By Virginia J. Pasalo
ONE reason I go to Jollibee V. Luna is I can sit by the glass wall closest to the door. From this vantage point, I can see the movements at the intersection of Kalayaan and V. Luna Streets, and I can observe and hear customers’ conversations from most of the tables. As I wait for the pancakes to be served, I usually begin doing crossword, sudoku, or edit manuscripts and drink my coffee. Occasionally, when all tables are taken on the ground floor, people unwilling to take the stairs to the second floor where there are empty seats, request to me to “share” my table. I oblige, all the time.
There are risks of course. Last October 10, an elderly couple sat in front of me. The woman was having a difficult time tearing the ketchup sachet, and since the man was focused on his meal and did not offer any help, the woman mustered all her strength and ripped the sachet totally, splattering on the manuscripts, my blouse and my eyeglasses. Instinctively, she grabbed a tissue paper and wiped my face, that took some off, but spread the condiment on a wider area, and added itself on my lipstick. Her partner took another tissue paper, and almost seasoned the manuscript with the condiment, had I not been quick to hold his hand before it landed. Both apologized profusely, and I quickly told them it was okay, concerned that they would wipe away the ketchup that landed on my cleavage.
At another time, a nerdy looking effeminate guy who requested to share the same space, put his Lenovo laptop on my table and left to make an order. A few minutes after, I saw a friend enter. I quickly left the table and greeted her. We continued talking until she finally got her order. As we headed back to the empty table closest to mine, the man who earlier requested to share the table suddenly blurted: “I left the laptop thinking someone will watch over it. Had I not come back earlier, it could have been stolen!” He glared at me, took his laptop and proceeded to the second floor. He did not even wait for my reaction. He was lucky I was with a friend, I could have reduced his hair to half and erased one of his over-arching eyebrows.
But nothing beats my last encounter. In that same table, a man in his late 50s, asked if he could sit in front of me. Knowing there were many vacant tables, I pretended not to hear him, and continued reading. He asked again. Still, I pretended not to hear him after which he turned around and suddenly banged his tray on the table next to mine. I continued to ignore him as his spoon and fork made grating sounds while constantly banging his glass of water on the table. Still I ignored him. He finished his meal with another bang on the table. I continued to edit the manuscript.
Finally, he stood, kicking the leg of the chair that made a painful cry. He momentarily stood on my side, and I reached for the cutter, in case he decided to hit me. He did not. Instead, he stepped out of the door. I was so relieved he was gone, only to find him standing outside the glass wall where I could see him. Again, I pretended not to see him. He leaned on the glass, wanting desperately to be noticed. I refused to acknowledge his presence. I sipped my coffee even more slowly, leafing through unedited pages, writing down every observation on a notebook. I was tempted to take his photo for security reference but I was afraid that may provoke him to finally attack me. I could see him, a pathetic alpha male, from the corner of my eyes. He wore blue rubber shoes, and he had dirty fingernails.
And then, having exhausted himself, he left. That feeling was eerie. It reminded me of a time in San Carlos City, where I worked for a food processing firm. I was being pursued by a man who regarded himself as a blessing to women, and took my rejection of him very badly. He kicked all the flower pots outside our quarters, and a week after that, he threatened to shoot me. It was easy to believe his threat, knowing the group he was affiliated with before, so I immediately reported the incident to the police. He so scared me out of my wits that I had to carry a gun.
During his interrogation, when the police found him, he said: “I was joking. I was angry. She ignored me, like I did not exist. She never even looked at me, or uttered a single word.”