Bastet

Gregor and Emma are examining book spines of classic Filipiniana collections hoping they will stumble across something interesting although they already knew that this is highly unlikely.  If only great authors from the past could just magically write something new to send across to the present time, or maybe publishing houses would brilliantly come up with ideas like releasing special commemorative book editions or better yet, finding lost unpublished manuscripts from some hidden vault or a locked study.  Emma is on her knees, as if praying in front of a shrine – her collar bones perspire – while Gregor is skimming the pages of a Nick Joaquin shorts.  The old bookstore is so cramped, that religion and adult romance sections were placed next to each other.

Either it is a force of habit to induce intelligent conversations or just part of this unnecessary need for a routine that they occasionally come over to the same bookstore to have a proper venue to kick off their colorful speculations and exchanges that they agreed to term “The Crayola Sessions”.  Today is about the eventful ending of life as we all know it. The end of the world.

Gregor is wearing a samurai blue coat, with a white shirt beneath it. The necktie knot is loose, and he wears sports sneakers for comfort, while Emma is wearing a gray cardigan over a sleeveless casual shirt and a pair of denim shorts.

A whiff of old papers and the cold rain from the open windows marinate in the air, there is nothing like it.  Emma hailed the passing attendant of the store and ordered coffee and a pack of Marlboro reds, handing over the payment and a few change as tip. There are just about three round tables in the bookstore to occupy guests. They sat by the Capiz sliding windows.

“Say, do you think some divine being will truly show itself when the time comes? I really hope they’re cats. I think they must be, right? They are the sanest, most beautiful answer to save us from this god forsaken place. Ancient Egyptians believed it. I think it’s real.  You should see that episode about it.” Emma continued.

“You’re annoying.  But should it be true, at least it should be something original”

“I mean,” closing the book in his hands, placing the index finger between the pages “I hope it’s not going to be some cheesy judgment day where the sky opens up and angels appearing with trumpets start playing heavenly tunes, like what you see from those mediocre films.”

“Okay mister, supposing you are given a chance to participate to come up with a grand design on how things should end, how will you write it? What will be your ingenious version then? “

Emma scowling with a heft of sarcasm, crossing her legs together and leaning back against the My Home magazine back issues.

“I don’t know, probably angels and evil minions in Uber sedans, or perhaps a Ferris Wheel ride to enter heaven, only those permitted will be given a free pass.”

Emma gave out a genuine laugh.

When the attendant came back with their coffee the breeze picked up stronger.  There is no rain but the air is definitely damp. “Stay in for as long as you want, we’re supposed to close in about an hour but you are welcome here anytime.”

“Thank you for the hospitality sir, but we have to be somewhere as well.”  Gregor replied.

“Do we really have to go to that party? I mean, we’re already settled in here. “

“But you promised me Emma, don’t be such a prick.”

“No I did not! I said I will consider it.”

There was silence between them.

Gregor patiently studied the ceiling fan and making sipping noises from the cup that eventually graduated to slurping.

“But okay, to merit your infallible persistence, I will go.  But only until midnight and you need to promise me that.  Emma asserted.

“Okay, I promise then.”

“Just need to go back to my place and change.”

The attendant stepped back and nodded to the patrons before turning away.

“There’s no time, besides I have come prepared.  I asked my sister to lend you her dress.  You’re a size 6 right?”

Emma’s eyes rolled back, confused whether she would be impressed or annoyed.

When they arrived the hall was already teaming up with people and loud danceable music.  Looking around, people of different age brackets are there. They are drinking and dancing but they don’t look like they are enjoying at all. They are like hermits in uncomfortable shells. It felt odd to Emma.

When Gregor came back from the refreshments table his face was beaming with excitement.  He handed over a glass of punch to Emma.

“What’s this party about again?”  Emma asked in a loud voice next to his ear.

“It’s a masquerade party!”  Gregor shouted.

“A what party?!”

“A Masquerade party!” Gregor repeated and Emma finally caught up.

“I don’t think I follow you, I mean people are not wearing any masks here!”

Emma keeping up with the noise.

“Well, I don’t blame you!  It’s a different kind of masquerade.  People here are wearing a different kind of masks.  That includes you Emma.”

“Uh, I don’t understand” Emma now more perplexed.

“People came here wearing clothes of other people.  Preferably people who are linked to them.  And they pretend as if they are them as well”.  Gregor explains.

