She looked after their bags as he ran to the restroom. It was her old role, playing nurse with their luggage, hovering over the various pieces so that they wouldn’t run off. If they weren’t in such a busy terminal it wouldn’t have been so critical. Not all the people lounging around were catching a flight, leaving Manila as they were; the terminal was full; that airport would soon prove to be a very dangerous place, and Susan and Ted with their heads filled with worries about getting into Singapore didn’t exactly blend in.
Many of the passengers in the waiting areas were going great distances. Susan and Ted were in for a relatively short flight, a relatively simple hop; other passengers on their plane would fly on to Bombay. Other planes began to load. Ted came out of the restroom; it seemed to Susan that he had been in there forever, as if he had endured a line for a urinal, the kind of line she anticipated when she took her turn. And after some weeks of anticipation they now had only a half an hour or more left and they’d be on their way, starting a new phrase of their life, new adventures to write home about. Some people seemed more in a hurry than they were; but their flight hadn’t been called yet; and they seemed to have plenty of time since they had already cleared customs. Clearing customs was always like playing a game; and it would always amaze Susan how thoroughly customs went through the luggage of nationals returning to their country while they generally had no problems at all. It was as though their American passports gave them an automatic pass, with some exceptions; and this time would prove to be one of those, though they got through the first huddle, customs, without a problem.
For while, especially after they cleared customs, it looked as if no one would show up to see them off; and it seemed probable at that point that it would be the case, that no one cared enough to come, and Ted felt disappointed. But then, when they least expected him, Don showed up. He couldn’t come into the area where they were; there was a clear-plastic barrier that prevented that; and Ted didn’t think they had enough time to go back through customs. They could still communicate and wave. Very quickly they exchanged greetings, a short while later good-byes, a scene that Ted would always remember and seemed so unnatural; and then their flight was called; and Don said that they probably would never see each again. They had hoped that going through immigration would be routine. Now they felt their confidence rise. All they were looking for was a perfunctory glance at their passports; and their passports stamped, and they would be on their way (with a few regrets but by and large great satisfaction; at least they hoped that would be the way the Peace Corps viewed their service). Nerves began to mount up, while they tried to look as unemotional as possible, which seemed the best way to get through immigration; standing in line you’d hope everything would go smoothly. In front of them for most of the passengers it only took a minute or two. For some it took a look a little longer; it depended on the nationality of the person; and it began to look as if they were picking on certain people.
This led to a lot of uncertainty. The immigration official, when it became Susan and Ted’s turn, had to ask them for their passports twice. Ted was that nervous. They each had their own passport; Ted could see one of them being held up for some idiotic reason; especially so considering his draft situation. Maybe they could see that they were running from something. So seconds turned into long minutes; after which a second official stepped up and pulled them aside. It didn’t take long for things to get out of hand; and Ted could clearly see that because of this “baloney” they could end up missing their flight; who knew if they would hold the plane for them or not. It didn’t look good.
In a small office off to one side Ted and Susan managed to stay reasonably calm. Before, the Peace Corps would’ve run interference for them; how different it was compared when they arrived in Manila and were whisked through immigration and customs and were given a welcome speech, a warm welcome when everything seemed so foreign. Ted was readier than Susan was to accept whatever.
Ted asked him what the problem was, sir…like everything else there had to be a remedy, but first he had to find out the problem. He asked him what, precisely.
“Hum!” This was all that initially came out of the official’s mouth. Clearly the official had within his power to make or ruin their day. “Hum!” The silence that followed seemed interminable. He was dressed in a smart uniform and, with pomp and a badge, wore an official hat. Ted, at that moment, imagined that he was going to be sent to jail for some unnamed crime connected, or unconnected with his activities at the university. Somehow they knew and set a trap for him. He felt like blurting out, “I’ve been a Peace Corps volunteer for almost two years; and I’ve done what I could for your country.” Yeah, right, if you called joining the Communist useful…and maybe it was a good thing that he didn’t have an in-depth conversation what that official.
