“Don’t you ever rope a guy into a shopping spree,” Jojo looked at me, accentuated his words, and force-fed it down my throat.
The guys and I are sitting around at one of the many weddings that we’ve seemingly gotten invited to for weeks on end. How am I supposed to date when I’m always hopping from one city to another and alternating between my friends’ weddings and work?
“Just promise me, that you will not ask a guy to go shopping with you!” he finished off his beer and motions to Andy to get some more, “Shas been whining for months about how I am so “inattentive”, the girl wanted me to bring her to the mall to buy some things for our new place and I complied, what’s wrong with that? Tell me, how is that inattentive?”
“Maybe you could have stayed alert the entire time and not wander off to the arcade,” Andy handed Jojo a new bottle, “Look, what he did was stupid as fuck, but you really ought to spare a poor guy from the misery of shopping.”
For the past few years, out of pity, the guys have been providing me with a list of dating tips. However, instead of a list of dos they tend to lean towards prohibition. What’s worst is that each green light leans towards a fetishized idea of women, be it cooking, cleaning or getting wine stains off of his shirt. Don’t we have maids to do that? Or moms?
And yet, I listened on and on, submitting myself to be brainwashed by a bunch of “bros”. Midway through the party, I usually find myself dazed, as I mediate between the guys and the girls. Thankfully there’s alcohol and my unnaturally high tolerance to substances. But, when they are finally done indoctrinating me, all I want to do is go shopping with a guy in tow.
The ground beneath my feet is comforting, clutching an empty airsickness bag, I scan for my new shopping spree buddy. After half a century of trying, I finally attained a man who would voluntarily accompany me on a shopping spree in duty free land. One part of me believes that he is doing this out of pity. Another leans towards the idea that he decided to show his appreciation after realizing how much mileage I’ve earned in the past three years. While, the third part of me wants to ignore all the warning signs and enter a blissful, yet dubious world where he fell in love with me and offered to help me out as our first date. Yes, I am single and delusional.
Maybe this is a huge mistake? I tend to make them, quite a lot, especially when it comes to men. Just when I decide to walk away and try to change to an earlier flight I see him emerge from the plane in his uniform and matching luggage. After years of desensitizing myself from falling into a perilous love affair with a member of the cabin crew, I could see myself failing right at this moment.
“Miss Bunyamin, or is it Mrs.? My name is Jonathan, please call me Pete,” He asks, playfully, and right then and there, I sense a desire to smack myself in the bum for even considering him as a future lover.
“Nice to meet you, Pete. But excuse me, Mrs.? Do you see a wedding ring?” I ask, “And, on that note, why are you doing this?”
“Doing what?” he looks puzzled, a look that he seemingly often opts for.
“Why did you volunteer to help me look for my friend’s gift?”
“Well, I saw that you were struggling and I-“ he starts explaining himself, “Maybe I should refer you to the personal shopper at the airport.” I could hear him sigh.
“There’s a personal shopper?” I reply, quite disappointingly. Why can’t I just behave and go with this beautiful plot? Goddamit, this clearly shows how incapable I am of flirting or making friends with people above the age of ten.
“Nah! I’m just messing with you,” he smiles.
“So, you’re pitying me or…”
“I have a few hours to kill before my next flight to Bali and I thought I could help out, instead of lounging around, and anyways, my boss said that I could use this gift card,” he hands me over a stack of vouchers prompting me to smile goofily. If there’s one thing I love more than work, it’s shopping for free.
What was once a foreign land has become my home. As a frequent flyer who lives in a rather remote country, I am always subjected to fly to a port city. With time, I slowly learned the shops and the pathways to enjoying those long layovers. I have chosen my favorite resting spot on various ends of the terminal and taken a liking to particular more so than others. We walk past one of them and I could hear my stomach growling.
“Why are you crossing your fingers?” Pete continues to satre ahead, avoiding any passerby who might bump into us. A few days away from the New Years, the airport is always jam packed of commuters and tourists. Everyone needs to be somewhere on time or they are doomed to spend the next year in agony. As a woman who much prefers her solitude, I have endured the past few New Year Eve by cursing at the fireworks and avoiding the parties. I confess that I have been hiding underneath my blanket in some obscure hotel room, whilst people get drunk, kiss each other and subsequently pass on STDs to one another. It truly is a vicious cycle, which reminds me to pick up some oral dams along the way.
“Umm… where’s the drugstore, again?”
