Benjamin Button And The Painter From Catalonia

I was finishing the last of my toast when I heard him say, “Your tattoo is beautiful.

I looked at him just in time to see him pointing on the side of his neck to identify which tattoo of mine he was referring to.

I said thanks and wondered if I should carry on the conversation. He has dark curly hair that goes below his ears, big round eyes that are very expressive, and he has a mustache and beard. His facial hairs were not able to obscure his good looks. I’ve seen him in the hostel a couple of times during my time in Penang, but we never really talked until that day, just as I was leaving the hostel in which we were both guests.

It’s a symbol for a Leo,” I heard myself reply, deciding to keep the conversation going, “I’m a Leo.

His lips broke into a big smile.

What about you, what’s your zodiac sign?

Leo,” he replied.

I let out a little laugh, “So that’s why you liked my tattoo. You’re also a Leo.”

Leos fall from the 22nd of July to the 22nd of August. I happen to believe that the stars affect people’s characteristics, hence the ink. Sometimes I could even tell a person’s sign without even asking. People of my sign are known to be charismatic, self-confident, and sociable. I think I failed in the sociable part, I am selectively social. He, on the other hand, seems to tick all three.

Have you celebrated your birthday already or you’re going to celebrate it any day now?” I asked him curiously.

He said that he already did and asked me the same question. I told him that I’m heading to Singapore to celebrate my birthday on the 19th and that it’s the first time I’d be spending my birthday in another country.

He nodded, “Wow, did you plan it out?


You’re going to get a bit older,” he said.

Ah, yeah, we all grow old, that’s okay.”

Yes, unless you are Benjamin Button.”

Aha, a Benjamin Button reference. How interesting.

Why, if you have it your way, do you want to grow backwards?”

He said yes.

You want to die as a baby?” I asked, amused.

Yes, I think it’s better to die as a baby instead of an old man.

So you want people to take care of you?”

It’s the same if I die really old. I will still act like a baby and people have to take care of me.

And then he proceeded explaining to me in his thick Spanish accent that old people, at least those who reached their 80s up to a hundred start acting like babies; they unlearn the things that they do, they forget things, they could hardly walk, some have become so weak they cannot even feed themselves; basically, like babies. The guy has a point.

It was the 17th of August, in 2 days, I’d be 35. It’s not the kind of conversation that you would want to have when you are starting to feel ancient, but I love having deep conversations, especially when I don’t get to have it a lot. When I’m with some of my friends, we were always talking about other people we know and I am seriously getting sick of it. I am tired of talking about the same shit over and over again. Most of the time I wish I have a recorder with me, so when there’s a friend who would mention something that she has already discussed in the past, I’d just play the freaking recorder as a reminder that we’ve had this talk. I wish I could have more people in my life like this guy, those who see things differently. I long for this kind of conversations, funny how I usually get it from people I hardly know.

Life is like when you’re drawing a circle,” he said.

Now, this sounds interesting. I met his gaze and waited for him to explain. He drew a circle in the air with his finger. He said that when we draw a circle, it’s never perfect, that the first stroke would be bold and towards the end, the stroke would be lighter. He picked a brochure on the table and asked for my permission to use it; I said that it’s not mine. He shrugged and opened the brochure anyway, it’s one of those Penang guides that you could get from the airport. He picked a pen and drew a circle on top of the brochure. And just as he was trying to explain, I noticed that the stroke has gotten thinner by the end of the circle.

I think life is like this circle. When we are young, we’re strong, we can do many things, just like the beginning of this circle; you see the stroke is thick. But as we grow old we start to fade away, we become physically weak. Just like the end of this circle, the stroke is thin or fading.

I nodded in understanding and remembered the old people in my life and how I watched them fade. My grandfather died a few years ago; the last time I saw him, he couldn’t recognize me anymore. His body was all skin and bones, he had sunken eyes and pale complexion. Gone was the man who used to drink a lot and sing his most heartbreaking rendition of Visayan kundimans. It’s as if he was a completely different person. He has faded, it was inevitable given his old age, but knowing the inevitability didn’t make it any less easy for me to witness it.

I noticed some dirt on the guy’s hands and realized that they were paints. Could he be a painter? Where did he come from? Judging by his accent, he could be Spanish. I asked him if he was, and he looked at me surprised.

How did you know?

It’s in your accent,” I replied.

Yes I am from Spain, but I am a Catalan. Are you familiar with it?”

