Saturday, March 07, 2009

Mall Bench

A lot of people I know hate waiting. I hate waiting too, usually. I can get very impatient for the slow service behind the McDonald’s counter, or the fruit guy in the supermarket who takes forever to weigh your three pieces of mangoes.

But when forced to do it, I often do something to occupy my time. This morning is a good example. I did some grocery shopping and was waiting for my sister to finish her workout in the gym. I haven’t paid my membership yet so I dare not show my face there; I decided to buy an inexpensive second hand book and wait on one of the benches littering the mall.

Ikaw ba? What do you think of those people who actually sit around in mall benches? Ako, I always have had a serious mistrust of them. I am aware that they could be husbands waiting for their wives to finish their retail therapy (and a lot of them are), or aged people who needs to sit down every five steps or so. But my perception is that, they are often abused by holduppers and snatchers who sit there and prey on their next victims. And if they don’t look married, old, or dingy, then they must be people who do not have anything better to do with their time. Would you seriously plan to spend your day sitting at a mall bench and watch people pass by? No, I don’t think it’ the kind of thing you write down on your Blackberry or Filofax.

But there I was, with time to kill, with only a 20-peso-book by the faker James Frey for company. The book was painful to read (have you read it? Brrr… it makes my teeth hurt). After a while, I decided I am not masochistic enough to read it and put the book down. This simple relinquishing of pretension of doing something while sitting opened up a whole new world to me.

Watching people shop is kind of… Zen. You see the whole world abuzz, but you’re apart from it. You see people in different states of agitation, celebration, agony and bliss. And you perceive it because you took the time to stop and observe. And it both confuses (why is he just standing in front of that shop staring at the guitar? Why not go inside and check the price? Why would you bring your pet Spitz with you while shopping for clothes? Does it bark when it approves of the skirt? Is the man with the sunglasses seated across me nodding off? Or just nodding at me?) and amuses ( she did not just squeeze her boyfriends tits, did she? That man needs to be told that fly fishing hats with actual feathered baits in them are only fashionable while fly fishing! Oh, look at that old couple holding hands while walking, how many years have they been married, I wonder?)

At first, the thoughts are ridiculous and shallow. But after a while (mine took about 15 minutes), you start inferring about the stories behind their movements, way of dressing and talking and walking. I realized I was stuck in a rushing river of stories where the river is really never the same way twice. Amazing. Mall benching (for that’s what I decided to call it) is not as bad as I thought it was.

At about this time, the old married couple I saw earlier sat down at an adjacent bench. The old man started fumbling with the packages he was carrying and took out a small bibingka and offered it to his wife. The wife took it, and ate with him, in that slow, munching-with-dentures way that senior citizens tend to do. They did not speak, they savored their food. When they were done, the man turned to his wife, smiled and nodded. The wife nodded and smiled back. And they sat contented for a while.

All that time, I was observing them. Only of course, I wasn’t staring directly at them, or else I would’ve made people uncomfortable. I just fixed my gaze at the plant beside their bench and let my peripheral vision do the observing. (So for a while there, I must’ve looked like I just broke up with my boyfriend or maybe, possibly, high on something)

Then the old man took his wife’s hand and they gingerly stood up, and wobbled away. I finally recognized the source of my fixation. They look and acted like my parents would’ve. For all I know, if I had no face recognition abilities at all and could only identify through movement and other-sensing, they could’ve been my parents.

That put an end to my impromptu social laboratory observations. It’s all and well if you’re seated at a bench watching non-specific people milling around. But it’s entirely something else to be following the slow progress of 2 elderly people out of the mall while tears are streaming down your eyes. No, I’m not ready for that kind of intimacy with the whole wide world yet. So I grabbed my book, opened it at a random page and stared as the paragraphs started to swim.

The words danced before me in their black and white glory, in movements that only grief can interpret.

Well. It was good while it lasted.

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