The People You Meet
The Second In a Series of True Stories
I was loading grocery bags into the back of my Suburban when I first heard her calling. “Es-coose me! Es-coose me!” she said. Her voice was like my dead grandmother’s: pitched high, with a sweetness that made her accent the kind that people classify as “cute” rather than the kind that people— asshole people—dismiss with exasperation.
Even without turning around, I knew she was calling to me. I peeked over my shoulder to find her waving her arms in the air. “Filipino ka ba?” she asked as she quick-stepped her way over. She was tiny and, despite the balmy weather, dressed for a storm.
I nodded and was about to make my signature, “But I only understand English…” announcement, when she unleashed a torrent of stacato-rhythm Tagalog.
“Wait, wait,” I said. “In English, please.”
“Ha?! I thought you said you’re Filipino!”
“I am. It’s just…I only know English.” Her features began to settle into disapproval. “Can I help you?” I said quickly. “Do you need help?”
“I called a taxi,” she said. “But I been waiting twenty minutes, na.”
Our heads swiveled as if choreographed, both of us hoping to spot a yellow taxi. “I’m sure it’ll be here soon,” I said. She shook her head and covered her mouth; her whole body radiated panic. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“The lady I work for is alone,” she explained. “She was sleeping, so I came to get her medications. I thought I’ll be back before she wakes up, but the taxi won’t come.”
“How did you get here?” I asked.
She looked at me like I was ridiculous. “I told you already! TAXI! But he left. And now none are coming.”
“I’m sure your boss will be fine. Is she old?”
“Yes, very old. And she keeps trying to kill herself.”
“What? Oh my God!” I said. I regretted my outburst right away, as it did nothing but increase her anxiety. She doubled over; she whimpered. It was horrible. “Let’s go,” I said. I took her by the arm.
As I helped her into the passenger seat, my mind jumped ahead to possible scenarios. Old, dead woman in bed. Old woman threatening to kill herself. Old woman confused and frightened by my presence. Old woman screaming at me. I might have to call 911. What would I—
This was a bad decision. Was I about to become the unwitting accomplice to a crime? Accused of foul play? I could end up in jail—the subject of a future episode of a second-rate police drama. My children would have no mother; my husband would be very annoyed—
I shrugged off my doubt. She was just a teeny-tiny old Filipino lady scared out of her mind. I had to help her. “Okay. Where do you work?”
Good. Close by. “What’s the address?”
“The address?” She frowned. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“My son drives me.”
“How am I supposed to know where to go?” I asked.
She thought for a moment. “It’s near the country club! Do you know where that is?”
“Sure,” I lied. I didn’t know exactly where it was, but logic directed me up—way up—the hill. There, I imagined, was the most likely place to find sandy-haired men in plaid pants sipping cocktails and looking down—way down—at the rest of us.
Reader, we drove aimlessly around that quiet, moneyed enclave for half an hour, past enormous homes set back on park-like grounds, past platoons of gardeners, up and down, around and around, as my hapless passenger mumbled to herself about this or that “looking familiar” or “seeming right.” Eventually, like blind, thirsty puppies bumping into a bowl of water, we came to the house.
She hesitated before hopping out of the car. “Do you want me to go with you?” I asked. Please say no please say no please say no.
“No, but can you wait for awhile?”
The wait turned out to be about ten minutes, most of which I spent fending off the urge to drive away. When she returned, she looked like a different person: buoyant, relieved, manic-free.
“Okay?” I asked.
“Yes, thank God. I will give you something. I want to give you something. You’re very nice.”
“No, that’s okay! I’m just glad everything worked out. I have to go pick up my kids at preschool now.” I started the car.
“You wait! Just wait one minute! I’m going to give you something.”
So I waited. What would it be? Something religious, I guessed. A tiny gold cross, a prayer card, a little plastic Jesus for my dashboard. I pictured her rifling through her purse, looking for something suitable to offer a stranger. God, I hoped she wouldn’t hand me coins or dollars.
When she returned, it was with both hands behind her back. She revealed my gift with a smile and little bow.
It was…a can of Coke. And I drank it while I drove back down the hill.
Veronica Montes is a writer with a soft spot for fiction about the
Filipino-American experience + productive rants about…many things.
So many things. You should follow her.