Emma stepped back, and surveyed the friend from head to toe.

“But you’re wearing your own clothes!”

Photo by: LJ Jumig

Film Debut

Power lines and phone cables decorated the streets, outlining the power grid, exposing how hideous the entire city planning was done. It was as if a severe case of varicose veins has decided to show up on someone’s leg. Overpopulation or just good old apathy to decongest caught in a time warp — this underdeveloped third world country is stuck in the past; its economy relies heavily on taxes, and the promiscuity of the movie goers, who also prefer reading current events on sleazy tabloids with monochrome center folds. The strands of this electrical network which hang suspended across the intersecting roads of Manila resemble the humorless tangles of squid ink pasta.

A young man is casting overly animated shadows as he walks out through the sitios. Careful not to disturb the unsuspecting underage delinquents sniffing solvents in plastic bags, he deliberately stays on the other side of the street. And as he makes his turn to the back alley, a thick invisible body of stench welcomed him. Cat or human piss (or probably mixed) and what seemed to be a byproduct of decomposing manure occupied his nostrils.

His backpack is fully packed that it suggested to anyone seeing him that he is going somewhere real far.  A second bag was slung over across his chest, on his right shoulder, as he also wears a trucker hat that conceals his face. As he trod along, he felt this unadulterated fixation to get away. He fidgeted an unlit cigarette on his thigh as he waited for the next bus trip in the terminal. Flies swarm around the flickering florescent light above the ticket booth, as the stout cashier behind the window is watching the late night news, just waiting for the night shift guy to takeover. An image of a young Jesus with wilted sampaguitas strung around its neck is standing next to a jade frog with a coin in its mouth.

The looming darkness is like the devouring of the world by a giant fish god and Adam is beneath the ceiling of its mouth.  Adam stared blankly into the night sky and thought about Jonah from the bible. He imagined what it felt like to stay inside the belly of an enormous fish.  If had it been true, Jonah must have felt really bored from all the waiting to be digested that he must have counted the number of rib bones it had to kill time.  His theology teacher Mrs. Paraiso insisted that it was probably a whale that saved him.  It would have been such an exciting book if it was a Megalodon or the Lockness creature instead. This he playfully mused until a long legged prostitute walked on by and signaled to him to employ her.

He could have said yes to her, not because he wanted her but because he was dying of boredom. Instead, he lit the cigarette and welcomed the quiet. He closed his eyes and can almost hear the thick whooshing sound of the sea hurling itself onto the shore. He imagined in awe the continents and the golden beaches they visited. He saw the sun basking Africa, and wondered if there were lions walking on the shore.  And between the crashing of the waves and hauling of the winds, was this lingering beat within him that stretches on so.

All of a sudden the night was so tranquil that it appeared that the world is on Valium.

He decluttered his mind and found no trouble reacquainting with loneliness. He is used to the transient nature of human beings. People leave all the time. And even if they did not, he always felt alone.  But the reason of his ongoing departure has got nothing to do with clinical depression or some weird existential crisis even. For him the night is a friend that dismisses away scars, who truly never minds, and he appreciates that. And it dawned on him, as if it was a feeling of joy almost forgotten that finally, finally he has escaped his life. “Freedom” he gasped with relief.

This decision just came to him like some divine apparition. He just woke up one night from a dream and decided that he wasn’t going anywhere unless he was to do things his way finally.  When he reached the port a dark skinned man was standing on the gangplank counting the passengers coming in. His face was so oily you can sauté something on it. Adam approached the man and asked to be admitted and paid for the fare. Now that they are standing face to face, he thought he resembled Seal for some reason.  A porter sidled through the passing crowd and asked Adam if he needed help with his bags.  He refused and told him that he can manage his carry on, and this has caused the porter’s reaction to distort a little as he departed to chase another passenger.  Even if he wanted to, he needed to limit his spending after all.  He went onboard and climbed the stairwell to the second level and found himself a bunk bed by the railing so he can smoke whenever he decides to. He then placed his bags against the steel bar, strapped it securely and placed the pillow to cover them.

His parents always knew what’s best for him. Took care of everything he ever needed growing up. The dad is one of the most decorated generals in the armed forces while the mom owns a chain of uprising saloons in the metro. Through the years, he lived under the strict patriarchal regime of his father. He always did keep outstanding grades, to avoid the litany on how his father worked his way up doing manual labor for just about anything to finish school.  Adam did as they told him.  But he didn’t feel close to them at all.  He felt that he was just a responsibility to them. Or perhaps just another life project that needed to be fulfilled.

