Kelvin sips the last of his coffee and places the empty cup underneath the counter, next to the alarm button. He wonders, as he does every time he works the night shift at The Arrow Convenience Store, if this is the night he might be using it. Steve, his friend and storeowner's son, has used it once when a group of young women tried to hold up the store. Funny thing is, through those chicks, Steve has met his girlfriend Sheila during the investigation. Sheila is the sister of one of the suspects.
He shakes his head and smiles at the thought of Steve. He glances over to the back and sees an Oriental woman standing by the Nestle ice cream freezer. She has been there for a good ten minutes and seems unable to decide which Drumstick to get. He has seen her holding first the plain Drumstick, then the one with fudge in the centre. He flips the pages of the day old “Sun” newspaper in front of him on the counter. When he glances at the woman again, the woman smiles at him.
Her pale yellow outfit makes him think she must be a nurse. His mother is friendly with some of the nurses at the hospital on Coxwell Avenue and he has seen them wear the same kind of uniform. Kelvin looks around and notes there is no one else in the store. He thinks the woman is a thief, and if his thinking is right, he tells himself he could easily handle her especially if she is alone. Of course there exists the possibility she has companions outside the store waiting for a signal from her.
At this instant, the door opens and a dark-skinned man enters. He wears a baseball cap under the hood of his red jacket, and Kelvin could not see his eyes. Kelvin suddenly remembers that Steve keeps a gun in a box underneath the till. Three weeks ago, he has seen Steve loading it, placing it in the box and covering it with candies. Kelvin reaches underneath the counter for the box.
He nods at the man. He casually turns the newspaper page with his left hand while he sinks his right into the candies. He feels the cold metal of the gun and feels a sudden rush of blood in his head as his heart beats fast. As the man approaches the counter, Kelvin grips the gun and puts his finger on the trigger.
The man glances at the door and slightly pulls down his baseball cap. ‘This is it,’ Kelvin thinks. He himself briefly glances at the door. Two teenagers, heads vowed down while walking, pause briefly outside the door but continue walking. “A pack of Players,” the man says when he is a few steps away. Kelvin reaches for the cigarette from the shelf just behind him, places it on the counter and punches a button on the cash register. The numbers “5.75" appear on the digital display. The man places a bag of chips on the counter.
“5.75,” he tells the man.
“Open the cash,” the man says, as he points a gun at Kelvin.
‘Fuck,’ Kelvin thought. ‘I’m really fucked.’
He stares at him, having already positioned his knee on the alarm button underneath, presses it as he punches a key on the till. A faint ringing sound emanates from the machine and a sudden darkness envelopes the store. Kelvin lifts the gun from the candy box and points it at the man. The man fires his gun. So does Kelvin.
Carmelita has resolved not to eat ice cream of any kind for at least a week. But it has been eleven days since she has had any ice cream or any sweet snacks.
“I’ve been real good,” she thinks, “and now I deserve to have a treat.” She has lost six pounds. At Dr. Willy’s shower that afternoon, it has taken her a lot of restraint in refusing the slice of chocolate mousse cake. Enough is enough. If she just limits herself to a drumstick or a chocolate bar a day or every other day, she should be okay.
So what would it be tonight: a Drumstick or Cadbury nuts? There were three different kinds of Drumstick and the one with the fudge in the centre looks the most sumptuous.
She hears the store clerk, a young Korean man, clears his throat. She looks back at him and smile. “Goodness! He might think I’m shoplifting.” She looks at her watch and figures she has been in the store for more than ten minutes. No wonder. Finally, she takes one Drumstick and starts to walk towards the counter when she sees a tall man in red jacket entering the store. His baseball cap is pulled down so low it’s hard to make out his face. Instinct tells her to stay where she is and she pretends to look through the glass of the now shut freezer door.
The man casually picks up a big bag of Lay’s potato chips and slowly walks up to the counter. She hears him mumble something and she sees the store clerk reaches behind him for a pack of cigarette. She hides behind the shelf of cleaners and detergents to get a better look at the two men. Then she sees it: a gun in the tall man’s hand, the barrel pointing at the store clerk. The store clerk slightly shakes his head and pushes a button on the cash register. At the same time that she hears the ring from the cash register, the lights go off and the whole store is engulfed in darkness.
It happens so fast and all at the same time - the darkness, the two sparks and the two shots. Carmelita crouches on the floor and tries desperately to find her cellphone inside her oversized purse.
“Oh, my God,” she cries, “Jesus, Mary, Joseph. Please don’t let me die. I promise I won’t eat anymore ice cream for the rest of my life.”
Jamaal leaves his car deliberately. The street is deserted and only the convenience store seems to have any activity. He lights a cigarette and exhales the smoke. He stands on the pavement for a few seconds before crossing the street and heads towards the store. He feels his waist inside his red leather jacket and caresses the butt of his gun, cold and smooth.
The glass and steel door of the store opens heavily and Jamaal glances at the hinges as he steps on the blue soiled mat with the word ‘Welcome’ printed on it. He hears a faint ringing.
The young man at the counter gives him a cursory glance, nods and smiles at him before slowly sitting down. Jamaal wonders if there is an alarm switch that the young man has already triggered to alert anyone or even the police. But the young man continues to read the newspaper in front of him.
Jamaal picks up a large bag of potato chips as he ambles toward the store clerk.
“A pack of Players,” he mumbles. He hears a soft cough at the back and notices a small woman leaning down the freezer with the “Nestle” drumstick picture in the front. He looks at the security mirror above the man’s head. Seeing no one lese in the store, he reaches inside his jacket, pulls out his gun and points it at the clerk as the clerk tells him “5.75".
“Open the cash,” Jamaal says in a low voice. The store clerk shows no emotion. Jamaal sees him press a button on the register and as Jamaal hears the faint ringing of the cash register, the lights go off. He hears a soft shriek from the woman by the freezer. He pulls the trigger of his gun. In that brief instant, he sees a gun pointed at him, the spark from it seems brighter as he hears the bang from the gun that was not his own. He feels a dull pain in his chest.
A concrete fence, at least 10 feet tall, surrounds the house. At the top, pieces of broken glass have been planted on concrete to deter thieves, perhaps, and for good measure barbed wires have also been installed at a forty-five degree angle. Ivy leaves have crept up both from inside and the outside of the fence, masking the broken glass.
You can see through the tall, heavy iron grill gates. Whenever the black Mercedes leaves or arrives, two women, the housemaids, wearing their soft pink gingham uniforms, come out to open them. The odd times, the houseboy or the gardener opens the gates.
Inside, the big house sits in the middle of the grounds. Tall, lush fruit trees surround and obscure the house from outside view, most notably an ancient mango tree that bears fruit all year round. The branches that grow outside of the fence are devoid of fruits as the townspeople passing by would have picked them. Inside, however, clusters of large carabao mangoes await to be picked. One rule the owners have: one can pick the fruits growing beyond the fence, but one cannot reach over to pick the fruits inside.
