Earl and I were watching the new girls dance down at Sterling’s. Well, not really new, but poached from the old place just across.
“Here’s how I ended up dating my hygienist,” Earl started.
“Okay, let’s hear it.” I turned to him just slightly and multi-tasked with my peripheral.
“During the first couple of sessions, I promised her that I’d floss my teeth like every day, the full week’s stretch, but of course, it was just plain talk.”
“So, you basically lied.”
“No, I was just avoiding confrontations.”
“Okay, but you still lied.”
“Let me put it this way,” he looked down as if in deep thought and then continued, “think of me as a weekender Grizzly bear on hibernation.”
“I don’t get it. Grizzly bears don’t floss.”
One of the girls then started climbing up the pole. Both Earl and I cheered her on as she went higher, I thought she strained her neck when it graced the ceiling.
“So, flossing your teeth for just five instead of seven days a week landed a good impression? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I wouldn’t know for sure really, but something about my ‘dysfunctional lifestyle’ sort of got her going somehow.
I mean, that’s what she muttered half-asleep the last time.”
Chin resting in one palm, I sat there still rather amused.
“I guess some people feel responsible for broken things, even if they are not theirs to fix in the first place.” He then eventually retorted to my non-committal silence.
Bad hangovers are made for the weekends,
I kept on convincing myself while groping for the eyeglasses hiding somewhere on the nightstand.
Beads of sweat were so overly ripe they must be the size of marbles when they rolled over across my back,
falling like meteors;
sketching warm lines.
I should get up soon, lest the day will be snatched away once again by sleep.
Parched, I feel like a blue whale docked on a tropical beach somewhere in Africa — I’m pretty sure I vomited Jonah out sometime last night.
Twenty-three at the time, standing on a grassy slope, he fixed his gaze upon the sun as it threatened to set, observing how the now diminished lights were gradually tucking themselves at the hems of the horizon. He then stumbled upon an old memory, of his father, as he shielded his eyes from a ray of light that burst after a patch of cloud scuttled past it — a splintered memory in the monsoon rain one evening as they walked home. However old, it was undeniably clear that he could still trace the warm line it once made. But that time is long past, and like a two-minute dream that ended way too soon, the reminiscence was interrupted by a whiff of cow manure that the still air carried. He then climbed down the hill following the animal path, which led him back to town.
According to my friend, the woman had been in contact with him for quite some time now weeks after her death. Since she couldn’t go to him physically, she had to appear in his dreams instead. I’ll try my best to put here the actual exchanges they had, although, the details may not be exact, so I apologize in advance.
The ghost told him all about the gory details. How she went home alone that night, how she was taken by three sordid-looking men, and the manner of her apparent death. She spared no detail. But he couldn’t remember how the conversation ended, “for the life of me, I just couldn’t,” was his complaint when he phoned me the morning after the last contact. Why was it important? He probably wanted every single piece of information regardless if it was big or small. Hearing all these, I thought he was having a mental breakdown of the sort. I still kind of do, to be honest.
After some time, things took an abrupt turn when one day he learned about the grim news. The woman’s lifeless body was found in an abandoned warehouse near the outskirts of the city. The police working on the case had a few leads but nothing certain came out of their investigation — since the area where they had found her remains was in a secluded vicinity, runaways and shady characters do use the place for shelter, who knows for what else. According to the official report, she was probably drugged to last every bit of it and suffered for days. It was so gruesome that the family had no other choice but to have a closed-casket funeral. Based on what we heard, her skin, except for the head, had been completely peeled off. And what’s worse, authorities believed that she was alive when this diabolical act was done. It was like some sick dark ritual. This took a toll on him needless to say. He was so devastated that he became reclusive, cut off from the rest of the world. He could not understand how fate could be so cruel, how such an unimaginable sinister thing could ever happen to anyone, it was so unreal.
One night he had a dream about the woman. They were both standing in the doorway of the office pantry talking about the places where she had been after her death. The conversation had taken place late in the night and no one except the guard stationed downstairs was in the building.
“Yeah, I’ve been here and there, just lingering you know? The usual ghosts’ thing. But somehow, I’m beginning to feel my mind fading, little by little like I’m losing my own consciousness — my identity if that even makes sense to you. Of course, I still have to find the monsters who did this to me, that memory hasn’t left me just yet, and so I hang around still, mostly just to think.”
“You’re going after them?”
“I think I feel that I have to, but I couldn’t say for sure anymore. That’s why I need help.”
— After that phone call, I didn’t see him for a good two weeks. We never spoke about the conversation around his dream and acted as if it did not take place.
Skin and Bones
“Have you seen the doctor yet?”
“No, why? I just need to rest that’s all.”
“Go check yourself in the mirror? You’re skin and bones.”
“I know where I’m at, I can assure you that. You can let up now.”
I did what I could to talk some sense into him. His diet only consisted of cup noodles and cheap chocolate bars, basically candies. Frustrated, I looked his sister up through the emergency contact information in our company records. She agreed to meet me at the petrol station but she didn’t show up.
After a couple of hours, I decided to head back to my apartment. That evening, I got a call from her, I was surprised when I saw her name on the caller ID. Not a single word came through the receiver though — but she didn’t have to, the message was quite clear.
From the apartment, we had to drop by the office to pick up flashlights and the first aid kit just in case. After that, we drove up straight to the abandoned warehouse and left the car at the barrier gate. As soon as we set foot in its compound, a cold chill ran down my spine. There was a rotting stench that welcomed us. It crept up into the nose like how rusty metal would smell during the rain only ten times stronger. We looked at each other before we walked any farther. I think it was because we both knew something was terribly wrong with the place. We went past the cordoned area that the police had set up, it was dark and dry, we lit up our flashlights and scouted the area, nervously calling out her name but only the echoes replied.
The Murder Scene
I think before we go further ahead with the story, we should probably talk about the history of the place where the body was found, the warehouse.
During the war, this place was one of the Japanese-occupied areas used as a bunker against air raids and was a strategic location for intel gathering — meaning, a place where they tortured prisoners of war. During the ’60s, tunnels were discovered for kilometers on end, linking command posts were also used when they retreated to the mountain ridges when the Americans had taken over Manila.
Some believe that after the surrender, some Japanese foot soldiers still remained holed up in those tunnels and stayed there for who knows how long.
But things did not hold up the way he had hoped. Meeting her in his dreams wasn’t good enough anymore, it had to be more. He seriously considered following her. I tried to talk sense into him numerous times, but he just continued on with his rhetoric and shared that he might have found a way to remedy his predicament. The insurance money could set his mom and his siblings for life, he argued. Of course, I did not take him seriously when he shared that.
It was obviously a mistake that I’ll probably have to live with for the rest of my life.
A few days after his death I started dreaming about the same thing over and over. In this dream, I am always working late nights and my friend and his girlfriend are always talking in the corridor outside the pantry at their usual spot. I always tried to listen in but I could never make out a single word. Maybe it was their way of saying that it was their world now and nothing can ever get in.
I think it’s probably true, nothing can come between them anymore, not even death.
He didn’t understand what the fuss was about. Patrons buzzed all around as he sat there under a canopy in front of a cafe. Apparently, a genie was granting wishes on the sidewalk. A crowd was starting to swell up to watch the spectacle, their heads, placed so close together, resembled a small hill of hay on a deep midsummer’s night. The cause of this apparition, for the lack of a better term, was a tragic incident of a woman, the genie’s last master, who got hit by a speeding sedan. Sure, there was an attempt to undo this horrible misdoing but the woman was just unable to utter the words, her wish, when death, like a thief appearing from a blind spot, snatched away her last breath. A classic case of hit and run was the only comment the investigators gave for the papers. What a cruel twist of fate, all that power in the world, but in the end, old-fashioned fate won the race.
When the genie found out that his human (the woman) was gone, he was taken aback and so devastated that he began giving away wishes to passersby. The only thing he’d ask in return is for them to save one wish for him, to allow him to turn his tears into fireworks — some call it a tribute, but truthfully, it was just a desperate attempt to reverse his sadness.
People are interesting species, was his personal observation, still skeptical of the genie. He stayed in his seat in the cafe, still under the shade, while weighing whether or not he should try a wish himself. The patrons nearest to him, tourists, most of them young, yakked incessantly about the ballgame the evening prior as though it had shifted the course of the history of that world. He then wondered about God, how he must feel watching over his creation on his perch, and if he worries. He then returned to his essays but the scene unfolding before him amused him still; he continued to watch the crowd of people line up pouring over their hearts’ desire. He couldn’t help but feel like a kid with an ant farm.
The Talk Show
These are some theories why we don’t find as many genies nowadays, a scholar with a brown bowtie said on TV:
(a.) It’s cultural. How such a being, in appearance, is always going to be different for each race, origin, region, and even religious belief, (camera no.2 zooms in for a more dramatic effect.)
(b.) Nobody believes they exist anymore. Like fairies, they only exist if there is less doubt.
(c.) The devil took over management, (the scholar hesitated to elaborate.)
Host: I’m not sure I understand what you’re suggesting.
Scholar: People as species, are not responsible beings. One cannot simply get their wishes granted without repercussions or some level of responsibility. All I’m trying to say is that it’s like tracing puzzle dots, you won’t make out the picture if you won’t make the connection.
The Superintendent’s Note
It was a noise complaint, the piece of note said. He’d been playing the TV so loud following that phenomenon for days about the genie. He tried to phone Jerry, his friend, but there wasn’t a dial tone. The noise complaint turned out to be quite a concern among the neighbors that they had asked the superintendent to handle the matter. It was just a short note but the paper seemed to weigh so much — he checked if there were pebbles inside the envelope but there weren’t any. A curious thought circled playfully as he held the parchment paper with the letterhead. They have skinny walls but he has never heard his next-door neighbors’ voices ever, hasn’t met them, never came across any of them in the hallway. Not even a sign that would suggest that somebody was living next to him in the first place. He never heard them consummate, nor let out a horrible yell, not even a sneeze. He followed the trail of thought and rested on a sentiment that it would have been nice to hear anything at all just to indicate a pulse. But how can that be? It just wasn’t possible, unable to hear anything from those rooms next to his. Everybody must be in it, the whole world in an agreement to not talk about it — a TV forever on mute. Perhaps somebody asked the genie to turn everything into a mime show.
After hours of handing out job applications, he found himself catching his breath in front of a high-rise condominium where a mounted image of a lion can be seen at the entryway. It wasn’t the rainy season yet but he already has a cold. At the nearby pharmacy, over-the-counter remedies were on display but he still approached the man at the counter. He later learned that all pharmacies, even hospitals, are to be shut down since nobody needs medicines anymore, now that the genie has gone corporate, and made ties with political leaders. He handed over a made-up prescription written on the back of the note he received from the superintendent. The pharmacist let out a quiet chuckle.
It was like any other dream except that it wasn’t. K woke up in a waiting room (of some unknown hospital) although he hadn’t had a clue on how or why he had ended up there. After patting down his chest, parts of his torso, and his neck (party touched his face,) he threw a muted question, “Is someone I know hurt? Did something terrible happen to me?” This kept on circling upon K’s thoughts for some time. But no matter how hard he tried to recollect traces of memory from an incident that could explain him being in that room, he just couldn’t find any. He looked around the whitewashed walls and the first thing that he noticed was the clock hanging on one of its bare surfaces. If it had been a regular type of clock, he would have just moved his gaze past it and continued surveying the room, only it was the first of its kind that he had seen. It bore thirteen numbers on its face. He rubbed his eyes to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating, but he was seeing what he was seeing – 13 numbers, and it was analog. Of course, whoever was in charge of his care could have given him a strong medication, the kind that induces a bad case of hallucinogen side effect, but he was quite certain that he was level-headed and fully conscious. It would have made sense if it had been a digital clock, which meant that it was on military time, but then again it wasn’t. Besides, if it was following that time format (quite absurd to see on an analog clock,) it should have also included the number 14 and the rest of the numbers all the way to 23. Leaving out no. 13 like that was all too strange. It was a little past 13 o’clock, the time said, and K didn’t have a single clue as to why the shorthand on its face was pointing at that number. “Probably it’s a practical joke but a place like this is too serious for jokes like this, it’s simply unethical.” K thought that perhaps it was like daylight saving time, maybe they added another number on the clock to recognize the long working shifts the medical staff was rendering. It made sense, K thought, given the demand in their line of work. Although the notion was completely unheard of, foolishly baseless even, he nonetheless consoled his mind and settled on this raw conclusion. There were benches on each side of the room and two more with their backrests leaning against each other right at the center. There were about 6 to 7 patients (whom K assumed were) in the waiting room and like him, without anyone to accompany them. Observing them but not directly staring, K noticed that either they were dozing off or like him, appeared to be clueless as to where they are now. They wore normal clothes (like K did,) and seemed like they too, were waiting for someone to fill them in. The patient nearest to K was a skinny-looking individual with no hair, even the brows and the person’s arms and parts of the legs (what’s visible) were completely clean-shaven. K couldn’t make out the patient’s gender, he or she simply looked androgynous. The patient’s head was relatively small, facial features were soft, the type that would give one an inkling that he or she would rather keep to himself or herself, and when K processed this thought even further, the bald, skinny patient actually looked like a child. K attempted to see if the chest bulged but he retracted the idea almost immediately. Instead, K decided to rest his eyes to avoid any unwanted situation that could get him into trouble. Sleep was something K could do on a whim. If there’s anything that he could do great it was sleeping right on the spot whenever or wherever he decides to but such talent didn’t amount to anything in the real world, it is even frowned upon given its association to laziness and procrastination.
When K woke up from the nap, he was certain that he was out for at least two hours or so but the clock had only moved for one or two minutes, five minutes at the most. It seemed that it was working just fine, and nothing was wrong with it, but somehow K got that unsettling feeling that he was there for eternity, and time moved slower in that waiting room. K stood up but to his surprise, most of the other patients were already gone and it was only him and the bald, skinny patient who were left in the room. He walked towards the door and tried to open it, but the doorknob was dead stuck and seemed to be locked on the other side. Impatiently, K decided to muster courage and approached the other patient.
“Hello, would you know where’s the nurse’s station around here?”
“It’s outside of this room, just on the other side of that door.”
The bald, skinny patient softly said.
“Ahh, did any of them go in just now?”
“Yes, in fact, you just missed them. You were sleeping, I think.”
K smacked his head with the palm of his hand.
“Don’t do that, mister.”
“That, hitting your head like that. You might want to hold onto what’s left of your memories.”
The bald, skinny patient almost mumbled this time as if groveling for the words.
And as soon as the bald guy mentioned this, K noticed a wrinkly-looking cord sticking out of the other patient’s gown (the nurses must have changed his/her clothes when he was napping.)
“Hey, are you alright? I think we ought to get some help quick.”
Thick, transparent liquid began to gush out of the cord. The movie Alien 3 flashed by K’s thoughts.
K rushed off to the door once again and yelled for the nurses.
“Hey! We need some urgent help here, please!” K continuously knocked and slammed on the door.
When K leaned his ear onto the door, he could hear footsteps rushing towards it. What sounded like keys jingling soon after followed and the door was finally unlocked and opened. And what greeted K, were nine-footer nurses, at least to him, and a doctor (of the same height) standing behind them.
“What’s wrong?” One of the female nurses asked.
“I think I just saw that person’s guts all over the floor!” K frantically answered.
The giant nurses together with the doctor hurriedly went in and checked the skinny, bald patient. After a few beats, their facial expressions went from worried to relieved.
“I think we’re all good here,” one of them declared. “Patient’s umbilical cord just came through earlier than expected.”
“Let’s incubate and prepare for the procedure,” the doctor ordered the nurses.
All except for the doctor, the nurses went back to the other side and closed the door behind them. One of them carried the bald patient like a baby in her arms, (another first for K) and indeed, he or she looked like a baby being cradled like that.
“Mr. K, can I have a word?” The doctor turned after placing the eyeglasses back in their case.
“You’ll be out of here soon enough, well, once your navel turns to develop, but please do not worry.”
K didn’t respond and was waiting for the doctor to expound what he meant.
“Why don’t we go to the bar? It’s just over there.”
Both the doctor and K went out of the waiting room and true enough entered a dark smoky bar.
“What in the hell is going on? Does my family know that I’m here?”
“Yes, Mr. K, they know what happened to you.”
K took some time to process his thoughts.
“Did something bad happen?”
“You’re indeed such a specimen.”
“But I don’t remember much, no wait, I don’t remember anything.”
“But you do remember me, don’t you?”
“I think I’ve seen you before, doctor.”
“That’s because we were friends. Stuff like that is hard to erase.”
“Will I be able to hold onto this memory?”
“Have you ever wondered about the phrase ‘Creatures of Habit?’ I mean really thought about it? If you’d look it up in the dictionary, you’d find the definition as “a person who follows an unwavering routine. But I think the generalization is off, but then again, perhaps there is a reason. I guess some things are meant to carry on.”
“You mean, ghosts and lost spirits?”
“No, Mr. K, I was thinking of debts, guilt, and morning breaths.”
Both of them shared a quiet chuckle.
“May I call my wife, please? I do have one, right?”
“Perhaps, but it’s against protocol, besides, you’ll probably end up with another. Why don’t you finish your drink? It’s going to be a while before you’d be able to have one.”
K took a sip and asked for another round.
“I don’t want to forget,” K said ruefully.
“Nobody does. But remember this, all the ones that we’ve come to love were strangers once.”
They clinked their glasses and downed their whiskeys in a single gulp and just like all those years that went through K’s life, it zipped on by like a blip that came out of nowhere. But time wasn’t letting go, after all, it was still a little past 13 o’clock and it moved so slow that he felt that they could just stay there forever. K felt compelled to order another round and another and kept on riding that infinite stream of consciousness until it was no more and it was already time to go back to the waiting room.
It must be around midnight when I thought I heard something strange. I was still up since I had trouble getting sleep sometimes, I would just lie there the whole night in my bed cursing the ceiling. The source of the ruckus was from outside my bedroom window and apparently, seven angry cats broke into the house. They clawed a perfect circle on the glass but one of them couldn’t fit through, so they made a much bigger hole. They were looking for a “black limping spider” that was how they described who they were after, a male black widow to be exact.
“It’d be just a speck to your eyes, mister, just about 7-8 millimeters in size.” One of them said.
Two cats sat down by my bed while the rest went about the room sniffing and searching.
The lead feline sleuth pulled up a photo from its tabby fur coat, fanned out its chubby paws to show me. I told them that only common house spiders came by but none of them stayed. They asked me for their names but of course, I wouldn’t know any of that.
“How about rabbits? Have you noticed any strange activities around your yard?”
“What do you mean rabbits? I’m not sure where you came from, detective, but around here in the city, you wouldn’t see any rabbits roaming around.”
“The rabbits whom I refer to are not from around. These are dangerous yakuza rabbits.” The lead detective’s tone was low.
“They were hired by the female spider, the lover. Those crazy bunnies are after our client. They won’t stop until they’d found him.”
“What’s this got to do with me then?”
“Well, we traced some shreds of vegetables on the way over. And your house is the nearest from our last lead, we’re just scouting, sorry mister, just standard procedure.” Its silvery fur glared in the light of a passing car.
“The one we’re looking for, the black limping spider, was her mate. She got a taste of him, it’s now missing a leg, and apparently wants the whole cake if you know what I mean. We’re here for his protection. He went to us last week but it seemed like he got spooked and ran away.”
Since none of it was my business, I couldn’t help but feel amused about what the detective cats were wearing. They were wearing fedoras and ties, one of them had suspenders, even. I didn’t know that there were detective cats let alone dressed up like humans.
“Cats do have furry coats for a reason. We use it to conceal these whenever it’s needed. We are true to our cause that’s why we have to pretend that we’re just your normal house pets. That’s how we get into your homes.”
“Are all cats like you guys?”
“Of course not. But everyone is into it. It’s part of our code.”
While we were talking, one of the deputy cats came up to us holding a sachet of Nizoral in its mouth.
“Found this caught in the trap door ceiling, looks odd,” turns to the lead cat sleuth.
And just like that, all seven cats surrounded the area. One cat made sure that the door and the windows were closed, another climbed up the closet near the trap door and the rest stealthily hid under the side table, a shoebox, and into a plastic container. All of them have waited patiently until the male black spider came out from its hiding spot.
It took a lot of convincing but after some time, the black spider with a missing leg calmed down. We fed the poor thing and it confided that it was feeding on the dandruff shampoo for days to stay hidden and to stay alive.
It loved her. But the female black widow tried to eat him. And needless to say, it was devastated, brokenhearted. The seven cat detectives had valiantly exemplified their skills, but the male black spider wanted to discontinue their services for obvious reasons.
It was the last time we saw the spider. Maybe it made the trip on the way over to see the female black widow, if so, I still don’t understand why he’d do that. Maybe it wanted to confront her. Maybe it needed some sort of finality, an answer at the risk of getting eaten. Maybe he was able to escape, but nobody was able to find out what exactly happened.
I still get regular visits from the cat detectives. Sometimes, I even get to see them around the park, but they don’t like to be petted.
“In my years of detective work, I’ve been around the world serving kings, queens, royalties, important men of their time, dealing with the common town folk, even insects, an arachnid in this case. And fate has been kind enough to have allowed me to witness many great mysteries, big and small, have allowed me to participate to deal with questions difficult to answer, oftentimes because I am not asking the right ones. Do you see? our reach has its limitations for a reason… Time had lent its invisible hand and invited me to work and solve some of these cases only to arrive at the conclusion that answers are not the answers sometimes — I don’t know if it makes any sense to you, but the most important mysteries, I think, are best dealt with quiet ponderings that sometimes need not be responded to.
This pinched my chest. I thought of giving my dead wife a late-night phone call just because. I picked up the handset releasing the plunger, I then rested my ear on the receiver. And as soon as I did this, the dial tone indicated some signs of life in its infinite tone. But I knew there was nothing there on the other end, at least not there. I think that cat sleuth is onto something.
H still thought it was a good idea for us to tag along. There wasn’t much else to do anyway, nor did we find any reason not to. We just agreed and went. At the party, the three of us kept on downing drinks, cracking up while we ransacked the fridge and whatever was there in the pantry; the birthday girl, whom we only met once, treated us like some delegates because we’ve got the funniest jokes that night. While the brightly colored confetti, like dirty snow, was sidelined soon after they touched the ground. They remained in the slums of spilled drinks with all the muddied cigarette ash on the floor as the faint breeze from the rotating stand fan plowed the half-deflated balloons, frustratingly convincing the onlookers that they still got a pulse. After some time, we slid out through the backdoor, sat by the pool, and watched the reflection of the moon quiver on its surface. My friends and I talked about old western tramways and isolation, argued about bullfights, spending afternoons in the countryside — we talked about this and that, mainly about the trip that would never happen. We stayed seated there, like some discarded tinsel, our backs pinned against the chicken fence while watching the moon shine low over a satellite dish.
They watched the night trains roll by the apartment window giving out occasional electric sparks. It almost felt like counting sheep, but they didn’t work. Their iron wheels on the flat-footed rails were heavy and their hisses sharp. Besides, it wasn’t the time for sleep. When the time came, as the clock went off, it cued the man to get up and get dressed, to pocket his keys together with his phone, pulled out a few notes, and paid her rate. He wanted to stay a bit longer, say something nice, talk more, perhaps about where she’d got that new dress. He thought about calling room service before hitting the road. But her moonlight face chose to stay in the night, her light would drown in the sun; she’d be inconspicuous and ordinary. Her faint glow needed the dark alright, but the shine consigned was at a price that he could never afford.
In the end, he’d sorted out his affairs just before things got worse. It was the best advice he got from his physician since the time he started seeing him. He would have phoned his lawyer to help him out with his estate if only he had any. At least his debts would die with him, it was little consolations like this that he’d leave behind for his loved ones which he hoped would merit a good enough eulogy. A few nice lines were enough, perhaps some of them would stay for the cake. He imagined it would rain and everyone would bring their black umbrellas, wearing the same type of clothing, perhaps play his favorite song. However, during the service, the sky was clear, there wasn’t a single patch of cloud that can be seen. The sun was out, shining, wildflowers sprouted everywhere while little canaries sang in the blowing wind from afar. It was as if the day wasn’t even trying.
The ward where they placed him was humid and cramped. But for crazy people like himself, things like these were mere trivial matters. During art lessons, the woman, a year or two older than he was, started humming a tune while she dabbled the paintbrush on the canvas. Nobody in the room realized it at first, but the song, although made up, resonated with everyone, especially with the young man. They just knew. It was like an anthem sang by angels.
This is about a strange encounter I had many years ago. It’s a lengthy one, but allow me to narrate it to you just the same. I came from a middle-class family and although I should be able to live comfortably enough as a student, things went sour after my father’s passing. Tuition payments could be intense and so I had no choice but to find work to help out with the expenses, luckily, I was able to land one nearby. The place was open 24-hours, however, it was not as popular as compared to the big names you’d usually go for. But they had decent food choices, making them a good-enough alternative for those who worked at the nearby commercial buildings and for the students who went to the university. I worked on the graveyard shift, which meant, foot traffic wasn’t as high compared to daytime. Needless to say, it worked pretty well with what I needed — a peaceful place where I could focus to do a bit of studying while earning. The only setback was that the public transport wasn’t available during wee hours, either you’d wait it out until daybreak or walk for a few kilometers to get to the nearest bus station which was ill-advised. On that particular night, when I clocked in to relieve the last guy, I remember feeling anxious about schoolwork but nowhere near the right mood for it. I was on a deadline and felt that I should hit the books the first instance I could jump into, it’s just that my mind wasn’t in the right place so to speak.
There was quite a downpour making the mood sort of slow and quiet. Past midnight, the number of customers decreased as expected and the last of the customers were a couple making a last stop bite before heading home. After serving their food, they still hung around though, standing there by the counter. Usually, they’d just go, but they didn’t. They were probably waiting for the rain to let up. Figuring that they’re through, I went on to my other routine wiping off the counter surface, I got the mop and started with the kitchen floor. And when I ducked down reaching for something on the lower counter compartments, I heard someone say hello to me. It sounded like it came all the way from the front entrance but when I resurfaced, instead of seeing the couple, an old man was standing there in front of me. The couple was gone and was sort of replaced by this new customer. Naturally, I was taken aback by how the man snuck up on me like that. I didn’t see him entering nor standing in line, he was like a stealthy cat.
The old man had a transparent plastic poncho on and a fedora. Under his raincoat, was a tweed jacket over a white button-down shirt and what appeared to be a faded brown tie. He looked nice enough, he could as well be one of the university professors, at least that was my initial impression, but I don’t remember seeing him around the campus nor elsewhere. When he took off his hat, most of his hair was gone, and he had a creased smile that shrunk his Asian features all the more. He was very polite and should I say, still full of energy for his age. As he leaned on the aluminum counter and surveyed the menu overhead, his brows met, as if that meal was of a great deal of consequence, muttering to himself as he read through the list.
“I think I’ll take one of each.”
“I’m awfully sorry, which one?”
“I could be very indecisive, so please indulge me.”
Dumbfounded, it took me a few beats before I was able to respond.
“Very well, Sir, I suppose this is to go?”
“No, I prefer to dine here.”
At this point, I didn’t pursue the matter anymore. I thought, the sooner I started working on his orders the sooner I could get him off my back and probably begin my schoolwork. I thought of giving a recap of the order but doing that would just make me sound rather silly. Instead, I went on to work right ahead. I preheated the fryer and griddle, cleared the prep table, and started working. “Of all the nights it had to be tonight,” I complained to myself while watching the old man leisurely reading a folded newspaper through the tray rack.
I ran back and forth serving each of the meals on the menu. And each time I went to the old man’s table, he’d turn to me with the widest smile which crept me out a little bit. I know he was just being polite, it’s just that it was a little too much for me I guess.
Considering his medium-size built, the old man didn’t look as if he’s slowing down, I even thought he looked determined finishing all of that food.
I forgot to mention that while preparing his food, apart from the newspaper he brought, I also saw him flipping through a small pocket notebook. It looked pretty worn-down like it’s been with him for a very long time. It looked like one of those notebooks sleuths would carry around in their pockets. The old man was seated just across from where I stood behind the counter and I saw him intensely reading every bit of it. At first, I didn’t think it was anything at all, but he kept on whispering to himself, kept on looking through the glass window, his gaze off to somewhere very distant like he’s onto some deep serious thoughts.
He didn’t pay cash and so, through the card that he used, I thought I should be able to look his name up on the web but it turned out nothing.
I didn’t know what came over me. But it seemed odd that I couldn’t find any trace of him. You’d usually find most people online. But then again, maybe not all people are fond of being found at all.
“I don’t think I could finish all of these,” the old man turned to me after some time.
“Can you wrap the rest to go instead, please? But you could do that later, I’m not backing down just yet.”
“No worries, please do let me know if you’re about done.
“Oh yes, I will.”
Under the light, he looked strangely familiar. When I thought about it, he really did look like John Wayne, except, he’s Asian.
“Say, do you mind me asking a few questions?”
He pulls up a small colored photo of a woman in her twenties and started asking questions about the woman’s whereabouts. Of course, I didn’t know anything.
“Any chance you that it may have just slipped out of your mind?”
“I think I would recognize a beautiful young lady like that from a distance.”
“So you’re saying you would have pursued her, that you’re attracted to her?”
“No, I didn’t say that.”
“But you admitted that you think she’s attractive.”
“Yeah, sure, but I didn’t say I would approach her.”
“What would you do then?”
“What do you mean?”
“If you’d seen her walking through that door, sitting here this late, what would you have done?”
I didn’t say anything for a while and sort of composed my thoughts.
That’s when it hit me. Just a few nights before, a woman’s lifeless body was found in some abandoned warehouse, somewhere near the outskirts of the tech hub. The police working on the case had a few leads but nothing certain came out of their investigation. Truthfully, I wasn’t surprised at all given their unimpressive track record. The area where they had found the woman was a cesspool for delinquents and they’re hinting that it was the cause. Of course, they could be right, after all, the warehouse was in a secluded vicinity. Runaways and many homeless people use the place for shelter all the time since the government hasn’t reclaimed the area yet. But the manner to which they found the woman’s body didn’t exactly correspond to that assessment. According to the official report, she was probably mugged, drugged, and tortured, suffered for days before finally being put out of her misery. It was so gruesome that the family decided to have a closed casket funeral instead. Based on what my friends and I have heard, her skin, except for the head, had been peeled off. And what’s worse, she was alive when this diabolical act was done. It was like some sick dark ritual, nothing a common criminal would do.
“Is that the same person who I think it is?”
“Why? Do you know her?”
“I may be wrong but is she the one they found just a few nights ago?”
“So you did see her?”
“If she’s the one on TV, then yes. But only on TV.”
At this point, our conversation took a sharp turn. I may or may have not told him that he looked like John Wayne. Anyway, I explained to the old man the truth that I memorized his name through the receipt and looked him up online.
“Seems like I have a competition right here. Have you considered serving?”
I thought hearing that question was quite odd. I may not know who that old guy was, but there were clear indicators that he was working on the case.
“Please forgive me for snooping, Sir, I was just curious that’s all. As you can see, I am alone here, no security guards around, I hope you could see where I’m coming from.”
Although I didn’t know the woman or anything about the case, I stayed in the conversation because I was intrigued. Besides, I knew I wasn’t guilty of anything, so I thought I’d get more out of the conversation than he would.
“Probably there was something that she’d said, maybe she went against the wrong people. I mean, if you’re working on this case and interviewing people uptown, there must be something more than the angle of mugging.”
I must have been deep in my thoughts when I was explaining this that I didn’t realize sooner that he was taking notes.
“Do you believe that’s what happened?”
“It’s just a thought,” I clarified.
Then he showed me another photo. A photo of me in a rally.
“Can you confirm that this was you here?”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was confused. What in the hell is happening? Why does this man have a photo of me?
“Where did you get this?”
“Just answer the question kid.”
Beads of sweat began to build upon my forehead, this was so unexpected. He dropped a few more names, names whom I’ve heard were part of an underground group attempting to topple the government and some I only heard that night.
“I didn’t take you for a thought police.”
The old man’s expression suddenly changed.
From cheerful and friendly, it became perplexed.
His Asian features, as well as his facial lines, deepened.
We sat there in silence for quite a long time.
It was an uncomfortable stare-down, but it was a kind of conversation that I also enjoyed, you could say.
Probably the juice I needed to finish my school paper.
I know that the old man knew that the woman and myself didn’t know each other.
That he was there for me. That the woman was a reminder.
If there was one thing I realized was that, whoever that woman was, she got to them deep where it really hurt.
I later found out that she was suspected of smuggling drugs and what happened was apparently a rubout. Of course, with how things went down that night, nothing could be further from the truth.
It was the last time I saw the old man. After a few months of working at the food joint, I eventually quit.
But I couldn’t help but feel that I’m still being followed. I think I see or rather sense people watching me here and there. They’d be standing by an electrical post or walking meters away following me, pretending to have phone calls or eating tables away from me, reading my mails. Of course, it could just be my imagination, but I get that same strange feeling every time, the same feeling I’ve got the night I met that old man.
As for the woman, the news eventually stopped covering updates about her case and as with all things, life had moved onto other things.
Two weeks ago, I got reacquainted with an old friend who is still involved with our school. I told him my experience but I rather not share the details with you here. But If there’s anything I would say it’s that, we had an even stranger conversation that would go further deep down the rabbit hole.
A guy walked into a bar. It was midday and although there were only fine rains, he decided it’s better to wait it out and not risk it. Climate change has made weather reports unreliable these days, he thought, and a few cold beers wouldn’t hurt anyway. There was a woman with an orange tabby cat at the bar. The cat was in a carrier on a stool next to her casually licking its paws. The guy pulled the corner stool and ordered his drink, lit a cigarette. The woman, probably in her mid-thirties, pulled out from her handbag, a much smaller purse, and two small men jumped out of it as if scurrying. And although they were standing next to each other for some time now, the two tiny men seemed to be oblivious of each other’s presence. The first one sat at the chair with a table the woman has also pulled out from her purse, drinking bourbon the woman poured, while the other one found a spot at the edge of the bar and swung a fishing rod into the air as if he was at the sea.
The woman first talked to the tiny man who was sitting at the miniature table, talking to him as he shuffled a deck of cards. Because of his size, the tiny man got drunk quite fast. Both the woman and the first tiny man exchanged laughs as their conversation went on. Watching them, the guy on the corner stool thought that they must be lovers, and although it was none of his concern, he couldn’t resist observing them from where he sat. From the way the woman tilted her head and how she was playing with the locks of her hair every time the tiny man cracked a joke, she seemed quite interested. Needless to say, the first tiny man was quite a charmer. After a few minutes, the woman excused herself and went to the rest room. When she returned to her seat, she turned to the second tiny man and started a conversation. As far as the first tiny man was concerned, she still wasn’t back. The woman and the second tiny man mainly talked about fishing and his search for the “biggest fishing conquest,” his eyes gleamed when he talked about his adventures and declared that he’d love to take her with him some time very soon.
The woman did this for some time, the two tiny men taking turns, unaware of each other’s existence as if living in separate worlds. As time went on, it became less and less for the guy at the corner stool to hear what they’re talking about. All he could see was that they were all whispering to each other’s ears in turns, giggling as they got more engaged.
“Why don’t we go somewhere more quiet, private?” The woman addressed both tiny men at the same time. They were caught off guard in a good way of course, even the guy sitting on the corner stool heard the invitation. The tiny men simultaneously gave out their answers to the woman, as they held each side of her well-defined jawline, as if placed in some sort of spell. The woman held out her hand, guided the tiny man with the fishing rod into the cat carrier since he was the closest, opening the cage and slipped him through with a gentle nudge of her hand. Moments later, there was a rattle inside the carrier and some muted screams as the fat orange cat pounced on her prey. The same fate awaited for the other tiny man, only this time, it was quieter. He was drunk from the four sips of bourbon — there wasn’t much struggle. The only sound that the guy sitting on the corner stool heard was the crunching of the tiny man’s little bones.
Horrified, the guy from the corner stool quietly pulled out his wallet to settle his bill. He pretended to take a call so as not to draw attention. He was in a strange place, in a strange town. It was his first time there. And when he looked around, although there were only few, the patrons appeared to be unperturbed by the incident. He continued to talk to the fictitious person on the other end of the fictitious call as he stood up and pulled his bag onto his shoulder. And as he walked toward the front door and stepped out, it was only then when he realized that the rain let up and it was already nighttime. But it was completely dark out, there were no streetlights nor the windows from the neighboring apartment buildings were nowhere to be seen. It was completely dark except for the two amber moons overhead that somehow resembled the eyes of the orange tabby cat from inside the bar.
The hospital beds were lined up evenly as if parked cars. All of the patients were facing eastward towards the direction of the morning sun, it’d be good for us, the nurses kept on saying. Next to me, was a middle-aged man struggling with his breakfast which he sipped through a plastic straw. His undivided attention, life’s worth of training dedicated to that simple pursuit. I heard that he used to be well-known, used to play overseas some years ago before a career-ending incident. Looking around, a grim thought suddenly dawned on me — the inevitable truth that we are all heading down the same corridor. Our shadows will catch on eventually. The patients looked the same in those gowns they made us wear. All of our collective backstories, identities, and even passions, were mere incidental trivial matters for the time being.
We went back to her apartment and rewatched some of the old movies she had on CDs. As usual, traffic was so bad that we missed the screening of the weekend premiere. “But that’s okay,” she said while reliving those perfect lines from that perfect screenplay. A million times over and yet, I still saw those tears rolling over her cheeks at the exact queues — it was like a magic trick. I snuck a peek to look at her in the dark; her face enveloped in the light of the TV monitor. And at that moment, I could not help but feel that I was being taken. It felt as if I was swallowed up and being washed away, in the foams of a great wave. It was definitely magic.
Two amateur robbers were squatting in the dark.
“John, I don’t think I could get through this.” one of the robbers said hesitantly.
As if hearing nothing, John (not his real name) wiped off the sweat under his ski-mask and just continued working on the fence with the wire cutters.
“I’m sorry, but I’m bailing out.” The fearful robber jumped off the wall but hurt his ankle when he landed. He missed the thicket. Bellowing in pain, he lay on his back holding the injured leg with both hands.
There were barking dogs that can be heard in the distance.
John abandoned his attempt to break in and helped the friend up.
While fleeing farther away from the scene, the friend apologized sincerely while limping.
“I should shoot you, you know?”
“I know. I’m sorry I let you down.”
“Nah, I guess it’s a sign. Let’s face it, we’re not cut out for this sort of thing. At least we learned something tonight.”
“Yeah? Like what exactly?”
“That we should enter politics instead.”
A buddy and I liked to drive around town and have our usual aimless conversations. He’s one of those kids who live in those affluent subdivisions with really high walls you’d mistake for a fortress. For the life of me, I still don’t know how we ended up as friends. I suppose it didn’t matter to him, or maybe, having me around was a novelty for his kind. No matter, I was just glad to have him around during those years, I even thought that I was helping him. I showed him the real world while he helped me escape it — a paradoxical symbiosis of a sort.
If we could, we’d exchange lives. We both thought we’d rub each other out.
Maybe, I just liked driving around in shiny cars I only saw on TV. He tried to explain things to me but I could not catch on. Maybe, I got lost in the haze. Maybe, he was too. We just drove on, agreed that we would stay on that stretch in silence instead. The way was dark, but at least we had those four feet of headlights to guide us through into the night.
She was one of those aspiring movie stars I met in a smoky bar after-hours. It was just temporary, she said, working graveyard shifts for some offshore company paying premium for local support. She was celebrating, skipped work, liberating herself for the occasion. She bought me two rounds of Jim Beam and a platter of chicken wings, I guess, to warrant the intent. I wanted to believe her, rooted for her even. But there was something in the way she held that drink that betrayed her. I decided not to pursue it, I didn’t want to ruin the night. Instead, I found my fingers plodding the crucifix tattoo she had on her chest. It was her lucky charm, she claimed. It had worked so well that, she thought it was what got her the part more than her acting talent.
“The audition didn’t even last half an hour. We went filming shortly after. I guess it sort of attracts sordid men.” It was an indie film, the type that doesn’t roll credits at the end.
“One of the cool girls had this and so I thought I should get one myself. Thinking about it now, it feels like living in somebody else’s dream. You know? I don’t remember much of that life anymore, or why this tattoo? I mean, I don’t even pray.”
“Maybe the deed is beginning to pay off.” I said sincerely.
And as if hearing nothing, she kept on dragging her cigarette, until it finally burned her cracked lips.
Drunk Men Don’t Sleep
We passed around the bottle as we did with the stories we shared that night — crude tales of old men, of the scarred and the beaten, of those who carry saddlebags under their eyes, the sleepless. Besides, drunken men do not sleep, at least not the weary ones. It was a sultry night. We buried the smell of our mixed sweat with the stench of cigarette smoke and our incessant laughter. We fought off the coming of the day, we all wanted to stay, recluse, in the night. We hid in our own lies caught between our teeth. In those minced words. We lurked, like gawking vultures in the dark for any leftovers. Waiting, ever long, sleepless like a steady patch of a cloud on a windless night.
It was New Year’s. Everything was still. Quiet. Tranquil.
It was more than what I deserved, but I took it anyway.
“Hey, bud.” The Mulberry plant began.
I turned to the door but there was no one.
“Hey, bud. Are you there?” It was only then when I realized that it was talking to its actual bud.
Again, I turned to the doorway and minded my own.
I reclaimed the quiet and sat on the stillness of the brand new day.
They stood along the roadside where the rest of the crowd had also gathered. The child perched upon the shoulders of his old man, cheering on beautifully embellished motorcades reeling past them with colorful balloons strapped at the corners.
Everybody was waiting for the sixty-foot marionettes to come. And when they appeared, they couldn’t believe what they were actually witnessing. It was nothing they’ve seen before.
The giants glided over the water, at the great lake by the ravine.
The town police stood between the onlookers and the mechanical beings made mostly of wood. There were only iron barricades and nylon ropes to keep the crowd at bay. The crowd broke loose, lurched forward into the lake to welcome the gods. While high-ranking officials cavorted with off-duty prostitutes and bootleggers became the day’s official suppliers of folly — the acolytes of Dionysus.
I was glad to finally see my little sister after several months of being away for work overseas. I only get a few weeks of stay before being called back by the agency for another year or so. She cleared her schedule for me, on our first weekend together. From the station, we got some supplies for my stay en route to her place. I wanted to just hole up and loaf, I told her. At least that was the plan. When you get to a certain age, you would prefer peace and quiet over anything else. The lesser the interaction the better. Carrying grocery bags, I followed her to her apartment on the third floor where we had dinner and a few drinks to catch up. There she shared about her romantic escapades, or what was left of them, and confessed that she feels squeamish about staying around for long. When I asked, she said that it was because of the “lack of color,” whatever that meant, and seriously considered moving into the city or at least somewhere near to the land of the living. “Even my landlord looks utterly the same as my drywall.” she declared. I thought it was weird of her to say that, but true enough, when we chanced upon this old guy heading down for more drinks, I saw what she meant by it. I will tell you more about it, but the feeling that I got looking at him was rather strange. I could not help but stare at him as we walked by. It was as if something was missing in his expression. Something lacking that I was compelled to search for it. His face was like an unfinished canvas. The artist who was working on it just left and did not come back, that kind of feeling.
