Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I Had A Dream Once

And it was this:

At first there was the universe, or something like the universe — cluttered with stars and dust older than time, all trapped in stillness, silence unexplored, like a secret. Pregnant with impossibilities. I must have been descending from where I was judging by the way the earth looked closer by the second, and I recall Ria telling me long ago that only two things can make you fall. Gravity is one. Though she did not say back then what the other one was, I knew and she knew and no words were needed to be spoken.

There were clouds all of a sudden. I must have smashed through them, a bullet ripping blankets apart, and then they cleared the night sky like curtains parting with the urgency of whispers waiting to be heard. I looked back and I saw the sun. It's strange how its interstellar light shines on a billion sleeping dreamers halfway around the world. I realized, as I often do time and again, that she is somewhere. Just somewhere. Like a flower in a field that is yet to be named. The first to blossom and the last to wither, rising from the earth with the strength and resolve of a woman hungry for the light. She is not asleep though.

There was a translucent wall, a window, and as I looked through it sunlight began to cleanse the town of the night. The darkness over leveled shanties slowly peeled off like bandage revealing badly bruised skin becoming exposed to the angry sun.

The day began, and then it was about to end. Quickly given and taken. Fast, like an alibi slipping smoothly from the lips I yearn to kiss for so long. So long.

Ria. I saw you, five feet and four inches of elegance, arms splayed, palms to the sky as though you are a gift waiting to be claimed. You moved the wind with the slightest touch, and I breathed the breeze if only to inhale these little miracles of your fingertips. The earth you tread, warm and shapeless, is where your toes dignify the splinter of shadows scattered among the detritus like unrealized dreams, because yours is the curse of waking me up just before the best part. You cast your eyes to the ceiling of treetops punctured by a thousand rays from the tender afternoon sun, and I watch you search the fading light for the answers that, perhaps, I will never know. After all, I have never been privy to your private affairs. If I could collapse a hundred years into a day, today would be that day, and by nightfall I could finally claim that I have lived the rest of my life with someone so beautiful I wish tomorrow will never be born. But in endings as in beginnings, time permits the possibility of memory at the cost of things never to endure, a necessary collateral to which nothing can be done.

Five minutes or so. We were elsewhere and I gave you your name. You took away mine, and in the end I became nameless, stripped off of that arbitrary label. You could have called me by any other name you desired. You did not, and I became a stranger.

I had a dream once, and I woke-up not knowing who I will ever be, or what I am meant to become.







Beneath the sky of autumn leaves, of yellow hues ripe with the promise of winter beckoning, Ria smiled at me and I was never the same again. It was enough to set my heart afire throughout the coming days of nothing but the whiteness of snow, as though my survival depended on it. It was enough to melt my solitude, like flame is to ice, a previous life lived in tundra, the sun notwithstanding, and I cannot help but look at her longer than any moment I can remember. She is, after all, the reason why I traveled all the way to a place I barely know, and here she is now standing right in front of my camera, looking as beautiful as the day we first met, a time when I felt like I could carry the entire weight of the world like Atlas and still move on with life with as much grace as I can will myself to show.

I told her about that dream.

That is silly, she said.

I know, I said. I sounded like I was trying to convince myself. Judge, jury, prosecution, defense and accused all at the same time.

She walked to me and reached out. I handed her the camera. She smiled as she browsed the pictures.

I...

...but I stopped there, having interrupted her when she had to look at me with the kind of eyes that beg you to go on and complete your sentence, as if what I was about to say somehow mattered, but I said nothing more. I looked at her looking at her photos. I hoped she saw herself the way my eyes have always seen her in my dreams: five feet and four inches of elegance, the kind of presence that will hardly go unnoticed even by those who have lost their faith in the power of aesthetics. The view of her viewing images of herself was priceless.

For a while, the wind blew her hair across her face.

When will you return to the Philippines? I asked.

She shrugged and handed back the camera. Convince me, she said.

I took the camera. For a while, I had my eyes on that last photograph. If there is a god who could shape a smile so divine it could be a saint on its own, perhaps even free from every kind of sin forbidden since the invention of religion, the one that she had was just that. Most of all, it was contagious.

Challenge accepted, I thought.







Japan is a strange country. The population is declining, young people do not want to have their own children, and the adult entertainment industry continues to grow. You know, like an erection that does not know what it is supposed to do with its newfound girth. Don't you think so, Ria?

She nodded. Then she said Maybe you're right. Japan is a strange country. It interests me. All the more reason for me to stay a bit longer.

But isn't the Philippines just the same? I said, realizing my error. Except, I continued, it is the same in a slightly different way. The population is drastically increasing, young people suddenly become young mothers and fathers whether they like it or not, and yet we no longer even have bomba films just like in the eighties and nineties.

Seventies, she said. She gave me a gentle pat on the head as if I was an urchin lost in the streets of Tokyo. Nice try, she said, but try harder.







It was all over the news. Out of shame, the prime minister committed suicide. Hara-kiri, they say. Seppuku, they say. Barely an hour after the allegation of corruption broke out, he cut his stomach with a sword first thing in the morning. He was having breakfast at the time when he heard the news. Others say all he could find in his kitchen was a bread knife, and that he settled with what he could quickly lay his hands on. Some others say the prime minister must have went ballistic he thought he was a loaf of bread eager for the knife to slice through his innards like branding iron on butter. Maybe he wanted fillet but couldn't get one, so down went the fillet knife to his belly and may god have mercy on his soul. But no matter. Mere suspicion, a trifle accusation was more than enough for him to end his life.

I nodded.

If that were to happen in the Philippines, I seriously doubt if we'll have politicians left, she continued.

Is the Philippines beyond hope then?

She put out her cigarette on the sidewalk. Not at all, she said. On the contrary, I suppose the country is yet to fully realize the only hope that it has. I'm not even talking about the elections.

We walked together toward the setting sun.

I'm sure you know quite well that we still have a long walk ahead, I said. By night, she was through with her story and we were back in her apartment. Body and mind exhausted. But the repartee that we had along the way was not like the ones we've had before. Had it been possible, she could have choked on her own brain. That was how expansive her mind was. And I loved her for it.

I slept on the couch, as usual, because in a country where sex is passé the prospect of romance is as slim as Ria's waistline after skipping three meals in a day.







You must under-HIK! understand that revolutions set history in motion, without which so-HIK! social progress simply becomes a purely academic concern, moot at HIK! at best and, perhaps, a subject better left to HIK! the judgment of those in drrr-HIK! drunken stupor. Ten bottles and people think they have it all HIK! all figured out, as though the answer to our woes is liquor. Anyway, listen, the HIK! the future is simply the past about to happen, and when it happens it does outside the textbook. You HIK! you hear me boy?

I don't remember if I said yes or if she interpreted the way I banged my head on the table as a nod. I don't even remember how we got back home. All I can recall is that when I woke up the following day I had a bad headache as though my forehead was axed in the middle and goodlordjesuschrist Ria is naked and I am naked and we are in the same bed damnit I suddenly had a boner and I didn't know what to do, me and my stiff penis throbbing as if it had a life of its own barely eight inches away from touching her skin and then Ria awakens her eyes all over the body of evidence and I knew and she knew and no words were needed to be spoken.

Ria. Fifty percent Japanese. Fifty percent Filipina. One hundred percent French kiss. I wonder if she sucked my soul out of my lips that morning. I felt almost lifeless for a day.

But she was the best breakfast I have ever had in my entire life, sans the headache. I'm not sure if she felt the same way. What I'm sure of is that I had hickeys on my shoulders and neck when I checked myself in front of the mirror. They were painful, but they were nothing compared to what it felt like when my time to return to the Philippines came and when she simply said Better luck next time homeboy as I walked to the waiting taxi, her hand waving at me, like a knife slicing the air for whatever it is worth, her eyes at me, mine on hers as the car drove slowly, away, around the bend, and she was gone just like that, gone indefinitely, like a dream that will no longer creep into my sleep, because I have been awake for most of my life and yet it is only in my dreams where I find her, and in those several days that we were together the only thing I felt real about her was her prosaic drivel, and I loved her for it, adored her even, pompous she may have sounded.







I have given up convincing her. Now I can say that I had a dream once, and it, she, had a name: Ria. But a little after I left Japan, she made me realize who I should be, or what I should become.

Which is the kind of man that she knows I can never be.







Wednesday, November 27, 2013

This Way


Sometimes the way out is where life starts.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Aubrey's Second Visit


Five knocks that Sunday morning. When I opened the door, there was just a porous cloud of grey right where she should have been standing. No doubt it was her, or what was left of her, an unstable mass of shape-shifting smoke and dust. She owned the voice that said my name, I was sure. I stepped out, looked around, and returned. “Come in, Aubrey,” I said. I led her to the sofa.

“How are you?” it said.

“Grand,” I said, trying to convince myself.

“I’m thirsty.”

“Do you want anything to drink?”

“Water, please.”

“Alright.”

“Thank you.”

Before reaching the kitchen door, I looked behind. She was there, or it was there, seated. Sitting still. As still as a resolute leaf clinging on to a twig for dear life, praying that no breeze, gentle though as a whisper, would pluck it with finality from its stalk and deliver it to the earth, never to taste the sun again. She was there, or it was there, seated. A shadow against the light.