The roof is of red Spanish tiles, the color having faded long ago. Three large windows span the width of the house, and their height almost reaches the ceiling. The top parts have wooden spindles about a foot long. The sliding closures of the main window frame are made of slats of wood and flattened sea shells. The bottom part, below the sill, have intricately carved wooden spindles. These, too, have their own sliding closures. Sometimes you see a small child sitting on the floor looking through whenever one of the closures is open.
A large bush of bougainvillas, lush with red and pink flowers obscure the view of the entrance to the house. But on part of the wrap around porch, there is a pair of white wicker chairs with cushions in colourful flower prints, and a small white wicker table with a glass top. A woman's reading glasses lie on top of a book on the table.
The paved walkway from the gate to the entrance of the house is lined with low flowering plants, in shades complementing the flowers of the bougainvillas.
You hear the dogs barking, German shepherds, three of them. They roam the grounds at night, keeping guard, just in case some foolish thief would actually scale the protective fencing.
The sound the heels of my shoes made with every step echoed back as I walked the long stretch of quiet corridors leading to the psychiatric ward in the hospital’s basement. The fluorescent lights hanging high above the ceiling emitted a monotone of buzzing that complemented the antiseptic smell and the muted green color of the walls. The shiny concrete floor gave me the eerie feeling of being in a Star Wars spaceship or something.
I reached the ward’s double gated entrance with two large locks almost the size of a small pot. I noted the large bolts above and below the gates. An armed security guard sat on an upholstered chair between the gates, his waist heavy with the chain of large keys. He stood up when he saw me.
“You’re visiting someone or are you a doctor?” he said. I detected a Visayan accent, more likely central Visayas.
“Visiting,” I replied. “Jason Lee Monaghan.”
He smiled at the name. “Ah, si Sir.” Ah, it’s Sir, giving me the impression he knew Jason. Still he checked a large blue register and finding the name, lifted the white intercom and spoke to someone. After a few “yes” and “okay”, he replaced the receiver and folded back his logbook. “Ah, ma’am,” he said to me, “you’re expected inside. His doctor is there, too.”
He unlocked the first gate to let me in. He opened a red register and made me sign my name while he locked the gate back. He unlocked the second gate and almost immediately, a large man, wearing an orderly uniform materialized and escorted me to a receiving room. He asked to see my purse, literally turning it inside out, inspecting the contents, making sure there were no pointed or sharp objects inside. He took my ballpen and my compact mirror along with the small bottle of perfume and placed them on a small plastic tray. Then he asked me to take my belt off.
“Why?” I was more concerned about how I looked when Jason saw me.
“Ma’am, this is a psychiatric ward,” he said. “Sometimes a patient can grab you, not that they are violent or anything, but you never know. They can use the belt to try and kill themselves or you.”
I took off my belt and handed it to him. He rolled it and placed it on the same plastic tray.
We walked down another long corridor. Then through another iron grill gate, we entered the inner sanctum that was the psychiatric ward. A few patients, men and women, stood leaning against the walls. Some greeted me with a smile, but one man approached me, grabbed my arm and shook my hand. “Hello, don’t forget to vote for me, Sebastian Hoy, for governor!”
The orderly promptly pulled him away. The man meekly stood aside and muttered, “I’m going to be governor!” which elicited a “No, congressman” “no, Senator” from two other patients.
We went through a swinging door marked “Alcoholics Anonymous” then stopped at a half opened door. The orderly knocked while looking sideways keeping watch on the other patients loitering in the hallway. I heard Jason’s voice saying “Come in.”
He lay on his side wearing his favorite blue pyjamas, as he talked to a young nurse. He sat up. The nurse adjusted the bed for him.
I was crossing the large sewage pipe over the Tripa de Gallina river, to cross over to Nichols Airbase or the airport, I should think. But even though the pipe was fairly wide, the cylindrical shape made it difficult to just walk casually over it. I walked rather slowly for I was afraid I'd fall off. I was even more afraid to look down and see the depth of this place I was trying to cross.
Mist was coming from below and with it a heavy smell of sulphur. As things are wont to happen in dreams, the scenery suddenly changed. The pipe became just a very narrow piece of earth and on both sides the fog became denser. I thought I saw some green color which I supposed were foliage or maybe even moss. The air felt cold. I ran and with each step the ground disintegrated beneath my feet. But I reached the other side. My feet hurt and when I looked down I saw that my feet were bare and I was walking on pieces of broken glass, much like the Smokey Mountain that has not even created yet when the dream first occurred.
The dream came back when I was twelve. This time it was longer. After walking through the landscape of broken glass, I arrived at a clearing. At the far end stood a single house. Even though it was daylight, I could see the flickering light inside through an open window. I start to walk towards the house. Suddenly I found myself walking through a maze, lots of turns here and there. Then the maze became a maze of houses on stilts, typical of the poor people houses in the Philippines of old. The houses, some made of wood, some made of cogon grass. The houses were built very close to each other and arranged like a maze. I walked in between the houses and each time there would be one or two people going the opposite direction, I had to stop to let them through. One thing I noticed, the people were faceless.
At seventeen I dreamed the dream again, starting from the narrow pipe bridge to the pieces of broken glass, the clearing, the single house, then the maze of houses and the faceless people. It is longer yet again. When after some time I got through the maze, I saw the house, with its windows wide open, the breeze gently blowing the white curtains. The odd thing was that the curtains were swaying out instead of in. There was an old man, American from his speech, who asked for directions to somewhere I couldn't understand. I said I didn't know so he decided to walk with me towards the house. Even though the house was only yards away, it seemed that we were walking for a long time. The American was asking me questions, and it occurred to me that he, like the other people in the dream, was faceless. I shivered from the cold even though the sun was shining brightly and the wind has calmed down. I saw that there was no cloud in the sky that was very blue. When I looked back at the faceless American, he was gone and I was standing right at the steps going up the house, the curtains still swaying out even when there was no breeze.
When I was twenty-one, the dream came back in its entirety. So I told myself I would go inside that house before this dream ended again. I went up and I saw that the house was empty except for a big box right in the middle. I went inside, curious to find out what was in that big box. The box reminded me of an old baul (army chest) we had at home when we were young children, only this was a lot larger. Suddenly the box opened and I saw my mother sitting inside the box. She was smiling.
"What took you so long?" she asked. It was bright outside but inside the house it was cold. "Who was that man?"
"Ma, how come the people had no faces? I talked to them and they talked to me, but they have no faces, and somehow, their voices seemed familiar."
She smiled again and said, "That's because you have yet to meet those people."
"Ma, what are you doing inside the box?
"Oh, I'm just resting."
A few months afterwards, my mother died.
The dream never came back in my sleep again but it was forever etched in my memory. I could never will it back but I understand that the story has ended. The old American man appeared again in another dream that was a precursor to a major event in my life. And, as I grew older, I realized that some of those faceless people were the people I had already met and became my friends.
The sandstorm has stopped and Jon and I sit inside the Miata, he with his SONY Walkman and I with my fear. He fiddles with the earphones and flips the AHA cassette tape that he’s been listening to. I grip the steering wheel of the car and I imagine desert snakes and crab spiders burrowing through the muffler of the half-submerged car and coming out of the air vents. A scene from the movie "Worms" flashes through my mind in which millions of worms squirm through all the nooks and crannies of a car. The thought makes me shudder and the hairs on the back of my neck rise.