That same evening, I went out for a walk around the neighborhood. Although I wanted to turn in early, I just could not shake off that feeling from earlier. Besides, I figured that it would be the best time for me to get acquainted with the place. I mean, I’m always at the open sea, and walking on land is considered a luxury for my kind. Late nights mean less human contact. It was sort of a compromise, so I took it.
I eventually landed on this hole-in-the-wall sort of pub. It was situated just a few corners from my sister’s place but I doubt if she frequented these parts. You could say that my sister is on the dapper side. While the pub has a Manila sort of nightclub vibe, which gives out a sleazy impression. I would have wanted to have her around with me since I get really awkward around people quick. Anyway, my night apparently was just getting started, but mind you, I am an early riser. I like getting up before the sun does but I also need my late nights too. Call it a balancing act. But I get less sleep to compensate for it, living in both worlds; night and day. For me, mornings are for the clearing of the head, sanitizing the mind, while late nights are for refilling the tank.
So, there I was sitting at the corner stool, drinking my stout, watching the golden bottles shimmer under their display illumination. I suddenly felt like a giant mackerel lured in for the bait. A beautiful woman suddenly appeared behind me and asked for a light. Of course, I responded accordingly to the request, albeit mechanically, just in time before it got weird being how I am around people. The woman unconsciously showcased her jawline when she tilted her head away from the flame, finger-combing her hair to the other side. This has also revealed how tiny her head was underneath all that mane. For a moment there she caught me staring at her. I thought I scared her off. While it was true that I was fascinated by her looks, I also envied how particularly proportioned her head was with her frame. I always want a tiny head myself. I remember as a kid, friends always teased me for my huge head. I never heard the end of it. This was one of the reasons why I stayed away from home whenever I could, like when I went to university and eventually got a job from really far away. With enough burn on her cigarette, she stepped back and said thanks as she walked off. What a cool cat, I thought. Thinking that was the end of it, after a few more drinks, about half an hour later, the woman reappeared only this time she was with two others younger than her. This time, I saw them approaching me as they walked through the shoal of fishes who were lured in this place like me. “I’m sorry to bother you again, but can I borrow some light?” I always thought it was weird how people phrase that — “Borrowing light.” Anyway, even with much anticipation, I was still caught off-guard. And again, I mechanically responded to the request doing precisely as I did the first time. And as if it was a rehearsed choreography, she did exactly as she did then. It was Deja Vu. She tilted her head, accidentally showcased her jawline, weirded out by my staring before stepping back.
And just like that, she was gone. She got swallowed in the open sea of the crowd. Her two friends remained, however. To my surprise, they introduced themselves and ordered drinks for three. I rarely get the chance to tell you truthfully, I thought it was some sort of a sham. But it was not. I did not notice it at first, but the two girls were in fact twins. One of the twins told me that I looked rather familiar but I was quick to dismiss that notion, since I was not from around, and explained that I was just visiting someone. “Were you with some girl earlier down at some apartment on St. Mary street? Yeah, I think that was you alright.” The other twin hopped in excitement as if it was a discovery of the century. “Yes, yes, you were with your girlfriend heading upstairs.” I knew I didn’t see them in the building, but I confirmed that it was me and that it was my sister that was with me. They gave me a dubious look and turned to each other. “Right, your sister. we get it.” Then there was a friendly heckling that took place. While that was going on, I could not help but realize something about the twins. Something strangely familiar.
“You guys mentioned that you saw me at the apartment building where I was with my sister, right?” There was a pause before they affirmed it.
“Then you must be living there as well, are you not?”
That was when they told me that the landlord is their father. And during that same instance, I was reminded of that weird feeling when I met their old man that afternoon. As if something cold was poured all over me. The twins had that same look or should I say impression. A blank sort of mesh on their faces. Do not get me wrong, they both had full features, they were young, strikingly beautiful, but looking at them just gives you that sort of feeling that something was out of place. Like a desolate land or a barren plain. And the funny thing was when I turned to my drink to give it some thought, on my peripheral, they both appeared normal to me. Or should I say better, fuller? I do not know if I am making sense, but that is about the only way I know how to fully explain what I had seen or had not seen… The more I looked away they sort of appeared normal. And when I turned back to look directly at them, certain features or if I may say, certain body parts on their appearance were missing. As in gone, and they change each time as if the blank patches have a life of their own. I thought my eyesight was messing with me or probably the alcohol, but they were about the only ones I saw like that in the room. Now, it was at that point when I could no longer evade the awkwardness anymore.
“Oh-oh, I think we know what’s going on here.” one of the twins started.
“Do you think we should tell him?” sounding worried, the other depended for an answer.
At this point, I thought I was going to faint. Either because of what my mind could not comprehend or because of my behavior, of me being rude to my new friends.
The more talkative twin chased after my gaze and reassured me that I was not losing my mind. Then soon confessed that they have this rare condition that they too could not explain.
“We don’t even know what it is called.”
I wanted to give myself a pinch but I did not want to be more inappropriate. Clearly, they were bothered about it.
“Half of the town has it. But of course, we could not just go telling everyone about it. It is not a medical condition since the ‘onlookers’ are the ones basically experiencing the inadequacies. Does that make sense?”
“Yes.” was the only thing I said since I did not know what else to add.
“And we could not go out without anyone ‘normal’ tagging along. As you can tell, it is quite hard to comprehend.”
“And I assume the lady who was with you earlier was your chaperone?”
“Yes, she’s our guardian. She was just making sure you are okay.”
I did not know what to make of everything I learned that evening, I think the twins felt really awful too, in fact, they were really apologetic about the entire thing. I told them I was the one being stupid and less empathetic, and that I should be the one apologizing. I know I’m an awkward type of guy, but I knew how to break the ice. So, to take back the night, we ordered some more drinks until we could no longer handle our liquor and went back to the apartment. We were smashed.
The next thing I remember was the morning after when I woke up in the twins’ bed with nothing on. They both shared a bed. The twins were nowhere to be found but they left a note which they both signed thanking me for last night and hoping that I could stay around longer. I picked up my clothes and washed my face and when I opened the front door, the beautiful woman from the night before was right there leaning against the wall with an unlit cigarette on her lips. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. The woman did not say anything and just stood there with her eyes piercingly fixed at me.
“Oh, it’s you. Do you need some light?” I searched for my lighter, patting everywhere but could not find it. Then she took something out of her left-hand jacket and lit the cigarette. I thought it was mine, but I let it go and just walked past her. Up to now, I’m still not sure what that was about. But I think that was her implied way of warning me. She was, after all, the twins’ guardian.
It must have been his fourth cup. At this point, he was beginning to feel the weight in his chest for not being able to hear from his mother. She has not sent a word for months. If hope was ever a commodity, it sure did not deliver as advertised. He would have chosen to stay at the cafe longer, but he was conserving the little money he had left. Midway through his letter, he began to notice that his hands looked tired, older, it was as if they were no longer his. What is worse, the sun was preparing to set and his eyes hardly kept up with the impending gloom. Then, at some stroke of luck, the only lamppost on that street was lit. Under its light was the woman he often sees working nights. A sudden change of heart, he unpocketed some loose change and bought another cup of coffee and stared behind the window. “How lucky is the man who could afford her.” he sang to himself. He would have spent all his money on her companionship only it would still fall short to make up her rate. Instead, he created a world in his mind about how he and she made a happy life together. No more cheap coffee, no more working late nights, only a warm and cozy embrace under a scrap blanket his mother had handsewn. It would have been a good narrative to end his letter.
Stamina was even a tougher obstacle to get the scholarship. Apart from his apparent physical disadvantage, the determination to overcome this feat was nowhere to be found. But the fear of starvation offered a far more sinister kind of motivation. It was not long before the coaching staff posted the results of the tryouts. Of course, he did not make the cut. But he was not at the bottom either. He will have to find another way to afford the semester. He took whatever good he could find though. It was not all too bad, he thought — no matter how few, he still ranked over those names on the list. He would celebrate that evening and got some laughs from it down at the bar.
It was his first formal invitation since his arrival in the city. He intended to land an impression on the faculty members to showcase his attributes or at least to get acquainted. The professors spoke of Foucault, Voltaire, Nietzsche, and others whose names he couldn’t remember. Those names he had managed to capture resonated with him but regarded no friendly affirmations to his personal pursuits. He was an outsider, after all. A tourist from far away, desperately latching onto the cliffs of their summits. But no matter what, no matter how perilous the traverse, he decided to stay on the climb.
I heard about this place somewhere south. So, I phoned to make a reservation and drove down ahead of time so as not to be late. According to the friend who introduced me to it, the dining experience is so intimate that only one guest is allowed at a time. I was lucky to even get through the line, he said, let alone make a same-day reservation: It was like winning the lottery. I wasn’t quite sure how they were able to sustain operating in such a fashion, but they’ve been around for a while now and their popularity has grown exponentially, in fact, the place is considered one of the most sought-after dining spots in the city.
I was greeted by a perky barkeep as if I was a long-lost relative that he was glad to see. Talk about customer service. He was already standing there behind the counter, facing the direction of the doorway even before seeing me walking by the glass window. Naturally, I was impressed. There was just one stool at the counter and it had leather upholstery. Of course, I took it. The barkeep was the only one inside the establishment. And as I was taking the seat, he told me that I didn’t need to mention what I was going to have, that it’s being taken care of.
“But I haven’t given you my order yet.”
“No worries, I’ll get you what’s in your mind, Sir, or your money back.” He cheekily announced.
I didn’t dare to contend the gimmick or whatever it was that he was doing. Maybe, they conduct a background check as soon as the reservation has been concluded, looking up the patrons on the web or through their social media accounts, or in any means possible to give them an inkling of the personal preferences of their guests.
The moment I allowed things to happen, I immediately felt comfortable. It must be the air that stirred in the room, it felt fresh even though there weren’t any open windows. It felt as if the weight that I was carrying on my shoulders was lifted. Like there were these invisible hands giving me some backrubs of the sort. So, he went at it, conjuring what he had predicted I wanted to order. I couldn’t see exactly what he was doing behind the tall bottles and beer glasses that stood between us. He maneuvered like a skillful athlete tossing around jiggers, oranges, and some bottles as if it was a performance. “Your favorite drink, Sir.” Slowly placing the heavy glass in a dramatic fashion in front of me. “So, it’s true then what they say, that you can read minds?”
“I can only speak the truth, Sir, nothing more.”
“Some trick. I’m impressed.”
“I understand if you’re skeptical about my abilities, which by the way is your prerogative, but then again, I can only speak the truth.”
“So, there’s no trick whatsoever?”
“Or your money back.”
There it was again, the repetition of his responses, the play of words. He whipped the fly that landed on the counter with his damp hand towel.
“I’d let you in on a secret.” He moved in closer as if it was a matter of life and death, then a long pause.
“Go on ahead and look.”
“Take a look at your drink, Sir.” I bowed down and saw that the drink turned into water.
“Wait, how did you do that?”
“It’s just regular hypnosis, Sir. All I did was serve you plain water. It was your mind that perceived it as otherwise.”
“But it tasted like the real thing?”
“Of course, Sir. Our nervous system is a powerful machine.”
“It’s weird that you refer to the brain as a machine.”
“The brain is just a part of an intricate web of wonder inside your body.”
“Wait, is that what you only serve to your customers? Just water?”
“I can only speak the truth.”
“Aha! But that’s not the truth at all, I deserve a refund you said it yourself, I mean should I ask for it.”
“If you say so, Sir. But it was real to you, was it not?”
“I guess so. How about food? What do you do for that?”
“Water is life.”
“That explains a lot about your costs.”
“For as long as we have access to clean water, yes, we’re in business. We can do a lot with just a glass.”
“Thank you for saying, Sir.”
“You should branch out.”
“What do you mean, Sir?”
“There’s more to simulating human experiences than just food.”
“We haven’t thought of it that way. But our simulation is like looking at your reflection. We merely hold the mirror for you to see what your mind tells you. Mirroring emotions is a black hole, Sir. Everything breaks in its singularity. It’s a tricky business.”
“What made you decide to disclose your trade secret anyway?”
“It gets boring around here as you can see.”
“Do you also share this with your other customers?”
“Just with the regulars.”
“But I’m not one of them.”
As I was downing my drink, a thought landed on me.
“We haven’t done that sort of thing yet, Sir. As I mentioned, we’re all about the dining experience, the tastebuds, perception, but not in that area just yet. But I guess we could make an exemption just for tonight.”
“No, please. Don’t mind me, I was just thinking about its possibility.”
“But you’re right, Sir. We should consider branching out to more than just serving food.”
“How many glasses of water do you think it would take to do it?” Completely indulging the thought.
“A few tall glasses would do the trick, I reckon.” The barkeep was absorbed in deep thought.
He went into the kitchen and has been gone for a while before finally returning. I was on the edge of my seat. My heart was pounding and beads of sweat began to appear on my forehead.
As I was waiting, I heard a voice behind me. It belonged to a woman. It was my late wife, Sofia.
“Hey there, hon.” Even before I could turn to see, I knew it was really her. No doubt about that.
I couldn’t tell you how many drinks I had exactly, but she had a case of Pale Pilsen, in less than an hour. She was making up for the lost time she declared. It was the best time I had in years. The barkeep offered us the menu and said that everything was on the house to celebrate the milestone of the business. Of course, we feasted. We went along with how everything turned out that evening.
Sitting next to her at the bar, I told her everything I couldn’t tell her all those years. I left nothing behind. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake ever again. It was limited though, we only had less than an hour left in my reservation. We concluded the chat. I left a five-star rating on the survey sheet on the way out. Finally, I could move on with my life.
The next day I woke as if I was a completely different person. Or should I say I regained my old self? I immediately phoned my friend and told him all about the experience. “Really? that’s intense. Did they say how they were actually doing it?”
“The barkeep just told me that I was just hypnotized.”
“What a load of crap, I’m sorry I wasted your time.”
“Yeah, it was awful.”
I couldn’t understand why my friend said that. Of course, it wasn’t awful. I asked him to keep everything to himself and he gave his word. I was told by the barkeep that I couldn’t share with anyone what transpired that evening. But my friend wasn’t just anyone so I assumed that was okay. Especially that part with my late wife, since it was still on the beta stage, that it hasn’t been tested extensively, even though it worked with me just fine.
“We need more test subjects, I hope we can count on you about keeping things confidential for now.”
“Who is we?” I only thought about it when I was taking a shower and getting ready for work. I sat down at the toilet and did my business while I was on my phone skimming my emails. Then a weird thing happened. I heard my late wife’s voice beneath the bathroom floor. I was stunned. I had goosebumps.
It sounded that the voice was directly coming from beneath the toilet. I thought it was the hangover and decided it must have been that plus the sound of the flush when I pushed down the plunger. The phone in the bedroom rang.
It was the barkeep. His voice was shaking.
“I need to see you now, Sir.”
“No time to explain. Just head back and I’ll tell you everything you need to know.”
I did what I was told. I called up the office and told them that I’d be late for the day. When I arrived, the barkeep was standing at the front door.
“We need to talk. Please follow me inside.”
We went in and headed straight to the kitchen.
“There’s been a problem.”
“Obviously. What’s wrong?”
“We need to let it all out of you.”
“All the water we used up for the apparition of your wife.” He was walking up and down the tiled floor.
“Wait, calm yourself, what do you mean we have to let it all out of me? What the hell is going on?”
“Plainly speaking, the water that you’ve consumed was contaminated. Apparently, there’s been a breach in our water supply. Have you noticed anything odd since you left the bar?”
“No, not at all. I’ve been feeling good since I left. But I thought I heard my wife’s voice this morning.”
“So it had started. We have to ensure that we let it all out of you. You know? Wring you of all the water you’d had from this place before it reaches full circle.”
“What would happen if we don’t?”
“Your wife takes full control. She’ll take over your consciousness, you could figure out the rest.”
The barkeep led my head to the sink. Shoved a rubber hose into my throat and pumped the contents of my stomach. I vomited everything I had in my gut. Or should I say I vomited every part of my wife? I could see parts of her in my puke. I vomited her eyes, bits and parts of her torso, her jaw, and the hardest was her limbs. And when I thought I had the worst, the barkeep gave me some laxatives. I had to stay with the barkeep for three months.
This is a true story. It was a windy night. The tropical storm was heading westward and what we were experiencing according to the weather report was the tail-end onslaught of the typhoon. It was supposed to be over soon, but it seemed like it was just getting started. There were just light rains thankfully, which meant lesser floods in most areas but the strong winds compensated for the lack of it. We were sleeping soundly in our condominium studio apartment my wife and I had just recently moved into when the storm got worse. Everything was going according to plan, it felt brand-new, starting a life together as a couple. It was quite a high finally landing on our own feet. You could say that we are still new to this sort of life even though we have been together for several years. I admit, however, that we were too eager about making it work. Sometimes it feels a little bit too soon. Either way, it had to be done at one point or another anyway. Nothing was going to stop us, we wanted nothing more.
The building construction was still on-going though. And there were only a few of us who were occupying the new structure. There were about eighty to ninety families or owners for all forty-four floors, which includes the penthouse, two commercial floors, and the three car-parking floors.
It was about past midnight when a series of loud banging noises woke us. My wife, being a light sleeper, complained about it first and couldn’t seem to get back to sleep anymore. I couldn’t as well, I don’t think anybody could. Apparently, the source of the nuisance was caused by the strong winds banging the doors of the unoccupied units. It was the storm, there was no doubt about it. And the barrage came mostly from the upper floors. And there were a lot of them since most units were yet to be turned over to the owners or were still up for sale. Unlike the other condominiums you’d normally find around the metro, the developers hand the property over to the owners bare. Meaning, there are no furnishings, fixtures, nor tiles, no paint jobs whatsoever. Just an empty concrete box and a door with no lock.
We just moved in, a little over a month give or take. My wife and I had lived around the city our entire lives there was no reason why we should be bothered about such a petty disturbance. But that night in the condominium was different. The booming barrage of noises was far worse than any thunderstorms we’ve encountered. Imagine, heavy doors made of hardwood banging constantly from different floors of the building one after another. It felt like a giant percussion in a full-length set. We thought that we were going nuts, it was torture. We work during the day and for us, a good night’s sleep was imperative. At first, we tried to shrug it off hoping that the winds would tire down soon but it didn’t. What’s bizarre was, when I went to the door and checked, I was the only one who was out in the hallway. “How can these people sleep, aren’t they bothered?” probably they are all used to it, probably they get a discount on the association dues for the trouble, or perhaps they have a state of the art noise-canceling padding installed on their walls. Either way, I just couldn’t understand how they were able to stand the entire thing. But I realized that maybe we were the only ones who there on our floor that night, maybe our neighbors (which were few) were out.
So I went to work. I could not stand another second of it. One way or another, I wouldn’t allow it to ruin what we had set out to achieve – a home. A little peace and quiet are hard to come by these days. We could talk to the building manager and file a complaint, of course, but that would happen no sooner than the morning after. I wanted to fix the matter up right away by taking things into my own hands. Besides, I’m an impatient man. My wife and I share that character flaw. We’re not proud of it but we get things done because of it. There’s always a way to keep things moving faster, we believe. You can coin it however you like, but it’s a principle that we carry.
I started with the doors on our side of the wing and carried on to the other. I was angry. I wallowed about the incompetence of the building administrators. “How could they miss this?” Since there were no available doorknobs at the vacant units, I tore off a generous portion of the carton box that I found and used that as a shim to keep the doors fixed in place. I closed the windows in the vacant apartments. I threaded carefully since it was dark in most of them. There were only the lights from the neighboring buildings illuminating my path. I tried the security guard on the ground floor, but couldn’t find him for some reason. I didn’t want to waste any more of my time so I went back to our floor to finish the job.
I boarded up the air-conditioning provisions with scrap boards and fragments of concrete blocks I found lying around. I was able to shut all the doors in-place on our floor but regrettably, it didn’t dent the impact of the noise at all. It was overwhelming, I didn’t think this through I told myself. It felt like I was on the verge of caving in. But something must be done; I desperately mustered all the anger in my chest and turned it into pure will. I must admit, there was regret looming every time I felt tired and ready to give up. But I was not going to quit. Floor by floor, I went up through the elevator, doing the same things I did on ours: Shimmed the doors, closed any open windows, and blocked any significant openings with anything I could find useful. I was getting tired; I didn’t have the time with me, but I think I spent nearly two hours on all those doors. When I was near the top floors, I felt like fainting, I wanted to stop.
Even though I didn’t want to rest, I sat down on the hallway floor as I waited for the elevator to fetch me. I was on 43rd. I was catching my breath and my throat was dry. By the time I entered the lift and was set to push 44, I realized that the last floor was off-limits it being the penthouse. I was relieved, it meant that the technicality concluded my quest for the night, finally. But I noticed that there was an extra button just above it. “Another floor? That can’t be right?” I was sure that there wasn’t a 45th floor but it was there in front of me glowing in its LED light. I still have the condominium brochure and the paperwork, and it only mentioned 44 floors and not 45. I kept on staring at the number to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. And that strange button was on top of the penthouse which was kind of absurd. At first, I hesitated to proceed any further, but since I was there already, I ought to finish the deed I set out to do in the first place. But more than that, there was that unscratchable itch to know more about that mystery floor. I don’t know, I was just drawn to it, like it was calling me, like a long-lost friend beckoning for a chat. And without thinking too much, I went for it finally. Before long, the elevator doors slid open. That thin chime that nudged me that I was there echoed across the room.
It was dark and there was total silence. I noticed that there wasn’t a hallway, there was no wind at all but it was colder than any of the other floors I’ve been to. It was just a huge spacious dark room that seemed shapeless. Like a deep void or some sort of a vacuum.
I didn’t step out. I mean, why would I? I decided that there wasn’t any door that needed closing anyway. My task is done, I convinced myself. Leave now before you regret staying. I was scared, to tell you the truth. I never felt this alone my whole life. I was brought up in the slums but I never felt this perilous. I couldn’t move and I felt frozen all of a sudden. Everything was still, I couldn’t remember if I’d breathed at all. For all I care, I was a cold corpse. And before I was able to push the close button, the elevator seemed to have telepathically understood my will, as if it had its own consciousness. Then that chime had rung again to announce my departure. I was saved! A small voice in my head had celebrated in silence. But then, when the doors were about to slide back to closing, it struggled. It was like the doors were dragging itself to do it. It was as if someone or something was forcing it not to. But it continued on, slow but it was moving.
It was the longest five seconds of my life. And when the doors were finally about to touch shut, I swear I saw something between that narrow gap. I’ll try to describe what I saw to the best of my ability but I assure you that this description is nothing compared to what I have actually seen. What I saw between that narrowing vertical was a face. There was a glimmer of light, a faint illumination that shimmered in the darkness. It didn’t hurt my eyes, in any way, allowing me to see clearly. Behind the light emerged a face, the feeling that it left me that night stayed on. The face had a very dark complexion. Its skin had a dry, cracked texture. There were thick scabs, in a quite unusual formation. It looked like one layer was sitting on top of another and another. It was sort of a miniature canyon after a volcanic eruption. I thought that the face was smiling, well it appeared as if it was. I don’t think it had lips on its mouth, just the skin around it. I couldn’t say if it had a body though. Or hair. Or anything else. It was just there facing directly towards me, just a few paces away.
It was gone instantaneously, almost at the same moment I saw it.
Of course, my wife and I went to the admin office as soon as their office had opened. I gave a brief narrative of what happened and expressed our frustrations about the experience. My wife told me between the conversation as she whispered that I was calmer than she had expected me to be. I don’t know about that, I just felt exhausted after all. I didn’t share with anyone about the 45th floor, even to my wife. But I asked the official if there was a floor above the penthouse, but the building manager told me that there was none.
That very same day, we were informed that none of the occupants heard about the loud banging noises. Even the security guards who were doing the rounds that night didn’t hear anything at all. “But that was just impossible, that couldn’t be right.” My wife told the manager and his assistant at our door. “We wanted to get to the root of it, we even went asking around but even the other unit owners didn’t seem to have heard the noises. But we’ll check all the doors from now on just to be sure.” We thought it was weird. We were willing to bet that the noises we heard that night reached up to two blocks away.
It’s been four months now since the night of the incident. And true enough, as the building manager had promised, we didn’t experience any of it anymore. It’s been months since I’ve written anything as well. Not to make any excuses, but I haven’t been in my element since the night of the incident. What’s troubling me was that the 45th button wasn’t there anymore but there is a dent on the control panel that hinted that a provision for a button was once available. I don’t know, it could be my imagination. I decided to let it go, but as of late, I couldn’t find my sleep for some reason. The wife returned to her routine which was more important. I am writing tonight to journal that night’s strange experience. There’s a storm heading our area. The biggest in years they said. I decided to trace my footsteps as I did that night, hoping to put a stop to all of this madness. I’ll be going floor to floor, simulating as I did then to get to that ominous floor. I’ll write a log soon about any further developments.
It’s turning out to be one of those strange conversations you’d normally only hear from TV shows or the movies. The details were obscured or maybe it’s because I didn’t believe it was real at all. He claimed that he’s been getting frequent visits from aliens. I almost choked and fell from my seat when he shared that. But with everything that’s been happening lately, who knows what exactly could happen next. Besides, he wasn’t the type who’d make up such a delusional story, he’s incapable of lying, too. I just couldn’t imagine him wasting time like that, that’s all. For him, life is too short for such empty rhetorics.
I wasn’t quite sure how to handle it. We’ve known each other since we were kids so I’d know, even if he’s pulling a well-orchestrated prank on me or if he’s trying to conceal something. He was hesitant though. I mean, it was as if he’s pulling his punches with regards to the details. It felt like he’s sparing me from something, even his voice was different that afternoon. I didn’t bother to fight it either, I mean, I didn’t want to get sucked into it. Besides, I was lazy enough not to. And as obscurity would often have it, there wasn’t much to work on. The so-called facts were limited to the following: That the visits happened every Monday evenings, between ten and eleven o’clock, that there were bright lights flashing on his bedroom window, and silhouettes of the lanky visitors stood at the hedges communicating only with meek hand gestures.
I tried to chew on it. I tried to spot gaps in his narrative but he’s relatively consistent. It was a strange afternoon but we still sat there in our wicker chairs anyway, outside the cafe, puffing cigarettes while piecing together the jigsaw puzzle of his predicament.
The sultry afternoon breeze carried the remaining traces of that summer. I can still remember how incredibly hot it was. We’d have been dehydrated to death if not for the occasional mild ventilation from the passing air of the entrance door.
He wrapped up the matter in an abrupt manner as if prodded by the heat. He confessed, like the current state of things that summer, that he felt as though he’s all dried up on the inside, like an empty well in a desolate land.
“I don’t think there’s much left in me. Not much inside this draining well. I haven’t been sleeping since these visits had started to occur to tell you the truth. It feels like they take away a part of me each time.”
His voice sounded tired, impliedly soliciting for a benevolent recoil.
“Even if the well is full, I don’t think there’d be anyone wild enough to drink from it.” was my response to cheer him on.
“There were a few who deliberately did, as a matter of fact, you pompous prick.” He shot back with a burst of timid laughter.
I tried to employ my fully charged optimism to sustain the little progress we had ongoing.
“Whatever it is, aliens or no aliens, I’m sure you’d perk up in no time, maybe it’s yet to precipitate, you know? Like the rain after the drought.”
I sensed his eagerness to refute the last statement was rising up halfway to my point. But the sky suddenly lashed out an angry roar when he was about to.
We both looked up and referred to what we saw as a sign —
“We don’t want to be caught in this downpour.” He was getting up to leave, cramming to get his things into his pouch.
“I don’t want to rain on your parade kid, but you kinda want to.” This I exclaimed with a chuckle.
“So, we’re doing puns now? ” We got the check and drove to the bay. We spent the remainder of the day watching the sunset where he was able to get some brief sleep at the backseat.
We were supposed to meet the following month at the same tired cafe for our routine catch up. It’s one of those things we tried to hold onto after I moved out of town. You could say it’s our own little way of preserving our history together. We could have agreed to do it more often but we both passed up the idea as proximity and real-life happenings weren’t exactly participative, to say the least.
I was about to head out when I decided to give him a call to confirm the rendevous. There was no answer, apparently, the service has been discontinued. I showed up at the place anyway. I waited for four hours before deciding on calling it quits. I learned sometime later from a family friend who lives nearby, that he sort of moved out of his apartment, he didn’t leave a word.
“He just stopped answering the door, according to his landlord.” His things, everything has been completely abandoned.
I tried our common friends, since doing that would likely yield more results than contacting his siblings. And without surprise, I found out, that I was the only person who’s still in contact with him.
I still sat there at our table from time to time, hoping to bump into him somehow. But after a few days, I realized, I did it mainly because of my inability to break habits or it was born out of the protracted inertia if you will.
I was able to convince his landlord to lend me a duplicate key to his apartment, provided that I settle the payment for the unpaid months left in his contract. I packed a few of my stuff, good enough for a few nights of stay, a ream of cigarettes, and a lot of snacks to munch on. I also brought a flashlight and a camcorder just in case. I reversed my sleeping routine to stay awake at night, even decided to put a halt on drinking, too.
I was ready to see anything if you want to know the truth. Again, I’m no believer in such things but who knows what’s out there really. Nothing happened during the first few nights, just random cars jolting here and about. It felt like a retreat of some sort in a weird way, staying in some strange place like that. There was that unexpected tranquility of being alone, there was this sense of oneself that was heightened. Sure, I love the wife and the kids, couldn’t live without them, but there’s something about solitude that sets me down.
On the 8th day, while on the phone talking to my wife, I heard a noise coming from the second floor. I found it unsettling since the ceiling which was the floor of the master’s was made of concrete. If it had been an earthquake, the whole house should’ve moved as well, but it didn’t.
I felt my throat suddenly becoming dry, the same hot feeling I had the last time I was with my missing friend fell all over me. My steps paced stealthily when I went up the stairs, on the way to his room. I turned the knob, swung the door wide, but there was nothing there. Just a sad view of a flyover behind the neighboring apartments and hardbound books that were knocked over by the wind. The bed was made and all of his clothes were neatly ironed and in place.
Maybe, I was overthinking it. I think he’s somewhere out there, safe. Maybe he just needed to go somewhere to be alone for himself, too, just for a while. Probably, he turned into vapor for a quick spin. Probably he’s up there, perched on a cloud, waiting for the end of summer, waiting for the right moment to pour in.
I don’t know, it’s turning out to be one of those strange stories you’d normally only hear from TV shows or the movies. These are strange times indeed.
This happened when I was drinking in a bar a few years ago. It was on a weekday after a gruelling workday when I felt the need to have a few stouts. I don’t usually drink dark beer, but I guess, the occasion called for it. All I could remember is how upset I was about work and I couldn’t wait to go to the nearest place to unwind. Anyway, I finally found one. It was raining hard out and what’s worse, I wasn’t able to check the weather app before heading to the office. All I had was the day’s newspaper that I used as a shield. As I entered the bar, the bell in the doorway chimed, which prompted the barkeep to emerge from whatever he was doing underneath his station. For a moment there, I had a funny picture of him in my head that he spends most of his time down there, just waiting for the cue of the chime until his services are needed. Of course, I didn’t manifest any of this so as not to get in trouble and thrown out right away. Besides, I wasn’t in the mood to begin with. I ordered whiskey, neat, to shake off the cold. It took three shots before I got settled in, then I ordered beer. Only a few people were in the bar, it being a weekday, which worked for me fine since I could use a lot of quiet that evening.
I stayed as far as I could from anyone. I think most of the patrons there got that. The people who were there had that look. You know, that “leave me alone, unless you’re some hot chic or you can solve all of my problems” kind of look. I was soaking wet from the rain, I felt worse. I was literally dripping from my seat. I sat away from the door and the windows, which meant taking the center of the bar where it was warmer. Behind me, was the aisle and a few tables where customers sat and there was a pinball machine stationed at the south wall. I tried to light a cigarette but my lighter won’t work, so I asked the barman for one.
Half an hour had passed, and the door chimed again. This time, it wasn’t some shady, grumpy guy, soaked in the rain, but someone very different. The man who entered got the same look as I got when I entered, only he wasn’t a stranger. The barkeep told me that he considers it a phenomenon how that chime gets everybody’s reaction on a weekday but almost none when it is a lot crowded on weekends. “Even when the chiming goes non-stop, nobody would turn, believe me.” Then he laughed it off and waited for the man to make his approach.
“What’s up, Barry?”
“Yes, the usual, please.”
I would have preferred to drink alone but he sat right next to me and downed his drink. I wanted to tell him off, or probably just move at the corner, but I was too tired to make an effort and I didn’t want to give up my warm spot. He was well dressed, he wore an expensive black suit; the linings looked sharp — not a lint on it — and it was tailor-fitted, probably Italian. Despite the heavy onslaught the rain was bringing, his hair still appeared to be in place. I thought he must have arrived in a car with a chauffeur perhaps, but it was highly unlikely since the bar was on a backstreet, there was no way a car could pass through. He sported a clean pompadour, like one of those haircuts mafia had during the prohibition. He was like a movie character who decided to step out of the film strip to have a drink.
The pompadour guy was a bit chatty though for my taste. He and the Barry guy went about a lot of stuff and they seemed to genuinely enjoy the conversation. When I unearthed the lighter from my pocket (to give it another try) I noticed something strange, something out of place — Johnny wasn’t wearing any shoes. He wasn’t barefoot, no, but what he had on was a pair of beach slippers. At first, I thought that his shoes were rain-soaked, but I didn’t see a drop of rain on him. He was completely dry. I must have been rudely staring at his feet that he began noticing me. When I sensed this, I immediately looked away and tried to act casual to avoid further damage of any sort.
“They’re pretty aren’t they, old sport?” He talked like Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. He’s also beginning to look like him too, except for the choice of footwear.
“Yes they are, I mean, I didn’t mean to stare, I’m sorry.” This I delivered sincerely.
“Don’t beat yourself about it, old sport! I would do the same if I’m in your shoes — only, I won’t wear any.”
“Wh-What? Excuse me, I don’t think I follow.”
“Sorry, old sport. I thought you already knew. It appears that Barry here hasn’t been a very good host.”
“I’m sorry, Johnny, I thought you wouldn’t come tonight.”
“That’s alright; I didn’t plan on going either.”
The barkeep then turned to me and said, “I was supposed to let customers know about Johnny’s choice of footwear before he comes in the bar. I mean if there should be new faces coming in, such as yourself.”
I didn’t know what to say. Then the barkeep continued, “He pays me for it. Adds more tip, I mean.”
“Why is that necessary?” Somehow, I regained the courage to ask a question.
“Simple, old sport, simple. So I don’t have to repeat my sorry tale.”
“I wouldn’t call that sorry, Johnny.” Said Barry.
“No, old sport, don’t worry, we’re good. Don’t feel bad about it, okay? Besides, it’s been a while since I’ve told anyone about it. You’ve done your job well, Barry.”
“Thanks, Johnny. That meant a lot” Relieved, Barry stepped back to resume his bar duties.
“Well, how about it, old sport?”
“What about it?” I replied.
“Do you want to hear the story?” He pulled out a cigarette case and lights a stick. He’s dashing with how he did the whole thing.
Obviously, I didn’t want to hear it. I was still hung up on what happened that day at work, but I also didn’t want to offend the Gatsby guy again.
“Sure, let’s hear it.” I lighted a cigarette myself. My trusty lighter finally worked.
“Well, I have this condition.” He started. “As you can see I dress up for the occasion, and I do it all the time, except of course I don’t wear shoes.”
I nodded to imply that I was interested and listening.
“You could call it a compromise. You see, I’m in sales — international trade if you will. For as long as I bring in the dough, I get to wear whatever I want.”
“I understand.” I readjusted my seat to face him. “But why not pick an attire that would match your… I mean, that.” I of course referred to his slippers.
“Well, old sport, my good friend, it’s because I want to wear suits! Besides, I don’t know anyone, or have heard of anyone having the same kind of style! I’m one of a kind.” He sips on his martini.
“If I may be frank, why don’t you wear shoes?”
“Ah! Straight to the point!” Gatsby guy slammed his hand on the bar top.
“Well, old sport, you know how we all have nightmares? Huh, do you, old sport?” He leaned towards me, it was extremely close, I thought he’d give me a kiss or something. I didn’t respond and waited for what he’ll say next.
“Well, old sport, what if I told you I didn’t wake up from mine? I mean, every time I wear a pair of shoes, it just takes me.”
“Take you to where exactly?” I lowered my tone to match his, we were almost whispering.
“Here goes, old sport. When I was a kid, I think I was in grade 3 at the time; I woke up late for school. My parents were strict as hell, about punctuality most especially. So I crammed and was trying to get dressed even if I was still half-awake. On the way, boarded the school van, I noticed something twitching in my left shoe. At first, I thought it was just a spasm or a throbbing vein from all the hurrying that I did. I was asleep during the second period when I felt the twitch again. But it wasn’t a spasm or a vein that was causing it for sure. I mean, I could feel something moving in there, in my left shoe. It was somewhere mid-foot beneath the arch. I was seated at the back row so the teacher didn’t notice me. It was a public school, and at that time, a class was comprised of forty to, sometimes, fifty students — so no teacher ever noticed anyone. I thought that my foot was rebelling against me, that it wanted to go back home and get the entire body a well-deserved sleep after the baseball practice the day before. So I tried to sneak up on it, I untied the lace, and gently pulled out my foot. Even with great anticipation, I still wasn’t ready for what I saw next. A rabid-looking mouse jumped out of the shoe! I screamed and my classmates did too. The mouse ran off around the classroom but it didn’t know where to go. Many of my classmates climbed up their seats and they were screaming non-stop in disgust. Nobody saw that the dreaded thing came out of my shoe, I would have been so embarrassed. But a bizarre thing happened. The mouse went back to my abandoned left shoe on the floor, to seek refuge, I think. It stayed there for the longest time until our teacher got the janitor to take care of the thing. Of course, the janitor had to take the shoe with him to avoid the further commotion. When he got back, he returned the empty shoe to me but I didn’t want to touch it anymore. I went home barefoot.”
“You were traumatized.”
“Yes, I was, old sport. But not because of the mouse.”
“What do you mean?”
“That’s the wonder about kids, old sport. Things are just so much clearer to them.”
I said nothing.
“Sure I was traumatized about the whole thing, but it wasn’t because of the mouse. It was the janitor’s action that shook me.”
“So that’s the reason why you don’t want to own shoes.”
“What? I didn’t say I don’t own shoes. I said I don’t wear them.”
Dumbfounded, I drank what’s left of my stout.
“You see, old sport, after that day, I realized that the mouse treated my shoe as its shelter, its own home. And after a series of therapy sessions, the doctors and my parents tried out many ways on how to reverse the effects on me. You know, they tried to fix me. Well, you see, I didn’t need fixing at all. It took me a while, but I finally found a way to cope with it. One day, I placed a little piece of cheese inside of a shoe and eventually started doing it for all the shoes I had. And guess what happened next?
They plodded the aisle where the toiletry items were displayed. The smell of antiseptic calmed him down a bit from the argument they just had. The pushcart barely had anything in it; it was still light to swerve around. Then, there was an announcement from the PA system, the store is closing down in a few. The woman rushed to the liquor section and picked up a Jack and four packs of cigarettes. Two of each — gold and menthol. “Something to cool us down.” She said to him. There was still animosity in her eyes but it was beginning to fade somehow. He picked up a single toothbrush and threw it in the cart. “Okay, for as long as you’d share that toothbrush with me, then I’m good.” The PA system ran another round of announcements for the last call.
He learned about Arthur when he was just a little boy during the days when he spent most of his time out in the sun, playing with the other kids his age. Excalibur and the weapons they had were makeshift swords made of wooden shafts, bamboo sticks, and illustration board cutouts. He has never read any of the books that were written about the valiant king and his knights — He still hasn’t. He picked up most of what he knew from watching a lot of cartoons thanks to the neighbor who had colored TV. With friends, he watched from the outside of the house. He didn’t mind the cramps from the prolonged squatting nor the mosquitoes that saw him and his friends as buffet. For them, they had body armor, their skins were made of bronze and steel.
A car was moving towards their direction as he and a friend stood at the corner street. It ran slow as if waiting to be announced. The engine sounded like a quiet stream, it had heavy tint on all sides. As it was about to pass them by, one of its windows opened — a woman’s face emerged, surveying the numbers of the nearby houses. ‘There’s an empty house just farther ahead if that’s what you are looking for…” The friend yelled cheekily. As if a shy plant, its leaves folded, the woman’s face retracted from their view. The tint of the window was even darker in that silvery gloom. The night was closing in and he wished nothing more than to see that face again.
It was a sex tape. A friend pulled me into watching it before I could ever find out who was in it. Even if he told me right from the beginning, I don’t think it would stop me and do otherwise. I wasn’t sure if it was curiosity or the hormones that drew us into it, but my friend’s persuasiveness definitely did not help. We were intrigued; we haven’t seen anything like it before. Apparently, he was able to download the entire thing before it was taken down. All he said was that we both knew the couple in the video. In fact, they were classmates of ours. We watched it over a dozen times. Probably four or five more times at home. If there was ever a pop quiz about it, we’d ace it for sure. This happened during the time when smartphones were just beginning to be a thing, and a lot of people were doing a lot of experimenting with them apparently. There was even a myth that service technicians can extract all of your files out of your phone even if they were deleted or your memory card is out.
Needless to say, it went viral. It wasn’t even the term that we used then, it just went out. Everybody in school was talking about it, I’m sure even the grown-ups did too. It even reached a point when phones were banned inside the classrooms. We talked about it tirelessly though during the morning assembly, during recess, even while classes were on-going. It was such a hot topic that some students officially declared homeroom as ‘X and Y’
We didn’t refer to them by their real names to avoid being caught. We used X and Y instead. X and Y are the usual symbols we use for the numbers we don’t know yet in Algebra, in case you’re wondering. In short, to keep them anonymous.
We had fun talking and making jokes about it, heck, it even helped most of us understand the inner workings of that world. It opened our eyes to a lot of things. On my part, X and Y were ahead of their time, they were gods to me. After the video came out, we didn’t see X and Y ever again. We heard that they were sent away abroad, never to see each other again. Some even told us that they had their names changed because of the damage it caused.
