Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Life in the City of Gods

[Part 4 of the "Sketches of Kitsch" series]

THERE IS NOT MUCH to see on this side of the country except the face of poverty — grim, like the wrinkled folds around the eyes of the senile resigned to their fate, earnestly praying for the emissary of death to fetch them in haste in their final bid to die with little dignity and a wooden coffin for their graves — and how almost a decade of the iron hand of the city mayor merely nursed the flurry of violence, drawing out blood and tears from those who know nothing more than the cryptic affliction they call survival, or whatever it is that turns sickly but pious folks into suburban mercenaries waging their personal wars against hunger, they who pierce the flesh of the unfortunate women and men with their knives until the victims breathe their last, their emaciated limbs left to commune with the elements in the dead of the night, the river nearby their transitory tomb from where the perennial troubadours of these filthy waters would retrieve their idle bodies later as if they were floating markers for wayward boats that find their way in this forgotten territory by some stroke of misfortune, modest vessels colliding against these buoys made of carcass and maggots and flies, the petty sailors fishing them out with nets and poles, their arms akimbo as they leer at them, triumphant as though they have just had the day’s worth of their harvest long before the sun could meet the eastern horizon in such an unholy place where the people are their own gods. Sacrilege is the least of their worries. They have the rest of their lives and innumerable sins to burn in this hellhole.

I used to live in a house, if one may call it a house, a few feet behind the thick walls of the largest shopping mall in the city. My girlfriend, my former girlfriend to be specific, called it a heap of garbage one day and never returned. The only thing that makes that heap of garbage stand on the ground is my mother’s nightly prayer in front of the makeshift altar of cardboard, tin cans, and Lito Lapid’s movie poster where his mustache glimmers like a beacon amidst foggy terrain and goons clad in leather jacket. As far as I can remember, my mother was never religious, except on two occasions. The first was when I was still a little boy, probably four, and I heard mother calling out oh god oh god in the middle of the night while father was on top of her pumping like a jackhammer, or some kind of machine that groans and moans, runs out of fuel after thirty minutes, and tells you you can now open your eyes son as if it was the last sentence that must be said before going to bed. The second was that day when the demolition men began to hammer their way through the overgrowth of perhaps more cardboard than they have ever seen in their life. My mother and I were lucky enough to escape with our clothes intact and luckier still to be able to return later in the evening when the police were long gone, the rubble the only reminder that they ever set foot there, and when our neighbors were slowly rebuilding their paper houses using rusty nails and tapes and whatever adhesive they had, except their precious rugby. In our place, nobody really uses it for anything except for sniffing. One of our neighbors once said god made the world in seven days and was kind enough to create rugby for our insatiable nostrils. When mother and I found the spot on the muddy ground where our house used to struggle in a limbo, there was not much left, save for Lito Lapid’s poster, the only inheritance left by my father before twenty stabs took him away two years ago. The poster was on the ground, wet and muddy, and yet Lito Lapid’s mustache seemed to have defied all that atrocity, as if it was invulnerable to any kind of shaving blade. By the following day, we had our miserable house nailed back to its original position as though nothing happened, only that our house looked more miserable than before. That day, too, mother learned to pray the rosary in front of Lito Lapid whose face, perhaps, is the spitting image of god. He intones salvation upon her. I can tell by the way she wipes it day and night with my old underwear, the only thing that reminds me of the demolition.

There was a job at a construction site and I was barely thirteen. Take it, my mother said. I did, and for the next four months my mother and I had something warm to put on our plate, no longer the occasional restaurant leftovers and the usual shellfish I hack off the submerged stones by the pier. Those were good days. I could eat whatever I want, and I only wanted sardines, those headless mackerels that have no one else to blame but their selves for squeezing themselves inside a small can of red soup when there is a whole ocean out there waiting for them. By the time the building was more than halfway done, I got into a fight with one of the workers. I wanted to put holes in his head with the iron rod but it was a good thing that the others were able to separate us and tell us that we can take our fight outside because they still needed the iron rod. That was the last day I was hired, and the warm mackerels soon stopped filling our plates. Maybe they have finally grown their heads and are now in the ocean.

One very late night I was taking a brief stroll in one of the alleys that led to the innards of the slum where I live. I was on my way home and the beer tasted as good as the other nights. A little ahead I saw a woman. By the time I was in front of her, I took her by the hand, that nameless prostitute, and I had her naked in less than a minute. Say it, say it, I ordered her, the tip of my ice pick against her luscious neck, my prick on her thigh, and she did. Oh god oh god, she whimpered like a prisoner in full submission, cowering in a dark corner where I was fucking her the way my father fucked my mother. But she laughed, and laughed, and laughed some more. That day on, I learned the meaning of erection, and what prison feels like when you can barely afford a lawyer to defend you for your lust.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

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