Friday, February 25, 2011

DWP: the roadside stall

(prequel to inside the fort )


Portia took a step back as the old gypsy woman pointed at her. She knew the faces of most of the vendors in the roadside market just outside the gate of the old Spanish fort. But this one must be new.

"Hello to you," the gypsy said, now smiling. Portia gave her a once over and continued to walk.

"Clarita!" the woman called out. Portia turned around and saw that the woman was looking at her. She walked back.

"Why did you call me Clarita?" Portia asked.

The woman stood in front of her, searching her eyes. Portia felt her heart skipped a beat.

"Clarita," she said, "that was your name. I knew you from your past life."

Oh, great, Portia thought, another nut!

"You were the most beautiful woman in that lifetime. You have the same eyes now as you had then. Many men wanted you, but you wanted only one."

Portia didn't know what to make of it. She smiled and said her goodbye, but the old woman grabbed her by the wrist.

"Come! I show you something."

They walked past the rows of roadside stalls and entered the open gates of the fort. Portia felt surprised at her willingness to hear the gypsy's story. However, she was not prepared to trek the steep steps towards the main building - she had an unexplained aversion towards stairs. She had never seen the inside of the fort except in pictures, even though she had lived within a few kilometres of it her whole life.

But the old woman kept walking, still holding her by her wrist, almost dragging her.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

DWP: inside the fort

Portia followed the gypsy woman with a bit of curiosity and annoyance. She was wearing her two-inch heels and a walk along the grounds of the old Spanish fort was not in her mind when the gypsy told her that she had seen her in another lifetime a long time ago, and uncermoniously told Portia to follow her. She's always passed by the fort but never had the inclination to go in and look. She's from here, not a tourist, she always thought.

The gypsy, no more than sixty, Portia reckoned, had very dark skin, and the lines on her face told the hardship she had gone through. Her large silver earrings gave small jingling sounds as she turned her head side to side, up and down, as if looking for something in the mossy walls of the musty fort cells they passed. They reached a non-descript corner where the smell of death seemed to still hang in the musty air. Her ragged hands touched the walls as she murmured something that resembled a prayer although Portia was sure it wasn't.

A large brick moved and fell on the ground in crumbly pieces. Portia felt a damp air in her chest and for a while she thought she was going to faint. She thought it was just the smell but there was a gentle breeze that came from the bay beyond the fort.

"You," the gypsy told her, "was standin' here. Beautiful silk dress...and your hair...flowing. The sun..." she pointed to the direction of the bay, "red, sinking in water." She bent down and took a handful of the brick's pieces, took out a large piece that was strangely dark and held it up. "Your blood!"

The gypsy grabbed Portia's arm and forced her to stand up beside the wall where the brick fell from. Portia's chest felt tight and she couldn't understand it. She had no obvious sickness, but it felt like she was choking now. She put a hand on her chest and started to massage herself, as her eyes welled with tears.

"Yes, that's where you's standing," the gypsy said, her voice calmer now. She had a look of regret in her eyes as she told Portia, "I was the soldier with the live bullet that struck your chest. You died instantly."

Portia suddenly felt better.

"I'm sorry, but it was an order. A soldier always obeyed orders." She put her face in her ravaged hands and sobbed.

Portia asked her, "What are you talking about?"

"You were executed here for adultery. Your husband the son of the Governor-General. Your paramour, a soldier. Your son, he died during childbirth."

"They killed me for adultery? And who was the soldier, do you know?" Portia asked, both indulging and curious.

"I was the soldier, and they chose me to kill you." She looked at the snippet of red sunset glow slowly fading. "I love you...but a soldier always obeys orders."

"Well," Portia said but only she could hear, "that explains the chest pains I've been having since I was young."

A stronger breeze blew and the small hush of the palm trees seemed to have blown the smell of death in that little corner. Portia took the small piece of brick with her "blood", wrapped it in her handkerchief and followed the gypsy back to the gate.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DWP: the doctor

"is the doctor in?"
"away, on assylum round."
"is the doc in-sane?"


take one black bird's egg
drink with goat's urine at night
quack doctor's advice?