As a matter of fact, I am; Catalan people are from Catalonia, a region in Spain; but that’s as far as my knowledge goes. He was happy to share some facts. He said that although they are part of Spain, his people like to be referred to as Catalans instead of Spanish. Their language is also a bit different from the rest of Spain; a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, and French.

So you speak French?” I asked.

Un peu.”

Moi aussi. Je parle un peu  Français.”

The corner of his mouth lifts in amusement, “Where are you from?

I dared him to take a guess. He paused and stared intently on my face. If I were capable of blushing, my face would definitely be red right at that moment. His brow wrinkled in concentration trying to figure out my nationality.

You’re unlike any of the girls I’ve seen here, let me see.

Come on, it’s in my accent, a bit similar to yours,” I told him.

I gave him some clues, to not go beyond Southeast Asia and that my country has been colonized by his country for centuries. The Indian guy on the other table let out a small laugh; apparently, he was listening to our conversation and based on his reaction, he already knew where I came from.

I saw it on his face before he even said it. He finally got it.


I nodded in confirmation.

Filipinas are beautiful,” he said.

Why, have you been to my country?” I asked, ready to discuss the places that he might have visited.

He shook his head.

Then how did you know Filipinas are beautiful?

I’m looking at one right now,” he replied.

My mind went blank. I honestly didn’t know how to respond to that and I can’t remember now if I ever did. I could have sworn the temperature has risen in the room. My face felt warm and my heart started to race a little bit.

I looked at my phone and saw the Uber driver has arrived. Sadly, it was time for me to go. I wish we had an opportunity to talk in the few days I was there, why did I meet him just when I was about to leave? I picked up my suitcase from under the table and told him that it was nice talking to him.

His name is Jordi and just as I thought, he is a painter. I waited for him to ask for my name but he never did. I left Penang that day remembering the story of Benjamin Button, and his hands splattered with paint.

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  1. This is a beautiful account of a happenstance meeting! I think every traveler has met someone in passing whom they wished to know better. You perfectly captured the sentiment. Bravo

  2. Sayang.

    Mukhang compatible kayo. Did you manage to get at least his email address?

    That guy has smooth moves ha. 😛

    Hope you meet him again someday.

  3. You just met the next Benjamin Button and you didn’t exchange contacts to confirm it, too bad! Interesting post reading.

  4. Ok so reading through this, I felt like I was actually there listening to you both speak. Your attention to detail and the way you describe things is brilliant. It’s great just meeting people out of the blue and striking up a conversation like that, some people you just gel with instantly and it’s so natural, and especially if there is an attraction too

  5. Very interesting encounter with a stranger. It is these kinds of encounters which make travel so interesting. Sun signs are fascinating and I do believe that at least 80% of personality traits match with the sun signs. One of my favourite games is to try to guess a persons sun sign based on his or her traits, and most often than not it turns out right.

  6. I loved reading the conversation between you and the Mr Benjamin Button. An intelligent cum philosophical conversation is amazing to have and I am sure the Indian guy sitting nearby would have loved to see you interact with each other.

  7. Okay, you may have just met the smoothest operator in all the land. I must study his ways!

    Well written, I like your attention to detail. By the way, I know a Catalan painter named Jordi…

  8. Bakit naman kasi nakipag-usap pa kung paalis na rin naman pla.. bitin tuloy… blame it on the tattoo…. 🙂 Sana naman may selfie jan sa phone mo…hahaha…
    Hope you’ll meet him again,,,
    But yes, traveling brings most interesting conversation,,, compared to paulit-ulit na kwentuhan tungkol sa reklamo sa trabaho :)))

  9. I really like the way the conversation flows. And his words that he wants to die like a baby are going to stay with me. They are really deep. What a nice person!

  10. Omg, super kilig ako! As in, even after reading the post. I enjoyed every word of your post. Deep conversations like these are rare and I crave for them. Galing ng timing nya. It’s also amusing that someone else was listening to your conversation. I would probably too if I were there just like how I felt while reading this.

  11. Ano ba yan kinilig ako sa conversations nyo Ate Marge. Hahaha’
    Magkikita ulit kayo nyan. Swear! Chos! Nabighani ata sayo kaya di na nagawang itanong name mo. ?
    Cheers on your travels! ?

  12. That’s a sweet conversation! I love how the conversation went. We sometimes meet people in our journeys and we sometimes wish that’s romance in the air. But it’s also a memory to keep this kind of scenario. I can imagine, it sounds ridiculously romantic. Sayang, muntik ng sya! haha Wooot! Now Penang can be one of your best places! Cheers Marge !

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