I have to admit, I didn’t notice you at first.
I was just passing time at the hostel lobby, intent on staying aloof. I didn’t see the point of reaching out to anyone when I had six hours left in the country before I flew home.
But there you were, sharing the couch with me and sitting to my right. You in your white tee, ripped jeans and combat boots. You with your scruffy beard and your half-hidden tattoos.
I had my walls up, but you jumped your way over them and, with no precursory greeting whatsoever, asked me where I’m from.
My heart skipped a beat and I answered before throwing the question back to you.
Turns out you’re a New Yorker with Filipino immigrant parents. You’ve been everywhere the past few months as a web developer and now here you are, in Malaysia. You told me how you’ve been in the hostel for two weeks, losing your mind while waiting for something work-related.
You asked me a lot of questions: if I was on my own, how long I’ve been traveling, what I do for a living. For the first time in a long time, I was with someone genuinely interested to connect. You were curious, coaxing me out of my self-imposed aloofness while I tried my best to go along.
I shared my plans on wanting to quit my job and go backpacking later this year. At that point, I haven’t voiced both possibilities in the same sentence and yet I was telling it to you, a stranger.
There’s power in anonimity so I basked into it. I didn’t have to be anyone with you. There was no pressure to conform or to filter or to play pretend.
I was just me.
Other hostel guests kept trickling in at the lobby while we hung out. I kept expecting you to leave, or to have someone else join in, but they left us in our little bubble. We went from being alone to being alone together, in a place where we were suddenly, strangely, apart from everybody else.
— — —
“Hey, I’m heading to Manila soon,” You casually mentioned over a piece of chocolate cake that passes for your lunch.
You looked at me, slipping a forkful of the overpriced cake in your mouth. I looked back at you, silently wondering what to do next.
You were not asking for anything, but by leaving the moment open, I could have given you something. I could have shared my number, handed my email address, asked for your Facebook details. We could have kept in touch.
But I paused.
I always pause.
— — —
Sometimes I find myself wondering if you ever pushed through your vacation in Manila. If you followed through with my recommendations, like walking around Makati instead of getting fooled into a cab. If you remembered that girl, the one you met in the lobby of a hostel in Kuala Lumpur.
But let’s be honest, the what ifs will only kill me.
The reality of the road is that it’s ripe for quick connections. It’s so easy to meet beautiful, wonderful strangers from all over the world, and to fall in “love” with them, fast and hard, slow and sure, over and over again.
And because of this, wandering souls are complicated creatures. We leave ourselves open, but we don’t expect anything. We feel too much, too soon, but we’ve learned to detach and protect ourselves when necessary. We know when something’s special, but we understand when it’s special to leave it that way.
We live, love and let go, sometimes all at the same time.