A Short Tale of Two Sunsets

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All my bags are packed and I am ready to go. I still could not gauge how fast that went. It felt like it was just yesterday that I received that phone call from Pierre. Am I really ready? Well...My luggage and my waistline say so, but my mind contradicts all of these, being submerged in a fretting state. It is normal for anyone who’ll leave to feel a bit of anxiety, but my anxiety is just on another level.

“Here are some of your favorites. Take all of these. Pack everything you can pack. God knows how much are these, in there.” My mom who’s a thousand times more of a worry-wart, acted tough all throughout my packing series, and gave me my favorite canned goods.

“Ma, I can only take two of those, or else I’ll have an excess baggage!”

“Excess baggage? Then, please remove those extra deodorants and feminine washes and put these there. Why do you need multiples of those anyways?” My mom demanded.

"I can’t! I doubt these toiletries are available there! God knows how much are these in Japan, well that is, if these are available.” And of course, I just ping-ponged her divine complaints about saving.

"Well, Pack faster. Your brother is already in the car, waiting.” Said my mom whose favorite habit is to guilt-trip her kids.

And so, the excruciating journey to the airport begins. I expected that there will be heavy traffic because it’s a weekend and I honestly wanted to savor each minute in the car, looking at its window and appreciating the ugliness and beauty of this country that I am going to miss for six months. Heck, I am still here yet, I am already longing for it.

After an hour and a few minutes, we arrived at the departure deck of the NAIA Terminal 1.

Damn! My flight is not until midnight but still, we arrived two hours early. Is my family this excited to send me on exile?

A young man whom I assumed is an airport employee quickly assisted me in carrying my luggage, and gently put them on the stroller. Man, aren’t these people so agitated for me to leave?

“So, this is goodbye for now.” I bid my mom and brother.

“Take good care of yourself! Eat well, and don’t waste your money on things that are not important! Save money!“, The usual bickering of my mom that I’ll surely miss and will never get enough of.

Then my brother teased, ”Hey sis! If you decide to get married, get married in this country first. You don’t want to be taken advantaged of for the nth time”. Surely, these puns of him, that get in my nerves all the time, will be missed as well.

I gave my mom and my brother the tightest hug I could possibly give. I’ve never given them hugs for the longest time because showing affection is not in my personality menu. In all truthfulness, no one in my household is indulgent. Everyone is an alpha in their own way. Specially my mom.

“Let’s Facebook Messenger once a week, okay? But don’t ask me for money. This time, I won’t give you any financial assistance. Work hard.” It must be traumatizing for my mom the thought of me, going abroad for the second time because she remitted a crazy amount of money when I was still studying in New Zealand.

So here we are. I took my luggage from the conveyor after it was scanned. I am really hungry, but I am so paranoid about this flight and just the whole ambiance of the airport really gives me unnecessary concern. I queued in the check-in area...There must be some problem. It was taking too long, and when it’s already my turn, the ticketing officer closely examined my ticket, called a colleague, and handed it to her.

My goodness. Why would such a nuisance happens at this time? I can’t call my brother to go back because for sure, he’s speeding up home for it’s almost midnight.

“Miss Vela I am sorry, but we have to change your ticket, our system redirected to a certain protocol that we suddenly have to allocate seats to some passengers from Asiana Airlines flight OZ 612. The said airline cancelled their flight the last minute, due to the storm that hit Japan a while ago.” The check-in lady informed me.

“Wait Miss, so what’s going to happen now? Is my flight going to be cancelled as well? " As much as I appreciate how friendly this lady is, what’s happening right now inevitably transformed my smiley inquisitive face into its default, Andrea Vela’s signature resting-bitch face.

The check-in lady prudently answered, “Miss Vela, since the number of passengers that booked economy, including you, were quite few from what we expected, we have to transfer the early economic bookings to another area of the plane.”

“Can you please explain this well Miss?” I hastily asked the check-in lady.

“We have to upgrade you to business class Miss Vela." She answered with a nervous smile.

Okay, this sounds really awesome. But this should be for free. I will never pay for extra charges since the typhoon in Japan is no one’s fault specially not mine. Sheesh, what a hassle.

“Is this free of charge? Because I am not paying this, Miss.” The typical frugality of my mom suddenly possessed me.

"Yes Miss Vela, it is for free. So, here’s your new ticket. You can see the seat number at the bottom right. I am so sorry for all the trouble.” Then, the check-in lady handed me a ticket that has a laser print design and logo which sure screams business class. Even in little things like tickets, you can know well how segregation of classes works.

