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