I lifted my shoulders back, reminding myself not to slouch, as we walked across campus. This was the part I had been dreading the most: the politics of the cafeteria. But much to my surprise, my new roommates veered away from the buildings and began walking towards the front entrance, laughing and chatting all the way. “Uh—” I gestured behind us, baffled as to where they were taking me. “Mas mura” Maria said, with a wide grin, “cheaper!”. “Oh…” I said and nodded falling quiet again. Listening to the girls speak in rapid Tagalog was fascinating. They laughed, weaving in English words every now and then but using a language that sounded and flowed entirely different from Spanish. <Why the hell did I take 6 years of Spanish again?> I wondered, trying to pick up on what the girls were talking about.
We headed into a hole-in-the-wall shop with little more than a counter, a few plastic seats, and a glass display of steaming pots. While the space was tight, somehow people managed to form some semblance of a queue, as we stepped behind a mother and her child. Maria called out to the man behind the counter, waving her hand with several pesos in it. “Sampu!” Maria said to me quickly, opening her free hand. “Sample?” I asked blinking in confusion. “Sampu… ten! Ten!” she said urgently as the man began passing over bags of piping hot siomai. “Oh shi—” I nearly cursed, digging out a handful of coins. I opened my hand to Maria as she snatched ten pesos from my palm and then passed me a bag of food. I watched, nay, marveled at the efficiency of this place as the customers then passed our money back along the queue to the shopkeeper!
“Wow” I whispered. “Come on, puti” Maria laughed, taking my arm and leading me away. We headed to a plaza where we sprawled out next to a fountain on the large grass lawn. It felt good to sit down. “So, you’re from America?” Maria asked, as the other girls quieted nearly instantly and tuned in. “Yes…” I mumbled, tearing open my package of… what the hell was it? “Are these balls?” I blurted out, and the girls erupted in laughter. Tagalog burst into the air like musical harmony as they teased at my naivety to their customs and cuisine. “Siomai” Maria explained, and I watched her pop one in her mouth. Giving it a sniff, I popped the dumpling in my mouth and blinked. It was delicious! <Please don’t be testicles… please don’t be testicles…> I prayed as the chewy flavors of meat and spices swirled around my palate. “It’s good, right?” Maria smirked. I nodded politely. It did taste good, but I still was wary of anything that looked like a ball, having come from a part of the South that regularly featured testicles on their BBQ menu.
“These, uh… siomai are good” I said shyly. “Masarap” Maria corrected me, slowing down her usual speed of speech so that I could take a turn at saying my first Tagalog word. “It means delicious” she winked, and I felt my cheeks warm. <Mah-sah-rahp> I thought to myself silently, making a mental note to pick up an English to Tagalog dictionary on campus. “What… is this meat?” I finally asked. I had to know. “Pork!” Maria said, finishing off her lunch. <Damn!> I thought, noticing that I was the last one to still be eating. I had always been a slow eater. As if sensing my anxiety, Maria waved a hand. “Relax kalang” she smiled, “We have time”. Laughter and banter filled our space as a small pack of boys roamed over to speak to Maria and the other girls. With my eyes cast down shyly, his shoes were the first thing I noticed. <Oh… it’s Mr. Shoe Polish> I thought and slowly began to sneak a peek upward.
The boys and girls were chatting, laughing in the most informal way, but unlike the South, where by how the hussies would have been lounging between the boys’ legs making out, these students were talking in a circle with minimal physical contact. <Hmm…> I thought making a mental note to research if the Philippines was into public displays of affection. “Puti” Maria called gesturing to me. I stood, smoothing down the back of my skirt over my bum, as I gave a shy smile. “This is Jek, Arnold, Armin, Keith, Roy and that’s Kris” Maria said, introducing everyone. “Hi” I squeaked, giving a half-wave. The group seemed warm, speaking to me in Tagalog and English, but I could feel their fascination with the color of my skin. Against the blazing Pacific sun, I stood out like a white lily on the grass. <So, Mr. Shoe Polish is Keith> I thought, making a mental note. Suddenly our eyes met and for a half of a second, I froze. Those eyes… captivated me. And then I looked away. “Elevator girl, right?” Keith said smiling at me. “Heh… yeah” I said, giving a shy smile. <That’s me… the girl who freaks out in elevators> my mind whispered flatly, <awesome>.