As I entered the plane through an air-conditioned and aromatic jet bridge, two smiling faces of flight attendants greeted me and ushered me to the business class section of the plane. Oh okay, so this is how it looks like, I thought to myself. Every single passenger has their own pods of lazy-boy-like seats with their own compartments and a flat screen TV. It is also adorned with wine goblets placed in a staircase fashion and travel magazines on both sides. It’s pretty exquisite. I am not used to something as luxurious as this.

As I placed my hand-carry luggage in its designated compartment, a gorgeous young lady that has wavy hair that falls around mid-chest, a very small face and smooth, dewy skin, sat on the pod that’s just beside me. She’s in the window seat. Well, she looks very familiar to me, but I am so bad with names that I could not really remember. People have no idea how bad I am with names, really. I once graded the wrong student because I could not recall his surname, and he looked very similar to the other student whom I interchanged his name with. He’s happy he passed, even though his works didn’t really justify the marks that I gave him. Oh well.

The plane took off, I put on my head phones, swallowed hard three times; the usual regimen. Then I fell asleep.

I am almost in the middle of a very vague but splendid dream when suddenly someone tapped my right shoulder. I thought it was just the flight attendant, probably offering a glass of wine or juice. Then, the person tapped again, I looked at my right and it is the gorgeous lady giving me something.

“Miss, you dropped this.” Oh it was my lipstick.

"Thank you so much.” I said. She shook her head lightly and nodded in approval as if it is a gesture of “You’re always welcome.” Wow. What a beautiful and kind person. If I have a tiny bit of her personality and beauty; I can wish nothing else in this world.

I looked at the navigation map in my screen, we’re almost in Okinawa. We just have to spend another hour before we land in Tokyo. Why did everything happen so fast? A lot of things changed and progressed in lightning speed. I stood up and decided to retouch my little to no make up face, just to put a bit of color, because I am looking like a ghost.

The lavatory was quite spacious and well lit. Upon entering, the gorgeous lady who was seating besides me, was fixing her hair in a ponytail and looking charily in the mirror.

“Hey miss, thanks for the lipstick a while ago.” I said and smiled.

“Oh, don’t you worry about it.” She answered with a smile as well.

I looked at my face in the mirror. It felt like all the color escaped my face due to the dehumidified air in this plane; a woman of color, with a ghostly-white face. I searched my pouch for my lipstick, opened the cap and there the bullet goes. It was broken. Probably, it broke when it fell from my bag. I just wish that this is not a bad omen or something.

“Wait, I have an extra here. Don’t worry it is not used. I just bought it from Duty Free a while ago.” The gorgeous lady offered me a sealed Elizabeth Arden lipstick. Surprised, I clammed up all of a sudden.

“Ahmm, the color is not too red, it’s a bit orange-y but it definitely suits your skin tone. Well, tropical girls suit in any color anyways. Please." As she obliged me to take her new lipstick fresh from it’s wrappers.

“Oh gosh, thank you Miss. Wait. You are actually kind of familiar to me... I have seen you somewhere...Yes. Are you an actress?” I asked with no hesitation for the reason that I want to thank her properly.

“I once did theatre. I am Erisse Gamboa. What’s your name?”

"Andrea Vela. A lot of people call me Drea. So I guess, it’s just Drea.” Oh yeah. Finally, I recalled it. She was once nominated for a Tony award. How could I be so scatter-brained?

Then we shook hands. It felt great. We talked a bit about the flight and I told her about my unexpected business class incident. We can be instant best friends. The thing about my countrymen and let’s say 80% of the people are like this; we can communicate with people easily, regardless of the language barrier. We, most of the time, see strangers as potential friends and not just solely as strangers. We are too damn friendly! Just don’t talk shit about our country, so we can maintain a diplomatic relationship. My people are typically individualistic but we are fiercely collective once we are thrown dirt out of nowhere. I love my people and my country and how intense it is.

Then this sudden feeling of “What the hell am I doing here?” arose.

Erisse and I were about to exit the lavatory when we heard audible whispers, giggles and gushes. She made a signal for me to wait for a while before we leave, then she gave me what looked like a bluetooth in-ear device. She motioned me to wear it and instantly; the audible whispers, giggles and gushes of Japanese flight attendants turned into petty gossips and racist remarks translated in English.

“She’s not that pretty. Her nose is crooked.”

“Filipinas are very dark and fat. The only good thing about them is they can speak English well.”

“Japanese men like them though.”

“Those are only fetishes...”

A twinge of anger filled my head, and my whole energy gathered up around my knuckles. Erisse gestured me to calm down and put her index finger on her upper lip for me to refrain in making any sounds, when... BLAAAAG!!! BLAAAAG!