“I took my time, Aubrey. One day after another. It took a long while for me to confess how I truly felt for Roxanne. Gradually, ever so calculating, like a novel slowly bleeding out of a pen, word after word.” I sighed. “Something along those lines.”

The ice cubes clinked as the glass of water stood in the sunlight pouring from the window.

“Clearly, she’s not the waiting-type,” the shadow said. “Patience is not her best virtue. You should have told her the first day you met her.”

“I tried.”

“You should have tried harder.”

“I did but - ”

“No,” it said, darting little streams of dust toward the ceiling. “I was there. I saw everything.”

“Oh.” Then I thought I saw Aubrey slowly shake her head.





Almost everything was aflame. A section of the roof collapsed, sending a momentary explosion of red and yellow sparks across the room, like jets of fireflies indiscriminately latching themselves onto anything combustible. I stepped farther back until my torso was against the warm wall, and it felt as though I was trapped in an infernal ring turning smaller with the certainty of truth. There was nowhere to go. I looked up and gazed at the midnight sky circumscribed by the edges of the remaining parts of the ceiling, like a yawning mouth that swallowed the stars.

The sirens squealed closer. Moments later, it began to rain. The water smelled rusty, and as I began to kneel on the floor someone broke the door from outside. A firefighter. Somehow I was ready to die, but the stranger, the intruder garbed in a bunker gear wouldn’t let the fire have its way.

When we were finally in the safety of the roadside, I thanked my savior. The firefighter removed his helmet and said “Just doing my job,” and I saw that he was a she and that her hair rolled down to her shoulders and she smiled and I smiled and at the end of it all I told her I like you miss.

That was how I met Roxanne.





“You wanted to kill me,” I said.

“No.” Aubrey stood, floated to the door. “I wanted you to meet Roxanne. So that you may live again.”

“Wait, where are you going?”

But she disappeared without saying anything further.





“You cannot move-on if all you do is move around in one place,” Aubrey told me once, to which she added, “I want to break your heart someday.” The day she said it, her smile was beautiful, her eyes more so. But that was a long time ago. Yet to this day I remember her, several years after her second visit. Because memories are flames burning inside us, giving us the warmth we deserve until someone comes in and waters the fire down. Sometimes at the behest of a shadow. Or of a restless wisp of smoke. Or even of fire itself.

But some fires do not die easily. For it is in their nature, a curse perhaps, to remain as massive as when they began, they seek refuge in the comfort of distance, a ploy to muffle the sheer brightness and warmth they offer, both of which are more than enough to extend succor to the coldest of hearts. It is in this sense that VY Canis Majoris stands out as a prominent case. It is a star, a red hypergiant where more than a million suns could easily fit. But it is almost four thousand light-years away from the Earth, making it virtually invisible to the naked eye. Yet it is not truly invisible. It is there, only a little too far. For its size unparalleled, it floats in the nether regions of absolute nothingness. Like a love that, though immeasurable, positions itself in the corner-most pocket so that no searching eyes will ever find it again. Certainly no one.

Not a savior to return it to where it rightfully belongs. Not a firefighter to hose it down to cinders. And when all else fails, it can try to become just another ball of flame undoing itself so that, for the last time, it can turn into smoke and blend with the darkness like a shadow.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Future of Bonfires, One

Lady, I hummed your name first thing in the morning. I suppose the sun was pleased, as did the detritus of dry leaves that lay beneath the sunlight.

The letters of your name, though, still tasted like beer: bitter at the start, which is the exact moment the syllables begin to crawl out of my mouth, until they roll on my tongue like drops of wine I had to sing your name as many times as I can just to be sure that I will be drunk with it for another day.

Where I live, no one ever gets arrested for driving under the influence. Of alcohol. Of nostalgia. Because you do know that I might spend a day or two in jail for breaking the law by having too much of your memories in my body, careening in my arteries like the hemoglobin that reddens the blood, perhaps the heart, and the blush on my face whenever you say my name like a tease as tender as your embrace. That was a long, long time ago.

But after you said I’m sorry do I know you? with that tone I have long associated with your indifference to the many things that I thought were far more important than the possessions we have earned for ourselves, I understood. I understood that by this time tomorrow the sun will never rise the same way again. On the bed, the morning light will cast itself on the same space where a body used to sleep, for such is the nature of separate lives.

I find it rather strange, this thing they call hangover. I’ve had it for ten years now, I think, so I guess I’ve not really been sober lately. There’s no other way to confess it: I drink you like liquor is to liver as you are to my heart. Odd, though. I don’t feel like I have one or the other.

Last week I met a girl. When I went inside the cinema to find myself a seat, there she was, sitting all by herself. The rest of the seats were empty. I sat beside her. I didn’t say a word, nor did she. We were silent for two hours. When the credits rolled and the lights came up, I asked her What are the odds for this movie to be our first and last together? Then for the first time she looked at me and said It doesn’t matter. She smiled and walked away for the rest of my life.

Except, of course, that the rest of my life ended too quickly, because yesterday I met her again. Same time. Same place. Same movie. Same seat. And the same emptiness in the cinema I thought someone somewhere was playing a divine joke I could have died. And then she smiled and called out to me I told you so, it doesn’t matter. She tapped the leather seat and gestured that I take the spot. I did, for at that moment I knew there was no other place I’d rather be.

A few hours ago, she and I made a deal. We are not to see each other again. No calls. No texts. No Facebook messages. We are to let serendipity take its course, perhaps in another cinema, but she on her seat and I beside her, if ever that day comes, for yet again such is the nature of separate lives. But the emptiness of cinemas and of beds will never feel the same as they used to be.

And as the bonfire scatters its last flames to the breeze, I take a swig, but the whiskey still won’t wash your name down my throat. It’s one of those nights when I can do nothing but stare at the miasma of interstellar confusion exploding in the darkness above like an orgasm of the cosmos. Stars have names, too, and I’ve known some of them long enough to merit being forgotten for a while, but in them I remember you. Your name. You’re not even a fixture in the sky. Ever so persistent, the waves flail themselves against the sandy shore before retreating back into the infinite waters. I wish I was a wave, you the undertow to drag me back to where I came from before the embers that light the night turn to ashes.




Monday, October 14, 2013

How to Send Every Boy to the Friend Zone Forever


Night Stroll by Leonid Afremov



“Tanga lang ang umiibig. At gago lang ang hindi.” - Norman Wilwayco



Give him ten years, more or less, to chase you like a shadow, because you’re quite like the sun, the light at the nucleus of his everything, shining as bright as hindsight at the cost of dimming the only future he will ever have. Look him in the eyes. Gaze at him. Observe him breathe. He is not about to asphyxiate. It’s just that you have your eyes directed right at him, which is too rare it might as well be classified as extinct. Notice that he wears his dignity on his chest as if it is a piece of armor shielding his heart, and your task is to dismantle it, little by little, the way one would demolish a shanty down to the earth. With perseverance and a suspension of conscience, you will triumph. You will emerge unscathed as you brush him off like dust. You will proclaim that it can be done. It will take time. But as you go along, feign interest. Pretend that you appreciate his gestures. Thank him for seeing you that midnight on such short notice because you felt depressed, and goddamn aren’t we all. Take him for a fool, because no one who has fallen in love has ever gotten things right. “Men most of all,” you say, to which he will momentarily bow his head, lift it, and try to reach for your hand on the table. Draw your hand back to your lap and smile for half a second. Repeat as often as necessary, perhaps all the time, because you are not to be touched, or physically consoled, by someone who is always on your beck and call, someone who lives far south and yet understands fully well that wherever he goes his compass will always point north.

You live north, a hundred miles away. “Of course it’s cold up here,” you tell him over the phone, and no you don’t need a hug.

And then complain. Complain to him that your ex-boyfriend won’t answer your calls and won’t send you a text message. Let him hear you whine about how scorned of a woman you are. Grumble at the fact that the guy doesn’t even want to see you. “What the fuck is the use of him having a car anyway?” you say, “and the pig only lives next town!” Suddenly, you are silent. You hear the boy’s faint breathing over the line, and he tells you it will be alright. “No,” you counter, and you finish the conversation with your injunction. “Come and see me.”

And so north he goes. Without his own car. Calling you while he is on his way, but you won’t pick up. Sending you text messages through his journey, but you won’t reply. A hundred miles of silence, cured only by the consolation of your question: “Are you in town already?” And quite eagerly, with the biggest sense of redemption to wipe away the dejection from his eyes, he will tell you I’m almost there.

Almost there.

Except that he will never be there, that solitary spot in you where he truly wants to be. To you, the boy is a dead and exploded ventricle that can never replace the chambers of your own heart. What he is more than willing to offer, you are unwilling to accept.

No doubt there will be happier days. Some Saturdays will be spent watching the sunset by the sunken garden, his arm deployed across your shoulders, your head leaning to his side while the world minds its own business. A few hours on some Sundays you will splurge in his apartment, waiting for him to finish cooking your favorite dish, and you will call it the best dinner you’ve ever had in your life before saying your casual goodbyes. The peck you will give him on his cheek will stay on his memory like scar on skin.

