Friday, July 17, 2015

The View From Here

from Latin con-, “together with,” and dominium, “right of ownership.”

The concrete frames, like bones, remain exposed to the sun. There is no sign of breathing, but it arrests the wind by standing in its way. It does not move hither and yon; it is inanimate. But the structure is not dead. Far from being lifeless, it is on the brink of becoming alive. Which is strange, because it bears the unrelenting patience of a carcass. For months now, the condominium awaits its motherless birth.

At night, it towers like a beacon appended onto the ground, its scaffolding beaming its light across the terra firma where I live, as though the illumination is an attempt to vindicate the secrets it conceals in the darkness. Opulence that is yet to take form, they say, is perennially susceptible to failure. Should its unrealized grandeur cast a long shadow on it, the splendor it promises must end on a sorry note. The condominium might hold itself together physically, as it should, but its image will collapse under its own weight. Yet the workers who toil day and night to make that dream rise from the din of the earth will not be allowed to let their creation weather the years and elements unfinished and naked. In the name of something that will one day impose itself on the skyline, they will brave the rain. They will risk life and limb, often unwillingly, for the corporate cause. They will spend countless hours building something that they will never own. And when all has been said and done, they will walk away like disposable soldiers with a heart heavier than anything they can carry, never to set their weary feet on the polished floors of the lobby again. From my window, I stare at the incomplete condominium as it looms ahead with what feels like a grand gesture of avarice: it upends the illusory mantle of social equity and reveals the poverty that surrounds it. What I realize is that there is no safe distance from here to there. The beacon may well be a watchtower.

Lately, the weather has been unforgiving. The sky seems to be in a catharsis, as though it has been wronged for a long time and it has now come to release its grief, washing down the city of its accumulated grime. Where I live, the mornings have been cold, the nights more so. The exit of summer has been unceremonious. I do not know what to make of it. The monsoon made its way without warning. Like a thief. I patched some of the holes on the roof to stop the water from leaking. Some others I barely managed to cover, so I resigned myself to putting a basin on each spot where the water would drip, all to no avail; the wooden floor would still be drenched. On those many occasions when I would be marooned in my room, I would look out the window and observe the building standing proud and defiant in the midst of the thunderstorm. Each time, I wish I could destroy it before it could complete its transformation. I dream of felling it with an ax the way one would smite the last surviving timber in a land so defiled there is no more use for anything. I imagine ridding the city of that phallic eyesore, clear it with the same vengeance that the rain carries. But then I would snap back to reality and realize that there is no stopping its construction now. There is nothing heroic about being late.

This coffee is cold. Bland. Somewhat rusty. The bitterness is gone. It tastes like it is complicit with the lethargy of the wet evening. I wonder if coffee tastes different when you are ten floors above the earth. Or eleven. Twelve. Perhaps thirteen. Maybe more. It must be nice. The aroma must be more stimulating. The coffee granules must be ecstatic to dissolve in hot water, like planets racing to a black hole, eager for their eternal extinction. I can imagine myself. An overwhelming sense of comfort might touch my lips after each sip. If I gorge it down like a thirsty sonofabitch, I just might feel like a nobleman, a distinguished fellow ensconced in his seat of wisdom, hand holding the cup, little finger pointing away, mulling over the ways to fatten further his paycheck and trim his waistline, letting out a sigh of relief after realizing that the condominium has a gym where he can work his ass off the way a yuppie desiring the muscular physique of the hardworking proletariat would — which is to say, the body of the same men who built the condominium. What irony. Such conundrum. But the yuppie might jeer at the thought and simply cover his mouth in a manner that one might mistake the mouth for the anus. I wonder. But I stop imagining. I train my eyes on the distant structure. Then, lightning cleaved the sky. In its wake, complete darkness as the lights went out. Lighting a candle, I figured out what was wrong with my drink. Alas, this is not coffee. This is a cup of rainwater that leaked from one of the holes on the roof.

I remember. Not too long ago, I sold the only electric guitar I owned. Unaware of the exact route I must take, I rode a cab. Some of the roads along the way were impassable. Stranded cars, some partially submerged, took up the stalled traffic where the floodwater ran deep. I arrived an hour later and waited at the condominium lobby. Ten minutes after, the buyer emerged from the elevator. He was about fifty, on the heavy side, and had an easy smile on his face. His balding head somewhat reflected the yellow ceiling lights as he approached. Having disposed of the unfamiliarity with the perfunctory courtesies, we went to his room, the guitar in the bag slung on my shoulder like the spoils of the war I just had as offering to his majesty and his insatiable appetite for trophies he did not break a sweat for. It was a room enough for a family of four, but judging by the way the furniture looked — one table, one chair — the man was living alone. On the far end of one of the walls, there stood a line of five guitars: three Stratocasters, and two Les Pauls. Beside them, three guitar amplifiers. I unpacked the guitar in my bag. It felt like I was about to sell my only child. In haste of inspecting the pickups, he disassembled the guitar with eagerness, as though he was a doctor dissecting then disemboweling a patient without the benefit of anesthesia. Convinced that it was what he wanted — and god knows what else it is that he wants in his affluent life — he got up and fished from his wallet. “In case you still plan to sell stuff like this again, just call me. You have my number,” he said. Transaction complete. He handed me a bottle of Coke, but I refused and told him I should be going. I left the room, money in my pocket. I stayed in the lobby for a while, waiting for the rain to let up, until I decided to barge into the open. Finally, I thought, I can pay half of my school tuition. My socks and shoes were drenched when I got home. To this day, I still wonder if it was all worth it.

I look at the unfinished condominium and ask myself how long it will stand the test of time. Anything that grows from the earth is assured of its mortality, but the ones that rise on artificial foundations and without the benefit of life cannot hold on to the promise of a natural death. Even utter disuse and subsequent disrepair can neither will nor lull concrete structures into nonexistence. The condominium will still be there, abandoned or otherwise. Yet I realize that my question is one that takes a stab at the future. For now, I only have to worry about the rain and the city that owns everything that can be found in it. Everything except, perhaps, the condominium. Because in theory, saying that having a condominium unit goes together with the right of ownership is a mistaken proposition. It is the other way around: the condominium owns the city.