I look at Jon, still fiddling with his Walkman, putting on another cassette tape, making sure the one he has replaced, the AHA tape, is in the correct container, replacing it in the hidden compartment between our seats. Jon is a neat-freak or, in his own words, he likes to be organized, because time only passes once, and no one gets a chance at recovering it. Jon works as a trainer at a big hotel in downtown Muscat.
We have been driving back from Nizwa, a town in the western interior of Oman, to Muscat, the capital city where we live and work. The two-day celebration of the Sultan’s birthday gave us a chance to drive around the nearby towns, taking in each town’s soukh or local markets. The storm hit when it was almost sundown, just when we had left the town proper and in the middle of a small highway flanked on both sides by date plantations. The red sky became dark and it was difficult to see ahead so we decided to pull over and let the storm pass. That was three hours ago and now it’s almost eight in the evening and the sun’s already setting, the sky taking on a charcoal gray hue from the subsiding sandstorm and the road has disappeared. There are no other vehicles on sight, not even a donkey nor a camel.
Jon leans over to turn on the windshield wiper, purposefully letting his hand brush against my breasts, his face touching my right shoulder. He tries to kiss my neck but I lean back against the car window, away from him. The windshield wipers make a low scratching noise as it travels across the dusty windshield, forming half arcs of now clear Omani skies. A new moon, almost a sliver, floats on the horizon. Faint twinkles of stars dot the sky.
"How deep are we actually buried in?" I ask him.
He shrugs his shoulders, looks around although it is already too dark to see anything.
"I don’t know. Maybe tire deep or less." He switches on the radio. Omani music fills the car.
"And how is this car going to move if it's submerged in sand?" I grip the car key between thumb and forefinger to start the car.
"You can't drive yet," he says, taking my hand away from the key in the ignition. "The car won’t go anyway."
"And how do you suppose we’ll go back?" I ask, my voice becoming high pitched as my panic starts to show. I'm supposed to check in with my boss once back in the city, the same way I had to inform them I'm driving around the interior for the weekend, of course, to the consternation of Mr. Cunningham, especially that I wouldn't tell him who was coming with me. By now, they would know that I didn't drive around in my SAAB because the car is parked right in front of the entrance of the Hatat House, my apartment building.
"The wind will start blowing again and then the sand will be blown and we'll be on our way." Jon says casually.
"How do you know this? Have you been caught in a sandstorm before?"
"No," he says nonchalantly. Then smiling, he says, "I'm just pulling your leg." He puts one arm around my shoulders and pulls me towards him. With the other hand he holds my face and kisses me in the mouth, the warm tongue searching mine. Thoughts of desert snakes and spider crabs crowd my mind again and I pull away.
"Snakes," I say, "they might wiggle through the muffler and get inside the car."
"No, they won’t," he says as he starts to kiss me again.
"We’re half-buried in sand in the middle of nowhere and all you could think of is just kiss?" I fold my arms across my chest. He sits straight.
"I wasn’t thinking of just kiss," he says, pretending to look hurt.
"I also want to have sex right here." He grabs me towards him, but I push him away.
"Are you serious? What if a policeman comes by? You want me to land in jail?"
"Do you see anything anywhere?" His arm flails. "It's dark all over. The only light we can see are the stars." His nostrils flare, something he does when he gets excited or anxious. One hand gropes inside my blouse. I give it a slap.
"Kill joy," he tells me, and sits back and looks away. He grabs his Walkman and carefully untangle the earphone cords.
Two Filipino expatriates in the middle of a date plantation somewhere in the interior of the Sultanate of Oman, that’s what we are, Jon and I. In the Philippines, we would never have met, our paths would never have crossed. Children of well-off families go a different route than those from the lower middle class. If ever, I would've been the secretary who types and answers phones, and he would be the boss who orders people around. It's like, he's up there in the big mansion and I'm down here in the servants' quarters, and never the twain shall meet. But in the land of the lonely that is the Middle East, all of us expatriate workers are equal.
A light wind blows and the sea of sand rustles around us. We sit and watch the sand and the stars, it seems for forever, but the clock on the dash tells me it has only been five minutes.
"Okay," I say.
"Okay what?" he asks seemingly annoyed.
"Okay, let's have sex right here."
We look at each other for a long time, then we break into a loud laughter. I laugh so hard I slap my hand on the steering wheel horn and it gets jammed. He tries to push buttons and knobs on the dash as I panic, the noise filling my ears. I scream and I hear Jon yelling at me to shut up.
I am still screaming when the horn stops.
I folded my arms across my chest and turned away.
"Damn car," I say.
"Hey, don't swear at my car."
"Damn car. How can we have sex in such a small car, half-submerged in sands and with such cramped space inside? I will never buy such a stupid car. Stupid Miata. I will never buy it even if they put it on sale for the price of the hatched back. We should’ve taken my car instead."
Jon sits quietly.
"Damn car." I say. "Damn sandstorm. Damn."
Suddenly he grabs me and says something in my ear. I try to push him away.
"Come here," he says and he grabs me again.
"You and your damn sex and your damn teeny-weeny car."
"I have something for you."
"What, you have a hard on?"
"Aside from that, look!"
He points towards the sky that has now been transformed into a blanket of dark velvet blue glittering with millions of stars.
"Aha," I say as I held on to his arm. "The stars of Oman. It's beautiful, ain’t it, the view?"
"See that big one, straight from here? The one beside those two clusters? See?"
"That one beside the Big Dipper and the Small Dipper?" I say in a mocking tone.
"Do you know where we are right now?" Sue Clarinton asks, her cheeks flushed from Salalah’s 45 degree heat, her plump right hand adjusting her Ray-Ban sunglasses while her left fans herself furiously with a leaf fan; the gold bangles she has bought earlier at the soukh in downtown Salalah make jingling sounds as she moves the fan. She wears a bright pink track suit and a large bright pink voile scarf wrapped around her head and her neck.
"Nope!" Beads of sweat form on my forehead and I reach to turn on the AC of the SAAB full blast. The engine roars as the car accelerates up the hill, my feet pumping on the gas pedal, unsure where we are going. Black goats and white sheeps dot the barren hillsides, feeding on dried bushes.
"This is not right!" Liz Phelan says from the back seat. She wipes her sweaty face with her palm. I tell her to use the box of Kleenex behind her. "We’re lost. Why those bloody bastards went ahead and not even wait for us is beyond me." She kicks the floor of the car. "It's just rocky hills, dried bushes and stupid goats and sheeps all around. I'm sure this is hell, what with this heat!" Sue Clarinton is the General Manager of the Austin Eye Clinic and Liz Phelan is her Office Administrator. They have come with a team of eye doctors from Texas and have arrived two days ago in Muscat, the capital of Oman. The owner of the company I work for, Atlantic World Oil, has sponsored the team as a contribution to a project planned by Shiek Al Bin Khalfan, the Minister of Petroleum and patron of Atlantic World Oil. After visiting possible sites for a clinic in downtown Salalah and inspecting a few hospitals, Shiek Al Bin Khalfan tells us we will have a picnic atop the hills.