But at the end of the decade, reject him completely. Send him to the friend zone without the slightest hope of repatriation. And because he is already as naked as a conch deprived of its shell, he will be left wondering where his dignity went. But he has little use for it now. In the friend zone, pride is a severely deflated tire punishing itself against hot asphalt — it won’t take anyone anywhere. And quite incidentally, as if the universe is not yet done with its ruthless sense of humor, the bus he will ride back south will have flat tires somewhere halfway through the return trip. The boy will wonder where the cosmos has decided to trap him this time. Stuck in the middle, that’s where the boy is. North is far, and so is south.

Of course you are not cruel. Of course it is not in your nature, beautiful that you truly are, to see yourself as a royalty whose sole purpose of having been born is to dismiss everyone else as disposable appendages to your incalculable whim to embody perfection with such precision you begin to think you are a god yourself. You swear you have no intention of breaking his heart, or anyone else’s for that matter. You are pure. You are divine. You wanted someone like a brother and not a lover, or at least someone not him. More than seven billion people in the world, and in your records he is not even one of them. After all, mere objects do not count.

To you, he seems to be just like that — an object, a vague specimen yet to be placed under the rules of taxonomy. Had he not been one, he would’ve told you early on I don’t want us to be just friends because there’s more to what we have than amity. But he did not. Tanga kasi eh.





Monday, October 7, 2013

The Way of the Brokenhearted




Woman Reclining by A Lake by Edward Cucuel


We gather in crowded rooms where we can surround ourselves with our collective misery, except that, while the shindig is at its peak like an orgasm that no one wants preempted, nobody wants to flatly admit that our lives are as artificial as a silicone implant hanging too low it’s about to kiss the navel. Throughout the charade, we prefer the gaze of the faint ceiling lamps to assure us that most of us are left in the dark, groping whatever is there to grope for as long as it is not as emaciated as Samantha’s left cheek, or pride. No one even remembers her. I do, of course, but that’s beside the point. So we shake our heads and curl our toes and rub the few things in between our heads and toes, because we are sure, and this we swear to all the gods there has ever been, that that is all that is left of us — the few things in between, and for so few the heart is not even one of them. Imagine that. But whoever took it can keep it. Long ago we have convinced ourselves that love is neither as soft as an easy chair nor as fresh as the morning air. In other words, Barbara Streisand is wrong, which does not necessarily mean that Salbakuta is right, either. Christ on a hot burrito I do not even listen to both, but then we break into singing, like a fledgling choral group belting high notes — “Yes, high notes, there is no other way to put it” my new friend said, who confessed that he was gay even if everyone already knew, gesturing how high a high note is from one fingertip to another — because this is the way of the brokenhearted.

“So here’s a condescending question: where’s your girlfriend?”

“Girlfriends.” Someone else chimed in. I wasn’t able to figure out who it was.

“C-cut it out,” I said, “you and you and you and you and” I kept pointing until everything became blurred. “Someday I’ll f-find someday I’ll find her.”

“Pity you.”

“Oh y-yeah? Fuck you t-too, Danica. Yeah fuck you,” I said.

I didn’t see it coming. What swiftly hit my right cheek was as hard as an iron beam, though I admit it was a quick follow through when Danica’s lips suddenly touched mine, which was perhaps my compensation for the punishment she just meted out. Then her tongue dug into my mouth. I liked the whiff of beer in her breath and the faint smell of cigarette smoke on her hair that still had the scent of shampoo and ohmygod her smooth hand is now inside my pants goodlordhavemercy I’m getting so stiff down there.

“Penis,” Danica whispered in my ear.

“That is correct,” I whispered back. It felt like human anatomy class all over again.

“Danica dear not here,” Benny said. Or was it Benny? He tapped her on the shoulder. “Get a room.” He winked at me, then he gently stroke Danica’s hair. And Danica nonono please no don’t stroke it up down up down up ohgodalmighty that feels so good I think I love you.

Danica laughed. Guffawed. “Oh no you don’t love me,” she said, pulling out the hand and wagging a finger in front of my eyes. She sucked the finger. She sucked it like a jealous but calculating little girl, ending her performance by running the tip of her tongue on the fingernail, circling it with as much accuracy as she can manage under the faint light.

“Not bad. Not bad at all,” Jasper said, clapping his hands like a seal. He somehow looked like one, too. I told him about it thirty minutes and I think six bottles ago. He wasn’t amused, but he was quick to pardon my sin. Better than most priests, I must say, to which he replied, smiling, “I’d rather be a nun.”

Someone returned from the comfort room and sulked on the lounge sofa beside Danica. “Hey J-Jennifer,” I said, though I can’t recall if that was her name, “wh-what was it about the - ”

“Jennifer?” she said. “Silly you, drunk as an Irish on a Friday night payday.”

I don’t quite understand why I had to remember their names. After all, that night was the first and last time that we’ll ever see each other. That’s how we roll, people who believe desperate times call for desperate measures. That’s how we roll, and roll we did, Danica and I, rolling it and smoking it until things felt hazier than I can recall that night, and when I told her I like you she said hahaha but then she embraced me and I felt her breasts pressed against my chest and ohmygod they’re so soft can I touch them and she said no not here and she led me out the door then downstairs and I remember hailing a taxi before my eyes closed and when I woke-up again we stopped somewhere and got out of the car and went upstairs and god it’s so cold inside this room where are we and she said my place and I knew and she knew and before long we were naked in bed because she took off my shirt and pants and underwear and I did to her what she did to me and ohmygod nice curves and she said shut it and enjoy the show and she mounted me and shook her hips slowly very slowly and daaaamn was all I could say.

I lost consciousness somewhere in the middle.

Another morning, and just another day for the brokenhearted. Blood on the sheets. Blood on the floor. Crimson everywhere, and a heart in my bag. Goodbye, Danica. I hope you enjoy the bathtub.




Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Appointment


Rain Princess 2 by Leonid Afremov


“Wait for about three seconds after I press the record button, then state your name, age, occupation. We’ll begin from there.”

“OK, Doc,” I said.

He pressed the button. One two three







“Eight years?”

“Eight years.”







This is how we started.

At seven in the morning, I got up from bed and did what I always do on weekdays: brushed my teeth, took a bath, changed clothes, fixed myself a cup of black coffee, slung my backpack, and walked out of the room. Quite perfunctory for a third year college student on a Monday.

Except that it wasn’t.

You see, I have the habit of taking the ceramic cup with me to my morning class, although by the time I’ve reached the classroom I’ve already downed the coffee. Picture me inside the passenger jeep en route to my class sipping from the cup aaahh goddamn shit tastes so good and then of course I have to pay my fare with my left hand bayad po isang estudyante and reach for the other passengers’ fare once in a while because it’s rude not to even if the whole world can perfectly see you’re busy enjoying that steaming liquid black as everyone’s pupils but they don’t mind no sir they don’t because they say it’s common courtesy and probably because yeah fuck sensibility.

One kilometer in fifteen minutes. You’d be surprised that, in a place tucked at the foot of a mountain, we also boast of having to suffer heavy traffic first thing in the morning. We’re not living in a city, though I suppose the difference is the same.

Aaahh goddamn shit tastes so good.

And then the jeepney stopped. Someone got in. I wouldn’t have bothered chuckling, feeling giddy. I wouldn’t have restrained myself from looking less morose than I usually do, because I’ve long convinced myself that life is trivial, and that death is a travesty of it. I wouldn’t have told myself well fuckit I’m going to where she’s going screw my first class because today just for once the universe has given me a sign I should not ignore.

Because the girl who just got in, for the love of god, was also holding a ceramic cup of black coffee.

Unbelievable, I know, because I cannot imagine the odds of two people sharing the same ride sitting face-to-face and having similar ceramic cups of black coffee on their hands on the same hour of the same day.

Later on, she said she had it all planned, she having frequently seen me and my cup for the previous weeks except that I didn’t notice, her presence most of all. But I don't buy her confession, even if she said “Aaahh goddamn shit tastes so good” and I cannot help but smile and gently hold her chin and plant a kiss on her cheek and she must’ve felt happy the way she embraced me. Good days. Better days.







And this is how we ended.

The typhoon thrashed the city on the first Sunday of the rest of my life. By the time the roads were flooded and the bus stop was marooned, we went our separate ways: I north, she south, or wherever it was that she intended to go, perhaps dry land where she can take shelter from the storm. It was no use looking back. The heavy rain swallowed what little was left of her silhouette in the growing darkness. I did not cry. Tears are never for the broken. The sky had to do what my eyes cannot, because long ago on happier days I have already emptied myself of sorrow so that, at least for once, I can be as bad as a cliché forever stuck on a page. For the first time, I went home with two ceramic cups in my backpack, or at least what was left of them. I counted. Thirty-two fragments.







“And where’s the rest of it?”

“What do you mean, Doc?”

“The rest of the story. The eight years. What happened between the start and the end?”

“That’s strange, Doc. I’ve been asking myself the same question.”

“Damnit. What’s the use of being a doctor in purgatory when the guardians purge the memories out of all the souls in here? Jeeesus Christ.”

“Can I remove the noose from my neck now, Doc?”

“Suit yourself.”

“Thanks.”

“Next!”

She entered the room.



