I walked up to Mass one day during Simbang Gabi. It was dark, of course, being 4:20 AM, or thereabouts. The church and plastic lawn chairs all being full as per usual, I sat down on the stonework of the flowerbed and began saying Lauds.
A Filipino man sat down next to me. He was an older gentleman, perhaps in his late fifties or early sixties. It is hard to tell with Asians. He had a long, scrawny neck, big ears and nose, and that not-entirely-aware, slightly dissipated look that I associate with chronic alcoholics. He wore a pair of jeans with holes in the knees, and a ratty t-shirt, and flip-flops, and no one else in the congregation paid him any attention whatsoever.
He sat down next to me and looked me over for a few minutes, and then smiled and began speaking to me in Tagalog. I looked up at him and smiled politely, and listened with no comprehension whatsoever. He went on and on, with gestures and significant looks and conspiratorial nods. Finally he said the word, “Tacloban,” with an interrogative upward inflection.
“Tacloban?” I asked, “Yes, I was at Tacloban.”
He nodded knowingly, and went off on another conversational paragraph of Tagalog. Eventually he finished it up with an English sentence, “What is your country of origin, Sir?”
“America,” I said.
“Ah!” He smiled. More Tagalog, more gestures and nods of comradarie. “Are you single?”
“No. I am engaged.”
He exclaimed, “Ah!” and slapped his thigh. More Tagalog, and a couple of winks. “So you are filing for divorce?”
I think maybe at this point my face showed something other than polite attentiveness. “No.” I answered quite emphatically. I didn’t know but that he might be trying to hook me up with a grand-daughter or niece or adult themed dance-club, and I wanted to make sure that my status was quite unequivocal.
He nodded with perfect comprehension. “One woman is enough for you?”
“Yes,” I said. “One woman is more than enough for me.”
He soliloquized in Tagalog for another few sentences, but with enough English scattered throughout that I managed to gather that one was not enough for him. He had had to have two. There was also something about his first wife, and a hope that she was like her. Who “she” and “her” were I have no more idea than you do.
Then he looked at me with the shrewd look of someone who has rapidly seen through an opponent's clever but misguided attempts to pull the wool over his eyes. “Do you understand the dialect of the Pilipino people?”
“No.” I answered. No good trying to trick this guy! May as well just out with it.
The Mass started at this point. He sat next to me for the sitting portions, but for the rest of it he was somewhat unpredictable. He would sidestep throughout the crowd of parishioners, periodically dropping to one knee on the cement pad for a few seconds, and then rising back to his feet. No one else even gave him so much as a glance, except for some of the teenagers who laughed at him a bit.
The Mass was mostly in English, but the homily was in Taglish, an approximately 90/10 mix of Tagalog and English. He came back over and sat down next to me and asked, “Do you understand what he is saying?”
I shook my head and said, “No, I do not.”
So he undertook to translate the homily for me. His method was somewhat unorthodox, but surprisingly effective. He would sit with his head bowed and his arms folded, a studious expression on his face, listening for the space of a sentence or two. Then he would say an English word or two, combined with a knowing wink and a hand gesture. Sometimes he would say a Tagalog word and then give me the English translation, and do this several times, as often as that word was repeated. Sometimes he would sigh and just gesture expressively with his hands. I would say I understood about 20% of the gist of that homily, and enjoyed the whole thing immensely.
He did not speak to me much more for the rest of the Mass, except to share a few choice lines from some of the hymns, but he wished me a very heartfelt “Merry Christmas!” at the end of it. He nodded and smiled and waved as he walked off, for all the world as if he possessed some incredibly enjoyable secret which he had just let me in on.
I have seen him there at Sunday Mass since, but have not spoken with him. He always arrives, sits, and leaves alone. I don't know his story, and although I am sure it has had its darker moments, yet there is some kind of faith there, I am certain of it. May God Bless Him and bring Him safely to his heavenly home!