Distance and affinity

I’m pretty sure he’s Filipino, from his chestnut skin and rolling accent. He wears a short-sleeved shirt, pale blue, with his name embroidered on the pocket: Paul. The same name as the Filipino nurse I met in my first rotation as a fresh-faced intern: too-friendly young Paul who stood against me in the medication room and pressed his hand over mine and made me freeze.

This Paul is a generation above. Salt-and-pepper hair, thinning at the temples. A slight stoop to his shoulders. A slight paunch at the gut. He walks along the corridor towards me, tacking to one side with the weight of his bucket and mop.

‘Hello! Where are you from?’ His round eyes regard me warmly, as though we’ve met dozens of times before. Perhaps I remind him of a daughter, or a niece, or an old girlfriend.

I smile and reel out the words I must have said a hundred times.

‘Oh, I thought you look Filipino! I’m Paul. Are you the new doctor?’

I nod sheepishly, glancing away from his cleaning equipment.

Over the next six months, we wave intermittently at each other, and exchange simple words, with a mixture of distance and affinity.