We have started earlier with our convoy of four cars: Shiek Al Bin Khalfan in a brand new Range Rover with Dr. Steve, Dr. Shawn, Dr. Billy and one bodyguard, Suleiman, who is also our guide. Seven more bodyguards are packed in like sardines in an older Range Rover. My boss, Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Al-Sajeed, the minister's assistant, drive in a rented Mercedes Benz while Sue and Liz ride with me in my rented SAAB. For thirty minutes, we follow the three cars, with Shiek Al Bin Khalfan at the head, as they zig-zag their way through traffic and highways up to the small town leading to the "hills" for the picnic. At a turn off, a small "tornado" forms, a mini-funnel like wind that gathers dirt and messes up the sands and effectively blocks our view of the three cars ahead of us. When the wind settles, we find ourselves on a rough path leading up the hills that suddenly appears in front of us.
Liz pushes her blond hair with the palm of her hand. "We have picnic at top of hills, beautiful view. You enjoy it, I know," she says, mimicking Shiek Bin Khalfan’s accent. "That fuckin’ asshole." She grabs the hem of her long skirt and dabs the sweat off her face and neck. "And you haven’t been there at all, have you, Victoria?"
"Are you kidding me?" I say, shrugging my shoulders and glancing at her through the rear-view mirror. "This is the first time I’ve come to Salalah. I don’t even know why I had to come!"
"Obviously they needed someone to drive Sue and me around," Liz says, the fabric of her skirt muffles her voice. "Those morons clearly don’t want women in their stupid cars. I want to kill that stupid minister."
"I don’t really care wherever we are right now, I just need to pee real bad," Sue declares. "I don’t know how much longer I can take it, Victoria, but my bladder is about to burst with this rough road we’re in."
A skinny dog darts from a thick bush and crosses the path in front of us.
"Shit!" Sue and Liz say in unison as I step on the brakes. Sue drops her leaf fan and her hands clasp her bulky gut, in an attempt not to urinate on the passenger seat.
"Fucking shitty dog, crossing the road like some idiot….hmp… hmp… dog." I say. I look sideways at Sue. "Did you go or what?"
She looks at me and seeing my dog-like grin, she yells, "Shut up, Victoria!"
I continue to drive, my own bladder building up its own pressure. The SAAB's AC couldn't keep up with the heat of three women, two of them on the verge of menopause.
"Shit, I got to go, too, damnit!" Liz says from the back seat. "Victoria, do you think we can stop somewhere and we can go behind a thick bush or something? There wouldn't be anybody around here, would you say?"
I pull over and roll down my window, the heat slapping my face. I stick my head out, careful not to release the break that my right foot is straining now to press. The sky is a clear blue and the sun hangs directly above us like it would not set for another ten or twelve hours. I hear the hodgepodge of crickets and goats and sheep’s sounds, and the distant whirl of the hot air being blown from the direction of the Yemeni desert. My left foot loses the clutch pedal and the car shakes before the engine stops dead. Seeing that we are parked on the very edge of the road with a deep ravine at their side, Sue and Liz holler "Watch out!"
I sit back and re-start the car. I look forward, backward (through the rear-view mirror), sideways.
"What?" both women ask.
"I don't know," I say. "It's 2:30, maybe the animal keepers are having their naps."
"Victoria," Sue says, "We never saw any houses or igloos around here. I'm sure the animal keepers are down in the village."
I giggle at the mention of "igloo" and drive the car a few feet before I say, "They have small caves around these hills, that's where they stay." Two pairs of eyes roll up in exasperation.
The car's engine strains as it follows the upward path. We drive for another ten minutes and we reach the top of the hill where we have a view of the valley below, dried brown bushes and bare trees among the maze of small dirt roads, going down to the village, where the color turns green with the date palms and olive orchards. On the horizon, the blueness of the sky meets the deep blue of the Arabian Ocean. A light wind blows and it suddenly feels pleasant. We got off the car and surveyed the place. A few feet away, we found a large bush.
"Perfect!" Liz exclaims. "I think we can do our bathroom duties here. We can see when people are coming."
"Oh no," Sue says, adjusting her large pink scarf. "We came from that side," she points west, "so if they come, they would be around there, not here," she points east.
"Which means?" Liz asks.
"Which means, we can pee and nobody will see us." Sue looks at me for approval.
"Up to you guys, I myself don't mind. We used to do this in the Philippines all the time."
"No," they both shake their heads. Liz says, "I haven't done anything like this at all in my entire life."
"The hell. Let's go." Sue proceeds to lower her pink track pants.
Liz follows. "Well, there's always a first time!"
I join the two women. We look around first just to make sure nobody can see us.
It seems endless, this bladder, I comment when it seems we could not stop peeing. A bee buzzes by.
"Damn you," Liz says.
Sue jokes, "What if it mistakes our assholes for its nest?"
We all laugh, the flow of our pee becoming choppy.
Another bee flies by.
"Another one!" For a moment, Liz makes an attempt to stand up, but crouches back again. "My pee won't stop, I'm not finished yet!"
Suddenly, from the distance, dusts rise and I spot sparkling reflections of the sun against glass. Then the image of a car appears. It’s Minister Al Bin Khalfan’s Range Rover, with the second Range Rover and the Mercedes in its dusty wake.
"Holy camoley," I say. Since I have finished, I pull up my drawers and, still in crouching position, move towards the other side of the bush, out of the cars' view.
Liz follows me. "Fuck, Sue, we are on the wrong side of the fucking bush!"
"Well, who's to know." Then Sue shouts,"Holy shit!" Her scarf gets caught in a small dried branch while pulling her pants up. She almost falls, her fat bum facing the path where the cars are now coming closer at full speed.
"Come on, Sue, quick!" Liz yells. "They're coming! They'll see you!"
"What the hell do you think I’m trying to do! Ballroom dancing?"
Sue swears and utters all obscenities while she tries to compose herself and pull up her blazing pink pants as well, as Liz and I fall on the ground, clutching our stomachs, laughing hard.
When the three cars reach us, the Minister comes out first, grinning. His bodyguards quickly unload mats and blankets, large containers of food and styrofoam boxes of beer, wine and juice buried in crushed ice.
"How you know this is where we go?" he asks in his heavily accented English. His tall imposing figure towers above me. He wears a long beige cardigan over his clothing and as he places his hand on his hip, I see a gun tucked together with his kanjah.
"I just followed the road," I reply, staring at the gun which is at my eye level.
"What took you so long?" Liz asks, her arms akimbo, not exactly hiding her displeasure.
But the Minister ignores her. "What you doing in the bush?" he asks again.
"There's no toilet around, here, Your Excellency," I say. "We had an emergency!"
I glance at Sue and Liz, their faces red from heat and embarrassment, darting angry glances at the Minister.
The Minister grins, a gold molar glinting in the bright afternoon sun, and turns to Sue, "Oh, is good we saw you. I thought there is pink panther in bushes." He smirks. "I ask Suleiman to shoot!"
