The week wore on and I often observed Jobay from a distance; walking alone, standing alone and just thinking alone. One day, I saw her with a local boy who was obviously 13 or 14, they played together like peers. There was no older, no younger, no master or power. They played with the young flirtations of middle school students, yet her knowledge was similar to an adult. They poked and jabbed, play fighting and a banter that was obviously friendly. It was clear that Jobay was the same physical age as this boy and the boy was very young. One evening, before dinner time I was chatting to Stanly on his porch when Jobay walked past, stopped at the end of the walkway and stared out into the open sea. She stayed relatively motionless for a few moments, so I invited her to the porch to chat with us. I dove right into the interesting questions;
“How did you meet your boyfriend?” I asked straight away.
“I met him through an internet seller.” She answered shyly.
“An internet seller? Don’t you mean a website? Like you were chatting online and decided to meet?” I tried to lead her into that direction. I thought that maybe she did not know the English to describe where they met. It is very common for girls from the Philippines to be on the internet trying to find husbands or meal tickets. But, she seemed to know my meaning and feel that the truth was something different.
“No, We met through an internet seller.” She corrected me.
I realized that she knew what she was saying and an image was formed in my mind of a website in Japanese with pictures of small girls and prices per month, sold like meat at the butcher, with happy Filipina mamas raking in a big percentage of the cash and ensuring the girls health as though they were race horses.
“So, is this man your first boyfriend?” I continued on, changing the topic.
“Oh no, before I was working in Robinson Mall in Manila and I met this older Filipino man and he was my first boyfriend. But, he was married and then had me as a girlfriend. That was ok, but then I found he had another girlfriend too. I did not like that, so I finished him. I still think about him, I cannot forget him.”
“How old were you when you were with that man?” I asked.
“Oh, about 16.” She stated ambiguously.
“Oh, so then you met this Japanese man?” I delved, trying to get some time reference.
“Yes, but before the Japanese man, I had an Australian boyfriend. He was a little old and we were only together for a short time.”
In my mind I thought, “Jesus, this little girl has been around” because she has. I began to really question her age because she said she worked in Robinson Mall; how old do you have to be to work in Robinson Mall? It must have been at least 6 months prior, so she could be 15, 16 or 17. But, it could have been a year earlier and now she would really be as old as she said. I decided to turn the topic to her history, her family life and the like.
“So, did you finish school?” I asked.
“Oh, no I did not finish, but I would like to. In the Philippines, if you want to eat, you have to work. So, instead of school, I had to work.”
“So, does your family know that your boyfriend is a Japanese man?” I asked this very personal question.
“Oh, my mother does not know, but my cousin and sister knows.” She answered automatically.
I found the fact that the youngest daughter is dating an old man and living with him for 4 months on a different island, and the mother is totally unaware a hard pill to swallow. But, to quote John at VIP Divers, “As long as the money keeps coming in they won’t say anything.” Really, if schooling is free then they should at least be given the right to finish their schooling. However, I dwelt on the idea,“In the Philippines, if you want to eat you have to work.”
“Don’t your parents work?” I asked bluntly. “My mom works, but it is not enough, I have brothers and sisters and my family has some other problems.” She answered shyly.
“What problem does your family have?” I probed deeper into the issue.
But, the wise girl that she was, she simply answered, “The same problem all Filipino families have.” This of course means nothing to me and I was not about to run around the village looking for “Curley’s ONE THING that is important in life” anymore than I was going to ask what problem all Filipino families had in common. (Curley is the character from the movie City Slickers)
It was obvious that this line of discussion had made her a little uncomfortable and she was wondering about the situation with her boyfriend, so she soon departed for her hotel room and Stanly and I enjoyed another beer. We did not talk to Jobay much more over the rest of the week in Sabang. We had our passing “hellos” and we saw her in the bars with her boyfriend. He would be sitting with the other elderly Japanese men, drinking and dancing with all the bar girls, who were really having good times with the Japanese men. Jobay sat more reserved and silent, often leaving the bar and coming back later. We left for our travels around the other islands of the Philippines without meeting Jobay again.