Looking back, I felt terrible about how we behaved. Yes, it’s easy to say that we were mere children and that we didn’t fully understand what we did then. But that also didn’t help X and Y at all. Lately, I think about it a lot. I still see them as kids in my head. On how taciturn and quiet they are in their own happy world, on how contented they are in that shared bubble. I remember how nice and gentle X was; she was once a lab partner in Chemistry, and even if we didn’t speak to each other much, her warmth transcended to me. She helped me with a few school work and she was good at it too – helping others. And it pains me even now how we all betrayed her, both of them. We buried them alive, we took part in the murder. I know, saying this won’t do reprieve and penance, but I want nothing more in life than to go back and do better.
He visited the woman and her fatherless child on the eve of his thirty-sixth birthday. They had a simple meal of pork tofu with rice, and some slices of ripe mangoes. He caught a whiff of his mother’s hands from the freshly cut fruit, it reminded him of the small farming land of home. At the back of a school notebook, he showed the child how to draw a flying kitten over a brown isosceles mountain. The child gave it a name, changed it, and finally settled with another eventually. After lights out, both adults stayed in the woman’s bedroom exchanging fond memories of their lives around the city. He lay on his side, propped his head on his arm, while the woman was stretched out in bed naked. The room was submerged by a drowsy light coming from the lamppost that directly stood across the window. Every single piece of furniture was caught in that soft gleam; Their complexion was the color of apricots the entire night. She then started talking about her previous inhibitions to allow herself to be with another man. She felt robbed all those years. There were some tears, but these were merely from the strain of letting it all out after all this time. He finally understood her mother’s demise, what drove her mad. At the stroke of midnight, he was reminded again of the same person, the one who gave birth to him on this very day. Her ghost just keeps on coming back like this every year. From her own world, the woman pulled herself out of the abyss and reached for his face. The woman was the first to greet him on his birthday, she made sure of that. They made love once again to forget. He tried avoiding the woman’s eyes, however, when he turned to the windows, the glare of the streetlights was too bright. But just overhead, a moth was fluttering about the room — its erratic movements perfectly matched his tentative gaze.
“Two tickets please.” The lady behind the window tore two and handed him his change. The movie wasn’t good, but he loved it all the same. The woman he was with disagreed. She thought that the dialogues were lousy and it bored her to death. He liked how opinionated she was. He gave his rebuttal and she cooly answered them. They had a good, intelligent back-and-forth. But the truth is, she had seen it over a dozen times already for the past weeks. She had practice. The men who afforded her took her to the cinemas and always preferred they had debates like this at the end of it. Some men are strange, she thought. She always took the opposing view, no matter what side that was.
“The critics hated it.” The woman argued. But he cared less about what the critics wrote. He decided that he was too old for that. In fact, he doesn’t read any of their columns anyway lest it deliberately permits random people to just interfere with the story being told.
It was as good as it could get. Their conversations had flat-lined naturally when they found themselves necking all of a sudden while waiting for a cab. It did not seem to appall her, dating an old foreign guy such as himself.
“But how do you know when someone is being true to you?” He asked.
“Well, that’s easy.”
“Please do tell.”
She sat back as if it drew her more power when explaining.
“At nights, you could always tell. At nights, the whispers are the most honest thing there is.”
And one thing led to another. Before he knew it, he was being led to this shabby hotel down some dark alley where she was a preferred guest. After all, this wasn’t a real date. It was rather a business transaction. But he had hoped that it could at least mean something to the woman while it lasted. As they approached their place of accommodation, he noticed that there wasn’t a working sign. The hotel had none if you want to know the truth. All it had on was the address number by the glass door which said ‘9316’ with the neons from a nearby KTV gracing light on its facade. He thought that she had probably chosen this place specifically to bury their whispers.
There were some light rains and it was cold. It was dark all around with only a few cars jolting by at the corner street. He found some shade and waited outside while the woman took care of the room. He stared blankly up into the dark sky and searched for the invisible source of this unending downpour and wondered like a child. The wind carried the slanted rain. There were soft glimmers each time they passed through the street lights. He thought it was a nice gesture, the slow rain paying their respects like that.
After a while, they went inside and got into a small elevator which barely fitted them. Their shoulders almost touched, he felt nervous once again. Under the bright light, he could almost see her underneath all of that makeup. He thought her dark skin was beautiful, apart from the fact that she looked tired and older. When they reached their room, the woman asked him to place the exact amount on the dresser, or else she would keep whatever he’d left there. She undid her coat while she went into the bathroom to freshen up. He took off his shoes and sat at the corner of the bed where the window was near.
He was shivering when he touched her. He rarely gets the chance.
While on her knees, she looked up to him and then smiled.
But he couldn’t tell if she was sincere or not.
She was preoccupied. She was not whispering, of course.
But he was convinced that she was, that she cared for him.
For as long as the money is good on the dresser,
For as long as she is down there.
It was a good view from the top.
Something inside him stirred, something primal.
This was one of the rare occasions wherein he felt good about himself.
Right here, he was king.
He felt proud, dignified.
In this third-world country, he was living the great American dream.
So I popped some pills and waited for it to slither into my veins.
The rays of the sun were rosy, it shone upon us as it descended into the marsh of the thick plum clouds.
I was looking for the cowboy riding into the sunset.
There was no cowboy.
Only the sun and its entourage of plum clouds.
I remember how warm it felt when the rays touched my face.
Many of us turned to look.
Then the pilot swerved for a better view.
We peered through those tiny holes, sharing the small windows of the passenger seats.
Everybody was still.
Some of us bashfully held our phones and took at least thirty-three pictures each.
The sun hasn’t changed at all; she was as beautiful as ever, I thought.
We couldn’t get enough of her.
I guess I could never get over her.
Sanshiro and Mineko.
The two stray sheep by the stream.
I reached up for the attendant button and beeped to order a beer. After the fiasco the night before, I still wanted one. I left the hotel room with my puke still warm on the floor and nabbed all the shower gels on the way out.
Some low life I was. I was up there with the greats.
I put on my earphones instead and ran lines with Bill Murray on my phone.
Why can’t these days be just like in the movies?
No, it won’t work. For we’d all be the protagonists. Everyone would want to be the good guy –
The center of the fucking universe.
I looked around and saw only strange faces.
Tourists were visiting a third-world country for the first time.
With their oblivious children.
And all the politicians who’d love them all when the time comes.
The manicured men with their man-buns.
All the protagonists.
I looked around me and belched alcohol fumes with my cigarette smoke.
I couldn’t believe I just lighted a cigarette inflight. I wanted to put it out but it was too late.
And as soon as the trail of smoke reached full vertical, I then heard the smoke alarm went off. One of the flight attendants came up to me and asked me politely to put out my Marlboro lights but I wasn’t able to respond right away — I was in shock of my stupidity and I was also distracted on how she had still managed to put a straight face on.
I did what I was told. It was just an accident, I explained. My heart was pounding. The flight attendant pretended to believe me. It was nice of her to do so even though she obviously didn’t. They informed me that they will hand me over to the authorities as soon as we would land.
I ran. They chased me. I made the evening news.
There was a hotel across the airport. I was flushed, my face was pale and at the same time pink when I saw my reflection in the lobby. I told the receptionist to quit the pleasantries and give me a room right away. This caused a bone on her right temple to twitch a little bit. This has also caused all the cheap rooms to be occupied all of a sudden.
I was offered the only room available that night which was the presidential suite.
The presidential suite.
I guess for the first time I was a high-roller.
A fugitive with the knack for self-indulgence under pressure.
There was no way I could afford it.
I asked the receptionist to just charge it but my card flopped.
I spent the whole night at the bar instead.
I was supposed to be the protagonist of this story.
This happened to me some years ago when I was still studying at university. On the way home, I decided to take the long way route around the mountainside so I could take photographs while at it. At first, I didn’t think it was a bad idea since I grew up around the area and I mostly knew the people who lived there at the time. If something went wrong, I could just simply go to the nearest residence for help. After all, there hadn’t been any incidents related to mugging or anything crime-related. So with this assessment, I carried on and readied the camera with me.
It was late in the afternoon and the sun was just about to set. I thought the lighting will be just perfect by the time I start. I felt excited about it. Honestly, I couldn’t wait for my classmates to see what I’d have taken after this, and I could already imagine their faces when we meet that coming Monday. Looking back at it now, I guess I thought I wanted to brag about how much I had improved with my photography skills to land an impression among them. Besides, I had nothing to do at home, and I didn’t want to go back just yet.
I remember feeling rather bad that day. My parents had just finalized everything about their marriage annulment and apparently, they had been keeping the details from me up until that morning. They had decided that they would go their separate ways after the school year. I remember exactly how it felt even up to now when they broke the news to me at the breakfast table. It was my father who found the courage to explain to me first.
“We’d still be your parents, nothing will ever change you’ll see. For what it’s worth, we really considered all of the factors here, so there is no need to worry really, we’d make sure that you are taken care of.”
“Yeah… We really think that this will be all for the best, honey… for everyone.” My mother sounded unsure.
I remember seeing my grandfather arrive that day as well. I thought it was odd for him to travel all the way from where our family was from without a good enough reason, I mean, he rarely visited us when my siblings and I were a lot younger, but I thought that maybe he was just catching up for the lost time.
Soon after I realized the real reason for my grandfather’s visit, I tried to convince my parents to reconsider but things had already been finalized and there was no changing it.
My grandfather was a popular photographer during his time, so I was told, but I only saw all about it in newspaper clippings in the family photo album. My parents told me that it’d be probably good if I stayed with him for the summer — while both of them took care of things and made all the necessary arrangements, I could also learn a thing or two from him.
I didn’t have any choice. And what’s more, I barely knew my grandfather. He was more of a stranger to me at the time. I thought, how can someone you know so little about help you in this time of crisis?
To break the ice, he gave me one of his favorite cameras as a present when we met that morning.
There was nothing special about the camera. It was one of those old digital types that you’d just point and shoot with. But I guess he had memories with it, and he probably wanted to pass it down to me as an heirloom of some sort. I’ve got to admit, however, it helped take my mind off things for a while and somewhat made me feel better. I thanked him and decided not to think about it so much and went straight to school as usual.
I toyed with the camera as I went about the stroll around the mountain after school. It was on a Friday, so I didn’t mind strolling around so late.
Maybe I was too preoccupied with taking photographs that I didn’t realize that I had already wandered about deep into the forest. It was way farther than I have ever been into that the rice fields that you’d normally see around our small town were nowhere to be found. The tree branches sprawled above me as if they were locking arms with each other with their stares fixed down at me. As if conniving, the sun behind them cast dark shadows onto their massive trunks that all the more outlined their contoured figures around me.
At first, I thought, there was nothing wrong and that I should just turn back. But when I did, the pathway behind me vanished out of the thin air. I couldn’t see anything at all. There was just grass, and wild bushes, and strange-looking trees all around. They all look the same everywhere. I am lost, I am lost… I heard my voice crackle and at the same time, I was screaming hysterically inside my head. I was scared. The light from the dimming sun can hardly seep through the gaps of the branches and their thick leaves blotted out the light.
Just when I thought that things couldn’t get any worse, I heard a voice. At first, I thought it was some random animal, but when I walked closer to where it was, it got louder and louder — it became clear to me that it was much more like a human’s voice. Cold chills ran down to my spine.
Up ahead, between two crooked trees, I saw a boy curled up as if crying. There was little light but I knew I was right, no doubt about it. It really was a child! He had his back against me and he was muttering words I couldn’t understand. I froze on the spot. There was no way a child can get this far, I thought. And what’s more, he had no clothes and his back was filled with wounds, as if claw marks had caused it. When I tried to move in closer, I accidentally stepped on a twig. It was dry so it made a sharp snap when it received my full weight. I held my breath for what happened next. The boy’s crying suddenly stopped. This freaked me out. The boy fell silent and did not move.
“Hey kid… are you okay?” I tried to sound concerned.
There was no answer.
I tried to call him a few more times but the boy didn’t budge as if he was not hearing me. That settled it. That boy was not of this world.
I took a few steps back and tried to say goodbye as if asking for permission to do so. But when I did, suddenly, I saw it moved. Its head turned but its body remained in place as it was. I panicked. I felt all the hair on my body stood up. I tried to move, but my legs won’t give.
Finally, it heard me. Out of desperation, I thought that maybe I could talk my way out of it.
“Do you need help?” I started.
It stared at me and shook its head as if saying no. Its head appeared weirdly loose as if it was dislocated.
“Where are your parents? What are you doing out here all alone? I insisted.
It shook its head again but more rapidly this time. As I was saying all of these, I noticed something else… something sinister.
It was a feeling that somebody was watching me.
At first, I didn’t notice it. But it was there… A figure… I saw its face behind one of the crooked trees. Its face had a strange grin on it. I saw its front teeth — too many than it’s supposed to be. It was a dark figure, clad in black; it was tall; it bore no face at all except for its wide-opened eyes and its strange expressionless grin. It was as if it wanted to be seen. And when I locked eyes with it, it moved its face closer towards me, as if curious, as it peered behind a bark… I stood there just a few meters away from it — stunned, blood drained down from my body. I couldn’t move even if I tried to direct my limbs to do so. Somehow its stare had a grasp on me.
It wasn’t moving; it just stood right there, behind the bark. But the strange thing was, it felt it was getting closer and closer… I knew it hasn’t left its place behind the bark but it was definitely getting close. It was like a life-size photograph being zoomed in. And before long, I found myself standing face to face with its dark expressionless face. Its eyes were now wider than ever. Clear white and pure of malice. It felt like it desired something… Of mine…
All of a sudden it opened its mouth wide. It was dark and hollow. I’ve never seen black that way in my life! It felt I was drowning in the full darkness. I couldn’t breathe until I passed out.
The next thing I knew I was in the university clinic. Apparently, I was found by my grandfather when he went to fetch me from school. It was getting late so naturally, he was worried. When later I asked for the details, I found out that he had found me a little later after sundown, which meant that the entire experience only lasted just a few minutes, give or take, ten minutes tops.
“Huh? No way… I swear I must have been walking around those parts for at least two hours…”
Up until now, I couldn’t explain what had happened that day. I didn’t go back to our town nor the university and agreed to stay with my grandfather for good. After that day, I didn’t take photographs anymore. I was afraid that both the boy and the black figure will appear in one of the pictures, that they had followed me through it.
Even if my grandfather had asked me, I declined to take up photography, not even as just a hobby. When I was asked whatever happened to his old camera I just told him that I had dropped it in the forest where he found me. To be honest, I was glad that I lost it. I don’t want to have anything to do with it, to say the least. But I couldn’t help myself to wonder still… What really happened that night? And above all, why me?
I have a weird theory though. I can’t help but feel that both the boy and the mysterious black figure were manifestations of what I was feeling at the time. That somehow it was me who gave them life. The idea of that kept me awake most nights, I felt sick in my stomach. I don’t know, but I have a strong hunch that the boy was the sad and lonely part of me and the dark figure embodied all of my anger for my parents.
It’s been years now since I last saw my mom and my dad. I plan on taking a drive this weekend to see both of them in our old town. I’m also considering dropping by the university and to see the mountainside. I guess I will find out the answers then. Maybe…
I waved down a taxi and got in. We made an abrupt U-turn and almost hit the curb but we just drove on as if it didn’t happen. I told the driver the destination. I was surprised that he didn’t ask for extra as most drivers do. I thought I was lucky.
The backseat smelt of LPG. I can barely breathe. It’s the same kind of gas you’d find in a typical household kitchen, except we weren’t frying bacon and eggs that morning — it made my head hurt.
I was running late. I was attending a friend’s wedding. It seemed obvious enough to the driver since I was wearing my oversized white barong with a boutonniere flower pinned on.
He asked me if I was one of the groom’s men. I said no. Then he asked me if I was already married. I told him that I was somewhere in between. He asked me what that means. I told him I’d tell him when I found out for myself. He stopped asking.
“You seem like a nice guy,” The driver started. “But you know what they say about nice guys.” He needed not to finish the line. I don’t know about me being a nice guy, but I know I’ve always finished last. I had no response. We beat a red light.
The sky was overcast and a little later there were some light rains that sprayed.
I wasn’t able to make it to the exchange of vows, I wasn’t able to make it to the church at all. But I was just in time for the opening of the bar. I liked my scotch dry. I liked it with water too. I ordered a round, and another, and another — it was like a well in a desolate desert more than a wedding reception.
There was a lady sitting next to me, I thought I knew her, but she reassured me that it wasn’t the case. We started talking, first about Bernie Sanders, and a lot of random things that I have already forgotten about.
She was alright. We slow danced to Death in Vegas’ Girls while expertly holding our cocktails. I thought it was perfect when they decided to tone down the lights. The indigo matched the mood.
“Do you believe in marriages?” She pulled her head back and waited for my answer as if it was a test of character.
“You’re the second stranger who asked me about marriage today. Well, I think of it as a retirement package.”
“Wait, what? Like living off on a pension and taking vacation trips on cruise ships?”
“Yes, all of that. But don’t forget about prostate cancer too.”
There was some laughter.
“But seriously, I think it’s a lot of work. And you reap the rewards long after —
I think I believe in the integrity of its commitment.” I retracted for a simpler answer.
“What do you do anyway?” She asked.
“I’m a writer.”
“They say writers are difficult to live with.”
“I guess, maybe you’re overly committed to what you do.”
“No. I think it’s because we’re poor.”
I went home alone as usual. I went out for a nightcap at a local nightclub. As I sat at the bar I thought about Santiago in Hemingway’s book. I thought about his fish and the lions walking on the beaches of Africa in his dreams. I thought about the great Joe DiMaggio and the great games he played. On how good he must have felt winning. And the prisms, in the day, and the reflection of the countless stars on the surface of the sea at night. I thought about a lot of things in between those thoughts. And when I snapped back, I wasn’t anymore in the mood for watching the girls on stage. But there I was, still inside the bar, still draining the well.
I checked my wallet and there was almost nothing there.
But I drank like how rich men do. I felt like Bukowski. I felt like an entire world inside of me existed.
In between semesters I worked in a furniture shop as a clerk. It was a rickety old place on Hickory Street between a hardware store and an abandoned building that used to be a prime commercial spot before the fifties. I worked there from day until nightfall. Even on weekends, when I was asked by the Chinese couple who owned the place to help out with the workload, I would show up. On weekdays, I would sort out boxes of supplies and carry them to the stock room at the back, and I would bring some out to replenish the display windows. I talked to customers, suppliers, and I was responsible for liaising shipments whenever the delivery trucks came in three times a week.
I lived with my older sister and her five-year-old daughter, Sabrina. It was just a small two-story apartment good enough for temporary living and it was near the market place and a chapel a few blocks away. There were two rooms, a bath, and a small living space, which was used for nothing really, with just a couch and a low wooden table placed at the center. “Please don’t encourage her, Fred.” Was her reaction when I came home one day with a bar of strawberry chocolate wrapped in a tin foil and a fancy ribbon.
My sister was around six when the war ended. People refer to it as a world war, but for the likes of her, it was just simply war. She does not understand the distinction. There wasn’t any coherence to any of it as far as she’s concerned. She detested it. If there was one good thing she learned about human conflict, it would be that all interactions, forging relationships, or any sort of dealings, were always either based on mutualism, grab of power, or survival.
I was married once, many years ago. I was still very young at the time, I was nineteen. It was a decision made by our parents for us. It was customary then. Soon before long, we fell apart like how metal and wood on white glue would break loose.
There was a single-stemmed sunflower cutting in a ceramic vase between us. My ex-wife moved it aside since it was blocking her view of me when we talked. There were only a few words needed to be shared for goodbyes, but I felt she had hesitations about it. She was looking down most of the time. We parted ways on a Sunday of July. It was 1969. It was raining hard when I left our place by the river. I didn’t hear her cry – I wasn’t looking – when the door was latched behind me on the way out. The rain must have concealed it for us. I was at the doorway for a good period of time, waiting for the rain to let up, but it didn’t. I thought I heard a whimper after a while, but I dismissed that thought. It was better that way, I suppose. Oblivion is necessary sometimes. It was a good friend to me that day.
I played duckpin bowling at the arcade to pass the time. I drank beers with a third of my work money and I wasn’t concerned even if I went over it.
There were a few friends there good for conversations but it was the armadillo whom I felt the closest. I merely used the time to get attuned to the universe. The neon lights attracted me most, and I could sit there at the corner in silence — looking at it through an open window, at its glaring, at its changing colors, with its electric lights and fluttering pulses that almost felt it had a life of its own.
After a degree in writing, I soon set out and pursued what everybody was after. I wore a suit and a pair of leather shoes, and a tie to go along with it. It felt like my marriage. I quit in my fourth month.
Down at the arcade, I downed glasses of hard drinks and confided everything with the armadillo. But it wasn’t the time for heartbreaks and soul searching. It was a quaint time to be daring. Hustlers used the armadillo as a duckpin ball to get the better of unsuspecting amateurs, who were willing to bet off their allowance money, their gold watches, and sometimes even their girlfriends. And the money was good. Soon, we agreed to be partners. With my skills with people and negotiation, I soon became his handler.
Before long, my sister grew quite concerned about the direction I was threading. And with respect to her wishes, I quit my racket and went back working for the Chinese couple full time. In return, I was allowed to read my books during my shift — It was my only concession. I found out that they couldn’t find anyone else who could manage their little store as thoroughly as I did. It was alright, I decided, besides, I grew fond of them, but I didn’t let them see that.
It was a quiet but unfulfilling life. It was what it was, and that’s what made everyone happy. There was a long period of peace, but really, it was just an empty silence that prevailed. Even Sabrina got the best of it. She looked up to me as her own father. I would take her to ice cream shops on weekends, and to the night carnivals whenever they were in town. I bought her pinwheels and pink cotton candies and she would scream in excitement every time as if it was the first time she had seen one.
At the bar, the armadillo was the wisest person next to the barman. “You’re so good with kids, why don’t you start your own family?” I didn’t know how to respond to the question I just shed a shrug. I thought about finally pursuing writing, I told him. I think that’s where my heart really belongs to. But all I could write about was women.
“What’s wrong with that?” The armadillo asked.
“All they do is suck your soul. I don’t think I want that. It’s the only thing I’ve got left.”
“Stop overdramatizing it. You’re no Fitzgerald.”
As the sun was setting, the static clouds were of different shades of dark blue until it was gone completely for the day. And the neon sign was switched on and I got the first glimpse of its life that night. I felt a glow warm up from inside of me once again as if resurrected. Like how it was the first time. The lights gave off an electric twitch every now and then. I thought it saved me. I thought that the universe was directly speaking to me. I thought about a dedication, an inscription. I wrote down the first line that dawned on me. It was on a table napkin amidst the hustlers and their victims and the background noise. The words that formed was for the drunks and the poets, for my older sister, and all the hearts that were breaking at that very moment.
“What is that exactly?” He pointed to the sky but I couldn’t make out what he was referring to. I asked him what he meant, there must be over a thousand stars up there. The cigarette smoke was clouding up my glasses. We were both standing outside a ramen place after we had a few drinks from a watering hole we found across.
It has been a cold February and we were having a great time.
“It could just be a satellite or probably just a glare you caught.” I finally responded.
Truth is, Ronnie has been developing a severe case of an optic nerve disorder or probably glaucoma. He wouldn’t tell me exactly. I think it’s progressive. I think it’s getting worse.
We ran a little magazine back then. Ronnie had all the connections in town and we used his place when we worked. He convinced me to run it. I was moved by his persistence and dedication. We asked independent writers with the right material to contribute but most of the stories were written by us. It wasn’t in any way prolific, we make just about enough, but in most days less, still, we felt we had our audience going and that was all that mattered.
It was a dying form – writing – and it was going away with his eyes, he told me. And that the ramen was delicious, it makes his soul happy. “If we keep it real like this godsend dish, we will never go out of business. That’s what I believe.” But we both knew we were going out of business. He was slurping a mouthful of wheat noodles and washing it down every time with an ice-cold beer. I don’t exactly understand where he wanted us to go, but that’s how he saw things from where he sat.
Ronnie was a good writer. Problem was, he was all passion but rarely obeys form. He was all over the place. But then, maybe it was wrong of me to judge that. During our time together, I was helping him finish the stuff that he wrote but he always felt that it wasn’t good enough, or I was editing too much, that it wasn’t raw enough to publish.
On his best days, he would ask me to do what I do. He would apologize, but of course, I understood. I was in charge of copyediting and proofreading, basically making sure that he would finish his work. But I couldn’t not tolerate him. Of course, there was the women, and the self-inflicting defacing moments of isolation, and drugs, and the drinking. It was good for a period of time, however, real-life catches on and we missed deadlines and there were just too much unfulfilled commitments both to our writers and readers.
For what it’s worth it was a good run, we both agreed. It was those who did not try who really failed, as the wise would say. We both got married and had kids. I teach basic writing and he just enjoys early retirement and the riches his parents left to him. I heard he goes to the doctor every now and then, but it wasn’t for his eyes apparently. We see each other twice a year during the anniversaries of the magazine when it started and ended.
I took the time finishing my broth. It was warm and cozy on the inside that it deserved to linger in those moments. I took my time in a lot of things, it seems. This was probably just an excuse. I have always been a slow reader and it has been the same with everything else—I still hadn’t gotten over it. I lighted a cigarette and he asked me for one. And I looked into those eyes and I saw there was passion still. The same kind. They may be tired, damaged, a little frustrated perhaps, but the soul hasn’t departed yet.
I lifted my bowl and slurped to my heart’s content. And he was right. The ramen made our souls happy that night.
She wanted to be exactly like Joan Didion. She basically patterned her life on her. She would even mimic JD’s writing style, except that she wasn’t as good. She would try, and a lot of her readers like what she writes, but for her, it wasn’t good enough. She would go at lengths, she would even refer to her boyfriend as ‘John’, and named her cat after Quintana — Didion’s late husband and daughter. She would dress up like her, and would always wear dark sunglasses, and would always prefer drinking straight from a large bottle of Coke first thing in the morning. Her favorite imitation of her, was a picture taken dressed up like the renowned writer — In a long-sleeved dress, with a cigarette pointing to the ground, leaning against a Corvette Stingray. She was particularly keen about matching every detail, except for the car, which was tough to find, so she settled with an old white Toyota Crown.
Her boyfriend didn’t mind. He even finds it amusing sometimes. He would even help her, giving her all the time she needed in writing, encouraging her to the aspiration. What he did mind, however, was when it got eerily weird when she wanted to talk about his apparent death, and as to the manner of which it would occur.
One time, after writing for nearly seven hours — locked up in her room — she woke him up at around three. She asked him to comment about what she had written about, with an intense glare of excitement in her eyes. At first, he didn’t see anything wrong with it, in fact, he likes how driven she could get, but then, there was something in her look that night that wasn’t there before.
He sat up, turned on the bedside lamp, and put on his glasses. She was holding what appeared to be a printed manuscript against her chest. “Do you want me to heat your dinner, honey?” Asked John.
“No, just need to hear what you think, that’s all.” John read it, while she sat anxiously at the edge of the bed, waiting.
“Uhm, I think it’s perfect. I would read this over and over and never get tired.”
“And? How about the technical composition, the arrangements?”
“I think it’s great, honey. I really think it’s good.”
She smiled dimly and fell silent for a while and said:
“The real John would have been a good critique. Obviously, you’re not him. You could have at least pretended to be smart by going against it. How typical.”
“Because I’m not John, honey.” Stunned, he almost yelled at her.
She collected the printed papers and went back to the study. The next morning when John woke up, she was lying next to him, still asleep. During breakfast, he asked her about the night before but she didn’t have a memory of it at all. He asked her about what she wrote, which she was able to recall, but the episode in the bedroom apparently didn’t happen as far as she was concerned.
In the weeks that followed, she’s been gradually moving out of their place, discreetly, until she was able to empty the apartment of all of her belongings. Of course, John noticed this but opted not to say anything. She took some of John’s stuff — probably by accident — in exchange, she left Quintana. Besides, one couldn’t hang around with the dead that was just absurd.
At the bar, everyone is calling him by his real name, of course. Nobody knew that the name ‘John’ was just a pet name she once gave him. He spent most of the time in the university where he teaches in the mornings until late afternoons and took his night classes at the bar. The apartment was just a place where he sleeps. “It’s Quintana’s home now, I’m just a boarder.” He told the old man and the armadillo.
Weeks turned to months, thirty-two to be exact. He saw her doing an interview in some late-night show. She’s been doing great. Published four novels, and a book of essays, and a weekly feature column. Of course, she had to use her real name now. She goes by Mia S. Torres. But hearing this sounded distant to him. She will always be Joan to him. It was rather strange. But all in all, he was genuinely happy for her.
He heard so much about her. Especially from common friends. They say, that she was seen sometimes just driving around in a vintage car, a Corvette, sometimes in their hometown. That she’s been around artists, and other writers, and celebrities of her kind in loud music bars, smoking and drinking behind a cordoned-off area. His friends say that she is a lot nicer, despite everything, and that she appears to be grounded still, a better person. Of course, he knew, that this is just a dense assessment of her character confined in the limited quarters of their brief encounters on some random street somewhere.
But he knew that she has become all of the things she once wanted, and more. Again, he felt genuinely happy for her.
While he lived his life as is, just the same, he always remained consistent. He always preferred to be still and constant. To be reliable. To his students and on keeping the barkeep employed — Despite all that had happened.
After sometime Quintana, the cat died. “She just got old, I’m sorry.” He phoned to tell her about it.
“Was she in pain?”
“I think she passed on quietly. The vet was really delicate about it.”
“Thank you for letting me know. I appreciate it a lot.”
“That’s not a problem at all. I’m happy to have called you.”
They were in a shopping center along Taft Avenue. The old man and the armadillo were both standing in front of a mannequin. Just staring at it.
“I don’t think it’s going to budge, Fred.” Said the armadillo.
“Just wait. We’ve been here this long, why back down now?”
They had lunch at the food court. It wasn’t that good, but they had plenty of choices, plus, there was a lot of greasy food too.
A couple walked past them. The guy, whom they assumed the boyfriend, was carrying the bag of the woman he was with.
“I feel sorry for the guy.” Fred almost twisting his head following the couple.
“I don’t know about you, Fred, but I think she’s just gorgeous.”
“I didn’t mean that.”
“I mean him carrying that woman’s bag.”
“Why? Is it how he’s carrying it?”
“Especially that. The lady must not have insisted on it. But the way he wears that bag slung across his chest like that, just gets me.”
“Oh, I see.” The armadillo was admiring its newly polished shell.
“What’s the title of that movie with those giant, worm-like monsters in a small desert town? I just remembered something.” Asked Fred.
“What? Earthworm Jim?”
“No, the one with Kevin Bacon in it.”
“You mean Tremors?”
“Yeah, that one.”
“What about it?”
“Well, I had a young lady once. Pretty as hell. Like one of those beautiful college girls we go see sometimes.” Fred paused and picked up the plastic saucer and drank what’s left of the gravy. “Anyways, I just thought about that other thing she told me. Other than what she said about men carrying shoulder bags.”
“Why? Did she despise it too?”
“Have you ever heard about chivalry, Fred?” Refuted the armadillo.
“It’s not about that. But yeah, that too… Anyway, that’s not the point.”
“Then what is?”
“Tremors, buddy. Tremors.”
“I’m not sure I follow you.”
“She prefers ugly men with little wieners, seriously, over those who are good looking but packing big guns.”
“For real? We’re ugly, we like to travel light. Well, that’s our department.”
“Yes. I really thought I finally found the perfect girl.”
“Have you ever.”
“Yes. I thought so too.” A busboy came over and cleaned the adjacent table beside them. They caught a whiff of detergent.
“I’m not sure how, but ever since she saw that movie she got nightmares non-stop.”
“So what happened?”
“You know, things.”
“Why don’t you get back with her? Obviously, you’re still hungover.”
“I’m in my late sixties. She’s probably dying or dead by now.”
“Probably.” The armadillo plainly responded. “Was she the reason why you were staring at that mannequin earlier?”
Fred did not respond.
“But one thing I don’t understand…” The armadillo straightened up from its curved stance. “Why that mannequin? We could have picked up a live one. I know just a place.”
“Well, it had no face.”
“You’re getting weird again, Fred.”
“No, it’s not like that, A.”
“Get to the point.”
“I’m getting there. Jeez.” Fred took a sip of tap water, then continued. “I’m an old bastard. And nowadays, I forget things, you know?”
“Right. Go on…”
“I mean, I still remember the details, but I couldn’t seem to remember her face, anymore.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Fred.” The armadillo replied genuinely.
“That’s okay, I guess.”
“Oh. Like that Joey Albert song! Only in reverse.”
“Ha! Like that one exactly!” Both of them laughed.
Then silence fell between them. It was a thin one, but it was sincere.
“Something like that, huh?”
“Yeah. Something like that.”
Fred’s tone was a little somber. He then checked his hands and licked the gravy off his fingers. They’re now both looking at the direction of the crowd, where a street dance contest was about to begin.
She wanted the big panda. There was that game of popping balloons in one of the booths. He got her the prize at his nineteenth try. It wasn’t much, but he was proud of it. He wasn’t quite the catch she wanted. He was too tall for her and a bit hairy for her taste. He is a giant. But her mom approves of him and he is persistent. He was the convenient choice. It’s been a while since the last time she won anything. She decided to snuggle with her prize that night. She decided to be happy with her stuffed animal.
She got down on her knees on the second date. It was Marcus Aurelius’ fault. He was to blame. She fell in love with a philosopher. She loved it when he read to her. A few days after, she could still taste him in her lips. He tasted like rusty metal, his breath smelled like rotten, wet cardboard. His junk smelled like dried piss and it ripped her apart, almost like paper.
It was a completely different sensation. To be conquered that way. At will. She blamed it all on Caligula. To her savage lover.
“Well, what do you think?” She was trying on a dress at the local department store.
“They all look the same to me, Stella.”
“Do I look better with this one or the green one?”
“I think you look lovely in both, honey.”
“Could you please try a little harder?”
“I am. I am. Jeez, what do you want from me?”
“Just pick one that is better, John.”
“Okay.” He scratched his head in annoyance. “Well, I think you looked better with the green one.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah, honest. What do you think?”
“I’m not sure. Probably I’ll just buy both.”
After a few more tries, they finally checked out and paid for three dresses.
White. Green. Black.
She handed me the photograph. It was a happy picture of her. She then excitedly went over the details on how to get there, on how easy it was going to be. It was a picture of her somewhere in sunny Japan. She was smiling. She seemed contented. She said we ought to visit there sometime next year, just us. I said, “Yes, of course.” But I knew trips like that never happen. Two years after she moved to southern California where she had a family of her own. I heard she had a child and has two jobs, sometimes three when she can afford to work nights.
I mean, it must have hurt. Difficult. I think about her every night, only when I could afford to. Mostly when I am preparing dinner. During when I am cooking eggs to a rapid boil.
Soon after getting married, we found ourselves in our own little bubble. In the afternoons we would lay, and we’d stay in bed entwined until dusk, until dawn. We clung onto eternity. We were ageless, a little too hopeful, naive. But eventually, life catches on. The days are getting shorter. In the evenings we would fight. About money mostly. We had our biases, our own individuality, bursting our own little bubble. We were both stingy and splurging. We were both caring and spiteful. Living with each other was a riot. We were spent.
But I guess that’s alright. The world is not equilateral as the wise would say. Loving is, after all, like living with a cat. What you get in return is just an occasional purr and a whole lot of indifference.
But still, you cling for more, faithful, undeterred of its cunning.
When Fred got home, he found Maria sprawled on her belly in their bedroom. He tiptoed across the linoleum floor approaching her. Maria sensed this, clamped up as if on a defensive, turning to the other way to face the wall.
“Please go away.” Maria appealed softly to her beloved. Her body was completely tense and cold. She could smell his familiar scent when Fred tried to move in closer. She felt the bed bounce.
Maria has mustered enough courage and told Fred the news at the dinner table. It was a hard confession but it was the truth. She couldn’t bear his child. If only it had been possible, maybe things would have turned out differently. “The doctors did all that they could,” she explained. “It was already the third opinion.” She’s thirty-six.
Fred helped out with the dishes. They both had a cigarette and a drink in silence, after which, she went into the bathroom but did not come back for a good period of time.
The next day she spent the entire morning in the sun as she did the entire summer by the pool. Betsy and Jackie told her that she could still be happy regardless. Maria’s heart scowled at them. She wanted to scream. She wanted to disintegrate.
She was driving just after sundown. It was already dark but the tufts of her scarf stood out in the glare of the dashboard. The Coke next to her was bland with the melting ice in it. She knew the time, but the destination was unclear to her. Regardless, the steering wheel had been kind enough to indulge her indecisions. There was the moon in the open sky. If she and Fred were to triangulate, they’d be able to find themselves on the moon, she figured. He was probably staring at it too, this she had hoped. Just imagine, forgetting grief. She told herself. But it is just an idea to help cope with a weeping heart. It wasn’t a cure or the antidote that Maria was looking for at the moment. It was an illusion for a fanatic, nothing more. A fog machine. Solid carbon dioxide.
Maria stopped by a store to rent a movie. She wanted to be River Phoenix and Keanu when they rode that canary-yellow Norton bike. She wanted to let her hair loose and just drive that motorcycle far away, getting lost. But she was tired and it was getting late. And it just won’t feel the same.
In the dead of the night, instead, she threaded what could have been a scenic road to Infanta in the morning. She drove on until the humming of the car engine had finally caught up with her and pounced her heavy heart.
It was a beautiful night under the stars. And what soon remained, finally, was the fading screech of the tires on the pavement and the deafening punctuation she had decided to write down, when she took a quick turn, ramming a steel barrier.
She had sent what remained of her sorrow into the deep enclosures of the quiet.
And as this moment stretches on infinitely in her head, during the fall, Maria played a memory again and again, until she could no longer:
When Fred and Maria walked up the hillside to the direction of the wind. When the tamarind trees were dark in the sun and there were tall grasses swaying around the pathway where they trekked. When Maria went along with it, even though she knew that her place had always been near the water. When her skin longed for the chlorine of her backyard pool. When there were about six or seven patches of grey clouds above them. When they touched lips for the first time.
She ordered a spaghetti meal and a Coke. Tony liked his brewed coffee lukewarm so he let it sit for a while as they talked. They were in a fast food joint in QC, in one of its old parts. It was two after midnight. You’d know if it’s time to go when the whole place starts to smell like hospitals, of antiseptic, when it’s too clean. There was only them and a few service crew left closing up. The streets were dark and almost empty. It felt like the night alleys are lurking. It felt that it had plenty of room for dark secrets and piss. There were night owls sitting on the gutters, overly embellished prostitutes stood under the yellow lights, and there was a parked police mobile at the dark corner. Tony was just getting started. There were small teabags hanging under his eyes. He wore them proudly. He liked to sleep in the mornings and live his life at night. Joy doesn’t have much knack for it. But she’s the spontaneous kind. She was like a kite that goes along with the direction of the wind, never minding.
Joy was going to stay in a hotel suite. Just a short drive from where she lived. There was a scheduled water interruption and she asked Tony to take her. The water levels in the reserve were too low and it’s going to hit their neighborhood twice that week. Tony spelled out the irony. It was both severely dreadful and funny Joy told him. Tony agreed.
It was as if they were both waiting for the dawn. Tony poured some whiskey he had from his jacket pocket into their drinks. She finished her sweet spaghetti and drank, while Tony leaned against the window with his coffee.
“I apologize for earlier.”
“It’s fine.” Joy answered cooly. “I just hope you don’t go around kissing girls you just met.”
“I don’t,” Tony responded. “They don’t like me that much.”
“Did you mean it?”
“Do you mean if it’s real?”
Joy did not answer.
They drove to her subdivision to pick up her things. And while he waited for her, Tony watched the full moon that was accompanying him from the sky. There was cool air that blew from the direction of the hills. There were cloud patches translucent in metallic blue. Time seemed to have stood still and was waiting for him to say something, anything. There were stars, lots of them, and the city lights below him.
When Joy re-emerged, the sound of the heavy gate woke the dogs from the houses nearby. There was a lot of barking and howling. She had changed her clothes and her knees were visible with the hems of her skirt just above them.
“Ready?” She was the spring that never happened, thought Tony.
“There is no such thing. You just kind of do.” Joy answered.
“I guess it’s that simple huh?” Tony retorted.
“Like jumping off a plane.”
Both of them laughed.
Joy took Tony’s hand and said, “You know, to be frank, I like you, Tony D. And I think I want to keep you. But only for these sorts of conversations, you see?”
“I understand. Like how we prefer the night.”
“That’s just you, Tony.”
“Is there anything else?”
“Yes. And I like to fight sometimes too. Is that weird?”
“No. I don’t think that’s weird at all.”
Tony woke in her hotel bed the morning after. He suddenly missed home. But he decided to lie down for a while. Tony rested his eyes and turned to his side. His breath was on her temple and on her hair. He missed the sharp and muffled hisses of the cold air the night before when they drove. He thought about the amber lights when they passed through the highway.
Tony woke Joy up. They got some air and went for a walk. It was still early. They smoked while they held hands. Tony did. Joy was sucking on flavored vapor. Tony remembered what Collin Farrell had said in True Detective about e-cigarettes. It really looked like that she was sucking a robot’s dick. Tony laughed. She also laughed with him. They were holding hands still.
Fred woke up early. He was fifty-seven and unemployed. The sun hurt his eyes that he winced when the morning light was drawn in. There were sirens wailing outside vanishing into a fade. The room was strange, bare, and rather small. It was a birdcage. He looked under the sheets and found out that he wasn’t wearing his pants. He got lucky. He had no recollection of it but the fact still remained. He processed this, mulled it over while he nursed a hangover. What is it all worth if one can’t trace any of it? It felt like vanishing footprints in the sand. Shame, it could have been special he thought. It was like a nice dream that you couldn’t recall. There was a note on the side table. It was a woman’s handwriting. It wasn’t signed. There wasn’t a name on it. What was her name? He asked himself over and over. He simply couldn’t remember. She probably doesn’t have one.
He found the bathroom and took a quick cold shower. He wrapped his arms around the toilet and vomited twice and crapped right after. There wasn’t a pantry. The fridge was empty. There were vegetables he could blanch but he preferred pork fat and grease. He wanted something hot for breakfast but what he got instead was the warm beer that he picked up from the floor. Coffee was going to help. If only there was hot coffee the day would start out nice. He finished what’s left of the beer and headed out.
There weren’t any convenience stores around. But there was the bar. There was coffee. But there were a lot of bourbons too. He found another friend. The barkeep poured happily.
“I guess I am a focused man.” Fred defended.
“But that’s not how it works, I’m afraid.” Said the barkeep.
“Should I change then?”
“You can compromise, I suppose.”
“Like a lot?”
The barkeep paused to think.
“No. Just keep it centered.”
“Do you think it will work?”
“No, I do not.”
“Because I’ve seen it too many times.”
“I am too.”
