Monday, October 3, 2011

The Other Side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There’s a law against that,” I said.

“Not if she likes it just as well.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I envy her husband.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The myth of Sisyphus,” she finally said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“SEE YOU tomorrow,” Annie said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1 | 2

9 comments: said...

huh. ang haba naman... nosebleed...

dropping by

Albert Corsame Umbac said...

haha picturesque lead...

ang taas naman...

how many pages ba ito when you typed it in the Microsoft Word? or if blogger directly, nevermind...

the green breaker said...

Might help if you know you're not the first, Splice. Had the same work rants.

SPLICE said...

The entry ran close to four pages. Most of the time, I type my posts directly on blogger. This one is an exception. Thank you for the comment!

To be honest, I haven't had any real work experience before, assuming freelance writing isn't close enough as real work. Thank you for the comment!

Anonymous said...

It's so nice to read something like this again. Very provoking. Now I have to read the next part. :)

Carl said...

I almost imagined where the apartment was, or is there any differences in the apartments in Metro Manila.

This is too long, but worth the time. I was inspired by this. Ok, i must write my story too.

Good Job!

SPLICE said...

Thank you Carl! Have you written one yet? Link please. I also want to read your work, just like the other stories in the lit-blogs I read [though I simply "lurk"; I rarely leave my footprints behind. I'm too shy]. If you want, you can send the link to my email instead. It's

Carl said...

Sometime dude, But I will always come back here, no one writes like you. This blog is a rare find. I keep on posting your links on my facebook because there is a need for the Filipino readers that we must first appreciate Filipino writers, among many other writers. And your posts are worth of appreciaiton! Only, if the readers have time to digest it.

You've got one fan here.

Keep the pen scribbling.

kae said...

Choose who you fuck around with..
I'll keep that in mind. I tend to fuck around with the wrong people.