manila on some days
The cafe was considered hip by Manila standards: subdued lighting, candles on the table, abstract paintings on the wall, and a space not bigger than a storage room. Greggy, alone and lonesome, fiddled with his spoon until the wine arrived.
Merci, he said out of habit.
He took a sip out of his rather tepid red wine. He would’ve loved to pair this one with a cigarette if only smoking wasn’t barred in the premises. Tentatively, he looked around the empty cafe. No one was there except for an affam who was lazily eating his sandwich at the far end of the room. He then turned his eyes to the glass window and stared at the passing cars. That particular night, Manila was sweltering with the heat crawling in the ground on all fours. He could feel the heat even now in this insulated space. Where is he? He wondered. Did he lose his way again?
He took another sip. He could already feel the heat rising from his body, turning his pale complexion into something close to tangerine. He looked at his reflection at the window. He could see bits of his black shirt and faded jeans but not his face. His face seems to have been blown off by blotches of white light. He would’ve wanted to see his face, to check if bits of perspiration had accumulated across his forehead. He wanted to look fresh for him tonight.
Jazz began pouring in from the cafe’s speakers: Light Miles Davis turned down a notch to make it sound like muzak. Still, he could catch the giddy trumpets and the crazy saxophone. It would have been perfect, he thought, simply perfect if he walked in now.
The door opened.
It wasn’t him. It was a woman in a simple black dress, fabric hugging every bit of her emaciated body. With her was a man taller than her, in black as well, with tattoos snaking out of his shirt. The couple sat across him and immediately asked for assistance. The lady giggled as the man whispered something in her ear. He could fish out a few English words. “Ridiculous,” she told him. “You’re being naughty.”
Miles continues to play, his notes slithering into their ears like little rattlesnakes that crawl on air.
Medina’s earphones are so big it almost looks like tumours coming out of her head. The music was turned up to a point that the entire bookstore was already filled with EDM. No one seemed to mind though. The bookstore was almost empty except for the attendant who kept looking at her. She would search the aisles and would fish out a book or two every now and then. She would open the book, look at the typography, touch the sleeves and the pages and put them back on the shelves again.
Proust, she told herself. I haven’t read any Proust.
Proust, she told herself. I haven’t read any Proust.
She walked up to the attendant, her mouth still busy chewing off a gum she had been chewing since she came into the bookstore.
“Do you have Proust?” she asked her. “Marcel Proust?”
The attendant looked at her and led her to another aisle and showed her a few books.
She took one out.
She ran her fingers across the cover and flipped through the pages. She looked at the words but she couldn’t read anything. The black ink seemed to throb, seemed to throb and expand and spread until every page was soaked in nothing but black ink. She could see the ink dripping from the page to the floor.
She closed the book immediately and put it back on the shelf again. The music shifts to an even faster beat and her head began to bob furiously, almost toppling the massive headphones on her head. She went to another aisle and carefully fished out yet another book from the shelf mindful of all the ink it contained.
The hideousness of the morning was starting to peek through. Just like the white sando beneath Mr. Medina’s polo shirt was already peeking through because his polo, crisp and cool just minutes ago, was already soaked in sweat. He was, of course, pushed to the belly of an old Japanese bus that has found another purpose in the congested streets of Metro Manila. Sometimes Mr. Medina believes Manila is a purgatory of everything --- old buses, old clothes, old things, old everything. A place where the garbage of others find respite --- or sige na nga, new meaning --- before finally being thrown into the ultimate trash bin in heaven. But if this is the place where garbage is resurrected then what does that say to the people who still use them?
Ah, but it’s too early in the morning and he hasn’t had his fill of coffee and cigarettes to think about things like this. Not at this hour, not in this heat and definitely not when his seatmates are both wearing identical floral minis and talking about their jerk of a boss who likes to feel them up. To begin with, he has never warmed up to the concept of florals (What? Florals for spring? Groundbreaking.) and second, guys who feel up young ladies should be guillotined since they obviously left their brains in the medieval age. By all means, let’s go medieval on them. However, before he could call up his favourite lawyer who is a feminist his boyfriend’s message came in. Which was, oh just a day late, since he has been texting him for, like, the entire yesterday lang naman. And just as he expected the boyfriend was serving him all lies. Lies! Lies at eight o’clock in the morning! The gall of that dick sucking, ass-licking bitch adik! And please doesn’t he have a brain? Lies are better served in the evening when the mind is already dead! Not in the morning when it’s still fresh and can smell a bit fat turd of a lie even if it is miles away. Even if it is served in jeje text. Especially when it is served in jeje text! Oh, the things he had to put up with in gay Manila where everybody sleeps with everyone and still everyone wonders why HIV is already at pandemic levels. At that moment, he wished he had a Gresso smartphone in durable titanium case so that when he throws it at him he wouldn’t be charged with assault but with fucking murder. Murder, Naomi, murder!
The lies, the florals, the heat, the everything kept sinking in and still they have not left Cubao! Can he just call their secretary na lang? Because he would like to request a beige casket, a few bouquets (no hydrangeas! He fucking hate hydrangeas just like Madge!), and please no Basil Valdez! So that when he arrives at the office, he would just like lie down inside the coffin, close his eyes and start his own funeral. Yes, in Manila going to the office at eight in the morning takes a fucking lifetime that when one arrives at the office one is without any doubt ready to die. (And no Noynoy traffic is in no way a sign of progress. Please tattoo that on your pea-sized brain please?)
Ah what the hell, he thought. There’s still an entire day ahead. His bukang liwayway may not as what Celeste once lovingly sung about but surely may takim silip ding pararating tama ba Kitchie Nadal? And oh look, outside, there’s Samson Technological Institute! A place where he once thought guys with extraordinarily long hair went to study and where they routinely fell for beauties named Delilah. And before that, wasn’t there a girly bar called Alibangbang where his father’s driver once told him beetles strip for money. Those beetles must’ve had such colourful, um, undies.
He chuckled. His first for today. The lies that people tell us. The lies that we tell ourselves. And the horror. Yes, as Marlon Brando once said in the jungles of Pangasinan, the horror. Or better yet, with the things that this morning had oh-so-lovingly presented to him, better call it "Que Horror!"
Hay bakla, malayo pa ang biyahe. Mag-byuti sleep ka muna.