There was only the dim ambient lighting from the standing lamp as I was staring at my reflection on the wall mirror. I adjusted the wet towel that clung to my lower body, and I felt droplets of water descending through my legs and to the floor. The sound of muffled torrential downpour escaping from behind the bathroom door was the only thing I could hear while Michiel was taking a shower.
Staring at myself, I didn’t realize how much my body had drastically changed. Gone were my spindly limbs, replaced with a bulk that showed strength. My chest had filled in, my stomach had some faint ridges, and most of all my buttocks seemed fuller. I remembered my older sister telling me when we were shopping at a mall that she would buy me denim jeans as my college graduation gift. But since, as she had said, I had a flat behind, any jeans I would wear would appear awkward. But now that years of exercise had chiseled my body, perhaps my sister would no longer have any difficulty finding me new clothing. And also, since I was working in a foreign country, perhaps I could afford to buy clothes that would suit me better.
Truthfully, it was a bit strange, thinking why I was here. I had only met Michiel in person four hours ago, after some conversation on Grindr. But then again, as my friends had told me before, gay men were more physical, more visual, more primal, than their straight counterparts. It was not uncommon for two gay men to have some physical pleasure on the first date.
The bathroom door opened. Michiel came out, a towel around his waist, another towel he used to dry his blond hair. “What are you staring at?”
“Just myself,” I replied.
He sauntered behind me, appearing on the mirror, then hugged me from behind. His arms were like flaps of an envelope, completely covering me. He had to lean lower to put his chin on the nook of my neck. On the mirror, it appeared like Goliath had captured David, his tall and lithe Dutch frame awkward on my shorter Filipino figure.
“You’re gorgeous,” Michiel whispered.
I blinked, taken aback. No one had said that to me before. And no less from an “afam,” as my Filipino friends would surely call him.
Before Singapore, I had gone out on dates with Filipino guys, but they had all been a disaster. A recurring pattern was my date would ask for money after the first date. One said he wanted to buy a gift for his sister, another one said he needed to buy underwear, and the last one had to borrow money to pay some of his college tuition. After realizing I was only a walking ATM for these men, I came to the conclusion that dating wasn’t for me. But moving to Singapore and realizing I wasn’t getting any younger, I decided to give it another try. While Michiel wasn’t the first afam I met, he certainly didn’t ask for money from me. Instead, we went Dutch when we paid our restaurant bill—fitting, because of Michiel’s nationality.
“Thank you,” I replied after a brief pause.
I could see Michiel noticing my reaction, that I wasn’t totally convinced with what he had said. His response was just to hug me tighter.
Growing up in the Philippines, I had always been the invisible guy, lost in the background, like I was hiding behind the curtains in the classroom. When I was in high school, my classmates were worried about their puppy romances or saving enough baon to buy gifts for their teenage lovers. Meanwhile, I was worried about my acne. It was a source of constant grief for me, and a money drain for my mom. She would spend thousands for my dermatology visits and for my medicinal facial creams. And when my acne subsided after I graduated from college and found work, I went to the gym. But still, I wasn’t handsome enough.
“You’re a hipon!” a female work colleague had told me one time as she was a bit tipsy during a Friday night party.
“Hipon, why?” I replied.
“Nice body, ugly face,” she said, laughing.
That stung. That label turned into a scar I especially noticed whenever I glanced at my face on any reflective surface, like I was sizing another person in a duel.
I slowly loosened myself from Michiel’s grasp. “I should get going. It’s already past midnight.”
He nodded as he told me he would get me a glass of water. Putting on my clothes, I was looking at Michiel. He was a good-looking man, although when I told him that he was handsome during our date, he had seemed surprised. Aside from his noticeable height, he had a kindness to his baby-blue eyes that would match his smile. He also smelled like fresh sunflowers whenever I caught a whiff of him. He told me he didn’t wear any perfume, but it could be his aftershave. Later he mentioned that he was in his mid-forties, while I was only in my late twenties, so I could easily find a younger replacement for him. I shook my head in disagreement. He also asked why I had decided to meet him that night, and I only replied: “Because you felt right.” Besides from the personable photos he sent me, our conversation was so much different from the dates I had had in my hometown. He was the quintessential older gentleman. It felt like I was treated as a person, an equal—so unlike the police interrogations I had experienced with the guys in Davao, where my date would ask about my height, weight, age, employment, my crushes and exes, and even the size of my manhood.
“It’s too bad you’re flying tomorrow. Where is your next flight?” I asked while drinking the glass of water.
Michiel replied he was going to Bangkok, then would stay there for a few days, then fly to South Korea, then back to Singapore, then fly back to Amsterdam. As a flight attendant for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, he was everywhere. I, on the other hand, was grounded with my desk job in Singapore.
“You must have met a lot of guys through your job.”
He pondered for a bit, his eyes squinting, then faintly shook his head. “Not really.”
Fully dressed, I walked to the front door and put on my shoes. He followed me, towering over me like my office building when I arrived at work. “Will I see you when I get back to Singapore?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, smiling. I had to tiptoe to plant a kiss on his lips. “I’ll be right here.”
He opened the door as he smiled back. He gave me one more hug and kiss before I headed to the elevators then exited the hotel. I took one more glance behind me, then started to walk to the subway metro, passing by the flickering neon lights in Geylang. It was surprisingly chilly. I could hear the bustle of tourists. I took out my phone and briefly read my text conversation with Michiel.
Have a safe trip to Bangkok, I texted him.
After a few minutes, my phone vibrated. Michiel had replied to me: I will see you again. I’ll be staying in the same hotel when I arrive back.
A small smile was on my face. I really wasn’t in my hometown anymore, I thought, as I kept at my pace.
Glyd Jun Arañes works as professional linguist for a language technology company in Helsinki, Finland. He briefly worked at a big tech company in Singapore before migrating to Europe. He was a fellow at the 2010 ADDU Writers Workshop and the 2011 Davao Writers Workshop.