Wednesday, December 28, 2011


[Part 2 of the "Flights" series]

OF THE TWENTY meters of the concrete lane baking under the flames of the summer solstice, there was nothing more than a few minutes of silence interspersed throughout the pounding of wooden batons against metal and the noise of wary footsteps from both ends. In the distance, a fire truck slowly cleaved through a sea of men in blue, grinding to a halt ten steps behind as it positioned itself, ready to engage the emerging crisis with the first sign of alarm, a crimson machine armed with a water cannon aimed at the front line, its tank redolent with rust and noxious fluid culled, perhaps, from wherever spite springs eternal. One by one, the shields that shimmered bleakly with the sunlight began to form a line, fencing the most vulnerable side of the platoon of young men who cannot hide beneath their uniforms the feverish thought of waging their first urban skirmish. The other side stood resolute. People clenched their fists as they linked their arms into a chain, their knees not to cower at the sight of the bodies about to advance, thick and strong like an army of vicious mercenaries out to plunder and rape anything that has a vital sign. In the seconds that followed, the banners were held higher as the voices turned into an ensemble of anger and indignation that permeated the open air. Nine years ago, the cerulean sky was about to witness the dispersal of sixty laborers and sympathizers who were almost certain to remember the third day of April for the rest of their lives.

Abel stood by the window as the light from the neon signs scattered throughout the city made the distance ahead and below faintly visible. Night fell almost twelve hours ago, and the urban landscape is still a shadow forged with the fluorescence of little sparkles. He can see his reflection on the glass panel that separated him from the rest of the outside world. He saw lethargy and felt it scrape his skin with feeble vitality, as though the ember deep in him was yet to cast its last remaining glow. Something else was there; the blackened scar that stretched across his left cheek tarnished his face like a wound that has festered through the years, though to his mind it was an insignia earned only by those who were brave enough to try to parry and break the blades of the enemy at the height of the siege. He touched the crease on his flesh and suffered no tinge of pain, the epidermis having turned callous as far as his memory allows.

“Hong Kong,” Martha weakly mumbled, her eyes closed, lips quivering as her body twitched a little as she lay crippled on the hospital bed. Abel could only look at her and at Madeleine who, sleeping at the opposite bed, still seemed impervious to everything, even her own pulse and breathing. Dropping on his knees, Abel wiped the corners of his eyes with his fingers and felt his own strength gradually wane in his palms, the liquid trickling down his face, drying him of his energy and some other force that previously burned in his conscience with great intensity his heart could barely refuse to melt in its fires.

The grip of his hands was firm, diminished as it may be, but the spirit that moves it has withered long ago. But there was a time when he could effortlessly carry the weight of bulky cables and polish the huge airplane engines to a radiant sheen as if they were new. There was a time when, with the simple push of his bare hands, he could roll the wheel of a Boeing from the tarmac to the hangar where it will undergo his careful inspection until his patience is rewarded with his own satisfaction. There was a time when he could repair tens of electronic panels by unrelentingly soldering them for a full day, in some instances even going beyond his work schedule, staying very late into the night inside the cavernous shed. There was a time, indeed, but it has now become what it simply is—a time gone to the recesses of human memory, drifting farther and farther until the mind can no longer come into terms with the need to remember.

“Hong Kong,” Martha whispered to no one in particular.

Abel tried to remember.

No apology was given that day, but unto his hands came a letter replete with every sign of expulsion from work. For Abel, it was not an ordinary correspondence addressed to whom little was given at the cost of toiling for life and limb. More than anything else, it was a marching order, a sheet of paper that typified the parlance of the destitute but willing, the message as scarlet as the blood coursing his ventricles. The picket line was already there when he arrived, his one hand clutching the furrowed letter, the other shaking with a fury so lightly restrained he could scarcely contain his rage beneath the merciless sun.

The collision left him staggering on the side of the road, his face red, a cut gaping on his left cheek like a second mouth without lips, voiceless but seething with the symptoms of an unspeakable ire. Crawling amidst the frenzy that enveloped him, Abel tried to get on his feet, but he was met with more bludgeons, the sirens squealing with the cries from the wanton disarray of bodies on the verge of emaciation, shields hammering away on the fallen, batons striking where the flesh is tender and the bones more brittle, rigid soles stampeding on those who had their backs toward the sky, until much later when the waters gushing from the cannon began to hose down the fiery tension. Only then did he release his hold on the letter so that he can feel the wound on his face.

“Hong Kong,” Martha repeated, but Abel was confined in his reverie. It would be the last he would hear from her. Minutes later, Madeleine also finally succumbed to the call of eternal repose. In the past, they have never returned in spirit, and now they are gone forever.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

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