When he got home, he collected most of his mail and the subscription magazines his ex-wife used to read. He couldn’t remember why she liked those. He doesn’t remember much. He wasn’t sober much either. He leisurely read the same columns she followed before throwing them all in the trash. Fred was fifty-seven and unemployed. His wife left him. The kids do not talk to him anymore unless they needed something. The problem was, he spent more time with his typewriter and it was like a black hole, Agnes would complain.
After getting the stamps, he mailed a copy of his book to her. He wrote an inscription which said “I hope you find something good here. For what it’s worth, our story looks good on paper, all things considered.
P.S. Try not to use a bookmark here. Humor me, please. Write soon.”
Just before noon, the phone rang while he was lying on his back. He was watching an old Scorsese film. He thought about it but didn’t pick up. It must be Agnes or one of the kids. Ray Liotta was driving around paranoid, evading a helicopter after snorting coke.
The phone rang again. And again. Ray Liotta was still driving around, still evading the helicopter. He has to get his money back. He has got to convince Jimmy. The guns were sitting inside his trunk in a crumpled grocery bag.
But there was the helicopter still. He has to shake it loose. He has to keep his cool together.
I always feel happier whenever I’m on empty trains. But it’s been hard to ride them nowadays. In fact, I personally consider it a luxury whenever I find one. Most of the time, MRTs are cramped, it’d be a lottery to board one without experiencing a significant degree of struggle. We are running out of roads apparently. Too many cars, lesser good roads. Where there are too many people, there is not enough urban planning in place. I was on my way home when I bumped into this frustration. A faint reminder that disappointments are a troubling part of living. The dead have it easy. I was reading a novel. Sometimes, I think that my only saving grace is fiction. Or it’s a sort of a consolation I guess. A disappointment cushion. A fucking doll.
I checked my phone and read a message from a friend. He asked to meet in Cubao. I said, what’s it about? He said, nothing serious. Then I asked, what the hell for? He said, he needed to talk. I said, okay.
When I got home, I took my dad’s car. I had enough of trains for one day. The ’76 Galant was craggy but still reliable. It needed some washing, but I thought the filth added character. Driving it was another joy of my life. No matter how tough the drive was, the ride had always been an escape.
Later, I realized that finding a parking space was as tough as surviving traffic. After the treasure hunt, I was able to smoke my first cigarette for hours. I got out, stretched my legs, and jaywalked.
I arrived three hours late. I needed a cold beer. Luckily there’s plenty. The city breeze that night was fresh. The rain just let up, but sadly it was only for a few minutes. It rained again. I showed him the manuscript. He read it. He didn’t like it. He said it was shit. He ripped it apart. He called it friendship. I called it my classroom.
We skipped the main reason why we’re there in the first place. We ordered some crispy Thai noodles. We talked about the monsoon and the countless rains. When you run out of things to talk about, you talk about the weather I suppose.
Then he spilled his insides out in the open.
For a man who was not meant to win anyone, he yearned for symbiosis. Long after then, he still had her picture tacked on his wall.
I wanted to console him. But I knew that there are some things that you can never win. I didn’t think he could drown himself with all the drinks he could buy that night.
“Just walk away.” I urged him.
“My legs are gone.”
“Easy for you to say.”
“That’s unfair, scoot over. But I get you.” I said earnestly.
My mom had always told me to always see the good in people. But I couldn’t tell him that that night. I guess no matter how much bearing the truth had, the pain can still shatter it through.
A Jeff Buckley song played on the monitor. We tried to sing along on the easiest verse to remember. We were both a bit tipsy and a whole lot out of tune.
I checked the news on my phone, the traffic was still bad. I guess we’re like insects stuck on flypaper, unable to move.
We both looked outside, the rain continued on, this time heavier. We can’t do anything.
Some of the rainwater seeped through the window. I suppose staying indoors was the right thing to do, at that time.
I suppose it’s all for the better. My mouth was still dry. I needed a cold beer. Luckily there’s plenty.
It was a Wednesday. Thelma was boiling water with the percolator. She can smell the heated coils from the vapor which tells her that the water is nearly done. She was making complimentary coffee for two. One for the old man and the other for the armadillo. But the old man doesn’t drink coffee or eat. He only consumes alcohol all day. He reeks of it. You can’t stand four feet from him without catching a whiff of the booze coming out the pores of his skin. Thelma placed the serving tray between them. It was nearly three o’clock and they were the only ones who were left in the bar. The armadillo clamped up into a ball when she handed them their coffee. “Oh, I’m sorry, did I startle you?” Thelma inquired. “Don’t worry, it’s not you. He’s not quite himself today.” Cheered the old man.
The music that was playing had stopped. Thelma placed the tray on her side and went over to the jukebox and gave it a hard yank to fix it. It was a success. She then returned behind the bar and resumed wiping glasses to dry and anything else that she could find.
When the coast was clear, the armadillo resumed posture and started nipping on his cup. It liked how the hot liquid felt inside its stomach. The old man preferred his bourbon and water. A lady walked into the bar in her high heels, soaking from the head down, and sat at the far end of the bar. She ordered a scotch and asked for a telephone. There was a hard rain outside and she couldn’t drive through it.
The lady took out a pack of cigarettes. But this caused an alarm that as if a rolling bowling ball, the armadillo rushed over towards the lady and warned her about lightning anything inside the bar.
“You must forgive my intrusion miss, but smoking will get everyone here killed.” The armadillo slightly panting.
Startled, the lady almost spilling her drink, gave a puzzled look at the stranger.
The armadillo tried to explain. “You see, if you ignite so much as a matchstick, it would be the end of us.” He turned to the old man and faced her again. “My friend over there has this rare condition. That scent of alcohol that you’re getting right now is highly flammable.”
“It’s true. The old man drinks so much he’s got that medical thing. But I let him come here still. He’s about the only regular-paying customer I’ve got.” Thelma seconded.
“And the only reason I keep coming back to this filth of a place is that no one ever comes here I could drink in peace.”
“Touché.” Said Thelma.
The old man and the armadillo just smiled.
“It’s either I smoke or it would have to be something else. Would you like to dance handsome?” Feeling rather bored, the lady asked the old man.
They danced to some slow music written in the eighties. The lady was too drunk to notice the stench coming out of the old man’s wrinkly skin. She kissed him with a tongue and he kissed her back. “I’m Tabitha, what’s yours?”
“Yeah, everyone calls me Fred.”
“You’re a lucky man Fred, you’re dancing with a celebrity.”
It didn’t matter to him.
“God, I could blow someone for a cigarette right now.”
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t be that man for you.”
“You’re funny, Fred.”
“No, I’m being serious. I’m so old I don’t have the time for jokes. But I could’ve set your world on fire.”
Tabitha laughed. “Oh, that’s alright honey, you don’t have to save me. I live in a world of haze, where the texture is soft and fluffy, but the line between success and disappointment is a blur. Don’t worry, I’m a big girl.”
“I think I live on the same street.”
They ordered two more rounds before billing out. The rain washed away the stench of alcohol on him standing outside the bar in a shared umbrella. The armadillo clung onto his shoulder while the lady was on his side. When they got into the car, Tabitha tried the ignition several times but she couldn’t start it. The old man popped the hood but still couldn’t do anything to fix it.
“We can’t say we didn’t try.” The old man giving up.
“Should we try the bar again?” Suggested the armadillo.
It was almost six in the morning, but the skies were still dark. Thelma was closing up when she saw the car still parked in front of her. It was still raining hard and there were no signs of stopping.
“What are you doing?”
“The car won’t start.” Said Tabitha.
“Thank God! You’re not supposed to drive.”
“Can you give us a lift then?”
“Or we can try the bar again.” Insisted the armadillo.
“Nah, I think you guys had more than enough for one night.” Answered Thelma.
They stood around in the rain for a few more minutes. They convinced Thelma to drive them as far as she could. They were dropped off in front of the armadillo’s apartment where they bought three more bottles of Jack and some breakfast from a deli nearby.
At the last minute, the call for a cigarette caught up with the celebrity. She bailed on them as they were falling in line to pay for their supplies. But the paparazzi has already done his job and decided to buy himself a drink at Thelma’s to celebrate.
He sat with his peer at the nearby café after the day’s tiring work. The afternoon sun was beginning to set, but the day was considerably longer because of the summer solstice.
They had fried fish for lunch and planning to have pares for supper. It didn’t matter where they went for as long as they had fresh packs of cigarettes with them all day.
While passing the time, the younger one picked up the broadsheet from the vacated table next to them. The news was considerably current, even though the paper was dated some two days ago.
It read that the Department of Health had recently declared that the vaccine scare was over. It’s just that most people chose not to believe it, that was the predicament.
“Have you read this yet?”
“Why? Did somebody win the Lotto finally?”
“No, it’s about that Dengvaxia thing.”
“Yeah, I’m relieved that’s over.”
“People are still worried about it though.”
“Sadly. But hey, you can’t blame them right? With all of those fake news circling around.”
The evening sun relieved the day. The moon also did not disappoint, it was even brighter compared to the nights before with its copper-like glow. We decided to skip dinner, and transgressed to drinking whiskey with water, and full cups of Irish coffee instead. The café was starting to pick up, with customers filling up the tables.
He told me that his wife was leaving him. “Of course, she’ll take the house and the kids, even the goddamn dog.”
Then something welled up inside of me. I can’t help but feel that we’re all the same. We’re all just a pile of beat-up empty cans crashing down the hill.
“It’s just sad that the weight of the truth is nowadays measured by the amount of noise one makes.”
Still thinking about the news article, I shared my thoughts outloud.
“Do you think it’s all gone?” The elder colleague followed up.
I lifted my cup off the saucer and pretended I needed a sip. There was a moment of silence between us.
“Well, nothing is ever really gone, I guess. God, I hope it’s not. I think she’s just tired, needs resting, do you understand?”
“I guess so.” The old man’s voice was tired.
“Hey, at least you can use that as material for your second novel.”
“Ain’t that dandy?” Then he handed me his share of the check before finally making his point.
“I don’t believe it matters anymore.”
Months later a state of calamity was issued brought about by the suspension of the vaccine.
Nowadays, I spare myself from reading the comic strip section and jump straight into the by-line columns, to get my weekly dose of laughs.
At forty-two, he met his son under the bright neon signs for the opening of the night festival. There were electric lights that illuminated the boardwalk, giving off an ambient mood which made him all the more taciturn as they walked towards the end of the dock. He didn’t know how to start. It always took a while to get warm around him. At the bright corner, he lighted a cigarette and exhaled a white stream of smoke into the air that perfumed the nearby surroundings. The waves were not visible but they could hear the crashes when it approached the bay.
It was a long time ago since they first came here. As if it was a race, both of them happily traced the memories while eating dirty ice cream in a bun. There was so much to say but the eyes always said more. He’s always been proud of what his son had become. The young man has got his father’s eyes and the strength of his mother’s heart.
“Why do you have to go?” The son almost cracked his voice.
“I don’t think I’ve got a say on this, son.” He swung his shoulders back to stretch them. He felt the urge to punch the night right on its chin.
“Can I be there when you go?”
“Don’t be like that, you know I don’t have the knack for the theatrics. We’ll see each other someday.”
He always felt it helped. How the colors of the flicking lights conceal the ugliness and the scars. He always thought that they were sort of a phenomenon. It was Lou Reed who was playing on the car radio when he opened the windows, driving just a little over the speed limit.
Under the cup of darkness, he felt estranged — wherein the midnight blue reigned, it was a proxy for a companion that delivered.
At the local diner, he consulted a friend who worked as a part-timer. She was old, but still got good legs.
“With enough money to spare, we can surely buy happiness. But batteries and permanency not included, honey. So don’t go expecting it would last until daybreak.”
He ordered another pour of coffee with six spoonfuls of sugar. This he consumed bitterly still, with the poetry his son wrote on the pages of his wife’s old Cattleya notebook.
I wasn’t sure if I dialed the right number. But I tried and tried until I was finally able to get a hold of the local police. I frantically gave out a description of what happened that night. I told the operator that I heard some strange noises and that I was really scared. There were some low screeching noises in the walls. The sound that it was making were cold, of tormented voices which can be simply described as hoarse and scratchy all the same. “It must be Gary, I really think it’s him!” I told the woman I spoke with. I was fidgeting and twisting the spiral cord of the payphone in the hallway.
There is something about the rain that calms me. There were nights that I wished that it would not let up and it would just spray like that forever — slanting, almost sideways, so in that way I would know that the wind was carrying it, like how my memories would carry my chest adrift.
But there wasn’t a single drop for months.
At midnight I would randomly call friends to relieve me of my self-inflicted agitation. And they would say that Susan – my made-up girlfriend– did not deserve me at all.
They said that I should just simply forget her and they gave me a fine lesson on how I should start anew.
I wrote to my folks to lend me some money because I spent most of what I had on cheap evening companions and prescription drugs. Of course, I didn’t tell them that. I used the excuse that I was struggling, coping in the big city.
I always felt that I was different compared to those low-life addicts. I separated myself from their filth but I also wouldn’t call myself anywhere near special. I guess the only difference was that I knew there wasn’t an escape, nor a commiserated vindication if there was an end to any of these.
A guy who lived down the hall dropped by one night and brought some drinks to share.
He lifted his foamy beer and drank, and used a plastic fork when he pinched and chewed on the fried tofu. As if harnessing holy powers from this, he told me — in a forlorn way — about his prevocational wisdom.
“We don’t really get fixed. We just think we do and go on by, mending until we’re all done for.”
I guess he’s right. The world is not equilateral after all.
“Until we’re all done for.” I repeated the line to myself and stood up to get us fresh beers from the fridge.
“Do you like horror stories?” I asked him while balancing myself on a chair with its two back legs.
“I suppose.” he answered coolly.
And I read him something that I wrote and asked him to critique:
He was lying on his side facing her. It’s been days now since he got admitted for an illness he still wouldn’t believe he’s got. And he stared at her and wondered on, in those kind brown eyes that seemed like bathing in a midsummer night’s moonlight. He knew what she did, all of her secrets.
There was shortness in his breath. There was also shortness in the nights that ensued.
“Can you talk about the house again? Just enough to get me to sleep.”
She indulged him and told him about their dream house as he would have wanted it. How they’d wander in and about the halls and the walkways together to the garden in that perfect warm morning sun.
It was just a matter of time she reassured him.
Then one of the evening shift nurses came in and administered a dose of penicillin through a syringe and gave him something for the pain.
Then he asked to be moved to face the windows. But there was a bricked wall that blocked the view.
After reading him the first lines, Gary gave a huge laugh and told me that I should seriously consider switching genres.
Flushed and rather ashamed, I told him that I was going for something more.
Sometimes, the easiest decisions are the hardest ones to make. I wanted to stop using, but the thought of strangling him seemed more plausible.
I knew exactly what he came for.
Then I switched my gaze towards the lock of my door and thought about the shortness in his breath.
I told everybody that I was leaving. My closest friends had asked me where, of course, but I felt it didn’t matter if I shared exactly where. I wasn’t even sure myself. All I knew was that it had to be done sooner than later. No use if I tried to go against the inevitable. The dried leaves in the public pool that night seemed like old people trying to swim. Their wrinkles were cloaked by the soak, I thought the contrast was beautiful. I took a dip under the crescent moon — the tidal wave in the sky. I felt weightless and buoyant, and I could stay like that for the rest of my days, I told her from afar. Then I caught her doing a backstroke. Her plumped breasts made it so easy to stay. When she remerges, she waved at me like a child.
There was an enormous moon that shined that night. Its glow was on the unsteady surface of the public pool which sprayed chlorine water in the gush of the wind. Under one of the beach umbrellas, she spotted a satellite that orbited across the sky, until it disappeared completely behind a thick grey cloud. The chlorine had an after-taste when it landed on her lips. It made quite an impression.
The bathrobe had too much detergent on it that it stung the nostrils. They used too much — as always. One of the maids said that it had to be like that to make sure that they were clean. “I’d say, kill them all, sir, and dump the bodies in Manila Bay to fatten the fishes.” Then she left me the bucket of ice she fetched from the bar.
Even after watching a Clint Eastwood movie I couldn’t get myself to bed. I had an early flight and I was restless. It was around midnight by the time I got out of the hotel. When I was about to cross the street there was a man waving at me as if I was a relative that he was meeting at the airport.
“Bikini Bar, sir? Young girls, pretty girls, sir?” I didn’t look at him and continued walking.
“Just come and see first, sir. Two, five. Very cheap, sir.” There were wildflowers sprouting in the gloom.
Still, I didn’t respond and went about my way. But he reeked of persistence. And as the sleepless often are, my mind was as playful and as curious. We did that night by the pool when she skinny-dipped.
There was a burning rash on the skin, but I couldn’t stop scratching.
A long May summer sky has become a companion that overstayed its welcome. It made matters worse when it brought along drought that led to many indecisions to do anything productive. I guess I was waging war against climate change by drinking at the bar every night. It was definitely never a good idea but I did it anyway. I guess I was afraid it was making me rather quite compelled to do absolutely nothing and at the same time feel accomplished under the false pretenses that I was a philosopher when I had a little too much to drink.
Everything is peachy on the right side of alcohol, they say.
I drove up to the mountainside where it was cooler. There I was to be greeted by my friends. And by friends, I mean is those made up. I think.
At the rest stop, there was a bench waiting for me. It was sitting under the sun next to an enormous fig tree along with the others that lined up quite evenly.
There I talked to the devil. He wasn’t as bad as everybody thought. He’s just misunderstood like most people I know. He was going to stick around until the end of summer, he declared. After that it would be cool again, this he promised.
We ended up talking about a lot of things. I even invited him over to my place for more drinks but he said that he doesn’t want to impose and give my parents a heart attack.
I asked him if he regretted anything that he did. It took me a while to find the right words and the right timing to ask him.
At first, he hesitated. But after a slug of whiskey, he answered anyway.
“We make bad decisions all the time. This happens to everybody. And if you’re in it for the long haul, believe me on this, I really think that you’d see through the end of it. But this is not the only consolation, you see. You’d find out eventually and I hope that it will appease you to know, that there are the little things worth staying for.”
The devil was consoling me. It couldn’t be more ironic than that.
“I know what you’re trying to tell me. I know I should be glad, grateful even, but truthfully, I’m not.” I shared ruefully.
“There’s a festival coming up.” He pointed to the summit. “Right there between the two peaks. I think you should definitely come. It’s for St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things.
“Sure, I’ll check my calendar” I gave a friendly scoff.
“And also, if you can be so kind as to loan me a book. I couldn’t find the time to buy one. And even if I did, I don’t think they’d ever let me in.”
He confessed that he was a slow reader. I told him that I never find the guts to smoke in front of my mom, in return.
“You’ve always been a slow reader, so what? You literally made world domination popular.”
I was peeling an orange and handed him over a slice. He told me it was the most refreshing thing he had in a long while. We sat there exchanging thoughts until twilight.
While one might assume it as given, I, on the other hand never thought it mattered then as it does now. I never knew that it was coming for us — I honestly didn’t. We stayed up late at the balcony, since both of us were smoking, while we finished off what’s left of the night. The kids were already sleeping inside and she said it’s going to be her last beer but I don’t think she’d be able to catch the last train. It was beginning to be a slow night, and the kids would definitely look for her by the time they woke, so I convinced her to spend the night for old times’ sake. There was a yellow moon that accompanied us. It was full and the breeze was cold, it wrapped us in such a way an old lover would.
I am not what you would say a happy man. But by the time I got married, things started to fall in place as it should be. There I found order and a pattern that made sense. And when it happened, I couldn’t bring myself to pick up after the pieces.
That night, I climbed up the bed and climbed up her. I was home again. A week later she wrote me a letter and told me she was all better now with the apricot trees in her view in the mornings except that sometimes she’s woken up by the drip from the tap late at night. But with all things considered, it was certainly a jubilant dream like in the song, she said.
We didn’t exchange numbers and soon the mailing addresses kept on changing and we stuck to just writing emails instead. We figured it was way faster although it felt strange not seeing her handwriting but I got used to it eventually.
“Where are you going?” It took several exchanges before she finally hinted about it. “There’s a vineyard I want to see in the south-west of France while it’s still spring.”
I sent her a map of the region where she was headed to from a reliable travel guide. “I looked it up and marked the places that should help you. I hope it checks out.”
I opened a can of beer and sat by the nightstand. I was listening to the music that played on TV. There were lanky Koreans dancing to some upbeat music, and they seemed to be really happy about their little routine. I wished I could play music. I always wanted a beautiful butterscotch gold Telecaster. I wished I could be Tom Waits that night. I wished I could write music like he did, sitting in a lonely bar somewhere.
Up until now I still do not know why I still keep in touch after all that had happened. I can still feel that the string that connects us will never be cut. The thread was too straight and that was the same problem that everyone else saw.
Not some two years ago I was visiting a friend for drinks on a weekend night. And on the way over to his place, I saw her in the passenger seat bobbing her head over and under behind the dashboard of David’s car. I didn’t know what to make out of it, and I couldn’t erase that image in my head.
It was said that Hemingway rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms over forty-seven times. I could only hope to do the same just this one time.
But since that’s not going to happen I guess, I would settle for some sleep at night, just enough to function in the morning. Except that sometimes I’m woken up by the drip from the tap. Then I’d remember her, and I would lay wide awake and dream about that jubilation dream of hers or alter it the way I would rather be, but then I’d snap out of it.
She called upon me from the bedroom and her voice streamed through the narrow hallway. The light from the lamp was dimmed and there was a gentle rustle from the trees outside the open window. Although it was cold, there was a faint light from the night sky that glistened on the bed sheets that silhouetted the leaves and the crooked branches. It didn’t do anything but it helped make the room appear warm. Her breath smelt of spring from the vineyards she visited and mine was a stench of burnt wood — of strong hard liquor, old American. She told me that I was in her dream, only I was not.
I never did well in a crowd. But I tried to stand there in a half circle with the boys watching the girls in their miniskirts in some friend’s party. I was particularly drawn on how detailed they were with their descriptions of a woman’s anatomy, about their psychology, on the time they spent to study that universe. I was so intrigued, it was like a complex algebra problem to me. I could never get it even if I tried harder.
I could very well be mistaken as a wallpaper. I was awkward and mean and dull. I guess looking back we all were at some point but I never got past that. I lacked personality and patience for any human interaction. I was a cockroach that everyone despised.
Luckily Bianca was fool-proof.
Bianca lit up when I showed her the book. It was another eight-hundred peso purchase on my second Bukowski that month but it was never a question to spend on well-written treasures she said. I wasn’t interested in his books about poetry, but I find his short stories particularly moving.
It was a long summer. But we got through it just fine even though the heat of the sun was of no help when you’re trying to put things together.
You use the material that you have, Didion said.
So I put my dark glasses on, drink coke straight from the one-liter bottle while placing the words on the electronic paper.
Font 11, Calibri (Body).
The phone rang.
B: “How was the writing?”
D: “What was that?”
B: “I miss hearing your voice, how was the writing?”
D: “I’m sorry the reception is terrible, it’s quite slow, but I got past the hard part
— first two paragraphs — I think I’m making progress.”
B: “That’s good to hear!”
D: “How’s Kafka?”
B: “He misses his Dad”
D: “Tell him I’ll be home soon enough”
B: “I can’t hear you, can you move to a better spot?”
D: “Tell that to the president.”
B: “Let’s talk later, maybe the service will be better then.”
B: “See you soon, I love you.”
A few days ago I saw the president on TV.
I also saw a cockroach that landed on his shoulder and squirmed a little in my seat.
I also laughed a little, cried a little, but paying close attention I realized that the cockroach was me.
At the funeral of a friend, he saw her helping out, handling over cold tetra packs of juices and repacked green peas and peanuts to the guests. His relationship with her was as dead as the one lying in the pine casket by the electric candles. He thought about saying hi but hesitated and felt it was completely inappropriate to do such a thing. It wasn’t the place or the time to rekindle with old romantic acquaintances, even though what he only wanted was to ask her one question after all.
It was a cool and damp night. She was wearing a comfortable-looking knitted cardigan over a strapped blue top and a pair of her usual outfit, a square pants and worn down sneakers. It was close to midnight but it was still quite a work finding his way through being noticeably visible. When he was young, he was made to believe that funerals are big farewell parties every time a relative died. “And that cats feed on the crematorium smoke, that’s why they have many lives” His uncles would tease the kids. But it wasn’t the case when his dad went when he was only eleven.
He thought about what happened between them. There was that problem she one day declared to him, turning the other way as she sat in the passenger seat. It was all a blur to him, but he can remember very well the humming of the car engine while she was at it. He wasn’t worried, she still had the seatbelt on.
What could have been said more often was reduced to mere incidentals, and what should have been felt as something natural eventually became a matter of opinion. A cause, and a consequential effect to put it simply. In the movie Interstate 60, James Marsden was told that all relationships were a reaction of the previous ones we had. It wasn’t the point of the scene, but that was the message that stuck. That night she just left in his sleep without saying goodbye. He always thought she’d come back for her stuff in his place, but still hasn’t.
“I almost couldn’t believe my eyes, I thought I was seeing the wrong ghost.” There was a soft chuckle when she said this after many of the guests left. “I was surprised to see you here.”
The night was filled with stars, there were only a few thin sheets of clouds scudding across. The wind was cool, it was such a good night for a long drive to the coast, what he truly wanted to say. “It was such a beautiful service.” He said after a while.
“I’m just glad it was over, peaceful. You know?” She replied without looking.
A week after he was at the door in front of the house, feeding a stray cat with milk and a corn-flavored cereal. Then it hit him, cats didn’t feed on the souls of the dead. They rip them apart until they were completely gone.
Behind the window, he was staring at the tall building standing in the hot sun across the street. The more he stared at it the more it looked bleak and ordinary that he almost forgot that it was where he actually lived. There was nothing special about its dimensions and the way it was built. One could never strike an interesting conversation about it, and there was no passion that can be felt on its architecture.
The only thing amusing about the scenery was the maintenance guy Mang Nato, who was watering dust off the pavement. He was particularly drawn on the way the spraying water gleamed in the light of the sun — it had a familiar hue about it.
When his table was ready, he asked the waitress if he can be moved a little closer to the shade where it was cooler. There he found himself sitting more comfortably, back-reading a Sunday editorial while drinking a tall perspiring glass of coke. He couldn’t help but feel a gap between him and what he read. As if an audience following a televised political soap, he felt affected but only at a certain distance of affinity. Apparently, there had been some unlawful arrests related to it just over recently, and there were farmers killed, and young women mutilated it seemed so unreal. He was overlooking a sloping backstreet where customers were allowed to smoke even if there was an ordinance against it. People just didn’t care anymore nowadays he realized.
It was still midweek but already the wind tasted like ash in his mouth and felt that he was in dire need to wash it all down for as long as it didn’t hurt his head the next morning. Six words down, four across. He stared at the crossword puzzle and just found sad and empty boxes waiting to be reunited with their words.
When he ordered, he told a lie to the waitress that he just got a promotion and tried to flirt a little.
He felt self-conscious about his belly and tried to hide it the entire time he was talking to her, and kept on repositioning how he sat, but eventually just gave up when he sensed that all she ever wanted was to take his order and move on to the other tables.
On the window reflection, he studied what could have been smile lines on his temples even though he didn’t smile that often. From ash, the wind tasted sour – the impending flavor of self-loathing.
The image he saw was not his. He’s been wearing someone else’s skin, he argued to himself.
He realized that he has been feeling this slow drag, especially in the mornings when he is reminded that summer had helped suck out the color of the leaves to dry.
He wanted to go back but he couldn’t, wouldn’t. He wouldn’t walk back to his apartment at this hour. It was hotter and humid compared to most summers. He wouldn’t go back at this hour not until the landlady had the screen doors installed finally, which she agreed to do when he signed the lease.
There was a certain storm that stirred in his chest, but he still managed to smile back at the waitress when his order was served.
The sun caught up to where he sat, and the heat was lashing out so hard on the skin.
He looked directly in the sun until he winced at its hurtful glare.
While we were at it, I threw in all sorts of questions on how it was like to be up there. He gave a picturesque narrative of the life in the camp during the summer with those kids from the private schools and how exciting the first year was. My brother tried very hard to be as detailed and brief as he could possibly be on the phone, but there wasn’t enough time so we bade goodbye and agreed to keep in touch before the new school year started. I was pressing the receiver hard on my ear, it left a slight redness afterwards.
As natural things could get, we weren’t able to contact each other over a good period of time when we were supposed to. He was living in the city while I remained recluse back home. I wasn’t able to keep track and assumed he was preoccupied himself that it didn’t feel it mattered then.
And as the gap widened while the silence grew, it haunted me all the more. Every time I was finished with the day’s chores, I would always try to imagine how it was to be up there with him. I would begin waking up in his room, in the all-boys dormitory making the bed before heading out, always making sure I was on time for each class. I thought about the faces of his classmates and the professors, what sort of people were there in the university, even the pretty girls he would have chosen to pursue.
The more I delved about leaving, the more it felt real to me. The more that I did it, the more it felt that I needed to move away from this zany town of ours.
There was no way around it I concluded. It felt exclusive, more than the sensation I felt the first time I tasted caviar.
She insisted to take me all the way as far as she could make it. And as all things must end, the day was also coming to a close. She rested her head on my arm while we stood on a crowded bus on the way to the terminal. I looked at her, and she did the same to me — she had her hair just above her eyes and she was simply wonderful.
But I couldn’t help feeling that even after all that magic — enough to favor prejudice — still, it arrived quite dry on the surface.
I always faulted myself for that.
Up in the clouds, it made me forget all there is about on earth and it allowed me to bask in the soak of twilight. The sky was overcast but the runway was filled with outlining lights when the plane was about to land. It resembled a mid-summer night sky in a tropical coast island somewhere far away. I was drawn to it like a moth to a fire.
It felt like it was calling me, I wanted to hold it in my hands so bad I wanted nothing more.
I guess you’ll never know how disdainful the fire is until it burned you.
This could happen to you too, I told myself.
I waited for the green leaves to turn.
I hope I could help it. But she didn’t want to bring it up.
I was sorry for the weight, I told her on the phone.
“I was staying in the Honeymoon lodge this past few nights.” She retorted.
I was pressing the receiver hard on my ear, it left a slight redness afterwards.
It’s late in the night when we took a cab ride around the outskirts of town. We picked up some supplies on the way at the local 24-hour convenience store near the bay and paid extra on top of the fare. He was sorry about waking me up, but he didn’t know who else to call at the time, he explained. Of course, I didn’t mind one bit.
We watched the smoke linger in the air under a street lamp. It was like a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This made him forget for a little while, which relieved me in a way, for I was putting on a terrible performance consoling him.
We didn’t talk about it much really. I didn’t know how. The ebbing of the tides in the moonlight did all of that for us.
I guess that was all he ever needed, what both of us did.
“I don’t think we could ever prepare for these sorts of things.” He started.
“You’d know if it’s good when it’s scarce.
All the good ones are.”
I didn’t say anything.
We waited until dawn before heading back. He wanted to catch both the last light of the night and the first of the coming day.
At the end of it, he knew that profanity is the cheapest means of revenge.
“Think about something else. “ I urged him finally.
“The good days.” I knew I was doing worse I wanted to puke.
“I want to see that try bring down all the xenophobic ideas in the world.”
Then the warm rays glimpsed upon us suddenly with the breeze blowing from the direction of the sun.
And it went on in my head. I could still trace him. My son’s scent on the pillows.
I think it’s painfully blissful, sometimes I couldn’t stand it.
It was as clear as a summer night’s sky that later he exhumed the details of the incident. But at that moment, all doors were shut tight and nobody seemed to know what answers he wanted to hear. He looked at the tenants scornfully, at their undiscriminating speculations, he could not stand it.
He was just making matters worse, they said to him. There was nothing else he could do and thought better of it. They could be right, of course. But he could not ignore the stench of apathy in his nostrils.
In the end, he decided to retreat to knit a constructive point of view. It sounded old-fashioned, it made him shudder. But it has always been an effective antidote to the poisoned heart.
He used charcoal briquettes to take out the smell, along the wooden panels and throughout the gaps.
But it was the sight of chloroform that interested him.
Once there lived a hermit living an ordinary solitary kind of life. All he ever needed was the sands beneath him, and the salts of the ocean to preserve. He stayed in the shallow reefs near the shoreline, along the coast where he had access to food and a few leisure. He rarely travels to the land, and only went when he had to. It was just a little corner of the world what he had, it was not much but it was his corner, nevertheless. He had it all.
Sure, he got a few friends at work, but he doubted if anyone would ever stick his head out for him when the time came. Not that it was necessary really, but sometimes, it was just comforting to think that one’s well-being is of some value to others.
He continues to scuttle through the sands of the beach.
The Old Dog
I read about the incident in a newspaper while waiting for my clothes to finish at a local laundromat. I barely knew Lisa, but it saddened me, nonetheless.
She must have been dead for three days by the time her body was discovered in her apartment. She just got old- basically, it was what the news read.
It was a pivotal experience, she was the closest friend I ever had.
And now that she is gone, the more I am tucked away from ever existing.
Lisa was 77, twelve in dog years. Her famous person left for Siargao to catch some waves.
She looked good in her two-piece bikini on her Instagram post.
Together with his parents, they were guests at the New Year’s Eve party hosted by his uncle Ramon and his wife Aunt Cecil. Like the rest, he said buenas to the older relatives and placed the back of their hands on his forehead. And after being thrown around like a Ping-Pong ball, he was seated — almost listlessly — near the family punch bowl, away from the smoke of cigarettes wandering about the room like aimless spirits with unfinished business. This was the year FVR has solved the power crisis, the end of his boyhood.
The Christmas tree was still up — the same as in the other households — and there were even unclaimed presents underneath it. The air still stirred in that festive atmosphere that triggered an automatic switch inside his chest. He felt the urge of lighting up a roman candle or perhaps a cone-fountain and thought about inviting a girl he knew across the street.
Kids chased each other around with sparkles in their hands, while the fireworks as if splashing in the night sky, rippled fighting for space and attention.
While everyone was preoccupied with merrymaking, he snatched a whole swig of punch and cruised mischievously among family friends and his unsuspecting relatives. He sidled and scuttled until he was able to completely break free to join the others his age.
He saw his cousins Nathaniel and Trixie went up the stairs first. Then it was Carol, the two Maries, Christine, and then finally Dex who snuck the glasses up to the room. Discipline and tact were highly regarded in the family. But tonight, kids were permitted to stay up as late as they would like. The husbands, joined by their wives were drinking Pale Pilsen beers, until their livers gave out, even dogs could bark all night, but they chose to be holed up in their hiding places instead.
After a while, he followed the rest into Dex’s room. And there he found the host of this secret party sitting on the bedroom rug passing around vodka in dining glasses.
He took his place on the bed, sitting next to the two Maries — the youngest of the cousins– who were giggling in excitement. Carol was perched by the windows wearing her first fourteen-holed Dr. Martens sharing pop magazine stories with Trixie and Christine, while Nathaniel busied with the Nintendo tapes in front of the television.
He chattered with Dex whom he felt closest with. Everyone seemed to be having a good time when suddenly they heard Dex’s dad, their uncle Ramon, calling them out on the door. The uncle was particularly strict, the paternal kind, but also believed that profanity has no place in parenting. All the paraphernalia were pushed under the bed, the two Maries, Trixie, and Christine hid under the bed covers, while he took the closet with Carol.
In the dark, while listening to the only sound that reigned which was their almost syncopated breathing, he accidentally dabbled into the cosmos of this unfamiliar paradoxical curiously. Of course, this could only be an infatuation, a mere glitch in his system. Captured during an unguarded moment, he could not make out the shape of this predicament.
He tried hard not to manifest the distraught. It was a complete abomination, he would be excommunicated for sure. And even through college, this haunted him. He saw fragments of Carol in the girls he dated, it goes without saying that this did not satisfy him. But the momentary remedy offered a relief so as to just get by. He felt bad of course. It was not in his nature nor was his intention to use people. But he could not bring himself to resist whenever he saw a piece of her.
But one thing he could never elude was the probability of meeting her again. Sure, he was able to dodge a few family gatherings, but the New Year’s would be a tough one to get rid of.
Under the hibiscus tree, he marveled over at the last setting day of the year. The skies reminded him of the four-season punch that was slowly draining. And yet again he found another piece of her in the wide canvas over him.
This time though, he has not found any traces of guilt in his chest. At the end of each year, the skies will bleed like no other, but it will be able to endure anyhow, this he finally knew.
I moved my gaze away from the glow of the tail lights and set my eyes at the intermittent passing of advertising billboards across the road. I got stood up, waited for nearly three hours standing in front of a bingo joint along Visayas avenue until I decided to push through with the trip anyway.
Life must be a peach for those endorsing celebrities, I mused to myself. Before long, I fell back into a deep sleep once more.
The road ahead was winding, and the bus was heading farther into the provinces that the radio frequencies were hardly keeping up. And soon, the ads had longer intervals between them, until there was not even one that can be spotted waving by.
As the way got darker, we sped our way through some uphill turns on the mountainside as if we were on a race or something. It was quiet, and the songs on the radio were almost inaudible at this point. After a few more hours the night got too deep that it made the aisle of the bus even darker. Standing over the passengers, the conductor gently tapped my shoulder to wake me and did the same to the couple sitting across in front of me.
I got off at the nearest rest stop by the lamp post. My welcome was not exactly warm, but I would not have it any other way. I was greeted by the cold air traveling from the mountain tops that swept down into the valley. There was quite a chill, but the skies were so clear, I swear I must have seen every single star out there. I couldn’t see much of the mountain range at that time but in the morning, the view would be spectacular, I had imagined.
From a local bakery, I bought a bag of hot bread and smoked two sticks of lights in a row. Looking around, a nostalgic feeling gradually warmed up inside, even if it was my first time arriving there. This kind of feeling had never failed to get me each time. A kind of renewal that was like a childhood trick that never gets old.
This allowed me to reconcile a few misconnections.
In another lifetime, many years ago, I remember one evening when my dad got home so drunk, I almost did not recognize him. He was sitting at the kitchen table, sobbing, apologizing for everything he did wrong. “I was just trying to get away for a while, that was all I ever tried to do.”
Like an answer out of a can, he managed to sum it all up in just a single line.
There is always this infallible force that reminds me of home. But all we ever wanted was to get away. Just like what he has said.
“Please tell me we’re okay?’ He pleaded.
I nodded and asked him what the matter was and handed him a bowl of hot chicken noodle soup.
The lady at the front desk was dressed in a traditional kimono with western jewelry jingling on her wrist. Its intricately carved stone was of bright ruby that glistened when she handed over my key. “You’re all set sir, room is at 801 and breakfast is served at six.” It was too bad I told her. I usually have trouble sleeping in strange places I rather want to start my day ahead. She recommended trying out the bar instead.
A bleeping sound was made when I tapped the card on the door panel. As I entered, I was greeted by a citrus scent that suggested that the room was clean, and it was. Everything was spotless, this I attributed to the reputation the place has. I started placing my bag on the luggage rack, retired my shoes under it, and sat on the corner of the bed in front of the television.
By the awnings, I watched the blanket of the night that slithered below. The moonlight shone over the rain-soaked pavement—it coated the foams of the clouds white, sailing across overhead.
As a matter of habit, I first unpacked the clothes I was going to wear, hanged them all in the closet and lined up the toiletries neatly on the lavatory before changing to head out.
It was getting late, and the hallways waned in the darkness as I waited long enough for the elevator before realizing that it was not working. I decided to use the fire exit since the bar was just four floors down. At the end of the hall the exit sign glowed as if an enticing invitation was calling upon me. In the dark, I trailed the narrow glimmer of green neon light until I reached and pushed the heavy door.
Two flights down I heard a murmuring from below. I stopped, startled of this irregularity. Guests were not supposed to loiter around these parts and I suppose the management does not allow employees as well. But the voices grew louder as I approached and caught a smell of stale cigarettes in the air.
As I climbed down the stairs, placing most of my weight on my heels, I came about a huddle of men on the landing. Some of them were on their knees, one was sitting on the railings, and a few were standing with their hands either propped on their thighs or on the wall. A flashlight was directed to the ground where playing cards were laid down with the pot money in the middle.
With their loud response, I do not know how many of them shrieked in surprise.
Standing so close to them this time, I reckoned that they were a good ten at least — some bore old tired faces, some were foreigners whose skins were as pink as salmons adjusting to the heat, and women smoking with only burnt tips visible.
“The bartender does not know what he is doing” A man complained to me and reached up and offered his drink. “Right here we like it clean.”
“Thanks comrade” And downed the drink in a gulp.
There was a voice that loomed from the lower landing. It was the receptionist, but she is out of her uniform now. “You’re 801, right?”
At first, I could not make out who she was, but I remembered when I heard the jingling of her bracelet.
“I guess I am” I tried responding coolly.
“What are you doing here 801? Are you lost?”
“Your elevators do not work. The lights led me to the stairs.”
“Is it now?”
“Are you not going to fix it?”
“Everything gets broken around here anyway, why bother? Besides somebody from maintenance will find out sooner eventually, stay for a while, and care to play will you now?”
I declined politely. I would rather take my chances at the bar I told her. It is one of the few places I know is fair.
She asked if she could tag along. I did not know why she did that, but it was probably because she suspected me of ratting them out. It took a bit of an effort, but I convinced her that I was not.
“But it was not about that at all” she assured me.
“I thought you would rather go to a better place to drink. I owe you that”
We walked two blocks to this place she knew. She had one round and another. She was a terrific hostess until around two when she left me in peace.
But peace is a just another word thrown around so carelessly these days. What we have is silence in the shade of a world set ablaze.
Jupiter was no bigger than a five-centavo coin when it shined that night. Thrilled, he placed it inside the hole he made with his fingers and peeped through it into the sky with one eye. He took a photograph of the sighting but his phone camera failed to deliver justice and so he decided to just discard it.
Overhead, its glow was diluted by the increased display lightings of the bookstore. As he stood outside, he then watched the storekeepers and the customers raced — like lab mice — the mazes of the bookcases inside. Uninvited, he crushed his half-done cigarette and went in and did the same. He started with the selected features and trod along the modern classics section until he slowed down when he reached the aisle between the Russian giants and H.G. Wells. He decided to procrastinate venturing and opted for the latter instead this time. Besides, he figured that reading Tolstoy or Dostoevsky would not sit very well with commuting on public transportation and discerned that he doesn’t want another unfinished book.
He had plenty of time, he tried to convince himself. But by the year he reached thirty-four true friends had enormously reduced to mostly dead writers and fictional protagonists. It was as if living people were only worth trying out if their thoughts and general interests were first proofread and edited like any publication houses would do.
This he thought about and the million things that could potentially take place in his short lifespan. But who would dare care? After a while, people would eventually move on with their lives. He confronted himself with the thoughts of unreciprocated love affairs and unfulfilled passions. What if they discovered that the only thing, he could ever love unconditionally was the rain? The time of the monsoon was coming, and it would be cooler soon. The thought began to console him. It was not necessarily of importance but for him, they were like the soundtrack of a very good film and the foams in his drink.
