Short and stodgy with badly bowed legs, the old Filipino woman on the sidewalk smiles up and into the liquid black eyes of a tawny-faced man and his pale companion. A half turn and a step back is all it takes as, smiling broadly, he cranks open the heavy door. The young woman seems eager to engender feelings of goodwill as well, nicely jump-starting the day. “Thank you, young man!” the elder offers with brazen humility. “Thank you very much!”
The placated couple then strolls down bleached concrete stairs arm in arm as if gliding on air, enraptured of the moment. Random acts of kindness clearly lift the givers as much if not more than those on the receiving end.
Magnanimity is contagious, and I reflexively break into a grin. Pulling my bicycle aside from the walkway, I enter the bank. A gust of cold air conditioning meets sweaty flesh, and, breathing deeply, I sidestep into the small queue. The old woman now totters before me, grey shoulder-length hair streaked with oil, combed but lacking style. Natty navy sleeveless dress resurrected from another era hangs on her decrepit form. Engorged veins bulge from compression stockings, rolled unevenly just below the knees. Laughter, pleasantries exchange between her and the teller. A smattering of Pidgin flows like heated honey from the old woman’s lips, and I notice vexation spread across the younger woman’s features, though clearly she is familiar with the dialect.
As I glimpse the matron in profile, it becomes apparent that she is lacking several teeth. Deep grooves etch her wizened countenance. Her body is bent and stooped, suggesting a lifetime of hard toil and heavy heart, perhaps at the mercy of heavy hands.
My mind casts back to the days of a spent youth when many clambered to open doors on my behalf. With a dishy body and inflated sense of self worth, I would stroll disgustedly by and through, mammoth inferiority complex well hidden under preened exterior. I dismissed most of these eager helpers as blithering fools.
Now pushing well into my fifties, no one stumbles over anything to offer me such pleasantries, and I appreciate the gesture when it comes – gently now, as befitting the tenor of time. The awkwardness of acceptance has faded into history.
Regaining the present, my brain fast forwards to a time only too imminent – a future where I too shall fail to exude anything physically compelling to the opposite gender. And likely it will not matter. The best I can hope for is to hold onto a sort of dignity when some sweet youth, oblivious to the fleeting road unraveling before them, once again stumbles over themselves to break trail for a crone. And deeply touched at the sentiment, I will stutter on into some oblique errand in the withering days of my dotage.