Erisse banged the lavatory door, stood in front of the Japanese flight attendants, spoke to them and said in English, “We can understand what you are saying. Please let us get off this plane first before you can start talking shit behind our backs, and Miss (pointing to the Japanese flight attendant) compared to you, I have more spice. I can understand where your hate is coming from, it must be sad being born that way.” The flight attendants just stood there, frozen in aghast.

I was shocked on what Erisse had said to these attendants, but deep inside, I was totally cheering for her.

"If you don’t know how to fight back, people will look down on you more, for no reason. I didn’t stoop down to their level, don’t get me wrong Miss Drea; I just placed them where their attitudes should be.”

Erisse is really an admirable person. How can someone who looks so innocently angelic, instantly turns into a frightful demon once the situation calls for it? I just hope I can be brave as her. I’ll totally place this woman as my number one inspiration in surviving Japan for a few months. I am so grateful that I met this woman.

“Drea, I have something to give you...This. This is an ear piece translator. This mini device will save you a lot from people like those nasty flight attendants, I swear. The case itself is rechargeable. My company made these. Please take it.” Erisse handed me the other pair of the ear piece along with its case and charging cable.

“OMG Miss Erisse, this is too much. I can’t thank you enough for the lipstick, and now, this. Thank you very very much.” I said with all gratefulness.

“We are the only ones who can help each other. I hate the fact that women like them, bring another woman down; when in fact we should be lifting each other up. Oh well, It’s their society. They are a byproduct of an unjust society Drea. It’s really hard to blame everything to them. You’ll understand when you visit Japan. By the way, what are you going to do in Japan? I am only going to visit for about two days and three nights. There’s an emergency meeting I have to attend. That scenario that happened a while ago, just proved to me, that Japanese people really look down on us...or any other people from our region. They don’t know a lot. They don’t know how the world works. They don’t know anything, to be honest.” Erisse said with a tone of disappointment.

“I am on a working holiday visa; I’ll be a substitute professor in a university. Well, I am quite expecting that they’ll look down on us. It’s human nature to look down on someone who’s uglier, less known, or poorer than you.” I answered.

Erisse responded reverently, “I agree. But human nature shouldn’t be an excuse for every mistake. If that’s the case, what we allow is what’s going to happen. The only thing that we have to accept is that, this world changes. It changes a lot. It’s not everyday that you’re on top and it’s not everyday that you’re at the bottom. So, you should look at people just like a reflection of yourself, and please Drea, what they say, about Filipinas being ugly, is just their insecurities talking. These nasty flight attendants, they absolutely know in their minds...HAHAHA we can steal their men just by a mere glimpse. No dice, but most of them are flat. Literally and figuratively. This is a secret among us, ok?!” Erisse said jokingly.

We just literally talked and talked ’til the plane landed in Haneda Airport. I didn’t feel that I was talking to a celebrity but just a longtime friend whom I didn’t see for quite some time. She shared her stories, her career ladder and her retirement and the happiness and contentment she feels now that she’s married and two months pregnant with her first child. No wonder she’s glowing from the inside. No wonder why she’s so beautiful. She’s beautiful because she’s just plainly happy.

Erisse and I hugged each other. I can smell lime notes of her perfume. It’s the classic Dolce and Gabbana signature scent. I thought, her husband must be really so lucky to have someone like her. If I am not a straight woman, I’d be totally totally crushing on her right now, but I just admire this person so much.

"Message me on Instagram when something happens to that device, okay? As a developer, I need honest feedbacks. So, this is how we part ways now Drea. I hope to meet you in Manila someday. Before I head to the hotel, I have to report the incident that happened to an airline customer service somewhere.” We hugged for the second time, and I bid her farewell.

After the long line in the immigration booth and the carousel, the confidence that I had, walking around the airport suddenly waned when I was about to enter the business lounge area; which was a free perk from my upgraded ticket. WOW. I’ve read thousands of books, published four international scientific journals, won national essays yet all of a sudden, I CAN’T READ!! My almost 20 years in school and making a fruit salad in the Japanese language app have little to no help. The device that Erisse gave me, can only work if I have someone to talk to nevertheless it’s not a major form of assistance in reading signs in Kanji. I am beyond dismay. I have no choice but to use the free computers and chat with Reina... Then, my phone rang.

"Bitch, where are you? We’re here in the arrival lobby. I am wearing a yellow blouse with a white skirt. Pierre-kun is with me.” It was Reina.

I hurriedly went to the arrival lobby. And there she is, Reina! I ran and hugged my cousin. All of my anxiety and the dreadful process that I underwent for coming to this country disappeared because of her warm hug.

“How was your flight?” Reina asked

“Oh, it’s very interesting. Let’s go to an all day café and I’ll tell you everything.”

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