For the most part of living together, they let him watch too much television in exchange of the assimilation.  Adam has fallen in love with films.

Adam’s discovery of his fascination of cinema happened when he first saw Jaws airing on channel 5. It was the feature blockbuster Sunday movie.  The voice from the television box said that it was the best way to cap the weekend. Good thing it was scheduled after the evening mass, giving him just enough time for the family dinner, to brush his teeth, and change into his night clothes.  Locally aired programming normally takes longer than it should be because of interrupting advertisements for product promotions. His dad said it is the only way that broadcasting networks could make real money. Adam hated these.

Somehow, watching that great white unleashed its merciless tendencies helped him dispense his own inhibitions and all the frustrations holed up inside him.  For him, the shark was not the monster, it was something else.

Rows of uneven waves calmly rally across the surface of the sea with faint midnight moon-gleam wrapping over them. White foams are trailing behind the ferry, and the refracted light heralded the arrival of the new set of migrating waves. He looked around from the deck view, and noticed that the night was blue and dark and it was also patient.

Right across the island, Sammy de la Pena is standing at the harbor waiting for the arrival of the eleven o’clock ferry.  He has a receding hairline and claims that his relationship with his hair was just a summertime fling.  He wears thick lensed glasses with heavy black folding frames to make people take him seriously on the right occasion. His revolting checkered cardigan made him visible to Adam from a mile away.  His assistant named Pierre is waiting in a boxed-type sedan, and was told to keep the motor running. Pierre has five kids and a nagging wife. He sidelines as a security detail for Sam, sometimes a temp lover to earn more money.

Sam met Adam as he walked down the ramp and reached for his bag. This time Adam allowed to be helped. He finally cracked a smile as the excitement was brimming out of him.  He took the backseat of the car and quick introductions were made by Sam and they drove to the nearest coastal pub where they serve fresh crabs and delicious buttered shrimps.  At the bar Sam ordered two beers and a platter of sizzling minced pig ears and a glass of ice.  The barkeep nodded and placed a ceramic ashtray between them. Beads of sweat were noticeably gathering on Adam’s forehead as he scraped the paper napkin onto his face.

“So, can I see it then?”  Sam asked.

Adam reached down under the table where his bags are, and pulls out a clamped manuscript. His face was flushed. “Here, but it’s not finished yet” He modestly injected.

“What’s it about?”

“It’s a story about the struggles in a war period”

“Is there a love scene in it?”

“The protagonist has a romantic interest, yes, if that’s what you mean.”

“There should be at least a couple of those in it, that’s what sells. Anyway, I’ll have Pierre take a look at it. He knows what to do. I mean he knows my taste.” He grinned audaciously at the subject of reference.

Pierre looked away, his jaw closed tight and his hand pressing onto his leather clutch bag sitting next to his leg.

Photo by LJ Jumig

 

The Crude Process of Manufacturing Sunlight

The newspaper was already wilted however a bit damped when he picked it up from the bricked doorway, as moisture and its current state were gracious enough to provide a little dose of personality, if not, an originality for once.  He turned to the better side of the house, where a huge window and its shutters are always left open.  He carefully laid the paper flat on the marble top table by the industrial fan, where his old collection of fiction also stands.  An ornamental indoor plant on the window shaft was portraying a role of a desperate 8 to 5 employee, ready to jump, who has nothing else left to live with.  Until now, for some bizarre reason, or just a mere lack of concern, he still does not know what that plant is called, in the same order wherein he subconsciously decided a long time ago to not bother to know about anything trivial anymore.

So the information about how this plant has never bloomed for over a year now will not be of useful information to him anyhow as well.

In the sun the fine prints of the paper were like an impressive army of elite black ants in formation without his reading glasses.  And when he looks around the study and his living room, the place appears to be translucent, like an over magnified cooked onion.

For him, a true meaning of an idea or a tangible mass, its actual physical tendencies, everything about it is always going to be arguable therefore.  Either we accept that or we turn to the crude process of manufacturing sunlight.

