"Ikaw ay maganda"

Translation: "You are beautiful" in Tagalog
“Ikaw ay maganda.” He said, while peering down at me through the reception window.
My fingers recoiled from the computer keyboard, curling into themselves.  
I could feel his stare burning into my skull, eager for a response.
"Did you understand what I said? You're Filipino right?” The client pursued again.
Looking up, the only thing I could see were the small and soulless eyes behind those tilted frames of his. He was a tall, middle-aged man. A lanky figure that snaked his head through a lucky gap in the wall.
Suddenly, I was grateful for the inches of concrete that kept both of us apart.
"Um yeah, I did…” I straddled on, trying to end things.
Just breathe in, and breathe out…
"So, would you still like me to give you some rental listings then?"
My coworker once said something that’s always kind of stuck with me.
“When strangers see someone that interests them, they’ll try to make connections that just aren’t there.”
Nowadays, that’s how I’ve been trying to process interactions like these—the conversations at work that don’t make any sense to me.
In the anecdote above, I wasn’t sure why the client had to go out of his way to call me what he did, in the language he chose to speak it. I still have no idea how what he said related to the service I was providing for him.
All I know is that to me, it makes no sense, but people are going to keep starting conversations like this anyway.
Even when I started this job over a year ago, I never expected it to happen in the first month, but out of nowhere, it did.
The client was (and still is) a jovial and welcoming figurehead in our community, but he was also old enough to be my grandfather. One day, I was giving him a bus pass like I always did. In exchange, he decided it was the opportune moment to give back a sex joke on the side.
Because of course he has sex, of course he does—but he didn’t really need to tell me that in front of everyone, did he?
To this day, I still can’t speak to him whenever he comes into our community centre.
I think one of the hardest things for me is being able to find the words to say in conversations like this. Especially, if the entire scene is playing out in public for every other client and coworker to see. It’s difficult to admit it, but when instances like these happen, every single ounce of dignity in me shrivels up and dies. By the end of the interaction, my sense of boundaries have disappeared, and all I really want is for the misery to be over.
Even now, I’m only just beginning to unpack what counts as an acceptable complement, and what reaches too far beyond that. Though, any colleague I talk to keeps telling me that bottom line, if I feel uncomfortable, then that’s when it’s wrong.
When I first started this job, I never asked for these conversations. I never dress up to be complemented or placed on the spot. However, these instances have happened enough times to know that new conversations like these are never going to stop coming.
I may not realize it now, but I deserve just as much respect as anyone else.  
The only thing I can do now is to muster enough courage in my own voice, so that I can stand up for myself one day.
Written by maikee_
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