“You are alone, sir?” the hostess asks.
“Yep, just me.” She leads me to a table near the back and awkwardly takes away the other three placemats.
“Salamat, po,” I say.
Still sweating from the sweltering heat outside, I quickly skim over the menu and order chicken with rice and a glass of water. Now what? I glance around, biting my bottom lip. I watch as the large fan rotates back around, in anticipation of the moment when it will grace my spot with a gift of sweet, cool air.
I wish I could rig this thing to hesitate for a few seconds when it’s pointing directly at me. No one would even notice. Unless everyone else is also watching this fan right now. I look around. They’re not. People are chatting in Tagalog and a few in English. I think I’m the only one sitting alone.
I reach for my phone. Facebook. Email. Snapchat. The default reaction to awkward situations. But alas, there’s no Verizon 3G to save me here. There’s no one to text, either. It’s 3am in America and I only have something like 12 contacts on my Filipino phone. I think there are a couple games on there; I could play those. It’s easier when I’m always busy.
But why? Why have we created such a stigma around being alone in public? And I mean really alone. Not on our phones, not with our face in a textbook, but as fully conscious human beings.
I never went out to restaurants by myself at home. Whether it was Sunday brunch with my housemates, date night with Amy, or a weekday afternoon at the Lodge, I was always eating with someone. During busy weeks, I even had to schedule my meals. I didn’t want miss out on these crucial moments to connect with the people I care about. At least that’s the excuse I gave myself, the facade I hid behind. However, there was a fundamental problem in the way that I dealt with being by myself, especially in public.
This summer has been different, though. While I’ve had a lot of time with others, I’ve had a lot of time alone, too. I knew this would be the case, since I was traveling on my own to another country, halfway around the world. But despite it’s title, the Lonely Plant guide glosses over that part. The trick was to find sustenance in, as Nathaniel Hawthorne once explained, “the communications of a solitary mind with itself.”
After two months here, through the ups and downs of international independence, I can finally say that I am comfortable left stirring in my own thoughts over a plate of chicken and rice. I’m at peace, and that’s enough.