Through the passages of fiction he took the time and lived there for the time being.  He has lived many lives in varying folds, characters and colors. He had discovered infinity and had access rights to polygamy.   His leftover meal has gone cold on the white ceramic plate, and he has skipped to dessert apparently. Wooden shutters slapped against the facade of the bungalow, on its broad porch as he was also tuning in.  He tapped his shoes along with it, to its rhythmic syncopated beating that for him was real jazz.

Neighbors can’t get a good read on him.  For them he was odd, and overly peculiar.  His wife left him be for most of the time, and would rather talk only over supper and breakfast.

But kids are genuinely fond of him. In fact they treat him as equals.  He was in every truth of the term, “one of them”.  He wasn’t the mentor type or someone who would dispense life altering profound advices.  He just taught them how to put just enough grease on their hair, how to fix things like simple water pipes or how to build wooden push carts and change deflated tires.

He wasn’t an important man in the community, nor decided to be one.  In fact, whether or not he believed it to be, he was just a romantic with the obvious knack for indifference.  He currently lives in the past and through the pages of his magazines, newspaper, and paperbacks.

Just another ghost like us.   

Over the blue tiled roofs

I went out onto the main street where I breezed the sidewalk on the opposite side of where the sun shone. Rose gold rays warmly set in through the apartment windows and the narrow concrete walkways were relatively empty and yet to be bustled. Sure, a few cars jostled across here and there, but the town was sleepy considering, while breakfast cafés were putting up menu signs for the day and folding gazebos were set up at the marketplace beneath the shade of the trees along the hedges. The unloading vegetable jeepneys and meat canter trucks pulled over and went, as people shook hands and chattered before bidding goodbyes.

Summer has just begun, and another school year has ended.  Kids help out with the chores at the nearby fruit stands and novelty thrift shops. I know most of the owners by name, and some are considered dear friends.  As I watched them go about their day, I settled in under a cool shade, reading an overdue paperback from a local library.  I figured I had at least an hour before the scheduled rendezvous, so I took my time leisurely, drinking a cup of creamed coffee.

A flower girl held a basket full of mixed banaba and yellow gumamelas as offerings to the virgin of the grotto. She held the hand of an elderly, whose I would assume was of her grandmother’s, while lanky male tourists wearing board shorts and loose shirts walked past by me, peering through the food stalls at the corner street. They appear to have been around for at least a week by the looks and tone of their tan.

Over the blue tiled roofs, the sun is now higher into the horizon, outlining the sky. The wind then picks up, as I walked up the slanting road, until leveling off onto the commercial part of the district. Standing on a tall escalator, pairs of lower limbs in jeans and skirts tripled before me through the reflection on the glass balustrade panels. I elbowed the rail as I ascended to the upper landing where I was bound.

When I approached the reception, I was told to sit down on the couch, under where a huge abstract painting hangs. The lady behind the desk was nice enough and made me feel I was being expected. Her warm accommodation was very much complimented by her soft voice. Somehow I just couldn’t remember her face anymore, as if what was left is just a memory of an embroidered crest on her office jacket and the apple cut hair that she was sporting.

I stared at the enormous painting to kill time, examining it the best I could and thought about what it meant. I never quite understand what abstracts were all about, or how one should feel about them particularly.

When the time has come I was led to a room at the end of the hall.  The decorative paneling was made of oak and the lighting was elegantly positioned and unnecessarily excessive.  I was behind the receptionist when the door was opened and a man was waiting for me inside, leafing through some paperwork as he went to me and reached out his hand. He always had a good grip.

University certificates were delicately framed, not a hint of dust on them.  There was a fabric ward divider that stood at one side for changing and paper brochures neatly spread out atop the receiving table, with a picture of a happy looking couple on them.

“Let’s get on with it shall we?” I suggested.

“Lots of good things to see today”

 

Cake

A heavy downpour was reportedly on its way but we reckon that we still have a couple of hours to discuss the matter on hand.  Well, he first saw her on a crowded elevator, midway to his floor.  He eventually braved the odds and spoke to her after a few more encounters which turned out to be a positive thing that he did.  He was always proud about that, and would boisterously tell friends at dinner tables or after a few rounds of drinks during the weekend literature meetings held at his place.

He would occasionally talk about how it went on down to the very last detail and how this series of pleasing events would make him write about her. Unsolicited, he also does recite poetry whenever he feels like, and claims that the taste of rice has just become sweeter. Clinical or not, I think a sort of madness has stricken him.

It was exactly a month from today since the last time I had cake.  I have almost forgotten its taste, how soft the texture is like exactly whenever I gorge a mouthful while smoking a stick of cigarette.  And so I agreed to go out today.

