Wednesday, December 28, 2011


[Part 2 of the "Flights" series]

OF THE TWENTY meters of the concrete lane baking under the flames of the summer solstice, there was nothing more than a few minutes of silence interspersed throughout the pounding of wooden batons against metal and the noise of wary footsteps from both ends. In the distance, a fire truck slowly cleaved through a sea of men in blue, grinding to a halt ten steps behind as it positioned itself, ready to engage the emerging crisis with the first sign of alarm, a crimson machine armed with a water cannon aimed at the front line, its tank redolent with rust and noxious fluid culled, perhaps, from wherever spite springs eternal. One by one, the shields that shimmered bleakly with the sunlight began to form a line, fencing the most vulnerable side of the platoon of young men who cannot hide beneath their uniforms the feverish thought of waging their first urban skirmish. The other side stood resolute. People clenched their fists as they linked their arms into a chain, their knees not to cower at the sight of the bodies about to advance, thick and strong like an army of vicious mercenaries out to plunder and rape anything that has a vital sign. In the seconds that followed, the banners were held higher as the voices turned into an ensemble of anger and indignation that permeated the open air. Nine years ago, the cerulean sky was about to witness the dispersal of sixty laborers and sympathizers who were almost certain to remember the third day of April for the rest of their lives.

Abel stood by the window as the light from the neon signs scattered throughout the city made the distance ahead and below faintly visible. Night fell almost twelve hours ago, and the urban landscape is still a shadow forged with the fluorescence of little sparkles. He can see his reflection on the glass panel that separated him from the rest of the outside world. He saw lethargy and felt it scrape his skin with feeble vitality, as though the ember deep in him was yet to cast its last remaining glow. Something else was there; the blackened scar that stretched across his left cheek tarnished his face like a wound that has festered through the years, though to his mind it was an insignia earned only by those who were brave enough to try to parry and break the blades of the enemy at the height of the siege. He touched the crease on his flesh and suffered no tinge of pain, the epidermis having turned callous as far as his memory allows.

“Hong Kong,” Martha weakly mumbled, her eyes closed, lips quivering as her body twitched a little as she lay crippled on the hospital bed. Abel could only look at her and at Madeleine who, sleeping at the opposite bed, still seemed impervious to everything, even her own pulse and breathing. Dropping on his knees, Abel wiped the corners of his eyes with his fingers and felt his own strength gradually wane in his palms, the liquid trickling down his face, drying him of his energy and some other force that previously burned in his conscience with great intensity his heart could barely refuse to melt in its fires.

The grip of his hands was firm, diminished as it may be, but the spirit that moves it has withered long ago. But there was a time when he could effortlessly carry the weight of bulky cables and polish the huge airplane engines to a radiant sheen as if they were new. There was a time when, with the simple push of his bare hands, he could roll the wheel of a Boeing from the tarmac to the hangar where it will undergo his careful inspection until his patience is rewarded with his own satisfaction. There was a time when he could repair tens of electronic panels by unrelentingly soldering them for a full day, in some instances even going beyond his work schedule, staying very late into the night inside the cavernous shed. There was a time, indeed, but it has now become what it simply is—a time gone to the recesses of human memory, drifting farther and farther until the mind can no longer come into terms with the need to remember.

“Hong Kong,” Martha whispered to no one in particular.

Abel tried to remember.

No apology was given that day, but unto his hands came a letter replete with every sign of expulsion from work. For Abel, it was not an ordinary correspondence addressed to whom little was given at the cost of toiling for life and limb. More than anything else, it was a marching order, a sheet of paper that typified the parlance of the destitute but willing, the message as scarlet as the blood coursing his ventricles. The picket line was already there when he arrived, his one hand clutching the furrowed letter, the other shaking with a fury so lightly restrained he could scarcely contain his rage beneath the merciless sun.

The collision left him staggering on the side of the road, his face red, a cut gaping on his left cheek like a second mouth without lips, voiceless but seething with the symptoms of an unspeakable ire. Crawling amidst the frenzy that enveloped him, Abel tried to get on his feet, but he was met with more bludgeons, the sirens squealing with the cries from the wanton disarray of bodies on the verge of emaciation, shields hammering away on the fallen, batons striking where the flesh is tender and the bones more brittle, rigid soles stampeding on those who had their backs toward the sky, until much later when the waters gushing from the cannon began to hose down the fiery tension. Only then did he release his hold on the letter so that he can feel the wound on his face.

“Hong Kong,” Martha repeated, but Abel was confined in his reverie. It would be the last he would hear from her. Minutes later, Madeleine also finally succumbed to the call of eternal repose. In the past, they have never returned in spirit, and now they are gone forever.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hong Kong, Hong Kong

[Part 1 of the "Flights" series]

SITTING ALONE by a table for two, Abel moistened his lips, his tongue gently wetting his dry mouth and the little cracks that line the edges of that tender but thin flesh where four summers of solitude have tempered an unspeakable drought, each a season of yearning beyond recognition. He could see the short distance ahead through his eyeglasses. Everyone seemed busy, even with doing nothing.

A woman whose face is caked with powder and rouge hurriedly passed by for the fifth time, dragging with her stubby arms and fingers a heavy luggage that looked as though she had the rest of her life in tow, her shoddy dreams rammed inside what limited space the bag could offer. Two young men patiently stood in the middle of the lobby, their animated conversation bearing all the signs of relief and comic anticipation. From time to time, the orchestra of chatter from idle strangers would blend with the sound of the massive engines throttling through the vast runway just beyond the glass windows, taunting everything with their whirling noise until the skies have beckoned their ascent. Abel raised the cup and tasted the familiar bitterness of the warm brew, its scent hovering around him in faint trickles, keeping him awake, if not alive, three hours before sunrise.

His velvet sweater clung to his body but the pores on his ageing skin still suffered the merciless chill trapped inside the building. The tiled floor reflected all the light from the ceiling lamps, illuminating the marble squares where the shadows should have been. Abel could see the reflections everywhere, some not as disconcerting as the images of those responsible for their being, and some others as confusing as the reasons why people have to come and go, the unfortunate ones never to return. He thought of Martha and Madeleine, and how almost thirty years between the girls have aged them into more like siblings and less like mother and daughter.

Martha had to return to Hong Kong before the second Sunday of January. In one of the busy intersections in that metropolitan landscape, the household she served had a short grasp of why Filipinos had to lavish themselves with spirited moments of rekindling family ties when the world overseas held the promise of an opulent life—the very reason why Martha was there, begrudgingly swallowing the little ounce of pride she had reserved for her self—and an even shorter patience for waiting for the household helper to breathe air. Without keeling from remorse, they could easily replace her with someone willing to even serve her own placenta on a silver platter for dinner and all things more servile in exchange for an anorexic paycheck. They have all the reasons in the world to hoist their audacity like a divine right acquired simply by virtue of having been born in a fertile colony, and never regret the days when they have used them.

Madeleine stood resolute if not adamant in joining her mother abroad, at least for a while, when her college graduation hanged too close to her mouth she could almost taste half of it. She felt she held the universe in her hands, tucked serenely on her palms and fingers, as though its immeasurable expanse were carried by the weight of her passport and plane ticket. She had her eyes set on the seven continents, crossing out one country after another, each city a remote planet waiting to be conquered by her restless desire to leave behind whatever mark she can on foreign territories, and Hong Kong, she thought, shall be the first to satiate her virgin appetite.

Four years ago, in that same table where Abel now drank his third cup of black coffee, the three of them had their last dinner together. Since then, the airport was never the same.

It took almost two days to rescue Martha and Madeleine in the high seas, their bodies almost emaciated from thirst and hypothermia, flesh and bones almost surrendering to the impulse of death. For forty-eight hours Abel could not find refuge in sleep. Not even a blink can lull him to neverland. When they were finally brought to the hospital, Martha and Madeleine could not speak. By the time they were able to talk, their mouths could only utter “Hong Kong, Hong Kong,” their weak voices replete with desperation, as though Hong Kong was the only place left in the world, the last frontier, the sole bastion of fortune and exuberance, the only habitable dwelling where the trees and buildings race to the sky against the backdrop of an infinitely blue ocean. Abel lost them somewhere between here and there, their spirits in the deep waters sinking faster than the engines of the airplane, never to reach the bottom until they have breathed their last. “Hong Kong, Hong Kong.”

At thirty minutes past three in the morning, Abel waited for the voice in the overhead speakers. But there was none, nothing to announce the arrival of a plane from Hong Kong that should have landed four years ago, nothing to signal the return of Martha and Madeleine for they have never really left. Neither have they really returned. They are just there, somewhere closer to Hong Kong but never there. Perhaps they are somewhere between the arrivals and the departures, a purgatory for those who were to journey elsewhere.

Abel went back to the hospital. Tomorrow, the wait begins anew.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Thursday, November 17, 2011


[Last part of the "Daemons" series]

THE CURTAIN was raised and there she was at the platform, petrified in genuflection as though her flesh suffered its own weight, an Atlas condemned to shoulder the world and the people who expect the universe to follow the strokes of a divine hand. The stream of burgundy light from the overhead bulbs showered her skin, causing her body to glow scarlet and cast shadows cascading under her nakedness. With head bowed and face partly covered by strands of hair that curl at the tips, she began to gyrate on the wooden cross resting on the floor. She moved quickly, the wooden phallus deep inside her like a flimsy neck being strangled to death. The sudden haste of her motions prodded her to let loose soft moans, words issuing forth from her succulent lips, unceremoniously ending thirty years of detention in that virgin cocoon by laboring her first orgasm. “Oh god, this feels so good,” she sighed, her voice hushing the impatience and murmurs of the crowd. Clara breathed slowly as if relishing a moment of rest, taking in the scent of fresh varnish and her own sweat, the odor of cigarette smoke notwithstanding, wafting around the room like incense for the unholy.