“We should show puti around!” Maria said, clearly keeping her eyes on Armin. “We could go to Intramuros” Lorraine chimed in. “What… what is Intramuros?” I stammered, leaning in a bit. “Dance club” Maria said at my side as the group began to walk off. We hopped aboard a colorful jeepney and I was mesmerized at the lack of seat belts and safety regulations, as the old-World War II-esque bus rumbled off down the road. Finally, we arrived, and my heart beat as fast and loud as the music that filled the club. In the South, we did line dancing. Here, this was a far cry from Cotton-Eyed Joe. Darkness descended upon us as we weaved through the loud, packed central room. The thing that no one tells you about dance clubs is that it’s akin to being in an oven. With that many bodies dancing and grinding over each other, things got sweaty… fast!
I felt my throat constrict. This was not country music! This was hip hop and the Filipinos dancing looked so…. cool! The speakers thumped as a song about “Matinik” began to play pumping up the group. Maria pulled me out to dance and for a moment I stood awkwardly, looking for an exit. “Dance!” Maria laughed, dancing next to me. <Fat girls don’t dance!> I thought, but saw the rest of the group dancing, as one guy Jek or something, hurried off to grab a round of beer. Slowly my body began to move with the music. The “White Person Two-Step” was always a safe bet when it came to dancing, and was a default from birth. Rap filled the air with words I couldn’t understand. But the beat was so good! My body began to roll as I mimicked the other girls’ movements. I felt my nerves began to lessen. Glancing over I saw Mr. Shoe Polish dancing next to the guys and our eyes caught. He gave me a sly smirk before dancing and singing along with the rap lyrics. “Adobo, Adobo…” everyone sang. I found myself smiling in the darkness of the club, sweat trickling down my spine. Beers were passed to the group and without hesitation I tipped back the cheap ale. The bitter liquid flowed past my lips and I kept dancing. It was the perfect mixture to get my mind, and body, in the mood for some fun.
I felt the music shift and people began to break off into a mass of boys and girls. <This is like something out of a movie!> I thought as I shuffled over with the girls. The more courageous or lasing (drunk) of the group began an impromptu dance off as the music thumped in the club. My eyes widened as I watched these Filipinos dance with their whole body. This was a far cry from square dancing! “Do the Flippa, do the Flippa dance!” the chorus repeated over and over as the group danced back and forth. Liquid courage is a powerful thing and the next thing I knew, I was up there shaking all of my curves with the rest of the girls. Distant whistles rang in my mind, but I was busy moving my body and letting loose. The groups meshed into a singular mass of hormones and grinding bodies. I smelled him before our eyes met for the third time. Shoe Polish. His dark hands wrapped around my waist pulling me closer as our bodies connected lightly. We grinded close, and as my chin lifted, I felt him looking at me filled with alcohol-fueled lust. I rolled my body like every MTV music video I had ever seen, not really knowing what I was doing, and I felt him find my rhythm and match mine. Somehow, in that moment, it worked.
Our sweat mixed, as our bodies were pressed close on the packed dance floor. My lips parted panting shallowly, as he tightened his grip and held me close. In that moment, my curves didn’t matter. The darkness covered any insecurities that I had in the daytime, and in that moment, it was just him and I. My hands slid to his shoulders as my moan of pleasure was drowned out by the music. My sex warmed on his thigh, and I felt his titi stiffen and press against my crotch. <Mmpf!> I thought, overwhelmed and high on adrenaline. “Don’t stop” I blurted out, and turned as red as a tomato, thankfully masked by the shadows of the room. But he heard me, because I felt him grind against me with more urgency. I smelled his Versace cologne and musk mixed with the wetness in my slit, and to my core I knew that I wanted this man. “Hey!” Maria called, breaking the moment like a sudden glass of water to the face. We blinked and parted quickly, inching over to rejoin the group that was having another round of beers. “We have to go!” Maria laughed, sitting on Armin’s lap. Finally, I glanced up at Keith and saw him shyly looking down at me before glancing away. Tipsy and spent, the group began to stumble and stroll back towards the University.
<He hates me… he thinks I’m the fattest… ugliest….> my mind screamed. “Hey—” Keith said, interrupting my self-loathing thoughts, “anong number mo?”. I looked down, seeing him clutch his cell phone in his palm. <He wants my number?!> my mind shrieked. “Uh… uh…” I said, my mind blanking as I forgot my own cell phone number. My hands fumbled into my jacket pocket and I pulled out my phone, tapping it open like an idiot, to read off the U.S.A. area code and cell phone number. He blinked at me for a moment and then tucked his phone away. Just as I thought he was about to accept defeat he said something quickly to Jek, who pulled out an old receipt and pen. Scribbling his own number down he pressed the paper into my palm. “I’ll see you” he winked, and like that, the boys headed off towards the other end of campus. I sighed, no doubt with bliss and sheer exhaustion, at what was the first day of a series of incredible adventures.