Five Places I’ve Met And One I’ve Known
by Isabel Yap
Outside the Filipino restaurant where the overzealous keyboardist drowned our chatter, Marie suggests a trip to the Filipino bakery. It sounds like a good plan; we donâ€™t know yet the store is closed. I never craved the taste of home until we left. The train screams repeatedly overhead. Puddles shimmer in the moonlight. A drop of sudden wetness grazes my cheek. Looking up, I find snow spiraling from the sky, small enough it could be dust. Itâ€™s March and unexpected after the hail and violent rain, yesterdayâ€™s snowfall already melting on windshieldsâ€¦ Iâ€™m the only one still awed by the sight, still laughing with delight in her first thick coat.
How to make the story unexpected? Ayaka tells me sheâ€™d love to learn Italian. We are walking up and down Ebisu. I am searching for the Meguro River. I am a terrible compass. We stop by a display case for tempura after going back and forth: you pick. No, you pick. Youâ€™re the guest, you pick. I will always be the guest in a city that didnâ€™t birth me. Iâ€™m in love with this place but it will never stop for me. At Starbucks we switch to English and talk about celebrities. We walk for so long that I end up limping, one leg straining, but it doesnâ€™t matter; itâ€™s like I was born to be lost.
Which is not really where Iâ€™m from, only itâ€™s easier than saying Quezon City and responding to the puzzled smile. When asked what it was like I long to say: I used to ride everyday in a twelve-seater van that moved in three-minute intervals while children tapped on the glass, selling white flowers and menthol candies. The walls next to my home could be scaled by enterprising squatters, but the squatters stayed where they were, singing the same songs on karaoke every Sunday. We see the blind and the broken on a regular basis â€“ the stumps of their fingers, their toothless grins â€“ but itâ€™s true, theyâ€™re grinning, and the blind are playing love songs on their guitars.
Another nowhere-city. I live close to Stanford. If you cross the road you hit the private golf course. And thereâ€™s a supermarket nearby, a pharmacy, a yogurt shop, a place to walk that edges a manmade lake. And what do you do there? Nothing much â€“ the dishes, TV recordings, walking my dog, washing his paws. Sometimes I run and watch the trees come alive in a rustle of insect wings. Sometimes I drive for miles and encounter only roadkill and cows.
Cabo San Lucas
Rain breaks the brochureâ€™s promise. After the overturned kayak weâ€™re all a little wary. Iâ€™m forgiving because itâ€™s a family reunion, but I donâ€™t really care for this place. Itâ€™s too much like home when it isnâ€™t home. Jesus bleeds sorrowfully inside a church; people are selling things nobody wants. On sunny days there is probably dancing and laughter. Where I lived we didnâ€™t wait for sun, and the sand was less gritty, the water more blue.
We split the egg tarts and eat them furtively while walking down the street. We have just come from a detour to a monkâ€™s graveyard. I still feel touched by something larger than myself. Leaving the stone idols, we encounter two tourists: a couple, their faces barely able to contain delight. The man gestures at the snow and the river and looks at us, exclaiming, â€œCan you believe this?â€ The day is almost closing and still I am thinking: no. No I canâ€™t.
Always the same start and end. From the small square one is given on an airplane seat it is hard to distinguish one city from another. These lights could be the lights I love, or a tangle of lies that recurs in dreams. If you were a person I would write you a letter asking how long must you possess my heart? If you were merely a place I would not even be writing.
Isabel Yap was born and raised in Quezon City, Philippines. She has spent the last three years studying Marketing at Santa Clara University in the California Bay Area. Her poetry has most recently appeared in Santa Clara Review and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal. Her short fiction has been included in several Philippine anthologies. She hopes to travel more extensively in the future. Besides writing, she enjoys studying Japanese, watching funny videos on Youtube, and eating chocolate chip cookies.