Friday, February 18, 2011

DWP: wrong turns

They have come back to haunt her at last, those series of wrong turns she made in her life. She had the incredible knack for attracting emotionally deficient men, lovers with whom she held on for too long thinking that what she felt was love. Each time it felt the same and different simultaneously, a déja vu of crumpled emotions.

Staying in this hospice, lying in this narrow bed all alone, discarded by society, the past comes back like those bad reruns on TV.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Veronica: A Date with a Star

Richard looked at her, surprised she was so tiny, next to his tall frame.

She tried to stand tall, despite being only five feet. Stomach in, chest out, back straight, shoulders a little back, chin up, and smile. That was what the personality coach always told her to do.

Even when they sat next to each other she still had to look up at him. She was initially thrilled at the thought of having a date with him, a basketball star. Someone whom people get to see on TV. After all, he's handsome, he's popular, and rich. Not that it mattered. All she wanted was a picture with him that she can show off to her friends at the office.

They talked about many things: current events (good thing she liked to read the newspapers), music (Killing me Softly by Roberta Flack was the hit of the day, and they both liked classical music), movies, ambitions, school.

"So, who's your favourite basketball player?" he asked her as the waitress set their dessert plates.

"I don't know," she said shrugging her shoulders.

"Girls are agog over Francis or Atoy or Bobby."

"Nah, not me."

Then he asked her, "Tell me, do you like me enough to want me to be your boyfriend?"

The cheesecake was halfway to her mouth and she had to put her fork down.

"Are we being frank here?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied, and she saw that his eyes were full of honesty.

She smiled, no longer shy, and dabbed her lips with the linen napkin from her lap.

"You're nice and everything..." she started to say.

"You've never been out of the country," he cut in, the deep set eyes glinting in the candle light, "and yet where did you say you learned to speak English this good? I swear you grew up either in the States or in Britain."

She furrowed her eyebrows. "In high school," she said, rather hesitatingly. "I was the oratorical champion. We had a subject called 'Speech 1' and my teacher taught us how to pronounce properly. We used the IPA, that's the International Phoenetic Alphabet."

"Is that in a lab with all those gadgets, headphones, what-have-you?" He looked at her through the rim of his wine glass.

She shook her head. "Just in the class, my teacher would just produce the sound herself. She was very good. We studied the symbols."

He nodded as he placed his glass down.

"So you were saying I am nice and everything. Sorry to have interrupted, I just had to ask."

"You're nice and everything, but you're not my type." She sheepishly covered her mouth with the napkin. "Sorry."

"Why am I not your type? You don't like basketball players?" He feigned hurt, putting his hand over his chest, but he was smiling.

"It's not that you're a basketball player. It is that you have so much..." she hesitated.

"What?" She got him curious.

"I don't like men with too much hair!" She brought her shoulders an inch up not knowing how else to react after her statement.

He bursted out laughing. "You mean I'm getting rejected for my body hair?"

"Nobody's getting rejected here," she said, "but..."

He reached out and placed his one long hairy arm around her shoulders, pulled her close and kissed the top of her head. He let his face linger for a brief while as he took on the scent of her long black hair and kissed her again.

"Thank you for being honest, V," he said as he let go of her, but his arm stayed on her shoulders a while longer. "I like you, I like your honesty. I think we can be friends."

She nodded. The cheesecake was good though, so she picked up her fork again and finished it.

"There was a boy in high school who was the basketball star of the varsity. I heard he's gone professional." She told Richard over coffee.

"He was your boyfriend?" he asked, his eyes teasing her.

"Almost, but not quite."

"Why almost? What's his name?"

"Jason. Apart from him asking me to watch him play, nothing ever came out of it. I wasn't really the most attractive girl in high school."

"High school is always different. But, believe me, you are a very attractive girl."

"But I'm not your type either, huh?" she said, her face blushing.

"Well, I haven't gone out with anyone as short as you. But I like you very much. I'd like to go on another date, if you would agree."

She gave him a look of shock. "You mean this is a date?!"

They both laughed and gave each other a high five.

