The other night, I treated myself to dinner after a stressful day. While seating comfortably in the corner of the restaurant, a stranger sat in the next table and  greeted me with a big smile. Not wanting to offend her, I just smiled back. After I finished my meal, I stood up and looked  her way. She smiled again and said to me, “You’re done? Bye!”

I didn’t smile back, I just said to myself, “What an interesting person.”

It was not the first time I had an interesting encounter with a stranger. Way back  in December, while walking towards the jeepney terminal of SM Bicutan, a car stopped beside me. The driver rolled the window down and shouted at me, “Hey miss, do you have an umbrella?”

I thought twice before answering but I ended up replying, “Yes, I have one. Why?”

He replied, “It’s drizzling, in case you haven’t noticed.”  I looked up and it indeed, there was a light rain.

He added, “You should put out your umbrella now.” I didn’t know how to reply so I just smiled at him. He smiled back, and waved at me. He then rolled up his window again and drove off. I was left dumfounded as I said to myself, “Weird.”

These were not only instances when strangers greeted me enthusiastically. And yet at every encounter, I returned the favor with skepticism. In a place such as Manila, I learned it would do me no good to be endlessly polite and accommodating. I developed a habit of doubting strangers. A man looking at me could be a thief. An approaching lady might pretend that she needs money to feed her child. Some hardly take a look even if  they stepped on my foot while rushing to walk past me in the overpass.

When someone smiles or greets me, I always expect something to happen. A request, a comment, or even the question, “What is your name?”. So I am caught off guard, when nothing follows the smile or the greeting. I guess it’s still indeed possible…greeting strangers just because we can and not because we have a hidden intention or we need something from them.

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