Barely thirty seconds into the performance, Father Pio stood and made his way to the exit, brushing through the audience, cursing — “Hijo de puta!” — and elbowing those who, lost in the dim frenzy, refuse to clear his path. He struggled through the gaps, pushing the unforgiving bodies one by one in a burst of adrenaline, scuttling as if heaven ultimately waited for him outside, its gates to swing open with the brevity of a pause. He did not look back, not at the invitation that bore his name, now tattered and torn at the table where he left, and definitely not at Clara, now unquestionably absorbed in the strangeness of her promiscuity, flailing her limbs against the void in wanton abandon. She knew that her body was her altar, the very grail of her metamorphosis, and not even the hand of god can stop her.

Outside, the bungalow looked more like a house crippled by poverty than a proud art studio, its brick walls further aged by moss and the scars inflicted by years of delayed construction. Beneath the neon light by the door hung a sign. “Daemons,” it read in white print against black surface.

“Home,” Father Pio told the chauffeur.

The engine throttled and the velvet Mercedes sped away, enduring eight hours of intermittent asphalt and dirt roads that roll as far back as Nueva Caceres where Father Pio will try to sleep eight more hours of restlessness, only to be awakened each time by her voice at the back of his mind.

“Oh god, this feels so good.”

ALTHOUGH THE SUN floated brightly in that Black Saturday, the way Clara frowned at the very thought of sacrilege brought an air of melancholia in her house. It defied her pretense of indifference.

“That was a bold performance,” I said. I almost choked at my own pun.

“Felix, if you have nothing better left to say,” she tried to intone, “you may leave.” The monotony of her voice must have only fed her cynicism. Or maybe she just did not want to be bothered while she was carefully cutting out the article in the newspaper I brought her, nipping the edges ever so gently with her calculated precision.

The final snip sent the last fragment spiraling toward the floor where the other pieces were scattered about; some fell on her feet. For the fifth time, Clara read the entry to her self, holding the snippet with tensed fingers, her smile unsure how to place itself on her face. Her cheeks were pale.

“No matter how many times you read it, the message won't change.”

“This is nothing,” she declared. Her confession was more indignant than stale.

“Do you plan to meet him this week?”

“What for?” she said, eyes still scrutinizing the text before her face.

“For whatever it is that is bothering you,” I quipped.


“Is it?”

“Or maybe blasphemy?”

“Is it?” My eyes met hers.

“Wow, you've never changed,” she insisted. Silence chaffed the interrogation.

Wow — the word brought my thoughts back to the day I first met her eighteen years ago at the gallery, except that her remark now was devoid of astonishment. It was simply an utterance, a word that can no longer comfort the apprentice and the master, whichever one of us was in that lazy summer afternoon.

THE CITY has changed a lot. Gone are the few caritelas that used to ply the urban arteries under the baking sun. More high-rise buildings flank the main roads, dwarfing the electric posts that once towered above all the rest like kings in a field of nameless pawns. There are more people and, perhaps, more sinners than saints living in that bustling area known more for the crimes left unresolved than the gospel it preaches. Everywhere there are monuments of Dominicans and Franciscans, their colors washed away by years of sun and rain and everything that heaven is able to cast upon the city. The school along Dimasalang Street is no longer an exclusive school for girls run by nuns, and the shop for religious art nearby has become a clothing store, mannequins and all.

Stepping off the bus, Clara breathed the scent of the city, an odd mix of decay and sunset that thrived on the pungencies of modern life. The terminal was as busy as the people. Passengers waited for their buses. Porters pushed against one another, reaching out for the heavy luggage of willing passengers for the cost of a miserable dinner. Men and women selling an assortment of pasalubong in their baskets — some plastic, others rattan — snake through the steady current of well-wishers and pedestrians whose faces reveal their anxiety in the sunset light. Clara walked toward the exit gate that opened directly to where the public utility vehicles, mostly tricycles, wait in line.

“Your prodigal daughter has arrived,” Clara told herself although she perfectly knew by heart that it was for the priest than to anyone else, if not the city.

Clara occupied the tricycle first in line, her handbag in tow and her mind somewhere else.

“Where to?” the driver asked, his hands busy counting the coins in his belt bag.


The driver gave her a confused stare, not knowing what to say and losing his count.

“The Basilica,” she said.

After putting the coins to his pocket instead of placing them back inside his belt bag, the ageing driver started the engine. The tricycle sped away, enduring fifteen minutes of intermittent heavy traffic and wide lanes that roll as far back as the Basilica where she will try to reason fifteen years of restlessness, only to be awakened each time by her own voice at the back of her mind.


FATHER PIO cleared his throat with a half bottle of water. He leaned forward and looked hard at Clara, his bony fists clenched against the glass cover of his desk. Sweat filled the wrinkles on his forehead. Except for the distant rustle of leaves, his heavy breathing was the only sound to stifle the momentary muteness in the room.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Crucible of the Idols

[Part 4 of the "Daemons" series]

TWO BEDEWED FLOWERS blossomed from the rubble, their delicate but bright yellow petals bobbing against a backdrop of dust and grey. The surviving wall staggered at an obtuse angle as it weathered the early morning light and the curtain of September mist that spread throughout the city. Fragments of old concrete littered a short stretch of the sidewalk, some reaching as far as the other side of Dimasalang Street. A pedestrian momentarily stopped to glance at the little hills of debris, and then continued to walk away from the vacant lot where my art gallery once stood.

With the way things have been, the land owner had more than enough cash to finance his European itinerary for six months while the archdiocese now had the space to build its sixth shop for the kind of art that praises the heavens more than anything else. Before the year ended, the new building was already three floors closer to god, leaving no trace of the dreams and nightmares born and martyred in that same earthen spot. In its immaculate whiteness, the mint structure was the immediate succor for pious art enthusiasts who always find reasons to celebrate the mysteries of their faith, wine glass on one hand, unleavened bread on the other, and a little sin in the pocket.

I sold some of the paintings at generous bargains and gave most of the framed sketches to friends and a few relatives who were willing enough to let my art grace or disgrace their walls like scars on porcelain skin. Either way, I had to find them a new home. Where I live during weekdays, there is just enough legroom for eight paint canisters, nine frames, four canvases, a rundown mattress waiting for the retirement it deserves after more than a decade of service, three biographies—Vincent Van Gogh, Ernesto Guevara, and Robert Johnson—two Orwellian novels, the King James Bible, a small collection of copper wires, and the wheel of a Volkswagen I stole almost six years ago after downing thirteen bottles of beer during an art exhibit. There was not much. On weekends, I stay at the art gallery. Unfortunately, I will never be there again.

Clara was already in Manila when she learned about the demolition. Her first few days in college were beyond trite. Breathing alone was already a challenge for someone enrolled in a university where students and professors find refuge and sustenance in prayers during scheduled hours of the day, fencing their selves with the grace of something regal and divine against anything noxious to their faith, and where everything fell under the censorship and blessing of the friars who, for reasons known only to them, thoroughly believed in their own illusions of impenetrable grandeur and all things supposedly worthy of the Eucharist. Her art, personal and impassioned as it has been ever since, was her only oxygen. But even that almost escaped her had it not been for her choice to overturn the impasse of indecision by pursuing her real interest.

Although Clara took business administration, it only lasted for a while. By second year, Father Pio could no longer rein her in with his words. The tirades kept coming, letters sent one after the next, each dispatch an annotation of the one that preceded it, longer and less diplomatic, but they failed to sway her. Maybe they were only efficient during Sundays in church before a flock of strangers thirsting for the promise of salvation premised on a prophecy. They were not as efficient a thousand miles away where all the noises of urban existence silence the voices of angels and saints suddenly finding their way in reveries, in pulpits, and in letters unanswered and left to stale in the drawers. With her firm resolve in tow, Clara transferred to the college of fine arts.

Even if he knew that he may have already lost Clara, Father Pio thought he still had the blessing of Rome. And he still had. At fifty-five, he was decreed archbishop. Some of the pious art enthusiasts were present in the celebration, yet again wine glass on one hand, unleavened bread on the other, and a little sin on the pocket. His brothers in the order who lobbied in his favor probably saw in him the spirit of someone eager to receive all the flak without sacrificing his pride before the surge of indignation. The year was 1988 and he had little time to waste.

Religious art began to flourish under the watch of the new archbishop. The church has found its contemporary apostle for the monuments of saints and the colorful murals and paintings in the person of Father Pio, ageing but now drawn more than ever to the lure of visual aesthetics. He had commissioned the finest artists in the archdiocese to refurbish the face of the church, even going to the fringe by ensuring the flamboyant inauguration of five museums solely dedicated to clarify the religious roots of Nueva Caceres. He became more than a vanguard of the art of the church. He was its visionary and chief patron. Too preoccupied with his ambition, Father Pio was unaware that Clara refused to finish her degree. The letters stopped coming. But whatever she lacked in the academe she made up for her artistic exploits far beyond the guarantees of a college diploma.

