I took a walk down the beach to see the girl in the bikini. Rusty had advised me too. “I wonder who is the man she’s with,” he said, gazing off in their direction. The girl was stunning, with dark brown skin and a perfect figure. The man she was with was short and round; if she was an hour glass, he was a stop watch with a head on it. Moving past her, I made sure I got a good look in, then went back over to where Rusty was sitting.
“Yeah, she’s gorgeous,” I said, agreeing.
“I should go to them and say ‘Can I get a drink for you and your brother,’” Rusty said, looking out into the ocean. “Then, if it is not her brother, he cannot get upset because it is obviously a misunderstanding.”
“It’s probably her brother,” I said. The sand on the beach at Boracay is soft as powder and I took some in my hand and let it slide out. “That guy can’t be her boyfriend. It doesn’t make sense.”
The sun was out and the girl in the bikini ran into the water, where her mystery companion was waiting for her. “Who goes to the beach with their brother?” Rusty asked.
It was a fine question. I thought about it. I would never, ever want to go to the beach alone with my sister. Especially if she was wearing a bikini. That would be weird.
I took my shirt off and went into the water myself. Off to the side I saw Rusty walk over in their direction. I moved onto my back and floated on the water while the sun shined bright on my face. “If I could only be like that,” I thought, enviously. “What I would give to have the courage to go up to someone and just start talking.” The water was warm and I moved back onto my feet, crouching down so the crests of the small waves decapitated me. There was Rusty, talking to both of them. They were laughing. I wondered what he was saying.
About 15 minutes later, I was back on the white sand. Rusty came over, lying down, beads of ocean water sunbathing all over his large white body.
“Fiancé,” he said he said through his teeth.
Boracay is a beautiful place. A paradise. It’s the place everyone seems to mention when they hear you’re going to the Philippines. “Going to the Philippines?” they say. “You gotta go to Boracay.” Lonely Plant says its White Beach “meets or exceeds all expectations.” I spent three days there and found it to be the kind of place that pulls you away. It makes a person start to think, “Hmm, what if I just dropped everything and lived here, on the beach, for however long. Without a job but it wouldn’t matter. Without any worries. Just quit everything and stayed until the money ran out. Maybe I will.”
And it was at Boracay that we met Rusty, though no one knew what his real name was. We knew he was from Finland and that he spoke in a heavy Scandinavian accent. He told us his real name but it was too foreign to remember; it started with an R and so we started calling him Rusty and he didn’t seem to mind that (his real name, it would turn out, was Rostislav). When I first met him, he sat at our table trying to dry out the cellphone he’d just accidentally gone swimming with.
“It is fried,” he said, shaking it. Then he launched into a story nobody could make heads or tails of, something about getting drugged at a club and seeing Santa Claus. He was older, clearly in his forties, stout, balding, with eyes at least four shades of blue lighter than the color of the Speedo he wore. He was in the same hostel room as one of my friends, and he’d sort of latched onto us, not knowing anyone else in Boracay. That was fine. When you’re paying 200 pesos a night for a small bed in a room right off the beach, in a place hidden by coconut trees, where two diseased-looking dogs run about freely and the beer is cheaper than water, you expect to pick up some colorful characters along the way.
At night – our first in Boracay – we piled into my friend’s room, and Rusty showed up with a bottle of rum, some coke, and a bag of ice. He put everything on his bed and started making drinks. There was a lovely British girl named Nikita with us. “I plan on getting cucumbered tonight,” she said. “Do you call it that in the States? In England, we call getting really drunk getting cucumbered.”
Rusty raised his drink. “Here’s to getting ca-coom-bered,” he said. His pronunciation was so horrible, we all laughed. “It’s a difficult word to pronounce,” he said. “Like vegey-ta-blais.”
Much later he’d return, drunk as ever (or perfectly cucumbered), to find that he’d forgotten the bag of ice on his bed. His sheets, just as his cellphone had been earlier, were soaked.
He went out onto the white beach by himself and slept on the sand.
That night was not a good one for me. It’s hard to say exactly what happened. We were out at a club and suddenly I felt apart from everything, like I was invisible or as if I was watching everything on a television screen. I stood in the corner, covered in nervous sweat, drinking and smoking and pretending to have a good time. There was something about the place that made me feel sucked up inside of myself. I didn’t want to dance and I felt extremely out of place.
