Few days ago, during my 1-week break from the hospital which I spent south of the country, I was able to explore the darker side of Davao City and talk to a good man. A dear friend Nel, a single mother by choice, with another old friend Joe with his long-term gay partner Greggy dragged me into this small, dimly lit niche skillfully hidden along generally wholesome San Pedro Street of the city. It was an obscure gay bar ironically named Fame, a secret hangout of the city’s not so apparent and not so opulent members of the gay community, along with a sprinkling of today’s recently emerging collection of females hungry for any semblance of intimacy from the male kind.
We were ushered in by able-bodied, fierce looking males into the smoky alcove. Standing by some walls or lounging on threadbare faux leather sofas were brawny, crisp-looking young men dressed in red sleeveless tank tops and tight-fitting, crotch hugging denim really-short shorts. Their arms were well sculpted, not the gym-induce biceps, but those biceps toned and toughened by hard back-breaking labor. Their legs looked strong, with hamstrings that can make any woman drool. They looked bored, like a bunch of old women waiting for their favorite telenovelas on a warm uneventful evening.
Then the stage-lights turned on. The small, make-shift stage that appeared like a bathroom was suddenly flooded by red neon lights. As if on cue, they all stood up, walked to the small stage in front of the room, and started their small number. Moving their hips languorously to Mariah Carey’s “Open Arms”, almost 20 testosterone-laden, hot-blooded males strutted their stuff to the salivating audience. That was when he caught my eye. He was tall, with an empty, distant look in his eyes, and he shyly dropped his gaze when he saw me staring at him. I kept quiet. I was never the type to squirm from these types of situations and I never avert my eyes from this sort of taboo
The boy ended up at our table, with my friends buying him a beer, for several minutes of “table” time. He started putting his arms on my shoulders, but I moved away and told him, “Hey, you don’t have to do that.” Instead, I ended up asking him about his life.
Perhaps they have a generic story to tell all customers. He said his name is Brandon and he’s 21 years old. He said his mom was unmarried when she had him, and his dad was an Iranian who ran away. Eventually, his mom married someone else, had 3 more children and the stepdad turned out to be cruel and alcohol-dependent. He said he had to go all the way from Butuan City to escape this bitter family situation. He ran away and stayed with his grandfather in Davao City. His grandpa tried to put him to school but he said he had to help out. So when an offer from a neighbor who’s employed in this bar came, he took it without batting an eyelash.
Yeah right. Straight out of a Maalalala Mo Kaya screenplay. Go on, Brandon. You’re telling me crap and you’re 19 years old, but go on. I’m listening...
He said they have a decent job, that they are not prostitutes. They’re just paid to give small talk to lonely people, some might touch them here or there, but there’s really no harm done. He said they really don’t lose anything. He said making lonely people happy is a decent job too.
Perhaps the boy was right. Making lonely people happy, no matter how short-lived or evanescent that happiness is, is a noble job. With this epidemic of loneliness around, perhaps the real heroes are those who are able to give small talk to lonely people during moments when they are most needed.
Sometimes I wonder if the prevalence of loneliness is exceedingly underestimated. If a certain percentage of our population thrives and even profits from the business of temporarily assuaging loneliness, does this mean that lonely people make up a significant share of today’s market economies? And if this hefty share of the market continues to be hiding in the dark, how many of these people actually walk among us during daylight? How many seemingly respectable people in fact lead double lives – acting reputable and upright during the day while in the evenings, they creep in the dark crannies of the city, lavishing in the excesses of the flesh, with their faces hidden by almost-opaque veils of anonymity?
When the evening came to a close, I said goodbye to Brandon, and in the gravity of my musings, forgot to give the poor boy a tip. So long, Brandon. I may never see you again. You may end up with HIV or you may end up to be a tycoon one day. Either way, I’m honored to have met you.
Now, as I work in the ostensibly decent comforts of this hospital, I sometimes think of Brandon. Brandon with those sad eyes, Brandon with that empty gaze. Brandon dancing under the lights. Brandon ravaged by hundreds of plundering, searching, lonely hands. Sigh. Wherever he is, whatever he does, and wherever fate may take him, may God bless him.
And then I know that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are not merely stuff for novels. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde could might as well be anyone. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde could might as well be me.