Saturday, August 3, 2013

Morbid Opportunity

     So most of the incidents I write about typically involve awkward or awful interactions with past customers. People throwing marzipan at my face, people telling me about voices in their head instructing them to punch me in the face, etc. But not all customers were bad, or even neutral. Some customers were regulars, and they were super friendly and nice. This entry is about one such customer.

     This guy used to come in about once or twice a week. He was about late 30s early 40s. He had an accent, but I understood him alright. He'd typically buy snack foods, like Boy Bawang and Muncher Peas, that type of thing. One time, he came in wearing a shirt with the flag of the Philippines embroidered on it. I politely asked him about it. "Oh, the Filipino flag! Are you from there?" "Wow! You recognize it?! Yes, I'm from there!" I smiled and said "Oh, what part?" He told me he was from Manila, but he presented the information as though I wouldn't be familiar with it. I told him "Ahh, I have many friends from there! They work in the building across the street!" He shot me an astonished look and said "Really?! How rare!" I laughed and asked if he spoke Tagalog, to which he applied in the affirmative. I asked "kamusta ka?" Again, totally shocked, he replied "Wow! That's amazing! Mabuti! Ikaw?" To which i replied "Mabuti". After much amused laughter and discussion of other languages we spoke, (for me, Spanish, for him, Spanish, French, and Tagalog) I finished the transaction and handed him the receipt, making sure to thank him in Tagalog. "Salamat, po!" "Ahahahaha! Salamat din ko!" And he left.

     Each interaction with him from that day forward began with greetings in tagalog, and then chit-chat conversation about life. How was my day at work, how was his, etc. He was a very kind man, very fatherly toward me. He noticed my back brace one time and asked about it. He mistook it for a girdle, and said "Why do you wear that thing? You trying to lose weight?" I informed him of my injury, to which he became very concerned. He asked me many questions, he asked me if I had hurt it at work. I told him I had to move furniture sometimes, and that's how it became injured. His typical carefree countenance changed to one of determination. "Where is your manager?" he asked, firmly, but not with anger towards me. "Bakit, po? What's the matter?" "I need to give them a piece of my mind for making a tiny girl do such work!" I told him it was okay, that the issue was being resolved. He calmed down a little bit, and told me "You should find another job. This is not suitable working conditions for you. I worry for your health." I told him that I was on work restrictions, and was not being made to work very hard like before. He told me "If I find a job, I will let you know." I thanked him, touched by his fatherly protective care for me.

     The next time I saw him, he was his usual cheery self. Greeting in Tagalog, then proceed with transaction and chit-chat, just like normal. He sighed audibly. I asked "Tough day at work?" He laughed unconvincingly, and told me "You could say that." "Busy?" "No, not 'busy', just no 'customers'". "Oh, you prefer busy days?"
He became very awkward at that, and said "I don't really prefer any days. Days come, days go. It's just my job." Deciding not to press the issue any further, I just said "I see." There was a long pause as I rang up his dried mangoes. "Chibi..." he started out (he knew my nickname and referred to me as such) "Yes, Paul?"
"Remember how I told you if I find job opening, I'd let you know?" I laughed and said "Yes, I remember. Why?" More awkward silence. "I could hire you at my job. I would pay you double what they're paying here, and you wouldn't get hurt... You would be a greeter, if you wanted, or a secretary, handling phone calls..." "I don't think I can leave here... Where do you work?" Here he laughed very oddly, a laugh I had never heard him laugh before. "Aiiiiiii... I work at the mortuary." I replied incredulously "Whaaaaaaa? Chismis?!" And he said "No, really, the mortuary on such-and-such street. You wouldn't be touching the dead bodies, Chibi; I wouldn't make you do that. But I could hire you as secretary, or as greeter to console the mourning families... You have such a kind heart, you would be perfect. I know it's a creepy job, but it's safer than here, and I would pay double whatever they're paying you here. I just really don't want you to work here, it's not safe conditions..." His eyes were tearing up at this point... I didn't know what to say. "Wow... Thank you so much for the offer, I don't know what to say... I'm being as safe as I can here, I don't think my back is getting any worse..." here he interjected "Chibi it breaks my heart to see you in that thing ::indicates back brace:: you are so young, you should be happy and carefree, not binded and being overworked..." a tear rolled down his cheek. I opened the drawer under the register and handed him a tissue so he could clean his tears. "Thank you, Chibi. You are so thoughtful..." I told him "I really appreciate the offer, but I don't think that I can legally quit working here right now, Paul... It's a very complex situation... Thank you so much, though, it means the world to me. Wow, the mortuary, huh? No wonder you have rough days... That must be very difficult, to work with dead bodies and bereaved families." Then he said something interesting, but he said it in Spanish. "The saddest part about my job is not the dead bodies, it's not the sad families, it's the people that have no understanding of the afterlife... They think everyone goes to heaven, or maybe that dead people go nowhere but the dirt. Worm food. They don't know how to be saved from eternal death. That's the sad part of my job." Curious, I asked (also in Spanish) "And how do you think one can be saved from eternal death?" He replied with all confidence: "Only through forgiveness of Jesus for our sins. Do you know that, Chibi?" I asked "Paul, you are a Christian?" "Yes, are you?" "Yes. What church do you go to?" He told me the name of a pinoy congregation that met in some other church facility. He asked me the same question, I told him the church I was attending at that time. Again, his eyes filled with tears, "Oh, Ate Chibi, my heart is overcome with joy to know that you know Jesus! He is the ultimate Healer, I know He can help your back!" "Ahhhh, Kuya Paul! No more tears, be happy! God is good, He will work all this for His glory. God is so good to bring me a Christian customer! It's a good change from mean people." At this point the transaction finished. I handed him the receipt, which he wrote his phone number on in case I changed my mind about taking a job at the mortuary and handed it back to me. I said "Salamat, kuya Paul!" and he said "Salamat din ako, ate Chibi!" and then he said something he'd never said before. "Mahal kita, Chibi. Jesus gusto ka din." I smiled as a tear rolled down my cheek and said "Mahal din kita, kuya, at mahal ko si Jesus, din."

     I don't remember if I saw Paul much after that. God was good to provide me transactions with him when the store was dead, so we could talk freely. When we conversed in Spanish it was when the boss or a coworker was around, because speaking about religious things with customers was greatly frowned upon, and Paul knew it too. It still boggles my mind that such a cheerful, happy-go-lucky guy like Paul works/worked at a mortuary. Such a dark and morbid job. I think the only way he could handle it was by the grace of our God.

     Kuya Paul, if you're out there somewhere, I hope you are doing well, my friend. I wish you to know that I am happier than ever and in good health; my back pain is stabilized. Thank you, kuya, for everything you did for me. For your kindness and fatherly love you showed to me. For working a difficult job but not letting it bring you down. Thank you for your encouragement. Mahal kita, kuya. At si Jesus gusto ka din. :)

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