Sunday, September 15, 2013

"Otso" by Elwood Perez

(A little caveat: this is not quite a “review” in the strict sense of the jargon. This is simply an extended rumination of a voyeur of Filipino films. As of this writing, “Otso” is the second of three films [the other two being “Lihis” and “Sonata,” both of which will have their space here some time soon] I have watched thus far from the menu of entries in this year’s Sineng Pambansa All Masters Edition.)



Given the moral of “Otso,” it is inescapable: we begin with the perfunctory synopsis of the film.

Lex, an aspiring writer from Los Angeles, returns to the Philippines and decides to live in the shabby condominium in Sampaloc, Manila where he grew-up. Driven by his desire to write his first screenplay brought about by a prior arrangement with a movie director, Lex draws inspiration from the lives of the condominium tenants: Sabina, a rumoured paramour of a congressman, Cajucom, gunning for re-election; Hans, a worker in the congressman’s warehouse; Brent, a young boy, the son of Hans whom Lex would spend time with, and together they resemble the duo of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; Joy, wife of Hans and mother of Brent, afflicted with a paralyzing ailment; Anabele Abdon, the flirtatious hag who manages the condominium and whose political allegiance is to Mayor Samson, Cajucom’s rival; Ato, an employee of Congressman Cajucom who, together with a prostitute and a gay pimp, connive to ‘buy’ the votes of the condominium tenants and the rest of the neighborhood; and Anita Linda, or Alice Lake, the condominium owner who is venerated as the queen of indie films during her time.

But some things would get in the way of Lex from completing the story, beating the deadline, and thus earning a living just to pay the bills and improve his diet of pan de sal. For one, his laptop crashes, inauspiciously crippling the progress of his screenplay. For another, his director gradually loses interest in Lex’s script. But perhaps his most monumental ordeal of all is his attempt to write the story itself, one that he slowly realizes is not cast in stone. And this is where the film takes flight.

The start and the end of the film are in full color — everything in between is in black and white. There’s a compelling reason to this monochromatic portrayal of the meat of the story. Throughout the film, there are scenes where Lex finds himself transfixed, his gaze trapped on the image of a young boy and his mother. The enigma of this boy is eventually lifted, and it is revealed after Lex’s visit to Anita Linda’s penthouse that the boy is in fact Lex himself. Apparently, Lex’s memories of his childhood have crept into the present — Lex himself is a bastard who, at a young age, was witness to his mother’s sexual exploits — and his return to the building where he had those memories certainly did not help allay them. By presenting those incursions of his memories into his waking world in black and white, the barrier between the past and present is blurred. It is as if Lex is living his childhood again, and with the clarity of hindsight he sees himself in the young Brent, except that it is Brent’s father, Hans, who does the philandering. With the constant provocations of his memories, Lex struggles in his writing, at least initially. This tells something about the creative process in writing itself. The film is almost direct in showing that writers, among other breeds of creators of art, are too oftentimes beholden to their past, their memories, as if it is an incurable affliction that can hardly be tempered. But as Anita Linda admonishes, the truth is not always what it seems; let go of the past and focus on the future.

The truth is not always what it seems. To drive home the film’s point: the truth is not always black and white. Testament to this film’s premise is its narrative, its very treatment of Lex’s perception of his surroundings. In the course of his writing, Lex finds himself believing things: Congressman Cajucom employs a network of people out to secure the votes he needed by buying them; Sabina is the congressman’s paramour and has sexual relations with Hans; Anabele Abdon confides with the priest the illicit campaign tactics of the incumbent congressman. But upon completing his screenplay — and by which time the project has already been called off — he realizes that he might have been wrong all along, that, on the contrary, it was Mayor Samson who, with the help of Anabele Abdon, bought votes; that Sabina was simply, in her good conscience, helping Joy in her therapies for free, Sabina herself a nurse who would even look after Brent while Hans is away for work. Anita Linda confirms this, albeit without really saying so; numerous CCTV cameras are installed throughout the condominium, and it is in the penthouse where she keeps an eye on the activities of the tenants, as though the old lady — age is just a number, so she says — is an omniscient being, an all-seeing god who understands Lex’s inclination to inadvertently distort the truth by living it in black and white. And yet things are just about to get stranger.

Supposedly, “Otso” tells the story of Lex on the cusps of completing a screenplay, and he sources his inspiration from the seemingly intertwined lives of the condominium tenants in the heat of the election season. But toward the closing parts of the film, something happens: the young Brent is shown typing on a laptop, and it appears that he is actually the one writing the story. In other words, Lex is just another character, a figment of the imagination of the young boy. Brent himself is writing the story of a writer who in turn plans to pen a story. Proof to this revelation is the final scene where someone tells Brent over the phone that his screenplay has been given the green-light, and the film’s power of suggestion indicates that this screenplay is the one about Lex. Consider as well that the final scene is no longer in black and white, implying that the narrative has returned to its first layer. So it goes: Brent tells the story of a writer who attempts to tell the story as fateful to reality as possible, only to find out that the writer, Lex, has distorted the truth in the process. The consequence of this is that, by portraying the unreliability of Lex the storyteller as weaver of fiction from truth, even the reliability of Brent himself as writer is put into question. His fiction betrays his credibility as creator, and perhaps it is the very fabric that “Otso” intends to display before its viewers: the film itself should be taken with a pinch of salt precisely because the truths proffered by the arts are subject to speculation. Without much doubt, “Otso” is a text about a text about a text. Thrice detached from the core fiction it showcases, the film begs its viewers to reconsider the possible temptation — the habit of art aficionados — of finding truths in fiction when works of fiction themselves are susceptible to distortions of truth. In a way, the moral of the film is that people should appreciate works of art for what they are on face-value instead of appreciating them for whatever intentions they carry. Simply put: art should be for art’s sake. Interpreting “Otso” from this lens, the film is essentially an attempt at film gymnastics. Stripped off of its supposed undertones — or overtones — of the glitter and grime of electoral politics and romance, the film makes acrobatics at narrative techniques, heavily relying on its visuals to float its merits as an intelligent work of art. After all, “Otso” is a film that can be enjoyed only when seen.

With this insight, one cannot help but wonder if the directors of the rest of the films showcased in the Film Development Council of the Philippines’ (FDCP) Sineng Pambansa, which is actually the first of its kind in recent history, are aware of the implications of Elwood Perez’ “Otso,” because if the film itself is to be believed, it nullifies whatever motive or message each participating film carries. In a larger scope, “Otso” takes a jab at cinema. The film itself is a statement against the proclivity of artists in general to incorporate truths in their work when doing so is a faulty agenda. It seeks to eradicate from the shoulders of artists the onus to force viewers to draw truths from fiction. If this is truly the case, “Otso” is a Trojan horse.

But of course, one can also say that “Otso” is equally guilty of the accusation it levies against other artworks. It is a grenade that must obliterate itself in order to destroy others. If one is to follow the logic of “Otso,” it also commits the offense of advancing an agenda, albeit discreetly, and its agenda is its underlying moral of “Ars gratia artis”: art for art’s sake. By subtly espousing this bohemian creed, the film inadvertently tempts its viewers to discard its agenda as well, precisely because the phrase is also a political statement. It must be recalled that “Ars gratia artis” is no less than a reaction to prevailing Victorian norms and sentiments during that age. With this virtue, perhaps vice, embedded in the film, it, too, must be eliminated. Deprived of jabs at truths and social realities, relieved of the motive to pursue aesthetics and nothing more, one might think that nothing more is left of artworks, films in particular. Absent the polarity between politicized art and depoliticized art, perhaps nothing is left. The process of creation then becomes a fruitless exercise. Or does it?

One philosophical tradition proposes that the search for human meaning is futile. As there are infinite meanings to everything, attempting to discern them is a cumbersome affair. Worse, one cannot even be sure if one has successfully arrived at an indispensable, fundamental human truth that defends itself against every refutation. This is the theory of absurdism. And yet absurdism would suggest that all is not lost. The quest for meaning must continue or at the least commence for it is the only way to understand its futility, as though the only way to give flesh to this idea is to immerse ourselves in the nothingness despite the abundance of meaning, akin to creatio ex nihilo. Viewed from the context of absurdism, the process of creation as a fruitless exercise finds redemption, at least partially. It is this premise that likewise redeems “Otso” from its nihilistic direction. In this sense, films must still be created and shown to the viewing public if only to make people realize the absurdity of human meaning, or of finding truths and realities in films when there are none to begin with. And if only for this reason, “Otso” gives its nod to FDCP’s Sineng Pambansa, to which, I think, it has a bit of modicum of success.

There is no saying that the film’s plot is contrived per se, precisely because its allure rests on its portrayal of social realism vis-à-vis the film-as-text as unnatural and unconvincing. It does not matter if the actors played their roles and carried their dialogues in true-to-life fashion — or the lack of it — simply because the aesthetic judgments it elicits, particularly on the film’s mechanisms in relaying realistic scenes dubbed with social tendencies, are meant to cast doubt on the very integrity of films that take that path. Viewed from this frame, the issue is not whether the plot and acting are good, whatever “good” means. Rather, the issue that the film seems to present is whether the question should be asked in the first place, for if the correspondence between the film’s plot and acting and the realities outside it is a moot concern, there being no concrete correlation in the first place, to ask the question is to fail to appreciate the film’s absurdist theme. Worse, to assume the correspondence and to sift it from the film so as to reaffirm the presumption is to miss the point by a distance as wide as the interstellar space between Voyager 1 and the sun. Pardon the metaphor; I can’t help it.