Rusty was the complete opposite. He bounced around the dance floor and leapt up onto the stripper pole, where before scantily clad tourist girls had danced. “He has no shame,” I thought, watching him go. “None. He doesn’t care who’s watching him. In fact, he seems to want people to watch him.”
Apart from Rusty, everyone in the club was about a decade younger than I was. They drank some red liquor drink called a “Zombie” and danced the night away. All of them – my friends, the strangers, the Filipino men and women – were vibrant with life, practically glowing. In distinct contrast, I felt out of place, miserable, not so much like I didn’t want to be there, but like I shouldn’t be there. I felt twice as old as the place and I left and took a walk down along the beach. In a dark cove I found two dogs sitting there, looking bored. I sat down near them and smoked a cigarette. I tried to look out into the ocean at night but it was too dark to see the water. Everything was black.
“Sometimes,” I thought, “I wish the whole world was old with me.”
One of the dogs blinked its eyes and its ears twitched.
The next night it rained hard, poured, and we crowded into a huge dance club named Summer Place and Rusty bought me rum and tonic to drink. It was actually quite good and strong. When the rain would stop, we’d wander out into the narrow lane between the club and the beach, where prostitutes and police officers hung out. One old prostitute kept putting her arms around my waist. Rusty was a puddle, completely sloshed, and he’d giggle and push her away and shout, “Keep your hands off my boyfriend!”
“Don’t joke like that, man!” I said, now trying to push both him and the prostitute off of me. Around four in the morning we all lost each other. I was as drunk as I’ve ever been and staggered around, talking to Filipino girls. The next morning, I woke up in a hut in bed next to one of them. I could barely remember anything, and the sun was up and there was a statue of the Virgin Mary upright on a table facing us. The girl gave me her phone number and then started asking me for money, to buy food and for her brother and I’m not sure what else. My head was spinning. I opened my wallet and gave her all the pesos I had. The beach was empty in the morning and I walked down the one lone path to where I was staying, where I bought water and had them put it on my room bill since I had given away all my money.
Rusty was sitting out at a table later on. He looked depressed. “They stole everything,” he said. “I was too drunk. Ca-coom-bered. They pick pocketed me. My cellphone is gone and so is my money.”
I had known Rusty for two days, and in that time he had ruined one cell phone and had another one stolen. This second one was his phone from Finland. From his home. They’d also taken his money. He shook his head. He looked defeated.
At dusk, the sun settling down on the beach, tourists piling into restaurants to eat their dinners, Rusty walked back down to Summer Place to talk to the prostitutes. He told them that if they found a phone from Finland, he would come and buy it back from them. He had everything in that phone and needed it badly. I’m not sure if they ever found it, or if they even agreed on how much it was worth.
In his career, Rostislav A. has directed 16 documentary films, most of them shorts. He made his first film in 1994 and has been working in the Scandinavian film industry since. In 2002, he directed a feature documentary that was nominated for the Nordic Council’s Film Prize and which won the Jury Award at the Newport International Film Festival. I got that information off IMDB. From the independent research I did hanging out with him for three days, I learned that he drinks like a (Nordic) fish, laughs loudly, and is an incredibly fun and charismatic individual.
“There is no clee-max,” Rusty told me out on the beach one day, talking about his film, the one that had won the prize at the film festival in 2002. “I could’ve made one in editing, but I didn’t. I wanted it to be true to life.”
The last time I saw Rusty, he was sitting in a bar at night, drinking and watching the Filipino locals play a cover of “Ooh Baby I Love Your Way” by Peter Frampton. I’m not sure what exactly he was doing in the Philippines. I don’t know what he was going back home to. I’m fairly certain, though, that he didn’t want to go back home very much. That we had in common. I said goodbye to him and walked back to my room, mildly surprised to find a goat with enormous testicles walking around outside my door.
The next morning I woke up, got dressed, and left Boracay, leaving behind the white sand that had, only a few mornings earlier, slipped through my fist like it was falling to the bottom of some wonderful old hourglass.