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The flight attendant who boarded Princess spoke softly in English with a Japanese accent. Princess could understand the language and her speaking was competent, if not confident. This was thanks to Wilma. Each day between school and sleep Princess would sit with her mother and have their nose bleed time together. Just the two of them practicing English. Nose bleed talk was how they put it at the call center; that time they spent speaking English with their clients.

There was a pleasant Japanese couple who sat with her to Tokyo. On the trip to New York, she sat beside two retired school teachers, coming back from temple-hopping in Kyoto. The American women tried to converse, but shy and lacking confidence, Princess did not encourage them. However, they shared their snacks and Princess diligently chewed her gum as the plane went up and down.

The trip to New York was so long and when she fretted about the future, she drifted back to the two rooms in Muntinlupa. She looked at her mother in the pendant and thought about what they were doing at that very moment, although she had lost all track of time by then. Mostly she thought about Manoy under the dita tree.

He told her, "What will I do now you're going?"

"You will do what you've always done," she told him. "What does it matter if I'm here or not?"

He looked down and kicked the gravel, wondering if she really felt nothing for him, and added truly, "I will miss you, that's all."

She felt bad about discounting his confession and added, "You'll be okay. It's me who'll do the missing. I'm the one without a family and without a best friend... and without you." She said the last to let him know it was the same for her.

Reassured, Manoy smiled now, and looked at her directly. He placed his hand against hers, pressing and caressing until she took it, then said, "Princess, you are so beautiful. We've known each other so long and now I've come to expect you on the wall under the tree. All day I look forward to this wall and days you're not here just aren't the same. All day long I think about you on this wall and now there will never be another day."

"Don't say that," she said.

"But it's true, you're leaving. Tomorrow there's no reason to come to the wall under this tree and the same for the days after. I may never see you on this wall again, at least not like this. If you ever do come back, you won't be the same."

"And what about you? You'll change, too," she said, her face close to his now.

"I won't be the same either, but my heart won't change."

And he kissed her there, as she sat on the wall; him standing taller, her legs astride beckoning his advance. Bles sat quietly apart and was not jealous of her friend who was experiencing this embrace before leaving; a Filipino embrace, as it should be. Not some American boy who would have no context of her heart and heritage. For Mae it was her first kiss and it was not at all awkward, but twisted tightly and knotted in desire. Manoy was pressed against her, but it was innocent and true with their arms around each other holding tight. It was all there would be that night and forever.

Mae thought about his arms and his lips; his soft and trembling lips, how both their lips parted and their tongues touched and it went on and on and her hair fell across his face, cocooning them from the outside world. How could something so sweet just add to her gloom?

                      ______________________

In New York she was escorted through a long line at customs and ushered into a separate room where all the papers, so carefully tucked away, were opened and checked again. She answered the questions simply with either yes or no, and hoped she didn't misspeak. The man who asked them was gruff and businesslike.

After she was passed to a young man and they walked outside to a shuttle bus which took them to another terminal. It was dark outside and it was so cold. It was a cold unlike anything she had ever experienced and it chased away the drowse, making her wide awake. She looked through the darkness, broken by the twinkle of navigation lights looming in all directions. The pungent smell of burnt jet fuel and kerosene and tarmac engulfed her. She looked for snow, but didn't see any.

At the next gate she showed the note and the attendant let her go to the restroom; so long as she promised to come straight back and sit nearby. There she moistened a paper towel and went into a stall. The dress and the coat were at the bottom of the bag. After washing her face and under her arms, she applied the little packet of lavender scent. Having done as her mother had said, she stood in front of the mirror and smoothed her hair; imagining herself as pretty. She was brushing down the wrinkles of the dress when a white woman came and stood beside her, touching up her makeup. Their eyes met in the mirror and this made Princess self-conscious, so she went back to the gate.

She remembered the money still in her pants pockets; the two twenty dollar bills. She looked at them and decided she would not know how to spend them, even had she wanted to. She tucked them into her fleece.  The coat was not nearly warm enough for the cold she had felt, especially now that her legs and arms were exposed.

During the two hours in New York, she felt nauseous and fearful. This gestation of buses and trains and two planes and three airports, now giving way to the terror of impending labor. A reincarnate now, the previous life had often seemed hard and discouraging, but it was the only life she had known. As is human nature, she had come to love it most just before it died.


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