Since her last exhibit somewhere in Makati City, I have not heard from her in three years. But by thirty, she turned her self into a piece of the same art she has created. By then, her metamorphosis was complete, like pollens becoming two bedewed flowers that have blossomed from the rubble.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Visions Sans Sketches

[Part 3 of the "Daemons" series]

“THIS ONE IS the Infant Jesus,” Clara said as she held the sketch in front of her and Father Pio, her hand stretched high enough as though she levied her pride with it. Little streaks of moonlight poured through the fissures of the wooden windows, the tapers of white light skirting the shadows on the tiled floor like luminous sticks poking the amorphous darkness. The diffused incandescence from the lampshade caused the charcoal dusts to shimmer bleakly. Clara looked at Father Pio, her breaths caught between an air of calm and anxiety as her free hand tugged the linen sheets of her bed.

“That looks, well, nice enough,” he lied. The priest could only wager a nonchalant smile as he brushed her hair with his fingers, his confusion clawing away his steady mind, not knowing if he should take a longer look at the caricature or simply turn a blind eye at it. Her drawing betrayed his expectations about her innocence at the age of fifteen, for the picture was symbolic of a species of irreverence, the type that he has yet to completely rebuke by giving it a name. If the image resembled anything, it had almost nothing to do with the little Messiah. Amid the orgy of lines, the child she drew gripped its massive penis dangling between its legs, the scrotum having folds aplenty like the draperies of a drawn curtain.

“I learned that religion is a giant phallus clutched by the hand of God,” she said, eager to solicit a response from him.

“I can clearly see your point.” His smile was gone, in its place an emerging grimace. “But who told you that?”

“Some guy did. He also told me that religion nurtures feudalism and patriarchy, whichever comes first.”

Not another bastard of the great unwashed, he thought. “Who is he?” he insisted, his voice a pitch higher than his casual baritone.

“Felix. He’s the guy who owns the art gallery near school.” Clara set the sketch aside in a pile together with the small stack of caricatures on her bedside table. “Are you mad at him?” she said as she pulled the blanket to her chest, the tone of her voice plush with sympathy.

“No.” Father Pio kissed her on the forehead, his lips dried by age and countless litanies that usually fell on deaf ears and forlorn consciences, dredging what little piety is left in the gutter of their lives. “It’s time for you to rest, my child. Sleep, for you still need to rise early tomorrow for your exam.” He mumbled a short prayer — Clara prayed with him, her hands clasped like a dutiful nun — before he turned out the lights and shut the door. After several hours into the night, Clara still could not sleep. Father Pio, too, had the same predicament. But a few minutes before three in the early morning, they finally had their taste of slumber.

The day before he first set foot in my gallery, Father Pio and I met in a dream. It was not my dream alone, nor was it solely his. There were no two separate dreams, one the adjunct of the other. There was only one, and it was ours.

“Felix!” he called out several times. His tone was either boisterous or just plain angry. My spirit came to possess the self portrait I drew several years back. I spoke through it as if it was my phantom, a fitting mouthpiece for someone who could easily pass as a spare Christ had it not been for my very Filipino nose.

“You must be Father Pio,” I said, my voice drawing him closer to where I was. “Clara told me plenty of stories about you.” He further stepped closer, his pace gentle but resolute, white smoke trailing his steps, until he was only two feet in front. The Dominican shot a look of doubt, realizing a little too late that I am my own art. The frame is my bone and the paper is my skin. I smelled the scent of incense.

“You have to stop poisoning Clara’s innocence,” he said. “Your propaganda is not helping either her or your cause. I suggest that you just keep it to your self.”

“A priest is the hand of God that clutches religion as if it’s a giant phallus on full erection,” I said without any pretense of guilt. Admonition was much to be desired. “Did you like the idiom? I guess not,” I asked without waiting for his answer. I did not know if I made sense. I was held captive by the scent of incense pushing through my charcoal nostrils.

“Your heresy won’t save you!”

“Molested children silenced by the church orthodoxy, vows of celibacy gone awry, reproductive health notions as Jurassic as Adam and Eve — I’m afraid your messianic offers have no real use. The healer has trouble healing its self.”

Father Pio grabbed the frame, his frail hands defying the limits of its own strength, and lifted the portrait as though it had the weight of paper. He swung his arm and hurled the portrait. For a while, I was airborne. I felt weightless until I broke into several pieces. The crash on the floor had no sound.

“You don’t throw away the entire basket of apples just because of a few rotten ones,” he said before he vanished in the thick incense smoke.

I thought the dream was to happen again when Father Pio made his first actual visit to the gallery one Thursday afternoon. But instead of running amok, he simply walked inside, viewed the paintings and sketches on display, and left without saying a word.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Virgin at the Gallery

[Part 2 of the "Daemons" series]

AS YOUNG AS ELEVEN, Clara already had this vague idea that there was something spectacular about the marriage between religion and art. She thought that, once consummated, it necessarily gives birth to eclecticism. To her mind, the two were equally divine, the yin and yang in the cosmic world of pious Catholics. Nothing was far more perfect than having both in one corpus.

Where she was born and raised, wooden sculptures and marble statues of saints occupied the vacant spaces beside the trellis. Portraits of the Last Supper, of Madonna and the Child graced the corridors, and colorful murals depicting heaven decorated the concrete walls and ceilings. Her more tender years were shaped inside that world where charity was certain to find its cradle any given day, Sunday most of all when Father Pio would celebrate mass and share the body and blood of Christ with his brethren. The great unwashed, he would often describe them in his private quarters during his evening retreat for spiritual contemplation.

It was in high school when Clara first chanced upon an unflattering fusion of art and religious icons. She was out for lunch on her first day as a freshman in an exclusive school for girls run by nuns since the 1950s or as far as I can remember. Some of the students were starting to make their exit from the first gate of Saint Agnes College, perhaps excited to explore the peripheries of Dimasalang Street. My small art gallery was barely ten meters ahead on the opposite side of the road. It was hard to miss, especially for one whose young age of twelve was betrayed by how ahead of her time her mind was.

“Wow!” That was her first remark, which sounded like an inaugural slip of the tongue, as she stood by the door, her feet immobilized by whatever it is that she saw before stepping inside the shop. Her apparent curiosity got the most of her at that moment.

“Hello there young lady, come in,” I said, waving my hand in the air not so much to ward off a new face, although I thought about it at that time. At first, she hesitated to approach.

“Did you make all of them, sir?” She briefly surveyed the plethora of paintings and sketches as she walked inside. “They’re all beautiful.”

“More than half of all the artworks that you see here are mine.” I followed her as I would follow patrons and enthusiasts who visit. It was instinctive rather than habitual. “The others were made by my friends,” I told her.

“The religious paintings and sketches look strange.”

“What do you mean?”

“There is not one that illustrates the traditional image of Christ.”

I took a deep breath. “What does Christ look like?”

“Not like any one of the faces you have here…”

“That may be true.”

“…except your portrait over there.” She was pointing at the small framed sketch gathering dust near the corner. She was right, it was my portrait — a pseudo self portrait. I drew it about two years ago and left it there to age in its own ferment of narcissism. I felt ashamed again.

“Ah, yes. That one,” I finally said.

“The hair, the beard, the mustache, the crown of thorns and the crimson from the wounds — everything screams Jesus,” she paused, “well, except for the nose. It’s very — Filipino.”

“I swear that is very uplifting for you to say.” My voice had its vigorous enthusiasm suddenly amputated from the rest of my ego.

“You are welcome,” she said, rubbing more sarcasm than what she must have first intended.

That was how we first met. In the weeks that followed, she would visit more often during lunch. She would ask many things about art, and I would answer, oftentimes much to my chagrin. I think I learned more from her than she learned anything from me.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Sunday, October 23, 2011

One Invisible Cross Less

[Part 1 of the "Daemons" series]

FATHER PIO cleared his throat with half a bottle of water. He leaned forward and looked hard at Clara, his bony fists clenched against the glass cover of his desk. Sweat filled the wrinkles on his forehead. Except for the distant rustle of leaves, his heavy breathing was the only sound to stifle the momentary muteness in the room.

“No! People like you have no right to desecrate the image of God! Who do you think you are?” His muffled voice constrained the force of his exhortation.

Clara sat still while she eyed the huge portrait on the wall behind the priest, as if her gaze pierced right through his cassock and flesh so as to fix itself on the canvas where the sunset cast a reddish hue. Between Clara and the painting, Father Pio was no more than a silhouette for the past thirty minutes, a voiceless preacher whose mere presence mocks all things divine. For a while, the words of the prelate were mere blurs to her ears.

“Blasphemy is never art,” the Dominican coughed, “and artistic freedom does not include the freedom to offend religious feelings. There is no such freedom, young woman. What you did was neither art nor the expression of freedom. It was perversion, Clara, perversion!”

Suddenly, his words became lucid to her mind. Clara met his bespectacled eyes. She was searching for faint signs of the visionary who once saw through those lenses almost fifteen years ago. Her stare suddenly made her unspoken indignation clear. As if to dodge an accusation that was yet to be thrown, Father Pio briefly bowed his head.

“You are already thirty, Clara, but you have yet to prove that you have already grown wiser,” he went on, wiping the sweat that dampened his patrician nose with his bare hands. Had it not been for the perfunctory blinks, one would have thought that two hastily sketched lines took the spot on his face where his eyes should have been. “It is you who does not understand. You do not know what other people can do to you for what you did.”