To end this exegesis, “Otso,” speaking through Anita Linda, incites viewers to abandon the past and concentrate on the future. The past is the domain of memory, the bastion of human frailty, and viewing the world from the lens of history can be rife with the danger of corrupting our perceptions of truth. The future, however, is replete with potential amidst the uncertainties as no meaning can ever be certain. As with the length of the movie, flanking the black and white motif of the so-called truth are colors that set aside — even at the cost of complicating — the prevalent notion that there is a dichotomy on our versions of historical truths. There is not only black and white since there are as many colors as the hues of truth and meaning. But as the theory of absurdism would caution the unwary, do not simply abandon realism. Engage it and learn its flaws. Then and only then must one move forward — to nothingness.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Cul-de-sac

Private Moon by Leonid Tishkov





Madalas kang umibig pero minsan ka lang

magmahal

Paano ka na kung nagiging madalas na ang minsan?

Paano na?


Friday, July 19, 2013

Forget Me Not


The feline philosopher, Immanuel Kat, mulling over the possibility of life on the other side.


How often it rains in gardens where no heart can grow, or how frequent the sun burns crimson against ruffled bed sheets, I cannot tell. My hands have never felt the earth, nor my skin the tease that the breeze ferries from wherever it blows first and last. I am inside you, a memory you do not wish to speak, and that is enough.

In the ordinary course of life, even its travesties, you will possess me as much as I will possess you. But the bond that will cuff us will be nothing more and nothing less than what it is: mere possession, not of ownership, nor servitude, far detached from the sentimental region of nostalgia. Ours shall be ensconced in the seat of dormancy, neither alive nor completely dead, just there, stillborn on the edge of a chasm, suspended between every possibility, as uncertain as a maybe in the cusps of a yes and a no. It will be our territory, and we will guard it against ourselves.

You will live and I will live, together in our separate ways, yet divided by the same unity that will make you find nothing in the flesh that will caress you, but I to find the warmth of human touch in that emptiness splayed like hands on your shoulders. You will mistake the stars for tears cushioned throughout a black carpet. I will be feigned into thinking that the laughter that you bare in front of silly rhetoric you have sourced from the innocence of your conscience. And in the error of our small ways, we will justify our failure to see the forest for the trees, because we shall be resolute in professing our injunction to discover colors and tastes and scents and music and textures where there are none.

As you tuck yourself beneath the sheets in drunken stupor, you will imagine the children you wish you had, conjure their nascent arms and legs from the womb of your mind, call them fancy names as they frolic from the veranda to the open garden of a house built on top of a canyon as grand and as imposing as the dream that will cradle you to the early hours of dawn. As you retire into that invisible dominion, I will thrive in your silence, dwell in it like a marshal guarding our conjugal sojourn from the perpetual threat of hostile nightmares, for I, witness to your ineluctable departures from the wakeful world, I also dream your dreams. As yours is the air that I breathe, the wounds that I nurse, and the unspoken promise that I take with me wherever you go, I carry on.

There will come a time when the petals of bougainvilleas will bloom redder than nature intended them to be; when the mist will lift itself to welcome the birth of a gentle summer; and when sparrows will trill and turn airborne between the field of amber grain and the stretch of azure sky. The wind will kiss your cheeks, soften your hair into a billion threads of black silk, and embrace you with tender affection the way only lovers would. By and by these little tokens of the season will fulfill what I cannot offer yet in my exile: a presence unperturbed, a temporal shift to signify that things have their own place and pace under the sun.

But one day, when the tulips have folded and dried like the wrinkles around your eyes, when the ashes have turned to the pigment of the hair that you wear for a crown, I will find my way to your pale lips, and as gentle as a whisper, as consoling as the whiff of your breath, you will, at last, dignify your solitude the only way that it can now be done:


with a sigh,


and with it the sudden weightlessness of your body, your fingers to reach into the sunset before you, holding seizing sculpting the fading and shapeless light into a portrait, I to give it the face you barely remember.

So please, forget me not.


Friday, June 21, 2013

The Secret of Artemis




On the thirtieth of June, the man who will one day promise her the sun was born. Thirty years later, the world will once again live in the absence of light, and she will be the brightest mortal in that darkest juncture of our history. Marcus, the fool who kept his word without the benefit of prudence, fulfilled what fate forbade him to accomplish. Although Artemis refused his celestial offering, there was nothing she could do. The moment Marcus swallowed the sun, the die is cast. It would take another century before the universe could give birth to a new star at the heart of our planetary system. In the interim, Artemis, she who, for the life of her, could never forsake a man whose sole pleasure is to refute his destiny as another creature of life and death by consuming that ball of eternal fire and knifing his belly open for the world to witness; Artemis, the proprietress of the sun, she who has become the arbiter of night and day and the sole measure of the seasons, the one to decree the shortest summer that will ever be known to those who will never forget; Artemis, she who will bend time at the behest of a lonely heart, for Marcus is dead and still none the wiser, wishing to escape the afterlife and return to earth so that he can promise her the moon just as well; Artemis, the light having blinded her, will try to rid the world of its shadows.



Wednesday, June 12, 2013

She Who Lived Forever





I remember her as the girl who, with her brown eyes, would bid the clouds to hide the moon, like a hand drawing the curtain shut, so that she can be at peace in her home that is the darkness around her. On a night like this when the fireflies skim here and there, a night when the crickets sing the ancient mysteries of the earth, our lady would be sitting at the top of the hill — her throne of clay and stones, the bluegrass beneath her toes. Her lips would slightly part but not even a whisper would issue from those tender devices meant for unfettered displays of affection. Arms to her sides and face to the Southern Cross, she would slowly rest her back on the ground, herself surrendering to a force unseen, like gravity. In that moment, she is as free as the fallen leaves of the first day of autumn, which is something that this tropical country will never have.

Each day before sunset I’d find her there, sitting silently, as though she’s an irreplaceable fixture in that cycle of the sun, a stoic superimposed against the backdrop of a borderless black about to veil the sky. I would pass her by and she would remain still. There were times when I was tempted to look back, to find out if she does anything else other than marveling at something in the distance. But nothing could probably stir her. Even when under the rain, she’d do nothing. Maybe it’s her intention to shelter herself under these fragile drops that fall by the millions, turning her invulnerable because, after all, water is the stuff of life. Or perhaps she just doesn’t care.

Except that day when, in a way, she did. It was the fifth of September. I was on my way home from the city. The alcohol in my bloodstream slowed my pace, and I moved about as if I was dragging my head with my feet. In the distance, lightning cut across. It began to rain when I reached the foot of the hill. I looked ahead and there she was. I stopped and stood as straight as I can. She was sitting the way she used to, like the subject of a Renaissance portrait, her neck exposed, the stranger of a woman who projected her face to a hidden moon at the cost of hoisting it like a cushion for a thousand liquid needles. And then something happened. She slowly lowered her face from the direction of the sky to where I was. For the first time, she looked at me, as though she was staring at an unexpected presence, a disturbance in her solitary ritual.

She had something on her lap. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was from where I stood. It looked like a box, perhaps a square frame. Suddenly, she took whatever it was and hid it behind her, placing both hands with it the way one would stow away from view that which must be kept concealed when confronted by guilt, one that was brought on by the untimely discovery of a secret. All the while, she kept her eyes on me.

By the time I lifted my eyes from our mutual gaze, my feet were already moving me closer to where she was, as if someone willed them to life. I stopped, looked ahead again, and she was gone. I ran up the slope of the hill, dazed and confused, until I was standing at the top. I was alone. It was the first time I broke into her world like a thief in the dark, and it would also be the last, for the nights that followed she was no longer there.

I returned to the hill two days after. I learned that it was neither a box nor a frame that she had with her the last time she was there. It was a book. It was mine, a novella I wrote, literally, two years earlier. It was a distraction I forced myself to author back when I was stranded between love and life, something to help me make sense out of all the tragedies flailing my conscience, a book with more spaces than words, like a sac of air wedged in the middle of a cluster of rocks. When I found the book at the top of the hill, it was still almost intact, except for the prologue. The page was ripped out, and what remained of it was the creased length that refused to be taken away by brute force. Maybe it was her way of saying that she had to take with her the birth of a story written for the sake of finding reasons when there are none. I cannot remember now what I wrote in the prologue.

Once I sat beside the spot where I would often see her immersed in that vision of the Southern Cross floating in the tranquil dusk. Somehow I could feel her, though to my eyes she is never there. If only she’d reappear from the wisp of cloud lining the eastern front, I wouldn’t let her vanish easily the way sunsets do.

Years later, I realized who she could have been. She’s a nomad, a restless wanderer, but not the ordinary kind. I imagined her warping through space and time in pursuit of something, or someone, travelling through all the years gone and those that are yet to be because that is all there will ever be to her eternity. And yet, for her, something is terribly amiss. There can only be one reason: although she is the girl who lived forever, she’s perpetually condemned to live outside of her own time, the generation to which she was born, for reasons only she will know — if at all there is any.

May the Fates favor their beloved daughter.