He asked them about a stamp they didn’t have in their passports. It would cost them a hundred pesos each. And then could they board their plane? “Of course,” the official said. So they paid it and got their passports stamped. And stamped again, when they went through immigration a second time.
Susan later said, “They want us to go away with a good impression. That’s why DeRoy Valencia was such a stickler over his bathrooms in the Luneta. You see Alfred was right all along. The time came for him to pee. He was then a Mormon missionary in Hawaii. Everyone has to pee. That’s right, everyone, even a Mormon missionary on a mission. And if he were in Manila instead of Hawaii, he could’ve peed almost anywhere: behind a building, on a tire, a tree, anywhere. But in Hawaii, he would have to hold it, but sometimes he thought he couldn’t, and one of those times he got in big trouble. What was he going to do? He would do what he always did: he would find a building, a tire, a tree, or whatever and pee. And low and behold, in Hawaii he got arrested for it. Now was that fair? I mean, he was in foreign country for Pete sake.”
Her parents had never been out of the United States, unless you count the few times they crossed into Juarez on foot, and Susan thought that shouldn’t count. Here they were about to get off a plane in Singapore.
She said to Ted, “I’ve been angry at you. Back in the States I was blind-sighted by the prospect of marrying you. How could that be? How could that be with someone like me? I thought one day you’d be famous. Before I met you I knew nothing about the theater, except…all the people I knew about in the theater were all very famous, so it stood to reason…I guess I was fooling myself. My dreams were buried back there in the theater building I hated. It took so much of you away from me. I was lonely. I could’ve died when I smelled the cigarette smoke. My husband was among the living dead. And I knew that if I didn’t do something quick that I’d drive myself crazy. So I suggested the Peace Corps. I didn’t really think you’d really want to go. I felt good when you did. I thought, oh boy, now I can get my husband back. Of course, I was scared to death. Scared and pissed, and that accounted for my pissiness. Of course, I didn’t tell anyone. Now half the people on the plane know.”
He leaned over to be close to her and said, “So I drove you crazy. So now what’s up with you?”
“I don’t know. I would hope that I’m stronger now.” She went on to say, “You didn’t drive me crazy. Even when you were at your craziest, you didn’t. I was feeding off my own frenzy. I could say I was waiting for you to become a famous such and such. But I’m more realistic than that. I saw my mother; how she was stuck on that piece of dirt near Midland. And look at us now: on an airplane flying into Singapore. Why not Singapore? We could stay in Singapore. Singapore sounds so exotic.”
“I have news for you. They won’t let us stay in Singapore.”
“Shucks! Or rats! Is Singapore a country?”
By the time Singapore broke away from Malaysia it was already becoming the financial hub of Southeast Asia. It didn’t take Susan and Ted long to learn how to get around in this super-clean, super-organized city-state. There were sights to see. And a great amount of pressure was off them. By and large Ted thought they had succeeded in disappearing. And this realization came on the heels of an attempted assassination of the Pope. Nick returned to his home in Central Luzon. The guerrillas there learned from past mistakes and became more successful, as politics in Manila turned more deadly. In many ways, it was a good thing that Ted got out of there when he did. They raided Angeles City and ambushed some American airmen and raised the stakes for everyone everywhere in the Philippines.
Then the question arose: what would they do if Susan became pregnant? Susan had said that she didn’t know how many times she could move, and Ted had said a good time to settle down might be when they had a kid. Then there for a while in Singapore they thought Susan might’ve been pregnant. For several days they lived with that unknown and until they discovered the wonders of socialized medicine. They didn’t have to pay a thing; and the results set them free.
Life then presented them with questions. Seeing Singapore meant, among other things, eating on a junk in the harbor; and this place was own by American expatriate; and you could catch a water-shuttle to it for lunch and dinner.
While they were eating the owner appeared, and Ted asked him how he managed to acquire a junk and turn it into a restaurant.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said.
When he came back later with the bill Ted said to him, “We just came from Manila. We grew tired of Manila. Any advice?”
And Ted said, “I’m lucky to have this woman here. I couldn’t live without her. I have another question. If you had nowhere, where would you go? And don’t say Singapore and that you would live and work on a junk.”