They say that life flashes on by without you realizing it. And oftentimes we miss it, especially when it counted the most. But in his case, there were no flashes, no theatrics — Just a series of random movements and intermittent pauses.
On the escalator going down, he bumped into an old colleague from the University. They exchanged numbers after going over a crash course of where their lives had led them since they last saw each other.
During the dialogue, all he was thinking about was the Irish coffee he was dying to have.
He never thought that the idea would ever touch his ugly mouth, but it did, he blurted it out, he felt ashamed.
At that moment everything else sounded broken to him.
It was nearly the end of the hour, most of the customers have already left the counters and those who remained were the regulars playing a few more rounds of pool before calling it quits. On a napkin, she drew a Martian cat holding a flag and a pint, folded it in half and inserted it in my phone casing.
I was feeling light, tired. She said it might have been the lateness of the night; we were not the same as we used to be. We were different then, but in a way, have not changed much. Probably we were both.
It was my turn to buy the next round. I was running thin on beer money, but the night was still asking.
It was a mistake, but who’s counting nowadays? The world is full of it. Everyone has drums and boxes filled with it.
“Where were we?”
“Back to where we used to be, in a place we ought to be” She insisted.
“But you’re moving back to California.”
“The moon was fuller the last time we were here. Your hair longer and I didn’t have this limp.”
“You were dashing” She chuckled.
I returned some myself. “Eight years of alcohol does a lot to you.”
The container trucks lined up overhead, stuck on a flyover across our window. The stream of orange highway lamps traced the roads with broken lines and asphalt. She wrapped her head as it rested on her upper arm and continued,
“Will you cook me breakfast?”
“If you still like over easy with burnt hems.”
“I always thought it was perfect.”
Sometimes I go to this place in my head where I recounted this sequence over and over. There were nights when I’d just look up in the sky and hope for a chance. I still keep it with me, her dog-eared paperback copy of The Trial, protesting, one unused bookmark at a time.
H narrowed his eyes, squinting at the three-hundred-year-old enamel chalices, spoons, and ladles sitting inside the glass case. As he read the inscriptions, the professor was observing him quite amused with his growing interest for the Spanish colonial artifacts. “Now that we’re done with the kitchenware, when can we see the replicas of the Manila Galleons?” H half-jokingly mused but the host paid little attention to him and continued on with his private tour. Their heels clacked raucously against the linoleum tiles until they were seated inside a study, where the curator usually entertains visits from historians, politicians, grantors, and special acquaintances in the scientific socio-sphere.
The professor scheduled the tour on an early morning of midweek, which meant the city tours were on low key which worked perfectly both for them and the host. Education was essential to move forward, but the past was an integral part. “You see“, placing the boater hat on his right knee, “The tales of history are always best told in such fashion. True appreciation depicts demeanor, so bring some of that home with you.”
But H was daydreaming. The lucid mind receded. It was a terrible habit.
After a few, he asked earnestly “But how do we know we’re making the right kind of history?”
This came out of nowhere but the professor welcomed it anyway.
“Well, that’s tough.” He repositioned and crossed legs.
“But I guess all good ones are.”
The old man commended H for his potential, for his innate artistic brilliance. He felt responsible for him — he was but a ship that was imperative to build.
That night at the ball they were in their double-breasted amerikanas, surrounded with great pieces in the Amorsolo gallery. “It feels quite absurd wearing uncomfortable outfits in such scorching climate” H complained.
But like his fathers before him, who shared the same streams of aspirations but unable to shine on fully, he was willing to submit, basking in its symphonic reception. The corners of his lips widened as the smiles beamed. By and by the crowd has been able to separate the two, until arthritis got the better of the old man.
The General Council on Cultural Development had taken interest in the works of the young aspirant. They consist mostly of middle-aged men, of scholars and intricate critics who busied themselves buzzing on and about, clinking champagne glasses and exchanging small talks here and there to no end.
A woman in her fifties approached H who was now standing by the tribal shaft ornaments. The powder on her face traced the wrinkles on her temples, while the yellows of her teeth emphasized by the redness of her lips. The laces of her evening gown appeared uncomfortably itchy to him.
He felt like a young buck drinking water from a murky shallow swamp.
It made him feel worse he wanted to change right away into his regular clothes and lay down by the awning thatched windows of home. In his mind, he would sail the leagues of his imagination where he’d set out on a trip on-board the Manila Galleon bearing great treasures of gold, ancient jewelry, and rare
spices of the east. Then at nightfall when the skies are clear enough, he’d be under the stars, gazing in his hammock suspended as it sways to the gentle motions the ship. And as it bobs on the cradles of the ocean, he’d wonder on further to even greater depths to where the giant squids are lurking, rare sea creatures reign on the decks of sunken armadas. He’d be there where the midnight blue outlines the darkened earth of the mountainsides, while the waters like dark ink with splinters of glass mirror the cloudless sky.
He pinched his nose as he walked out of the gallery. Both teacher and pupil started the road again.
“There are always dark days ahead. In my case, my arthritis.”
“I was just here for the relics.” H grinned.
“So did you sign the job offer?” The professor sat at the park bench and fed the koi fishes in the pond.
I drew the shower curtain and found her there, curled up in the dry tub. It was days now since the time she last spoke to me. I could imagine her resentment against me and I couldn’t blame her of course, how could I? In the soft beams of the afternoon sun, I bathed in its modesty, lending me the time for myself outside to catch some air. Time is a friend that catches on. And when it does, it leaves you behind uncompromisingly. Its passing does not protrude to hurt. Its manifestations need not be heralded. It makes its own course through the passages of being and existence.
We took the train and exchanged the snuck whiskey during. I held her close enough to remember or not to forget and snatched some shallow sleep in between stops. It took several hours to complete the draft. And I had her read it out loud, so we can both comment on it. She suggested not changing anything. It’s always best unadulterated she would say.
In the evenings we would walk up the streets to talk about it — what’s philosophical and objective — on how she would always support me, love me, until we reach the fork of our ways. I knew It could be that even in the stillness of her voice I heard her say those silent encrypted protests for the unbecoming. Let’s be like Ed and Anne for good — to be in a place where the roads never end, licenses never expire, and the rides go around and roundabout.
The news came one day. A friend committed suicide. Connie took muriatic acid, it was immediate. No other details shared apart from that. We haven’t heard from her for a while, we just didn’t realize.
A country musician from Illinois was playing on stage by the time we got there, making use of his larynx as the main instrument in his repertoire. People who knew Connie were felt compelled to keep her alive until the bar closed at four. The musician paid tribute to Layne Staley, Lou Reed, and Sinatra too. It was fitting: life is a life, nonetheless. It was years after when I saw some of them. The rest I wrote letters and postcards were mailed back especially around the holidays.
Over rounds of drinks, we were reconciled, at least for a while, in this tragedy we were bound into. Subtlety always resided with sobriety, while indiscretion and truth were found on the side of the night, always. Back at the apartment, I phoned a relative just to be sure. A doctor-on-call was scarce. Discretion was the key, Intervention was next I suppose.
It’s never going to be perfect, she said. It’s going to be ugly, and mad, and hysterical. Her arm was filled while the spirit high. But flowers wither, rivers eventually run dry. The colors fade, if not, most eyes will turn the other way. And if not for these fleeting moments of transcendence, life will never be appreciated on the pedestal of grandeur. That glory, courage, and wisdom, these fragments we hold onto – not reluctance but a mere recognition, a fight if you will — of life not ending but transgressing.
The white walls were all there were. I was sitting in front of it. At the bedroom table, I was surrounded by all of them. White walls on all sides. Plain as it could get, except for the outdated calendar hanged limply on the southwest side that was about to give out in the faintest blow of the wind. The room was still. Even with open windows, there was no breeze entering at all. No rustling coming from the neighboring trees, neither whistling nor visits from the birds that usually perched on the window sill. The smoke of the cigarette followed the pathless hike, ceiling-bound as it curled in front of my face. Everything around me was silent as if we were all waiting together for something important to happen. Thin sheets of clouds were covering most parts of the sky like an oversized gray patch so dull it resembled a clearing of a lahar aftermath. I decided to rescue an empty coffee container made of glass, to use it as a spare mug should I have visitors coming over. But I was not expecting anyone that night, or any time soon I figured. Still, I washed the damn thing anyway and placed it on the drying rack next to a microwavable dish plate.
It was not always like this in fact. Especially on weekends when the halls outside my room were packed by children running up and down playing and yelling until twilight when their parents call them in for supper. Or at Christmas when my mom and sisters come over to have lunch with me before heading back for Noche Buena, or last summer when I dated someone from work who also lived nearby the sea. In this vacuum of time I remained, in this void, I lingered, over expanding in the thoughts of my consciousness boundless. I thought I belonged there, it was like a homecoming. I began to snap my fingers to break the chain. I could no longer stand the silence. I walked towards my reflection and saw the lines on my forehead. Deeper than the last time I remembered them to be, even the placements had changed, it was uncanny. I didn’t realize that my wrinkles were well-traveled. And when did they decide to move was unknown to me. When one was asleep perhaps? It should be that, lest I would have noticed it moved.
The cream firmed up. I stirred and stirred before it lost warmth. I leaned over stretching my head to see the other side of the wooden fence below for an acquaintance resting my arms on the balcony. Then I heard a heavy knocking on the door which caught me off-guard. At first, I thought somebody saw me peering at the neighbor’s and ran up to my room to tell me off. But that was too fast of a reaction it was impossible. I didn’t know who it was behind it, as I said I wasn’t expecting anyone anytime soon. As I turned to approach the door, I thought it could be the caretaker, or someone from the other units probably borrowing some tools like a Phillips screwdriver or an electrical tape. People always forget to buy electrical tapes ending up asking the neighbor for some. And as I came closer, I remembered all of a sudden that I was still in my sleep clothes and thought of putting on something more decent. So, I did that, throwing in over a sweatshirt although it’s thirty-three degrees that afternoon.
When finally, I turned the knob to open, there stood in uniform a guard from downstairs panting, catching his breath while wiping his massive neck with a face towel. He has a wide body, probably too big for his shirt and hat, who also was taller than I was. I gave him a moment before he was able to say that there was a phone call for me at the reception.
“I don’t understand, did the caller leave a name?”
“I’m sorry, I neglected to ask” he responded, finally regaining himself.
“That’s fine, does it sound urgent?”
“It was a woman’s voice, I can’t really tell”
From the living area, I heard the first arrival of the birds perching on the tufts of the sofa. The leaves rustled for the first time that day.
I invited him in to drink a good glass of cold water and joined my perched friends on the balcony.
The doctors swarmed around the registry, rabidly flipping over charts, murmuring as if a baffling discovery has come to their attention. Behind the glass window on a closer look, the whites of their coats varied in shade. The older doctors wore their tarred uniforms, while the incoming residents were clad in immaculate white. From the center, the seniors were the nucleus of the group, while the younger ones broke off into smaller clusters sharing leftovers of the discussion. One would think it was odd seeing a group of brilliant minds baffled by the simplicity of the news. It was a sudden, terrible loss of an innocent life. A body lay on its side on a cold steel table. Limbs lay on the same parallel direction, while the blackness of the eyes was full and open, and the lips were closed tight like a perfectly drawn straight line. An expression of peace was painted on the windows of its soul but there was no life remained at all. The woman’s face was burrowed into the chest of her husband; desperately in search for something that would console her. As he held her tight with one arm resigned, the husband watched the emptiness of the vessel which was the remainder of what was once considered to be their unending source of joy. The other patients wailed and mourned around them.
Through the swinging doors entered the medical assistants tasked to take the body to the observation deck. One of the new doctors walked up and explained to the couple all of the medical efforts that had been exerted, plus the basis of each conclusive result. This went on item by item as if it was from a recipe book read out loud. It was a small town they found themselves in, in a much smaller clinic. It was humid and cramped. Between these, with uneasiness, the resident doctor would turn to the registry where his peers were, drawing confidence and approval. But there was an utter omission of the official prognosis and the cause of death for it was apparent. Then he continued as he segues to declare that while their responsibilities as medical practitioners for the case of the deceased have officially ended, the devotion of their friends in the other room as artists has not. The time of death has been determined, and the team — should they prefer to meet — was preparing for the next phase.
Still in trance, the couple had grasped nothing of what the resident has attempted to explain. He repeated himself until confirming that the couple was able to digest at least the necessary information. After some time, they were led into a room where they met with the officiating attendant and his supervisor for the post-mortem matters that needed to be discussed. Papers were signed, in the couple’s own time of course, and servicing fees were also covered.
“It’s going to be a difficult task reconstructing the features to its original state, some photos will help. But nothing time and persistence wouldn’t fix. We usually deal with subjects who were either shot clean or those we have found on the road, so we could say we’re pretty good at what we do.” The taxidermist shared arrogantly.
“Sorry we wasted your time,” responded by the woman. “Can we please use your phone?”
As scheduled, they met at the family residence after dusk and sat together at the dining table under the low ceiling light hanging over them. The tiny crystal pendants around its main light, of which the glass shade refracted prisms on each dangling embellishment themed the room with mixed hues. Luis sat at the head of the table, while the younger brother sat by the corner, the two of them slightly facing each other while the lawyers seated side by side across. There were piles of documents atop the leather case between them, and cigarette stubs nearly overflowed in a porcelain ashtray by the cups of consumed coffee.
“Have you thought about your options, Luis?” the lead counselor began. Jojo turned to his elder for an answer. “I guess we have.” Luis’ voice has fallen tired when he responded.
“Or could we have more time to go over it? I mean we don’t have to decide right away, do we attorney?” Jojo injected worriedly.
“Inasmuch as we want to get the arrangements done for at this point, we want you to know that we completely understand how hard these things could get. Please take all the time you need but let us know as soon as you have arrived at a decision. It would be best if we get something by the end of the week, but we’ll hold it off as much as we can.”
And the rest of the exchanges were all ceremonials to make sure that everything down to the last detail was in order. After half an hour, they all stood up and shook hands except for Luis who remained silent in his seat. The younger brother showed the lawyers to the door and excused the indifference of the brother and blamed it all to exhaustion and explained further that he was not quite himself lately. He went back to the dining area after getting a pitcher of cold water from the fridge, and Luis mechanically reached for the glasses from the rack in front of him and handed one to the brother.
Frustrated, he bolts right up on his feet and walked around and turned his back to Jojo.
“I can’t believe mother would do such a thing” and mellowed down after a pause,
“I guess it can’t be helped.”
After supper, in front of the wooden dresser, he peeled off a strip of white tape from the dispenser and wrote her name on it. He then plastered it across the surface of the mirror where his reflection was, on eye level, to ensure that he won’t forget to think about her every time he stood there. Sometimes, the air in the bedroom would feel like a visit from the past. The room still smelled of dried flowers from the house altar which their mother used to keep. It has been decided that they would always keep her room locked from the housekeepers or anyone for that matter without explicit permission.
A few days had passed, it was the weekend, the brothers decided to get some air on the coast. Luis drove while Jojo was looking up to the direction of the foliage ahead with the wind on his face. The sun was always gentle after the rain he mused and reached behind him to the back seat to open the rest of the windows to let the cold breeze in. The waves were full upon their arrival to the shore. For countless years they have carved in the skirts of the land mass deep into the ocean floor. The crashes were hollow as it trembled heavily as both brothers felt minute in their presence.
“I remember how our parents have thrown their worries out here. Do you recall?” The stares of Luis fixed onto the horizon as if he has latched his gaze onto the ends of the ocean.
“I just remember how different things were, kuya. Those were just the happiest times.” Jojo replied as he stepped a few paces forward into the beach and felt the salt water drown his feet, and continued as if mimicking,
“I guess it can’t be helped.”
Just as they stood a mushroom smoke steadied its girth from the horizon up to the ends of the sky. The wild forest fire has been on for three days showing no signs of stopping.
The moon that night glared wildly red in the sky while its reflection quivered on the surface of the garden pond beneath the motionless virgin of the grotto. Its light sliced through the gaps of the wooden jalousie into the rooms of the house. The shadows crept in the corners, through the halls, and under the shed, while silhouettes shifted, and parted with each passing vehicle on the nearby street.
We listened to the protracted speech on the radio. One of the professors from the faculty said that maybe things would be easier now that the government is really serious about cleaning after the mess. I didn’t say anything about the remark for my disagreement may be viewed as cynicism I feared. In the first light, we reached the circle where the police and the protesters met. At noon, the red flags were etched high against the blue sky and when the meeting ended, the colors were swallowed by the enclosed cup of darkness. Nothing stood out, but the cries and the chanting went on until it rained hard and everyone decided to go home — it was like a terrible joke.
There was a hint of resignation and a silent flavor of discontent across the room when we got back. The senior photographer has decided to proceed directly to the darkroom leaving everybody behind to ready the films to be developed and motioned at me that I should follow to calibrate the story. It wasn’t a question if I was eager to comply, so I excused myself out and went after him.
The pictures started to take shape in the water like images appearing from a tender, abandoned memory. They were vivid and bold and yet seemed peaceful. I envied the craftsmanship and his eye. I asked him what it was he was hoping to get out from all of these, and he responded gently with a satisfied expression while clipping the papers to the lines “stories, just stories.”
In the courtyard, through the crooked shadows of the trees, I strode along to decompress before getting back to writing until the bell from the parish had rung. I was about half done with my second draft, just a few minor edits based on the featured photo we selected that night. I thought I should be able to finish before midnight, and maybe, there’d be enough time to swing by for some Chinese.
There was a girl in the main hall of the center building holding a lit candle walking with another woman, probably a year or two older. Their dresses were modest, they had grace, and their movements were subtle as if gliding on the waxed floors. They appeared to be heading in the direction of the church, yet it’s quite late but who am I to know. She resembled someone taken from the photograph or it could just be dark that I might have imagined it– I guess I was just exhausted, I wasn’t sure. There were a lot of things that I do not know I realized and thought that life has a way of putting you in a very humbling place. This was my version of that, I figured I should capture it, record it, and digest as much as I could. When they passed by me, courteous nods were exchanged. Their veils obscured the details of their faces, but the sincerity brimmed through, nonetheless. “There is still beauty in the dark, ‘di ba Ser?” A voice from the security guard loomed from behind. Apparently, everyone from that place was infected by a rare philosophical disease. I turned to the source of this unsolicited commentary and moved on to the main gate and lighted a cigarette.
And I wondered on, thinking about what we talked about in the darkroom. Two blocks away from the building there was an annoying honking in a traffic jam. There were kids loitering at the public sidewalks, and helicopters hovering too. I retrieved my week’s pay from my shirt pocket, unfolded the cheque and scooted to where it is brighter.
I heard my stomach give out a hallowed snarl and there was a sour taste that lingered in my mouth.
It was career week and most of the huge companies around town came over to talk about industry choices we had while scouting potential seniors running for honors with exceptional qualifier scores. Everybody wanted to be someone and seemed so sure to know what career option to choose. At first, I didn’t understand what it was I was feeling at the time, but it made me feel bad about the indecisions and on the lack of preference over and under.
Over coffee that afternoon I was on my usual quiet state walking past the walls of Intramuros. The smell of moisten grass complimented the descending sun in the west. The styro cup I was holding had bite marks on it, not realizing I was gnawing on its defenseless brim.
I confided my dilemma to her, and she was not in a hurry to dispense any answers. She just sat there by the wide windows of the convenience store we found ourselves at, listening intently as if I was a puzzle to solve. I was waiting for some quirky punchlines to shrug off my bickering, but instead, she just pursed her lips and pointed her index finger on my forehead and said that she was not worried about me, that I should see what she was seeing. I decided from then on that I love convenience stores and wanted to kiss her in the mouth occasionally.
From then on, we were buddies for life. There was nothing in the world that could separate us. I told her about this place where I used to go to that she should try out, and there, in the weeks that followed, we spent our nights and the little money we had on second-hand records and inexpensive chocolate bars while listening to unearthed B-sides with cigarettes. While it lasted it seemed endless. I liked the classics while she burrowed herself to punk rock. She always had good taste in music. I respected her, while she thought I was over-sentimental and coy that I was too sad I should seek professional help. One time we crashed a party pretending we were distant cousins just to see how the other kids in the subdivisions did it. Then we drove around town in her brother’s stolen car talking about how terrible it was, but deep down we thought how nice it really was and confessed eventually that we envied them. We laughed about it and pretended more, but could only go on so far that we knew we’d run out of roads.
She always persisted to take the wheel, going around places getting nowhere in particular, persisted that we go to the sea and drink by the fire. The nights were colder then but we always knew we had something to warm us with.
Sometimes if we’re low on gas, we’d just walk down the creek if there was enough moonlight and sit on the low walls of the golf course. We were juveniles, and those blue summer nights were ours. Had we held them close enough it would burst, and we’d explode along with it. We would hold no form, morph into invisible energy roaming in the air, carefree. We would be in different places at once, many drifting parts of us, multiplied, experiencing simultaneous life episodes. We wouldn’t have to worry about being overwhelmed — we’d be shapeless.
I looked across the purple dusk in that sullen, dry tropical afternoon, listening intently to the singing of the wind. And even though I have tried so much to reconcile, mustering with all might in this exponential attempt to remember even the slightest of, I could not have achieved it. For I am the chapters read from a torn paperback, dog-eared, spine ripped and worn down. I will always remember her drinking from a paper cup, placing it under her lips, on queue after a drag from a cigarette in the streams of smoke. Her skin was the railways on her cheek for tears, deepened and mapped with heartaches. I told her to listen, to just listen, for there was nothing left to do but to just wait for the playing of a well-chosen soundtrack that could rescue.
She got out of the shower and stood by the doorway soaked. It was hard not to watch her body glisten in the light. She asked me about the fight, on why I over-reacted like that. Obviously, she was upset about the whole thing and I did not want to make matters worse, so I turned the other way. I told her that I didn’t mean to scare her and all, but it’s something that I did not have control over like how I was when I am around her sometimes. Like the polar caps in the heat of the sun, I guess we just simply melt away.
Lightheaded, I asked her if she can go to the front desk to get some fresh bandages and anesthetics. Miles Davis’ Blue in Green was on the static radio. I looked outside and noticed that the moon was a bit distant than the usual. It was turning out to be a really slow night.
When I was about to reach a complete state of deep slumber, I felt a sudden jolt which pulled me right off from respite. And in her softer version of a whisper, she said that we had no time and we ought to be going soon before the sun rises. “Movement is life, and there is no telling what the road holds for us today.”
She was always the wiser one.
I looked around trying to get some grip on what’s going on. My head still felt woozy from the sedatives and vodka I took. On the newsstands, some guy from the government was causing trouble in the south. I then skimmed the column and memorized the name on the byline and thought that the writer was one tough guy to be able to say things like that. And I wished wordlessly, that someday I could be as brave.
We sat down along the roadside by the line of shrubs under the canopy of the trees. The heat was gentle, and the dews were still present on the soft landings of the open leaves. We waited for the first bus trip while drinking cool stale water from our canteens and watching the day unfold. The wound from my head was starting to dry off, a bit painful still, but it was better. Across the benches, there was a sidewalk vendor selling herb oils and healing mantles, who signaled to me for a remedy, but I rather self-heal.
We bought a local wine to get us through the cold by the time we reach the highlands. This helpful advice was taken from an old commuter, whose business was to bring farm and household supplies to the villagers up north. He was a light-hearted fellow with a pair of shiny, rosy cheekbones. We thanked him for the tip and offered if we could buy him a bottle as well, but he respectfully declined and said that he does not drink while working. Instead, he offered his home to us in a couple of days during the cropping of the harvest. And then he added that we could also help out should we want to earn a few pesos or just for the experience. We said we would definitely consider that and thanked him once again for his generosity.
The day was ultimately different compared to the last few days. As if there was something grounded governing those mountains. I never felt so still in my life. And in those moments, I genuinely heard the voice of silence speaking to me, as the waves of the wind carried its message across, it was like an endless cradle of fleeting conversation with nature itself, it was inexplicably serene.
Then I surveyed the scenery around us, from the line of trees with their broken shadows cast on the road to the uneven terrains of the hillside, heaving deep breaths as I began to wonder if the thought of staying has ever occurred to her. And in the midst of this wandering contemplation I suddenly arrived at the conclusion which I have always known, that she was a runaway, and like the great mustangs in the west, she is always meant to run.
And so, I hid these and leaned against her shoulder thankful still.
I was at the receiving area waiting under a bamboo ornament, for the Colonel — who I was interning for at the time — was concluding unofficial business matters in the other room with a tarot card reader who was also his lover. I kept on looking at my wristwatch hoping it would wind up faster. Earlier that day, he said he had received a phone call from the lady and demanded it imperative that he must come by her place at once. But he couldn’t really say why and therefore I couldn’t, in turn, determine which role portrayal she was on that afternoon. The Colonel was not always this superstitious; matter of fact, he was quite critical and sensible. His decisions have always been based on his years of extensive military service and never believed in anything supernatural. Word was, a few years back, he saw an apparition in the mountains and for days he had fallen ill and had serious episodes of convulsions which ensued from this chain of events, him being rather delirious and “undetermined”. According to the rumors, once, he snuck out of the camp, climbed over the steel fences and was found by roving soldiers talking to barks of trees and wandering about in the shadows. All of these, of course, in respect to his rank, were not stated on the official routine reports.
Flipping through a magazine and chain-smoking, across where I seated were four comfortable looking armchairs each decorated by carefully embroidered apple green throw pillows, of which the designs represented the celebrated animal zodiac of the year. I preferred to stay near the front door where I amused myself with daydreaming and brewing empty, sobering thoughts. The place was always lit red whether it was day or night, and the embellishments on its interiors were limited to beaded curtains, fortune plants, oriental figurines, and wind chimes, which I suppose for the purposes of being economical more than being spiritual. The lady across me was fourth in line and she appeared to be accustomed to the culture of the queue. She was right about mid-forties, had a good posture, and still had good set of teeth. She was with her daughter who appeared to be oblivious on where she was and was absorbed watching videos on her mom’s phone.
I was about to doze off when a fast pacing movement caught my attention and saw the Colonel and the fortune teller crossing the street getting into a white taxi. And it flashed to me the instructions I had received from one of the high-ranking officers to not lose sight of him. Hurrying, I looked over the counter (to make sure), peered through the slightly opened reading room, and figured that they had used the back door.
I saw the Colonel look back from his side of the backseat as if motioning with his expressions that the future has been foretold and everything was out of his hands. I witnessed the slopes of his discontent vanish in the light of the sun that glared on the glass window. In his eyes, I saw the greenest meadowlands on a perfect summer day. I turned the other way, and with earphones on, I walked up those festive streets warm on the eve of Chinese New Year. I turned around and the vehicles behind me were reduced to blurry hazes and bylines. I couldn’t tell where they turned, but in the absence of, something from within welled up, as if a part of me was working again.
Then I remembered the moment I first met the Colonel. It was my internship interview when he started talking about cigars eagerly, about the types of wood, and how the Ilocanos traditionally made theirs. I knew nothing about these of course, but I caught myself nodding between these expanding points. And I thought to myself that I knew him, that he must have had a familiar soul.
Nowadays I still wonder about the Lady and the Colonel. On how she undresses and tucks herself beneath the warm sheets underneath the pale moon. And how the Colonel would watch her and think to himself how beautiful she is especially when she cries. Not that her grief amused him, but it was more about the honesty that shaped her. It was like an encapsulating shell that preserves every piece of humanity that was left there for us to feed on. That fate and luck must have decided to reconcile this time around, amidst chaos and the inevitable misalignments of our limited capacity.
It was cold and windy when he stepped out of the publishing house. While its appearance was uninviting, its cragginess still appealed to him, nevertheless. Although its elevators no longer worked after the last world war, the staircases were wide and generous, while windows were tall, quite suitable for thinking and writing.
He thought it was indescribable what he felt holding the manuscript finished in his hands. Links of sleepless food stalls wailed, and prolific choreographed routines of evening companions for hire flooded the atmosphere. Artists of all sorts stood around at the corners performing, while middle-aged men who’d rather refer to themselves as aficionados lounged in wicker chairs on narrow alleys.
It was four days before his birthday, exactly two weeks after the car accident. And although the doctors told him he was lucky, the experience still attracted him. It gave him something to look forward to, a journey to profoundly aspire for.
He was driving west in the rain when the car swerved off the freeway until it tumbled off the cliff and dived. It was a hard rain, he couldn’t see. Half conscious, he thought it was beautiful, how the dark, electric blue flashes in the patches of the clouds would entertain him while he waited for the sirens to come.
When he got discharged, the first thing he thought about was getting a haircut. Nothing grand, just good old-fashioned clean haircut. Grooming was after all his pilgrimage back to civilization. It was how humanity saw it, he wanted to compromise.
As he strolled there was a hint of rain in the air. A few swelling beads of raindrops crackled onto his leather coat just about when he reached the turnstile to catch the late-night train.
In this pluvial darkness he pulled up his collar close, and the lapels which overlapped across his chest warmed him. A few celebratory drags then he flicked the cigarette half-done to the puddle, staying with it as he watched it hiss before entering the station.
Just the same, even after all, he still thought it was a good time for a drive, but he could not. Instead, he imagined steering the wheel in the darkness through the same night until he catches the first light of the next day. As he stood on the platform, he thought about how the rain will wash away the world clean as it always did. There were a few lines that he wanted to write her, regrets even. But he couldn’t. His hands are failing him.
A friend once told me “do not try to fend off the good” apparently this has always been my problem according to her. Given that it is non-clinical, and it has encroached upon the merits that it is all based on pure alcohol-induced speculation, I guess, I should believe her prognosis.
“Everyone is a character, in a plot of this book told by a satyr or a romantic. You could either live lavishly like the Divers or die tragically valiant like El Sordo defending the Spanish hilltops.”
But I was not anywhere near any of it. I could no longer see fit to entwine myself to the life of a poet. Sure, I still believed in desserts and an occasional ticket pass to the pictures, but I seemed to have lost something between the sweet taste and the closing credits.
From a table napkin dispenser, she withdrew a couple of sheets that she used as a substitute for parchment paper. She could have written an entire volume on them had it not been for the limiting light from the blue screen monitor overhead. I can’t remember what exactly she wrote there, knowing her, she could have probably written something about the cooling waves under the moon in those sultry nights or something about a duck. She wrote happily, and lived, and coyed with the boys her age, she did it all. She was a God.
Until one day she ran away with an older boy whom she met in a smoky room. I can still remember that night quite well; they were smoking by a dying fluorescent lamp under a frameless Joan Jett poster taped on a wall. I never had the chance to talk to her about that in fact, and I reckoned that we must like we used to in the past. There was an occasion when I saw her in the middle of a crowd somewhere in Cubao, I knew it was her; she had a Mao cap on, carrying a canvas tote.
I guess for now I will just have to see her in our conversations, in her stories, or perhaps this time, among the pages of my fictions, until then.
“Wake up Alice!” He leaped out of the bed to get ready for school, rushing awkwardly, boxers in prints, sprinting across the heap of overnight clothes and leftover fast food styros on the floor. It was Monday and he felt forcibly contending with everything that basically moves. But the floodlit room entranced with rays of rubies, promises of fresher beginnings, in their gentlest graduation life has sprouted. On this eve oozed within him the end of the term in March, it was finally summer, after all.
He swung over a long-sleeved shirt lying limply on the couch, its embroidered crest patch stood out on the bright white linen chest pocket. While facing the reflection on the mirror, he briskly half brushed his bristled hair, tracing the remnants of adolescence on the skin, the innocence radiating there, surfacing, and joyously immersing in his debonair youth.
Late afternoon radio-drama was on the background, for a moment of pause, he passively watched the fornicating dogs on the street by the fish-ball cart while sat there at the corner wall was Alice clasping the hems of her skirt nervously. She held in her hands a curious strip. It had two blue lines faint in color, keen on him for an opportune chance to dialogue. He scuttled underneath the sofa for his shoes.
Her beautiful dark hair was neatly tucked behind her ears, thick healthy curls down to her shoulders, prim like the holy mother. Fearful of the divine and the sins outside matrimony, her family follows the traditional and the sacred. She dreads and shudders. She never felt more alive.
She opened her mouth to catch the unusual rainfall, having a little taste of the sky, of that sweet, sweet rain in that midsummer. She struggled, plunging the blade inwardly until it was no longer seen. The blade must be dull, or her strength just dwindled. She is fading, drenched.
In her mind she used a skiff to dump his body on the other side of the riverbank under the bridge where there was soft red earth – This she contemplated while staring at the cream firming up in the lukewarm coffee by a Collin Classic. Earlier, they clinked glasses and loathed by the fire, all against the skies and their cardinal oppressors. She placed her head against his chest and sobbed. She loved him too well that she doubted and knew. “Will you please stay for the night, will you love?”
“Of course,” said he. “Where else would I be?”
She shook her head as if coercing understanding. “But you won’t.”
Her breath smelt of Italian spring flowers, and how it reminded him to set out and see the other side of the world even though he detested traveling. A cigarette was locked in between her fingers, dragging cold, flavored smoke. He wanted his soul to taste like nicotine that night.
They talked about poetry and what could have been like as if it were in the movies, of rewritten screenplays, oh how they loved a kiss, and another, under a bridge, draped by the tender lights of Manila.
He held up an old framed photograph that sat on a wooden chest, on a crochet table mat her mom made. Immaculate white curtains wavered over it like a ghost gliding in the nightlight. “It was such a strange thing to see mother dancing like that. Who knew? And I wonder whatever happened to the songs they indulgently danced to anyway? Like their youth in time, they must have simply transposed, minutely into mere fragments of recollections we now share.”
His voice strained but it had maintained resolute permanence. It’s almost never easy to live in the past his father concluded. In the mind of the old man, it is almost like an attempt to recover a deep lasting sleep, trying to recapture a wonderful dream he once had, at least what’s left of it.
And he can never, anymore, remember how many wonderful weekends he spent with those whom he loved, nor the feeling that they carried along with them. The night lamp was dimming along with the diminishing chirps of bush crickets in the enclosing windows until the fire had flickered no more, until the dark had devoured the nothingness and the absolute.
We were set to meet the week after Earl was found on the bathroom floor in her parents’ house. Everyone had to lay low for a while, but clearly, it was also a way of saying that the club was about to end. The climate was inclement distinctively that night. The smell of sanitized concrete was clean and calming which paced my driving slow. The man in a green suit with pointy front teeth directed me to where I could park, hand-gesturing to a space behind the steel fences by the back door, where I found a graveyard of cigarette stubs and puddles of dark water left by the rain.
I cranked the hand break and checked the parking job from the rearview and waited for the engine to die down before pressing the dial. The phone rang a few times over until finally a coarse voice answered lazily hinting a dozy reluctance.
It wasn’t her, so I hung up. I went inside and nursed my impatience coupled with anxiety, while I sank in my usual spot at the corner where it was dark and cool and relatively isolated.
I repeatedly went over the unfavorable odds and faulted myself for it.
So, I drank and shook a pinball machine instead.
A little over a year ago, Earl and I stayed in a summertime retreat house near the eastern coastline that a relative of his handsomely sponsored. It was a favor that I had to go through which he insisted since I had nothing specially to do that vacation period anyway. Besides, I have already given tita my confirmation, which would be considered a huge let down if I had changed my mind the last minute. We were made to do preplanned activities which were part of the program, which also ensued, consequently, the day to day itinerary adversely tight for anything else.
On the fourth night, I thought of getting up before the sun did. Sleep was a novelty that was not there since the time we arrived. The moon was too bright it seemed prying, stars too many that I felt naked under them.
It felt like I was making up for lost time. I had a mini viewing deck in my room, sat there with my early cigarette. Looking through the binoculars following a tree line over the ridge, I saw a beautiful white domestic canary gliding over the sloping into the narrow passages until it disappeared, completely. The entire landscape was starting to warm up until it was finally soft and rosy all around, while the ocean whimpered across the shore on the opposite side of the lodge.
And it seemed tranquil enough to begin, for anyone who wanted to start all over – like a moth to a lamp I was drawn to it.
It was after breakfast when I saw her waded in the shallows. The water was clear and blue, and sometimes green in the day. The skiff shifted, it was about the perfect time to daydream, and what better way to do it than sailing away from the coast. When the waters were right about her hip, she went in and plunged. She paddled on patiently, her arms made consistent circular motions toward the direction of the horizon. She tasted the salt upon turning her head for air and permitted the sea to wrap itself around her young body, to flow through her hair and touch her eyes.
I have never seen anyone so beautiful. She was the countless sand in that ocean, slipping away through my fingers.
Consumed, she took a rest on the raft, and lay there as if entwined with the planks; she felt the weight sinking beneath her and the water trickling down the surface of her now warm skin. Her complete state heeded to the call of gravity, and the sun was almost midway up when she stared at it through the gap between her thighs.
She also saw the passing of the skiff, the sails were unfamiliar, but the face she knew. Even so, she paid no mind to it, then she turned to her side and thought about the other boy instead.
It echoed to her, ringing into her ears. Circling, hovering in the air suspended. A thought that lingered, a shadow cast, a return mail, or perhaps in this case of her’s, a puzzle piece that she’d rather not complete. On the side table sat a half-filled glass of water and a mat of aspirins accented by the crumpling of drugstore receipts. She got up but not quite making it and leaned against the two giant pillows propped on the wall. The day was not over yet, the soft glow of twilight brimmed across the wide horizon making the sky flushed up in that gentle orangery burst.
Her body was warm, a leg was bent, and both arms sagged across the bed. The wrinkles of the undone fitted sheets gave out, it was almost dark, and she was turning into a bat. A familiar musk of which only a man could produce made her senses and her entire anatomy felt defensive. She dabbed on her side hesitantly, lips were half open, curious words stifled by this uninvited ambiguity. She can hear innocence and lightness in the breathing that accompanied her. It was dry and rhythmic, almost melodious in tone. It got louder as she leaned forward, causing her head braced.
She then dragged her fingertips quietly forward until finally, they had contacted a crooked body.
“It is not a dream” She thought. “But I do not know this man”. She pricked herself again and again – for sometimes she would wake in a dream and would wander off in another.
“I slept the day away. But why aren’t you scared silly? Alas! At the very least weirded out by all this, stupid…” She gasped and slowly moved back to her side and tapped her left sole first onto the floor to get into her bedroom slippers.
Half an hour past she walked toward the table that stood by the open window, dragging a trail of blanket behind her, covering herself to the chest. She waited there staring at the burrowed face on her bed, behind the mosquito net beneath the moonglow that showered through the faint curtains. This woke the crooked body and arose almost in stealth, propped on its arms on the sides.
This time she can see him, but not entirely. Half of his chest and most of his being were concealed, unshared. But there was nothing to show, it spoke finally. “It is I, Juliana” his tone low and suited the sultry tropical weather. He was just a faceless man, not of the flesh but made of stencils, and paints, and narratives – a figment of her imagination, an absolute manifestation of her mind.
Surely, she was not running a high fever to cast this delirious persona she checked.
The dream if it were, was surprisingly placid, she rationalized.
Behind the scaffolding, a grimy mirror on the mahogany closet held her reflection. And she traced the light of the night outlined her shape, the slope of her forehead, the swell on her chest, and the rugged top knot of a painter’s panache she was sporting.
She was humbled by what she knew – She saw the sketching of the skies, the molding from clay, a creation of someone else’s dream.
She reopened a note she retrieved from the drawer and read:
“Let us linger in time before things disintegrate completely before us like paper in the rain. Perhaps it will help you remember. With complete vigor and youthful view round the backseats, as we drove up north, and decided on how you and I should face each other, now, then, in front of, or miles apart, we will always be the same people who we chose to be. Like our favorite characters in those films. So, I’ll see you there, amour.”
The wind was all about him. Kerosene lamps lit the huts, while generators for the volunteer canopies. He got down on one knee and felt the lifeless ground beneath his palm. The earth was frozen, gray, and forlorn, as if barren. It labored the imminent misery that it will carry for the remainder of its time while the quiet and the unbidden tears, all the faithful disobedience – to not go this time – will be forcibly tucked to oblivion. No, not this time, or perhaps he was wrong. There were no second chances there he thought, only a time for reclusion, to mourn, and to dream infinitely in solitude. In the soft cradles of midnight blue overhead, and the casting light in the drowsy river, gentle and sparkling, overflowing champagne in November. Square miles of farm grass yielded their blades – in pine or in the shade of moss – glowing in that blue and deep night. It called for him, and it did not hold back. It was restless like how the sea waves submit in the time of the monsoon. And the black hole, and the super-clusters and the entire universe held in reverse in the eyes of those who lay half-awake in their sleeping bags by the fire. While the scudding clouds pushed by resentment, and indifference, and incoherence. Dancing the waltz or celebrating a solemn procession during Lent. However so, these days were his, for the first time he knew for sure. When he felt the pounding life force on his chest when his veins were streamed with perpetual devotion to just breathe, and lead, to command, and write, and work with his bare hands, with ink, and thoughts, and sheer brute, and absolute resolve.
Lest the world will crumble away easily.
Slow walking, he made a promise to himself. To never return, for it could no longer, ever, reclaim the innocence it once had. The cold north breeze crept beneath at the beginning from the foot of the brown hills, now patient and almost still. It won’t be hurried; a mother nursing what soon will be morning dews. As if it was a craft, or poetry, a prayer for the divine.
She walked behind him, sidled and handed him the canteen. He drank from it and he felt the warm liquid gushing through his insides.
He had to get some air he said. As he looked down to his feet, he thanked her for the thought. Half of her face was shrouded by an emerald light from the east, and you can see hair tufts on her nape. She crouched on a slight slanting, overlooking the patches of shrubs across the plain distance.
From afar, the moon gleamed over the tent canvas and the red nylon textiles were tender, subdued. On the mountainside, a significant clearing has been made to open up pathways for the recovery plan. One can barely make out the remains of the clipped bird.
He felt this overbearing weight in his lungs. Perhaps it was the residues of the stench, of dead rats mixed with the smell of cold rusts. He was flying back to Manila before sunrise.
“You did really well. You should take that with you, always”. She consoles.
“But the weird thing is, and you must forgive me for saying… I think I have only known you now after all these years. I can’t really put a finger on it, but it was as if you were someone else.”
“The meeting of parallels” He retorted.
“Tell me more about it, when we’re done here.”
“That’s for sure.”
The long ride back was fast and smooth as soon as they reached the national highway. She drove him to the free airfield in a service truck, also to fetch the succeeding waves of rescuers flying in. The thick blowing winds muffled their ears and preferred not to talk much all throughout the drive. And when they reached the guard post, she waved her identification card at the officer to open the barrier gate, pulling over to the nearest parking space by the tarmac.
He tucked her hair behind her ears and kissed her on the forehead. They both felt warm as they wrapped arms around each other wordlessly and smiled before turning around. He saw her leaning against the grill, looking sunward until he can no longer see her.
