Check Please by Oz Lao

Sometimes, I forget to stop being a writer once in a while.

As a writer, I tend to be an observer.

An outsider.

Someone who doesn’t interact with the world around him.

Instead, I take it in, soak it up, bathe in its beauty.

Sometimes, I forget to stop being a writer.

It’s a habit that tends to get me in trouble.

I always just want to sit there and watch.

Watch reality unfurl.

Recently, I took a trip across Big Blue.

It was beautifully terrible,

terribly beautiful.

The people, the streets, the food.

The poverty, the love, the ruin.

The language, the family, the hopes, the dreams.

The drugs, the beer, the rot, the sick.

The girls.

Usually, my (extended) family would bring me to the supermalls.

Mini-cities that thrived on entrepreneurship.

Enough stories to make a history textbook.

Around my second or third visit, after about four hours,

my family decided that some grub might do us good.

I’d do so much as to write about my starvation before

I complained about it.

So I waltz into the restaurant,

hands stuck to my sides

after a long session of shopping—

I’m still grinning like an idiot.

I’m looking through rows of family members

enough to clog every southeastern airport,

and to my far right behind one of my three-hundred aunts

was a girl.

She sat with her own family,

a meager set of five

counting the voracious eater sitting next to her.

Her thick-rimmed glasses

and short and smoldering ember-red hair

and perfect blend of Filipina and Japanese

made me stare longer than usual.

The “love of my life” was sitting

barely fifteen feet away from me,

barely eating and smiling through

whatever might be festering in her head.

When I couldn’t breathe,

I knew then that

never wanted to breathe alone again.

I wanted to feel her

embrace as the inky blue twilight

coated the bay to

keep us warm in the dark.

Listen to the roar of the sea and of

the white caps and waves crashing against

the rugged man-made inlet and

take Instagram selfies.

Watch the painted pastel yellow stars

just fall around us,

never giving a damn because

we’re too distracted by each other.

Tell her how “damaged” I am,

how many things I’ve managed to get wrong,

how many things I’ve broken and bent.

Walk the endless Disney halls with

hands clinging onto one another,

planning of a future we’d never get to see.

Polish her glasses and make fun of her eyesight, then

polish mine too because I abuse my eyes

playing video games like a drinker and his liver.

Glue our attention to TV shows with

one-hundred seasons and one-hundred episodes and

feel betrayal if she watches while I’m gone.

Ignore the planet burning around us because

there’s (usually) nothing else to care about,

even if the universe crumbles.

Laugh after kissing her a little too intimately since

we just ate dinner and her breath tastes like garlic bread but

we’re still hungry for each other.

Break the rules and the bed now that

we can’t wait any longer to feel each other and

hormone filled teenagers will do anything to

fulfill that primeval craving (I know you didn’t want to hear that).

Rest afterward in some awkward feeling of

embarrassment and fear because neither one of us has done this before and

we’re still afraid of what our friends would think if they found out and

what our families would do if they heard.

Reassure her that whatever anyone says

shouldn’t and doesn’t matter as long as

we still don’t care if the Earth burns and…

Then I see her get up,

out of her chair with her family and

brother or boyfriend because I can’t tell and

she walks out the door of the restaurant and…

I still sit there dumbfounded,

high on the million poems I’d write about her,

dancing with a billion thoughts of what we wouldn’t do.

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