It was the first Sunday of March when we decided to meet again.
We met at Payathai Station at Bangkok Sky Train (BTS). It connects the BTS to the Airport Link. There was a small coffee shop at the Station. This was the most comfortable place to meet because we did not have to brave the traffic of Bangkok at 5 in the afternoon.
There were many people leaving and coming. All of them were wearing masks. The security staff holding an alcohol spray stood at the entrance asking everyone to open their palms.
So, I opened my palms and he sprayed alcohol on it. So, am I safe from the virus then?
I read the message – ‘Be there in 10 minutes.’
We sat on the sofa together, in one of the coffee shops that dotted Bangkok City. We were so close. Our arms touched, but we never held hands. Not even once. I held my cup of coffee and you held your teacup. Probably, to not let go of our hands.
Who says that the touch of a hand could change the future?
You were telling me again about your life. You were waiting for me to disagree. But I just listened. I wanted to hear your voice in the real world, in real-time. Not in apps.
“When I went back home to the UK, I did some volunteering to teach ESL (English as Second Language) to refugees,” you said. Your voice trailed off.
You said, they were from Afghanistan, Iraq. They are displaced peoples with bleak future.
“Quite lucky, eh. Us. Here.” I said.
“Yes,” you agreed.
I felt good that you heeded my advice to join volunteer groups. But of course, you never mentioned that. I know you wouldn’t. You were still the proud man-boy I used to know. How could you admit that you, a perfect white man would take an advice from a colored woman like me? But we were in a different place. Far from our own comfort zones. We were both strangers in the sea of people who look like me. Not like you.
We sat there for the longest time. People came and gone in a few minutes. We did not bother. We created a space for the two of us. In between the time that separated, and still separates us.
I was looking at you. You were so close to me. I wanted to embrace and kiss you. I did it in my mind. Your soft blond hair, reminding me of cornflakes. Milk and honey-colored hair! You looked so pale. I laughed at the thought. You looked at me and smiled; without the teeth exposing.
Your eyes changed its colors again; from blue-green, to gray. Like the ocean that once separated us. I was drowning again.
We just sat there. Side by side. I saw us in an invisible mirror. A picture-perfect in contrast. Dark and white. Pale and dark. Tall and short.
My coffee cup was cold. You changed it with a teacup. We drunk that red tea, punctuated by delicious silence.
Time never stood still.
Outside, it was already dusk. The Bangkok Train Sky (BTS) that connects the airport link was filled with people going home; getting lost; finding someone; saying goodbyes.
We stood up and left the coffee shop. We were the last to leave. You have learned something from me. You left a tip for the young woman who served us. She clasped her hand in a gesture of thanks. Maybe she wondered where we would go next.
We walked towards the BTS. Amid the rushing crowd, we took off our masks, embraced and kissed.
The loudspeaker was in full-blast – Wash your hands! Protect yourself from COVID-19.
We walked on our separate ways. I did not look back. I know I already lost you.
Eunice Barbara C. Novio is a Thailand-based freelance journalist. She has been an EFL (English as Foreign Language) lecturer at Vongchavalitkul University in Nakhon Ratchasima since 2014. Her poems are published in the Philippines Graphic, Sunday Times Magazine, Dimes Show Review, Blue Mountain Arts, and elsewhere. Her first collection of poetry translated into Thai language, O Matter was published in Thailand in February 2020. Alongside, she writes for Inquirer.net, and her articles have also appeared on the Asia Focus segment of Bangkok Post, Asia Times, America Media, and The Nation. She currently sits as one of the Editorial Advisory Board of Media Asia. She is a two-time Plaridel Award winner of Philippine American Press Club for feature/profile stories.