The frantic knock startles me as I read my book. I close the book and look up at Aunt Minnie. She does not stir from her rocking chair that faces the window. She stares outside, unblinking in the brightness of the afternoon sun. This April day has started chilly and she would not venture into her garden; her arthritis is on the attack. All afternoon though, since my arrival, all that she has said is that the one beautiful butterfly in the garden seems to be an omen. “Shall I open the door?” I ask. Aunt Minnie does not move, except for a slight shrug of her shoulder. She rocks the chair slowly. I open the door. Father Bert stands outside waiting. “Father,” I say. He nods at me. He takes off his hat and steps inside, wiping his shoes on the black rubber mat before entering the sitting room. “Minerva,” he calls softly. Aunt Minnie only stares outside. “Auntie,” I said, “Father Bert is here.” She stops rocking, leans slightly towards the window and cranes her neck as she stares at the solitary butterfly in the front garden. “Minerva,” Father Bert calls again. “You shouldn’t have come here, Father,” she finally says. “You know it’s useless.” “You don’t answer my calls,” he says. The phone has never rang this afternoon. I look at the phone and follow the trail of its cord to the wall: it is unplugged. “I know why you’re here, Father, and the answer is still ‘no’.” She leans back on her rocking chair. When Father Bert places his hand on her left shoulder, she brushes it off with one hand. “His lawyers didn’t get a stay on the execution,” Father Bert says. Aunt Minnie stops moving but still does not look at the priest. He continues, “President Estrada is busy in his impeachment trial.” He pauses and waits for a reaction from her. Nothing. “They had been trying to call you from Manila. The execution proceeds in two hours,” he continues. “Good,” Aunt Minnie finally says. “Call me when he’s dead so I can open the bottle.” She points to the liquor cabinet by the kitchen door. “Minerva, a good Christian...” “Don’t tell me this, Father,” she says, her voice rising. “I was not the one who killed my father. It was that bastard!” “You came from the same womb, the same seed,” Father Bert replies. “Yes, but I never killed anyone. I’m so ashamed he’s my brother.” I note the slight quiver in her voice. “I hate him for killing Papa.” “Domingo did it for...” Father Bert tries to say, but Aunt Minnie’s words cut him off once again. “I hate him. They should have killed him a long time ago. They shouldn’t have waited this long. I hate him.” Her words sound more deliberate. And cold. She continues to stare outside. Father Bert stands beside her, holding his hat. He stares outside, too, as if contemplating the butterfly that now flutters around the crocuses just outside the screen door to the garden. Momentarily, it clings itself to the screen. Father Bert turns around and walks over to the other side of the living room and picks up the phone. Realizing the line is dead, he bends down, reaches for the cord and looks at me. I look at him and shrug my shoulder while I slowly shake my head. He looks at Aunt Minnie before plugging in the cord into the wall socket. The phone rings instantly. A long and two short rings indicate the call is long distance, from overseas. Father Bert picks up the receiver. “Hello,” he says softly. “Yes, she’s here.” He turns to Aunt Minnie and clears his throat before speaking. “Minerva, he wants to speak to you.” Aunt Minnie stops. Silence envelopes the bright sitting room. My eyes shift from Father Bert to Aunt Minnie. “Please, Minerva. He’s dying and all he wants is your forgiveness.” Nothing. I hear a shrill sound coming from the phone Father Bert is holding and he listens. Then he speaks again. “Minerva, even if you don’t forgive him, just speak to him. It’s his last request.” I walk closer to Aunt Minnie, but she stops rocking, leans forward and stands up. When she faces us, I see the fierceness in her face, the hooded lids almost masking her eyes, the eyebrows knitted, the lines emphasizing her age. I remember her to be a very beautiful woman. Today, there is just hatred in her beautiful face. She walks over to where Father Bert stands and grabs the phone from him. They both stare at each other and I wonder who will blink first. Finally, she places the receiver to her ear. The tautness of her face eases as she opens her mouth, still staring at the priest. “I...” she starts to say, “...hate...you.” She slams the phone down.
When the phone rings again, I recognize the number from the call display as my parents’. I lift the receiver. “Hi, Dad,” I say. Mom and Aunt Minnie have never talked to each other ever since I could remember. Dad has always been their bridge and I have since shared that duty with Dad. But the two women just wouldn’t talk. I never know why and I never understand. “Come home quickly, Alessia,” Dad says. “We’re taking Mom to the hospital.” I hear voices in the background and sirens. “Dad, what’s wrong?” I ask. I feel Father Bert and Aunt Minnie’s eyes on me. “Just come home. If we’re not here, wait here and I’ll call you,” he continues. “But, what’s wrong with Mom?” I shriek and start to cry. “Honey, drive safely, okay?” Dad says and he hangs up. I put the receiver down and look at Aunt Minnie. “I have to go,” I say, picking up my book and car keys. I wave at Father Bert. Aunt Minnie stands up from her chair and rushes to the door. "What's wrong with Marina?" she asks. I don’t look at her. I get in my car and I drive away.
I didn't know she was home. The apartment was quiet. Her bags weren't in the usual place beside the sofa. So I thought I was alone. I sat on the sofa and settled my feet on the ottoman; there's a fresh issue of Architectural Digest on top and I shoved it to one side. There was an eerie quality to the quietness, but I supposed it's the gray of the skies reflecting through the windows.
I shut my eyes and for the first time in so many days, I felt I could fall asleep. I was on the verge of this sleep when I thought I heard faint sobbing. I opened my eyes and got up. The sobbing came from Jeanna's work room. I walked slowly towards it and the sobbing gradually became more audible. It was Jeanna.
I pushed open the door and I saw her kneeling down on the floor, in front of the lowest drawer of the tallboy, the drawer that was always locked and only she had the key. Her head almost touched the floor, her back to me, her shoulders moving as she sobbed. I heard her speak, as if in prayer. Then I heard the words "I love you!" I noticed she was hugging something.
"Jeanna? What's wrong, darling?" I reached down and touched her shoulder.
She jumped in surprise. She turned her face towards me, eyes red, face wet with tears. Then I saw what she was holding. An old frame. It dropped from her hands in her panic. The glass broke into small pieces. I reached for the light switch and flipped it on.
The man in the photograph was smiling. The photograph was old. This was the secret hiding inside that locked drawer. I looked at Jeanna's face. She had wiped the tears and I saw that her eyes blazed.
"What are you doing here at his hour? Do you not know how to knock?" There was no mistaking the coldness in her voice. She was a different person than the Jeanna I knew as my wife.
"Well," I started. "I heard a noise, sobbing really. I didn't know you were home." I could feel her intent gaze as I spoke, my eyes focused on the photograph on the floor, at the smiling man. "Who is that?"
She darted towards me. I heard broken glass cutting into flesh, her feet. There was blood on the floor. Her eyes still blazing, she started to pound my chest with her fists. "You have no right!" she yelled. "Why can't you leave me alone? You have no right to see me like this! You're not supposed to see me like this!"