Back at the apartment, he sat at the corner by the telephone rack. And he looked around the room filled with words and labels from household appliance brands he rarely uses, stacks of western shoe-boxes, construction company calendars, double-ply toilet paper, a notepad and a courtesy pen from a hotel.
Behind the glass window, he stared at the conniving sky and wished for it to fall.
Gregor and Emma are examining book spines of classic Filipiṅana 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 godforsaken 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.
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 moviegoers, who also prefer reading current events on sleazy tabloids with monochrome centerfolds. 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 fluorescent 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 take over. 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 for 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, 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 on board 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 salons 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 for the assimilation. Adam has fallen in love with films.
Adam’s discovery of his fascination with 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 back seat 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.
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, 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 pushcarts 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.
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.
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 of 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 changes, 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 the 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.
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-traveled feet that led her shadows home.
One of the guests walked through the beaded blinds decorated with seashells 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 afar, 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 is the cratered moon.
She was introduced to contempt for the first time.
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 wonderful 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.
The kitchen door swung open and the prism made it home through. As his wrinkled eyes welcomed the dawn, old cigars from the drawer case were lined up on the table top as if a celebration called for it, as if yesterday has left behind its shape. During those days newspapers were treated like they were still part of breakfast, of over-easy-peppered sunny side ups and black coffee while smoked salmon and VCRs kept the night intact.
Retired suitcases filled the closet and the clock was silent and still. The mailbox was hollow, and the words were deep-seeded somewhere far away.
But the stream was endless, and the pictures were always as clear as day. The possibilities never eluded him, as if miracles do happen all the time. He would always go back holding onto a piece of paper, to a promise across a long stretch of an attempt to dream only to find the morning at the end of it. A slow erratic pace, but a rediscovery is always almost a certainty.
And when sleep is out of reach, the dents and the dimples on the other side of the bed keep him company. He tells himself, that nights do end and some things last. After all, the universe allows a little indifference in its lifetime.
For it is not sentimental he would always think? Just sheer contemplations of the complicated human heart. It beats to resonate across the end corners and the clutters, cruising the seas and highway intersections to the point of absolution or tragedy. The years that went by were reduced to mere flashes and pixelated photographs. They are no longer numbers but the very accumulation of delightful shared experiences.
How can one be grateful without despair? Suffering concludes pretenses, and it clears the way for contentment. For sure he recognizes what was once there. The shadows of the past let him remember that he can never make an accord with time. He steals, therefore, a thief between the paradoxes.
But what does it mean really? Whose answer may trigger either sober inspirations or bitter ending catastrophes. Pardon the blunt demeanor, but the ink is blotted, and the pen is starting to skip.
I wish to taste all the good from a honeycomb. To weather the skies.
The pictures rolled past by me suddenly like some distant, familiar memory that kept on coming back only they were not mine to take. An inkling of white foam now forms at the corner of my lip as I drowsed. I must have dreamt some good dreams then.
Under the blanket of the deep black night, it arrived at me that my body felt quite differently. As if lifted and cured of its illnesses, it hardly felt any pain, relieved of its mortal weight and protracted weariness after not sleeping for years.
The wipers thud swinging back and forth like clockwork while the rain pelted the pane relentless like splatted kamikaze pilots. The howls of the wind seep through my ears, taking me while I sank in the backseat of the car with my knees held a little too close to my chest. My half-opened eyes leveled with the chrome window sill as they pried into the gush of the rain.
A million and one headlights drew towards us on the highways. Lights brighten up wide upon each approach as if a production line of salutation and courtesy.
She sang along soundlessly with the song that came out of the FM radio. She had her face on, of faint rose petal red, evenly toned on her cheekbones and a bit heavier on her lips. Her black laced eyes were crawling over their lids like beautiful insects in the night.
Behind the glass, the world was colorful and opaque, and imageless.
Studded with red hexagon lights, golden circles and pulsars of bright greens, they lined up neatly at the same time blurted in random. There was poetry in chaos after all.
Residues of droplets obscured the view on all sides. It was of another universe.
The seats smelt of cheap pine car freshener, lazily covering the stench of uncleaned upholstery.
She leaned against my left shoulder and pressed her face against it, as if lifeless.
She must have had preferred the smell of cigarette smoke on my sleeves, it felt safe.
And at that moment, I could almost tell her everything and more.
Then it would not matter how terribly things went.
She cradled a thermos for coffee, for the light of the sun and the little things left forgotten.
So, we may never have to close these wandering eyes anymore.
She slid inside a half dark room, where grimy portraits of her dead and almost dead relatives hung. Her family has a strong affinity with spirituality that she always thought was over the top eerie. As she sidled through the narrow gap in stealth like a sly cat, a familiar whiff of old books climbed into her nostrils letting the sensation immediately calm her down.
Hunched over the gentle stream of city lights was the moon that appeared to be like a half-inserted coin in the sky. Long strands of thin after-rain clouds rippled across, while an airplane cuts through the waves skillfully like a zipper opening. She lay on her side against the linoleum floor under the heft of indifference. For a moment she has chosen to be holed up inside her delicate shell, cut off from lucid reality that requires any human interaction.
Friends gathered outside waiting to greet her merrily. The relatives appalled her, let alone the godparents who endlessly find pleasure in dispensing unsolicited life advice and religious blessings.
As if co-existing universes delineated by a partition, the study was concealed in the veil of melancholic conniving shadows, with only just a couple of dim lamps lit the corners. While everyone in the other room was bursting with sheer joy and intoxicated laughter, showering in the glint of tinsels, embellishing pearl necklaces, and strung up smiles.
Surprisingly in her world, the poignant stillness of the quiet night was immensely deafening. It was the anthem she was looking for, all along. Her gaze was tentative, hopping from one constellation to another, across the glittered night canvas, as she is now beginning to feel saintly and light.
She drowsed a little but began contemplating within a fleeting thought. But it had become trite, so as her body wearing down. She reached for her glass and took a sip.
The drink was bland, almost tasteless. “Of course, this was from the other side after all” she concluded.
Staggering, she stood up and rested her forehead against the pane. She relished how sublime the evening was as she also counted how many satellites crossed over her. And just across the willow trees, boats bounced in rhythmic motion above the waters, occasionally slapping against the dock. And in the faraway distance to the west, she tried to make out the outlines of the highways and train lines. She did all these, taking her time filling in the void.
Then suddenly, like how bad news always comes unannounced, the heavy timber door swung open bringing in from behind an intruder in its shapeless form.
The body was made of noise filled with obnoxious chuckles and music under the clad of cigar smoke and flattery.
A silhouetted figure of a man beckoned her to join them, gently closing the varnished wooden door behind him as he steps into her world.
Quiet resumes its reign.
She unwraps a gum from her jacket and placed it inside her mouth. A fruity flavor exploded, and a protracted stretch of infinity cascaded between them.
“I think I’m going to stay here for a while” She discerned finally.
They ended up sitting around at the corner table under the collage of 11×14 black and white photographs taken in random, but the pictures were more ornamental than art. The corrosive sea salt carried from the ocean nearby, turned the wooden panels on the walls bleak yet somehow complimented the rustic ambiance the place was going for. And from time to time, a cool heavy wind wafted outside, chasing away the sultry remainders of the afternoon sun. There was an idle sort of atmosphere in the motorways, making its way through the open windows of the establishment. On the background was the occasional thin clanking sound of coins dropping from the insides of a pay telephone and there were thick drizzles throbbing against the rubber canopy roof spread out over the restaurant door, suggesting that the hard rain will arrive anytime soon.
The place was in a residential area, standing between the surrounding towering trees that grow around the vicinity. Invariably there were just quite a few customers who went there. The tall windows were locked shut but usually left open when the rain is out, to entice people to swing by for a meal or a nightcap. The wooden ceiling fan slowly spun above the patrons, suspended in the center of the room. The four friends ordered wanton soup as always.
As they waited, they can’t help but pay an occasional glance at the direction of the runny window pane.
The pluvial night sky was a usual sight, especially during this season. No reported storm was coming in though. None of them spoke after the ceremonial chatter and catching up, the four of them fell silent, lost in their own thoughts but it was not the kind that was thick and indifferent. It was a natural thing for longtime friends, especially since they have discoursed about everything going on with their lives to the point that there was nothing to talk about anymore at the moment. It was not a pact or something they have imposed as a rule between them. It’s just that they can’t seem to keep any secrets from each other.
There were even fewer guests that night. There was an overweight guy mulling over a saucy steak with a beer mug at the bar area and a couple tourists with their nine-year-old daughter quietly having dinner. The guy at the bar was used to be a professional swimmer. He was supposed to compete in a regional tournament, but during an uneventful twist of fate some years ago, on the eve of the qualifiers after practice, he was caught in a car accident causing a severe and permanent injury on his right shoulder. This has prevented him to compete ever since. He works as a lifeguard at the nearby beach and occasionally coaches aspiring children.
The couple was relatively young, still in their twenties. They met during a party on an island in the south. Life was tough, and so good money was hard to earn. Consequentially the husband worked longer hours and even did double shifts if it need be, that it has gotten to a point that the two hardly spoke to each other. This trip was supposed to be their chance to fix whatever was left broken.
I rolled up my sleeves and peered through a nearly empty beer glass tilting it a bit sideways. The beads were all over its cold sweaty surface as I gently wiped them off using my fingertips. And through the glass, I see the reflection of my friends blended in the low stream of light dawning softly onto its body causing the images to distort. The only thing that remained unchanged was the hot soup filled with sodium, which we were about to devour.
It was by this time that the thick evening sky has completely draped the entire city as if a giant palm has cupped the world to a close. With only a part of the moon slightly showing between the bisecting portions of the clouds, other than that it was an odd dark night comparing to the others. While a cool drowsy breeze from the direction of the sea was gently wafting onto my skin, I pulled the collar closer to the nape while walking around back to the side of the building where employees go to smoke. I had no complaints; it was the next best thing to anything counted as a good dessert, capping a well-deserved late-night meal after a long tiring shift at work. I work nights during the weekends, probably- subconsciously happy about it, as there were not many people there and it is a lot tranquil and I could play music without putting my earphones on. I did not mind the short strolls around the retired empty streets of the business district whenever I need to; in fact I like it better as it is now than how they are during the day when rushing pedestrians on autopilot crowded the streets like fire ants on a mission while the sidewalks flooded by real estate agents and other sorts of company representatives handing out brochures that people don’t really read about.
The lamp posts gleam with a faint orangery hue that made everyone walking under them look a little better than they should be. It was some sort of an emboss to add a thrilling texture to the characters from a movie. Add a little mystery to an ordinary story and it will be worth telling.
This is why I like nights better. Think about it, people are a bit more honest at night than they truly are during the day. Ever wonder why it always seems easier to confess a feeling to a lover at night? Or why the conscience is always there lurking wide awake during the wee hours of the dark?
I struck a match to light a cigarette and puffed out a train of smoke to the ground. A gloomy looking guy in his Pink Floyd shirt appears from the corner where the brighter side of the building was. It was an old friend that I haven’t spoken with for a long while. We used to go home together when taking off from work, but he got transferred to another department which meant he also had to work on a different shift. The only time we get to see each other is during the weekends when I get to work on the same shift as he is. But even that prevented us to talk since we hang out with a different set of friends which we both don’t really like, or too busy with our work assignments that time did not allow us to. At first, I thought it was to be a complete drag, being on your own, but it was what it was, and I got along quite well with solitude eventually.
We did not need words nor do anything to express that we were glad to see each other after some time. It was an implied understanding between two longtime friends. We practically grew up together.
I could not tell what if it was age or the night itself that diluted us to be this glum. We used to be a lot louder when we were in college. We were in our late twenties now, and we should not be acting this way, at the very least not yet.
“Remember the time when I used to work as a delivery guy for a fast food chain during summer some years ago?” He laid his back flat against the concrete wall beside the stainless ashtray while staring at the towering condominium columns which stood two blocks away from where we were. They were like in competition among themselves.
“You’d be surprised how many of those people up there are placing orders every night.” He followed.
“I don’t know what exactly, either they just like to stay up late, or they live reverse lives as we do. But it’s quite strange just the same; the phones ring off the hook for delivery orders. There was a time that we had to hire extra night riders just to cope up with the demand” He says, as he reached for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket and lit one.
There was a strange sullen look on his face for a moment, and he quickly gave out a huge laugh finally breaking the silence and threw a soft punch on my left arm.
“Glad you are still there inside that shell, how’s everything back home, how is she?” I responded.
“You know we are not the type who talks about this stuff right?” He replied cracking a half smile.
“Right.” I affirmed.
“But do you reckon that people just simply like your food? “Returning to where he left off.
“Uh-uh, I don’t think it was that at all.” Shaking his head.
“Did you know that there was a study that we may be physiologically programmed to eat cookies at night?”
“So, are we like monsters after dusk?” I asked smiling.
“Sort of.” He flicked the burnt butt towards the direction of the bin and fell silent for a while.
“Hmm, interesting, but aren’t we all?” I asked aimlessly.
The dark of the night seemed to have added a colder heavy temperature as we stood there.
I placed both hands together while holding the almost done cigarette and we started walking.
We crossed the road where the PED XING sign hangs over the island of the intersecting streets.
As we were threading on midway, a fast single-delivery motorcycle zipped on by behind us.
Remember the ones you left behind, the dead with their faces during the last moments you saw them speak. How could you possibly bring them back with you? What means did you have if there were any? It was such a cruel thing not being able to give what they truly deserved, as their voices fill your head in your sleep as you lie there on the dirt. You wonder what were those they prayed for? To believe in the war is different from rooting for the deeds that come along with it. It was necessary to take someone’s life, but one should not believe in it. I phoned the commander and asked him to wait until the sun reaches above the scalp. But damn the politics that helped oiled the gears which led us here. Fool is to believe that all are selfless. I was once proud and naive, for the flags I heeded to represent. I was an urged rock that was given life, to be heavy and still as I am also numb.
A friend is when I speak out loud to myself. It has been groomed unconsciously that it now turns into a living grieving habit. Yes, it is normal that you have thoughts brewing to the point of discussion or a mere debate with yourself. But it should only stay within an inaudible state and not to be uttered for others to hear. The mouth is for conversations that require a pair of ears other than yours. And so, it is unusual to speak that way.
But how does one take control in the most piercing moments when the scorching sun strikes you back hard and when it turned the tracks of your tears into mere salt on your cheeks. When you only have the barrel of the gun to depend on, when all of your brothers are motionless around you and you chose to crawl towards the one you are closest with. You see him drowning in his own spoils and blood. You are to willingly stick your fingers into the bullet holes just to convince any of them to accompany you even with just a hurtful moan. You’d hope to be as faithful as your resolve. The residues of these days are a stench that will never go away. You rely on the handgun hoping it will not fly off when the time for shooting has come. When it is already time to give up the bullet that will carry your message across, that the time for writing novels must be set aside for now. It is not because you were left with no other choice. It was the circumstance presented at your feet. You knew this was not the end, but you were also sure you could be absolutely wrong.
And you’d tell yourself, that the time for grieving is not now. You will have plenty of that hereafter. Nor is this the place to do it. The dead must be respectfully cleansed. The dried-up mud and blood must be washed off to reveal the chivalry and truth of their souls. But most of all, as a final act of selflessness, for the families’ sake and the loved ones who waited, as one is sure that they will not have the stomach to witness the remnants of the horrors of their fate. So, your body must be cleansed. Your battle uniform must be replaced.
And so, you had it done, for them, always for them.
You once told me that you wanted to run with me, across the tree-shaded slopes, to the hilltops just to have a taste of what you would always refer to as a real lover’s breath. I remember you doing an animated reenactment of what was going to be like when you pouted your lips kissing the clouds in the sun. You readied your pack and slung it over your shoulders, convinced even without a map or a plan, as you stood by the open door warming your palms with your own breath.
And the new day was breaking, your face was shrouded with the dark remnants of the night.
“Let us forget all about last night” you said. You looked so beautiful like the dawn. I knew I’d follow you.
The last nail was hammered down shut, we hear. Nameless boxes will be buried in the backyard for now. Salt will preserve, eventually.
For today will be like a tourniquet, it will be just like before you promised “no added preservatives”.
The funny thing about faith is that you lose yourself sometimes in the process or most if you are that lucky.
A solace, I would say.
I finally got you talking about it, for me, that is always a good thing. To talk.
More when there is not much else to converse about.
And in that amazing display of human feat, we almost believed that it can still be overturned.
Despite of apathy and miseducation.
And you whispered like it was an open prayer, that you hoped for your camera could capture cancer, truth, and suffering. All the time.
I leaned closer, sitting next to you on the steps of your front door, and looked at the universe which was inside of you. And it was vast, expanding.
The space between us allowed me to heave a deep sigh. And I was grateful for the chance, to leap without accord.
But I guess we are knit together by frequency and attuned with pure will. So, we went uphill, marched to muster courage for acceptance and discernment. We stayed up for hours where the sky hangs and the clouds glide.
Tonight, the city waits, and we will swift through beneath its feet and overhead, like a breeze that will fender off the dust that blanket the roof decks and the muddled streets.
It is time to wipe my glasses clean and replace the blunt pencil with ink.
Between the blotted spaces through a nearly empty room, by the inviting light of a warm fire, you lay across your moonlight pale body in the oceans of the four-poster bed.
You had your stare aimlessly fixed at the disdainful fire that calms you, thinking to yourself that we all deserved a dose of compassion, even for a woman like you.
You cried that line a few times over and you always were hard on yourself, I wished I could carry you just to make you see.
Then turned your head and asked me what to do, you wanted to buy an idea so much.
We watched the movies again, all the good ones, and the bad. So, we can remember why we loved them the first time.
I didn’t know why, but I think that was far better than waiting for dawn to arrive.
You hated waiting too, so we stuck with those instead.
And we used to believe in shadow plays and mystery novels. As much as we hated audio books and those battery-operated cigarettes.
Your breath was soft and quiet in your sleep, and your breasts were like a bobbing wooden canoe over a sleepy river.
I know your mind is not made up yet, so maybe if you’d please, maybe we can fly off and see the greens beneath our feet instead? To set off over the infinite marsh of white clouds and colored pencil horizons.
Because we do not want to be lined up like canned goods and fruit juices in tetra packs on grocery aisles, hoping to be picked up before our expiration dates. You would always say.
I looked outside and asked for the night to whistle a merry tune, but the stars were mute. They were for the wandering eyes, and so I guessed I did not need them. But why was I gazing at the brightest one that night?
We decided to drive off, rolling the windows down and in between towns I was putting together a traveling song, writing on the dashboard. I was bouncing the tip of the pen against the chin, fidgeting it playfully between the fingers. Your head was in the open road.
I remember the night when we first landed on the moon at the backseat of the car. You slurred, with eyes nearly closed, then the faint beam from a passing car revealed your pale skin. We were rearranging the universe.
Life passed us by when we were too busy doing make-believe. And we could not catch up with reality eventually.
But in the flashing lights of that night, I would gladly stay, for it will always be my favorite time.
Something lifted you all of a sudden, I can see it in the flutters of your dress, in all the literature, and the open-ended inscriptions you wrote me.
And so, I made a phone call and left you a message. I know it was all too late, but I hope I did not make you wait for too long this time.
I was waiting by the tracks on a platform sitting on an empty steel bench where a beam from the weekend ether is cascaded down through an opening of the plastic transparent sunroof. The rustic smell from the old neighboring provinces flooded the air. There were not many people there yet, it was still early and so the sight is pretty much the usual vacated scene at this time of the day.
I had my left arm folded resting atop a luggage bag beside me, while the knuckles were pressed against the temple of my head. I just finished drinking coffee from a local inn, and I did not mind waiting. In fact, I was lingering at the moment while it was still mine to savor.
Not borrowers, but I guess we are the temporary owners of these fragments we call moments. Or at least we attempt to steal these from the overly stretched time we have left.
A dog-eared paperback book was occupying the other hand, laying it flat open across my right arm. I was caught between the lines that stuck with me for quite some time. Somehow, I couldn’t get past the words. I was rereading the same chapter over and over, and it was an indication that I was not getting anywhere obviously, and should give it a rest for the meantime.
Or was I becoming too engrossed?
Quite not sure.
Faceless people began to appear. I heard them coming from the steps but not rushing. From the sound of their voices, I was assuming that they were college students talking about school stuff and a professor that I thought they hated.
I turned to their direction to see, a mere mechanical reaction I guess, or maybe I was looking for a momentary amusement. I was in a way channel surfing for real-life episodes, not really knowing what I wanted my eyes to sit on.
An old lady carrying an eco-bag and a folding umbrella was also there, walking after the students. She had a sullen and weary look in her eyes, the kind that had seen many cold Decembers I suppose.
I watched her pacing herself to reach the bench where I was. She placed her things down carefully and made sure that these were secured and will not fall over. She then slowly chose a spot, sitting next to me.
I was trying not to be obvious. I was looking straight down on to the book I was holding, and just observing her through my peripheral. I didn’t want to offend her, but I couldn’t stop noticing as well since we were the only ones there.
She looked at the direction from where the train was going to appear, but she only found the image of me sitting there across her.
“Hijo, what time is the next train?” the old lady asked, her gaze shifted towards me.
“Um, I guess in a few minutes, they operate less on weekends” Stammering, I responded.
“And why do you suppose they’d do that? People still have to be somewhere even on weekends, right?” then a faint chuckle followed.
Clearly, time complimented her with wisdom.
“I guess, you’re right” taken by surprise on her response, I returned with a polite nod and a smile.
“If I may ask, are you in a hurry, Ma’am?”
She reached for her bag and went through what was inside and held out a standard-sized marble that kids play with especially during far back in the day.
“I plan to visit my son and surprise him with this. He is much older than you are, probably a decade older.
I found this thing from a box filled with worn-out clothes and old books, and I thought this will make him remember.”
“Remember what?” I quickly followed.
“Well, when he was still a little boy, he never left this behind, everywhere he went he carried this in his pocket, believing it held some sort of magic. I guess he got that idea from reading too much Mark Twain novels.”
“To tell you honestly, this is not the actual marble that he believed had magical powers. Many years ago, I accidentally dropped the real one when I was checking his trousers for anything before washing them. I lost the damn thing when it went straight through a hole.”
“That must have felt very frustrating” I sincerely injected.
“Then what happened next?”
“I went to the house of my son’s best friend, whose mom I was very close with, and explained what happened with the marble.
As a mother, she understood why it was so important for me to find another similar.
We snuck inside her son’s room and went through a drawer where he kept his collection of marbles. But we were dumbfounded when we discovered that there was a lot to choose from.”
I gave out a huge laugh after hearing this and felt very much intrigued on how the story was turning out.
“How were you able to find an exact match?” Curiously asking.
“Well, we didn’t.”
“I don’t understand, what did you do after?” Now really intrigued.
“I got back to our house with three marbles I thought similar with the real one. It was getting late, so I just bought us dinner on the way home from a cheap Chinese restaurant near our place.
And when I arrived, he was sleeping, apparently tired from looking for his treasure.
I woke him up and took the time explaining to him what happened.
“And then? Did he get mad about it?”
“Yes, he hated me for it. And it took a few days to get him talking to me again.”
“But it surprised me when he finally did, he told me, that he had a dream about his magic marble”.
I leaned closer to hear her clearly. Her tone and the volume of her voice dropped a couple of notches it was almost a whimper.
“He said that in his dream, I came out of an Ice cave and gave him a marble.
And according to the dream, I placed the marble inside his invisible pocket, and told him that it will never, ever be lost again.”
“That turned out well?” with a gesture of relief I gave a deep exhale.
“Well it sort of did, but years went by, and he seemed to have also forgotten where that secret pocket was. That’s why I am visiting him to show him this old marble. It’s been years since the last time we saw each other. Call me overly dramatic, but I am running out of time.” Holding the round toy up next to her hopeful smile.
All of a sudden, the train loomed out of the huge body of a hazy fog across the green field, approaching the station.
We hurriedly bid our short but sincere farewells, never knowing if we will cross paths ever again for another storytelling.
Apparently, that was the last time I saw the old lady.
She got on the train as I stayed behind watching her go.
The heavy weight on my chest was starting to fade as the rubber soles of my shoes seemed to have grown wings on them suddenly.
The gleam from the golden drink shined upon the philandering cigarette over the ashtray, and my resolve was as flimsy as always.
I was entering a room in my mind that I knew nothing about, I reckoned that doom was upon me, anyhow it went.
But the Infallible human capacity to thrive on arose amidst the chaos. An old book helped me remember.
And while waiting for that warm Incandescent feeling to dawn upon the surface of my skin, I settled with instant coffee in my hands for the meantime. I was relieved by its faint vapor that soothed the narrow passages of my buttoned nose. A glimpse of what is forthcoming.
The summer haze was fast approaching. And one couldn’t wait.
For the unpainted board panels and that pair of burnished boat shoes beneath my grainy soles.
The taste of sea on my skin.
The hand-weaved daisy chains, crowning the heads of our children.
Endless summer laughs gift-wrapped for the mornings to come.
To be sentimental. For it is always good to remember. The blueprints from which we base our endeavors on to.
To fall in love again.
To love head over heels or make love with a foe for just a night.
To be lost in that watercolor substance.
Deferring permanency, realizing that life is about forging relevance and leaving behind lasting marks.
On chocolate bars and short novels.
And leftover proses.
Raw and unedited.
Collapsed and Cascaded. For fiction is the unwithering rose petals during summer.
A beautiful and strange incoherence.
A brand-new day, or just a change of paradigm. It does not matter.
A chance to recover,
A chance to catch up on sleep. To dream.
A chance to forgive, if not forget. To tidy up one’s room and finish up laundry finally.
To learn how to learn. To listen not to respond, but to truly understand.
To pray, for faith.
To be carefree, eating ice cream in the rain under a shared umbrella.
The early morning light was in her eyes, waking her gently, like many times before. The day was warming up her toes, so she readjusted by pulling the blanket to her side. Every contour and delineating landscape of her body was as true as the lie she told herself upon seeing an old lover. And the bending of the light from the window glass glared over her, so brightly and sincere, to remind her that she is alive for another day.
To endure, not for herself, but for those who cannot.
What power she had in her grasp. And it couldn’t be any simpler than this – No coffee, nor morning kisses, just a glass of cold water, and that morning message from her phone to get her by.
She recreated the world before her, as she saw in her dreams, asleep and awake. Her hands were oftentimes beautifully stained by oil-paint and charcoal. Her heart was a mass made of Bukowski, Whitman, Plath, Hemingway, and Neruda. Their words poured out of her mouth, and her delicate lips were chopped by heartaches and their promiscuity with literature.
Their muddled love affair with relevance.
She was a passerby, like the changing seasons, like summer and winter. Traveled a lot through the seas and the skies, in heartbreaks and through each sad song and nighttime prayers. She reminded herself again and again, that it is not for her, but for those who are barren and blind, for the lost who could not find north, for the unsung catalysts of our time, whose footprints were swept off in the sand.
Her fingertips rallied across to choose the best parchment paper, not in contention against the hands of time, but to withstand for as long as.
Oh, she was on her way, taking on the distance between her mind and her heart. Shaking hands with new found friends and tasting the lips of other men. No penance here, nor guilty trips, she was as bold and unrelenting, and yet remains gentle just the same. A rose with its thorns, the dark that makes the moon brighter in the night.
As her hero stole the show, the crimson curtains fell feebly over his head. The act was nearly approaching its end, the audience was on the edge of their seats, hoping to be swooned.
He took out his gun, the pistol given to him by his father before him. With an engraved dedication on its ivory grip beautifully written in script, he held it tighter as he crowed,
“These Hands were clean empty, and yet we were robbed of our names still! A claim undeniably ours, oh it must be I say! One insignificant sacrifice is all it takes, and we are there, oh how close we are to the end, just a little while now, and this right here, everything, will be back to its rightful place!” He sneered in the pouring rain.
With great numbers, in the utmost imposing intentions, the strings were hit hard by the bows. As minor notes instilled chill and power, reinforced by the crashing thunders from the cymbals and the percussions, the organ, all the trumpets, horns, and the saxophones had shaken the halls and reached all corridors.
It was the world ending after all.
The master perspired, his sweat flew off like raging bullets on every turn of the head and in every swing of his arms. He moved and instructed, measure after measure, note after note as if it was the last performance.
Beats, a long profound silence as she wondered about. She slid back, widening the gaps between her fingertips and the keyboard. Her chest was pounding, and her throat was a bit dry.
She turned to her side looking out of the window — she could hear the chirping from the trees. The light of the morning sun was still in her eyes, the wind touching her face, and the rivers of happiness flowed in her hair.
“Forget about the charm, just seize the quaintness of an aging photograph. “– Everything was so still, life in suspended animation.
I held it with me with a date written on the back to remind me of a distant time.
As I looked forward to the next morning sun on my face, I packed a few clean shirts and a container with just enough water in my bag.
The universe mocked, as the sky scowled a crooked thunderbolt ripped the horizon in half. “Tonight, the sky is a misunderstood friend.”
Of a prayer to disintegrate into a thousand-word declamation blemishing on paper, I heard a feeble shush from the faint rain. So, in the tides of the sheets, I went back, to wrap this inability to hold a vessel.
With all the leaps and the summersaults, all the remnants of the night, and the unheralded voyages to the slumber permissive night, my indecision was there to await me in the morning. But I guess the days will decide for themselves, however it is.
For people do not change much. We always think that we do, but truly we don’t. We are merely the different versions of ourselves, like a book, today is a chapter, tomorrow is another.
I have seen this before, I knew this from somewhere very familiar. On a cold windy evening, I once placed my head against the table next to a drink. In shame, my body curled voluntarily. But in a dream, she chose to forget about my crimes. “No need for tears tonight.” She assured the frail.
And that made me feel better for a while — a momentary relief. I could almost taste again the salt of the ocean. I knew I heard it, and I was glad and yet reluctant to indulge as if I was held back by something.
I called upon the falling stars twice, along with the long howling of a mutt outside the window. I guess she was cold too, the moon revealed finally.
The satellites and the fireworks began to dabble, bleeding into the skies playful, while the girl on TV in her black-laced dress was smiling upon the blinding flash of silver nitrate.
Just for one more incendiary sight.
They made love by the frenzied colors of lights made of transparent glasses and endless promises. The romantics feast on the unspoken sonnets and unpublished narratives. How it was different from the nights before was never made known to me, nor it was spelled significant.
I clung onto this ideology as if it was an imperative biological necessity.
I was up before dawn. The pavement held glittery fragments of the stars.
The rain must have shattered them on their way through.
As I was walking out the door, I looked back and turned to ask if he wanted anything for me to bring back. But the question thrown was unrequited although he was facing toward my direction. The stares were hallowed, but definitely not empty, as if his thoughts were elsewhere distant, undisclosed and unknown even to the visitor himself.
On the bedroom side table sat a perspiring glass of cold water that resembled a window pane on a cold rainy day. Its life was refuted by the stack of past dated panorama magazines, sandy old newspapers and the emptied coffee cups with their stained ceramic coasters. And though it appeared that the drink was only fitting to remedy the hot afternoon weather, the readied beverage somehow implied not to be needed at the time, that the quench yearned for was not to be passed through the drought and the landlocked throat of this weathered bedridden character, but instead, of another it seemed.
He had a decent height, he came from a good family line. The soles of his feet were callused by resolve and the red baked earth of his heritage. And his proud appearance still surfaced despite his aged and battered state. Though often times visited by pain, he still held his head high above the stained pillows of saliva and antibiotics. He remembered his youth, gawking at the ceiling beams — his own time machine — reliving the years of working every day on their tangerine farmlands, as he found solace in these dire achievements that nobody but him ever celebrated.
The air was filled with the smell of antiseptic. The lazy wooden fan blades cut through the spaces under the plywood ceilings, and the grimy mirror held no reflection.
His hands and arms were tired, the skin was sallow, but built strong by time. His shoulder blades boasted like the wide-spanned wings of an eagle’s, imposing that they can withstand the discerning winds of the open skies.
“Oh, how time swiftly takes away what was lent.” He feebly exclaimed.
Through the half-open door, I took one last look at him. It was just a split-second glance really, but it felt infinitely stretched. And in this timeless vacuum of space, I lived through these flashes of fond memories I had of him. It was like listening to a two-minute song that carried all the answers in the world. I set sails to entwine with the days of yesteryears, on how perpetually dependent I was on him, growing up like a seedling inching my way towards the blue ocean skies, how my ears were sculpted like wooden dippers for wisdom, and how I was emptied to refill.
And as I pulled the door back, gently twisting the unpolished brass knob clockwise hoping not to make a sound, my flooded eyes bade farewell as this view narrowed, knowing that his vessel can never anymore hold in together the entirety of him. For he is a lot more, more than this world could ever have prepared for.
Of cheap beers, and late night cab rides across the dimmed concrete highway tunnels of the weekends, I plunge into the deep abyss of the free-falling but not looking down, always never looking down.
To rearrange, a new theoretical standpoint to take, stirring the coffee cup, as I see now the sun in the swirl of the milk. That breakfast is more than just a morning routine, and evenings compensated more, not just to conceal the stench and the scars, as we all go back to the end where life started.
The summer smiles, and the leaps, and those wide open arms for the rainfalls, when bulbs of daffodils finally bloom in their yellow sun rays, ringed in white, orange, and their reds. Those beckoning warm afternoon laughter of children playing after taking siestas, and that morning walks before the day wakes for its poetry.
Upon the layers of overlapping leaves, the sunbeams break through like a subtle rainfall. A whisper pointed me to their silhouettes, and it talked about palettes and all the universal colors, how these all meant to find one’s place in the hushed Sunday skies.
Oh, tell me what do you want to do today? And we will draw a treasure map maybe; we are the Goonies of our time after all.
I washed my face after watching a good film. I have seen it a hundred times over, and I will do another hundred it seems. Then l lighted a cigarette to cap this delightful feeling, a silent kind of happiness instills in the crowd of the crumpled papers.
When we are shown to entwine threads and copper wires, to hear the stories and to just relearn, nothing more, and when saying yes is all that ever mattered, while everything else will just follow through in place. And we roll away, like boulders and round stones on the slopes.
We are shapeshifters, we over speculate before passing out, and made love with sunsets.
And after all of these realignments, all the moving parts and the rest of the things one has been working on for years, the delineation between respite and the time to embark has been drawn.
While waiting beneath a willow tree, I was thinking of this word that could paint the raptures of these descents and arrivals. And I can’t quite catch it. Maybe someday I will somehow. And if I finally do, I will never have to write about science fiction and farewell letters anymore.
Some years ago, I have found myself alone in a crowd, armed only with my nine-voltage-battery-powered-flashlight and a cape. I was a 7-year-old boy and I was plodding the pedestrian streets barefoot in my pajamas and my favorite space odyssey shirt. I looked up to the skies and saw angels gracefully gliding in circles above me. I was pretty sure that one of them was watching over me.
I went back on the very spot where I once stood as a kid and realized that I am much like them now. Instead of my PJs and my favorite shirt, I wear adult clothing and shoes. And the angels were replaced by skyscrapers and aeroplanes.
And I wonder.
So I went strutting, down the under passages of the thought that this is not one of those I invent in my head and was actually happening.
In the simplest truth to illustrate, you are writing a picturesque tale of your own grand adventures. In a way, it is like going through the photographs kept in a shoebox, of once was, and of shared anecdotes.
The great human need for symbiosis, this undeniable fact of longing consumes all of one’s biological and intangible beings. That the brimming of its manifestations must be tempered, when we bump into each other just to feel, especially when pain attempts to hold claim to our significance. And yes we aspire and act upon these indispensable necessities, but the very education which we feed on is also in question.
I got up and went to open the windows and yet the winters of these past nights had made the texts frozen. The ceiling was outlined with traces of smoke; I must have stayed here for too long. More than I should.
The retreat to the long and crude process of manufacturing sunlight is the only recourse. As the circumstance instills its resolve, I begin with my door and latched onto isolation. However it is, time is neither infinite nor bordered.
A concept of science, men of higher intellect attempt to encapsulate. But it is like a force beyond us, an intangible matter, or like a memory, you caught only in a dream. Papers with coffee stain and crossed out words, he resumes every after erasure.
I turned to see what’s calling me from a great distance. I saw a man in a dark suit, or was it a shadow? Just a silhouette of a figure cast by moonlight, or a traced memory from a distant past? All made up by my own mediocre pursuit of some pseudo contemporary ambition.
Well, what is real from one’s won comprehension is enough guarantee of tonight’s passage to live through the swallow of the forthcoming darkness and the unknown.
Maybe that is it. Happiness is piecing together little fragments of wonderful moments, hopeful dreams, and acceptable flaws. I fear that when all the hypotheticals and the assumptions fail to deliver, one might be reliant on what was made convenient.
Contained, and self-absorbed, I refuse to settle. And so I went upstream and consulted a higher entity in humility to the point of surrender. And maybe, just maybe, that upon conferring, I may soon rediscover the eloquence back to my Saturdays.
The two waited on the bleachers with their eyes wandering through the damp. They were exchanging a half-done flask as they were also whistling cigarette smoke across the soccer field. They have found themselves in a vacuum within this seemingly infinite void before the dawn.
She reveals her face to the voyaging clouds across the sparkling seas of the night, giving up a smile as she pulls back the hood of her jacket. The paradox of the universe unfolds. She gently kisses the stale tasting lips of nicotine, freeing its very soul one drag at a time. It had no complaints, nor did the silence of the surroundings, as it implied in affirmation. Neither even the imposing claws of the tree branches nor the entire army of crickets under that sweet vanilla moon had any quarrels with her at that moment.
Her make up smears, she hasn’t painted her nails for a while, but she doesn’t really mind at all.
Deep breaths, as she administers imagination, what needs to be done? She had begun in the shallow waters of her mind.
And little by little, she submerges down into the depths of her profound contemplations. And in every burning sip from the bitter openings of the flask, it was as if a passionate lover making love to her, she finally reconsiders.
She was taken gradually, within the raptures of the abyss and the parallel dimensions of her make-believe world. What is this unalienable truth that haunts her now? She then wishes for an antidote, like morphine, dismissing the pain in ten folds.
Then she ponders on the reassuring respite of bacon and omelet. How this dynamic duo may soon have to save her and the world when they both cry out for help. Be great presidents someday perhaps, or a pop song playing in loop, or be an empathizing friend for just a little while.
She then retracted these notions out of her head almost immediately. She must be drowsed, she thought. Over romanticism might have murdered her skeptical heart she feared.
But these apprehensions were real. Confronted by their undeniable strength, she was tied to the mast. As she turns to him reluctantly, almost uttering the words, falling like the rain in September.
You found a piece of something not too big to keep, nor too small to be easily lost. A treasure not for the pockets, well, we wished you love under the falling skies that night hoping to safely say it could last a lifetime.
Probably this is it, yours for the present and future tense.
Dance to the beat, throw your arms around the carbonated spaces and sing melodies for the centuries to come. Get lost through the pages and faces of time, mind the pain from your heels later, we have dreamt for this moment to come, don’t think twice now to take that leap. You are a migratory bird after all.
I found your smile inside the television box, and you looked so beautiful and grand, how the whole world should be. Do you remember? After the rain, when we stayed up late leaning against the couch, sitting on the floor rug by the warm lights, you drew a picture of this moment. You did believe in fairies after all.
Weekends and too much sugar kept us alive, and we slept to die on weekdays. You took the batteries off the clock and lobbed them into the trash bin. You held a cigarette between your painted lips and a glass with your hand. You slid a cassette tape to play — the neighbors woke and sang along.
You drove a thousand miles, the freeway lights of yellow, red and green were on your face. You rolled your windows down, and the wind smothered you with love. You did visit us a few times when you were somewhere near and sent postcards every once in a while. It almost felt like we were there as well.
I tried to move to another place, but I just couldn’t do it. I can’t stay away for too long. I guess someone must stay behind. Do not worry, everyone is doing just fine. You wore a white shirt the last time I saw you. You have surrendered, and yet you are free.
The lemonade glass sweats, I wore my sunglasses talking to the hot summer sun. We were having the longest farewell conversation, or were we arguing? I will write him letters and proses in the coming months, folded and turned into a kite, the days and the weather will be better when it reaches him I pray.
And for my dear friend the wind, I will strum my way into its chest. To quote from the same book over and over, “everything essential is invisible to the eyes”.
In a couple of hours, at exactly 2:45 am, I will draw the curtains and sit by the windows, next to the biggest moon this year. In case you decide to drop by, you might not catch me, for I will take a short trip on a rocket ship and will be right back before breakfast.
On that damp and cold night, she kissed the glass pane and left a flyer in a public phone booth on some dark alley. ”Life also exists in the deepest parts of the ocean.” She said. And for her, we were chasing modern-day heroes, a commodity hard to come by nowadays.
Her fragile heart was shattered into frosted pieces. But that only made it countless, she refuted. Before I could even open my mouth to respond, she undressed herself clean to finally make love.
“When we bleed, a part of humanity also reeks.” She sang.
An old man now and her clasps were replaced by arthritis. More and more it often visited me like a loyal friend. I couldn’t even change guitar strings right anymore.
I like spending most of what’s left of my shorter days on a wooden boat.
Over the course of this journey, I am grateful to have made those acquaintances. Different kinds of Tuna, Mackerel and other sorts of fish you’d normally find around the region. And despite the ever-changing weathers, I never really gave up on her. Something about the sea that calms me down and makes me feel connected. I feel like I’m a part of her now, a part of this grand design.
I spend my early mornings in the calmness of the lake, swinging the fishing rod away and just wait for the longest time which I do not mind. Right here I have a steady control. I like listening to the swishing sound of the leaves. They feel no fear when the winds arrive to invite them for a spin. Watching the whiskered terns plunge from the skies and up again, I allow myself exposed out in the open.
Lately, I have also grown fond of my garden. Growing tomatoes, green beans, lettuces, and bell peppers has been a delight. Waking up to their colors, and witnessing life unfold as if they were my children. I have made a promise to take good care of them and I intend to keep that. My life was far from perfect, but she was always good to me, it’s the least thing I could do.
I can still remember that day when we slept together under the flight patterns. Beneath the familiar rumbling sound of the turbine engines, propellers, and the crosswinds. Our eyes fluttered in the ordinariness of that day. My head rested on her thigh, while jet lines intersected through the sallow skies.
The runaways by the runway, seventeen, we will always be.
The other kids raced, passing on twigs until they reached the end of the line. They ran so fast that their shoes barely touched the ground.
In those fleeting moments behind the steel fences, we watched in awe those who took off and flew. And they were so graceful, we were so proud of them. We wanted to encapsulate that world in a fishbowl and keep it forever. Constant that memory was, but we knew that even the earth had to move sometime.
“Save me a seat, will you? I’ll be a little late tomorrow.” A kid exclaimed to his friend under that afternoon sky.
“Make sure to bring hot chocolate in a thermos like always.” The friend required of him.
He’s all grown up now, and he went into the sunset like how cowboys do in those films.
