Saturday, January 28, 2012

Star Margarine

[Part 1 of the "Sketches of Kitsch" series]

DAVID SWEAT PROFUSELY after downing a small bowl of hot fish soup, his forehead glistening, reflecting a bit of light of the high noon in that perennially humid section of the city. A swig of cold water could only dampen his feverish discomfort as far down as his throat. Sensing the urgency of his movements, one of the lady helpers who stood by the cash register approached his table, gathered the eating utensils in a plastic tray, and handed him his bill. With his lunch over only a bit sooner when he began, he reached for his purse in his pocket and paid the tab. It was not a very bad meal, he thought, though he could no longer figure the taste of the tilapia on his tongue and its scaly texture on his palate. A full belly was his only reminder that he actually survived the meal.

“Eighteen after twelve,” he mumbled, keeping his eyes fixed on the wall clock as he felt the surge of adrenaline and blood in his neck, all the while knowing how little time he has left before his class begins. He had spent the previous evening reviewing his notes, cramming everything he can into his memory even though he knew quite well that succor was never to be had in his delayed diligence. Waking-up to the horror of a long exam about to crush his prayers was enough to burn his hope of surviving until the end of the semester. Three years into college and he has become only more vulnerable to the peril of becoming reduced into another tragic number in the social statistics. Maybe Applied Physics was not his cup of tea, but it was now too late to correct his mistake. His second long exam beckons. A miserable grade loomed closer than before.

David got up from his chair and wore his backpack. He rushed to the door and, in three seconds flat, he was out of Aling Nena’s carinderia and into the alley that joined the main road twenty meters ahead. In that small stretch where people elbowed and pushed through the midday frenzy, a field of hostile strangers seemed ready to kill for a vacant spot where they can exit the collision of bodies with minimal bruises. David trudged forward as if he was incognito, never minding all the limbs and torsos moving about in every direction, keeping them at bay with his arms until he was finally out of the rowdy mob. By the junction of the alley and the main road, there was a transitory calm. Maraming salamat po Congressman, the sign on the waiting shed heralded, complementing the vandalized face of the district representative whose crooked lips appear to have been captured in eternal but shameful bliss.

Almost two minutes and fifty private vehicles after, a jeepney coughed its way through the distant clearing and wheezed to a halt in front of the shed. After five passengers stepped out, David had to literally climb aboard. At four feet and nine inches from head to toe, everyone around him could pass for a modern Goliath. Not enough Star margarine, his mother would often quip during family reunions and community gatherings. It was her trivial attempt to justify his height, the genetic misfortune that it has been, even though his four siblings, all beyond five feet and four inches, had none of that golden spread since they were born. Ten years ago, David wished he was taller, so he biked his way to the grocery, bought a small tub of margarine, and finished the whole creamy goodness with exceptional ardor. By the time he was home, his ass was screaming the language of diarrhea. From then on, he never tasted margarine the same way again.

Sitting near the end of the vehicle, David placed his backpack on his lap. A few seconds after he got inside, the jeepney throttled and struggled to accelerate as though its engine was desperately trying to goad an ancient howl deep in its valves. Behind the jeepney, a row of cars hooted, urging the driver to step on the gas pedal, which he already did, except that the machine creaked like a medieval contraption about to split asunder from the weight of its own rust. Losing his wit for a moment, the driver cursed, his middle finger waving back at the motorists, and hurled three coins onto the cars that dashed ahead. But the cars continued to squeal with their horns, relentlessly discharging thick black smoke at the more primordial machines that stood in their way. David sneezed hard and placed his hand on his nose to make sure that it is still there.

When the jeepney was about to turn left at the university gate, three military trucks full of heavily armed soldiers cut the vehicle from its way. “Putang ina niyo!” the driver cussed to no one in particular. The commuters, mostly students coming from a generation of teenagers more sheltered than a recluse, suddenly looked pale as though all the blood in their face coagulated somewhere else. And as if nothing happened, the driver steered the jeepney to the left.

Several meters after passing at the gate, the driver pulled over and stepped out of the vehicle. “Saglit lang,” he grumbled. He eased his way through a small field of low bushes by the roadside, partly spread his legs and unzipped his pants. For a while, he seemed to have watered the plants with his nectar, showering the greens as though he postured like a generous donor to the ultimate cause of postmodern horticulture. With his back against the wind, he resembled a Renaissance man of the Malays waiting to be shot by the civil guards from some forgotten century when revolutionaries would spare not one of the conquerors and their kin on this patch of earth.

David could imagine the driver issuing moans of relief from where the man stood. He knew he was almost late so he decided to abandon the ride. He thought of walking toward the spot where the driver was relieving himself, handing his fare while the man was busy handling his passport for promiscuity. But upon realizing that he forgot to get his change after paying his lunch at Aling Nena’s carinderia, David decided to walk away instead, quickly but with dignified footsteps. God knows Hudas not pay, he recalled, but he was one who cannot be intimidated and coaxed by a mere sticker. He crossed to the other side of the road and disappeared in the throng of students passing, going, pacing with haste to wherever their feet will take them on that sunny day.

Ten minutes into his brisk walk and his phone rang. It was Melissa. She could not have been more untimely but David still answered her call. He had very few choices in life, and ignoring her call was not even one of them.

“Speak, mortal,” he declared while catching his breath, his voice without endearment, “or forever keep your silence.” By the time he was already in front of the Physics building, he hung-up, turned off the phone and threw it back inside his bag.

“Yawa!” David screamed at the hallway and proceeded to take his exam with a troubled mind.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5


Anonymous said...

Very descriptive! It made me feel as if he were real, and not just a character... as if he truly has a mind of his own. You've got a great sense of style in writing. :)

SPLICE said...

@Nastassia Serrano
Well thank you for the kind remark Nastassia! :) It feels nice that somehow someone gets to read what I write.

dane said...

This happened in that university in the other side of Katips? :)

SPLICE said...

Perhaps, but any private school will do :) When I wrote this, though, I had UP in mind --- the "almost-private" school that still prides its self as a state university.