Saturday, September 09, 2006

People Sketching


Fancy meeting a guy named Hilarious. You'd expect to meet a boy with a funny smile or at least a quirky set of eyebrows. But what if this guy was exactly the opposite of what you expected --- his eyes distant, his smile nowhere near warm and his demeanor always one of constant vigilance?

I don't need to imagine. I've met him.

Poor boy's probably stigmatized by his name. His eyes went glacial the moment we asked about it. In a calculatingly defensive tone, he relayed to us that he was named after his grandfather, Hilario. He stood ramrod straight in his white nurse's uniform, his gleaming white shoes a silent testament to his immovability. He did not share in our amused laughter. He pursed his lips in silent distaste and his eyes were questioning.

It's either he does not know the usual English definition of hilarious or he's wondering why people always have to make a big deal about it.

Either way, he insisted on being called Harry. With military precision, he jotted down his observations regarding the IV tube, his accounting of the syringes and insulin, the heartbeat of my ailing but temporarily amused father. I may have just imagined him clicking his heels the moment he finished his job. But he did not say a word when he took leave of us, he only bowed his head slightly in an effort not to be rude.

Such pride in such an impersonal person with such an unusual name.

I've always known names shape people. A study even showed that the more unusual the name, the larger the possibility of the person becoming a leader, a pioneer, or a star. But in the case of Hilarious, aherm, Harry I mean, he's turning out to be one of the most wounded-looking people I have ever known.

It's so ironic that it isn't funny at all.


I chanced upon Bastian in the garden on my way to the car. He was taking in the freshness of the morning air. It's apparent he just woke up, the cotton pullover he wore was the same pullover he was wearing last night. His hair was spiky in places, made even spikier as he mussed it slowly with his hands. The movement reminded me of an older, world-weary man; I marvelled at how different it looked on him. On him, he looked languid. Relaxed. Young.

We did not speak to greet each other. I nodded and he flashed me that smile. There was just enough wattage in it that I had to stop walking and nod at him again. He turned his head to look at the rising sun and at the thickly forested land surrounding us. I, on the other hand, watched only him --- fascinated at the way he inhaled deeply.

Standing two yards away, I felt my world eclipse into a much smaller one where he and I share the same mountain air. I took in a deep breath then and the chilly newness carried by the breeze jarred my brain into a happy, silent acceptance of this sudden gift. I turned to Bastian and he smiled at me conspiratorially. This morning is a secret we shared and other people would never know.

We still did not speak, and I walked on. I placed my stuff inside the car, did all the motions of preparing for work even if my brain was distracted. My thoughts kept coming back to him and how I want more of the solitude he so briefly shared with me. I want more of his closeness and more of his heavy-wattage smiles.

When I walked back to the garden, he was not there anymore. Swift regret overtook me. I should have stayed. I should have spoken and we could have forged new connections. Too late.

We never got another morning like that.

And yet my heart, altered by the memory of him, the air and everything rugged and pristine, was never content afterwards. It only longs to go back to the garden and to him.