I opened the door not to the crisp-uniformed receptionist or cleaner I expected, but an obese, greybearded ‘cano. I didn’t know what to make of him, so my scowl stayed where it was as a placeholder.
“Can I ask what you’re doing here?”
He sounded as though an unsatisfactory answer would bring him back with a wooden board, a towel and a hosepipe. His accent identified him as a ‘cano far more literally than a Brit like me.
“I’m studying fish disease.”
I never learned to name my job without sounding apologetic. It sounded improbable even to me, though I couldn’t imagine anyone inventing it.
“Where?” he demanded.
“The fisheries lab by the harbour.”
His forehead furrowed. Whatever he’d expected to hear, he wasn’t hearing it. “Were you in Manila a few weeks ago? I thought I saw you in Rizal Park.”
I admitted to an afternoon in Rizal Park but if he’d been there, I hadn’t noticed him. His barked questions made me feel I was making a confession, which knocked down a row of emotional dominoes as far as the one marked ‘annoyed’. I didn’t owe this man an account of my movements. He was about two questions away from the domino marked ‘tell him his questions belong somewhere he probably can’t reach without losing a lot of weight’.
Before we got there, his shoulders slipped into a more relaxed stance.
“OK,” he said. “I was wondering if my company had sent you to watch me.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, but I’d passed his test. I mumbled at him more politely than I felt he deserved until he went away.
I didn’t know what to make of it until the following day, when I passed him on the stairs with a girl young enough to be his grand-daughter. She was dressed in makeup with a few threads of clothing thrown on as an afterthought.
I’d never noticed the hedonist before, but now he’d drawn my attention I often noticed him around the hotel with various girls who clung to his arm and looked anywhere but at his face. He would nod to me, man-to-man, acknowledging the month-long party his company was paying for.
I wished I’d thought to ask who he worked for.