in love. That together, you’re not tied to Manila, where everyone is related to everyone else. That he’s a whole new world.
That afterwards, before you pull on your t-shirt and look for your socks, all there is, is the warm hollow of bodies curved. You had whispered each other’s lives, memorized moles in unlikely places (beneath your jawline, above his nose, on the side of his hip, the concave of your chest). There are bumps on the tips of his shoulders that you breathe into. He has measured the length of your eyelashes, the timbre of your voice. He has lines like, “I would hear it in my sleep and recognize you.” But also lines like I’ll call you. Or text you. Tonight.” You laugh when he eats a salad with onions in bed, refuse to kiss him. Watching MTV in his bedroom you bask in the alien light of Macy Gray’s video. You are both blue.
And still afterwards: He doesn’t call. You want to tell him about your life, your job in a brokerage firm, your car, your passport with the Schengen visa. But there is nothing. Maybe he has flown back to Europe, backpacked across Africa, married his ex-girlfriend in HongKong. Maybe he has lost the way to your empire. You don’t know. He doesn’t call. He will never meet your parents, you forgo your wedding plans in Southampton, leave your clothes on.
You get on with your life, stop going to the beach. But there it is: white sheets, onion breath, love from your far flung arm.
First published in Future Shock: An Anthology of Young Writers and New Literature (2002), edited by Ian Rosales Casocot. Republished with the permission of the author.
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