A week later, a large bouquet of beautiful red and white roses arrived at her desk. She dialed Richard's number and told him she's allergic to flowers, did he mind if she gave it to the girls in the office? The next day, he sent her a big box of imported chocolates. She never dated Richard again nor seen him again in person, but every Christmas time, for the next seven years, he would send her gift baskets. There was always the same message: "To the unforgettable girl with the most beautifully scented hair. Love, Richard, your hairy admirer".

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Veronica's point of view

I saw Jason at the school today, but he didn't see me.

I'm in college now, and he's in his last year in high school. He belongs there. He probably has forgotten about me by now. Boys move on quite easily. They forget easily. I am thankful for the memories I have of him, no matter how brief, no matter how flitting. I can't dwell on what was not there for too long, although I wish I had been bolder, that there have been more to remember.

Secretarial school is such a bore. Why can't these people learn how to type fast? But I'm thinking, if the school hires me right now, then I'd get to see Jason everyday. I can watch him play, and maybe we can re-start where we left off. But maybe it's not such a good idea to have a boyfriend who is in high school. I'd look like a cradle snatcher, although he's only a year younger than me, and that's not really a big gap.

I think the right thing to do is forget about him.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

DWP: the flight attendant

In Lufthansa's business class, he hovers around me,
hands a blanket while topping up my lemonade.
Then he slips a little card, with his phone number in it;
I look at his handsome face and I'm thinking "AIDS"?


Note: When I came to Canada in 1988, I flew from Frankfurt on Lufthansa's business class to Toronto. The flight attendant was a handsome young thing, sweet talker, too. He treated me like I was a real VIP, so I could say it was worth the money I paid for (the plane ticket, that is). Halfway through the trip, I realized he was actually flirting with me. Not knowing anyone in Toronto, I kept his business card and thought, yes, hook up with a flight attendant sometime. Next day, the newspapers carried a news item about how a number of Lufthansa flight attendants were found to have the AIDS virus. It was enough reason to "lose" his business card.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Tear for the Unknown

July 3, 1971

The wind tears through the neighbourhood, sending anything in its path into the air. Trees bend with the whirling wind, as if by doing the wind's bidding, they shall be spared their lives. The few fragile ones give in and their roots are pulled away, and are unkindly thrown and discarded. The heavy downpour lends havoc to the scenery, even the waves on the breakwater from the Bay make known they are ready to devastate. The streets are deserted, save for a few cars and jitneys, as even the vagabonds have taken cover.

Yet, Jason runs to the basketball court with his ball, defying the winds, defying the rain, defying the strange feelings and fighting to keep them within. At first a few tentative dribbling, then as the rain pelts his face, he drives the ball hard on the watery concrete. This court is his, his territory, his kingdom. He rules here. He does not care whether there is rain or wind or hurling trees, this is where he is most at home. His skills are honed here, his presence revered by the unquestioning grounds that happily welcome his weight.

He drops the ball on the ground and unbuttons his shirt, throwing it to the side of the court. Then he pulls his pants down, struggling for a moment to get them off his legs without undoing his sneakers, now soaked with the water that had accumulated on the ground. The pants end on the other side of the court, disappearing into a puddle.

He picks up his basketball once again and dribbles it for a long time. The cold makes him shiver, but he does not care. No, if he does not want to feel cold, here in his court, he will not feel the cold. The anger, the emotions he has been stifling, these he channels to the ball. The more anger he feels, the harder the ball hits the ground in a watery splash. The harder the wind blows, the harder the rain fell, the angrier Jason gets, the ball hits the ground harder, and the water splashes strongly, sometimes even hitting his face.

He stands in front of the basket and sends the ball through. He stands farther back each time until he reaches mid-court. He knows, if he concentrates enough he can shoot the ball from that distance. He raises the ball, his eyes, despite the rain pelting his face, intensely focused on the basket.

But if one looks closer, one does not see just a young man stripped down to his underwear shooting baskets on the basketball court in the middle of a typhoon. As Jason thrusts the ball forward, tears blur his vision. And when the ball does not go through, he yells as loud as he can and the tears keep coming. And he yells some more, bidding the tears away, sending them with the wind as it blows devastation around the city.

Veronica. Veronica!

Several months ago, she was within his grasp. She had smiled at him. She talked to him. She came when he had asked her to see him play. She was there. Didn't he do that impossible layup just for her? Didn't he play his hardest so the team would win the game, for her?