She pounded and pounded and I stood there. Now I understand. All these years, there's a man in a locked drawer in my house who actually had her affection, her heart. All these fifteen years. She had it well hidden in that locked drawer. I respected her privacy and even when she had left the drawer keys dangling from the lock that one afternoon in May, I fought the temptation to open it and find out her secret. Yes, I had often seen her, on her knees, staring inside that drawer. To me it looked like she was saying some kind of devotion to a hidden diety. But she said she loved me, so many times, and I believed her, even when sometimes I knew the words were empty.
She stopped pounding and fell on the floor. The pieces of broken glass unkindly cut at her knees, her legs and her hands. She wailed as she looked at her hands, blood running like little rivers down her arms.
"Who is this person, Jeanna?" She reached for the photograph, palm right smack on the man's face, now all bloodied. "Goddamnit, I demand to know who this is!"
"No one," she said. "No one!"
"But you're crying because of him. Why?" I thought of the "boyfriend from another lifetime who had died"; at least that's what she had always told me. What was his name? Erick? Jandrick?
She held the blood-stained photograph to her chest. On the floor, broken pieces of glass scattered like diamonds and rubies.
"I loved him so much. He was the only one. HE IS THE ONLY ONE," she muttered. "And now he's gone. He died last night."
It doesn't make sense.
"I thought you said Jandrick died a long time ago."
"No, I lied. He's been alive all this time."
And I thought I was competing with the memory of a long ago dead boyfriend.
"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked. That was when I felt the stab in my heart. It had been there for a long time and I only noticed the pain now. Maybe I had died, too, a long time ago and I just didn't know it. It was then I realized my marriage was a farce; or maybe there was even no marriage at all.
I left the room. I pulled out an overnight bag from the hall closet and went inside the bedroom. I threw in some clothes. I refused to stay in this house of pretend love and dead emotions.
As I opened the door, I heard her say, "Where are you going?"
I looked at her and said, "When I come back in two days, I want you out of here. Bring the photograph with you."
I started to leave. "And oh, yes, you should call your lawyer."
Derrick John wakes up from his afternoon nap to the stifled laughter and giggles of his wife, Irena, and her friends playing mahjong in their downstairs living room. He pictures them in his head, as he lies in bed, even as he shuts his eyes close, the image crowding in his brain: five thirty-something women sitting naked as their hands fiddle with the ivory mahjong cubes. What pleasure do these women get in taking off their clothes when amongst themselves, knowing that an old man lies upstairs in his bed, trying to rest and enjoying his retirement?
Derrick John does not stir but plays a game in his head. He hears a laugh and matches it with the face of the women. Since he married Irena, his mail order bride from Cambodia, two years ago, this scene has been a regular in his home, every Wednesday, from noon until midnight. She allows Irena to invite her friends so she does not feel lonely. By now, he has already learned which laugh belongs to which woman. There had been many times when Derrick John would leave the bedroom to go downstairs to eat. Of course he has to eat and while the mahjong session goes on, Irena, forgets to feed him, he, Derrick John, who pays for the clothes, shoes and food she would never have had if she was still in her country, in that far flung village where she lived with two dozens of her relatives in a hut smaller than the restroom of his house. The first time he saw these five women naked in his living room, he was shocked. Not so much at the sight of nicely shaped legs and bouncing breasts and swaying hips, but the fact that they were all naked, and unabashed at the sight of him.
He pictures Carmencita, the Filipina, the one who sounds like a man as she sits beside Irena. With very dark skin, cropped black hair, face resembling shooting practice board – she had a bad case of acne as a teenager back in Manila. Carmencita does not only sound like a man, she also looks like a man. Her firm round breasts with charcoal like nipples, tiny waist and long legs could not rouse Derrick John’s desire for women.
Freeda sits opposite Irena. He imagines a glass breaking every time Freeda shrieks into a laugh. Her laughter annoys him to no end but he has imagined many times having sex with her. Who wouldn’t? Her silicon breasts that rest on the edge of the mahjong table are huge and he, Derrick John, is the “breast” kind of man. Her long Sri Lankan black hair covers her bronze colored back, tracing the little curve and reaches just low enough to cover her ass. And, unlike Carmencita, Freeda sits with her knees together.
Dolores starts her laugh with a slow ‘ha’, ‘ha’, ‘ha’ and a heave of her chest that makes her drooping English breasts sway left and right. A cigarette hangs from her lips, unlit, of course, for he, Derrick John, would not allow anyone to smoke inside his home. Dolores has the same effect on her as Carmencita: nothing. Blonde, light eyed women never appealed to him.
Kasuko, a Japanese immigrant, sits around with a smirk on her face, not playing with the others, just looking at them, cracking the occasional jokes and giggles like a school girl, her eyes disappearing into tiny slits. Why she takes off her clothes when she does not play is beyond Derrick John’s comprehension, but he isn’t complaining. Kasuko’s naked image can play in his mind anytime. Maybe he should suggest to Irena that they should have a ménage a trois with Kasuko – it might just be what he needs for his waning interest in sex. After all he personally knows how those geishas can satisfy their men. Hmmmm, there's an idea.
And then of course, there’s Irena, his wife, the one who laughs like a hyena. She pumps the table with her fists and stomps her feet on the floor as she laughs, head tilted back, her small breasts moving up and down her bony chest.
In another place and time, Derrick John would have had an all night orgy with these women, like the ones he had in Asia when he was the International Executive Director for BP. Yes, every country he visited, women came to his feet, begging to be had by him; young women, not prostitutes, who were willing to do anything in exchange for a few hundred dollars or in the hope he could bring them to Canada. Women whom his first wife Deborah hated and called primitive prostitutes and having found out he’d gone to bed with not just one but a number of them, she held out sex from him and filed for divorce. He smirks to himself as the thinks of Deborah, the old bag, who took most of his investments and properties.
The sudden loud laughter takes him back to the present.
Derrick John guesses that the women are laughing again at Irena’s story of how his manhood had died a long time ago. “Dead like those people in the mortuary where your husband works,” she says, pointing at Carmencita. Carmencita’s husband works as a make-up artist, for dead people, especially those who died in horrible accidents, preparing them for viewing by relatives. The best make up artist around, but not good enough to do anything about Carmencita’s face.
“Well,” Carmencita says, “at least those dead people are stiff.” And Irena, Freeda, Dolores and Kasuko laugh until their sides ache.
“Okay,” Irena says between laughs. “It’s limp like a… a gum that had just come out of one’s mouth.”
They continue to laugh.
“Dead and limp,” Irena says.
“Is that why you’re wearing black panties today?” Kasuko butts in and they all broke into loud laughter.
“Oh, yeah, that’s because Maria here is in mourning!” Irena slightly raises one side of her body from the chair and points at her bottom part, the flaps of Kotex wings visible as she moves. She high fives with Kasuko and Dolores.
They laugh, and howl, and stomp their feet and pump their fists on the table.