“You speak as if your church still maintains the Inquisition for heretics!” Clara countered. She felt the throbs in her temples as though each pulse was waging its own little insurrection against her mortal shell. Recoiling from her sudden outburst, she focused her attention back to the portrait. It was the image of a happy clergyman newly decreed as the archbishop of the diocese of Nueva Caceres, golden scapular on one hand and the Holy Bible on the other. Clara could still recognize her signature, a circular smudge of white acrylic near the lower right edge of the canvas. She perfectly knew who the younger man was, the idyllic subject of the painting, but not its older persona, the portrait incarnate who was now standing in front of her, tirelessly unfurling an unsolicited sermon on a Tuesday.

Father Pio finished drinking the water from the bottle but his thirst felt far from having been thoroughly quenched. “People change, even priests. The Mother Church, however, should be a constant,” he said after noticing for the first time how the portrait held Clara’s attention hostage. “It should always be there, sometimes at all costs.”

Clara fished a cutout newspaper article from her handbag, placed the small sheet on the table and pointed her finger at it. The priest read the headline and looked at her with no hint of surprise. “Your fascist interpretation of religion gravely injured my art and my career, old man,” she blankly confessed.

Without giving him the benefit of a rejoinder and a farewell, Clara stood and walked away. Neither prayer nor miracle could have stopped her. Before she reached for the door knob, Father Pio stretched out his arms and hands as if he was nailed to an invisible cross. With fragile limbs ravaged by gout, it was a strained gesture decrying its own biblical allure.

“My child, you have to listen!”

But the moment she shut the door was the last time he would see her in the next six months.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wherever the Wind Blows

[Part 2 of 2 of the "Deuce Diaspora" series]

SUDDENLY, THE WIND from the southwest blew stronger. Twenty paces from where I stood, little Paulo held the kite with his frail hands and tossed it in frantic enthusiasm, causing it to glide alternately between left and right. The ascent was erratic so I had to run faster as I tightly gripped its string. It took a while before the kite finally made its slow but steady climb. When it was already airborne, I tied the string to a peg I burrowed halfway through the famished soil. I waved back at little Paulo as a sign of my gratitude. Shortly after I have last seen his silhouette in the distant trees, I was alone in the amber field again.

The sky was clear. From where I sat, the kite resembled a diamond sailing through the atmosphere and receiving firsthand the radial blessings of the afternoon sun. The tethered aircraft was finally at peace, its tail following its lead like an object dancing to a musical score. It was a lovely sight, but it was only a momentary spectacle. Some good things never last.

I fell asleep, I think.

HARVEST SEASON ended two weeks ago. The paddies that once nursed the rice stalks have turned into a field without grains. A hundred sickles have tended the grasses, turning them into what they are now — the remnants of a luscious harvest. The delicate breeze brings to mind the image of those who labored in the fields even after sunset. There was nothing left to do, so I flew my kite. With my back on the ground, I watched the aircraft stay afloat for what felt like two hours. While the sun surrendered its last light on the western horizon, I let the kite pay homage to the fading celestial glow. Before walking home, I cut the string to set the kite free.

Only the lamp provided illumination inside the hut as I took my dinner. Tens of moths feasted on the light source, creating shadows that dance on the lumber wall. The gentle creatures continued to flutter even after I have washed the tin plate. Standing by the door, I watched the quarter moon wrestle space with the passing nimbus. In this little corner of the universe, it usually rains during summer nights.

There was a drizzle. The patter on the roof was the only music to fill the immediate silence. As the cloudburst grew stronger, I returned to my childhood. Under the evening shower, I was twenty-seven but I felt like ten again. I ran through the fields, feet dribbling across small pools of water and mud. For a while, life was good. My shirt was soiled but I have never felt any cleaner throughout my life in that moment of aimless running. It was utter bliss. Father once said that water can cleanse the body but only freedom can purify the soul. I still believe him.

It was still raining by midnight, only harder. Inside the hut where I have lived for the last four years, the cool mist seemed to nullify the walls and the roof. I took warm refuge beneath the only blanket I was able to take when I left my family. At that time, I realized I should be a free man at the cost of losing my parents, my two older sisters, and my younger brother. Seven years of separation do not heal overnight. But looking back, the years felt like a lifetime dead long ago, never to be reborn.

I LOVED THEM but freedom is a jealous muse. Father had nothing to say that bedewed early morning. Perhaps, he already knew by some stroke of instinct that I had to leave eventually. Growing-up in our household was distressing, especially since mother had already plotted the course of our lives. For some reason only she knew, I was destined to be the first lawyer in the clan. Day after day she would nourish the dream — the dream that was never mine to begin with — by retelling her incantations like a dirge playing in infinite loop. It was as if she knew all the stories of success either firsthand or by heart. Her timing was perfunctory. She would deliver her sermon while we all share a bowl of noodles, insinuating that it could very well be our last supper. Doubtless, it was never enough to satiate the hunger of six bellies, but I was impelled to pack my bags not because of poverty. It was a different monster altogether that did.

Seven summers ago, two hours before dawn, father was already awake — or maybe he had not really slept at all — but he had nothing else to say.

“I will be leaving now,” I told him. He refused to return a word, only a look on his aging face that expressed an emotion somewhere between regret and sympathy.

“Farewell, father,” I finally said. As I turned to make my way toward the door one last time, I thought I heard him whisper goodbye son, his lips trembling at the very thought of surrender. With my decision to go away for good, the wrinkles on the edge of his eyes from a lifetime’s worth of suppressed sentiments must have folded deeper, but I will never know.

The others were still in a deep slumber when I was already on the street, walking with only my backpack and hope in tow. Maybe they were all too busy in their dreams or too tired to awaken from their restless worries. Perhaps my father could only stare in my direction while I slowly disappeared in the unlit distance, my tears never to glimmer in the darkness.

THE TOWN OF SANTA FE had nothing much to offer except a fresh start for a complete stranger. More than four hundred kilometers south of the urban malaise, the town seemed to be completely impervious to modern life, as if it is another universe altogether. It is a sleeping sanctuary eight hours away from the dregs of Quezon City. The very moment I alighted from the bus and took my first step on what felt like virgin soil, I knew I was home. I felt like I was the prodigal son the town never had.

I have heard more about the fields in the north than those in southern Luzon. The choice was easy — exploring the more familiar territory is inutile, so I headed south. I only know Santa Fe for the occasional tempests that rattle it by causing floods that engulf the farmlands. The town was a regular patron of the news headlines during storm season.

It was early summer when I arrived. The fields teemed with rice stalks, the intense orange of the twilight glazing them with dark hues of ocher. Already stooping from the weight of the grains, the stalks bent lower as the breeze hushed through. I thought they were ready for harvest in the next few days. In the distance, there were clutters of shacks. These humble and humbled abodes, I thought, have stood resolute in the face of modest living. With light feet and lighter heart, I approached the huddle of homes.

Mang Salome was sixty and little Paulo was only four when I first met them. The old man was the patriarch and the matriarch in their household of two. There was a kindred spirit in him.

“His parents left him in my care when he was two. They left for Saudi and promised to come back after three years, but I still haven’t heard from them.”

“The pastures there must be greener than the ones we have here,” I said.

“That’s what they all say about the other side, the younger ones most of all.”


“Quezon City. I’ve heard they take phone calls and speak to Americans every night. I believe they’re paid quite generously for helping them with their problems about many things.”

“Ever thought of going somewhere else?”

“I’m too old for that.” He rose from the wooden stool and went to fix two cups of black coffee. The aroma of the beans filled the small space of the shack. Outside, the night sky was a velvet carpet with nameless stars. Steam rushed through the kettle hole as Mang Salome timidly poured hot water into the cups.

“Why did you leave your home?”

“Because I’m young, Mang Salome,” I said with a meek voice. I remembered my father.

“How young?”


Little Paulo slept the whole time, oblivious to the conversation of two acquaintances, one with the kindness of a learned soul, the other with the frailty of a bud eager to spring forth from the bosom of the earth.

WHEN YOU COMMUNE with the earth using your bare hands, you feel the warmth of the soil and how it throbs with life. An arable farmland holds the dream of harvest, a dream shaped by farmers whose diligent hands cultivate the soil, without which it is just an ordinary earthen patch akin to a pot of dirt with not a plant coursing its roots beneath. Because Mang Salome’s flesh and soul depended on the land he has nurtured since time immemorial, he always understood its character more than anybody else in Santa Fe.

For three years, I was his eager apprentice and he was my patient master. He would answer some of my questions, but most of the time he would simply let my experience provide the answer after some days, weeks even. On many occasions, the answers would not come in haste. But each time they are revealed, a dark room in my mind is illuminated.

The water was never deep but our feet were partially buried in the mud, poking into the flesh of the earth like needles on that vast field of low greens.

“You have to be certain that the soil is loose just enough. That way, there is enough space for the plants to grow their roots. Be careful, though. Make it too loose and the seedlings won’t have any firm hold on the soil. They will wither even before they can start to grow.”

I listened silently as I watched Mang Salome demonstrate the art.

“But before you transfer the seedlings on the land where they will have to grow until harvest season,” he continued, “you have to let them germinate first in a puddle field. It is only after about a month when you can transfer them. Still, you have to trust what you have learned from long months of hard labor. Plants, like the seasons, make subtle changes. Each harvest is not the same as the last.”

“Why don’t we just plant them directly there?” I asked with hesitation, ignorant of the art I have immersed my self into. Mang Salome deftly retrieved one seedling after another from the earthen bed. After the last stalk, he straightened his posture and eyed the rest of the fields.

“You will understand soon,” he said.