He always rooted for the arrivals and the departures, always the romantic one, while the other counted the hours down for the friend’s safe return.
In those carbonated days of summer, life was easy to comprehend. How I wish we can go back, I always wonder.
Somewhere in a dream, I heard you say, “Fill the gas tank only a quarter full, spend the rest on flowers.”
Flabbergasted, I smacked your head real hard and sneered.
Like sand castles, you insisted that we can always rebuild that day. The hues were lined low, and the sun was almost dimmed. The commander crowed across the field, ordering to sling our rifles and move out.
And everyone did. But I had a change of heart.
I wrote war stories instead.
Yours and hers.
Had I known, I would have done otherwise.
The needle was loose, so the constellations were made compass. Come back and fish with me. Let’s spend an afternoon once more.
The sky was brimming with so much life, while it sets on its final act the canvas of the horizon was painted indigo over the orangey crown of the sun. The open road bids goodbye to all wanderers, for all who took the time to pass by, to say hello and stayed over the weekend, lost or found, its arms beckoned all, those who tiptoed to see what’s on the other side of the wall, to come back real soon.
The way back to the city was clad with towering billboards, of their streaming invitation to indulge in its optimism, from the layouts, and the huge arrays of video boards. The flickering lights draped the bleak concrete façade of the neighboring buildings and the battered roads on their feet. I sat at the back of the van, while elbowing the backrest with my right arm, also drumbeating my temple. I was looking at the setting sun, we all were, and as the credits roll, as this may have appeared to be the last scene, everyone was singing along to the soundtracks of our lives.
It was time to go home.
It ended as fast as it started. The feeling was like going after a wisp that you saw somewhere in a dream, maybe outside of your bedroom window, that you have decided to follow. You know you can catch it, you can almost imagine how it would feel within your clasp. And when you are about to, when your fingertips are almost there to make contact, you wake up, to this blinding flash of white all around you. And it is morning, and you are somewhere else. You remember, but not all.
Then you sat right up, sluggishly positioned your unfit body right on the very edge of the bed. You wonder on, and taking your time to collect those clattered snapshots of the wonderful subconscious adventure you just had. And you ask yourself why you can’t have it all, these dreams from start to finish. And you realize, maybe it is not the point, maybe it’s not what you can remember nor the length it took you, maybe it’s something else.
Cars bled with red tail lights, as I brush my hair from the forehead, down to the back of my head. I pondered how we miss out on the best things even if we were there. I thank the scribbled memories that stayed in my head, as I sang along with the rest of those who mourned for the end of the weekend.
I remember the sun, how it streamed through hatched houses that lined up by the side of the road, the gold and green fields that heralded the arrival of summer. The swelling humps of the mountains that shook hands with the sky. I remember the excitement we felt when we inhaled the very rustic air that flooded our lungs.
We shared a scarf that we sat on by the shore while watching the parade of the rushing waves and took photos so we may remember. At nightfall, we perched like birds on a wire, listening to the whistling of the wind, as we hum along with the guitar plucking on that cloudless evening. We stayed up late and listened to each other’s stories. We were like Troy Dyer and Lelaina Pierce, in that “you and me, and five bucks” scene.
We peered through the window pane and caught the sun’s beautiful yolk that waved farewell. And one by one, we hugged and bade “safe travels”, hoping to see each other soon.
And we knew that it was going to last more than just a weekend, for we are the tireless crashing and the disintegration of the waves of the sea.
I gave this drowsy pair of eyes a gentle rub from my fingers, while the heat from the sunrays marinades my skin from its sweat. I noticed that my complexion is browner than ever. It is excruciating, but somehow I enjoyed this southern warm setting in the early afternoon.
I remember a good friend who once told me over a few good ones, as he slurred, “have your skin burnt, and go find yourself a good book, learn while you can and travel well.”
“But know that all the wonders of the world are already inside of you. Sometimes, you need not go elsewhere. “
“Let the night stay for a little while”, that was my only request. I can still remember the taste of wasabi on my lips while listening to my best friends’ singings, on our way home in a cab. The neon lights brought the universe to us, and then I rolled down the window half open, to hear every heartbeat in the world. I still dream of those hyper-drive moments sometimes, and it will always be with me.
They say I over-romanticize reality, and I stare at the moon a little longer than most people.
I know it is not the most popular of choices, but I enjoy these kinds you see, like catching clever combinations of words turned into meaningful lines from screenplays, attempting to remember, scribbling them down on paper, or collecting pencils, nibbling nori flakes, and waking up really early.
I really think Life is simple, and that Chaos is just a tapestry of random events, people and timings. It is not a bad thing really, we just don’t agree with the conniving variables most of the times. So we run away.
Sometimes I wonder what if life comes in a box with an instruction manual or a roadmap perhaps. All the convenience and the indecisions it would provide.
But we’re expected to get lost. And discoveries will never happen if we did not.
I learned to love taking train rides, although it is overly crowded at most times. I just love the sound it makes. Or taking that early flight out, just about in time to catch the sunrise up there, over the sea of clouds, when you are caught in that deep trance of thought, that surreal feeling you get at the same time.
And if everything seems too fast, consolation naps never fail and cassette tapes too.
For dreams and music are the dialects of the universe, love is its language.
In the wee hours of these contemporary ramblings of a fool, at the height of a great need, I became a commuter to see the world. And In this race we refer to as Life, pit stops are essential.
And I hope to change wheels every once in a while.
The plot thickens, and what was once blur and smeared was replaced by the rainfall of bed pillow feathers around me during the flight down. My head was tilting upward, while the rest of the body was falling on its back in slow motion into the fitted sheets surface of the bed.
Ten thousand words and the fingertips were swollen. The protagonist was sitting in the rotating swivel chair. Stares were fixed at the plywood ceiling, the blades of the fan cut through the rush of the air, while his mind went across, over and beyond, his chest was inside a tortoiseshell, waiting for the predator to walk on by.
All the anecdotes were meant to cloak the meaning, and so they decided to defer, just to watch the sunset instead. The lines that may have seemed senseless at first, proves to be as unblemished as the summer blue skies– their rhymes the gentlest of whispers. They are finally here.
A long and steady minor chord whistled out the trumpet’s lips, followed by the subtlest melodies which glided through the breeze. They were as light as the dandelions sailing the horizons, and he tried to catch each playing note when she also agreed to close their eyes together, “do you remember?” He asked.
“When you poured in my drink and I was grateful, then I said thanks, so you poured in some more.”
“I remember.” She promised.
And then they danced and danced some more. Afterward, their backs rested against the wooden bench by the sea to watch the descent of a God.
In respect, they wore sunglasses throughout the funeral of the day, and it was perfect. Nothing could ever beat that feeling, they thought.
Halfway through the fall when I remembered the time I went to see a fortune teller to get a glimpse of the future through a crystal ball. A failed attempt, as my stars ridiculed me when I saw only death. I think somehow I understand why, and so I decided to stay awake for as long as I could, to never close these wandering eyes.
And everything around me started to move, took pace and eventually carried on. I envy the bees that swoon over and courted each daffodil and sunflower. The stillness of the earth was so reassuring, I feared the sudden jolt of the quake.
We defied sleep when it was time to, just because we did not want to miss out. Coffee was an ally, poetry was the defense.
We were stubborn as we were also discerned, fools as we were also blissful.
And as this fragile body reached its destination, when all limbs landed perfectly still against the cushions, I couldn’t help but feel, that I am falling still.
“Make sure that you don’t burn the house down”. That was his only instruction. He never minded anything else other than that, not even the broken dishes, all the books that were made scattered all over the living room, nor his ruined fancy floor rug, for his instruction was simple, and direct.
He slings on his leather bag over his shoulder, crams the front door keys and the cigarette lighter in his left-hand pocket and takes one last look in the mirror to check on his neatly combed hair and his color matched buttoned shirt and jeans.
The housekeeper wags his tail, pants a little, but breathing quite calmly. This is not the first time his master is going to leave him of the keep while he is away. The entrusted one runs and jumps on the couch to watch his old friend get in the car to start the ignition.
He barks a couple of times behind the dusty window pane. It hasn’t been cleaned since the last time she was around. A thought circled inside the mutt’s head.
But it was not his job to clean the house, for him, he was given something more profound to do, nobler, a far more dignified duty.
He does his rounds, walked down the halls, past the family photos that lined evenly sitting atop the old narra drawer. Some of them were colored, but most were taken in black and white. He will see them all again maybe at the end of the year, but today and the rest of the coming days, the halls will be quiet.
The patrol keeps on, the gaze was fierce, but his movements were silent. His pads matched perfectly with the wooden floors.
Across the side table and the leather chair of his master, strolled down the pathway between the living room and the dining area, surveying consistently, turning his head from side to side.
He reaches the kitchen, snout laying low, his forensic tool. He circled around the tiled plain, in the corners and finally rested at the backdoor. He was looking at the green yard through the spaces. He knew something was going down. He just didn’t know when, but he intends to be there when it does.
He may be over-anticipating, but it is always good to manage your expectations, his master would say.
For him, he was knighted with this solemn duty and the instruction was simple.
Don’t burn the house down.
And as he rested his muzzle next to his paws, his brisket laid flat against the floor.
He closed his eyes for a while and thought of the older times.
When his fuzzy golden fur was sandy on most days, and his cold nose was warmed by the early morning sun.
On how the wind from the waves of the beach sailed the rivers of his hair and cradled him to sleep.
He will never learn how to read and much about literature.
And in an afterthought, she finally sees, with all the affection given, and all the poetry recited that only in that moment of trial it will all be weighed.
Besides, the eternal beauty of the skies is always hidden beneath the clouds.
And she is but a tree, waiting for her sunlight, waiting patiently, standing very still with only her branches moving from side to side.
Back and forth, back and forth until her lover decides to finally come home in the morning.
But in some days, the sun could not offer some more, its rays could not pass through the thick monochrome skies.
And for every reader, it is like the pages of a book, a story with a familiar beginning and a hopeful end. After the story has been told, after all the pages have been leafed through, the book is meant to be placed back in the shelf.
As the writer takes a sip on his ginger-beer drink and lights up a cigarette, he takes one last deep breath before he hears the typewriter bell.
No songs will be written after him, no poems recited for him, just a paper to finish, a story to tell.
“Let me bask under your sunlight.” He pleaded.
“And if ever the sun doesn’t shine anymore, I will wait until nightfall and go bathe in your moonlight instead.
Should the moon refuse to give its light, I’d bribe the stars to be more forgiving, so they can relearn to lend some of theirs onto me.”
I looked down on my feet and saw my shoes cracked open. My worn-down pair reminded me of the days on the road. My breath was constricted because of the altitude, my mind troubled by the sharp turns taken on the mountain cliff side, however, dazzled by how each shoulder blade rested against each other for support, like the trees we passed by.
With clogged misty lenses, my eyes can hardly see. I have tried to wipe them clean, but the moisture only smeared the glass. The fog was more pronounced out here, boastful or was it just overly playful and friendly? As they touched palms with the bright conservative greens of the rice terraces, bed-swallowed across the slopes and the plains, my sight was struggling to keep up with their magnificence.
I attempted not to say anything, more not to widen the gaps between my lips. Words were restricted for I knew they would fall short. I tried to lie to myself and pretended for a while. But the sun was too discerning to cast away the shadows of my predicament. The path was cleared out for me, now unhidden from my sight.
I felt compromised. The heart beating faster than it should be and my eyelids couldn’t hold still when they shielded my pupils from the stares of her sunrays. The unfolding circumstances forced to be witnessed. It deserved nothing less.
The night clouds form an obscured figure of an Old Persian king in his sleeping clothes, lying on his side in some remote oasis. The wind was faint, but the low temperature of the final season was definitely there. The colorful flicking lights were replaced by the blankets of the drowsy lights from an antique bedroom lampshade and the sidewalk lamp posts outside.
With this discerning conclusion that the night has already passed me by, what remains faithful was the stench of sweat and cigarette smoke on my shirt.
It was getting late so I figured that I retire and went back to the apartment. I double locked the door, rushed into my room, then climbed up on a wooden chair and drew the curtains open to let some of the moonlight in.
My fingers ran through the stacked records in the wooden shelf, breezing through the oxymoron album titles, taking the time to reach for a decision. One of the hardest I should say, to pick the most definitive one.
After giving it some thought, I picked Kath bloom and very carefully I took the vinyl record out of its delicate paper coverings. I bent and ducked plugged the power on, and placed the needle down against its most fragile body on the now rotating turntable.
And there they were; the notes that started to fill every empty, uninhabited space of the room.
And In those moments, I was flying, so it seemed.
As the needle sailed through the waves and the surface of the record, a whispering imposition dawned onto me as if it was a matter of great importance.
“How I wish I’ve got cigarettes right now, or at least one more drink to cap the night.”
But I couldn’t move, maybe I was too lazy to go outside or maybe I was subdued by this undeniable influence of the soundtrack that accompanied me while leaning against the window sill. I was pretty sure, that in those moments, my existence there was legitimized as a lifetime altogether. I lingered, my outlining thoughts stayed on remembering, and then I wondered and dreamt with eyes wide open.
“No need to hurry, everything’s going to be alright…” She then goes singing, never failing to deliver a soothing embrace to my chest every time.
Some thoughts continue to brew, about me mostly, and I felt selfish almost immediately when they insisted to stay. I could not stand this narcissistic reflection on the window pane, and so to my shame, I backpedaled.
And there was no one there really aside from this voice singing to me. I was a serpent lured out of its box, as solitude became a familiar face which encouraged for a renewal, I decided to carry on.
I saw my shadow traveling on the lunar draped concrete pavement, walking away with a small pocket flask, my blue warrens, and an extra pair of suede shoes in my luggage.
The Old Persian king slowly moves across the twilight, his reach expanding, pointing me to the pale half-moon in the sky.
My lips began to pretend blowing cigarette smoke between me and the vast openness.
The smoke traveled in the air after each vertical release, then disintegrates in the light of the lampposts as it lands.
Now in the ambiguous state, away from any lucid reality, I carry on strolling by the placid waters of my inner conversations amidst all the noise and the chaos.
A satellite gracefully placed its uncloaked body in the moonlight. A constellation in the sky forms a broken pinwheel around the glittering islands of the late-night icebergs.
My musings took me sitting on a gutter in front of a convenience store, relishing a hot cup of seafood noodles.
I was a middle-aged ship-builder, resting under a tree after the day’s work. I was a poet, staring at the streams of the waters and the moon that gleams over me. I was a child longing for an adventure with Huck Finn through the endless Mississippi river.
And in the sheets of my brokenness, I wrote the words lent by time. That we are merely the threads of the circumstances weaved. We are entwined by the strings of our allaying fears, shame, and disappointments, which made us the quilt that blankets us against the cold.
While I choose to be the piles of inked 8’11 bond papers placed inside a plastic envelope, the hot soup warms my throat and fills my empty stomach, but my mind yearns for more.
It was a Tuesday morning and the day was blending nothing special, just a regular workday like any other. Nothing was different, other than the fact that I was on my way to work 45 minutes earlier than my usual schedule when I reached the station to catch the train.
I guess distance does not matter as much when you have long strides.
The carts were not as crowded as most days and the sun was still fresh. The warmth from the rays was still friendly on the skin and it felt really good. So I got time, a commodity I have regained somehow as these moments were mine to own, and I’ve got nothing else to do but to just wait for my stop at the end of the line.
I was sitting sideward to my left with my head resting on my knuckles with these aimless stares facing the window, looking at the mushroom billboards, car-infested highways and the cotton filled blue skies while most of the passengers on board if not all were in this very same state of blank thoughts and half consumed consciousness, commuting in silence, it was 6:20 am.
It seemed like everybody agreed to disengage as if there was an implied understanding among us and the only imposing sound was from the crashing like noise that the train wheels against the steel rails were making. This reminded me of the terrible typhoon back in August. I closed my eyes and I was taken back, I open them again, and it was sunny. It was funny to note on how everybody else was unmoved by this, it was like everybody in the room was placed under a spell or to be more analytical, was a result of the preconditioned tendencies that dates back to early childhood.
I almost forgot about humanity’s ability to adapt, on how we can learn to get used to some chaos. It is unspoken most of the times, yes, but it is also undeniable, the truth on how we can breathe to coexist with the most unforgiving conditions.
So I shied away from all of this, and inside my compartmentalized head, I open each drawer, stretching both of my arms to reach for the higher shelves, to find these comforting thoughts from the other side of my delineation.
I gave the cover cloth a good tug dropping one of the boxes on the floor. I untied the knot, blew the dust off the lid, and brushed away what’s left of the dirt with my backhand until the label was readable enough – “summer 1988”.
Years of accumulated dust swarm around, within the beam of light coming in from the window.
As I open the lid, a paperback photograph was sitting atop of the pile of handwritten letters, cut out newspaper articles, a transparent flashlight and a few banged-up toys, one of them was a cowboy on a horse which was very popular at the time.
There in the photo was me and my brother on our first bikes. His was a tricycle which pedals were attached on the front wheel and was larger than the other two on the rear. It was made of plastic and metal, its body was blue and the wheels were finished in orange. Mine has four red wheels and it was made mostly of wood. It got no pedals and the seat came in blue with white stars scattered all over it, while the rest of its body was painted white.
We had gray caps on and we were wearing our sando-undershirts and we had the look that we could ride those things anywhere we wanted.
I had a conversation not so long ago. About how time changes us. On how circumstances replace everything and that childhood is like a cocoon covering that we outgrow eventually in life.
But I don’t really believe that.
The longer I looked at the photo, the more it felt familiar, the more it felt it was still me, that the child in that picture is still in me somewhere, that it wasn’t really gone.
A door down the narrow hallway swung open. My attention was then captured by the newer boxes of memories stacked neatly in this special shelf from one of its aisles. I took a closer look, not minding the short walk that I had to take; after all, I have long strides. As soon as I got there, I opened one of the colored boxes, doing the same routine, tug, untie the knot and dust. But this time I was more careful.
I then held a black and white photograph of a kid wearing a fedora hat under an umbrella with his Tommy gun toy. He reminded me of the boys from the other photograph. And from a crumpled paper note I read the words out loud on a whisper.
“Life is the transcendence of love towards another, and it leaves a permanent mark every time.”
Funny, it sounded like a line from a bumper sticker, but I guess there’s some truth to it.
It was a Tuesday morning and the day was blending nothing special, just a regular workday like any other.
And I have brought something back and I haven’t even reached my destination yet.
“I am going to save the world someday!” He exclaimed to himself, giving the invisible foe a determined nod as if this was a known certainty. “Maybe not soon, but someday you’ll see.” He was threading on the railway line all the way from the previous town on the other side of the mountain, following a gravel pathway staying away from the rain-soaked grass on both sides. Every step makes a crunching sound as the soles of his boat shoes land on the uneven surface of the boulder fragments.
“But for now, I will have to find a dry place to take a rest.” As he stretches on both arms up in the air with a quick release of a yawn. He wears a collared striped shirt, buttoned all the way up, hand-me-down khaki shorts from his older brother and a fisherman’s hat to complete his wardrobe.
The boy readjusts his shoulder bag which contains clamped sheets of bond paper, a sketch pad, colored pencils bound with rubber band, a Tupperware of mixed cheap local chocolate candies, and a peanut butter sandwich.
“You’re not from around, here are you?” The mailman on a bicycle appears out of nowhere, as he then held the tip of his cap with his index finger and his thumb, pacing himself with the boy. Not a lint on his navy-blue coat uniform and he wears a white undershirt with a bowtie.
“You are a stowaway, aren’t you?”
“No sir, I am not!” Retorted the boy, almost angrily. The mailman then examined the boy with a lingering look from head to toe.
“I’m on my way home after fetching some of the dried fruits my grandmother is selling and took them to the market on the other side of the mountain.” The boy further explains.
“Good then, I trust you if you say so, besides, I always wander around these parts myself when I was a lot younger too. On the other thought, I heard you shouting something from back there. Forgive me, I’m not eavesdropping or anything like that, around here you can hear even the softest whisper, or a stumble of a small rock from a definitive distance.”
The boy was a bit embarrassed but hides this to the stranger. His face turned red though. He then pays him a soft affirmation with a short answer “it must have echoed.” And the mailman agrees.
“Um yes, I was just talking to myself out loud, it’s sort of a habit. Why? Do you think that’s weird?”
“Well, the world is filled with much weirder things.” The mailman replied.
“Weirder things?” the boy repeated. The boy stops walking for a while, turning his head following the man with his now narrowing eyes.
“Please allow me to explain. I mean for one, folks nowadays don’t’ read anymore. They spend most of the time watching TV than enjoying this, right here. They do less and complain much more each day.”
“That’s what I like about my job you know? I get to enjoy riding and passing by these parts every day, and I never get tired of it. I am the link between two distant lovers through their letters, the bearer of enveloped truth, may it be good or bad, all the correspondences that people value. I would like to think of myself as the caretaker of hope in a way.”
“You do the same things every day? I don’t know kids in my neighborhood that can stand that. We’re always up to something different each day” – the boy wondered.
“Well you’re still young of course, and you want to do many exciting things I’m sure. Your case is different. You’ll realize what I mean when the time comes.”
“But that doesn’t make my case any less exciting. I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I guess the secret is learning to enjoy the little things. And I see that now, every day I take joy in having the opportunity to fall in love over and over with every unfolding flower and appreciating their varying colors, being able to hum along with the rustling of the leaves as I cruise these parts. When it becomes lonely, the buzzing bees are my companion, they are far hardworking than I am, so I guess, they make me want to better myself.”
“And when the circumstance won’t allow me to visit the hillside or the lake, like when it rains hard like moments ago, I go to my books while sipping a good cup of hot chocolate, teach my sister’s kids a thing or two, helping them with their studies, or I go visit the city library two blocks away from where I live. “
“I still don’t get it, how is it weird?” Asks the boy, now walking after the stranger interested. The boy does not understand what the mailman was saying. After all, he’s just a kid. The words are too big for him
“How do I put this?” The mailman then maneuvers over in front of the boy and squeezed on the brakes.
“You know how everybody feels and thinks that they need to do something very significant with their lives, say something bigger than them, to be someone perhaps, or to be known, leaving behind lasting marks on the face of the earth? Say like superheroes?
“Yes.” The boy finally understands.
“Well, I think it is just plain silly that most people are convinced that by complaining while holding the remote control watching the news will do the trick for them.”
“Change and Apathy are not good bedfellows you see?”
“I get it.” Says the boy.
“By the way, what do you mean by saving the world?” returned the mailman breaking a smile on his face, “You don’t mean aliens do you? You don’t strike me as a member of a secret government organization.” He follows this with an uncontrollable laugh. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mocking you or anything, it’s just that, you reminded me of a character in a book that I once read.”
“No, it’s okay, I was rehearsing. That was a line from a school play I am in. I should be able to memorize the lines by the end of the week or else I am screwed.”
“I also wrote the play by the way.”
The mailman was impressed, nods while scratching the temple of his face.
“But now that you mentioned it, I kind of like the idea of me really saving the world one day, or at least contributing something very significant.” the boy continued.
“And how are you supposed to do that? I hope you don’t mind me asking.”
The boy gave it a quick thought and gets back to the cyclist. “No I don’t mind it at all, in fact, that’s a good point. I never thought about it until now, but I’m guessing that there are a lot of things that you could do.”
“Like how, what’s in your mind, my young friend?”
“Well for one, and I may be oversimplifying things here, but if only I could find the right story to write about to show everyone. Stories that really matter, like yours Mr. Mailman, I’m sure that many people would be very interested in your story.”
“But it needs to be well played. As you said, we all play an important role.”
“I don’t know about my story, but yeah, I second what you are trying to say” – the mailman feeling a bit embarrassed himself.
Then the sun behind the thick monochrome clouds appeared, revealing the rest of the steel railway line ahead, and the mist is slowly but definitely starting to vanish. The distance appears to be long, but he realizes that it is the pathway to his destination, nonetheless, leading him to the clearing.
The kid knew that he’ll never be the same. The words that he needs to memorize now fluttered inside him. His inked fingers can’t wait to reconcile with the pen, and he felt freed by the encounter he just had.
And he reckoned that he is on a mission after all.
As seasons change, so as the people that transit through the arrival halls, filling the once emptied coat rack of the living room closet. Now draped under the welcoming embrace of the rainy weather, tailored fit for the lovers, dreamers and the poets, we ready the coffee cups and warm clothing for we had just found another reason to stay home. Clutched and folded, underneath the comforts of the thick warm blanket, enthused by this slow-moving weekend morning, to be just lazy giving in to that perfect excuse to daydream infinitely.
And for a while, as the marsh of clouds provides a soothing reminder to pause for a while, through the drizzling and the stillness of the cold, I learn to rightfully consume these borrowed subtleties as I sailed the thoughts of my consciousness and what’s inside of its universe. While one attempt to be an eyewitness, slow pacing to just watch every graceful leaf and tree branch sway from side to side, indulging this sweet correspondence with the monsoon winds.
My love affair with this weather is like an unconditional monologue. It needs only the sky as its stage. It’s meant to be watched and appreciated only by staying indoors.
No sudden movements, just staring blankly through the runny window pane, while it holds a million and one raindrop marathons across the entire neighborhood, waking everybody up with soft whispers of hellos and happy tap dancing on every household-roof.
On the parallel view, I finally see children playing in the rain, running barefooted while paddling bicycle tires with twigs, keeping each rolling and balanced, up to the end of the street and back.
And in a way, I was sold. Not just because we are here now, but also for the long wait that had become a variable. The journey on how we got here I think is what made it all worth it.
If words were to be weighed, I would have been drowning by now. I mean, my mind, chest and my toes and its soles, are now filled with excerpts and anecdotes, as the wind brushes through my hair and the entirety of my face. These random thoughts had now posed as my life support that keeps me afloat in the middle of the wide-open waters that will keep me buoyant for as long as I always find that gleaming hope hiding behind the thick cotton fields in the skies.
As these seemingly endless lullabies of streams lay me down across the soft continents of my sheets and cushions, it had also reacquainted me once more, with dreams about my tomorrows and with what was, beyond and what’s under, in the quiet of my own collaborative chaos made up of carefree wanderings of lose perspectives.
And what had struck me were the things of the plain and of the ordinary, of what was there all along, like a long time next door neighbor that I had never bothered to spend the time to get to know.
I guess everything that is dear to us is like sand in our hands; we lose most of the grains no matter how hard we try to hold onto them. And when it is time to open them, as we have our palms facing upwards, we are reminded to be grateful and we are made humbled, for what’s left is more than empty.
With my eyes closed, listening to the rain outside, as I have my fingers drum-beating on my forehead, I am waiting in time not minding on how long, for that thousand-word letter to be mailed.
I am memorizing every detail of what is being consumed with this pit-stop of a rest.
And while I am here, maybe you’re out there somewhere on a journey. I hope maybe someday, on some random weekday perhaps, you will also share the joys of stopping for a while and write me about your adventures. On how you went about and got to each, every beginning and all the messy and complicated endings.
And when you do, when you find yourself in between stops, while standing there on the train on your way home back, may the grace of these renewed days find you. As you listen to the conversations of others, may you be inspired to partake, to play a part and to be a borrower of momentary lives, only to find the rhythm, to create something that you can call your own.
“When a star explodes, that is when I am the happiest”, I heard her say. With my favorite drink on the side, next to the ashtray, sitting across from where the feeble yellow light was, with eyes crossed with cigarette smoke and the most beautiful sight on the peripheral.
She told me stories of a traveling satellite that drifts patiently across the nebulas and the distant, uncharted clusters of stars from the far stretch of the grid. Wildly and vividly taken, she took the words and carried them out from her storybook of the cosmos. Page by page, I listened, never minding the flailing bodies from the intoxicated crowd around us. She told me about milkshakes and cupcakes and runaway shooting stars, cartoonish dreams, and constellations. I leaned closer for the promise of clarity and to capture the whole celestial delight. It was almost morning and our wrist watches were nothing more but a bodily décor in those vacuumed moments, a time warp of its own, a moment from when a supernova turns into a neutron star approaching the collapse to become a black hole where time stands still. And her grace was the pulsar, stretching on.
Then she whispered, “When stars die, they leave a bright trail across the blackened space, and it stays on for a while for everyone to see. One of the most beautiful goodbyes I think”.
As I held her thoughts like it was mine to own. I made sure that I nodded every time to encourage her to say some more but the silence were filled with so much to spare. Her moisten painted lips were so close to my left ear, yet the gaps were too far still. Of course, this is just all a dream, I thought.
They say that the universe is infinitely expanding, that the space between each matter widens, scientists also concluded that there is not enough dark matter to hold everything together, but humanity and philosophy had termed it love that was lacking, that we laymen understand more easily. It is the very gravity of life that pulls every molecule, and all of the atmospheric dust that makes up the blue skies.
“It expands, and we can’t quite catch up. Maybe we’re not meant to anyway”, she figured.
We stood on the tip of the cliff near the banks of the shore as we held our heads up toward the planetarium over our scalps. The pale moon gleams as we also watched the foams of the waters crash gently on the soft bosom of the earth, as they remind us also of what we had there beneath our feet.
We were happy to have awakened before the sun rose. Before it had stretched its limbs out of the horizons, before the unfolding of the leaves from slumber. We have exhaled the air, of what our lungs could give and inhaled sharing the same air between us. Despite the unspoken reassuring words of poetry and romance and all the formulas of science that we once have written on the blackboards with colored chalk. We were there at that right moment, gazing through the pellets of what appeared to be a gathering of faraway candle lights, meeting together for that blue dot from a distant galaxy we call home.
These days are to linger in my mind. A dream of a journey towards one’s arrival to consciousness, the immense feeling from within the rib-cages with care and compassion, its axis.
The magnetic field of life transcending to the blotting of the ink on paper. The literature of childlike musings, of what’s carefree or just plain silly. Through the slow waltzing dance of the cosmic flares in the night sky enjoyed through a bedtime telescope. For just a fraction, a dose if you will, like a nightcap while exchanging proses and bubble gum theories in those half-asleep conversations. For an aurora of glistened dreams on our night-clothes.
I am a bent study lamp on the floor with legs folded and crossed in the presence of the terraces of keys before me, while my arms are behind my back serving as main poles of my aching body, leaning for support against them.
And from a lingering transcendence within my shell, I marveled staring blankly through the stained metal grills between me and the sky that blended with the bright hues and the nicest alibi I tucked behind the sunglasses.
From afar I see a color arc over the leveling concrete columns but there was no one there to wave at. I took a long drag, it was almost a summer kiss, from the cigarette that was dying so quickly from an ashtray beside me, and as the smoke passes through my throat and down to my lungs, so as the words that fill my mind. I then closed my eyes, surrendering to the chemical reaction funneling through the compartments of my musings, I then pulled the knob of my wristwatch to make time stand still for a while. It was only during these silent moments that I was reminded that for one to actually dream, one has to rest.
I was bribing each ticking hand to take no pace, and hope that with this morning prose it would accept my invitation to take a short nap.
As it heeds my request with enthusiasm, also comes a lesson of reality. That it can only make it appear slower, through the glances from one’s memories, but nothing more than that. I then responded with courtesy and tact, as a grateful response I said, that I will take whatever it would lend me. Like the silence that peace gave me when I was asking for answers, or like when the pages were found empty only to mean patience until the words dawned when they are already ripe for the picking.
And so I went to the bed and laid down for a while, facing the open windows to my left.
I curled my legs up placing both of them closer to my chest while the morning warmth cloaked the rest of my body with beautiful promises of respite.
I watched the different shapes of ether line up for the parade, and the drift of specs passing through my fingers, from the feeble cloth that swayed in portrayal of the curtains. In a way it is like a musical fountain show with colored lights in slow motion, they complimented the existence of each other and the bright blue skies where they whirled.
It then took me to a not so distant memory, when we were on our way to the high terrains when the altitude starts messing with our ears as we take on each ascend. It was a reminder that we are in a different place now, as it also allowed our imposition, to relish the grandeur of life.
Then her face was magnified and made clearer by the distance. It made no sense, I couldn’t see her but I do in a way. A warm unreciprocated embrace to my pillow until it hurt so badly, with the wind chimes played like a pop song in a loop.
I guess, missing someone is like looking at the stars. They are all there, but they are also light years away. You then wonder, and you check your pockets hoping that you’d have enough change to spare, for all the wishes that you would be making, whispering to the empty spaces between the earth from where you stand on, and the layers and layers of widened openness made of dust and faith above your head, wishing that it is more than just a bedtime story with a happy ending.
You would then yearn for reality and your dreams to be one and the same, as you have found a place within you, a cabin where you can rest easy with your thoughts and all your worries and high hopes, that the margin of probability is not that thin after all. That it is okay to hope and long and ask, putting your consciousness at bay, placing your palms upward facing the sky.
While lying there, I borrowed some of the sun’s attention, and I was resting finally. At first, I had a little trouble in convincing the words to do its part, thinking to myself that I got nothing if they won’t participate.
But the wise sun understood what I was trying to enunciate. Even without words, just sheer nothingness it heard me, the voice from my lungs that was struggling to come out. And I was put in awe when it finally did, asking myself how can that be? And the answer to that, until now I do not know.
I woke up a few hours after and my mind held nothing. It was then I knew that it is in our empty state that we can really dispense. We are the vessel, not the water that fills it. And like a fern growing out of a typewriter shell, I was enriched.
From the soften beach floor bed, cradled a local dog resting peacefully in the early morning sun. He had his snout facing seaward, out to catch the cool combing embrace of the morning breeze through his sandy copper fur. And even though his paws had already aged, the pads were soft still. He had lived each breaking day in this tranquil state all his life. And for a moment there, I envied the mutt, for I have forgotten how long far ago I had slept like that.
The sun was just about at the right ascend when the wind-driven current was gesturing its invitation to come along into the sea. The air was oozing with excitement as both locals and tourists marched unto the stretch, with their hoverboards pressed between their sides and their arms, as they have their gaze fixed outward to the vast openings of the ocean.
The agenda was to stop, to watch the crashing of the waves, and while the waters breathed briskly through each white northern collapse, against our feet, the ocean’s pulse found its way to the homey banks of the shore, where the solace of wisdom sat as it waited for their safe return.
We then lingered all our inhibitions, on this rejuvenating view before us. The mutt was right to stay, and we followed him through in silence sitting in the shaded parts of the beach.
And as the browned and baked bodies were about to go under against the unrelenting white waters of the north, they held their breaths before each plunge, they paddled out to make their acquaintance with the ocean’s entirety, as they entwined their bodies with each exhaling current until they were finally welcomed to share its world.
Graceful on their gliders, the sun-induced melanin lingered in their now crisp and darken skin. Their hair was bleached by salt, preserving their youth in a timeless compartmentalized memory they hope to keep.
As their fingers ran through the tunneling waters, they wait patiently for that perfect one — a marriage of some sort — like a romantic getaway may be, and when they finally did, they took off on that wave, over the pilgrimage of the herd, without any sails they moved beautifully through the current, drifting in clouds, they sailed in their dreams wide awake.
The waves were rushing in from the entire stretch, and in their varying motions, they charged just to disintegrate upon each collapse. And from this unchoreographed parade, one realized the truth that was being carried in each crashing — that there are no plans beyond the uncontrollable and the unseen.
That we just paddle out to meet whatever kind of waves we are there to catch. We plunge our way through head-on, to meet with each swollen-embossed tide that we brave to shake hands with, and with humility, we try to hold a steady pace for as long as we could, while it last, until the strong waves decide to wipe us out on our sides.
And from a faraway voice that echoed as a celebration of the waves, its familiar roars of tunes made it sounded so near. A version of its hums or it must be a prayer for the celestial, we hear the words form until they are finally made and forged.
And soon, answers will be then dispensed; neither for the eyes to read nor for our ears to hear. And in its modesty and simplicity, we hope to take refuge, in its utter silence through our rib cages and arteries.
She is a dandelion seed drifting across the midsummer sky. During the days of when each tree branch sways easy. One of whose time finally ripens from the subtle release influenced by the permission of the morning warmth and a little convincing push of the wind.
She then paddles against the invisible waves through the horizons. She travels the world for the first time. And she is perfectly happy. The breeze then picks up the pace, teaching her to dance without using any legs. The castaway leaves from the neighboring trees waltz with her, they take turns doing patterned and synchronized motions as if they have done dancing together before. They are her Romeo, wooing her to glide with them throughout the ball.
The little dandelion seed was putting on a show, impressing the entire vegetation from below, across the rice fields they were her audience. They waved in approval or was it an attempt to emulate the motions, if only they could also fly, they thought to themselves, but in a way, they actually did somehow.
And from the open household windows, send a soothing familiar invitation to stay for a while. To spend a little more time at home, on a Saturday morning, to have an early lunch perhaps, with iced lemonade and daisies as center-piece in the family table.
The weather was on her side, she was grateful for her captain. The breeze has taken her far already, and through this ascend, she was introduced to the varying views and feelings, letting her see the world from another perspective. And from each climb and height, the world boasted its grandeur and its seemingly unending beauty. The horizons claimed eternity, imploring her to dream some more.
But she was just a mere seed she thought, how could the world care so much she asked? But there were no words found between the question and the utter silence, only episodes of continuity and the line in the horizon that separated the wanderer from the dreamer. She started to funnel the grace that went through her. And she hoped not to disappoint.
She soon realized that life is not stagnant, but it is change. It is the unfolding of a flower after the long cold night. Life is carefree and whimsical, yet it is forgiving and patient, daring yet respectful, adamant and stern but at the same time gentle.
The day was on her side, it did not rush her. And when the sun was too hot, the clouds connived to carefully place shade over her fragile body.
Then something changed. The once strong wind is now feeble as it tires. She slowly descends, as if the cold earth expects her arrival. She prays for mercy to let this invisible force beneath her linger. But she will not be answered.
The dandelion seed as she was known to be is no more. But instead, she is life realized. She learns as soon as she had hit the ground, that the very fall was not her demise, but rather the start of her real life. That she had to take the journey, to let the circumstances dictate her place in the world.
After all, we are the jigsaw that fall into place, to complete the puzzle of our existence. On our own, we are nothing but little pieces that make no sense.
And as the day was coming to a close, she dwelled very still, lying on the ground beneath the stars. She had promised herself to be fair to the moon that rested in the cradle of the evening breath that lingered as clouds. That she would throw the same kind of smile she gave the caring sun.
I pushed down the play button of the cassette tape player while closing my eyes with these brewed thoughts beneath my consciousness. I was on a cryogenic sleep inside a bubble, traveling in a timeless vortex between the layers of the blanket and the sheets. This rest was long overdue, now forgetting all the report deadlines and the fractions, the entire math problems, all the cable subscriptions and the power bills that need to be opened. I had my hands up as I turned myself in as I learn to relish the journey through the impossible with the Nautilus of my raptured thoughts.
I stood behind one of the half-opened doors as I slowly started with a sneak peek between the gaps. I was overwhelmed and yet made ready for an adventure by the light that passes through the frail vessel I call my body. I took my time sitting on the front steps while being accompanied by my newspaper editorial columns from the current events while trying to balance these with comic strips and a cup of hot chocolate.
Looking for the sun behind the slope of the hill, the search alone fills me with a thousand episodes from a grand magical carrousel of seahorses and cloud rafts, as I wait anxiously for their magical reveal in each turn. A merry-go-round in an Indian summer dream, like the time as I remembered it to be when I watched a very good friend flew to the moon on a runaway trip, as I stood alongside with everybody else, seeing him on TV, waving farewell behind the sun-gleaming-window.
I was an instant fan, and while watching him go, I borrowed some of the excitement I imagined he might have had at the time. It had a similar feeling I said to myself, as I turned the newspaper into a kite, letting it fly across the stratosphere over the castles made of cotton filled with condensed water vapor and ether. I found a very good spot over the hill, perfect for loafing around or just spending the afternoon with a lover. I threw my body leaning against an old mahogany tree, as if it was the softest bed in the whole world, finding comfort while holding the thread with my right hand. I then rested my left arm in consolation against its proud roots that had emerged from the very soil where it still stands. And without hesitation, my newly found friend had whispered me stories of its might and its victorious alliance with time.
The skies then swirled, around and all over, a whirlpool had just opened its mouth to devour the world. What was left was a wisp of courage to let the kite flying, long enough to let it fade away into the marsh.
Then a lingering beat, and a memory flashes by.
I remember the day when I had the privilege to spend a morning walk with a wise man. It was very windy but the skies were clear and the sun was giving at the time. The conversation started with questions that you normally find in your job resume. Not long after we then found ourselves exchanging anecdotes and life stories. Some of them were sad and some were happy ones. Apparently, he was too tired talking about the political killings, and the bickering editorials, the war loop, still life art, the millionaire spoiled brats, and what’s left of the conspiracy theories.
At that point, we decided to lend time for zombies, Jake the dog, the breakfast club and a bunch of stupid and wildly carefree stuff that we almost forgot to talk about
As my sleeping eyes behind their coverings were caught amused and bedazzled by all the wisdom, I hear my brother playing the guitar from across the room.
In my sleep, I threw a line I captured from a film, a soundtrack plays along in the precise moment as the space between each particle widens, the universe expands and lets go of each electron and proton but our souls bid a humble disobedience.
And in the middle of the chaos, the wise man reveals that he was the same person who arranged the chartered flight to the moon. And apparently, he also visited a space island between the neighboring unnamed stars he now calls home. And when I asked him on why he had returned, he scratched his scalp and smiled away. He has empty hands he says, nothing but lines and old narratives of his adventures. And what good would it make if there was no one to share it with.
As this frame simmers, the camera takes one last beat inviting along everyone in the audience to fly at the height of their chests, as it then gently floats into the horizons like a kite fading away into the whirlpool of credits and score.
The lights from the lamp posts were painting the late night pavement with dreamy colors from a childhood memory. I was standing in the middle of the road, between the past and what seems to be a snapshot of a not so distant future, not realizing that I was in the crossroads of my grown-up life.
I sat down in the nearby shed, waiting for the first trip of the bus, as I held in my hands a map that I got from one of the standees at the airport lobby. Somebody was supposed to pick me up, but nobody came. I’ve waited for one and a half hours until the jewelry stores of the night sky were all finally opened. Their display windows of billions of diamonds made the elegant black of the night even darker, raining down on everyone with the feeling of hope, magic, and romance as if everyone was ready to spend the rest of their lives in spontaneity.
As I was waiting in the cold alone, the time had lent an opportunity for me to spare. And after a few, I decided to walk and amuse myself with whatever I could see and what was there to dispense. I was wandering around, past the park and the trees with the stray cats looting the trash bins, camouflaging the noise with the music the crickets were making, as both species connive in their ninja-like stealth.
After the short stroll, I went back to the same shed placing the backpack by my tired feet and the typewriter case on my lap. I then rested both of my elbows against the wooden bench, tilting my head back looking at the pellets across the night sky.
