• Claire

Day #2: Max and Carmen

Max and Carmen

It was still possible to operate, even with one man down. Uncle Tinio may be in the hospital, but Carmen and Max were still free to do the work they’ve been doing for years.

In the month that Uncle Tinio was absent, Carmen and Max went as brother and sister. They usually did. It was the most comfortable, the most plausible. It could, in fact, just be the only truthful thing about their whole operation, because hadn’t they grown up together? Carmen could still remember when Max first arrived, and thought him the scrawniest kid she’d ever seen. He’d started calling her “sis” when she turned eighteen. He was three years older but Carmen never called him kuya—no, Max was something else.

Working alone, they chose their tourist carefully. “My brother’s an OFW in Dubai,” was Carmen’s opening. “He’s treating me to a day out in Manila.”

And then the invitation to a nearby karaoke. Some singing, beer, and food—lots of Filipino food. These tourists were so trusting, so desperate for anything they could call authentic. This one, the man they’d picked up in Rizal Park, was from Poland. Once he excused himself to visit the toilet, Carmen slipped the crushed Ativan tablet right into his beer bottle.

The hapless tourist drank all the beer, of course. Not long after, his pale, wide-shouldered body folded softly on the table. “He’s just drunk, sorry,” Max said to the waiters, slinging the man’s limp arms around his shoulders, as Carmen held his backpack like a baby in her arms.

They were quick: phone, cards, cash. Then everything back, hollow but looking intact. In less than ten minutes, Carmen was hailing a taxi and tipping the driver an extra hundred to send the unconscious man back to his hotel.

Carmen imagined him waking up a day later, groggy and confused. She imagined him thinking of his new Filipino friends. He would feel sorry, then angry, then perhaps mildly betrayed. Only hours later, when he makes a purchase with his newly-emptied credit card, would he know the true meaning of betrayal.

Sometimes, she also imagines that she and Max were a couple, husband and wife.

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