He smelled like fresh laundry, and the moment he sat beside me inside the embattled, rusting jeepney, the smoke belchers were squelched, the afternoon draft conquered, the restless self-pitying removed. Was it Downy? Something masculine, it was. Maybe a perfume of some sorts, and I knew I’ve smelled of it before but I couldn’t muster enough focus to recall because I was distracted – a tiny mole on the base of his thumb; hairy arms on his fairly moreno skin; stubble that stretched from jaw to cheek to neck; clothes which fit because his body filled it; the slightly dirtied New Balance sneakers. A man at the peak of his youth before the thirties reduces him to an acquired taste, turns his perfectly round eyes into ovals covered by the folding of facial skin; leaves him plain. His right arm pressed against my left arm as the jeep moved forward; the etiquette of a mumbled apology; pressed longer than I had anticipated and I imagined:
Maybe this is what people lived for – the stranger becoming someone familiar; distance thinning. Anyone who has ever lived desired this, would desire this – the sex god, the troubled lady, the pedant; the freckled young girl, the fat twelve-year old boy, the Asian nurse; clergy, laymen, those bound to god and the godless; photographers, writers, rank and file; janitors sweeping and cleaning away in the endlessness of our chaos – to come home (and home not just in the physical sense) and know another skin will be pressed against theirs, once a stranger’s now all too familiar – down to the details, the microscopic furrows; roughness, texture; love. It must be such a sensation to share a space, to share a point, to feel one on you, to feel yourself on another and all the greater intimacy which would have raised our senses, our sensibilities, our sensuousness. Our passions, too! Angrier than ever.
And I was angry he was bound to remain a stranger. Angry at the denial of what everyone else lived for. Angry but alive and aching, filled with both disappointment and gratitude, envy and contentment. Angry that I had reduced him to the smell of laundry, or that I had compared him to a physical object which lacked art – Downy! Dreadful. I was angry because I could not live for these things which make us human, which keep us human, no matter how commonplace or routine; because I could not escape the things beyond human. The creases on his jeans seared in memory. His fragrance, a ghost. Another moment lost not only because it cannot be pursued, but because it will never be recreated, and no amount of hope could tackle the beastly guilt of my natural human pursuits lived. Maybe this is what people die for – the very elements which stir in their blood, sucked out by the mystical things we’ve created in order to ensure our goodness in this world won’t go unrewarded. But we’re nurse, janitors, writers, doctors, rank and file, god and godless too – and strangeness, which has been our political agenda, demands a stranger to keep him company, even in sin.