Time treats my solitude with the imagination I never thought I would regain after that. I thought of windmills by the rivers, and parading gazelles running in the wild during spring. I was pretty sure that I have used up all my childlike musings during those moments. The world I painted in my mind sculpted a lingering smile on my once weary face. I was in a way making up for those years I spent as a grown up. Suddenly I wanted to go back and be Marty McFly on his hoverboard even for a little while. I would go gliding towards the unknown and reliving the best days there were. And I was excited more and more, on rediscovering what else was out there in my mind waiting for me. As I now punch each key while setting the sails of my mind afloat in the drift of the oceans that I have to travel.
Time couldn’t be more perfect, I know that the winds had brought me here for a purpose and I believe that I am on a mission to rewrite the history of the skies in the pages with my own storylines. I guess I owe the night and its stars that I borrowed for a friend.
I woke up the next morning sitting on the very bench where I had my last musings. It was only then that I realized when the daylight had soft-landed on the ground, that there was a nearby fishing dock that would remedy my ever restless mind. I sat on one of the benches putting on my sunglasses while chewing nicotine gum. I handed over my unfinished notes, all the rough drafts to the winds as each page found its way gliding through its invisibility, then waltzing into the open arms of the ocean. As I relish each goodbye, I wait for the gentle breeze to portray the words through the flip and the somersaults of each parchment paper, then diving and plunging their entirety into this deed of complete surrender. The view warmed and raptured the cold breath I exhaled from these mortal lungs while my gaze takes me to the lemon smiles of summer.
And there were no words in between, I mean there was nothing left, for it was all emptied by the silence and those textured moments of that midsummer feeling.
I wanted to stay; I guess I need the feeling from this scenic view to linger on. For my sake, I thought that this medical help was the cure. I wanted to remember and memorize each heartbeat. I tried to bribe the sun and its skies to stay, but they would always go each day.
I was made to realize that everything is borrowed, that there are repetitive moments but one can never own. I guess we can only live to create a rendition of these things to ink the paper.
Through the words and awes, through the rivers of our souls, and into the ocean of our dreams, we attempt to stretch these hopes up to the skies so we could be reminded that we travel these paths not to get away but to be found. Not a right to claim, but just a humble gesture for another chance to relive a moment, if not a plea to always remember.
Toes are curled, I was biting on my lower lip, I know that the first ascent is the most crucial part. I was holding on to the control wheel when I realized that my palms begin to excrete sweat. I am on my way to chase a runaway star that stole one of the space probes earth sent, on a mission to take photographs of an alien civilization. I guess mankind has not enough problems to solve.
Just about to reach the midpoint of the stratosphere, the weight of my entire upper torso is dependently leaning against the backrest of the rubber and the polyester seat. Surprisingly I am still conscious at this height, thanks to my life support pack; one of my many worries was crossed out of my list.
On a vertical leap, I was pulling back the throttle lever more and more in a gradual fashion. I was taking my time as if I was having second thoughts. I already miss the chirping noises my winged neighbors make when they wake and the smell of sautéed garlic in the morning, I was telling myself, the sooner this thing ends the faster I can get back to my couch and reruns.
Something that I never quite understood, something I have not seen in books and what they have taught us in our spaceflight training. The second I flew through the marshmallow-like skies, I was caught off guard by this immense ocean of clouds. Who would have thought that Atlantis did exist? Below me I saw the dreamer in a boy with his World War II leather headgear and a pair of pilot goggles; he was on a wooden kayak paddling against the waves trying to keep up with me. The pigments of ether land gently against the window pane like soft voices from the conversing angels playing in the sun. I closed my eyes for a little while, hiding them behind their coverings, as I enjoy the drowsing winds passing through the blades and the fins of the vessel. The bright blues and the stripes of white from the cirrus clouds from all around were like a warm homey blanket in the cold.
As I keep the pace of an easy stride, I went through the small notebook that I had from my jacket reading the inscription from a lunar kiss. I was reminded of the courage I represent, and the emblem of a happy ending this deed for many. I was humbled clasping my hands together, it was almost like a prayer.
I took the time in a vacuum, shutting down my senses for a while. And deep down under the layers of slumber, I hear the soundtrack from Space Invasion is at play. I then found myself speeding through the laser beams, on a counterflow against the showering meteorites coming my way. I was trying to reconcile what was going on with the fragments of what I could get from the last memory that I had. I was searching for anything familiar around me, any clue that would help me connect the dots to make sense of this picture but I just couldn’t.
I was with the celebrities of the universe, Saturn and its 62 lovely mistresses, the gentle giant in Jupiter and the controversial Pluto. They are both my space travel contemporaries and TV programming.
It was during those moments of awe and transcendence that it dawned to me that it is okay to wander and to be lost, to ask a question and never get the answer, that there are things within our existence that are too grand to decipher.
I was lost in thought, realizing that I am but of a mere speck, just a grain in the sand. But my sheer microscopic existence has also made me feel grateful by this overwhelming grandeur that surrounds me. I was drenched by a thousand kisses of comets, asteroids, and satellites. The space was deep; its breath swallows the moons and the entirety of the constellations and the Milky Way.
The faraway stars are like powdered diamonds from the rough that were scattered across the night sky. This must be what Captain Ahab must have felt like when he was chasing the great sperm whale in the polar caps.
I guess humanity had always found its relief in deep explorations and space missions, searching for another frontier. The human spirit and its curiosity are designed to go on and prevail. And I would say that it is alright to search and ask why, how and what, but It is in the acceptance and believing that there are profound anomalies not meant to be understood.
And what makes a perfect ending to these wanderings is a short humble conclusion of what makes humanity great. – The ability to understand that it is alright not to know.
An acceptance that there is a definitive yet obscured border between the imaginative and the conscious, in the hopes that these lucid thoughts beneath the waves of the words are enough to finish this never-ending prose.
Early breakfast on the road and a cool brush by the breeze through my uncombed morning hair were the firsts on the list. As I help myself, rolling down the tinted passenger seat window, catching the first glimpse of what could be an opening of a perfect season after the long monsoon rains. With the windshield wipers no longer in use, the rain is now dripping down the glass pane. As I was urging myself on going somewhere distant, I am not sure if it is somewhere uphill but the road I am on was definitely taking me somewhere new. Something has gotten into me, a sense of urgency to take advantage while the world is still half asleep, a reckless abandon of some sort, looking for that great escape.
I then looked up and see a lingering, thick contrail from the jet exhaust streaming across the stretch of the sky, a long vertical line that sketched the sky fluffy white. I checked my backpack for anything to munch on and found a half done sandwich that I had after a few beers. Everything is going neatly so far that the entire experience showers me with high hopes of leaving behind the remains of last night, covering the stench with a couple of hours of sleep later, hoping not to remember.
And the day is already breaking.
The world truly does not owe us anything. I was thinking that my only rescue now is to catch the first waves of the sun tides. I was moving my head from side to side looking for a clearing from the open road by the cliff as we make a right turn after passing through the tunnel. We had to take a longer route since the fault was at its dangerous that time. My hands are shaking because of the cold, yet still very eager to create something beautiful with whatever the blotted ink from my pen can lend me. Yearning for a far cry inspiration, I picked out a past dated reading material from the dashboard compartment, popping the lid open with a hammering motion of my right fist. An old newspaper or was it a travel magazine? I can’t remember exactly, but It was dated sometime 2001. “Not bad” I murmured to myself, for it was like time traveling all the same and I can use that for reference I figured, giving an undeserving applause to myself. And somehow I realized that the course we were threading on was much better. It was from those after meal thoughts and the open-free spaces in between towns and the quiet celebration from a flick of my cigarette that validated this glide the right thing to do at the time. For it was by far the warmest after the cold. And the ease of the lift of my facial muscles seemed sustainable and could seem to last a lifetime. It really surprised me on how easy it was all of a sudden.
A very good friend had once told me over a glass of rum, that our realizations and the wisdom that comes along with it, are all emanating from the affirmation that sometime soon after we are long gone, we will be just a part of a punch line in the short stories being told. It would probably start with a short visual reference from one of your favorite self-portrait photographs carefully placed in the family album or perhaps if lucky, you’ll be remembered when the index cards of the recipe box you once filled and treasured, was opened and used during some yearly household occasion. You’ll be in a way, like a transistor radio or a technicolor television set with giant capacitors and wooden shutters that was boxed and locked up in a room somewhere.
I turned the knob of the car radio a notch higher while lip-synching to a plastic record, and for a moment there we were shaking our heads senseless and doing these random unrehearsed movements from our seats. We were, in our own weird ways, happy.
Past the varying heights of the trees, while the sun is playing hide and seek behind each, and the varying shades of greens of the hills color the feeling, I can’t help but compare. That it was definitely a different view from what laid days before. The haunting and casting shadows on the moonlight floor were no longer there, and all of the episodes were nothing but of a distant memory now, in my chest to be safely kept and yet to be seen again but not now, not at this very moment.
Through the fast open sky, and past the telephone wires that fenced the mountains and the slopping landscapes of the north and the infinite blue skies ceiling above us, I watched the wheels that spun so fast through the side mirrors, our speed made the white-highway-broken- lines appear to be this long and endless straight marker directing us towards the end and the beginning of a circle. Our tomorrows may or may not be there, but I will relish the flip of the coin, playing through over each finger as I tap my feet to the waltz of this familiar song.
And somehow it felt like we were slowly getting off the ground, we were almost flying. A shift in perception or just an ordinary optical illusion, I could not really tell and it did not matter. For what I had there was not of this world and yet it felt it was.
Twenty-two degrees on an 80 kph freeway for as long as I have my polarized lenses on, my past dated magazines and plastic records – I am there, crashing through the walls of the uncertainty of history, trying to live in a story worth telling.
It was like a black and white photograph that you see along the staircases of your home, a happy memory captured in time slicing through the open spaces of the realities and the nine-millimeter frames. I woke up realizing that I have dreamt something beautiful this morning, something that took me to the bluest skies that one would see in a canvass of sunflowers and daffodils, tangerine fields and golden mango summer days. I wandered off, over and across the horizons with the feathered pilots in flight, doing their routine of salutations, passing through and by the cloud formations that were tasked to do a portrayal of the world they see below, a beautiful imitation, a sculpting rendition from the shape-shifters of the light. The white paint of the ceiling, the walls of the bedroom, the slow dancing of the curtains highlight the sun showers that invited themselves just to help out, lending a hand to magnify the unfolding of the hopeful summer feeling stemming from within.
Lying next to me is a warm, beautifully placed tanned body with all the white sheets and the cushions that cradled us into slumber the night before. And for someone like me, it is only fitting to throw the most fundamental questions of how and why it got there in the first place. As I found myself dumbfounded, she slowly opened her brown almond-shaped eyes, then a long lingering look directly aiming into my prying eyes. She then surveyed the rest of my face, from the forehead down to my buttoned nose, on the sides, chin and the cheeks while taking her time and breaking this gentle smile as she then rested her gaze right back to where it all started. She then whispered something in my ear, some thoughts about cotton candies and marshmallows and vanilla ice cream and brewed coffee while tucking her face between my shoulder and my jawline, as I now feel the warmth of her breath on the left side of my neck.
As I give in, I suddenly felt the need to dispense this undeniable sensation, sneaking my right arm around my universe, wrapping my present and my tomorrows within the reach of my arms and my left and right hands’ fingertips, holding onto my supernova.
I suddenly got the feeling of when you are on the beach, raptured by this unsolicited fulfillment, sitting and listening to the crashing of the waves against your feet. The warm welcome of the inviting ocean, plunging in while rediscovering and relishing the sunlight on your imperfect skin and stained shirt, as the saltiness of the waters and the powdery promises of the sands of time are all you ever needed for the remainders of your days.
I took a few drags after lighting a cigarette and opened a book reading a couple of chapters from where I left off. It took me a while to realize that it was the world I am living in that the words were describing. I held her hand next to my chest. We were slouching and care freed by the open windows with our sunglasses on, with crossed legs and our weekend smiles. Coffee and Vanilla ice cream, Root beers and Jack Johnson, conversations after conversations, we talked about finding answers and an aimless attempt to look for an escape and what solitude really means, on how to outlast father time and getting the most out of each conscious moment and decisions. And from the openings of her brilliance, she made something out of the blowing winds and the subtleness of the ether as she paints the canvass through her imagination of life brushes and watercolors.
Some would prefer to throw a peace sign and be on TV all greased and combed up, neatly dressed and all buttoned up, calling out everyone to put out a flag but for me, I prefer her way. Just an honest display of what was and what we aspire to be at. I guess all we ever needed was our sun, and a few bucks to get us by with our words and cigarettes.
But life most of the times is not as colorful as the stories we read from all the pages we encounter. In a way, what we get from these dog-eared pages is just the fuel that help gets us going from one town to the next rest stop for another gas pump. And after paying for what’s due, there’s always this invitation to make a phone call with a few spare change that we have got, to give thanks to the ones that made the journey possible and true.
It was 09:30 pm. I was watching all of the outlining lights of the city from my apartment terrace view while finishing a good bowl of freshly heated ramen from the microwave. Something caught my attention. As I moved my head upwards to my right, just across from where I sat, I saw what appeared to be an audience. There sat a frog, smoking its long and lean wooden pipe. Apparently, it was not just any ordinary frog. I could tell from the prints and the design of his robe. He was sporting a well-maintained facial hair growing from his small chin, the strands were grayish white, telling me that he’s been around for quite some time. He had his legs crossed together, while awkwardly dabbling his webbed toes in the air. He was sitting on the edge portion of the neighboring roof and he’s always been doing the same routine for years.
Of course, I never knew this since my family just moved into a new home. We had financial difficulties since my father died and wanted to start over.
As a matter of etiquette and good manners, I signaled to him if he wanted some of what I was having — raising the bowl chin high and directing the chopsticks towards it.
“I had flies. Thank you.” With a mischievous smile on his face, the frog politely declined. He then followed it with what you can say an offensive remark.
“You’re not the neighbor I was expecting to have.”
I had to ask why of course, almost choking on a string of noodle.
“My dreams told me that the next neighbor is the one who’s going to help me with my mathematics. I was observing you these past days, and I can’t see any signs at all that you have what it takes. I think you’re a slacker, you just stare at photographs in your phone and you have a nasty habit of picking your nose.”
For a while there I felt very insulted. This is not the type of conversation you have at first meetings. But I know his kind. Old folks tend to speak this way. They would go about it as if it is their inherent and social right or something. My old professor spoke like this frog and it kind of reminded me of him. We were good friends until he went abroad for his treatments.
As the hundreds of matchbox lights from the façade of the buildings paint a mosaic landscape, the frog and I had started conversing. We talked about a lot of interesting things. My favorite was about the undiscovered colors that he dreamt about. These were colors that this world hasn’t seen yet. And it had something to do with our eyes he said, preventing us from really seeing.
The cold September breeze on that silent Tuesday evening called for it, I guess. While the hot broth slowly loses its warmth, replacing it with the oddity of that night, I was taken to places in my mind that I thought never existed.
The stranger then opened about his long-lost love. He began by telling the story on how they first met.
He was in his younger self squatting on a pond leaf under the biggest moon of that year. The fireflies that lingered about, just far enough for him to reach were the brightest stars that night.
He was instructed by his mother to hunt for pond flies that nested on the very surface of the still waters. “Be one with the leaf” she said, “and hold very still to have a successful hunt. Have the required patience.” He was waiting for hours for the right timing when a more experienced frog easily snatches his prey away. She was hunting from a tip of the tree branch just over the pond. And from the moment he laid his eyes on her long, lightning-speed whipping tongue, he knew that she was the one.
As he was going over the story, I went inside and poured us some ginger juice and got something to smoke. And when I came back, I pinched a fingertip of tobacco from my cigarette into his empty wooden pipe and offered him a light.
“Have you met yours?” he wondered staring blankly to the sky.
I said I was not sure. And even if have, it wouldn’t matter. She was gone already and there was no point of remembering a tragic story. It would only bring you regrets and keep you awake most nights.
He smoked his long wooden pipe, blowing feebly into the air and nods.
I scratched my bearded jaw and rested my numbing head placing the whole weight in the open palm. And from time to time I was unconsciously nail-biting and dozing while the neighbors were watching their endless drama anthology on TV.
“Are they always like this every night?” The old frog just smiled away. I knew that he had learned to accept it, the same way that he had accepted the loss of his greatest love.
I felt sad for him. As if I was in the singularity of the black hole of his loneliness. It felt like I was never going anywhere, at the same time drifting away.
“A once healthy body is now starting to deteriorate as the numbers of time are catching up. You’d realize just about before it ends that your life as you know it had already passed you by along with all the unspoken questions in your lifetime. The answers had sailed far away into the oceans of the wandering and the forgotten.”
It was almost a mumble, but I heard the old frog’s every word.
Then I responded by saying that it was not my intention to make him feel sad, but I was so glad all the same for the chance. For these are the exact words I thought had slipped away from my writing hands fifty ink cartridges ago. And I never had the opportunity to hear the reading of these lines out loud.
“And all the anecdotes and old love letters may seem nostalgic now, but I hope you’d agree with me when your time to scribble has finally come.” It was almost an attempt to cheer him up. But I couldn’t tell if it was working or not. He just repositioned his right leg placing his knee right next to his shoulder and puffed on his wooden pipe, displaying his mischievous smile while the subtle whistling of the eastern winds and the throbbing percussion of the monsoon rains started to come and drenched us hopeful and drunk.
I found myself in the middle of a room full of people as I was beginning to get this slight nauseous feeling from my erratic claustrophobia that was starting to creep in. I was on a train roaming past the landmarks of the metro, on my way to the place I call the safest for me. We were squished like sardines in a can. I could feel the throbbing beats from a vein that was magnified, residing on the right side of my forehead and the sweat dripping like lava from the surface of the scalp down to my nape. My whole-body mass was depending on the athletic abilities of my toes to keep me from getting out of balance. And in every stop upon arrival at each station, these brave toes of mine were constantly at war with the unrelenting inertia. No handrail was near enough for the rescue and the only available consolation was the blowing of the feeble breeze coming from the small opening of the air-conditioning vent.
It felt like I was drowning, keeping my head above the waters of the crowd, as our bodies were waving back and forth and sometimes in these almost circular motions during abrupt turns through the sea of rail tracks, electricity, and concrete.
I rested my aimless thoughts on this moving view that I got from the window just below the vent. And after a few moments, I noticed these whimsical formations of dark clouds in the sky starting to connive.
I hurriedly took a quick survey through the open spaces available on both sides of the train, between the bodies of the sardines to see how the skies were. I was worried.
All of a sudden, just like that, it started to drizzle. And surprisingly it felt like the world was the skies’ grand piano, each raindrop was a musical note gently keyed in by this invisible hand.
In that silent moment, I was convinced that each living soul was part of the melody and the verses that made up the entire piece. That we mattered.
It began with a slow dance of the countless raindrops on a mission to make everyone feel overly romantic. In a way of gently saying that a little delay was on its way, and it was okay.
Home was approximately 14 kilometers away. The circumstance was telling me that I had plenty of time to be lost in this void within me. I was beginning to be numbed by the motionless state of my consciousness. Then, I was drifted towards the compartments of my mind, finally finding a soothing memory, reliving the entire experience in my head for six more times just enough before finally getting to the next station.
Then the consciousness took me to the episodes of climbing trees, listening to really good music, fishing by the sea, travelling probably with someone really close. I began to think of the closest people I know, on how little time I spent with my family and friends. I thought of changing that, I thought of falling in love, the possibility of marrying someone soon and settling down for good. I also thought of getting lost somewhere really far perhaps, enjoying a glass of whiskey in the night time — a quiet time for myself. Then I remembered something about borrowing a book from a good friend, also considering buying a copy if I liked it, thoughts of the things that really mattered.
Maybe I was over thinking it, but I got this feeling that we were trapped there for a reason. I felt grateful for these realizations. And despite the initial display of reluctance, my legs were no longer minding the pins and needles sending me back to reality.
Then I was pulled back to my consciousness and the once full coach was beginning to free up. The sardines were rushing out of the exits of the platform going their separate ways, swimming past the reefs of this vast ocean of life just to be willingly caught again to the promises of tomorrow.
Lightning and thunder had always carried a pull of interest to my imagination, of the tales that they would always bring, on how lightning can magically take its physical form out of sheer nothingness to these flashes of a great declaration of its very discerning presence.
Even as a grown-up it would always take me wondering, what if it is more than just an atmospheric disturbance, more than just a by-product of the mixture of the warm and cold air. What if?
Often times it is perceived as this very frightening notion that still hunts the living daylights out of our grown-up selves.
I remember as a child, me and my best friends would always think of lightning as the clashing of the broadswords of the Giants that fought over the terrains of the clouds. Our nanny would also say that it can also be seen as a crooked hand of the grim reaper reaching for the souls of the dying. Or sometimes, it is being used as a bridge by the “Engkantos” when they travel to reach the other realms to harness mystical powers.
When these bedtime stories got the very best of us, we would always hide under the force field of the sheets and our blankets; each of us curled up like an Armadillo in the presence of its slayer. As this was the first of our many tactical maneuvers.
You’ve always got to have a defensive strategy. And this was ours.
We would then hold on to our flashlights to counter the striking and blinding power of our unpredictable foes, the Lightning.
To time when would be their next attack, we would always try to catch patterns by counting the seconds from the last lightning strike to the next. By doing this, we would know when to uncover and open fire.
But, we found ourselves stuck in a predicament. Although we are protected by our force field, we are as blind as a bat. The blankets are too thick for us to be able to see when the last lightning strike was. We’d be fried if we ever took a chance. And we figured we were outnumbered, we can’t afford to have any casualties.
“We have got to work with what we have”. A very compelling voice from our esteemed captain, He was also our neighbor.
And my brother and I looked at each other and came up with this brilliant strategy.
Since we cannot uncover, we will have to rely on the roaring sounds of the thunder. But the giants, despite their looks, are highly intelligent to have come up to delay the sound of thunder after each terrible lightning strike. And it took us quite some time to have figured out the patterns to solve this puzzle.
We counted 1, 2, then the thunder would come, and 1,2,3,4, then another, 1, and another roar, it was so random and almost impossible to decipher. We wrote all of the patterns on the back pages of my P.E. notebook, the one I never got to use a lot anyway, and discovered that despite the chaos, and its unpredictability, there’s this unique pattern that came out.
All we’ve got to do now is to make sure that we’ve got enough ammunition.
So my brother, our weapons specialist, made sure that a good supply of 9-voltage batteries was available, that we hid under the blue pillow we call our armory. These were recharged batteries. We believed that we can still use drained disposable batteries when you recycled and recharged it all day under the heat of the sun.
As I was waiting for the Captain’s signal, I wiped the sweat off of my palms against my battle uniform, which I also wear when I sleep, my pajamas. I was ordered to strike when it is time. And we believed that the light coming from our flashlights, our weapon of choice, can make holes through the clouds where the giants take their cover. And if we made just enough holes, they would fall from the skies, and the impact of the fall would kill them.
I held 2 flashlights, in case one would fail. Our first offensive strike was very crucial as this may be, the only chance we have. The giants are not expecting that we have figured out their secret, and if this was deemed to be a failure, they’d definitely change the thunder patterns and we will be defeated.
Time was not on our side as well.
Children get easily bored and unable to stay up that late. This was our weakness. If we fell asleep, they could easily snatch the win and we won’t be able to wake up again.
The Captain mumbles… with his eyes closed, calibrating and reading the flashes from the lightning and the roars of thunder. And almost in slow motion, gave the wave, gesturing the signal to attack.
“This is it, brother! You can do this! We’re all counting on…”
The last of the encouraging words from my twin was unheard, for it was abruptly interrupted by the blinding lightning strikes that were immediately followed by the deafening drum rolls of thunder. This was the last wave of their attack! A showdown between the soldiers of the light and the towering guardians of death itself!
The Captain reveals our frail bodies from all the sheets and pillows that helped camouflage us.
And he yelled, “Go, and Do it!” And I knew we were done the moment I saw the two of them, fading away, falling on the bedroom floor.
But I was able to stretch both of my arms high, and towards the window, I went, as each step was proven a struggle by our enemies’ blunt remorseless gestures. I was able to reach the wall, then showing myself, aiming to the great marsh of the night clouds, holding both weapons as long as I could until I was taken out by the giants’ hard hitting blows.
Then I was out. The 3 of us died in this great battle.
The next morning, the sunlight reveals the ruins of last night’s battle. Pillows and blankets were on the floor, the debris of toys fallen from the shelves, and our fallen bodies on the ground.
And when we woke up, we realized that we were crushed, and have died tragically from last night’s war.
Then we smiled and agreed that we’ll be astronauts the next night.
At this point the summery warm love embraces of the morning sun are starting to bring in life to everything on its path, showering everyone with its unprejudiced, unbiased attention, attempting to overthrow the glittering and sophisticated beauty of the nights that came before. As its skillful sable brushes dabble freely into the skies using it as its color palette where all the pigments are mixed on, I looked up towards its direction, with my right hand placed over my eyes, looking through the fingers as I bask in the morning’s gentle sun shower.
In my thoughts, I made a recording of this grand majestic order that I believe still lingers. As I take a stride toward these unspoken summer feelings, my consciousness decides not to limit myself to what this world may soon only have. And before the darkness blots out the sky with smoke and gunpowder, I will dispense my thoughts, through my skipping pen, writing about this beautiful world, before it ceases to exist. So let me go for a little while, don’t wait up, for I will be taking my time harnessing all the goodness that still prevails before genocide becomes the most common word spoken, and body parts are used for confetti to proclaim glory. Let me go back to the very beginning of my daydreaming.
I remember the time when we were treading on the cliff side of the mountain to a place we heard holds a glimpse of how afterlife should be. It had rained a few hours before, making the way very slippery. The rocks were unsteady in their place, the bushes along the narrow pathway make it harder to maneuver, but luckily our timely arrival led our exhausted feet to a gathering of the dried up leaves that had fallen on the ground, I mean they were so giving, that even in their dying moments they were still able to provide traction in this muddy and dangerous traverse.
And in those tailored fit moments, time stood still, and the warmth we felt from within was starting to build up. I guess real miracles happen in the most unexpected times, in the most ordinary of forms. From the unfolding of life from a small seed that will soon reach great heights, from the meeting of the endpoints of the stalagmites and stalactites, as they inch their way for millions of years just for that single, longing touch. The perfect lighting from the summer sun for that perfect moment for the lovers at the bridge arching over a river, the inspired poets and the dreamers who sit by its banks, with their thoughts and prose floating like driftwood in the water. During those days life was good, we were wanderers but never quite lost, always looking up, bidding clear skies so we may also find our way back in the longing arms of our loved ones, like the setting sun in the ocean.
I am dreaming in this daydream, and somehow the clouds took her into my arms and as I was dancing her off into the crowd, I realized that she was as graceful as a butterfly in the park on an idle Sunday morning. Her eyes glazed like honey, and she was as cool as ice cream. And over my shoulder, she rests her soft chin and reached up to the sky to hold the moon between her fingertips. She then painted the starry night with her waterfalls of imagination, tasting the clouds like cotton candies as her finale.
And we knew that this familiar feeling will soon be back. We were hitchhikers in the east, treading home, now undressing our backpacks from their rain-covers, filling them up with farewells and good memories. As we rest all of our expectations in the sky’s eternal influence, stretching on farther and farther over the town’s little hut-houses, to the tens and hundreds of hectares of rice fields we pass by, we found ourselves embraced and now drenched with sunbeams.
And it felt so exclusive.
So the next time I receive a phone call from you or a friend through a can on a string, I will try to be more ready. Putting my worn down shoes on, stringing them well, traveling with nothing in my pocket but a few change for a phone call home, a few clothes and a flask in my pack, just relishing the time getting lost in these words I read to you, for another round of life’s awesome adventure.
We strolled up the empty sidewalks of what could have thought to be an abandoned zombie land in its much later days when the once flesh munching dead are now hunted in extinction, leaving the vastness of the highways and the city to ourselves. It was around half past the hour of 1, and our consciousness now forgetting about abstinence and sobriety as everything around us swirled over and swaying sideways, we couldn’t tell what was what and from a calm steady pace we picked up speed, in her heels and in my trusty walkers. We were runaways in the night.
We glanced from time to time over our shoulders, always on the lookout for what else was out there. From a stick that snaps, or from a sudden movement of the shadows, to a howling watchdog, for us, each was a potential threat. Luckily the pavement we were running on was a good friend to us, leaving no tracks but our lungs, on the other hand, were not able to deliver. We ran, only as fast as we could. And we panted hard, we thought we were about to die yet we smile as we catch every breath grateful, scared and feeling free. The police in their size forty twos are too lazy to go this far of the stretch this time of the night we thought. But we knew it was a different story altogether in the morning.
We were outside of a convenience store, sat down on the gutter, and administered caffeine, nicotine and what was a beautiful blunder between us. I took out a flask and dashed a little into each cup. The space in the middle of our casting stares was just an imaginary line, our equator. There were no stars on sight, a proxy, however, was gracious enough to share its blessings, coming from the lights of the commercial spaces, glowing out of the towering boastful skyscrapers and from the budget conscious government installed highway lamp posts which accidentally imposing a mood-setting feel for the tranquil and the peaceful. And from this, we borrowed a warm and sublime feeling and placed it through our rib-cages inside our chests, our lives on a silver platter.
She began to open her lips, as she also started to utter the words that are now passing through the upper and lower openings of her mouth. I couldn’t remember what exactly they were about, but I knew it was something relatable to a timeless anthem or an unwilted flower in the summer. After throwing a few, she tires and fell very silent but amazingly the conversation never stopped. The peaceful night and the surreal drowsing wind that brushes our hair and what else there did the talking for us. And we listened and translated each unspoken moment in silence to ourselves, and by and by we break a smile and inhaled. Her camera was confiscated earlier and it was smashed into a million pieces against a concrete wall. We tried to salvage the film but it was no good as well, and so we took mental pictures instead of what was there to take. And there were no thoughts to be withdrawn we figured. Just forward gestures of positivity, testimonials and wishful thinking. We heard of this place somewhere north, where all great poets and the dreamers go; we talked about it for a while, escaping for good and living there and all. But she only wanted to take pictures for now, and write. She’s not done yet, she says.
We fill the ashtray nearly full at this point.
A condensed thought and asked for another. It was almost morning lying on a field of grass under the trees. I was trying to understand what she meant as I try to get a chance to recover and to steal a final glance to help me remember. Turning to her side, elevating myself on an elbow hoping for the night to linger on, to hold still. This was ours, the night we stole from the world but one can only throw a prayer. So in the final seconds we decided to put on our sunglasses as the deafening sound from the blades of the helicopters and the wailing sirens are now coming to a close, we thought of St. Peter and the rest of the saints waiting at the pearly gates. We smoked the remainders of our cigarettes while eating apples, tucking away our northern star, our way of surrender in the early morning sun.
His fingers travel, hitting a slide note across the fret board of the maple wood. And with all of his heartfelt might, it implores a gentle bend towards the end of what appears to be a decent soundtrack for a short film. The notes from the verses were taking their time drifting past the universe of my ever wandering mind. As I was sitting there slouching on the kitchen chair with so much ink in my head, I was chasing off the day when I first met her on Mars through the lenses of a telescope. When we held hands on its dotted surface, the day when we made Saturn the most envious across and all, and the lingering memory of how my eyes tried to hold on to a rocket ship flight, memorizing all its reds and its silvers, the comet painted across its wings and the flaps, a single journey with the knob of the volume turning notches higher, amplifying this sunburst feeling from within.
Got me a clean white page to begin with, then a cup of coffee to limber up these senses to wake. Scribbling across with a free hand with whatever thought that comes in mind to finish the blueprint for the machine I was building. I had my body bent going over page by page, prepping up a map for the series of time and rest stop destinations I was planning to visit. As the first of the many sun shining graces came in, sharing a little act of compromise, it took me back to when the younger days seemed to be a little bit longer, when learning about the final frontier and day dreaming about fighting in an alien invasion were still a bit romantic and all you ever needed for energy was to look up to the space and the constellations and your endless imagination will never fail you to nourish.
It was hard to play pretend so I decided to go down into the basement and put on my time traveller’s suit. I was back peddling in time, checking the gauges making sure that there will be just enough fuel for the return trip. But unlike Doctor Emmett’s flux capacitor, mine was powered by bourbon. A glass, submerging myself as it found me peace amidst the clutter. It was surprisingly quiet.
A whisper to oneself, landing a long summer thought in slow motion as I sat there dumbfounded in the cockpit of this time-craft staring at the most colourful lights that flicker. I was trying so hard to remember what each switch was for. There were blue lights and orange, red and some yellow ones. An ejection metal lever, a navigational stick in front of me and the driving wheel with easy to push ignition accelerators for both thumbs. It was a crazy science fiction I would say. There were also the high-tech monitors that surround me, dashboard after dashboard, and of course, a big round red button that I dared not to push, but really tempting to. The only thing I got right so far was putting the seat-belt on. I was about to hit on the state of panic, when my peripheral vision made a sudden breakthrough. There laid beside the pilot’s seat a sealed envelope that was addressed to whoever was going to encode the starter pin for this vessel with a writing that says: “No rush, it will come to you”. With the entire child’s curiosity in me that was screaming to do what was obvious, I hurriedly opened the envelope, tearing through what was inside and what awaited me. It was a mixed tape, reminding me to relish the inevitable and the course I was about to take.
The song plays, I was ripped, an eject and rewind to repeat routine. I turned my head on the ceiling light beams from the digital stars that rest over my head. The ignition starts, I was leaning my head against the headrest of the well cushioned seat, covering my eyes just enough to have a glimpse of the sun shining that breaks through the time machine’s wind shield and side windows as the time machine started to ascend. I was hoping that somewhere between the memorized lines of this two-minute soundtrack, that the notes from the chords initiate an easy-going para-sailing through the vortex of the past.
A lingering mental picture of her face in the sun, I remember the smell of daisies in her cheeks, throwing the words and punching the keys, uncompromising this time, as the first lines were dispensed, they talked about lemonades and the skylines, taking me back somewhere beneath the shade of the coconut trees, road trips and the speeding cars that raced against fate. All the slurring drunk romantic thoughts, all the fondness inside that grew, as they leave a familiar line across the chest.
I tried to take it all in, as I was in search for the excitement that once kept me going, of whatever was there to take, of what I was allowed to, as I opened the time traveller’s starter kit user manual to get me going. The subtleness of the lights from around me were painting hues of the different impressions of the world outside, they were like stage actors, with their theatrical portrayal of the sunlight in the early morning.
I was going back in time, the world around me started to stretch, I was on hyper drive. I was traveling in the speed of light with a subliminal velocity. Funny that I can go back but never can touch to alter what was there in front of me. I was like a ghost that nobody sees. But It was a good thing though. One should have the humility to take the binoculars when the world hands over the opportunity to take a sneak peak to the grand miracles laid outside our door steps, emulating these lessons well taught, taking the time learning to breeze through the dog eared parchment pages of each turning moment, a chance not to change, but offering a new start to just rescue the words for another rendition.
As it dawns nearer, approaching the prelude of the second verse of the inspired song that plays, the cigarette now rests on the mouth of the ash tray while I race my fingertips to descend upon kissing the keys.
The symphony from each touch on a collaborative motion of what seemed to be random, was a gathering of these far-fetched thoughts somewhere deep down, going back to the romantic biases I keep.
Coming around from the corner of my thoughts and towards the end of the last chorus that plays, I remember on how everyone would always sing along to this song in those days, while clutching on to our chests with eyes closed and an open lung, taking in a well dispensed advice from an inanimate friend, the shadow of the day, to always brave the distance of these unfolded tomorrows, embracing the truth of the co- existence of our yesterdays and today, that no matter what , we will always have one another, a beautiful tradition of how everyone was.
I have been back and forth in my mind, going through trying to remember the countless dreams that I had this morning. The harder I try the lost I more become. A sore loser, I am now pressing the palms of my hands against my eyelids, as I blame my aching back for giving up on me- being too tired to go back to my lost euphoria. The heat from the daylight tells me that I should be up even though my will tells me otherwise. Slowly, I opened my eyes just in time to find myself realizing that I am too early to be awake for this Saturday morning. It was as if my restless mind has a life of its own. All I could do now is spoil and just give in as it glides over and through the bluest horizons, leaving behind the rest of my no-good-for- any-outdoor-activity-body motionless, awkwardly positioned and thrown like a crumpled origami crane lying in an ocean of the whitest cloud-like sheets and the most reassuring cushions. My make-believe strong limbs are now deemed useless. The imagination that was once dependable felt like it was all forced. Slumber is too far away yet my consciousness is deep under. I am on a desert looking for the oasis of hope, ever desperate to be quenched by sleep, to be overwhelmed and to be wooed by its promises. A real romance I would say. Easy and true, like reading the words from a bedtime story, singing midnight lullabies. No more pretensions, now believing in fiction and magic, to every nostalgic meaning and for these softest pillows, I clutch.
I am polygamous for loving one and all.
The warmth lingers as it gently moistens my ashen skin and cracked lips. The rays from the sunlight indulgently playful passing through the window. Microscopic and magnified, they appear to be dancing having the time of their lives in a parade, as they waltz their way through the thin glass. And as they enter we can see that they have willingly committed their entire existence just to shatter into splinters of gem-like formations. A color mixture of intangible ruby, diamonds, and emeralds with golden sunflower hues. They collaborate with the traffic of specs that gently sailing through the air, gliding and floating adrift, drawn to the sunbeams like a moth to a lamp – the only light in the room. They had brought life along with them, greeting the frailty in me with this renewed day.
I found a thought suspended in the air, and then grabbing a hold of it as I try to be more comfortable by placing one heel on top of the other foot against the window sill. The porcelain ashtray lying next to me, parallel to my cigarette hand while my left hand is tucked-pressed between my head and my trusty pillow.
I did not want to get up. I felt the guilt whispering in my ears. Finally, sleep has decided to make up for lost time. She is the jealous type- the more you ignore the closer she gets. She’s like Morrissey in the song. No will can turn its invitation away even if one comes to be real focused on the thoughts of greater consequence. The fractions and the equations will make no sense. Every known law in physics will remain written in textbooks, but not all will apply.
“Just for ten minutes then I will have to wake up” I told myself, but I knew I was over committing.
I could see every thought twirling over and under, from my mind to the chest they were overflowing, a hodgepodge of familiar and the strange. Each episode was like a paper note tied to a string – a kite taking its flight sending messages up to the sky. A strong pull to let it go that is the trick. And through the clouds each went, higher and higher until they can never be seen. I knew I still had them, it felt I still did. But suddenly without warning the reel full of strings went berserk, rolling loose, rushing, so I tied the end of the strings I had to the wooden posts of the bed. For a second there, I thought I had all the kites anchored, but I was proven wrong when I felt the bed started moving.
We went crashing through the wall. Attempting to find cover behind the headboard, we went through the concrete and all the debris, shooting up to the morning sky and out we went to the blackened space of comets, supernovas, and what seemed to be a body of an outer space aurora. Everything was going fast as it happened. The pace of this dream was off the charts. I could see the landscapes of greens, the polar caps and the watery blues of the world below. Morning never looked so alive as the current and the waves run the whitest of white. While the other side of Earth glitters with city lights, humbled in the blanket of the beautiful night. As the man in the printed pajamas was sitting on the edge of the crescent moon dabbling his feet in the dreams of those who rest below. He turns and waves hello. Careful not to fall, with one hand holding the wooden headboard, I tried to balance my body to repay the courtesy. I then realized that it was not I that was looking down on everything, but it was the stars that did. They are the audience, not me. I felt stripped of my clothes, naked in front of heaven’s prying eyes.
I am in between the skies and the earth, now fearing that my flying vessel may snatch a sudden jerk waking me up from the dream that was ending way too soon. Now keeping both eyes open, consciously trying not to make any unforgivable mistakes yet relishing, I looked over my head as I decided to finally close my eyes for a moment to feel the air brushing through my hair. I was letting go, accepting the fact that I might not even remember any of these things when I wake up. But no worries, for the mind may forget but the soul never will. And for as long as we dream, even though our minds are not conditioned for these sorts and our expectations are not cut out for anything as spontaneous as she is, I’d say, ride out anyways. For dreams are like faith, it is for the believers, for those who have nothing to possess, for those whose hands are bare, for the astronauts and the cloud watchers in us, for the ever hopefuls.
Pushing the words in an ever-open-envelope, influenced and kissed by this sudden need to dispense. As I was looking outside, the morning was about to break. With my arms hanging loose while the window was carrying the weight of my body, my senses were ready like a child from a storybook waiting for that summer inspiration to pass by hitching. I guess on this height I could say that I was so sure that I was about to take a leap. I was holding my breath in turns while skimming the pages looking at the illustrations from the elegance of this morning view that melted all the ice particles it could find in my once anxious mind.
I decided to detach myself from all the things they taught you in history books and from the cosmos. I was gradually letting go. I started punching the keys, I was as fluid as the running water in the river you could say. I was bedazzled and I was subdued.
Sometimes chaos works and the randomness and the chopsuey of events will just do.
I got a cigarette from my secret stash, my right-hand pocket to be exact. And while lighting it, I am seeing all of space through my smoky morning lenses. I then readjusted the frames for comfort and a better view as I was holding a book that supposedly teaches you on how to be a master of your own consciousness. But one could only hope.
Beats, I then tossed the book out of the window watching its pages flap, taking its first-ever flight in the open.
The warmth it brought me was incomparable, far better than reading the damn thing.
I was pretty sure and could have sworn that it had taken its time, gliding on its way down. I think it enjoyed the fall and smiles as it hits the ground. It was golden I told myself. A scene to be filmed; I regretted not catching the flight on my camcorder. I guess most treasured moments are.
I then vacuumed my thoughts with nothingness found and then suddenly out of nowhere the light refracts. It bent landing a sudden turn on the watery pavement as it hits. It was changing its direction in a way. And as I found myself lingering in this moment, I relished this peaceful state of time. As I elbowed the base of this old wooden window frame with my left palm now finding its way resting against my cheek (an opportune place to take its camp, carrying my head’s weight) I was also careful not to be burned by the nicotine stick it held.
As a kid, I believed in happy endings. I guess nowadays we call that Algebra. Does it always have to be that? Can it be just air guitars and water guns? When imagination still allows you to live for years in the icy polar caps with only Eskimo kisses to keep you warm. I miss the days when you could still play in the rain without catching flu. When everything was still analog, and saying hello to a friend was still flesh and bones.
“Clickety-clack” my old typewriter used to say. With my blistered fingertips and the bickering words, they were from the unedited, unbarred thoughts I call home. Mistakes were snow painted, it was very human-like. Messy and yet it was okay. Everybody was fond of cassette tapes and real literature.
I miss those days. I guess time is the greatest thief there is.
The wind blew and my cigarette was almost done. At last something real had said hello. I turned to where it came from as I plan to repay this much-appreciated gesture; I thought I heard it whispered something very familiar,