“Maayong buntag!” they greeted us as we stepped off the golf cart and entered the main pavilion. I breathed the fresh air and for a moment I forgot we still hadn’t reached our room. Ms. Apple lead us into the pavilion, disappearing to get our keys. After about an hour and a half of travel from the airport, we had finally reached our destination. And boy, was it a beautiful, beautiful one.
“Beautiful,” I say to myself, as I watch the base move further and further away from sight. I was in the tricycle, clutching my bags. I had physically said goodbye to volunteers/friends, but it was taking a little more time to mentally and emotionally rift myself apart from the place that had changed me. “What was that?” the tricycle driver asks me. I smile at him. “Those people,” I tell him, “they are genuinely beautiful.”
“I’m glad you came,” he whispers into my ear as he pulls me closer to him. In the cold, cold atmosphere of Pai, Thailand, we lay, warm and cozied up in the rusty, but comfy wooden hut of Pai River Lodge. We hadn’t seen each other in a year. But even a year ago, I never would’ve guessed that we’d end up here. I turn to face him, and he caresses my face, ever so softly. We stare into each other, not speaking. Barely breathing. There was no noise around us. No shouts of drunken travelers. No sounds of motorbikes or cars passing by the road. It was just the gentle flow of Pai river, the harmony of various insects in the grassy, forested surroundings of Pai and… Us. He slowly moves, his eyes inching closer to mine, but I didn’t move a cinch. I close my eyes as our lips touched. What a beautiful moment it was.
“Hey Brenna,” a co-volunteer says as I stepped on the edge of the shovel to deepen my pull of the damp soil. “Yeah?” I say, a little preoccupied. He approaches me, this weird, almost I’m-not-sure-what-to-do-I’m-panicking look on his face. “I think she’s hurt,” he tells me, a subtle signal to his left where the kids stood huddled in a little circle. I drop my shovel on the ground and walk towards the kids. As they parted, I saw Jingjing, the 5 year old in the middle. She looked up at me with her innocent dark eyes. And started to cry.
“Do you know how beautiful you are?” he says. I frown at him, forcing myself to look at him in the eyes, searching for the familiar “joke” or “game” that I would normally see. I laugh nervously, telling him he was just drunk. He shakes his head. “I’m not drunk,” he drawls in his sexy, Spanish accent. “I meant what I said,” he finishes. And I believe.
“My wife just gave birth to my son the day before,” he starts his story as he squeezed on his motor to zoom past a slow bike. He leaned over the enclosed wall of the tricycle as he sneaked looks at me. “Ohh,” I say softly, imagining everything that could’ve happened, and slightly paralyzed at the thought of his wife. “When it started moving, I thought it only happened in Tagbilaran. I was here, working. My wife was in Maribojoc.” “Was it strong? Did it take long? “Yes, my tricycle moved so hard I thought the ground was going to open up.” he says, slowing down as we caught up with a truck over a short bridge. We were driving to the All Hands base in Antequera from Tagbilaran Airport. Most of Tagbilaran was okay. But from this point we were in cracked, slightly rough roads. “My wife called me and told me it was shaking there too. I panicked. I got on my tricycle and drove so fast. But when we came to the bridge, it was already gone.” “What did you do?” I ask. “I jumped.”