She wasn't like the girls who ogled and giggled. She was so together, so calm, so mysterious. When she smiled, it was hard to guess what she was thinking. But he had watched her from the hallway of his third floor classroom as she walked across the quadrangle - she walked with purpose; the A to B, the here to there, no nonesense purpose. And yet he has seen her as playful. The few times he had seen her laugh, she threw her head back without a care, she laughed without pretensions. Her laugh was genuine and he longed to share laughs with her.

But he has never overcome his shyness. Even when he decided he'd be man enough to have a shot of rhum so he would not be shy. She just held him tongue-tied. He thought her piercing gaze can stop a train in its tracks. He could never guess what was in her mind.

And yet somehow he knew, there was something in there for him. And he wanted to know what it was.

But now she's gone, and he is left with the questions he didn't know how to ask. She has moved on. And somehow he knows he, too, must.

Friday, February 11, 2011

DWP: the last night

The last night that Veronica was in Manila, she had promised herself it would be the last time she would visit. Even though she had reconnected with a lot of her friends, Manila is still hellishly hot, her relatives painfully unbearable, and money gets spent like it was going out of style. But four years later, the phone call came.

Now, she's on the plane back.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The First Time

The first time he approached her, he smelled of rhum.

She had seen him hanging around with his friends at the store just outside the school's massive gates. He was wearing his basketball uniform, white with light blue trimmings. It was the first time she had seen him and she didn't know who he was.

"Psssst! Psssst!" he said, but she pretended she didn't hear, and she tried not to look at him. She entered the gates and just before the guard closed the door shut, she glanced back to see him looking at her.

Two hours later, after she had finished practicing her oratorical piece, she saw him again with three boys including her boisterous classmate Vicente. She was crossing the almost empty quadrangle to the canteen when he took a few strides towards her.

"What's your name?"

She didn't know if it was a friendly question because she thought he wasn't even smiling. But boys had already started to notice and took interest in her and she thought it was just one of those boys. She felt her heart racing for no apparent reason. She started to say her name when she noticed the smell of rhum. Just a trace, but she was familiar with the smell: her father always had a shot of rhum in the evening.

"Why?" was all she managed to say, she herself not knowing if the why was for "why are you asking?" or "why did you drink?"

"Jason! Let's go." It was one of the boys he was with. And he walked away from her. She made a mental note to ask Vicente about him the next day.

DWP: the photograph

The Secret Photograph

She first saw it when she was seven, old enough to understand. It was tucked away underneath yellowed papers and frayed cards, locked away in her father's bureau. She found out where her father hid the key quite by accident, when one morning she had gone down early and sat unseen underneath the stairs, the morning darkness aiding in the camouflage.

She vomited when she saw it then became sick, the mere sight traumatizing her and she knew it would be for life.

It was the photograph of a woman giving birth, the head of the baby coming out from between the woman's legs. The image got stuck in her mind, and, combined with the memory of her own mother's agony whenever she gave birth, she had understood at such a young age that having a child was painful. She promised herself she would not have children.

When she was thirty, on a visit to her father's house, she went directly to the bureau, turned the key dangling from the lock, pulled the photograph and asked her father, "Who is this woman?"

Her father grabbed the photograph from her hand and threw it inside the drawer. "A friend paid so much money so that that photograph would not be seen by anyone. I am an honourable man so I am not about to tell you who she is. I was entrusted with a secret and I will pretend until the day I die that you never saw it."

"Tell me who that woman is. I want to know."

"If it will allay your doubts, it is not your mother."

When her father died ten years later, her stepmother handed her an envelope. Inside, among a few other photographs, faded and mildewy, was the photograph. She winced then as she had the first time she saw it. But this time she didn't vomit. There was a short note addressed to her.

And that's how she became the keeper of his secret.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

DWP: the bartender

the bartender

i'm your bartender
fixing drinks for sad egos
and the lonely souls


hand me your car keys
can't give you anymore booze
let's call you a cab

Tuesday, February 1, 2011



walk along the shore
fine white sands stretch beyond
blue waters beckon


oiled bodies abound
burn under the blazing sun
palm leaves swaying