We live near to each other, practically a good stone’s throw away. He was at the door for a good fifteen minutes before I reluctantly answered back.

I crammed my pockets with keys, phone and a few change, quickly pulling a jacket on. I took a deep sigh as I braced myself before stepping out.  In the sun, I can see more visibly the tufts on my coat and the highway lines of my skin. Invariably despising this idea almost immediately, but there was also a  hint of mood that stirred inside me. All of a sudden I became somewhat excited to see the moonglow and thought about spring.

On the reflection of a glass, my eyes followed a line of ants marching across the pane until I could no longer see where they were heading.

We were standing in the cold, at the front of a jewelry store.  This younger friend asked me to choose which one he should buy her. Our hands were tucked-deep in our pockets, nursing to their feeble quakes.

I told him he was stupid, and we should buy cake now.

Photo by F. Osorio
Photo by F. Osorio

Telegram

An afternoon coffee was served at exactly 04:30, precisely how it was done ever since the pension house opened. But today they were serving 2 for 1 to compensate for the low foot traffic.  She was alone by the sea breeze and mused about the other dreamers who sat there at the same table over the years and wallowed about the tides that had brought to them.  On the prints of each page she graciously borrowed a steady meaning and sipped the reflection of the setting sun from a coffee cup.

When other couples have regular date nights, this was hers.  For her, she was married to the sea.  They never did celebrate anniversaries, nor have consistent birthday dinners, but never once did she skip their summers together.  Here, they exchanged glances for the longest time while tasting its kiss through the salt in the wind.  She lingered in its arms, longer than most men she slept with, and they made love so endlessly in the enveloping formation of curls and foams.

She will not grow weary of her.

And she wondered how she got there and she thought about her mom.  Her parents raised her well, gave her good education, and taught her that grace and humility far exceed any talent in the world. And for her, their most precious gift was her well-travelled feet that led her shadows home.

One of the guests walked through the beaded blinds decorated with sea shells and surveyed the sunburned faces in the room.  Her face was veiled by the shade of the baseball cap brim and her temples were draped by her long dark hair.  She was carrying a messenger bag and a gray hoodie hanged limp on its sling.

The guest walked past her while calling out her name.  Her complexion was mid-toned.

They caught each other’s eyes and locked for a while.

From a far, the lines of their lips broke apart in turns. The words fell out so silently and there were no movements apart from that.

Life was not perfect so she realized, but so as the cratered moon.

She was introduced to contempt for the first time.

sea

Ginger Ale Rain 

He had his legs crossed while resting his jaw on his palm, listening to the amplified pulse of the rain on the thin iron sheets of the roof above him. There he sat with a cat in front of a barbershop sign – which was hand painted on a window glass- while they both waited out the pluvial weather.

This companion snuggled against his feet, supposing for warmth. Playfully making its acquaintance, it had little trouble conveying its mind to him, unaware of the passing automobiles a few paces away.

He envied its relentlessness to dismiss hesitation, above all its innocence.  Little by little, a sudden urge dawned onto him to make a sketch of the feline, or maybe taking him home should he be stray.

He admired the distinct patterns of its fur – elaborate and it appeared warm – they were the color of ginger however sometimes it changes into amber when the sun is setting low.

While his was a little ashen above the ears, he thought of having a trim but hesitated.  His hair resembled the patches on a gloomy monsoon sky such as what can be seen on that day.

With complete abandon, he sets aside the idea.

Some twenty minutes had passed, the rain let up, and he started moving again.  Soon, the soles of his boots found its way crunching against the gravel walkway of the crematorium of the community parish.

These days she would have probably liked to wander about the provinces on shuttles somewhere.  He can imagine her peering at the world outside the window.  The thatches of the hut houses would be brown and crisp, scattered at the footsteps of the isosceles mountain backdrop.  The clouds scudding across the powder blue skies, as high as they could while the sunbeams appear to be just fair, intermittently peeping through the etched leaves and tree branches warming up the scenery.

There will be no more motion sickness, lack of sleep and heartburns.

He wanted to tell her how wonderfully the children have grown and how the other day they asked about what bellybuttons are for.

On his way home, standing on the train being a little taller than an average person, he looked around the crowns of the passengers and it reminded him of a landscape of hay swallowed in the somber nighttime during summer.

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