Sunday, January 29, 2012

Vinci the Puppy Squeals His Last

[Part 2 of the "Sketches of Kitsch" series]

ESTEBAN HAD NO CHOICE but to take the detour where the road block led the traffic, forcing him to fill the gasoline tank of the passenger jeep at another petroleum station where the prices were steeper than elsewhere. The military checkpoint choked the flow of vehicles in the highway, and the soldiers at the posts hung their rifles on their shoulders, ready to engage those who raise suspicion with the slightest miscalculation in maneuvering their automobiles. Esteban eased the jeepney through the space between the two metal barriers positioned alternately on either side. But before he could pass the first block, a soldier asked him to step out. An emerging panic bolted him to his seat. His knees suddenly recognized fear and anxiety.

He did not know how it happened, or how he became sheepishly obedient all of a sudden, but the voice that commanded him was enough to coerce the muscles in his feet to move as instructed. Before he knew it, he was back at his seat, his hands on the steering wheel, his hands faintly trembling, fingers shaking involuntarily, as if the ghosts of a distant and notorious time have briefly returned from the Cordilleras to haunt him, reminding him of his mortality and those he once delivered to their graves with his bullets that strafed through their skulls.

Silence fell over him. It was only after the gasoline boy haggled him to pay did he recover his senses. With a full tank, he drove the jeepney back to the right lane. The jeepney coughed its way for almost two miles until it wheezed to a halt by a curve where an alley joined the highway. Five passengers stepped out and a small man standing by the waiting shed literally climbed aboard the jeepney and sat at the farthest seat.

The line of cars behind the jeepney honked furiously, as though five seconds of delay would burn the rest of the lives of the drivers, their seatbelt fastened, latching them to what felt like a precursor of their life in hell. Esteban struggled to hasten the vehicle’s acceleration, but the clanking of the cogs and the disgruntled chorus of the engine valves would not favor his every maneuver. With the continuous assault of horns as the private cars blazed past his jeepney, Esteban lifted his middle fingers, followed suit by hurling three coins at the traffic.

The jeepney pressed through the curtain of thick black smoke left at the wake of the cars that raced ahead, momentarily rendering the windshield and mirrors useless against the hazy view. When Esteban was about to steer left at the university gate, three military trucks full of heavily armed soldiers cut the vehicle from moving to its course. The jeepney almost hit the rear wheels of the third truck.

“Putang ina niyo!” Esteban shouted, his indignation addressed to no one in particular. Four seconds of nothing. And as if nothing happened earlier, Esteban steered left, the passengers briefly stunned at the spontaneity of his virulent outburst, their apathy turning kaput after an unguarded strike against their moral indifference.

Several meters after passing at the gate, Esteban pulled over and stepped out. “Saglit lang,” he grumbled. He eased his way through a small field of low bushes by the roadside, spread his legs and unzipped his pants. He shivered. By his feet, the grasses received gushes of yellow that somehow felt like they sprinkled away his worries, phobias of a thousand names that have turned liquid so that his body can finally empty itself of his inanities.

Esteban zipped his pants, walked back to the jeepney, his legs on a minor limbo as he positioned his steps against the loose soil before the concrete pavement, and drove through the route he has taken ever since the enforcement of the new traffic scheme in the university. The sky was clear and the arid weather cast the buildings and trees aglow, the mix of heat and light adding to the resiliency of these creatures of the earth and human ingenuity. Cuevas Hall, the edifice where all young scribes suffer the intense rigors of literature for four years and sometimes more, towered on the right side of the road, a testament to how decades of academic turmoil and successive budget cuts can guarantee the structural comatose of any architectural design and the gradual atrophy of the minds that come and go in that institution.

Ahead, Torres Hall stood lowly between the twin acacia trees stretching above and across the lawn at its fa├žade. Students poured out the front door of the building, traversing the asphalt pathway that curved toward the academic oval where a separate lane for joggers and bikers has been designated. The jeepney steadily plied its route, passing by more rows of old buildings and trees that were equally ancient, their gnarled roots poking through and out the fertile cushion of the soil, their fallen branches minced by the weight of the private cars that make-up most of the university traffic. Esteban drove and took the sharp turn at the corner near where the chapel stood. There was a sudden bump, slight in force but disturbing nonetheless, and then a short squeal, not of man but of beast, a young canine, its leash suddenly entangled with its intestines, half of its body now severed from the other half, its little jaws gnawing weakly in its final bid to hold on to life.

The jeepney continued moving on its way until it disappeared in the distance.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

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