Thursday, June 6, 2013

Under the Shinjuku Summer Sun




I remember the day when I left the country in search of the home where my heart is. Standing at the platform, I watched the train leave Sendagaya Station until it was nothing more than a silver dot in the distance. From that point on, I was a stranger again in an unfamiliar city, taking my chances with only this nostalgia to guide my way.

It was not what I was expecting about that part of Tokyo. All the while I thought the train station barely had enough elbow room for commuters to stand their ground as they wager against the perils, the unguarded moments, of forced intimacy, and the transitory nature of life in that corner of an equally transitory city. But by the time I stepped out of the train, I was proven wrong. Walking beyond the yellow line on the floor, I joined the few people making their way towards the platform exit. The flight of steps led into a small underground chamber where panaflex signboards line the white walls. In that stretch of closed space under the fluorescent light, the clatter of our footsteps echoed like truncheons pummeling every bone in the human body. Or at least that was how they sounded to my ears. I turned left and saw the row of turnstiles a few steps ahead. In lieu of the voice from the public address system, I heard the sound of passing cars.

I waited at a nearby coffee shop — Beck’s Coffee Shop. If you’ve been to Shinjuku before via Sendagaya, you will easily find it at the east side of the station. For two hundred and ten yen, I tried to enjoy a cup of their signature brew, the taste of which I can no longer remember. Perhaps I was too busy minding the taste of anxiety in my throat at the time.

A little after one o’clock, she finally arrived. By then, I could taste nothing. My mouth must have voluntarily numbed itself.

It was like first year college all over again, as if God plucked her fresh from my memory so that I saw what I badly needed to see. She was lovely, her beauty undiminished by a decade, not even a day. Judging by the way she dressed herself, she’s still the girl whose skintight jeans give her curves the justice they deserve, whose blouse dignify the arc sloping from the side of her chest to her hips. If looking at her is a crime, I should have died by way of capital punishment then and there. She pulled up a chair and sat next to me, as if it was the most natural gesture one should anticipate from someone who, after a long time of absence, is never required to explain herself.

“What brings you all the way to Tokyo?” That was how she began — with a question, like an inquisitor that demands the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth from a pathological liar, though I was not one.

“I’ve heard that you have stolen a thousand hearts and that you have no intention of returning them to their owners,” I said. “I’m here for what I believe is mine.”

“Your heart?”

“No,” I smiled, “yours.” It was the truth.

Looking back, my audacity to tell her once and for all what I was hoping to tell her all along was the biggest risk I ever took. I was not prepared to travel back home by plane with a heart thrice heavier than when it first reached Japan. Wherever you go, airports have limits for the weight of excess baggage. When I said it, her face was blank I was almost tempted to etch my own smile onto her lips just to give her some semblance of life. It was clear; she was not ready for this day.

I asked her what her plan was for the afternoon. Without hesitating for a moment of thought, she said she’s supposed to take a walk until sundown at the Shinjuku Gyoen Garden with someone, a man she said she has grown into liking for the last several years she has lived in Japan. I looked at her, and for a minute I was speechless, almost shaking my head in disbelief. I cast my eyes on the floor, trying to understand how and why she would not even bother to spend the rest of her day with someone who just travelled a thousand miles in pursuit of her. I found myself yet again in the face of uncertainty. I felt my heart implode and shrink into the size of a congenital wart. But then she extended her hand to me, and she said:

“So, will you hold this while you and I stroll until sundown?”

“Touché,” I quipped. My worst fear subsided. I held her hand and we stood. It was a short walk to the Shinjuku garden, and by nightfall I have finally known the taste of summer from her lips.

It was there in the garden, surrounded by cherry trees, cypresses, and Himalayan cedars under the Shinjuku summer sun, more than ten years after, that I finally understood. That’s another story, but let me just put it this way: I was searching yet I was the one found.

This song practically nails what I am yet to say.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Neverwhen



Kung ang puso mo ay kapirasong lupa, dito ko nais mahimlay.



Ten years ago on this day, I met her. It was a Saturday and the grassy field, golden under the sun, felt the grace of her hands. My life was never the same since then. In those few occasions that I saw her, I have always felt my solitude reveal itself like a drop of light at midnight. She is capable of breaking the strongest of hearts, this I know now, and yet she remains the only truth I know. This is my clandestine affair with a memory old enough to have its own voice.





When I heard the sound of a page ripped off from my sketchpad, I turned around. She held the paper between my face and the morning light.

“Who is she?”

“Someone I used to know,” I said, looking at her, and then the portrait.

“You mean ex-girlfriend.”

“No. She wasn't, not even for a moment.” If jealousy had a shape, it began to form on her lips.

“What’s her name?”

“Like yours.”

“Oh.”

I stepped out of the house, hoping that the wind might give my heart the calm it deserves. Out in the garden, I remembered wishing to tell the girl in my past that the shadow of her heart is my shelter from the sun.





Sometimes I wonder if I have corrupted my sense of history. Ten years have already gone and yet I feel stuck on that day. Maybe it is because for the first time in my life I found the future I intend to keep. I found it in her.





“Seventh among the thousands who passed the board exams? She must be a god. I’m sorry to say this but, clearly, she’s out of your league,” Paul said, stretching those last four words as if he was forcing them from his teeth and out into the open.

I extended my hand and felt the raindrops on my palm. Cold. Beyond the rusty roof of the waiting shed, I could barely see the sky. “This rain might take a while,” I quipped.

“You’re not listening.”

I wasn't, of course. My mind was somewhere else, some other time, because time zones are too strange for someone who has never really been anywhere except the places she once has been, like this same spot where I find myself now at the mercy of the weather. I am where she was in the past and she is where I will be in the future.

“Japan,” I mumbled.

“What?”

I hailed the approaching passenger jeep and clambered aboard, leaving Paul behind at the waiting shed with the strangers marooned by the heavy rain. Japan.





Almost all of my high school friends are either married or engaged. Some who tied the knot at eighteen, barely more than a year into college, already have a child or two. Some others who waited until twenty-five have their lives figured out, like a master plan that will be built as certain as the eastern sun breaking another long summer night. Two of my friends will exchange their vows this year. For once in my life, marriage was unthinkable, but today I am afraid it is the only possibility I must take.

From time to time, I imagine myself waiting for her at the end of the aisle, she in her gown long enough to drag the world beneath our feet, changing the course of our personal histories and mending what must be healed once and for all, because we have lived enough years of solitude and it is about time for us to call that day the start of forever. She will say I do and I will say I do, too. And we will kiss.

I dreamed of her last night, and she said I will, future tense, like a promise. Sometimes I just want to reach my hand into the future, as if it is a pocket, and take what is hardly mine.





There is one way to let you know who she is to me: compress the rest of the universe in a human body, a divine creation that no god can ever shape, let the weight of every atom there is collapse in a single quantum, and you have your answer. Take her away and I might as well live a life without the sun.

Or simply, I learned to play the guitar, learned the sound of music, so that I might sing her the only song I will ever need to write. But now I have no one whom I could sing all the songs I wrote. She is elsewhere, and so is my music.





She is and has always been the sole reason why I write. She is the thread of truth that holds my fiction together. If by chance she might one day read this and everything that I have written, I can only hope that she would question me. I have at least ten years' worth of answers waiting to climb their way from my heart. But that would be pushing my luck to absurd lengths.





“Give-up.”

“There's no reason why I should,” I said.

“Oh stop fooling yourself. Can't you see? She's not into you. How can you still not see that?”

“Not into anyone, actually. Not yet. Maybe not until she's thirty.”

“The optimist in you. The church should consider making you a saint after you die.” Her eyes began to gather tears. “Why do you have to chase her all the way to Japan? You're crazy.”

She held me and I held her back. “I am. She's driving me mad.”

An hour after, I left the country in search of the home where my heart is.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Weight of Seven Summers






It happened yesterday, more than a week after they arrived. In the pale amber light, her searching eyes betrayed her interest on what she wanted for dinner. Her gesture was perfunctory, if not pure deadpan, and nowhere was it able to obscure the terse sentiment clawing its way from her heart to her throat. I whisked the thought aside. I got closer to her. The moment I felt my hand brush her hair, I closed my eyes. For a second, there was darkness, a momentary prelude to an unwelcome flashback; I rarely dwell on my forgotten histories. But then I found myself at this shoreline seven summers into the past, the tender waves rolling under the bright sun, unmaking themselves as they surrender to the undertow, flailing their ever so fragile surface against the air and sunlight as they sail through the Pacific and elsewhere, treading the infinite blue like tendrils that drape behind a carpet of retreating shadows. The sea met the sand at our feet, the lovers that we were at the time, two people united by their differences in more ways than one can imagine, and since that summer day she’s all there has ever been in my dreams.

I opened my eyes. She was looking at me, herself looking surprised at what I did. Those eyes, I thought, they give me a sense of life, the way the clouds give stargazers a sense of the sky. Her glance, it finds its genesis in the humble promise of a gaze, continuing with every anxious beat as though her heart fears its own pulse and the feverish desire burning her from within. I held her hand. This must be how it feels when the earth receives the benediction of the rain on a summer day, the way the dry fields are quenched of their thirst by the first dew before the awakening of the morning sun.

Her eyes were now fixed on my hand holding hers.

“Don’t.”

