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.