You had to admit that she was cute, with her white baseball cap turned backwards over the black bangs that framed her face, standing at the doorway of the apartment that you shared with your boyfriend. You had a class with her at the university, but her chair had been empty for at least a month now, the chair you sat behind in the lecture room in Dwinelle Hall.
You’d seen “Philippines” embroidered on the back of her jacket, so you struck up a conversation, and she told you she’d moved to California three years ago. You listened to her more intently than you intended, drawn to her brown eyes that shyly evaded yours. Others might have found her accent difficult, but not you, since your parents spoke in the same familiar way. In spite of yourself, your words spilled out, how you’d also immigrated as a child, fifteen years ago, how your family struggled when you first moved. You wanted to ask what her life had been like in the Philippines, growing up as a butch, but she’d already turned around, and the professor was about to start.
You were disappointed the first time you returned and saw her chair empty, and you looked around to see if she was in another seat, but after a couple of weeks, you stopped noticing. So when you heard the knock on the door, you were surprised that it was her. You wondered how she’d found your building on Dwight Avenue, your apartment on the second floor. Did you tell her during class? You didn’t think she remembered you, but somehow she’d tracked you down, and here she was, at your door. Confused, you blurted out, “Hi.” “Hi,” she replied.
“What are you doing here?” you asked, hoping it didn’t sound rude. You cracked the door open just enough to see her, just enough for her to see you. She was wearing blue jeans and a navy blue windbreaker, checkered backpack over one shoulder. Fall in the Bay Area was chilly outside. You felt self-conscious about your baggy shorts and faded T-shirt, but you were doing laundry at home and studying, not expecting any visitors.
“I was in the neighborhood,” she said. “I just need to talk to someone.”
That didn’t make sense. “What do you want to talk about?”
She turned to face the hallway, and you wondered if your neighbors could hear the two of you talking. Those same neighbors who might also be able to hear you and your boyfriend at night.
“I…” she paused. “I need a place to stay,” she finished. “Can I come inside to talk?” She turned her brown eyes back to you, leaning slightly into the doorway.
“My boyfriend’s not home,” you heard yourself say, thinking that was enough. Then you added, “So you can’t come in.” You didn’t know her well enough to ask what happened, if there were other friends she could stay with.
“But,” she responded, “he’s not here. So can’t you let me in? I need to talk to you.” There was a note of pleading.
She was right, he was gone. You hesitated. What was the harm in letting her in? Maybe you were confused by how she found your apartment, maybe you were embarrassed by your clothes. Or maybe, you sensed some risk in opening the door to her. If you led her to the living room, offered her a glass of water. Sitting alone with her on the couch, and what that could lead to.
It was a lot, what she was asking. “I can talk to you here,” you said, not moving.
Suddenly she grunted, and pounded her fist on the wall next to the door in frustration. The quick motion made you flinch, even if she wasn’t that much bigger than you. Unconsciously, you shrank back from the doorway a little.
“But I need to talk to you,” she insisted, looking at you now, “I don’t have a place to stay.”
You wanted to give her a chance. You didn’t know anything about her life, or what had happened during those weeks of her absence from class, but you remembered that you’d connected. You liked her a little. And her finding you seemed like a compliment. But you didn’t open the door any wider. Your boyfriend, he was safe. Safer. Your boyfriend who would come back soon.
“I can’t let you in, if my boyfriend’s not here,” you repeated. You tried to explain. “It’s not just me who lives here.” She was looking at you, standing in the small space of the open doorway. You were just a girl from class who’d been nice to her once. You shared some similar experiences. If there was something else, something more, she wasn’t saying.
“I can talk to you here,” you said again. She looked at you for a long time, with her brown eyes, silent. Then she was looking past you, towards the apartment behind you. She turned back towards the hallway.
“It’s OK,” she said finally. You couldn’t read her eyes. She started to walk down the carpeted hallway.
You stepped forward from the doorway to watch her leave. “Goodbye,” you called out. No answer. Her stride didn’t break, and at the end of the hallway, she turned the knob to pull the door open. You saw her checkered backpack and white baseball cap, as the door swung shut behind her.
Maiana Minahal is a queer femme who was born in Manila and grew up in the Los Angeles area. She lived and worked in the Bay Area for 25 years, and is currently based in Honolulu, where she teaches at Kapi‘olani Community College. She is an interdisciplinary performing artist and the author of the poetry collection Legend Sondayo.