“Enough of this shit,” Derrick John whispers. He takes off his pyjama bottoms and gets out of the room. He sees his reflection on one of the wall frames and combs his thinning hair with his hands. He stops at the top of the stairs and waits for the women to notice him. When they do, they laugh and howl louder, except for Carmencita, who places two fingers in her mouth and lets out a loud whistle. They continue with their ruckus laughter until they all fall on the carpeted floor, hugging their stomachs, uninhibited in their nakedness.
“Darling,” Irena says, mocking evident in her laughter, “what are you doing there (laugh) showing your dead (ha-ha-ha!)… showing your…” She falls on the floor again, her hands grabbing the sides of her body.
Derrick John walks down the steps, deliberately slow, his drooping penis bouncing slightly with each step.
“Oh, look at his…” Freeda says, a finger pointing at Derrick John, “his balls are up to his knees.”
“You are so lucky, Irena,” Dolores interjects, “I understand when you said he has a sizeable asset.” She laughs so hard, her unlit cigarette falls on the floor and gets crushed accidentally by Kasuko's flailing legs.
“Derrick John!” Irena shouts. “What are you trying to do? Didn’t I tell you to stay upstairs when my friends are here?”
“Yes, dear,” he replies.
“So why are you here?” Irena stands there in front of him, hands akimbo, her naked bony body full in his face. “Why?” she asks then she breaks into another laughter.
“Well,” Derrick John says slowly, “you keep telling your friends that my penis is dead.” The four women behind her tried to stifle their giggling.
the 3-inch stilletoes. i used to wear them 7 days a week. to school, to church, to office. anywhere. everywhere. i chased buses and jeepneys in high heeled shoes all the time, in all kinds of weather. i loved the ones that only had single strap at the toes and made the feet look bare. i wore them with skirts, short, really short, long and not so long.
and i especially liked the expensive ones. my clothes were tailor-made because it was cheaper to have them made (believe it or not!) but my shoes were expensive. when the average price of a pair of good shoes was 45 pesos, i would buy mine from brand name stores and sinfully paid 300 pesos for a pair. the most i paid for a pair was 450 pesos. i was 28 back then in manila. in canada i had a pair of shoes from bruno magli or something with an italian name for $280 sale price! brown leather patent with suede toes. the smell of leather. the smell of too much money for a pair of shoes. i should be sent to hell.
i still keep the last pair of high heeled sandals i had from 20 years ago. 3-inch heels, all leather, in black, size 5-1/2. i call it my cinderella shoes. the days when i was 110, a size 4 with 22 inches waist. after ten years, the shoes won't fit me anymore. i had become the ugly step-sister instead of cinderella, heavy and size 7 WIDE!!! yes, life happened to me, as with everyone.
now, i cringe at the sight of a so-so looking pair with a price tag of more than $50. no more high end, brand name pairs. i go to the cheap outlet stores, with BOGO options. now i go for comfort. years of abuse had caught up with my flat feet structure (the genes factor), the bunions, the calluses, the corns, and of course the arthritis is a given. on weekends there's no freaking way i'd wear regular shoes unless i have to dress up. i'd marry my NB sneakers if it was possible. and, i see that they now had heeled rubber shoes - sneakers in heels. a total atrocity.
sometimes i still have some fantasies left in me. i see a beautiful pair of shoes, the 2-1/2-inch heels beckoning me. they'd make any ugly feet look lovely. i look at them and think of trying them on, just for old time's sake. i know i still can walk in them. then i'm jolted out of my reverie as my bunions start to scream: go ahead, bitch, let's see who's boss!
bacon! the smell, the taste, the texture in your mouth.
you heat up a non-stick skillet. throw the strips in. you listen to the crackling sound it makes. the smell of fat cooking. the smell of sodium with the fat. you watch as the strips wrinkle as they cook. oil accumulating and the bacon cooks in its own fat. you watch until the srips turn crinkly and brown. don't overcook, there has to be some fat still left or it's no good. it's bacon. bacon has to have fat!
you pick one piece and bite at it. it's crisp and yet the meat is still tender and the fat feels velvety. sodium velvet. it almost makes you forget what it actually does to your body. sometimes you dip it in catsup (or is it ketchup?).
the last time i ate bacon, in the spring, i ate it with rice, just like i used to do back in the old country. half a package of fatty mass. ate it all by myself. that was such a long time ago.
the rain in Manila...i loved walking in the rain. the last time i did, i had a new pair of shoes on and there was a heavy downpour. i didn't want my shoes to get wet so i took them off and walked from buendia avenue and through bel-air in makati to get to my apartment in pilillia ave. i forgot now the name of that street, i guess it was bel-air avenue. i could've taken a tricycle but it would've been a futile exercise anyway because i was already wet.
so shoes in hand, i walked on the paved sidewalk, under a canopy of trees, the pouring rain coming through the leaves, my hair heavy with the wetness and my office clothes clinging against my body, rainwater trickling down my arms like tiny rivers. i sang jose feliciano's "rain" song, not loud, only in my head. sometimes i kicked the water; at times i jumped and reached out for a tiny branch or pulled a leaf. i pushed my hair back with one hand, dripping pair of shoes in the other.
sometimes some passing cars honked, others offered a ride, some sped up where there was an accumulation of water on the street so that i'd get splashed. the honking, i don't know what it was about. the ride offers i never understood, although kudos to them because for sure they realized they give a ride to a wet person and their seats are going to be wet, too. now, the splashers, i usually gave them the finger. so you'd think, you're already wet, what difference would that make? my sisters asked. the difference was that i got wet on my own terms, and the water coming from above had got be cleaner than that which already accumulated on the ground.
when i got home, the rain was still pouring hard, so i went straight to the back where we do laundry and where we hung clothes. i took my shower in the pouring rain, shampoo and all. it was so liberating. it was my own way of communing with nature.
I had been feeling depressed over something I remembered and been mulling over.
There was the familiar ringing tone of an overseas call. A sleepy woman's voice answered "hello?". His wife. I cleared my throat. I said, "Is Tatay still up?" She said yes. "How is he?" "Still have chest and back pains, but not as bad as when you last called." That was 2 or 3 weeks ago. She handed him the phone because it was his voice that I heard next.
"Hello, I'm so glad you called. How are you?" he said, the voice had become more subdued, the dictatorial voice of long ago no longer evident.
"I just remembered something." I didn't answer his question, nor did I return it. "It happened a long time ago, and every time I remember it, it makes me angry and I want to cry."
"What is it?"
"About Wahoo," I said. "She was still little. You slapped her and she fell. She hit her head on the cement block. Then you sent her to sleep without eating, she was dirty from playing outside."
A pause. "I don't remember," I heard him say.
"She had a small cut on her head, and it bled. How could you do that? She was just a little girl. Maybe that caused her to be the way she is. And I have to remember all these, and bear the guilt because there was nothing I could do then. You hated us. Me and Leng and Wahoo. You only loved Erick and Vilma."
"I don't remember it anymore." His voice was softer. "Perhaps I was drunk then?"
"No, you're just temperamental. You wanted us all to be perfect - to be smart, to do all things correctly. You were so unfair to us." I wanted to say "To me," but somehow I said "us".
"And I'm sure you don't remember the same incident with Lengleng at the supper table. Well, I sure can't forget that."
