Internship Paper

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.

Photo By: Bianca Osorio

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Crash

Manuscript

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.

 

Accident

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.

 

Haircut

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.

 

Train

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.

Photo by: Bianca Osorio

Fender Bender

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.

The Visit (homage)

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 Visit

Photo By: Bianca Osorio

404

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.

Over the Blue-Tiled Roofs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lots of good things to see today”

 

Cake

A heavy downpour was reportedly on its way, but we reckon that we still have a couple of hours to discuss the matter on hand.  Well, he first saw her on a crowded elevator, midway to his floor.  He eventually braved the odds and spoke to her after a few more encounters which turned out to be a positive thing that he did.  He was always proud 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.

Photo by F. Osorio
Photo by F. Osorio