“You mean the pharmacy?” he’s still looking ahead. What is wrong with this guy? Is he so afraid of people? I nod, too turned off to give my all. Pete points towards a shop, framed by blue-green lights. I walk over quickly, tightly holding on to my luggage.
“Maybe you should wait here,” I say, before I enter the shop, realizing how socially inacceptable it is to purchase such an item in Asia. He nods and stops dead on his tracks. From afar, Pete resembles a bodyguard, which turns me off even more.
Scanning the aisles, I look for the dam, a device of sorts made of latex that claims to protect its user doing oral-vaginal or oral-anal sex. Personally, I have yet to assess the object myself, but since the last herpes outbreak in Leslie’s wedding, it might be a good idea to buy some just in case someone gets a bit too adventurous. Browsing through the shelves under ultra bright neon lights can be blinding, especially when you are trying to be discrete about it. Giving up, I approach one of the staff to ask whether they have the product in store. Not surprisingly, she turns to me and gives off a weird, disgusted look. Then she rants in Mandarin, which I no too little of.
“Duìbùqǐ, xièxiè nǐ,” I struggle to make amends and move on. But she continues to spit out these words that are as foreign as sex seems to me.
“Āyí, duìbùqǐ, wǒ de péngyǒu shì fēngle. Wǒ huì bāng tā. Xièxiè nín de shíjiān,” suddenly, Mr. Steward approaches and starts bowing up and down at the shopkeeper, to which she smiles awkwardly and leaves.
“What did you say to her?”
“Don’t mention it,” he says, quite confidently, and asks, “What was it that you were looking for?”
“Forget about it,” I blush uncontrollably. First of all, we are in Asia and it is uncommon for shops around this area to stock oral dams. Second, I am fully committed to avoid making this more awkward than it already is.
“Come on, what were you looking for? There’s no tax, you know,” he pushes forward. I really don’t feel comfortable, but I can’t help but remember my friends’ overdrawn lips to hide their brand new cold sores.
“Okay, this is going to be embarrassing, but hey, we won’t see each other again, after this right?” I try to laugh it off and be humorous, which never pans out when I’m off the stage and sober, “I’m looking for oral dams.” Although I am looking at the ground, I could see his eyes widening. Oh fuck! Why didn’t I just get that girl, Deandra, to help me out.
“Oral dams? Are you referring to the ones used by the dentist?” he seems genuine enough.
“Yes, yes that one. My friend is a dentist, you see, and she-“ I try real hard to pull it off, but fail miserably as he picks out a box covered with steamy photos.
“This one?” he holds it high enough for everyone in the store to see. Crap! “Are you sure your friend is using this to clean people’s teeth?”
“Just give it to me,” I try to grab it from his hands only to realize that I could just pull one off from the shelf.
Having lost my face at one of my favorite places on earth, I grab the box and march towards the registry. Thankfully, the counter is clear of all customers. I place the box and the lady looks at me strangely.
“Boarding pass, please” she says. Flustered, I go through my oversized handbag in search of the ticket. Soon, people start emerging behind me. Queues are always intimidating, especially when you’re in a country known for its law-abiding citizens.
“Here it is!” I grin as I finally locate the pass and hand it off to the lady. Maybe, I’m imagining this. Maybe, she hasn’t raised one of her eyebrows. Maybe, I should have eaten a bit more on the flight.
“That will be sixteen dollars and fifty cents,” the lady announces and places the box in a see through bag.
“Wow! That’s expensive,” suddenly Pete comments and leans against the counter.
“Eh, Jonathan, how are you?” she embraces him over the counter, “Is this girl your new girlfriend?” Before he could answer, she carries on, “Judging by her purchase, y’all are preparing for a steamy date, aren’t you?” she smiles covertly, mimicking perverted old ladies in films.
“You are so funny, auntie, she was actually a passenger on my last assignment,” he explains, which of course, prompts the people behind us to groan and the lady to smile happily in light of the beginning of a juicy story.
“He didn’t mean it that way, umm… we were just going the same direction and I asked him where the drugstore was-“
“Ah girl, you don’t have to be so ashamed. Jonathan here is a respected bachelor, if I were still in my twenties I would definitely eye him, as well” she grins.
“Hey! I have a flight to catch!” a man grumbles behind me.
“Ah yes, yes, excuse me,” with that she continues working. Pete smiles at me timidly and we try to walk away from the angry mass. Just as we exit the store, she screams, “Kids, have safe sex!”
*The rights to the photos are owned by the author