"You should forget these things." I could picture him, weak and old. And probably scared that if I continue to remember and get angry with each memory, that the money would stop.
That is my problem, I couldn't forget these things. When the memories are triggered, everything else comes like an avalanche. A deluge of emotion overcomes me everytime. The anger awakens. Haven't I told myself that I have forgiven him for everything? Is that not why I am doing the daughterly duty of supporting him? I sit and I cry some more. I have to search my heart rather carefully to ascertain that I have really forgiven. Are there things so offensive that no matter how much you say you forget and forgive, you really don't? Does remembering them everytime and feeling the anger mean that the forgiveness is really not fully earned? Or is it just my attempt at justifying my guilt over some of my own repressed transgressions?
Then I said, "I heard there's a shortage of rice over there. Are you coping?"
"Oo, konti," he says, probably surprised at the switch of emotion. Did I show him too much of my own vulnerability? "Beyo buys rice for us."
"It's Nanay's birthday today. She'd be 75 if she was alive."
someone asked me this just a few days ago. that wasn't the first time the question had been thrown at me. sometimes it irritated me to be asked this, but once or twice, like last week, made me stop and think: did i ever?
at age 7, i resolved i would not marry nor have children. what inspired that? first, myself. although i consider NOW my childhood to be okay, the really bad experiences (though now i can admit to be relatively few - a year) just seem to stick out. all my life i was the bad daughter, the hard headed one, the talkative one, the complainer, the inquisitive in a bad way daughter, or, get this, the ugly daughter. i think that justified my feeling of being "unloved" all through my childhood. they say that your parents are your best model for raising children. i didn't like the way i was raised, but then again, my parents raised me the way they were raised by their own parents who knew no better. and would i have wanted to raise a child the way i was raised?
second, there were couples, friends and acquaintances and neighbours, even relatives, that left such bad impressions on me. typically, husband drank, beat wife, sometimes didn't work. typically, wife tended to drunk husband, accepted the beating, sometimes became breadwinner, while husband drank, beat wife and didn't work. that's the best scenario. the worst was husband drank, beat wife, didn't work and had mistress or mistresses. and i heard the adults say love is blind, so wife continued to be a wife and did such silly things as tending the drunk husband, accepting the beating from the drunk husband, work till lazy drunk husband found work (and more often than not the lazy bastard seeing it was much easier for stupid wife to earn a living for the whole family than him just decided to not work anymore),and on rare occasions, raising children of stupid drunk husband from slut mistress(es).
at four years old, i was already doing household chores and taking care of my younger siblings. i didn't have time to be a child. i grew up watching the neighborhood children doing things children do, play and have fun. one day i played tag with the neighborhood children and they laughed at me because i ran around wearing my slippers. they were all barefoot. so i took off my slippers and ran around in the dirt. what did i get for doing that? a good beating. so i stopped playing with them. the best way to avoid getting beat up by your father was to not do anything to displease him. so if i would have a child, what children thing could i teach him/her or let him/her do? and that's why i didn't want to have children.
was there a time i wished i had a child? yes, twice in fact. the first child i would have named "ingrid hortense". yes, i was pretty sure if i had been pregnant, i would've had a baby girl. i was so in love with this man i was ready to get pregnant. but it didn't happen of course. and of course, i was disappointed.
the second time, she would've been named "francesca". with another man i was so in love with. at the time. you must know, i have been in love so many times, but only twice was i willing to go all the way, i.e., get married and bear children (maximum of two, of course).
so, did i ever wish i had children? maybe i did. but thank god, i didn't.
The five-floor building on Koestraat where Cristina lives stands amidst the seedy neighborhood of old Amsterdam. Like a huge square box, with narrow arched windows, its walls are of big stone slabs blackened and ravaged by years, maybe even the war, with little gargoyles spaced between floor windows eerily gawking at the streets below. The ground floor is a venue for sex shops, as are most buildings in the area. The three shops fronting the building are prostitution parlours where women display themselves, much like mannequins in a clothier's display window, their images framed by imitation lace curtains and bright neon lights. A woman, much older than fifty, sits in one of the display wndows: she wears a tight black corset and black stockings held up by black satin garters, sagging skins in her arms and the ripply, stretch-marked thighs repulsively on display. Her heavy make up sadly betrays the coarse wrinkled skin, caked aquamarine eyelids drooping like leather hanging in a tanner's shop. She watches jealously yet another prostitute, overweight, but younger, her plump breasts almost bursting out of the cups of her scarlet bustier, haggling with two American tourists.
In the third booth, a couple sits on an old meridien armchair. The man wears only a pair of cut-off denim shorts, a thin gold chain hangs around his neck, the small gold cross resting on his chest hairs which becomes thicker as it reaches his half-openedfly. He is young; his tanned skin glistens in the bright neon ligts. His partner fixes the terry towel wrapped around her and sits on his lap. The man pops the gum in his mouth as Cristina passes by, then licks the coloured bubble gum mess off his lips in an obscene way, at the same time rubbing his partner's crotch. Cristina looks away, her face expressionless, as if this everyday sight has rendered her senses numbed.
She enters the building's lobby and nods at the old man sitting at the run-down concierge's desk in the corner; the old man does not really look at her but nods back in acknowledgement. Three men, sitting on the beat up sofa on the opposite side, their eyes glazed, high on dope, make small sounds of wolf whistles as she passes. She hurriedly crosses the lobby to the elevator, her heels making loud clicking noise as they hit the concrete floors. She presses the "up" arrow button and the elevator doors open. She steps inside, presses the number 5 button and waits for the elevator to move. The elevator smells of fresh paint and she takes care not to lean on the walls: there had been graffitis on them,most prominently a large black swastika which was painted over sloppily with dark blue paint when one of the residents complained. The overhead light flickers as if gasping for life, making small crackling noises in the process. The elevator jolts then creaks its way up.
Cristina's apartment is a total contrast to the chaos of that outside world. Her sanctuary opens to a spacious living room: the floors are covered with off-white shaggy carpeting, the glass wall overlooking the city is covered by sheer lace curtains and off-white heavy drapes, a suite in soft white leather and tables decorated by white marble sculptures of horses' heads dominate the room. The fourth side of the room has floor-to-ceiling shelves lined with books. German, French, Dutch and English volumes, of all topics: engineering, literature, sex, philosophy, whatever. The only sign of disarray is a stray little book strewn open on the floor: "Le Petit Prince" is still damp with red wine stains from the previous night.
She opens a cabinet and reaches for an almost empty bottle of Chateauneuf de Pape, pulls the cork up and drinks straight from the bottle. She swirls the red liquid in her mouth, the bitter taste of tannin assaulting her palate - she could never get used to the taste of alcohol. She slumps on one of the armchairs, breathes in deeply as she closes her eyes, soaking in the peace and quiet and for a while forgetting the reality of her dark, sad world. c.v.summerfield, 1986
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entries labeled "fiction" or "short stories" are just that: short story fiction; products of this writer's wild and warped imagination. any similarities to actual events, places, or people, dead or living, are purely coincidental.