PAULO’S FRAME IS SMALL for his age. He is eleven years young but he could easily pass for a six-year-old kid whose skin has been kissed by sunlight on many bright days. What he lacks in physique, though, he compensates with a curious mind.

Sitting by the field, we waited for the wind from the southwest to blow stronger one afternoon.

“Why do you love to fly kites?”

“I feel free each time I see my kite fly high,” I said.

“Why do you want to feel free?”

“Because life is too short.”

“Is it?”

“Well, maybe, but I hope to live long enough.”

“How long?”

“Perhaps eighty years.”

“And will you still be flying kites by then?”

“I hope I am already as free as a kite by that time.”

“Well, is a kite really free?”

“No, not really.”


“One, it’s tied to this string. Two, the rope also has to be tied to this peg after the kite has gained enough altitude. Sometimes, I will also have to control the direction of the kite by tugging the string.”

“But a kite can still be free, can’t it?”

“Of course.”

“I hope I can be a kite someday,” he said. I smiled at him.

Several minutes after, the wind from the southwest suddenly blew stronger.

IN MY DREAM, thousands of kites raced far above as they battled with the scattered clouds for space. For the first time, the sky was no longer blue throughout. But the clouds began to roll faster, larger. The threat of heavy rainstorm and lightning made the diaspora of the kites more imminent. When I woke-up, I thought I had wings, but I found out I was a kite myself. I was a kite lost in a distant rice field, lying flat on needles of amber after harvest season. For a vagabond found wherever the wind blows under the merciless sun, it does not matter who cut the string.

Part 1 | 2

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Other Side

[Part 1 of 2 of the "Deuce Diaspora" series]

IMAGINE A FIELD of flowers, the cosmic splendor of the afternoon summer sun washing them with all the light they need. With the celestial glow piercing through the clouds, it leaves as it does time and again a burst of ocher across the infinite sky. Miles ahead, the mountain slopes protrude from the earth in angular beauty. There is a fresh tinge of carnation in the breeze, a scent reminiscent of youthful days almost forgotten in this rural landscape of permanent sepia. But here is where nobody remembers anyone. Only a few memories have survived the seasons. There is no dirge to mourn the passing of the years. In this distant sanctuary, life truncates itself to mere existing, reducing everything to something — a dot at the mercy of a precipice that leads to a place nobody knows exactly where.

I’m not going back to that town, at least not in a thousand years.

MY DAILY COMMUTE in Quezon City consists of two short rides. Long after sunset, I rise from the din of my rickety bed, mind still bland, lips dry, and eyes too groggy to see through the windows that open to a thick wall of concrete. To prepare for the night ahead, I perform a simple routine: I eat three buns of bread, drink two cups of black coffee, smoke three sticks of cigarette, take a quick bath, and brush my teeth for two minutes — all these while I am naked, and not necessarily in that order. By the time I have already put on my jeans, polo shirt and leather shoes, I take a brief walk to the corner of the street and ride a tricycle. Most of the time, the driver is the first human being I see, if not a random peddler forced astray into my filthy community by a carpet of streets elsewhere. No crook in his sane mind would venture deep into that decrepit nook just to pilfer the wallet of an unsuspecting victim. I’ve always felt safe there.

The second ride I take is by passenger jeep. By ten in the evening, the terminal is still alive. A few honest people selling their wares continue to seek honest pay from the pedestrians. Others offer their flesh to patrons young and old, especially those who demonstrate their concept of pride by clutching their ambitious phallus just to foster an erection — a vain attempt to reach a remote orifice. By the corner, the elderly were able to assemble scraps of carton boxes into a design that could easily cause their paper village to collapse from its own weight. They call it home. The aging folks must have repeatedly implored the aid of an unseen divine force so that their improvised shacks will continue to stand on the only leg they all depend upon. For the past two years I’ve been in the city, they — the elderly and their homes — have stood their ground. It seems that arthritic knees and paper houses do not easily fold in this urban jungle.

Even if the jeep is almost empty after almost thirty minutes of waiting, it would leave the station and ply the main road. The highway is the main artery that connects all of the other asphalt lanes. Come to think of it, names do not really mean what they intend to say. Commonwealth Avenue is an oddity; it is an avenue where wealth is not all too common.

Some two kilometers after, I get-off and begin to trace the lighted path that leads to that imposing structure where I work. It looks strange enough to make the eyes sore. Five floors above, my office is even stranger. The building is nothing special. No one minds if it had been constructed barely five years ago. On the face of it, it’s what you may call an avant-garde edifice. But that’s all there is to it — the face of it. The architect must have melded his antiquated ideas with a design that inspires disbelief, like a set of udders that suddenly grew a whole cow.

Annie, the receptionist, waits by the lobby, checking the IDs of employees and strangers who usually enter the place as fast as they leave, some never to return; Annie, a strong woman with skin more tender than her age, drawn to this city of sour milk by the scepter of poverty hailing from a land where the foliage is thick and the fields are serene and lush with greens; Annie, the girl whose shapely breasts have long been the object of Raul’s abject fantasy.

“I swear I’ll milk them dry one of these nights,” he whispered one time.

“There’s a law against that,” I said.

“Not if she likes it just as well.”

Raul — the old man who, after all the months of bedeviled smirking, only grew a boner and never a brain. I wonder how he is doing in jail. There is yet a long time ahead of him in prison, not to mention his infinite chances of dropping the proverbial soap. His legitimate wife, for the life of her, must still be in a state of irreparable distraught. Three children after, all from different women, and he is still the same pervert.

MY OFFICE DESK is not really a desk. It is simply an enclosed space on a long table together with other enclosed spaces. Ours is a neighborhood of corporate slaves who crudely mimic foreign accents with the slightest twitch of the tongue. Sometimes, it feels as if the continents have been squeezed inside the four walls of the office.

Once there was an old American speaking from the other end of the line. He complained about everything that his mind can grapple, from the limping economy to Shakespeare’s conceptual immortality. I had to be patient with his proclivity for curse words. His verbal obscenity was perfunctory, as if being crass was his second nature, the first of which was being an American whose scrotum is latched high on his forehead. Of course, I had to obsequiously call his attention. All the while, he must have imagined that he was an untouchable inside a portcullis, able to plot the world’s destiny in broad strokes simply by dialing our number. He had a tart way of sieving my responses, though, as if he was the inquisitor and I was someone born to provide a willing neck for his guillotine.

“Fuck you and your measly outsourcing company!” His scream was enough to deafen my ears for a while.

“Thank you, sir,” I responded. “We hope to hear from you some time soon.” The line went dead, and I momentarily wished he did so, too.

He never called again and I almost lost my job were it not for the fact that I slept with my boss the week after the old fogey called. At thirty-eight, her body can very well enamor any man whose sexual urges have been left to stale in their solitary confines, probably between the thighs. For someone fourteen years my superior, she was still at the full blossom of her youth, as if she was built for all things carnal and clandestine. Perhaps she was waiting all this time for someone to fall into her fait accompli. She had the power while I tried to be astute by finagling with one corporate ladder. We tasted each other and I found out that she was delicious beyond her looks. I still have her underwear in my drawer.

I envy her husband.

“HOW DO YOU SURVIVE in this environment?” Rebecca asked.

“Simple. Don’t fuck around,” I said, tipping my cigarette by the railings of the office balcony. Some of the ashes fell straight down. “If you do,” I continued, “choose who you fuck around with.” Her eyes seemed to picture grief far out in the sky. Out there, there is only a dark tapestry littered with crystals.

“Well, it’s a start,” she said with a voice that sounded as if she has just ended reading a boring verse from another senseless poem.

Fifteen-minute breaks are short, so I usually try to hurry emptying my lungs with oxygen and filling them with poison. Most of the time, I’m able to smoke only three cigarette sticks. Not bad at all for a prime candidate for cancer, I thought. But that early morning when the sun was still two hours away from breaking into the eastern horizon, Rebecca and I were able to smoke ten.

“What brings you here?” I asked. “A college diploma from the top private university and four years after, you must have been poised to brave the waters of the corporate world.” I thought I spoke like the parish priest back in my town. And then the clincher — “But I don’t think this place fits you well.”

Her long silence was disconcerting. I killed the dying ember of my last stick.

“The myth of Sisyphus,” she finally said.

“I think I’ve read it somewhere.” I lied, taken aback by her sudden recollection of a story that must have been around for eons but which, for some reason, I have yet to hear. This is what I get for confusing fashion with intelligence.

“Sisyphus was condemned to push a boulder up the steep slopes of a hill for eternity,” she mumbled, lending tones of worry and submission.

“Yeah, that’s our guy right there,” I bluffed.

“He was the son of King Aeolus. Sisyphus was the craftiest of men but his dirty ways earned him his eternal curse.”

“Poor fellow,” I said as though I perfectly commiserate the fate of a man who may not have even existed. As for Rebecca, I could not feel an ounce of sympathy for whatever it is that she was trying to make me guess. Even if she asked me bluntly, my apathy will take its course. Five failed relationships down the line and I still cannot understand women, the younger ones most of all.

“Have you had a girlfriend before?” She asked.

I lied for the fourth time. Or was it the fourth? I could not remember. A pathological liar, my first girlfriend called me once, which was the same summer afternoon we talked for the last time. I’ve never heard from her since then.

“You’re lying.” Rebecca had a smile that seemed to lift her spirit and drag mine to some remote planet. Perhaps, she knows this carousel all too well, as much as she knows the stink of a lie that swells from the lips of a probinsyano.

“Fine,” I said, “and I don’t quite know the myth of Sassy Puss either.” The stress on the ‘Sassy’ made her smile linger a bit longer.