The word struck me like a dagger stabbing my chest. With her eyes now cast down, I figured that guilt has begun to find its way to her heart, which further estranged her from who I am to her, the only woman I have loved like this.

“It’s never wrong to hold on to the only life we have,” I said.

And in the silence that followed I swear I could hear her heart. The way she smiled, I figured life could still be as complete as this night.





Her husband finally arrived after dropping off their children at her cousin’s house. He sat beside her and said without batting an eyelash, “I’ve heard many things about you.”

So you did, I thought, so you did. Under the table, the weight of our seven summers missed: she and I still held hands. As I have promised to myself before, I will trap the universe in her heart. That night, I gave her the same promise.



Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Day in the Life





Three Red Umbrellas by Leonid Afremov


That night, we were twenty. She said that wherever we go we will always be under the same stars. All failed relationships, she insisted, are astral affairs, a billion stories projecting themselves toward the sky in their bid to find their rightful place among the constellations. But the stars are gone, I replied. The sparkles of light that we witness beyond sunset are the last of what they are and what they will never be again. These bright rays cast astray into the universe reach us a thousand light years too late. We can see them, I said, because they are gone.

She bowed and shook hear head. Before she left, she held my hand. She said my name, and then a pause. That was how it ended — with a pause. Since then, I managed to survive on my own. Or I tried. Some days were sunny. Some other days were not. Underneath the little pockets of the southern sky on moonless evenings, I bask in silence, waiting for that pause to end so that I can start again. Yet for years I was as solitary as the sun, a star casting light for no one, not a soul in the world. I can only hear my voice speaking to myself in behalf of myself. And then one day, seven years after, life happened.

She married the man I never was.



Now as I look at her, I find it difficult to place her face in my memory. Gone are the smoky eyes, in their place that misty pair of hazel brown pupils glowing with the kind of gaiety I have not seen in years. The ebony hair has given way to a shade of brown glistening under the artificial fluorescence inside the airport lobby. Her lips are daubed rouge, no longer the pale flesh I used to kiss. Looking at her, I somehow began to understand that the weight of seven years is thirty pounds lost, which is perhaps the heaviness of the heart she was nursing back then. Maybe hers is the anorexia of a love lost but found elsewhere, which is, of all places, in the heart of another man, someone who does not speak the language of poetry, someone who can never understand these things with his heart of stone.

This is not a homecoming, I thought. There is no home — but how beautiful she has become!

“Alas, you are the first flower to bloom in spring time,” I said. I approached her with caution in my heart and slight trembling in my knees. And then the embrace, the only warmth in the world I will ever need to get by. She looked at me and smiled.

“I missed you,” she whispered. Her voice felt like the soothing caress of gentle hands I can almost feel her wrap herself around my skin.

Those three words ended the longest pause in my life. But that is all there will ever be to it. I know I can never start again. Today I can see her, clear as water, because she is finally gone in my life the way starlight flashes by unnoticed. I lost her seven years ago, never to have her again, if at all I had her once upon a time.

It should be cold inside, but on this Wednesday afternoon the heat from outside seemed to spill into the lobby. This must be how it feels to live without the sun. I looked ahead and there they were: the two children she and I will never have, and her husband, the man I could have been but never was.



Sunday, May 5, 2013

If I Had It My Way

It is true: months come and go. But if I had it my way, I will not let this season end without tasting summer from your lips. I might restrain the setting sun so that its orange light can wax itself on your skin for the last time, like a sunset in pause held hostage by this insatiable yearning, its redemption possible only by way of a kiss — a ransom best paid in French. Though sunlight will color you, it is my fingers that will brush the gradients of light onto the canvass that is your body. Your shoulders, awash in that blissful radiance of sepia, shall be the playground where I will skate my fingers, cruising those lovely bones that frame something so immaculate you must be divine. Your back shall be the sky where my restless palms will glide until they have safely landed on your hands. I will kiss you. And then I will have to kiss you again just to be sure that you are, without doubt, the fire that will burn the last day of my summer.

Like fire is to cold nights, you are the water to my thirsty soul. Your toes shall be the shore where my own would run aground, like fallen petals thrown into the caress of the evening tide. This intimate touch is the closest I can get to all the coasts your heels have conquered, so if I had it my way, I’d pour myself into your memories. By then, you will remember that on those countless occasions when there were no whispers to lull you to sleep except the sound of waves negotiating the bay, someone equally lonely had his dreams set on you. In those midnight tussles with nostalgia, we will move like the wind, traceless but able to scale the heights and breach the limits of the horizon. You will be the east and west of my monsoons, and I the north and south of your skies. Wherever we may have to find our way, we will be the only directions we will ever need.

If I had it my way, I’d sink with you under the bed sheets, swim for the pillows, and dive back to our dreams where the ocean is a drop of the universe we build in our sleep. I’d try to bruise your neck with the tip of my tongue. But knowing that it might take forever, I’d stretch the night sky and wrap it around the world so that we will no longer have any need for sunrise and sunset to tell us what time it is. We will have the rest of our lifetime to ourselves. They say some people fall in love with those who do not even deserve the heart they have. But if I had it my way, if only I had, I’d engraft my heart to your chest in case you lose yours somewhere along the way. Wherever your feet might take you, you will have me.

I say these things with the best of intentions, for my fear is that if summer won’t cast my desires aflame, nothing else will. The rest of the year might become as cold as a heart so broken it feels nothing, not the gentle heat of early sunshine, certainly not the staccato of rain against this naked flesh I pray you would embrace for the warmth it could shelter you with, perhaps against all the lonely nights that you and I must bear as strangers who are yet to deliver themselves from solitude. In time, our lives will find grace from the benediction of sunlight as we lay together, your hand on my hand, our lips the only source of the sweet taste of summer. But until that day, you and I must continue looking for each other, relentless in our search for the better half of our lives if only to prove once and for all that we shall no longer be alone.

I am alone, and today I thought of you.



Friday, April 26, 2013

Quezon City Weather Report

Expect another sunny day, like yesterday and the weeks now gone. Wear light clothes, something that will dignify the humidity pelting your skin and the summer love taunting the rest of your body. The weather shall be warm, which is more than enough to turn some hearts aflame and some others burned by their desires. Act according to the severity of your longing for an affectionate embrace. Tonight, you might just find one in lieu of your pillow, someone who will finally be able to reciprocate your whispers, fondle you, and tell you what you have been praying to hear from the lips you yearn to smother with yours. In a country more tropical than any other, every day is a good day to fall in love a hundred times over, especially if it is with the same stranger. Do so and the months ahead will be as bright as the sun. Summer might just last a lifetime, with little chance of rain.

For the lonely ones, you will miss the rain because of the sun. There will be no clouds to suture the skyline, no shadow to cast itself on your feet. It will be a different universe beyond your doorstep. Consider wearing sunglasses so that the morning light might not reach your heart through your eyes. Close them on moments you do not need to see the world for whatever it brings, like cars when you cross the road or random people when you traipse a random foot path. You are and have always been at home in darkness. The wind, though, will blow in places you have forbidden yourself to go but have gone nonetheless, like the open fields and sunken gardens where people saunter for reasons you cannot begin to understand. Still, you might like how it will soothe you the way midnight gales lash at the candle wick with such brute force it leaves behind nothing, not even a spot of wax. Good for you. There will be no infantile memory to trouble your conscience. You are alone. In your solitude, you are at peace.

If you favor the moon over the sun, stay indoors in the evening. Sleep under the sheets, wrap yourself with a blanket, but go out in the day not because a total eclipse will grace your searching eyes but because there will be none. By day, you will only have to face one sun. By night, however, you will have a million splendid stars blinking in the vast distance, spread out like a carpet of immobile fireflies outshining the moon you wish to pluck from that infinite space with your tender fingers. The night sky cannot guarantee a full moon. There might even be no lunar spectacle to begin with. So take the path of least resistance. Seize your moon between sunrise and sunset when it shows itself, no matter how faint. Where you are in the city does not matter. The moon will find its way to you, even if you are as blind as Ray Charles or the heart that you keep.

Unfortunately, weather forecasts are not as accurate as they pretend to be. No one gets it right at any given day. Even meteorologists stand at the mercy of the clouds they wish to plot on a definite course. In this crude state of predestination, decide for yourself what weather you want to have. Stroll around. Be your own prophet, one who is attuned to the accidents of the elements. Walk like nothing can stand in your way, not even the sun or the moon or the clouds or the wind or your fucking ego. Wear your heart like a pistol. Aim it at no one in particular. Better yet, aim it at yourself. Pull the trigger.



Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hypotenuse



It is not in your best interest to be the hypotenuse in a love triangle, especially right ones; you will always be opposite the right angle. Of the three, you will be the longest side that will never intersect the point where the other two lines meet. You will be the diagonal that will drive itself like a wedge between the vertical and horizontal, preventing their complete unity for as long as you can hold yourself together.

So don't draw the line you are unwilling to erase.



Saturday, April 20, 2013

To The One Who Never Knew



I want to stitch your name on my lips so that from this day onward you shall rule my silence the way you have ruled my life for the last ten years. My lips shall be your slave, my soul your dominion. This muteness is my compromise for solace, and you shall be at this precipice where my voice cannot escape. In my life I may have spoken a thousand names, maybe more, but yours has always been the last word I intend to say.

