In every apartment that Leila has lived in (and I've stayed in all of them save for one), I think there are four constant things:
2. Ashtrays for those cigarettes
4. A maid.
In her latest abode that overlooks a resort-sized configuration of pools, cabanas, a club-house and outdoor sports-areas, she informs me that the fourth one was no longer applicable. There are already three adults in the household, the youngest of whom no longer required supervision. And besides, the new place has only two bedrooms and I had a fleeting vision of the maid sleeping in the balcony on a folding bed.
We smoke in the balcony, these slender Korean cigarettes in which you had to pinch the filter to break some sort of capsule inside that releases this candy-like, menthol flavouring. We look over the balcony ogling families barbecuing fragrant pork, the kids screaming in the pool. We have so many memories, too many to count, of such scenes, but set at a real beach, all of us huddling inside make-shift huts of bamboo and coconut leaves to escape the heat. We were happy when we would bring help along, but sulky when we had to man the charcoal-fed barbecue pit ourselves. To this day, I can never light charcoal properly with the efficiency and patience needed to bring it to a blistering temperature. My idea of lighting one is to douse the bricks with as much kerosene as possible, an aggressive, scorched-earth technique that usually left a faint kerosene-y taste to the meat.
I feel the nearly imperceptible but all too familiar bite of a mosquito on my leg.
OMG, are there mosquitos here I cry out remembering that my sister-in-law and my nephew had a bout with Dengue a few weeks back. Leila looks at me as if I'm crazy; of course there are! Welcome to the Philippines! You should buy Off-Lotion and make sure to avoid staying too long in places where you'll be exposed to mosquitos (which is practically the entire country).
I laugh and tell her that if she ever needed a maid again, she would have to sleep in the balcony shrouded under mosquito netting.
It's not a bad thing mosquito nets and I remember as a child waking up in the morning and rhythmically rubbing my feet and legs against the netting as I lingered in bed.
If I had another chance to stay a bit longer in the country that's what I would get- a mosquito net, a good electric fan and a reliable reading lamp- and of course, ten books from Leila's shelf.