Fifteen minutes later, I was back at my false desk. Rebecca, though, went home. She never came back, just like the others whose names and faces I can no longer recall.

“SEE YOU tomorrow,” Annie said.

“That would be tonight, Annie,” I said as I walked past her desk, slowly waiving back at her.

“Right,” she quipped, realizing a few seconds too late that I have already taken graveyard shifts since last week. After what happened to Raul, every guy in the office has become afraid of her.

I wore my sunglasses the moment I took my first step out of the building. At nine, the morning light felt blinding. When I feel too sluggish to take two rides home, I ride a cab. Comfort is priceless, which is why I frequently find myself cursing after paying the taxi fare — it is a price that is not really less.

By the time I’m home, I would undress down to the last fabric and curl-up in bed, too sleepy to mind my stark nakedness. I imagine my self like a fetus nursing itself in a dead womb. I live in a humble apartment unit flanked by concrete walls. They keep the adjacent private lots away from view, empty and waiting for the scaffolding to pierce through the dirt and grime of the earth. In this city, there is an untold race to the heavens. The finish line is out there, and it stretches farther each time people try to reach it.

More often than not, I dream of Santa Fe. In my mind, the town is exiled in eternal summer, like a painting, an Amorsolo masterwork. The colors are indelible and they transcend the limits of visual sensation, all because of a plethora of brush strokes drawn by a steady hand. It is a canvass of gaiety that knows no sorrow, or one that refuses to recognize all tell-tale signs of blight even if the symptoms have already reached an irreversible state. Perhaps, there is no medicine that can cure this silent affliction of my frail town.

A land of promise, it seems, is just what it is. Maybe the cliché has some semblance of reality to it: art is a lie that makes us see the truth.

Part 1 | 2

Friday, September 16, 2011

I and I and I

[Last part of "The Messiahs" series]

IT IS TRUE: there is no freedom behind walls of concrete and curtains of iron. The taste of liberty can never be had in that melting pot of sin and crime, only the flavor of a thousand verdicts rationed daily like a grand banquet for the inmates. It is a sick habitat, a blot on this earth where the culpable call upon their heaven, a charity too remote for the eyes to find while they search and squeeze the sky for the last ounce of pardon. It is where prayers for divine mercy desperately seek the consoling voice of a mute idol, hoping that god will finally speak the language of miracles like a hush, a whisper of comfort for the paltry ears. Some do not mind if they do not understand that most arresting of all tongues. It is enough that hope is at hand, more or less, despite the guiltless riot of flesh with flesh and the unholy union of metal and mortal wounds.

The strong ones are beyond human. Their will is left unscathed by the same truncheons that pummel their skin. Mortals as they are, they have become their own primitive gods. Their spirits are as inflated and infinite as the zeitgeist that permeates the world beyond the barbed fence surrounding their little patch of soil, like a pot for a forest. It is as if they have caused the twilight of all legends and despots and the simultaneous genesis of their own. They have the whole universe in their hands, it seems, even if the only term most of them have served all their life is prison.

Guilt was never mine to feel, atonement most of all. I simply desired happiness, so I sliced father’s lips from his face and ate them. But the explanation, the only defense I had, did not inspire belief before the courts of law. The prosecution tried to prove that I was a murderer, and prove they did. Justice was paid at the price of an injustice. It took a while before I was able to finally accept my misfortune. When she was still alive, Anne helped remind me of who I am. By sixty, I was a free man. Forty years of isolation is enough forced penance for every misplaced abomination. Truth be told, I did not kill father. He was his own executioner.

I KILLED MY SELF so that I can finally have the sleep I have never had before. I have grown tired of living my arid life, deserted by many and remembered by none, always chasing the tail of happiness by indulging in nightly blitzkriegs downtown, ever unmindful of the odds of getting caught in flagrante delicto. Sometimes I scare my self. An opportunity gone awry and a victim gone berserk would have certainly chimed the final note in my dance with death and immortality. But not once did any of it happen. I continued saving souls, like a minister offering salvation right inside those little pockets of heaven on earth. With my cleaver as my wife (or maybe it was I who was her husband), the city—the only home we have known—is where we search happiness and cut it at its apex so that it will remain as it is for eternity. The dying voice of the victim, neck slit open while begging for life, becomes a serene song on infinite playback, purging the dullness of these automatons, these strangers standing helpless at the gore before their feet. They call themselves human beings, churning fancy but false praises if only to assert their superiority somewhere at the back of their mind but fold once they face death for the first time. They will never be the same again. Perhaps, the gift of aristocracy is its own curse.

I have seen the face of death many times. The things that I did while I was still alive have nothing to do with any one person’s death. But I wanted James to think otherwise. James will have thought otherwise, that I saved souls not in the name of my father and of my son but in the name of this insanity I have inherited from an incestuous affair. He is predictable. I have his life outlined like a sketch that will fail to interest people, women most of all. Half of what fiction is may be based on a given reality. But let us not forget that there are more than a hundred realities out there. James will never know which ones I chose. He never asked. I will never give him the answer, anyway, because I killed my self. I am already dead.

James was not of my flesh and blood, but every bit of who he has become was a Messiah all the same. I can see father in him although James never saw father in his self, the only reason being that their genes had nothing in common. I who was as dead as a corpse inside my mother’s womb, I who was as alive as a newborn at the casket, except that I had no lips: I was buried close to where father lay, and it is where the mound is.

BECAUSE I LOVED HER TOO MUCH, and because she shared the same measure of passion as I did—perhaps more—my sister and I eloped. It was never easy. Our parents were dead: father died barely three weeks after mother did. Having no immediate relatives in that forsaken town a hundred miles from the first scent of concrete, we were left to look after one another before our teen years were over. What little income we had from the meat stall, the small and only business our family owned, easily went down the drain. We sold almost everything just to cover the burial expenses. With barely a few personal properties left, we ventured farther from our province and closer to the cities, until one day we found ourselves living the urban life at a very urban cost. We have lived here ever since.

I worked as a butcher at a young age. The smell of fresh meat at the market by dawn is invigorating, better than the aroma of coffee a hundred times over. Chopping flesh into several slices feels like singing a song’s reprise with as much familiarity as one can have for practicing a routine religiously. Blood, that most scarlet and most sacred of all fluids known to humanity, would be smeared over each table, as if the sight is an unpleasant reminder of a spectacle where hundreds of virgins have been unceremoniously sacrificed before a hundred altars. Every now and then, I still suffer wounds from accidental cuts. There are lines of scars on my skin but I do not mind. The cleaver is sharp, and it must be so.

Raising Alfred on my own was a challenge. One can only imagine how terribly difficult this world can further become without women. I never expected Frieda to die so sudden. Five months into her pregnancy and she said something I have never forgotten ever since. “Albert,” she whispered as we lay in bed waiting for the silence of the summer night to lull us to sleep, “I do not want to have this child born.” She must have seen it coming. I did not. Alfred’s birth two months early was Frieda’s death five minutes after. People will say that our child is the fruit of our mortal sin, but I rather see him as the seed of my love. Or perhaps all of us were right. Alfred is the seed of my love sown on the wrong womb.

Part 1 | 2| 3 | 4 | 5

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Slice of Flesh, a Taste of Joy

[Part 4 of "The Messiahs" series]


“I’ll rephrase the question. How was he before you went to work?”

“We don’t usually talk before I go to work. Come to think of it, we don’t talk at all. Yesterday before I left, he did not say anything, not a word. He was his usual self, I must say. I got home early and there was not a mumble,” I said, coughing between the phrases. For the longest time, I’ve been having intermittent coughs and colds. The phlegm in my lungs simply won’t disappear.

“Have you noticed anything strange about him yesterday?” she asked.

“No. There was nothing of that sort.”

“How about the past few days? How was his behavior? His mood?”

“I think he was quite happy.”

“Quite happy,” Amelia, the police inspector, echoed. Her calm voice suddenly became ripe with undertones of melancholia. Along with the wrinkles on her forehead, it added a flash of reticence to her authority. Age has its way of nurturing the instinct for suspicion, I thought.

I leaned back. “He’d smile often. That’s all. I never asked him why. His happiness was really none of my business.”

“Do you know anyone who held a personal grudge against your father?”

“I don’t know.”

“Mister James,” she uttered with a genial pause, “where is your mother?”

“I have no idea. I was adopted when I was two. I have the records with me.” I stood. “Excuse me for a while.” I walked toward the window, spat the phlegm climbing up my throat, and returned to my seat. “I did not bother to find my mother,” I resumed, “although I try to imagine her, whoever she is.”

It was almost dawn and I still haven’t had any sleep. Outside the house, a few neighbors gathered, curious as to why the policemen were at the village at an odd time. A police officer approached Amelia and had a few words with her. I remained calm, seated at the plush sofa where I take my nap before I go to work. For a while, I examined their gestures. Except for their nods and hand movement, there was not much to observe. Things felt as though they were planned.

The police officer left and Amelia sat back.

“So, you said that you came home early from work today.”

“That’s right, about two hours early. I was home by one in the morning. Perhaps it was no more than thirty minutes past one, or thereabouts.”

“Was your father awake at that time?”

“Yes, he was sitting by the porch, wiping one of the daggers in his collection with a piece of cloth.”

“And somehow you did not find it strange?”

“It was not strange at all. It was his habit even when I was still a child, twelve if I’m not mistaken. Sometimes, he’d suddenly get up from bed and clean his daggers even if it was three, four or five in the morning. There wasn’t a definite time. I wasn’t surprised to see him polishing one when I got home.”