If memory is the limit of everything, lucky are those who are yet to feel how it is to live with a heart so broken it cannot even bleed. You are lucky. I am not. This I have said and I will say it again: you were born beautiful and you have had your eyes set on forever, a future so bright it blinds all memory.

And this: you are my three thousand days and nights of loneliness.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Boy Who Trapped the Universe in Her Heart





She is like a postcard sent to where I am. She is a promise of a better life. In a world where some summers come a lifetime too late, she is the only promise worth keeping.

I will trap the universe in her heart.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ice Cream Metamorphosis




Grassington Ice Cream by David Work


They say summer is the best time to turn yourself into ice cream: be cold, then let someone taste you. I wonder if this is true.



Saturday, April 6, 2013

UP Film Institute's Likha Adarna



Taralets!


Click image to embiggen


Likha Adarna: The UPFI Student Film Festival is a biannual affair which includes the thesis defense and a student showcase at the end of each semester. Admission is free!

Where: UP Film Center, Magsaysay and Osmeña Ave., UP Diliman, Q.C.
When: April 8 at 8:30am until April 11 at 11:00pm
Why: But of course! :)

Likha Adarna is on Facebook!
https://www.facebook.com/upfilikhaadarna



Friday, April 5, 2013

Excerpts from The Politics of Moving On



Guacamayas (1957) by Pedro Ruiz


“To say that ‘I have moved on’ is to make an assertion. It is a statement of conviction and not a statement of fact. It is a declaration of an objective and not one of victory. It is precisely this credo that implies the constant struggle between the Self and the Other or its abstractions, which is why the Self continuously adjusts. It evolves, and its evolution is contingent on this eternal struggle. It sustains itself through this disturbance, this nuisance that impels the mind, and therefore the Self is fundamentally forced to source portions of its identity from this internal war. On this point it must be stated that to disengage is to commit a form of suicide.

“…In reality, the point is not to ‘move on’ but rather to ‘move in.’ The goal is not to ‘move on’ by leaving something behind that is sure to follow us wherever we go. The goal is to ‘move in’ by reclaiming your life. This is the way to assert your Self. In the words of Achilles: take it, it is yours.”



- excerpts from "The Politics of Moving On" (2013). Unedited, unpublished.



Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Boat to Nowhere









Yesterday, I was humbled. I had nothing to show for but the heaviest of hearts. I deserve that day. This acute sense of time will leave me hanging, dry, unfulfilled, and as thirsty as the sun.




Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Lion Sleeps in Political Comatose


To believe that activism solely means burning chairs is to believe that it is nothing but a misguided rage. It is not. Assuming for the sake of argument that the PUP activists have caused more trouble, it must be asked precisely what kind of trouble Cate De Leon in her article published in the Philippine Star refers to. She does not say what it is. But if by “trouble” De Leon means earning the ire of pundits like her, the question is trivial, if not rhetorical. These activists have caused more trouble, and rightly so.

De Leon raises the question of whether the PUP activists who recently burned chairs, or practically all activists who deface property, “achieve the changes they want in a timely manner.” The inquiry fails to comprehend the underlying motivation: the challenge to rouse public attention. More fundamental, still, is the need to spur the sensibilities of those who, by virtue of actually having been there in the event, are entitled to raise the questions that some people, particularly those who can only afford glossing over the photographs of the incident in their bid to write-off activism as “passé,” are wont to raise. In the context of Kristel Tejada’s death, which is a ripe example of how systematic oppression kills, nothing can be timelier than that. To be sure, setting chairs afire is not the penultimate objective, though the naïve believes otherwise. It is but an initial step that cannot be helped, one that must be allowed if we must be made to realize how callous, how indifferent we have become, which is what De Leon’s article stands for — a Molotov directed at the activists rather than the greater injustices around us. We care for the tens of chairs, but we refuse to acknowledge the countless victims of the education system. Or if we do, we reconcile ourselves with the losing proposition that nothing can be done, so we let things be.

If the PUP activists “piss[ed] people off,” it must be said that the ax fell where it should. For all the symbolisms of fire and the actual destruction of the dilapidated chairs, the line has been drawn. On one side are the activists who are lambasted for behaving contrary to the supposed ethics or professed moral superiority of their critics who, all of a sudden, have become experts on taxation and property law. These contrarians, the activists, they do not fear the umbrage of messianic individualists if only to show the people the forest for the trees. It is an unpopular stance that attracts the rebuke from the minds of those who linger in political comatose. On the other side are those who can only go as far as criticizing those who stand up for the rights of the people, people such as De Leon. At times when activists fall short, critics have their tongues peppered with invectives, itching to berate activists at the first sign of defeat, if not truncheons. They do that with profound expertise, and yet they avoid joining the cause of these activists in the first place. Surely, it is the height of absolute hypocrisy to desire a just world while remaining unwilling to fight for one, let alone to raise a clenched fist. For all the oppression, we are even willing to let our sensibilities calcify by living ever so gently. Without rage, we fail to realize the power that we hold.

De Leon assumes that the PUP activists’ brand of activism does not work, or is no longer “necessary,” “effective,” and “efficient.” The assumption is dubious at least and spurious at worst. It is precisely this brand of activism that has kept alive the numbers of activists not only in PUP but elsewhere in the country and the rest of the world. Behold the Arab Spring. Witness the Occupy Movement. Or closer to home, testify to the recent UP Strikes Back march from Diliman to Mendiola. Their sheer numbers cannot be waylaid by the strokes of journalistic pen as new ones take the stead of the older ones. It may even be pointed out that the “good number of [De Leon’s] professors [who are now] former activists” are the exception rather than the rule. It must be so, for they have literally outlived the rest of the activists who could only be silenced by death through old age, if not the full bloom of youth. These former activist professors of De Leon are alive precisely because they have resigned themselves to the comfort of their swivel chairs and professorial duties. The problem with the assumption of De Leon is that it is infected with myopia, especially from one who brandishes pride from a belt of “limited but actual experiences” but haphazardly heralds in the same breath that this is the age when “everybody just wants to get along and keep going.” Sort of makes you wonder what epoch some people belong to, or if the world has ever progressed since the Homo erectus.

The use of the “friction” idiom in De Leon’s piece is as complacent as her proffered stance. “Even the laws of physics will tell you,” De Leon writes like a physicist, “that the less friction, the more and the faster work gets done.” This presumes that at least one of the two abrasive sides in contact must relinquish its resistance, which is De Leon’s way of saying that activists must stop confronting people, the system, and “all the ills of this world” so that we can be closer to living a smoother life. As if on cue, De Leon hints that activists must follow her lead in dealing with issues, which is to have “bare, honest, face-to-face conversations” and “seeing to the necessary paperwork.” The proposition is cute and not entirely amiss, except that activists themselves have done the same long before she passed the UPCAT, and they continue to do the same, only more, especially in times when administrators themselves refuse activists the space for dialogue where they can voice their reasons even as they insist an “actual, authentic, two-way communication.” But the more important question is why activists should be the sacrificial lambs before the altar of a frictionless world, to borrow De Leon’s aphorism. Indeed, if one is to go by the same logic that De Leon champions — “Einstein’s definition of insanity” — if the current education scheme does not work or no longer works for the democratic access of disadvantaged students, it is therefore imperative to “try something else” instead of repeatedly oiling the status quo.

At the core of De Leon’s essay is her belief — “tempted to almost believe,” according to her — that “oppressive structures are illusions.” For her, these “imaginary demons” are “run by people — ordinary, relatable people who shit in the morning.” I do not know which is true: whether these people in fact shit in the morning, or whether De Leon, by way of a cautious but belated confession, truly “[does not] want to sound naïve” while doubting the very bedrock of her thesis. The incongruity of it is that if indeed oppressive structures are illusions, the cause of Kristel Tejada’s suicide may well be dismissed as a false impression, a figment of the imagination, a farce, and Kristel Tejada saw something that is not there to begin with. Nothing is wrong. Ergo, the education system, though far from being perfect, must be tolerated. In the book of casualties under the present education scheme, there is no Kristel Tejada to speak of and the millions of school dropouts every year. Statistics are just numbers, nothing more than faceless numerals. And yet, irony of ironies, De Leon accuses activism as something “that would have us see others in a dehumanized light,” as if activists only stage “wars on much larger scales than necessary,” as if calling the public attention to the plight of Kristel Tejada, her family, and the millions of others is not necessary, is not something a morally upright human being does, as if that wretchedness is not experienced by those in the fringes of society who, despite having to live through inhumane conditions, remain as human as before.

The trouble, of course, is that others refuse to see it that way no matter how palpable. They simply see through the necessary paperwork while professing a profound understanding of the “fine line between compassion and pity” without practicing either.

In a completely unrelated anecdote I am tempted to almost believe, a friend said that some people are borderline sane — almost sane, but never actually sane. I do not want to sound naïve, but these people are ready to concede that the individuals who actually run oppressive structures, structures that are illusions anyway, shit in the morning than admit that activists are fighting a just cause in behalf of everyone. For whatever it is worth, these people demonize activists for demonizing imaginary demons. Good job for these critics of activists, I dare say. Surely, after all has been said and done, the world is now better than before.