“What did you do after?”

“I went straight to my room and changed clothes. I stayed inside for about thirty minutes. Then, I got out of my room and went to the kitchen to get something to eat. For a minute or so, I fixed myself a sandwich. I was about to return to my room when I noticed that the front door was left open. Before I could reach the knob, I saw father on the floor. He was heavily bleeding and lifeless.”

“Did you hear anything before you went out of your room?”

“There wasn’t a sound that could rouse my attention, although I think I heard father talking to someone over the phone. I wasn’t able to clearly hear the conversation. I think it went for about a few seconds.”

“Apart from that, were there strange noises?”

“None at all.”

“Not even a whimper?”

“Not even that.”

“I’ve noticed that his face was full of spit, phlegm,” she said.

“I know,” I interposed, “I’ve seen his face, too, inspector. He’s ugly, isn’t he?”

“With all those fatal incisions on his head, it really isn’t a beautiful sight to look at.” She gently bowed her head. “You must have noticed that his lips are missing, as if they were carved off from the skin on his face.”

“Aren’t you going to ask me if I killed him?”

She raised her head. “Did you?”

“If I did call the police, it’s most likely that I was not the one who killed him, don’t you think?”

“That’s possible, except for one thing.”

“Which is?”

“You called, that’s true, but it wasn’t you who called first. It was your father, thirty minutes before you did.”

“What did he say?”

“He said he killed his father.”


“Thirty years ago today.”

I let the thought sink in my brain. “And?” I asked.

Amelia continued. “And then you called about thirty minutes later. You said someone killed your father.”

A policeman went to her and whispered something. She stood and went outside. I followed them. From the porch, I saw father’s body wrapped in white blanket being transferred inside the ambulance. I came up to Amelia.

“Have your men found father’s dagger yet?” I asked.

“No,” she answered, “but they found a blood-spattered cleaver beside his body. Does he have one in his collection?”

“Yes, of course.” I watched the ambulance gain speed until its light was gone in the distance. “Please excuse me. I’ll get something to eat,” I told Amelia. I went back to the kitchen and prepared four slices of bread. After opening the refrigerator, I reached for a small porcelain plate inside the chiller. Together with mayonnaise, I placed a few little slices of father’s lips between the bread and took a bite, then another, until I finished one. I returned to Amelia beside the gate while I carried a plate with the second sandwich.

“Have a sandwich,” I offered. I coughed and spat on the floor.

“Thank you,” she said before she took a huge bite.

ANNE ARRIVED at father’s funeral earlier than scheduled.

“My condolences, James,” Anne whispered.

“Alfred finally slept the sleep he has never had before,” I quipped. He is my father, or he was my father, never biological, the man who wielded a cleaver in search of happiness. How often he told me that I was his son, his protégé, his messiah, and his executioner. He was more or less right with everything except one—the last one, for he was his own executioner.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

James Messiah

[Part 3 of "The Messiahs" series]

WE SPAT OUR PHLEGM from the open windows of the smoking area. There on the twentieth floor, we watched it spiral downwards until it became a faint dot as far down as our eyes could see. The somersault was quite a spectacle. It almost felt like the green fluid was bursting with life as it whirled helpless in the air, lured by the pull of the earth as any free fall would have been. What they say is true: the corporate world is a massive junkyard that defiles anything within and around it, like an arcane cesspool. Our afternoon ritual has been our way to cleanse ourselves of the grime. It was, and is, as literal as it was, and is, figurative. Is is to the now, the present, as was is to the then, the past. Confuse one for the other and your sense of time will blur. You will be somewhere between the is and the was, which is not always a dreary distance to venture hither and thither.


“That’s a big one!” I said, almost shouting at her face. The projectile hurled itself against the wind with little defiance, splitting into fragments as it tumbled below several tens of meters closer to the earth.

“You liked it?” she asked, wiping the curves of her lips with a tissue, gently pouting them as if a kiss was about to be given to no one. It was a protrusion sexy enough to give any straight man a mild erection for five minutes.

“Well, a bit. Actually, all of it,” I retorted while lugging a stiff penis in my jeans. I suddenly found myself in a tight situation twenty floors into the atmosphere. Curiously, I thought all the arteries in my body led all the blood to my phallus. Gravity, it seemed, had no way of interfering with the natural functions of a normal body. She has a way of seducing me without her knowing it. Fortunately, I did not pop a blood vessel no matter how bad I desired her lips and her body that moment. The urge was there, a massive explosion waiting to happen, but I had to contain it. I had to, even if it meant sticking my finger on a volcanic hole just to forestall a premature geologic ejaculation.

Five minutes after and the boner was gone. We continued to spit our lungs out one minute after the next until it was almost six in the evening. The neon lights here and there and the city skyline ahead were impressive. I was sure there was a painting somewhere in the world that had a similar view.

“Time to get back to work,” she said.

“Yeah.” Time to get back to the graveyard, I thought to myself. We walked back to our cubicles, those little parcels of squares we were instructed to treat as workspace. The frigid air consumed every human pore in the office as the digital display of the Condura registered ten degrees that lovely Monday night.

OURS IS THE USUAL STORY of any odd pair. Anne and I were mutually interested in all things borderline crazy, although, of all the acquaintances I have had in the workplace—for she was still new in the office at the time—she never became one of the gossipmongers. Being one was the popular sideline of the older employees and even the fresh meat. Amid the office clutter and nuisance, she effortlessly stood out as the most attractive. The first day she walked the aisle toward her cubicle last October, I imagined the Beatles’ If I Fell playing in the background. Everything around her moved in a motion too slow, as though the world was on infinite playback one frame at a time. She had the feel of an Anne Boleyn.

“James, could you send the accounting report for last month to my email? I need a copy right away,” she gently spoke as she perched her arms over the chest-high divider between our cubicles. I awoke from my daydream.

Six seconds of silence.

“What if I don’t send you a copy?” I responded. The taunt was poorly calculated.

“You have no other choice, James.”

“What if I have?” I insisted, hands on my pockets and my back against the chair.

“What if I grab your balls and stuff them in my mouth?”

Please do, I murmured. I surmise she could have still heard my incantation.

“So?” She asked, raising her left eyebrow, as if the question was really a divine order. It arched high enough to reveal most of her brown iris.

“Fine. You win. Those dimples never fail to work their magic.” Two seconds and then she smiled. True enough, her dimples surfaced on her cheeks. It was a beautiful chasm on a skin tender enough to make Aphrodite blush in envy.

For the most part of last year, work was just another excuse for living. I had to live because my work won’t let me die. She was, however, the first miracle that has ever happened in my life. I almost believed in a god then. It is not easy refuting the wonders of a divine power if you happen to spend most of your time with a girl who could well be a deity camouflaged in the body of a human being.

I sent her a copy of the accounting report later that night. Before the end of our midnight shift, I asked her if she was serious when she said she would grab my balls and stuff them in her mouth. She laughed. I laughed with her, trying to ease my way through a tight and embarrassing position by saying that my question was another lousy joke.

I DO NOT KNOW if I love her, but I get jealous each time her boyfriend picks her up from work. He drives a Sedan heavily modified to suit the taste of one who had to wear oversized pants and a golf cap in order to compensate for the absence of a brain. His bald head was as shiny as the rims of his car. For five days a week, it was the same routine. I was unable to completely nudge the thought of jealousy off my head. It felt like I had phlegm that was impossible to spit out.

I think he was her boyfriend. I have not mustered enough courage to ask her the question. Each time I tried, I would fold like a leaf or break like a twig, thereby leaving the unspoken question hanging between my brain and the tip of my tongue. I thought I will have to wait until she personally confirms my theory. The question was always there, but the answer never came soon.

SHE RESIGNED by April and I was left alone doing the spitting ritual for thirty minutes every day. I would look to my left and she was not there. It did not feel quite right. I was cleansing the bowels of my lungs for no one.

ALSO CALLED CUSPIDOR, a spittoon is a receptacle for all kinds of “spit,” such as phlegm, saliva, tobacco, chewed gum, curses, emotions, and others. The world is my spittoon.

I TRIED TO CALL ANNE’S phone several times but the number always returned a dead tone. Throughout the wait, I forgot to shave and cut my hair many times. After several months, my boss said I looked like a barbarian. I asked him if he ever saw one before. He said he is the boss, which was the shortest way of saying that my question was irrelevant. By the time I received a call from her, I have already shaved the mullet I have grown from all those months of waiting.

“How are you?” Anne asked from the other end of the line.

“Other than losing hair, everything has been fine so far.” I lied.

“You’re bald?”

“Not really.”

“Whatever. Let’s have dinner at The Old Grill. My treat. I’ll see you there at eight.”

“Alright. See you later,” I said. She hung up.

IT WAS A FINE SATURDAY in August. I went to a barbershop to finally get my head shaved clean before I went to The Old Grill. By the time we met, Anne looked almost the same as before, except for the bruise on her right cheek, another bruise along the skin on her collar bone, the small scar on her left arm, and what seemed to be a slight dislocation of her nose bridge. I did not ask but somehow the answer was already in my mind. I told her I decided to get bald an hour ago. Anyway, hair will always grow back, I said, not like other things.

By the time we finished eating, I told her stories of my life for the past several months. She did the same. I was right all along: the Sedan guy was her boyfriend. Or he used to be her boyfriend. They broke-up two days ago and there I was getting the answer almost ten months later. I tried to find the words to console her.

“If only to make you feel better, I could let you grab my balls,” I said. Her dimples showed themselves again.

“You’re crazy,” Anne said, giving off a hearty laugh.

“Who isn’t?” I chuckled.

We later drove from Quezon City to somewhere south, turning to a full stop at the highest portion of the skyway. Anne stepped out and I followed suit. Leaning by the edge of the road’s railings, she inhaled and spat. I watched her from a short distance. She spat until the red and blue overhead lights of the highway patrol drew brighter. We sped away.

After turning right some thirty miles away from where we last stopped, Anne parked her car on the side of the road where there was nothing much but darkness. I fucked her hard.

It took another six months before we met again. It was at father’s funeral.

“My condolences, James,” Anne whispered.

“Alfred finally slept the sleep he has never had before,” I quipped. He is my father, or he was my father, never biological, the man who wielded a cleaver in search of happiness.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Friday, August 12, 2011

Where the Mound Is

[Part 2 of "The Messiahs" series]

At three in the morning, I was still awake. For a whole day, I dug a deep pit in our backyard. I was tired. Outside, the garden light flickered throughout the unholy hour, forcing shadows to dance on my bed sheet as if they had artificial life. Through the window in my room, I could see the silhouette of the acacia leaves moving with the wind. I turned to my right side as I grabbed the blanket at my feet and covered my body with it. It offered little comfort in its warmth. With the walls barely visible in the darkness, I kept my eyes still. There was nothing much to see but everything to hear. The door facing the veranda creaked open and was immediately shut close. Soon, the sound of gentle thuds on the floor followed. I knew who it was.

Father has returned. I do not know exactly where he went but I know what he did. He reeks of liquor even without tracing his scent from where I was. He usually comes home a few hours before sunrise, a ritual he has never outgrown through the years.

My name is Alfred Messiah. Most people in my school make fun of the cleft on my upper lip. I’ve had a girlfriend once. I was a college sophomore at the time and Stephanie was a high school senior. We broke-up shortly. She frankly said she could no longer bear the humiliation she has been getting from her family and friends. It seems they do not want someone with twin defects—oral and, therefore, facial—for her. I understand. I do not want a slut either, although it was only much later when I found out. I thought I could tolerate her ways. Early on, father gave a stern warning. Stubborn as I was then, I refused to listen. After we broke-up, I was left with a wounded spirit to nurse and an inborn cleft to blame. I still struggle in dealing with both.

People never know when my smile is genuine. With this fissure on my lip, it’s impossible to tell. To be safe, they always assume that my smiles are sincere. They have no idea. I have studied the mouth more than any other part of the human body. I can recognize happiness simply by observing the movement of that delicate flesh, for it is where stories waiting to be spoken find their escape. A kiss dry of feelings is the easiest to recognize. Perhaps, it’s a gift intended to ameliorate my fate of being born with this labial curse.

Father switched the lights on. My back was against where he stood but I can imagine him staring, his face a blank tablet inciting anyone with a scalpel to etch an emotion onto it. I smiled. The patriarch patrolled his dominion even in his drunken haze.

People say I look a lot like my father. They are right with only half of what they see. They must have already forgotten that I also had a mother once. I was born two months too early and five minutes too late. My mom died in the delivery room twenty years ago, right before I was finally out of her womb. Father said she bled profusely. It was the last time I’ve heard him talk about her.

Father and mother, too, looked very much alike. No surprise there. They are siblings. I cannot begin to imagine how painful it is to give birth to a mortal sin, one whose claim to infamy is a cleft upper lip, a genetic aberration that goes deeper than the flesh. Not once did I blame them upfront.

“I will be at the kitchen,” father said before turning the lights off. He knew I was still awake. He walked away before I got up. Today is the day he has been waiting for.

Father sat at the edge of the table. I slowly approached him. His smile was real, a genuine sign of happiness. He pointed his finger where the cleaver lay without getting his sight off of my eyes. It felt a bit unusual, as though I was staring back at my own eyes for the first time. It was only after I picked up the blade when he fixed his gaze on the old photograph before him. He held it with both hands.

I walked the short distance toward him as my right hand firmly gripped the wooden handle. He did not notice a thing for we both already knew what was coming. Although he was smiling while he held the picture frame, I sensed that his consciousness was elsewhere. Perhaps his was at a remote place where only fathers with dwindling resilience can go. I did not bother to rouse him from his contemplation. It was enough that I already had the cleaver in my hand.

“I loved her too much,” he mumbled twice. His voice thawed the cold silence of the early morning. Light from the yellow shaded lamp reflected on the sharp metal. Sunrise was still two hours away and I found no refuge in sleep.

All it took was one full swing and father spoke no further. Drops of fresh crimson trickled on the framed image. Mother was sullied with father’s blood. It is true after all. There is a hefty sum to be paid for a lifetime of unspoken remorse.

Just before sunrise, my job was done. Later that day, only a mound of clay was left as a passing reminder of where father's corpse will rest for the many months ahead. He and mother are together again in death.

I slept the sleep I have never had before.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Monday, August 8, 2011

Happiness is Forever

[Part 1 of "The Messiahs" series]

Lovely people gather aplenty in places where the sun rarely shines. These creatures are easy to identify in a city of strangers in broad daylight. Behind their dark spectacles are eyes too groggy to view the metropolitan landscape. Intoxication is the least of their worries. They constantly indulge in the company of alcohol and friends for a reason too basic it is impossible to miss—they are too lonely. Since they dwell in despair more often than they take the steps to where they are supposed to go in life, they are too easy to save. I see them like the closed petals of a rose hoping for the fury of sunshine at midnight. I have seen many of them. Most of the time, they unwittingly lead the way to havens where nocturnal people commune under the pallor of artificial light.

Tonight is one of those evenings. I will save one last soul in the name of my father and my son.

Incandescent bulbs glimmer and cast faint illumination against a steady stream of liquor and laughter. Bodies sweat, elbows touch and knees rub. The odor of burnt tobacco blends with the fragrance of a hundred perfumes. Others dance. Some others lean on the walls, eyes searching for a potential mate, if not anyone who is simply potent. A wasted man sleeps on the tiled floor of the lavatory, savoring the taste of his ignorance and the aggregate piss of unknown men. He is halfway through nirvana and he will not remember a thing when he awakens, I thought.

Patience is my vice, stealth is my virtue. I walk around and start to count. Five people occupy the bar stools, among them two ladies whose French kisses are more enticing than the bottles of whiskey behind the cashier. The other three men could only glance at the spectacle, cigarette on one hand and fingers that tremble on the other. In the middle of the room, at least forty people are dancing, although half of them not really so. All the seats are taken, the five lounge sofas most of all. By eleven that night, the crowd continues to thicken. Nobody cares. Outside, the road is dark and damp. I lost count.

As I stand near the exit, I begin to hear voices more clearly than when I was far inside the noise chamber. People were having conversations although, I surmise, they barely understand what they say, which is fine. In a place where dialogues are more apparent than real, everyone pretends to enjoy hearing every story, especially if it has nothing to do with them.

I remember the legend of the ogre that never dies. Men near and afar have braved to maul the monster but they never return alive. People think the beast is evil incarnate, a force more formidable than a thousand heavily armed soldiers marching toward wooden shacks fortified by sticks and prayers. But contrary to belief, the brute is defenseless. True, it is easy to slaughter. However, it does not die, for the slayer himself would soon become the ogre.

I lit a cigarette and waited.

Thirty minutes after, I caught sight of the youthful soul worthy of salvation. He wrapped his arms around the waist of his lover, a girl of an equally tender age, as they made sensual gestures at the corner. They were oblivious of the people around them. Judging by the way he held her, his enthusiasm exceeded my expectations. There he stood with heaven on his hands and his world in his embrace with nary a sign of letting go. Still in his teens, he was already at the pinnacle of his happiness. Here is a boy who is living his personal renaissance without regret, I thought.

Although all pleasures in life that begin must end, everything between can be forced to linger like a final memory. The boy does not deserve to suffer from the return of sorrow after a brief moment of earthly bliss. Life is certain to be lonely by the time sobriety reclaims its stead.

He was still smiling when the girl momentarily left for the restroom. Slowly, I withdrew the silver tool from my jacket. I walked the short distance toward him as my right hand firmly held the wooden handle. The sound from the overhead amplifiers and all the voices drowned the thud of my boots. I did not let him notice my presence. For a second, I swung my right hand. My cleaver chopped his neck. All five inches of the blade sliced through his flesh and spine. The fury of sunshine at midnight has come for I am the bearer of light, I mumbled. In a while, the taste of eternal happiness shall be forever his to savor.

By the time I reached the exit door, I heard people screaming. Or maybe it was just the music. It does not matter.

Walking home, I imagine his face with a smile petrified for posterity. He failed to realize what was about to hit him. But I would rather have it that way. Unless he wants a lifetime of misery, his deliverance from imminent anguish is the sum of all the liberties he can possibly have. Of course, no one will understand the dictum by which I have lived my life. I save every distraught life from further despair by destroying it at the apex of its bliss.

Conceived in a womb of sins never forgiven, I am a bubonic plague given face by being born two months too early. People confront their mortality at the edge of my sharp cleaver. Pity is the cross where I was nailed many years back. I almost died. I saved my father from a lifetime of misery three decades ago by following his will—I gave him a taste of his own method. Soon, I became just like him, but tonight is the last time I will cling to my devotion. My son, my protégé, my messiah and my executioner is waiting back home.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5